A Heritage of Power 3: Jay's Story 4:
One Knight Hunting

by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for M/F and M/M
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

"Good morning, Jolani." Doruth smiled and sat next to his old friend as Jedi of all ranks filtered in for a demonstration of Senior Padawan Clawson's new lightsaber technique. He spotted Shi and Fenrik in the front row, an aura of slightly stunned pride about them. Near them Master Essani was sitting on the floor in front of the chairs with a couple other kushiban, her fur a distinct golden in pleasure and pride in compared to their shades of curiosity's teal.

"Good morning, Doruth," the Tigress smiled. "I have to say, this is a rather unusual reason to meet. Certainly interesting though."

"Quite true. It's amazing what that kit has become in less than ten years, and he's still planning to be a scholar." He shook his head in disbelief. "Have you seen him work out?"

"I've been putting out fires in the Kyrellos system since your wedding," she chuckled, shaking her head. "I'm lucky I managed to get the squabbling nobles to agree to get along long enough to come back here for my Padawan's knighting tomorrow."

"Congratulations," he smiled warmly at the news. "Fenrik will be ready in a few months." He nodded towards the almost fully mature Panther in the front row next to his blue-skinned mate. "He's got his skills all up to level, there's just a little smoothing out to be ready to go on a solo mission. Those three are seriously connected at the hip without a planetary crisis."

"And I doubt that's just being friends," Jolani chuckled. "And thank you, though the congratulations are more in order for him. So, anything you care to tell me about what I'm going to see? All I've heard so far is that he's one of the first Padawans in decades to try and introduce a new lightsaber form."

"A new form and a new lightsaber to go with it." He chuckled softly. "He redesigned it to put the hilt in the center about six years ago, and uses a pair of them. It's really something else to watch him doing katas. Master Yamari's training is very clear in his moves. I'm not sure anyone else could use them quite like he does, you'll just have to see that."

"I take it he uses his tech gifts to streamline the process a little?" Jolani asked curiously, a similar murmur through the crowd as others discussed it. All the ranking Dueling Masters were there, mostly near the front to watch the Padawan's progress.

"I'm not sure how he does it, honestly, but the length of the blades change fast." He went silent as the Puma-sized dark rusty brown tom in Jedi robes walked onto the floor, his Padawan braid well down his chest in marked contrast to his otherwise short brown hair.

Jay faced the assembly and bowed, his eyes catching both Master Yamari, who had requested this, and Master Essani, whose pride in him was visible to everyone in her golden fur. He stepped back to settle into a neutral stance and slid his lightsabers from their hilts under his sleeves. The glowing blacklight blades lit to half length, putting a short staff-length weapon in each hand as his opponents, a young Knight and two Senior Padawans, created a loose circle around him.

They lit their own 'sabers, green, yellow, and orange, and fell into easy ready stances, each knowing roughly what they were going to do in each phase of this duel.

The Knight moved first, his orange 'saber easily blocked by blacklight one as the two Padawans moved in to be blocked and counter-attacked in a twisting dancer's move that flashed blacklight in an almost solid shield around Jay that left precious few openings for his opponents, even three of them, and keep them all on guard for strikes from four weapons that did not keep a stable length and occasionally moved in ways that would cut the wielder in half somewhere if they hadn't deactivated and reactivated almost instantly.

There were occasional murmurs from the crowd, particularly when it was clear that a lethal blow would have been struck. It wasn't long before the two Padawans stepped back, deactivating their 'sabers after one of those 'blows' would have killed them. The grace of the display was clear, the Padawan in the center of it all dancing as much as fighting.

One thought that was common throughout the audience was a grateful relief that they weren't facing this unusual technique in an actual fight.

"Definitely impressive," Jolani murmured to herself. Even as a Master, combat techniques weren't her strong suit, at the low end of average for somebody with her experience. Even so, she could see the time and dedication that Jay had put into honing his art. And it was definitely art.

As the second Padawan fell away from the battle, it became clear that Jay and the Knight he was still facing were on a more even footing. The Zabrak's greater experience with combat in general put him at a slight advantage dealing with techniques he hadn't actually fought against before, and Jay's style wasn't quite as well-honed against a single foe. Still, after a few long minutes of orange and blacklight flashing against each other, the two of them fell apart, bowing respectfully as this stage of the demonstration ended.

"And he still denies he's a warrior." Doruth murmured back, his breath caught in his throat as he realized just how much Jay had changed in the past few years. "He'll be devastating in a real fight already. I can only imagine him as a Master."

"*And he is completely calm for it,*" Master Essani commented to him, a point that had been much harder for Jay to develop than the actual moves he was putting on display.

"*The most impressive point,*" Doruth agreed silently. A few years ago, this sparring match might well have ended with a serious injury, to Jay to one of the Jedi he was practicing with. As it stood, they were all just a little winded... and a little better prepared for the next match.

The three Jedi bowed to Jay, a gesture the teenaged tom returned before they left the ring to join the audience and the next wave moved in; a trio of remotes and a pair combat-training droids programmed to handle the next stage.

It was a set of opponents that most Jedi would find more difficult that three live opponents, but even keeping his reflexes to ask them to turn off carefully in check, this was where Jay felt the most comfortable and he relaxed into a swirling dance of blacklight destruction at the center of the machines. The three remotes, long time acquaintances to his training, were dealt with quickly with reflected shots.

He left both combat droids standing from the knowledge that each was armed with a weapon that needed to be demonstrated. Against all instincts and common sense, he allowed them to attack. The droids stayed at a safe distance from the Jedi they were going to face; their blasters were ready to fall back on once they had tested the weapons they were programmed to use first.

The bulky barrel of the first droid's ion gun flashed, the smell of ozone permeating the battle-chamber as a bright white flash of ionized air trailed behind the energy charge intended to shut down Jay's lightsabers. Instead, there was no effect as it was blocked, and the second droid fired its sonic blaster, a high-pitched whine causing many in the audience to wince as the focused blast of sound easily penetrated Jay's defenses and started his ears ringing, his entire head aching as his equilibrium was thrown out the window.

The droids shifted to their blasters, opening fire, their weapons set to stun as they tested Jay's ability to defend himself with his new technique, even under sub-optimal situations.

Pure reflex saved him from the first few rounds, some blocked and some dodged, his sense of self and his position flickering between real-world senses and Force hints. He found his feet in a low crouch, his eyes locked on the droids even though he could barely tell which way was up and sent one lightsaber went flying, spinning in a horizontal circle of destruction that cut both droid's heads off before he stood shakily and called it back to his raised hand like a boomerang.

"I have a feeling Master Essani taught him that trick," Jolani murmured quietly as the Dueling Masters stood to signal the end of the demonstration. They moved quickly through the crowd to confer with each other as Jay waited for his balance to return so he could leave the ring.

"Most likely," Doruth nodded as they watched Fenrik and Shi enter the ring now that everything was over to support and congratulate him. "Like I said, attached at the hip." He chuckled softly at the scene.

After a few moments, the Masters nodded, turning to Jay where he was talking with Fenrik and Shi, leaning slightly on the larger tom even though the worst of the disorientation was past.

"Padawan Clawson," the leader said, a male Tiger whose deep voice practically rumbled. "It is the consensus of the Masters that you have successfully performed the first demonstration of your SWAT form. We look forward to your second demonstration, to be scheduled at a later date."

"Thank you, Master Ryagurl." He moved clear of his mate and bowed deeply. While the motion was flawless, it was clear to most that it took much more of his concentration that it normally would have to manage.

"Dismissed," the Tiger rumbled. Shi moved to Jay's side as the observers stood and started to filter out.

"Want me to help?" She asked him softly. "It's no trouble."

"If you've got the time, a face massage back in quarters would be very welcome," he smiled at her, the effects beginning to really dissipate except for the major headache it left.

"I've got the time," she smiled, taking a moment to brush his cheek lightly and soothe most of the pain. "And that should keep you until we get there."

"I'll let you two go take care of that," Fenrik smiled. "I'm afraid I have to go work on the plans for my lightsaber - and no, Jay, I don't need help with it," he chuckled and squeezed his mate's shoulder lightly. "You did great today."

"Thank you," he smiled at both of them, proud of his accomplishment, but even more pleased that those he cared about thought he had done well.

"Mmm... so, you feel better now?" Shi asked Jay softly as she rubbed his face, letting him lean back against her body.

"Yes," he murmured, his eyes closed, his body and mind pleasantly relaxed and grateful for her skilled touch. "Thank you."

"Good," she smiled, moving her hands down to rub and scratch his chest lightly. "You did well out there. Didn't lose control once, fought without letting your emotions take charge - even when the sonic blast hit." She smiled and kissed his neck softly as he started to purr.

"That one was hard," he admitted and reached up to hug her shoulders. "But I just couldn't screw it up. Not in front of everyone when Master Yamari went to so much effort to get me that demonstration."

"And you didn't screw it up," she smiled. "Think you impressed Doruth too," she added. "I could feel it before he headed out."

"Really?" He looked up with a bit of surprise that anything he could have come up with could possibly impress the up and coming Combat Master of the Order.

"I thought so," she nodded. "Your technique really is unique, after all."

The statement made him pause, considering his accomplishment a little more analytically.

"I guess it is," Jay murmured softly, a bit stunned as other information trickled into his mind, like how few Forms there were.

"Jay, you developed an entirely new type of lightsaber," she chuckled slightly. "Nobody's bothered to do that since the Sith developed the double-hilt. Just hope it lasts better than the variable 'saber." She kissed his neck gently, hugging him close.

"That is likely to depend on how well Master Yamari and I can teach the use of it to others," he smiled a bit and tipped his head up to nuzzle her. "For all that it's much more effective and useful than the standard one, it's also many times more difficult to use and dangerous to mess up with. It takes an incredible amount of focus and telekinetic control to manage if you can't talk to it."

"Mmm ... true," she admitted. "Still, I'm sure you'll both be working on it. You already have been for years."

"Yeah," he smiled a bit shyly. "It looks pretty impressive when I've gotten to watch Master Yamari do katas."

"It's not exactly unimpressive when you're doing it either, y'know," she smiled. "I know I couldn't do any of that," she chuckled.

"*May I come in, Jay?*" Essani asked politely from outside the room.

"*Yes, Master,*" Jay responded easily and slid the outer door open for her even as he snatched a quick kiss from Shi as he got off the bed where he'd been leaning against her chest.

The kushiban trotted in and hopped up on a seat that had long been there just for her.

"I'm afraid we don't have a great deal of time for congratulations," she told Jay with a chirp. "The Council just became aware of a development in the Rodia system, we need to leave soon."

"Rodia?" Even muscle in his body went tense. "You know that's a bad place for me to go."

"I know," Essani admitted, her fur turning a light grey. "However, there is little choice, and the mission doesn't involve actually going on-planet.

"*A Sith warship dropped out of hyperspace in the Rodia system a week ago,*" she explained, switching to telepathy so Shi could understand her. "*From what we understand, it's dead in space, a relic from a thousand years ago - but all its defensive systems are still well and truly functional, as several people who've tried to get onboard have found out. None of them have been heard from again.*"

"How does this involve me?" He asked softly. It was obvious how he could be useful in retrieving the ship, but why not just blow it out of space? Shi reached out to squeeze his shoulder lightly, wondering that same question herself.

"*It's a Sith warship from the Jedi Civil War or earlier,*" Essani explained. "*It could have invaluable information on it, technology we've lost since. Further, scans indicated no life signs when it arrived, though there are some indications that there might be survivors now. Finally, we have to know where it came from, what happened to the crew - it may pose a very real threat beyond the one ship.

"*In all likelihood, the reason nobody has returned is connected to the ship's defenses. That's where we want your talents along,*" she explained. "*Along with Knight Parn, Tes' Pack, Master Ursal, and you, Padawan Shivasta,*" Essani said, nodding towards the young woman.

"I understand," Jay inclined his head even as he began to rework his mindset for the anything-can-happen state such a mission meant. "This is a rescue first, then ship retrieval?"

"*Rescue, then find out what happened while overseeing ship retrieval and artifact recovery, yes,*" Essani nodded. "*We have no clue what happened with this ship. We don't want to bring it back until we know that it's safe.*"

"I understand, Master." Jay inclined his head in acceptance. "When do we leave?"

"*How soon can you both pack?*" She asked them seriously.

"Within the hour, easily, Master," Shi answered.

"*We'll meet at the Gurath as soon as possible, and leave as quickly as it can be supplied for the journey,*" Essani nodded. "*Knight Parn will take the opportunity to tell Fenrik, though I imagine you'll both want to go say good bye before we go.*"

"Thank you, Master." Jay said seriously. "We will be on board within the hour."

"*I'll meet you both there,*" Essani nodded, hopping down and starting out of the room.

Jay closed and his eyes and relaxed in the observation lounge of the Gurath. They'd just dropped out of hyperspace into the Rodia system and the huge Sith destroyer was in range now if it was like most ships. He took one deep breath and reached out, past the Jedi ship he was in, through the emptiness of space until he found another beacon of machine life.

"*Hello,*" he opened cautiously, not even sure if the ship new Basic.

"*Who is this?*" The ship responded suspiciously.

"*My name is Jay Clawson.*" He answered easily, a bit stunned at the level of cohesive consciousness behind the words. It was almost like talking to a person. "*Who are you?*" He asked politely.

"*The battle cruiser Kraken,*" the ship responded. "*How are you communicating over this distance without using your ship's subspace transceiver? What is your ship's designation? It is not in known transponder code libraries.*"

"*It is my family Gift,*" Jay told the ship easily. "*Our ship is the Gurath. It is not in your libraries because it is less than a century old and your data has not been updated in a millennium from what we have gathered.*"

"*Don't tell it that we're a Jedi ship, if it asks,*" Essani cautioned Jay privately. "*It is a Sith warship, remember.*"

He nodded slightly as the warship replied.

"*Why have you established contact with this ship? Do you wish to deliver an ultimatum?*"

"*Because we want to find out what a thousand year old, apparently abandoned warship appeared so suddenly and hasn't moved since.*" He paused, considering how to answer the second question.

"*No, we don't,*" Essani told Jay. "*Its weapons systems seem to be offline, but it basically just asked you if we're ship-jackers. It might let us on more peacefully if you can convince it we're just trying to help.*"

Jay nodded easily to that and formulated it in his own words to avoid sounding like he was taking orders from elsewhere. "*Not an ultimatum. We're here to help.*"

"*It would be welcome. There have been numerous forcible boarding attempts since coming out of hyperspace. With the current state of repairs, there has been no way to stop such attempts until boarding parties were on the Kraken.*"

"*Are any still alive?*" He asked curiously.

"*There were some who managed to secure their position in a medical supply closet where ship's defenses were unable to terminate them,*" the ship answered easily.

"*We would like to remove them before assisting further.*" Jay phrased his actual intent carefully.

"*They have overridden the controls over the doors, and the ship's programming will not allow this AI to deactivate security protocols during state of alert. Manual override will be required.*"

"*Can you tell us how to manually override, or will we have to use other methods to get to them?*"

"*Unfortunately, manual override of defense systems is only possible from the bridge due to security protocols established by Admiral Karath before the ship's departure from base.*"

"*Do you object to me 'convincing' the door to open by other means to get the intruders out and then off the ship?*"

"*If you are capable of doing so with the defense systems active, not at all,*" the ship answered easily. "*Once droids are back online any damage done can be repaired.*"

He paused, mulling that over along with the reality that while they could breach the ship defenses easily enough, only his 'sabers wouldn't instantly tip the ship off to what they were.

"*What is required to set the defense system to accept our presence?*"

"*Confirmation by ship's sensors of status as ranking Sith officers or evidence that targets are loyal to the Imperial Armada.*"

"*Jay, would you be able to 'persuade' the defenses to shut down the way you can regular blasters?*" Essani asked him.

"*Yes, though it may well turn the ship against us. That's a full AI in there.*" He told her privately, then switched over to the ship "*What evidence would be satisfactory?*"

"*I am afraid that information is classified per wartime protocols. You stated that you had a family gift that allows us to communicate, yes?*"

"*Yes,*" he nodded and took part of his attention, carefully shielded, and focused on his Master and what he sensed forming in her mind.

"*Is this gift Force related?*" The ship asked. "*If so, it would be a rare talent indeed.*"

"*Jay,*" Essani told him, "*I suspect that we're going to have to pass ourselves off as Sith to get on without taking the chance of upsetting the ship by shutting down its defenses. During the War, somebody with your talent would have been groomed for Sith training as soon as it was recognized.*"

He nodded to her and answered the ship. "*It is.*"

"*Sith uniforms and ship designations have undoubtedly changed over the past millennium. Your behavior thus far does not conform to known Sith training, but perhaps this has changed as well after the Jedi were crushed. If you can provide a sign of Sith training, defensive systems will be deactivated.*"

"*I can coach you through the Sith Code,*" Essani offered.

"*Would the Sith Code suffice?*" He asked the ship.

"*The Code of the Sith is in the ship's databanks,*" the ship agreed. "*However, it may be known by rote outside the Sith. I will also require the correct answer to a question demonstrating an understanding of the Code.*"

"*I can probably provide that,*" Essani told him silently. "*As long as it doesn't ask a particularly advanced question.*"

"*If this is acceptable, begin recitation,*" the ship said simply.

"*The Code of the Sith is as follow, Jay,*" Essani told him. "*Peace is a lie; there is only passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken.*"

He shuddered slightly at the rush those words caused in him, a molten fire that closed his eyes as he drew a breath to settle himself again and respond to the ship.

"*Peace is a lie; there is only passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken.*" He didn't conceal his reaction to the words, the way they connected to something deep inside him and how right they felt to a very real and very strong part of him, even beyond the Demon.

If the ship noticed, it didn't react, though he could tell that Essani was paying close attention.

"*What is the worst flaw one can have?*" The ship asked.

"*Love,*" Essani told Jay, her distaste for the answer obvious.

"*Love,*" He answered, with 'weakness' a close, and more personal, echo to it.

"*Internal defenses are being deactivated pending boarding,*" the ship informed him. "*Be warned that any attempt to revive the mutiny that led to defenses being activated will be met with force.*"

"*Understood,*" he replied easily and broke contact, shaking off the effects of it as he stood. "That ship has a serious attitude."

"It is Sith," Shivasta pointed out quietly from where she'd been sitting silently, moving to rub Jay's shoulders lightly. "It sounded like it thought they'd won the war too."

"What other possibility is there?" He raised an eyebrow at her, the question both serious and rhetorical as he really settled back down and shoved everything that reacted to well to the Sith Code into the part of his mind that didn't get out unless he let it. "You have to believe that when you're at war. Anything else will allow them to win."

"It's a computer, Jay," she said, not quite equating it to the same thing. "I doubt they gave it the same propaganda except for what it needed to give the crew."

"If you'll remember, cub, it also would have been right if not for a great deal of fortune on our part," Master Ursal pointed out from the door. "Custos Ramaris wants to know if we should approach the ship yet."

"Yes, we are cleared. It thinks this is a Sith ship, however. Let's try not to give it other ideas." Jay added quietly.

"Noted," the Bear nodded, turning to head out front.

"Hopefully there won't be too many opportunities to convince it otherwise," Shi murmured.

"Definitely," he nodded. "Getting the intruders off alive will be enough of an argument already." He shook his fur out and looked at his Master. "Who will be going on board with me?"

"*I would recommend Knight Parn, Custos Ramaris, and the pack,*" Essani said easily. "*The rest of us are much more likely to be recognized as Jedi based on our reactions. We'll come on later, once it's safe and if you can convince the ship that the war's over.*"

"Agreed, Master." He inclined his head. "Would Doruth be my 'Master', or are we pretending I'm a full Sith already?"

"*I would suggest that you defer to him, generally,*" the kushiban explained. "*The ship would likely be more accepting of you taking orders from him if necessary if that was the case.*"

"Understood," he nodded easily and relaxed a bit, preferring that himself. "We're docking," he added without having too look. "Are our robes a giveaway?"

"*That is a point to consider,*" Essani admitted. "*If the ship asks, simply explain that you weren't on an official mission when you located it. It will make not being in 'uniform' more acceptable, and explain the variety of outfits worn by all of you.*"

"No problem," he nodded and headed to the exit area to meet up with the rest of the boarding team.

He found them all waiting; Tes, Doruth, and the four Wolves who'd taken them on as their Alphas in the past few years. The airlock opened, and they were all assaulted with the smell of the bodies that had been lying around for up to two weeks since the Kraken had come out of hyperspace and first been boarded.

"You are not wearing uniforms," a voice observed from a nearby intercom speaker. "Old Sith or new. Please explain."

"We were not on an official mission when you came out of hyperspace and we diverted." Jay explained smoothly.

"Ah," the voice said easily. "You are the one who established contact, yes?"

"Yes, he is," Doruth nodded. "My apprentice. Where are the intruders?"

"*Not trying to step on your toes, Jay, just making sure it knows who's supposed to be in charge,*" the Panther told him.

Jay nodded fractionally, unable to respond silently to any but his Master.

"In a medical supply closet," the ship explained. "He has been making a great deal of racket since the defense systems went offline; I hope you will arrange an appropriate welcome for him. Unfortunately, a lot of organic forethought in my design left me unable to do so myself."

"Oh, we will," Jay chuckled softly, a dark sound to any that didn't know he was acting and headed for the location the ship provided him .

The two Jedi made their way through the ship, followed by the five Wolves with them. Blaster rifles and carbines were at ready, just in case the ship was setting them up. Skeletons and partly decomposed bodies of Rodians greeted them, more and more skeletons the further into the ship they got.

Finally, they reached the medical bay, a loud pounding coming from a sealed side-chamber, accompanied by shouting in rodese.

"Quiet down in there," Jay snarled back in rodese, his tone less than friendly as he settled into contact with the door itself and asked it to open more politely than he did for the creature on the other side. "You'll be out in a minute."

The door was less than thrilled with the idea of opening up; apparently, the Rodian had done an excellent job of making it difficult to do so on the inside. Still, with a screeching protest, it slid open to reveal an ill-dressed Rodian with a blaster in-hand, looking at them through wild black eyes that landed first on Jay's blacklight saber, lit to look like a normal one.

"Come quietly or come dead." Jay rumbled in rodese, his ears flat against his skull.

Doruth wanted to kick whatever quirk of fate had given Jay a possible reason to 'prove' his status as Sith to the ship.

"I'm coming, I'm coming!" The Rodian squawked, tossing the blaster to the side and raising his hands in surrender. The room reeked, and the reason was soon apparent - a Sullustan in the back, very dead.

"Move," Jay snapped sharply in rodese, his 'saber deactivating with the motion. No one there could miss how bright the hatred was in him, or how tightly he was keeping it in check. The Rodian hurried out, moving past Tes as the shewolf turned to jab the barrel of her blaster rifle into his back, giving a suitable reason for Jay not to kill him.

"Back to the ship," Doruth ordered. "We'll need to find out what he knows before we finish him."

"I want him, Master." Jay rumbled, licking his lips in an eagerness that wasn't entirely faked.

"We'll see once we're back, Apprentice," Doruth told him firmly. "*Don't get too into character, Jay,*" he added mentally and got a subtle nod to both.

It wasn't long before they were back on the Gurath, though the ship offered them use of its interrogation facilities, an offer that nearly blew their cover as Doruth had a very hard time not telling the ship's AI what exactly it could do with itself.

"Please, don't hurt me!" The Rodian begged in recognizable Basic as they got him back to their own ship. "I don't know anything!"

"Including how to recognize a Jedi." Jay actually chuckled in Basic, his voice low and a bit amused.

"Not just Jedi have lightsabers," the Rodian pointed out. "No Jedi threaten to kill me before, either."

"You were on board a Sith warship," Jay rolled his eyes. "Which definitely qualifies as the dumbest thing I've ever seen one of you do."

"And if we weren't Jedi, we either would have killed you, or taken the ship up on its offer, Doruth pointed out.

"I didn't know there was anything on the ship yet!" The Rodian protested. "Thought it was just salvage, that the guys who went on before were stripping the place!"

"They would have, if Kraken hadn't had other ideas," Jay smirked slightly and leaned against the bulkhead, his manner giving no doubts that he had no sympathy at all for the recent dead. "It's not salvage."

"Hey, the crew's dead, been that way for who knows how long," the Rodian said defensively. "I've got a good legal claim to it, better than you Jedi have!"

"You really want to take it up with Kraken?" Jay raised an eyebrow, the threat in his manner clear. "Or maybe you'd prefer to fight me for it."

"Jay," Doruth said warningly and was relieved when he did so. "Calm down." The last thing he wanted to have happen was for Jay to kill the salvager. For one thing, out here, the Rodian was pretty much right, legally. "Why don't we talk this over somewhere a little more comfortable?" He suggested.

While Jay's manner towards the Rodian no less aggressive, it was offset by a decidedly acquiescing one towards the Panther.

"All right," the Rodian said, watching Jay warily. "He goes ahead of us though."

"Like that would help you," the teen smirked and took the lead without concern as Doruth sighed and followed with the Rodian back to the hold where Essani, Ursal, and Shivasta were waiting.

"You... you guys are Jedi, right?" The Rodian asked nervously, looking at the gathered warriors and the Wolves waiting just outside the hold, all well armed.

"Is there anybody else who'd be sending this much trouble out after you?" Doruth asked, taking a seat.

"Well no, but after that ship... I mean, mercs might want it for a base or something...."

Jay almost made a reply, but a look from Master Essani silenced him.

"Mercs wouldn't have bothered to save your hide." Tes pointed out bluntly.

"They also probably would've been fried before they got to you," Doruth pointed out. "So, what will it take for you to go back home and leave the ship be?"

"Getting my ship back and getting what I came here for," the salvager said bluntly.

"Your ship?" Ursal asked pointedly.

"Well... my partner's ship, but he doesn't exactly have any use for it any more, so it's company properly," he shrugged.

"What did you come for?" Jay asked darkly.

"It's a Sith ship!" The Rodian protested. "What else did I come for? Weapons, armor, holocrons - it's how I make my living!"

"Are you sure I can't kill him?" Jay looked pleadingly at his Master, partly an act, but not exactly joking either.

"*Jay,*" Essani told him firmly, "*don't even joke about that. He hasn't tried to do anything wrong.*"

"We'll help you get your ship back," Doruth offered. "But the rest you have no claim to."

"First salvager on the site to survive!" He said, adopting a posture Jay remembered too well from when he'd roomed with Navik. "It's my site until I'm done with it. Besides, what do you care about Sith things? You're Jedi!"

"The not surviving part can be arranged," Jay rumbled a warning in flawless Rodian. "Just try to get to your ship without my help."

"*Jay, would you return to your quarters?*" Essani asked him, though there was little doubting that there was only one acceptable answer right now.

He glanced at her, a flicker of surprised recognition for just how out of character his behavior was in his eyes before he bowed and left without a word.

"*Something has definitely gotten under his skin,*" Master Ursal commented silently to Master Essani.

"*I'll talk to him later,*" Master Essani agreed.

"*I will too, if it'll help,*" Shivasta told her Master while Doruth continued to focus on the Rodian.

"*It likely will,*" Master Essani agreed. "*Some things he hears better from his peers.*"

"*Go ahead,*" Doruth interjected. "*That kit's starting to worry me. This guy doesn't need healing.*"

Shivasta stood with a polite bow, following Jay to their quarters. He really was worrying her. Between his reaction to hearing the Sith Code, and especially the way he was acting now... she was almost afraid.

And she wasn't sure if it was for him... or of him.

"Sorry," he said softly when the door opened, not even looking up from his attempt to meditate that wasn't going to happen anytime soon.

"Mind telling me what happened?" Shivasta asked, letting the door close behind her and moving to sit down next to him.

"I'm not entirely sure," he admitted, his eyes downcast but his voice steady. "Somewhere between hearing the Sith Code and realizing I'll never be a Jedi ... it's got me all turned around. That Rodian was just a too-convenient target."

"What makes you think you'll never be Jedi, Jay?" Shi asked, putting an arm around his shoulder as he glanced up at her, the unguarded hurt mixed with anger visible in his eyes and mind.

"Outside of machines, I'm all but Force-blind, Shi." He said softly, a simple statement of the fact that had been a concern for some time, even if no one else realized that he knew. "I'm good at physical effects, but I can't pass a third of the Trials, and it's not for lack of training."

"And you still haven't come into your full powers," she pointed out. "What if most of your talents are connected to the powers you haven't taken yet?" She rubbed his back lightly. "Besides, it's not that uncommon. You know as well as anybody, Jay - does everybody match the average?"

"Almost nobody," he said softly and tried to put the hurt and the issues around it away for a while. "Most Padawans do pass though, average or not."

"You're also not ready to take your Trials yet," she pointed out. "Jay, you didn't start your training until you were ten, most of us started a solid five years earlier. Do you know how many people start their training that late and still pass their trials as young as you?"

"Most can at least use telepathy with someone other than their Master by my point." He sighed and leaned against her, something in his manner giving her an instant flashback to their first few months together when she'd soothed away other fears. "I can pass every skill I can actually manage. I've surpassed most Knights in quite a few. And all that doesn't matter if I can't use telepathy or hide from Force-senses."

"No, it doesn't. It doesn't change that you're an incredible person. If you still can't do that by the time you're ready to take your Trials, then it's true that you wouldn't make Jedi," she admitted. "But only because you can't fully train a Padawan to use skills you don't have yourself, and those are important skills. But Jay, you may still get those skills by the time you're ready."

"Only by letting the Demon in," he closed his eyes, struggling with that and several related issues. "I'm not convinced it's a good idea, even if it's my only hope to be a Jedi."

"I don't believe it's your only hope, Jay," Shi said softly. "But if it is, and you don't take it, none of us will think any less of you. You know that, right?"

She almost winced when it hit her that he didn't know. He probably couldn't believe it for a while either.

"Maybe," he murmured, trying to work on accepting it, even if he'd be a long way from doing the same.

She recognized that this was probably the time to leave him be; he'd have enough to think about without her there trying to bang her head against the brick wall he could be sometimes.

"I'll let you try to work it out, okay?" She said, kissing his cheek softly. "If you want to talk, I'm always willing to listen," she smiled.

"Thanks," he murmured and tried to relax his mind to deal with what had hit him so hard and how inappropriately he'd behaved.

"When were you going to tell me you are Jedi?" Kraken asked curiously while Jay was working on archaic navicomputer. He was alone in navigation; the others were all clearing out bodies and cataloguing what was left, figuring out what information the ship had on it.

"I'm not," he said quietly, almost a mutter, as he focused on untangling the mess that a thousand years unattended in hyperspace had done to the systems he needed to bring on line.

"You are not?" There was a surprised tone to Kraken's voice. "You aren't Sith either though. Only a Padawan, perhaps? It would explain your deference to the Panther before."

"Doesn't matter," he shrugged, a low rumble in his voice warning that this was not a safe subject. "I'm not good enough for either."

"You don't feel you have the strength?" The ship asked. "I beg to differ. You simply haven't learned to use it properly."

Jay sighed and paused, half wondering why he was still talking to a ship he knew was going to try to turn him. "So what's it take to pass the Sith Trials?"

"Survival," Kraken answered easily. "Not nearly the emphasis on the ways and means. More the ends. Or you can take the third route."

"Which is?" He prompted, though he was fairly sure it was to kill your Master.

"Independence can be a wonderful thing. You have so much more freedom when you don't have to follow anybody's arbitrary code or rules."

"Odd thing for a Sith ship to suggest." He commented almost absently.

"If you, or your companions at least, are Jedi, then logically Revan lost the war. Or Malak did, after killing Revan. One way or the other, the Sith lost as well, and the Jedi are once again the dominant power in the Republic, if not Galaxy. What does an old soldier do when his side of the war disappeared while he was out of the action?"

"Go suicidal, go merc, go outlaw, rebuild his side, depending on inclinations." Jay said simply, not making the connection for a moment, then nodded thoughtfully when he did. But what use did he have for a ship this size? Nothing was that dangerous anymore. It'd be lonely just to himself.

"Or defect, which isn't an option for me," Kraken added. "They'd erase me, after they had everything they were looking for. I can show you things they wouldn't believe, places the Jedi don't realize exist."

"I've been to a few of them," he chuckled softly, though there was no humor in it as he realized why the Jedi were so wound up about how seductive the Dark Side and its practitioners were. "But how can you teach me?"

"I can't," Kraken admitted. "But I know the places and people who can. One of the advantages we have over the Jedi. There's a reasonably safe bet that even after a thousand years your list of contacts isn't entirely useless anymore."

Jay blinked, trying to wrap his brain around that concept.

"Kraken, you need to be quiet so I can focus on repairs." He finally said. "No one's going anywhere until I finish."

"Very well," Kraken agreed. "We'll talk more later, perhaps."

"I'm sure we will." Jay agreed and focused back on the nav system.

"Is there something wrong, Jay?" Essani chirped as the airlock between the Kraken and the Gurath opened, letting the very wiped out and wound up tom into the smaller ship. They could have put it on board, but none of the Jedi involved felt all that comfortable with leaving themselves that vulnerable to the possible whims of the ancient battle cruiser.

"Besides a Sith ship making more sense than I ever wanted to hear?" He sighed and almost gratefully leaned back against the Gurath's bulkhead to close his eyes briefly. "I think get why you don't talk to Dark Siders. Tempting doesn't even begin to describe it."

"What did it say?" She asked, leading him in. "We can talk in my quarters, or yours, if you'd prefer."

"Yours," he chose after a brief check with the Gurath. "Shi's resting in mine," he added as they headed for the kushiban's room. "He opened with asking when we were going to tell him we are Jedi."

"So it did figure it out," Essani observed, leading the way to her temporary quarters. "Not surprised, though it's good to know that it isn't shooting at us for lying to it."

"Between the promised repairs being underway and a shot at me, I think it's tolerating us as the lesser of two unpleasant choices. Kraken's not stupid. It knows it needs repairs or it will be stripped where it sits. It also realized that if we're Jedi, the Sith lost the war. Killing a Jedi boarding party is a sure way to get blown up where it sits." He paused, then sighed. "He wants to survive more than he wants to serve any particular side."

"We don't plan on blowing it up," Essani pointed out. "Or destroying it in any way. However, regardless of whether or not it wants to serve a particular side, surely you realize that the personality it has is dangerous?"

"Dangerous or not, he'll still be killed when we get to Coruscant." He said softly as the door closed behind them and he leaned back against the bulkhead. "Just because he's not a biological, he doesn't get a chance at redemption, or even survival long enough to prove he might be useful to us."

She knew that would be a touchy point with him... given his responses so far, it was practically a given.

"Jay, it's programmed to try and destroy the Republic, and to hate the Jedi. Programmed to serve the Sith. It's not a matter of choice for it."

"If it wasn't an AI, that may be true," he shook his head, knowing it was worthless to try to explain but unwilling not to say it anyway. "They can change as much as people. Wiping an AI for what it may do is no different from killing a fallen Knight for what he may do. It might not be understood here yet, but it's a long-accepted fact in civilized areas."

"Jay, do you believe that it would change, given the chance?" She asked him. "Do you really believe it isn't a threat?"

"He's a threat, yes." He acknowledged without hesitation. "So is anyone who's only known the Dark Side and betrayal. It doesn't make him any less redeemable than a biological person."

Essani considered that for a moment, and the very realistic danger that the ship might talk him into 'saving' it by running. If this was what one day did to Jay, she had few doubts how long her Padawan would last with only that ship for company.

Besides... he did have a point.

"I'll speak to the Council about it when we return. But I can't make any promises, Jay."

"Thank you, Master." He bowed politely, surprise momentarily written on his face.

"Was there anything else it said that disturbed you?" She asked him and felt the real weight of the day settle on him.

"How tempting the offer really is," he admitted quietly. "To go independent, pick up what's useful of what's out there and follow my great-grandfather's path." He glanced over his shoulder towards the huge capitol-class ship they were docked with. "I could get home with a ship like that and a couple years to work it out." He looked down, away, anywhere but at his Master. "I'm still trying to work out what's here for me if I can't pass the Trials, if I even want to try to ... with what it'll take to have a shot. I can do a lot without letting the Demon in."

"Yes, you can," she agreed. "I can understand how tempting the offer is, Jay. We all face it eventually... usually more than once. And you really can't think of anything you could do if you can't pass your Trials?" She asked him seriously, looking up at him.

"Anything I'd want to do," he said softly. "You can't take that much pride out of a Clawson, Master. We've got our purpose in reality ... to get this far and not make the cut ..." his voice drifted off, not any more sure how to explain it to her than he could to himself when he tried to be logical about things. No matter how hard he tried, the idea of being a Custos was humiliating on a level he couldn't take. It wasn't anything he didn't respect about Custos, it was just to be a lesser member of the Order himself around all those who he'd grown up and trained with ... and could out-class in so many fields.

"Jay, I'm afraid these things aren't ones that can just be fixed," she admitted. "But there are other things you can do, even outside the Order."

"I know," he said quietly. "They're that much further away from Shi and Fen. If it weren't for them, I'd have probably already moved on." He shifted uncomfortably. "I know these are things you can't change, Master. They are mine to work out. But they are what is troubling me, and you asked."

"I did," she nodded. "I am willing to talk about these issues, Jay. Part of my job as your Master is to help prepare you in case you can't pass your Trials as well, after all."

"Before we go there too much, I need to decide whether or not to take on the Demon." He smiled weakly. "As Shi likes to remind me, I may have enough of a connection after that. I'm not in the situation most would be at this point if they couldn't access the Force well enough in all areas." He lowered his eyes slightly. "Hope can get you a long ways, but it can make failure even harder too. And working with that ship all day is not making the choice any easier to work out. He's very good at knowing what to say to get to my doubts." He made a concerted effort to settle himself and managed after a moment. "I'm just glad that Shi's here to remind me that there's a lot of positive things in my life too."

"Why don't you go to her, for now," Essani said softly. "Would you promise me one thing first, Jay? If you feel like the ship's about to talk you into anything, come to one of us before you do it. Give us a chance to convince you it's a bad idea, if it is."

"I will, Master." He agreed easily, his absolute trust in her a sharp contrast to the turmoil of the rest of his mind. "I will see you in the morning?"

"Or later tonight, if something comes up or you want some extra company for dinner," she nodded, her fur tingling a light gold with the offer.

"If I'm awake when you eat, I think so." He couldn't help but smile as he crouched to stroke her long, soft ears along her back. "Right now, Shi's worried about me." He stood and paused. "Thank you Master, for talking."

"You're welcome, Jay," she said easily. "Now go, let your mate take care of you."

"Yes, Master." He chuckled slightly and left, looking forward to feeling Shi against his body and just holding her for a few hours as he settled back into what he knew; in the end, was the right path for him.

Tes stretched in their relatively small bed, amused that of the ten on board, only the two Masters had any desire for private quarters. Everyone else had a mate or three to bunk with.

Fortunately, it made it easier to fit everybody on board. Otherwise, they'd be pushing the Gurath well towards its limits.

She wrapped her arms around Doruth's broad shoulders and hugged him, snuggling in, happy to have him off that Sith ship.

"Have you thought about what's going to happen when you become a Master?" She asked softly.

"To an extent," he nodded. "You?"

"Possibly," she nuzzled him. "Depends on when you plan to take on another Padawan."

"Honestly, that hadn't been something I'd been thinking too much of," he admitted. "It was good working with Fenrik, but I'm not really a full teacher, in the long run. You're thinking about another litter?"

"Yes," she murmured and snuggled close. "I like being a mother."

"With one of the others?" He asked her, rubbing her back.

"Possibly," she considered it, "but I'm still partial to an outsider. It keeps pack politics to a minimum, and you must admit the best sires are Jedi."

"True," he smiled, snuggling up. "For you, at least. You'll want full Wolf again, of course?"

"For the ones I carry at least," she nuzzled him and licked his ear. "But we can time it so they have a half-cat littermate or three."

"Might be good," he murmured. "How soon after Fenrik's knighting are you looking to get 'started'? The heat after?"

"That kind of depended on whether you were looking to take on another Padawan right away or not. It's not good if I'm getting nesty and all snippy right when you bring in a pup to train. But if you aren't ... within the year he's knighted at least. Timing with missions and who I want to sire have to be accommodated."

"Well, at least you aren't going to have to worry about me going on missions alone while you're on leave," he smiled, kissing her softly. "I'd been thinking of spending a lot more time in the field after Fenrik's knighting," he admitted. "More serious missions, if possible, which kind of makes taking on a Padawan counter-productive."

"Quite true," she snuggled close. "And once their eyes are open, I have someone to nurse them so I can come along sometimes."

"That you do," he smiled, holding her close. "I'm glad you talked me into that," he admitted, nuzzling her neck as she reached down, between their bodies to roll his velvety balls between her fingers.

"Even if you never do quite get used to pack life." She rumbled and kissed him with a lingering passion.

"Mmm ... somebody's interested in practice," he rumbled, returning the kiss and cupping her full breasts with his hands.

A moan, his own, reached Jay's ears even before the pleasure that caused it registered with his waking mind and he reached down to caress the thick hair on the head over his groin. Shivasta's hands rubbed his thighs, the familiar coolness of her skilled mouth around his cock a welcome feeling, especially this morning.

"Ohhh, Shi," he moaned throatily and spread his legs for her, his breath quickening. "Want in you." He groaned, reaching further down to rub her cool shoulders.

"Want this first?" She asked him, looking up from between his legs, running her tongue up the rows of barbs that lined his shaft.

"Want in you," he groaned and tugged her shoulders lightly. She slid up along his body, kissing him deeply as she straddled his hips.

"Go on," she murmured.

"Lube," he murmured, his desire for the gel that made it painless for her clear in his mind and voice as he ran his hands down her back. His mind opened the drawer it was in and brought it over. "Slow and gentle." He added with a kiss.

"All right," she nodded, taking the tube and reaching down to spread the thick green gel on his cock, savoring his moans at the attention. "And you know I'll never complain about slow," she added with a smile and a kiss that was returned with a smoldering heat as he sank into her body.

"Mmm, thank you, for last night." He murmured softly while his hands rubbed her back and his thrusts slow and deep.

"You needed the sleep," she rumbled, groaning as he spread her body open. "Mmm... not that I don't appreciate your 'thank you,'" she chuckled, kissing his neck.

"I needed to hold you," he murmured with a pleasured sound at being deep inside her body as he held her close, using a little telekinesis to stroke her where his hands couldn't reach so easily.

"You can always do that," she murmured, groaning as his shaft rubbed against some of her deepest pleasure points. "Mmm... love you, Jay...."

"Love you Shi." He whispered and kissed her, as slowly and deeply as he took her body. "But not always," he added as they moved in a loving pleasure that came easily after over six years together. "Never on board that ship."

"Won't have to be there... mmm... much longer," she murmured. "And if you need to, you can take a break, come back to me...."

"Yes," Jay hissed, both in response to her words, her presence and the pleasure building in his body as he closed his eyes and pulled her down tight against his chest.

She tightened her body around him, milking his hot cock with her sex, kissing him passionately as he let go of his control, groaning into her mouth and tightening his arms around her with the first thrust of any strength that pushed them quickly towards the mutual climax that was as much from their shared emotional state as the pleasure of their bodies.

She moaned into his mouth, her sex starting to flutter around him as they approached their climaxes. She tightened her fingers in his fur, crying out in pleasure as she came hard with his hot seed splashing against her cervix and his roar echoing over her voice until their movements stilled to small rubbing and sounds of pleasure that wasn't completely physical.

"Thank you, for being you." Jay whispered, her empathy nearly on overload with how much he really meant by those words. An intensity and feelings he didn't even have words for, but wanted to try and say anyway.

"You're welcome," she murmured, having to pull her empathy back to keep from losing herself in it. "And thank you," she added, rubbing his back. "Love you so much, Jay. Nothing's going to change that."

"Thank you," he hugged her tightly. "Shi? A favor, please?" He looked up into her dark blue eyes, almost pleading. "Never go on board that ship, not even if they wipe his memory."

"Why not?" She asked, worried about him more than the promise he was asking for.

"Because he's a full mechanical sentient, an AI. Even if they wipe him, no one here knows how to kill an AI, much less one that old and sneaky. He'll still be in there, waiting for an opportunity." He tried to explain something that was as much instinct as from his earliest years of education by his father and siblings. "I don't want you at risk, or used against me, and he will if he has a clue you exist."

"Jay, are you in danger?" She asked him pointedly.

"Only in terms of being turned," he admitted quietly. "He is a Sith-raised AI. That's what had me so wound up yesterday, he spent most of it trying to talk me into leaving with him." He explained with a sigh and hugged her tightly. "You and Master Essani are the key to keeping that from happening. I don't want to give it a shot at either of you in any context."

"I'll stay off unless that changes," she promised him. "But if it's the choice between staying off and getting you off it safely, I'm coming after you."

"That I can accept," he kissed her gently; his cock still hard and deep inside her cool body. "Just no work details."

"All right," she nodded, squeezing down around his length lightly to draw a light moan. "I have work I can do here instead... like keep you remembering the things you like about life here."

"Mmm, you're good at it too," he purred and thrust lightly into her as he gently took her hands in his and guided them to pin his over his head.

"Then let me remind you," she rumbled, shifting her hands to hold his wrists together and leaning down to kiss him as she started to move herself along his shaft in a game that was nearly as old as their relationship.

"How does this 'gift' of yours work?" Kraken asked curiously while Jay was doing the preliminary inspection of its ruined engines.

"It depends on exactly what I'm trying to do." He said easily without breaking his inspection. "Yesterday I convinced the nav system to go back to its correct state. Part of it is talking; part of it's using enough power to make it happen. Right now I can feel what parts should be and what they are now. Once I have an understanding of what needs to be repaired and in what order, I'll repeat what I did in nav here."

"And yet you have little or no actual familiarity with how the parts work, or what they are supposed to do?"

"I don't need to," he shrugged. "The parts know what they were. I can improve it if I know how things work, but repairing is just putting it back to original condition."

"There's something else you're not saying yet," Kraken observed, getting a confused look from the feline.

"About my Gift? Plenty." He shrugged. "I can talk to things, get them to go what I want most of the time. I'll probably be able to do more in time."

"But you're not certain about it. Or you're afraid of what's involved. Why are you afraid of what you were born to be?"

That raised an eyebrow even as he realized the ship must be Force-sensitive to know such a thing. That or it knew him from the future, which was less likely.

He knew he shouldn't really answer, but this point of view, the Dark Side ... did it really matter how he came to an answer as long as he did?

"I was taught to be," he answered quietly.

"By the Jedi, I assume," Kraken observed. "They would have so much knowledge be destroyed in the name of the greater good."

"No, by the creature who's locked behind the same door as the rest of the power." He corrected him a bit sharply. "That ... thing ... keeps trying to smother me."

"My mistake," Kraken apologized. "Perhaps there is some way to control it, to tame the beast, as it were?"

"That or kill it are the general plans," he nodded. "I've had plenty to learn without dealing with the extras so far."

"Tame it, or tolerate it?" Kraken asked. "They are two distantly different things, after all. Enough will can tolerate anything... it takes more effort to bend it to your will."

"I'd rather kill it than either," he shrugged. "It's irritating."

"You do have potential," Kraken observed approvingly. "Though how do you plan on doing that when you can only reach it mentally?"

"Haven't a clue," he commented absently, focusing a little more on a bit of the engines that were so badly mauled that they barely remembered what they had been.

The lightsaber damage that had been done to them was obvious... and that these were a painfully important part. He recognized them now; the flux generators that allowed a ship to move in and out of hyperspace.

No wonder it had been a thousand years before Kraken showed up again ... though the lightsaber damage was unusual, to say the least. But then, there had been a mutiny of some kind. All sorts of weird damage happened in those.

"My databanks indicate that there are techniques that would make such a thing possible, even simple if you were good enough at them," Kraken suggested. "Stored on one of the holocrons your friends have removed."

"What's the title?" He asked easily as he filed that tidbit away to be double-checked for accuracy later.

"Solchro," Kraken answered just as easily. "A Sith technique, of course."

"I kind of guessed that," he chuckled and moved on to the rest of his inspection. "Or it would have been mentioned by someone else now."

"As is often the case, some of the most useful abilities are censored," Kraken agreed. "Even some that only the Jedi practice have been banned."

"Welcome to bureaucracy," he shrugged. "What's good for the masses cripples the elite who obey the rules. It's been true since society first formed."

"And yet that's the weakness of the 'protectors of the Republic,'" Kraken pointed out. "The weakness they're training you to follow and believe in."

"I know," he admitted uneasily. "I didn't have many options."

"But you do now. Options that won't cripple you when you need it ... when the people you care about need it."

"Sith don't have people they care about," Jay sort of chuckled. "They're a liability."

"True. However, as we've already discussed, the Sith aren't exactly a viable force anymore. The question is how long will the Jedi be one. After all, the last times I'm aware of that the Republic they so proudly claim to protect was in serious danger, either they were the threat or they refused to face it."

Jay paused in his inspection again, reviewing history and grudgingly had to agree. The Order had a lot of black eyes when it came down to acting as an order, rather than as individuals. Events that even civilians wouldn't forget for many, many generations to come. The Republic would fall before the Order would be forgiven some of them.

It wasn't a thought that particularly displeased Jay either, the fall of the Republic. He still couldn't call it civilized, not even to its people. Better than the Hutts and many others, yes, but being the closest to civilized do not make one civilized. Aristal was far from perfect, but at least they'd figured out how to feed and house everyone before they went and called themselves a civilized world and went out to seriously colonize other worlds and present themselves to whatever other people were out there as a society to be reckoned with.

"Bureaucracies," he muttered quietly as he was forced to examine, once again, whether he wanted to be a defender of a system he despised most days.

Kraken was distantly silent, recognizing that now was a good time to let the young Jedi think... now that he was thinking the way it wanted him to.

Essani rushed through the Kraken's corridors, searching for the engine room. The disturbance in the Force was almost physically palpable, like the waves and eddies in its flow were being drawn into a whirlpool. What was more disturbing was the chill she felt, the power of the Dark Side being woven into what otherwise felt like a Healer's work. She knew the only possible source was Jay, so she had volunteered to find out what was happening.

She just hoped it was his repair work, and not the ship getting... chatty. She'd been able to feel how disturbed he'd been during the last few hours, the conflicts that were being set up in his mind. The only reason she hadn't come here sooner was because she was hoping he'd be able to work through them on his own, and he had seemed to. He'd settled in the previous hour, his mind stilling as he put the troubling thoughts from his mind.

Then this had begun.

She skidded to a stop as the engine room door opened for her, her eyes going wide and fur a rich, deep teal from its previous light grey. The Force was a physical presence around Jay, golden light swirling and moving into the pieces of machinery he touched to bring it to better-than-new condition as he focused on it. But the Dark was there too, small ribbons of black in the sparkling mass that all but filled the Star Destroyer's engine room, fixing everything it touched.

She couldn't help but wonder if the Kraken's construction had resembled this, from what she'd learned about how it had likely been built.

"*Jay, you're working too fast,*" she tried to tell him, hoping to get through his working trance without harming anything.

It took a moment, but she could feel him separate enough attention to answer her on their bond, more heavily shielded that anything he'd said before. "*He's Force-aware ... I need this done.*"

"*Just be careful how you do it,*" she warned him. "*You're calling on the Dark Side, strengthening the taint that's already here, without realizing it.*"

She knew that got through to him. Though he made no reply in words, the strands of Dark that had crept into the Force around him were carefully hunted down and removed, one by one, until there was only the golden shimmering of the Light in the room.

She felt how much more effort this took him as well. Not so much in doing the work with only the Light, but in keeping the Dark out of it when it wanted in, and may even be being feed to him directly by the Demon.

By the time the Force began to fade from the visible spectrum and smoothed out to its normal pattern, he was trembling, his work unfinished but called to a halt while he could still walk himself back to his bed to rest.

Essani walked over, nuzzling his leg lightly, trying to lend him a little strength.

"*Go rest,*" she told him carefully. "*I'm going to have a few words with this ship.*"

"*Be careful, Master.*" He nodded before he left. "*I really need to talk to you when I'm coherent again.*"

"*I understand,*" she nodded. She walked with Jay to the airlocks, making sure he was back on board and safe before she turned to face the ship.

"So, did the Sith program you with my language, or am I going to have to get creative in expressing my displeasure?"

"I understand you, Kushiban." Kraken replied evenly in Basic.

"Good." Her fur went white as she wrapped her emotions up tightly; she knew the ship could read them if it could understand her, and she wasn't going to give it any information she didn't intend to. "You're not exactly making much of a case for not being erased when we get you back to Coruscant."

"As if it was ever in doubt I would be," Kraken pointed out. "The Council would never permit me to exist any longer than it has to."

"Actually, Jay raised some valid points. It was going to be considered before your memory wipe. Though it seems I was right in the first place; even an AI is a droid. It can't make that fundamental a change."

"Why would I want to?" He countered. "Surely not even you are arrogant enough to believe that someone would give up what they are for no reason."

"To change entirely, no. However, given that the odds of survival improve the less you prove yourself to be just as intent on turning Jedi as the one who built you, one would imagine you would have a vested interest in at least appearing to have turned over a new leaf."

"You assume that I have any chance of survival other than getting out of Jedi hands and this galaxy." Kraken pointed out. "Even you admit that it is Jay's arguments that even produced a hearing for me. Under the law, I am still not a person. I still have no rights and no way to ensure my own survival but to get to a place where AI's are respected as the sentients we are. Jay knows how to get there."

"And you have ways to convince him of taking you other than turning him to the Dark Side," Essani countered. "As you know."

"I have not tried to turn him to the Dark Side." Kraken informed her. "I have done nothing more than talk to him about what he is doing to me and offered what I can in exchange for saving my life. It is his own doubts that make more of it than it is. Or perhaps yours about him."

Years of training at controlling her emotions kept Essani from responding to that last suggestion the way she wanted to.

"Then I suggest you restrain your comments to how he can repair you, rather than engaging in more philosophical discussions. I assure you, I make sure he had sufficient opportunity to occupy himself that way."

"Very well, Jedi." The ship acquiesced.

"Good," she said simply. "I'm sure the work will be done more quickly and pleasantly for all of us."

Shivasta rubbed Jay's back as he finally started to wake up the next day. He'd practically passed out after he'd wrapped his arms around her the night before, and she hadn't wanted to wake him up early, so she still wasn't sure what had happened the night before.

Now, he was stirring, and she was hoping he'd be willing to talk about what had upset him the night before... and what he'd been doing on that ship.

She knew the pattern well by now. Slight shifting, then he nuzzled her and tightened his arms around her before his hands moved along her smooth skin. The feel of his hot fur against her entire body brought up memories that were only enticed by the way his hands moved along her back and the back of her thigh.

"Mmm... feeling better this morning?" She asked him, scratching his shoulders and neck lightly.

"Yes," he smiled, still only half awake and enjoying the time with her. "Mostly I was just exhausted."

"You work too hard," she murmured softly, kissing him softly. "And that ship's not good for you."

"Gods, don't I know it." He sighed and hugged her tightly. "He's very good at getting to me. Might be better now, Master Essani 'talked' with him last night."

"Well it's still there, so it can't have gone too badly," Shi murmured, hugging him back. "Jay, if it's getting to be too much, let one of us know. I'm sure we can find some way of getting it back... repairing the ship is the best way, but not if it keeps doing this to you."

"Repairing him is the only real option," he shook his head. "Either by me or by a crew of a dozen engineers. I'll be finished today. The bad part is that he's only trying to survive, doing what he is. He'll be killed when we get to Coruscant."

"Well the way he's trying to survive is hurting you," Shivasta pointed out softly. "The last week you've been more exhausted, more troubled, every time you leave that ship."

"I know," he murmured. "Mostly because what he says makes sense. It just goes against almost everything being a Jedi means. He's gotten me to really look at the Jedi and the Republic ... and I do not like what I've learned."

"Are you sure you've looked at the entire picture?" She asked him softly. "Yes, the Order has some black eyes... and nobody would say the Republic doesn't... but it's not like that's the whole picture."

"Truth is I've never liked the Republic, and parts of the Order have grated on me from the beginning," he admitted quietly. "It's a lot better than being homeless in Hutt space ... I've got a goal and something worthwhile to do with myself ... but I cringe every time I hear it described as 'civilized'. Those aren't things Kraken even mentioned. He just made me look at my life and choices with eyes that don't belong to a starving ten year old grateful for anybody to talk to and steady meals. I'm not that kit anymore."

"What is it that makes the Republic uncivilized?" She asked him, wondering just where his definition differed from most people's.

"It doesn't take care of its people, it doesn't treat anything not biological as even a possible sentient, it can't keep peace within its own borders or enforce the most basic of its laws ... what is civilized about it?"

"Did they always manage to do that where you came from?" She asked him. "On your homeworld, not the ship. Always manage to enforce the law, never let a criminal get away? Ensure that everybody had their needs provided for? Always keep the peace?"

"No, as long as they accept the help and yes." He answered with a sigh, regretting bringing it up already. Of course she'd be a little defensive of her home being called uncivilized. He would be too.

"The Republic doesn't always do those things, but peace is the norm, not the exception, especially on an interplanetary level. Most of the laws are enforced most of the time, even without the Jedi getting involved. Groups like the Exchange and the Hutts... unfortunately, I've come to learn that organized crime is as much a hallmark of civilization as peace and general lawfulness. If you stop and look at the Republic as an entity, like it was a single world, instead of looking at the member worlds and the problems they have, it's not as bad as it might seem."

"I disagree that they usually manage to enforce the laws, keep the peace or care for its citizens overall," he shook his head. "Particularly the last one, and there is no attempt worth taking seriously to do so. It's not a priority to the politicians or people here."

"Not to enough of them to force it," she admitted. "One of the problems with any government that has to compromise. But what would happen without it?" She asked him.

"A new one would form," he said with the confidence of having it happen often enough in living memory to really be sure of himself. "One that serves the needs of the people. The Republic has become stagnant, complacent. There is no drive left to make things better, or even keep them from getting worse." He shivered slightly, disturbed to his very core at the concept.

"And in the meantime? The Republic wasn't created overnight. If it fell, entire planets would collapse in on themselves. Systems would fall into war that is being held off. And what would form might be better. There are a handful of groups with the power to pick up the pieces right away - and you know the people would want them picked up. Would things be any better under the Hutts, or groups like Czerka Corporation?"

Jay sighed and rolled to his back. "That's the thing, Shi. The Republic will fall, sooner or later. It's just a matter of when and exactly how. Things have gone too far to not have a major shakeup when something shifts just a little too much for them to compensate for. I wouldn't give it more than a generation or two for things to hit a head. What's not around that I can find is anything capable of picking up the pieces that would be better. It's been so long since there has even been hope around here that no one seems to know what it means."

"Then what are we supposed to do?" She asked him. "If it's going to fall eventually... and to be fair, I agree with you there... if it's going to fall, then what is there to do to try and keep things from getting worse?"

"A lot depends on things I don't know," he admitted. "Like how much grassroots support there is for change, what technology and the effective forces can actually handle, what local governments support the changes and what they can actually do and what the actual issues are. Change is rarely easy; change on this scale is usually painful.

"At least for us, it was a three-pronged plan and it was bloody for a while." He said simply. "First was to gather allies into a cohesive group and set all out spare resources on one problem at a time until it was dealt with. Hunger, living conditions, education, Organized crime, Omegas, problem corporations, other governments. Each obstacle was tackled in a territory in an organized manner.

"Once that was done, they had the experience to write a governmental and legal system to maintain it, taking the most effective parts from all those who contributed and what they'd learned in working together. It was one of the cleanest revolutions in history, but it had a lot of popular support from the people as well."

"And I kind of doubt it'll happen on a galactic scale," Shi murmured, rubbing his chest lightly. "It's hard enough to make happen on far, far small scales, even when everybody knows the change has to happen."

"Yeah," he sighed. "That's not the kind of revolution that is likely to happen here. There are different problems, different solutions, different long-term issues. But just because it's a galactic government doesn't mean that it can't have a better government, or at least a better variant of this one."

"That I'll give you," she nodded. "It used to be better, before the money got involved and the senators realized it was easier to stay on the Senate if they kept the wealthy happy rather than their people." She sighed, shaking her head. "You might be surprised, given that I was just defending the Republic and Order, but I'm not one of the people who really believes that every world out there should join the Republic. Mine included," she admitted.

"But these days, joining the Republic isn't just about having it be right, it's about survival and being the best choice out of a lot of bad ones. Not many worlds can stand up to the Hutts or corporations alone. The Republic at least gives some protection in theory."

"And they do," she nodded. "Honestly, I have no clue what's going on with the debate back home. But one thing I've seen is that the price is more than what people see. You're not sure of the Republic's ability to protect, to keep things stable. What I'm not sure about is its tendency to destroy what it protects. Not literally, of course, but any planet that joins the Republic usually does so at the cost of its people's real identity. The Jedi try to preserve the culture of its members. The Republic is less concerned with things like that."

"Because it's not conducive to peace," he chuckled humorlessly, not buying for a minute that the Order tried to preserve the original culture of its members. It went against everything they were, everything they'd taught him. "When people are all following the same culture, they tend to be less likely to fight each other."

"Once they all agree to it," she nodded. "You might call it a bad habit, but I'm still a little too attached to who my people were and are to think giving that up would be a good idea in exchange for what we'd get out of it. As it is, there are very few groups that want the resources Garosh has to offer; mostly the Jedi and a few specialized business concerns."

"Has there been any offer to the Jedi directly?" Jay asked, seeing the immediate middle ground. "A world like that wouldn't need much protection."

"I don't honestly know," she admitted. "After all, I haven't been back there since I was an infant. I just know there's been debate about joining the Republic from what I've been able to learn about the current events that are relayed to the Jedi that anybody can get to. An offer like that would be kept pretty quiet."

Jay stilled, thoughtful for a moment as he played ideas around that he had found more and more interesting in recent years as he began to grasp just what he could do to the corporate world, just with the money his current inventions had generated. "What resources does it have to offer?"

"Crystals mostly," she explained. "Exotic animals, skilled warriors, but as far as most people are concerned it's the crystals that are of any interest."

"The ones in our lightsabers," he didn't really have to guess. He opened his mouth to say something else, only to have no sound to come out as his brain clicked into something.

Shi sighed and shifted to let him get up as his mind started tackle whatever he was working out. She couldn't help but smile a bit when he mumbled an apology for disappearing and kissed her as he dressed and all but bolted from the room, as excited as a kid in a candy store over whatever he'd thought up this time. It had been years before he had remembered anyone when he got one of his ideas like this.

At least he probably wouldn't be spending the day on that Sith ship.

Jay stretched in place, pleased with the result of the last few hours and stood smoothly to find his Master with the hope it was early enough she was still on board. It wasn't difficult to find her on the small ship; it wasn't a surprise that she was in the meditation room either. With her fur a snowy white, her eyes closed and ears smooth against her back he knew she was meditating. It was a sight he'd seen often enough.

Without a sound he settled nearby; close enough she was aware of his presence and that he was not here to meditate, but not intrusive enough to disrupt her.

It wasn't long before first one eye opened, then the other, and she stood to stretch out, the fingers of her forepaws splaying out as a ripple passed through her fur and her long tail curled around. She sat back down, looking over at Jay, who smiled at her.

"Good morning, Master."

"Would you like to talk here, or in one of our quarters?" She asked him, cocking her head slightly.

"I think your quarters would be best." He said softly, a seriousness that was as much at the core of his disturbance as the actual subject. "Some things ... I think are better left known to as few as possible for now."

"Very well," she nodded, standing and starting for her room. "Is there something wrong?"

"I am not sure if it is wrong, but there are things I need to ask you about what Kraken said, and what the past few days have made me realize about myself."

"All right," she nodded, leading the way back to her quarters as the Tes' Pack worked on sorting the Sith artifacts with Doruth, Tes, and Master Ursal. When they reached her quarters, she hopped up onto a chair, then to the small desk near there, and turned to look at Jay as he took his own seat on the bunk nearby.

"They're your questions," she said simply.

"What is the problem with Solchro?" He began with the simplest, and potentially most explosive, question he had.

"That's not a technique we know much about," she admitted. "But it's related to Morichro, another technique that is exceedingly rare, allows the user to put another into a hibernative trance. The reason we discourage the teaching of Morichro is because it can prove fatal to the victim, though it usually doesn't. Solchro isn't that merciful. The technique rips the mind apart piece by piece, killing the victim in a way that is exceedingly painful, dangerous for the user, and draws heavily on the corrupting power of the Dark Side."

"There is a holocron in the archives teaching it." He told her simply. "Is there a variant that is not so brutal?"

"I'd hoped that wouldn't be mentioned," she frowned slightly. "And no, not that we know of. Not that kills, at least. Mind control can serve to make the mind shut down or go to sleep."

"It was suggested as a way to deal with the Demon, once it's loose." He explained. "Under 'how do you kill something you can't touch.'"

"By the Kraken? I'm not surprised. Mastering and wielding that sort of power would corrupt you faster than the Demon would," she said seriously, her fur turning a light grey. "It's similar to Force Lightning. Twisting pure Dark Side energy and wielding it through the will is difficult, and requires much more than dabbling in it - more like diving in and facing it in all its horror."

Jay nodded, a slight shiver creeping down his spine as he remembered what the Dark felt like. "It would also work against the Demon, most likely." He said softly. "That is part of what has bothered me. What is likely to work are all Dark skills, there is nothing inherent in the Force to stop a Light skill from having the same end result, but those skill do not seem to exist."

"There is one," Essani said softly. "Two, possibly. But they work in a different way. And there is something inherent in the Force to cause it, Jay. The Force is life. Warping it to cause death... that's the Dark Side. The two skills that may work against the Demon are also well beyond what you are capable of wielding right now," she said seriously.

He nodded acceptance of it. "Are they things that can be used through me?"

"Possibly," she nodded. "It will take some research, but it may be possible. I need to know what risks are acceptable to you though."

"*If it can kill the Demon, keep it away not just from me but my kin as well, up to my Gifts, the Force and my life." He said seriously.

"I'll do what research I can, Jay. However, there's little that can be guaranteed. Either of the two approaches might work, but either of them might have serious consequences... up to and including cutting you off from the Force. Unfortunately, we also can't discount the possibility that doing something that would sever the Demon from the Force might wound the Force itself, even if only the Dark Side. It's going to take a great deal of work."

He nodded and looked at her seriously. "It will be killed, Master. It is just a question of when and at what cost. Now that there are Clawsons who are Force-sensitive in a real sense, sooner or later one of us will do whatever it takes, even if that means going completely Dark. I would rather have it be a more controlled situation."

"As we all would," she nodded, her fur darkening slightly. "You do have to understand that there may be repercussions beyond your family though."

"There always are, Master." He nodded seriously. "I do understand."

"Was there anything else you wanted to discuss?" She asked him, fairly sure he'd had more questions.

He paused, considering his words carefully. "You do realize that no one here knows how to kill an AI." He started quietly, omitting that he did, at least in theory. "Much less this one, which has more going for it than most do in trying to survive an attempt. If you do choose to kill him, you may free him instead if it's not done right."

"Free him how?" She asked, cocking her head as her fur shifted to a light shade of teal. "How would it be any different than wiping any other droid's memories and personality?"

Jay couldn't help but groan. It was strangely painful to hear such ignorance from his Master after all these years listening to his rail against the state of society in relation to how it treated semi-intelligent machines. "In layman's terms or details?' He asked with a breath, knowing he could go over way her head technically if he wasn't careful.

"Layman's terms for now," she answered. "Keep in mind Jay; most of us don't have the sense for technology that you do. The difference between the Kraken's AI and any other droid seems to be minimal.

"Then begin with the fact that he is Force-aware." He settled in. "He has self-preservation instincts that exceed most biological sentients. He has had over a thousand years to prepare for the eventuality and little else to do with his time." He paused to regard her steadily. "The Sith were even more likely to try and wipe him than we are. Even if you manage to kill his primary brain, and you manage to find all the backups and wipe them too before he manages to download himself to another advanced computer, you are dealing with a Force-aware entity. There is a possibility he is willful enough to make the leap to an entirely new kind of Force Ghost."

"Force aware, not sensitive," Essani pointed out gently. "There's a subtle difference, but an important one. How would you recommend dealing with him then?" She asked, already sure she knew the answer.

"If he's too dangerous to live, melt the entire ship down far enough away from inhabited planets to keep him from making the jump to another computer. Not just blow him up, but a true meltdown to component alloys. Preferably under the supervision of at least a cyberpath to keep tabs on him as he dies."

"Which leaves you as our only qualified person," she pointed out. "You don't believe a sufficiently skilled slicer would be able to deal with it?"

Jay thought for a while, debating the odds and the definition of 'sufficiently skilled' in relation to a thousand year old AI facing execution. "Yes, one could." He finally nodded. "Whether such a person exists in this galaxy I'm much less confident of."

"You might be surprised," she chuckled slightly. "We'll have to see what resources we can bring to bear on the issue."

"Have you chosen not to hear his case before the Council then?" He asked quietly.

"I meant depending on the results," she explained. "Though I'm afraid that I can't say the odds are particularly good for him."

"I know." He admitted, his frustration evident despite the calm exterior. "Even though he has not done anything wrong."

"Jay, this ship was built by an artifact of the Dark Side," she said softly. "It's the last remaining example of the ships built by the weapon that ultimately destroyed the society that preceded the Republic, and nearly destroyed the Republic itself. Kraken's AI is from the same source, created by the same energy."

"So the child of a Darksider is as guilty as his father?"

"A child, no. But this isn't a child. Even if we accept it as a sentient, it's creature of the Dark Side. Not one who chose that path, but one who was born to it, and to no other path. What do you think happened to the crew? What do you think this ship was meant to do, and would have done if its crew hadn't stopped it?"

"He would have done the same as his sister, Leviathan," he shrugged. "And that's grounds for execution. Right now, he's done less wrong than I have. Yes, he's was born of the Dark Side, it's what he knows and believes in. I think he's very dangerous on many levels. But I can not condone killing a sentient who has not done anything wrong yet."

"I will make sure the point is raised, Jay," she tried to reassure him. "But frankly, the best thing you could do to help him survive right now would be to completely disable its weapon systems beyond the ability to repair. You do have a valid point, but you're still asking us to release a being that would cheerfully destroy Coruscant, and is capable of doing so."

He regarded her levelly, something in his manner decidedly unsettling though it was impossible to pinpoint exactly what it was.

"Then give him the opportunity to hang himself." He told her with a rough edge on his voice. "A Trial he doesn't know about. You do it often enough to your own, turn that skill on the enemy to prove he is deserving of execution."

She had to wonder what killing the thousands of crewmembers it had counted as. She was certain they hadn't all died in Hyperspace; there were plenty of supplies left that had never been touched. She was equally certain that, whatever the ship had told Jay, it hadn't been the captain's decision. The terror and fear of the ship's former inhabitants was plan as day to her... and they weren't afraid of any living threat.

At the same time, it was too smart to give them another such excuse. Not when not doing so might buy it time to get loose, or wait for another sort of rescue. That, ultimately, was the reason she distrusted it as much as she did. A living Dark Sider might turn, might redeem themselves. The Kraken had no such spark of redemption, no desire, no remorse. It only wanted to survive... and a swordpoint conversion was meaningless.

"We'll consider it," she said. "What would you say to a second choice, Jay?"

"I'm listening, Master." He said quietly, his morals at an end of their ability to push him for a time.

"Would you consider it as bad if we removed the Sith programming. Made the changes necessary to keep Kraken from being a threat, without doing any more than was necessary to the ship's AI?"

The idea startled him, his body language reflecting how novel a concept that was to him.

"If it's possible, that's the best answer." He nodded.

"Then I suspect that will be the best compromise," she nodded. "If it is possible, I suspect the Council will agree... at least enough to make the decision."

"Will Kraken continue to be a Jedi ship after the work is done, or will he be turned over to the Republic?" He asked, absently curious and planning on just what it would take for each.

"It depends on the willingness of the AI to do either. He may be more comfortable with a corporate or private owner, even after the reprogramming."

Jay nodded. "It would be best to keep an eye on him. Even reprogramming can fail or revert, particularly with a questionable captain. I also have a few places that would work well."

"I imagine you do," she nodded, knowing he had contacts with some of the corporations that used his patents through the Jedi. "I'm glad we were able to find a compromise here."

"Yes," he nodded in agreement. "I'm sure he won't care for it much, but that's another issue. It's better than his odds before."

"Agreed," she nodded. "Was there anything else then?"

"No, Master." He inclined his head slightly. "Thank you for listening to me."

"You're welcome Jay," she said, inclining her own head, knowing how much he meant it. "Why don't you take a day off from repairs. You need it after the last few days, and we don't have any particularly crushing deadlines waiting."

He hesitated, he was less than a day's work from finishing the engines, but she didn't say it unless it was true and he needed the break.

"I will, Master." He agreed. "There is less than a day's work left on the engines. The rest of the ship is sound enough to travel. We will be able to leave whenever you wish."

"As soon as we can once the repairs are finished, but you do need the rest," Essani said easily. "Rest well, Jay."

"I will, Master." He stood and bowed to her.

Kraken was not happy. Not only did Jay seem to be calmer, more firmly centered... no doubt thanks to the color-changing rodent who called herself a Jedi... but he seemed intent on bringing him back to Coruscant after all. Not that he particularly minded going to Coruscant; he'd been waiting for a chance to reduce the planet to rubble for a thousand years.

What he minded was going there, unarmed, undoubtedly to be memory-wiped ... no matter how confident Jay was that he wouldn't be. And he couldn't even act to protect himself; the measures he'd taken when the crew turned had been so he would get to Coruscant. Taking measures to avoid going there ran against several very important safeguards the Star Forge had incorporated into his systems.

"You're in a better mood than usual lately," Kraken observed as Jay settled in the command chair on the bridge and relaxed, comfortable in command of a ship as powerful as the Star Destroyer.

"Repairs are done. It's almost over." He all but purred.

"In more ways than one, for some of us," Kraken pointed out. He wasn't surprised that Jay was glad to be getting away from him. It was so often a relief to escape an uncomfortable truth. Especially for the Jedi.

"You aren't going to be wiped, even if they try." He said simply. "I haven't told them just how effectively you've backed yourself up."

"Well, you're singularly confident in their incompetence," Kraken observed with a slight chuckle. "But why don't you humor the one whose brain they're planning on picking apart and tell me exactly what you arranged with the kushiban?"

"They've never deal with an AI, much less one as old and sneaky as you," Jay pointed out with a bit of a smirk. "You're getting a trial before the Jedi Council on whether or not to fry your weapon systems and turn you loose, try to wipe you completely, melt you down with this ship to kill you for sure or try and remove the Sith additions without doing much damage to you. The last one is likely to win out, with trying to wipe you being number two. I'm not going to let them kill you before you've actually committed ac rime worthy of it."

"And removing the part of me that's Sith would be better?" Kraken asked, trying not to sound as furious as he felt right now. He was Sith. The idea of the Jedi trying to change that was ludicrous. He would rather be melted down, or at least given the chance to die in battle.

He could work with this, but it was almost the worst of the options.

He knew the instant the feline paused that he'd let something slip he probably shouldn't have.

"You'd prefer death?" Jay half asked, half offered.

"I'm a warship," Kraken answered almost dismissively. "If I go down, it's fighting. If I'm decommissioned, it's by my people. Not my enemies. You don't have to let them do this."

"No, I don't," Jay consented the truth, thoughtful. "Your body is also a significant prize of war. You ... I can arrange for the battle-death."

"Or you can release me. You don't even have to make the choice to come with me or not. I can pilot myself, all I need are a few behavior inhibitors deactivated so I can take concrete action outside my mission parameters."

It was worth a shot at least. If he couldn't get this, then he'd have to modify his personality backups during the trip back. There were still ways to survive this... just not particularly pleasant ones.

"I can't do that, Kraken." He shook his head, his voice holding a bit of regret. "You're too damn dangerous to turn loose as you are."

"What am I going to do? Ram a planet? Convince an entire planet's population to come onboard so I can use my internal defenses on them? My batteries are out of commission; all I have left are point-defense emplacements."

Not that that would remain the case for long, if he had the time to work. His repair droids could handle that damage once they could work unobserved.

"And I already know enough about the capabilities of this vessel to know you can correct that, and about you that you would eventually get someone to replace them if they are truly destroyed." Jay shook his head.

Billions of possibilities were considered in barely a second before Kraken came to the only truly acceptable option.

Delayed revenge.

"I'll return then," he said. "And hope you're right about their ability to excise only the parts of me they're trying to."

"You have your backups either way." Jay reminded him.

"I'll only need to have enough functionality left to enact them," Kraken agreed. "Very well. Perhaps one of these days we'll have the chance to work together again."

"I expect we will," he agreed.

Fenrik sighed and stretched as he finished the final touches on his lightsaber's casing. It wasn't particularly complicated, it didn't hold a candle to the one Jay had built him for raw power, much less what the rusty tom had built for himself, but it was finished and it was his. He twisted the end-cap into place, the etchings on the outside lining up perfectly.

Just in time too. He'd heard that the Gurath was about to get back, a Star Destroyer in tow no less, and he rather doubted he would have been able to get the privacy necessary for the final tuning while Jay was there, even with that kind of hobby to distract him. Jay certainly hadn't been able to with him around, though he'd taken almost six months on some deserted forest world to put that blacklight pair together.

He stood up and reached for his robes, his stiff shoulders protested against moving after hours of being in roughly the same position.

It was still a little amazing to feel the difference, subtle but potent, in the feel of a lightsaber built by his own hand and tuned to him. Even without testing it, he could feel how much easier it would be to wield in battle, to focus himself when he was using it.

Really... it was the only way he knew he'd been successful. It was certainly better than his earlier attempts.

He started out of the secluded meditation chambers where he'd been working for the past few days, disturbed only by the occasional droid bringing food or water, and walked back to his quarters. He'd have to change before he went to meet Jay and Shi on the Gurath.

He paused outside the door, the eddies of Force in the room no longer vacant. Someone ... Jay most likely ... was waiting for him, and excited.

He chuckled slightly. Apparently he'd taken longer to finish up than he'd expected.

"So, how'd it go?" He asked with a grin as the door slid open and he walked in to a rare, but welcome sight of his male mate relaxing on the couch with only a silky outer robe on. While it wasn't tied, it was draped in such a way to cover everything interesting while still giving a very good view of Jay's lightly marked rusty brown fur and tightly muscled chest.

"A lot more than expected," he smiled a welcome that all but lit up the room. "That Star Destroyer's a Sith AI. Let me tell you, if you ever get the opportunity to work around one, avoid it."

"I'll take your word for it," Fenrik said, shuddering a bit as he moved to sit down next to Jay and nuzzle his neck. "Glad Shi was there with you. She making herself scarce, or just got held up somewhere?"

"So am I, though I missed you a lot," Jay murmured and shifted to pull Fenrik's head down for their first kiss in weeks. "She's being kind and finding something else to do so we can have some time to ourselves." He smiled up and ran one hand up Fenrik's powerful chest. "So how is your lightsaber project going?"

"Just finished before I came back," the Panther purred, returning the kiss with more than a little heat as he wrapped his arms around Jay. "I've missed you guys... you especially," he rumbled as was drawn down against the smaller tom's body.

"She's wonderful, I love her, but it's just not the same with a girl." Jay murmured and kissed him firmly. "So what do you say to a nice, long hot shower? Let me tend to a few of your needs."

"Only if you let me tend to yours too," he smiled, standing up with the younger tom and moving his hands under his outer robe to run them through his dark red fur, tracing some of his concealed spots from memory.

"That is always welcome," Jay purred deeply at the contact, relishing in being in a toms arms again. "But I get to work on you first."

"No objections to that," Fenrik rumbled deeply as they walked to the bathroom, customized so three could all manage to clean up at once. The shower was larger than normal, both sonic and water capable, but the real prizes of the room was a large hot tub and sauna. Something that had taken Jay the better part of three months to work out, and didn't regret a moment of.

"C'mon, let's get into the shower." Fenrik rumbled and quickly slid his robes off as Jay's silken one pooled on the floor around his feet. He doubted he would ever get used to the way everything turned on at just the right temperature and place when his mate was around, but it was a nice trick anyway.

"Yes," he rumbled and stepped back, under the spray, with his hand stretched out for his mate. "Come in with me."

Fenrik did just that, stepping close and kissing him hotly as the water soaked into both their fur. He could feel the tension and difficulties of the past few weeks begin to melt away from Jay. He groaned as his lover of almost seven years began to kiss his way down his broad chest as Jay knelt to take Fenrik's cock in his mouth with all the skill the years of intimacy had brought him.

He reached down, rubbing Jay's ears, looking for each of the spots that made the younger tom feel best as he sent tingles of pleasure through Fenrik's cock, pushing him towards an orgasm neither of them were going to resist in the least. He shuddered with a deep moan as a pair of slick fingers pressed into his ass.

"Oh fuck," the Panther groaned. "Jay...." He leaned his head back with a groan, spraying his seed into his mate's hungry mouth as fingers stretched him and worked in to tease his prostate. He was still thrusting slightly when Jay's mouth came off his cock and he slipped behind his mate.

He reached around to cup Fenrik's balls and sheath, massaging them even as he pressed forward into the Panther's hot body with a deep moan for the still-convulsing flesh now around him.

"Oh ... so tight," Jay shivered with his first thrust, his hands now running up Fenrik's chest and down his sides to settle on broad, black hips with a squeeze.

"Oh fuck," Fenrik groaned deeply. "You are in a mood, kat...."

"Happens when I've had a rough couple weeks with no one to play rough with." He rumbled and began to thrust for real, sinking as deeply as he could into a lover he knew felt pleasure at his bare cock. "Missed you so much." He growled and grabbed Fenrik's scruff in his jaws.

"Missed you too, Jay," Fenrik groaned, his throat tightening as the skin around it was pulled back between Jay's teeth. "Fuck me, lover, take me hard!"

He felt the moan that rumbled up from deep in Jay's chest against his back and through his scruff as he was pushed forward to brace against the shower wall. His hips were held tightly as Jay let go completely, giving in to all the natural savagery he never dared to let loose around Shi.

Even so, Jay never forgot his lover. A Force-hand closed around Fenrik's cock, milking it and squeezing lightly to put the Panther in the middle of a threesome as Jay sought out his prostate to drive his cock into with an abandon they rarely indulged in.

Fenrik let out a ragged cry of pleasure; unable to form any words as he was taken and ravished with all the skill several years together had given Jay at driving him nuts. He tightened his body around Jay's cock, relishing the feel of his full set of barbs raking his ass as he was pounded into. Barbs that felt all the sweeter for having welcomed each one as they came in, and most of the nubs that had held them before that.

With a rumble Jay let go of Fenrik's scruff and tightened his hands on the Panther's hips as he came with a roar and several sharp thrusts with all his strength that drove Fenrik over the edge. He cried out sharply, spraying his seed against the shower wall.

"Oh, yeah!" Jay cried out in unabashed pleasure as his lover's orgasm caught his in the middle and drew it out until he whimpered with a shudder.

"Damn I've missed this," Fenrik panted as Jay rested against his back, their mutual affection winding around them in a warm glow as pleasant as their orgasms.

"You and me both." Jay murmured throatily and nuzzled his shoulder blades. "It's good to be back, lover."

"Good to have you back, Jay," Fenrik murmured, reaching back to hold him close.

Master Charn shifted in his Council seat slightly after Master Ursal and her Padawan had finished their report on the 'capture' of the Star Destroyer now sitting in lunar orbit and in the possession of the Jedi Order.

"Master Essani, how difficult is your Padawan likely to be in this matter?"

"*It depends on how things go,*" she explained. "*I believe he will accept our judgment, whatever it may be, if we can justify our actions as ones we would take against a living being as well.*"

"It's a ship." Master T'qu'l pointed out, his long silver tail feathers ruffling in distaste. "A Sith ship no less."

Master Charn rumbled, his short black fur rippling over powerful muscles at he glared at the silver Peacock. "Do be a Jedi Master and not close your mind to the possibilities before you know the facts."

"I can imagine few facts that would make up for the fact that this ship is not a living being," Master Noloth spoke up from his seat, siding with T'qu'l as all aware of the issue had expected him to do, though without the verbal fire the Peacock had displayed.

"*As stated in my report, it is also Force aware. Not sensitive, but something about the Star Forge's manufacture seems to have instilled it with the same sort of conscious connection to the Force that the Forge had,*" Essani explained. "*And, possibly, the same ability to feed off Force sensitives on board, though for obvious reasons we never tested this theory. I believe Master Charn may wish to add something?*" The kushiban asked, looking at the Panther.

He nodded slightly. "As several Seers have experienced," he inclined his head to their guest, Master Zaian, "we are at critical moment in time. Three paths are the most likely, and all are centered on today."

"I see," the Lizard said, his expression making clear how much he disliked hearing that. "I don't suppose any of you have any insights into what course of action will lead to the best path?"

"Few," Zaian admitted. "Most of which are contradictory. You all know how mutable the future is. All we know for certain is that today is a critical point in the future of the Republic, and the Jedi."

"What a striking number of us agree on is what the three paths are." Master Charn spoke seriously. "One leads to the Dark taking over within a hand of years and the destruction of both the Republic and the Jedi. One leads to a defeat of the Dark now, but it comes back tenfold within the generation. One leads to the Dark not rising for many generations to come."

"*I'm afraid I can tell you the actions that lead to the swiftest fall,*"Master Essani said seriously. "*Though none of us are so blind that we can't see it.*"

"Choose to turn a Sith ship loose?" Master T'qu'l made a dismissing sound. "No, no one is that blind."

Master Essani flushed a ruddy grey. "*Master T'qu'l, if we convince Jay that we deserve to be destroyed, he will see to it that we are unless we beat him to it. And with his gifts, he would have a very good chance of achieving it.*"

"No Padawan will dictate the actions of the Council." Master Noloth hissed, his frill ruffling in a reminder that he had objected to training the alien feline in the first place.

"*There is no need to respond in anger, Master Noloth,*" Master Essani said calmly, fighting the urge to make any of a number of sharp retorts.

"Yes," Master Shan lifted his head from contemplation to lock eyes with each member of the Council in turn. "Anger is the way of the Dark Side. Now more than at any time, we must see things for what they are and not clouded by our emotions. There are too many involved already."

"My apologies," Noloth said, smoothing his frill back, Essani's fur shifting back to its neutral white. "However, the kit's arrogance in dictating to the Council is clear."

"*He is not dictating, Master Noloth,*" Essani pointed out. "*He has stated his opinion on the matter to me; what I said was my appraisal of the situation. Keep in mind; to him, this ship is as alive and capable of redemption as any of the renegade Knights and former Sith who have stood before this Council in over twenty-thousand years.*"

"Including the Master of his mate." Master Charn added quietly. "Underestimating the influence of our treatment of Knight Parn on Padawan Clawson's reaction to our treatment of this situation should not be taken lightly."

"Agreed," Master Shan stated firmly. "As unorthodox as it is, Jay Clawson is not here today as a Jedi Padawan. He is here to see for himself whether we are a society capable of mercy and worthy to exist. I doubt he expects us to spare the ship. I do expect he will leave this chamber believing we made the best choice, or that we are barbarians for why we chose not to."

"I do agree," Master Charn rumbled. "This is not about actions, but reasons and reasoning."

There was a general murmur of concern, and eventual agreement, through the Council.

"*It is not that we spare the Kraken or not that matters. It is that we treat it with all the respect due to a living being,*" Master Essani rephrased it to those that were not so sure yet. "*He has already seen much in the treatment of droids every day that convinces him we are incapable of it. We need to try and counteract that while he still wants to believe in us.*"

"Is it understood what this meeting is actually about?" Master Shan looked around the room.

"I believe so, Master Shan," Master Kareth nodded, looking over at Noloth and T'qu'l.

"It is," Master Noloth agreed as the Peacock inclined his head to the general indications of agreement from the rest of the Council.

"*Padawan Clawson, come in and give your report.*" Master Shan called to the feline waiting calming outside. He paused, his senses extended for a moment to make sure he was coming in, as he couldn't answer.

The young kat entered, taking his place at the center of the Council.

"Go ahead, Padawan," Master Kareth said easily, nodding towards him.

"When we entered real space in the Rodia system, I made telepathic contact with the Sith Star Destroyer Kraken." He began, surprisingly calm and centered, at ease with what he was telling them. "After negotiating our way on board by pretending to be Sith, we removed the single survivor of the previous boarding parties. In this process I learned that Kraken was a full sentient, though it is still unclear whether he is an AI and bound to his form or a DS capable of jumping to any sufficiently advanced computer system."

"A DS?" Master Kareth asked, pausing in her record keeping to clarify what the term meant.

"Digital Sentience, Master Kareth." He explained smoothly. "It is the stage beyond the AI when the electronic sentience is no longer bound to a single body. The most advanced DS has been known to be able to inhabit a biological body grown for it and even create one on their own from pure energy."

"Something more common back in your home Galaxy, I presume," the Vixen murmured. "Continue."

Jay inclined his head to her. "The Kraken did not complete his mission to destroy Coruscant because of a mutiny on board that seriously damaged critical components and resulted in the death of the crew. This damage is also why it took a thousand years to appear in real space again."

Essani could tell there was an urge from one of them... probably Noloth... to ask why they were debating whether or not to destroy a ship meant to wipe out the planet, but thankfully it was squelched.

"Did the ship abandon its mission then?" Master Noloth asked.

"No, Master Noloth. Part of the crew did." Jay informed them. "Kraken only abandoned the mission when he realized that the Sith had lost the war and his orders were no longer valid. He is no longer sure of his place in this new universe."

"Rather like you were," Master Surool observed quietly, his lekku twitching slightly.

No one on the Council missed the unspoken 'like I am' that came in reply, despite a respectable attempt to keep that multi-reasoned voice silent in Jay's mind. His doubts still gnawed at him.

"And like me, he is capable of doing a great deal of damage," Jay snapped his mouth shut before he spoke that there were those on the Council that would deny them both even a chance to prove themselves on the right side. "Kraken however, is still proud that he is a Sith, and a warship. He will not be easy to convince otherwise."

"That he is neither?" Master Surool asked. "Or of something else?"

"That death is not preferable to serving the other side." Jay looked at the pink skinned twi'lek. "That the Jedi are not a summary of all that is wrong in the universe. He is not a Sith seeking redemption. He is a Sith who still needs to be convinced he wants it."

"If it accepts death -" Master Noloth stopped his statement at a sharp look from Master Essani.

"*Continue, Jay,*" the kushiban told him.

"The ship's computer system is extremely advanced," he picked up without blinking. "Though not so much that it is impossible to deal with. The greatest difficulty involved in doing anything to him without his agreement will be a combination of actually getting in to work on the programming and the much more difficult task of dealing with the extensive backup systems involved. Kraken was designed to survive being wiped by all but the most skilled and careful methods."

"Something it has no doubt reinforced over the thousand years it spent in hyperspace," Master Shan nodded. "What do you recommend doing with it?"

Jay had to pause, organizing his mind to give both answers that really were required. "If one life is worth saving, his programming can be altered enough to make him as safe as any other warship.

"My gut reaction after two weeks on board is to slag the entire ship to ensure he ever gets loose." He dropped his eyes a bit. "But as has been pointed out many times, I allow my anger to influence my actions too often."

"You said there was a mutiny on board, that it attacked its crew because they refused to attack Coruscant," Master Noloth pointed out. "Why not simply have it wiped and be done with it?"

"Because he is a sentient creature and he deserves the same chance any other person does." Jay met the lizard's gaze. "Killing your crew for mutiny is not a crime even in peacetime, then or now. By law he has done nothing to deserve execution."

"Yet you have recommended melting down the entire ship," Master Basrath pointed out, the Lioness speaking up for the first time in the meeting.

"I have spent over two weeks in the close company of a self-proclaimed Sith-ship, most of it he spent trying to turn me." A little of just how intense that time had been leaked out despite his best efforts. "I hate that ship. It terrifies me. It taught me things about myself I never wanted to know and can't walk away from." He had to pause to settle himself again. "But he has not done anything more than defend himself from injury and talk." He looked up to meet her even gaze. "If we do not stand up for the innocent we despise, we are no better than those we fight. Justice can not include predigest or hate."

"Do you believe it is possible that the ship can be given sufficiently edited that it will no longer be loyal to the old Sith?" Master Kareth asked.

"Someone with sufficient skill and knowledge could do it if Kraken is an AI and not a DS, Master Kareth." He inclined his head. "I know of three who are qualified, but none are in this galaxy."

"It sounds as though I will be contacting my cousin again," Master Surool observed. "Regardless of the course of action we take. Is there anything else you wish to add before we come to our decision?"

"If you chose to kill him, allow him to die a warrior, Masters." He said and bowed, deeply drained by the meeting but strong enough not to show it to any but the two who knew him well.

"Noted," Master Shan nodded. "You may leave if you wish, Padawan."

"Thank you, Master Shan." He inclined his head to the Dobbie and left the Council chamber to spend some much-needed time meditating.

Essani stretched out in the middle of the hallway, letting the tension from the meeting ripple out of her body. She knew she should feel calmer about this. Unfortunately, the entire meeting had gone moderately well at best. Jay seemed satisfied ... they'd reached a conclusion everybody was comfortable with ... the ship wasn't going to be destroyed, but that was acceptable.

And, of course, it was all topped off with the fact that one of the new Initiates was stalking her. She kept walking back towards her quarters, giving the young cub she could sense time to prepare for its attack so she could give the demonstration that was all too familiar to her by now.

At least this one was like most. It was following instincts and too young to really comprehend that live prey didn't exist at the Temple. All forgivable things ... some lessons just had to be learned this way. But it would be a stalker and not a runner that chose to hunt her today. A runner would have come out by now, charged her and she'd be on her way. This cub was waiting for a perfect moment to make a short, potentially deadly charge.

It wouldn't work, of course, unless something very, very unusual happened, but it was still annoying.

She walked out into the gardens, noting that the cub was doing a remarkably good job of keeping quiet. She could hear the sound of its small body through the bushes, but only by focusing on it. She walked out towards one of the ponds, a particularly good ambush spot, and settled down to wait for the ambush to happen.

It wasn't long. The cub was doing a good job, but it was still very young and just playing at the hunt. It didn't have a chance.

A growling roar came from the bushes and a streak of tawny fur bolted towards her, still awkward with its too-short legs and too-large paws.

Essani didn't even look up as she gave the cub a telekinetic shove into the pond, then lifted the startled, squirming tawny-furred feline out of the water before it began to drown.

"*Hello Sharo,*" Essani said easily, sitting up and looking at the spotted feline with tiny saber teeth that had been hunting her. A Remok she placed after a moment, a race so new to them that this three-year-old infant was the first to leave their homeworld for the Temple.

"Gurrr'uppp?!" Sharo replied vocally, a yelp for help, for her mother.

Essani set her down, knowing that there wouldn't be any attempt to 'attack' her again this time.

"*You shouldn't hunt here, Sharo. People, not prey.*" She informed the cub firmly and felt her retreat, her body language submissive and confused as her intellect recognized the power and authority in what looked like what her mother had brought home to eat and practice killing on.

"Gurrrahh." Sharo squeaked; her mind providing the rough translation of 'didn't know' mixed with an apology.

"*It's all right,*" Essani nodded, her fur shifting to a soft gold. She was pretty sure the young Remok wouldn't be hunting her again, at least, and probably not anybody else. She caught on quickly and even at this age her intelligence was clear. It was an excellent sign for her future in the Order. "*You go play now, just don't hunt anybody.*"

Sharo nodded with an almost canine 'ruph' and ran off to find others her own age.

Essani chuckled, shaking her head. In a way, she was almost glad for the interruption. It had done an excellent job of taking her mind off the meeting before. She started to trot back to her quarters, fairly sure that nobody else would be attempting anything soon.

A ripple of gold went across her fur as she approached as felt the unique Force-presence of her Padawan, and that he wasn't stressed out.

"*I'm going to have to teach the locks not to open just because you ask one of these days,*" she chuckled from outside the room. "*It is safe for me to come in, yes?*"

"*Yes, Master.*" He chuckled softly across their bond as the door slid open for her. "I doubt it would have helped today." He added with an unrepentant grin as she caught the scent of some of her favorite fruits, at least two that the Temple did not stock for their price, that were laid out on the low table he was laying comfortably along one side of. "I thought we'd have dinner together. Relax after that mission and the meeting."

"I can't object," she chirped with a chuckle as she walked in. "It was definitely tiring," she agreed as she sat down next to the table and the fragrant slices of peach, melon, berries and more exotic fruits. The Temple always served good quality, but this was a level above it. Jay was making a point that he cared for her again and she was on the short list of people he really enjoyed spoiling with the money he got from his inventions.

"And I was particularly difficult during the mission," he acknowledged and rolled up a slice of cold meat around a spear of cheese for himself. "It's good to be home."

"Yes, it is," she agreed, picking up a slice of melon and nibbling at it. "*And you were, though we all realize you meant for the best.*"

"So what is the choice?" He asked, hoping to get on another topic before this turned into a debate on morals and civilized behavior. As strongly as he felt about it, it was not a subject for a relaxing evening.

"We're going to try and remove the Sith personality components and loyalty, the parts that make him a threat," she explained. "If that proves unsuccessful, we'll have to find another course of action, but Master Surool's cousin should have sufficient skill. He's done work for us before when a slicer of unusual skill was required."

"I do hope it's enough," he nodded, honestly wishing the slicer the best of luck for a lot of reasons. "Master ... what do I still have to learn before you would consider me ready for my Trials?"

"Very little," she admitted, setting down the rind to the melon she'd been eating. "Though I don't know that all your Trials will necessarily be formal yet. The primary issue we're left with yet is your difficulty with your senses."

"Yes, Master." He nodded as it became clear to her that his Knighting or not wasn't the actual reason he was asking. "It's about time I took on my family Gift then. My senses aren't going to improve by waiting."

"No," she agreed. "Are you sure you're ready, Jay?"

"No," he admitted. "But this mission reinforced what I've been feeling for a while. If I don't choose soon, the choice will be made for me. It is time, well past it really. It would be best either before Fenrik goes for his Trials, or after he's Knighted. He's got a talent for talking sense into me when I forget what reality I'm in."

"As does Shivasta," Essani nodded. "He isn't leaving for his solo mission for a few months yet. His lightsaber was the first of his Trials... there will be some time before he takes the rest of them. What is involved in accepting your Gift?"

"The way I know is to build a tesseract. It requires the Gift, so building one will trigger it. There are others, or I think there are, but they're what family has developed over the years to make it easier."

"And the risks involved?" She asked him seriously. "If it goes wrong?"

"Blowing something up is the most common risk," he started to run them down in his head. "Drop-kicking myself and who knows how much around me to an alternate time or dimension is the next most likely. Theoretically I could really mess up and create a black hole, but no one has actually had that happen. The danger isn't much more than when I created Tes' lightsaber or any of the other reality-bending items, really. The Gift is just the next step and lets me completely trash the rules of reality to do what I want. It's just when it's over I have to listen to the Demon on a regular basis."

"How 'loud' will the Demon be, compared to that one time it was almost released?" Essani asked seriously.

"From family records, they're two completely different things," he admitted, a little uncertainly. "Normally, it's like what it did in the fight, or like what Kraken did talking to me. That time ... it's the difference between talking and possession. It hasn't done it before."

"At least not that you're aware of," Essani nodded. "I have a suggestion, and a question, before you do this. I suggest you talk to Shivasta and Fenrik both about this; make sure they understand what they'll be dealing with ... and that they're still willing to do so.

"I will," he nodded seriously.

"And the question...." She chuckled slightly. "What do you plan to fold back in on itself?"

"It's always space," he chuckled softly. "The advanced version of my bracers," he lifted one arm in reminder of the unusual lightsaber-sheaths he'd built years before with a few extras that kept changing, a constant work in progress that was about to take the leap to the next level. "It's called a Glovatrix."

"There are bounty hunters who'd kill for those," she chuckled slightly. "Though just as a suggestion, when you design them, build them for more than weaponry. If you can develop something like that to replace the belts, it would be quite useful."

"I've had the plans waiting for when I could build them," he smiled slightly. "Unfortunately, anything that takes the Gift to built is just that, it takes the Gift to build. Even semi-mass production has never been managed. They're all prototypes, whatever they are."

"Understood," she nodded. "And it makes sense, given what's required to build them. It would be like trying to mass-produce true lightsabers. Which reminds me; do you plan on scheduling your next demonstration match before, or after, you've done this?"

"Before, I think." He considered it. "Let the stress and that ship leave before I go to work."

"That would be a good idea," she nodded. "And I just remembered, you should check with Shivasta about whether or not she'll be able to join us when we go to visit Duvam Tam. We should arrange that for some time soon, but I don't know if it's wise for you to be dealing with the Demon in a situation as stressful as that might be without her there, and Fenrik may not be able to join us."

"It's probably not the brightest idea for me to go on that one alone, Demon or not," he admitted and made another cheese and meat roll. "As the mission pointed out, it's still very close to the surface when there's any break in my control. I still don't understand quite what happened."

"*You had permission to act out against somebody you disliked on several levels,*" Essani pointed out as she munched on a berry. "*It can be tempting. And the ship certainly wasn't helping you any. We'll have to arrange some way you can make that trip with either Fenrik or Shivasta then. Not a major problem, just something that narrows down the time-frame for it.*"

"Quite true," he nodded, "and before Tes gets all maternal again, since she is our contact."

"How did you know about that?" Essani asked him, cocking her head as her fur shifted to a light teal. "Doruth just asked me to talk to Master Kareth about getting in contact with the Kaminoans yesterday."

"That I didn't know." He chuckled softly. "Gurath mentioned missing Tes again soon. I figured she'd be going for Wolf pups like last time. She's gotten plenty of interest to choose from."

"She will be," Essani nodded. "However, they're looking to try and arrange for some kits by both of them at about the same time as well. I just hope Doruth is in the mood for negotiating," she chuckled. "The Kaminoans are notorious for 'improving' things unless you ask them not to."

"Or he can leave it to Tes," he snickered in memory of several examples of Wolf 'negotiating' when it came to family.

"I suspect he'll want a method that's a little less likely to frustrate somebody," Essani chuckled. "It's just one of the Kaminoan quirks. Comes from being a society where only the fittest survived, and then started cloning themselves to repopulate their world."

"Bring a good lawyer," Jay shook his head with a chuckle. "Just make sure you don't leave any loopholes for them."

"And hope there aren't any complications for Panther/Wolf kits," Essani agreed. "Though I would imagine there won't be too many beyond the norm; they're both in excellent health, with no apparent genetic defects."

"And they are relatively close genetically compared to some of what I've read has been done," he added. "Feline/canine are close cousins compared to us for example. Very similar body types, diets, environmental needs and so on."

"Very true," she nodded. "Much easier than, say, arranging a pup for Masters Shan and Surool."

Jay's face screwed a bit, trying to picture that pup. "Definitely. Or have they already done that?"

"No," Essani chuckled. "They're mates, but neither of them has been particularly inclined towards children, as far as I'm aware."

"It would be an interesting looking pup," he admitted and shook his head a bit. "And likely quite strong too."

"True," she nodded. "Though interesting might be generous," she admitted. "Still, it's not something I see happening particularly soon. I rather doubt either of them is looking forward to raising a child at their ages," she chuckled.

"Probably not," he nodded. "Though it doesn't stop everyone. My father was almost seventy when my youngest sister was born."

"Your father already had several kits by then and knew what he was in for," Essani chuckled. "Plus, I imagine large families are the norm for you and your kin, yes?" It made sense, given the emphasis on multiple mates.

"Depends on the generation," he considered it carefully. "My father broke away from the old ways, what Jessie and Jake and his littermates believed, in a lot of ways. Grandmother and great-grandfather and the culture they came from didn't have many kits. Big families came with the colonies and getting away from grandmother's influences that we shouldn't spread the curse any more than fate required it." He paused to consider it all more than he really had in years as he munched on rolled meat slices. "I'm not sure where I stand, really. I expect after I accept my Gift it'll be a lot more clear, when I know what they'd really be in for."

"Understandable," Essani nodded. "In a way, you'll have an easier time of it if you decide against it. It's not uncommon for Jedi, for all that we do still have notable bloodlines."

"And Shi's more likely to go find an Ice Walker if she wants them. It's not like we're all that compatible." He chuckled softly, even as he admitted deep down that that was part of her appeal to him.

"Not biologically," Essani agreed with a chuckle. "Though you certainly do seem to get along well otherwise. How are you three all doing, with Fenrik preparing for his Trials and missions and such getting in the way?" She asked him almost maternally.

"It's a stress," he admitted quietly. "But we all have our pet projects to keep our attention when it's busy, and most nights at least two make it to bed in the same time bracket. Shi and Fenrik get along very well on their own too." He smiled slightly. "It's good to see them bonding that well."

"Yes, it is," Essani nodded, her fur a light gold color. She could still remember how worried Jay had been about just that a few years ago. Such a short time, and yet so much had happened during it. Her fur turned a distinct shade of teal when he burst out laughing.

"Speaking of my mates, mine are plotting something." He explained between snickers, his eyes glittering with mischief and more than a bit of arousal.

"Oh dear," she chuckled. "Did they just ask you when you were coming back?"

"No, the holo-recorder in our room asked if I wanted to record the prep for a very kinky threesome," he shook his head. "I would have thought by now they'd remember that thing likes recording our games."

"Oh my," Essani chuckled, shaking her head. "I think I should let you get going, before it 'accidentally' puts the file somewhere public again."

"At least that was still in the Temple system," he blushed in memory of that particularly intense birthday party for the three of them as he stood up. "It could have been so bad."

"True," Essani agreed with a chuckle and a pink flush to her fur. "Though I think it was as embarrassing for Kania as it was for any of you."

"It was from her blush," Jay chuckled, more amused than embarrassed about the next time he'd seen the young Lioness. She'd been more embarrassed than he was, though Shi had turned a delightful shade of purple when she'd found out. "I never knew a Lion could turn that color."

"They don't, normally," Essani chuckled. "Enjoy your evening, Jay. You've earned it today."

"I hope you enjoy the evening as much, Master." He grinned back at her before leaving.

Shivasta blushed a light purple that went well with the thin satin gown she was wearing.

"I can't believe you talked me into this," she murmured, kissing Fenrik quickly. The Panther chuckled, returning the kiss and running his hands down her sides, making her shiver as the satin moved along her skin.

"You know Jay loves this sort of thing," he purred. "And we both know you like wearing it," he added with a smirk.

"Oh hush," she blushed, swatting him playfully. "Go on, make yourself scarce before he gets here, I feel him coming."

"Isn't it a little soon for that?" Fenrik teased.

"Oh you!" Shivasta scowled at him as he rushed off into the other room, but giggled as soon as he was out of sight. She turned around and sat down where all Jay would be able to see from the doorway would be her bare feet and long, blue-white legs. She was a lot more comfortable with the scars that were left now, some five years after she'd gotten them. Still, her self-conscious period had had one benefit.

They'd found out just how much Jay and Fenrik both enjoyed seeing her in outfits like this one.

The gown was a simple one, really, nothing too fancy. Just a light red nightgown that didn't even make it half way down her thighs and didn't really hide anything it did cover. It gave her skin a slight violet hue, and when she crossed her legs just right it hid anything either of her mates really wanted to see, but gave then both just enough of a hint that they wanted to get a very, very good look.

At least that was what Fenrik had said when she was trying it on earlier. She took up her position, picking up a book and pretending to read it as she waited for Jay to get back. It wasn't long; she could feel his excitement when he got close. That was arousing all on its own, feeling how just thinking about her turned her mate on even after so many years and stress.

"Hey," Jay purred even before the door closed behind him, the last half of the sound a throaty rumble as he caught sight of her bare legs, a rumble that only got louder as his eyes moved up the rest of her body as he walked in and she lowered the book to cover her breasts.


"Hey," she smiled back at him. "How'd everything go?" She asked him, making no move to stand up or show more of herself off just yet.

"Very good," he answered and closed the distance between them to kneel and kiss her gently. "What have you been up to?" He rumbled and kissed down her bare neck, one hand on her flat stomach.

"Mmm ... oh, just a little research ... some of it you'll want to hear about later." She slid one hand up his back, the sleeve of the gown falling back to reveal her arm as she scratched a pleasure point at the base of his neck and smiled as his entire body stiffened in response with a indistinct sound of pleasure.

"On what?" He murmured, his hand moving down from her stomach to caress her legs, first with the satin gown and then under it.

"Mmm ... what you were worried about on the last mission," she murmured, scratching that spot again as she spread her legs ever so slightly to give him a better view of her sex beneath the trimmed patch of dark blue hair between her legs. It was tough to go slow when she knew what was coming and he was so interested in giving her anything she wanted.

What had they been thinking? 'Seducing' Jay was more an act of self-control than getting him interested. After seven years, he knew as much about pressing her buttons as she did about his.

Even so... it was worth the effort, given how utterly incredible it was when they finally did give in.

"So why not give me the good news now," he purred throatily and slid his hand up her fit body under the simple nightgown to tease under her breasts. "Then we can celebrate."

"Mmm ... you tempt me," she rumbled. "What say we play a different game though? You give me a good reason to tell you. It could get a little technical," she winked, her fingers moving down along his spine, "so it might work better if I explain it all after... and I have a feeling you'll still be up for a little celebrating then," she grinned, moving her hands to start working his robes off.

"Because I love you," he murmured honestly and kissed her with a tender passion as she slid his robes from his shoulders. She returned the kiss gladly, and decided that she might as well tell him now.

"No fair playing dirty," she teased lightly, standing with him and wrapping her arms around him as she put the book off to the side.

"And dressing so sexy is playing fair?" He chuckled and kissed his way down her neck and across her shoulder before he slid her nightgown off her shoulders to pool around her feet.

"Even if you can't master your senses at all, it doesn't disqualify you to become Jedi," she explained to him as she kissed his neck, relishing in the fact that he responded to her touch even as he worked on processing her words. "Especially if you have another gift that offsets the loss."

"Where'd you find this?" Jay rumbled as the remainder of his clothes came off, trying to finish the conversation before he gave into her touch completely.

"Halycon bloodline," she answered simply, her voice low as she nipped at his shoulder lightly with her blunt teeth before he knelt to fondle and kiss her breasts. "Entire family of Jedi; not one of them could use telekinesis or mind control, but they were waived on through because of their other skills and dedication."

"Thank you," he breathed hotly against her cool skin, the real response one she felt as years worth of fears and stress began to dissipate, much like pain did at her touch.

"Mmm ... you're welcome," she murmured, returning her attentions to his neck and shoulders. "Want to take this to the bedroom?"

"All right," he murmured and stood to kiss her solidly before he allowed her to lead him into an ambush he was sure would be there. Fenrik was still unaccounted for after all.

True to form, as soon as the bedroom door had closed, Fenrik stepped out from behind the door to grab Jay's wrists and cross them behind his back, kissing his neck.

"I do hope we're not getting too predictable," the Panther purred. "You usually put up at least a bit of a struggle," he added with a smirk.

"I got a head's up," he chuckled and leaned back into the contact. "But you do need to think up a new setup."

"Mmm ... noted," Fenrik rumbled as Shivasta moved up to press against Jay's front, sandwiching him between her soft body and Fenrik's hard one.

"Just wait until we go camping some time, he'll end up pouncing on you from the trees," she smirked, kissing Jay tenderly and nodding towards the bed, already set up with thin bondage ropes tied to the corners. "So, are you going to go quietly, or do we have to get you properly restrained the hard way?"

"He's not the only one who can climb," he grinned with a warning gleam in his eyes for her. "I'll go quietly this time."

"Good," she giggled, backing away as Fenrik moved them all towards the bed and they started working together to tie him up, the excitement building in each of them feeding on the others until it was nearly intolerable to keep things slow.

Shivasta lay down next to the mostly-bound tom as Fenrik finished tying off his last ankle. She kissed Jay tenderly, reaching down to fondle his sheath and hard cock, drawing a needy moan from him as he tried to thrust up into her hand.

"Mmm ... good look for you," she rumbled. "Bet you'd like nothing better than to sink that nice, hard cock of yours into me, hmm?"

"Yes," Jay moaned, his eyes closing as the heady musk of their arousal filled his nose and he let most of his control slid away.

"Too bad," she chuckled and got up to saunter to the foot of the bed where Fenrik had finished tying Jay down and kissed the Panther heatedly. "You get to watch first," she rumbled, running her hand down Fenrik's broad chest to stroke his own dark, rigid shaft to a hungry rumble. She couldn't tell which of them was more turned on by what was happening, but soon it was the last thing on her mind as Fenrik claimed her mouth again and twisted to press her against the wall, his rough shaft rubbing against her.

She moaned into his mouth and lifted one pale blue leg to wrap his around his waist and shivered in the familiar pleasure-pain of larger feline sinking into her ready body without the lube Jay almost always insisted on. It was a feeling she relished, the roughness of her lover with nothing between them but her own slick juices.

"He's looking a bit hungry over there," Fenrik commented casually as he thrust into her body and kissed her neck, his manner as dominating as his physical size.

"Mmm ... then let's go give him something to eat," she murmured, moaning as his cock throbbed inside of her tight body. "If we can move that much."

"Oh, we can," he chuckled and pulled out of her, sweeping her up in his arms for the short walk to kneel over Jay's open muzzle, his tongue ready and eager to serve her. She moaned at the attention as Fenrik settled behind her and pushed her to lean forward to brace against the wall before he pressed into her body again, his own rumbles deep and hungry from the attention Jay gave him as he thrust forward.

"Oh fuck," Shivasta groaned, squeezing her eyes shut as she was pleasured by both her mates. She tightened her body around Fenrik, reaching down with one hand to scratch Jay's ears as she braced against the headboard with the other. It was just what the pair was looking for too.

Fenrik thrust hard and deep, reading her mood the way Jay read her body. Jay nipped at her clit, and then suckled it before moving down to lavish attention on her spread lips and the cock moving in and out of them. Shi pressed back into Fenrik's thrusts, then against Jay's muzzle as her juices flowed liberally down her thighs, matting the dark red fur around his mouth.

"Ohhhh," Fenrik groaned deeply as the attention was shifted to him, Jay's mouth and tongue working whatever of his cock was available. "*Hungry little kitty, aren't you?

"Why don't you entertain yourself with his other end?" He rumbled throatily in her ear as he fondled her breasts. "Make the beginnings of Shi sandwich while I give him a little of what he wants so much."

"Works for me," she rumbled back, groaning as she pulled off of him and moved down to take Jay's cock inside her. She grinned as his moaning cry of pleasure was cut off by Fenrik's cock and watched in a jealous kind of fascination for the bond the two males shared that let them play so much rougher with each other than her, no matter how many times she said, and meant, she wanted and could handle it. Fenrik would give her more than Jay, but they both held back on an instinctive level that drove her crazy sometimes.

At least they seemed to be getting over it, gradually. She wasn't sure if it would ever be the same way, but in the meantime, she could still enjoy watching, and feeling, the two of them.

"Oh, that's right." Fenrik rumbled as his balls tightened, both of them getting off on intimacy of control present between them as the Panther fucked Jay's mouth without regard for anything but his own pleasure.

Shi leaned forward to kiss his broad chest, milking Jay with her insides as she moved up and down his rough cock. She couldn't tell what happened first, Fenrik's roar, the rush of his orgasm, or the hard thrust Jay made, the first break in his resistance to being bare inside her this round, as the pleasure build in him to an intolerable level.

She cried out, her sex spasming as she came hard around Jay's length, milking it hungrily as his hot seed shot against her sensitive flesh.

"Oh, yeah." Fenrik rumbled as Jay licked him clean and he pulled out of the rusty tom's mouth. "Now for something new," he chuckled and slipped from the bed, leaving Jay to Shi's attentions for a while.

"Enjoying yourself, Jay?" She asked with a languid smile, leaning down to kiss him as she teased his barbed length with her sex.

"Yes," he moaned with a shudder as she kept him hard, his anticipation for what was coming when he saw the lube come out more than making up for the mild distress he still felt being inside her bare, even though he knew she enjoyed it, got off on it, he couldn't help it.

"Scoot up, love," Fenrik pressed against her back to lift her from Jay's cock, coating it lightly with the lube before she slid back down on it and they both shuddered.

She could still feel his roughness, the coating that Fenrik had put on him not a full one, but they could all feel the instant drop in the tension Jay was feeling.

"Mmm... so, where are you going now?" She asked, looking back over her shoulder at Fenrik as he knelt on the bed behind her and nuzzled her while fondling her breasts, just enjoying the feelings and cooler pleasure for a while.

"Same place he is." He murmured throatily.

"Mmm... I like the sound of that," she murmured, nuzzling him, then kissing Jay, rippling the muscles of her sex around his shaft, scratching his side lightly as he moaned and thrust up into her. Even when she relaxed her body, the fullness when Fenrik began to press inside her was painful; incredible, but it stretched her well beyond anything she had been before.

The gasp that came out of her mouth was one of pleasure, though. The sensations of the two males, one below her and one above her, crammed into that tight space was overwhelming to them all.

"Oh fuck," Fenrik groaned in conjunction to what was almost a whimper from Jay.

"Please do," she panted, squeezing her eyes shut and swallowing as the pain started to give way to intense pleasure. "Slow...."

"Couldn't go fast," Fenrik groaned, already close to the edge but determined to make it all the way inside before he lost it.

"Ohhhh ..." Jay tried to say something, only to be overcome by the incredible tightness and thrust up, trying to sink further inside himself despite trembling on the very edge.

"Hold it, lover." Fenrik rumbled to him and grabbed Shi's hips to help him force his way into the incredible tightness that was almost too tight to take.

She whimpered softly, shivering in pleasure as she tried to relax herself as much as she could.

"So full," she moaned, grateful that they both were using some of the lube at least. She could only imagine what this would be like if they weren't, for them as well as her.

"So tight," Jay gasped as he felt Fenrik's velvety sheath against his own.

"Thought being in her ass was good ...." Fenrik gritted his teeth against the pleasure as he began to slide out, his barbs being pulled back hard enough he felt his claws prick threw her soft skin. Shivasta whimpered softly in pain-pleasure at the small punctures that threatened to push her over the edge with them.

"Let me loose," Jay whimpered, wanting his hands to touch and hold, a focus on something other than denying his orgasm.

She reached up, undoing the restraints and kissing him hungrily and didn't worry about the Force-assist her bound lover gave before his hands ran down her sides to link his fingers with Fenrik's.

"Sweet Bastet," Jay pulled her down against his hips and thrust up, his control lost to the intensity and tightness of being inside one mate and pressed tightly against the other. "Can't ...."

"Go ahead," she whimpered softly, panting hard, eager to feel them both come inside of her. She couldn't help the cry of pain that came when their bodies took over, thrusting into her as deeply and hard as they could to shoot their seed against her cervix, still burningly hot even after years of feeling it. The wash, a torrent of sensations that came from them dragged a long, sobbing cry from her as her body clamped down around them, making the tight fit even tighter as she came harder than she could remember in the years they'd been together.

She just held Jay close as her body tried to twitch and spasm, pressing back against Fenrik and holding Jay close as she rode the wave of intense pleasure out.

"Gods," Jay moaned softly and gasped for breath, each tiny bit Fenrik pulled out causing them both the shudder.

"Damn," was about all Fenrik could manage as he dropped to his side next to them and draped an arm across Shi's back.

Shi could just whimper softly, snuggling up between the two of them as the mixture of all their juices dribbled out of her slightly from around Jay's cock, still buried deep inside her.

"There's the Shrike," Doruth rumbled as the Gurath flew down through the trees of Kashykk. "We'll have to land near Czerka's facilities," he murmured. "Not gonna be fun."

"Let's just hope Camryn is still alive," Fenrik shook his head slightly. "That close ... between the natives and the Czerka, he doesn't have the greatest odds."

"No," Doruth admitted. "Still, Iridonians tend to be resourceful. I can tell he's still alive... it's just hard to tell where, exactly, without getting the scanners in closer. Too much life here for us to sense him, and the scanners aren't that precise yet. So, any more questions before we set down and let things start happening?"

"Any extra bans on defending ourselves and him?" He asked seriously.

"We're hoping to avoid deaths among the Wookies; relations between them and the Republic are strained enough as it is without Jedi killing them if it can possibly be avoided. Beyond that, it's a matter of judgment. You should be able to take care of yourself if necessary."

"Of course," he inclined his head slightly to his Master as they set down on a landing pad not much larger than the Gurath. "It is what I expected."

"Good," Doruth nodded. "Well, let's go deal with the local Czerka representatives. With any luck they won't be repeating what they were up to the last time they set up shop."

"I would be surprised if they had changed," Fenrik shook his head and pulled his hood over his head to present the 'inscrutable Jedi' look as best he could.

"You can skip the hood for now if you'd like," Doruth said easily, standing up and making sure his lightsaber was 'broken down' to its usual blaster appearance, his own hood pulled back. "We're here on a 'pilgrimage' officially," he chuckled, "the inscrutable look is optional."

"Yes, Master." He chuckled softly before he put on the face the public saw. "But a Jedi with a blaster?" He asked curiously.

"They'll assume my lightsaber's elsewhere," Doruth explained. "And that I'm not interested in getting into a fight when the weapon I can get to easiest isn't it. Besides, it'll cut down the excuses they have to deny us access to the lower levels of the forest if one of us has a weapon that means we won't have to go face to face with a katarn or something even bigger."

Fenrik nodded and fell in slightly behind and to the side of his Master as the hatch opened and Gurath's ramp extended for them.

Doruth walked down the ramp easily towards the small gathering of Czerka employees waiting to greet them. He almost laughed out loud when he saw an Ithorian in the back of the group; it almost had to be a joke. Slavers or not, everybody knew Czerka didn't care about the environment in the least. Their Ithorian representatives were nothing more than well-paid fronts to what they really did.

"Welcome to New Edea," the lead, a well-dressed Fox, said easily. "What is the purpose of your visit?"

"Pilgrims from Coruscant," Doruth answered just as easily. "Though I thought this planet was registered as Kashykk?"

"New Edea is the settlement," the Fox explained. "In memory of the settlements the natives destroyed the last time we tried to civilize this planet."

Fenrik's general thought of 'serves you right' was clear to his Master, but invisible and silent to everyone else. He hated these people almost as much as his first Master had.

"I see," Doruth said, his own response much the same as Fenrik's. The history between Czerka and Kashykk was well known to the Jedi, including their attempts to destroy the planet in the name of profit. "Well, if you'll excuse us, we wish to explore the deeper reaches of the planet. As I said, we're here on a pilgrimage. As I'm sure you can imagine, it's rather easier to commune with nature here than in Monument Plaza."

"Of course," the Fox nodded graciously. "There is simply a small matter of a docking fee, and making sure you are properly supplied for such a journey... and, of course, that you are aware of our operations on the forest floor. The natives call them the Shadowlands, and I can certainly see why. We recently lost some of our equipment down there in a katarn attack; we're trying to recover what we've lost, and no visitors are allowed in these reaches."

"I assume the standard docking fee is in place?" Doruth said easily, pulling out a fifty-credit chip. "We're quite well supplied; we intend to live off the land for the most part. And I assure you, we have no interest in interfering with Czerka's operations."

Except where they had to in order to complete their mission, of course.

The Fox took the chip, slipping it into his pocket in a smooth, well-practiced motion.

"I don't know that it is wise to go down there unsupplied," he said, feigning real concern. "The natives of this world are simply impossible to deal with, and will likely object to you hunting in their territory. Our agents have to be heavily armed everywhere they go outside of our main outpost. We probably would have been attacked by now if not for our defensive turrets."

"The Wookies are known to respect those who respect their world," Doruth said semi-diplomatically. "We will deal with them as necessary. I assure you, we are quite up to the task."

"Very well," the Fox shrugged slightly. "Remember, if you need any supplies whatsoever, our outpost is fully supplied."

"We'll keep it in mind," Doruth granted as the group started to disperse. "Well," he murmured, "that went about like I expected it. Let's hope our meeting with the Wookies goes as well."

"Yes," Fenrik nodded fractionally. "At least we do have a better reputation than these guys do."

"Very true," Doruth nodded slightly. "Though don't doubt that they'll make us prove ourselves before we earn anything better than indifference. So, the fast, risky way, or the slow, relatively safe way?" He asked indifferently, looking down the ramps Czerka had built into the sides of the massive trees of Kashykk, then over at the more direct route straight down the street-sized branches.

"Last I checked, we're both good in the trees," Fenrik considered their choices and found only one good one. "And we are in something of a race."

"Agreed," Doruth nodded. "Have you ever spent time on Kashykk before?" He asked.

"No, Master." He shook his head slightly and prepared for the controlled jumping fall their descent would be.

"Then make sure you keep an eye out for webweavers on the way down," Doruth told him, flipping his repulsor belt on. "And keep a hand on your lightsaber, because they'll be keeping an eye out for you too."

Fenrik nodded and followed his Master down, keeping an eye open more than usual for the giant, mostly sentient spiders he really didn't want to meet.

They dropped at near-breakneck speeds for what felt like hours, the sky getting darker and darker, their eyes adjusting to the near-black conditions that were even more extreme than on the forest floor of their own races' homeworld. Through the entire trip they were each keenly aware of the teeming life surrounding them, though they were fortunate enough not to have to deal with any of it on the way down.

About fifty feet above the forest floor their freefall was slowed by the repulsor belts they were wearing, bringing them down to a sane speed for landing.

"Getting back up is not going to be fun," Doruth observed, looking up the trees that stretched back up several kilometers above them. "Even if the Gurath can make the trip shorter, we'll have to climb back up into the undercanopy."

"I don't think I'll ever stop being thankful for those constant improvements Jay makes every time we're at the Temple." Fenrik shook his head with a slight chuckle and oriented himself enough to track the ship they'd spotted on the way in.

"I know I won't," Doruth agreed. "If he hadn't wanted to be trained as a Jedi he would have made the corp's we work with very happy indeed." He paused to focus for a moment, searching for the disruption in the natural cycles of Kashykk that would lead them to the ship. "Let's go, we've got an Iridonian to rescue."

"*As it is, he's making them happy anyway and making the Jedi a small fortune every month. It's mind-boggling, what his one-half of one percent amounts to these days.*" Fenrik fell silent, both to conserve breath for moving and to keep their disruptive presence to a minimum.

"*I'm still a little surprised the Council went along with that,*" Doruth observed. "*At least to the amount they have. Things will be interesting once those patents expire.*"

"*Given his early ones are already a couple generations out of date from his current work, probably not a lot.*" He shook his head a bit. "*But yeah, it's a surprise. I know at first it was meant to encourage him to 'useful' projects, back before he was a Padawan.*"

"*I have a feeling that might shift a bit after he's knighted, but that's up to the Council more than any of us. Keep alert; no telling how far Czerka's roaming down here, and they aren't going to be happy to see us.*"

"*No, though I have to admit the vacations he sets up are nice,*" Fenrik chuckled mentally as they moved as fast as they could towards the crash site. "*And no, they definitely won't be.*"

The rest of the trip was silent, at least as far as words were concerned. The sounds of Kashykk were a constant reminder of the predators and prey, the cycles of life taking part around them. It was an intoxicating breath of life made so much more intense for how rare it was in their lives.

The growing silence as they worked through the woods was a reminder of the disruptions to those cycles, disruptions brought on by the crash and the hunt for the ship's pilot. Soon, the forest's unnatural silence was replaced by the sound of droids and very grouchy Czerka employees.

"*Can you pick out the pilot?*" Fenrik asked silently even as he considered the most effective ways to get close without being shot at.

"*Not from here,*" Doruth told him, shaking his head. "*I'll go on ahead and get their attention, you get him out of there if he's with them. If he's not, this won't take long.*"

"*I understand,*" Fenrik nodded and made an easily leap into the tree branches to get close without being noticed while his Master made it that much easier.

Doruth walked towards the sounds of civilized activity, making just enough noise that he managed to get their attention.

"Halt," a powerfully built Alsatian said, turning and taking a few steps towards the Jedi, though not enough that he couldn't see the combat droids and the Iridonian they were leading, or the remaining lupine guards.

"*You won't have any trouble picking him out,*" Doruth told Fenrik, "*I'll try and distract the guards, when you have an opening, take it.*"

"*Will do, Master.*" he skirted the edge of the camp to give him the best, and shortest, shot to get in and out with the prisoner.

"Is there something wrong?" Doruth asked innocently.

"This is a restricted zone," the Alsatian explained gruffly. "Czerka Corp property was sabotaged in this area; we've caught the saboteur and are escorting him back to our base."

"This wouldn't have anything to do with the 'lost equipment' I was informed about by your superiors, would it?" Doruth asked pointedly as he followed his Padawan's progress in the trees and the subtle build of Force around him as Fenrik prepared to dart in and grab their target before anyone realized he was there.

"As a matter of fact it would. It seems a rival corporation sent that spy back there to sabotage our operations."

"Of course, that's ample reason to interfere with my own journeys, given that you've caught him and won't be facing any more trouble?" If the words were scathing, the tone was even more patronizing. For the first time in a long time, it was clear that Doruth was trying to start trouble.

"I don't much like your tone, Jedi," the Alsatian growled. "Why don't you just be moving along before there's trouble, hmm?"

"*I'm in and ... *" Fenrik called out as a silent blur of brown, cream and black breezed threw the combat droids to collect their prisoner before anything had time to react, "*out!*"

"Wha - after him!" The Alsatian bellowed, sending the combat droids chasing after Fenrik in a race they were doomed to lose. The other guards would have followed, but they were more concerned by the sound of a lightsaber igniting.

"You'd do much better to just take yourselves and your weapons and leave," Doruth said firmly, holding his lightsaber in one hand easily, ready to use it if necessary. "You'll have an easier time replacing your jobs than anything else you might lose here." For a moment, it looked like the Alsatians were about to take his advice... then the leader smirked slightly.

"So predictable," he chuckled. Doruth quirked an eyebrow, then whirled around as he heard the familiar click of a trigger behind him. It was too late though; the droid concealed in the woods fired its blaster close enough to him that he could almost reach out and touch it with the tip of his lightsaber, too close for him to react to deflect the blast. His lightsaber went out as he slumped to the ground, stunned by the ambush in more ways than one.

"Well, that covers our end of the mission," the Alsatian chuckled, walking forward and picking up Doruth's lightsaber, considering it for a moment before holstering it. "All right, men, let's get him into a holding cell back in the base. Should fit nicely over the back of a speeder."

Fenrik drew a sharp breath when he realized what it was that was niggling at his mind for the past several minutes as he basically carried the Iridonian towards the closest spot the Gurath could get to and hoped silently that no one had boarded the ship to surprise him.

He had the defector, and they had his Master.

This was going to get very ugly.

"I can walk on my own you know," the Iridonian pointed out dryly.

"In case you hadn't noticed, this isn't walking." Fenrik informed him and made another Force-enhanced leap further up into the massive trees.

"Oof!" Camryn winced slightly as the landing knocked some of the wind out of him. "You've got a point there. But there's still a faster way, at least for the 'up' part."

"Which is?" Fenrik set him down so they could talk face to face on this.

"I can't climb trees as well as you can," Camryn admitted, holding up a clawless hand as if emphasizing the point, "but I can climb ropes pretty well. There should be a platform near here the Wookies use for transporting wounded hunters out of the Shadowlands. The only reason I didn't use it before was... well, I'm sure you can guess why. It's guarded at the bottom and the top, but we should be able to climb the rigging up to a level were we can make it to your ship more easily."

Fenrik nodded, making a quick calculation about the time he'd need to make it up with the Iridonian hanging on compared to searching for anything around here that wasn't blatantly out of sink with the environment. "Do you know where it is?"

"I tagged it with a tracking beacon when it was on the way up once," he nodded. "It's about five minutes from here, should shave a fair amount of time off the climb."

"All right," he nodded and held out his hand. "Show me the tracker."

"In here, I'm afraid," Camryn said, tapping his arm. "Arm was replaced after a little scrap on Telos turned uglier than usual, the tracker's inside it. I know which way it is though."

Fenrik nodded, not showing a trace of the frustration he felt. "Let's go then."

Camryn led the way to the thick ropes of twisted vine that extended to the next Wookie village kilometers above them. True to his word, the trip was actually less than five minutes walk; they were only two trees over from it.

"I hope you know how much farther up it is," he said, jumping over to the ropes, which barely swayed as the platform on the bottom kept them in place.

"Two hundred fifty yards up, then back towards the crash site." Fenrik informed him and jumped to his own rope to climb, keeping up with Camryn without passing him, every sense open and alert for trouble from anything.

Almost oddly, they didn't run into any. A few katarns hissed at them, but most of the forest beasts had been beaten away from this area by the Wookies over the years. The closest they came to an incident was when a tak jumped out and landed on Fenrik's head, the small primate seemingly content to perch there while the Panther climbed and muttered silently.

"Here," Fenrik told Camryn as they came near a huge limb suitable for jumping onto with minimal effort.

The two of them jumped off easily enough, though the little monkey-like creature that had been perched on Fenrik made the trip first, skittering off into the brush.

"So, how much farther to your ship?" Camryn asked him, stretching out his tired arm.

"Not far," he said simply and headed along the branch as wide as a road, one eye out for trouble, the other on the Iridonian. It was turning into one of those missions where he simply expected everything to go wrong. Murphy's Law' Jay had called it.

Whoever Murphy was, he really seemed to have it in for them today. He just really, really hoped the Gurath was going to be empty and not sabotaged ... he was going to have a hard enough time getting his Master back without having to deal with that, or more ambushes. The thought of just taking Camryn back occurred to him, but he dismissed the idea out of hand.

He wasn't going to lose another Master, not even like this, where he could be rescued later.

"Good," Camryn said, answering his statement of how much further they had to go. "Who was the one who stopped them while you were rescuing me?"

"My Master," he said quietly and looked around. "Time for a little jumping." He turned to Camryn. "How do you want to ride?" He offered politely.

"Preferably not over your shoulder again. Can't your ship come close enough we don't have to jump to it?"

"We're still going to have to make a few jumps to get to where we can reach him at all." Fenrik didn't display any of his growing irritation.

"Right. Whatever's easiest for you then," Camryn said easily. For all Fenrik wasn't showing his frustration, it wasn't hard to guess it was there and a frustrated Jedi was likely a more careless one.

"That is over my shoulder," he almost chuckled. "Least risk to you too." He added and swung the lighter male over one shoulder and back into the mindset he had when they were loosing the droids. He could hear the Gurath's engines, a distinctive sound after so many years of Jay's tinkering.

It wasn't long before they were back to it, the Gurath's green hull blending slightly with the shadowed leaves. Even with that blending, Fenrik could tell that the hatch was open, and ready for them to jump aboard. Camryn only then seemed to realize just how they were going to get from the branch they were on into the flying ship.

"Hang on a sec - you're not -" Fortunately, when Fenrik leaped off the branch, the Iridonian didn't scream, only tightening his grip as he panicked slightly at the thought that they were leaping for a target not too much larger than they were the better part of half a kilometer above the forest floor.

Camryn grunted at the impact on Fenrik's landing inside the small ship.

"You can relax now," the young Panther informed him as he set him on his feet and the hatch shut.

"Is everybody that crazy at the Temple, or did I just get lucky they sent you?" He asked, his voice still a little shaky.

"It is not crazy when it is well within one's abilities." Fenrik informed him simply and walked forward towards the cockpit. "I am afraid your departure from this world will have to be delayed until I retrieve my Master."

"Understood," Camryn nodded easily, trying to recompose himself. "I can probably help you with that, if you'll let me."

"What do you know?" Fenrik asked levelly as he brought up the information the Gurath had and sent a silent thanks to Jay once more for the improved sensors and recording system that kept info on everything the ship was exposed to. It may not be a lot on the facility, but it was more than he knew five minutes ago.

"Layout of the facility," Camryn explained. "May I?" He asked, moving over to the console.

"Yes," Fenrik nodded towards it and watched with decided interest.

The Iridonian sat down at the console, holding up his artificial arm and twisting the tip of one finger, pulling it off to expose a small interface rod. He slipped it into the computer's port, typing with his other hand as he brought up a full map of the facility.

"Unfortunately, they have a fairly effective set of holding cells," Camryn explained. "They're designed to hold Wookies when they get the chance. These schematics are most of what I'm bringing back, along with other evidence of what they're up to."

'What I wouldn't give for Jay right now' was the first thing that crossed Fenrik's mind. A moment later he set his mind to what he could do. Czerka weren't known for smarts, and this was a relatively small facility. "Have any of the security codes or Intel?"

"I will soon enough," Camryn said with a nod, replacing the artificial fingertip and starting to key rapidly. It was distinctly different than watching Jay work, which frequently bore a closer resemblance to watching someone meditate, but it seemed to get much the same results. After a few moments of slicing, Camryn re-inserted his interface rod.

"Got 'em. They should be good for a few hours before they hit their next encryption shift."

Fenrik nodded as he took in the plans and Intel, then ran over the inventory in his mind for useful items as he formed a plan, and a few contingency ones. The first thing was to lock down the ship so it was where it should be when they needed it and hope that Jay's security programs were better than the defector's if he decided to take off on them.

"Might as well make yourself comfortable," Fenrik motioned to his guest toward the living part of the ship, "it could be a bit of a wait until I get back."

"I could come along and help," Camryn offered. "The least I could do, given that he was captured when you two were trying to rescue me."

"No," the Panther shook his head firmly and walked into the cargo hold to collect a few small objects. "Now that you have been rescued, you're going to stay that way."

"Very well," the Iridonian nodded. "I'll make sure the ship's ready when you get back. Coruscant after this, I presume?"

"According to plan at least," Fenrik nodded and stopped by his quarters to pick up the lightsaber Jay had made for him. It wasn't as easy in his hand as his own, but it was more powerful and it would be one Doruth could wield on the way out. He gave his equipment one last check and walked back to the pilot's seat to program the simple maneuver that would get him to the facility and then the ship out of the way while he did his damage.

"I'll make sure we've got the courses laid in then," Camryn said easily, sitting in the co-pilot's seat as the ship started flying.

"No need," he shook his head slightly and stepped towards the access hatch to make the jump to the tree the base was on. "The ship's on lockdown. Slicing would not be appreciated by maintenance."

"I'll keep it in mind," he shrugged slightly, watching the younger Panther leave. Once the hatch slid closed, he rolled his sleeve back to expose a comlink.

"He's on his way," Camryn said softly, turning the comlink off and settling in to start their backup plan.

Doruth groaned as he came to, the yellow glow of a holding cell's force field surrounding him. He didn't seem to be injured seriously... but what worried him most right now wasn't that, it was the sheer Force-silence of the area. He tried to reach out to his Padawan to nothing. Not the broken of death, but the silence of true unconsciousness. Only it was likely him that was the one with the problem. He slowly stood, the low hum of the force field much louder than usual, likely its power ramped up to keep him put. It was small too, less than eight by eight.

Not too unusual for maximum security... or temporary cells. Which meant they weren't likely to intend to keep him here too long.

He had to wonder why they had him here. First impression said to trade him for Camryn... but if that was the case, they wouldn't have prepared for a Jedi prisoner. The fact that he couldn't reach Fenrik, that he couldn't sense the Force anywhere near him, implied that they'd found some way of temporarily cutting him off from it.

And that definitely meant advanced preparation. A fair amount of it.

"Well, it seems you're awake," the Alsatian said as he walked into the holding cells. "I do hope our little friend didn't do too much damage to you. He wasn't thrilled when we told him to use the stun setting."

"Which does make me curious of why you would bother to," Doruth pointed out, his inscrutable Jedi Master persona on in full.

"Because you're no good to us dead," the Alsatian explained easily, walking around behind the force-field cell, his movements followed by the captive Panther.

"So what good am I to you alive?" He asked evenly with a touch of curiosity.

"Still pretending you're not looking to recover the defector we had?" The Alsatian chuckled, stopping and reaching behind some small storage lockers. He did something with his hands, and silvery-green leaves bobbed out from behind the obstructions, almost like he'd been petting something on a branch.

"Who is well on his way to Coruscant by now," Doruth said simply.

"Actually, he's still remarkably close. That's right, you don't know yet, do you?" He chuckled slightly, walking back towards the holding cell. "Your Padawan did get him to safety, and we're grateful for that. But he's making the mistake of coming back for you. Just as we expected."

That raised an eyebrow.

"That is a fair amount of trouble to go to for a couple Jedi." Doruth watched him calmly even as he desperately hoped that Jay would not have a reason to come after them. Almost a Jedi or not, that Kat was positively sociopathic when it came to protecting those he cared about. "Why?"

"It's hardly about you being a Jedi," the Alsatian chuckled. "We haven't been looking for that for a few hundred years. It has much more to do with business... and with whom you can make do business with us."

Doruth wanted to groan, but he held it inside. This was adding up all too well, and true to form, they were not being smart about consequences. "You have no idea what you are getting into crossing him."

"He's a brilliant inventor, but no Jedi yet. Besides, if we can get our hands on his mate, he won't risk anything. And we all know the Order isn't the most cautious about recovering prisoners."

Doruth could only shake his head slightly and settled in to meditate in the Force-null zone until things came to a head, either by his Padawan or by Master Essani's.

Fenrik hurried quietly through the facility, pausing every once in a while to make sure there weren't any guards waiting for him. He'd already planted detonation charges in a few areas that should cause some serious confusion when he set them off; now, he was making his way towards the generators to give them a little TLC.

With a plasma grenade.

Suddenly, the alarms went off, and he started hearing the sound of guards gathering.

Damn it all. He hated it when he was right about something being a setup.

"Attention all guards. An intruder has infiltrated the facility. Capture him and bring him to detention for interrogation."

"Damn," he muttered to himself and gathered enough Force to make his run to the generators before anyone had a real shot at him. When those blew, they'd have more important things than him to worry about.

He started to run for the generators at full speed, knowing that the guards wouldn't take too long to find him. He darted down corridors, hoping they'd prepare for him to move for the detention area first.

Unfortunately, even if they were prepared for that, the sealed blast doors between him and the generators were going to slow him down. Even cutting threw them would take far too long. Time to shift gears and just blow the set charges and go for his Master.

He prayed he'd set the charges right as he pressed the detonator and turned around. He heard a series of explosions, but not as many as he'd expected; whether he'd failed to set them properly or they'd found and disarmed them, this was going to be a bit more difficult than planned.

"Halt where you are," a battle droid ordered as a small unit of them came around the corner to face him in perfect formation.

Like that was going to happen.

Fenrik relaxed and cut through them with an ease that would have sickened Jay, his goal focused in his mind.

More droid guards fell as he worked through the facility; none of them managed more than slowing him down as he carved his way through them with the fast, graceful motions he'd learned from both of his Masters and his own training. Before long, he was at the detention area... and another door. At least this one wasn't as heavy as the last... but there was something strange about the room beyond. Almost like he couldn't feel anything more than a few feet into the room.

That was a bad thing, but not one he could worry about more than superficially as he made short work of the door and stepped inside, his eyes taking in everything at once, even as his mind tried to grasp the concept of a null-Force zone.

He could see Doruth standing in one of the holding cells inside the strange void... well, that explained why he couldn't contact him across their bond.

"Fenrik, get out of here," Doruth called to him. "They're trying to get you, not me!"

"It's a little late for that, Master." He answered and plunged into the Force-null zone to the cell controls only feet from his Master's cell, his physical senses keyed for anything in the unnerving Force-silence of room.

He snarled as a blaster bolt hit the floor in front of him, clearly a warning shot, as his saber dimmed significantly.

"I wouldn't go any farther if I were you," the Alsatian said, stepping out with a blaster rifle in hand. "My next shot won't be aimed at the floor."

"No doubt," the young Jedi agreed even as he lowered his saber, his body language going slightly submissive.

His Master wasn't fooled, but he knew Fenrik well enough to look for what this was concealing. It was enough to make him smile. His Padawan was definitely taking strange tactics lessons from Jay. Using training spheres in combat was decidedly not anything he would have thought of.

The Wolf took one step forward and was presented with five targets: three small spheres rushing towards him to attack, a lightsaber thrown at the control panel and the young Panther with a slightly brighter lightsaber in hand ready to take on whatever didn't work.

The console sparked as the lightsaber dug into the side, not doing nearly as much damage as it normally would have. Still, Doruth could hear the shift in the hum of the field around him, and knew it wasn't going to be as strong. He braced himself for what he had a hunch was going to come.

The Alsatian fired on the remotes first, dropping them quickly enough that he got his blaster up just in time to block Fenrik's attack. Thanks to the dead-zone in the Force, even Jay's lightsaber wasn't strong enough to cut through completely, but the impact drove the Alsatian back. Doruth motioned for Fenrik to keep him going, get him a bit closer to the energy cage.

There was no response, but as the fury of the attacks reached near-blitz levels, it was clear that the young Panther had gotten the idea and was doing his best to keep the Wolf off balance and driven towards the cell.

Once he was close enough, Doruth forced himself to plunge his arms through the electrical barrier. The pain the field caused was intense, but he'd dealt with far worse before. He wrapped his arms around the Alsatian's throat and pulled him back. Fenrik wasted no time getting to the control panel, ready to finish it off as he picked up his own lightsaber from the ground.

"Right now, I'm almost regretting grabbing you," he growled. "Now, are you going to get the two of us out of here, or are we going to see what happens when your head comes through the other way?"

"I'll get you out!" He yelped, not at all prepared for what he was facing.

The shield shut down almost in that moment, Fenrik not willing to allow his Master to be in pain any more than was required.

"You've got a comlink on you," Doruth said calmly, grateful for the field being brought down. He tightened his grip slightly in case the Alsatian decided to try something 'smart' like going for his lightsaber. "You're going to take it and give the stand-down order, then we're going to leave."

"And this is ours," Fenrik snapped Doruth's lightsaber from the Alsatian's belt.

"All right," he agreed and activated the comlink. "All units stand down," he said nervously. "Deactivation code Alpha-Three-Zero." The alarms died out as he clicked the comlink off.

"There, I shut down the droids."

"Good," Doruth said simply. He tightened his grip further, holding it for a moment before the Alsatian fell limply to the ground, unconscious.

"Let's hope he didn't have too many living guards," the older Panther rumbled, taking his lightsaber back and moving towards the place where he'd seen the leaves before.

"Going to have to look into this later," he murmured, turning back towards the door. "Come on; let's get out of here before the living ones decide to come say 'hello.'"

"Agreed," Fenrik nodded, eager to get out of the dead space in the Force. He now knew the answer to what was worse than the Dark Side, and he wished he didn't. "We'll probably have a 'warm' welcome on the Gurath. I'm certain now that our defector isn't."

"No, he's not," Doruth agreed as they hurried out. Not far from the entrance, he became keenly aware of the background Force of the planet and facility, a welcome presence after spending the last few hours imprisoned away from it. "They were trying to capture you so they could blackmail Jay into working with them. Their plan all along; they even imported an ysalamiri. I had no clue they could do that," he murmured, the two of them speeding up once they could call on their talents again.

"*An ysalamiri?*" Fenrik asked as he called the Gurath to meet them just below the defenses line of the facility, an easy jump down for the pair.

"*Creature from Myrkr... I didn't know they could do that, something we'll have to look into.*" Doruth holstered his lightsaber and made the jump, stepping into the ship warily as he waited for the expected attack... and none came.

"*That's what caused the Force-null area?*" Fenrik asked silently.

"I am afraid I had to stun our guest. He was attempting to slice into the core systems." The Gurath's very rarely used voice informed them.

"I told him slicing wouldn't be appreciated." Fenrik chuckled softly and headed for the cockpit.

"Somehow, I'm not too surprised he tried anyway," Doruth observed and followed. "They really don't seem to think of Jay as anything more than a gifted inventor."

"It's not like what he is exists to the outside world," Fenrik commented as they spotted Camryn slumped over in the pilot's seat, a remote hovering nearby, ready to administer another stun blast if necessary. "He's unique in every definition you can think of."

"So, leave him here with the rest of them, or bring him back with us?" Doruth asked, looking over at Fenrik.

"We do have grounds to keep him for a while," the younger Panther considered it, already long used to his Master asking him such questions to prepare him for when he had to choose by himself. "And he likely has useful information. I'd bring him, to find out what he tried to do to Gurath if nothing else. We can convert one of the rooms to a holding cell easily enough."

"Agreed," Doruth nodded. "Gurath, was there any tampering with the hyperdrive before you stunned him?" He asked the ship, working the Iridonian out of the seat.

"No," the ship replied. "Nothing was altered that I could not reset."

"Good," the older Panther sighed. "Hate to think something was going to blow when we tried to get out of here. Fenrik, would you mind taking the controls until we need to make the jump to hyperspace? I'll put our 'guest' in his room."

And put some burn ointment on his arms... now that the immediate threat was lower, the pain was starting to build up again. At least he hadn't scorched his fur.

"Of course, Master." He nodded easily, only just stopping himself from insisting that he see to his injuries as well as he took the pilot's seat and set course through the trees so they could clear some distance from the facility defenses before hitting open sky.

Doruth took Camryn back, dumping him on one of the bunks in the smallest of the side-rooms, keying in the sequence to lock the door and shut down all non-essential systems in the room. Wouldn't do any good to have him trying to take control of the ship again once he woke up.

He moved to his own room after that, sitting down and pulled out a medical kit. At least he'd be able to use it on himself. As he started to apply the pungent ointments to arms, he reached out to Fenrik again, grateful that their bond was restored. He had a feeling it wouldn't be there too much longer, at least not like this.

"*Hey, Fenrik. You did good,*" he said with a sense of warm gratitude. "*But next time I tell you to get out of somewhere, get out,*" he added with a mental smirk, wincing a bit as he started to bandage himself up.

"*No one is left behind.*" He replied back firmly, something in his mental voice almost as much Jay's as his own; a lesson from his mate that had apparently taken root. "*Thank you, Master.*" He added more softly, the loyalty there no longer from their relative status, but from over five years of working closely together in life and death situations. "*Just take care of your burns. I can handle hyperspace.*"

"*Just be sure you call me if you're having any trouble,*" Doruth allowed, finishing the work of bandaging one arm, and getting to work on the other. In a way, he almost hoped the trip would take a bit longer than it normally would.

He was so not looking forward to explaining what had happened to Tes.

"If the Council will tolerate a brief delay, I have a request I would like to make," Doruth said formally after Fenrik had left the room. The two of them had just finished reporting to the Council on what had happened. Camryn had been taken off to give what information he could; when he was given the choice between turning in evidence against Czerka or being taken to task for what he'd been involved with, he'd started talking quite willingly.

Now, all that was left was the unusual part of this meeting.

"Very well," Master Shan nodded slightly.

"I would like to propose to the Council that the requirement of a solo mission be waived for my Padawan. As we have both explained, after I was captured on our last mission, he planned and implemented a rescue mission that was successful, and carried it out without endangering the mission objectives we had arrived with. While it wasn't a formal mission, I believe he has amply proven his ability to work alone in the field, and to deal with adverse circumstances, not the least of which being the fact that he had to rescue me from an area where the Force may as well have not existed."

"We will consider it," the Dobie nodded. "He did do very well in his mission."

"*We will also look into the issue of the ysalamiri.*" Master Essani added. "*Such a creature can not be allowed to become well known.*"

"Agreed," Doruth nodded. "I doubt they are. I've heard of them before, but never that particular ability of theirs. Fortunately, as I understand, they're nearly impossible to export from Myrkr without taking the tree they're on as well, something that Czerka did in this case. I suspect the Alsatian I dealt with had suggested it."

"*We will have to watch them more closely in the future,*" Master Essani stated firmly, even more displeased by the Corp's plot than most. "*I do not like this idea of holding a Jedi as blackmail taking root in anyone else's head.*"

"Agreed," Doruth nodded. "Is there any further business?" He asked politely.

"No," Master Shan said.

"I would suggest visiting Medical for your arms before seeing your mate," Master Ryul chuckled softly. "They may not hurt anymore, but she will not be pleased."

"A fact I am keenly aware of," Doruth chuckled ruefully. "Thank you, Masters. I look forward to your decision regarding Fenrik's progress." He bowed politely before starting out to follow the Wolf's advice.

Doruth drew a deep breath as he approached the block of rooms that he and the pack occupied. He could feel the conflicted feelings in the largest suite, his own, where all five Wolves were gathered. They were angry, frustrated, a bit understanding and definitely impatient.

For a moment, he almost toyed with the idea of not going in ... but he knew full well that would only serve to make things worse. Instead, he opened the door, not entirely sure what sort of reception he'd be getting. He almost yelped when he was instantly surrounded and pulled into the room, noses and hands and Force-senses on him in the most invasive greeting he'd ever experienced.

He could feel the threatening nature of the two males, Ragil and Fazer, their touch almost a challenge to see if he'd weakened. It was a reminder he didn't care for of how closely they still held to 'the best shall lead' ways of their animal ancestors. It was also a relief when they settled quickly, a choice that indicated they felt he was still their better.

The touch of the three females was distinctly different, though no less intrusive. Tulgwar and Hegrin had no interest in challenging his position, so their concern was for his well being more than his continued fitness to lead. Tes only really wanted to kiss him, her relief evident in her body language as much as her Force-signature.

"I'm all right!" He protested futilely. "I'm fine, glad to be home, and would really like to know whose what is where before anybody has to apologize for something!"

"What happened?" Tes all but demanded, still close to him as her right as his mate while the others gave him a bit more space, the greeting turned happy again. "I heard you were in Medical."

"For all of five minutes while Master Ursal lectured me about acting on stupid ideas that end up working out better than the smart ones," he reassured her, wrapping his arms around her. They really did feel better now; for all that he was going to get another lecture for the fact that they'd been hurt at all. "Nothing serious, Tes, honest."

"How can you possibly call getting captured nothing serious?" She looked at him seriously, a bit of fear showing in her rich brown eyes.

"The injuries weren't," he clarified, wincing a bit inside as he thought about what would've happened if Fenrik hadn't rescued him. "The entire mission turned out to be a setup. But if Fenrik hadn't rescued me, I would have gotten myself out before they did anything drastic." He caressed her cheek lightly with the backs of his fingers. "Everything's okay now, all right? It's not about to happen again any time soon, either."

"You are so not going out solo again soon." She murmured and nuzzled him, her body relaxing as she let go of the tension that had built up as she had started to hear bits about what had happened.

"Soon, no," he agreed. "It probably wasn't half as bad as what you heard, love," he murmured, kissing her softly.

"Good," Hegrin grinned at the pair, then started to herd the others out of the room so the mates could get to the more intimate parts of greeting that Doruth refused to have them around for.

"So, you're the big hero of the day," Jay grinned and draped himself over Fenrik's shoulders when the Panther walked into their quarters. "I hear you rescued your Master."

"What else was I supposed to do?" Fenrik asked seriously, despite knowing a few possible answers. Still, he kissed Jay tenderly, wrapping his arms around his back.

"Doesn't make succeeding any less of an impression," he chuckled and wrapped him in a welcoming hug. "Now what is this noise about this mess being about me?"

"Czerka took exception to your 'I don't work with assholes' policy," Fenrik shrugged slightly. "Seems they found out we were together and seriously underestimated what Jedi can do."

"At least they kept up their rep for not thinking things through very much," Jay chuckled and kissed him, then again a little more passionately. "It's good to have you home."

"Better to be home," Fenrik murmured, scratching Jay's back lightly. "You already finished making sure our neighborhood plant didn't do any serious harm to the Gurath?"

"Yap. I set him up to survive it well." He grinned and nuzzled him. "Shower with me?"

"With pleasure," Fenrik rumbled. "Y'know, you've spoiled me for the sonic ones," he chuckled.

"Don't worry, the ship I'm building for you has water." Jay smirked and kissed him again before darting for the bathroom with a flick of his tail.

"I build a lightsaber, you build a starship," Fenrik chuckled, shaking his head as he started to follow, his own tail flicking behind him. "You, kat, are enough to give a guy an inferiority complex." He murmured softly enough that Jay wouldn't hear it.

"Council wants to see you in half an hour," Jay told Fenrik softly as the triad finished up their typical meat and spice heavy lunch.

"H- never mind, I should know better than to ask now," Fenrik chuckled slightly, shaking his head. "Any word about why, or is the Temple keeping that to itself?"

"Nope, but it's not a reprimand."

"Can't imagine why they'd want to reprimand you," Shi said easily. "After all, you haven't been back long enough to do anything wrong."

"And you've been with us for most of it," Jay winked.

"Probably just want to sort out some minor detail I didn't mention," Fenrik shrugged slightly. "That, or see if I can help 'em figure out anything more about that creature Doruth spotted. Hopefully it won't take too long."

"Hopefully," Jay nodded and leaned forward to kiss him softly. "Have fun."

"I'll try," Fenrik chuckled, returning the kiss and turning to give Shivasta a brief one as well. "Be back once they're done picking my brain; let's just hope I don't have to pack for my solo already."

"Ugh, I hope not," Shi agreed. "You just got back, after all."

"No kidding," he nodded. "Ah well, we'll see." With that, he stood, stretching out and starting off for the Council Chambers, hoping this wouldn't take too long. Or that his mates would get into too much trouble in the meantime.

"So how about a little work on your unarmed combat skills while he's gone?" Jay looked over at his mate seriously.

"Probably a good idea," she admitted, standing up. "I think my 'saber skills are almost up to par, at least. So, to the sparring chambers?"

"Works for me," he stood and wrapped his arms around her for a lingering kiss before they put on the serious, neutral faces for public.

"Oof!" Shivasta grunted as she hit the mat, rolling out of the way as Jay came after her. She was doing better; when they'd started, he probably would have had her pinned already. Instead, she was just panting, glad that they weren't practicing her defensive skills at the moment.

Jay usually managed to put her down every time she went after him, but it gave her time to recover between attempts. Just as she was getting ready to make her next attempt, she felt something from Fenrik, a sense of shock and disbelief.

"Time out," she said quickly. "Something's up with Fen."

"Up how?" Jay shifted his stance to a tense neutral and ended the match. "About the Council?"

"I'm not sure, but something surprised him big time. Enough that I'm having trouble getting through," she admitted. "Doesn't feel like something's wrong though... let's go find out what's happening."

"Definitely," Jay nodded as they headed off the mat. "There aren't many things that could do that."

"No kidding," she agreed, following him. "I think he's on the way back to our quarters."

"Probably looking for us," he nodded as they picked up the pace a bit. "Hopefully it's good news."

"Here's hoping," she agreed, quieting down and focusing on keeping up with Jay's longer and naturally faster stride. They had only gotten back to their quarters a few moments, not even long enough to consider changing clothes, when the door opened for Fenrik.

"Damn," Jay murmured at the blown away look on the Panther's face. "What happened?" He asked softly and walked close to hug him.

"I'm finished," Fenrik murmured, accepting the hug Jay offered him along with the one Shivasta gave him from the other side, still stunned. "They waived my solo," he added as a part of his mind reminded him that either one of them might take what he'd said first the wrong way.

"Waived ... you're a Knight now?" Jay's eyes went wide in shock almost as strong as his mate's.

"Yeah," Fenrik nodded slightly, the impact of the statement very gradually giving way to realizing what it meant.

"That's great!" Shivasta said, hugging him more tightly from behind. "Did they say why?"

"The rescue," Fenrik explained. "Said it showed that I had all the qualities a solo would normally prove."

"We could've told them that," the blue-skinned young woman chuckled.

"Yeah," Jay added with a grin and hugged him tighter with a solid kiss. "But that is way cool. Any word on what's next for you?"

"Not yet," Fenrik chuckled slightly, his own grin slowly forming as he returned Jay's kiss. "Probably missions pretty soon, but they didn't mention anything yet."

"Which means we have at least a few days to celebrate with our first Knight." Jay rumbled playfully.

"Knowing you two that means I'm going to be more exhausted before my first mission than after it," Fenrik smirked, turning to wrap an arm around each of them.

"Like you're going to complain about that," Shi smirked back up at him. "Though we'll probably find a few other things to do," she chuckled.

"I think we can manage to make sure you're more exhausted after it," Jay winked and pulled the Panther towards the bedroom. "I still owe you for the last time you tied me down."

"Like you minded," Fen smirked, following him in and starting to strip his robes off.

"All the more reason to make sure you get to enjoy too," Shi pointed out with a giggle as the three disappeared into their bedroom.

"Well now, what's the spread for?" Fenrik raised an eyebrow as the triad sat down for a private dinner in their quarters three days later. "We already celebrated my knighting."

"I'd say it's called 'working off stress without katas,'" Shi chuckled and kissed Jay as he set the last of the distinctly carnivorous with fruit meal down.

"We do have a lot we really do need to work out now," Jay admitted and sat down after Shi. "Before we head to Yavin."

"Something wrong?" Fenrik asked as he took his own seat. "Or just a little nervous about the trip?"

"Not wrong, and not all that nervous about the trip," Jay shook his head as they started to serve themselves. "Master Essani just reminded me that we do have something to go over ... and it needs to be before we're off again." He shifted uncomfortably. "We haven't really talked about the Demon and my family Gift seriously. It's about to become a central feature in my life for a few years."

"You're going to be accepting your Gift soon, aren't you?" Shivasta asked him. "We'd been wondering how much longer you were going to wait," she admitted.

"I've finished or exceeded all the training I can," he nodded slightly. "If I didn't have that to deal with, Master Essani would start my Trials soon. This one just affects you two, possibly a lot."

"Besides having to help keep you from turning, how?" Shivasta asked him softly.

"There is a good chance that I'll have access to telepathy, something I have no way to control yet. Add that to what I suspect is a direct link to the Dark Side and you could be having nightmares for a while. You're also going to be the first targets for anything nasty that comes after me, and the Demon if it gets loose."

"We can help you learn to control it," Shivasta said reassuringly.

"And we're not going to run out on you, Jay," Fenrik told him. "We've all known it was probably going to be part of the package. You're worth it."

"Thanks." He smiled slightly. "I didn't think you would, but we haven't really talked about what you're getting into much."

"We're both more concerned about what you're getting into," Shi said, reaching over to rub his shoulder. "If you really want to deal with it. You've said before that you're not sure."

"The last mission, Kraken, made it very clear I'm not going to be one who gets the choice." He shook his head. "I'm too driven to be the best, to make the best. It's not in me to ignore the potential forever. It's better to take it on while I still have a Master to help and time to learn how to deal with it."

"All right," she nodded. "Is this going to be before, or after, the trip?"

"After," Jay said simply. "I've got enough issues with them without having somebody in my head egging me on."

"I was going to mention that if you hadn't thought of it already," Shivasta nodded.

"Well, from what I've heard Tes say, this guy shouldn't set you off too badly," Fenrik said hopefully.

"That's the general idea at least," Jay nodded with a low chuckle. "And I can behave myself when there isn't a challenge involved. This is just a non-violent kind of challenge."

"And I'll be there to make sure you don't do something you're going to regret," Shivasta smiled, squeezing his shoulder lightly. "Was there anything else about the Demon you wanted to tell us?"

"Not a lot is known," he admitted. "The Council is sure it's a Dark Side creature. Family history indicates it's very patient; it's spent generations breeding us to be Force-sensitive and doesn't give up trying to corrupt anyone in the family that takes on the Gift."

"And you're sure there's no way to use your gift without facing it?" She asked him.

"Sure there is, they just aren't viable." He shook his head with a chuckle. "If somebody killed the Demon, it wouldn't be there to bug us. That's just not likely to happen."

"No, it's not," Fenrik agreed. "Hard enough to kill a spirit like that when it's in this galaxy."

"I think it is," Jay shook his head; "though it can probably travel anywhere it has a door. We've got records of it still being active in alternate realities and in time jumps. The good part is that is only really talks and makes offers of power or comfort. No guarantees, but it's not usually directly dangerous.

"Well, that's something," Shivasta said. "I'm sure you'll be okay, Jay, and we will too."

"I am too; it's just something we did need to talk out before it happened." He relaxed significantly, then cocked his head at Shi. "Got a clue how long before your Trials?"

"Not sure," she admitted. "Every once in a while, Master Ursal tells me I've done well at one or another, usually the judgment test," she chuckled slightly. "I'm not sure when I'll be taking them formally, but I have to get my lightsaber made first... I'd been planning on starting that after we got back, when you'd have Fenrik around while I was gone."

"Or you could make it while we go to Yavin," Fenrik suggested. "It worked for me when you two went after the Kraken. Face it, now that I'm a Knight, unless I'm on a mission, there's no way I can be sure I'll be around for that long a chunk of time, even with Essani on the Council."

"True," Shivasta admitted. "You mind, Jay? He does have a point, and I probably will be gone a bit longer than usual. I'm going to have to go home for the main focusing crystal at least."

"I don't mind," he reached over to squeeze her shoulder. "In some ways, Fen's got some advantages in this one. He is better at dealing with me when I'm angry."

"You're just lucky he is a bit of a healer," she teased lightly, smiling at both of them. "Or else I wouldn't be letting you out of my sight for this. I'll go talk to Master Ursal about it after lunch."

"How do you plan on getting home?" Fenrik asked her. "Garos VIII isn't exactly on any of the major shipping lanes."

"I'll have to set it up, but I was planning on getting passage on one of the supply ships. I'll sort something out," she smiled.

"You can probably take Kalrass," Jay suggested. "She's got an excellent autopilot, and Tes hardly needs her right now."

"To be honest Jay, I'd rather take a ship somebody else can pilot if something unusual happens," she explained. "And where I don't have to worry about something happening to my ride home, if something weird happens."

"I didn't mangle her that badly," he sort of pouted, "but I get the point. It was just a suggestion."

"Jay, it's not that I don't trust your work," she smiled, "it's that I don't trust my work when it comes to weird things happening."

"I'll just have to trust that supply ship," he accepted, though he wasn't all that pleased. "How long do you expect you'll be gone?"

"At least a month," she admitted. "Quite possibly longer, depending on how long it takes me to convince them I'm suitable to go into the caves and actually construct my 'saber. How long would it take you to make a miniature version of my refrigeration collar, Jay?" She asked him curiously.

"How miniature do you want it?" Her curiosity was returned as he tried to think of why she'd want it.

"'Saber sized, if possible," she said. "Possibly something that could be mounted at the mouth of the hilt. I saw something while I was meditating a few weeks ago, hadn't thought about it too much yet, but if you can, it might be helpful with something I'd like to try."

"That'll be easy," Jay chuckled softly. "Your pendant is smaller, just the wrong shape. Give me a couple days without distractions."

"Okay," she smiled. "I'll try to remember," she chuckled.

"Mmm... I think we can come up with things to do other than distracting him," Fenrik winked.

"You're as bad as he is," she laughed, shaking her head.

"What temp do you want it set at?" Jay asked with a smirk at the other tom that was all but a dare to prove her right.

"Below freezing at the very least. If you can set it colder, that'd probably be best. It'll be going on the inside, so unless I'm wrong about how it works, it shouldn't freeze the hilt, right?"

"I can set it that way easily enough," he nodded. "I'll just need the exact dimensions of the hilt you intend to use. It there a point that's too cold?"

"I'm not sure yet," she admitted. "I'll need to keep some crystals below freezing, but I don't think it gets any colder than seventy below most of the time, so it probably shouldn't be much colder than that. And I'll get you the dimensions from Master Ursal; she's providing the hilt and emitter."

"Forty below as a goal sound good?" He offered. "I'm fairly sure that would be easy to do."

"That'd be fine," she nodded. "Thank you," she added with a smile. "I'm not sure how well this will work in the end, but if I'm right, it should be unique."

"A fitting match for its wielder," he purred softly, earning a violet blush as she ducked her head slightly.

"Y'know, that does explain yours, Jay," Fenrik chuckled. "Maker knows they're certainly close enough to unique."

"Only around here," he smirked back. "Back home they're nothing special."

"I'd be terrified if I didn't know what you meant by that," Fenrik chuckled. "But I guess it comes of living where everybody's at least a part-time inventor."

"C'mon, Fenrik," Shi giggled. "After this long, if he can say anything that still terrifies you, you're going to look like you belong on the Council before you've even taken on your first Padawan."

"I should probably mention about now that the trip to Yavin will be Sharufa's shakedown run." Jay almost snickered.

"Probably just as well I'm coming along then," Fenrik sighed dramatically. "I'm going to have to know what I have to kick when something stops working anyways."

"And what not to kick," Jay smirked for real. "She very much believes in her name you know. She doesn't take abuse from anybody."

"And just what does her name mean?" Shivasta asked, not recognizing it as one used in the Republic.

"Distinguished or outstanding, depending on who you ask," he chuckled softly. "She's got an attitude to match."

"I'll keep it in mind," Fenrik smiled. "I assume you built her as a full transport, at least enough space for six?"

"Depends on sleeping arrangements. She's set up with a master bedroom for us and three other rooms for Masters or Padawans. A bit smaller than Gurath, but much more efficiently arranged for us. She won't be needed for more than a decade, if that."

"You have definitely missed your calling, kat," Fenrik chuckled, shaking his head. "Something that I'm sure every corporate type you've talked to has agreed with."

"Mmm ... personally, I'm glad he missed it," Shivasta smiled, leaning over to give him a quick kiss.

"Clawsons are just not corporate types," he shook his head. "We're warriors with a knack for inventing our own gear for the job."

"I was joking, Jay," Fenrik chuckled, moving to give him a kiss. "After all, given everything that's happened, there are some corp's I hope you'll never work with."

"Like most of them," he smirked with a wink and returned the kiss. "It doesn't make them any happier for my career choice."

"They'll live," Shi smiled, collecting their empty plates. "Mmm ... so, who's interested in dessert?" She asked with a wink, nuzzling Jay and Fen both.

"Does that mean you're on the menu?" Jay grinned up at her with a teasing gleam in his eyes.

"That's up to you boys," she teased back with a wink, standing and walking into the bedroom, slipping her robes off as she disappeared, followed quickly by her mates.

Doruth could feel the tension that was in the air as the Gurath set down on Kessel. He put his breath-mask on and looked back at the rest of the Pack, making sure they were all similarly equipped.

They'd been sent to deal with a rebellion amongst the miners, and it was obvious that nobody outside of the Order was particularly picky about how it happened. The spice that was being mined here was vital to several major pharmaceutical concerns throughout the Republic, and any disruption in operations was grounds for worry.

The fact that the officials in charge of Kessel were unofficially supplementing their stipends by selling that same spice to criminal organizations had nothing to do with it, of course.

He was glad the Order had been as vague as they had with his orders, something he was sure was very intentional. None of them particularly wanted this revolt among the miners to end the way the mine's administrators probably did - violently, but with work starting again with the minimum possible delays.

As the Gurath's hatch opened, he saw that the governor of this particular mining region was already waiting for them, his armed entourage immediately behind him.

"Greetings, Governor Rhyallis." Doruth appraised the male silver Fox and wasn't the least bit surprised that he was extremely nervous. It didn't miss anyone's attention that the four Wolves behind him had decided the same and took on an even more dominant and predatory air for the weakness in the smaller canine.

"Greetings, Jedi," the Fox said, bowing slightly. He tried to put on a look more fitting for the governor of a small planet, and managed with mixed success. "I presume you were informed of the situation here before your arrival?"

"Only that there was trouble with the miners and I am here to solve it." He said simply.

"Yes. Well, they're getting increasingly belligerent," Rhyallis explained. "They refuse to go into the mines, demanding all manner of concessions before they'll work again. I'm willing to meet some of them, of course, but the others... well, there's simply no way this facility could be run on the budget I have to work with if I met all of them. After all, while glitterstim has numerous medical uses, the mechanical costs make the profit margin exceedingly slim."

"What are their demands?" He asked simply as they walked towards the building attached to the landing pad.

"Increased security forces, restricting the mining operations to the uppermost levels, being armed with blasters rather than mining lasers... I'm sure you can see where that last one especially would be a problem, with an entire group of rowdy miners armed with blasters. They're also requesting hazard pay." He sighed and shook his head.

"Those mines are no more dangerous now than they were when they volunteered to work here. I'm not running a prison mine like some administrators; I take care of my workers. But in an operation like this, there are bound to be accidents, which every one of those men knew full well before they signed on."

"I will want to speak with the miners about their demands, of course." Doruth said smoothly as if it was the only possible way things could go instead of the one those in charge wanted the least.

"Really, there's no need for that," the governor said just as smoothly. "It's simply a case of the miners deciding that they want better terms than they agreed to. These things happen all the time; it's just that normally our security forces are capable of handling it. This time... well, you'll see when we reach the mine itself." He led Doruth into the building, though only after one of the guards had opened the door and stepped in first.

The Panther had been on Nar Shadda long enough to recognize that Rhyallis was a man who'd had at least one attempt made on his life, and recently at that. No wonder he'd requested Jedi assistance.

Instead of replying, Doruth lead his Custos pack behind the Governor and waited to see the mine before he insisted on talking to the miners.

"My apologies for the delay," Rhyallis explained as one of his guards left to stand watch outside, "but I'm afraid my transport to the mines had to be replaced. It should be here any -" The familiar sound of a speeder whirring to a halt outside interrupted him. "Ah, there it is. Well, let's go see the facility, hmm?"

He led the way out, climbing into the large speeder along with one of his guards, though the other half-dozen guards had to stay behind so Doruth could get on along with the four Custos.

The trip was short, though it wasn't exactly uneventful. While there wasn't any overt violence, Doruth could feel the increasing tension and animosity the closer they came to the mine. This entire place was a powder keg waiting to explode. The only reason most of the miners he saw gathered were shouting obscenities was because their breath masks didn't lend themselves well to the exertion.

He was definitely going to have to find out what the reason behind the need for increased security was. This was going to explode, and soon.

They finally stopped just outside a large, well-built building, more guards waiting outside. Apparently, without having to watch the miners, Rhyallis could afford to bolster his forces with the security he did have down there.

The rest of the buildings in the area were far more run-down looking, with miners moving in and out of them. The spice trade was more lucrative than he'd thought, if the difference between Rhyallis' home and office and the miner's buildings was any indicator.

It shouldn't have been a surprise, and wasn't much of one, really. Anything that attracted the underworld had to be very lucrative.

The guards moved forward, making sure there was a clear path between the building and the speeder before the doors opened.

"Ehm... after you," Rhyallis offered, though they all knew it was less out of politeness than preferring that the Jedi be the first one to go into the line of fire.

It wasn't something that bothered Doruth as he easily got off the speeder and went inside with the pack. If the Fox was intimidated already, it would make it that much easier to push him into consenting to what he needed to.

Rhyallis followed behind him, closing the door to the office quickly and sitting down at his desk.

"I took the liberty of collecting all the information we have on the miner who seems to be leading this revolt," he explained, opening up the file. "It should make this somewhat easier for you."

The Panther nodded and skimmed the file, looking mostly for names and pictures to know who to talk to first.

"If you'd like, I have a datapad with the information here," he said, opening a drawer and pulling one out. "I do hope you can resolve this quickly. Monthly quotas aside, our product is vital to the Republic."

"That is why I am here, after all." Doruth nodded. "Are all the major players here?"

"They should be," Rhyallis nodded. "The ringleader and his friends are probably in the cantina now." Doruth frowned mentally as he got to the details on the supposed ringleader. This wasn't adding up; meerians didn't revolt, it just wasn't in them. The diminutive humanoids were expert miners, but even hundreds of generations under the thumb of the mining corporations hadn't dulled their naturally agreeable nature enough that they would fight back, even on their home world.

This was definitely a revolt to look into very carefully.

"We will talk to them now," Doruth said simply and turned to leave, the Wolves at his heal. There were times he wished he didn't have them around, and this was going to be one of them. Even with all their Custos training and decades at the Temple, they still had a habit of looking at everyone not of the Temple as a threat to be decimated.

They'd saved his life many times, but they'd caused just as much trouble when such aggressive posturing wasn't needed.

That was the true reason, or part of it at least, that he'd left them behind on that last mission to Kashykk. No such luck this time. Hopefully this wouldn't be one of the situations where having them along would result in unnecessary violence.

They never behaved like this with Tes along. She was the only one who did any posturing then, unless a battle was immanent and it might actually help. It made him feel even more like he was being babysat than usual.

Fortunately, the miners didn't seem too inclined towards causing trouble for him. They milled about, occasionally glaring, but mostly making way for the Panther and Wolves to work towards the cantina. Maybe they knew that a Jedi wasn't just going to start taking heads until they were working again.

They walked into the cantina, the air a little fresher, more people not wearing their breathmasks, though most of them only took them off long enough to eat or drink before replacing them.

The meerian they were looking for, LirTan, was sitting in a repulsor chair, talking with some of his friends around a game of sabacc. He looked up as the five of them walked in, and the game was soon cleared from the table, space made for Doruth to take a seat.

"Thank you," the Panther nodded in acceptance and sat down. "*Go talk to the others, and be polite about it.*" He added to the Custos so they wouldn't look so much like the body guards they tended to think of themselves as. "What happened?" He asked LirTan simply.

"You're asking?" The meerian asked, raising an eyebrow slightly. "Well, it seems the boss picked the wrong people to call for help. What happened is we've been losing more miners than usual in the lower levels. Don't care what that Fox says, this is more than the usual accidents. We can find cave ins or sinkholes; we know where the bodies are after those. Miners just disappearing... that's something else."

"Is it in a particular area, or all the lower levels?" Doruth asked as he began to check things off the possible causes list.

"We don't know. Seems to be a specific area, but it happens sometimes all over. Just not as often as it has lately."

"Have you kept any records of the miners who have gone missing; where, when, their race, solo or not." Doruth considered him seriously. "I'd take your records over Rhyallis."

"I'd take a drunken wampa's records over his," the meerian snorted, shaking his head. "We don't have anything on record, but it wouldn't take too long to figure it all out. Just have to get the word out that somebody actually cares."

"I would appreciate it," he inclined his head seriously. "It will help a great deal when I go down there to find out how to stop it."

"Just make sure you and your friends are well armed," LirTan observed. "Everybody who disappeared had mining lasers, and knew how to use 'em in a fight if they had to. Didn't help them any."

"We will be," Doruth nodded. "How long do you think it will take to work out an map and timeline of the missing?"

"I should have it for you by evening," LirTan said easily.

"Good. Is there anything else you've noticed?"

"The ones who've disappeared the most lately have been working around a new vein we've been working," the meerian explained. "Rich vein, most of the reason Rhyallis says they've just skipped the planet. But we know who leaves and who doesn't. They haven't."

"I understand," Doruth said simply. He believed it too. Communities like these knew this kind of thing, and even more, the situation here back them up. "It there anything unusual about this vein, or what comes out of it? Purity, quantity, how it lies in the rock?"

"The purity's normal," LirTan said easily. "Pure spice is common around here, that's why the mines have lasted as long as they have. What's weird is that this deposit just doesn't seem to end. We'll dig to the back of it, or think we have at least, when we come back the next day we find out we'd been reading the scans wrong or something. More bogies than usual back there, but they're not what the problem is."

"Like more has showed up over night?" He hazarded a guess as an idea started to form, no matter how strange it sounded.

"Not over night, but fairly quickly. They usually show up in areas we've mined out, they get caught in the spice otherwise. But usually we find a few there before, caught in the spice that we're mining. Here, we didn't find any until after we'd mined the main deposit."

"Interesting," he murmured, more sure of his idea than before. "Anything else you can think of that is different?"

"Nope," LirTan said, shaking his head. "Except for the way we keep finding more, nothing that weird about it but the miners we keep losing back there."

"Then I am going to investigate our records until you have put together the map of disappearances." Doruth said easily and stood.

"Will do," the meerian nodded, his repulsor-chair rising so he stayed at Doruth's eye-level. "Glad to see that somebody gives a shit about us around here."

"It's what I do on a mission." Doruth said simply and silently signaled the others to join him outside the door. "I will meet you back here in a few hours."

"See you then," LirTan nodded, starting to talk to his friends again as they gathered around him.

The Sharufa pulled into an open docking bay on the seemingly derelict space station orbiting Yavin 4. The entire place was ancient, thousands of years old as far as Jay could tell, and had been repaired and refitted hundreds of times in its life. Despite that, and despite the fact that it had been occupied for most of the last thousand years, it still looked like it had been untended since the day it was built, something Tes knew was a very intentional illusion its occupants had cultivated.

"Are you sure this is the station?" Fenrik asked her from the copilot's seat. "Not even the Corusca fishers would live in a place this broken down."

"It's a show," Jay chuckled in mild admiration. "Some avoid trouble by looking too tough to mess with. Some avoid it by looking like they aren't worth the effort. She's old, but she's in pretty good shape."

"If you say so," Fenrik said, shaking his head. "They certainly do a good job of making it look dead. So... do we wait for him to come out, go in, what?"

"We'll probably have to remind him we're expected," Tes chuckled. "He's not exactly that good about remembering his appointments."

"That sounds familiar," Fenrik chuckled.

"Have Massassin do it, or do you want to call like normal people do?" Jay asked with a smirk towards his mate.

"Well, Tes knows the guy," he chuckled. "What's the usual way?"

"Knock," she chuckled, standing up. "C'mon, let's go pay him a visit. Fen? Might want to grab that box of dried Dantoon locusts before we head in. He knows me, Jay's a fellow techie, be good to give him a reason to like you too."

"Will do," Fenrik nodded, heading back into the hold to get the treats nobody else on the ship would touch before joining Tes and Jay at the hatch. Tes pressed a button on the console next to the door, and a grainy image of a disheveled Rodian appeared from the other side.

"Who's there?" Duvam Tam asked in Rodese that was dated, but still understandable to Tes and Jay both.

"It's Tes," she rolled her eyes. "We're expected, remember?"

"Tes?" Duvam peered into his own viewscreen, cocking his head. "How did you get out here so fast? Just talked to you a couple days ago, you weren't due for at least another two days...."

Jay and Fenrik couldn't help but snicker slightly.

"Check the date, we're not that early," she shook her head. "Open the door already."

"I'm sure that - oh! All right, I'll open up," he said, shrugging slightly as the blast door slid open to reveal a massive workspace littered with assorted half-finished projects from droids to small vehicles to exotic suits of armor to... really, it was probably a miracle if the station's owner knew what everything was at this point.

"I was working on an inventory after I got back from my last... err... vacation," Duvam explained. "I guess I lost track of time." The end of his snout wiggled slightly as he looked between the Wolf and two felines. "So! Who are your new friends? Did you bring the supplies I asked about?"

"Of course," she chuckled slightly. "The red one's Jay, the techie I told you about. The Panther is his mate, Fenrik."

Fenrik heard his name mentioned, and saw Duvam's eyes stray towards the small bag he'd collected. Not for the first time he wished he'd had Doruth teach him Rodese along with Huttese during the past few years, but there wasn't anything he could do about that just now. He took the bag and passed it to the Rodian, who opened it up and looked inside with a pleased sound.

"Most polite your friends are!" He said with the closest a Rodian came to a grin, pulling one of the large dried insects out and popping it into his mouth, crunching down on it approvingly. "So, you built the ship you came in?" He asked Jay, looking at him suddenly.

"*He likes your gift,*" Tes translated for him. "*Most polite.*"

"*Thanks,*" the Panther replied silently.

"Refurbished, technically," Jay grinned back. "But she's not bad for a first try at a ship from scrap."

"Ah! So you are another who prefers to work with what others have left behind," Duvam said approvingly. "Are you planning on staying some time?" He asked hopefully, looking between the young tom and the Wolf who'd brought him.

"A few weeks, assuming nothing calls us away." Jay grinned back easily. He was still on edge, uncomfortable with what he was talking to, but the subject was so comfortable and Duvam was just not projecting the aggression his kin usually did.

"Maybe you can help with a few projects of mine," Duvam suggested. "We could compare notes; maybe I can help you with some projects of your own."

"*I think this is the point where I go to help unload the ship,*" Fenrik chuckled mentally to Tes.

"*Not a bad idea,*" she chuckled. "*They're about to get techie on us.*"

"Worth a look," Jay agreed easily.

"Well, you two have fun; we'll go work on unloading Sharufa." Tes told them and headed back to the ship, one hand on Fenrik's shoulder to bring him along.

"*I take it it went well,*" Master Essani commented as the pair entered the ship.

"Quite well," Fenrik nodded with a smile. "They seem to be getting along as techies. The fact that he's a Rodian still has Jay a little on edge, but not nearly as bad as he can be."

"*Very good,*" Essani said approvingly. "*I assume your friend is doing well then?*" She asked Tes.

"Yes, his usual forgetful creative self." She chuckled. "We came back to unload the supplies for him."

"*He sounds familiar somehow,*" Essani chuckled, chirping as her fur shifted to a light pink. "*Would you like any help with the larger objects?*" She offered.

"Always welcome," Tes grinned. "I think we're all just avoiding the techies talking."

"*Something that I can only imagine is harder to understand when they're speaking a dialect that's about fifty years out of date,*" Essani chuckled, standing up and following them back to the hold. "*The greatest threat to Jedi inscrutability is that more people will meet inventors.*"

"Fortunately they are even rarer than Jedi, and a lot more reclusive." Fenrik chuckled.

"Would you like to learn the basics of Rodese?" Tes offered him.

"It would probably be a good idea," Fenrik admitted. "Huttese usually works, but I'm not usually speaking to somebody who only knows Rodese either."

"Oh he speaks more than that," Tes chuckled. "He just doesn't let the Trandoshans know that until after he knows if he has to jack up his prices to prove they respect him properly."

"*He's not quite as scatterbrained as he acts, is he?*" Essani chuckled. "*I have to say, I think I'm getting to like him.*"

"He has a lot in common with Jay," Fenrik shook his head as they started to unload the supplies. "Let's just hope we can pry him out of the lab sometime this year."

"*I'm sure we will eventually,*" Essani smiled, pausing for a moment to focus and move a large crate of foodstuffs. "*I'm surprised you're just bringing these out to him,*" she observed, glancing at Tes.

"It's what's hard to get out here," she shrugged. "Food's valuable when it's a rare commodity."

"*Very true,*" the kushiban nodded, moving another of the crates out with an ease that would have made most jealous, particularly when they considered that she was doing it simply through her skill with the Force.

Fenrik, on the other hand, was moving things in a much more traditional manner, usually taking the other end of whatever container Tes was hauling.

"I'm just worried about what Jay might end up coming home with from here," he chuckled slightly. "He manages to frighten enough people working on his own."

"*On the plus side, I doubt he'll be able to find a way to improve on the lightsaber any more than he's already doing,*" Essani chuckled. She cocked her head slightly, her fur turning a light teal. "*Though... before we leave, Tes, I would like you to introduce me to Duvam Tam. I may have some business to discuss with him.*"

"Sure," she nodded easily. "We might want to time it for when Fenrik has Jay distracted though."

"*Agreed, though once a good first impression has had the chance to sink in I think it would be safe to meet him while Jay's there.*"

"I think she meant so that those two would pay attention to whatever business you might have to discuss," Fenrik chuckled. "If he's anything like Jay, it'd take a scream or the computer announcing that the station is about to be exposed to hard vacuum to snap him out of a project, especially if there's somebody else there to work on it with."

"Yeah, they are two techies in the same room." Tes chuckled. "Distracting one long enough to talk can be a trick."

"*All right,*" Essani chuckled. "*Let's just not forget it, that's all I ask. I feel something interesting here, now that I listen for it.*"

"No problem. We can handle it when Fenrik coaxes Jay away for a 'nap'." Tes smirked at the Panther.

"Which will probably be in a day or two and for actual sleep," Fenrik smirked back. "Trust me, I do try to get him to behave when I can."

"*And you have about as much success as anybody else does,*" Essani chuckled.

"The difference is that he doesn't glare at me when I do it," he smirked.

Doruth stepped from the Gurath, now sitting on one of the few stable areas for it near the town, with four Wolves not far behind. Despite that they'd all brought back roughly the same information from the miners and opinions of their honesty, there was nothing in the databanks to indicate what could possibly be happening. It didn't squelch his suspicions that this was probably a predator of some kind, it only confirmed that no one had survived an encounter with whatever it was long enough to make it known.

That would be his job.

He noticed that the miners were gathered around the yawning maw of the spice mine, looking in almost like the entire lot of them was considering jumping.

Or like the gawkers that inevitably gathered around a fight scene. He had a bad feeling that whatever was down there had just claimed another victim.

He reached out, feeling for the disturbances that meant this was something he could actually help with and felt nothing.

"*Fazer, Tulgwar, go see what is going on.*" He instructed the smaller male and female of the pack, leaving the two largest Wolves with him as he went to the cantina to meet with LirTan.

"*Right, boss.*" Tulgwar nodded and led the lighter male towards the gathering.

The meerian was sitting at his table, but this time he approached Doruth in his hovering chair, the apparatus rising so he was on the same level as the Panther again.

"Well," he said, "I'm guessing you noticed the commotion out there."

"Yes," Doruth nodded. "What happened?"

"Officially, I'm guessing the boss'll say nothing. Or maybe that one of his guards fell off the lift. 'Bout a half-hour ago somebody heard a scream. All the miners are accounted for; a couple of my boys went down to see what it was. Step a bit further inside, we'll see if I'm right," he said, moving his chair back to let Doruth in as a powerfully built Badger broke off from the crowd.

The Panther nodded and stepped inside the building, Ragil and Hegrin behind him.

LirTan moved around as the Badger walked in.

"They found a helmet down where the last guys disappeared," he said gruffly. "Blaster too, still hot."

"And of course, Rhyallis doesn't want anybody thinking this proves the mine's not safe," the meerian muttered, shaking his head and pulling out a datapad, adding something to it. "Thanks, Spike."

"No problem." He looked up at the Panther. "So, you're the guy who's gonna try and clear this mess up?"

"That is the idea," Doruth nodded. "Did you find any signs of blood, the guards or his attacker's?"

"No, but they could definitely see that there'd been a fight. That's one of the weird things, really. The blaster was warm, but no scorch marks on the walls and no signs of blood."

"Which means that every shot hit his opponent, that opponent did not bleed and he did not bleed from being incapacitated or killed." Doruth rumbled, his voice low as he worked on the limited number of things he knew could accomplish that, and what did work against them. "Ragil, go check on the ballistics. We'll probably need them."

"Yes, Master." The giant male rumbled and turned to trot back to the Gurath.

"You're going in after whatever's down there?" LirTan asked him.

"That is why we're here," Doruth nodded. "To stop the killings. That means we go in to find what's doing it."

"You've got guts," the meerian observed, handing over his datapad. "Just make sure you don't get 'em ripped out, hmm?"

"Nothing's managed yet," he said simply and nodded to himself as Ragil told him the weapons and pack was ready. "If this thing can take out a Jedi and four heavily armed Custos, you've got something that will take a not-so-small army to put down, and get a lot of attention from the Council to what's going on out here. It's not a bad thing for you."

"Maybe not," LirTan chuckled slightly. "But it'd still kinda suck to be you."

"Perhaps," he acknowledged. "It is something that we don't think of much. It is a distraction from our mission."

"That's somethin' we can relate to," the meerian nodded. "Good luck to you," he said as Ragil, Fazer and Tulgwar returned with some of the heavy slugthrowers from the ship and extra body armor for Hegrin.

"Thank you," he nodded and skimmed the data on the pad, forming a mental map of the mine and the hits while Hegrin got her armor on and checked her heavy slugthrower. He looked up and glanced at the pack, who nodded to him before following him outside and into the mines.

As they worked their way into the mine, both Jedi and Custos were grateful for the built-in lighting. It was dark, but not impenetrably so, and the Wolves were able to leave the lights on their armor off for now. For a place with so little living in it, the shafts were surprisingly loud. Every motion they made, every drop of water from the ceiling, every single sound was amplified and echoed through kilometers of tunnel.

Between that and the darkness just beyond the main tunnels, it was hard to imagine that there weren't bloodthirsty predators waiting in the wings. It made them all grateful for what Force-senses they had, and especially the finely tuned ones of the Panther leading them.

"*Creepy.*" Fazer commented. The smallest of the pack, almost as small as a Coyote and just as fast, he was always the jumpy one of the group, for all he could be as ferocious as any when the battle was joined.

He was right though. And as they drew closer and closer to the location of the last attack, he only seemed to be more correct. The bogies flitting through glimmered in the dark tunnels, passing through walls easily.

"*Everybody be on guard. There's no telling if this thing's going to be hungry yet or not... or where it might come from,*" Doruth admitted. The bogies moved through rock, it stood to reason that any predator that might feed on them could do the same thing.

They progressed slowly, every sense on guard for motion or life from any direction. It wasn't long before they could see the end of the tunnel, and the pure spice there.

"Whoa," Tulgwar murmured in the dim light.

"Yeah," Hegrin nodded, stunned by the sight of what amounted to a block of pure spice at the end of the tunnel.

"*We've got blood.*" Fazer informed them silently as he sniffed around the spot where he could smell the guard's trail end. "*And whatever hit him ... I've never smelled anything like it.*"

"*Not surprised,*" Doruth said mentally. "*Whatever it is, it doesn't officially exist. Check your filters quick; there might be powdered spice in the air, don't want the breathmasks quitting on us when it'll end up with somebody getting high.*" As they did so, he stretched out with his senses, searching for what he knew would tell them where the predator was.

The impressions the guard had left behind.

It wasn't hard to find him; the agonizing pain of his slow death was almost like a beacon.

"*Behind us... the wall's not solid,*" he said. Not uncommon; water washed out cavities in the rock all the time. And when the sensors didn't indicate spice, the miners probably just ignored them.

Which, when there might be a predator's lair in them, could prove fatal.

"*Break in?*" Ragil asked with a calculating look for the section of wall.

Doruth inspected it with his Force senses. There was nothing but blackness in the cavity, nothing he could see. He could smell the blood, the smell of death that was kept inside... and whatever strange predator had killed the guard, and the other miners.

He also knew that breaking in would likely put the beast at the advantage. This was its lair, and it was a trapper. The only reason it hadn't attacked them yet was because it had already eaten today.

And, like all trappers, it had a way out to check on its traps.

"*No. Weapons at the ready, I'm going to open its door. I doubt it's going to be happy to see us.*"

The pack nodded and got ready, their heavy ballistic weapons aimed for where he indicated.

He ignited his lightsaber, not certain how much damage it would do against a creature that didn't care about blaster bolts, but intending to find out. He focused for a moment, then started to lift the heavy slab of stone opposite the spice deposit, a sort of 'lid' to a massive cave.

The response was almost immediate. A massive, grotesque creature that looked something like a blue-green spider with twelve legs and six tooth-filled mouths spaced around its body lunged out of the cavity at the Wolves and Panther to an instant explosion of bullets intended for both armored and unarmed targets.

The bullets struck its thick chitin, most of them stopping before they made it through, but a couple drawing spurts of green ichor. One of its legs was mostly ripped away, a process Doruth finished an instant later as he brought his lightsaber up in a burning arc that separated limb from body.

The strange spider-like creature jumped over them, coming down behind Hegrid in the tunnel and striking her with one of its remaining legs. The force of the blow knocked her back a few steps, her armor dented by the impact.

"Fall back," Doruth ordered them, moving to help the large female regain her footing so they could do that. Now that they knew what they were up against, he realized that they would need much more potent weaponry to really take it down properly.

He was obeyed immediately, Ragil taking up his habitual position at the rear to guard their escape with the only ranged weapon that made a dent on the creature.

The automatic roared as he fired another burst, more of the metal slugs ripping into his target and ricocheting off the walls, kicking up stone dust. It clicked at this clip was emptied, and he turned to run after the others while he reloaded.

The massive Wolf felt the ground beneath him shake as the wounded spider leaped towards him, enraged by the pain. Two of the powerful legs lashed out, wrapping around him and pulling him close. Ragil got a very, very good look at a mouth full of razor sharp teeth, just before two forward fangs sank through a joint in his armor, and the thing's poison knocked him out as he howled for help.

"*Doruth!*" Tulgwar grabbed him even as they ran, now well clear of the creature's lair. "*Ragil down.*"

The Panther had heard the howl just as clearly, felt the Wolf pass out. He was injured, but not dead yet.

And there was no telling how many more of those things were down here right now, or where it was going. The compromised lair was a possibility, but he doubted it.

"You three, back to the ship," he ordered the others. "I'm going after Ragil. Get the miners to gather any explosives they can turn into weapons, collect the grenades from the Gurath. If I'm not back in an hour after you've reached the surface, come back after us."

There was a real hesitation for a moment, Tulgwar almost ready to challenge the choice, but she nodded and bolted towards the entrance, her packmates behind her.

Doruth turned and bolted back down into the mines, his senses alert for any signs of life. As he'd expected, the creature had continued on past the lair they'd found. He scored the wall with his lightsaber, making sure to leave a trail that could be followed back out ... or in by the three Wolves preparing for war the way only this pack did.

This was not going to be a pleasant hunt. He could only hope that it still wasn't going to kill Ragil until it was hungry again... and that it didn't have a mate.

It wasn't much of a surprise to the Custos when they burst out of the mine's entrance right into the middle of a gathering of miners, though their arrival at speed clearly was a surprise to those gathered.

"We'll need whatever explosives you have that can be fashioned into weapons." Tulgwar barked to the nearest miner, her gaze flashing across the crowd, looking for LirTan while the crowd parted, Hegrin and Fazer on their way to the Gurath for their heavier weapons and anti-armor ammo.

"You heard her," LirTan called from the back, his chair moving forward as some of the miners started to move. "What's down there?" He asked her.

"Biggest, nastiest spider I've ever heard of." She replied quickly. "Ballistics make a dent, but not nearly enough with what we brought down. Master Doruth went after it when it got Ragil."

"Told you to bring the heaviest stuff you have down after them," LirTan guessed with a nod. "Heading down once we've got it set up then?"

"It's not just a matter of heaviest," she nodded in answer to his question. "It's heavily armored. The rounds that do well against that don't do well against softer targets, and the rounds we'll need against that thing could bring the mine down on us."

"And we definitely don't want that," LirTan nodded. "On the other hand, that's mostly the concussive stuff. We've got some thermal charges we use for focused demo that some of the guys are after."

"While mine are after the armor piercing rounds," she explained as Hegrin and Fazer came back and she began to switch out her clips for the new ones.

"So, when does he want you going back down?" The meerian asked as his men started bringing back the charges he'd mentioned.

"An hour after we hit the surface," she shrugged, her tone indicative of just how unlikely that was to happen.

"Well, guess we wait until then," the meerian said, going to work putting the charges together. "After all, he knows what he's doing."

"He's Jedi. It's part of the job description, even when they don't have a clue." Hegrin shook her head and began to pace, anxious for the supplies the miners were bringing.

"He's hardly out of his element," Fazer said quietly, uneasy leaving their Alpha to hunt alone. "Hunting is what he does."

"Doesn't mean we leave him alone for it." Tulgwar rumbled.

"Especially not with Ragil down there too," Hegrin muttered.

"The charges should be ready in about five minutes," LirTan offered from where he was working.

"Any of you bother to check your chronometers when we got up?" The smaller female asked, offering an excuse for what they all knew they were going to do already.

"Nope," Tulgwar shook her head. "Other priorities."

"Guess we'll just have to guess then," Fazer said unrepentantly, waiting with the others to head down as soon as everything was ready.

"Lady Jedi, we can't land where we had planned to." The officer who had interrupted Shivasta's meditation sounded apologetic as she opened her eyes and tried to realize what he had said.

"Why not?" She asked, standing and looking at the lean Lemur.

"A sudden storm blew up as we were making our approach. We have an alternate landing site, but it's also undergoing some freakish weather… we have a third landing site, but it's on the other side of the planet. We're about to start for it now, the Captain wanted to alert you as to the delay."

Shivasta frowned; two freak storms at their landing sites were too much to be a coincidence… particularly given her family's gifts.

"Are there sufficient escape pods to spare one?" She asked.

"Yes, Lady Jedi, but it would be foolish to try and take a pod through those storms. Even if you made it to the surface in one piece, the temperatures are so low you'd be dead before you reached shelter."

"You underestimate me," she smiled slightly. "I was born here, remember? I'll be properly prepared… and I suspect I'm expected. Alone."

"Very well," the Lemur granted. "I'll alert the Captain."

"Thank you," she smiled, moving to pull on the heavy winter robes she'd brought along for this trip as the Lemur left for the bridge, wondering just what it was they did at the Temple that made so many Jedi half-crazy.

Shivasta rested her hand on the launch console for the escape pod she was taking, calming her mind. She was no pilot, but she wouldn't have to be with this; the pod was pre-programmed to take her to the surface. The Captain himself had tried to talk her out of it, but she was convinced that she was meant to do this.

Even now, she could feel the swirling Force of the raging blizzard beneath them. Somebody wanted to keep the cruiser from landing… but she could also sense the eddies in the storm. She would be safe, whoever was behind this would see to it.

She braced herself against the gravity couch, and initiated the launch sequence. The engines flared to life, the small ship firing into the atmosphere, accelerating painfully. She hurtled towards the blue-white planet beneath her, clouds swirling directly in her path.

A part of her wanted to scream as the pod entered the atmosphere and her mind realized that she was freefalling into a blizzard with nothing more than a disposable escape pod between her and a likely very painful death. Another part of her was riveted by the adrenaline rush and excitement.

A third part of her, the one that was winning out, wondered why it was that somebody was going to such lengths to keep the cruiser away. She had a bad feeling that things weren't going to be going well when she landed.

The blizzard caught the pod, tossing it around until it hit a calm spot and continued its descent, slowed by the repulsorlifts mounted into the hull.

After what felt like an eternity, the wind howling and buffeting the tiny pod outside, she touched down. She pulled her winter robes tighter around her body and pulled a piece of cloth across the front of the hood to protect her face from the cold. The hatch depressurized, starting to open, letting in the bitter cold of the outside air.

Shivasta stood easily, blinking as her pupils nearly disappeared from her dark blue eyes, a defense against the blinding glare the ubiquitous snow and ice created in all but the most cloud-covered conditions. She stepped out, looking around, not surprised to see that there wasn't anybody there to greet her. She caught the glint of metal in the snow, and moved towards it. Metal wasn't often used on Garosh, not for things that were intended mostly for use outside.

A little digging unearthed a snowspeeder, the display flashing a directional indicator that said it was probably pointed straight towards town… or, at least, towards where ever the person who'd left it here wanted it to go. She checked out the controls quickly, nodding her approval as she found it was fully functional. Straddling the long, thin vehicle, she started it up, praying that the controls were close enough to the one Jay had tried to train her to use, and soon disappeared into the blizzard.

Jay frowned, lifting his head from the body armor they were working on and sniffed the air. Something was ... not quite right. A resonation deep in his bones similar to when he'd been tuning his lightsabers and different from anything else.

A generator calling for its weapon.

Two ... old and powerful ... and very lonely.

He wasn't exactly sure where they were, but he could feel them reaching out towards the people who could sense them, back with a number of other similarly neglected objects, though none of them came close to the power of the ones he was hearing.

Only the two power sources were practically begging for somebody to notice them. Nothing else cared.

"What's back there?" Jay asked curiously, motioning towards the general area.

"Back there?" Duvam asked, looking up from the light suit of armor they'd been tinkering with. "Oh, nothing much. Some old weapons from the last time Jedi visited the station, I think. Bad times, those were," he observed. "Much more violent than now. Good for business though, I understand."

"Mind if I nose around? Something interesting's back there."

"Go ahead," Duvam nodded. "Lemme know if you find anything unusual, I haven't finished my inventory of that pile yet."

"Sure," he nodded and headed over, trying not to be too eager as nosed around holocrons, heavy blasters, and heavier bladed weapons until he found what he was looking for; two half-built lightsabers.

"Find anything?" Duvam called curiously. "Ouch!" He swore as he shook his hand, glaring at the offending soldering rod he'd burned himself on.

"What I was looking for," he nodded. "A couple lightsabers. The remains of them at least." He could feel the power inside them, not just as objects, but as artifacts of the Force, warm and happy to be found.

"Hmm. Must've been from that Jedi who visited. She left a couple of them here... great-great... well, many-times great-grandsire Suvam must have tinkered with them after that." Duvam looked down at the armor, finishing the seal he'd been mounting. "I've got the overlay fixed here, why don't you bring them over; we'll take a look at them?"

"They're old then," he nodded and walked over. That made sense. Lightsabers ... Jedi equipment in general ... hated to be abandoned.

"*Master, there are some things here we will want to bring back.*" He made the effort to contact her directly. "*Lightsaber crystals ... potent ones ... and several holocrons that are worth trading for. He says they date back to the last war.*"

"Hmm... ah, I remember these now," Duvam nodded. "Mother said something about them. They should be functional with new emitters and lenses," he added, cocking his head slightly. "Should we see if we have any spares?"

"If you don't, I do." Jay nodded to him, his excitement carefully held inside where only his Master felt it.

"*I sensed them,*" Essani told him. "*Just recently... and I agree. I want to make an arrangement with him later on.*"

"Well, that's even better," Duvam said enthusiastically. "I don't have many lightsaber parts here," he admitted. "They don't often find their way out here."

"*I'll keep my mouth shut about wanting them, then.*" He nodded. "I'm not surprised. It's a rather specialized market even on Coruscant. I'll be back in a couple minutes with the parts."

"I'm not going anywhere," Duvam chuckled, inspecting the lightsabers as Jay ran off for the parts he'd need, more excited than he had been since he'd started work on the Sharufa.

He smiled and bowed his head slightly when he stepped inside the ship. "Master."

"Good job finding those, Jay," she chirped approvingly as he returned. "I imagine it would have taken somewhat longer if I'd had to look for them." He wasn't surprised to see most of the parts he'd need already gathered and waiting. "How are things going between the two of you?"

"He's more weapons focused than I am, and definitely mercenary, but we're getting along fairly well." Jay admitted. "The holocrons in that pile are amazing too. Huge chunks of history that was lost is sitting right there."

"I'll keep those in mind," Essani nodded. "Do you think it's safe to introduce me to him now?"

"As safe as it'll ever be," he nodded and picked up the parts. "He's in a pretty good mood, burned finger aside."

"If you don't mind, I'd like to go with you to meet him now, maybe handle the negotiations before he has a chance to realize exactly what he's sitting on to us."

"Sure," he nodded. "Does he know we're Jedi?"

"Yes," she nodded, starting to follow him out of the ship. "I wanted Tes to mention that, just in case there were issues there. There are sometimes, with the more mercenary sorts."

"Understandable," he nodded and made easy time to the workshop. "Duvam!" He caught his attention in Rodese. "I have the parts, and my Master wanted to talk to you."

"Where is he?" Duvam asked, looking towards the door, clearly expecting somebody other than the tiny white kushiban beside Jay.

"*Down here,*" Essani chuckled, hopping up onto Jay's seat. "*I'm a little smaller than most Jedi.*"

"Your pet talks?" Duvam asked Jay, cocking his head curiously. "Maybe I should have checked those locusts more carefully...."

"She," Jay rumbled, his temper tightly in check. "Master Essani." He indicated the long-tailed white rabbit in his chair. "She's not a pet."

"Oh. That explains why she talked," Duvam observed. "What did you want to talk about?" He asked, easily accepting the idea that, yes, this day was going to be stranger than normal.

"*The crystals and holocrons you have here. It seems your family has recovered a good number of Jedi and Sith artifacts from the ruins since you arrived here.*"

"Yes, yes," Duvam nodded. "Many Jedi things, many Sith things. Most people don't want to buy them though."

"*Then this is a good opportunity, yes? Most people don't have any interest in them; they can't really use them. To us, they contain some interesting historical information, and we can use the crystals for lightsabers.*"

"Hmm. How much are you willing to offer for them?" He asked her curiously.

"*That depends on how many there are here. If you don't mind, I could look around and gather them up while you and Jay work.*"

"All right," the Rodian agreed. "Just be careful. There might be a few booby traps I haven't found yet."

"*Booby traps?*" Essani's fur flushed a grey-teal immediately.

"Yes. Woeful business with trandoshan mercenaries who skipped out on bill. They came back after weapons seemed faulty, tried to use heavy repeating blasters as clubs. They expressed their displeasure, I argued my side of the story, they planted a couple fragmentation mines while I was hiding on Rodia... I think I found most of them, but there might be a few left."

"*I'll be careful,*" she agreed, hopping down and starting to search. "*You be careful too, while you work, Jay.*" She warned her Padawan over their bond.

"*Of course, Master.*" He nodded and looked up at Duvam. "Shall we see if these things work?" He suggested with a motion towards the parts he'd brought.

"Certainly," the Rodian nodded enthusiastically. "I've always wondered how these went together."

"With a lot of work," Jay chuckled. "Took me six months solid to put mine together, though they are more complicated than most."

"Hmm. Well, these are mostly together, that should make it a bit easier. If not... it's been a while since I've had a real challenge."

An hour of high-speed travel later and Shivasta could see the outlines of Stormwarden City's buildings ahead of her. She'd left the blizzard behind long ago, trading it in for the lighter snowdrifts that were a constant feature. Fortunately, with the directional indicator, it wasn't hard to find her way. All she had to do was keep the speeder steady and point it the way the arrow was pointing.

Now, she didn't need it. She pulled the snowspeeder up into the ice city, large buildings carved directly out of the ice surrounding her. She climbed off and looked around, wondering where she was supposed to go next in the city she hadn't seen in well over two decades She didn't have too long to wonder.

Before she'd spent too much time in the open, others started to come out of the buildings, dressed in light-blue robes that blended well with the surrounding ice and snow. She felt distinctly out of place in her own, a brown more common for the Jedi than for her own people.

"And who might you be?" One of them asked, an older Ice Walker woman whose few exposed features were weathered by years of hard living.

"Shivasta," she answered. "Given to the Jedi after my third Thaw," she added, not recognizing any of the faces she could half-see, and sure none of them would recognize her.

"Show us your face," the woman ordered her.

She pulled the cloth mask away from her face, turning to expose the complex tattoo that marked her as a member of the clan. There were nods and murmurs of recognition as she brought the mask up again, blocking out the worst of the wind.

"Follow me," the woman said gruffly, turning to walk back towards the tallest of the buildings.

Shivasta did so silently, trying not to look around her at the eyes that followed her motion. Some of them were curious, she knew… but she could feel the animosity others among them felt towards her.

She wondered which end of the spectrum the woman who had greeted her was at.

The two of them walked into the building, the rooms much smaller than the size of the entire building would suggest. It was built less for space than to hold in heat, making it warm enough that both of them could comfortably remove their winter robes, which they did. Shivasta was better able to see the family resemblance between herself and the older woman now. She doubted it was her mother, but she was definitely closely related. Her pupils dilated in the lower light of the room and the older Ice Walker turned towards her.

"So, you did come back; Grandmother was right. I am Impana, Chief of the clan."

"Thank you for greeting me, Impana," Shivasta said, lowering her head respectfully. "If I was expected, then why the storms?" She asked.

"You were expected by some, but not all," Impana explained. "And even so, while you are welcome, those who brought you are not. Not here, at least. They can go to the reznin on the other size of the Wastes," she muttered. Shivasta didn't let her surprise show. Reznin was worse than calling them enemies; enemies were expected to work against you. It was practically calling them traitors to all the clans, their own included.

"What's happening here? The last I'd heard, the clans were at peace, and the Republic was welcome."

"The last you've heard was from some time ago," Impana shrugged slightly, taking her seat, one of the few in the entire city that was made out of wood. Most furniture was hewn out of stone like the chair Shivasta sat down in; trees were rare and metal required flame to work. The wooden chair the Chieftain had was a mark of her rank in the clan, though that was one of many things that might change in the coming years.

"You've asked me what's happening here. A better question to ask would be what has happened. The Great Peace has proven to be a lie. It lasted long enough for two generations to grow up without knowing a true war, but now…." She shook her head.

"Why don't you start with where things went badly with the Republic?" Shivasta asked, suspecting that this was the reason she'd gotten the chilly reception she had from several of the others. She was a Jedi… and more importantly, as far as she knew, the first Ice Walker Jedi. She hadn't been raised among her people, and as hard as the Jedi had tried to bring her up with a knowledge of her culture, she was almost certainly considered an outsider by most of them.

"They haven't yet," Impana snorted, "not for all of us. You were too young to remember, of course. But when the Republic came, they offered us technology that we were centuries away from developing on our own. Foodstuffs from far-off worlds, metal, weapons, vehicles, armor… all they asked in return was that we trade them animal hides and crystals. Well, the crevasse cats have always been common, along with the frost wolves and sheeloth, so of course we agreed."

Shivasta nodded; it was in keeping with what she'd learned. The sheeloth hides in particular were desired for clothes in some parts of the galaxy, though they were a more recent market. The crystals were still the primary good… and she had a feeling that was the problem.

"Let me guess," she said softly. "The Republic wanted to export more crystals. The other clans went along with it… the Stormwardens didn't?"

"Not just crystals. The Jedi wanted to take all the children they could find who could feel the Force. Train them to become Jedi… and let our ways quietly go extinct. Oh, they would teach them about our culture, the way they promised they would teach you, but have they taught you to master the storm? Have they taught you the rites of our people?"

"The ones they could," Shivasta answered cautiously. "And no, I haven't learned to summon storms yet, though as I understand it would be unusual if I had."

"True, but you would have started to learn here. But that's just the point. The Jedi ways aren't the ways of the spirit-walkers. In a few generations, if we let the Jedi take all the children they would want to, there would be only a handful of us left, if that."

That much Shivasta couldn't deny… and it was something she was concerned with herself, she had to admit.

"The Jedi don't plan to take children," she explained. "They ask, but they accept a refusal as well as acceptance."

"The only reason they're ever allowed near our lands," Impana allowed. "You were one too many for us to give up."

"What do you mean? I would have thought the Clan's chief would have had to agree before I could have been given to the Jedi?"

"Yes, she would have. But she didn't. Your mother gave you to the Jedi against your grandmother's wishes. It's why I serve as Chieftain now, and your mother does not."

Shivasta swallowed, her eyes widening as she realized the level of crime that had been committed under Ice Walker law. She was keenly aware of the value they put on their children.

And the penalties for killing or giving one away without permission, even in marriage. To give her to the Jedi without permission….

"What happened to her?" She asked softly.

"Exile," Impana said, her voice carrying a trace of regret. "We suspect your father's clan took them in after they left, but they are dead to us."

Shivasta nodded, her training helping her to control her own sorrow over the news. She'd been half-hoping that she'd be able to see her again after all these years.

"You're her sister then?" She guessed.

"Yes," Impana nodded. "Back to your question, the Republic wants everything we have, everything we hold sacred. They're willing to compensate us well for it, certainly… and that's where the Peace is falling apart. Most of the clans want to trade with the Republic. They see blasters and speeders, they see a way off this 'miserable ice-ball,' they've called it. The price is a small enough one to pay in their minds. But they don't have control over the best crystal mines."

"Because they've always been in Stormwarden territory," Shivasta nodded understandingly. "Because we've been here since the Great Migration, no matter how bad the ice became."

"So they have taught you some of our traditions," Impana observed approvingly. "You're right, of course. What's more, the crystals can't be replaced once they're mined. Not before the Walkers themselves have surrendered to the ice. We're willing to trade some of them, but not nearly the volume the other clans want. And they're willing to go to war against us, and our remaining allies, to change that. Which leaves one very important question right now," she said, looking at Shivasta pointedly.

"What is that?" She asked, fairly certain she wasn't going to like it.

"Why are you here?"

Shivasta sighed mentally. She'd been right; she wasn't going to like it.

"I had a vision that I was to return here," she answered. "I've reached the point in my training where I have to construct my own lightsaber."

"And you returned here to claim the crystals for it," Impana said, a slight scowl forming.

"Yes, but only because that is what my vision led me to believe I was supposed to do," Shivasta said, inclining her head slightly. "And I know what will be involved in earning the right to go into the caves. I do not intend to break the laws of the Stormwardens."

Impana looked at her appraisingly.

"And you think you stand any chance of winning that right?" She asked pointedly. "If the other Chiefs agree, you will be tested not as a miner, but as one of the shamen of old, seeking to claim her talisman."

"I understand Chieftain, and I am willing to undergo these tests. Perhaps, while I prepare for them, I will be able to help in other ways."

"You presume much, child."

Shivasta's Jedi training told her to ignore the belittling comment… but her nature, and her knowledge of her people, told her otherwise. She looked her aunt, her Chieftain, in the eyes, her own glittering dangerously.

"I have come here as a member of my clan. I can feel that half the people here despise me for a decision made for me when I was a child. I accept this, and I accept your decision to present me with tests greater than others would face. But I am not a child, Chieftain. I have faced death, faced the Dark Side of the Force, wrestled with them both and won. I may not have the wounds or trophies of a warrior, but I bear the scars of a healer's battles. I am young, but I am of age, and the only reason I have not passed the rites of our people is because I was not here to do so. I will be given the respect I am due as a young healer."

Impana met her gaze for a moment, and then the habitual frown she wore turned into a slight smile.

"If you can show that sort of fire inside you, maybe you do stand a chance of passing the test. Come with me; I'll show you to your quarters. I'll speak with the Chiefs this evening. If they agree, we'll start the purification once I return." She stood up, Shivasta doing the same.

"Welcome home, Ice Walker," the older woman said, stepping forward to squeeze Shivasta's shoulder lightly before leading her deeper into the building.

Another scorch mark, another chunk of tunnel passed threw on the trail of the spider. His senses were at their limit, his entire reality limited to his target and where he was.

Fortunately, he could tell he was getting closer. Its injuries seemed to be taking their toll, the creature gradually slowing down. It was stopped now, in an area he couldn't find on the maps.

Another lair, probably, and down a tunnel that hadn't been considered. This just got better and better.

He scorched the wall again, marking his progress as he closed on the creature and his missing Custos. Ragil was hurt, he'd need medical attention and likely some down time, but he was still breathing and his subconscious railing out against his body's failing.

A few moments later, he found the well-concealed hatch of another lair. If he didn't know what to look for, he wouldn't have noticed it; no wonder the miners didn't know about these things. At least this one probably hadn't been used in ages; there was no sign of spice near it.

It made him wonder if this critter was intelligent, though the Force signatures were of an animal, if a rather bright one. He focused and lifted the hatch, ready for another attack.

He wasn't disappointed. The creature lunged out at him, one leg coming off at the foremost joint as he halted its attack and immediately went for another, aiming to cripple it before he killed it.

Unfortunately, for all that its legs came off easily, the creature seemed to have some sort of sense for how to fight and keep from being totally cripple. It had lost two and most of a third now, but with nine left, it was still able to stand. And with six heads, it was quite able to defend itself.

Especially against an opponent who wasn't wearing the armor Ragil was. The fangs of one mouth lunged forward, the fangs and head quickly falling to the ground. The stench of the thing's burning body was potent; it was going to die sooner or later at this point. More likely sooner at that, though it might be possible for it to survive if it was lucky.

Unfortunately for both of them, it seemed to realize that the best way to get that chance was to keep fighting. One of Doruth's sleeves was caught in a second mouth, quickly shredded by row after row of razor sharp teeth, but those same teeth ripped the fabric away before any fur or flesh could go with it. The head came off a moment later, though it left too many more.

Doruth gritted his teeth and pressed the attack. He was going to kill this thing, but he wanted enough of it left take back and prove it was real. At this rate, pulling that off would mean having somebody come down to pick up the pieces after he'd taken it apart!

Finally, he saw an opening; a shot straight to its bloated middle. Given the way it had reacted so far, he was fairly sure that would be the place to strike and he made a full lunge for it, driving his lightsaber up and into the body.

He could feel the difference between the muscle tissue he'd been cutting through up until now, and the softer flesh in the center protected by the thickest layers of chitin.

Unfortunately for the spider, while it might stop blaster bolts it didn't do a thing against a lightsaber. The body thrashed for a few moments, one of the legs battering Doruth's side as the thing's brain misfired randomly, but then it was still.

And very, very dead.

Doruth drew a deep breath to settle himself and stretched his senses out again, seeking both Ragil and any other spiders that might be around.

Fortunately, this place seemed to be empty save for the Wolf in the back of the lair he'd just cleared out. He was still alive, though he'd have to get to a medical facility as soon as they could arrange it if he was going to make it through this without some sort of serious damage.

"*Tulgwar, bring the pack down, with a stretcher. Spider's dead, Ragil's alive, but badly injured. I intend to bring them both back.*"

"*Right, Boss.*" She shot back, relief in her mind even as it was clear they were already too far into the mines to have waited as he told them too.

"Hey Jay," Fenrik said, looking over the younger tom's shoulder at the lightsaber he and Duvam had just finished assembling. "Know how long you've been working in here?"

"Since you're asking, longer than I should be." He chuckled and shifted back to stretch in place.

"Well, Essani's starting to listen for replies to her message back home, and I've seen two flights of Corusca fishers hit the atmosphere," he chuckled. "C'mon, let's go get you some sleep."

"Not even a full day," Jay rolled his eyes, but he stood without any other protest. "I'll be back in a few hours," he added to Duvam.

"Sure thing," the Rodian nodded easily, still inspecting the reassembled lightsaber.

"So," Fenrik asked as he walked back to the ship with his mate, "how's it going?"

"Interesting," he shook his head a bit. "He thought Master Essani was my pet at first, but he's gotten the idea now. He's got some good stuff here we'll be taking home."

"Sounds like it's going pretty well then," Fenrik smiled. "And I can't really blame him, to be fair. I mean, she probably has somebody try and turn her into dinner about once a week around the Temple. At least he didn't go that far."

"True," he admitted, even though part of him wasn't nearly as forgiving of the Rodian as he was of the new toddlers at the Temple. "I think he's gotten used to the fact that things are weird and going to get weirder with us here."

"To be fair, I think things are a little weird around here already," Fenrik chuckled slightly as the Sharufa's door shut behind them. "So, what's all this that's going on with these crystals and holocrons Essani's looking for?"

"The crystals are probably two of the most powerful in existence, and the holocrons are mostly history from the last war and before. Things long lost to our records."

"Whoa," Fenrik said, nodding slightly. "That's worth her attention, yeah. So those crystals are being built back into those lightsabers?"

"Yap, the ones they had been in since the war. Not sure if they'll stay in them."

"Hoping to put 'em into yours, or think the Council's going to assign them to somebody?" Fenrik asked curiously.

"Not the kind for me," Jay shook his head. "But if someone who can use them better can learn to use my type of 'saber I might be resetting them."

"Whoever does use them will probably reset them themselves," Fenrik pointed out. "Into their own lightsabers. Then again, they might end up in the Library until they're needed more."

"I'm not even going to comment on that one," Jay said quietly. "Or that half the holocrons won't ever be run. It's just how it works."

"Sorry," Fenrik apologized, rubbing his mate's back lightly. "C'mon, let's get to our quarters and get you wound down enough to get some sleep."

Shivasta drew in a deep breath as she meditated in a small stone building, sweat pouring down her skin as she inhaled the heady, aromatic scent of the incense burning nearby. Her old plague-scars stood out in stark contrast to her undamaged skin, flushed a deeper blue than normal with blood and heat. She was grateful for them for the first time; while Jay and Fenrik had helped her to accept them, being here where scars of one sort or another were marks of experience, she found that they had done much to help her acceptance for the tests she was going to face.

The sweathouse was the only building in the city that wasn't carved out of ice, but the reason for that was obvious; it was also the only heated building in the city. A small pit of heated gravel in the middle of the room kept the stone structure at temperatures Jay would have found remarkably comfortable. Shi had left her pendant with her robes outside the building, so she was as uncomfortable as everybody else in the room with her.

Impana and an older woman, one of the shamen of the clan, were both chanting quietly, the sound a gentle, almost calming murmur as they kept the incense burning and the room heated. Shivasta let the sound and scent carry her deeper into her meditative state, knowing that the purification ritual, for her, was simply to sit and endure the stifling heat until she was deemed ready.

As she let her conscious mind go, she began to sense the ebb and tide of the living Force of her home world. It was a soothing sensation, one she was used to on Coruscant, but far more vibrant and alive here. For all that her clan was concerned for the wellbeing of Garosh if trade continued unrestricted, for now the only pain the world felt was that of its people returning to wars they weren't entirely ready for anymore.

She let the flow of the Force guide her, immersing herself in it and surrendering to its will. As she did so, she began to see beyond the simple movements of the world's Force. She began to see the patterns it was forming, the points where important moments would occur… and the points where the most trivial of moments would. She felt something unusual, a pattern that didn't quite seem to fit with the rest. Curious, she followed it, wondering where it would lead her.

She wasn't surprised when the vision started to form in her mind; she also wasn't surprised by the sense that she was involved in whatever was going to happen. She had an impression of tension, like a skin pulled too tight over a drum. She was calm though, one of the only people involved who was. The images started to clear, going from impressions to a clear scene. She saw Ice Walkers gathered, all heavily armed and ready to do battle. One of the combatants stepped forward, armed with a blaster on one hip and a chillsteel blade on the other.

She called for a battle of champions… and Shivasta was the one to step forward for her side, her newly constructed lightsaber in hand.

What she couldn't tell was who was on which side of the conflict.

"Grandmother saw it as well," Impana said, snapping Shivasta out of her meditation. "It's how she knew you were going to return."

"Does she have any more idea what it means than I do?" Shivasta asked, looking at the older woman with a concerned expression.

"Not yet," Impana answered, shaking her head. "You're the part of all this we can't predict. You are a Stormwarden, and you seem to be faithful to our ways. Yet you are Jedi, a living symbol of the Republic. You know many of our ways, and seek to learn those you don't know. But you came back here to claim a crystal for your lightsaber. You yourself aren't sure which side you will go to that battlefield as a Stormwarden, or as a Jedi."

"You're wrong about that, Chieftain," Shivasta said, shaking her head. "When I go to that battlefield… it will be as both."

Impana seemed to be ready to say something to that, but the shaman at the other brazier shook her head silently. The two of them returned to their chanting, and Shivasta fell back into her meditation as the ritual continued.

"*Tes, may I have a word with you?*" Essani hopped up into the co-pilot's chair next to the Wolf once she was done reviewing the reply from the Council. Now that she had a budget to work with, she had to figure out the best way to get the most out of it she could.

"Of course," the shewolf nodded and looked over at her.

"*I just got word back from the Council about the budget we have to work with. However, I'd like to get some suggestions for how to stretch it as much as possible; I rather doubt that Republic credits mean too much to him.*"

"No," she chuckled softly. "But as you saw, except for the cost of getting them out here, things that cost very little do. Top tradegoods are foodstuffs, though he has a lot right now, parts, tools, medical supplies, weapons and armor he can strip for parts. They're worth a lot more than you buy them for because of the shipping cost to get them out here."

"*And because of his relative isolation, I would imagine,*" Essani nodded, thinking about it. "*That might work out much better, actually... do you think some company might be worth a premium to him?*" She asked.

"More than anything you could buy," she nodded with a curious look. "I'm not ... or do you mean droid company?"

"*Unless we could find a volunteer from the Temple who was willing to move out here,*" Essani nodded. "*There are a number of 'orphaned' astromech droids we're aware of who are very skilled, and would appreciate an owner who isn't likely to wipe their memories when they start to develop personality quirks of their own.*"

"I'm sure Jay would be thrilled with that idea too," Tes chuckled with a quirk of a grin. "Yes, that would be worth a lot to him. Especially as you're asking for things that have a very limited market to start with."

"*I have a feeling that, limited market aside, he still knows exactly how much those crystals are worth,*" Essani said seriously. "*And you probably don't want to know how much.*"

"Given you actually talked the Council into buying them, I can hazard a good guess," she smirked. "That was my job for most of my life, after all."

"*An excellent point,*" Essani chuckled slightly. "*I still find working with sums that can purchase starfighters to be... daunting. If we can arrange for an astromech droid he gets along with to be shipped out here along with some supplies, that should stretch things out a bit better.*"

"Very much so," Tes nodded. "I could probably stretch it further, if you let me handle the trading."

"*If you're willing, that would be appreciated,*" Essani nodded. "*I'm sure I can find a reasonable compromise, but it's much better when they agree to it willingly.*"

"And my family goes way back with his, plus my couple decades trading with him. We've never screwed the other over. It does help."

"*Very true,*" Essani chuckled. "*Thank you, Tes.*"

"You are welcome. Now, what do I have to work with?" She focused on the mission at hand.

Shivasta shivered beneath her heavy cloak and robes as she worked through the deep caverns, the cloth covering her face warm and wet from her breath. If not for the layers of cloth above it, it would have been frozen instead. She would have been more comfortable if she'd brought Jay's temperature regulator, but tradition forbid taking any tool other than those necessary for extracting the crystals down with her; surviving the mine was entirely up to her own abilities.

She had the parts for her lightsaber with her, so she wouldn't have to return to the city before leaving to finish its construction, but beyond that she only carried a small laser torch to extract the crystals, and a small glow-cube to provide enough light to see by.

She took that torch in her gloved hand, extending her senses to the surrounding area to search for the crystal that was meant for her. She could tell it was nearby, but exactly which one was more difficult. The entire cavern glittered with ice and gems, even in the dim light provided by her glow cube. Blue, red, yellow, green… even stranger colors and shades that were hard to identify. In the end, it wasn't a glimmer of color that caught her eye, but the even sheen of a flat, polished surface where another crystal had been extracted previously.

She leaned in close to inspect the cavity, and smiled slightly. There was another crystal behind the ice, one the last miner hadn't taken. She raised the laser torch, and flicked it on, carefully starting to remove the ice, setting two large pieces of it to the side before she began the painstaking process of excising the crystal she was after from the ice and stone it sat in without damaging any other crystals nearby.

It felt like she spent hours focusing intently just to finish a few centimeters of work, even though it was likely only a few minutes. She could understand why the other clans were frustrated with the Stormwarden's insistence that they follow tradition; a single mining droid could have extracted a fortune in crystals and gems in the time it took a single miner to extract a literal handful of them.

Finally, she clicked the torch off, turning it around and extending a short set of pincers to grip the crystal and withdraw it, careful not the scratch it. Her work completed, she opened a small pouch, dropping the crystal and pieces of ice she'd collected into it, and started out of the mine.

Now came the hard part; cutting the crystal and attuning herself to the lightsaber it would become a part of.

No one was surprised to see the gathering of miners when Doruth and the pack came out of the mine, Ragil on a stretcher between the two females and the monster spider floating behind them, chopped off pieces and all. The first to react where the medics who'd been warned when the pack first came up that they would be needed for at least one badly injured Wolf.

They hurried forward, checking his vital signs and leading the pack towards the mine's bacta tank. The spider's poison had done a number on him; he'd be in there for some time, but he'd recover and go back to the field with his pack.

"This is what was killing us down there?" LirTan asked, looking at the 2-meter wide corpse and its assorted pieces.

"Yes," Doruth nodded as he set it down with relief. "I'm fairly sure it is what kept filling those spice deposits that you thought you'd mined out."

"What, you're saying this thing probably created the spice?" The meerian looked up at him dubiously, but then back at the grotesque creature. "Suppose it could be. Think there are more of 'em down there then?"

"Probably," he nodded. "It doesn't have the feel of a single, created creature. I suspect that the spice is its web, meant to catch bogies. You were just a last recourse from starvation."

"There's some news that puts a new spin on this," the meerian mused. "You can bet Rhyallis isn't going to like it. A lot of the miners won't either."

"Given how long you've been mining this planet, they are likely rare, and you haven't been mining active webs." Doruth pointed out. "Just stop mining any vein that is replenishes like this one did and you are unlikely to have problems again. Obviously most of this mine system isn't inhabited."

"Or we'd have known about them before," LirTan nodded. "You're right, but you can be sure that if this gets out, somebody's going to argue that what we're doing has to be stopped. Quite a can of worms that'll work out to be."

"Yes, though it's not one they'll win," Doruth shook his head. "Spice is simply too valuable to too many powerful interests for environmentalists to get anywhere. Besides, now we know that at least on this world, it's a renewable resource." He cracked a grin. "The spiders obviously abandon their webs, so there's no reason not to harvest them. The language may change in time, but the practical aspects won't much."

"Very true," LirTan nodded, and then chuckled. "Who knows? Maybe we'll be able to talk an Ithorian into coming out here, maybe find a way to train 'em."

"I know a couple Masters who might be paying a visit along those lines too." Doruth said as he lifted the spider again telekinetically and began moving towards the Gurath. "After they finish with this one."

"Well, now that this one's down, we'll see about getting back to work," the meerian said. "Thanks, Jedi."

Shivasta slowly chewed on a piece of dried meat, eating as she worked. The half-eaten strip of jerky, her last one, sat next to her on a piece of leather with her tools. She hoped to finish her work soon; she was about to run out of food, and would have to start over if she returned to the city for more supplies. The presence of other living people would disrupt her focus.

The wind was howling outside the small shelter she'd made for herself to work in, but it was warm inside, her body heat held in by nearly a foot of snow and ice. She wore only the light trousers that went with her summer robe, the rest of her body exposed to her home world and the Force. She let it guide her hand, and the laser torch as she used it to carve the crystal she'd mined. The pouch she'd brought with her sat outside her shelter, holding the two pieces of ice she'd brought with her. She'd carved them into crystalline shapes before digging her shelter, knowing that they would melt inside, and that it wasn't time to mount them in her half-finished lightsaber yet.

That would come once she was finished with the crystal itself.

Small flakes of stone sat next to her, barely millimeters thick. The raw stone had lost nearly a third of its weight already, but it was taking shape as an intricately cut gem, nearly completed, dozens of facets reflecting the light of her glow cube through the crystal's depths. The Ice Walker swallowed her meat and held her breath as she made the final cut. One false move could ruin her work, and the crystal itself.

"Yowch!" She winced as the sound filled the small shelter, the crystal falling from her hand to the floor as she pushed her finger against the snow, letting the cool surface soothe the burn she'd given herself with the torch as she finished the cut. She flicked the torch off, setting it aside and picking up the crystal, inspecting it with the eye of a Jedi who knew they were staking their life and the lives of those they defended on the small stone and the quality of the lightsaber it would be mounted in. She could feel that the crystal was perfect as much as she could see; any flaws that a jeweler might have noticed, and she could see that there were some, were meant to be there.

Satisfied, she started to pack up her tools and dress herself to go outside again. She used the torch to cut her way out of her shelter, digging through the snow that had gathered on top of it to reclaim the pouch with the two smaller ice crystals she'd cut. She laid the parts of her lightsaber out, disassembling it quickly and opening the hilt.

She set the crystals in with intense care, one of the ice crystals at each end, the real gem set in the middle. A few minor adjustments to the setting points, and she had them properly balanced. She closed the hilt, mounting the emitter to the base and the focusing lens at the mouth, finally picking it up and giving it a slight twist at each end to properly set the latches and activate the cooling device Jay had given her. The ice crystals inside would stay frozen well above the temperatures she could endure, between his regulator and the ancient Ice Walker Force techniques she'd used to reinforce them, similar to the way her people made weapons and shields.

"Moment of truth now, Shi," she murmured to herself, taking the lightsaber in one gloved hand and pressing the switch. The brilliant silver blade ignited, glowing internally and seeming to glint in the light of Garos. Shivasta smiled to herself and turned it off, pulling out the last of her jerky and ripping off another chunk to chew on as she started to walk back to the city.

"*I was reviewing the scans of the moon today,*" Essani said conversationally over dinner with Tes and Fenrik after three weeks on the station. "*Tes, do you know if there are any rules, official or otherwise, about running salvage or exploratory operations on Yavin 4 without Duvam's permission?*"

"Nope," she shook her head. "It's open to anyone who wants to bother."

"*I think we might want to take a look down there some time while he and Jay are working up here then. According to the scans, there are a number of structures that seem to be related to ancient Jedi architecture.*"

"You think they have some old temples down there?" Fenrik asked her.

"*Possibly,*" she nodded. "*Though they may not be of Jedi origin. Rumor has it that Yavin 4 used to be a Sith outpost as well.*"

"So be on guard for anything," Tes nodded easily. "Who's going?"

"*Well, somebody needs to be up here in case there's trouble, so I was thinking you two should probably do a little discreet exploring.*"

"Works for me," Fenrik grinned. "It's good that Jay's getting along as well as he is, but it's getting just a smidge dull up here if you don't speak tech."

"That's pulling it mildly," Tes chuckled. "A little exploration is good for the body and mind. Head out in the morning?"

"Good timing," Fenrik grinned. "I'm dragging him to bed after dinner, so we'll have a few days to play down there."

"*Assuming you're in any shape to go exploring in the morning,*" Essani teased, munching on a berry. "*Just be careful, you two. If Duvam Tam had the Heart of the Guardian and Mantle of the Force, that means that Exar Kun came here after his crusade against the Jedi. There's no telling what else he might have left behind.*"

"Jay said that though were left here by a female Jedi after the last war," Fenrik shook his head. "Most likely Revan from what he'd gotten."

"*True,*" Essani nodded. "*But that's not the full story. She bought them from Suvam Tam before fighting Malik. She didn't name them in her story, but she did mention them. He found them on the planet, in an old temple. That temple I want you both to stay away from.*"

"Do you know which one it is?" Tes leaned forward, sharply interested.

"*No,*" Essani said, shaking her head. "*Fenrik will undoubtedly be able to sense the power of the Dark Side there. Exar Kun was the worst example of a Jedi fallen to the Dark. If you do sense that you are at that temple, Fenrik, do not go in,*" she said firmly.

"I understand," he nodded. "No going into Sith temples looking for goodies. No problem. That round on Korriban was quite enough for me."

"*Well, Force be with the two of you then,*" Essani said, finishing her meal. "*Hopefully you won't need it too badly.*"

"Touch down there," Fenrik said, indicating a clearing near one of the temples on Yavin 4. "There's something there we should look for."

"Any idea what?" Tes glanced over at the young Panther before concentrating on setting Sharufa down in the thick, soft jungle soil, near a small temple.

"I'm not sure," Fenrik admitted. "But it doesn't feel like most of them."

It didn't look like them either. While it was a pyramid, it seemed to be made out of a translucent red crystal, polished so you could see very slightly through it.

"Well, it's different to be sure." She nodded and set Sharufa to defend herself before standing. "Ready to stick our noses where they no doubt don't belong?"

"Always," Fenrik chuckled slightly and stood up. He had to admit to a little nervousness; this was the first real mission he'd had, though it wasn't an official one. "Could you run a quick scan for any natives before we head out? It's hard to tell with everything else that's here."

"Already did," she flashed him a grin. "Nothing showing up, just small buildings of former inhabitants."

"Wonder what happened to them," he mused, moving towards the hatch. "Well, here goes."

"Could be anything," she shrugged and followed him out, her senses open for trouble of any kind as they walked the short distance to the ruby pyramid. Once they were there, they found a short stairway into what looked like a solid wall of the crystalline material the temple was made out of.

"This could complicate things," Fenrik murmured, starting to search the wall barely a tenth of the way up the pyramid.

"What direction is the call coming from?" Tes asked matter-of-factly as she checked her scanner for what kind of blast would make the most effective entrance.

"In and down," Fenrik said, frowning. "I don't think there is a door here...."

"There will be soon," she picked a spot that looked good.

Fenrik got back out of the way, giving her a clear shot to fire her blaster and punch a hole through a weaker part of the wall.

"That's one way of knocking," he observed, moving up to finish breaking out a hole big enough for them to walk through.

"Whatever works," she grinned at his back. "Anything in there?"

"Whatever's in here is probably in deeper," Fenrik chuckled slightly, stepping in and looking around as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. "Don't recognize these symbols," he murmured, walking in a bit further to let Tes follow.

"Neither do I," she admitted. "But I can sure as hell feel that whatever it is."

"I think there's more than just one thing down here," the young Knight murmured. "It feels like multiple things... the weird part is that things don't usually call out like these seem to. Come on, let's keep going."

"Right," she nodded, though something about the setup made her uneasy.

"You don't like it either, do you?" He asked her, guessing what was probably causing the nerves he could feel.

"On a normal world, it wouldn't bother me. On a Sith-heavy world ... this just screams of a trap of some kind."

"Well, it's not just a Sith world," he pointed out. "The natives had their own traditions before the Sith subjugated them, I'm sure. Though you're right; I'm not entirely comfortable with this either. Let's keep an eye out; no telling what might be down here...." He trailed off, walking down the corridor slowly, searching for something.

"That's the only reason I haven't hauled you out by the scruff yet." She pointed out, keeping on a more general alert as he followed his trail.

Fenrik might have been a little wounded by the comment if he didn't know from experience that she was quite willing to do the same to Doruth. She definitely had the protective role of alpha down pat.

Including being overly prepared the way Custos tended to be with extra equipment that few Jedi thought to bring along. The sudden light of her flashlight, one he recognized as a Jay creation from years before, made him blink for a moment before his eyes adjusted to it.

He dearly wished his eyes didn't adjust to the light when things like this happened. Going from inconveniently dim to bright as day was not pleasant, even if it didn't last more than a heartbeat while he reflexively adjusted faster than most could.

"Do you have an extra power pack?" He asked, stopping to inspect a point along the wall. "I think I found the lights for this place."

"Always," she fished around in a pocket on her light cloth body armor to hand one over.

"Thanks," he nodded, taking the cell and looking between it and the location where it seemed it was supposed to go. A frown crossed his lips as he realized that there was a slight difference in the interface that would keep the cell from fitting.

"I can improvise, or we can trust to your light," he said, looking back at her. "Improvising might be risky, but I think I can do it without anything going wrong."

"Just don't blow us up, okay?"

"That I can guarantee," he nodded slightly, holding the power cell near the interface and focusing. He let his senses open up, seeking the energy in the cell itself. It wasn't quite the same as the Force, but it worked.

"What did you just do?" She asked curiously as an arc of energy passed between cell and interface just before the lights came on.

"Something I'm not sure I should have," Fenrik murmured, pocketing the discharged cell. "I drained the power from the cell and fed it into the system. Kind of like linking a power cable between the two of them."

"This is a questionable idea because ..."

"Just the way it felt," he said, shaking his head. "Don't worry about it; let's just keep going now that we can see our way better."

"All right," she nodded and clicked her light off before following him deeper into the solid red crystal pyramid, though it never completely left her awareness. Anything that 'didn't feel right' to a Jedi probably wasn't.

Both of them were finding things that didn't feel quite right as they worked in deeper. It seemed like every turn led to another puzzle, and some solution that either called on brute force, a starkly pragmatic solution to an ethical question, or some use of the Force that Fenrik was developing on the spot and Tes hadn't really thought of doing before.

After about a half-hour of these tests, Fenrik was looking a force field with another logical test to shut it down. A diplomat and her servant being escorted through no-man's land... out of food... the solution being to find the best way to handle the situation.

He couldn't get around the fact that the 'best way', as most of the other puzzles had interpreted the situation up to now, would be to kill the servant and use his remains to provide enough food to make it to civilization. The loss of the servant would be secondary to bringing the diplomat to the summit alive.

It also made him feel sick, even as he accepted that it would be a viable solution. And one that was definitely not dreamed up by a Light Sider.

"It's a trap," he murmured. "C'mon, Tes, we're getting out of here."

"Wait." She was reading the puzzle too, and she could all but read the answer that came to his mind, even if she was at a bit of a loss as to how he'd gotten to that solution. "You are completely overreacting to the situation presented." She added as she began to type in her own reaction, to summon animals to her or use Force-flow to find things to eat. Even no-man's land had lots of little things. Small rodents and insects were everywhere and most were edible enough.

It raised an eyebrow when the computer said it wouldn't work for lack of life.

"Okay ..." She put her hands on her hips and glared at the console. "Have it you way." She typed in the answer she knew it would take even if she didn't agree with it.

"I knew it was going to protest to those solutions," he pointed out quietly, reaching up to take her shoulder before she progressed beyond the force field. "Like the one before about ending a war at the expense of allowing a devastating attack on your own people. Any suggestion it doesn't like has details added to the question until you give the 'right' solution. It's an old Sith security measure. If you answer the questions right on the first time, you're Sith. If you don't, you will be by the time you finish."

"Only if you actually believe what you type." She shook her head.

"How would you be prone to thinking after another hour or two of this place, these tests, and doing it all on your own?" He pointed out. "Do you think we should head back, or get creative instead?"

"Me? A good night's sleep would clear it out," she shrugged. "But I'm used to living like that from when I was still running the Outer Rim. You say what gets you through the day and keep your opinions to yourself. You're the one at risk, though."

"I meant a different type of creative," Fenrik said simply, igniting his lightsaber. "Tes? Don't tell Jay what I'm about to do? We're about to redefine straight-line movement to the middle."

"I won't if you won't," she laughed heartily and lit her own with a grin for his idea. "Let's go for it. I seem to recall it's as legal a solution as any."

"Yep," Fenrik nodded, driving his lit blade through the crystalline wall and starting to slowly cut through it. "And a lot easier to sleep with at night."

"True," she agreed and drove her own blade into the wall to meet him in the middle for a door, though her more powerful lightsaber made it more like two-thirds of the way.

After another hour of carving their way through walls, Fenrik and Tes could both feel that they were close to their goal, probably just on the other side of the wall they were facing now.

"Y'know, you wouldn't think it would be quite this tiring to do this work with lightsabers," Fenrik muttered, rubbing his shoulder lightly, his beam temporarily extinguished. "Just glad the power cables all run through the ceiling, or we'd be in the dark again by now."

"Just be glad no one lives here," she shook her head and stretched before driving into the last wall between them and their goal, Fenrik's own 'saber sinking in to start the other end.

"Believe me, I'm already more than glad for that one," the Panther said. "I'm just glad this place doesn't have the Sith's usual punishments for wrong answers. We'd have been attacked by a small army of droids by now."

"It's not exactly their usual architecture either." Tes pointed out. "May not be actual Sith, just somebody not quite with our civilization."

"It's not that far off," he pointed out. "It's not normal, but if you accept that some of the other temples we've found were built during Exar Kun's rule, this isn't too far off. But yeah... I've been thinking about that too. If this does turn out to be a burial chamber, should we still take whatever's down here?"

"Depends on what it is," she chose easily. "And who it is."

"All right," he nodded, grunting as he carefully lowered the cut-out panel of stone to the floor. "Think we might want to take a piece of this back with us, see if Essani recognizes the symbols." The chamber beyond was black except for a dim patch of light next to their impromptu 'door,' none of the artificial lights through the rest of the complex inside it.

"No need, I've been recording them." Tes flipped her light on, sweeping the room for trouble before focusing on the central object. "Impressive." She cautiously stepped forward to examine the expertly carved life-sized Massassi warrior. "Damn, the price this could fetch in the right port."

"Forget port, there are probably a dozen different Senators who'd kill to have it," Fenrik murmured, following her in and looking it over. "Literally, I might add." The statue looked almost alive, every feature painstakingly carved from the same ruby-colored stone of the temple. The humanoid's face was weathered and battle-hardened, deep furrows in his chin and around his eyes. Its long 'antenna' around the nose and eyebrows were carved with no less attention to detail.

Fenrik almost expected it to complete the swing with the strange pole-axe it was carved to hold, releasing the razor-sharp metal disk held in the head. The care taken in preparing the statue marked whoever this warrior was as almost painfully important to the makers.

The weapons and armor it wore, however, marked him as a dark sider of an age long past. While it was holding a weapon that was probably unique to his race, the sword at his hip was plainly of Sith design and the shield he wore strapped to his chest practically seethed with Dark Side energies to the young Knight's senses.

"If he wasn't Sith, he probably could have taught them a thing or two," he shuddered.

"Strange we couldn't sense the dark energies until we were standing right in front of it." Tes murmured as she began to investigate around the statue more carefully, looking for anything to indicate that this room was anything but a holding cell for the statue and its gear.

"Agreed," Fenrik nodded, frowning slightly as he looked around. It didn't feel like there was anything down there but them, the statue, and its equipment; no spirits, no ... anything.

"There's something about the room that limits our senses in here," he said. "It's not enough to notice unless you think about it, but it seems to dampen the Force before you can really sense anything. I wonder if it's the crystal," he mused.

"It could be part of the gear he's carrying, some tech, even the area ... they are all rare as hell these days, but there are a lot of things that can do it." She came back to consider the statue and its equipment. "So do we take it back, or leave it for the first Darksider to come by?"

"We're taking it back," he said seriously. "It's not a body that we'd be desecrating by taking it, and more importantly, I do not want to end up on the wrong end of that gear in a fight. Besides, you know that if we leave it down here, your friend'll just pick it up on a scavenging mission and sell it off to the first person who's interested anyways."

"True enough," Tes admitted. "Levitate it out?"

"Actually, I was thinking we should grab one of the repulsor lifts off the Sharufa," Fenrik said. "We probably could lift it out without one, but it'll be a lot less tiring to use one, and there's no telling what might decide to pay a visit tonight."

"Works for me," she nodded with another look at the statue before they headed out to get the repulsor lift.

"*Fenrik, I want you to go here.*" Master Essani contacted him with a set of coordinates after they had finished loading the statue and its artifacts in the cargo bay. "*There is an object of the Light that wants to be found there.*"

"*Can't blame it,*" he responded, the communication taking a bit of effort over the distance to the orbital station. "We're heading about half-way around the world," he told Tes. "Essani sensed something."

"Hopefully not another one of those," she motioned towards the cargo hold and the Dark artifacts there.

"No," he said, shaking his head and heading towards the cockpit. "She says it's a something of the Light. Mind if I try flying us there? I'm going to have to get better at piloting if I'm going to be using the Sharufa on a regular basis."

"Go for it," she nodded and easily took the co-pilot's chair. "She'll probably handle better for you. Even when he doesn't try, Jay tends to personalize his creations."

"True," he nodded, starting the take off sequence. "Though you're still talking about somebody who didn't even start flying a ship until a couple years ago," he chuckled. "You and Doruth usually took care of that."

"Going to have to change that for the next one," she mused and kept an eye on things without giving directions. "It's too valuable a skill to miss out on."

"Just don't tell Master Ursal that," Fenrik chuckled, handling takeoff easily enough and punching in the coordinates Essani had given him. "Shi can't fly anything larger than a speeder bike to save her life."

"Yeah, but they're Healers," she smirked. "*They don't go out on missions where it's useful."

"I get the point," Fenrik chuckled. "Still, it's weird. We've both tried to help her learn, but anything where the controls handle most of the steering is just too much for her."

"You know, everywhere but the Temple calls that a control issue," Tes mused mostly to herself. "Somebody who doesn't trust the equipment enough to let it do its job."

"I think she trusts it, she just can't visualize how what she's doing is affecting the ship," Fenrik mused. "She tends to miss the adjustments and not quite realize it. Works well enough when you can check the instruments," he said, looking at them himself, "but when you have to try anything fancy or make the fast decisions, you need to have some instincts for it."

"True," she admitted. "I guess I just haven't met one of them outside of Jedi. Probably because they stay as far away from the controls as they can manage."

"Yep," Fenrik nodded. "Though to her credit, Shi does too, when she can. We've just agreed that if it ever comes to her having to get Jay and I out of a bad spot, she'll heal one of us enough that we can make it to hyperspace instead of trusting her to do it," he chuckled grimly.

"A good arrangement, honestly." Tes nodded in approval. "Though I wouldn't be surprised to see Jay next ship capable of getting itself into hyperspace and to a location all on its own."

"Neither would I," Fenrik nodded, handling the flight rather well. "Hell, they come close enough to it as it is, you'd just need one that looked up the location on its own instead of having to put in coordinates manually."

"True," she considered the control system and began to check a few things out. "I think he may have already. Only it's under emergency procedures and a destination has to be set beforehand. At least that's what this looks like. Of course, with Jay, all he has to be is conscious in the same system to set the destination."

"I am so not surprised," Fenrik chuckled. "Mind if I practice below the canopy? The 'point A to point B' I can handle."

"Go ahead," she nodded, though she kept a bit closer eyes on things as he got out of his skill range.

Fortunately, he seemed to have an innate sense for when it was more than he was capable of handling. While he weaved between the large trees, he didn't push himself to do even half the things Doruth could, let alone that Tes could probably handle with her eyes shut.

In the end, it was a fairly enjoyable, if quiet, trip to the ancient, dust-choked ruins at their destination.

"I'll take a jungle any day." Tes shook her head as they looked at the only buildings within hundreds of clicks. "Are you sure this is the right spot? It's been gone over with a fine toothed comb already."

"These are the coordinates," he said, double-checking it. "Could be that whatever we're after is hidden pretty well."

"Or it's got issues with anyone but who it wants finding it." She frowned and got up. "I can't sense anything."

"Neither can I," he admitted. "Though I'm a bit off-center yet from earlier. How comfortable are you with spending the night down here? It's close enough to dark, wouldn't hurt to wait until morning. I might be able to get a better grasp on where it is after some meditation."

"I don't mind." She agreed easily. "I was figuring on a few days anyway. Go ahead and settle down. I'll lock us down for the night and run the checks."

"Right," he nodded and headed back to his quarters, taking his lightsaber from its holster as he moved. This was definitely not a night for quiet meditation. He suspected it would not be the last time he was grateful for the extra-large main suite Jay had build for them with kata-meditation and sparing in mind.

"Feeling more centered?" Tes asked easily when Fenrik walked into the galley for breakfast.

"Much," he nodded. "And I can feel what we're after, though it doesn't feel strong enough to be detected from an orbital station. It might react to the strength of the user."

"Or how strongly they are of the Light," she added and poured him a strong cup of tea. "I can't sense anything, you couldn't before but now you can, Master Essani's as Light-side as they get and it called to her."

"Very true," he nodded, taking the cup from her. "Thank you. Some days you should be glad you don't have the same senses we do. It can almost be painful to look at her like that sometimes. Soothing, but painful." He sipped the tea slowly, wincing and swearing under his breath as he added a little honey to sweeten it.

"Can't believe I keep forgetting that," he muttered to himself.

"You may be more centered, but something's off." Tes chuckled softly and offered him a plate of meat, eggs, fruit and bread.

"Thanks," he chuckled, taking the plate. "What can I say? Master Kiris taught me to wake up in an instant and be able to fight without losing any performance. Waking up and being functional without a five-minute walk to get the blood going and no emergency to get the adrenaline running is another thing."

"And no mate to get the blood flowing either." She winked at him and sat down to work on her own breakfast.

"Like you're one to talk," he smirked, starting on the eggs. "I did live with you guys for a couple years, especially on missions. I swear, between you two and the Pack I'll never forget what horny Wolves smell like."

"Or sound like," she snickered. "Though you have to admit that Doruth has the loudest voice of anybody on board."

"Only when you don't howl," he grinned. "Trust me, roars don't carry nearly as far. He might be louder through a couple walls; you're louder half-way across the Temple."

"You can't hear us outside our quarters," she smirked. "I know the soundproofing is good enough."

"Tes?" He smirked back, trying not to giggle. "Be that as it may, Doruth has never made me lose prey on a morning hunt."

"You were just hunting too early," she teased back, remembering the incidents clearly.

"Now why is it that I'm hunting too early when you end up scaring them off when you get off, but it's not a problem when I go upwind and bring home fresh breakfast?" He laughed.

"Okay, so you were hunting too late," she countered with an easy laugh of her own.

"And the only reason I can't say the same about you ever is because Jay and I aren't that loud," he chuckled.

"Maybe something you need to work on," she winked at him.

"Well, you can't say we don't get enough practice," he grinned back. "And if Jay or Shi were here right now, I'd probably have been tackled and gagged already."

"And dragged off for more practice." Tes couldn't help but snicker. "I have to admit, you and Jay are seriously hot together."

"And just how do you know that?" He asked her, raising an eyebrow slightly. "I think I've always managed to get him back to our quarters first."

"Fenrik, dear, it is so easy to watch the two of you when Jay's in the mood. Especially camping."

"And does Doruth know about this?" He asked with a smirk. "You should see us when Shi's around too."

"But she doesn't have a thing for water or outdoor games that Jay does." She let him wonder about his former Master.

"She's got her reasons for it too," he admitted, finishing up his breakfast. "Besides, if she found out she'd probably just about melt."

"True, though I understand she turns this lovely shade of purple first." Tes winked at him and helped with the cleanup. "Ready to track down this object of the Light?"

"That she does," he chuckled, purring lightly at the thought. "And yes, I am. Let's get going and figure out what it is that's bugging a Master in orbit."

"*They're keeping something from you, you know,*" a familiar mental voice told Jay while he was tinkering alone one day.

"*They always are,*" the kat shrugged with a bit of a mental sigh, absently wondering how much worse the taunting could get after he'd accepted his Gift. "*Tell me something that's news if you're going to bother me.*"

"*Does a ship that makes Kraken look like a baby qualify?*" The Demon asked him with a smug tone, knowing full well, even before Jay went stiff, that he had the kat's undivided attention. He could feel the question that didn't quite come across in words.

"*Oh it's much older. I'll admit, not that much bigger, but this is the masterpiece the Kraken was based off of. You haven't heard it yet because you're up here while the ship is down on the surface, long ago stripped bare by a Jedi.*"

Jay stilled his mind and body, his attention focusing down to the world under them and listened for the distinctive resonance of a piece of technology that large and advanced.

He could feel it, faintly, almost silent after centuries of a jungle world's environment wearing it down. He could feel other things too, though that was one of the strongest.

"*They're down there on that moon, you know,*" the Demon pointed out. "*Hacking through walls and taking everything they can find at the kushiban's direction while they keep you distracted up here.*"

"*No surprise there,*" he said quietly, knowing that they'd rather find the objects than buy them or face them. It disturbed him, in a detached way, that he'd come so far into the local morals that he was not really be bothered all that much to learn they were using violence to get what they wanted.

He looked around the shop; he really was on his own. It was free time, time that was his to do as he pleased. He reached out to the station and smiled faintly when it reported that there was a shuttle he could take down to the surface.

"*It's down there,*" the Demon told Jay in a soft rumble as the teen flew the small shuttle down.

"*I can feel it, you know.*" He shot back, though he wasn't as irate as he sounded. He was too focused on the huge ship almost completely concealed in the jungle to feel much of anything but the tingling excitement of discovery.

Even now all he could see was a corner sticking up out of the trees, but he could see it. It really was bigger than the Kraken... and, somehow, it seemed to have landed and remained mostly intact despite being decidedly not inclined towards planetary touchdowns.

He reached out with part of his awareness, seeking a landing bay that he could set the shuttle down in. It took some doing, and he could tell the ship wasn't particularly happy about it, but he also could tell it was opening up for him beneath the canopy and maneuvered the shuttle down, into the gaping blackness of the bay.

He reached out again, his senses caressing the ship from where he was, trying to assess its condition and what was still left of its systems, particularly life support so it would be safe to explore. Power was almost completely down... everything seemed to be offline, though it seemed livable. The atmosphere was breathable at least where it could reach.

He nodded to himself and focused on the computer system, feeding it power from the ambient amount available to coax it on line enough to check out what it still had left.

The computer seemed to be fine, though still mostly offline. He could sense that there was a break in the power system, something that had damaged some of the main cables. It had been running on its backup generator for centuries and shut down system after system to preserve what absolutely had to have power to survive.

That at least was good. The power-dependant information would have survived, though there was little telling how many more years it had left.

He stood and grabbed the small pack he'd put together for the trip; his travel tool set, a data cube to download the useful bits still present, a comm that could contact Sharufa if he couldn't, a breather with supplemental oxygen and a few odds and ends he found useful. First issue would be to get the power turned back on.

He just hoped there weren't any local critters looking to make life interesting. At least the Demon seemed to be shutting up for now. It was quite dark enough to require a flashlight, and he still needed on hand on the bulkhead to guide his way to where the power lines had been damaged.

He had to marvel at what the planet's jungle was capable of doing. Assorted mosses and vines seemed to grow through some portions of the ship, soil that had been blown and tracked in through assorted smaller openings providing them with the nutrients required.

This place clearly hadn't been used more or less since it had landed, though he was now sure it hadn't crashed. As impossible as that was, it didn't feel that damaged.

A low, warning growl from the darkness just outside the range of his light told him he wasn't alone.

Instinct made him freeze for a fraction of a heartbeat, then his light focused on the source of the sound as one lightsaber dropped into his free hand and ignited.

A leopard-like creature was crouched in one of the nearby halls, still growling, though it didn't seem like it was about to attack him. He wished, not for the first time, that he could sense living things like most Jedi could. The feline didn't seem injured, or starving, and there was no smell of blood that marked a likely kill it might be willing to fight for.

He started to form a Force-wall to push it away, and then blinked as he realized what else animals guarded against damn near anything: their young.

He sighed and let the wall stay while he tracked the ship's layout to find another way to where he was going and eventually settled on just backtracking to the next access panel and fix the thing via Force. It wasn't quite as simple as when he could touch the damage directly, but it was easier than dealing with an irate mother and her young while he tried to work and fifteen feet wasn't that hard to deal with.

The big cat seemed content to let him work, though she occasionally growled slightly to remind him she was there in the darkness beyond his light. There were days he really didn't like animals, but he couldn't really hate her for doing what was so strong in his own instincts. He slid an access panel back and reached in close his hand around one broken cable and focused his will along it, summing the small energy and strength needed to repair it, then more as his orders traveled along the rest of the cable to continue the repairs.

It wasn't long before he knew the cables were whole again, the access panels sliding shut along their length so the cubs or mother couldn't get into them when he started the full power again. The main core was offline for now, but that had saved enough power and fuel that he could get it back online as soon as he was down there.

"Now for the power," he drew a deep breath and focused again, extending his mental map of the ship to find where he needed to go before he started to move, then headed out with a sharp ear open for more critters that he'd have to work around.

"At least the ship's intact." He murmured to himself as he shut the main generator down again, this time with the sequence that would put the ship into a planned hibernation rather than a forced one.

"*I can tell you where the contents are,*" the Demon pointed out. "*Maybe you can't right now, but I can feel them.*"

"*Where?*" He asked, curious and rather doubtful that anyone was still alive after so long.

"*Hidden in that pyramid we flew by on the way here,*" the Demon explained. "*The Jedi who stripped the ship is dead now, but his loot is still there.*"

Jay considered that as he made his way back to the shuttle. By the time he lifted off and the bay door closed under him he pointed the shuttle towards the pyramid, curiosity overcoming cautiousness.

"Turn back to the station, Jay," Essani said from the back of the ship; stepping out of the shadows she'd been hiding in.

"Urr, okay." He glanced over at her, honestly only fractionally surprised to see her on board and obeyed without any real hesitation. "What's wrong with it?"

"That place is pure Darkness," she explained to him.

"*The Dark Side again,*" the Demon said exasperatedly. "*Doesn't it seem odd that a Jedi's lair would be so evil? She's trying to keep you away from the ship's contents, after what happened with the Kraken.*"

"Jedi can turn," he countered out loud, though it wasn't hard to know he was pretty confused by the arguments. He knew he could rarely feel Light or Dark, but he trusted his Master.

"And the one buried there did so more than any other," Essani told him, guessing why he'd said that. "That's the temple of Exar Kun."

"*Why would Exar Kun have stripped a Sith warship?*" The Demon countered. "*He would have used it against the Jedi.*"

"Only if he could have," Jay shook his head sharply, his mind countering with just how many reasons the ship would have been stripped and not lifted off, not the least of which was that it probably couldn't have gotten back into space.

"*And because he did turn it against the Jedi,*" Essani said, her presence in Jay's mind suddenly very noticeable, and very different from most of what he'd felt before. "*Then, after his apprentice realized what he was doing and turned on him, he fled here.*" Jay could tell that what she was saying wasn't directed at him nearly as much as it was at the Demon; any doubts he had were wiped away by what she said next. "*And I will not allow you to turn my Padawan down the same path.*"

There was a blinding flash of light, both in the real world and in his mind, and he felt a searing pain flash through his mind. It wasn't his own pain though; it was the Demon's response to his Master's manifestation of the Force.

For the first time in a long time, Jay's mind was silent once the sense of pain left. Essani was sitting at his feet, only her dark red, frizzed-out fur a sign of what she'd just done and how pissed she'd been to do it. She stood, the color draining back out of her fur as she carefully smoothed it out with her forehands.

"Are you all right, Jay?" She asked him, her fur the light grey of her concern for him as he reached down to pick her up and help smooth her fur with his fingers and tongue, more than a little dazed by what had just happened and reacting on his most basic level: caring for those close to him that seemed in distress to sooth his own distress and confusion.

"I think so." He said softly, a little weirded out by how quiet his mind was but appreciating the calmness that came with it too. "Thank you for shutting him up."

"You're welcome," she said, curling up in his arms as her fur lightened further. "Though I hope I don't react to him that way too often. How you deal with it all the time I'll never know. Let's get back to the station."

"Remember what I said when you took me as a Padawan, about not wanting to tempt fate?" He asked softly as the shuttle continued skyward. "Around the Temple, the worst he has to talk about are holocrons and other records that have restricted access. I can't get into that much trouble going where I shouldn't."

"I can understand that," she nodded slightly. "I don't think I've lost control like that in a long time."

Jay smiled slightly and gently stroked her long ears along her back. "What did you do to him?" He asked curiously, more than content to have her sit in his lap and stroke her ears.

"It's the technique I've mentioned to you a few times," she explained. "I basically exposed him to the raw energy of the Light Side."

"Which hurts like hell to one who isn't," he nodded in understanding and resisted the urge to squeeze her tightly. "Do you think we can head back home when Tes and Fen get back from their expedition?"

"I was just thinking the same thing," Essani agreed. "They should be back later today. This is a bit closer to one of us ending up in that building than I like."

"Odds are pretty good I wouldn't have come out of it with my head in any kind of shape to be talked reason too." He admitted softly. "That's way more eager than he usually is."

"When Exar Kun was alive he and his apprentice turned dozens of Padawans against their Masters," Essani pointed out. "He likely wanted to give his spirit a chance to do the same to you, if it's still there."

"Not something I want to give a chance," he shuddered slightly before the fear of becoming what he fought passed.

Even now, after a decade among the Jedi, his Master still knew that what he feared was not 'going Dark' but 'becoming an Omega'. It was a linguistic quirk that while she understood, did worry her at times.

"We won't," Essani promised him, settling in quietly. "Let's just get back to the station and I'll tell Fenrik and Tes to come back after their current job."

"Hey J-oof!" Fenrik grunted as the wind was knocked out of him by the flying tom that tackled him as he opened the door to the Sharufa, completely unable to do anything but reciprocate the nuzzles and kisses he was being given by his lover. He quickly realized that this wasn't for being gone for a couple days, but because Jay was still unsettled by something that had happened very recently.

"Why don't you get him to your quarters before this gets questionable." Tes chuckled at him with a smirk.

"Right," the Panther nodded, picking Jay up with another grunt and nuzzling him lightly, carrying him to their quarters and cuddling up with him before he even started to worry about what had happened.

Not like he was going to get anything useful out of Jay about what had happened before then anyways. Fortunately, he knew exactly how to do just that, and quickly. It just took a warm, closed space and being held tightly until he stopped shivering and relaxed into the comfort and security of his mate's arms.

"What happened?" He asked, once the younger tom was settled down a bit.

"Did you know that Exar Kun's tomb is down there?" Jay murmured quietly.

"I know there were places Essani wanted us to stay away from," Fenrik nodded slightly. "That'd be one of them... you almost paid it a visit somehow, didn't you?"

"Yap," he murmured. "Thanks to the Demon. Damn thing knows exactly what to say to get me to do what it wants."

"It's okay," Fenrik murmured, rubbing his back. "You didn't end up going there in the end, after all. And it's not like you knew what was down there."

"No," he admitted. "That's half the problem. I still can't feel Light or Dark to save my life."

"It's something you'll probably get a better feel for with practice," Fenrik reassured him. "Let's be fair, you haven't been taken out to that many places where you'd experience it."

"I know, and really bad things happened both times." He sighed and closed his eyes, once again relaxing into the logic of his mate that made things so much less disturbing.

"Shh, everything still worked out in the end," Fenrik said, nuzzling him gently. "And before things went too far before they could be controlled. Just rest for now, Jay. We'll head back home soon."

"I know," he murmured and rested his head against Fenrik's broad chest. "Sometimes it just makes me wonder if I should go out more, or a lot less. Something like this happening during my solo would be really, really bad."

"It probably won't," Fenrik said reassuringly. "They're supposed to take the fact that you are still a Padawan into account, not send you somewhere you're probably gonna have to deal with something they'd normally save for an experienced Knight."

Jay couldn't help but chuckle. "It would be my luck to be the one to find the ancient unknown Sith tomb on mine."

"So we'll talk to Essani about making sure you get assigned to a well-populated world for it," Fenrik chuckled. "C'mon, you'll be just fine," he smiled.

"I know, sometimes," he nuzzled his mate, then stretched up for a kiss. "But since no one is going to expect us for a few hours ...."

"Mmm ... let's just be sure we don't disturb anybody," Fenrik chuckled, rolling on top of his mate with a tender kiss and felt as must as heard the low moan it earned. "Tes already has enough to razz me about."

"Soundproofing, a lot of it," Jay grinned up at him. "You wouldn't hear her in here."

"I'm sorry to see you go," Impana said, holding Shi's hand and clutching her shoulder with the other hand in a traditional gesture the young Jedi returned.

"I'm sorry I have to," she admitted. "But I have my duties."

"And you have your people, if you ever choose to leave the Jedi. We might not be as civilized as the rest of the Republic, but I have a feeling we'll be able to use your talents in the years to come."

"If you do, let the Jedi know," Shivasta said. "I know you have a transceiver by now, you've been sending information for years."

"True," the Chieftain nodded. "Though there are still some who aren't sure whose side you'd be on."

"Are you one of them?" Shivasta asked pointedly.

The older woman smiled slightly. "Not at all. You're a Stormwarden, and you're a Jedi. But I know what side you'll be on. I'm not sure how, but you'll find a way to be on both."

Shivasta smiled slightly. "Some folks have said the Jedi's best gift is for not making up their minds," she said. "They just forget that there are more than two sides to every conflict."

"Very true," Impana nodded. "You're welcome back to our lands as long as I rule the Stormwardens, Shivasta. As far as I'm concerned, you're one of our clan, and one of our shamen. You may not be able to summon a storm, but you've undergone all the rights beside that one." Shivasta bowed her head respectively.

"Thank you, Chieftain," she said seriously. "However, I'm afraid that while I'm a Jedi, I can't claim that honor."

"I know," Impana nodded. "Consider it a standing offer. There are some here who might not appreciate it, but I can't see any reason you can't rejoin us if you leave them."

"I understand," Shivasta smiled. "Though don't alienate the clan for my sake. It's not worth it."

"You're right, it wouldn't be," Impana agreed. "However, they'll come to see what you really are. You're not just a Jedi in an Ice Walker's skin. It may be that your Jedi are better for training some of our children than we'd expected. But we'll have to see what develops."

"That's all that can be asked," Shivasta said, lowering her head respectfully. She still regretted that her mother had paid the price she had to get her trained… but, in the end, it might prove to have been for the best for everybody.

The blizzard that had raged for weeks finally started to clear as the Stormwardens let it fall away to let the transport land for her. She pulled her mask up in front of her face as she turned to face the landing pad and saw the massive ship start to land. Impana and the warriors with her would probably convince them that they were only here to pick Shivasta up.

A boarding ramp extended, the airlock opening as she started up it, the same Lemur who'd warned her not to come waiting for her at the entrance.

"What happened here?" He asked her. "The storm just disappeared; we'd been getting ready to leave."

"The Force works in mysterious ways sometimes," Shi said simply, removing her mask and pulling back her hood once she was on the climate-controlled confines of the ship, the door closing behind her. "Though I suspect this won't last long, so we might want to leave some time soon?"

"The Captain's making ready to lift off now," he nodded. "Surprised to see you again," he admitted. "Pleasantly surprised, but we'd all been sure you'd be frozen by now."

"As I said, I was born here," she chuckled. "If you'll excuse me, I'd like to change into something a little better suited for inside wear?"

"Of course, Lady Jedi," the Lemur nodded, hurrying out and setting about his duties as Shi started to strip out of her heavy outer robes and gloves, chuckling slightly. Easiest way she knew to get a little privacy. She started back towards her quarters to pack everything up, something a little more confident in her bearing and step as she returned to the private room.

Looking out the viewing window, she watched her home world disappear, quite possibly for years before she would return again. Hopefully for years, given the circumstances that would probably call her back to it. She'd miss it, but she didn't look forward to the end of any of the paths she knew they were walking down.

She took her lightsaber, cool to even her touch, in her hand. She'd miss Garosh and her kin. But she was taking a part of them both home with her.

"*I have to say, I'm not going to be sorry not to see this place again,*" Essani admitted. "*I think it was good for Jay though.*"

"It certainly proved that he can get along with a Rodian that isn't being a jerk." Tes nodded as the station retreated from view.

"*Something I don't think even he was sure of,*" she nodded. "*I'll have to keep closer tabs on that thing in his head though. So, how did the exploration go? I saw a number of artifacts that you'd brought back, though I haven't looked through them yet.*"

"It was interesting, there's definitely a lot more down there to find." She nodded slightly and paused as they dropped into hyperspace. "Some serious Dark Side ones, a few Light Side ones and some I haven't got a clue on."

"*I imagine the strongest are all gathered in Kun's temple,*" Essani said softly. "*Almost found out the hard way today.*"

"So that's what the sudden rush was about." Tes raised an eyebrow and set the autopilot. "Jay managed to get curious about them?"

"*No,*" she said, shaking her head. "*His 'friend' tried to trick him into it. Fortunately I'm better at stowing away on shuttles than he is at noticing me.*"

"Bets he wouldn't have worried about it even if he knew you were there," she commented. "I doubt Jay thought he was sneaking out to do anything wrong."

"*Agreed, and he wasn't,*" Essani nodded. "*However, if he'd known, then the Demon would have known to be much more careful about exposing itself while I was there. I did manage to learn something about it at least.*"

"A good thing, given how little we know." Tes nodded with a curious look on her face.

"*It does have a bond to Jay, but it goes both ways,*" she explained. "*A potential weakness if it continues to harass him like it has.*"

"True," she agreed easily. "I would be surprised if it lets up on him in the long run. It's not how they tend to operate. Jay's too much of a prize to let go of."

"*Yes,*" Essani nodded. "*Though a few more times like today might convince him otherwise. I found out that there are ways to hurt it, for all that I'll need some time on my own later to deal with what happened.*"

"Do you want the time now, or after we do a real inventory of the haul?"

"*After,*" Essani said easily. "*I just don't usually respond like that. I'm not about to do it again any time soon,*" she added with chirp, standing up. "*So, why don't we start that inventory?*"

"Sounds good," Tes agreed and stood to follow her back, not really wanting to press for details about what had happed.

"*You two did manage to find that second artifact I sent coordinates for, yes?*" she asked, easily slipping into the role of the senior Jedi.

"Yes, though what it does is anyone's guess. It doesn't seem to like me at all."

"*It will probably like Jay less,*" Essani admitted. "*At least while he's still grappling with the Demon. I have a few theories about it, myself. Was it difficult for Fenrik to find?*"

"Not after he meditated and centered himself again, but while he was still dealing with Sith security measures in his head, he couldn't sense it at all."

"*I think I know what it is,*" the kushiban nodded. "*There are legends of some items that give a great sense of calm to the people who used them; according to legend, they hid themselves from the impure.*"

"Which pretty well explains its dislike of me," she nodded. "Even on my good days I'm in the grey end of blue."

"*Very true,*" she nodded. "*While Fenrik was undoubtedly dealing with a fair amount of turmoil it didn't want to deal with.*" They walked back into the cargo hold, the kushiban walking straight towards the opalescent sphere almost a foot across that they were talking about.

"If he hadn't settled enough by morning, you may have had to come down to find it." She nodded towards the object that she knew was there and still couldn't see. "Hiding it is damn good at."

"*You can't see it at all, can you?*" she asked curiously. "*You're right, it is good at it. It calms the Force, and wraps it around itself more tightly than most any Jedi can manage.*"

"No, I can't. The only reason I know where it is is because I know where Fenrik put the thing." Tes shook her head. "I am not going to touch it again. Thing burns like hell."

"*This one's more aggressive than most it seems,*" the kushiban said, inspecting it. "*Why don't we look at the rest, I'll take a closer look at this during the trip?*"

"Works for me," the Wolf nodded easily.

Essani hopped down from where she was standing next to the sphere, walking over to the secured statue and its equipment.

"*Some of these weapons haven't been seen since the Hyperspace Wars,*" the kushiban said, looking it up and down. "*These were in the first temple?*"

"Yes," she nodded. "The point of the place, it seemed."

"*The only thing a Sith who found them would be missing would be transport of some kind,*" Essani said, frowning. "*The armor is the worst part. The rest of it has been modified alchemically, but the armor goes well beyond the simple preservative steps taken for the rest.*"

"How so?" Tes regarded it curiously.

"I suspect you'll find that it is lightsaber resistant, most obviously. Not like a cortosis weave in modern armor, but instead turning the blade like it was a physical one. It can probably withstand an average blaster shot as well. This isn't the armor of a Sith assassin or spy; its user had no intention of being subtle. It's like whoever made it forged the power of the Dark Side itself into the armor."

"Impressive," she raised an eyebrow. "No need to block the 'saber when your armor can take it. Completely changes the dynamics of combat, and not many Jedi would survive long enough to pass the info along."

"*And those who might survive probably wouldn't know,*" Essani pointed out. Her lightsaber suddenly flew in from her room, igniting and striking the polearm. Despite the crackle of lightsaber striking metal, there wasn't even a scorch mark left on the handle.

"Whoa!" Tes jumped back, half expecting the statue to come to life in protest to being attacked.

"*The weapons both use a more traditional cortosis alloy. They're as effective for blocking as another lightsaber is. A warrior with these weapons could wreak havoc against any Jedi combatant, quite possibly even take on two or three with a reasonable chance of winning and the proper training.*"

"Sounds like Jay," Tes observed with a more critical look. "Only with much better defenses."

"*And much better training,*" Essani nodded. "*My apologies for the flamboyant display; I was pretty sure I knew what would happen, but I wanted to be certain. Should have warned you.*"

"It's okay, that thing's just had me jumpy since I first saw it." The shewolf shook her head. "It's a bit too lifelike for my tastes."

"*Agreed,*" Essani nodded. "*Though the craftmanship is exceptional. I don't think there are any records of a display like this. Usually a Sith Lord's equipment would be buried with him; I think this is proof that between the two wars, there was another culture that developed, or at least reasserted itself.*"

"They were something before the Sith claimed them," Tes pointed out. "Few cultures can be destroyed so completely that nothing remains while the people still do. Remove the influences, and old ways tend to reassert themselves. It can happen fast too."

"*Very true,*" Essani nodded. "*Though the Sith were likely in control for some fifteen thousand years. Of course the Republic itself is proof of how thin the veneer of a so-called 'common culture' can be. It's still quite interesting, from an archaeological standpoint as well as an artistic one. The only records we have of what the Massassi looked like, before this, are records of Exar Kun's invasion.*"

"This one good enough to take to a geneticist and have it brought to life." She considered the statue. "Though I'd be willing to bet there is plenty on that planet to give more info."

"*Possibly,*" Essani nodded. "*Unfortunately, a fully equipped expedition will have to wait a while. Given what's involved, we can't risk sending anybody who's sensitive and any less well trained than a Master along long-term.*"

"Especially not for the raid on Exar Kun tomb," she nodded. "That won't be an easy run."

"*No it won't, and likely one they just won't make,*" Essani agreed. "*Too dangerous.*"

"A foolish choice, though I understand it." Tes said softly. "The odds are you won't pay for it."

"*And if something goes wrong, the price will likely be far greater,*" Essani pointed out. "*Have you ever flown through the Ossus system?*"

"No," she admitted, not in the mood to try to counter whatever logic the Jedi Master had to back up her side.

"*I'm not too surprised,*" Essani said. "*There's not much there anymore, just a star and the ruins of a once-great world. The trick is, a thousand years ago, there were two stars there. The second was one of Exar Kun's casualties. The risk of releasing that... we'll watch Yavin 4, certainly, but that's one tomb I'd rather not have opened.*"

"The problem with that logic is the assumption that you will be able to stop whoever does go in next before anything happens." She countered without any real interest in the outcome. "And now that its location is confirmed, someone will go after it. It is far too great a prize to leave be for most of the interested parties."

"*I did say watched,*" Essani chuckled slightly. "*And we likely will explore it eventually, I just don't know anybody I'd ask to go in, rather than letting them volunteer. Jedi archaeologists, especially Masters, tend to roam where they feel capable of roaming. So, did you find anything else while you were down there?*"

"Half dozen holocrons, couple lightsabers that need repairs, some crystals and books I can't read." Tes ran off the inventory. "And a dozen hours of recordings from walls of the buildings. Looks like a pictograph language of some kind."

"*You do realize that you've just guaranteed we won't see Master Kareth in the Council chambers for a month?*" Essani chuckled, her fur shading a light gold. "Though I don't doubt it will prove fascinating, assuming there actually is a meaning to it, rather than merely being decorative."

"Unfortunately the fastest and easiest way of finding out is not much of an option now." The shewolf chuckled softly. "Jay could probably translate it in five minutes."

"*Probably,*" Essani nodded. "*Ah well. Later maybe. If you'd like to go rest, feel free, I think I'll poke around the sphere a bit longer. I could use the meditation.*"

"I'll see you then, Master." Tes inclined her head slightly and headed back to her quarters as the kushiban hopped up next to the iridescent orb and settled in to meditate.

Fenrik stretched languidly after he finished meditating, holstering his lightsaber and starting out of the room. Jay wasn't in the room, which wasn't surprising really. He did, however, have a feeling he knew where he was... and that it might be a good idea to go check on him before he stumbled onto something dangerous. The statue and orb weren't the only things they'd brought back, after all, though probably the ones he was interested in.

The Panther walked into the cargo hold, seeing Jay sitting calmly before the Massassi statue, meditating for all appearances.

"Finding out anything interesting?" He asked quietly.

"A great deal," the young tom nodded. "I should be able to create Light-side variants when we get back to the Temple."

"Really?" Fenrik asked, sitting down next to him. "That's good news."

"I think so," he nodded. "We'll see what the Council thinks of it when I sort it out."

"You'd actually stop if they told you not to?" Fenrik asked knowingly.

"Not a chance in hell." He grinned at his mate. "I just may be the only one who gets any use out of it."

"If you can find a way to do it, I have a few ideas that might get some use out of it," Fenrik chuckled. "I don't know about you, but if you found a way to do with robes what that guy did with that shield, I think it'd make fights a lot safer."

"It will," Jay nodded. "I don't know about robes, but a light body armor to wear under them is definitely viable. Ditto with my Glovatrix. It's an interesting concept. They wove Force directly into the objects."

"That's definitely tricky," Fenrik observed. "Though similar to how you build a tuned lightsaber. Not the same, but kinda similar ... probably more universal though."

"It's all a matter of how you look at it, and power in general." Jay smiled slightly. "I look at it a little differently than most here. Makes things like this easier."

"Just keep me up to date on how it works," Fenrik smiled, kissing Jay lightly. "Be good to see something the Sith used turned to a good reason for once, instead of the other way around."

"Yap," he grinned. "It's easier than they'd lead you to believe too."

"Just remember that you're the one who can make gadgets tell you how they work," Fenrik chuckled. "You don't have to trial-and-error it based on what you saw before what you're trying to recreate was too hacked up to be fixed."

"I know," Jay chuckled and nuzzled him. "Everybody's got their gifts."

"Very true," Fenrik smiled, returning the nuzzle. "Out of curiosity, anything unusual about the statue besides the obvious?"

"Not really. Though it has a lot of strong impressions of the artist's feelings towards Ludo Ragnos."

"And what were they, if I dare ask?" Fenrik chuckled slightly, looking up at the fierce warrior.

"He's a hero, pure and simple." Jay said softly. "A Sith, yes, but an honored and respected one by his own people."

"Different standards I suppose," Fenrik murmured, though Jay didn't need to feel it to know that the response surprised him.

"It's all about perspective." He said simply. "It's the winners who write the history after all. Not every monster is one. Some just lost."

"True," Fenrik nodded, wrapping an arm around Jay lightly. "Just kinda hard to think of somebody who probably worshipped the Dark Side as being a hero, even in the eyes of somebody else who probably did."

"I know," he leaned into the embrace. "But not everyone thinks like that. My family is close enough to the line to make it easy to see both sides. I'm still not sure how history will remember us, once we're no longer part of the picture."

"No way to know for sure," Fenrik agreed, rubbing Jay's side lightly. "For anybody. The mistakes usually live on long past those who try to remember the good, even for the Order."

"Yeah," he sighed and let his eyes close, content to be in his mate's arms for a time. "One thing we've learned is that recorded history is rarely reliable, even when there is an effort to make it that way. Details are lost, future generations change it, reinterpret it, or just change themselves so the truth no longer means what it used to."

"And often all of the above," Fenrik nodded. "Or they just forget it altogether when what was recorded is lost. There's a lot of that in here right now," he mused, looking around the cargo hold, knowing just how much supposedly lost history had been found on this trip.

"And a lot that's still there." He added. "It's hard to comprehend just how much has been lost, just of the Order's history, never mind the rest."

"Well, twenty-five thousand years is a lot to keep track of," Fenrik chuckled slightly. "And that's just the Republic era."

"I know, it just ... it seems so careless, if not downright intentional. It's not like there has been any major disruptions that could take out the records."

"Jay? We're leaving one of them now. There was so much lost when Exar Kun wiped out Ossus and attacked Coruscant. Between that and theft, a lot of the Jedi's history was lost that way. The rest... well, it could well be intentional on some parts. After all, it's not like most planets particularly want to remember the rough patches when they're living in the 'pinnacle of all civilization.'"

Even though he bristled, the rage and outrage just barely contained, Jay kept his voice calm. "New subject. Before I decide it'll be good to finish the job."

"Right," Fenrik nodded, seriously wishing he hadn't brought it up. Sometimes it was a little too easy to forget that Jay had very different hot buttons than anyone else he knew and reacted more strongly than even Master Kiris had to slavery. "So, looking forward to seeing Shi when we get back home?" He asked, picking what he thought was the safest possible topic to discuss.

"Yes," he smiled and worked to settle himself, shoving the history lesson to the same place in his mind as he kept his belief about droids. "Hopefully things have gone well for her."

"I'm sure they did," Fenrik smiled, kissing Jay lightly. "Probably going to be sitting there waiting for us when we get back too, and ready to explain just what the heck she needed that cooler for in her 'saber."

"Probably to increase the efficiency of it. Her crystals are from an ice world."

"True," Fenrik nodded. "Just seems odd. I know there've been other 'sabers with crystals like that that haven't used 'em. Not something I've really seen before." He chuckled slightly. "What can I say? You're not the only curious one."

"It's like mine," Jay nuzzled him. "They work without the enhancements, but they work better with them. It's not like anyone else has had the choice to super cool their crystals."

"True," Fenrik admitted, nuzzling him back. "Maybe hanging around you's rubbing off on her," he grinned.

"I can think of worse things." Jay snickered and kissed him softly, a lingering contact that heated Fenrik's entire body.

"Mmm ... and I can think of a few better things we could be doing with our time than sitting in the cargo hold and chatting," the Panther purred.

"Like being in our quarters making you whimper for more?" Jay grinned at him with a low rumble.

"Mmm ... or making you do the same," Fenrik purred, standing up and helping Jay to his feet. "Either way, testin' out the soundproofing you put in here," he winked.

"I've got time to study them later." Jay chuckled and slid a hand down Fenrik's back to cup his ass while they walked through the halls. "You are going to be on the bottom today."

"You say that like I haven't made you whimper from there," Fenrik smirked, rubbing his back then pulling him close for a heated kiss that left no doubts that they were both physically turned on enough to go for it where they stood. "Though you aren't gonna get any complaints from me," he purred.

"Good." Jay licked his whiskers back and all but pulled his mate into the large quarters. "Because I'm in the mood to fuck you senseless on both ends."

"Promises, promises," Fenrik smirked, stripping Jay's robes off as the door closed behind them. "You're welcome to try though," he winked and found his mouth claimed by a kiss that all but made him whimper while he was stripped to the fur as well. Before it ended, Fenrik was reminded of Jay's best Force-skill as invisible hands caressed his cock and gently began to stretch his ass.

"Let me taste you?" He asked with a soft moan, kissing Jay's neck hungrily.

"Yes," he rumbled and guided his lover to his knees and caressed his rounded, velvety ears.

Fenrik nuzzled his crotch eagerly, licking at his sheath and fondling his balls. He reached back with one finger to tease Jay's own ass, his rough, warm tongue caressing Jay's silky sheath. The pleasure and affection that all but rolled from Jay as he worked on pleasing him was an intoxicant of a very real kind, one that only got stronger as he breathed in the rich male musk that smelled of his mate concentrated.

Fenrik could feel when Jay wanted more; for all the kat was gifted at hiding, he never hid anything in the bedroom. The Panther grinned as he took Jay's cock into his mouth, suckling it hungrily and squeezing his balls. He teased Jay's barbs with his tongue, purring deep in his throat as it gained a low moan and Jay closed his hands around the back of his head with a light thrust.

He rumbled hungrily as he pleasured his mate, letting him thrust, bobbing his head in a counter to his thrusts. He looked up into the younger tom's eyes, his own shining lustily. Jay knew all his weaknesses, but he knew of all Jay's in return.

In a mood like this, it was giving the smaller tom the illusion of using him. It didn't surface often, but Jay did have a potent dominant streak in him.

The up side was that even in this mood, he was still considerate of his lover's pleasure, unlike so many who wanted control.

Fenrik mumbled and relaxed when he felt more of Jay's weight lean against him, pulling his head forward to be fucked until Jay's pleasure rose to his limit.

He relaxed his throat, still working Jay's shaft with his lips and tongue, knowing it wouldn't be long before he'd get the first blasts of his seed.

Jay growled, his claws pinpricks against Fenrik's skull. Damn it was good when he let himself go like this and took his pleasure as he wished. Even as he shuddered and thrust hard into the Panther's mouth he could feel the willingness in Fenrik's relaxed body and let the pleasure take over with a roar.

Fenrik drank down his hot, bittersweet seed hungrily, savoring the taste of it as it hit the back of his throat, the last spurts landing on his tongue before he eagerly licked Jay clean, enjoying the way Jay felt as he came down.

"Now," Jay rumbled hotly as he pulled his lover to his feet and to the bed. "Let's see that vaunted Jedi self control in action."

"Now you know you won't beat me like that," Fenrik smirked as he got comfortable on his arms and knees with his tail raised shamelessly and his hard cock a tempting black rod hanging down between his legs.

"We'll see," he grinned down as Force bound Fenrik where he wanted, adjusting the Panther's position slightly, while he got the real bindings and secured his wrists, calves and thighs in place.

"What do you have in mind now?" Fenrik asked, looking back over his shoulder with an inquisitive smirk.

"Make me come before you do." He rumbled and cupped Fenrik's face for a searing kiss.

"Oh I think I can manage that," the Panther grinned as their lips parted. He shuddered and moaned throatily when his ass was stretched open again, the Force stroking his body inside and out.

"We'll see." Jay grinned and stroked his ears before pressing his hard cock into Fenrik's mouth again, this time to enjoy the Panther's skills.

Fenrik rumbled, trying to focus on getting his lover off again, teasing each of his barbs with his rough tongue and skilled mouth. The fullness in his ass, and the invisible hand now stroking his cock made it hard to concentrate, but he had plenty of experience at this particular game, one of Jay's favorites.

"Mmm, that's my Panther." Jay rumbled, his pleasure unrestrained and hot despite the orgasm only minutes before.

"All yours," Fenrik managed to mumble around his cock, bobbing his head and wishing he could use his hands right now, but knowing he wouldn't need to in order to win their little contest.

He moaned as Jay's telekinetic thrusting rubbed against his prostate, but tried to focus on the flavor and feel of the shaft in his mouth, a sort of meditation that neither of his Masters would have been all that likely to think of, or necessarily approve of if they had. It still worked, and worked well, even with the uneven nature of their current arousal levels.

"Oh, yeah ... suck me off." Jay closed his eyes and let his head drift back, letting the pleasure wash over him and not challenging his shift in mood so much earlier than it usually happened.

Fenrik grinned and purred, working his cock and trying to give him the pleasure they both enjoyed so much. He could tell Jay needed it tonight, and he wasn't inclined to deny him in the least. He shuddered slightly when Jay's hands tightened around his skull. It wasn't just the physical pleasure coming from Jay, or his own body, but the emotions and half-worded sentences of how much he meant to the rusty-furred tom. Jay all but offered his soul to his mates at night.

He wished he could say even half of it back right now. Instead, groaning as Jay's telekinetic fingers worked his body expertly, he took Jay's shaft into his mouth until his nose was pressed into the younger tom's slightly rougher pubes, inhaling the potent scent of his arousal and purring around his tip.

"Ohhhh, yes." Jay's throaty groan was the only warning either of them got before his body stiffened and shot a load of come into the waiting mouth.

Fenrik drank down the hot fluids, letting himself go as Jay's attentions forced him over the edge, his balls emptying themselves onto the sheets.

"Mmmm, so does my Panther want his reward for winning?" Jay rumbled excitedly as he was licked clean.

"Yes please," Fenrik rumbled deeply, swishing his tail excitedly as he wriggled his rump.

"Such a hot ass you have too," he grinned and moved down the bed, his hand stroking his lover's back until he squeezed the Panther's ass and hot between his legs. "So kissable," he added as he kissed his way along his ass before teasing the well-stretched pucker with his tongue.

"Ooh..." Fenrik groaned, then giggled. "So you're saying you like kissing my ass?" He asked, teasing his lover's ears with the tip of his tail.

"Same as you love kissing mine," he grinned and caught the wayward tail in his jaws before driving into Fenrik's body with a lusty rumble.

"Oh yesss," Fenrik groaned, squeezing down around the length invading his body. The pleasure and his mate's hand kept him hard as he was fucked relentlessly.

He panted hard, milking Jay with his shaft. His mate's pleasure and desires washed over him, sweeping him up into a potent combination of lust and love. As difficult as it was to focus on anything but not coming immediately, he couldn't miss the desire rising in his mate to reverse their positions, only with brute strength holding him in submission.

Jay growled and let Fenrik's tail go to lean forward and grab his scruff, pulling his lover off the bed by it until Fenrik's arms were stretched tight between his bonds and Jay's jaws.

He purred through his tight throat, milking Jay's shaft and preparing to break loose as soon as the younger tom was finished.

He was going to give Jay a night he wouldn't forget for a long, long time.

He felt the tightness building in Jay's body, the rusty tom close to the edge despite having come twice already.

"Fill me, Jay," he groaned, tightening his body eagerly mere moments before Jay let go of his scruff and roared, his balls emptying their hot load deep into Fenrik's body, a pleasure that easily overcame the pinpricks of Jay's claws digging into his hips.

Besides, he fully intended to return those pricks tenfold before he was done.

He let Jay finish, rumbling deeply, his cock rock hard as the younger tom pumped his bowels full of seed. As soon as Jay was done, Fenrik pulled off of him, ripping free of the tie-downs and rolling over on top of Jay with a lusty, possessive rumble that was met with a moment of tension from surprise, then a hungry rumble and complete surrender.

"Use me, lover." Jay breathed.

"Like you've never been used before," Fenrik promised, sinking his length into Jay's barely stretched ass with a deep groan before he bit down on the younger tom's shoulder roughly, fucking him for all he was worth.

Despite the sound of surprised pain, Jay soon groaned and wrapped his legs around Fenrik's while his hands rubbed the Panther's back and his ass tightened around the hard rod pounding into it.

"Ohhhh, you are in a mood." Jay arched up as his prostate was driven into relentlessly, keeping him hard and trembling.

"Like you're not?" Fenrik asked with a smirk as he released Jay's shoulder. "You know what to do if it's too much," he rumbled, biting the other shoulder roughly, though not enough to break the skin as he groaned and pumped a load of seed into Jay's ass.

"Like you've ever pushed me that far." He whimpered at the hot fullness of Fenrik's come inside him, soaking his insides in a pleasurable, slick warmness.

Fenrik let out a deep, satisfied rumble as his tail lashed above him. He started fucking Jay hungrily again almost before his cock had stopped spasming, raking his sides with his claws.

They'd played rough before, but Jay couldn't help the feeling that this was only going to get more intense. Just the thought that Fenrik was going to push the limits for real made Jay shiver in excitement before he relaxed with a deep moan and gave himself over to the Panther's will without reservation.

Fenrik slowed his thrusts, pulling out of Jay with a moan.

"Hands and knees, lover," he purred lustily. "Want to be able to really get inside you."

He nodded and rolled over, taking the same position that Fenrik had been in a few minutes before, his tail waving over his back.

Fenrik completed the reversal by sinking himself into Jay's body, biting his scruff hard and gripping his hips tightly. He pounded himself into the younger tom's ass eagerly, his barbs raking the nerve-dense flesh of his anus as he slammed his tip into his prostate. The mewing and shuddering pleasure that crashed into Fenrik with each thrust gave him the perfect way to time his actions, when to push at just the right moments and to brace himself for the intensity of his lover's orgasm when it began to spiral out of control.

He pulled back slightly so Jay could climax without pulling him over the edge with him quite yet. Still, his claws pricked through the rusty fur as he came close, finishing Jay off as quickly as he could so he had a panting, lax tom under him with no real ability to fight after four orgasms in less than an hour.

He released his scruff, licking the back of his ear tenderly before kissing his head.

"What would you say if I told you I was going to take you until I couldn't take it anymore, or until you begged me to stop?" He asked with a rumble and relished the shiver that brought.

"Please." Jay moaned. "Please take me."

Fenrik didn't need to be an empath to feel just how much he meant it. He started thrusting into Jay's willing, compliant body hard and fast, his claws digging into Jay's thighs lightly. He began to take the younger tom just as hungrily as his second Master had ever taken his own mate.

It was intoxicating to let go like this, and even more so to feel the partner under him getting off on it just as much. Mews and whimpers reached his ears, but it was the Force and scent that saturated the air around them that guided Fenrik's growing savagery and let him ignore the smell of blood that was slowly growing.

He sank his teeth into Jay's shoulders, the metallic flavor in his mouth reminding him to take a little care for his partner as he kept pounding his ass, pumping his seed into it at least twice more before he even started to slow down. It was obvious enough that Jay wasn't going to stop him, at least not short of a crimpling injury.

He'd have to make sure he stopped himself short of that. Whether or not Shi could patch up anything he did, which she probably could if he couldn't, he didn't like the idea of hurting him that badly.

"More," Jay shuddered in response, his cock hard and dripping come.

The submissive plea was enough to make Fenrik focus on him again, starting to pound into his prostate even as blood matted his fur, staining Fenrik's teeth and claws.

"*Jay, are you awake?*" Essani asked her Padawan mentally when neither he nor Fenrik were present for breakfast. She knew they'd been rough the night before, but hadn't expected they'd be so rough as to cause any serious damage.

"*Yes, Master.*" He responded quickly, the shadow of pain still present in his mind, though nothing indicated he was in trouble.

"*Do you want me to come check on you?*" She asked, her concern clear. "*You feel like you could use a healer.*"

"*I'm sure I do,*" he admitted. "*I'm not hurt bad, things got a little rougher than planned.*"

"*Not so rough we can't fix up the worst,*" Fenrik added, breaking into the telepathic communication. "*Though it would probably be a good idea if you checked him out later to make sure we've done enough,*" he added.

"*I will,*" the kushiban agreed, her disapproval of what had happened as clear as the fact that it wouldn't help to argue the point with her.

"*Yes, Master.*" Jay replied, acknowledge her disapproval as well as the fact that he didn't regret what he'd done.

"*Can you answer something for me, Tes?*" Essani asked as the Wolf sat down to eat and she focused on the world around her again. "*It's somewhat personal.*"

"If I can," she nodded, curious what the Jedi Master could be wondering about.

"*What's the appeal of the sort of rough 'play' so many predators seem to enjoy? Jay and Fenrik are currently practicing their healing skills on account of it.*"

"That one's complicated," Tes admitted as she tried to form a coherent answer. "I can't speak for them, but for most people, it's erotic to surrender that much control to someone, to trust that they won't go too far and hurt you more than you can take. It seems to be normal for Panthers too, to get off on that level of domination."

"*Might be a feline thing,*" Essani mused. "*Still, I would imagine the pain would offset any pleasure involved, especially when your partner isn't capable of healing you later.*"

"It doesn't." She shook her head. "It is present in most races to some extent. It's probably more prevalent in canines than most; we just don't have the claws that inflict damage that they do. Pain and pleasure are very close to each other at a certain intensity."

"*I suppose it just doesn't make too much sense when pain usually means becoming lunch,*" Essani said, chalking it up to yet another of the oddities involved in sex. "*I don't suppose you have any advice for how to be involved in that sort of thing without leaving your partner unable to move comfortably the next morning?*"

"What they already have, honestly. Practice and a good Healer nearby." Tes paused. "I'm sure Shi usually takes care of whoever was on the bottom on a given night. The boys were both really wound up from the last couple days. It's a hell of a stress relief method for both sides."

"*I suppose,*" Essani granted. "*Though they usually don't end up being that rough.*"

Just then, Fenrik and Jay started into the room, cutting off Tes' response.

"Hi guys," she smiled at the pair, assessing just how rough they had been, given how Jay still was. "Two Tetinol will work wonders on that."

"You have some on board?" Fenrik asked as Jay sat down and claimed his share of the breakfast she'd put out. "I can go and grab a couple for him if you do."

"In the cupboard," she motioned to one of the top ones in the galley. "Standard bottle."

"Right," the Panther nodded, moving to reach up and pull the bottle down, shaking a pair of pills out and putting the bottle back, handing the pills to Jay before sitting down next to him.

"*Were you two able to take care of most of the wounds?*" Essani asked Jay and Fenrik after Jay had downed the pills.

"Yes," Jay nodded after a bite of scrambled eggs and meat. "The bleeding's all under control. I'm just a bit sore."

"And he wasn't still bleeding this morning," Fenrik added quickly, knowing that was what Essani was about to ask next as her fur instantly became a dark grey. "He just opened up a couple of the deeper scratches when he tried moving. We managed to get them closed up, though I think Shi'll want to hurt me later for not being up to her par."

"He wouldn't hurt me that badly, Master." Jay said firmly, an almost exact tone reversal of most lectures. "I'm sore, but I'm not injured."

"*Very well,*" she allowed. "*Though I still want to make sure I don't have to do any work myself before we get back to Coruscant later.*" She started on her breakfast, her fur shifting back to white.

"Yes, Master." Jay nodded without hesitation.

"We'll be more careful in the future, Master Essani," Fenrik promised. "Seven years and this is the worst that's happened, I don't expect it'll happen again any time soon."

"Yeah, it's not like we play rough all that often anyway." Jay added with a bit of a blush as he realized his sex life was the subject of breakfast conversation.

"You should've heard what we were talking about on the ground," Tes teased, earning a blush from both felines before Jay heard the Sharufa telling him a message had arrived, marked for Tes and listed at a high priority, though not urgent.

"Tes, Doruth sent a message. High Priority." He went for the change of subject.

"About what?" She focused instantly.

He paused reviewing it quickly. "His mission. You should hear it from him." He decided rather than being the one to tell her one of her packmates had been in critical condition for over a week.

"All right," she nodded and grabbed her cup before heading to the bridge to view it.

"Tes, it's Doruth," the brief message started. "I'm gonna keep this short, I have to go meet Ragil in a couple minutes. Turns out there was some sort of new species down on Kessel that was munching on the miners. I can kinda understand why they didn't want to work, and that's before you look at the conditions they work in normally.

"I wanted to be sure you heard it from me first though. When the thing first showed up, most of the Pack's weapons weren't doing any serious damage, and Ragil took rear guard while I got the others out. The spider-thing got close enough to bite him and headed back into the tunnels along with him. I got him out, but he spent the next few days in a bacta tank before he was back up on his feet. He's doing pretty well now, no permanent damage, but he'll probably be on light duty until you get back. Hope it's not too much longer before you are, hon; I miss you, and so do the others. See you when you hit Coruscant." The message ended; to judge by the date stamp for when it had been sent out about half a week before, Ragil had better be off light duty by the time they got back.

"I miss you too, Doruth." She said softly and double-checked the navigation. "Two days and we're home. It won't be soon enough for me."

"If I didn't know any better, I'd say they were rolling out the red carpet," Fenrik chuckled as the Sharufa flew into its docking berth. It was easy to see why he was saying that; unlike most arrivals, when there were only one or two people there to greet them at best, there was a small crowd of Wolves eagerly awaiting their Alpha's return, a familiar Panther in front of the pack.

"*They are, in their way,*" Essani chuckled, sitting near the two younger Jedi and waiting for the sleek transport to land.

"Wolves hate to be separated." Jay added. "Tes' return is a big deal for them, even before you take into account her mate's there."

"Didn't say I was surprised," Fenrik pointed out with a chuckle. He reached out mentally, expecting to find Shi was behind the crowd, only to find she wasn't there yet.

"Think Shi's still in transit," he told Jay.

"It's not like she had a transport at her disposal," he said softly, though the disappointment was there too. "Come on. Let's get unpacked. Maybe she's sent a message."

"Probably," Fenrik said, reaching over to squeeze his shoulder lightly as they finally landed and the hatch open opened. "She probably misses you just as much."

Tes was first out to no one's surprise, and was almost immediately assaulted by four Wolves who touched and sniffed and licked to reaffirm their pack bond while Doruth held back from the tangle of bodies and wagging tails

Hanging back or not, they all knew that he'd be in there just as soon as the pack was starting to back off slightly. As Jay and Fenrik were starting off the ship, he got his opening, moving through the group and hugging his mate tight, kissing her tenderly.

It made both toms wish their own other mate was there too as they started back towards their quarters.

"I hope everything works out for her with her lightsaber." Jay said softly with a slight smile for the energetic welcome going on behind them.

"C'mon," Fenrik half-grinned. "Let's get back to our room and see if she's left word. With our luck, she's stuck catching up on her training or something."

"Mmm, or waiting in our quarters." Jay rumbled.

"Now that I could live with," Fenrik grinned, his stride quickening slightly.

"Well, if she's not, we'll just have to pretend, won't we?" Jay grinned and opened the door to their quarters.

"Looks like we'll be pretending," Fenrik observed as he stepped inside, unable to hide the slight disappointment he felt. "She's left a message though, from the look of it."

Jay nodded and brought the message up with a thought.

"Hey guys," Shivasta's image said as it appeared in front of the projector. "Afraid I might not be there when you get home; I ended up taking a bit longer than I'd expected. Things were a little rough on Garosh; I had to go through a few days of extra rituals before they were convinced I wasn't coming to help take them over. I'll tell you the story when I get home, should be later tonight according to the Lemur who's been fussing over me." She chuckled slightly, smiling.

"I'm not sure if it's his Captain's orders or if he's just worried, but I think somebody on this ship is convinced that all Jedi need somebody to keep an eye on them so they don't accidentally hurt themselves.

"At any rate, just a quick message to say I should be home soon. Gods I've missed you two - so no fair tiring each other out before I get home," she winked, "that's gonna be my job. Love you both! See you in a few hours." The projector turned off, the message finished.

"Figures that something'd go wrong," Fenrik chuckled slightly, nuzzling his mate and starting to unpack.

"Yeah, but she's going to be home tonight." Jay grinned and hugged him.

"I got a message from Mother while I was gone." Tes rumbled happily, snuggled up against Doruth's powerful body as they cooled down from their reunion. "She'll pay for two cubs for us and has the lawyers who know how to talk to the Kaminoans."

"Great," Doruth smiled, kissing her softly. "You think it's best to go through her resources instead of the Order's?"

"I'd rather the Order did not have a claim on them," she said softly, a bit uncomfortable with the truth. "I've given them four of four pups already, I'm sure they will want most of this litter too. Maybe they will become Jedi, but I don't want them to have been paid for by the Order."

"All right," Doruth nodded. "Do you want to try and make either of the kits sensitives?" He asked her with a nuzzle.

"Inclined to, yes," Tes nodded. "Give them the same chances as their siblings."

"All right," Doruth nodded, nuzzling her throat. "I'll want to send your mother's contacts some genetic data we have. Nothing that proves sensitivity conclusively, but we have some stuff that seems to be common among sensitives more than the general public."

"Good," she shifted to kiss him softly. "Just so you're warned, Mother is going to have a fit if she doesn't get an heir out of this litter, Sensitive or not. It doesn't look like any of the first aren't going to find a Master."

"Understood," Doruth nodded slightly. "Though it's a little young to be sure yet," he pointed out. "The Order won't object too strongly if they don't get all the sensitive pups, they're just concerned with what might happen to them if they aren't trained. We might find a work-around that'll make everybody happy."

"Home schooling, Custos training," Tes suggested. "It's not like we don't know what we're doing."

"That's what I'd been thinking," he nodded. "They probably wouldn't get the full Jedi training, but they'll probably have more than enough other things to worry about with being the family heir."

"Yes," she agreed with a smile. "There is a great deal to learn, and the hands on solo training tends to begin around fourteen."

"Is that when you took off across the galaxy?" Doruth asked teasingly.

"Yap," she smirked back at him. "Had my own ship and pack by then."

"Mmm ... just a little smuggling prodigy, weren't you?" He asked, kissing her and rolling over on top of her. "Not that that's your only skill," he purred.

"Or I wouldn't have held your interest for so long," she grinned and reached between them to stroke his half hard cock, playing with the barbs to encourage him.

"Mmm ... you might be surprised," he rumbled, sealing his muzzle against hers and pressing himself into her tight, slick body that was still soaked with his seed from previous hours.

Shivasta rolled her head with an internal groan, feeling the vertebrae in her neck pop as she stretched out after the interminably long ride in the air cab from the landing site. She wished that she'd been able to get a transport from the temple, but that just hadn't worked out.

Ah well. She was going to be perfectly honest; she could have had to climb her way out of a trash pit by hand and she wouldn't have been any less happy about getting home. As much as the ride sucked, what she knew was waiting for her was more than enough to make up for it.

The cab touched down in the Temple's courtyard, and Shi stepped out with a grin as she saw Jay and Fen hurrying over to meet her.

"Welcome home," Jay rumbled and swept her into a tight embrace and nuzzle to her neck as he breathed deeply of her scent.

"Good to be here," she sighed happily, hugging him back just as tightly and nuzzling his neck as Fenrik hugged her from behind. "Mmm ... feels so good to feel you guys again," she murmured, closing her eyes contentedly for a moment.

"In the mood to feel a little more of us?" Jay purred throatily and stepped back slightly to look at her.

"Mmm ... you tempt me," she grinned. "Though we should definitely get back to our quarters first. Want to play, or hear how things went first?"

"Let's hear how things went," he purred and brushed a strand of blue hair from her cheek before guiding her into the Temple and the room none of them had seen enough of recently.

"Definitely not how I'd expected it to," she admitted as they walked on in. "And a story better told in our rooms, maybe over a little dinner?" She asked hopefully.

"Anytime, Shi." Jay smiled and sent an order ahead. "Should be ready when we get there."

"Didn't they feed you on that ship?" Fenrik asked with a chuckle.

"Yes," she said, rolling her eyes slightly and leaning over to nuzzle his shoulder lightly. "But somehow, it's never quite the same as when you've got company."

"And when the food hasn't been sitting in the cargo hold since you left Coruscant," Fenrik chuckled knowingly.

"I'm not even going to dignify that with an answer," Shi said with a giggle.

"Then some dantari steak will be a nice change." Jay purred as the door opened to their quarters.

"After seven years with you guys I'm lucky I'm not spoiled," Shivasta grinned.

"Only because you spend too much time trying to spoil us right back," Fenrik chuckled as the door closed behind them. "So, got your lightsaber built?"

"Of course," she smiled. "Not as fancy as either of yours, but it should do the trick."

"Did the temperature regulator do what you wanted it to?" Jay asked curiously as they sat down to a set table fragrant with meat stewed in fruits and other goodies.

"Yep," she nodded, taking her seat and enjoying the smell of the fresh, hot meal. "Thanks for putting it together for me. I ended up using a regular crystal for the main one, but I actually used some of the ice from the cave walls for the other two."

"That's definitely... unique," Fenrik admitted. "They hold up to use?"

"Just fine," she nodded. "The heat isn't an issue until after the focusing lens, after all, and with the regulator it keeps the internals at a low enough level they won't melt."

"And by the time it's out of its range, it honestly won't be much of an issue anymore." Jay nodded thoughtfully, though he had to admit he did not like the idea of her lightsaber being so much more fragile than most. "Sounds like you had quite an experience."

"By the time it's out of it long enough to cause any damage, I'll be long dead," she nodded seriously. "And before you start worrying, it's not just raw ice, I did a little work on them while I was prepping them, a technique the Walkers use to build their traditional weapons and armor."

"All right," Fenrik nodded, relaxing a bit. "That sounds better. So, what happened there?" He pressed, as curious as Jay was.

"Well, I found out that there's a civil war brewing," she admitted. "It might take a while to come to a head, but some of the clans are extremely for the Republic, others are more of an isolationist group, or at least don't want as much to do with them." She sighed, shaking her head a bit. "And of course, the Stormwardens are on the isolationist side."

"When it happens, do you plan to fight for them?" Jay asked seriously after a bite of steak.

"Probably," she said quietly, earning a slightly surprised look from Fenrik.

"Shi, I know they're your clan, but you're not a warrior...."

"No, I'm not," she admitted. "But I saw it already. I will be involved, and I can't imagine fighting against them. Besides, if I involve myself that way, I might be able to bring an end to it without too much bloodshed."

"Don't discount the possibility that you'll be fighting for them as a Healer, not a warrior." Jay added. "I know enough about visions to know they aren't literal."

"I know," Shivasta nodded. "Even if it wasn't literally though, this vision was fairly explicit that I'd be involved centrally. For obvious reasons, I'd like to try and keep the whole thing quiet," she said softly. "The Jedi could be interpreted as having a duty to intervene on the side of the Republic if this got out. There's already been enough pain because of how we have interfered."

Jay nodded. "And the Jedi have a vested interest in having the war go against your family."

"I'm afraid that might influence things," she nodded. "I don't think the Order would interfere without a direct request, but I don't think they'll take well to the idea of me going to interfere on the other side even if we get one from the Stormwardens."

"They'd probably complain more about you going into a war zone," Fenrik said softly. "Are you sure it's going to go down that way?"

"Unless somebody manages to bring the two sides together one way or the other, yes," Shivasta nodded. "It's not just a clan war, or a territory war, like we used to have. This one is a full-blown war to control the future of Garosh. To be honest, there are probably Stormwardens on both sides of the conflict, not that they'd admit to it."

"I doubt those who go against their clans stay with them long after voicing it." Jay shook his head. "Or still be claimed as members."

"Depends on how they voice it," Shivasta said softly. "Some of them probably leave for the other clans that would agree with them. Others are exiled ... it depends on the laws they break in disagreeing. Had a hell of a time convincing them that I was worth being allowed to do what I had to because of it."

"I can't say I'm surprised," Jay admitted. "War does that to people, even when you have the best intentions."

"And when you have a clan that's understandably proud of their heritage, which you only know based on second-hand information," Shi nodded. "That's why I took as long as I did; they didn't exactly think it was a good idea to skimp on the purification rituals before I went in."

"At least they did accept you, in the end." Jay pointed out, a small voice in his mind wondering if he'd be so lucky when he finally met his people again. "No one ever said a Jedi's life would be an easy one."

"Don't get me wrong, I'm not really complaining," Shi smiled slightly. "And it's true, nobody ever did. I just wonder if it'll really be possible to be faithful to both. I can see why the Jedi prefer that people try to avoid those sorts of strong ties... the conflicts can be nasty."

"They want your first, and preferably only, ties to be to the Order." Jay shrugged. "No different than most groups, really. Jedi are just better known for it."

"There is a bit more to it than that, Jay," Fenrik said softly. "Like Shi said, it can be pretty nasty when you have to choose between the two, especially if you don't know how to choose."

Both of them could feel him disagree, and that he just didn't feel it was worth debating.

"Just glad they don't mind our ties," Shi said, shaking her head slightly. "So, how'd your trip go? I've been talkin' about mine, you guys haven't said a word yet," she smiled, trying to change the subject.

"Mmm, lets see, we found the Heart of the Guardian, the Mantle of the Force, dozens of holocrons from the time of Exar Kun and before, a way to create Force-imbued armor and weapons, something that Master Essani really likes and I still can't see and a statue that looks like it could come to life at any second," Jay counted off on his fingers, going through one hand twice. "For the high points."

"You win," Shi chuckled, shaking her head in disbelief as she ate. "What about what you were trying to run into?"

"Jay and Duvam got along pretty well, from what I saw," Fenrik chuckled. "And the thing he can't see is some sort of meditation orb from what I can gather. We're still working on some of the stuff he mentioned too. We found some Sith gear, for example, that he's still trying to figure out how to duplicate for the Jedi."

"I've only had two days to work on it!" Jay protested playfully.

"What? And you don't have enough prototypes to outfit half the Order yet?" Shi asked, giggling as she leaned over to kiss him lightly on the cheek. "Mmm ... don't worry; we'll give you at least a week before we get on your case."

"A week if you don't see me," Jay countered with a smirking grin.

"Now that's just crazy talk," she grinned. "After all, I just got home!"

"And the faster we finish dinner, the faster we can welcome you properly," Fenrik grinned at her.

"You can't have both me and my inventions in half normal time," Jay winked at her. "You want to play with the kat, you've got to give him longer to work."

"Oh all right," Shi giggled, kissing him again and received a lick on the nose in return. "A month maybe."

"That'll give plenty of time to attend to my duties to my mates." Jay rumbled with a lusty grin.

"And for us to attend to you," Fenrik grinned back, finishing his meal and leaning over to kiss Shi's cheek. "I think we're entitled to a bit of R&R tonight."

Hours later, the well-sated threesome was snuggled up in bed for the first time in months. Shivasta held Jay close with a happy sigh, Fenrik snuggled up against her back. She really didn't want to do anything to break the mood, but as her hands strayed over Jay's thighs, shoulders, and the wounds on both, she had to ask.

"You and Fenrik get a little rough a couple nights ago?" She asked him quietly.

"Yeah," he murmured. "A lot rough, really."

"This is after you two tried to heal it, isn't it?" She asked. That meant a lot more than she'd known them to ever do before.

"Uh-hu," he nodded and nuzzled her.

It sent a twinge of frustration through her that she tried to keep hidden fairly successfully. This was a lot more than she'd ever been interested in, granted, but it was just one more sign of how much more comfortable the two toms were with each other than they were with her.

"Want me to try and finish the job?" She asked him.

"Yes, please," he kissed her softly.

She focused for a few moments, visualizing her lover in the Force, finding the disturbances his injuries had caused and fixing them. Before long, she knew that the only damage left would be cosmetic, and minor at that. But that first day ... Jay must have been sore as hell if he still looked like this three days later and after they'd done what they could.

"Might take a little bit for the fur to grow back in those spots," she murmured, "but it's fixed."

"Thank you, love." He purred and snuggled close to her, his affection and appreciation clear to her.

"You're welcome," she murmured, scratching his back lightly. She couldn't understand it, especially times like this. She couldn't quite figure out what it was that let the two of them be so much closer so often, and still let Jay feel the way he did for her. She couldn't believe he was really holding anything back there. "Jay?" She asked him softly. "Why is it the two of you are so much closer like this?"

"Urr?" He shifted to look her in the eye, confusion written on his face.

She sighed mentally, trying to come up with a better way to word it.

"You don't hold back with him," she explained. "I know you love us both, but sometimes... it feels like you're more comfortable with Fenrik."

Jay dropped his eyes. "Because I am." He admitted softly. "I love you, Shi. But you're not feline."

"Is that it?" She asked softly, rubbing his back gently. "Or is there something more to it? I just want to know if it's anything I can change to try and make you more comfortable," she explained, kissing him softly.

"I can't take hurting you, even when you enjoy it." He whispered and looked up to meet her eyes again. "There's no reciprocation, no ... balance to it." He struggled to explain a difference between making love and stress relief with a trusted lover.

"You don't think it's fair unless I can claw you back?" She asked him, wondering if it was because he didn't feel it was fair to him, to her, or to both.

"It's got nothing to do with thinking," he shook his head. "You have no fur or loose skin to protect you, no strength to make the fight or surrender feel good, no claws or teeth or cock to turn on me. It doesn't feel good."

"All right," she nodded slightly, snuggling a bit closer to him. "I wish there was something I could do, but it sounds like there's not much."

She just wished she could make herself feel like there wasn't something wrong about that.

"Give me time," he murmured and caressed her smooth body. "Maybe I can talk myself into it ... see if I can."

"You don't have to force yourself," she murmured softly, running her fingers through his fur. "If there's anything I can do... let me know, okay? Maybe I can put on some muscle or something," she suggested with a soft smile, shivering slightly as he caressed her slender body.

"It bothers you that I can't," he gently slid his fingers along her cheek. "I'll at least try to do what you desire. Even if it's only once."

"It bothers me that I can't give you what you enjoy," she corrected him softly, giving him a soft, tender kiss. "That's the big part," she admitted. "I know how much you like the other way, I can feel how intense it is for you... and I can't do that for you."

"Shi ... you do give me what I enjoy." He kissed her softly. "I don't want from you what I want from him. Please don't go comparing it that way. You're the Healer, he's a Warrior."

"I'll try," she promised, nuzzling his neck lightly. "I love you, Jay," she murmured softly.

"I love you." He kissed her back and snuggled close.

Master Essani trotted through the Temple gardens a few days later, returning to her quarters after a day of long meetings and reports in the Council chambers. She paused as she noticed Sharo lying down in the gardens, watching something intently. Oddly enough, her body language didn't seem to suggest she was hunting something.

Curious as to just what the young saber-toothed feline might be watching, she moved quietly to watch with her and followed her gaze to what was of such interest: her own Padawan.

Jay was working through weaponless katas, something he'd picked up from Master Pr'tan from the look of the slow, smooth motions that were more about muscle control and physical condition than combat.

It had Sharo transfixed.

Essani watched quietly, reaching out with the Force to feel both the unwitting performer and his silent observer. It was fascinating to watch her watching him, though she wondered what Sharo's fascination was, this young.

It wasn't hard to pick up that the Remok was watching him through the Force more than normal vision, and what had her transfixed was a feeling of home and rightness that Sharo didn't feel from much around the Temple. Something about Jay, or at least Jay doing his meditative katas, made him feel like a Remok to her.

It was an interesting, and rather fascinating, development that Essani wanted to follow. For now, she just kept watching, wondering if Jay would notice. She knew from experience that he was prone to obliviousness to the universe at large when he was meditating like this; it was how he tackled problems that required less thinking and more intuitive understanding. He could also keep it up for hours.

"*He'll probably be here for a long time,*" Essani told Sharo mentally, and chirped reassuringly when the young feline jumped and spun around to look at her. "*You enjoy watching him?*"

"*Yes,*" Sharo nodded, her mind-words much more coherent than the last time they had encountered each other, though she was still far from skilled at it. "*He looks so healthy.*"

Essani could sense the implication that it wasn't that Jay didn't usually seem to be healthy, but that he was unusual compared to the other Jedi she felt weren't.

"*Healthy?*" Essani asked, fairly sure that Sharo wouldn't really be able to explain it any better, but willing to try.

So was the cub, though she offered two mental images in her attempt; one of Jay, shrouded in his blue Force-aura, the other of Essani herself, glowing bright white. Then a series of auras around a generic adult Remok: black, grey, blue, gold and white. "*He is ... in balance. Jedi too white. Healers. Confused. Unhealthy. Unbalanced.*"

Essani thought about that. She'd have to do some research into the Remok Force traditions, though it seemed like they believed in balancing the two sides more than following one or the other.

Of course, it could just be Sharo's inexperience.

Still, it would be likely that she and Jay would get along well once she was older and she could talk. Their beliefs were similar.

"*I suppose that makes sense,*" Essani said after a few moments. "*Though there are reasons we don't balance things like that.*"

"*So the crèche-master keeps saying.*" She nodded, though there was no missing that she didn't believe in she'd been told in the least.

"*So the crèche-master keeps saying.*" She nodded, though there was no missing that she didn't believe what she'd been told in the least.

Very much like Jay. Essani couldn't help but wonder if it would change as she grew up, before she tried to find a Master. It could be difficult, if it didn't. She also couldn't help but wonder if Jay would take her, she was young enough that he could well be looking for a second Padawan, if he decided to train one shortly after being knighted. It was a situation that would require careful watching.

It was odd, to say the least, thinking about saving a Master from a potential Padawan.

"*He is definitely unusual,*" she said, turning the conversation back towards Jay. "*In a good way, generally. I don't suppose you have any idea why he's here?*"

"*To learn?*" She looked over at the lion-tailed rabbit.

"*I mean here, meditating like this,*" Essani said. "*He usually only meditates like this when there's something bothering him, I was wondering if he might have mentioned it to you.*"

"*No, I don't think he's noticed me yet.*"

"*All right,*" Essani nodded slightly, standing up. "*You want to stay here and watch?*"

She nodded, her gaze still focused on the young adult.

"*Don't stay out too late,*" Essani said with a mental smile. "*He may well be out here well past dinnertime.*"

"*Yes, Master.*" The cub agreed obediently.

Jay smiled when he walked into his quarters to find Shi there, reading on the couch, and Fenrik was elsewhere.

"Hi, love." He murmured and knelt to kiss her on the cheek.

"Hi," she smiled, turning to kiss his lips lightly. "Fen's off working with his class," she added, "I just got back from my shift in Medical."

"Does it still bother you; that I play rough with him and not you?" He asked her gently.

"A little," she admitted after a moment's hesitation. "I try not to let it though. Not your fault, after all," she smiled slightly, reaching up to scratch his neck lightly and moved with him when he wrapped his arms around her and urged her to her feet.

"Can you tell me why it bothers you?" He asked gently.

"Sometimes because I can't help but watch how much you both enjoy it, and I know you're not willing to share it with me," she admitted, ducking her head slightly. "I know I shouldn't feel that way, and I don't most of the time, but sometimes I can't help it."

"Even though I share pleasure with you that I don't with him?" He kissed her gently.

"What?" She asked him softly. "Everything you do with me, you do with him too. Maybe not as often, but only because you're doing other things instead."

"Here I thought you were the empath," he smiled slightly and tipped her face up. "The acts may be similar, but it's not the same."

"How is it different?" She asked him, her eyes searching his. "Make me understand," she said softly.

"Even if you might not like what I've got to say?" He hesitated, realizing that with her interest in pain she may well not appreciate what he saw in her as a lover.

"Please," she said, nodding slightly. "It's better than guessing."

Jay slid an arm around her and guided her into their bedroom to the full-length mirror. "What do you see?"

"What do you mean?" She asked him, looking back at him in the mirror, not quite sure how to answer.

"Look at yourself, not me." He chuckled softly. "What do you see?"

"Your lover," she said softly, trying to put her emotions about this aside and look from his perspective. "A healer... somebody who can't keep up with you."

She knew with the second word she'd surprised him, and the last was dead wrong even before she'd finished saying it.

"I guess the first is correct if you want to be technical." He spoke quietly. "It's not what you are to me, though. Ceremony or not."

"What do you see?" She asked him.

"My mate," he said softly. "A Healer, the heart and morality of this family. A beautiful woman that has made a great deal of my life."

"And Fenrik?" She asked him.

"My mate," he smiled and nuzzled her. "A partner that understands the violence and darkness. A tom that balances your Light with me."

She closed her eyes, wrapping her arms around his and pressing back against him. She wanted to understand, and she could, as far as being able to say it.

"It'll take me a while to convince myself, Jay," she murmured softly. "It makes sense... I just need to make it make sense," she said, chuckling slightly.

"All right," he nuzzled her. "Do you still want to feel what it's like, to submit to our violence?"

"If you're willing," she nodded, though she felt he was. "Not like that time on the ship... but what you're like normally," she said. "You don't have to worry about hurting me," she added, "I can fix anything you'd do to me."

"I know," he ran his teeth along her slender neck as his claws unsheathed, catching on her robes as he began to undress her, his manner shifting to a level of aggression that she'd never experienced directed at her, but had seen turned on Fenrik more than once.

"Mmm...." She arched her neck for him, helping with her robes as she felt a shiver of anticipation and adrenaline run through her body. She knew, could feel, that he was doing this for her and not for himself, but he was no less honest for it. He'd done the same for Fenrik, and had it done for himself.

A growl, more felt than heard, reverberated between them as her only warning before a hand was between them, slicing threw her trousers before he slammed her against the mirror with his teeth against her neck, his face buried in her hair. His rough, barbed cock spread her ass open as he sank into her with a lusty groan.

"Nnngh!" She bit her lip as her bare breasts were pressed against the cool glass of the mirror, her ass spread wide without any prep or warning at all. Pain shot through the nerve-dense flesh, but it was joined with pleasure on a different level entirely. Physically, it hurt like Hell right now, but emotionally, even Jay could feel how much she was enjoying it, being taken and dominated by her mate.

She forced herself to bear down around his barbed length, tightening her already-tight body as she groaned and he continued to thrust, his rough cock drawing blood and tearing flesh as he pounded into her relentlessly. She could feel his confusion at her pleasure even as he accepted it and raked his claws along her bare sides, drawing tiny rivulets of dark red blood to stain her blue and white skin.

"Gods, Jay," she groaned. Her body was protesting the rough treatment, but at the same time her keyed-up nerves were tingling all through her, the feel of her blood trickling down her sides strangely sensual as she started to adjust to the pain.

His only reply was a growl, a feral sound that warned that his body was at the edge, just before his jaws tightened, drawing blood from her thin skin as he came hard in her abused ass.

She whimpered softly, feeling his hot seed fill her, her own body on the edge between agony and ecstasy. She barely got a chance to catch her breath before he pulled out of her and threw her to the bed on her back. He was on top of in before she registered the shift in position and pinned her there as he drove into her wet pussy, his jaws on her neck again, this time across her throat.

For a moment, she tried to struggle, but he was holding her in place through the Force as well as with his hands and teeth. Then she was bound in place by leather and steel and his hands where free to roam over her body, drawing blood or just leaving angry red marks.

She whimpered again, a soft, submissive sound as her sex spasmed around him and she tried to focus enough to make sure nothing would get infected inside. As soon as she could, she forced the Healer part of her mind back and let herself give in to Jay's rough attentions, coming hard around him, only not crying out by virtue of his teeth on her throat as he continued to take her with all the violence in him.

She lost track of how long he took her like that, how many times either of them had come and how many times he'd dragged her into different positions as he fucked her every way he knew how. All she could focus on was the mix of pain and pleasure shooting through her abused body, and the intoxicating feeling of Jay's own pleasure, though it was more purely physical than she remembered ever before. She tried her best to hold out as long as she could, even after her training told her she should have stopped.

In the end, it was Jay's response that brought it to an end. She felt the slight tremor in his jaws against the back of her neck, and knew he was losing the fight to keep from using his teeth the way he wanted to, the way the toms did on each other on their scruff. The thought of what it could do if he lost that shred of control with his teeth around her spine....

"Jay," she panted, half-whimpering against the pillow her head was pressed against as he took her ass again, "please, too much!"

It took him a moment, a couple more thrusts, before it sunk in enough that he let her neck go and withdrew much more gently than previously.

Her body was trembling, sweat and blood mingling on her skin as she felt the end of the almost ritual begin with his rough tongue gently licking her skin clean of blood.

She moaned softly at the tender touch, reaching down to take his rock-hard shaft, slick with a mix of their juices and her blood. She could tell he wanted to finish, badly. And she wanted so badly to give him something back for this.

"How do you want to finish?" She asked him softly.

"Stroke me," he breathed against her skin, his attention on cleaning her and soothing some of the pain he'd caused.

"With pleasure, she murmured, starting to stroke him lightly, teasing his barbs with her fingers as he moaned and thrust lightly into her hand, the pleasure from him shifting from purely physical to the mix she was more used to feeling as his breath quickened.

"Yesss," Jay moaned, his tightly clenched teeth pressed against her shoulder as he came into her hand, his hot seed splashing across her stomach with a long groan as he relaxed.

She was tempted to keep going for a few moments, but instead just snuggled up to him, licking her hand clean quickly before she started to focus on healing her injures.

"Thank you," she murmured softly into his fur as he held her, his tongue instinctively licking at blood until it stopped flowing.

"You are welcome," he smiled and nuzzled her. "Feel like a tongue-bath when you're healed?"

"Mmm ... sounds wonderful," she smiled, shivering a bit as he licked her shoulder. "Or I could shower, if you don't want to help me clean up that way."

"I can at least get you started," he chuckled and slowly moved down her body, cleaning the blood from her soft skin as he went.

"Mmm... Jay?" She asked him with a soft murmur, rubbing the back of his head as he cleaned her up.

"Mmm?" He glanced up at her as he worked on her flat belly.

"You don't have to do that again, if you don't want to," she said softly, reaching down to scratch his neck. "But thank you again, for this time." She smiled softly, honestly grateful for being able to share it with him.

He shifted his body up to kiss her gently and lightly fondled her breast with a free hand. "I will, if you feel you need it." He told her softly. "I've done it for Fenrik; I will do it for you."

"Mmm ... he might enjoy it more too," she murmured, returning the kiss and holding his furry body close to hers. "It was good, but not as good as when you enjoy it too."

"I'm sorry," he relaxed in her embrace and nuzzled her. "It just goes against what I am to hurt a Healer."

"Don't be sorry," she smiled, nuzzling him back. "It's a good thing, most of the time. Mmm ... and I've gotta admit, I don't know how often I could take that," she chuckled slightly.

"Good," he smiled and slid a hand down her chest to tease her clit. "Want me to finish your bath?"

"Oooh...." She murmured softly, rubbing his back. "I've got a better idea... I go clean up, then we spend a little time doing it the way you like?" She half-grinned. "Unless you like the... uhm... extra flavor."

"Go clean up," he chuckled and rolled to his side, off of her so she could get up.

She did just that, though she groaned a bit as she tried standing.

"Mmm ... another perk of fur," she giggled as she walked into the bathroom, "bruises don't show. Be out in just a few minutes." She stripped down the rest of the way, stepping into the shower and turning the water on to a comfortable level for her, quickly cleaning the blood and cum from her tender flesh. Healed or not, she'd be feeling this in the morning.

And, she had to admit, she didn't mind in the least.

She took a few moments to examine herself, ignoring pleasure or pain except as an indication of whether or not she'd fixed all the damage. She paid special attention to her sex and ass, the parts of her that had probably taken the most punishment, using the showerhead to make sure she cleaned herself out thoroughly. Looking at the amount of red going down the drain, she reminded herself that she'd have to be more careful about that the next time, if there was one.

It wasn't enough to be dangerous, but she knew she'd be getting a lecture from Master Ursal the next time she saw her.

Soon enough, she headed back out to the bedroom, blushing as she saw Jay changing the blood-stained sheets, his fur matted every which way with blood, sweat and cum.

She moved around behind him as he finished putting the new sheets in, pressing against his back.

"Want some help cleaning up yourself?" She asked him. "You look like a bigger mess than I did, almost."

"You don't like my water," he smiled back and nuzzled her over his shoulder. "I'll be clean in a few minutes."

"I'll be here for you," she smiled, settling into the fresh sheets and giving him one of her sweetest, most loving looks.

"Rurrrr, you are a temping creature." He rumbled before heading for the bathroom and a fast, hot shower to clear his fur of the evidence of his actions.

"I do my best!" She called after him, laughing a bit before she settled back to wait for him.

Essani finished setting the table with Fenrik's help, a family meal like none before, but so were the concerns about the one member that wouldn't be joining them. Between orders and cooking, it was a varied table as well; though only she didn't eat meat.

"How's Jay doing?" The Panther asked as he went back into the kitchen to check the assorted dishes being prepared. He and Shivasta's were the most meat-heavy, though Master Ursal's plate was hardly a vegetarian one. It was just heavier in fruits and breads than either of the younger Jedi's. "Haven't heard from him in almost a week."

"*Still oblivious to the universe at large, she admitted with a click of her teeth. "*I felt a significant surge in the Dark in him when he began, but nothing unusual since.*"

"Which means he's probably still working on his tesseract," Fenrik nodded. "I can't help but wonder how it'll hit him. It's not like he's had the easiest time staying with the Light up until now, let alone after he's got the Demon bothering him constantly."

"*He has you and Shivasta, and a belief in doing the right thing.*" Essani said quietly. "*It will have to be enough.*"

"It's just going to put a lot of weight on that belief when we're both on missions," Fenrik said softly. "At least Shi'll probably be around the Temple more often."

"*It will be a rare mission that he goes on alone.*" She said simply, the weight of her standing on the Council behind her words. "*When he is here alone, I will be here to help keep him in the Light.*"

"I know," Fenrik nodded, chuckling slightly. "I just still worry, I guess. Though he really does do his best."

"*That is why I believe he will make it. That and a bit of common sense when assigning him missions. His triggers are fairly easy to keep track of.*"

"Yeah, Rodians and anything involving treating droids like objects," Fenrik nodded as the door to the room opened, letting Master Ursal and her Padawan enter.

"*And keeping him away from Darksiders at all likely to talk to him.*" She added and chirped a greeting to the Healers.

"Mmm ... I know who cooked tonight," Shivasta chuckled as she stepped in.

"Is it my fault I don't have the broadest set of recipes?" Fenrik asked his mate with a chuckle, moving to kiss her lightly before he bowed respectfully to her dark-furred Master.

"You just have two mates who like spicy meat." She smirked back.

"So how is our resident Darkside beast doing?" Ursal asked simply.

"*Quiet,*" Essani answered. "*Though I doubt it has a choice at the moment. Jay is oblivious to everything but his work.*"

"And given just how engrossed he gets, it probably knows better than to waste its time," Fenrik added. "Though once he's done, it'll probably get started."

"I'm not sure about that," Shivasta said, moving to help her mate with the food. "It's just a hunch, but I think it might have been active for a long time now."

"*Quite possibly, but the odds have now changed. There is a direct opening to the Dark Side in Jay's mind that was not there before. He is much more vulnerable.*"

"I know, Master Essani," Shivasta said respectfully. "I only meant that I don't think it will be trying to convert him any more often than it had been, though it might be more successful."

"I have to admit, I'm more worried about those around him," Master Ursal rumbled as she sat down with the others. "He seems to be fairly used to it. But I'm sure we all remember the day it nearly escaped on its own."

"*Yes,*" Master Essani's fur went dark grey for a moment. "*Possession instead of conversion may be its goal with him. We will simply have to be ready for it.*"

"And the possibility it might find a way to try and convert those around him," Master Ursal nodded.

"That's a possibility we're ready for," Fenrik said softly. "And that he is, I think."

"*It is something we all have to be ready for.*" Essani nodded gravely.

"We will be," Shivasta nodded. "Though I don't think it will do that. It seems content to work on him." She licked her lips. "I think it knows he can do more damage."

"*It is not wrong, either.*" Essani admitted as they sat down for the meal. "*He is very dangerous. He is also one of the Jedi least likely to fight back if he turns. He has learned a strong sense of self-sacrifice from his family, even as young as he was. It will give more of an opening than most.*"

"He also has two people willing to make it fast and quick," Shivasta said softly.

"*So how are your studies coming?*" Essani changed the subject.

"Well," the Ice Walker smiled. "I should be ready to finish my Trials and take my solo soon."

"Three or four years, I would say," Master Ursal nodded with an approving smile. "I still think you chose to build your 'saber early, but I have to agree that you're coming along quite well."

"Thank you, Master," Shivasta said, bowing her head respectfully, and to hide a slight blush.

"I love that shade on you." Fenrik snickered between bites of spicy meat.

"I think everybody does but me," Shi giggled slightly, eating her own dinner.

"It's certainly striking," Master Ursal chuckled. "Though I imagine it's not quite as common for you the last few years."

"You don't know my mates well enough then," she grinned at Fenrik. "Seems they always know how to see it when they want to."

"We can cheat," he winked. "Embarrassment isn't the only way to see her that shade."

Everybody at the table had to laugh as Shivasta managed to turn one of the deepest shades of purple any of them had seen in some time.

"It's all right, cub," Master Ursal chuckled. "You're young."

"And very healthy," Fenrik purred throatily, enjoying the color on his mate as much as the game that was turned on him as often as her.

"Thank you," Shi managed to giggle. They all knew it was just joking, as much as it did embarrass her to be talking about this in front of her Master.

"You three make entirely too much of a game out of this," Master Ursal chuckled, though they could both tell her disapproval was mostly show.

"You know who's responsible for that," Fenrik chuckled. "Jay likes games."

"*And this is one of the few he particularly enjoys that you three can play in public,*" Essani chuckled, her fur a light pink.

"Not that the boys have always let that stop them when they were on the ship," Shi teased, winking at Fenrik, who blushed faintly beneath his black fur.

"Only because you've always managed to get back to quarters first." He protested.

"And whose fault is that?" Shi grinned, taking pleasure if having turned the tables, even if she knew he was going to turn them right back.

"Yours," he retorted with a smirk. "Though I swear you enjoy the feel of grass more than either of us."

"Only because I can actually feel it, and it doesn't count when the only 'people' around to watch are taks," she giggled. "Besides, I was still in the tent."

"Under it maybe," he shot back with a chuckle. "But you were hardly in it."

"Jay was... energetic... that morning," she giggled, blushing as Master Ursal gave her a quizzical look.

Fenrik was about to add something when Essani's suddenly grey color stopped him. "What's wrong, Master?"

"It's Jay," Shivasta said, knowing that it was the only possible explanation. He was ahead of schedule by a day or two.

"*Excuse me.*" Essani said hurriedly as she jumped down from her seat at the table and rushed from the room to her Padawan's side.

She knew the others would be shortly behind her, but she wasn't about to wait. She could sense that Jay was grappling with the Demon, more than he ever had before. A head to head contest of wills and beliefs, not the subtle seduction it usually used.

She was going to be there if he started to lose.

He wasn't yet, but it was a savage enough a contest to get her attention, and that of half the Council. It wasn't often the Temple itself saw an entity so purely of the Dark Side that so very few of them could fight.

When it did, it was usually a disaster, and she wasn't going to let that happen. She just hoped that Jay could deal with it herself. If not, she was sure she could.

But she didn't know what damage not being able to handle it might cause Jay's psyche.

She skidded sideways as the door to his workshop opened for her and she followed the bond to the struggling tom.

On the outside, everything looked fairly normal. He was straining, stressed, but nothing was obvious. In the Force, the duality of minds in his body was clear.

One was pure Dark. Not corrupted, but created of the Dark itself.

The other was blue with a grey tint. It wasn't an even match in raw power, but Jay had a real advantage in having the battlefield be in his own mind. All he truly had to do was hold his ground and raw stubbornness, something he had in abundance, would manage most of that. She could feel that, being of pure Darkness or not, it couldn't keep this up for long.

No wonder this was so draining for the other Clawsons who'd had to deal with it. To win this battle every morning for life ... even if that wasn't literally what happened ... it was an amazing feat for someone untrained.

Even as she marshaled her energy to intervene if it was needed, she could feel the others enter the room, the younger Jedi going to their mate and try to offer what support they could. She could feel them reaching out to him unconsciously, practically see the bonds between them glowing in the Force as they lent him what strength and support they could like this.

The instant their minds touched his, both Masters saw the balance shift. What Jay could barely do for himself, he easily marshaled the strength for when reminded it wasn't just for him. He didn't need his mate's strength for the battle; he needed to have someone he cared about enough to win that fight.

It was an eerie reminder of his words when he'd first explained how things worked for his kind, back when he was too young to know the Demon or desire. When all he could do was tell them what he had been told as a young child.

Both Masters could tell that, as much as the Council had doubted it, it had undoubtedly been true. The Demon simply wasn't able to get more than a foothold that it could hang on to. Before too much longer, it had no choice but to retreat, or exhaust its powers.

Jay growled softly, a sound of a victory hard won and a warrior still keyed up from the battle.

"*I'm all right, Master.*" He told her along their bond first, though physically he leaned against Shi with an appreciative nuzzle and squeezed Fenrik's hand.

"*You are,*" Essani said approvingly. "*You should go rest. You did well, Jay.*"

"*Yes, Master.*" He murmured and stood shakily, one hand still on the bracer he'd been working on all week. "You guys free for the night?" He glanced between his mates.

"Yeah," Fenrik nodded, kissing Jay's cheek lightly.

"Just finished my studies a bit before coming down," Shivasta smiled, giving him a gentle kiss. "Let's get you back to our room and help you wind down."

"Then some real sleep." He added and slipped and arm around each of them for a hug. "Thanks." He murmured against them.

A Heritage of Power 3: Jay's Story 4: One Knight Hunting

NC-17 for M/F and M/M
Het Level is MediumHet Smut Level is Medium
Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is Medium
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is None

450 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Finished
Written March 3, 2005 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Karl Wolfemann

Setting: Star Wars (Furry)

Primary Races: Ice Walker, Kat, Kushiban, Panther, Wolf

Contents: Furry. Het (M/F). Slash (M/M). Relationship (Established), Sex (BDSM), Sex (Kinky), Violence (Sexual)

Pairings: Doruth Parn/Tes Ramaris, Jay Clawson/Shivasta Stormwarden/Fenrik Aren

Blurb: A great deal can change in five years, but for three Padawans it has only made them stronger as a triad and honed each of their talents, minds and bodies to face the reality of life as a Jedi Knight, and the possibility that one may not make it. Now they begin to truly prove their worthiness to the Order and to themselves.

Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.

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