A Heritage of Power 3: Jay's Story 5:
Trials and Pain

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

Shi shivered internally. Jay was waking up, and she could already feel that this morning would be typical of those of the past four years. He was shifting, just little, but it was the restlessness of distress. She turned in bed, wrapping her arms around him and nuzzling his neck lightly. She hated that he had to go through this every day, both as his mate and as a healer. The benefits of his 'gift' were undeniable, but she had to wonder if it was really worth the curse that went with it.

She knew he wondered the same thing, sometimes. It was mornings like this that she could kick herself for ever encouraging him to go through with accepting it. Still, it had been his choice, and she as fairly sure that even without that encouragement, he would have gone ahead with it. He'd as much as said so, several times.

The last four years had taught them all just how accurately he had been taught by his family from the very beginning what it meant to be one of them. He had only been eight when those lessons had ended, but he still knew what was coming accurately enough to warn them what was happening and what was to come. Every time what he'd been taught turned out to be true, it strengthened his beliefs in the rest; in the things that made it difficult to be a Jedi.

Even with all that, he was determined to make Knight.

She had no doubts he would, without any special considerations. It was just who he was, and now he had enough raw talent to do just that.

Her mind was drawn back to the present and the tom in her arms when his claws pricked her skin and a low growl reverberated threw her.

"Shh, it's okay. I'm here." She murmured automatically, holding him and stroking his hair as she pressed her face against his neck. It was over, for today. There was that much to be grateful for. These battles were regular, but much less violent than the first.

He settled for a few minutes, still only half conscious but more aware of her than anything else as he wrapped his arms around her and snuggled close, the tension draining from him for the start of the day.

"Morning," Jay murmured with a nuzzle.

"Morning," she smiled, nuzzling him back and kissing him softly.

"Sleep well?" He purred softly, his hands moving along her body in a lover's caress.

"Mmm ... reasonably," she rumbled, kissing his neck and scratching some of his pleasure-points lightly and welcoming the way his body responded so easily and naturally to her. "You, at least for what you normally do?"

"Yes," he smiled and kissed her firmly. "Feel ready for your Trials?" He murmured,

"Yes," she nodded, returning the kiss. "Just a few more weeks and I'll be finding out what they've got scheduled for my solo. Think you'll be okay, if Fen's off on a mission then?"

"I'll be fine," he assured her. "I won't be completely alone."

"All right," she murmured, nuzzling him lightly, licking his neck suggestively. "Mmm ... so, think you're awake enough to work off a little of that tension you've got?"

"Always, for you," he chuckled and ran his hands down her sides to squeeze her ass and pull her close.

"Mmm... horny kitty," she chuckled, rubbing herself against his groin and rolling on top of him to straddle his hips.

"It's morning," he grinned up at her and thrust up lightly, rubbing his hard cock against her mons. "It's you." He added throatily.

"Mmm ... flatterer," she rumbled, leaning down to kiss him hungrily, moaning into his mouth as she took his barbed length into her sex. It was one thing that had changed since he'd taken her so roughly not long before he'd accepted his family gift; he wasn't quite so stuck on always using the lube and she relished every day of it.

"Truth," he rumbled as his hands closed on her hips as he thrust into her, guiding her body with his to heighten their pleasure without pushing it too fast.

"Ooh... so good to me," she sighed happily, squeezing down around his length, pulling at the stiff barbs as the two of them made love.

Master Essani mentally looked around the Council, judging them for temperament and interest in the upcoming demonstration by her Padawan. She knew most were wondering when she would begin his formal Trials. He had as much training as any Padawan, and more skills than many Knights half again his age.

Today, however, was one of his projects, a rare joint one with Shi, which had them all very interested. Even Master Noloth was eager. Well, as eager as the Frilled Lizard was about anything.

The two new members of the Council, Masters Jamni and Dyba, were interested despite not knowing most of the back-story of the one presenting first hand. She would miss the old Wolves, but true to form, it was another Wolf pairing that took their place. Master Jamni, her fur still thick and lush in relative youth, and her mate, one of the few Togruta females in the Order.

Master Ursal was there as well, though she was sitting back, only there to watch her Padawan give the presentation. Even now, the two young Jedi were setting up, a full set of cream and light brown robes hung up in the center of the room for all to see.

What was unusual was what all the Masters could sense. The robes themselves seemed to glow with the same sort of aura a prospective Initiate had.

"*If everybody is ready?*" Essani asked politely once the two Padawans seemed to be prepared and all the Councilors were settled.

"Yes, Master Essani." Jay bowed to her and the Council politely.

"Then begin." Master Shan nodded to them.

"This is what we refer to as LSEA, or Light Side Enhanced Armor robes." Jay began simply. "It is a combination of two enchantments via Force-embedding. The first is its defensive properties. It is as strong as light body armor without any of the detriments. It can also turn a lightsaber or blaster as well as a lightsaber can."

"Additionally, it was treated to 'guide' the flow of the Force through the wearer properly, to help restore its normal balance and movement," Shivasta explained her addition. "The immediate practical benefit is that the wearer's body heals from minor wounds more quickly, and it has a calming effect similar to meditation, even in stressful situations such as combat."

"How difficult are these LSEA robes to make?" Master Bas'rath leaned forward, her dark multitude of braids moving with her.

"It depends on the ability and training of the one creating them." Jay told the Lioness politely. "Once we figured out the how of it, this set took us two months to enchant in our spare time. I expect that the time could be shorted to as little as a week for a Healer who is strong in the Force, has experience in creating them and can devote most of their time to it."

"Does the effectiveness decrease as they are damaged?" Master Charn asked thoughtfully.

"As armor, any gaps are unprotected." Jay admitted easily. "It is difficult to damage, relative to what most Jedi are used to."

"As for the healing effects," Shi added, "they didn't seem to work any more slowly, but we didn't damage them that badly in testing to this point. It should be noted that the healing effect isn't at the point of closing major wounds, but more healing the minor ones and helping the wearer to keep from tiring as quickly, even when being bruised and battered in combat. The armor qualities help keep most blows that could become major wounds at that level though."

"How difficult are they to repair?" Master Kareth asked, her thick multi-colored twitching in interest.

"They can't just be sewn up," Shivasta admitted, "but it seems that with a little careful repair work and meditation to 'repair' the force energy in them, they're as good as new, as long as material hasn't been replaced. Unfortunately, material replacing some that has been torn away has to be enhanced in order to have the same abilities. Cheaper and faster than making a new set, but not something you want to do in the field."

"How much of the robes must be intact to maintain the meditative effects?" Master Kareth continued.

"They should remain effective as long as roughly a quarter of the robes are left; enough to wear. The healing effects are somewhat less durable, I think about half of it would need to be remaining," Shi said after a few moments to think it through.

"The robes are effective separately in the healing and meditative qualities, and come in three parts." Jay continued. "They work best together, but effects are noticeable when only one part is worn."

"How noticeable is the effect, compared to when the full set is worn?" Master Noloth asked.

"Approximately one quarter effect with one piece, one half with two, full effect with all three." He explained.

"Impressive," the Lizard observed. "Is this a project that will be reproducible, or is it another of your unique devices?" He asked the young tom, most of the Council well-aware of his numerous previous projects that couldn't be reproduced by any known means.

"With the knowledge of how, it is reproducible by anyone strong enough to make Knight, and likely some others." He inclined his head slightly. "That is why it has taken four years to create."

"For the armor properties, or the rest as well?" Master Ursal asked, looking at her Padawan.

"The entire project, though the creator does require some training in how to heal another. Not a true Healer's training, however," Shivasta explained. "We found ways to simplify the process without sacrificing capability."

"We have also learned that instilling only the armor or healing capabilities does not significantly reduce production cost, or the energy required." Jay added.

"No," Shivasta agreed. "It is also a process that works best when started when the cloth is being produced, starting the enchantment during the weaving."

"That would certainly slow down the process," Master Surool observed.

"Yes, but it allows the Force infusion to be begun while the natural patterns of the material are still reasonably fresh," Shivasta explained.

"The Force patterns?" Master Surool clarified.

"Yes, Master Shan," she said, nodding to the twi'lek. "The more the material is processed, the less there to work with innately. Synthetic material can be used, but natural materials are much easier."

"Are there any more questions, before a demonstration begins?" Master Shan asked.

"*At least the first one without anybody wearing them,*" Essani warned Jay over their bond, knowing her Padawan far too well not to preempt his inclinations.

"*Yes, Master.*" He accepted her instructions and let one lightsaber slide into his hand from its place in his Glovatrix. He lit it with a single blade, taking the role of a traditional one.

Shi stepped aside, heedful that her Master did not want her in line with the strikes to come, no matter how unlikely they were to get through. She watched with as much interest as the gathered Masters. No matter how many times she'd seen it, watching a set of Jedi robes deflect lightsaber strike after strike as Jay moved through the common hits was breathtaking.

It made her feel a lot better to know that Fenrik was going to get one of the first sets soon.

After a few moments of practice, with nothing more than some light scorching of the cloth that was quickly brushed aside, Jay extinguished his blade, and the Council was clearly impressed.

"Do you plan any additional demonstrations here?" Master Shan asked. Jay could feel something about Shivasta's manner shift as she looked at the Doberman, more curious about something, though she didn't betray the reaction externally.

"Would you like to see something we haven't shown?" Jay asked politely.

"If you are willing, we would like the opportunity to have Artisan Shen'ri study them," Master Surool said. "Your demonstration and report have been most interesting, but his opinions would be appreciated as well."

"Of course, Master Surool." Jay bowed his head slightly. "He is welcome to study them."

"Then I believe we can save any further demonstrations for after that," the pink-skinned twi'lek said easily, his lekku shifting to suggest he was satisfied.

"Though we do look forward to them," Master Noloth said, the closest to praise either of the Padawans could remember hearing from him in a long, long time. "This is an interesting development, though one we'd like to keep quiet until we are ready."

"Yes, Master." Jay said easily, having kept it fairly quiet for four years already.

"Then you are dismissed." Master Shan ended the meeting even as the Masters were talking about it quickly and quietly before the Padawans took their leave after bowing to the assembly.

"So what caught your attention when Surool asked if we were done?" Jay asked as they sat down to dinner in one of the dinning halls.

"It wasn't that," Shivasta said, shaking her head. "It was at the end of the demonstration, I just couldn't place it exactly until then. Master Shan's reaction to the demonstration was... unusual. He was impressed, but he seemed to be concerned about something too. Just not sure what it was."

"They try to shelve this one like the rest, and I will leave the Order." He shook his head, not angry so much as resigned.

"I don't think they're going to try that, Jay," Shivasta smiled, leaning over to nuzzle him lightly. "I think he was more worried about how they could keep the news from getting out than anything else. A couple of them seemed to feel like that."

"I hope you're right, and it's not going to repeat history." He said softly, only a little regretful he'd jumped to the worst possible conclusion. "Guess I still haven't accepted the constant loss of advancements around here."

"I know," she murmured, kissing his cheek softly. "Don't worry... I don't think they want to bury it. It's too valuable to all of us."

"Something made them burry it a half-dozen times that I know about." He pointed out with a bit of a shrug. "The more I learn about things here, the more it creeps me out. It's just not right to put politics above the lives of so many."

"Yeah, but this is a different council, and different circumstances," she pointed out. "We'll have the set for Fenrik we've made already... and we can make others, even if they don't know about it," she said soothingly.

"I know," he smiled slightly. "It just riles me sometimes; thinking about how much further along the tech could be if it wasn't buried so regularly."

"The Republic's worse about it than the Jedi," she nodded with a sigh. "But you're changing that, slowly. More of the corp's are paying attention to inventions from all sorts of folk, even if it is just faster hyperdrives and such."

"True," he admitted, though that he could do that still confused the hell out of him. "It means they might just have a prayer of surviving the next unfriendly encounter."

"Unless it's somebody who really, really works differently," Shivasta nodded. "Though I've got to admit, even when the tech was increasing, the Republic doesn't really handle invasions well when they start."

"Largely because there isn't enough of a military to protect the space they claim against that kind of force. There just isn't the need to warrant the expenditure. It would be a different story if they faced it once or twice a generation, or more." He nodded.

"And the time they did run into that, it nearly crushed the Jedi and Republic alike," Shivasta nodded with a shiver. "Of course, the fact the last invasion of the three was led by most of the Republic's soldiers from the second didn't help."

"It's not a normal kind of invasion though. That's more like a rebellion." He said thoughtfully between bites. "I meant it more along the lines of what both our people knew. If there wasn't a major state of war, it was just the lull in the storm and everyone knew the next big one couldn't be more than a decade or two away. Someone could be a soldier in one war, a field commander in the next, a general in the third and see a fourth and sometimes even fifth before they die."

"Yeah," Shi nodded. "If that. It's one hell of a difference from out here. Even after a couple generations haven't had to deal with it, my people are still all capable warriors. Here... if it weren't for the Jedi, I think the Hutts could take us if they wanted to."

"Nah, the Corps would never let them." He chuckled. "Never underestimate their power."

"I meant without anybody but the Republic's forces," Shivasta chuckled. "Let's face it, if the Hutts snapped their fingers, about a quarter of Coruscant's senators would probably turn tail and run back to the ones who own 'em."

"I don't think anyone with a clue would deny it either." Jay shook his head with a chuckle of his own, though his distaste for that truth was clear as well. "I don't think many of them aren't owned by one special interest or another."

"Well, I don't know about your people, but I'm afraid I can't honestly say mine are immune," Shivasta admitted with a sigh. "There's no proof, but I have a feeling some of the clan leaders are being bribed by the Republic to be 'reasonable.' Not really bribes, but more the sort of promises that won't really hurt the clan, and they'll obviously favor the leader too. It's hard to fault them for it... but I can see why the Stormwardens and their allies think of them as traitors."

"Politicians are the same everywhere," he said softly. "Main thing that's kept most of ours honest recently is lack of opportunity. It's kind of hard to become corrupt when everyone is watching, and politics is more military than civilian. I understand it's very different on Aristal, where there are a few billion people and a lot of infrastructure."

"The more government there is, the easier it is for somebody to grease palms," Shi nodded. "Honestly, makes me glad Jedi aren't allowed to play politics on a large scale. I can't imagine having to deal with that sort of environment every day without getting frustrated enough to start bending all the wrong rules."

"Like we don't anyway," he chuckled low in his throat before drinking. "Jedi only follow rules when it's convenient."

"Those are the right rules," Shi smirked, sipping her juice and rolling her shoulder with a bit of a groan. "I meant the ones that say 'no fair telling the Senator where he can stick his bribe and then making him put it there in front of the Senate.'"

Jay couldn't help but snicker, far too amused by the mental image. "You are a mean, mean girl, Shi." He grinned at her.

"Please, like you didn't think the Neimoidian ambassador deserved it just as much as I did," she grinned back. "Besides, I think the Senator from Farffin would get a kick out of it if nobody else did."

"As long as he wasn't hiding under his chair because there was a Jedi in the room." He smirked.

"I think he'd come out once he realized we weren't after him," Shi chuckled. "For that much at least. That, or thank the gods he didn't have to see the ambassador drop his robes to do it," she added, making a distasteful face.

"You have a point," he grimaced. "That's not pretty."

"Mmm ... c'mon, let's finish dinner and get ready for Fen to get home," she smiled. "I'm sure between the three of us we'll be able to come up with better mental images."

"And act most of them out," he grinned at her with a wink that was almost too suggestive for public.

"Mmm ... you are going to spoil us one of these days," Fenrik purred, nuzzling Jay lightly as the three of them relaxed in their quarters on the cruise they were taking for their tenth anniversary.

"Shh!" Shi scolded him with a giggle. "He might decide to listen to you if you're not careful!" She kissed the back of Jay's neck, snuggling up close to him. "Even if it is true."

"It's not like I have much else to do with my money," he chuckled and nuzzled them both in return. "Besides, I like spoiling you."

"Mmhm. So stop complaining," Shi giggled, reaching across Jay to scratch Fenrik's ears.

"Oh all right," the young Knight groused good-naturedly. "Mmm ... hard to believe it's almost been ten years."

"And very soon, all three of us will be Knights." Jay added with a nuzzle and grin, his excitement over his and Shi's upcoming Trials clear to his mates.

"And getting sent on our own missions, off half-way across the galaxy like I've been doing the past six months," Fenrik chuckled. "Though I guess they might let you two stick around here most of the time, given what you're usually up to."

"Mmm ... the perks of not being warriors," Shi chuckled, rubbing Fenrik's back. "Though you've spent a heck of a lot of time at the Temple for somebody who spent most of his training following his Masters across and outside the Republic."

"Only because of those months I spent doing it with Doruth while Tes was pregnant," the Panther smiled. "Guess I like the work, weird as that is."

"Nothing wrong with being a teacher," Jay chuckled softly and snuggled close. "Or being around your mates more often."

"Mmm ... not at all," Fenrik chuckled. "We should probably think about getting breakfast again," he rumbled. "Maybe without getting distracted this time."

"Like we did twice already?" Shivasta giggled.

"Something like that," the Panther chuckled.

"How about the honeymoon brunch for felines?" Jay rumbled suggestively. "With a little tseren on the side."

"Mmm ... I think it sounds wonderful," Shivasta grinned, kissing him as she rolled out of bed, stretching out her stiff body. "After I grab a shower. I think I smell more like you two than you do," she winked.

"As if that's a bad thing," Jay grinned and rolled to grab her around the hips to pull her back onto the bed and on top of both toms. "Munchies will be here when we're all clean, and smelling of their shampoo."

"Mmm ... and in the meantime?" Shi asked with a grin, kissing both her mates.

"We warm those stiff muscles of your up?" Jay offered with a mischievous grin.

"Sounds good to me," the Ice Walker grinned, straddling his hips as Fenrik ran his claws down her back teasingly.

"How come every time we help her do that, she always ends up being stiffer afterwards?" He asked Jay playfully.

"Because she tends to pass out from exhaustion when we're done." Jay grinned back and teased her nipples with his claws. "But right now, I'm in the mood to remind her what being used by a couple randy toms is like." He grinned and made a quick grab and roll to put her under him.

"Mmph!" Shi's grunt was turned into a submissive moan into Jay's mouth as he kissed her hungrily and Fenrik shifted to straddle her head.

"You take that end, I make sure she can't go screaming or anything?" The Panther asked with a lusty grin, pulling Jay up for a kiss of his own, groaning as Shi leaned up to lick his balls playfully.

"Works for me," Jay grinned at him and claimed another kiss from his tom even as he sank into Shi's body.

The two felines' rough tongues dueled as Fenrik slipped his barbed shaft into Shivasta's mouth. She suckled his length hungrily as Jay started thrusting his bare, barbed length into her eager, wet sex. A soft whimper of pain and pleasure escaped from around Fenrik's cock, and she reached up to hold his hips.

"How many times do you think we can make her come before she begs for mercy?" Jay licked his whiskers and shifted his hips a bit to rub against both her g-spot and clit, relishing how much she got off on it now that he could finally feel it for himself.

"Don't know... ooh... but I'm willing to bet it'll be lunch time by then," Fenrik grinned, reaching down to knead Shi's breasts roughly as Shi teased his barbs and tightened her sex around Jay's shaft.

"Or we can really torture her," he leveraged his weight to thrust into her harder. "And turn this into a brunch game. I seem to remember that tseren gives her an actual heat for desires."

Shi whimpered as Fenrik grinned.

"Mmm ... I think you're right," he purred, starting to thrust into her mouth lightly. "You thinking what I'm thinking?"

"Tie her up and draw this out all afternoon?"

"Mmm ... and feed her after she's tied up, of course," Fenrik winked.

"But of course," Jay chuckled before a deep groan interrupted the chatter, his balls tightening against his body.

"'nk oo!" Shivasta muttered almost irritatedly, around Fenrik's shaft, working to get him off too.

"Mmm ... think somebody doesn't like... ooh... being ignored," the Panther groaned, even as his mate's tongue teased his barbs and worked him near an orgasm that Jay was already enjoying.

"Like she ever does," Jay panted and caught Fenrik's mouth in a heated kiss while the Panther came.

Shi drank down Fenrik's seed, enjoying the feel of Jay's fluids pouring into her sex as the two felines made out above her.

"Mmm, so you get her nice a tussled up, I'll see to the food?" Jay rumbled suggestively.

"Will do," the Panther rumbled, giving him another kiss, then shifting off the bed to kiss Shi as she stretched out to be tied down, and Jay went to get their 'brunch.'

Jay smiled softly as the house lights went down on the ship's amphitheater. He couldn't express how thrilled he'd been when he found out the entertainment wasn't a bith band. Instead, it was a locally famous Amberin singer and the stories made into songs that she favored with her band, Rush.

After listening to the last three albums they had put out, they were soon what he favored too. Even the songs that he didn't have anything in common with touched him. He'd been insufferable for weeks, waiting for this night.

"*Now we know why you were so insistent on this cruise,*" Shivasta said silently, sitting next to him, Fenrik on the other side. All three of them were going to enjoy it fully, though they weren't quite as addicted as Jay was.

Still, not a one of them didn't approve.

"*Hay, bith bands are okay, but this is great music.*" He grinned and nuzzled her, a tremor of excitement passing threw his body as the first beats of the rock music rumbled through the amphitheater and the crowd.

"*Just imagine what he'll be like when his next birthday rolls around,*" Fenrik chuckled mentally to Shi, keeping the communication shielded.

"*Shh! He is hearing us if we're not careful now!*" She scolded him. "*Besides, I want to listen.*"

"*Yes'm,*" Fenrik smiled, settling back to listen to the music that had Jay so enthralled.

"*Well, at least we're not sitting with old fogies from Kuat this time.*" Jay commented silently as the three of them were shown to their table. He was more than a little grateful that the three others sitting at the table were not only closer to their age, but feline. One on her own and a pair that were at least comfortable with each other.

"*Well, you knew we wouldn't be able to beg off all of these,*" Shi pointed out with a mental chuckle, nodding politely to the horned Tigress across from her as she sat down.

"And besides," the Tigress chuckled softly, "you could have ended up sitting with some old fogies from Metellos instead. They'd make this little gathering look downright casual."

Jay jumped internally, though he kept the reaction from showing.

"There is always something worse." The Lioness a bit older than the triad chuckled. "I'm Terra."

"Naryn," her sister added easily.

"Shivasta," the Ice Walker said easily. "And Jay and Fenrik," she added, introducing her mates.

"I'm Sharaan," the horned Tigress smiled. "Pleasure to meet you three."

"Have we met before?" Fenrik asked Sharaan curiously, cocking his head slightly. "I think I recognize you from somewhere."

"I do business around most of the galaxy," shi chuckled. "Mostly trading with the Temple on Coruscant. Might have been during one of my visits there."

"Probably," the Panther chuckled.

"So what are you on board for?" Terra asked easily.

"Anniversary," Fenrik smiled easily. "And getting off Coruscant for leisure rather than business."

"Mmm ... I know that feeling too well," Sharaan chuckled. "Of course, I imagine most of us have that motive here."

"What's your business?" Naryn asked the triad, even more curious than her sister.

"Jedi," Shivasta answered easily. "Fenrik was Knighted a few years back; Jay and I are about ready to start our final tests."

The Lionesses blinked in tandem.

"I didn't think Jedi had mates." Terra said curiously.

"Neither did I," Sharaan said, raising an eyebrow. "At least not as young as you three are."

"Extenuating circumstances," Fenrik chuckled. "It's complicated, but they've accepted it."

"Like they had much of a choice." Jay smirked slightly as the conversation paused for the appetizers to be served.

"So do you share?" Naryn asked Shi politely.

"*You guys interested?*" Shivasta asked the others mentally.

"*No,*" Jay replied silently, his disinterest in the female of any species still solidly intact despite his physical maturity.

"*Not particularly,*" Fenrik agreed. "*They're attractive, but not really interested.*"

"Afraid not," Shi said, smiling apologetically. "Not often, at least."

"A shame," Sharaan smiled knowingly as shi sipped hir drink. "But understandable. I wouldn't want to share either," shi winked.

"Particularly not now," Jay smiled faintly at hir. "Tenth anniversary only comes around once."

"Very true," shi nodded easily. "And not even that for many. Congratulations," shi smiled.

"Thank you," Jay inclined his head slightly.

"You hooked up young." Naryn murmured, more than a bit surprised given the tom's apparent ages.

"Yeah, we did," Shivasta admitted. "Though it's not like we did everything then that we do now, if you know what I mean."

The Lionesses nodded, though Jay only just held back a snicker for her selective phrasing of the truth.

"*Be good, Jay,*" Shi chuckled mentally.

"*I hardly want to encourage them.*" He shot back with a smirk.

"*And if you break out laughing, you'll do just that.*"

"So why are you here?" Fenrik asked the Lionesses curiously.

"Vacation," the pair grinned in unison. "We take one every year."

"Enjoying yourselves so far?" He asked, starting in on his dinner, making sure to mentally check his manners for the more formal surroundings.

"Very much," Terra grinned. "Particularly the concert last night. "Cameriin was fabulous."

"Wasn't she?" Jay finally got interested in the conversation, his entire body language picking up.

"*And so ends any chance of getting another word in,*" Fenrik chuckled in tolerant amusement.

"Padawan, come with me." Master Ursal spoke firmly as Shi got out of the skycab before her mates.

"Yes Master," Shivasta said easily, falling into step behind the larger Bear. She didn't betray the response, but she couldn't help but wonder what was happening, if something had gone wrong or if she'd forgotten something.

That question got bigger in her mind as she was led to the sparring chambers. She couldn't think of any reason to be here.

At least... not this soon after she'd gotten back.

She was led deeper in, towards the demonstration chamber, and it began to dawn on her what was probably happening.

"*Shi?*" Jay's mind brushed hers gently, drawn by the surprise in her mind to check on her. He was still awkward with telepathy, and fairly weak for a Jedi, but he had enough ability now to talk without a formal bond.

"*I think my Trials are starting,*" she explained. "*Can't talk right now, I'll be back in our quarters as soon as I can.*"

"*All right,*" he accepted the explanation without question and his mind retreated to it's usual level.

Shivasta tried to center herself, pushing the suddenness of the call aside. Fortunately, she had her lightsaber with her. She wished she hadn't had to tell Jay to wait, but she didn't want any chance that somebody would decide that it wasn't truly single-combat if she had him in the back of her mind.

At least the Trials were supposed to be an assessment of her skills, not whether she could defeat her opponent or not. She wouldn't be called if she wasn't ready either, by her Master's assessment.

She just couldn't help but think about the fact that she'd proven to be one of the lowest-ranked duelists throughout her entire career. Jay and Fenrik had both helped her move up from "the lowest-ranked," but even with that she didn't really have the skills necessary with her lightsaber.

She told herself to stop thinking that way. If Jay or Fenrik were leaving they'd have reamed her out for an hour for thinking that, to say nothing of what Master Ursal would probably say.

She took a moment to center herself properly. She was one of the lowest-ranked Padawans her age, yes, but she wasn't bad enough that anybody had suggested she needed more tutoring than she was already getting.

Besides, except for the totally pacifistic Jedi, the Healers were the ones who studied the use of the lightsaber least. That counted in her favor. She could see the Councilors gathered around the demonstration room as Master Ursal led her in.

It was just about time.

She wasn't surprised to see the Tiger step onto the mat, or that he was a full Knight. This wasn't a battle she was intended to win; it was simply to prove that she had the minimal skill level required of a Knight.

Winning a fight would come later, when she was taking the test of Defense. She focused on that, on at least achieving a draw, and assumed a position that would be fitting for before a duel.

"You do not claim the pacifist's right?" Master Shan asked with a raised eyebrow.

It was tempting, in a way. There would be no failing the test if they agreed to that 'out,' and it wouldn't be uncommon in the least for a Healer.

Just for her.

"No," she said evenly. "I am a Healer, it is true, but not one who refuses to fight when it is necessary."

"Very well," Master Shan inclined his head fractionally. "Begin."

She barely had time to register the order before she was under attack.

She brought her lightsaber up, the blade gleaming silver as it met the blue blade of her opponent. She focused on fighting defensively at first, knowing full well that it was her best skill. It didn't take a genius to figure out that the Tiger was holding back, keeping his skill down reasonably close to her level.

She wondered how long that was going to last. He would barely have to try to put her in her place, but that wasn't going to be news to anyone there. Very soon, she'd have to make an offensive move. This was her lightsaber Trial after all.

She started to shift to the offensive, her blade crackling against the blue one she faced. She could recognize elements in the Tiger's fighting style, vaguely similar to Fenrik's. That gave her something to work with, at least.

It wasn't nearly enough, but at least she wasn't just reacting to his actions. She focused and became a little more aggressive without costing her defense too much.

She had to remind herself not to call on the Force, or her other skills. In a duel, especially when it had not been agreed to, it would be the fastest way to demonstrate that she wasn't as far along as she needed to be.

As it was, she had to admit; she wasn't doing too badly. A few months ago and it would have been over by now. She could feel the approval from her Master. Not because she was winning. She wasn't. But because she was doing as well as would be expected for a Healer willing to fight. It wasn't saying much for real combat skills, but it was enough to pass.

Shi winced internally as one of her blows came dangerously close to the Tiger's robes. She was starting to lose her focus, getting away from her center.

She took a step back, dropping her saber into the yield position and lowering her eyes respectfully. She knew the Knight would accept the gesture; beyond tradition, it was clear that he was the victor on the off-chance he particularly cared.

"Accepted." Master Shan called out. "Begin."

The Tiger instantly got more serious. He knew already her primary moves and he clearly was pushing her hard with these first blows.

The first blow had almost made it past her defenses; since when had there been multiple rounds to this test?

She defended herself as well as she could, but was taken completely off-guard when the Knight thrust out his hand and hurled her off her feet. The clear breach of dueling protocol made it clear what was happening; they were mixing the defense Trial in with the proficiency one.

All right; if they were going to take advantage of her weakness with a lightsaber, she was going to take advantage of the training she'd had in how not to fight with one.

She rolled back to her feet, back on the defensive. Then, just as the Knight swung his own blade towards her, she twisted back out of the way, moving her 'saber out of the attack's way. The surprise in the Tiger's eyes was clear, even if it only lasted for a moment. That was enough for Shi.

While he was off balance, she shot her hand up beneath his arm, two stiff fingers striking the nerve bundle that controlled the limb, temporarily paralyzing it. Before she could press the advantage, another wave of the Force pushed her back, her lightsaber extinguishing as it flew from her single-handed grip.

Centering herself as quickly as she could, she reached out through the Force, rolling out of the way of the next attack. She saw the familiar pattern of the healthy Knight, though the flow of energy through his left arm was disrupted. That was going to be her chance.

While she was disarmed, the Tiger took the opportunity to summon the Force and undo the pinched nerves, restoring his mobility - just as the young Healer focused all her skill and energy on the same point. The Tiger's defenses and shields had been down; Shivasta wasn't known for being a particularly effective telepath, and a healer's skills weren't typically used for attack.

Except for one.

Taking advantage of the moment of laxity, Shivasta had worked her healing and life-energies through the Tiger's body. Not to soothe his slight fatigue or deal with any minor injuries he might be sporting, but to send a chaotic surge through the flow of the Force through his body as it tried to balance itself out again. She knew it had worked when the Knight groaned and clutched at his stomach, his body rebelling against uncontrolled adrenaline surges and hormones that combined to make him feel distinctly ill.

Keeping a close eye on him, she nodded as he extinguished his 'saber in surrender, not particularly able to end it with more dignity. She reached out to summon her 'saber to her hand, holstering it before she moved to make sure her malacia technique had worked the way it was supposed to, rather than being beyond his body's ability to deal with properly.

"Impressive, Padawan." Master Shan commended with a note of approval in his voice. "Do put him right now."

"I'd been planning on it, Master," she said simply, doing just that, her hands ghosting over pressure points and chakras as she stabilized the Force flowing through him. Malacia wasn't an easy technique, but most healers learned it for emergencies.

Ever since Shi had built her lightsaber, she'd worked to master it instead, and that included reversing its effects.

"Feeling better?" She asked the Tiger softly once she sensed that everything was back in place.

"Yes," he nodded and striated. "Most impressive, Padawan."

"Thank you," she said, standing and bowing respectfully. "I didn't have much choice, Knight Frall. You're easily as skilled as I'd heard."

Though, privately, she did think Fenrik would be able to beat him, given more experience.

"You are dismissed." Master Shan told her. "We will see you soon."

"Thank you," she said, bowing towards the Doberman and her Master, seated near him, before she left to return to her quarters.

That was about when it registered with her that, unless she'd done something wrong she didn't know about, she'd just passed her first two Trials.

She was practically buzzing inside as she left the demonstration room, getting ready to grab a quick shower before heading back. Instead, she noticed a small crowd gathering around one of the sparring chambers.

She moved up to see what was happening, and saw Fenrik and Jay practicing Jay's techniques. She chuckled and shook her head slightly as she moved to the front of the group to watch her mates.

Leave it to them to get back to 'saber practice just after getting home.

Still, it pointed out just how superior their skills were compared to hers ... or most of the Order their age. Fenrik was the better one when sparing and had more battle experience and it showed, but she expected Jay would actually be more dangerous in a real fight. He was unpredictable. Improvisation was in his very soul. Even on the sparing mat, he wouldn't be held to any set of moves, even when working in his own SWAT Form.

It was a testament to Fenrik's skills that he held his own in a Form he was still learning against the one who'd created it.

He'd definitely taken to it well, even fighting with a lightsaber set he hadn't turned to himself. The new form wasn't as artistic as some of the older ones, but it was definitely effective. In many ways it was more acrobatic and fast paced. Smooth and flowing without a single wasted muscle twitch or breath. A Form that's very purpose was to evolve with every fight. She couldn't imagine what it would be like to have to fight either of them seriously.

Well... all right, she could, but every time she thought about it the fight was over very, very quickly.

That was especially true after watching one of these bouts when the boys were going all out against each other. It was almost too easy to forget they were sparring and not trying to kill each other. Then she'd feel the emotions flowing from them both and it was impossible to forget. They both felt the calm joyfulness of centered exertion that was as much from sparring as it was from being so close to each other, so in synch with their mate. It wasn't that much different from what it felt like when they got seriously physical during sex without her.

Which usually came after a sparring match like this. She smiled and waited for the two of them to finish. It was probably going to be one heck of a night.

She was so entranced by watching the fast, powerful strikes and counter-strikes of the match she nearly missed the signal that ended it before they stepped back and rested their sabers before extinguishing them and bowing.

It was only then that she realized she'd been watching for the better part of an hour.

She hurried over to the entrance to the room, waiting for her mates to come out.

"You're smiling," Jay purred as they came even with her.

"Mmm ... I was watching you two at work, why wouldn't I be?" She asked, nuzzling his cheek. "Besides, I've got good news once we're back."

"It went well, then?" Jay grinned as they headed for their quarters, intending to shower there.

"What went well?" Fenrik glanced between them.

"Her first Trial." Jay supplied.

"So that's what Master Ursal dragged you off for," the Panther grinned. "How'd it go?"

"Lightsaber proficiency and self-defense tests," Shivasta chuckled ruefully. "About as well as expected, though I'm pretty sure I passed them. The self-defense Trial went easier than the proficiency one, once I knew what was happening."

"They didn't tell you?" Jay looked at her curiously.

"Not for sure," Shivasta said, shaking her head.

"Not too strange," Fenrik said easily. "It's up to whoever's running the Trial. Some Padawans do better in later Trials if they're not sure if they've passed most of them so far or not."

"I'm pretty sure I passed," Shi explained. "They didn't say if I did or not, but everybody felt like I had."

"That's one of the easiest Trials to train for to retake last too." Jay added with a nod as the door to their quarters opened for them. "Not being told to work on it's a pretty good sign you passed."

"Very true," she nodded. "Not that it isn't true even if I did pass. Master Shan actually asked if I planned on claiming pacifist status," she said, rubbing the back of her neck a little sheepishly.

"He could have been asking to see if you'd take the easy way out." Jay suggested.

"That's what I figured," she nodded. "Still, have to wonder if any of them really thought I would. Or that I should. Still held my own, at least," she smiled.

"Which is pretty good, considering you would have been up against someone better than you." Fenrik pointed out with a smile and pulled her into the bathroom. "Shower off and celebrate?"

"If you guys want," she smiled, kissing him lightly. "I can wait too, I know you both like it hotter."

"Oh, just leave your pendant on and I think we can make a happy medium." Jay purred and slid his arms around her to tease her breasts threw her robes.

"Mmm ... only fair to offer," she rumbled, shrugging out of her robes with a slight groan, muscles she didn't use often enough or well enough protesting the protracted sparring earlier and then standing still for so long just afterwards. "So, am I going to be the only one naked in here?" She asked playfully, slipping into the shower.

Fenrik opened the door to his quarters, half-hoping that Jay and Shi wouldn't be there as he started packing for another mission. He was lucky they'd had the time for their vacation; at this rate, if they'd left a day later, he'd have been called off on another mission before he'd gone.

As it was, he was leaving just a couple days later, all of two weeks after he'd gotten back from the last one.

He wouldn't have minded if the missions mattered. But no; some Senator's aide who wasn't important enough to rate a bodyguard had gotten the bright idea to request a Jedi for his trip to Clak'dor.

Clak'dor. The Bith homeworld.

Why the hell did he think he needed a bodyguard on a world where raising your voice in anger was considered dangerously unstable?

Fenrik took a deep breath, closing his eyes and centering himself. This wasn't becoming of a Jedi Knight. His duty was to perform his missions, without complaint, save where the complaint was well-justified. This, unfortunately, was not such a case.

It was a waste of his time, to look at it, but that was as much pride and frustration speaking as actual belief. The Council knew what it was doing when it agreed to this mission, he would trust in them.

"Already?" Jay's voice held disappointment, sympathy and understanding all at once.

"Yeah," Fenrik said, nodding slightly. "Seems I'm up for bodyguard duty."

"Outer Rim again?" Shivasta asked him, stepping into the room behind Jay.

"Of course," the Panther half-chuckled, shaking his head. "On the plus side, the Senate's footing the bill for the breathers I'll need if anything ends up causing trouble on Clak'dor."

"Clak'dor?" Jay raised an eyebrow. "Who could possibly need a Jedi on Clak'dor?"

"No kidding," Shi said dubiously. "*I'd be qualified to handle the Chancellor's security there."

"I was just asking myself that same question," Fenrik said, smiling too-sweetly. "Maybe the Council thinks it's a way they can get me to take some time off and relax without telling me I can't go on missions anymore. Some Knights are stubborn that way, after all."

"Might also be something up we don't know about," Shivasta granted, moving to hug the Panther from behind. "Just don't get bored to death on us, 'kay?"

"Yeah," Jay nuzzled him. "Maybe put in for a class or two after this. You haven't been around for months."

"Way ahead of you," Fenrik chuckled. "Finally managed to get out of the beginner's lightsaber courses too. They're going to let me take over that meditative class I've been shooting for. Master Krys D'nely is heading home for a while, so I'll be taking over for him until another of the Masters volunteers."

"Very cool," Jay hugged him. "It'll be good to have you around a bit more."

"Mmm ... you're not the only one thinking that," Fenrik purred, turning to hug both his mates.

"Just wait, they'll get you out of field work yet," Shi giggled, nuzzling the Panther's neck.

"Sure, after about forty years when I'm going grey," he smirked, returning the nuzzle.

"We'll see about that," Jay winked at him and kissed him solidly. "Any idea how long this one's going to last?"

"Should be back in time for your birthday," Fenrik smiled, returning the kiss.

"*And if I'm not,*" he told Shi mentally, "*your job to get him his present.*"

"*Will do,*" she promised him.

Jay finished his katas in the main sparing gym, aware of his now customary watcher studying him. He'd seen her about, a feline like none he'd seen elsewhere: a sandy-furred sabertooth. She'd been little more than a toddler when he'd first seen her watching him, now she was probably five or six and wearing robes.

"Sharo, isn't it?" He asked casually as he walked up to her.

"Yes sir," she said, standing up quickly and brushing off her robes, a little embarrassed that he'd noticed her.

"What's fascinating about me?" He asked gently and crouched to be on her eye level.

She ducked her head and blushed. "I like how you look. In the Force."

"Is that all?" Jay cocked his head a bit.

"You aren't like the others." She blushed brighter. "You're still fiery and unique. Still yourself."

"Everyone is unique, Sharo."

"Not many here seem to believe that. There's only one right way, only one way to be a good person." She struggled to explain something she felt more than knew and had too many battles with her caretakers over already. "I want to be like you. I still want to be me, when all this is over."

"You really don't like it here, do you?" He said softly and brushed her cheek.

"I don't like fighting with them, but when they tell me what I am is wrong ...." she let it drift off, the understanding resonation from the young adult with her a welcome relief to most of her interactions.

"Maybe I can help." He said quietly. "My Master is on the Council, she might be able to get you into a program better suited to who you are, unless you are dead set on being a Jedi, like I am."

"Not really." Sharo shook her head a bit. "I mean, Jedi do good, they're respected, but I'd rather not have to fight my elders all the time than be a Jedi."

"Do you know where my quarters are?" Jay asked and got a shy nod. "If I haven't found you in a few days, come by. I can get focused on a project sometimes and loose track of time."

"All right, Padawan Clawson." She nodded seriously. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, Sharo." He smiled and ruffled her ears. "Try not to take the whole view on the Force thing too seriously. They're only teaching you what they believe is correct and for the best."

"I know," she nodded slightly. "It's why I haven't run away. They mean well, and I wouldn't be alive without them."

"I know," he smiled slightly, an understanding sadness in his eyes. "I know exactly what you mean."

"*Master, are you busy?*" Jay reached out to Essani, sure she wasn't in Council.

"*Nothing I can't put on hold for a little while,*" the kushiban replied easily. "*I'm in my quarters, if you'd rather talk face to face.*"

"*Thank you,*" he replied and headed to the familiar location. "*It's about one of the Initiates. She is troubled.*"

"*Sharo,*" Essani guessed, as he felt her attention focus on him more fully. "*The young Remok?*"

"*Yes. She spoke of wanting to run away. It is not the trouble most Initiates have. Her beliefs are very strongly ingrained and do not mesh well with what she is being taught.*"

"*She mentioned her discomfort before,*" Essani agreed with a slight mental sigh. "*Though I didn't know she was that disturbed. Her people's views on the Force are quite different. When you're here, I would like to speak to you about this.*"

Jay nodded and fell silent for the rest of the walk, and came inside when the door to her quarters opened for him without question. He found his Master waiting for him, sitting at her desk with a well-organized stack of papers waiting for when she was done.

"Take a seat," she offered him easily. "How serious do you think she was about wanting to leave?"

He had to think about that for a bit, the variables involved were impressive.

"I think she was very serious about wanting to not have to fight her teachers to remain true to herself." He said softly, understanding a little too well. "She said the reason she hasn't run away is because you mean well, and you saved her life. It won't last past the first time she realizes she has an option outside the Temple."

"Do you think it would be wise to present such an option?" Essani asked him, her tone and fur neutral about the subject.

"Yes," he nodded, his manner more serious than usual. "She wants to be a good person; she still respects Jedi for what we do and that we mean for the best. She is in very little danger of going Dark out of resentment or natural temperament from what I've seen of her. Give her a way to learn to use to gifts without the theology she can't accept and she's unlikely to come to resent us. She may well be willing to work with us."

"Do you have any impression of what sort of path might be more amenable to her?" She asked him.

"Honestly, no." He admitted. "I haven't asked. Do you want me to?"

"If you have the chance, it would be a good idea," she nodded. "I have my own impressions, but I'm interested in yours. You're going to have to start learning to make those decisions soon."

"I'm sure I'll get a chance," he nodded slightly. "She seems to seek me out to watch often enough. I just finally decided to ask her about it."

"She's been watching you for some time," Essani agreed. "I wouldn't be surprised to find out that all your private practices outside have a hidden audience."

"I know they have, but she's hidden herself, so I left her to her seclusion." He smiled slightly. "This time she sat in the gym and watched like any other spectator, she was just watching a lot harder than most do."

"If I didn't know it was because you feel more natural to her, I'd think you had an admirer," Essani chuckled. "It's unfortunate she's taking so poorly to her training; she's holding to the Remok culture and philosophy much more strongly than the other Remok students are."

Jay cocked his head, considering his Master as he worked threw that bit of information. "Given her age, there aren't going to be that many reasons for it." He said softly. "Not many more than I would have, if you'd gotten me before I learned how to separate how things work 'here' from 'there' and act accordingly. Has anyone asked her why she cares so much about it, without being irritated at the time?"

"I'm not sure," Essani admitted. "Most of the instructors have seen her as being no different from some students we've had before that didn't see a difference. I thought the same, until I did a little research. That might be something to find out, though I'm not sure she'll be able to put words to it."

Jay shook his head. "She doesn't need to. I know what to listen for, if it's what I think might be going on. Master ... at two years there is very little in the universe you care about. She might be trying to hold onto something she's not ready to give up and this is all she's got to hold on too, not what actually matters to her. I think it may be the symptom, not the cause. What she's said ... it's very much like what I still do on bad days. She's just not dead set on being a Jedi to compensate for it."

"If you can find out Jay, we'd appreciate it very much," Essani said seriously. "You're right that it's very, very unusual."

"I will try," he agreed just as seriously. "She's got a good heart and she's bright. In or out of the Order, she has real potential to help people."

"That she does," Essani nodded. "And even if it's not with the Order, we don't intend to see that potential lost."

Essani came out of her meditation as she heard the door to her room open, her eyes opening as Jay walked in.

"Any luck?" She asked him, fairly sure he was going to be talking about Sharo.

"Yes, Master." He nodded, his manner more serious than usual as he sat down. "I think I'm right about her too. Is now an okay time to talk?"

"Yes," she said easily. "What are your impressions of her?"

"She needs grief counseling, badly." He said softly. "Did you know she saw her mother, her only living relative, tortured to death?"

"No," Essani said, her fur going a dark grey. "All we were aware of is that she was an orphan, like the other Remok students."

"Her mother was a Healer; someone's whose Force-aura is white, like a Jedi's. Among her kind, it's considered a great sacrifice to be dedicated to life to the point where you can't hunt for yourself. It's one that her mother did not want her to follow. It's pretty jumbled after that, but I'm sure that what she's holding onto isn't her culture so much as her mother's wish for her, to not have a white aura. Something that she is told she should have as a Jedi. She doesn't object to the path Jedi take, she just wants to be what her mother wanted for her; to be a warrior and provider.

"She needs to honor her mother, memories from her first year of life. Come to an understanding of it, her mother's death and what that wish really means. She may well make a fine Jedi. She may not. What she needs now is to deal with what happened when she was an infant or we'll never find out."

"Understandably so," Essani nodded, making a note to tell the Masters in charge of the dealings with the Remok to make sure they find out what had happened to make their adoptees orphans. "If we'd known beforehand...." She shook her head. "Given her associations with healers, do you believe that a healer would be an appropriate choice to help her deal with this?"

"That I am less sure of." He admitted. "The mind-healers have the best training for it, but an important qualifier would also be a lack of contact, or at least negative contact, with Sharo before this. She's eager to please and willing to talk. She doesn't like to fight with her elders. It's a deep scar, but everything about her tells me she'll be relatively easy to work with when you take her past into consideration."

"What do you think of Master Ursal as a good candidate?" Essani asked. "She'll be done with Shivasta's training soon, and has a great deal of experience with healing body and mind alike."

Jay settled on the couch he was on to think about it, both pros and cons based on what Sharo had told and shown him and his own knowledge of the elder Bear.

"I think Sharo will like her, which makes her a good choice." He nodded; running the last of it threw his mind. "I've read the notes on Remok culture that we have, and it syncs with what Sharo has said and feels. It should be enough for Master Ursal to understand the basic culture. I've got a small notes file that covers some details that apply to Sharo, even if they aren't culture-wide."

"I'll speak with her about it then," Essani said. "Did you get any suggestions as to why her mother was killed?"

"Just enough to know I'm missing something." Jay shook his head a bit. "His Force-aura was dark and out of control. I get the feeling that it was an addict or something her mother was trying to help, but I'm not sure."

"Or a psychopath of some sort," Essani nodded, closing her eyes for a moment. "Few addicts would have tortured her. All right, I think we've made some breakthroughs. Thank you for your help, Jay."

"Thank you for listening, Master." He inclined his head deeply to her and stood. "She's a good kid."

"Yes, she is," Essani smiled. "That much I sensed. I suspect she may take well to her training after all, once we've had some time to work with her. Is there anything else you want to bring up?"

"No, Master." He smiled slightly. "I'll leave you to your papers."

"You're far too kind," she said dryly, her fur shifting a playful pink for a moment. "If you think it's a good idea, you might tell Sharo that we'll be finding her a new teacher who'll get along better with her soon."

"I will," he chuckled softly. "It should put her in a better mood until then. Have fun, Master." He added with a wink before leaving.

Essani chuckled, turning back to her paperwork and reaching up to pick up a small datapad. She considered the numbers and symbols along the list for a moment; Jay's assorted test scores and rankings. She scrolled to the bottom quickly, and started punching in her assessment, now finished.

"Recommend Trials commence at first possible opportunity," she typed. Setting it aside, she turned back to her more tedious paperwork, although in a better mood than she usually was for the work.

Essani watched the Council's last audience for the day leave, a Knight with a report on the deteriorating situation on Garos VIII. At least it seemed to be getting worse more slowly than it had been. Maybe there'd still be some time for them to keep it from coming to violence.

"*If there's no other normal business for us to deal with at the moment, I'd like address a more recent situation,*" she said, looking around the Councilors for signs of objection. "*It's regarding the Remok students, young Sharo in particular.*"

"Something has come up, other than what is in the reports?" Master Shan leaned forward in interest.

"*Yes,*" Essani nodded seriously. "*First, we have to tell the Jedi in charge of negotiating with the Remok to find out what happened to the parents of the children we adopt. It seems that many of Sharo's problems aren't stubbornness or a kit's trouble seeing the difference between light side and dark side, but the result of trauma connected to her mother's death.*"

"I will see to it that they do." Master Shan nodded. "How did you come by this idea?"

"*She has been watching Jay as he practices lately,*" Essani explained. "*He went to talk to her about it, and approached me with his concerns for her future with the Jedi. Later conversations brought up what happened to her mother, and the reason she is so resistant to the idea of following the Light exclusively. It seems her mother was a healer, and wanted her to have a more balanced training. Or, as Sharo understands it, not to have the aura of somebody who dedicated themselves entirely to the Light side of the Force. She's holding onto that as a sort of last request. Understandable, given that from what she describes one of her mother's patients tortured her to death.*"

"I see." He murmured slightly. "Any indication of who a good mind-healer would be for her to work with?"

"*Master Ursal,*" Essani said easily. "*For a healer she has a relatively mild aura. She also has the experience and, soon, the time to deal with a situation as delicate as this one is likely to be.*"

"She is certainly competent," Master Shan nodded in agreement. "Do you wish to see to it?"

"*It will be easiest,*" Essani agreed. "*I'll speak to her after Shivasta's next Trial is complete. Speaking of the Trials, I believe that Jay is ready to start taking his. You've all received my report on his progress, and given his performance with this problem, I feel he's fully qualified to start.*"

Master Shan nodded and looked around, pausing a little longer with Masters Noloth and T'qu'l, the two on the Council that had the greatest issues with Jay as a Jedi.

"Agreed, Master Essani." He said simply. "Do you have a suggestion to test him most effectively?"

"*The greatest obstacles he has to deal with are not matters of skills. You can see his scores and know he will easily pass any test of knowledge or skill we put to him.*" she said simply. "*He may be a weak telepath, but we all know that his other skills tend to make up for it. His greatest weakness, even after his training, is in judgment, and we all know that this is the field he's most likely to fall short on. I would propose that we bring him down here and blend his test of judgment with his self-defense Trial. Master Yamari, would you be willing to serve as his opponent for this?*" She asked, looking at the blue-furred Mouse.

"Yes," she nodded easily. "What kind of judgment do you want me to press for?"

"*His judgment for abilities to use, and his willingness to stand down,*" Essani said easily. "*I don't doubt that he will attempt to short out your lightsabers at least once, and that is a viable tactic for this Trial. Do you need to prepare yourself to be able to continue the test after that?*"

"I am prepared," she said easily. "I have been working with him long enough to know his tricks well."

"*Then I suggest that we move down to the demonstration room, I'll let him know to meet me there while we're on the way.*"

"Very well." Master Shan nodded and stood.

Essani and the rest of the Councilors followed the aged Doberman out of the Council Chambers and to the large turbolift that would carry them to the bottom of the Spire.

"*Jay,*" Essani said over their bond, "*are you up?*"

"*Yes, Master.*" He responded on reflex, acute pleasure and the presence of another mind touching his not quite kept off the open bond. "*Minute?*" He requested, though there wasn't going to be much of a choice in the matter.

"*Yes, Padawan,*" she said, shaking her head slightly as she shielded the link from the others. "*Meet me in the demonstration chambers when you're done.*"

She got an affirmative thought before pleasure shattered the coherent connection. He wouldn't be long, she was sure, but he did find the oddest times to 'play' with his lovers. If she didn't know that they were all dedicated to their studies and had test scores to prove it, she'd doubt they did much but pleasure each other.

"*He'll be there shortly after we are, probably,*" she told the Councilors easily.

Jay took a deep breath and settled himself. His body was still tingling from Shi's attentions, but it was the prospect of a battle that had his body keyed up and he was trying to calm down from. A demonstration chamber meant only one thing; he was going to give a show. He wasn't entirely sure why; he knew he wasn't scheduled for anything just now. It narrowed the possibilities down significantly, especially considering that he knew everybody there and they were all Councilors.

He bowed to them and waited to hear what was going to happen.

"Padawan Clawson," Master Shan said, "your Master has informed us that she believes you are ready to begin your Trials of Knighthood. Do you agree with this assessment?"

His surprise was clear to them all, but he collected himself quickly and considered it honestly, judging himself as best he could.

"Yes, Master Shan. I do."

Master Yamari stood and walked down into the demonstration chamber with him, her twin duel-bladed lightsabers at her sides.

"Given your obvious proficiency with the lightsaber, the Council has agreed to waive that particular test," Master Shan explained. "However, we still need you to prove your capacity for self-defense. Master Yamari has volunteered to serve as an opponent in this Trial."

He nodded and stepped back to the edge of the circle and relaxed into the starting position for the SWAT Form, his blacklight lightsabers lit and ready. A twinge in the back of his mind disagreed with the premise. He was better at defense than offence, but he was also notorious for fighting oddly in freestyle rounds. They could be testing a number of things.

Yamari relaxed into her own stance, her dark blue sabers igniting as she studied his stance. He knew she was better than he was, even though he'd taught her how to use the SWAT Form 'sabers, and that she knew virtually every tactic he had. He'd have to improvise if he was going to pass this against her.

Fortunately, that was something he was very good at. At the very least, she'd pay dearly for a victory.

"Begin," Master Shan called. Master Yamari practically flew towards him, her sabers flashing as she attacked.

It was his first look at her at full capability, and he began calculating even as he blocked and moved, seeking an opening to end the contest without sacrificing his defense against her 'sabers and the Force skills she wielded. They weren't easy to reach, and even less inclined to listen to him, but enough power would override loyalty, and he had that and much more.

Unfortunately, she wasn't giving him much time to work on it. She would start to move into one technique, then change to another at the last second, forcing him to put all his attention on blocking the new technique. Despite the sudden shifts, he couldn't help but notice that none of them detracted from the beauty of the dance she was doing already.

He was completely taken off-guard when she reached out with the Force, sending him staggering back. He kept his balance and both 'sabers in the end, and everyone there felt the Force in the entire area shift as Jay shifted mindsets from 'duel' to 'battle'. Things were about to get interesting as the young feline tapped into his creative, rules-breaking nature.

He came at her, giving in completely to the Force to run the physical end of things as his mind turned to every skill he had and every unexpected use of them not in the books.

She countered the offensive shift easily, using one blade defensively and the other to continue her offensive maneuvers. When that one finally gave in to his efforts and blinked out, she practically launched into the air, forming a graceful arc of blue fur and brown robes as she landed, safely out of reach, and reignited the blade. She reached out towards him, using the Force to take hold of one of his lightsabers and try to pull it out of his hand.

She was a bit surprised that he was ready for it, lashing back at her with a solid Force-blow to the chest even as he held on to his 'sabers tightly.

It was that moment that every Master in the room realized that he was up to something very, very new. The Force gathered around him, a draw that not even flight came close to, and he stepped sideways, his lightsabers in an odd position.

Even Master Shan drew a sharp breath when he finished the step on the other side the mat.

He wasn't where he wanted to be, but Jay took the stunned fraction of a second he got from the unprecedented move to try and yank Master Yamari's lightsabers from her hands and pull her feet out from under her.

The first worked; her lightsabers were pulled from her grip and were hooked to Jay's belt by a more delicate Force use, but he felt his attempt on her feet seem to ripple around her, her defenses prepared for a direct use of the Force by now.

"Be still," she told him, shifting to a defensive position and putting the weight of the Force behind her words. "This is over."

Jay's ears flattened and he shook his head, fighting the suggestion that didn't match with her body language.

She knew she hadn't bought herself much time; Jay was stronger willed than that, and it would have been a stretch even against somebody who wasn't Jedi trained. She did the only thing she could think to do right now that would work. She reached out and picked him up by the scruff, using the Force to provide just enough support she wouldn't hurt him as she lifted him bodily into the air.

The response was immediate.

Her mind was assaulted by a rapid series of commands. That she'd lost her grip and he was free. That she now had three opponents attacking. That she had her lightsabers back.

None of the suggestions had any real influence on her; no one of them particularly bothered her even. However, taken all at once, a flurry of telepathic activity that refused to be ignored, it was just enough to distract her grip. As Jay fell to the floor, she did manage to pull her lightsabers back to her with a rip of cloth as they came off his belt, igniting them and falling into a defensive stance, fully expecting that he'd be following them shortly.

Instead he surprised everyone by stepping back and into the classic 'match over' position.

Master Yamari dropped into the same position, inclining her head towards him slightly. It seemed he had learned his lesson about accepting a draw. He may have insisted it be on his own terms and on his feet, but he'd still done it, and that was what counted.

Not too long ago, she would have still been fighting him.

Essani reached out to Jay as the two extinguished their lightsabers.

"*You did well, Jay,*" she told him. "*You have passed your self-defense Trial, and the first Trial of judgment.*"

"*Thank you, Master.*" He inclined his head to her fractionally.

"Have you practiced that teleportation technique before, Padawan Clawson?" Master Noloth asked from where he was sitting, watching the young feline intently.

"No, Master Noloth." Jay answered easily. "It occurred to me during the battle."

"You might take care practicing it in the future," the Lizard told him. "It wouldn't do to have you accidentally place yourself in a wall."

"Yes, Master Noloth." He accepted the instruction without question.

"We may have questions about how you accomplished that later," Master Shan told him. "You may return to your quarters, if you wish. Well done, Padawan."

"Thank you, Master Shan." He bowed deeply to the Council and left, his body more than eager to get back to Shi and a nice long shower.

"Hey, Jay?" Shivasta's hands closed around her mate's shoulders as she got back from her shift in medical the next day, her thumbs rubbing his shoulders gently. "What's this I hear about you managing to surprise the entire Council yesterday?"

"I just did what I do," he chuckled and leaned back to nuzzle her. "I did a little improving with using Force-energy."

"You make it sound so simple," she chuckled, nuzzling his neck and moving her arms around to hug him. "So c'mon, details. I don't have many, if you haven't guessed. The Council's keeping it mostly under wraps."

"No doubt to keep people from trying it." He shook his head with a slightly amused sound. "I just teleported. Folded space so one step took me across the mat."

"You just teleported?" She asked, looking at him incredulously. "That's like saying you 'just' managed to jump yourself through hyperspace, Jay. What happened? It worked?"

"Sort of. I didn't end up where I intended to, but it was only a few feet off. Not bad for an idea I thought up the second before."

"Eesh." Shivasta shook her head, kissing his neck lightly. "You are gonna be careful if you do that again, right? I mean, if you stepped to the other side of the mat, I can only imagine what'd happen if somebody stepped in your way while you were doing that."

"It takes way too much effort to be used normally," Jay shook his head and reached up ruffle her hair. "Act of desperation stuff."

"Good," she murmured, scratching his chest lightly. "Not that I don't like it when you experiment, but I don't think it'd be all that fun if you ended up stepping through somebody."

"Probably not," he admitted. "More so for them than me, but it'd probably be messy."

"Or at least give me one heck of a weird job for the evening," she nodded. "So, you're officially taking your Trials now too?"

"Yap, I passed self-defense and the first round of judgment, and they waived lightsaber proficiency." He tipped his head back to kiss her.

"Mmm ... just wait, you'll end up making Knight faster than I do," she teased, kissing him back. "Unless I keep you too busy to focus on it," she winked.

"You try too hard and next time Essani won't shield it from the Council." He pointed out with a smirk.

"Mmm... well, I'm sure she didn't get too many details, or we would've heard about it by now," Shivasta giggled, still blushing a bit as she drew Jay up to his feet. "Mmm... well, you're not doing any of your trials now, so why don't we take advantage of it, hmm? I'm in a snuggly mood after medical today."

"You're not going to get any complaints from me," he chuckled and drew her close to him for a lingering kiss as he felt her body through her robes. "You know what you do to me." He added throatily.

"Mmm ... why don't you show me?" She asked with a seductive rumble, kissing him deeply and working her hands up under his robes.

He began to kiss down her neck, his hands teasing her nipples threw the layers of cloth.

"Mmm ... the things you do to me," she murmured throatily, working his robes off his shoulders and exploring the thick rusty fur that covered his body. Even after all these years, the heat difference between them was still a surprise.

She froze when he did, a quizzical look on her face when he sighed.

"We have got to work on this timing." Jay shook his head. "I have a Trial to attend."

She sighed, shaking her head with a playful pout.

"Well, at least I didn't have you in my mouth this time," she giggled. "Mmm ... I'll be waiting for you to get back," she winked. "Just don't let it throw you off."

"If I do, I'm not ready." He chuckled and kissed her as he put his robes back on. "I'll be back." He promised.

"Mmm ... hope it's soon," Shi smiled, slipping her robes off and going to grab a shower while Jay went for his Trial.

Knight Aren sighed mentally as the Pomeranian he was 'guarding' ranted on about the insufferable nature of the Bith and their insistence that their technology not be used for weapons. He had to wonder just what the idiot had been thinking coming out here and suggesting it. The last time Bith technology had been used as weapons... well, there was a reason the planet was a wasteland outside the domed cities.

He was just glad that they were heading home now. It wouldn't be long, and he could drop the Pom off at the Senate building and never have to deal with him again.

In the meantime, he was going to get a lot of practice filtering out annoying distractions.

The squeals of Gamorreans near the entrance drew his attention; they weren't entirely unheard of on Clak'dor, but there weren't common either.

Something about them didn't feel right. Not just feeling off, but feeling up to something.

It wasn't unusual to see them brandishing vibro-axes and blaster rifles. The green-skinned pig-men were loathe to turn over their weapons, and despite the "no active weapons" laws on Clak'dor, the reluctance of any of the local law enforcement to actually enforce them meant that anybody who didn't want to play nice didn't have to.

Seeing a Bith with them, leading some sort of repulsor-forklift ... that was more unusual, especially as they started making their way towards a shuttle whose pre-test preparations were just being completed by its short, sallow-skinned crew.

They looked at the approaching forces, their black eyes getting even wider if it was possible.

Fenrik watched them carefully, now fairly sure something was going on that wasn't legal. But he couldn't get involved until he had a good idea of what.

"Excuse me, I need to borrow your ship," the Bith with the Gamorreans told the technicians.

"What are you talking about?" They asked. "You can't just come in here and do this!" They were very clearly concerned, more about the guards than the Bith, but the Gamorreans were more focused on Fenrik and the few other outworlders in the hangar.

"I'm sorry, I don't have time to explain," the scientist said dismissively. "I don't want to resort to violence, but it is imperative that my project be allowed to continue."

"What project?" One of the Gamorreans looked at the Bith technician and snorted menacingly, convincing him to shut up. The flight techs started moving away from the ship, clearly willing to let the scientist do what he was going to rather than risk fighting the massive pig-men.

"I'm afraid that theft is not permitted." Fenrik said softly, his manner taking on the full authority of his Order and his training. This fight might be suicidal to most on this world, but it was a simple one for him.

"Restrain him," the scientist said, almost sharply, working to load his repulsor-forklift and its payload as the Gamorreans started moving towards the Jedi.

"What are you doing?" The Pomeranian asked him incredulously, looking from the Panther to the approaching pack of mercenaries.

"My duty." Knight Aren said simply and wasted no time in advancing on the Gamorreans, his lightsaber blazing white.

They snorted and squealed orders between each other, spreading out so he wouldn't be able to focus on more than one of them at a time. These weren't common thugs; they were clearly more experienced in how to fight against a Jedi.

He had to wonder just how much the Bith was paying them to do this though. Probably a significant amount.

They readied their blaster rifles, spread out far enough that Fenrik would have to choose with side to focus on if they all started firing at once.

He could handle it, but it wasn't going to be easy.

It also made his target clear: the forklift.

He called on the Force for speed and focused on getting past the guards and stopping whatever this was about.

Blaster bolts ripped through the air behind him as he dove around the mercenaries. The Bith scientist started pushing at the back of the platform, desperately trying to speed the process as he realized his guards weren't going to be enough now.

"Grab his companion!" The Bith shouted as Fenrik reached his location.

It was enough to get the Jedi's attention, but not enough to save the forklift, which fell to a Force-blow even as Fenrik turned to deal with the Gamorreans and protect his charge, who was doing the smartest thing yet: running for the Sharufa at full speed.

He made it there just as Fenrik barreled through the line of Gamorrean thugs, knocking a couple of them over as guard droids finally arrived in the hangar. With the Pom safe in a ship that nothing got into uninvited, Fenrik turned back towards the cause of the trouble and lifted the Bith bodily into the air while he kept his lightsaber ready to deal with the muscle.

Fortunately, they seemed less than thrilled with the idea of going up against the Jedi and droids at the same time.

"You don't understand!" The Bith scientist told him. "I have to complete the test!"

"If you have to steal a shuttle to do it, I doubt that." Fenrik countered and ghosted across the top of his mind to catch just what this 'test' was all about.

He caught images of Clak'dor's skies turning from a chemically-laden pint to a more natural color, the mutated life-forms dramatically returning to more benign, if not entirely normal, versions of themselves.

Glancing at the large object on the trashed forklift, he found the word to be used for it 'gene-bomb.'

Great; he'd been trying to reverse the planet's damage using the same sort of science-gone-wrong that had ruined it in the first place.

"Even if you're right, this is not the way to find out." Fenrik said calmly.

"All the tests show it will work!" He protested. "It works in all the simulations, it works in the lab, the others just won't believe it!"

"Thank you for your assistance, Jedi," one of the guard-droids said, moving to take the scientist while its counterparts kept the Gamorreans under guard. "He recently attempted to convince the Ecological Panel that his plan would work; they were unconvinced by his work, according to my files. Nobody expected he would attempt anything like this."

"If he'd spent his money on a shuttle and not guards, he would have gotten away with it too." Fenrik said simply and let the scientist down and into the droid's care. "I noticed when he tried to steal the shuttle."

"That would be because he was banned from leaving the city until review of his procedures was complete," the droid said. "Thank you for your assistance; you may be on your way, we'll deal with this."

Knight Aren nodded and turned to go back to the Sharufa. He had some misgivings about the situation, but he had nothing close to the knowledge required to make a better choice. He'd report it to the Council and let them figure it out. If the local Ecological Panel was being unfair, the Council had plenty of authority to pressure them into being reasonable.

He had to wonder if they'd had a feeling something like this was going to happen. It would do a lot for explaining just why they'd sent him here. It certainly wasn't because of his official mission.

"What did you think you were doing?!? I could've been killed!"

Ah, yes. The official reason he was here.

"Highly unlikely." Knight Aren informed him evenly and walked to the cockpit.

"Unlikely?!? Those weren't Bith, those were Gamorreans! They tear people like me apart for fun!"

Fenrik had to admit, he was finding it harder to blame them for it with every high-pitched word coming out of the functionary's mouth.

"So do ill-tempered Panthers." He pointed out, hoping it would shut him up.

"You can't talk to me like that, you...." Fenrik tuned the tirade out, finally reaching his gag limit and deciding to do something about it. He turned to face the Pomeranian, looking down into the beady eyes, glittering with righteous indignation.

"This was all too much excitement for you to deal with," he said, waving his hand just inside the Pom's field of vision to distract him and let the suggestion have a better chance of working. "You should go back to your quarters and lay down for a few hours."

"I-I'm going to go lay down," the bureaucrat told him, turning and marching off as though he was somehow being defiant. Fenrik rolled his eyes and walked up to the cockpit to start the takeoff procedures.

He would be so glad to get home after this.

"Mmm ... hope you have a good time tonight, Jay," Shi smiled, snuggling up against him in the back seat of the air-cab that was secretly taking them to the Kallarak Amphitheater, Rush's first major concert on Coruscant.

It had taken quite a bit of finagling to get good tickets before they were sold out, and even more to keep Jay from finding out about the concert before he couldn't get tickets on his own anymore, but she was hoping it'd be worth it. Only problem with the night so far was that Fenrik was still in transit from Clak'dor, though it wasn't the first time one of them had missed a birthday or anniversary. Wouldn't be the last either, she was sure.

"How could I not have a good time?" He purred, nuzzling her affectionately as the air cab set down outside the bustling Amphitheater. "You're here."

"Flatterer," Shi smirked, climbing out as the cab doors opened. "Come on," she said eagerly, helping Jay out. "Let's get there before the line to get in gets too long."

He nodded, following her without question. "Shi?" He finally took in where they were and blinked. "What have you got planned?"

"Mmm ... let's just say you're not the only one who can get good seats at concerts," she winked at him as they made their way to the quickly forming lines. She reached into a pocket of her nicer out-on-the-town clothes and pull out a disposable datapad to hand it to Jay.

"Rush?" He breathed and looked up and around, his heart pounding as it realized they were in the mid-thousands for seats -- damn nice for Jedi. "You and Fenrik are getting sneaky." He purred and nuzzled her.

"We try," she grinned, nuzzling him back. "I take it you approve?"

"Hell yes," he laughed easily as they got in line. "On both counts."

"Well, the 'sneaky' part it doesn't matter if you approve or not," she grinned. "We're going to be doing it either way. Took calling in a few favors to get a hold of these."

"I bet," Jay shook his head with a grin and kissed her solidly. "And a lot of sweet-talking the computers to not let me in on it."

"Actually, that just took buying them the old fashioned way," she winked. "And having somebody else do it for us. We actually got these -"

Whatever she was going to say was cut off by a blast that shook the Amphitheater to its very foundations, the entire building shaking dangerously as screams started inside.

The crowd near the edges started grabbing desperately for anything to hold on to that would keep them from falling into the great canyons between Coruscant's buildings. Others, farther from the edge, started to panic as the ornate architecture of the Kallarak Amphitheater began to break under the stresses of further, smaller explosions that punctuated the growing panic inside and out.

"Look out!" Shi shouted, reaching out to grab one of the falling laser arrays and push it away from the crowds before it crashed to the ground in a tangle of wreckage.

Jay moved instinctively towards the building, his greater skill at telekinesis making it relatively safe for most of the crowd, though there were few places to put the stuff even as his mind called out to every vehicle and emergency system he could contact to call them to the scene.

He barely felt the pain of Shi getting hit, but it spun him around on his heels in time to see her fall, a spotted white Dog behind her with a short club in his hand, ready to hit her again.

Jay held his control over the large objects he was holding up even as training from his youngest years brought an arm up to shoot a needle dart through the canine's throat, killing him as it severed his spine. He focused on the pair, and an air cab that had answered his call, setting them inside and sending it off to the Temple even as he was turning to go inside and help rescue the people already inside.

Mercifully, the vast majority of the amphitheater's million seats were empty, and most of those who were there were at the lowest levels where there was plenty of space to get out. Unfortunately, several of the exits were either blocked by rubble, or by fires set off by the bombs that had gone off. The ground rocked again as another explosion hit and Jay heard a scream off to the right, behind one of the fires.

He bolted that way, following his ears even as he focused his power on extinguishing the fires, both the ones in front of him and the others he could reach, by cutting off their oxygen in a bubble of Force.

"Calm down." He ordered the panicking shewolf as he rushed up, putting enough Force behind his words to get through to her so he could focus on her unconscious mate, half buried in the rumble. "He'll be all right." He told her firmly, but without Force, as he gave what little healing he could to stabilize the male Wolf and get him out from under the rubble.

"Wh-where do we go?" She asked him as he picked her mate up.

"*Master, we have a major problem at the Kallarak Amphitheater. Multiple bombs going off. I alerted the civvies, but help would be useful. Shi's injured, on her way back to the Temple, unconscious, with her attacker, DOA.*" He contacted Essani as his brain started to catch up with what was going on. "Just follow me, ma'am."

"*We just found out, Padawan,*" Essani told him as he started to lead the shewolf out. "*We're sending everyone we can spare to help. Do what you can; we're on our way.*"

Jay closed his eyes on the too-brief lift ride to Medical. His body was exhausted, his mind spent and he'd used more Force energy than any time other than when he's restored the Kraken. His clothes, the loose, shimmering wraps he wore when he was out for the night, were torn and covered in soot, blood and the reek of other people's terror. He knew he should change, but he had to see Shi first. He had to make sure she really was all right after he'd left her in that skycab with the corpse of her attacker.

Medical was as busy as he could ever remember seeing it, mostly with the people from the bombing who'd been hurt worst and couldn't afford to be taken to one of Coruscant's larger hospitals for a bacta treatment. He noticed the Wolf he'd saved, his mate looking up at him with a grateful smile. He was sleeping, his leg in a restraining-cast, but he'd be fine in the end.

Shi wasn't that far off, sitting up in bed with a look on her face he recognized all too well; the look of wanting to help but being under strict orders not to.

"Hey, love." Jay smiled as he walked up to her to brush an errant strand of hair from her face. "Good to see your eyes again."

"Hey," she smiled back at him. "Good to be seeing through them again. Think you can convince somebody I can help out around here now that I'm not concussed anymore?"

"Probably only if I promise to keep you in our quarters till late ... whatever the next time is." He smiled warmly. "I bet it's your Master who did this."

"I know it was," she muttered, crossing her arms. "I know I shouldn't be going out to help, but look around here! I know I can handle this."

"There's nothing much there to help with anymore, or I wouldn't be back," he glanced around, and then closed his eyes briefly at a mental contact from his Master. "I have to go report to the Council. I'll see if she'll let you work in here, okay?"

"All right," she nodded, settling back. "Good luck."

"*Thanks,*" he touched her mind briefly before focusing on ordering his mind to report what he knew. He paused on the way out to talk to Master Ursal.

"I have my reasons, Jay," the Bear told him, already knowing what he was going to ask about. "Though I think she can help around here, now that the Amphitheater is under control. I'll let her know."

"Thank you, Master Ursal." He inclined his head politely and left, heading up to the Council Chamber as he banished his physical and mental exhaustion once more to focus on what he needed to tell them.

The atmosphere that awaited him was exceptionally sober, each of the Councilors reviewing reports and information they were getting from the field. Their attention turned to him as he stepped into the great Chamber, datapads put to the side.

"Report, Padawan," Master Shan said simply, his tone dark and concerned. It occurred to Jay that it felt distinctly unusual to be speaking to the Council covered in soot and blood civilian clothes, none of it being his.

"The first explosion of seven went off at twenty-one o-eight, the final one at twenty-one twenty." He began, following the order that worked best for him. "They were set at two minute intervals, with a final large charge set to go off at twenty-two hundred for the rescuers. I disarmed that one before it went off.

"Padawan Shi was injured by a Dalmatian when she was helping control the debris from falling on the crowd. I shot him and sent him back with her in the aircar. I then went inside to help get people out and control the fires and damage. The Amphitheater alerted me to the final bomb and where people still were.

"According to the bomb, a group called the Coruscani Dianogas built and set them. Specifically an Alsatian named Bremer that also goes by Boom. Very meticulous, and very personal. Forensics should be able to trace his handiwork anywhere it goes. They were built in the Southern Underground, at a facility that should be marked on your datapads.

"Six dead that I know of, I lost track of the injured around fifty." He finished and rallied his brain for the questions that would come.

"Do you have any indication of how many others are involved?" Master Shan asked. "Or any other names?"

Jay closed his eyes briefly; dredging up the names of those likely involved from the massive jumble of the other names he's heard in the last day.

"At least twenty were directly involved, likely more." He answered after a quick count of his impressions. "Mostly canines. Dallis, Imerin, Jack, Whistle, Stars, Crasher. I believe some of those names are code or nicknames. I can identify many that I don't have a name for."

"A number of Knights will be sent to capture as many of them as possible," Master Shan nodded. "One last question; why didn't you provide more assistance to Padawan Shivasta?"

The question clearly took the exhausted feline back, though to his credit he didn't move.

"She was safely on her way to the Temple." He spoke softly, not entirely comfortable with the choice for all they could feel he believed he did the right thing. "Not all of those who did survive would have if I'd taken the time to heal her myself."

"Thank you, Padawan," the Doberman said, nodding towards him. "You may return to your quarters and clean up."

"*Once you've rested, you may want to meditate on what has happened,*" Master Essani told him over their bond. "*It may be a few days before I am available again.*"

"Thank you, Masters." He bowed deeply to the Council and left. "*I will, Master.*" He replied to her directly.

"He is making progress," Master Noloth observed. "As for these 'Dianogas,' we should act swiftly. We have to assume they're preparing to move even now."

"And that this is not their only planned attack." Master Bas'rath rumbled. "Who is available to go after them?"

"Knights Sash Poth, Anoon Rar, Aawaia, and Darin are currently ready, along with their Padawans," Master Kareth rattled off quickly. "I already took the liberty of dispatching the available rescue workers from the Amphitheater when Padawan Clawson uploaded the initial coordinates into the system."

"If there are no objections," Master Noloth said, his tone saying how unlikely he thought that was, "I will go with them to the primary target. Once we have the location secured, I will coordinate the search from there."

"Go, and Force be with you, Master Noloth." Master Shan nodded an end to the meeting.

Shivasta snuggled up close to Jay, scratching his chest lightly as she woke up late the next evening. After he'd gotten back, she'd spent the next four hours working in medical, tending to injured victims and then injured Jedi returning from the attacks on the terrorist locations.

She'd finally come back to their quarters to find Jay deeply and soundly asleep. He had still smelled lightly of soot and dust, despite having showered off, and that hadn't changed. It likely wouldn't for a few days without much more attention that he'd been up for giving when he'd gotten back.

She held him close, nuzzling his neck lightly. She'd make sure he got that attention, even if it might take a few hours to talk him into it.

"So glad you didn't get yourself hurt," she murmured softly.

She smiled slightly when he shifted and mumbled, the consciousness she'd felt start to rise in him enough that he'd heard her.

She kissed his neck softly, hoping this might be one of the too-rare mornings the Demon would leave him be. After the night and day before, he did not need to deal with that. He murmured and shifted to draw her into his arms and nuzzled her. He still wasn't exactly awake, but he was aware enough to know who was in bed with him. She felt how it settled him as he slowly explored her body with his hands.

"Love you," she murmured softly, kissing his cheek and returning the gentle exploration, her hands moving through his fur as she pressed against his well-muscled body. A body that responded with more interest than she'd expected, but she wasn't about to object when he began to kiss the skin exposed to his mouth, mostly awake and interested in reaffirming the fact they were both still alive.

She returned his kisses, slowly working up his neck to kiss his mouth tenderly. This was going to be one of their gentler mornings, but she wasn't about to complain about that. Today, they both needed it.

She rubbed his back softly, her smooth tongue playing along his lips until they opened to welcome her into the first real kiss of the morning ... or late evening as it was.

"Love you." Jay purred and pulled her close, nuzzling her neck.

"Love you too," she murmured, returning the nuzzle and reaching up to scratch the back of his neck lightly. "You're okay, right?"

"Still wiped out, but okay," he nodded and kissed her neck. "It could have been so much worse."

"But it wasn't," she pointed out. "Good thing we were there," she murmured, kissing the side of his muzzle.

"Yes," he smiled softly and turned into the kiss for a real one. "And we both got out of it in one piece too." He purred and gently squeezed her ass, his hard, rough cock rubbing up against her abs.

"Mmm ... with nothing more than a lump on the head and a bit of soot in the fur that I'll get out for you later," she agreed, rubbing against him lightly. She reached down between them to take his naked shaft in her hand lightly. "Though it feels like you'd like some attention of a different sort right now."

"It is morning to me, and you are here." He chuckled and kissed her again with a low moan for her skilled touch. "Love how you feel."

"Good," she smiled, starting to stroke his shaft lightly. "'Cause you're going to be feeling a lot more of me."

"Good," he groaned and gave himself over to her willingly.

She kissed her way down his collarbone and torso as she stroked his cock, finally letting the barbed length brush against her breasts before taking him into her hungry mouth. His throaty moan was music to her, arousing and relieving at the same time. As rough as the previous day had been on him, he was recovering quickly.

It wasn't something everyone did, even this late in their training.

"Oh, yes." Jay breathed sharply and reached down to stroke her hair as she worked his cock. As good as it was, he wasn't holding back. He wanted inside her too much to.

"*Soon, love,*" she promised him mentally, teasing his barbs with her tongue, teasing his balls and anus with her fingers as he moaned and began to thrust into her mouth, his pleasure building quickly. She reached up with her free hand, going through a few minor contortions to open the drawer and pull out the thick green lube she'd use next. She took him into her throat, moaning softly around his length as she suckled him hungrily until he stiffened and roared, thrusting into her mouth with each spurt of gooey come.

She pulled back, suckling his tip and drinking his seed hungrily, lapping his shaft clean as she opened the lube and took some of the thick gel on her fingers.

Jay rumbled as he caught his breath, looking forward to the pleasure even more as she coated his barbs with the lube, smoothing his shaft out without decreasing the sensitivity.

Once there was a reasonably thick layer coating his length, she moved up to kiss him hungrily, the flavor of his seed heavy on her breath as she rolled him to his back and slowly slid herself down his length, groaning deeply with him as his hands found her hips and they began moving in the easily pleasure of long familiarity.

Jay felt his breath catch when she tightened her body, his body still sensitive from his first orgasm. He didn't even think about it as he ran his hands along her back and pulled her close to roll them over so she was under him.

"Oh Jay," she moaned as their lips parted, squeezing down around his length lightly. "Love you so much...."

"I love you," he shuddered in their pleasure and found his position to thrust into her deeply, a set of sensations that drove them both to the edge hard and fast.

It didn't take long for Shi to come; her body spasmed around him as she moaned his name, her fingers raking his back as she milked his cock and he roared and filled her with hot seed.

"So sweet," he murmured and kissed her even as he continued to rock into her body as they calmed down.

"You can say that again," Shivasta smiled, kissing him back and squeezing down around his length. "Mmm ... want another round, or let me pamper you for a bit, get that soot-smell out?"

"Well, you know what water does to me," he chuckled throatily and nuzzled her. "It'll be a few rounds before we get out. But I like where I am right now." He added and shifted to thrust into her a little harder, his eyes closing for a moment in the pleasure.

"Ooh... somehow, I think I do too," she rumbled, scratching his back lightly and gripping his ass, pulling him against her. "Take me, Jay."

"Any time you wish." He purred and began thrusting hard, rubbing her clit with slick matted fur with every motion.

"Approaching Coruscant," Doruth rumbled, turning in the pilot's seat to look at Tes and their youngest cubs. "How're they doing?" He asked her, smiling fondly at the tiny sleeping Panther-Wolves curled up in her arms.

"Suckling well and strong." She smiled down at them. "It's a little strange, but they are adorable."

"Definitely," he smiled, reaching over to scratch the female cub nearest him gently between her dark, rounded ears.

"I think Mother has an excellent eye for aesthetics too." Tes chuckled softly. "The combination of features is not only attractive, but gives them the best combat abilities of us both."

"I have to agree," Doruth smiled, kissing Tes softly and turning back to take care of the Gurath through re-entry. "I can't believe they're as well behaved as they are, y'know?" He chuckled. "Remember the kaminoans warning us all over the place about how hybrids were usually nasty as hell?"

"Everything is relative, love." She grinned at him. "As far as I can tell, raising your voice there qualifies. They aren't predators. Not like us at least."

"Very true," he chuckled. "Though if this is ill-tempered to them," he smiled, "have to wonder what they'd say about some of the pups."

"What just about everyone does," she winked. "Run away!"

"That, or give 'em a pocker and hope they're contented hunting the fish," he chuckled. "I can only imagine what Nasim and Abayomi will be like when they get to the hunting stage. Pack stalkers, anybody?"

"As if the last two litters haven't been." Tes snickered. "At least there are only two of them. I can only imagine what a full litter of six would be like to try and manage."

"There's a reason Shiraak Panthers don't do multiple litters too often," Doruth smirked over at her. "When we don't learn our lesson the first time, the second finishes the job."

"Apparently not on you." She winked back and pulled him over for a kiss. "Though I must admit there it something nice about having young and not giving birth."

"Mmm ... I get to cheat," he chuckled slightly, kissing her back. "Besides, Wolf pups still usually hang out with each other, and we've got the Pack. Panther parents have to deal with each cub being individualists, usually just the two of them if that, and they don't have a Temple full of Jedi willing to serve as part-time babysitters and spotters."

"That would make things much less fun," she admitted. "Wolves rarely lack for babysitters. We also haven't had to raise them past the age of two."

"True," he nodded, leveling the Gurath out as they started to approach the Temple. "Though that's as more our work than not wanting to, honestly."

"And the strength of the Force in the pups." She nodded. "I suspect this pair will do best as Jedi."

"Quite possibly," he nodded. "It's pretty potent in them; I can't help but wonder if the process strengthened it some."

"We did say we wanted them sensitive," she pointed out with a slight smile. "They no doubt did their very best to make it as strong as allowed."

"Very true," he nodded. "Well, as long as they don't start opening the door telekinetically when we do close it, I think we'll be okay," he winked.

"If not, they'll get a very early sex ed." She chuckled and shook her head.

"Mmm ... well, let's just worry about introducing them to the welcoming committee for now," he chuckled, standing at the Gurath's automated landing sequence began. "Looks like Fenrik's off on a mission, but we've still got two Padawans and the Pack who look like they're about willing to rip the hatches off."

"You know how much they hate being left behind." Tes grinned in amusement. "It'll never be too soon to see the new young ones."

"And this time they didn't have to wait the better part of a month," he chuckled slightly as they set down. "Want me to take Nasim?" He offered.

"Sure," she carefully shifted so he could pick the small bundle of black fur that was the male of the pair.

He picked up the cub carefully, nuzzling his head lightly as the black-furred hybrid snuggled up in his arms, getting comfortable with a slight yawn, but not waking up the rest of the way.

"They are so adorable when all they want to do is sleep and eat." Tes chuckled softly and stood to follow him outside, and into the maelstrom of a Wolfpack greeting.

Hands and noses were very promptly just about everywhere they could politely be, mostly focused on the new cubs. It was a greeting that Doruth was finally getting used to, thought to judge by the slightly confused looks on Nasim and his sister as they woke up to the smells of unfiltered air and curious Wolves, they were going to take a bit to manage it themselves.

Of course, they had the advantage of being so young and having it in half their genetics, two things he didn't have.

"So this is what a Wolf-Panther mix looks like." Jay's voice was curious when he moved in after the worst of the Wolf-greetings were over for Doruth and they focused a little more on Tes. Even after having reached his full growth a couple years before, it still struck Doruth how tall Jay was. When he'd first picked him up, he doubted the kit would have made five feet at the ears. Now he was the size of a Puma and while still fairly lean, he had put on some serious muscle too.

"Yeah," Doruth smiled as Jay and Shi worked up closer to him. "Fenrik on a mission?" He asked as Nasim stretched in his arms and nipped at the curious furred finger that went to caress his jaw.

"Yes, playing guard for somebody visiting Clak'dor." Jay rolled his eyes.

"Poor guy," Doruth said, shaking his head. "Of course, with the luck we've had, he'll find something to get mixed up in there."

"Probably," Shivasta chuckled, smiling as one of Abayomi's small hands closed around her finger. "They're both beautiful," she told Tes with a smile. "Unusual, but beautiful."

"Their grandmother has a good mind for how well features will go together." Tes grumbled in family pride.

"If not, he'll regret missing the excitement on my birthday." Jay shook his head. "It's been a hell of a couple days."

"What happened?" Doruth asked. "It's starting to sound like we hit the wrong time to go pick up the cubs, almost."

"You didn't catch the news?" Jay blinked in surprise. "The Kallarak Amphitheater was bombed by terrorists just before the Rush concert."

"We were outside when it happened." Shi added quietly. "The Temple's still at full alert."

"Shit," Doruth swore quietly, shaking his head. "Well, you two are okay, obviously, so I'm not going to ask about that. They know who did it yet?"

"Yeah," Shivasta nodded. "And they think they've caught most of them, from what I've heard, they're just not sure if there are any more out there."

"I'm going to their headquarters in a couple hours to see if I can get any information we don't know." Jay added softly and finally got to scritch the male cub's head. "Put my Gift to good use."

"Just be careful," Doruth cautioned him. "You want some backup when you go?"

"You'd be welcome," Jay smiled at him. "Several of the Knights involved in the first retaliatory wave are coming already."

"I'll look over the info you've already got when we get back to our quarters," Doruth said with a slight nod. "Judging by who usually pulls off attacks like this when they happen, I might know the areas they're in better than the other Jedi you'll have better."

"I'll make sure you actually get all the info." Jay nodded. "A lot of them have been captured already. I'm mostly going to pull names and faces of the rest from a headquarters, and maybe where they went."

"That'd definitely be good," Doruth nodded slightly.

Just then, Nasim decided that it was clearly far too long since he and his sister had been the focus of attention, or fed for that matter. The Panther-wolf let out something between a yip and a mew, squirming a bit in Doruth's arms.

"All right, you boys can chat all you want, but it's time for the cubs to eat." Tes took over completely and shifted Abayomi in her arms so she could take Nasim as well. "We'll be in our quarters."

"And I'll be following in just a couple minutes," Doruth said, kissing her lightly as he handed Nasim over, the male cub pawing at his mother lightly.

"We're meeting in bay six in a little under two hours now." Jay told him quietly. "It'll be good to see you there."

"I'll probably be there," Doruth nodded. "I don't know the Southern Underground as well as some places, but probably better than most of the other Jedi you'll have with you."

"If they're that predictable, we need to get more proactive about that place." Jay shook his head a bit. "It's good to have you back, but I have to get ready for the mission. It'll probably be a major effort."

"Understood," Doruth nodded. "Force be with you, both of you," he said, looking between Jay and Shi before heading back towards his quarters with Tes.

He was definitely going to have to look up the information they had on what had happened, especially with the unique level of clearance Jay had just given him.

Jay let his eyes close for a moment, letting the Force of the Jedi fall away in favor of his natural Gift. The Knights around him where uneasy. He could still feel it, though it was only an impression that the materials were picking up. Something this building was well accustomed to.

He knelt and set both his palms flat on the floor, letting his awareness and power flow outwards in a Force-visible, oozing wave that encompassed every non-living thing it touched, linking him into Coruscant itself on a level no one had in generations. It was a rush he hadn't experienced since the Kraken, and it was far more potent.

He reached out and linked to the holo-projector and brought up the first face he found, marking the location and the beginning of its trail with a colored trail of power to show their movements.

"Know him?" He asked distantly.

"I do," Doruth nodded, watching along with the other five Knights with them and Shivasta. "Don't think he's very high up though. See if you can find any more, Jay. Once we've got as many as we can, we'll split up."

"Captured?" Jay asked quietly.

"No," Knight Fran told him.

"More importantly, he's a supplier, not somebody who would have been directly involved in the plot," Doruth added, looking over the image of the half-Wolf.

Jay nodded and dropped the trail, seeking the next one. It was almost on top of the last one, a female Raccoon.

"Now she's more interesting," Doruth said, raising an eyebrow. "I've seen her on a few planets, usually just before something big and expensive blew up. Any idea where she is?"

Jay focused on the trail, following it in a visible trail for several yards before the tracker went invisible, following her footsteps as a bloodhound would follow a scent, but much, much harder to loose. A floor remembered every step taken on it, after all.

"Knight Bes, Koron," Doruth said, looking at the paired Caracal Knights, "follow that one. We can't afford for her to get away; if anybody in this gang is the key to capture, I'd say it's likely her."

"Yes, Master Doruth." The pair nodded easily and took off after the trail of Force leading to who knew where.

Jay split his focus and picked up another trail, an Alsatian male.

"Captured." Knight Fran said, then repeated it for the next six. "Dead." He added about a Mutt, and then paused to double check his memory when a dark furred feline of indeterminate breeding came up.

"Loose." He decided.

The pattern continued until, finally, there were only two left without Knights assigned to their trails.

"Jay, Shi, you two go after the Duros," Doruth told them. "Be careful, but I think he'll probably come without a fight once he's been caught. Just don't let on that you're not Knights yet. I'll take the Cheetah myself," he said, picking the one he was certain was the leader of the Dianogas. It didn't seem to be a particularly large group, mercifully. If they could get them all behind bars quickly enough, then maybe it would discourage imitators.

"If I track them, the other trails will be lost." Jay said softly, his attention stretched to his limit. "I can't really move until it's over."

"Shi, call the Temple on the comlink, ask for somebody else to come and help track the Duros," Doruth said easily. "You'll have to stay here and cover Jay."

"Yes, Master Doruth," she nodded, more than fairly certain that he was doing this mostly to keep them out of trouble, though she couldn't really blame him for it.

Fenrik hurried through the halls of the Temple, doing his best to look and stay calm. He'd heard about the attack just before landing, and barely had time to make sure Shi and Jay were okay before touching down. Right now, he didn't particularly care that everything said they were fine. He wanted to see them.

Unfortunately, the system said they were in a debriefing right now; he'd have to wait until they were finished. He stepped into their quarters, slipping his outer robes off as he entered the bedroom and sat down on the bed. No telling how long they'd be. Hopefully not too long, or he might go stir-crazy.

He took a deep breath, straightening out as he started to meditate, keeping an ear out for any sign they were back. With any luck, he'd be over the initial worry by then.

Too slowly, he felt himself begin to settle. Not to serenity, but by the time he heard the outer door open he didn't feel the need to jump them both that instant.

He came out of his meditation, taking another deep breath before he stood up and left the bedroom to meet them.

"I get sent on one lousy mission to Clak'dor, and I find out you two've been dealing with terrorists when I get back?" He asked, trying to sound like he was joking as he hugged both his mates before they could do more than realize he was in the room.

Of course, that he managed it was testament to just how worn out Jay really was. The Temple itself always let him know what was up.

"So did you have any fun?" Jay smiled and kissed him soundly.

"Mmm ... not as much as you guys did," the Panther chuckled slightly, glancing at Shi. She held up an open hand, signaling that it had been five days since Jay had gotten any decent sleep. "C'mon, let's all wind down a bit, 'kay?" He smiled, drawing Jay back towards the bedroom without resistance.

"Oh, we only just about got blown up, Shi got knocked out by a psychopath and the Order went to war." Jay chuckled softly as he was helped shed his robes and all but melted into the warm, strong embrace of his Panther.

"And finished it," Shi added, stripping down as Fenrik pulled Jay into bed and held him close. The Ice Walker slipped in behind him. "So, what did you do?"

"Besides learning a dozen different ways to say 'sit down and shut up' that work with mind control?" Fenrik chuckled. "Kept some Bith scientist from launching a gene bomb that would have either fixed Clak'dor or wrecked it even more."

"How could you wreck it anymore?" Jay asked sleepily as he relaxed in between his mates with a grateful, contented sound after a hard job well done.

"Mmm ... ask again once you're conscious," Fenrik murmured with a smile, kissing Jay softly. "Maybe by then I'll have an answer."

"*He's so cute like that,*" Shi smiled fondly at the rusty tom between them who didn't even contest the idea of sleep. "*Doruth and Tes are back too, with the cutest Panther-Wolf cubs.*"

"*I'll have to meet them later,*" Fenrik smiled. "*He hasn't been pulling these stretches without sleep the whole time, has he?*"

"*No, only since his birthday.*" She shook her head slightly. "*That's when the attack happened.*"

"*So it's probably just because he's been busy,*" Fenrik said, his relief clear in his mental voice.

"*Yeah, he's not being difficult. Most of the Temple pulled double shifts for at least a couple days.*" She nodded and snuggled in.

"*How're you holding up?*"

"*Fine,*" she told him easily. "*Just got sucker-hit by one of the people involved in the bombing while I was shoving debris out of the way. Knocked out, concussion, I was fine in a half hour.*"

"*Why do I suspect you didn't get out of the Temple for at least a day?*" He chuckled softly.

"*Because I have an over-protective Master and mate?*" Shi chuckled, reaching across Jay to rub his side lightly.

"*You need 'em sometimes,*" Fenrik chuckled, reaching around to scratch her back lightly.

"*Mmm... missed you, Fen,*" she smiled. "*We both have.*"

"*I've missed you both, a lot.*" He murmured softly and snuggled in. He wasn't all that tired, but resting with his mates was the best use of his time until the Council wanted his report that he could think of.

"At this rate, we're going to seriously change the Jedi population." Tes chuckled throatily as she nuzzled her mate when they finally got some time to themselves.

"Mmm... racial mix, or population?" He asked her with a chuckle and a nuzzle. "At least this time there are only two of them. I think the Knights in the crèche were grateful they didn't have a full litter when the second set were ready for them."

"Population." She winked. "You'd think they've be used to it, with as many Wolves as there are around here."

"I think it's less the Wolves than that they're ours," he chuckled. "We've never been accused of having kids who weren't feisty. Can only imagine what they'll think of the cubs."

"As long as it's not fear, they'll survive." Tes snickered and began kissing her way down his powerful neck. "But speaking of cubs ... Fenrik was Knighted five years ago. Any plans for taking in another?"

"Mmm ... not all that soon," he rumbled softly, rubbing her back and nuzzling her head lightly. "Thinking of waiting until Aitana or Karina are ready," he explained.

"Another five years?" She looked up in surprise.

"Something like that," he nodded, looking into her eyes, a little confused at her response. "Just hit another Wolf versus Panther difference, didn't I?"

"Probably," she nodded and continued to kiss her way down his body, taking the time to tease his nipples with her soft tongue and sharp teeth. "Most Wolves teach as often as they can."

"Mmm... I'm just not that much of a teacher, I guess," he chuckled. "I'm not bad at it, but it's not something that's a calling for me." He rubbed her shoulders, rumbling as she nuzzled her way down his belly. "Mmm ... care to give me something to play with up here?" He asked with a half-grin.

"Anytime," she grinned and turned herself around to give him a nice view of her ass and sex.

"Good," he purred, taking her hips and licking her sex with his rough tongue. He lapped at her sex as she reached his own barbed shaft and took him all the way in down to his balls, teasing the barbs with her tongue, mouth and throat.

"Oh yes," he groaned, purring as he spread her pussy lips and slipped his tongue into her tight, wet sex.

It made her shiver and rumble around his cock while she began to work her head back and forth, mimicking the movements of mating. She reached down with one hand to gently fondle and squeeze his balls.

He sank his tongue into her sex deeply, hungrily, exploring her body with his mouth. His teeth pressed lightly into her swollen lips as his balls started to twitch in his mate's fingers. He knew every trick for setting her off, but it was still a rare day that he didn't come in her mouth first.

He swirled his tongue around her insides once more before groaning deeply into her pussy, doing just that. His shaft twitched as his bittersweet cum poured over her tongue and down her throat to be swallowed eagerly. His balls still twitching, she pulled forward from his grip and turned around to guide his cock fully into her body with a groan of her own.

"Oh, yes." Tes howled at the fullness and pleasure of having her mate inside her as her body began to twitch and tighten around him. "Fuck me hard."

He rolled over on top of her, starting to pound his slick, barbed cock into her sex hard and fast, kissing her hungrily.

It was a week or two later, and everything was more or less back to normal after the attack on the Kallarak Amphitheater. Shivasta was packing, breathing slowly and deliberately to keep herself calm deep inside.

She was preparing for her solo mission. It sounded fairly simple, which was what was really worrying her. A Chandrilan noble had contracted an unusual illness, and she was supposed to go make sure he got better. She could probably do it in her sleep, on the face of it.

Well, if it really was that simple, so much the better. She'd have more complicated missions enough in the future, had in the past as well, though she'd always had help with them before. This time, she was on her own.

"Shi?" Jay's voice was uneasy as he poked his head into the bedroom.

"Hi Jay," she smiled over her shoulder, packing up the last spare robe she planned on needing. "Sorry, didn't hear you come in."

"You're going ... the Solo?" He said hesitantly.

"Yeah," she nodded, turning to face him. "Don't worry," she smiled slightly. "I'll be fine. Being trained as a Healer primarily, remember? There's a sick patriarch on Chandrila, Master Ursal wants me to go make sure he gets better. Tells you what they expect me to be doing as a Jedi, doesn't it?" She chuckled.

"Just be careful, okay?" He murmured and came in to slide his arms around her, trying to be supportive despite his own nerves. "Even the simplest of missions can go bad."

She returned the hug, embracing him tightly.

"Y'know I'm always careful," she murmured. "Already learned what happens when you're not once, that's a lesson I don't need again. You just make sure you're here, not worrying yourself to death, and you, when I get back, unless you're off on a mission with Master Essani. If you are, I'll still expect those last two to be true, all right?"

"I've got Fenrik too," he smiled and nuzzled her into a kiss. "He's teaching now, so he's not going anywhere. When do you have to leave?"

"As soon as I can, I'm afraid," she said apologetically, returning the kiss. She was going to miss him the most, honestly. "One of the downsides to being a Healer; when you do get a mission, you get it then.*"

"Like that's much different from Fen's." He smiled, trying to bolster her mood. "Do you want me to pass the news to him?"

"If you don't mind," she nodded slightly. "He's in class now, right?"

"Yes," he nodded and hugged her tightly. "For the next hour or so."

"Mmm ... if I could wait that long, I would," she murmured, squeezing Jay tight. "Tell him I'm sorry, okay?" She kissed Jay tenderly, stepping back a bit and picking up her pack. "Love you both."

"We love you." He let her go reluctantly. "Godspeed, Shi."

She hugged him again, knowing full well just how hard letting her go out alone was. He was stressing enough for all of them, for all he was doing his damnedest to contain it. It was endearing as often as it was infuriating.

"Thanks," she murmured, scratching his back lightly with her free hand. "Don't worry, I'll be coming home pretty soon, I'm sure. And I've got a few tricks up my sleeve too, if this mission is more than it looks like."

"I know; you trained with some of the best." He managed a smile. "And she'd never let you go if she didn't think you were ready."

"You kidding? She'd never have let me take the first Trial if she didn't think I was ready," Shivasta smiled fondly. "Afraid I have to get going. Good luck with the rest of yours, okay?"

"Thanks." He swallowed a bit as she hurried from their quarters. "*It's okay, Fen.*" He answered the increasingly insistent presence in his mind. "*Nothing's wrong.*"

He drew a deep breath and walked into the larger-than-usual living/dinning room of their quarters, pushed the furniture out to the walls to give him space with a motion of his hand.

This wasn't a moment for quiet contemplation. He needed to sweat it out of his system. Maybe sweat of another kind when Fenrik was done with his class.

He fell into the easy pattern of katas, focusing on the practice, on the motions and keeping them precise and identical from one repetition to the next.

By the time he felt Fenrik's mind brush against his, the Panther almost back at their quarters, the time left in his class had passed by fairly quickly.

"*I'm coming in, Jay,*" Fenrik told him, just before the door slid open to let him and Jay let his last kata fall away to turn and hug his mate.

"How'd class go?" Jay purred softly, clearly relieved to have his mate in his arms.

"Well," Fenrik said, rubbing his back lightly. "Jenna's picking things up about twice as fast as anybody else is," he chuckled slightly. "What happened?"

"Nothing serious. Shi just left for her Solo." He murmured and buried his face against Fenrik's chest.

"And you're worried sick already," Fenrik finished for him, scratching his back. "She can take care of herself, Jay. I know you want to make sure she stays safe, but you both have to be able to work on your own."

"I know," he muttered softly. "Doesn't mean I have to like it."

"I know," Fenrik nodded, kissing him and felt him relax a bit. "Hey, you've still got me here, right?" He chuckled, trying to help break the mood. "She'll be back soon, then done with her Trials and probably start working in Medical most of the time, only head out when she's needed."

"Yeah," he smiled slightly and claimed a slightly more heated kiss. "Up for distracting me while she's still in-system?"

"Mmm ... I think I'm up to the challenge," Fenrik purred, kissing him deeply before picking him up and carrying him into the bedroom.

Shi opened her eyes from a fairly restful meditation when she felt the ship drop out of hyperspace. It was something of a relief to be far enough away to not feel Jay's stress. He meant well, and he only wanted the best, but it was difficult to know just how hard this was on him. He took separation anxiety to a whole new level. At least Fenrik was with him to deal with their occasionally very high maintenance mate.

Soon she would know first hand how difficult this mission would be. With a little luck, she'd be able to take care of whatever was wrong and get back to Coruscant fairly quickly. She rather doubted it, but it was possible.

"Approaching Chandrila, Ma'am," the pilot-droid informed her. It was a polite one at least, programmed to work with the diplomats who usually made the brief trip between the two Core worlds.

"Very well," she nodded, standing up and collecting her things. Her lightsaber hung at her hip, her clothes and a few tools she might need in her pack, but other than that she was traveling lightly. She did hope they'd provide her with room and board at this noble's place; it could get expensive in Hanna, and while the Order had given her a stipend, it would be tight.

The ship tilted, dropping into the atmosphere as she started out to prepare for the landing.

It was a lovely world outside the portholes as they descended; still lush and green even in the cities where trees and parks were common between buildings. They flew in over the wildlife preserve to the south of the capital, finally touching down in one of the planet's three spaceports.

The door opened, and she was greeted by the site of a white-furred Mouse male not much older than she was, a lean Wolf bodyguard at his side looking distinctly out of place in his light armor and with a blaster at his side.

"Padawan Shivasta, I believe?" The Mouse asked, stepping forward and extending his hand in a polite offer to help her down the boarding ramp.

"Yes, Master Odona." She smiled and accepted the offered gallantry with easy grace.

"Thank you for coming so quickly," the Mouse said as he helped her down. "We're all very worried about my father; he's normally quite healthy, but he is getting older. Come, I have a speeder waiting for us already." He led the way towards the vehicle in question, a very high-end model if she remembered right, as she followed, the Wolf keeping a protective eye on them all from the rear.

"I have read the report that was sent, but could you give me any more details on this illness?" She asked politely as the vehicle lifted off.

"Of course," he nodded. "In retrospect, it may have started a few years ago, not too long after mother died. I just wish we'd thought more of it. Father was complaining about headaches and nausea, just generally feeling ill. It's why he resigned from the Senate, you know; he was just getting to the point where he had to focus on his health.

"He was feeling better for a while after that; a little depressed, but that was to be expected. He started to focus on teaching me the ropes so I could take over his role as head of the family when he finally decided to retire from the business and everything else. He started to get the headaches again a few months ago, then the other day he just collapsed. The medical droid has been working since then, but it seems like his body is just starting to fail entirely. Nobody's entirely sure what exactly is wrong with him."

The Mouse kept his tone calm throughout the description, but Shivasta could feel that he was sincerely concerned for his father's well-being, and confused as to what could be wrong with him.

"I should be able to tell more than the droid." She said reassuringly, sure of herself on that at least. "And heal a great deal more as well."

"I hope so," he said sincerely. "I'd rather not take over for some time yet, thanks much."

Shivasta could sense that the Wolf driving the speeder was thinking something, though not what. Like most bodyguards, his mind was fairly guarded and she did not have reason to delve any deeper than the surface. She didn't have much time to consider it either as their destination came into clear view.

It was a wide, sprawling estate that was actually at ground-level. Chandrila was vastly different than Coruscant; it seemed to actually have space for the people and creatures that made it their home.

"We're going to set down near Father's end of the house," Master Odona explained. "I'll show you around and make introductions after you've had a chance to see what you can do."

"Thank you." She inclined her head slightly. "It is best to begin as soon as possible."

The speeder touched down, and they climbed out quickly, making their way into the house. Despite the renowned peace and tranquility of the planet, Shi noticed that the security of the estate was at least as good as anywhere else she'd seen before. A number of servants made their way through the corridors, going about their business, keeping the place running smoothly.

She couldn't help but wonder why a fairly small Chandrilan family would need an estate this large. Rich people had very odd priorities.

"Through here," her host said softly as they stopped at a closed door. "With any luck he's getting some rest. He's been feverish the past few days."

He opened the door quietly, revealing a medical droid that was working at a console next to what had to be the most comfortable medical bed Shivasta had ever seen; if not for the instrumentation on it, she would have thought it was a regular bed.

Cadon Odona, the reason she was here, was lying on it relatively peacefully. The elderly Mouse's white fur was matted with sweat, and she could tell that he was hooked up to a number of different machines meant to supplement failing internal organs, his kidneys in particular.

He hadn't been kidding when he said the old Mouse's body seemed to be shutting down.

Obviously, this was not going to be quick, even if it did turn out to be well within her abilities. She walked up to him and gently put one hand on his forehead, connecting to the flow of Force within his body and making her way from his mind to his toes.

What she found was disturbing, to say the least. Normally she'd have expected to feel the presence of the bacteria and viruses, whatever was making him ill. Instead, she quickly confirmed a number of symptoms that hadn't been mentioned ... but no sign of a cause.

His liver and kidneys were badly damaged, he was anemic, his immune system and nervous system was failing ... it was a miracle he was doing as well as he was. She could tell that there were bruises on his body that didn't seem to have been caused by any physical trauma.

She didn't know of any diseases that could do this ... but she did know of a number of poisons that could.

She drew a deep breath and focused again, tapping into the minimal training she had on the subject. She could leave them to believe tests or her, but she would at least tell them what to test for before she said a word.

She couldn't tell exactly what it was, but that alone told her a fair amount. It wasn't organic, wasn't anything that had been alive at some point. To judge by the symptoms, and the fact that she could sense some of the damage was very, very old, it wasn't something that was exceptionally lethal. Arsenic seemed to be the best bet, and something they probably wouldn't have thought to check for. It wasn't exactly a common poison to use, especially not on a world that didn't have murders.

It left her with a critical question: who to tell, and when.

First, though, was to heal what she could right now to buy enough time to heal the rest and purge his body of the poison.

"Master Odona," she glanced over her shoulder to look at the white Mouse. "I can help him a great deal."

"Thank you," he said gratefully. "Should we leave you to work?" He asked her, not sure what was necessary for the Jedi to do her best.

"It would be best. This will take time." She explained gently.

"I understand," he nodded. "It's still better hope than we've had lately. Let us know when you are done; we'll see to it that you get settled in then."

"I will, Master Odona." She nodded politely and waited for the Mouse to leave.

Now to get the proof to go to the authorities with. It was nice of them to provide her with a droid capable of running all the tests she needed and begin the protocols that remove the heavy metal from the elder Mouse's body.

A few hours later, Shivasta's suspicions were bearing out. According to the droid's test of the ex-Senator's fur, he'd been receiving low levels of arsenic since before his last coat had come in. It was almost too low for the droid to detect, which explained why it had taken so long to build up to near-lethal levels.

It also implied that he'd been given larger doses prior to his resignation from the Senate, though there was no way of telling if that was connected to this, or proving it if he was.

He was lucky they'd called for help when they did; if they'd waited much longer, it would probably have been too late. Instead, she'd healed the worst of the damage, and they were getting ready to start leaching the poison from his body. The medical droid was busily setting up the equipment for the oxygen therapy, and one of the servants was going into town to collect a number of less technical remedies she was going to try.

There was a soft knock at the door as she stretched out.

"Lady Jedi? Master Kelith said I should bring down some food for you and Master Cadon," the servant on the other side explained.

"Very well." She said easily and opened the door with a touch of Force. It wasn't a bad idea, though she'd definitely be checking it for the poison first. "Leave it on the table. I will see my patient eats."

"Very well, ma'am," the brown-furred Mouse fem said, bringing in a tray of sliced fruit and other finger foods, a bowl of hot broth next to it for the elderly Mouse she was working with. "How is he doing?"

"Much better, though it will be some time before he is fully well." She smiled slightly.

"I'll let the Master know," the young female smiled. "Is whatever he has very contagious?" She asked.

"No, it is hardly contagious at all." Shi reassured the girl easily. It was true after all. Poisons were hardly ever contagious.

"Nobody really thought it was, but there was some concern," she nodded. "If you'd like, I can show you around when you're ready to take a break."

"Thank you. It will be several hours yet." She nodded slightly.

"All right," the Mouse nodded. "If you or Master Cadon need anything, the servants have been instructed to make themselves available whenever you call," she explained, nodding towards the com in the room.

"I understand, thank you." Shi nodded again and waited for the servant to leave before running the simple test to check for arsenic in the broth. She was pleased to find it clear of contaminants and a good quality for the invalid. She put it in a small warmer to keep it free of germ growth while still the right temperature for when he woke. Most of his nutrients came in by IV, but it was good to keep his stomach and digestive track at least a little active.

Besides, he'd probably prefer to have something with some flavor.

She had to wonder how it was being brought in. Clearly it was something that only he would be exposed to, at least regularly. It was probably still in a meal, but there were probably a dozen different ways she could think of that he could be exposed to it. As absurd as it seemed that there might be a professional behind this, here, it was possible, and they would likely know far better how to deliver it without being detected.

It just meant she'd keep have to test everything until the mystery was unraveled.

She sat down, eating her own meal quietly while the droid finished setting up the equipment and went back to silently running scans and monitoring its patient's vital signs.

Just as she finished eating, she saw Cadon start to stir slightly, shifting in his bed without disturbing his IV.

"There's somebody new here," he observed, his voice surprisingly strong for the shape his body seemed to be in. His eyes were still closed, but it seemed to be more out of a desire not to open them if it was just one of the servants than out of actual weariness.

"Yes, Master Cadon." Shi answered him easily. "I am Shi, a Jedi Healer. Do you feel like eating some broth?"

"Yes, thank you," he said. He tried to sit up a bit better, but stopped and opened his eyes when an ear bumped the edge of one of the new monitors. "These are new," he observed, moving his head and sitting up. "Mind filling me in on what's going on here?"

"You are being poisoned, sir. Arsenic. It began well before you left the Senate. I have healed much of the damage and am preparing to leach the poison from your body."

"That's the sort of thing I'd have expected to happen on Coruscant," he muttered slightly. "That's what all this is for then?" He asked, nodding towards the gathered equipment.

"It began on Coruscant, sir, but it continues to this day." She explained briefly. "Arsenic is a heavy metal; all of this is what it takes to get it all out of your body so the damage I healed does not happen again. Who had that kind of access to you, from well before you left Coruscant to now?"

"Through that whole period, practically nobody," he said, wincing a bit as he shifted. "None of the people working for me on Coruscant followed me back here, and Kelith and Jen both spent most of that time finishing their education here. Han is about the only one, but I can't imagine he was responsible for this."

"It may also be someone you had semi-regular contact with but not daily contact." Shi suggested. "Whoever did this is using very low doses, possibly not even intending to kill you so much an incapacitate you. It would take many years to build to this level. Possibly even decades. Is there a reason I should not take this to the local authorities?"

"Only if you're worried they might laugh at you," he said matter-of-factly. "I'll be honest with you, Jedi Shi. The last time the authorities here had to deal with a murder, the man the weapon was planted on ended up having to clear his own name, despite there being no other evidence that he was responsible. There is a great deal of emphasis on dealing with such crimes as quickly and quietly as possible. But as far as I'm concerned, any who would do something like this to me are no kin or friends of mine, and I will not protect them."

That would make it easier, at least. She hadn't run into it herself, but she'd been lectured several times by Master Ursal and others about how, sometimes, the victim of an attack like this would refuse to believe it.

"I am under some obligation to inform the authorities, but very little as to when or exactly who." She half suggested. "I have a great deal of latitude to investigate myself, particularly as this falls under a poisoning of my patient that is still going on. If you would prefer, I can see what I can find out first."

He thought about it for a few moments, honestly thought about it.

"I would appreciate it," he nodded slightly. "The most logical person to be behind this would be Kelith, or somebody working on his behalf. He does stand to gain the most if I died. But if he isn't guilty, it could prove quite damaging if he were investigated for it officially."

"I understand," she inclined her head gracefully. "I will keep this unofficial as long as I can, then. I do request that you do not eat, drink or touch anything or anyone I have not checked until I can find out how you are being poisoned. It can be nearly anything at this point."

"The eating and drinking is largely under your control at this point, he chuckled slightly. "I'll try to keep the touching in mind, though as you might imagine my children and friends are rather concerned."

"I do understand, but it can be done through quite subtle physical contact. Fortunately, most will not have to be searched. Such intentions are usually quite clear to a Jedi." She gently brushed her hand along his most sore points to ease the pain of him sitting up. "Now let us see how well the broth goes down."

"All right," he nodded, behaving remarkably well for one of her patients that needed to be fed. To be fair, she was fairly sure he would have been able to handle it himself, but the IV would have made it awkward at best.

Shi looked up from her meditative position fairly early the next morning. A servant had brought her a nice pillow to sit on, and it had turned into a quiet, restful night that had done a great deal to rejuvenate her.

The door opened quietly to reveal the soft brown Mouse that had brought them dinner. This time she brought another tray with similar offerings.

"I am sorry, Lady Jedi." The Mouse bowed after she set the tray where the last one had gone. "I did not mean to disturb you."

"That is all right." Shi said easily as she stood. "I would like to speak to Master Kelith after breakfast."

"I will let him know," the Mouse nodded. "Did Master Cadon wake up last night?"

"Yes he did," she nodded and stood easily. "It is going well."

"I'll let Master Kelith know," the young Mouse nodded. "Do you require anything else Lady Jedi?

"No," Shi shook her head slightly and waited for the servant to leave before checking the broth for her patient, and found it free of poisons, as before.

She still wasn't sure how it had been delivered, though it might have been through food before. After he was sick, the type of foods he'd be eating would be limited, so it could be more difficult to administer that way.

Shivasta put it to warm like she had the night before, eating her own breakfast and thinking through what little she knew. A Mouse in his mid-sixties didn't make too much sense to try and kill like this. It was clearly something being done by somebody who was patient ... and somebody who stood to benefit directly by his death or retirement, given his age, would probably want something faster.

That would be his heirs, enemies that wanted him to hurt more than die quickly ... and those in power-by-proxy.

She blinked as she considered that angle. It made sense, possibly. Those positions were always more tenuous than the heir and it could be very distressing to have that power taken away. It was also something that did not require his death, only his disability.

It was still a very short list given the access had to be constant across two worlds and at least a decade and a half.

He'd mentioned a 'Han,' she'd have to find out who that was. Still, there might be other people he hadn't thought of. It probably wouldn't be a servant, but there were probably people he'd known, kept in touch with. She'd have to look through the personnel lists, follow his travel for the past few years.

Gods, she hoped he kept records like that.

She glanced around and found an artfully concealed console and took her finger food over to begin her research into what she could of the family business and political structure.

She found information on 'Han' first - Han-Odo-Pal, a Cerean male she was surprised she hadn't met yet. According to the records, he was practically the head of the family when Cadon wasn't there. He'd been with them since Cadon had taken charge; Kelith hadn't even been born yet when he started working for them.

The next person of note, outside the family, was the business manager Haskit. She was a bothan, something that caught Shivasta's eye. They were known as a species of spies, and assassination wasn't something they were too adverse to.

Perhaps unfortunately, the timeline didn't work out. She'd been with the family long enough, but on Chandrila for the entire time he was on Coruscant. At least officially. Poisoning like this only required a periodic appearance ... something that didn't always warrant a note. She'd have to ask Cadon about it.

Of course, it was also quite possible that somebody else had been poisoning him on behalf of an employer here... that complicated things quite a bit.

It didn't seem like there were any other likely candidates for non-family members. Either the timelines didn't match up, or they didn't have any sort of logical reason to try and kill the seemingly good-natured Mouse. The entire time she'd worked with him the night before he'd seemed depressed, but otherwise observant, intelligent, and generally likeable. Not the sort of person who would be likely to inspire a servant or other associate to want to kill him without some sort of financial benefit.

That left the family members. Opening up that section of the files, she frowned as she realized that at least one of them was marked as 'secured.' Shanin Odona ... that was a name she wasn't familiar with.

If Jay was here, the file would be open by now, but instead she'd have to find out other ways. The best was to start with simply meeting each of the possible suspects and seeing what her empathy and a little subtle mind-reading came up with. Whoever was behind this was likely to be hiding it, but even that left traces.

Which meant that introductions would probably be a good thing to start fairly soon, get a feel for who she was dealing with.

She poked around the remaining files on the family while she waited for Kelith to arrive. His own file was extensive, a thick dossier on his education, childhood, adulthood, the trip to Corellia that had resulted in his marriage to a local noblewoman, almost his entire life laid out. Much of it was secured information, but it was clear that Cadon had been having most of his child's life documented for review.

The youngest Odona child, Jen, had a file that was almost as long, though it wasn't quite as extensive. It made sense; she wasn't the heir, so unless something happened to Kelith it wouldn't have made as much sense to focus on her the same way.

"Looking for something in particular?" Kelith asked her as he walked into the room, seeing her at the terminal. "I might be able to help you find it. The file system around here is a little archaic at times," he chuckled.

"Just getting a feel for who's who here." She said easily. "Your father is not actually ill. He is being poisoned."

"You're joking, right?" The white-furred Mouse asked. If it was possible, she would have expected him to pale. "I know there are reasons why, but who would do something like that?"

"It gets more interesting. It is long term, low dose, dating back to when he was a Senator. That's a fairly short list of possible suspects."

"All of whom live on the estate now," Kelith said. "So that should make your job easier. I suppose this means that my family and I are on the suspect list?"

"Regretfully," she nodded. "I would like to meet everyone. Anyone with such intentions is usually not difficult to find with a little talking."

"Very well," he nodded. She could sense that he wasn't particularly happy about this development, but that was more than understandable. Behind that, the concern for his father's well-being was still strong. "Is he well enough to handle some stress later?" He asked more softly.

"That depends on the kind of stress," she stood to leave the room with him. "He is much better, but not well."

"Given the condition he was in, my sister decided to contact Shanin," Kelith explained quietly as they left the room. "He and father haven't spoken in years, and she didn't want to let either of them die without a chance to make amends. He returned the message, and if Father is willing to see him, he'll come as quickly as he can."

"Who is Shanin?" Shi asked, remembering the sealed file.

"He was our older brother," Kelith explained quietly, almost like he was concerned somebody would overhear. "A few years ago, he decided to marry against Father's wishes. They fought about it, Shanin left, Father disowned him... Jen supported Shanin, though Father still doesn't know about that. They've been in touch since then, but I've only seen him a handful of times, and it's still a touchy subject at best with Father."

"I understand. As long as I am there to calm things down in case they get too excited, it should not be a health problem."

"All right," Kelith nodded. "We'll still need to ask him first; Shanin was clear that he's not interested in the trip just to be told to leave before he even sets foot on the estate." The Mouse sighed, shaking his head. "Don't know if they'd make amends or not, but it would be good to at least see them have the chance. Preferably when Father isn't actually on his death-bed," he added. "So, any preferences with who to meet first?"

"Who would you say has the most to gain from your father's incapacitation?" She looked over at him seriously.

"Myself," he said, not hesitating for a moment. "After all, if he dies or is unable to run the business permanently, I take over. I already have after this attack, it would just become permanent. Of course, anybody who actually knew me would realize that my head for business is just enough for me to keep it afloat if I had to do it on my own. Beyond that, my wife and sister are the next that I can think of. Most of the servants would be left wondering if they'd be employed yet, and Han and Haskit both seem satisfied with the way things are now."

"Which would actually make them the two most displeased by change, such as you or your father actually taking over the family business again." She countered quietly, her voice soft. "From what I know, your father has a good head for business. When did he begin to take it back over from Haskit?"

"He took more of a hand in running it starting after his resignation," Kelith said, frowning a bit. "He's been taking more of an interest in things in the last year or two, but nothing unusual."

"To you perhaps, but to someone in power, it could be everything. It means they are loosing their power. People have killed for much, much less."

"I suppose," he conceded, frowning. "It's just hard to imagine any of us doing this. Han's been with the family longer than I've been alive, and Haskit's been running the family business since before Father was elected to the Senate. They practically are family."

"I understand," Shi nodded. She really did too. "I'm convinced that you are not directly involved, so let's start with your wife and sister, eliminate the blood relatives first."

"Biani was expecting to meet you first anyways, so we'll start there," he smiled slightly. His wife, according to the file on him. "Come, she'll probably be in the garden."

"Lead the way, please." Shi smiled and motioned him forward, then followed him out of the building to a well-kept garden that was vaguely reminiscent of some of the places she and Jay liked around the Temple. Numerous servants and droids were working on the upkeep of the grounds, and they walked on past them without notice. After a few minutes, they found a white-furred Mouse female who looked a few years older than Kelith, wearing a long, flowing dark blue dress.

"So, you've finally brought our guest out to meet the rest of us, Kelith?" She smiled, standing up as she noticed them.

"She's been rather busy, dear," he chuckled slightly. "Padawan Shivasta, my wife, Lady Biani Odona."

"A pleasure to meet you," Shi bowed easily, her mind open for Biani's true feelings.

"The pleasure is mine, I assure you," the Mouse said, bowing as well, though not quite as deeply. "I do hope you can help Cadon. From what I've heard, you've made a great deal of progress already." She seemed friendly enough, but Shi could sense that her concern wasn't nearly as sincere as she wanted it to seem.

Of course, she couldn't sense any feelings against the older Mouse either... just a near-complete indifference as to what happened with him.

It left her on the suspect list, though not a shining example for the prime one. Indifference was rarely the kind of feeling one expected from a killer.

"I have. Once I located the cause, correcting it and the damage was not as difficult as feared." The young Healer explained, rather hoping Biani wouldn't ask what exactly was wrong, and preparing a sickeningly technical reply in the back of her mind in case she did.

Fortunately, it didn't seem to be necessary.

"Well, that's certainly good news," Biani smiled. "I hope it remains the case. Kelith's been worried sick about him, understandably."

"Quite understandable." Shi agreed easily.

"There is one question I want to ask about Cadon's condition," Biani said, glancing at her husband. "Could I have a few moments in private, perhaps?"

"Yes dear," Kelith chuckled. "I only hover as a host."

"Well, let me play hostess," she chuckled. "You go try talking Jen out of that ridiculous idea she had."

"Not that ridiculous," Shi heard Kelith say under his breath as he turned to leave. She wasn't entirely sure if Biani heard it was well, though the disapproving twitch of her nose suggested she had.

"Well, now that it's just the two of us," she said once Kelith had disappeared into the garden, "you did say that whatever Cadon has isn't contagious, yes?"

"That is correct." Shi reassured her easily. "The odds of anyone catching it from him are all but non-existent."

"Good," the Mouse smiled. "I've been worried about Kelith lately, but I suppose it's just stress. I know you were called to help with Cadon, but I don't suppose you might be able to help him relax a little if you get the chance?"

"If he asks, yes." Shi nodded easily, slightly relieved that the Mouse only meant a massage or something equally benign. "It is a simple enough thing to do."

"I have my doubts that he'll ask, though I'll suggest it to him," Biani nodded. "Between Cadon being ill and having to take over the business... well, it's quite a lot for him, and he's still learning to delegate properly."

"It is rarely an easy task to learn." Shivasta agreed softly.

"Well, if you can help without it interfering with Cadon's treatment, I'd appreciate it," Biani smiled. "Thank you."

"I will see what I can do." She nodded, though she doubted it would be much unless Kelith felt like it.

"Well, I believe Kelith was showing you around?" Biani said. "Would you like me to show you to Jen's room? He'll probably be there talking with her."

"Yes, please." Shi nodded. "I would like to meet everyone before Master Cadon wakes."

"Follow me then," Biani said easily, leading the way back through the gardens. "Hopefully she won't be in one of her moods when we meet her."

Shi nodded. She didn't know what they entailed exactly, but a mood worth avoiding was one that would make it difficult to read the younger sister's intentions accurately.

They walked back into the main house, making their way through the halls that Biani knew well by now. Shivasta focused on learning them herself, and wondering just what else was wrong with this family that the files hadn't hinted at.

A few minutes later, they met Kelith coming the other way, shaking his head. He put on a smile as soon as he saw the two of them. It was just as false to Shivasta's empathy as it was to both the women seeing it.

"So, did you two figure out whatever it was you needed to?"

"Yes dear," Biani said easily. "I think I'll take my leave now, let you continue the introductions."

"So," Kelith asked as they started back down the hall, "what do you think?"

"I doubt she is responsible." She said simply. "She is far more concerned about you than your father, but it is what I would expect as well."

She kept to herself the fact that until someone better came up, doubting it or not, Biani was still at the top of the list.

"That's a relief," he sighed slightly. "She... I love my wife, dearly, but sometimes I think she's a little too interested in her position here. She'll be quite at home when I do become head of the family. I doubt that she'd do anything like this, but I'm not surprised by what you found."

"That matches well with what I got." Shi nodded. "She is also very focused on having children." She offered easily.

"Something of a sticking point between the two of us," he admitted. "Corellian families focus on having several children and potential heirs. Here, our family was a rather large one, what with three children. To be honest, I'm not very much in the mood to 'practice' lately either. Doesn't do much for the tension involved. If she didn't know exactly what the reason was, I'm sure she'd think I was sleeping with one of the servants or some such," he half-laughed.

"I can understand." She nodded slightly. "How is your sister doing?"

"I just convinced her that we should wait until Father's actually said he'll see Shanin before telling him it'll be fine," Kelith sighed. "She was the one who talked him into it in the first place; I suppose she blames herself for it as much as she blames Father. She's been in better moods before, but I don't think she'll hold anything against you."

"I understand. It is simply easier to read people when they are not wound up about other things." Shi explained as they walked.

"Well, if we're lucky she'll be more relaxed now, but I'm afraid I wouldn't bet on it," he explained as they reached a closed door at the end of the hall. "I already told her you'd be coming," he said quietly. "Probably be better for keeping her from being wound up if you just head in on your own."

"All right," Shi nodded and knocked politely.

"If we're not related, come in," a feminine voice on the other side called. Shivasta opened the door and walked in as Kelith waited outside for her. She saw a young Mouse woman, her fur just as white as all the other family members here, lying on her bed, looking over a datapad with a frustrated frown on her face.

"So, you're Padawan Shivasta?" She asked, looking up at the young Jedi.

"Yes, Lady Jen." Shi nodded. "How are you doing?"

"Well enough, considering my Father's half-dead and I haven't seen one of my brothers in years."

"Your father, at least, will recover." Shi smiled gently and keyed all her senses to catch the young woman's reaction. "To his full health, even."

She could tell the response was real surprise, but there was no disappointment in the young Mouse's reaction. She wasn't thrilled, but she did seem to be honestly pleased.

"Given the shape he was in, I wasn't sure how much longer he had," Jen admitted. "Please, take a seat," she said, gesturing to an empty chair. "I'm sorry, I completely forgot my manners."

"That is all right." Shi smiled and sat down. "He would not have had long if the Jedi were not called. It is a very rare condition, but quiet treatable if you know what to treat for. His mind is still sharp, fortunately. It was only his body that was failing."

"That's good," Jen nodded. "I have time at least, then. Of course," she chuckled ruefully, "that means he's healthy enough to be as stubborn as usual."

"Somehow, I expect he will be that stubborn on his death bed." Shi shook her head in amusement. "But yes, you will have time to work on him and your brother."

"That's what worries me. That he'll be that stubborn up to the last minute. Father was more upset that Shanin wouldn't listen to him than about getting married without permission, it's just so stupid to let something like that break up your family."

"Yes, it is." She nodded quietly. "It is also regrettably common in families where the head expects to be able to control those around them."

"That's Father all right," Jen muttered, shaking her head. "I can only guess what he'd do if he found out about half of what I was doing."

"Probably have a fit." Shi sighed. "Is Kelith any better?"

"About the controlling? Yeah," she nodded, chuckling a bit. "He's my big brother; he feels responsible for me, but knows better than to think I'll listen to him unless I think it's a good idea. Besides... deep down, he's not so hot on being in charge like that. Think he's seen what it did with Father, doesn't want to end up the same way."

"That's a good thing, I think." She said quietly. "Your father has several decades left to him, I expect."

"He should, assuming he doesn't manage to give himself a coronary or something," Jen nodded slightly. Again, her emotions on him were hard to read, though Shi had to imagine it had something to do with the fact that hers were mixed about the old Mouse. "Not like there are too many ways to get killed around here besides old age or accidents, much to the chagrin of some."

"Oh?" Shi raised a slender eyebrow.

"Yeah," Jen nodded. "Biani's very eager to make sure Kelith takes over as head of the household. I don't necessarily think she'd actually try to kill Father, but sometimes people get impatient. And Corellians, from my experience, get impatient a little faster than Chandrilans are used to, if you catch my meaning."

"Yes, I do." Shi nodded. By reputation, just about everyone got impatient a little faster than Chandrilans. Well, everyone except everyone Shi knew personally at least. "If she is responsible, it will be found out."

"Not even she could make Father get sick," Jen pointed out. "Unless there's something more to this?"

"There is." Shi said simply. "He is not sick, he is being poisoned. Likely for years now."

Jen's blue eyes were like saucers as she put together what she'd just been told with what she'd just said.

"How - I - I didn't know," she said, shaking her head. "I didn't mean to say that... I mean, I don't know that Biani did anything... she might have, but...."

"Right now, the who is under a fair amount of debate. There are few people who could have with the timing, but I have doubts it is Biani."

"Good," Jen said, her long tail twitching in distress and nervousness. Shivasta could sense she was thinking about something, though she couldn't tell what exactly.

"Do you have any ideas as who would?" Shi prompted gently.

"No ... nothing I know for sure, at least," Jen said, shaking her head. "It's nothing, I'm sure."

She was definitely hiding something, though the question of what still wasn't answered.

"No you aren't." Shi said simply, her manner projecting the certainty that she almost felt. "Someone has done something that bothers you. Who?"

"It's... a few years ago, after Father came back and started running the business more carefully, he and Haskit started arguing. They had different ideas about how they wanted to run it, and they're both very... controlling. I'm sure she didn't do this, she just isn't the sort of person who would, but... she's the only person I've ever heard actually say they wanted to see him dead."

"Words said in anger and frustration are frequently not meant." Shi nodded easily. It was hardly a false statement, after all. But this did put Haskit much higher on the suspects list than she had been before.

"And those are two things she has a lot of reason to feel about Father," Jen pointed out, licking her lips lightly. "Not just the business, but some... personal ones, as well."

That raised an eyebrow. "Personal? Between Haskit and Cadon?" She tried to picture how that had happened.

"No, Kelith told you why Shanin was disowned, right?" Jen asked, then continued when Shi nodded. "Because he married against Father's wishes. He's not the only one seeing somebody he wouldn't approve of."

"I think I'd almost be surprised if anyone had." Shi shook her head slightly. "Though for an employee, that's hazardous to your paycheck."

"There's a reason we're careful about anybody finding out. Kelith doesn't even know," Jen explained. "Besides, she's good enough at her job that I'd be taking a bigger chance than she would."

Shi nodded, a bit surprised that she would hear such a confession, at least so quickly. This was getting more complex by the minute.

"A difficult situation to be in." She nodded. "What is she like, off the job?"

"Intense, controlling... sneaky, in a good way," Jen smiled slightly. "But she's not the sort of person who'd poison somebody. She just says things to me sometimes, things she doesn't mean. I'm somebody she can vent to; it's safe for her to talk to me."

"I do understand." Shi smiled easily in return. "Having someone to vent to, talk to, is a real gift too few have."

"So you can see that just because she says something to me, it doesn't mean she's going to act on it," Jen said. "She couldn't be doing this to Father."

As certain as she sounded about it, Shi couldn't help but detect that she wasn't nearly as certain about it inside.

Add that to the natural protectiveness of a lover, and it was a pretty impressive level of doubt. Not that she could afford to let Jen know that.

"I never take what people say to their close acquaintances too seriously without significant proof from other places. It is simply not wise."

"No ... it's not," Jen nodded slightly. "I can trust you not to tell anybody about this?"

"No one will learn about any of this from me. You have my word." Shi promised easily. It wasn't as if Jen had offered any proof, or admitted to a crime.

"Kelith's probably waiting to finish showing you around," Jen said, looking at the closed door. "Good luck finding whoever did this."

"Thank you," Shi nodded and stood with the easy grace of her training. "I will do my best."

She found Kelith on the other side, waiting as Jen had predicted.

"What do you think?" He asked quietly, glancing at one of the servants walking by to make sure they didn't hear.

"No more guilty than you." Shi answered him. "She's upset about your brother being disowned, but we knew that already."

"And that wouldn't be any real motive for wanting Father dead," he nodded slightly. "You want to go back to check on him, or meet the others yet?"

She paused, expanding her awareness briefly to check on her patient. "I should get back. He will wake soon."

"I'll come with you," Kelith offered, starting back towards the room. "I need to ask him about Shanin, if he's up to it."

"All right," she nodded easily and walked with him towards his father's bedroom.

As they approached the hall, Shivasta heard the sound of somebody tapping away at the console next to the door, presumably trying to enter a working access code.

Turning the corner, she saw the long, dome-like head of a Cerean near Cadon's door.

"That room is restricted access." Shi told him firmly.

"Hmm?" The Cerean turned, his eyebrows grayed with age. "On whose orders?"

"This is Padawan Shivasta, Han," Kelith explained. "She wants to make sure nobody bothers Father unless he's up for it."

"I see," he said. "My apologies, Jedi. I assumed one of the servants had locked the door behind them, though this does explain why it kept telling me my access code wasn't sufficient to override the lock order."

"Yes," Shi nodded, extending her mind to gauge his intent. "What did you need to see him for?"

"I simply wanted to see how he was doing, give him the daily report on how things are going," Han-Odo-Pal explained. "He appreciates being kept up to speed, even being ill." The Cerean's mind and emotions were difficult to read at best; his dual-brain made it like trying to listen to two different conversations at the same time.

She would have to keep a sharp eye on things. This was exactly the kind of situation she wanted to avoid. "After he has eaten breakfast." She said simply. "He is making good progress. I intend to see that is not disrupted."

"I understand," he nodded. "If you would call me when he is ready?"

"I will." Shi nodded easily. "If you will excuse us."

"Of course," he nodded, starting back down the hall.

"I really hope he doesn't have anything to do with this," Kelith murmured. "He's as much a father to me as Father is."

"He's very difficult to read as well." She said quietly and keyed the door open, her senses alert for anything to indicate a person had been in the room.

Fortunately, it seemed nobody had, for all she was sure he wasn't the only one who'd tried to get in at least once.

"I was afraid I'd been abandoned," Cadon chuckled slightly as they walked in. He was sitting up; reading through a book the medical droid had given him. "Good to see I was mistaken."

"Of course you were," Kelith chuckled, stepping up to give his Father a gentle hug. "We all know what you'd do to us if you were."

"Han wishes to speak with you after you've eaten." Shi told the elder easily as she got the broth breakfast from the heater.

"Good," he nodded slightly as Kelith stood and moved back to let Shivasta through to help feed him. "If it weren't for him, I wouldn't know anything about what's going on when I get out of this bed."

"I've begun to meet your family and close employees." Shi smiled at him and helped him eat, though she encouraged him to do as much for himself as he could. "I am confident that your son is not involved." She inclined her head to the other white Mouse in the room.

"Or Jen," Kelith added, sitting down and watching. Cadon did manage to feed himself for the most part, only needing a little help to hold the bowl at this point.

"Good," the older Mouse said, nodding slightly. "I'm not particularly surprised, but it is good to know. Do you have any better idea who might be involved?"

"In terms of who is no longer suspect, yes." Shi said simply. "I have not met everyone yet."

"Very well," he nodded, finishing most of the broth. "I expect that you'll keep me filled in as you find out more about this," he said, his tone clearly expecting no argument.

"Of course," Shi nodded.

"So, I suppose the question to ask next is if you're here for a reason other than checking on me," Cadon said, looking up at his son, who looked at Shi as if asking if he was well enough.

"I am here to check on you." She answered and nodded to the younger Mouse. "Kelith had a question for you."

"Given what's happened," Kelith said a little nervously, "Jen thought we should contact Shanin, so you two can see each other again, at least. I agree," he said, swallowing a bit as his Father's expression darkened.

"And I thought I'd made it clear that he is no longer a part of this family," Cadon said darkly. "Unless you're also here to tell me he's left that poor excuse for a wife."

"No, he hasn't, and you did make it clear, Father," Kelith said. Shivasta could sense the pain in the younger Mouse, the response to hearing his older brother belittled. "We know full well that you haven't thought of him as kin for years. And you are getting better now," he added gratefully. "But what if you weren't?"

"Then you'd be taking over as my heir, and the decision of what to do with Shanin would be up to you and your sister," Cadon said simply. "He chose his own path, Kelith. It's not my fault if he walked away from his family in doing so."

Shivasta wanted very, very badly to take the old Mouse and shake some sense into his thick skull. It sounded so much like something she'd hear from the most traditional sorts on Garosh, the groups that hadn't been listened to even by her clan for decades.

"He chose to stand up to you and make a decision for himself," the younger Mouse muttered under his breath. "Wish I'd had the same sense some days."

The spike of emotion, along with a number of Cadon's vitals, told Shi that this would be a very, very good time to end the conversation before somebody had a stroke or joined Shanin on the list of 'disowned Odona heirs.'

"Cadon needs to rest." She interrupted them, putting a fair amount of Force behind her order to the elder Mouse. None of them could miss how displeased she was with Cadon at the moment.

"I expect not to hear about this again," Cadon told his son firmly, leaning back in his bed. "I'll speak to Han and Haskit before settling down for the rest of the day."

"I will speak to them first." Shi spoke with the full authority of a Healer to her patient. "You will rest now." She ordered him, not being at all reserved in making sure he did just that.

The extra touch of the Force was enough to put him the rest of the way under, though more because his body wasn't in a condition to resist than due to any weakness of his will.

"I'm sorry for upsetting him like that," Kelith said, shaking to ruffle his fur and get the smell of his own frustration out of it.

"I'm sorry he's so ... so inconceivable." She shook her head. "Such worthless stupidity."

"More stubborn than stupid," Kelith pointed out as they left the room and locked it. "And he got it from Grandfather, from what I remember of him. Maker strike me down if I ever get that way myself."

"I suspect your older brother is the one who got it." Shi said quietly. "You and your sister are more subtle in your rebellions."

"Please," he half-chuckled as they stepped out of the room. "Today was about the biggest 'rebellion' I've ever made. Jen's another story, but I've never had the nerve to argue with him like that before."

"I have to wonder if he'd actually disown all three of you." Shi mused. "If he wants to be in control more than having even one heir."

"I doubt he's that far gone," Kelith said, shaking his head. "It was marrying without his permission, 'polluting' the family bloodline, that got Shanin in trouble. I got lucky, he approved of Biani. We might not always get along, but I do still love her. Jen... I'm not sure she ever will take that chance, not while Father's alive at least."

"At least not while she still cares to be part of the family." She nodded. "Which is probably going to be a long time."

"You must think we're one of the galaxy's most dysfunctional families," he chuckled slightly. "So, want to talk to Han and Haskit yet, while Father's asleep again?"

"You've got nothing on Hutt, trust me." Shi grinned at him. "And yes, I'll like to meet them, and actually talk to Han a bit more."

"Well, that's some consolation," Kelith actually laughed. "Come on, Han will be the easiest one to find probably." He paused by a console and tapped away at it quickly.

"He's off terrorizing the kitchen staff again," he smiled, turning and starting down the hall. "That's pretty close to here."

"What, exactly, is Han's position?" She asked conversationally as they walked.

"The family seneschal; you might call him the real head of the household," Kelith smiled. "He keeps the servants in line, makes sure everything's taken care of... practically raised us while Father was on Coruscant."

Shi nodded, familiar with the term, though she hadn't actually met one before. "How long has he worked for the family?"

"Since before I was born," Kelith said easily. "Think he started working for us not long after Father took over the family."

"Which makes him an unlikely killer," Shi nodded. "It's been going on a long time, but not nearly that long."

"And I can't imagine anything happening that would make him do it," Kelith agreed. "I mean... when was the last time you heard of a Cerean poisoning somebody without a damned good reason?"

"Never. And their 'damned good reason' is rarely as petty as it is for most people." She nodded easily. It was true too. A Cerean dual brain made it very difficult to talk them into doing anything that wasn't the best choice in at least most respects. It was one of the things that made them excellent Jedi when they were sensitive.

"Don't honestly know what we'd do if it was him," Kelith mused quietly. "Still, it probably isn't, so I'm not going to worry about that too much. They've always been friends, and Han's the only person Father will actually let argue him out of something."

"Now that is impressive." She smiled slightly.

"Yeah," Kelith smiled. "Apparently the first time they argued was over whether or not Father should hire a particular servant. The one he hired instead of Han's candidate turned out to be a kleptomaniac," the white-furred Mouse chuckled. "He learned his lesson after that."

"Oh my." Shi grinned, holding back a giggle. "That's quite a way to learn."

"You think that's a way to learn, imagine the 'I told you so' discussion after they retrieved a missing code cylinder with all the access codes to the house and Father's accounts on it," Kelith smirked as her eyes widened slightly.

"That's quite a kleptomaniac."

"Fortunately, he didn't really care what he grabbed, it was just small and easy to take," Kelith said easily as they approached the kitchen. To judge by the sound of it, it did sound like Han was busy lecturing the servants there about something.

"Sound like we're interrupting anything important?" Shi asked as she tried to make out what was happening.

"No," the Mouse said easily. "He's just complaining about the quality of some ingredients that were brought in. They're probably fine, he just aims for perfect."

"That is a concept I am familiar with." Shi said easily and put a little more serious face on as they entered to see the Cerean doing exactly as Kelith had predicted. The lean Fox who was his 'victim' for the morning was nodding quickly and taking down notes about exactly what to get to replace the things that hadn't passed muster, hurrying off as Han finished with him.

"Is Master Cadon awake now?" He asked Shi as he turned to face her.

"He is resting." She informed him simply, her senses fully open and focused on him. "I wish to speak with you in private."

"Very well," he nodded. "And Master Kelith, please try to impress upon the servants that we can't settle for substandard supplies here? We do have an image to keep up."

"I'll try, Han," the younger Mouse smiled. "Though you seem to do a much better job of it than I will."

"Hmph," the Cerean grunted, though Shi could sense the warm glow the praise gave one of his minds. "If you'll follow me, Lady Jedi, I have a private office near here we can speak in," he said, turning to walk off, his every move gracefully efficient as she followed him with the poise than came naturally to her now.

He closed the door to his office behind her, offering her a seat and taking one of his own.

"So, I understand you're talking to the family about Master Cadon's illness?" Han asked, his minds slightly guarded.

"Yes. Someone has been giving him something that greatly hinders his healing." She informed him, pressing her telepathy skills as much as was acceptable. "It is most likely to be someone in this household."

"I can't say I'm surprised," Han observed. His mind was hard to read, though if she focused enough she could separate the simultaneous thoughts out into a coherent pair of thought-streams. He was evaluating multiple angles of everything he said, constantly; one mind would be supporting it, the other disagreeing, the two trying to come to a consensus. "It's rare on Chandrila, but Master Cadon has made his share of enemies over the years, and most people in the household have either motive, opportunity, or both, to look at them."

"Which leaves capability for those who have both." Shi said quietly. "It is a short list, and getting shorter. It dates back to when he was still a Senator. Regular, small amounts over at least a year."

"Are you sure it dates back that far?" He asked her. "From what you're saying, I assume you're implying poison, rather than simply something that's inhibiting his immune system. If he has been poisoned steadily since then, the attack that struck him shortly before his resignation would likely not have improved after he returned to Chandrila."

"Do to the short length of his fur, I can not be sure how long it has been going on, only that it began before his last coat came in." She said simply. "Very small doses. The noticed attack on Coruscant is an anomaly in the pattern. A large dose, not a small one."

"Which would imply it was meant to kill him quickly; his survival since then implies that the poisoner's goal was accomplished when he left," Han decided. "I hope you'll forgive me, but I feel obligated to help when one of my employers is being attacked. I assume that I'm still on the suspect list?" He looked at her with interest in his eyes, though his minds seemed curious, little more.

"Yes," she inclined her head slightly. "Not high on it, but I have nothing that indicates you could not have, other than it is unlikely."

"For what it is worth, I did not," he told her. "I have no particular motive; Cadon and I have typically either agreed or come to agreements on all subjects. Moreover, even if I did have a reason to want Master Cadon dead, I would be far more likely to run him through with a shyarn than to poison him, and would wait to do so until Master Kelith was actually prepared to take over running the family business permanently. I would not leave the children in a poor position to care for themselves."

That much both brains agreed on completely. Shi had a feeling, sad as it was, that the Cerean likely cared more for Kelith and Jen than their biological father did.

"I believe you." She said quietly. "Is there anyone in the house you think may be capable and has motive and opportunity?"

"That I am aware of, Haskit and Lady Biani are the most likely candidates," he said easily. "There are some of the servants who have opportunity and may have been hired by another, but they would have no opportunity that would not have been noticed by another, and my network among them is more extensive than Lady Biani's has a hope of being. If one of them was doing this, I would have heard of it by now."

"What reason does Haskit have?" Shi asked, her interest peaked as the name came up yet again of the one person she hadn't spoken to yet.

"Several," Han explained. "First and foremost, she has already made several business decisions that Master Cadon would not approve of. It is not my position to tell him of them, but I know that when he discovers that she acted against his wishes she will be dismissed from her position. This is more of an issue considering that several of these decisions turned out poorly.

"Second, even if she manages to cover her previous actions, Master Cadon has been keeping tighter reins on the family business. One of the children would be more easily controlled than he is, Jen in particular. If Master Cadon were to die, I would be concerned for Kelith's life next."

"She has regular access to Master Cadon as well." Shi nodded thoughtfully. It confirmed what she already suspected to a point. It was hardly proof, however. "Master Cadon will not die, however. Not while I am here."

"For which all of us but one are grateful," the Cerean said, his lips quirking into a brief smile. "Hopefully that one will be found out before you leave."

"It would be irresponsible of me not to find the cause of his condition," Shi smiled faintly back.

"Quite true. Though I should warn you; once you find out, you'll have to act fast. If the person behind this finds out you're onto them, they will likely flee before you can do anything."

"I understand," Shi nodded. "It frequently is the case."

"I should leave you to finish your rounds then. If you need any help, or a place to meditate, let me know. I have a kasha crystal in my quarters you may find soothing."

"Thank you," she stood and bowed to him. "It has been most informative."

"Glad to be of assistance. I would still like to know when Master Cadon is ready to speak with me."

"I will let you know." Shi told him easily.

"Force be with you, Lady Jedi," Han said, standing and bowing slightly as she left. Only one left to find; Haskit.

"If you're ready, we're in luck," Kelith told her as he looked at a datapad. "Haskit just got back from a meeting, so she'll have time. I told her we'd be coming soon."

"Good. She is the top suspect according to everyone, to be honest. If she can be kept here, it would be good."

"Without anybody telling her she's a suspect? Only a major storm does that," Kelith said, shaking his head. "Something that'd ground her speeder."

"That can be arranged." Shi said simply.

"I don't think I want to know," he murmured. "You want to talk to her first yet?"

"The storm is gathering; unless she bolts directly from our conversation, it will be difficult for her to leave."

"Very well," he nodded, making a mental note not to call for the weather control satellites to stop the incoming weather.

It wasn't long before Shivasta heard orders being dictated, either to a servant or a droid. The business shorthand flew right over her head, a flurry of acronyms and project names that made talking to Jay about a project sound simple.

Judging by the fact that most of the words she could understand were in bothese, she was sure they were approaching Haskit's room.

When they entered, the brown-and-white furred humanoid raised a hand to signal for a few moments more as she finished her string of orders, reading through a datapad and making decisions based on the information there in a matter of seconds.

"Send report, and shut down," she told the droid as she turned off the datapad and turned to face Kelith and Shivasta.

"Thank you for your patience," she smiled easily, her large ears twitching slightly as she realized that she was facing a Jedi, even if it was a young one. "I'm afraid our business concerns rarely stop just because I'm not in the office."

Shi felt the woman's shields double a fraction of a moment after she was recognized. The surface was all business and a desire to get back to it, under it was something else, but nothing incriminating yet.

"I just need to ask you a few questions, Haskit." Shi said easily. "How long have you worked for Master Cadon?"

"Since before his wife died," the Bothan answered easily. "I've been with the company for close to a decade now. Why?"

"I'm trying to put together a timeline, find out if anything like this has happened before and if you have enough contact with him that your health may be of concern." Shi explained easily. "I am fairly sure it is not contagious, but those who have frequent contact may still be at risk until I figure out what has made him so ill."

"I should be fairly safe then," Haskit chuckled. "My contact with him has been fairly spotty up until recently. I work for him, but we're not the best of friends."

"Do you know of any major arguments, or other stressors that happened about the same time as his illness?" Shi continued.

"Major arguments, no," she said easily. "I've had some disputes with him about business lately, but I don't know that they'd be all that stressful. The usual disputes. He did have an attack like this not long after his wife died; he might simply be reaching the point where age is taking its toll."

"What was that one like?" Shi was suddenly very interested. "Relative to this one, in particular."

"Much more acute, but if it was stress triggered that would make sense," Haskit said, thinking it over. "He was on Coruscant at the time; it was the attack that made him resign. I was here, of course," she shrugged. "I just know that was why he came back."

"I'll look into that then." Shi nodded. "Is there anything you can think of that might be related? Even little things can matter in cases like this. I'd hate to heal him only to have him get sick again because the cause is still there."

"Some of his pet projects were turning out to be bad investments," Haskit explained, her tone conversational, her emotions steady. "We all make mistakes, but with somebody with the major type-A personality he has... well, you can imagine how well he was probably taking the news."

"Yes, I can." Shi nodded easily. She'd already met enough of it to believe the statement if she didn't have a suspicion it was a lie, or at least twisting of the truth.

"I wouldn't think it was the same as his wife's death of course, but it is a source of stress that might be trouble. Weaken the immune system; let all manner of things get through. Too many businesspeople who work themselves to death these days, don't you agree?"

"I can't say I've come across enough of them to know, but every high stress job does have that tendency." Shi nodded, all Healer. "How are you handling it?"

"Frequent relaxation," the Bothan chuckled. "Nothing that interferes with my work, but I make sure I take ample time to myself."

"Good," Shi smiled at her. "You seem to be in the second highest stress job here, after Master Cadon."

"And I have advised that he follow my lead, but I'm afraid he's just too hands-on to do so," Haskit shrugged slightly. "I can't say I'm surprised he's sick."

It was distinctly frustrating that her emotions seemed to back up everything she was saying. To judge strictly by empathy, she wasn't any more likely to try killing Cadon like this than Biani was.

It added up to one thing: someone in this house was an exceptional liar.

What she had was nothing she could take to a court, but she knew where her money was on this one.

"So how is the business doing, other than those bad investments you mentioned?" Shi asked conversationally.

"Fairly well," Haskit said. "Of course, I'll be the first to admit that not everything I've done with it has turned out golden either, but I wouldn't have been with the company as long as I have without running it fairly well, would I?"

"Not with any smart company at least." Shi smiled. Haskit was definitely asking if she agreed far too much. Again, nothing close to proof, but it fed her suspicions. Especially with what Han had said about her being dismissed when her choices were discovered. If that turned out to be true, it would definitely be more than suspicious. "Can you think of anything that might be important?"

"Mmm... no, not that I can think of," Haskit said, shaking her head. "I wish I could be more helpful."

"You have been helpful," Shi said easily and stood. "I will let you return to your work now."

"Thank you," the Bothan nodded, bowing her head slightly. "Good luck, Lady Jedi."

"Thank you." Shi nodded and left, Kelith just behind her.

"She puts my fur on end some days," Kelith muttered as they walked away. "I should probably let you get back to work; I have business to take care of."

"I understand," Shi nodded before they parted. "Thank you for introducing me around."

"You're welcome; I just hope you figure this out," he smiled before disappearing down a hall, leaving her to return to Cadon's locked room and figure this all out as thunder rolled through the sky around the Estate.

Jay stepped into the Council Chamber quickly, knowing that he was about to face another of his Trials. He knew there weren't many left either; he was pretty sure the Trial of Judgment had been passed already, and the rest of them had been fairly simple. The closest he'd come to a challenge was when they'd asked him to tell them what one of the Masters was doing in the gardens. It hadn't been easy, but he'd managed to see it just clearly enough to prove his facility with those particular skills.

All that was left, besides his solo mission, was a test of his knowledge of Jedi Lore. To judge by the Masters sitting and waiting for him, the records setting next to them, they were ready to administer that last Trial.

Like every other trial done in this chamber, he knelt on one knee before them and awaited their timing. He couldn't help but feel that he should have a staff or lance with a banner on it, positioned like this. He could no longer remember where that memory-image came from or what it was, but it was a persistent one.

"Padawan Clawson, it is the decision of this Council that you have completed nearly all of your Trials to our satisfaction," Master Shan explained. "Your actions during the recent attack on the Kallarak Amphitheater have proven your judgment in adverse circumstances, and there are only two tests remaining for you. A suitable solo mission is being sought for even now, but before this you must prove that your studies of Jedi Lore have been fruitful. We will ask you several questions in succession; you must answer them to our satisfaction to pass. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Master Shan." Jay inclined his head slightly to the elder Doberman.

"We will begin with Master Kareth," the Doberman said, nodding towards the tri-colored Grey Vixen.

"When should a lightsaber be ignited?" She asked Jay pointedly.

"When one is practicing or prepared to take a life." Jay answered easily.

Master Dyba was the next one to speak up, shifting her horned head slightly, her red and white horn markings moving disquietingly.

"A Jedi Master once counseled his Padawan to be wary of a sect of Sith on Onderon. Despite his advice, the Padawan in question went undercover with them. Who was the Master, why did his Padawan defy his advice, and what was the outcome?"

"Master Arca Jeth. Ulic Qel-Droma wanted to stop the Force Users responsible for Jeth's death. He was turned to the Dark Side by the sect before he was able to stop them."

"What does the prophecy of the Chosen One mean?" Master Bas'rath asked him, her dark golden eyes sharp as she watched him.

"That the Force refuses to remain out of balance, regardless of the wishes and efforts of mortals." Jay answered. "Time will produce a Sensitive that will bring it back into balance, either by bringing the Dark Side back into equal power, by knocking the Light Side down to where the Dark is, or by obliterating both sides to bring it back to it's natural state as a force of nature."

"What is the most favorable outcome of a battle?" Master Surool asked him.

"When your opponent surrenders before anyone is seriously injured." Jay barely had to think about it beyond putting words to what he knew.

"What, then, is the ideal weapon?" Master Shan asked him.

"Your wits, words. The most successful battle is the one that does not actually happen."

"What emotions are threats to a Jedi's control?" Master Noloth asked him.

"Strong ones." Jay replied simply.

"What is the difference between the Light and Dark side of the Force?" Master Essani asked him. Of course his Master would ask him the riskiest question.

"The Dark side is destructive energy. The Light side is the energy of life."

"Thank you, Padawan Clawson," Master Shan nodded. "We will confer, and your Master will inform you of the results of this Trial shortly."

"Yes, Master Shan." Jay inclined his head before he stood and left, leaving the Council to discuss his answers.

"*He did well, for his first attempt,*" Master Essani said. "*Not perfectly, but well.*"

"What I want to know is where he got that interpretation on the prophecy." Master Bas'rath shook her boxy feline head.

"*It is not a wholly impossible interpretation,*" Essani pointed out. "*You simply need to believe that 'balanced' is a state of neutrality between Light and Dark.*"

"Are you defending his answer, Master Essani?" Master Noloth asked her pointedly.

"*No,*" the Kushiban said, shaking her head. "*His interpretation was wrong; I simply believe he is giving his interpretation, rather than an intentionally heretical one. His stance has always been closer to a Potentiate view of the Force.*"

"Has he shown an interest in following their path?" Master Krry'nnu asked, his dark brown feathers fluffing in displeasure.

"*Hardly,*" Essani said. "*Any inclinations towards that path that he had were largely eliminated after he encountered Meskin on Korriban. He is a little more prone to violence than I would like, but that is all.*"

"And prone to powerful emotions of several sorts," Master Noloth pointed out. "His dislike of Rodians has lessened, but it is still a dangerous situation when he encounters one, to say nothing of that thing in his head."

"*He has proven able to control it quite effectively, even under duress.*" Master Essani pointed out. "*Those powerful emotions are what keep him on the Light side as much as he is.*"

"As long as they do not go badly," Master Noloth conceded.

"I believe we all agree that Padawan Clawson's answers were not sufficient to warrant a passing result of this Trial," Master Shan said, bringing the subject back to the salient issue. "Are there any here who believe that his answers were sufficiently off-base or indicative that he should not be allowed to retake this Trial at a later date?" He asked, looking at Masters Noloth and Bas'rath in particular.

Master Bas'rath shook her head. "He needs to study, but he was not that far off."

"I agree," Master Noloth said. "It is unusual for a prospective Knight to fail on that particular question, but he did well enough with the others. However, someone should suggest that he work on his phrasing and explanations in the future. When he has a Padawan of his own, he will likely face more persistent inquiries than ours."

"*I will make sure he is informed then, if there are no objections,*" Essani said, noting that there were no additional ones. "*I will let the Council know when he is ready to try again.*"

Fenrik came back from his class a few minutes later to find Jay doing his best to wear a hole through the floor of their room and not punch a hole in the wall.

Master Essani hadn't been kidding when she said he'd need some calming down.

"Hey Jay, what's wrong?" He asked, hoping he'd get the younger tom's attention.

"I don't believe I screwed up a Trial like this." He muttered, his tail lashing in a display that the public would never see. "I know the right answers."

"Woah, hang on, what happened?" Fenrik asked him, not sure if he should try and stop the pacing or just watch him. "What do you mean, screwed it up?"

"Lore. I know the answers they want to hear." He muttered and turned to face his long-time mate, his body keyed up but the Force-energy around him surprisingly clean of the Darkness his agitation all but invited. "Instead of their answers, I gave the truth I know. I know better than that."

"Shh, it's okay," Fenrik said, moving to hug Jay and felt him lean into it, relaxing surprisingly fast. Even after all the years of watching and feeling how quickly Jay responded to a mate's touch, it still hit him hard to be reminded just how much power he and Shi had over Jay's state. A palpable reminder of exactly why the Council bent so many Temple rules and norms for them. It was a reminder, too, of how much trust Jay had in them to stay with those who had that kind of power over him. "They've got a way of making you do that. It's not something they do consciously, but it's damned hard to give an answer like that when you're facing the Council. Remember? I didn't pass that one the first time either."

"Yeah, I remember." Jay murmured, still upset with himself, but the physical manifestation was bleeding away almost as quickly as it had come. "They're never going to like what I have to say."

"You know what it was you slipped up on?" He asked, guiding Jay towards one of the large chairs with little difficulty.

"The interpretation of the Chosen One prophecy." He sat down as the remainder of his frustration bleed away to a dull irritation. "Maybe others, but I know I'm way off the standard belief there."

"Ouch," Fenrik winced slightly. "Well, they might fail you for that one the first time around, but I don't think they're going to bar you from becoming a Jedi just for that. After all, it's not like the Chosen One prophecy is that huge a part of a Knight's life."

"No," he murmured in agreement. "Not unless he's found in the next few decades."

"And if he is, we'll probably have bigger things to worry about than you thinking he isn't necessarily on our side," Fenrik nodded, kissing him lightly. "You'll be okay, I'm sure."

"With our luck, I'll end up teaching him." Jay made a face, though he snickered too.

"Nah," Fenrik smirked, "I'll end up teaching him, you'll end up being the Master he wanted to have instead of the stick in the mud Panther."

"Oh, as if any Padawan any of us take won't end up with two part-time Masters." Jay kissed him with a snicker.

"We'll have to coordinate so we don't confuse them too much," Fenrik chuckled. "Mmm ... feeling better?"

"Yeah," he sighed and relaxed against his mate's broad chest. "Still irritates me."

"S'okay," Fenrik murmured, kissing his forehead softly. "You handled it pretty well, if you ask me. You'd usually get a lot more pissed off than you did."

"I guess I'm growing up," Jay murmured softly.

"Mmm ... that's a good thing, in my book," Fenrik pointed out, rubbing his back softly as Jay began to purr lightly.

"*Is he in a mood to talk?*" Master Essani asked from outside the door.

"*I think so. Just gonna give him a little warning,*" Fenrik told her.

"Master Essani wants to know if you're up to talking, probably about the Trial," he told Jay. "Want to tell the door to let her in, or make her press the button herself?" He asked with a chuckle.

"I'm okay," he chuckled weakly and sat up, straightening his robes as the door opened and Master Essani walked in.

"*The Council discussed your performance today, Jay. You did very well, given how late you came to the Order and your training, but we've agreed that you should retake this Trial.*"

He nodded, not the least bit surprised. "I expected as much, Master."

"*You are aware of why?*" She asked him, hopping up onto a seat. "*It would be a good sign if you were.*"

"I know at least one question I answered incorrectly according to the norm." He nodded. "The Chosen One prophecy. Others I could have answered better."

"*The prophecy was the primary point, yes,*" Essani agreed. "*Master Noloth would like you to work on your explanations, but as I remember his last Padawan took twelve hours to complete the Trial to his satisfaction. Twelve very, very long hours,*" she said, ruffling her fur distastefully. "*You'll have to meditate on the prophecy and the writings about it for some time before we try again,*" she told him.

They'd already discussed it several times, debates that could get quite heated, and never managed to make any major progress either way.

"I understand, Master." He inclined his head respectfully.

They all knew he would too. He would do his best.

Just as they all knew it wouldn't help.

"Mmm ... I don't suppose I'm well enough to be off broth yet," Cadon said as he woke up and sat up a week later. He was doing better since the treatments and healing had started.

Unfortunately, Shi wasn't doing too much better at finding proof that Haskit was behind this. She was sure it was her, but there wasn't any additional evidence, and every lead led to a dead end before she found real proof.

"Not a great variety, but some solids are in the soup today." She smiled easily at him and retrieved a flavorful mostly-broth soup with vegetables and small meat pieces in it. "You are doing much better, medically."

"Thank you," he nodded, taking the bowl that he could now eat on his own from. "Medically?"

"The sickness in your house is no closer to being solved." Shi admitted. "I know who I believe is responsible, but I have no proof."

"Proof is only for courts," Cadon pointed out. "And I have resources you do not. Who is it you suspect?"

"Haskit." She said simply. "She is the only one with means, opportunity and motive if my investigation and Han are to be believed. I do believe him."

"Good to know," he nodded. "I can trust him at least. I have to admit, I'm probably least surprised that Haskit is behind this. She runs the business well, but I've disapproved several of her proposals for acquisitions and new lines since returning from Coruscant. It's still not rational," he muttered, shaking his head. "And no proof?"

"Apparently she's done a great deal more than just propose things you would not approve of, if you look through the business records carefully." Shi told him, clueless as to what to look for but sure he'd find it easily when pointed the right way. "No, I have found no proof; she lies incredibly well and I still have not uncovered how you were poisoned. I can find out for sure, but that involves delving much deeper into her mind than I have any right to yet."

"A request is insufficient, I assume?" Cadon asked her.

"Correct." She nodded quietly. "There is simply not enough to justify violating her mind to that extend."

"Then we will have to fi-" Cadon was interrupted by a cry from the other room.

"Jedi!" One of the servants burst into the room, grabbing hold of the door as it slid open and pushing it aside. "Forgive the intrusion, but Lady Jen just collapsed! Just like Master Cadon's attack!"

Shi kept her curse very much to herself as she all but flew to the door, getting the servant out of the way so she could lock it before making the same graceful haste to where she knew the young woman had fallen from the servant's thoughts.

Even without that guidance, it wouldn't have been hard. Beyond the sense of concern and panic she was feeling from the servants, the crowd she could see was more than enough to guide her.

"Everybody back!" Kelith ordered the servants as he approached from another room. "Give her room!" He clearly hadn't found out until Shi had.

The servants moved back, and he was at his sister's side, checking that she was still breathing and looking up at Shivasta.

"Not as bad as Father was," he told her, though his concern was still clear as Shi knelt and instantly focused on her new patient.

"Find out what she has done in the last few hours, whom she was near." Shi told him as she shifted her attention to healing as much damage as she could. The woman's health was her first concern, but she was keenly aware that the body she was tending almost certainly contained evidence they needed.

"She only woke up a little while ago, Lady Jedi," one of the servants said softly.

"Find out what she's done since then, and why she was sleeping so late," Kelith ordered them firmly. "We need to know what started this." He moved off, hurrying to guide the servants towards finding what they needed.

As the emotional turmoil in the area faded, Shi became more keenly aware of a single set of strong, unguarded ones that she could feel even without focusing on her empathy. Shock, confusion... and guilt.

Looking up, she saw a brown-furred leg disappear around the corner. Not the slender body of a Mouse, but a Bothan's stockier frame.

"Gotcha." Shi whispered to herself and turned her entire attention to fixing the damage.

"Lady Jedi, do you need anything?" A servant's uncertain voice drew her attention upwards as she finished what she could on the floor of the hallway. Jen would be fine, but the more advanced symptoms were all there. She must have been hiding the early symptoms and nausea.

"Yes," she nodded. "I need Kelith here."

"Yes ma'am," the servant nodded, hurrying off. It wasn't even a minute before the older Mouse was there.

"What's going on?" He asked, kneeling on the other side of his sister, looking down at her. "Do you need any help moving her?"

"Yes, and I needed it to be someone I'm sure of." She nodded. "She will need the support and treatments your father is getting, but for now she is stable and should be in a clean bed, not her own."

"I know a place," he nodded. "We've got a room that's been sealed for a while; nobody's been in there for years." He shifted to help pick up the slender Mouse, grunting a bit as he took most of her weight. "Father's about ready to have Haskit skinned alive," he warned Shi.

"I'm not surprised." She nodded grimly. "Is there anyone in the house even somewhat trained in collecting evidence? There is likely some still on Jen's body and clothes, possibly in her bed."

"Not as far as I know," he said, shaking her head. "Though I think we could get one of the droids to at least collect it all. They wouldn't recognize it as evidence, but they're very thorough when you ask them to clean something."

"Good enough." She nodded. "I'm looking for something not hers that has the arsenic on it. Something to give probable cause to find the truth in Haskit's mind."

"Once we have her down I'll program the orders," he nodded as thunder rolled in the snowy sky. "It's weird, that storm lasting all this time," he murmured.

"It will last as long as it is needed." Shi told him simply. She was just glad she'd learned to harness that ability before this mission.

"Why would Haskit try to kill Jen?" He asked quietly as they moved his Sister to a safe room. "They've always gotten along, as far as I could tell."

"It was an accident." She shook her head and double-checked her work now that the young woman was lying in a bed. "Mostly likely from trying to poison your father."

"I'll go prepare the droids and then have Haskit held," he told Shi, standing to leave. "You might not have proof yet, but we don't need it for this."

"I understand. Jen is stable, but it is important to begin the treatments as soon as possible. The medical droid has the programming already. Once Haskit is secured, I will lift the storm so the supplies can be brought in."

"Good," he nodded, not bothering to ask how she was going to lift the storm, chalking it up to the fact she was a Jedi as he started keying in orders for the cleaning droids to pull what they could from his sister's room.

"Now to - somebody just left the main house," he said as a security light blinked on the console. "Not sure, but I'm willing to bet it's Haskit if she really did this."

"Lock anything down you can. She won't get far." Shi sat down and closed her eyes, focusing her will on the storm around them and called on it to pick up it's ferocity as much as possible without doing serious damage to the buildings.

Kelith pulled out a comlink, keying it on.

"Droids in the hangar," he ordered, "engage lockdown procedures. There is an intruder on the estate. Anybody attempting to access the hangar must be restrained.

"Security droids; apprehend Haskit Ral'dren. She is to be held pending an investigation into the conditions of Cadon and Jen Odona." He turned off the comlink, walking out of the room.

"I should have done this a week ago," he murmured.

"We have her," Kelith told Shivasta, snapping her meditation on the storm. She let it fade away, rubbing the back of her neck slightly as she stood. Keeping it so intense for as long as she had wasn't easy. She saw that the Mouse was cloaked, his fur matted by the rain, his clothes still dripping slightly. He looked strangely ridiculous, the serious expression on his face contrasting sharply with his wet, bedraggled appearance. She could only imagine what Haskit looked like now.

"Thank you," Shi nodded and paused, allowing the storm to fade away naturally. "The sky will clear in a few hours."

"My wife will thank you for that later, I imagine," he chuckled slightly, looking tired. "Is Jen still as well as when I left?"

Shi turned, touching her briefly to check. "Yes. She will be fine in a few weeks."

"Then let's see if Haskit's willing to talk about what the hell she's been doing," Kelith said. "Han's watching her now. She put up a bit of a fight, but when we got her inside she stopped."

"Good." Shi nodded wearily and followed him to a small room not far away with two large droids near the door as guards. Inside, she could hear Han and Haskit arguing.

Well... Haskit sounded like she was arguing. Han sounded surprisingly calm.

"I told you I didn't poison Jen!" The Bothan shouted.

"Then what were you feeling guilty about when Jen collapsed?" Shi asked calmly but pointedly.

"*I didn't poison her," Haskit glowered. "What happened to her was accidental."

"In case nobody told you, poisoning somebody accidentally is still poisoning them," Kelith growled, his voice low and menacing.

"Not in the context she views it," Han said, shaking his head. "Though I'd be interested to hear how she intends to defend her actions towards Master Cadon."

"If you intend to accuse me of poisoning him," the Bothan sneered, "you'd best be able to say how I did it."

Thinking about it, Shivasta was able to do just that, or at least have a good idea. She couldn't be sure until somebody went through the material being collected from Jen's room, but it all made sense. Cadon hadn't been poisoned through his food, that much was clear, but arsenic could be inhaled as well.

And Bothans built up immunity to heavy metal poisoning more quickly than most other species. There was one way the poison could have been delivered in a form Cadon could have inhaled that nobody would think to check for. And, more importantly, one that explained how Jen would have been poisoned more slowly.

If Haskit had powdered her fur lightly, she could have poisoned Cadon with handshakes and innocent hugs, then cleaned up before anybody else received a significant amount. But, if she didn't clean well enough, her lover would receive a larger, more infrequent dose.

"Proof will be coming soon enough," Shi said simply. "And your own mind will confirm it."

"And when it does, you're going to have a long time to think about whether or not it's better to be spending time on a prison colony than dealing with my Father running his business," Kelith muttered.

"It's always about what's his, isn't it?" Haskit muttered. "His career, his business, his sons, his choices, his daughter? Han raised all three of you while Cadon went to play Senator on Coruscant. But Cadon's the one who threw Shanin out when he had the nerve to make a choice of his own. I ran the family business, kept it growing that whole time when all he cared about were the numbers. Now I'm supposed to bow down to his choices?"

"It is the job you were hired for," Han pointed out. "Just as mine was to see to the house and his family while he was gone."

"And you never wanted to watch him pay for treating that family like they were things instead of people?" Haskit growled.

"I believe that's enough, Lady Jedi?" The Cerean asked, suddenly looking over at Shivasta.

"I expect so." She nodded with a sharp eye for Haskit. "She has said more than enough."

"Whatever proof you might try to pry out of my head doesn't mean a thing, Jedi," Haskit pointed out. "It's no more than testimony without proof."

"You seem to forget what knowledge can lead to." Shi said simply and gently began prying into the Bothan's mind. "Your supplies, the how, when ... you may be immune to the effects of arsenic, but it will still be absorbed by your body, into your fur. Minor imperfections in its composition can be matched. You might be surprised what a good lab can come up with."

"And you might be surprised what constitutes a good defense," Haskit pointed out. "A shame how these things happen sometimes."

"If you think you're going to get out of this, you're very wrong," Kelith told her darkly. "I'm going to go see to Father and Jen," he said, turning and stalking out of the room.

Shivasta was able to find what she needed... most of it, at least. Enough to prove that she had done it, when and how... but not where it would be found. That was something she was keeping her mind well and truly away from.

Doruth sat quietly, meditating in a more classic position. With the cubs around, it wasn't safe to meditate the way he usually did, not in their quarters.

Besides, this was just daily meditation, not something more serious.


Fortunately, not something more serious. It was hard enough to meditate on things like that normally. With two hybrid Panther-Wolf cubs using him as the focal point of a game of 'king of the hill,' it would be somewhat trickier.

One of his ears flicked instinctively as Abayomi licked at it curiously... and promptly decided that the furry, fast-moving object was obviously potentially edible.

Doruth's sharp canines clamped down over his lower lip as any chance of meditating was eliminated by his daughter's own canines, needle-sharp in her youth, sank into his ear.

"*Tes,*" he called out to his mate mentally. "*Get the medkit and something for the cubs to eat, please?*"

"Now kids, Mom is the only one who gets to eat him." She chided the pair with a chuckle and got up from the table to fetch the medical kit for her mate and something else for the cubs to play with.

"I don't think you're helping," he called after her, reaching up to grab his bleeding ear as Abayomi released it and bounded after her mother, just behind her brother. A moment's focus and the bleeding stopped, leaving him to clean his hand off quickly while Tes returned with the medkit to deal with the dribble down his ear.

"You could try warning me when one of them's about to do that," he chuckled slightly, shaking his head. Aggravating as it could be, he had to admit that it was strangely cute as well.

"You're supposed to be perfectly still when meditating," she chuckled and kissed him lightly. "I have advised you to do that in a locked room for a reason."

"I'm supposed to be in tune with the flow of the Force," he mock-grumbled, returning the kiss. "Still is optional." He flicked his tail as Nasim came bounding back in, tumbling over as he was distracted by the moving tail and his sister ran into him from behind.

"We have got to get those two brakes," he chuckled.

"That'll come with age. About the time they're ready to learn not to stalk the long-tailed rabbits we've got around here." She winked and tossed a hovering, flashing ball into the air to give the pair something to focus on chasing around their quarters.

"At least Master Essani's used to it by now," he chuckled. "Y'know, I'm beginning to think the kaminoans might've been right. I don't remember having to remind the pups not to try and eat me."

"Because they weren't feline." Tes smirked. "There's a reason the saying 'curiosity killed the cat' has been around so long. These two are just far more curious about the world and have much sharper implements to explore it with."

"And to climb it with," he chuckled ruefully; looking back at the tufts their claws had torn in his robes as they'd climbed him. "Well, at least we know they're healthy."

"Like there was a chance of anything else." She chuckled and scritched his jaw.

"Mmm ... true," he chuckled, moving out of the way as the hover-ball moved through, followed shortly by its pursuers. "Though weird things can happen with cross-species cubs." He stepped close to kiss her, rubbing her back lightly even as her ears perked up, followed a moment later by both cubs charging towards the door.

"Pack's back." Tes warned him with a wink just before the door opened to four Wolves who were more than happy to be assaulted by the cubs. Nasim and Abayomi both sniffed and licked at the returning Wolves, doing their best to pay equal attention to all four and getting the attention on return.

"Welcome back," Doruth said, the two adults joining the fray, though somewhat more restrained than the cubs were. He was even getting used to the intensity of Wolven welcomes to a point.

"Good to be back." Tulgwar grinned and hugged him with a nuzzle of affection.

"Yeah, looks like you had fun cub sitting." Fazer smirked and scooped up Abayomi to nuzzle her and get licked in return.

"Just watch your ears," Doruth chuckled. "They're nibbly today. So, how'd it go?" He asked, moving to let them in.

"Simple extraction." Tulgwar grinned at him as the six adults and two cubs settled on the living room floor to be playfully mauled by the youngest members. "It took longer to get out there than do the job."

"Gonna have to be careful about you guys getting sent out on missions without me," Doruth chuckled. "You'll end up deciding I'm just slowing you down like this, then where will I be?"

"Stuck at home tending pups." Tes smirked with a kiss.

"You're not helping," he smirked, kissing her back. "So, no trouble with my old 'friends'?"

"Nothing that qualified as trouble," Tulgwar chuckled darkly. "We met a few of them though."

"Judging by that chuckle, I'm guessing they gave you excuses to say 'hi' for me?" He asked, picking up Nasim and petting him lightly as the cub mewed for some attention.

"And an excuse to leave a few less people on Nar Shaddaa that remember you." Fazer smirked. "Dugs crackle nicely."

"Flugo?" Doruth chuckled darkly. "Party line says I should be lecturing you guys, but for him I'll make an exception. Had it coming on several levels. Heck, he made me look stable back when I showed up there the first time. Lemme guess; he was one of the bounty hunters the Hutts hired to take out the target?"

"Yap, only decided that we would be worth a bonus." Hegrin actually chuckled while she entertained Abayomi with a moving finger.

"Silly Dug had no idea what he was getting into." Tulgwar grinned and stretched out on the floor, happy to be home.

"They usually don't," Doruth smirked as Nasim hopped out of his arms and plopped down onto Tulgwar's firm stomach. "Think the cubs missed their extended family."

"Of course they did." Tulgwar grinned and ruffled Nasim's ears, earning a purring woof as the male cub batted at his hand playfully. "We missed them too."

"And they're not the only ones who missed you," Doruth chuckled. "So, I spent the past couple weeks here helping Tes cub-sit, and all you guys have for details is 'it went well'? Spill," he smirked, pressing up against Tes as the Pack worked on giving a report despite the best attempts of the hybrid cubs to distract them.

Jay focused on the questions he'd been answering from the Council. This was his second run through this Trial, and he was sure he'd answered the questions right so far, even expanding on his explanations as he'd been told to do. So far, nobody had hit him with the question he knew they were going to, but there were a couple left to go.

"What is the source of the Force?" Master Surool asked him.

"There is no one source," he began simply. This was one aspect of the Force that he did agree with them on without hedging. "It is a natural aspect of reality; energy fields produced by the existence of the universe and the life within it."

"*Explain the nature of the Chosen One prophecy,*" Master Essani told him.

Jay bit his tongue, struggling between what he knew they believed and what he believed from his own experience, and every Councilor knew it before he spoke.

"It is believed that the Chosen One will bring balance to the Force by bringing the Light Side back into power." He said quietly.

It was as clear that they were as surprised he'd said it as that they knew he didn't mean it deep down. And yet, it was a fairly minor part of the Jedi beliefs.

"Padawan Clawson," Master Shan said after a few moments, "you are aware that the Council knows you do not truly believe this, correct?"

"Yes, Master Shan." He inclined his head slightly and let go of the fight to assert his will over their power over him. "I phrased it as I did because I do not believe the standing interpretation that favors the Light Side is correct. The base assumption it makes that the Dark Side is in ascension now is not one I can agree with."

"And if it is when the Chosen One is found?" Master Noloth asked him.

"You are still basing your belief in a 'could be-may be-want it to be' that does not apply to now." He looked at the old lizard. "The prophecy itself makes no mention of which way the balance is tipped when the Chosen One appears; only that it will be corrected by this Chosen One. For all that it says, the Jedi could be the side destroyed as easily as it could be the Sith or another party."

There was a long, quiet moment when it seemed like Noloth and several of the other Masters were about to advise throwing Jay out on his ear. At the same time, while his delivery left much to be desired, they all realized that it was strictly true.

Fortunately, before the silent feud had a chance to cause any more trouble, Master Shan decided to end it.

"Your interpretation then is that whichever side is in ascendance will be brought back to the level of the other, assuming that either side survives," Master Shan said, bringing the wording to a more neutral phrasing. "Is this correct?"

"Yes, Master Shan." Jay inclined his head.

"This is an acceptable interpretation," the Doberman nodded. "Padawan Clawson, you have passed this Trial, and all the Trials of Knighthood save one. We are currently working to arrange a mission that will test your skills as a full Jedi Knight; when we have, you will be called before us again."

"Yes, Masters." Jay stood smoothly and left without a trace of a reaction to being informed he had passed.

"He is still insolent." Master Noloth grumbled.

"No, he is bright, inquisitive, strong willed and you asked him." Master Charn almost smirked. "He is very respectful, but do not ask him if you do not want to know what he really thinks."

"Which will not always be a direct answer to the question at hand," Master Kareth said. "Tact is not his strongest suit, but that is something many of us can say. I believe it is time for us to hear the report from Master Ursal and Padawan Shivasta?"

"Quite," Master Surool agreed. "Fortunately, this meeting should prove less stressful than some of the others we've had today."

"*Definitely,*" Master Essani agreed, grateful they'd managed to find common ground with Jay on that point of philosophy. He still wasn't in the greatest of moods, but it was better than the last time. It felt very different from last time too. He'd been angry with himself then. This time, he seemed almost ... numb.

It worried her, almost more than the last time had. It wasn't anything resembling a normal response, much less what she'd come to expect from her fiery student.

The door slid open, letting Shivasta and Ursal into the Council chamber, where both bowed their heads respectfully.

"Report, Padawan Shivasta," Master Shan told the Ice Walker simply.

"As ordered, I took a transport to Chandrila to respond to a request for treatment by the Odona family," she explained, looking up at the Councilors. She looked different than she usually did when asked to report on a mission; normally, she would be uncertain, hold back, and basically act very much like the majority of Padawans did. This time, she gave her report with the simple confidence they expected of a Knight.

"The initial report of illness turned out to be incorrect," she explained. "Cadon Odona, patriarch of the family, was actually a victim of heavy metal poisoning. After I began treatment, I started to investigate the circumstances surrounding his poisoning."

"This was beyond the parameters of your mission," Master Kareth pointed out softly.

"Perhaps, but necessary to truly complete it," Shivasta said. "Without discovering the means by which he was poisoned, he would likely fall victim to it again once I had left, and others in his household were at risk.

"I conducted my investigation primarily by means of interviews, and determined that the most likely suspect was Haskit Ral'dren, a Bothan managing Cadon's business affairs. Unfortunately, I did not have sufficient evidence to prove that she was behind it for some time.

"After a week of helping Cadon recover, his daughter collapsed, exhibiting the same symptoms as her father. I began treating her, and her brother decided to act on my findings despite the lack of proof. He had Haskit taken into custody by the house security droids. During her interrogation, she gave us sufficient information to determine how and why she had done what she did.

"She had dusted her fur with low doses of arsenic, poisoning Cadon and accidentally poisoning his daughter. Her motive was a combination of fear that Cadon would have her dismissed from her position, and frustration with how he controlled his business and family.

"With this information, we were able to go to the Chandrilan authorities with the case. The Odona family is ensuring that charges are pressed once the remaining evidence is collected, and both victims had recovered by the time I left Chandrila for Coruscant." She finished with out a trace of her very strong desire to go find out what was wrong with her mate showing even in her surface thoughts. He'd barely nodded to her when they had passed in the waiting room, and that just wasn't right. Even in public he was normally more affectionate than that.

The feelings from him were disturbing as well. Hard to name, and very unusual.

"Well done, Knight Shivasta." Master Shan smiled slightly to her. "You have proven yourself a capable Jedi Knight."

"Thank you," she said, bowing her head again. "Has the Council considered the request I made prior to leaving on this mission?"

"*We have,*" Master Essani nodded. "*And you may return to Garosh for the ceremony, along with Padawan Clawson if he is willing.*"

"*And if you can find out what's wrong with him,*" she added, shielding the thought tightly.

"Thank you," the new Knight nodded. "I will find out." With that, she turned to leave and find Jay.

She would have found out even without Essani's request.

"*Jay?*" She called out mentally, riding the lift down the Council Spire. "*Want to talk?*"

"*Not much to talk about.*" He shrugged mentally. "*I passed. I'm dealing with old stuff now.*"

"*Anything you want to talk about?*" She asked him gently as the lift reached the proper level and she stepped out. "*I've got some time.*"

"*It's nothing you haven't heard before.*" He told her, his mind far too quiet as numbness gave way to the soft pain of feeling isolated. "*Nothing new. They just reminded me how much I don't belong here.*"

She walked through the halls to the gardens she knew he'd be in; the favored koi pond he'd spent so many hours at over the years.

"You've handled that before though," she pointed out softly, sitting down next to him. "Something about this one feels different."

"I shouldn't have passed." He said without looking up, his finger moving mindlessly on the water's surface. "They didn't ask the question I can't answer right. No one asked me about the nature of the Force, the Light and Dark sides."

"And you still look at it differently than any Jedi," she said softly, shifting to lay down next to him, watching the absent-minded patterns he was tracing, wondering if he might be drawing something from his youth. "It doesn't feel right to you, and they let you through because they didn't think to ask the right question."

"And they don't know I have no intention of training a Padawan, where it would matter." He closed his eyes briefly. "I can't help but wonder if I'm on the right side of this mess."

"Compared to what?" She asked, reaching over to scratch his back lightly, discreetly massaging points along his body that would help him relax slightly.

"Compared to what I know is going to happen." Jay murmured and let his eyes shut. "What I know reality wants to happen. The Force wants to be healed, to be whole again. I can feel how unnatural the split is when I let myself. The Jedi are even more opposed to healing it than the Darksiders are."

"I suppose that depends on the Darksider," Shi admitted. "I haven't met many of them. But if it really is the will of the Force that the Light and Dark sides become one, then it will happen, Jay. And the Jedi will be working towards it, even if they don't realize it."

"Faith is a wonderful thing, Shi, for those who have it." He sighed. "I'm just not one of them."

"That's one of the wonderful things about faith in this," she smiled slightly, shifting to give him a gentle kiss. "It's the faith of other Jedi in the will of the Force that will guide them towards it. They will do what they are supposed to, because they believe they are supposed to. It's the nature of the beast, you might say."

"It's still faith," Jay murmured. "It's not in my nature to just accept it'll happen. It's just not what Clawsons are. We're the instigators and rabble-rousers, the ones who intervene and finish trouble. No matter how much I'm supposed to give it up, I'm a Clawson first. I see a problem and it riles until I do something about it. It's just what we are."

"Maybe you are doing something about it," she offered. "Maybe not actively, but you make people think about things. Actually stop and think about them. Sometimes, that's enough; it might not change immediately, but given time...." She dipped her own finger into the pond, the ripples the contact sent out disturbing his own, stopping some and redirecting others.

"Maybe," he consented, though he wasn't all that sure of it. "Just really subtle for a Clawson."

"But it's the way you make lasting changes," she pointed out. "Revolt can change things, can even change them in the long run, but more often they return to normal once those who led the rebellion are gone, at least around here."

He nodded, not really sure how to respond. It went against his instincts and heritage as he knew it, but it was very much in line with the universe he found himself in.

It made his head hurt to think about it too much, and he still didn't feel any sense of accomplishment at passing his Trials.

He had to wonder if becoming a Knight would feel this hollow a victory as well.

"How about a new topic?" Shi suggested, nuzzling his cheek. He didn't respond much, but he was getting back to a more normal mood.

"All right," he looked at her.

"Before I left on my solo, I asked the Council if they would allow me to undergo a rite of passage back home if I was successful," she explained. "They've agreed, so I'm probably going to be taking a trip to Garosh some time soon." She rubbed his back lightly.' "The ritual would normally involve having my first mate there with me," she told him. "Since you're not a Walker, it's not required, but... if you're willing, I'd appreciate it," she smiled softly.

"They don't care about the technicalities?" Jay asked quietly, looking at her. "That we aren't mates legally, and we can't have kids?"

"They'll accept a mate of the same sex," she pointed out. "Children aren't the key issue there; that you can do with other bedmates. It's the relationship, the bond we have. We might not be mates legally, but if they'll accept you being there, and they probably will, it means they've accepted you as my mate."

"Then I'll be there." He promised, not even caring at the moment about the possibility that his Master might object.

Shivasta was just glad that she'd checked before asking him. It shouldn't have surprised her, his loyalties were in an odd order for a Jedi but very well set: his beliefs, his mates, his Master, the Order, the law.

"Good," she smiled. "The transport will be leaving in a few days. Fenrik's class is going to be keeping him here, but I think he'll understand."

"It won't be the first time one of us got left behind." He tried to smile. "It won't be the last."

"Thank you, Jay," she said, hugging him. "It means a lot to me. It might be dangerous there," she admitted. "I'm not entirely sure how things will be going when we get there."

"All the more reason for me to come." He rumbled softly and drew her close, the protectiveness he felt towards his family's heart and healer burning everything else to a cinder without even trying.

Master Essani was settling into her quarters after several more too-long hours of meetings after Shi had left to talk to Jay. Even after ten years of them together, and knowing Jay for almost fourteen, it still amazed her to experience how quickly either of his mates could bring her Padawan back to center, sometimes without even trying. She'd accepted his words on the subject, but the first few times it had happened, she was certain someone must have used a suggestion or something on him, except that she knew no one had.

She knew before he buzzed that he was at the door, and had it open for him as she stood up and hopped to a location where she could be at eye-level without him laying on the ground. He still sat down, polite as ever.

"Are you all right?" She asked him, hoping not to move directly into the conversation directly.

"Yes, Master." He inclined his head slightly.

She could tell he was still disturbed, but not nearly as badly as he had been before.

"Can you tell me what the problem was?" She asked him with a chirp, her fur a light grey. "Your reaction wasn't anything like what we expected."

"I think too much sometimes, Master." Jay murmured. "I haven't been reminded so bluntly of how different some of my views are in a long time. It made me question if I am doing the right thing in becoming a Jedi."

"Have you come to a decision?" She asked him. She knew full well that his beliefs were different, sometimes dangerously so.

"Yes, Master." He said softly but firmly. "I follow my heart. I will follow the path of the Jedi."

She wasn't surprised to hear it; he wasn't prone to leaving behind something he'd worked at, and he'd worked at this for over twelve years, more than half his life.

"How do you intend to deal with the difference in your views and the Order's?" She asked rather pointedly. It would be humiliating to them both if he could not answer this properly, but she had to make sure he really could do what she said he could.

"It has come up rarely in the fourteen years I have been here, Master." He reminded her politely. "I have no intention of taking a Padawan or teaching a class that I do not agree with. As a Knight, I have the right to hold an opposing view on things like the prophecy if I can back it up. Debates are held regularly among the Knights and Masters after all."

"They are," she agreed. "What about the more fundamental differences? Your views of the Light and Dark side in particular?"

"They have not hampered my skills as a Jedi." He pointed out. "I have no intention of teaching the subject. You are welcome to convince me I am wrong about it when you have some kind of proof that accounts for what I have experienced."

"You are going to encounter more difficulty with it if others bring it up," she cautioned him. "I know you are already aware of it, but it very nearly did come up today."

"Master, if they care more about an opinion than my ability, they have chosen their fate and I leave them to it." He almost growled as she ran head-on into the line that simply would not be crossed. "I will not change what I am for a title. We never have and never will."

"I know," Essani nodded. "And I accept that your view of the Force is different from ours, that your experiences have given you no reason to feel differently. What I do ask is that you accept that we have our reasons as well. It may not be something we can explain to your satisfaction, and I consider that a failing on my part. But our views and beliefs, our faith, comes from experiences of our own."

"I know Master," he inclined his head, calming almost immediately. "I have not tried to change others minds except when it came up for other reasons and they tried to change mine. I do not intend to change that pattern."

"That is good," she agreed. "Though people don't always mean to change your mind when they question what you believe."

"That is a very fine line, Master. 'Believe as I do or you may not have something' is just as much trying to change someone's mind as arguing with them directly, only much less respectable. The intent is the same. No one here is interested in simple debate."

"A thin line, yes, but not one we always cross," Essani told him. "We should have looked deeper into the reasons for what you said the first time you took this latest Trial; at its root, your interpretation and the official one are essentially the same, and we should have seen that."

"I could have explained myself better. You could have asked what I meant." He said softly, not interested in arguing any more than he usually was. He'd fight for his beliefs when he was challenged directly, but he rarely sought such challenges out. "It is the past now."

"Did Shivasta ask you about the trip to Garosh?" Essani asked, thinking that now would be a good time to find a different subject.

"Yes, Master." He nodded, more than willing to take on a different subject. "I wish to go with her."

"Which is acceptable to us, unless something changes abruptly," Essani nodded. "Shivasta made sure it would be before she asked you. I have a feeling that us approving it was one and the same with going herself," the kushiban chirped, her fur shifting to a light gold.

"It is very important to her that I be there." Jay nodded, though he didn't really understand why. "To have her people accept me as her first mate."

"I believe she is free for a time now." Essani's fur turned a light golden-pink for a moment. "You have much to catch up on."

"Yes, Master." Jay chuckled and stood to meet Shi in their quarters.

Shivasta walked to a meditation room to meet Master Shan and Surool. She took a deep breath and rolled her head. Jay was more or less back to normal now and talking to Master Essani. She had to admit that she'd rather be with him in privacy of their quarters, making sure that stayed the case, than up here. On the other hand, she had been asked to come here and it wasn't something she could refuse.

She just hoped it wouldn't take long... and that she could explain whatever they wanted to know ... no doubt about Jay ... properly without messing anything up.

She tapped the button on the console next to the door, letting the pair inside know she was there.

"*Come in, Knight Shivasta.*" Master Shan told her as the door opened to the pair sitting in a relaxed meditation pose. He motioned her to sit down with them.

She did so, though unable to relax as well as either of the two Masters. She was just too unsure of what she was going to say, something she knew both of them could sense easily.

"I understand that you went to talk to Padawan Clawson after your report." Master Shan began easily. "What came of it?"

"I found out why he was disturbed when he left the Council chambers," Shivasta explained. "And helped him to overcome it. He is uncertain as to whether or not he is truly qualified to become a Jedi," she admitted.

That raised an eyebrow.

"In what way?" Master Shan asked.

"His beliefs, especially about the nature of the Force, are at odds with Jedi beliefs," she explained, having the distinct feeling she might be saying something that'd cause trouble for somebody.

"I see." Master Surool regarded her steadily. "He hides them well, not to have come to our attention until now."

"Nobody has asked him about them yet," Shivasta pointed out. "He has little difficulty behaving as a Jedi should, albeit a somewhat unorthodox one. One of the things that troubled him was that nobody asked the question that would have brought them to the Council's attention."

"He was troubled that we did not asked him a potentially disqualifying question?" Master Shan was clearly surprised, and concerned by it. "We will be speaking to him about this before your trip."

"It brought the conflict between his culture and the Jedi beliefs into mind again," Shivasta explained. "He does want to become a Jedi, he just doesn't want to lose a culture he was raised by, one that he was forced to leave galaxies away." It was something she could sympathize with, after a fashion. "He does make the right choices; he just does not always get there by the same path as most Jedi."

"So we have seen." Master Shan nodded thoughtfully. He could not argue that Jay behaved as they expected him too for the most part. His beliefs could not be too far off, once you got past his delivery of them. A delivery that he clearly was not inclined to give very often, since they had not heard of it before and this was something they would have heard of. "Is there anything else you wish to add before we talk to Padawan Clawson?"

"Yes, Masters." She nodded. "I hope this won't be viewed as out of line, but I do believe that he is willing and able to perform a Jedi's duties. Some of his beliefs are unorthodox, but they are not that far out of line when compared to some cultures accepted at the Temple."

"That is the purpose of these conversations." Master Shan told her. "Thank you for adding to our understanding. You are dismissed."

"Thank you, Masters," she said, standing and bowing her head. As she left, she could only hope that she hadn't done anything to harm Jay's prospects.

Jay let out a small breath as he entered the quarters he shared with his mates only a few moments behind Shi. She was too subdued, but that seemed to be the order of the day for everyone.

"Hi," he murmured gently and come up behind her to slide his arms around her.

"Hi," she murmured back, wrapping her arms around his, holding him close and enjoying the feel of his powerful body against her back. "How'd your meeting with Master Essani go?"

"Fairly well," he nuzzled her neck, enjoying the feel and smell of her thick, long blue hair covering his face. "A lot of it is what I already knew. I'm a lousy teacher when it comes to explaining things and I've got unpopular opinions."

"Mmm... well, it didn't go badly at least," she smiled, hugging his arms against her. She just hoped the meeting he'd be having soon would go as well. She debated telling him for a moment, then decided it would be best to let him know ahead of time. "Afraid you'll probably have another one soon... before we head out, at least."

"With Masters Shan and Surool?" He kissed her neck. "I'm not surprised. Did they say when?"

"Just before we leave for Garosh," she said, shaking her head slightly. "Hope I didn't end up making any trouble for you."

"If it does, we'll deal with it." Jay hugged her and kissed his way down her neck. "The worst they can do is kick me out of the Order."

"Mmm ... don't think they'll do that," she murmured, shivering a bit as his hands explored her body threw her robes. "I've missed you, so much."

"We've missed you a lot too, Shi." He purred in her ear. "We aren't whole without you."

"Mmm ... I'm not going to be gone like that again for a while," she promised, shivering lightly. "Want to go wind down like we both need to do?" She asked him, turning in his arms to wrap her own around him.

"Definitely," Jay purred and kissed her firmly.

Jay and Shivasta were snuggled up with Fenrik in bed, the red-furred tom in between his two mates, when the comlink in the room beeped.

"Padawan Clawson, please report to Meditation Room A at the first opportunity," Master Surool said.

"Yes, Master Surool." Jay answered quickly and disentangled himself from his mates as the comlink clicked off. "I guess you two will just have to entertain yourself for a while." He winked and snagged several slices of meat to finish while he showered.

"We'll be ready for you when you're back," Shi called after him, snuggling up with her other mate and kissing him deeply as Jay disappeared from the bedroom.

He showered thoroughly, but quickly, knowing the Masters had probably already been waiting for him for an hour or so and had just been polite not to call him before he was done relaxing with his mates. It was a courtesy he definitely appreciated.

Hopefully he'd manage to get out of his quarters before Shi and Fenrik got too noisy and had him wound up again. It was no state to meet a Councilor in, let alone the head of the Council and his mate.

Fortunately, Fenrik and Shi seemed content to just snuggle, or at least to be very quiet while he was still there. After a few minutes, he was on his way to Meditation Room A, mind and body relaxed for the upcoming meeting. It was strangely easy now that he'd come to terms and accepted any outcome.

The meeting was likely to be tense enough as it was, just by the subject matter.

The door opened for him even before he asked it to, revealing the Doberman and pink-skinned Twi'lek inside.

"Have a seat, Padawan Clawson," Master Shan said easily.

It was an order he complied with easily, settling down with his rump on his heels and hands on his knees.

"We understand that you were having some doubts about your current course, and the results of your latest Trial?" The Doberman asked him.

"Yes, Masters." Jay inclined his head slightly in acknowledgement. "It felt incomplete, and reminded me just how far apart our beliefs are in some areas. It made me question if I truly wanted to join a group I disagree with and is following a path I can see is not for the best."

"In what respect?" Master Surool asked him.

"The final nature and origin of the Force." Jay said softly but evenly. "The Jedi are on a self-destructive course that will take everything they touch down with them when they fall. Small things, like being convinced the Light is in descent and that the Dark is an aberration while the Light is not, will add up until it is so far out of balance the only answer is to collapse."

"Please, elaborate on what you feel the true nature of the Force is," Master Surool said. "And why," he added.

Jay drew a shallow breath, organizing a lifetime worth of experience into something that might vaguely resemble a good argument.

It truly boiled down to one thing.

"In all your records, in all the arguments that I have heard, the one thing that I was looking for was missing: why you believe the Force you access is different from every other form of natural energy, every natural law, every other way to access the Force, everything else that a sentient mind has not created.

"I have tried to believe, to see the universe according to Jedi teachings. All it creates is questions that have no answers and no reason to be there other than someone decided it was so and didn't check in with the rest of reality to make sure it fit in.

"The Force that flows through machines is not divided. The Force of a world that is devoid of sentient life is not divided. The Force that flows through space and time and life is not divided.

"The only Force that is divided is the Force that has been harnessed and manipulated by some sentient minds. It is disturbed, unnatural, unhappy. Much like the overall state of the cultures that created it and perpetuate it."

"Have you ever been to Dxun, Padawan?" Master Shan asked.

"No, Masters." He admitted easily. "The records of that moon of Onderon have been ... artificially limited ... to an impressive extent." He kept the distrust and distaste of such things out of his voice, but not from his mind. That showed the Masters very clearly that it was a heavy mark against anything they tried to say about the world, and against the Jedi records in general. "What little there is indicates that it was twisted by the Dark long before it was discovered by Republic contacts or known sentient inhabitation.

"That proves very little, given the creature that is attached to my family. Many creatures do not leave evidence of a physical occupation in their wake. There is also the generally sad quality of record keeping before information is intentionally suppressed, how long it could have been inhabited, and then not inhabited, before anyone known to the Republic found it to consider."

"Granted," Master Surool nodded. "However, consider this Padawan. If you found a world where there is no evidence, physical or otherwise, of prior inhabitants, a world teeming with life, but that practically reeks of the energies of the Dark Side, with natural, non-sentient life forms that seem to react to this energy differently than they do to the Light Side, what would your conclusion be?"

"That it was a testing ground." He said simply. "The records you do have indicate that Darksiders find it a very appealing pastime."

"This is your reaction, despite the lack of evidence of testing there?" The twi'lek asked him. "It is typical for Darksiders to experiment, yes, but it is also typical to find evidence of such experimentation, or of inhabitation during that period."

Jay considered the Master for some time, working it over and the various permutations it caused.

"It is a more likely answer than that one type of natural energy exists under completely different laws than all others. I do not contest the existence of the Light and Dark Sides, Masters, or what they are like or the effects they can have on a person or place. I do not contest that Dark energy is destructive and can warp a person's mind and body.

"What I cannot come to terms with is the idea that this one type of Force is naturally divided when no other type is, and no other natural energy is. Everything I experience tells me that it is not meant to be divided as it is. Most of these things are experiences that only a handful of people in your history have been capable of, because they are from the Force beyond the living world that most are limited to. Other you simply look at differently, because you expect to see a given thing, so you do."

"And these experiences lead to a difference in beliefs," Master Shan acknowledged. "However, I do have a question about what seems to be your central assumption; that energy is not naturally divided. What about light, or other forms of radiation?"

"That division is also artificial." Jay pointed out politely. "Names we put on each chunk of the spectrum so we can talk about them easily. Light to me, the frequencies which I can see, are not the same as for a bee, or for you, even. The bee sees into the ultraviolet range more than our visual range, and mine goes higher into the infrared than yours. Some races see in other frequencies entirely, and as most Jedi know, you can sometimes see the Force, a type of energy that is not normally visible. Even matter is energy that is packed very tightly and in a specific frequency and pattern. You can do many things with energy, but in the end, it is just energy."

"The names are artificial, granted," the Doberman nodded. "But the effect of ultraviolet light on something is sometimes different from the effect of infrared at the same intensity. This difference is not an artificial one, but a natural difference, and one of the reasons that different names are given to them. The names may be artificial; that they have different properties is not."

"You propose that the three types of Force are three different frequencies?" Jay cocked his head at Master Shan, more than willing to listen if the elder Jedi could make it make any sense.

"Quite possibly," the Doberman nodded. "Even after studying it for as long as we have, few in the Order would claim that we have the definitive, true understanding of the Force and how it works. There's a reason we spend as much time as we do researching that subject. Given the differences in how they behave, how they affect things they interact with, different frequencies can appear to be different energies."

"True," he consented without difficulty and filed that idea away to spend some serious time on to see if it really held up to scrutiny.

"I doubt that clears all your doubts, but would I be right in saying hat we've made some progress?" Master Shan asked.

"I doubt that clears all your doubts, but would I be right in saying that we've made some progress?" Master Shan asked.

"Yes, Masters." Jay bowed his head. "It is an idea that makes sense that I have not encountered yet. It seems that there is less difference in our views than I had thought."

"It often seems to work out that way, in the end," the Doberman nodded, privately pleased that the youth felt relieved at the realization. It would make him reasonably easy to work with in the long run. "There is one more question I would like to ask you, Padawan. About Master Essani, and this issue in particular. You have had this discussion with her before, yes?"

"Many times, Master Shan, though not so much recently." He nodded slightly. "I think she ran out of ideas of how to make me understand, and let it go when it did not affect my performance."

"I am curious as to why she didn't bring it to our attention, given that it would likely affect your ability to train a Padawan of your own, but we'll address that with her. Now, I believe we've interrupted your first night with both your mates home in some time long enough," the aged canine smiled.

"Master Shan, I have no intention of training a Padawan." Jay said firmly. "Teaching is not something I am any good at."

"That is your right, if you wish," the Doberman said, inclining his head slightly. It would make certain decisions about him easier to make.

"Is there anything else you wish to say?" Master Surool asked in the pause.

"No, Masters." Jay bowed his head.

"Then see to your mates. We will likely wish to speak with you again." Master Shan told him.

"Yes, Masters." Jay said as he stood and left the room.

"He felt more troubled by his inability to agree with us than most." Master Surool observed.

"I sensed that as well," he nodded. "He almost wants to be proven wrong, I think. The conflict between training and experience. It's a shame he couldn't have come to us sooner than he did."

"True. Much could have been avoided if the Order had trained him from the beginning. It does not help that he is the kind to seek help outside his mates. He is feline, but he acts much more like a Wolf socially." The pink-skinned Twi'lek said thoughtfully. "It is good that his focus is where it is. He is ill-suited for the more traditional roles most Knights take."

"True," the canine agreed. "I suspect he'll find Master Ishaa's offer quite tempting. I suspect the artisan's path will agree with him."

"It would certainly make the Council's life easier if he does." Surool chuckled softly and stood. "We have worked hard today."

"Some relaxation is in order." Shan rumbled softly and stood to steal a quick kiss before they walked from the meditation chamber and to the privacy of their quarters.

"Well, at least there isn't a blizzard waiting for us," Shivasta said hopefully, looking out the Sharufa's viewscreen at her home planet, Garosh, Jay sitting next to her. "That's an improvement over last time at least."

"It'll make landing a lot easier." He nodded, regarding the largely low-tech world with a mixture of curiosity and nervousness. The sensors, and his senses, confirmed that it wasn't an entirely backwater world, even in the conservative area they were landing in, but he was keenly aware of the creature comforts that wouldn't be there.

He still wasn't entirely sure about the idea of staying in a building made almost entirely out of ice. It was very much his idea of hell.

"Much," Shivasta agreed. "We don't have to come down in an escape pod, for one thing," she chuckled a little nervously. For her part, she wasn't as nervous about what would be there as she was about who might be. She really could understand the jitters some people described when they were introducing their lovers to their family.

Only her 'family' here was much larger, and known for not being overly friendly to outsiders.

And if that wasn't a description of him, nothing was. Sixteen years had done little to change that he didn't belong in this galaxy, and this world was as far away from anywhere he belonged as he could imagine.

Though, in a strange way, it gave her a little hope that they might get along with him. He didn't hate the Republic by any means, but he still wasn't particularly fond of them. It was a discomfort that might give him some sort of common ground with her people. A slim chance, but slimmer ones had worked out in their favor before.

As they approached the landing zone, Shi could see that Impana was waiting, along with others of the clan. That boded well, as far as she was concerned. It meant they trusted her, at least.

She just hoped the blue-striped crevasse cats with them weren't a sign that they were less certain of Jay.

"I guess I do have kin of a type here." Jay chuckled softly. "Pretty kitties."

"You should see the kittens," Shi smiled. "Maybe while we're here we can watch a training session. They start them young; try to be one of the first things they imprint on after their mother." She took a deep breath as the sleek, Jay-designed fight-transport touched down, rolling her shoulders to release some of the tension in them.

"So," she said cheerfully, "ready to meet the family?"

"As I'll ever be." He nodded and settled his body as best he could.

The two of them started off the ship, both dressed in heavy robes, the temperature regulators they wore beneath them ensuring that they'd be comfortable regardless of the heat or cold outside. Shi knew that it was especially important for Jay; he still wasn't particularly comfortable when a room was below body temperature for her.

She was more than a little worried what might happen if he didn't have it with him; she had no clue what temperatures were too low; it simply didn't come up on Coruscant. She could feel that even with the regulator the wind and ambient cold made him edgy in a way not even the Demon did. There was something here that spoke to his instincts, and not in a good way.

Still, he managed to keep things calm and in order on the outside, and probably even to most Force-users that didn't share a bond with him.

With any luck, he'd be able to relax some once he found that the rooms weren't all that cold after all, compared to the outside.

They stepped off the Sharufa, Impana stepping forward to take Shivasta's hand and shoulder in greeting.

"We were beginning to wonder if you'd decided to never come back," the older Ice Walker said with a slight chuckle in her voice. "Come, let's get out of the wind so we can handle introductions."

They started into the nearby city, two Jedi and a handful of Stormwardens wearing their light blue winter robes, followed by the crevasse cats that occasionally moved up to sniff at Jay or Shi curiously. It was something Jay smiled at and extended his hand to one with a thought of 'I'm friendly kin'.

The big male pulled back slightly, then sniffed his hand and accepted the attention to his ears with a happy rumble that seemed to put the handlers a bit more at ease.

It wasn't lost on either Jedi that most of the Ice Walkers were armed, though they kept their weapons fairly well concealed, but then, so were they.

They made their way to the main hall, Impana and the other natives pulled their hoods back as soon as they were out of the wind. Shivasta and Jay followed suit a moment later. The room was warm enough that they couldn't see their breath in the air, though it was too large to actually be warm most of the time.

"Make yourselves comfortable," the Chieftain said with a slight smile, motioning towards the stone seats with their padded cushions.

Jay followed his mate's lead as she sat down, though he did a respectable job of not looking like he was depending on her for clues. Impana sat down on her own wooden seat, and the other Ice Walkers sat nearby, the cats with them lounging about comfortably, the largest of the males positioning himself between his handler and Jay, so the lean feline would be able to continue scratching his head.

"Well, it looks like your friend has made at least one good impression," Impana chuckled as Jay continued his attention to the big cat.

"Mmm ... he's got a way of doing that," Shivasta smiled. "Chief Impana, this is Padawan Jay Clawson, my mate." She said it without sounding nervous, but the reaction from most of those in the room was almost palpable. It was clearly not what most of them had expected to hear, though Impana didn't seem as surprised by the news. "Jay, this is Impana, one of the clan Chiefs, and my aunt."

"Pleased to meet you, Ma'am." Jay inclined his head to her.

"Likewise," she nodded. "I hope you will be willing to discuss your family with me prior to the ceremony."

"Yes, ma'am." Jay nodded slightly.

"You'll meet more of the clan during your stay here, but the others are Redan," Impana said, gesturing towards the handler of the crevasse cat still contentedly accepting any attention Jay would give it, "Ketla, and Joran," she continued, indicating the other two handlers, female and male respectively. Jay noticed that they all had the same tattoo on their cheek that Shivasta and Impana did, marking them all as members of the extended family.

"How long are the two of you planning on staying?" Redan asked them.

"Not too long, I'm afraid," Shivasta said. "Unless something happens, probably just a week or two; we have duties at the Temple to return to."

"So you are still following the Jedi path," Ketla said as much as asked, something in her voice telling Shi and Jay alike how little she thought of it.

"Yes," Shi nodded. "I completed my Trials and became a full Knight shortly before we left Coruscant."

"Then what are you doing here?" The female Ice Walker asked pointedly. "Shouldn't you be across the Wastes with the other reznin who want to let the Republic take over?"

Shi looked the older woman in the eyes, recognizing this as being less like the test Impana had given her the first time she'd visited, and more an honest challenge to her right to be here. Jay's ears were flat against his skull, the warning not lost on any of them, but Shi was glad that he was giving her the chance to defend herself first.

"I came here as a member of the clan, not as a Jedi," Shivasta pointed out. "I support the Republic no more now than I did the last time I was here."

"And yet you wear a lightsaber built with crystals from our mines, claim an outsider as your mate, and plan to return to the Jedi once you have been accepted as a full member of the clan, a shaman even?"

"A crystal I only took from the mines after undergoing the tests and getting the permission of Chief Impana," Shivasta said, an edge to her voice Jay couldn't remember hearing ever before. "As I remember, nobody challenged her decision or my right to do so at the time.

"As for my choices, I was raised by the Jedi, and trained to be one. However, I was also raised to value my heritage as a member of the Stormwarden clan. I have done all I can to respect both cultures; that is why I am here. I am not here for the rank of a shaman; that is an honor I cannot rightfully accept. I am simply here to be recognized as what I am."

"And what is that? If you are not to be accepted into the clan as a shaman, then why undergo the rite?" The other three Ice Walkers were watching closely as Shivasta and her cousin argued, watching Shivasta more closely. Neither she nor Jay had any doubt they were weighing her responses on more than just the verbal level; they were watching for any sign of weakness on her part.

"I may not become a shaman, but I am a healer among the people who raised me," Shivasta said, taking a moment to find a response that would satisfy them. "I have studied the rites of our people; the rite of spirit applies to all who feel the Force. Haven't the three of you taken it?" She asked pointedly, looking between Ketla, Joran and Redan. She received a brief nod from all three.

"And yet you do not serve the clan as shamen," she continued. "You are Stormwardens, recognized for your skills, yet using them in the manner that suits you best. Are you saying I don't have the right to the same recognition, Ketla? As for my mate, unless I am sorely mistaken there is no law against taking a mate from outside the clan, especially not if he can prove himself worthy of respect. Jay is quite worthy."

"*Prove in what way?*" Jay asked on their bond, making an effort to keep it private even as his glare was squarely on Ketla. In his subtle, and not-so-subtle body language and hard golden eyes with narrow black slits, he left no one in the room with much doubt he was quite willing to take them all on for her.

"*That you're a capable mate and provider, that you'd be a good addition to the clan. It'll only come up if somebody actually challenges you,*" she explained telepathically.

"You are not mistaken," Impana offered. "So long as he is not from an enemy clan, that is the law."

"He is from the Republic, just as she is," Ketla pointed out.

"Just as the blaster you have under your robes is," Shivasta pointed out dryly, her mate trying not to smirk. "The Stormwardens may not want to join the Republic, may not want to deal with them as much as other clans do, but it is clear that we have not completely dismissed the value of working with them."

"There is a difference between trading for a tool and becoming one," Ketla countered. "Or in letting the temptations of sweet-spoken strangers turn you against your clan." Jay could feel the spark of anger from Shivasta as she straightened in her seat and looked at the older Ice Walker darkly.

"First, the Jedi are not tools of the Republic. We serve the Force, as the Stormwardens did before we came here. The Republic comes after that. Second, keep in mind that while my mother may have broken our laws, the daughter she gave the Jedi has returned. I know the ways of our people the best I can without having lived here, and they are ways I intend to pass on to my children and Padawans, should they be Ice Walkers. If you want to challenge my right to be a part of the clan, then do so. If not, then there is no point to this, is there?" She looked Ketla in the eye steadily, not daring her to make the next move, but clearly saying that whatever it was, she would meet it.

"I suppose there is not," Ketla said after a few moments, inclining her head slightly. "Though I suspect there are others would believe there is."

"Then they can inform me themselves," Shivasta said simply as Jay settled back from his aggressive posture, though his ears didn't swing all the way forward as they had been when they had first sat down.

"I believe this would be a good time to show the two of you to your quarters," Impana said, once it was clear that the challenge would not be delivered.

Jay gave the big crevasse cat next to him a final scritch on the jaw and stood to follow Shi as she followed the Chieftain as the woman started to walk off, sighing and rolling her shoulders once they had some relative privacy.

"This might've been a mistake," Shivasta murmured softly, wrapping an arm around Jay's back and got an affectionate nuzzle of support in return.

"They're your kin." He murmured, the importance of such things clear in his voice.

"Nonsense," Impana told her. "You handled that well. There's no way that we'll be able to completely avoid the Republic; finding a medium between the Externalists and our own camp is going to be necessary, when the coming wars end."

"It is unlikely the wars will end until one side has enough power to ignore the other." Jay shook his head. "Change rarely comes easy, or without a high price."

"A lesson we know well," she nodded. "It wasn't that long ago that we finally ended the last wars; our elders still remember them vividly. However, unless the Republic will leave us entirely alone, the only two outcomes are compromise, or losing who we are. Frankly, I prefer compromise."

"A few years ago, it sounded like you would have preferred fighting the Republic until they decided it wasn't worth it," Shivasta pointed out quietly.

"I've mellowed," Impana chuckled darkly. "Or, more accurately, come to realize that sometimes, compromise isn't the worst thing."

"Loosing who you are is far worse," Jay nodded seriously. "As long as you still have your soul, there is hope and a future."

"It sounds like you have some experience with that," Impana said, looking back over her shoulder at him as they approached their quarters, a heavy hide curtain in front of the door.

"Some," he admitted. "The Republic is a long way from home for me."

"It sounds like you'll have an interesting story for me," she mused. "As I said before, I would like to talk about your family later. It sounds like you don't have much contact with them, but it's still tradition. Later though; you two could use some time to rest, I'm sure."

"Thank you, Chieftess." Jay inclined his head slightly as she returned the gesture and left.

"So, want to go take a look around the room?" Shi asked, pulling the heavy curtain aside and stepping in. "For what it's worth, it's warmer, or will be."

"You're still going to have a very snuggly mate," he chuckled softly with a kiss along her neck. "Even if it doesn't feel cold, having ice all around is kind of creepy."

"And it's kind of home for me," she chuckled. "Though you are definitely going to be glad for sonic showers for once, I'm sure."

"Yeah," Jay shivered at the idea of trying to dry his fur here and took a good look around the room made of ice, with stone furniture padded by cushions like the ones from the main chamber. "Is Ketla likely to be more trouble?"

He was going to be so glad to get back to Coruscant, even if the cushions were comfortable.

"I hope not," Shivasta said, shifting to hug him and nuzzle his neck lightly. "Not unless I manage to set her off somehow. Others might be; I doubt she's the only one who feels that way."

"Probably not." He consented with a sigh and gently tugged her towards what he guessed was the bed, with a thicker mattress and heavy fur blanket.

"Might want to strip before you get under that," Shi warned him, stepping back a bit and starting to peel her robes off only to catch the distinctly uncomfortable look on his face as his eyes darted towards the door covered only by a leather curtain and the world made of ice.

She gave him a moment to work it through, grateful that it wasn't going to be a huge issue as his robes pooled on the floor, leaving only his temperature regulator pendant on. His fur was fluffed against the illusionary cold when he drew her close, her bare blue skin cool against the intense heat of his body.

"Mmm ... don't worry, it's as secure as any door back home," she murmured, kissing him tenderly. "Bed, get under the covers before you convince yourself you're about to freeze to death?"

"Like I need an excuse to get under the covers with you," he chuckled and kissed her on the way to the thick fur blankets to snuggle in.

"See? Just as warm as home," Shi smiled as she climbed under with him. The mattresses were comfortable, if not quite as nice as they were back home, and the blankets were definitely warmer. "Mmm... hope you're not too miserable," she murmured, kissing his neck as she pulled her regulator off and set it off on top of a small nightstand.

"I'll be fine," Jay purred and nuzzled her, his hands moving along her lean body, exploring the soft curves that marked her maturity. "You're here."

Shi groaned inwardly. She should have known it would be bad, given how Jay reacted to the perceived and real cold, but it had been so long since he'd whimpered in the morning. The Demon was extra strong, feeding on his fear of freezing on an ice-world.

She hugged him close, wrapping the covers tightly around them. She wasn't going to give the thing in his head any more fuel than it already had. She reached out mentally, touching his mind gently to remind him that she was there, and wouldn't let anything happen to him.

She wasn't going to lose him to the Demon.

It had an almost instantly calming effect. He stilled physically, the Demon backing off. For all it was stubborn, it wasn't inclined to waste energy when it didn't have a real chance of winning.

For all it was good to know that it respected her place in Jay's life, it left her with very real concerns about his solo mission. Something that would likely happen shortly after they returned. There was no option but for him to be alone through that... and it was almost guaranteed that something would happen that would test his ability to stay with the Light side, even without the Demon. She kissed him softly, trying to accept that there wasn't going to be anything she could do when the time came.

It was just something that was so very, very difficult to accept. Even harder with the knowledge that if he failed to hold his own, it was Fenrik who would pay the highest price in having to kill him if they couldn't save him first ... he'd told them before, to kill him before he could do the same to either of them.

The warning he'd given them to their assurances had cemented it in Fenrik's mind to follow that request. As bad as Jay would be if he gave in to the Dark, he could paint a very vivid picture of just how much worse it would be if grief took out any resistance he had left to the Demon and the Dark and his own taste for destruction.

It still wasn't going to stop her from doing her damnedest to turn him back, if necessary. She wasn't going to admit it to anybody, but that was part of the reason she'd focused as much as she had on ways to stop somebody that didn't kill or maim them.

He'd never said it outright, but in the past couple years it had become increasingly clear that he didn't really expect to make his entire life without falling to the Dark at least once. The odds were simply too great. The one time he'd let her that deep into his mind to experience why had convinced her that he wasn't exaggerating the risk much, and she had a suspicion he'd still shielded her from the worst of his troubles.

Her mind was abruptly brought back to the present by a wet nuzzle between her breasts as Jay woke up enough to find her body interesting. She scritched the back of his neck with a rumble and a shiver of pleasure, leaning down to kiss his head as he licked and nosed at her muscular body.

"You're all tense," Jay murmured as he shifted his head to kiss her and slid the fingers of one hand between her legs to lightly tease the swelling flesh there.

"I think too much," she murmured back, kissing him deeply as she lifted one leg to give him better access that he took advantage of to circle one finger lightly around her hardening clit. "Mmm... love you, Jay."

"I think we all do." He chuckled and pressed a finger lightly into her slick body. "Except when it feels too good to."

"Mmm ... and we've gotten very good and making it feel too good to," she grinned, hooking her leg around his, working her hands down his back to play around his tail and the furless pucker of his ass.

"Yes," he sighed in contented pleasure and withdrew his finger from her body to spread her swollen lips wide. He kissed her heatedly and sank deep into her with a smooth, well-practiced motion and moan.

"Oh yes," Shi moaned in answer, pulling him up on top of her as she sealed her mouth against his hungrily.

"Mmm ... so, I think we've got the day mostly to ourselves," Shi rumbled, nuzzling Jay as they lay tangled together under the thick furs. It was a joy to feel him so relaxed given how he'd woken up. "Any ideas for what to do with it?"

"Besides snuggle with you here?" He chuckled and hugged her close. "Look around town, see what's here. Maybe get in a little sparring practice."

"Mmm ... you seemed to get along pretty well with the cats last night, maybe pay a visit to the training pens if they're willing?"

"We are both feline." Jay cracked a grin at her. "Sounds good. Though it does mean getting up and showering."

"Mmm... me first, prove that it's possible to do without freezing?" She teased, licking his nose playfully.

"What? And miss a shower with you?" Jay's eyebrows went right up in mock indignation. "I'm not that worn out, you know."

"Mmm ... just making sure you were willing to get out of the blankets long enough," she giggled. "Though we are so going to have to get these blankets washed before tonight...."

"Like they won't need it again in the morning," he grinned mischievously. "Might want to bring some sheets in from the Sharufa to save the furs."

"Oh yeah," Shi agreed, kissing him with a chuckle as they reluctantly untangled from each other and the tight furs. "The ones we've got around here just weren't built to handle claws and your enthusiasm at the same time."

"You don't mind them though." Jay winked at her as he offered her a hand up, his bare fur matted and wet from their fun.

"Not at all," she rumbled, kissing him and led the way through a small door into another room. The sonic shower installed in it looked distinctly out of place in the otherwise primitive surroundings they'd seen so far.

Once Jay was dressed, he seemed to be a lot more comfortable with the vast majority of buildings being made mostly out of ice. That was one fact Shi was intensely grateful for as they explored, making their way towards the training pens. She could understand it to, to an extent. It was a lot easier for the mind to think it was warmer than it really was when you were dressed, or colder than it really was when you weren't.

"Think they're in here," she said, looking up at a sign over the building's duraplast doors, one of the more recent additions to the local architecture. "Still want to go cat-watching?"

"Can't think of a better time-killer." He chuckled and nuzzled her.

"Come on then," she smiled, opening one of the double-doors and stepping inside.

Out of the cold, it was increasingly clear that this building was a blend of traditional design and new materials they'd gained from the Republic. The floors of the pens, and some of the walls, were made out of modern materials, blue and white crevasse cats lounging about or playing, depending on their moods. Other parts were still made of ice, and Shi couldn't help but giggle as one of the smaller cats made a running start from the training area, only to hit the ice and skid straight into the wall across the room.

"I'd be more worried if I didn't know it was intentional," a deep voice behind them chuckled as they started in. "So, you're our two visitors?" A large, heavily built Ice Walker male said as they turned around to see who was talking to them.

"Yes," Jay nodded easily; his attention mostly on the felines in the room after he assessed the Ice Walker as not a threat.

"The two of you interested in the training?" He asked, nodding back towards where some of them were working. "I have a little free time, could give you a bit of a rundown on what we do."

"I am," Jay nodded, a bit more attention on the Ice Walker now that he was associated with what he was interested in. "They're such pretty cats."

"That they are," he agreed. "Though I don't think you'd feel the same way if you met a wild adult. At least not once you got close enough it decided you were food." He started in towards the training area, and the kit still playing on the ice.

"Somehow, I doubt that." Jay chuckled. "We've got a lot of training on how to avoid that particular fate."

"I didn't say it would manage it, just that you'll be less inclined to admire them once you've fought one," the Ice Walker chuckled. "My name's Keldan, by the way. I know Shivasta already; I believe somebody said you're called Jay?" He asked, taking a seat and motioning for the young kit to come over, which it did after it managed to get its footing back.

"Yes," he nodded easily, watching the kitten. "You only have to fight them if you can't get inside their head. It's not usually that difficult unless they're starving or protecting mate or young."

"Which is good if you happen to be one of the Force wielders around here," Keldan chuckled, picking up the kit, easily large enough to fill his lap as it reached over to sniff Jay curiously and was scritched between its ears for it. "Even among the Stormwardens it's not that common."

"I was only speaking for myself." Jay pointed out, most of his attention on the kitten, and a bit on keeping an ear open for its mother's disapproval.

"Well, either way, it's not likely to be any real trouble here. These lines have been domestics for ages. We work with them starting after their eyes open, as soon as the mother's willing to let us near them. This little guy's a few months old now; his mother's about ready to start being trained back into shape."

"What are they used for?" He asked curiously, indulging the kitten in as much attention as it wanted and earning a raspy, heartfelt purr in return.

"Depends on the line," Keldan explained while the two visitors paid attention to the kit. "The mother's from a hunting line, he'll probably be the same unless he bulks up enough to make him a better warcat."

"What's the difference, besides what they go after?" Shi asked.

"Mostly how well they fight with others," Keldan explained. "A warcat isn't as independent and a good hunting cat is a lot stealthier. A hunting cat might be turned loose to work on its own for a day or more; a warcat fights next to its handler barring something going very wrong."

"So independence is something that's trained?" Jay looked up with honest surprise. "I would have thought it sorted out on personality first. Who's social and who's not."

"No, not trained," the trainer said, shaking his head. "The independent streak is natural in all of them, but it's not hard to train them to rein it in when necessary. Honestly, it's harder to train them to come back when you want them to, rather than when they're good and ready to have a warm place to sleep again."

"I bet." He smirked and scritched the kitten's ears. "It seems true of all felines."

"Even the two-legged ones," Shi smirked, leaning over to kiss Jay's cheek lightly. "Though I think I've got you trained pretty well by now."

"You just have the right bait." He rumbled softly with a wink.

"Mmm ... careful, there are children around," Shi teased, petting the kitten as he looked up at the two strangers with an expression somewhere between confused and curious, almost like he was trying to figure out just what they were talking about.

"What, don't want them to see what a purple Ice Walker looks like?" Jay snickered and tried to touch the kitten's mind gently. "*Teasing my mate.*"

The kit hopped up, standing on Jay's lap and sniffing at him intently, leaning against his chest as Jay expanded his attention to the kitten's entire body.

"I think you're the first person he's worked with who talked to him like that," Shi giggled, rubbing the young cat's back

"He is," Keldan confirmed. "We don't usually start them working with the Force trainers until they're older. I think you just found a new admirer," he chuckled.

"I seem to have a talent for that." Jay purred, enamored by the adoring, curious kitten spilling over his lap. "At least with crevasse cats."

"It's because you have so much in common," Shi chuckled, reaching up to give the kitten a playful scritch along the back of its neck, earning a happy purr.

"I think we're lucky you two are just visiting," Keldan laughed. "You'd end up spoiling them if we didn't make sure you only played with ones that were still being socialized."

"Or I'd end up with a small pride trying to take over the bed at night." Jay chuckled. "The big ones like the attention just as much."

"You met Chillspring, hmm?" Keldan chuckled. "Lucky for you, we usually manage to train them not to jump up on beds while they're occupied."

"A good thing, given it's a good way to get a squished handler." Jay chuckled with a grin and nuzzled the kitten, who was now nearly intoxicated by all the attention. "Or a very upset mate."

"Or both, when they're as big as he is," Keldan nodded. "You know," he chuckled, "at this rate he's going to be just about heartbroken when you go home."

"Unfortunately," Jay nodded. "But even if you said it was okay for us to take him back, the Temple would have a fit."

"And it wouldn't be okay," Keldan agreed, as Shi quietly offered a mental 'thank you' that Jay wasn't particularly interested in pets. The kit rolled over in Jay's lap, reaching up for a furry finger and batting at it.

"So we'll just have to spoil them while we're here and head home to the big kitty that belongs in our bed." Jay chuckled and teased the kitten's chest and belly.

"Though he's much more difficult to really spoil," Shi chuckled.

"Oh, I don't know about that." Jay winked at her.

"Well, before you do too good a job on this one, it's about time for him to go back in with his mother," Keldan smiled. "You want to put him back so he can eat?" He asked Jay.

"Sure," he nodded. "*Time to go to mom.*" He told the kitten.

The kitten let out a disappointed-sounding 'murf,' then tried to look endearing for a moment as it stretched a paw and reached up towards Jay, clearly something it had learned might get it a little more playtime sometimes.

"Sorry, little one." He laughed playfully and looked over at Keldan for where the kitten belonged.

"He'll forgive you," Keldan chuckled. "His mother's pen is the first snow den you'll see if you go through the door there," he said, indicating where Jay should take him and watching carefully as the young feline warrior led the kitten away.

Jay walked through into the corridor, the pens and dens all relatively small, just like the rooms tended to be. Other Ice Walkers moved along, some leading crevasse cats, others alone. The kitten mewed as they approached the den Keldan had told him about, and one of the full-grown adults climbed out a hole just barely big enough for it to fit through, looking at Jay with a mix of curiosity and suspicion as her kitten hopped down to join her and get a thorough licking down.

"*Just returning your kitten,*" he told her and offered a hand to sniff.

She did so, licking at his hand with a broad, rough tongue that almost made his feel smooth before she was satisfied and turned to attention to her kitten and going back into the den.

"Seems the cats like you," another Ice Walker observed, walking up behind him from further down in the hall. He looked to be about Jay's age, a half-grown cat following behind him.

"I respect them," Jay sort of shrugged. "A little respect goes a long way with animals."

"True," the newcomer said. "So, is it true?"

"Is what true?" Jay looked at him squarely. He kept his body language more neutral, but he didn't miss the less-friendly manner of his questioner.

"That you're here with Shivasta," he clarified. "From the Temple on Coruscant?"

"Yes, I am." He nodded, not sure where this conversation was going.

"What she was thinking when she brought you out here? I'd thought she'd know better than to bring along guests, especially to the rites."

"I'm her first mate." Jay replied simply, his voice matter-of-fact with a hint of 'you should know that, too'.

"You have got to be joking," the Ice Walker half-laughed. "You're not even the same species as we are; closer cousin to the cats than us."

"Would you have such fear if she'd chosen a female Ice Walker?" Jay couched the mocking insult in words he'd almost get away with at the Temple. Still, he couldn't help the spark of competitiveness that flared back to life and the subtle shift in his body language that warned the other young adult that he was treading dangerously close to a challenge.

It was a shift that was mirrored plainly; if Jay did make a challenge, it would be met.

"Fear? I'm not afraid of you, cat. Just sorry to see what living in the Republic can do, that it'd make a Stormwarden lower her standards the way she has."

"You'd better be able to back that bragging up." Jay flattened his ears.

"With pleasure," the youth grinned darkly. "Choose the challenge and time, assuming you even know what they are."

"Unarmed combat," Jay smirked and intentionally turned his back on the Ice Walker to leave the room for the challenge field. "Now."

The other Ice Walker followed Jay out, Shi looking up at the two of them in concern as she picked up on their body language.

"What's going on?" She asked.

"A little challenge." Jay summarized it, even as she got a silent replay of the exchange. "Keldan, you might want to teach the kid how to surrender, before he gets killed." Jay told the elder Ice Walker absently as he walked by, quite loud enough for the other youth to hear.

"*Don't give him ideas, Jay,*" Shi warned him as she fell into step with him. "*He's not going to be a pushover!*"

"*Unarmed combat, love. He's not even a sensitive.*" Jay pointed out and unlocked each of his bracers to hand to her. "*This is one place I don't have to turn away when you're insulted.*"

"*Force training, maybe not. Combat training, don't count on it,*" Shi cautioned him.

"I'm not the one who has to worry about getting killed, cat," the challenger shot back.

"Hold it," Keldan said, standing up and looking at both the youths with authority, faintly pleased that Jay was reflexively obedient to his tone. "If this is an official challenge, you'll be handling it officially. Both out to the ring, but then wait until a judge can be collected."

"Yes, Master Keldan," the young warrior nodded.

"And sort out which of you is the challenger while you're at it," he told them as they headed out, pulling his hood up as he left to fetch one of the community leaders.

Shi shook her head, taking Jay's bracers and pendant and put them up under one arm. Just her luck that something like this would end up happening.

She pulled her own hood up, thinking about it as she followed the males out. It took quite a bit of self-control not to swear as she realized what Jay seemed to think this was about, and she hurried out to catch up with them before this went too far.

The two young men were taking up their positions opposite each other as she caught up with Jay.

"You don't have to do this," she told him quietly, aware that he was already pulling the Force around him to offset the loss of the temperature regulator that made life here tolerable for him.

"*Between what he said about you, and me, and our already shaky standing here, yes I do.*" He replied silently, not about to waste warm breath for speaking.

"*No, you don't,*" she told him. "*I just have to tell him he's not about to impress me by trying to beat you up. All he's trying to do is prove he's better for me than you are.*"

She froze at the jumble of almost-words that brought, the killing hatred founded in pure disgust that flared bright and hot before he got himself back under control.

That had definitely not been the thing to say. Though exactly what Jay took such incredible offence at was harder to figure out.

"*He deserves a pounding for that.*" Jay control his shudder, only just. "*If he backs down at your words, I won't push it.*"

"*Thank you,*" she said softly.

"You don't need to challenge my mate Elan," she said, hoping desperately that she remembered his name from her last visit. "I've been with him since before you first met me. Your skill isn't in question; I know you're a strong warrior, as he is. This challenge won't change my mind, no matter the outcome; there is no need for either one of you to hurt the other," she said.

"He accepted my challenge, Shivasta," Elan pointed out. "Don't worry," he smirked, "I won't hurt him too badly."

"One of these days I'm going to have a word with whatever idiot decided that fighting was a good way to impress a healer," Shivasta muttered under her breath as she stepped back out of the challenge ring, knowing that once the challenge began she wouldn't be welcome there unless somebody was seriously injured.

It was a very real possibility too, given Jay's reaction to the reason Elan had goaded him. If he wasn't careful... one or the other could well be injured, probably Elan. And under the rules of the challenge, unless it was obviously done maliciously, everybody else would be perfectly fine with it.

As one of the tribe's shamen walked towards the ring, moving easily despite her age, Shivasta hoped dearly that Jay would stay under control. She didn't particularly want to see what could happen if those impulses received some sort of reinforcement.

"I understand there has been a formal challenge made," the Shaman said, her voice clear and strong.

"There has, Shaman," Elan nodded. "I have challenged the offworlder's right to take one of the clan as a mate. He has chosen the terms."

"Which are?" The old woman asked, looking over at Jay.

"Unarmed combat, Ma'am." Jay answered her politely but firmly, his hot breath freezing quickly in the air. "To end when one of us surrenders, or is unable to do so."

"Are these terms acceptable to the challenger?" She asked, looking back over at Elan.

"Yes, Mistress Keva," Elan nodded curtly, dropping into a combat stance Jay didn't recognize. Fair enough; it wasn't like anybody here would recognize his own style, aside from Shi.

The tom fell into a defensive stance of his own, watching his opponent intently as they waited for Keva to give them the signal to begin, and a number of others came out to watch the proceedings.

"You understand that the results of this challenge will not be upheld over the decision of the Stormwarden chief as to the offworlder's suitability?" She asked, looking at Elan, making sure that he understood the challenge may not prove anything in the end.

"I do. I only intend to prove he isn't," Elan said easily and smugly. Jay could see that the Ice Walker's eyes were watching him just as intently as he was watching back; Elan obviously wasn't just a cat trainer.

Keva pulled a short ceremonial rod, decorated with fur and feathers with a single red crystal in the end, out of her robes.

"The challenge will begin when the rod strikes the ground," she said clearly for the audience to hear. "It will end when one of the combatants surrenders, loses consciousness, or I declare a breach of honor." She took a short step back from the ring, everybody else taking a larger one, even Elan's half-grown warcat. Without a word, she led her arm fall, bringing the rod down to touch the red crystal in its tip against the ground.

Jay brought the first strike; a telekinetic thump down on the shoulders and head intended to bring Elan to his knees.

It was clearly a maneuver Elan hadn't been expecting; he fell to his knees with a thud, but quickly got back to his feet, realizing that he had to close the distance between he and Jay as quickly as he could before the feline hit him hard enough to end the match.

Another blow landed in his stomach, but he ignored it as he made the final few steps that closed the distance between the two of them. He started to swing at the kat, just long enough to get his attention before digging his foot down into the partially matted snow and kicking it up towards Jay's face.

He never expected Jay to grab his fist; closing his three fingered hand around it and using his strength and Force to crush the bones as he pulled Elan forward into a roll that put Jay on his back for a moment and sent Elan flying from a kick in the stomach and the momentum of both their moves.

Jay was back on his feet and in his defensive stance again before the Ice Walker even landed on the other side of the ring.

To his credit, despite the broken bones in his hand, Elan wasn't down for long either. A powerful flexing from his legs to the top of his body had him back on his feet almost as soon as he hit the ground, and he spun to face Jay again, keenly aware of the part of his body that was outside the ring. His heel wasn't enough to end the match, but it was a reminder that he had to be more careful facing the offworlder and his unusual techniques.

Unfortunately, the fact that he could wield the Force put Elan at even more of a disadvantage in the fight. While the Ice Walker had to get close enough to actually fight, his opponent could simply buffet him with Force blows until he was forced to surrender from exhaustion. His broken hand only compounded the issue. The cat was clearly willing to do real damage to him.

Elan decided to change his tactics; just attacking hard and fast would only get him hurt again. He started moving back into the ring more slowly, steeling himself for the Force blows he knew he'd be facing. Fortunately, while it was and advantage he didn't have, he had learned how to weather it before.

He didn't even see his opponent move until Jay's bared fangs were barley inches from his face and the kat's incredibly hot breath puffed across his skin. That realization came with a hard punch over his heart and the pain of razor-sharp claws ripping across the side of his neck before the feline was gone again.

He reached up with his injured hand, pressing it against his throat as he assessed the damage. He was bleeding, but Jay hadn't hit anything vital. He had no doubts it was very much by intent. His ribs would be in serious pain after the fight, but they hadn't cracked as badly as they could have. He could tell he wasn't going to beat him; with a different challenge, under different terms, maybe, but not like this.

Still, he'd be damned if he was going to surrender without getting in even one hit. He charged forward, watching Jay's reactions, not waiting for an attack, but instead for the brief moment of focus that typically preceded a Force user summoning his powers.

He saw it, and spun to the side, the surprise clear in his eyes as Jay didn't come to meet him. He commenced his charge again, closer this time as he unknowingly moved around the tom's wall of Force. He was gratified to see surprise on his opponent's face for just a fraction of a second before the tom set himself to receive the attack.

Jay jumped out of the way, spinning around to counter the attack. Elan took the blow on his injured arm, hard muscle and bone accepting the punishing kick before he countered with a hard blow to Jay's torso that nearly doubled the feline over.

Then Jay's claws were deep in Elan's injured arm and an invisible force against his back as Jay rolled backwards again, pulling him along for the flying ride to the far side of the circle again. This time the kick that sent him flying was lower and much harder

Blood stained the white snow and ice of the challenge ring as Elan hit the ground, his face twisted in pain as much from the cracked pelvis as from the foot to his groin. He managed to raise his good hand, letting it fall to signal his surrender. Even if he could stand like this, he wouldn't be able to fight.

He didn't even see how Jay twisted in the air, his jaws closing as he landed on his hands and rolled to his feet several steps away instead of on the chest of his opponent.

"Elan has surrendered and it has been accepted," the Shaman said outside the ring. "Somebody fetch a healer to see to their wounds."

"I'm here," Shivasta pointed out, stepping into the ring and moving to see how badly hurt Elan was. He'd taken a serious beating, but it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been if Jay had really tried to draw things out and hurt him. The gashes to his neck and arm were deep but had been precisely controlled to not do serious damage unless they went untreated for days and Elan bled to death.

A shattered hand, cracked ribs, a broken pelvis, and bruising that would no doubt normally be incredibly painful without a healer's attention rounded out the damage. Considering his feelings, Jay had held a lot back. Not enough that most Jedi wouldn't lecture him for hours on it, but by local standards, given what she knew he could do, he'd been careful to only cause damage he knew she could fix relatively easily.

She felt, on the outside of her awareness as she went to work, that Jay was content to see to his bruised stomach while she tended to the more seriously injured.

She worked to rebalance Elan's body in the Force, setting his bones manually before working to heal them carefully. All in all, it wasn't that much damage, just damage calculated to cause enough pain or temporarily cripple his fighting ability to make him stop without forcing him to.

"You'll be a little stiff and sore, but you should be fine with a day's rest," she said, helping Elan up before looking over to Jay, grateful that he seemed to be fine. "Take it easy on that hand for longer. The bones are knit, but they will take a little while yet to be back to normal."

"Thank you," the Ice Walker said, bowing his head gratefully before turning back towards his rival. "You're good," he said with grudging respect. "Would have been a hell of a fight if you weren't Jedi."

"Then we would have both needed a strong healer," Jay acknowledged his opponent's skill without difficulty.

"I think it would be best if you went to take care of what Shivasta couldn't heal now," Keldan told Elan with a slight chuckle, the audience starting to disperse.

"My pride, mostly," the young Ice Walker admitted, limping a bit as he walked off, his cat following him.

"That could have gone worse," Shi murmured.

"It could have," Keva agreed as she walked up to the two of them. "But it did not, and Elan will be able to fight again in a few days, if necessary." She pulled one of the small feathers off the rod she had use at the beginning of the duel, offering it to Jay. "You fought well, Jay Clawson. Congratulations on your victory."

"Thank you, Mistress Keva." Jay accepted the token of his first notable victory and bowed respectfully to the elder, Shi mirroring the gesture.

"I'll see the two of you this evening at dinner," the elder smiled, returning the bow.

"Thank you," Shivasta smiled as Keva turned and left. "Now, let's go get you warmed up, and let me make sure those were just bruises."

"Maybe now not quite so many will be looking to start a fight." Jay smiled and nuzzled her as he put his regulator on, then his bracers.

"Here's hoping," she agreed, returning the nuzzle as they walked back towards the building they were staying in. "Mmm ... you managed it, by the way."

He looked at her quizzically for a moment before it sunk in that she was referring to keeping control in a serious fight; something that had been in doubt even that morning. "I wasn't really thinking about it." He smiled slightly. "I was focused on him, and all the rules here."

"Hey, it still worked," she smiled. "How do you feel about a little reward once we're in private, before we go about the rest of the day?"

"Like I would ever turn you down," Jay shivered inside in real anticipation.

"Just checking," she chuckled, walking into the building. "Mmm ... let's just get up to our room first," she winked back at him, pulling her hood down and got an affectionate nuzzle to the neck since no one was in the hallway.

"You don't have to be too restrained here," she murmured, turning to kiss him lightly as they reached their room. "Though I have to say," she added with a smile, "you're holding up pretty well."

"Some days are easier than others," he purred and pulled her close against his chest for a lingering kiss. "The culture here ... I get it."

"Mmm ... if it wasn't an ice world, I think I'd have a hard time getting you back to Coruscant after this," she smiled, kissing him back and working his robes off. "Think you can handle not being under the covers for a bit?"

"For you, I think so," he shivered, half from the temperature, half from anticipation of what she had in mind for him. Still his hands roamed over her body, pushing her robes from her shoulders as he kissed down her neck and cupped both her breasts in his hands to indulge in her very feminine curves.

Impana watched from the back of a small crowd of Ice Walkers as Jay and Shivasta practiced with their lightsabers inside a relatively small room the warriors usually only used during blizzards. The two youths were doing katas for warm-up, Jay's double-bladed blacklight lightsabers flashing as they moved in gleaming arcs, Shivasta's own single one-bladed lightsaber in more traditional strokes. If it weren't for the obvious differences, Impana would almost have thought Shivasta was fighting with an ice blade. But then, the styles were similar....

She decided to let them practice; invite Jay for the conversation about his family later. She would ask him about the crystals he'd used as well. The effects of his blades were not ones she'd ever heard of before. For now, she wanted to see the two Jedi perform in their natural forms and with their preferred weapons. Even at this stage, where they were only moving through moves on their own, it was clear that Jay had put many more hours into his skill with his weapon. It was hardly surprising. Shi was a healer, he was a warrior. She handled herself well, but it was clear she was not among the more skilled Jedi with her weapon.

It was easy to read the surprise on a few faces when the pair moved from katas to actual sparing without apparent signal, but her Force-awareness, even weak as it was, clued Impana into the fact that the pair had coordinated it by speaking threw the Force.

It was just as clear that this sparing match was for Shi's benefit. Three blades Jay's unique double-bladed staves disappeared, one hilt put away in his bracers with an almost invisible motion and his remaining one shifted in his grip to match his opponent's weapon in length and use.

This was the important part. As the two of them started sparring, Impana tried to focus not on how Shivasta was doing in this match, but how she fought in general. It was clear that Jay was the superior fighter of the two, but she needed to know, that aside, how well her niece could handle herself.

All in all, she had to admit ... Shi was lucky she was a healer. If this was the best she could fight, at least right now, she wouldn't be a match for most Ice Walker warriors who could match her senses. It was clear how much Jay was holding back to stretch out the match, give Shivasta a chance to learn to do more than just block and parry blows.

Then the tactics abruptly shifted, again with a Force-communication preceding it. Shi went on the offensive and Jay defended. She couldn't challenge Jay's skill, but he gave her openings; some that she should take, some that would get her killed in a real fight if she did.

To her credit, Shi made the right choices most of the time. Of course, if Jay had been fighting with the second blade burning, even on the one hilt, it would have been over with the first opening she took, even Impana could see that much.

Shi wasn't a warrior, but she could fight, and have a reasonable chance of winning against an opponent who wasn't Force sensitive. The Chieftain had to approve; she could be very useful if she was on-planet when things finally blew up between the two camps. So would her mate, if it could not be settled with a formal challenge. Their first hour in camp left her with no doubt that he'd fight at her side unless honor, or Shi herself, demanded otherwise.

She had to admit; he seemed to be a good mate, from what she had seen. They wouldn't be able to have children, but when Shivasta was ready for that, he would be an excellent protector and provider for them.

Jay switched to fighting with the second blade ignited, Shivasta going back onto the defensive, concentrating on blocking the blows that fell like rain.

Jay and Shi were walking out of the dining hall after dinner that night, ready to head back to their rooms for a little time alone after spending most of the afternoon sparring, exploring, or talking with the Ice Walkers. Dinner itself had gone well, for all that they hadn't had an ounce of privacy.

The Ice Walkers were starting to warm up to the two of them slightly, asking about the galaxy outside the Garos system and trying to find out what they could about the Republic, and its appeal to the other clans. They'd answered questions and told stories between bites of roast game and thick, hearty bread made from the local grains the Stormwardens grew.

As they left the dining hall, they became aware that somebody was following not far behind them.

"Shivasta, Jay Clawson," Impana said politely as they turned to see her. "Would this be a good time to speak with you privately?" She asked, clearly asking Jay more than Shi.

"Yes, ma'am." Jay inclined his head politely to her.

"Follow me then," she said politely, starting down a side hallway.

"I'll meet you back in our quarters," Shi promised, splitting off as Jay went to follow the middle-aged Chieftain.

"Don't have too much fun without me." He purred softly before Shi was out of earshot.

Before long, he and Impana had reached another room, one with an actual door made out of imported wood.

"A recent addition," Impana explained, opening it to let Jay in. "How well do you know your family?" She asked him.

"I know my heritage, but I haven't had any contact since I was eight." He explained and sat down on a seat that looked like it was from the Republic after she did on another wooden seat.

"But you were raised by them, that you can remember, rather than by the Jedi for most of your life, as Shivasta was?" Impana clarified. "Family is important to us, but if you were raised by the Jedi since you were an infant, they may as well be your family."

"I was with my family until I was eight, when a managed to do something while working on a hyperdrive to drop my tail several galaxies away onto the streets of Nar Shaddaa. A Jedi found me two years later and I've been with them since." He elaborated. "I do remember by kin and most our ways that a child learns about. I am a Clawson, ma'am. I am just also a Jedi."

"Tell me about them, then," she told him, leaning back comfortably. "After all, as Shivasta's mate, your family is connected to ours, several galaxies away or otherwise," she explained.

"The Clawson family traces our line to Jermain Tabisan, my great-great-grandfather. We know names going back another two hundred years and what village we're from before than. There are two sides to our line; those with the family Gift, and those that do not. Jermain was the first to display it, so that is where the modern line began. He was also the first to loose his mind and fall to the Darkness." Jay added more softly.

"His son, Jake Clawson, was raised without knowing him. Jake became an Enforcer, position much like the Jedi. They kept order and defended the people and city. Jake and his partner, Chance Furlong, eventually defeated Jermain, who had become the territory's greatest threat. Jake only learned that Jermain was his father a few weeks before Jermain was killed.

"Not long before that, a scientist had gotten genetic material from Jake and Jermain and used it to create a female, Jessie Clawson. Friends of Chance, a strike team, found her when they raided the laboratory. She was only a few days old. The team, including Jake and Chance, raised her as well as the kittens of the teams other members.

"Jake and Chance were killed on a mission when she was sixteen. When she was nineteen, she led a team of her own, SWAT Alpha. Their first mission sent them into the future to stop an invasion. They came back with experience, the invader's starship, much more advanced jets and knowledge of when, where and how the enemy would come.

"Jessie also came back pregnant with three kits, despite being between fertile times."

"This is unusual for your species?" Impana asked him, paying close attention.

"Three kits are not that unusual. Four or five are known but are considered a high-risk pregnancy. One or two are the most common, and it varies a lot by her family line. Female Kats have a very obvious fertile time twice a year." He answered both possible variants without thinking about it. "To become pregnant outside that time is all but unheard of."

"Understood," Impana nodded. "Two of the three generations you've talked about so far have been protectors, warriors. Has this been the case for most of your line, or only after the gift began to manifest itself?"

"It is true for the rest of the line as well." He said seriously and tried to think back to the ones that didn't have the Gift as well as the rest of their story. "Our family Gift is for machines, Chieftess. We design and build things than have no right to exist according to most. Whether you call any of us an inventor-warrior or warrior-inventor, you can't separate a sane Clawson from their inventive nature or from their protective drive."

"Something we are familiar with," she nodded approvingly. "Please, continue if there is more."

"After Jessie returned with her prizes of war, it was a frantic decade taking the city from just having developed practical supersonic jets to full space combat technology. We did not have long. It would be only seventeen years before they arrived again. Jessie would lead the assault again; her three children served SWAT as warriors, mechanics and tacticians.

"It was over in a matter of days and we had two ships. Another decade of frantic activity and learning produced the first colony-battleship-explorer of Aristal design and we began to spread out into the galaxy. Most of the family stayed behind on Aristal and our home. My father was the only one of the family to go to the stars. He was also the first that actually chose to have children. I am his oldest kit by his third lifemate, though my oldest sister is older than my mother."

"Would you be willing to repeat this, and any noteworthy stories about yourself and your family's adventures and exploits, to be recorded by the Clan?" Impana asked him.

"Yes, Chieftess." He smiled softly, honestly a bit warmed by anyone who actually wanted to know about the people and heritage that were still central to his view of himself.

"Good," she smiled. "You are not a full member of the clan, but you will be accepted as Shivasta's first mate. She has a second mate, Fenrik I believe? Another feline?"

"Yes, ma'am. A Panther." Jay nodded easily. "He is my mate as well."

"Good," she nodded. "Shivasta told us that he was raised by the Jedi, so his kin aren't as large an issue for us. Do any of the three of you have mates beyond your triad?"

"No, ma'am." He shook his head. "Fenrik has found a lover for the night on occasion, he has a taste for female felines sometimes, but none of us has found anyone else we want to stay with."

"That makes things easier," she smiled, picking up that none of them were particularly interested in another mate as things stood, and an inkling of just how long things had stood that way. "You have an interesting family, Jay. It's a shame they're as far away as they are; I think it would be a pleasure to meet them and talk about a more formal alliance. Do you have any questions about our clan?"

He hesitated a moment, trying to word a question in a way that wouldn't offend.

"How likely is a male to take offense if asked to sire a child and not be their father?" He asked quietly. "I think Shi is going to want children in a few years, when the newness of being a Knight wears off and things settle down. While I would welcome and care for them as my own, I can not sire them myself."

"I expected that question," Impana chuckled slightly. "It's actually fairly commonplace. Sometimes a male, particularly a good hunter or warrior, is simply a good mate, without any real interest in raising the children himself. The children would, however, still be considered a part of our clan," she cautioned him seriously.

"As is Shi," he nodded. "As any young I actually sired would be Clawsons. Especially if they showed any sign of the family Gift. I expect the actual logistics of who raises which kids if they are or are not sensitives are between you and Shi."

"It is," she nodded. "And the Order, for the sensitives," she said, a hint of distaste in her voice. "I should let you get back to Shivasta, if you don't have anything else you want to ask me."

"No, ma'am." He stood and bowed to her. "Thank you for your time." He added politely before he left to mull over what he'd learned and what he'd been asked to do.

The next day, Shivasta and Jay had another sparring session that was being watched intently by some of the locals. Between the crowd and their own exertions, the room they were working in was heating up rather nicely; it had to be in the mid-seventies, Shi decided, as she and Jay paused to strip off their outer robes in the middle of their match.

She'd suggested that they leave the regulators off while they practiced, and was just about regretting it. They were working up enough of a sweat to make it distinctly warm from their perspective. Of course, that had been the whole idea, but it was still tiring. Before too much longer, she was heading out of the practice circle to rest for a few minutes, slipping her inner robe back to expose her shoulders, mottled blue and white, to the cooler air of the practice room. A couple of Ice Walkers looked over at her as she took a seat, but quickly returned their attention back to Jay's practice session.

Shivasta watched along with them as Jay put on a show that was almost enough to embarrass her for as much as it showed what he was holding back when they practiced together. She bit her tongue to keep from murmuring appreciatively when he stripped off his own inner robe, leaving himself in nothing more than his trousers, his workout displaying his chest and well-muscled body nicely.

Her empathy made it hard to miss that she wasn't the only one appreciating the view. A few of those gathered had taken an interest in her mate in a way she had never expected. One woman in particular, standing with her full-grown crevasse cat, was distinctly aroused by the show Jay was putting on.

Thinking back, she tried to remember the woman's name. It took a few moments, but she finally remembered that she was Kiryntha, one of the handlers she'd met on her first trip here.

This could be interesting. Of course, she knew that Jay wouldn't notice Kiryntha unless she showed up in their quarters naked some night, and even then he had good odds of not getting it at first, but it might not be a bad idea to talk to her a bit after the workout was done. Jay was certainly doing enough to show off most of what she wanted to see. More than enough to whet her appetite for more.

Shi could hardly blame her; she knew Jay tended to have the same effect on her. Though she had to admit, knowing that Kiryntha was interested reminded her of a few rumors she'd heard before, about the handlers in general.

Then again, if just being interested in Jay meant you were interested in cats more generally, she was in serious trouble. She chuckled to herself and shook her head, dismissing it with that and returning her attention mostly to her mate's workout.

She watched until he was just about done, keeping her senses half on Kiryntha and her reactions until the tightly muscled built tom pulled his robes back on and started looking around for her.

"*I'll be a few minutes love,*" she told him telepathically. "*Want to talk to one of your fans,*" she chuckled mentally, standing and starting to follow Kiryntha as she started out of the workout room.

"*See you in our room then,*" He nodded easily and headed off, eager to get the sweat out of his fur before it chilled.

"*See you there,*" she agreed, following the Handler until she wasn't in as crowded a hall.

"Kiryntha?" She called out, speeding up to catch up with her as the slightly older woman turned around to look at who was calling her name.

"Yes," she nodded as Shi got close.

"I noticed you watching Jay work out," Shi smiled easily. "Want to talk?"

"Umm, sure." She motioned her to follow. "I didn't expect anyone to mind."

"I don't," Shivasta said easily. "Just wondering if you're actually thinking of trying to do anything about it?" She asked as they walked along.

"Thinking of it," Kiryntha admitted. "I've ... um ... heard some impressive things about him."

Shi wondered what she might have heard for a moment ... then remembered something from the night before.

"Were you the sound I heard outside?" She asked, blushing a bit.

"Probably," the older woman nodded, blushing herself as she lifted the hide covering to her own door. "He seemed very good at pleasing you."

"He is," Shi admitted as she followed her in. "Of course, he's had a lot of practice too," she chuckled. "Which is where you might run into a little trouble, honestly. He has no problem noticing when somebody's flirting with one of his mates, and he's more than willing to encourage us, but he's not so good about noticing when somebody's interested in him," she smiled fondly.

Kiryntha considered her for a moment as they sat down on thick pillows. "Because he's not normally interested in anyone, and you're an exception, or because he has everything he wants?" She asked softly.

"A bit of both," Shi said after a few moments to think about it. "He's not usually that interested in women, to be honest. Beyond that, I think a fair amount of it is his Jedi training. We're trained not to pay much attention to people flirting, and we usually don't. He has Fenrik and me, and he's taught himself not to notice much else, the way most Jedi wouldn't notice, or at least respond to, anybody."

Kiryntha was thoughtful again, considering the options and timing. "If you and your other mate don't mind sharing, would you let him know I am interested in some of his time before you leave?"

"Gladly," Shi smiled. "It's about time somebody does a little pushing for him. You just want me to let him know, or encourage him a bit?" She asked, not sure how much help the other woman would want.

"It sounds like encouragement will be needed." She chuckled ruefully. "He's a handsome male, but it sounds like he is a little too happily bonded to stray without it."

"Mmm ... you should see him when he thinks nobody's looking and he's watching two feline Knights practice back home," Shi giggled. "He's just guy-focused, though I haven't heard him complain about fems since he was in his late teens. I'll talk to him," she promised.

"Thank you, Shivasta." Kiryntha said warmly. "You certainly know how to pick a handsome mate."

"Thanks," the younger Ice Walker blushed slightly. "Though he picked me as much as the other way around, I think. I know I'm lucky to have him," she smiled fondly. "You'll be at dinner with everybody else tonight?" She asked.

"Yes," she nodded. "Perhaps you will sit by us?"

"That's what I'd been thinking," Shi smiled. "For what it's worth, you'll probably hit it off better with him if you can start by introducing him to your friend," she offered, reaching down to scritch the cat lightly. "What's his name, by the way?"

"Mizin," she grinned. "So it's true that he's very social with the crevasse cats?"

"Very," Shi nodded with a grin. "You should've seen him at the training pen yesterday. Think it's the feline thing."

"The young ones are just adorable too." Kiryntha smiled fondly. "Maybe they remind him of his own kind's young."

"It could be," Shi nodded. "Though I think he just likes cats," she chuckled. "He's always liked them, just about any species or type."

"That could be useful in the wilderness." She nodded with a smile. "What is your other mate?"

"A Panther," Shi smiled. "He hooked up with Jay first, but the two of us got together after a while."

"I imagine it's rather difficult to share a bed and not eventually." Kiryntha chuckled. "Especially if they're that important to your mate."

"It is," Shi smiled. "And he's a good guy in his own right. Why don't I go talk to Jay," she offered, "we'll see you at dinner tonight?"

"Talk, and probably a bit more." Kiryntha winked at her playfully. "He looked quite worked up when he left."

"He usually is," Shi giggled, standing up. "Good to talk to you, Kiryntha. Have a good evening," she smiled.

"I plan to." She nodded and watched as Shi left. She was already wet between her legs. It would be a long time to dinner.

Shivasta snuggled up close to Jay in their bed after they'd finally managed to wind down a bit after practice, the sheets they'd brought in from the Sharufa warm and smooth against her skin. She'd never questioned how they did that after so much fluid was spilled on them, but it was very welcome after the first night in furs.

"Mmm ... you're getting a bit of a fan-club," she murmured, kissing his neck lightly.

"Oh?" He raised an eyebrow, catching that she wasn't talking about his combat skills.

"Mhm," she nodded, nuzzling his neck. "A couple of the handlers were watching you pretty closely during your workout earlier. One of 'em's definitely interested in you," she smiled.

"Okay ...." Jay looked down at her, more than a bit at a loss as to why it mattered.

"I'd been thinking it might be good for you to at least think about playing around a little," Shi explained, rubbing his back lightly. "At least to talk with Kiryntha, see how the two of you get along? She's one of the handlers," she added. "Very attracted to you."

"I'll talk to her, sure." He agreed easily. He wasn't even going to bother saying again that he really wasn't interested in playing around, and certainly not with a female Ice Walker of all things. "It hardly hurts to be friendly."

"That's all I'm really asking," Shi reassured him. "Mmm ... though I've got to admit," she said, blushing a bit. "If you two did hit it off, I could think of a few interesting things to do."

That got her a quizzical look. "Like what?"

"Jay? After all these years of you, me, and Fenrik, you can't come up with any ideas for what might be possible with another fem playing along once in a while?" Shi asked, kissing him with a chuckle.

"I know the mechanics," he grumbled. "Just not the appeal." He sighed softly and stroked her hair. "You find it appealing, though."

"Mmm ... a bit," she admitted. "Not sure if Kiryntha does yet, but ... I suppose I'm a little curious."

"You know I don't mind if you find someone, or a couple someones, to play with." Jay reminded her softly and nuzzled her hair.

"I know," she agreed. "But you know I'm not usually inclined to play any more than you are. It just struck me as being an interesting opportunity," she said, kissing his neck. "I'm happy with you and Fenrik. If anything happened between either of us and Kiryntha, it'd just be a temporary thing. Really don't think any of us are looking for more."

"I'm not," Jay purred softly and caressed her jaw line to draw her face up for a kiss she returned happily.

Shivasta looked around the dining hall briefly as she and Jay arrived later that night. She grabbed his wrist lightly and tugged him off to one side as she noticed Kiryntha and Mizin eating with a couple of seats free next to them.

"C'mon," she said quietly with a smile. "Even if you two only talk, I think you'll like her."

"She's got a cat, she can't be that bad." He chuckled and followed without issue. "Greetings, Kiryntha." He smiled at the slightly older Ice Walker when they were close. "May we join you?"

"Of course," she smiled, motioning towards the seats next to her. Shi sat down in the one farthest from the older woman, giving Jay little choice but to sit down next to her, her big crevasse cat resting on the floor between them. "This is Mizin."

"Hello, Mizin." Jay smiled and offered his hand. "*Friend.*"

The big cat sniffed his hand, then pressed his big head against it and rumbled in approval.

"They weren't exaggerating when they said you get along well with the cats, were they?" Kiryntha asked with a smile.

"You might be surprised how much they appreciate being talked to directly." He chuckled and scritched Mizin's ears as they were served large bowls of well-spiced stew. "Telepathy is a great way to make friends with animals."

"I know," she smiled. "Most people just don't think of it except the sensitive handlers," she explained, reaching down to pet her partner while Jay scritched his ears. "Do you work with them back home?"

"No," he shook his head. "I just got used to the idea of everything being able to talk, if you can figure out how. People respond to politeness, animals aren't much different."

"True enough," she nodded with a smile. "You just have to know how to listen, sometimes."

"Natural ability doesn't hurt either." He chuckled softly after a bit of the spicy meat stew that reminded him in many ways of Fenrik's cooking. "Not even all sensitives can do it. It's a lot harder when you don't share a language."

"It's something we're taught when we're trained," Kiryntha explained. "You can get a lot closer with your partner when you can actually talk to them. You like the stew?" She asked, starting to eat herself, Shi quietly eating and letting them talk.

"Yes, it's very much like what our mate likes to cook. Spicy and thick with meat." He chuckled softly. "It's good Shi's a happy carnivore with two cats in the house doing the cooking."

"I cook too... sometimes," Shi teased. "You two are just better at it."

"Meat's about the easiest food to come across out here," Kiryntha chuckled. "We can grow grain and vegetables, but it takes a lot of resources, especially when the thaws are short. Meat grows itself, really."

"Quite true," he nodded and scritched Mizin's ears with one hand while he ate with the other. "At least as long as you keep your population low enough that it doesn't tax the animal population."

"Most of the animals around here are more than happy to see that happens," Kiryntha said seriously. "Even the sheeloth will take a hunter down if he's not careful. Though we are careful about it; we've been farming more the past few decades."

Jay considered her for a moment. "Maybe when things settle down politically, you'll be ready to try building a small hydroponic farm building. It would do a lot to help in lean times."

"*It'd be a good idea to let him talk,*" Shi told Kiryntha quietly. "*He'll go on for a while, but it'll keep his attention with you.*"

"What's that?" Kiryntha asked with a mental nod. "Something the Republic uses?"

"Not much, though I haven't a clue why. It's an incredibly efficient way to grow food for people or as animal feed. I've already helped the AgriCorps double the production in the few facilities they have." He began, his body language and tone shifting as he got into his favorite subject: technology. "Quite a few types of food-plants grow very well when their roots are kept in a slow-moving water solution full of nutrients and the lights are left on all the time. Because of the growing method, a single acre can produce the food equal to a half-dozen acres for each level of the building. When you start to multiply levels, you could feed an entire planet on a few acres if it's built and managed right."

"Sounds like that'd be pretty hard to set up around here," she pointed out, gesturing towards the ice that made up the building. "Wouldn't you think?"

"You can build buildings." Jay countered simply. "I've seen all the required technology locally developed. It just hasn't been turned to this particular application."

"I suppose," she admitted. "Want to talk more about it somewhere a little quieter?" She asked, finishing up her stew.

"Sure," he nodded easily and made quick work of his own meal.

"My room?" She offered, standing up and taking her bowl.

"Works for me," Shi said, finishing her meal and standing up to follow the other three. Even if he wasn't thinking sex, at least Jay was willing to be in private with her. Of course, he'd never been uncomfortable talking with somebody, especially not talking tech, but it would be interesting to see how this went.

The four of them walked back to Kiryntha's room, the older Ice Walker pulling the hide out of the way to let them in.

"Take a seat anywhere comfortable," she said, sitting down on the bed with Mizin while Shivasta took a seat on a short couch and found her mate, not surprisingly, next to her.

"Please, go on," Kiryntha asked Jay after a moment. "I really did just mean quieter," she explained with a bit of a chuckle. "I don't know much about technology; it's easier when I don't have half a dozen conversations going on nearby."

"Well, you have the ability to heat your buildings to a comfortable level, so as long as you stick to plants that are local or at least adapted to a similar climate, the temperature shouldn't be an issue. Water doesn't freeze nearly that warm and you've created systems more complicated already." He started to explain. "Now, you might not be able to grow things native to my homeworld, where the prime growing season is in the high eighties, but anything edible in your territory should take to it rather well. It works as well for animal-food as it does for people-food."

"Something like the ritual sauna might work too," Shi offered. "At least for a starting point. It wouldn't be heated to the same extent, but it would still be warm enough to keep things from freezing, keep the plants healthy."

"That could work," Kiryntha admitted. "Might be something to suggest to Impana or one of the others in charge before you leave."

"Without looking like a pompous outsider." Jay nodded.

"I think you could manage," she smiled. "So far, you seem to be doing a pretty good job of respecting our ways, who we are. Better than some of the diplomats we've met do."

"Respecting others comes with respecting yourself," he smiled slightly. "When you don't feel you have something to prove to yourself, it is not that difficult to the value to the ways of others. Our cultures have a lot in common, if you look past the glaring differences."

"It seems that way, from what I know," she nodded, assuming he meant his home-culture rather than the Jedi. "Certainly closer than the Republic seems to be."

"Parts of the Republic at least," Shi agreed, hoping to keep the conversation from getting too far into a topic she was sure they could both agree on far too well.

"Yes, the real pity about the Republic ... it's so huge that any general statement is going to be wrong for at least half of it." Jay shook his head. "It's a very small number of things the worlds seem to even try to agree on. Most of that has to do with either trade or fear of invasion."

"The two things that are easiest to get anybody to agree to," Kiryntha agreed. "Even here, it's how we started moving away from the old wars. Now the Republic's here, and they make the other clans look downright familiar, even ones where the Peace had been uneasy."

"And with them came the usual disrespect for social development and everything else that doesn't turn a profit." Jay sighed. "It wouldn't be nearly this stressful if you'd made it into colonizing worlds on your own, before you were hit with everything that's out there."

"That would have taken a long, long, long time," Kiryntha pointed out.

"Centuries, at least." He nodded in agreement.

"It's not all bad," she admitted. "We don't have to walk, ride, or use sleds to get everywhere. We have weapons other than spears and ice-blades. We're getting more materials in, slowly. And then some of the people we meet are nice," she smiled at Jay.

"And many are only looking to take advantage of you." He added. "It's a double-edged blade, being part of a larger community. Hopefully you'll still be Ice Walkers when things sort themselves out."

"Hopefully," she nodded, deciding that he clearly wasn't going to take any particular openings and she wasn't interested in being any more direct with a male that disinterested. "I should probably let the two of you get going; you'll need your sleep for tomorrow," she smiled.

"Yes, it is the big day." Jay grinned.

"I'll see the two of you there," Kir smiled as Jay and Shi stood.

"Thank you," Shivasta smiled. "I just hope everything goes smoothly."

"*Sorry it didn't work out,*" she told the other Ice Walker telepathically.

"*I'll live,*" Kiryntha chuckled mentally, bowing her head slightly to them. "I'm sure it will," she added verbally. "Maybe we'll talk more after that."

"Maybe," Jay inclined his head to her before they left. "*That was decidedly uncomfortable.*" He all but muttered to his mate in the silence between them.

"Sorry," she apologized to him quietly once they were far enough away and had enough privacy nobody'd hear. "The two of you seemed to get along at least. Just not meant to be anything more, and I think she got it."

"I hope so," he sighed and nuzzled her. "The desire just isn't there for me, can you understand that?"

"I can," she murmured, turning to kiss him lightly. "I shouldn't have pushed the way I did. Come on, let's get back to our room," she smiled. "I'll apologize properly."

"Mmmm, if I didn't know how easy it is to get one of your massages, I'd consider it time well spent." He teased her lightly.

"I notice you're not turning it down, so you're obviously not that upset," she teased back, giggling as they returned to their room.

"Shivasta Stormwarden, you have demonstrated sufficient skill with the Force to be considered as a Stormwarden Shaman," Keva said as Shi relaxed after she'd finished one of the tests the Ice Walkers had for her. All in all, they'd been much simpler than most of her Jedi Trials ... but, then, that was expected. A number of the Trials were philosophical, or testing the ability of the Padawan to survive in the field.

On Garosh, if you weren't able to survive in the field, you didn't last long enough to become a shaman, so they didn't bother testing for that.

There was only one test left she had to take; she had to prove she had the Stormwarden gift.

She could feel her mate's silent support threw their bond from where he stood nearby, but not so close that he'd be in the way. Impana and others from her part of the Clan were there as well; they were all waiting for this, proof that she'd kept the clan's ways even among the Jedi.

"Summon the Storm Wardens," Keva told her, referring to the centuries old 'bluff' the clan had used, their claim that they were allies with storm demons that didn't really exist. Still, the phrasing was part of the ritual, and Shivasta recognized it well by now. She leaned her head back, looking up at the sky above the area cleared for her to work in.

As Jay watched, both through his eyes and through the Force, he saw the swirling, flowing patterns in the sky begin to shift, becoming more ordered, taking broad, sweeping paths through an area almost a kilometer and a half across.

"Wow," he breathed, his eyes going wide as he realized just how much power was involved and her control. In the same moment, he was memorizing, analyzing ... storing the information to understand it himself.

He could never remember Shi practicing this skill while anybody was around, though she had told him about using it on her solo mission. She always insisted that, when she practiced, there wasn't anybody around except her to get hurt if she lost control. It, ultimately, left Jay more shocked by the display than anybody else there as the wind started to pick up, conditions gradually shifting to pull what moisture there was in the air together into heavy clouds, winds starting to whip up snow as an isolated blizzard formed.

He had to wonder just what it looked like when everybody in the Clan who could do this worked together. Even as relatively inexperienced as she was, Shi was creating whiteout conditions in the area cleared for her to work in.

No wonder the Stormwardens had remained independent as long as they had. Even with Republic tech, it would be nearly impossible to enter the territory, much less fight in these conditions.

The storm swirled for a few moments, the assorted shamans watching to make sure it didn't get out of control. Shivasta focused, concentrating the storm down to half its size, more than doubling the intensity of it in the smaller region, then let it dissipate naturally. It wasn't long before it lightened up to a regular storm, still too much for a ship to fly in comfortably, but easier to walk through if you were up to it.

Shi was visibly drained by the time she was done, but she had completed it.

"Let the clan know that Shivasta has proven her skill with the Force!" Keva called out. "When she desires it, and has proven her knowledge of our ways, she will be allowed to join the ranks of the shaman." Shi stood, looking at Jay with a happy smile before she moved to join him, the Ice Walkers cheering as they started to gear up for the part of this they were all most looking forward to.

The celebration.

"Good work," Jay kissed her softly and drew her close into a warm embrace, suppressing his usual unease at public affection. It was expected of him right now, as her first mate.

"Thanks," she smiled, hugging him back. "Mmm ... so, should we go do the socializing that's expected of us?" She asked, taking a few moments to relax before she stepped back a bit and noticed that parts of the crowd were already moving back inside. "Storm should be gone in a couple minutes," she observed, looking up at the gradually shrinking clouds.

"And some of the feast," he cracked a grin and shifted to slide an arm around her back as they headed inside. "The food's good here."

"Mmm ... y'know, maybe I should get some recipes down for Fenrik to work with," she rumbled, squeezing him affectionately as they walked in. "At least tonight we won't have to worry about finding good seats," she pointed out, nodding towards the spaces reserved for them near Impana.

"Quite true," Jay purred softly as they walked to the place of honor. Despite trying to behave by local standards, he'd put half an arm's distance between them before they sat and was mostly in Jedi manners by the time they were served. If anybody noticed, they didn't seem inclined to mention it. It was hardly the first time he'd stepped a bit away. No matter how affectionate they knew he was towards her in private, out in public, he generally kept his hands to himself.

Large glasses of a local drink were passed around while the food was being served by some of the children and older Ice Walkers who'd managed to earn kitchen duties for some infraction, and Shivasta took a sip of the pale golden liquid they hadn't had before.

"Well, it's alcoholic," she observed quietly as Jay purred deep in his chest. "Doesn't taste too strong though," she reassured Jay, taking another sip of the drink her mate clearly enjoyed.

"It's very good too." He added with a slight grin and set the glass down to start on the steaming, spicy meat and vegetable stew, a little more varied in its flavor than it had been the last couple nights.

"That it is," Shi agreed, ripping off some of the bread being passed around to eat with her meal. "Can you imagine what a meal like this would be like at the Temple?" She asked, chuckling at the thought.

"Seriously chaotic." Jay chuckled, imagining hundreds gathered with all the languages and manners. As noisy as it was here, the Temple was far bigger.

"Mmm ... well, we'll be heading back in a day or two probably," she smiled. "Bet you'll be glad to be somewhere the temps get up above freezing."

"Always," he shook his head a bit and took another drink of wine. "Though it is easier to stay warm than to cool off."

"Mmm ... you mean like it was on Ryloth?" She teased lightly, taking another drink herself as she ate. "Have to say, I'm glad we only went there once. Coruscant is so much more comfortable."

"That place is too hot even for me." He made a bit of face. "Just about anywhere is more comfortable than that oven."

"There are some nice things about it though," Shi chuckled. "Just definitely not somewhere to live."

"Mmm, yes," he rumbled deep in his chest. "Such a close source of Ryl. I think our Masters regretted bringing us along."

"Only because you walked by that mine," she giggled. "Mmm ... don't think I've ever seen you that worked up."

"It's not meant to be inhaled," he rolled his eyes in tolerant amusement. "That planet should have a 'no felines allowed' sign on it. Though I don't recall you minding all that much."

"Mmm ... not at all," she half-grinned, leaning over to kiss him playfully as she finished her glass. "Though I think our Masters were seriously worried about you after that one."

"Only until they were sure I wasn't hooked on it." He shook his head with a chuckle. "I think Fenrik still grumbles about missing out, though."

"Mmm ... once in a while. Somehow, he usually manages to get over it after a little re-enactment," she winked, taking a second glass as the bottle of wine was passed around again.

"He is so easy to please." Jay rumbled and licked his whiskers back before topping his own glass off. "But then, so are you."

"Mmm ... and you're not?" She grinned.

"As long as it's you or Fenrik." He almost smirked, absently aware that he was getting a bit drunk, and that Shi was probably even worse unless it was a species thing.

"Mmm ... and who says familiarity breeds contempt?" She asked, kissing him lightly. "Mmm ... think we've had enough to eat for a while, make it worth heading off to see what they're up to?" She asked with a half-grin, nodding towards some of the other Ice Walkers who were leaving to start celebrating in earnest.

"Works for me," he chuckled and stood easily, wrapping an arm around her for the short walk to the gathering in the other room where music was playing and Ice Walkers were starting to dance.

"Mmm ... follow my lead?" Shi asked, stepping away slightly and starting to dance along with the others, though she was clearly not as experienced as most of the people here.

"Any time," he rumbled and let himself go with the pounding music and flow of Force in the room that the dancers created. He was vaguely aware that their partners changed several times, males and females both had danced with him when one got much closer than before.

"Hi Kiryntha." He smiled a bit loopily at the woman almost pressed against him while they danced.

"Hey," she smiled back, brushing up against him lightly and just a little suggestively. The heat of his body was deliciously intense, and she knew he had the senses to smell her light arousal already, only this time his body language was much more amicable to her advances.

She brushed up against him again, this time more blatant about her interest. She wasn't sure where Shi was, but she knew she wouldn't be likely to mind.

She was probably getting picked up herself, right about now.

Kiryntha groaned softly as Jay slid his hands down her sides, the heat of his furless palms burningly intense as he pulled her close and claimed a kiss that she returned easily, playing her tongue along the soft fur around his mouth in an enticing reminder of why she wanted him so much.

Then his tongue, rough like that Mizin's, was in her mouth and demanding her attention. She gave it all she could, suckling the rough length and wrapping her arms lightly around his back, gradually starting to try and work him towards the door so they could make it back to her room before things got started.

She drew a sharp breath when his mouth worked down her jaw and neck, only to freeze when his body went tense and he abruptly looked up, scanning the gathering for something.

Silently cursing her luck, she looked up and tried to see what it was, only to be left alone as he broke off to make his way through the crowd towards Elan and Shi, who seemed to have the same idea the two of them almost had. She couldn't help but join the small crowd that was drawn to Jay's abrupt display of disapproval. The Kat put his arm between them and had all but forced Shi to take a step back, but nothing in his body language or expression backed up the aggressive first move.

For a moment, it looked like he might have to, but Elan backed off after a brief hesitation, leaving everybody wondering what was up. Kiryntha at least knew they weren't monogamous, which took out the obvious reason, and Shivasta didn't have any better idea what was going on than the rest of them did.

"Jay?" Shi asked, her speech a little off thanks to the drink she'd had before and the effect it was having as it worked through her system.

"This is not a good time to have children." He said softly, his focus remarkably steady given his own state.

She blinked at the statement, and then ran through the math mentally with more difficulty than usual.

"I was off a few days," she admitted very quietly.

"*I can still taste it,*" He almost shivered, a very clear memory of what tasting her fertility did to him with the thought. "*This morning was very hot. Did we bring anything ... or local?*"

"Now that I know, I can handle it myself," she murmured, kissing him. "Mmm ... though I should thank you for the reminder first, I think...."

"Enjoy yourself." He purred softly and claimed a heated kiss before stepping away with a smile towards Elan.

"Mmm ... you too," she rumbled, moving to give Elan a light kiss before they started back out, the other Ice Walker still sorting out just what was going on from the conversation he'd only half-heard and the rest required translation from the mate's shorthand.

"Mmm ... everything okay?" Kiryntha asked as she stepped out of the crowd to draw Jay back into it, hoping his mood hadn't broken completely.

"Yes," he rumbled and pressed close again, his arousal obvious against her body by its intense heat as he claimed another kiss, his rough tongue against her lips until they parted. "We're just not quite ready for kids yet."

"Mmm ... understandable," she murmured, returning the kiss and not bothering to tell him that the only reason she wasn't a mother already was because she hadn't found a mate. "Want to go somewhere more private?"

"Unless you like it in the open." Jay rumbled, his tone teasing, though he was drunk enough to go through with it.

"If this was harvest, I'd take you up on it," she chuckled, leading him back to her room, her body practically buzzing with excitement that Jay was not only picking up on, but encouraging.

She opened her mouth to say something only to have it cut off by his mouth as she was slammed against the wall and Jay rubbed his aroused, hot body against hers.

She groaned into his mouth, glad they'd just made it into her room. She spread her legs slightly, running her fingers through his fur hungrily as his layered robes were pushed off his shoulders. She was dimly aware of the Force he used to help get them both undressed, then her entire world was closed to the rough inferno of hard, barbed flesh that drove into her body.

She was vaguely aware of crying out, trying to tighten around his body. His barbs raked her insides, and she milked them, doing everything she could to pleasure him and willingly drowning in the pleasure she felt from him. It far outweighed the pain of barbs so much larger than Mizin's.

She decided quickly that Shi had been being quiet the night she'd overheard them.

Jay groaned softly, the coolness of two hard bodies around him and the heavy scent of male sex a not-quite-right familiarity that almost lulled him into agreeing with his pounding head to go back to sleep. What had he been up to? This was definitely not the female and her cat that he actually remembered playing with.

He made a mental note to make sure he never touched whatever he'd had the night before again....

That, or to take a bottle home just to share with Shi and Fenrik.

Ryl was better. He remembered with Ryl.

Still, it had been one hell of a night ... and the rough tongue lightly, almost curiously, licking at the matted fur on his thighs suggested it might be an equally interesting morning if he wanted it to be.

"*Morning.*" He mumbled silently to whoever was down there, fairly certain it was the crevasse cat of one of the two guys passed out in bed with him.

A light rumble from under the furs confirmed it, though from the mental 'feel' of the cat he was with it definitely wasn't too used to whatever had happened last night, but it also felt curious about more.

As much as he didn't particularly want to, he thought back and mentally decided that he'd probably been with a half-dozen or more different people the night before, and probably two of the crevasse cats. A part of him seriously hoped nobody else remembered anything any better than he did... he wondered where Shi was, and who she was with.

"*Love?*" He reached out awkwardly with his mind while he reached down with one hand to scritch the big cat's ears, earning an affectionate lick.

"*Never let me touch that....*" Shi's mental response rapidly degraded to a number of creative descriptions for the drink they'd had the night before in several different languages. Well, she was awake at least, and apparently about as impressed with its ability to cause a hangover as he was.

"*Ditto,*" he agreed, even as he moaned from a broad tongue licking precariously close to his balls. "*Where are you?*"

"*You're going to make me open my eyes, aren't you?*" Shi asked him with a mental groan. "*Our quarters, with Elan,*" she said after a few moments.

"*Calm night.*" He half chuckled. "*Hope you don't mind me being a while.*"

"*Mmm ... okay,*" Shi told him. "*Good night?*"

"*Wild night. Maybe someday I'll actually remember most of it.*" His words abruptly filtered out to the pure pleasure of a strong hand around his balls and sheath. "*Really wild.*"

"*I'll let you get to your morning,*" Shi told him mentally, gradually returning to her own mind, probably to sleep, as one of Jay's bedmates kissed him lightly.

"Mmm ... morning, handsome," the Ice Walker rumbled.

"Morning," Jay rolled over slightly and kissed his companion while he set his body to the task of undoing the imbalances creating the hangover. Even as the male next to him stroked him to full harness, he was debating whether or not with was worth it to decline, ask where the shower was and find his way back to his bed, or ignore the pounding behind his eyes and wear himself out again.

In the end, the pounding headache outweighed the affectionate males waking up on either side of him, and the curious crevasse cat who'd managed to work out from under the blanket.

"How about you guys play with each other, while I grab a shower." Jay smiled at the stranger.

"Sounds good," they both chuckled. "If you're interested once you're out, just let us know," the first one grinned as he crawled out from between the guys and started for the showers.

Impana strode through the city with purpose in her step, making her way towards the indoor sparring chambers. Once in a while she would pause to give orders to one of the other high-ranking Stormwardens, telling them what she had learned and sending them to make preparations.

The Republic's supporters were on the move, approaching across the wastes on speeders and other vehicles. They wouldn't be here for days yet, but the time for war had finally arrived.

There was only one plan Impana had left that might forestall it.

She winced as she heard Shivasta grunt, hitting the wall of the sparring chamber as she and Jay practiced. It was a reminder that this plan was motivated more by pragmatism than confidence that it would work out the best way possible.

Still, Impana was ultimately very pragmatic when it came to her clan.

"I'm afraid I have to interrupt your sparring," she told Jay and Shi as the young Ice Walker picked herself up. "We have some news about the Republicans."

Jay immediately stepped back and bowed to Shi, ending the round, before he turned to face the chieftess with curiosity on his face.

"What is it, Chieftain?" Shivasta asked as she turned to face her aunt.

"They've begun to move towards our land. The Republic vehicles they're using will have them here in a matter of days, according to the Seers."

"Do you wish us to leave?" Shivasta asked, half-sure that that was why Impana was here. The ceremony had been two days ago now; it was nearly time as it was.

"No," Impana said, shaking her head. "I wish you, Shivasta, to face their champion in battle when they arrive."

Impana felt in the Force what the young feline kelp himself from saying; that he was the warrior. That a Healer shouldn't be doing such a thing. That Shi wasn't ready for that kind of fight.

She felt just as strongly what it took to keep himself silent, and that the champion had better pray they lost to Shi without hurting her badly. He had been willing to take on the Stormwardens for his mate when they'd first arrived. He'd held himself back considerably at her unspoken request when he'd fought Elan. If Shi was badly injured, there would be no such mercy given to the Ice Walker facing him next, or their allies.

"Do you know who their champion is, Chieftess?" He got out in a tone that was almost not a growl. The growl wasn't directed at her, but at the champion to be faced and the situation that kept him from being the combatant and not his mate.

She had to admire the feline for not objecting verbally; he wasn't entitled to take Shivasta's place, but he was ultimately right, in Impana's opinion. Unless Shivasta had some combat talents she hadn't used yet, the fight would be very difficult for her.

And Impana was not new to identifying a skilled warrior.

"Not yet," Impana said, shaking her head slightly. "She will be a skilled warrior, probably one of the sensitives who turned to them."

"Why me?" Shivasta asked, knowing that as well as the others did. "Clearly there are more skilled warriors in the clan; one of them would be more likely to win the battle."

"Your vision," Impana explained. "It implied that you would be the one among us to face this battle. Given that, I feel it would be irresponsible to ignore what both you and our shamen have seen over the years."

"Think about it Shi." Jay added quietly, his eyes downcast and his body tense as he accepted the situation and the utterly pragmatic reasons for it. "If you win, the Stormwardens win. If you loose, an Ice Walker has defeated a Jedi, the finest warriors of the Republic. Either way, the Stormwardens win a victory."

"It would, of course, be preferable if you won," Impana said quietly. "But yes, that did play into my decision as well."

"It is what would ultimately be best for the clan," Shivasta admitted. "Though a victory would be best; end the war without question of Jedi or not."

"An issue that ultimately relies on both sides keeping to the promise to end the war based on the challenges' results," Impana pointed out. "Are you willing?"

"Yes, I am," Shivasta said, barely taking a moment to think about it. "My lightsaber should give me the edge in the fight, if nothing else."

"You'll never get to in a challenge, love." Jay remained her quietly. "Even if you can choose the weapon, they can claim a lightsaber as an unfair advantage in technology."

"You will probably have to fight with an ice blade," Impana agreed with a nod. "I will train you as best I can in the time we have, but we'd best get started soon." She glanced at Jay, considering extending the offer to him as well.

"If you wish, I can train the both of you," she told him. "In case it comes in handy some day."

"I have been interested in learning to use a real sword," he inclined his head to her. "I will take you up on that offer."

"You'll find some blades in here," Impana said, turning to open a small cabinet, revealing a rack of gleaming swords carved out of Force-hardened ice. "Each of you select one; you'll probably find the weight the hardest thing to adjust to."

"What Force-skills do warriors know here?" Jay asked as he let his hand drift over the selection of blades until one resonated better than the rest. He was surprised by how heavy the curved blade was, though not as surprised as Shi was when she picked one out for herself. She managed not to drop it, but it was clear that she wasn't expecting it to weigh as much as it did.

"It's easiest to wield if you hold it closer to your body," Impana explained, helping Shi find a decent grip. "As for your question, it varies from one warrior to the next, but most Jedi techniques we've heard of are ones that we have here as well. That's something you'll probably find helpful; the techniques for an ice sword are similar to the ones you use with a lightsaber, barring the obvious differences."

"Shi?" Jay stepped back and dropped into a basic combat stance as he found his balance with this new weapon.

"Right," she nodded, gripping the hide-wrapped hilt and dropping into a similar stance.

"The first thing you'll have to keep in mind is that you need to end the fight quickly," Impana told them. "A lightsaber doesn't have any weight except at the hilt; with this you'll be tiring yourself out with every blow. You'll want to defend until you can get a killing blow, let your opponent tire herself out first."

Jay moved first, a simple strike that was intended to give him a feel for the momentum and reach of the weapon more than actually challenge Shi to make the block. Instinct brought him around with the weight of the swing, using its weight and momentum to bring him into position for another strike.

Shi responded to block the blow, quickly returning herself to a more centered, balanced stance. Impana watched the two of them work, focusing more on Shi's performance than Jay's as the two of them got used to the weapons. She had to admit that for all his youth, Jay was doing an admirable job of getting Shi to practice what was needed and ignoring the rest. He wasn't a predictable opponent, even when he was signaling when he was on the offensive or defensive.

"Break for a moment," Impana called to them, pulling a pair of light gloves out of her robes as they came to a brief stop. "Shivasta, put these on. When you're practicing now, try to think of the entire weapon as being one, not just the cutting edge." She tossed the gloves over to Shi, who pulled them on. "Brace the blade with your off-hand when you're blocking, use that to help you balance. The gloves will also keep the blade from doing more than breaking your fingers if they get hit."

"Yes, ma'am." She nodded and settled back into a defensive stance to face her mate, sliding one gloved hand up along the back of the curved blade to find a good balance point for it.

"It is beautiful here." Jay said softly as he held Shi's back against his chest, his arms wrapped around her as they stood and gazed out over the storm-swept lands the Stormwardens called home. "Alien to me, but beautiful in its own way."

"It is," she agreed, pressing back against him softly on top of the lookout tower. "It's even more impressive when the storms aren't blowing," she murmured. "You can see almost forever, it seems like. Funny, in a way."

"You'll surrender before you're hurt too badly, right?" He asked with a nuzzle, his fear palatable in his scent even to her. It was something that only got stronger when he realized she had to stop and think about it before she could answer him.

"If I can, Jay," she said softly. "It'll be up to my opponent if they accept it or not."

"You know I can't let you die." He whispered, his nose buried in her hair and the fear he rarely felt a viscous, shimmering pool of cold desperation in his mind that all but called the Demon to him with it's crooning of warmth and soothing focus on destruction. "No matter what it means."

Not for the first time, she was keenly aware of just how honestly he meant that. On the one hand, it was touching... on the other hand, it was very, very frightening to know just how far he was probably willing to go.

"I'm not going to die," she promised him. "I'm the healer, remember? I might not be as good a fighter, but I have my tricks. Besides," she murmured, shifting to kiss his cheek softly, "even if my body dies, I won't let something like this take me away from you."

She felt it, in the Force and in his body, that they had once again crossed that line between her faith and his own lack of it in such things.

"No, you are not going to die." He shifted his head back to look her in the face. "I am sorry, but a ghost is not close enough."

"I won't die, Jay," she promised him. "Just... don't ask me to show you how I win, if I have to do it the way I might. Okay?"

"All right." He kissed her softly and calmed down some, though the knot was still in his gut. "I'll do my best not to interfere."

"You can't, Jay," she told him softly, but seriously. "If you do, then none of this matters. I have to do this... just please, trust me to handle it."

"If she is about to kill you, I can't stand by." He dropped his eyes in apology and regret. "I just can't."

"Then I'll just have to keep her from getting that far, won't I?" Shi murmured, pressing back against him and closing her eyes as he held her tightly. He was like this with Fenrik too, though not usually as noticeable, at least not to her. Of course, Fenrik hasn't gotten into a pre-arranged fight the Jay had to watch and not help out in.

"I'll be all right," she promised him, trying to keep her mind as confident as her voice was. At least he was steady enough to stay out of things unless it really was her life at stake. "Jay... depending on how things go tomorrow...."

"I'll take care of you," he promised softly, her needs focusing him away from his own fears without either of them trying. "The first messy kill is always hard."

"First kill, period," she murmured softly. "I've lost patients before, but never actually...." She licked her lips, turning in his arms to hold him close. "It's never come up for me before," she admitted.

"I'll take care of you Shi." He promised again and held her tightly, his rough tongue tenderly grooming her thick hair. Even though he couldn't understand having a problem with killing, be it on the hunt or in battle, he knew it was something she never wanted to have to do. "We'll be back at the Temple soon. It will be all right if she makes you kill her."

"Let's just hope she doesn't... or that I can take the choice away from her," Shi murmured softly, kissing his neck and looking out at the storm clouds again. "Want to watch the clouds a bit more, then go back to our room?"

"Sounds good. They'll be here in the morning. You need your rest."

"Yeah," she murmured, turning back around, hugging his arms close as they returned to watching the frigid scenery.

Shivasta and Jay were watching the clouds again from the lookout tower the next morning, chilled by more than just the winds. The blizzards were clearing up, and where clouds in the sky would fade, armies were revealed.

Snow half-buried many warriors and many vehicles, several of which Jay and Shi both recognized as transports bearing the emblem of the Republic... the Trade Confederation... the IGBC... other groups with a vested interest in seeing that Garosh became another resource world for Republic interests.

The Stormwardens were outnumbered and outgunned alike. Angry clouds remained, threatening another 'demon storm' if it was necessary, but that was close to the only edge they had right now. That, and probably ten-times the number of sensitives loyal to them and the two Jedi watching from the tower that intended to end it.

"Shivasta!" Elan called up from further down the tower. "It's almost time."

"Too soon, but at least it will be over with." Jay sighed and hugged her tightly before they turned to head down.

"Assuming they'll accept the results," Shi shivered, walking down ahead of him. She pulled on the gloves she'd been working with, the heavy ice sword at her hip in place of her lightsaber. It still didn't feel natural to her, but she knew how to use it now. "Here's hoping."

"If not, it's where I come in." Jay said simply and firmly. "The may be ready for Jedi interference. They aren't ready for mine."

"No, they're not," Shivasta agreed, knowing full well that every ounce of technology on the battlefield would turn against them if necessary to stop this.

"It looks like their champion is young," Elan offered as they reached the bottom. "Nobody I recognize, but not as experienced as some of the people they have available."

"The same can be said of ours." Jay reminded him quietly. "Force skill doesn't show as easily as physical training."

"And there are pre-teens with more training than I've had," Shi admitted.

"Perhaps, but you have your Jedi training," Elan pointed out confidently. "Besides, the vision you had said you were meant to face this battle. If you and your grandmother shared the vision, at two different times, clearly it was meant to be."

"And Jedi training is nothing to discount." Jay reminded her with a nuzzle. "Our reputation isn't empty."

"No, it's not," Shivasta agreed, taking a deep breath as they walked out. So much that could go wrong today... if she wasn't able to keep things under control, somebody was going to die, possibly many somebodies.

That thought alone was enough to keep her focused. She was a healer; it was her job to save lives, no matter the method. She was just doing that same familiar work today, by means she was barely familiar with at all.

The biting cold outside brought her attention outside once more; to the gathering crowds from both sides of the conflict, and the two males walking with her to the challenge field.

She straightened up, walking purposefully forward as she noticed the groups converging and forming, almost instinctively, a circle between them for the champions to fight if a challenge was made.

Champions... somehow, the title struck her as being distinctly awkward, especially applied to her. She was about as far as one could get from being a champion for anybody.

The Stormwardens were clearly outnumbered at least three to one as she made her way through the several-thousand strong force of warriors and crevasse cats. The tension in the air was literally palpable to her Force senses, but there was something else that she felt as the Republican camp stirred.

Something familiar to her.

An Ice Walker woman, a few years younger than Shivasta for all they looked the same age, stepped forward into the circle. She carried a metal shield and an ice blade, her body clad in light battle armor that Shivasta recognized as being of Republic design. It wasn't much better than what they could make locally, but it was much cheaper and easier to get a suit of. Still, in this fight, it wouldn't be any more effective than a suit of sheeloth-hide, and the shield no more useful than the light ice-shields most of the warriors carried.

She had passed up the chance to use both; armor would just slow her down, and the shield would force her to fight one-handed. Besides, with the gloves she was wearing, and accepting a little pain, she could almost use her hands as shields if she had to.

There were days she was devoutly grateful she was a healer.

"Where is the champion of the Stormwardens?" The Republican champion called out.

"I am here," Shivasta responded, stepping forward into the ring of bodies, leaving Elan and Jay behind. With a deep breath, she calmed herself, focusing on what had to be done here and now, and how best to do it. She still wondered where she knew the other Ice Walker from... she didn't recognize her from her first visit, but there was something there that seemed to connect them.

"So, the Stormwardens have stooped to asking a Jedi to protect them from us?" Her opponent taunted her, and the army behind her.

"I am a Stormwarden." Shi replied with a sharp edge on her voice that did little to indicate her true state. She knew what was expected of her and she provided it. "I fight as a Stormwarden."

"So you're the one," the younger woman observed. "Tell me, have you forgiven your 'clan' for sending your mother to die in the Wastes for what she did for you? Or did they forget to mention that little tidbit to you?"

"I know her crime, and her punishment." Shi shrugged, showing more indifference than she really felt as she finally placed where the familiarity was from. "Clearly she did not die before giving birth to a true traitor, sister."

"She only lived because she was taken in by a clan that cared about her," the other Ice Walker countered. "And are you sure I'm the traitor here? After all, I serve my clan. You... I wonder what the Jedi would say if they heard you were here for this. Do you intend to die a traitor to the people who raised you, to serve the ones who decided to throw your life away?"

Before anyone could respond a flash fire of murderous rage erupted in the Force, almost visible to the non-sensitives. It ended just as quickly, but not before Shi recognized exactly what had caused it and just how on edge her mate really was. He wanted to be on the battlefield badly.

"I will not die today, sister." Shi said simply, hoping she could end this before Jay gave in to the Demon so close to the surface right now. "Enough of your talk; show what you can do."

"Very well, if you're in a rush," she shrugged, bringing her sword and shield up into a neutral stance easily, holding the heavy blade in one hand with a practiced grip. Suddenly she reached out through the Force, starting a whirlwind at Shivasta's feet, wind, snow, and ice buffeting the older Ice Walker and distracting her. The younger sister bolted forward, charging as fast as she could without using the Force.

Shi barely had time to bring her blade up to block the crushing blow that followed, her sister's ice blade crashing into hers with the force of a charging bantha that Shi guided slightly to one side as she sidestepped and spun around with a touch of Force, her blade aimed squarely across her opponent's back.

She felt it bite into the thick synthetic fiber of the armor, but the other warrior spun before it could get into her flesh. Shivasta reeled as her sister struck her in the side of the face with her shield, knocking her back and following up with a swift thrust for her stomach that she brought up a telekinetic shield to block until she could get out of the way almost instinctively.

She took the moment it took her sister to recover to hit her hard with malacia.

The look of surprise on the younger Ice Walker's face said she hadn't been expecting it, but a hard, fast Force thrust threw Shivasta back before she could take advantage of the few moments it took for her to recover.

It didn't take this time, not all the way, but it was the edge that Shi had expected, and needed, it to be.

The distance between them gave Shi the time to hit her again with malacia before her opponent could do anything else.

She was ready for it this time though; the vulnerable point in her Force pattern had been sealed; the young Ice Walker wrapping the Force around herself like a protective cocoon. She stood again, bolting for Shi with the Force behind her motions. Shivasta bit her lip in pain as she felt the deadly cold blade bite through her robes, leaving a shallow cut in her arm.

It was also just the move Shi was waiting for. It brought her opponent close enough to use the morichro technique. If her sister could withstand two malacia attempts, she just about had to be hearty enough to survive this.

She reached out through the Force, piercing the younger Ice Walker's barrier and latching on to her Force pattern. She started applying the proper energies to the proper focal points, slowing and stilling the flow of the Force through her opponent's body. A moment later, she had stopped it completely, and the Ice Walker passed out faster than if Shivasta had put her in a chokehold.

She quickly released the pressure, letting the Force start back through her body so she would only be unconscious, then stood to looks of shock from both sides. Shi knew she was expected to kill her at this point; her sister had lost the battle, her life was forfeit.

Shivasta didn't care. It was over, and she wasn't going to kill her if she didn't have to. She tossed her blade to the ground, moving her sister's next to it. Only one person wasn't shocked, but he was relieved. Very, very relieved.

"The battle is over," Shivasta said clearly, turning towards the larger army. "Your champion lives, but she is helpless for now." She reached out to the Force users among her clan, and to Jay, drawing on their power to add the full weight of the Force to her words. "Your army is defeated; return to your homes and your lives, and seek a peaceful compromise among the clans. How our people deal with the Republic isn't worth a war."

She picked up her sword, and her sister's bloodied one, as the younger Ice Walker groaned softly and started to return to consciousness. She moved quickly to hand both weapons to Impana, praying that this would be over for now. One of the Republicans stepped forward... but only to help her sister back to her feet.

"I don't know how you beat me," she told Shivasta. "But you did. Thank you for my life... I will return to our chieftains, and we will withdraw for now."

"That is all I have earned," Shivasta acknowledged, inclining her head. "What is your name, sister?"

"Etreia," she answered simply, turning to start walking back towards her camp, shaking her head to try and clear the last of the grogginess from it.

Shivasta put her hand over the cut on her arm, summoning the Force to close the wound. She moved back towards Jay as the two armies started to stand down, taking a deep breath.

"This is one tradition I'm grateful for, just now," she murmured as he pulled her close and trembled ever so slightly from the tension seeking release.

"It is a lot less bloody." He agreed and nuzzled her, his warmth a welcome reminder of home and calmer places.

"I'm the one who's supposed to be on edge right now," she murmured, shifting to kiss him lightly when she was sure nobody was watching. "Let's get back to our quarters... don't think we should leave until tomorrow."

"When they've actually left." He nodded and wrapped and arm around her as they walked, his flickering tail the most obvious sign of his continued agitation that was slowly draining away, much to the frustration of the Darkness in his mind.

"The Republican forces are leaving," Impana told Jay and Shi as they prepared to do the same the next day. "It looks like we'll be able to negotiate with them, convince them to let us handle our own bargains with the Republic."

"I hope so," Shivasta smiled, taking Impana's hand and making the last of her goodbyes. "I'd like to be able to come back some time and see that things aren't on the verge of war."

"Agreed." Jay nodded with an easy smile. "It's much more pleasant to visit when the skies are clear."

"They'll always be clear for you two," Elan chuckled. "Just make sure to give us some warning."

"That we'll be able to manage," Shivasta smiled. "Thought it'll probably be a while before I come back again."

"Maybe next time you'll stay," Impana chuckled, though she knew it was very unlikely at best. Jay's silent reaction only reinforced that idea. He was decidedly not happy with the thought.

"At least long enough to actually teach us a few of those Jedi tricks." Kiryntha grinned at him. "And have a little more fun."

"I was about to say we'd bring Fenrik along next time, but I don't think I'd ever get them back if I did," Shivasta chuckled, stiffening slightly as she sensed something. She looked over towards the Republican warriors preparing to leave, and saw Etreia making her way towards their landing pad along with a young Ice Walker. Shivasta could sense the relation between them, and the Force in the Ice Walker who was probably still too young to talk.

"I think we're going to have company on the trip home," she told Jay quietly. "Assuming you think the Sharufa can handle a toddler until we make it back to Coruscant?"

"Easily." He nodded, his gaze on his mate's sister with a curious edge.

The other Ice Walkers noticed the newcomers next, looking over at them with expressions ranging from curious to concerned. The child next to her was younger than most Ice Walkers were brought out into the cold, though she was well-bundled to make up for it.

"I heard that you were going to be leaving soon," Etreia explained to Shivasta, sparing a brief nod for Impana. "I wanted you to meet your niece first."

"All right," Shivasta nodded, kneeling to look into the bright blue eyes of her sister's daughter. She looked up at her mother, then back at her aunt, not saying a word. Shi could tell that the young woman was a sensitive. Not the strongest, but strong enough that a part of her said she should be brought back to the Temple if it was acceptable. She wondered if that was why Etreia was here.

"She doesn't speak very much yet," Etreia explained. "Kanna, this is my sister, Shivasta."

"Hello," the little girl said softly.

"Hello," Shivasta smiled warmly. "Good to meet you, Kanna."

"I've spoken with mother, and with the chiefs of father's clan," Etreia explained softly. "We can all tell that Kanna is a sensitive... a fairly strong one, mother feels."

"I have to agree," Shivasta nodded slightly. "The Force is strong with her. It seems to run in the family," she smiled up at her sister.

"Stronger in some than in others, it seems," Etreia chuckled slightly. "We felt it would be best if she went to the Temple. I don't like giving her up, but... she's more likely to grow up there than she would be here."

"Is that okay with you?" Shivasta asked Kanna. She was old enough to talk... and old enough to resent being taken from her family, when she grew up. The toddler nodded slightly; Shi wasn't sure if she understood, but it wasn't an entirely new concept to her at least.

"I'll take her back," Shivasta told Etreia, standing up. "I'm sure she'll return, eventually," she smiled slightly.

"I hope so," the other Ice Walker nodded with a slight smile of her own. She stepped forward to hug Shivasta lightly, a gesture she returned.

"Thank you, for bringing her to me," Shivasta said.

"And thank you, for giving me the chance to. I didn't expect the both of us to leave the battlefield yesterday."

"You're welcome," Shi nodded, not mentioning her own doubts about whether or not they were going to. "We should probably be leaving soon."

"Come and visit the rest of your family when you come back next," Etreia offered. "I think our parents would like to know how you've turned out."

"And now that I know mother's alive, I think I'd like to meet her," Shivasta smiled. "We'll take good care of Kanna," she promised.

"I know," Etreia smiled, and then looked over at Impana. "One of the chiefs would like to speak with you, before returning to our territory."

"I will meet with her... and your mother, if she's with your party," Impana nodded.

"We'll make the arrangements," she nodded, stepping back, and then kneeling by her daughter.

"Be a good girl," she smiled, kissing her lightly. "I'll see you once you're grown up... maybe sooner. Good bye, Kanna."

"Bye, mama," Kanna said softly, kissing her mother goodbye and stepping back next to Shivasta.

"I think this is our cue to leave," Shi told Jay softly. "The Sharufa ready?"

"Since we arrived," he nodded, letting her lead the way to the ship he'd built years before.

"Padawan Clawson, have you been following the news from Coruscant during your absence?" Master Kareth asked Jay as he faced the Council, just a few hours after he, Shi, and Kanna had gotten back.

"Yes, Master." He answered easily; flipping through the headlines in his mind as he refreshed himself with them. Only one stood out, and it really stood out. A serial killer was loose in underground with a MO of a wild animal with rabies. "The killings in the Southern Underground?" He asked, deciding that was the most likely subject the Jedi would be discussing.

"Yes," Master Shan nodded. "The Council has decided that, the bounty hunters that have been called in aside, it would be prudent for a Jedi to be involved in the hunt for the killer as well. If possible, we want you to capture the perpetrator so they can be brought to trial. If necessary, we will understand killing them, but we will want proof that the responsible party has been stopped. This is your first solo mission; we will be judging your performance when you return."

"I understand, Master." He inclined his head slightly even as he requested the Temple to build him a full briefing. "Is there anything known that is not in the Temple system?"

"Very little," Master Kareth said easily. "We are not sure if it is a sentient or non-sentient being responsible. There seems to be little connection between the victims beyond the fact that they live in the area; you will want to start at coordinates that are already available to you. You already know that there are several bounty hunters involved in this hunt; expect them to be ready to use lethal force unnecessarily and to attempt to hinder your own progress."

"I understand, Master." He nodded. He did too, a little too well. Intended as part of his mission or not, he wasn't about to let a bounty hunter best him at one of his best skills. It called to far too much of his predatory nature. A hunting, competitive nature that was extreme even by his kin's standards. "I will do my best to ensure they do not succeed at either."

"Remember that they are not your enemies, Padawan," Master Noloth cautioned him. "Ultimately, their goals are in line with ours. Theirs are merely motivated by self-enrichment, more than the safety of the public."

"Normally, a solo mission would be conducted farther from the Temple than this," Master Shan admitted. "However, we feel that it would be best to involve you in this mission. You may return to the Temple in emergencies, or if it is necessary for your mission, but we expect you to conduct this as though your mission was further abroad."

"I understand, Master Shan."

"*Do you have any additional questions for us, Padawan?*" Essani asked him.

"No, Master." Jay nodded to her.

"Then you should get started as soon as possible," Master Shan told him simply. "We hope to hear back from you before we hear about this creature again."

Jay nodded and rose, turning without a word at his dismissal. His mind was already accessing the database and assessing his options for hunting the killer, whatever it was. He barely nodded to Shi as he passed her and Kanna waiting for their turn with the Council.

Jay spoke softly to himself, repeating the most salient points of the information he had, what he still needed to know, and what he needed to take as he readied his gear and kept it heavy on the non-lethal side. His lightsabers and skills were more than enough to tackle anything else required of him. His belt and Glovatrix were for capturing his target.

He felt the excitement building until he found the plateau that would allow him to work for days without being so wound up he was likely to make a stupid mistake. He had no intentions of sleeping. It wasn't a smart choice for a hunt like this unless it lasted for more than a week. There was simply too high a chance that it would kill against while he rested.

One last check of his equipment and he grabbed his heavy outer cloak, left a message with the computer for his mates and was gone from the place he'd called home for fourteen years with few the wiser.

The Southern Underground was never pretty. In its way, Nar Shaddaa was better than Coruscant's slums. At least on Nar Shaddaa the people in charge admitted there were slums and problems there; they just didn't care about them. Here, Coruscant would have gladly forgotten this entire place existed if it could.

Frustration and desperation vibrated through the Force, almost palpable as he moved towards the location of the last attack. At the Temple, it wasn't too hard to filter it out. Here, surrounded by it, the quiet undertone of the planet's slow death was a throbbing beat, almost as hard to ignore as the smell of the garbage pits nearby, only a kilometer or so down. A dull crack split the air as a waste canister broke passed through the tractor ring flinging it up out of the atmosphere.

He added a command for Sharufa to watch her sensors and not get hit or boarded in these tight quarters and stay close. There was a very real possibility he'd have to leave in a hurry, with or without his quarry.

He walked into a small building... more of a hovel, really... and found the room where the last victim had been taken.

The blood hadn't even been cleaned up yet; it seemed everybody was content to just wait until the filth that covered everything else covered it as well. There had clearly been a struggle; there were scorch marks from blasters on the wall. Two hits on the wall, with just enough space between them for a body to have been hit by the second shot in the burst. There were other marks, but they had clearly been wild, probably after the attacker had grabbed its victim.

Jay knelt and sniffed the air, testing it for any too fresh scents before he gave himself over to the calling up the memories in the floor and walls, even the furniture, seeking the moment just before the kill to get the best idea of what he was hunting before he actually went after it.

All he could get was a sense of utter wrongness; nothing in the building had been able to recognize what had attacked, just that it wasn't any sort of a normal species. More frustratingly, a quick check with the databases confirmed that it wasn't a known species. The attacker was big and muscular, with a shaggy coat of fur that looked almost more like a patchwork carpet than natural fur. Reds, bright blues, browns, all were present in irregular patches along the thing's body.

And there was nothing quite like it in the system. Its face, when Jay managed to find a working display that could show what had been seen, was vaguely like a Bulldog's, but its mouth was even more filled with sharp, uneven teeth. Its arms were long and gangly, ending in massive, wickedly curved claws. It just didn't look natural.

Of course, this far down, there was no telling just what had been created over the past millennia, whether by nature, mutation or manipulation.

He let out a small breath and shifted his focus, seeking how the creature had come in, and how it had left.

That wasn't hard to figure out at least, even without his Gift. He could see the claw marks on the door, now that he looked at it. It had probably jumped down while the victim was coming in, followed him in, killed him, and then pried the doors back open to get out safely. Between the time and the fact that this was one of the worst possible parts of Coruscant to live in, anybody who'd noticed anything had probably done their damnedest to ignore it.

But that meant there would be blood to track it by, at least part of the way.

He focused a bit more of his energy on his senses to avoid being surprised by anything, be it a local, his prey or a bounty hunter, and moved with the balanced grace his training brought even at speed.

He picked up the blood trail outside, going up and over the building. That would explain how it managed to stay undetected. He could sense something familiar up ahead ... he couldn't tell if it was his prey or something else, as he followed the blood easily.

It was still reason enough reason to pull the Force around him in preparation for a battle where a fast kill just wasn't an option; he was likely to have to deal with bounty hunters as well as his prey. It was categorically the worst combination he could think of ... shy of prey that was immune to the Force.

He dismissed the thought as quickly as he could; no sense in tempting fate. He really, really didn't want to have to deal with something like that.

Buildings skimmed by as he moved just a little faster than natural across their roves, all his senses alert for trouble and for his quarry.

He found the creature moving deeper into the slums, somewhere near the center of the attacks in areas nobody lived in willingly. He heard a shout of pain up ahead, a blaster firing repeatedly before it was silenced. He put on his full speed that wouldn't cost him his ability to react if there was a trap up ahead.

His Force-senses caught the scene ahead before his eyes did; one bounty hunter down, the beast trying to eat. He called on enough Force to surround the creature with a telekinetic bubble.

He reached the scene before the creature realized it was trapped; it was just as ugly and hard to describe as he'd thought. It looked something like a nightmare orangutan. The thick green scales and blast armor of the Trandoshan who was being gradually ripped apart hadn't helped him against the powerful claws.

Jay almost felt sick as he realized that the lizard-man was in few enough pieces he might still be alive, or at least be able to survive if he made it to a medical facility quickly enough. . So far, it had only actually lost an arm, something the Trandoshan would recover from given the chance. It made his next priority separating the beast from its meal, a trick that was gratefully not too difficult with a strong telekinetic grip on each to pull them apart even as he called for Sharufa to join him. She was capable of transporting the beast and its prey safely to the Temple.

Unfortunately, taking its food away alerted the creature to the Jay's presence. The creature let out a piercing howl of rage as the Trandoshan was pulled to safety and set on the ground so Jay could turn his full attention to containing the beast. It tried to charge, but the bubble kept it in place. For now at least; the thing was strong enough that it was taxing even Jay's ability to maintain the field, hammering away at the invisible barrier with all its strength.

"*Sleep.*" Jay put the full force of his will and the Force behind the demand. As strong as it was, its mind wasn't up to the test of the suggestion; it fainted dead away, leaving Jay to work on stabilizing the latest victim with the suspended animation cube he'd intended to use on the beast.

Sharufa's engines were easily audible in the background as the ship brought herself in as close as she could to her creator to his relief. He moved to pick up the creature telekinetically, still wondering what the Hell it was, when something hard and heavy hit him across the back of his head, making him see stars and drop the killer even as he rolled with the blow and lashed out with the Force against the object and its wielder. He heard a satisfying crunch as the weapon was destroyed, but noted with some annoyance that he didn't hear anything from whoever had attacked him.

He was on his feet, the Force heavy around him even as Sharufa powered her weapons up and took aim on the attacker.

"*Get the beast and Trandoshan secured.*" Jay ordered his ship, leaving him to focus on his first real lifelong enemy while his ship used its equipment to deal with the rest. "Hello Navik."

"Long time, Jay," Navik responded. His Basic was better, and the years had clearly bulked him up. The bully from Jay's childhood finally looked as tough as he'd always thought he was. As much as Jay wanted to say he still wasn't any smarter, he knew better than to underestimate him after so long.

The Rodian discarded his destroyed blaster rifle, pulling a long double-pike off his back. He held it skillfully, taking up a defensive posture. He was wearing a simple suit of light armor, similar in design to the Trandoshan's, but covering more of his body. Maybe he'd finally found a partner he could work with.

It'd be just like him to have let a partner like that get killed before he did anything to help him.

"I'm just after the ogre," Navik explained. "You can go back to the Jedi and tell them the thing won't be hunting here any more."

"No." He replied evenly and slid both his lightsabers out of his bracers and lit them, lighting the area up around his hands as the arc of energy over the hilt protected them. His own stance was defensive as well, one mental ear open for trouble on his ship or anywhere else around them. "You aren't that trustworthy." He added as the beast was taken into his ship by a tractor beam where it would be quickly secured in a force-field reinforced cell with a constant supply of knockout gas to keep it down.

"Those are new," Navik observed. "Though they're not the only thing that is here. I'm a bounty hunter Jay; you really think I'd throw a contract just to get you in trouble with the Jedi?"

"Probably not." He acknowledged the odds. "It's still not your capture."

"And what do you think the Jedi will do when you bring it back, eh? They're not about to kill it."

"Find out what it is and where it came from to start with." Jay pointed out evenly. "If that thing is as unnatural as it feels, finding out who created it is important to stop this from happening again."

"You really haven't been down here long, have you fuzzball?" Navik laughed, shaking his head. "Figures. You try talking to people while you were hunting it, or just the walls?"

"I didn't need to talk to either," he pointed out and silently acknowledged Sharufa's silent message that all was ready. "The blood trail leads right from the last kill to here. Have better luck on your next hunt." He told Navik and made an easy turn and leap to the open hatch of his ship.

"Oh I will!" Navik called after him. "I'll just bring that one's mate in. Just try not to be too loud about having caught it? Look bad for the Order to have another turn up after they say they've ended it."

Jay didn't reply, but he did take note of it as the hatch closed and Sharufa peeled away as quickly as she could in the tight confines. He had other concerns right now; the injured hunter and the beast he had captured. Both needed to be returned to the Temple as quickly as possible.

The short trip back gave him a chance to think about what Navik had said. It was certainly possible that there was more than one, even if it was somebody's escaped experiment. He'd have to find out as much as he could as fast as possible before he went back out to check on that.

Fortunately, it wasn't far to reach the Temple in the small transport. A brief, fast flight later, he was touching down, medics waiting to help the injured Trandoshan as soon as the ship had landed. Shi was with them, and first on board the ship to start moving the injured bounty hunter.

Jay waited until they were done, then greeted Fenrik and a sleek silver Vixen Knight with a nod when they boarded. "It's this way."

"Thank you," the Vixen nodded. "You're sure that it's an unrecognized species?" She asked him, following him back to the holding cell.

"It's not in any database I have access to, Knight Cesta." He nodded as they came to a stop in front of the force-field reinforced room-cage with the unconscious bulldog-orangutan-Force-knew-what monster. "It's not even close to anything known. It feels decidedly unnatural to me as well."

"I can see that," the Vixen said, looking at the sleeping creature with a perplexed expression.

"Can you tell if it has a mate, or ... young?"

"Not without more of an examination... this is what was responsible for the killings in the Southern Underground?" She asked. "I'll need to move it to a more secure location."

Jay nodded and unlocked the cell to hold the creature in a telekinetic bubble to move it. "It is the species responsible for at least the last kill. I've been told it has a mate still loose down there. I haven't had an opportunity to examine the other kill sites or try to track it back to its lair yet."

"Who told you?" Fenrik asked curiously as they moved the creature, watching it warily as it started to stir slightly.

"Navik," Jay answered quietly and got ready to send the creature back to sleep if it actually woke up before it was caged again. It turned out to be necessary, but simple to do. "He's one of the bounty hunters after it. He tried to steal this one, and told me there was another he'd get when that didn't work. I think the Trandoshan was his partner."

"Think you can trust him, or think he was just trying to get your goat?" Fenrik asked.

"It doesn't really matter right now," Jay shook his head. "I haven't gotten the chance to really examine anything yet."

"Maybe we should get this one restrained before distracting the person restraining it?" Cesta suggested.

"Of course," Fenrik nodded. They made it to the holding area without further incident, where Cesta had Jay place the creature in a holding cell.

"That should keep him quiet if necessary. It shouldn't take long to find out if I can trace a mate to it; you two sort out what was going on with Navik while I do so?"

"Yes, Knight Cesta," Jay bow slightly to her. "Please contact the Sharufa when you know something. I'm going to go back down to learn more."

He was several steps outside the lab before he remembered that a Knight's orders or no, this was his solo and having his mate and partner along for the hunt was definitely not called for yet. "Do you know anything about Navik that I don't?"

"Probably not," Fenrik admitted. "Didn't have much to do with him while he was still here, less since then. I should probably butt out before I cause any trouble with your mission, but just be careful when it comes to dealing with him Jay."

"I always will," he nodded seriously. "Take care of yourself and Shi, and have her let me know when the Trandoshan is up for talking."

"Will do," Fenrik nodded. "Force be with you, Jay."

"*Thank you, love.*" He smiled and headed back to his ship for a proper investigation of the kill-sites and the trails that the killer took to and from them.

Later that day, Jay had run through the full history of the area again. The most recent killings had been misleading; they were in a different part of the Underground than a number of historical murders. Something had scaled up recently; given what Navik had said about a mate, it seemed possible that they were either gearing up for, or had, started a family.

That made it even more important to catch up. Coruscant's population could do with being knocked down a few billion, but this was overkill.

He'd figured out a new likely territory, one of the local garbage dumps. He was wearing a breather now, slowly and carefully working his way down the kilometers-deep pit, looking for any sign of a next or den. It was something he had to be a little careful about; one likely hole had already turned out to be a dianoga pit instead. His Force-senses could pick up life and the relative size, but he wasn't nearly as good at telling what kind of life it was.

It wasn't always easy to tell what was a nest and what was a cluster of junk that had landed properly. The entire place was well and truly chaotic.

Finally, he managed to find something that looked like a likely spot. There were bones there, including a couple skulls from various species. They looked like they'd been collected intentionally, but they'd clearly been left behind just as intentionally... and some time ago, he was sure. The nest was small enough to fit one of the creatures he'd found; if there were more now, they would have had to move to a larger area.

The sound of shouting from below filtered up; probably junk hunters sorting through the fetid piles of trash for anything salvageable. A moment of focusing on the sounds and Force backed up that it was nothing unusual, though they would be the ones who knew the area best. If there was a monster, they probably knew where.

He moved down further, trying not to think about what he was probably stepping in as he drew close. He was so going to need a long, hot shower and scrubbing after this.

The salvagers turned towards him as he got close, a couple of them reaching for blasters to defend their find; most of the remains of some sort of droid, discarded after something had smashed it up pretty well. Probably some sort of industrial accident.

A scrawny looking Ferret, probably the leader to judge by the fact that his blaster was more or less stock, rather than tinkered and overhauled a half-dozen times like most of the others, looked at Jay with an expression somewhere between fear and suspicion.

"You, who are?" He demanded.

"Jay." He answered easily. "I'm hunting the beast killing people down here."

"Beast? Ogre you mean?" The Ferret asked cautiously. "Or dianoga-snake?"

"Ogre." Jay clarified on a combination of knowing he wasn't after dianoga and what Navik had called the creature. "Do you know where they live?"

"Ogre left long ago. Many people it killed, their heads took. Second ogre came, both left. Two months ago."

Just about when the other killings started. So there was a mate... still, this didn't help him get any closer to finding it. The hunters conferred for a moment, speaking in hushed, rapid tones.

"You have food? Tools?" The leader asked after a moment.

"Yes," he nodded. "For trade."

"You show us first," the Ferret said. "They good, we tell you more."

Jay considered the Ferret and though about his supplies for a moment, then called Sharufa down, smiling slightly at her flamboyant entrance that matched her personality and name so well, and in many ways, his own and his heritage. Jedi or not, he was still a Clawson and a Furlong. Flashy was in his blood in a very real way.

It certainly seemed to impress the locals; some of them squeaked and ducked for cover in the garbage, clearly more used to ships coming down and trying to either catch them or shoot them, while others simply stared, not used to seeing ships down here at all that were still flying under their own power. The leader, for his part, moved to where there was some cover, watching Jay and the ship warily as Sharufa settled with a fast turn to present the open main hatch to him.

Jay made the leap easily, a much simpler move than many he'd done and reappeared to jump down a moment later with a good-sized bag in his hand. He walked over to the Ferret and offered it. "Food."

The Ferret opened the bag and looked in, inspecting the contents; rations heavy on the meats and quality field rations the Temple provided. He looked back at Jay after a moment; pleasure, eagerness and satisfaction clear in his mind, though he didn't show it.

Jay was sure that was enough to get what he wanted, but just as sure the Ferret was going to see what he could get out of this arrangement. Of course, living and working down here, he couldn't really blame him.

"Last stranger down here, offered a power cell too," the Ferret suggested.

Jay considered him for a moment, easily catching the surface thoughts and just what kind of offering would get him exactly what he wanted and what the Ferret considered most valuable. The kinds of things these folks wanted were easy for him to get, and he honestly couldn't mind paying more than he had to. They were just trying to survive and he respected that far more than the greed he was used to dealing with and tended to play hardball against. "This is probably worth more than a power cell to you." He said and brought out a field tool kit from his belt, opening it to show the Ferret its high quality and immaculately kept contents in one smooth motion.

He had to give the Ferret credit; he didn't show the surprise and pleasure he felt on his face.

"Us, you give that to, Eney will show you to last place ogre he saw."

Jay nodded and folded it up again with the ease of long familiarity and offered it over. "Deal."

The Ferret accepted the kit, motioning towards a young Rat who probably wasn't much older than Jay had been when he'd come to the Temple.

"Ogres left the pit," Eney explained. "Slum-people I saw one hunting, us more than they did. You I will take there... ship, take us out?" He asked, glancing at the Sharufa. It would certainly be easier than climbing out.

"Easily," Jay nodded even as the ship lowered itself so the young Rat could board without taking a flying leap with Jay. Soon, they were both on-board, and flying up out of the reeking garbage pit, much to Jay's relief and the youth's fascination for the view of his home turf from a very different angle.

"Padawan Clawson, are you there?" Cesta's voice came across the open comm line to the Temple.

"Yes, Knight Cesta." He answered reflexively.

"I've examined the creature. It's definitely not natural, but I can't find any sign of extensive genetic manipulation. I suspect the mutations are more the result of exposure to something present in the environment than intentional creation. We're looking at a prime example of Coruscant's ecosystem at work," she said quietly.

"They're called ogres, and I've confirmed there is at least a second one. I expect it's a species at this point."

"It's possible. I can't confirm if it has bred yet; it's a male, there aren't as many signs. But I can tell you that it probably has a mate, or at least that there's another down there; there are light wounds and scratches consistent with claws like its own. It has a very powerful sense of smell, and seems to be sensitive to the light. Intelligent too, for an animal. Have you seen anything that might be a sign of an early culture, or at least the potential for it?"

"Not that I've seen, but I have seen very little." He admitted. "You may have another and young to study soon, however."

"I'll let you go then," the Vixen said. "Just be careful."

"Yes, ma'am." He acknowledged, though he had no intention of not being careful.

"Person talking, who was that?" Eney asked, looking out the windows of the Sharufa as they traveled towards one of the more recent kill sites.

"Knight Cesta. She's studying the ogres I capture."


"Yes," he nodded. "As am I." He answered the unasked question in the Rat's mind.

The young Rat nodded silently, then looked at one building in particular.

"Ogre, last seen there," he said, pointing it out a building near several kill sites.

Jay nodded and set down nearby. "Did you see where it headed from here?"

"No," Eney admitted. "It was sniffing, looked like hunting. We ran when sister I warned."

Jay nodded and stood to head for the hatch. "Stay on the ship. I'll be back."

The Rat nodded, waiting obediently as Jay left the Sharufa and cautiously started to look around. He was struck immediately by the variety of scents coming through; the winds and ventilation shafts down here made this a prime spot to locate any of a number of different creatures by scent.

Looking around, he spotted what looked liked a fairly easy way of getting to and from the location, a duracrete wall that was partially crumbled, and wouldn't be too hard to climb. It all made for an excellent hunting point.

Jay let his Force-senses spread out, seeking his quarry by its aura while his nose and eyes searched for any trace of where to head from here.

He could only sense the one he'd found before from here... it must have been the one he'd caught. But what his Force senses couldn't pick up easily, his regular ones could. The creature had clearly gone over the wall multiple times; examining it, he could see where the claws had scored it, and the small tunnel above.

It would be too small for the Sharufa to move through, but he could fit through easily.

Time to do something stupid.

He activated the flashlight on his Glovatrix, set it to infrared and slipped a simple pair of band shades over his eyes to take better advantage of the band and went in.

The IR beam painted the surroundings with a light warmth that he could see, and he hoped the creature couldn't. He started to move through very carefully, testing the area ahead of him, looking to make sure each next step was safe. It looked like there was something up ahead, smaller than the first creature he'd caught... but he had no way of telling what the regular sizes for them were.

A few more steps and it was clear it was Navik, setting up a stake out of his own. Given he was looking into the den, there were high odds the second one was inside.

So that was where Jay headed.

As he stalked forward, it was clear that Navik didn't hear him until he was just about on top of him. The Rodian spun around, pulling a short blade out before he recognized who it was.

"What are you doing here?" He asked in a harsh whisper that didn't carry far. To judge by the contours of his face, he was wearing a pair of low-light goggles to help him see down here.

"My mission." Jay said simply and continued to move past him.

"More like suicide," Navik muttered, moving ahead with him until the Kat stopped to face him. "You think you're going to fight that thing in its lair?"

"I don't have to fight it any more than the first one, and it's better than having Knight Cesta angry with me." He shrugged. "It's only suicidal for you."

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Navik asked, his temper flaring visibly in the Force.

Jay rolled his eyes, though it wasn't visible. "It's not suicidal for me." He said and moved further into the tunnel, all his senses alert for the first sign of his prey.

He heard the click of a trigger, but he'd already disabled Navik's blaster. For the Rodian's sake, he hoped one of the ogres didn't come on down until he was out of range.

Assuming, of course, that the tunnels went down that far. They seemed to; there wasn't much down further that was sending off heat. They split off up ahead, and it looked like there might be a few basic traps up ahead.

At the split he shifted focus to his nose, testing the ground for which tunnel had the freshest scent.

He headed off to the left, tracing the smells of blood and animals. He found a crude deadfall up ahead and disabled it easily; Cesta had been right about the creature being smart. For something that wasn't sentient, it was clever.

And here he was following it into its lair, where it quite possibly had young waiting.

He kept himself ready to put a telekinetic shield between himself and any attack, and moved forward cautiously. Hopefully it was home.

He saw the warmth up ahead as he rounded a corner; three bodies, one large, two small. To judge by the scent, at least two of them were ogres. He couldn't be sure if the third was an ogre, or possibly one of the several races he could smell here, along with the scent of death.

He quickly put up a shield between him and the warm bodies, then approached quietly. He had to get their attention to get them to go to sleep, but the closer he was the better.

The big one looked up sharply, its body outlined in bright reds and oranges to his goggles as it caught his scent and roared, the sound echoing painfully in the relatively confined space.

"*Sleep.*" Jay ordered with all the power he could muster for the Suggestion.

For a moment, he was worried that it wouldn't be enough. The creature's young seemed to be giving it enough mental strength to resist the command. A little more reinforcement and it fell, the smaller bodies squalling in fear until they too sank unconscious to Jay's silent orders.

With a small breath of relief, he lifted all three telekinetically and ordered Sharufa to get as close as she could, and prepare a cage for the mother and two young while he walked out, ready for another confrontation with Navik.

He knew that he'd shut down the Rodian's goggles, so he'd probably be outside if he had any sense whatsoever. Admittedly, that wasn't necessarily the case with Navik when he was ticked off, which he almost certainly was. The Rodian hated to be shown up even more than Jay did, and he'd just done it twice in less than half a day, and cost him a lot of money on upwards of four bounties.

He carefully pulled his glasses off and stored them when the natural light became strong enough, more than a little surprised that he hadn't run into Navik yet. The guy was too damn good at hiding himself too.

Jay was in mid-step when he felt the mother begin to stir, and he quickly focused on reinforcing the command to sleep.

The momentary distraction was all it took for Navik's plan to make itself known; Jay sensed the grenades concealed near the entrance just a split-second before they started going off, letting off piercing, shrill bursts of sound just barely inside the high-end of his audible range. He barely had time to register the bone-deep pain before his brain shut down, leaving him on the ground just as unconscious as his cargo.

Navik smirked outside the tunnel as he heard the high-pitched blasts from his trap going off. Most of his gear turned back on as Jay passed out, including his goggles, but he didn't bother to put them back on as he rushed into the tunnel. He'd just pack up the ogres, carry them out, and leave the kat there to explain to the Jedi how he'd been bested by the student they'd thrown out years before.

He quickly shackled the mother, noticing the two young ogres and restraining them with smaller devices he quickly improvised. He hadn't been expecting young, but he had no doubt they'd bring in some extra bounty money. As he was getting ready to head out, he couldn't resist the temptation to gloat a bit.

"Bet you never thought I'd be the one beating you," Navik chuckled, keying the call sequence for his own ship into the tracker on his belt.

That was just the distraction the half-conscious kat was waiting for. His higher brain functions were still down, but his instincts opened his eyes and recognized the theft of his catch.

Navik caught the sudden explosion of violence almost square on, his Force-senses were sure the kat was still unconscious, but the claws and fangs driven into his flesh and armor were very real and very sharp.

He responded with a more honed instinct of his own, calling on the Force to throw Jay back towards the entrance, buying himself enough time to realize his blaster was beeping with a potential overload. He threw it to the side and grabbed his double-pike, grateful that at least didn't need power to function. He was surer now than ever before that it was something Jay did that had been responsible for most of his problems with anything that involved a computer or powered system.

Fortunately, it was a lesson he'd taken to heart in the Arena. He was ready for it now, and fairly sure that the kat he was dealing with was functioning on a level he could handle on his own.

"And they said I couldn't control myself," the Rodian muttered. He'd never seen somebody who'd been nailed with sonics respond like this, but he knew full well that Jay wasn't quite like anybody around here. He made a mental note to be careful about that in the future.

Jay recovered quickly from the blow, replying with a Force-strike of his own; one with more power behind it than was even remotely required to put his opponent off balance. It was meant to crush.

Navik was knocked back by it, digging into the debris at the bottom to keep from going too far as he forced most of the blow around him. The Rodian scrambled for something to distract him; he tapped into some of his less-honed skills, creating an illusion of himself to give Jay two targets to focus on as 'they' leaped forward to deal with him.

It had the desired effect, the kat moved on reflex, choosing the illusion by mistake and lunging right through it to roll to his feet on the other side with flattened ears and a twist to lock him on to the correct one.

He had a feeling that Jay was starting to return to normal, his mind starting to wake up properly. He knew full well that the best way to end this would be as quickly as possible; no sense in fighting him at full capacity. He reached out telekinetically, grabbing for the feline's throat and squeezing.

The reaction was instant, reflexive and as expected. The frantic clawing at the invisible grip was base instincts at work.

"*SCATTER.*" A potent blow to Navik's mind almost sent him to his knees as his mind started to obey before he caught it and pulled his attention back to the here and now. When he looked up he saw his opponent between him and the ogres. Jay's ears were still flat against his skull but his stance the same loose, controlled one as in the face off they'd had over the other ogre.

"That really wasn't the smartest move, Navik." Jay told him evenly.

"Neither was not staying unconscious, you still did it," the Rodian countered, reaching out to grab Jay and pull him into the range of his double-pike only to find the grab sidestepped and dissipated as the twin double lightsabers came out, casting an eerie shimmer of blacklight colors in the dark space.

"This does not need to be a fight."

"Like you'll just let me haul them off to the CSF?" Navik asked with a half-laugh. "I don't think so." He mentally called up a couple times he'd fought somebody with similar weapons; usually they were about twice Jay's size, but a lot of the same tactics should work.

"*Sleep.*" Jay ordered silently, hoping to end it without any more violence.

"Not going to work on me, fuzzball," Navik shot back, charging forward and found his attack met by one of the double-bladed weapons while the other swung around to hamstring him. In the very back of his mind, he had to give a grudging respect to this kat for his skill with his weapons.

It was a skill he could match reasonably well though. He was able to meet both weapons with the ends of his pike, and whenever Jay would attack with the second blade, he could raise or lower his own weapon to meet it. As Navik had noted several times in the past, the extra cost of having his weapon designed to counter lightsabers had paid for itself several times over in the fact that he was still alive.

He winced as Jay managed to strike a glancing blow to his leg, and started to go more on the offensive. He focused on the Force, sending his perceptions a split-second into the future to keep track of what Jay would be doing so he could react and look for an opening. When he found it, it brought the center of his pike up to catch Jay in the jaw with the haft.

It sent the tom backwards as he rolled with the strike as much as he could to lessen its damage and got off a shot from his Glovatrix. The dart hit Navik squarely in the gut; it's sedative drug beginning to take effect quickly.

He tried to speed the drug through his system; the one hit wouldn't put him over, but enough of them might. He grabbed Jay telekinetically and threw him against the wall of the tunnel, staggering a bit as he got his footing again.

It was a situation Jay took advantage of with another telekinetic blow designed to spin the Rodian around and slam him to the ground. It didn't have quite the desired effect, but it was enough to knock Navik back a few steps - just far enough for him to step on the mother ogre, who was just recovering from the sonic blasts that had started the fight.

Navik screamed as powerful teeth latched into his leg, spinning and trying to stab his pike into the creature, but his sedative-slowed reaction time wasn't quick enough to keep the female from pulling him down and getting her restrained hands around him.

"Damnit!" Jay cursed under his breath and focused his mind on getting Navik away from her and getting her back to sleep. He could feel her rage, and could hardly blame her at all, but what she was doing just wasn't acceptable.

Besides, it wasn't entirely Navik's fault she was pissed off. Two-thirds his fault maybe, but not all of it.

Jay was able to put her back under quickly, leaving Navik's legs badly mauled, but most of the rest of his body protected by the shield Jay had put up. He noticed that the Rodian seemed to have put himself under instinctively; the bleeding wasn't nearly as bad as it should have been, almost like he'd dropped into a death-trance defensively.

It certainly made getting him to a healer easier. He wasn't awake to argue about it.

Master Essani hasn't felt this nervous inside in years. Her Padawan was about to report on his solo mission, and it was an interesting story from what she had caught of it already. The entire Temple was buzzing about the semi-intelligent species that had come out of a murder investigation.

Several other Councilors were intrigued as well. Most were surprised by what had filtered to them already and were expecting a briefing just as interesting.

What Essani found most worrisome though, was the strange reaction she'd felt earlier. Most of his mind had completely shut down, and what had been left was functioning at a level of raw instinct. That would be something they had to nail down before deciding on the results of his training. What had happened and why would be very important issues.

She stilled her thoughts as Master Shan summed Padawan Clawson in. She had to look at him as a Councilor as well as his Master. It was one of the more difficult things to do, no matter what was said about both having the same goal.

Jay walked in, his motions smooth and controlled as he knelt before them. He looked every bit the Jedi Knight that he would soon be, if all went well.

"Begin your report, Padawan Clawson," Master Shan ordered him calmly.

Jay inclined his head and relaxed as he settled in to tell the story that they knew parts of already.

"I began at the last known kill site, investigating the method of attack and attempted to obtain a visual impression of the attacker. I did succeed at both, though there was little other information. I learned later that the beast is an intelligent animal the locals call an ogre. It is well known to them.

"I followed the ogre's trail from the house, seeking to find its lair. Before I got that far I encountered one trying to eat the live Trandoshan I brought back with the male ogre. While ogres are physically very powerful and resistant, their minds are relatively vulnerable to the sleep Suggestion and the male did not put up much of a fight.

"While I was moving the ogre to Sharufa, Navik attacked me in an attempt to obtain it for the bounty. When the first strike failed to knock me out, he did not attack again and a short standoff ended with my return to the Sharufa and his return to the hunt for the second ogre he had learned was in the area. It was at this time that I learned of the second one.

"After seeing that the Trandoshan was delivered to the healers at the Temple and the captured ogre delivered to Knight Cesta, I returned to the kill sites and began to track the hunter, looking for its lair. I found one location that had been abandoned some time before. While investigating it, I heard some locals scavenging nearby and went to talk to them.

"For a week's worth of my rations and a field tool kit, the leader of the group provided me with a guide that had seen the ogre recently. The young Rat, Eney, is still on board the Sharufa until I have time to take him home. Navik's medical needs took precedence over returning him to his family.

"Eney directed me to a location where he had seen the ogre hunting, but did not know where it had gone from there. It was an excellent place to catch scents from the crosswinds, likely why the ogres favored it. Not far from the building was another den, much bigger and more complicated than the first. This one also had primitive traps and a false tunnel to discourage intruders.

"Navik was also staked out not far inside, waiting for the ogre to come out. I passed him and went further inside to find the mother and two cubs. She was much more resistant to the sleep suggestion, but she did go down to it. I used telekinesis to transport her and the cubs out, but as I reached the entrance several sonic grenades detonated and knocked me unconscious.

"When I came too, I was in the middle of a fight with Navik and the ogres were shackled." Jay finally paused, seeking anything worthy to add to that blacked out time. "I do not remember very much of what happened while I was moving but not awake. The primary impression of that time is a need to protect the ogres and a good deal of irritation at the lingering pain from the grenades.

"I attempted to talk Navik out of fighting over the bounty, it was not something I cared about, but I did not succeed." He admitted quietly, now sure that there was some way to get everyone out of there without injury. He still wasn't sure what it was, but Navik wasn't that unreasonable anymore.

"The fight continued a few more rounds, and he resisted my attempt to put him to sleep. He also resisted a knockout dart. While we were fighting, he got too close to the mother ogre and she managed to bite his leg before I could stop her. Though she went down to my suggestion and I shielded most of Navik's body, his legs were badly injured. It seemed as if he put himself in some form of trance when the ogre attacked him.

"I tended the worst wounds to make sure he would make it to the Temple and loaded all four on board the Sharufa. Navik's ship was not difficult to get to follow us. It is currently docked next to the Sharufa."

"Have you ever had a blackout like that before?" Master Kareth asked as they absorbed the salient points of his words. "That you are aware of, at least?"

"No, Master Kareth." He answered simply. "I can be fairly sure it has not happened before. The sensation is quite distinctive."

"You will think on this in the next few days, yes?" Master Surool suggested. "The how and why."

"Yes, Master Surool." Jay inclined his head. He would have done it anyway. He hated unknowns in his own mind. It was messy enough in there without any extra surprises, and this was an ugly surprise.

"We look forward to your report on it," Master Surool nodded.

"You said that you attempted to convince Navik that there was no need to fight," Master Noloth asked next. "Did you consider bargaining with him?"

"Yes, Master Noloth. He laughed at the possibility and attacked me before I could make an offer."

"What did you feel, when you saw the ogre attacking him?" The Lizard asked. Everybody on the Council was fully aware of the history between Navik and Jay.

It took Jay a moment to translate that out into words acceptable to use in front of the Council. The string of curses he'd said and still associated with that moment were not among them. Naming the emotion they represented was another issue entirely.

"Irritation at myself for not stopping things sooner." He finally got close enough to what he'd felt to say it to the Council.

"*Did you consider allowing him to turn the ogres in?*" Master Essani asked him.

"Yes, Master Essani. If he had stopped attacking me long enough for us to talk, it was what I intended to suggest."

"What is your assessment of his abilities, and what he has done with them?" Master Shan asked.

"He is a skilled warrior, my equal at least if he had a lightsaber, and he has leaned several Force-skills to an impressive level, particularly hiding himself. I do not expect the Dark Jedi kills on his record are from luck. He is not, however, a match for a Master or experienced Knight if he cannot surprise them." Jay gave an honest assessment of what he'd faced with the respect his opponent was due.

"He is self-centered and still sees violence as the first option, but he has also mellowed some since his time at the Temple. Even though he still has issues with me and wanted the ogres I had, he did not try to kill me for the male. If he had a serious interest in doing so, he could have then. He took me by surprise with that blow. If he had used something other than the butt of his riffle, today may have ended quite differently.

"Though it was much more serious, I do not believe he was trying to kill me over the female and cubs either. He used sonic grenades when he could have used something more deadly. He could have shot me while I was down. Even when we were fighting, he was not fighting to kill, but to incapacitate.

"He is dangerous, Masters, but he is not Dark in my assessment."

"And your opinion of what should be done with him?" Master Noloth asked.

"Healed and allowed to leave with his ship." Jay said simply.

"If you intended to offer him the bounty and he was not trying to kill you, why did you not back off and allow him to take the ogres?" Master T'qu'l asked him levelly.

"The ogres are intelligent enough to create traps in their lair to protect themselves and their young, Master T'qu'l." Jay answered more levelly than he felt. He couldn't name why it was so important to him, but he wasn't going to deny the potency of the drive to protect the family unit either. "They are intelligent enough it would be wrong to separate the family. I cannot trust the Coruscani Security Force to turn them over to us alive if it was not already arranged."

"*You cannot, or you do not feel the Jedi could trust them to do such a thing?*" Master Essani asked him.

"I can not, Master Essani. They are too easy to bribe by anyone with the credits and inclination."

"I believe those are all the questions we have for you at the moment, Padawan," Master Shan said, looking around the Council to confirm it. "We will reserve our final decision regarding your Knighthood until you, and we, have had the chance to meditate on what has happened."

"I understand, Master Shan." He said easily and stood to bow before leaving, eager to return Eney to his group and come home for a long, hot shower and scrub the rest of the garbage smell from his fur. He'd made himself presentable to the Council, but he could still smell it.

Fenrik paused and blinked as he picked up the heavy, musky scent of the shampoo Jay was using in the other room. So he had ended up having to go slogging through one of the garbage pits on his mission. The Panther shuddered slightly as he disrobed and made his way back to the bathroom. He slipped into the shower, picking up a second bottle of fur shampoo and squeezing some into his hands.

"Want some help with your back?" He asked his mate with a friendly tone.

"Always," Jay purred in return and set down the towel he'd been using with a little telekinetic help to do the job. "How'd the rest of your day go?"

"I got to play guard duty for the most part," Fenrik chuckled. "So pretty dull, compared to normal. Wouldn't want to have to deal with those ogre-things if I had a choice, but they seemed to settle down once the family group was together and given slightly more 'natural' surroundings. Sounds like you had a more exciting time of things." The Panther started working the shampoo into Jay's back-fur, nuzzling his neck and noticing that most of the smell was gone. Shi probably wouldn't even notice it.

"I'm not surprised. They're smart animals. There were even a couple primitive traps built into their den." He groaned softly in the pleasure of a solid backrub that went with the scrubbing. "Navik was the only real excitement, though." He paused, thinking back over the past day and the years before it, then turned to slip his arms around Fenrik's neck and kissed him softly. "When did I stop hating him?"

"I didn't know you had," Fenrik admitted, kissing him back. "Maybe about the time you got better about Rodians?"

"Maybe," Jay purred softly and nuzzled close to his mate. "I just realized that I didn't feel anything towards him, good or bad. It was kind of weird."

"Good thing though," Fenrik murmured, scrubbing his back lightly then rinsing it off. "Means you're getting over all that." He kissed Jay tenderly. "Been way too long since we've been able to spend some time together," he purred.

"A normal day is too long." Jay chuckled and kissed him back with a bit of fire. "I missed you, even as short as that mission was."

"Mmm ... and then you had that trip to Garosh with Shi all to yourself," Fenrik purred deeply. "Up for some shower play?"

"Always," Jay grinned and slipped a hand between them to tease Fenrik's sheath. "I love how you feel."

"It's more than mutual," Fenrik rumbled, his shaft starting to harden as he pressed Jay's back against the tile wall of the shower, running his hands down to caress the powerfully-built tom's ass.

"Gods, I've missed this." Jay moaned as he surrendered his body to his mate. "You, hot showers ... No one else can make me feel like this."

"Mmm ... feel how?" The Panther rumbled deeply, spreading Jay's cheeks and fingering his anus as he rapidly hardened to Jay's attention and own arousal.

"Safe, warm ... home." He breathed and claimed a heated kiss. "Hot and bothered."

"Mmm...." Fenrik rumbled into the kiss, probing his mate's mouth as he shifted to spread Jay's legs, rubbing their cocks together before shifting to press his cock up against Jay's tight, hot entrance. He groaned with his mate as he sank into Jay, the dark caramel tom trapped between the shower wall and Panther as they moved in slow pleasure with each other.

"So tight," the Panther groaned, dark fur moving along Jay's own, his fingers tracing the slightly smaller tom's rosettes and fine stripes from memory as his barbed length moved in and out of his ass.

"So hot." Jay shuddered as his balls tightened, his cock pulsing in pleasure. "Missed you so much."

"Missed you too," Fenrik groaned, biting down lightly on Jay's soaked shoulder as the pleasure flowed and echoed across their bodies and minds. His barbs raked Jay's prostate as his balls pulled up close to his body, almost on the edge of an orgasm.

"Yessss!" Jay roared as his body tightened around his lover and his balls pulled up tightly to empty their contents across his belly.

Fenrik answered Jay's roar with one of his own, pumping his seed deep into the younger tom's ass, his claws raking Jay's back while their pleasure peaked and ebbed to a panting exchange of kisses and touches of long familiarity and affection.

"We're decided then?" Master Shan asked the Council after they'd finished deliberating about what to do with the ogre family. "Contact the Ithorian councilors in charge of the Telosian Restoration Project, see if they can find a responsible niche for the ogres, and keep them in the Coruscani Preserve until we find out?"

"It seems the most responsible answer," Master Yamari said to a nod from both avians on the Council, Masters Krry'nnu and T'qu'l.

"Master Noloth, I will leave contacting the Ithorians to you," Master Shan said easily as no objection came from any of the other Councilors. "Which leaves us with the question of Padawan Clawson's solo mission. I believe we can all agree that his skills need to be tested more seriously before he is Knighted?"

"*Yes,*" Master Essani agreed first, though they all could feel the lack of contention amongst them. "*I would suggest that if we can arrange it, that a mission be given before he has given his second report. He knows as well as we do that he did better than expected on his Solo mission and just how unusual it is to have such a performance be insufficient. We will see a more accurate representation of his choices as a Knight if he is not aware he is still being tested.*"

"Agreed." Master Yamari nodded. "He is unusually sensitive to being tested, as we have seen in his Knowledge and other Trials."

Master Kareth smiled slightly and keyed something into her console. "I was going to wait until latter in the session to bring this up, but a perfect situation presented itself only a few hours ago. Alderaan requested our assistance in finding a serial bomber, and named Jay Clawson in particular, regardless of his rank. His talents did not go completely unnoticed after the Kallarak Amphitheater incident."

"*I believe this would be reason to delay his Knighting, even if we did not have doubts.*" Master Essani commented. "*I have not seen such a direct reflection of our needs in the Will of the Force in some time.*"

"More than enough reason," Master Noloth agreed. "And the trip will leave him with enough time to contemplate the unusual reaction he had."

"Master Essani, will you contact him?" Master Surool asked her.

"*Yes, Master Surool,*" the Kushiban agreed, sitting up and making the connection to her Padawan across their weakening link and mentally winced when it became clear that he was still greeting his mates.

Jay roared, his burning seed rushing into Shi's welcoming body even as Fenrik tightened his jaws on Jay's scruff and picked up his pace, seeking to come himself before Jay's ended.

The second roar that echoed through the room was muffled by Jay's fur, Shivasta crying out as she came with her two mates. The three of them lay still in a sweaty, contented pile of fur and flesh before Jay became aware of Essani's voice in the back of his mind.

"*I'm sorry to interrupt you Jay,*" she told him. "*But we have just become aware of a matter that requires your Gift.*"

"*I'll be ready in a few minutes, Master.*" He responded without a trace of the frustration or irritation that almost had to be there as he disentangled himself from his mates far too soon as far as any of them were concerned. "*Where?*"

"*Alderaan,*" she told him. "*The details will be on the Sharufa when you are ready. Force be with you.*"

"*Understood, Master.*" Jay replied. "I have a mission on Alderaan." He explained to Shi and Fenrik. "Have fun while I'm gone."

"Mmm... don't be gone any longer than you have to be," Fenrik murmured, kissing him before he got out from between them.

"Love you Jay," Shi smiled. "Force be with you; come back home safe."

"I will," he chuckled softly and traced his hand along their entwined legs on his way out of the room. He reached out to the Sharufa to start going over the briefing while he cleaned up.

Jay relaxed in Sharufa's pilot's seat as Alderaan's gorgeous blue-green globe came into view only a few hours outside of Coruscant. Here in the core, it could take longer to navigate the two solar systems than the space between them. Of all the core worlds, it was one of the few that still looked pristine. It was an expensive effort for the world, but one they still deemed worthwhile.

"Try to raise Sennif Ortol." He instructed Sharufa easily as he began to quietly browse the relevant news and files on the bombings. According to the files, they'd all been very public, usually timed around political events. Clearly, somebody was trying to influence the upcoming elections.

"Jedi Clawson?" His contact's voice spoke over link to the planet clearly.

"Yes," Jay replied easily. "Where is the best place to land? Sharufa doesn't need a spaceport."

"The spaceport," the Fox said seriously. "There's a fair amount of traffic in and out, but we prefer that it be obvious the Jedi have sent somebody to investigate at the Count's request."

"Understood. Will someone be there to meet me?"

"I will," the Fox offered. "You've been cleared for docking slip Zeta-9."

"Understood. I'll be down in a few minutes." Jay told him and closed the connection to enter the relatively uncongested patterns ... uncongested by Coruscani standards at least.

He touched down fairly easily, the prescribed landing zone already cleared for his access. He could see the red-furred Fox waiting for him nearby, alone. With several hours of flight to prepare, Jay was ready as soon as he stood and made a dignified appearance in his full robes, hood and all, with his Padawan braid tucked back along his neck. He may not be a Knight yet, but there was no reason to advertise that fact.

The Fox greeted him with a bow as he walked down the Sharufa's ramp.

"Jedi Clawson," he said politely. "Count Koron is grateful you arrived so quickly."

"Fortunately I was on Coruscant when the request arrived." Jay told him easily. "In what capacity will I be assisting the investigation?"

"In any capacity you are able," the Fox answered just as easily. "Primarily investigative and trying to locate the bombs before they go off. I understand you have a unique talent with things like this?"

"Yes," he nodded. "It is not flawless, but I can usually get more information out of objects than most."

"How useful would it be for disarming a device if you found it before it went off?" Sennif asked him.

"I have managed it before. How vulnerable a device is to my talent depends a great deal on the type of device. From the reports, these are not the easiest kind to deal with, but far from the most difficult."

"That's good," the Fox nodded. "Count Koron is very concerned about these explosions; he's concerned that the next might happen during this week's address to his constituents."

They left the spaceport; Jay couldn't help but notice that they were moving through the most heavily populated parts of it, where he would be seen with the Count's aide by the most people. His presence was being advertised subtly, but to judge by the looks he was getting by the locals, it would prove to be effectively as well.

He could hardly blame the Count for the move. Purely political or not, it would calm the people, and that too was part of his duties as a Jedi. As much as politics irritated him, he was fully aware of the needs of the Order were sometimes purely political. Jedi were feared by evil and respected by most because of walks just like this one that showed their presence before action was taken and problems solved. It would serve the Order as well as the Count when he succeeded.

"It would be a likely target," Jay nodded inside his hood. "I would like to see any remains you have of the previous bombs."

"We can arrange that," Sennif agreed easily. "There isn't much, not of the core devices, but some of the earlier ones were less efficient, I understand." They reached a small air car, and Sennif held the door open for Jay to climb in.

"Sometimes the smallest pieces can tell a great deal." He said simply and settled easily in the air car. "I may be able to glean useful information from the locations as well."

"The planetary security forces are eager for you to look at them," Sennif agreed, climbing in and taking off. "To be honest, we simply aren't set up to handle something like this. It's upsetting the people quite a bit, understandably so, and our police forces are set up for handling minor disturbances, not mass murder."

"I do not know of any police force that is," Jay nodded slightly. "It is not a common event, thankfully."

"I'd hate to live on a world where it was," the Fox agreed. "Do you want to visit the latest blast site first, or see the parts of the devices we've recovered?"

"The devices. Has anyone attempted to reconstruct them?"

"The police forces, no," Sennif explained, turning the air-car down one of the quieter side-streets of the district. "Count Koron hired somebody to reconstruct one of the early ones, and to develop the analyses of the blast sites, but she had to leave the planet before the third blast happened."

"Yes, extensive training was evident, but not the contacts to acquire detonite in quantity or other military grade supplies." Jay nodded thoughtfully. "As damaging as they have been, it does mean that they require knowledge of the location and a good deal of time to prepare. That is to our advantage in several ways. It also means that they are unlikely to be working with a large group."

"Unfortunately, we haven't been able to determine the locations ahead of time," Sennif pointed out, pulling up outside the ornate building that served as police headquarters around here. "Or even why they're doing what they are, beyond theories."

"Theories are where knowledge begins." Jay said as they got out of the air car. "We will have more than before soon."

"Hopefully," the Fox agreed, leading Jay through the quiet building. The young tom could feel the tension in the air; it was quiet, but everybody felt like they were just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Given the situation, that was about right too. They had nothing to do but wait for the next bomb.

He was more than a little surprised to feel how little irritation existed at his presence; quite a few of the officers were grateful for his arrival, hopeful.

They seemed almost as helpless as the civilians.

"Sergeant Gavin," Sennif said to a middle-aged Doberman as they approached him. "Jedi Clawson has arrived."

"Ah, it is good to meet you," Gavin extended his hand. "How much have you gotten to read on the case?"

"Most of the reports," Jay acknowledged and shook his hand firmly. "I wanted to see the evidence. Has a Force Sensitive been involved yet?"

"No," the Doberman said easily. "I'm afraid we haven't had any available to us with any sort of skill in dealing with situations like this."

"I'll leave you two to handle this; I would like a report at the end of the day," Sennif said, backing off as Gavin nodded.

"I'll show you to what we've been able to put back together so far," he offered Jay, who nodded and followed the canine into an evidence workroom strewn with the remains of something like a half-dozen bombs, each on it's own table.

"Most of these are from the first two blasts," he explained. "After that, they seem to have perfected the art of making sure the blast destroys any evidence we can find."

Jay nodded and walked to the table with the most bits of things and began to brush his fingers lightly over the objects, coaxing what he could of their last moments 'whole'.

It wasn't easy; they seemed less than willing to 'talk' with him at first. He got a mental image of somebody planting them; they were skilled, knew where to place them to maximize the damage, but he couldn't actually see who it was for some reason. That was something they weren't willing to give up.

The explosives that had been privately made were a little more forthcoming, but mostly about how and where they'd been made. It wasn't a full-scale laboratory, but whatever it was had been capable of producing large amounts of the highly unstable chemicals necessary. Almost pure, no less; it wasn't a complete hole in the wall.

It was much less than he was hoping for, and the building directly around the primary blasts had been vaporized by it. From the schematics, there was no one way to those locations either. It made the odds he could get anything useful from the buildings unlikely, though he'd try.

"They're well-organized and very skilled." Jay said quietly. "And they have a Sensitive doing the most critical work."

"Do you think it might be connected to the Amphitheater bombing on Coruscant?" Gavin asked him.

"It is possible," he admitted. "It is not the same people, but it could be the same group. We have not captured two of their leaders yet. Do you have a holonet room I can use for several hours?"

"We don't," Gavin admitted, "but the Count may. We've only got a small transceiver for the network here. He's scheduled to give an address at a similar location in a few days," the Doberman explained. "We're particularly concerned that they might attempt something similar here."

Jay nodded. "The best precaution is to increase security where the bombs are most likely to be with people. The Sensitive with them will likely be able to get any droid or security system to look the other way. Have any of the bomb sites been opened to the public since?"

"Only for a few supervised memorial ceremonies," Gavin explained. "And we have taken additional precautions already. That is something we're set up for."

"Good," he nodded. "I'd like to see the sites then. The devices aren't providing much, but the buildings may."

"Will you need transportation, or do you have your own available?" The Doberman asked him.

"I do not have an air car," he shook his head slightly. "My ship is likely a bit big for it."

"If you would like, we could loan you a speeder for the duration of the investigation," Gavin offered. "The targets have all been at ground-level anyways."

"Thank you, Sergeant." Jay inclined his head politely. "It would be most useful."

"I'll show you to the vehicle pool, you can pick out one of them," he nodded, starting down the corridor.

Jay followed easily; his measured pace and robes making it look almost like he was floating just above the floor. He couldn't help but find the whole 'Inscrutable Jedi' thing he was expected to project outside the Temple both amusing and silly. But right now, it was fun to have people not asking him how he did this or that. He was finally the professional to be taken as his word, not the student that had to explain or justify everything to someone.

Besides, there were definite perks to being recognized as the guy who'd been asked to come and take care of a problem too big for them to handle around here. If he wasn't already used to the sometimes heady feeling of everybody looking at him with that hint of deference and awe, it could prove downright intoxicating.

He could easily see how some Jedi could fall to craving it or take it too far. He couldn't help but remember that it was the lessons from his parents, aunts and uncles, not the Temple, that held him in check the best. This too was part of his heritage. The awe and being the 'fix it' people were very much what the Clawsons were. They faced the same fears from outsiders too, as the masters of strange abilities.

Fortunately, it wasn't a major issue here and now.

He was led back into the vehicle pool where a number of speeders and small air cars were waiting, various people tinkering away at them.

"Just give Sparks your transponder ID on the way out and we'll make sure all the files we have are transmitted to it," Sergeant Gavin told Jay easily.

"Thank you for your assistance, Sergeant." Jay inclined his head slightly as he began to move among the vehicles, seeking one that resonated with the kind of traits he wanted. Traits that most said shouldn't be there, but all who deal with high performance things knew were. Each creation had a personality and quirks of its own.

He finally found one that felt right, and was looking it over when somebody walked up behind him.

"Figures that the Jedi'd walk in and manage to find himself the most temperamental speeder we've got here," a deep voice chuckled behind him.

"They are the best performers." Jay replied simply to the buff Lion.

"Yeah, when they work right," the Lion agreed. "Every time somebody tries taking this guy out, it's maybe a half-hour before they bring him back and want to switch for another one. By the way, I'm Sparks."

"Clawson," Jay introduced himself. "I have a talent with temperamental machines. It's why I'm here."

"The bombings," the Lion nodded. "Well, if you can get him to work out for you, you've made a good choice. Fastest speeder we've got, just about the most maneuverable. I've done some tweaking on him personally, working on his flight ceiling, but there's only so much you can really do with that."

"I'll try to return him in a condition that someone else might be able to use it." Jay winked at him and opened the speeder's door. "Sharufa brings a new level to fussy."

"Just make sure you document any tinkering you do," Sparks chuckled, shaking his head. "They'll get awfully peevish if I don't know what somebody did to 'im."

"I understand," he nodded and slipped into the driver's seat, bringing the power up and crooning softly to the speeder before it lifted off and darted from the vehicle bay.

Sparks just shook his head and went to go transmit the speeders' transponder code to Sergeant Gavin before he got back to work. That cat would either be back soon, or that speeder would never be the same again. He had a gut feeling it would be the second.

Jay sighed as he finished his examination of the sixth blast site. He couldn't say he'd expected to get much, given the blast had all but vaporized everything within several yards, but it did mean that he really was down to using his skills, not his Force abilities. Skills that were largely untested. Some of that didn't even exist yet in the Republic.

He walked slowly to the speeder, a decidedly 'male' speeder, and tried to work out what his best next move was.

"Excuse me?" Somebody asked, walking up to him. It was a Cheetah... female, by the looks of her under her dark, fairly unisex clothing. She was one of the mourners at the small memorial shrine just outside the site's boundaries; he recognized her from the way in. "Are you the Jedi they asked to come here?"

"Yes, ma'am." He nodded slightly to the woman likely a decade or more his senior. Attractive, but she had definitely left her youth for mature beauty.

"I just wanted to say it's good to know that somebody's finally doing something about these horrible attacks," she said softly. "Do you know where you're staying yet? I'd like to offer you dinner, if it wouldn't be a problem. I know Jedi usually don't carry much money with them."

"Your words are thanks enough, ma'am." He smiled slightly, though he had to admit company was appealing. He was already lonely for his mates. "There is no need."

"Please?" She smiled hopefully. "It's the least we can do, and it wouldn't be any imposition. I want to do something to thank you for helping us."

"Then I accept, and thank you for your hospitality." Jay bowed respectfully to her.

"You're more than welcome," she smiled, returning the bow. "Should I meet you somewhere, or would you rather meet me at my place in the Spacer Quarter at about eight tonight?" She asked, clearly just offering a convenient place and time to meet him.

"Your place would be welcome." Jay nodded slightly and stepped towards the speeder painted in police colors. "I will be there."

"All right," she smiled, brushing a strand of white hair back over her shoulder. "The Kelarin Towers; if I'm not there to meet you just ask them to call Stacey Young at the desk."

"I will, ma'am." He smiled slightly at her. "My apologies for leaving so quickly, but I do have work to do before we eat."

"Believe me, I understand," she nodded, stepping back and letting him get on his way. She smiled as he pulled away in his speeder; everything was going according to plan.

Stacey rumbled lightly as shi rode the lift down from her apartment to the ground level. Shi was wearing a burgundy dress that accented hir feminine figure nicely without being obviously suggestive; shi didn't particularly want to scare Clawson off tonight.

What shi did want to do was give him something else to think about; hopefully something that might distract him a little bit from his mission.

He may be a Jedi, but he was a young, strong male and shi'd met very few of the later that couldn't be tempted to distraction for a little while.

The door opened, and shi started out of the elevator, making hir way into the lobby where shi hoped he'd be waiting. Shi was a little early; and it turned out that he was as punctual as he was unusual, giving her several minutes to focus her mind on not giving away her plans. You couldn't be too careful with a Jedi.

Stacy smile warmly and went to greet him, pleased that he had left his concealing outer robe behind. He would definitely be a pleasure to bed if his well-muscled physique and layered cloth and leather outfit was any indication. He'd somehow managed to make Jedi robes look stylish. Sort of.

About as close as anybody came, at least.

"Glad you made it," shi smiled, inclining hir head slightly towards him as he walked in. "Do you want to eat in, or somewhere else?" Shi asked him.

"Whatever is most convenient for you, ma'am." He bowed politely.

"How about my place then," shi offered, making the decision quickly and turned to lead the way back to the lift. It would be easier to control everything there, and he clearly didn't object.

"Who did you lose?" Jay asked softly after the lift doors closed.

"Co-workers," Stacey admitted. It was close enough to true. "Some friends of mine were in the Plaza when the bomb hit. I was lucky I wasn't in it myself."

"You were spared for a reason," he said with the soft certainty of his training, the closest he could come to soothing words.

"I hope so," shi said softly. Of course, shi knew just how true that was, but shi kept hir mind and voice in her role. There were some days it paid to call in sick. The lift dinged as it reached the top, the doors sliding open.

"I hope you're not a vegetarian," shi smiled, changing the subject as they got off.

"Not at all." Jay actually chuckled. "I prefer meat."

"Good," shi smiled, leading him back to her apartment, waving her hand to signal the door to open. "I've got a friend at Latli's who came up with a new recipe that's just incredible."

"I'd be shocked if anything from Latli's wasn't." His eyes went a little wide for a moment. It was definitely not what he'd been expecting as a 'thank you dinner'. Latli's was a restaurant not even he could afford all that often, and tended to order when he had the money and excuse. Shi's Knighting would be such an event, especially with his coming before they could really celebrate. Such meals were never shared by just two.

"Like I said, I've got a friend who works there," shi chuckled, blushing a bit beneath hir fur as shi lead him in. "He's as grateful as I am. It should be up here in a few minutes; would you like something to drink before dinner?"

"Milk or water would be welcome, ma'am." He smiled and bit back a comment about how his mates would be jealous of the meal.

On the other hand, if it worked out well, maybe he could bring them back after he got back home.

"All right," shi nodded easily. "Make yourself comfortable," shi told him as shi walked into the other room. It gave him a chance to look around; whatever she did, it paid reasonably well. Probably a trader of some sort, given where she lived. Kelarin Towers wasn't one of the best places in Alderaan, but it was the higher end of middle-class for the Spacer Quarter.

It was comfortable to him. That was what struck him first. She had nice things and lived in a nice place, far nicer than his own at the Temple, but it did not reach the level of ostentatious. Everything was either practical, beautiful or comfortable if it wasn't all three. It was colorful and natural and organic artwork, not gold and gems.

"Have you been a Knight long?" Stacey asked as shi walked back in, carrying a glass of milk for him, and a glass of a dark wine about the same color as hir dress for hirself.

"I'm not one yet," Jay fingered his long, thin braid as he accepted the milk in his other hand. It was mildly temping to say he was one, no matter how short a time, but his Master hadn't cut his braid yet, so he wasn't, even if he had finished all his Trials. "I had not finished my report on my final Trial when I was needed here. I'll be Knighted when missions allow long enough at the Temple for it."

"Ah, I understand," shi nodded. That was something that could be useful - the Count calls for Jedi support, and the Jedi don't care enough to send a full Knight even. "How is your investigation going, if you don't mind my asking?"

"Not as quickly as I would like," he admitted. "Whoever is building the bombs can block my talent for reading objects, but I've begun to put together a pattern using other means since we spoke."

"Oh?" Shi asked, sipping hir wine. "Anything useful?"

"Some," he nodded. "Nothing I can talk about."

"Understandable," shi nodded. "Especially if you only just got started. Have you ever handled something like this before?" Shi asked, knowing the answer full well.

"Once," he nodded. "I worked the Kallarak Amphitheater bombing on Coruscant. It's why the Count asked for me, and not just Jedi help."

"That's good to hear," shi smiled. They'd definitely been right about who it was, then. "Anything from then helping out now?"

"Yes," he nodded seriously and took a sip of chilled milk. "I can't really talk about it, either."

He was doing a good job of keeping off any topics that would give her a solid idea of how much he knew, but she didn't think he knew too much yet.

Just in time, there was a knock at the door.

"That should be dinner," shi smiled, standing up and gesturing to open it and let the well-dressed Chadra-Fan through the door. The short, bat-like humanoid bustled in, whistling and chirping happily as he set up the meal.

"Padawan Clawson, this is T'achak Ta'avon," Stacey said by means of introduction. "He works for Latli's, and is glad to meet you," shi translated for him as trays that more than filled the long-fingered hands of the small chef/server were set up.

"It is a pleasure to meet a free Chadra-Fan." Jay smiled and bowed politely to that small bat-like humanoid. "Dinner smells delicious."

He received a few grateful and proud chirps in response.

"He says thank you, and that it's more a pleasure to be one," Stacey chuckled. "Though like most of them, it didn't much bother him." Shi took hir seat as T'achak pulled the lids off, letting out the potent scents of the exquisitely prepared sliced, roasted meats and stewed fruits from all across the galaxy.

The smell was enough to make Jay's mouth water as he followed suit and did his damnedest to remember his manners.

"It looks wonderful too." He purred deep in his chest. He loved this food.

"You've definitely outdone yourself this time," Stacey agreed, smiling to the chadra-fan. The small cook bowed with a cheerful chirp, then headed out to return to the restaurant he worked at.

"His old owner sent him to the Epicurium to learn to cook," Stacey explained, "things went from there after his status was found out." Shi took a small plate for hirself, passing the other over to Jay. "Help yourself."

"Ah, the danger of having your slave become known as a slave in the Republic." He chuckled and selected a hearty portion of the meat and vegetables. It was excellent food and he intended to eat well, there was certainly enough on the table, without taking so much that it looked like he was eating a lot. It was a fine line and he hated having to worry it about appearances.

Stacey took hir own portion, a little smaller, and started to eat some of the stewed fruit, letting the juice add some extra flavor to the meat.

"From what I've heard, nobody at Latli's has ever complained," shi grinned.

"I don't doubt it," Jay smiled and watched himself more than usual at a meal. Smaller bites, eating slower in general. It was always nice to savor a meal, but it was also an effort to remember too.

This was definitely worth it though. It tasted incredible. The meat all but melted on his tongue in a cascade of spices and flavors that were intoxicating in their own luxuriant way.

"Mmm ... I swear, the cooking there is enough to make people around here work for their raises without anything else," the Cheetah rumbled appreciatively as shi ate hir own portion.

"It is some of the best I've ever had," Jay nodded agreeably. He was honestly enjoying the food too much to notice something was just a little off ... and familiar ... about it.

Stacey smiled mentally as shi recognized the buzz she was getting, and that shi knew Jay would be feeling more strongly, from the heavily processed ryl spice T'achak put in this recipe. Shi honestly didn't know if the chadra-fan knew the effect it had on some of his customers, but shi knew full well how useful it could be.

Soon she could smell the distinctive edge on Jay's scent that marked his arousal, though he didn't show any other sign of what must be an almost painful erection.

Hir own body was just about as eager by the time they'd finished their first helpings.

"You like?" Shi asked him with a rumble, shifting slightly so he could pick up hir own scent.

"Very much," he nodded and licked his whiskers back, his body language changing subtly as he recognized that something was definitely off. She was attractive, but he shouldn't feel like this.

Shi recognized the 'now or never' moment, and shifted out of hir seat to cover the brief distance between them and kiss him, pressing hir body against his in all the right ways, at least as well as shi could the way he was sitting. He was hot, aroused and responded instinctively to claim hir mouth from hir kiss with much more skill than shi'd ever expected. The feel of hir rock hard cock against his own only seemed to excite him more.

Jay groaned deep in his chest, the body pressed against his exciting him in ways he didn't think possible. Hir breasts were firm and full against his chest, but where hir crotch pressed against him was the hard rod of a cock pressed against his own. It, and whatever was in the food or milk, was doing an exquisite job of locking his attention on the feline against him that so clearly wanted exactly what his body did.

Shi slipped hir hands under his robes, guiding him to his feet as shi worked their clothes off.

"Different type of hungry?" Shi asked him with a seductive rumble, familiar with the half-resistance, half-helping manner of a Ryl-drugged feline by now.

"Shouldn't." He gasped as hir hand closed around his straining cock, still enclosed by cloth. "We're drugged."

"It's okay," shi rumbled, kissing him again and felt his resistance take a sharp drop. "Something in a few of the recipes, it's legal." Shi added before claiming his mouth again, catching on that if he couldn't talk, he didn't think nearly as much.

"I-I'm mated." Jay made one last effort to pull away that didn't working nearly as well as it should have. Then shi had his mouth again, hir hand inside his trousers, stroking him, and the physical stimulus ganged up with the ryl to shut off his resistance to what was happening even better than the wine on Garosh had. This time though, he cried inside. He'd remember every moment of tonight, everything that happened, and he couldn't stop himself.

Shi worked his trousers off, hir cock outlined against hir silky dress as shi pressed him back against the wall. Shi used one hand to pull hir dress aside and rub hir cock against his and grinned at the way he shivered and thrust back against hir. The way he moved and reacted to the contact confirmed that he was into toms at least. Shi'd had enough practice reading bedmates to be sure of it, and that he did bottom. He was probably into females as well; he seemed to have a good idea what he was doing.

Stacy shivered hirself when shi felt a sharp pair of claws slice through her dress, sending it fluttering to the floor in several large ribbons.

Shi rumbled, kissing him hungrily and spreading hir legs slightly; he could either press into hir, or shi could do the same to him, from this position. Shi gasped as sharp teeth dug into hir shoulder enough to draw a little blood and shi was suddenly on the floor with hir prey over hir.

The groan he drew from hir was part pain and a lot of pleasure as he drove into hir body, his teeth still in hir shoulder and his claws running down hir body. Shi was used to this sort of treatment, and had to admit shi enjoyed it, giving as well as receiving. Shi wondered idly if shi'd get the chance.

It didn't much matter; shi squeezed down around his length, raking his back with hir own claws as shi kept him occupied with their mutual pleasure. Hir body began to twitch too soon, on top of hir rubbing hir cock between their bodies as he pounded into hir wet sex with the full abandon of surrendering to the Ryl in his system.

His fur and flesh teased hir barbs, his own raking hir insides mercilessly. Shi dug hir claws lightly into his back as shi let out a lusty rowl of pleasure, hir sex spasming around his length, hir cock right on the edge as shi milked him hungrily. Shi lost it completely when his claws dug into hir ass and his bite tightened in the crook of hir neck just before he came hard with a growl, pumping hir body full of his seed.

Shi rolled over on top of him with a rumble, pulling hir feminine sex off his cock and pressing hirs up against the tight, furless pucker of his ass. Shi started to press forward, careful about how much shi moved hir top half until he let hir shoulder go with a groan and surprisingly sudden shift to submissiveness.

Given hir preferences, shi'd have just let him keep going, but shi needed to be in one reasonably solid piece in the morning and his manner wasn't giving good odds of that if shi had let him go.

Shi started thrusting with abandon, biting down on his shoulder lightly, taking over his role as shi worked hir way towards fucking him senseless.

Shivasta stiffened slightly in Fenrik's arms as the two snuggled up together in one of the side gardens.

"Something's wrong," she murmured. "Jay...."

"I feel it," he nodded and hugged her tightly. "Can't tell what it is though."

"Neither can I," Shivasta admitted, pressing close to her mate. "You don't think he might have...."

"I think we'd have a coal-gray kushiban yelling for us by now if it was that serious." He tried to reassure her. "She is still his Master. He's probably disturbed by something he's involved with. I don't think he's ever seen a mass slaughter before, much less six of them."

"You're right," Shi admitted. "I just hope he's all right. Think we should leave a message with the Sharufa for him, check if he's all right?"

"It never hurts to remind him we love him," Fenrik smiled and nuzzled her.

"No," she smiled, kissing him gently. "It doesn't. Why don't we go leave the message, then we can have dinner while I help you get your material for that trip to the Ice Crypts ready?"

"Sounds good," he nodded and twisted to his feet and offered her a hand up. "You know them much better than I do."

"Doesn't hurt that I spent a good chunk of my time as a student exploring them," she smiled, accepting his hand and standing up. "Much to the chagrin of a few Knights," she chuckled.

"What Knight wants to admit they were out-sneaked by an Initiate?" He chuckled easily. "That should have clued everyone in that you wouldn't be a perfectly party-line Jedi."

"What, you never sneaked out when you were a kid?" Shi giggled as they started back towards their quarters. "And to think, I thought I was the quiet, boring one."

"Who hasn't? Though I don't think either of us snuck off quite like Jay did."

"Most of us didn't sneak off to major conventions," Shivasta chuckled. "Come on; let's go make sure he didn't sneak off again."

Stacy shivered in memory of the hours it had taken to wear Clawson down enough to drug him with an actual knockout agent. The motion ruffled hir short spotted fur as shi stepped out of the shower from cleaning up. Shi still had wounds to bind, mostly hir shoulder and scruff, but the mission was going perfectly.

Shi was working on hir shoulder when the comm system beeped for her attention with a call from the one paying her for this.

Shi didn't bother to dress, just finishing up with the light bandage and walking into hir private room. Shi started the holo-transmission; glancing back to make sure Clawson was still unconscious.

"Young," shi said, toweling off hir white hair and short, damp fur.

"Progress report?" The Dalmatian bitch asked evenly.

"Clawson's unconscious," shi said easily. "And very good in bed, especially for a Jedi. I'll be needing some of your men to come help me transport him; you didn't tell me he was as big as a Puma when you gave me the initial description. Got to be almost a hundred pounds on me, and there's no way I can haul that as dead weight."

"Very well," the bitch nodded and typed something out on a control panel off screen. "Did he provide anything useful before he passed out?"

"Not much," Stacey shrugged, grabbing a shirt and pulling it on, the tight fabric clinging to hir figure. "Don't think he has much; didn't give him much time. He might suspect something, but I doubt he has any proof who's involved."

"Excellent." The Dalmatian nodded sharply. "Help will be there shortly to move him."

"I'll be waiting. With a little something extra," Stacey smirked, holding up a small disk. "He mentioned mates; I don't suppose you happen to know who they might be? You know enough other stuff about him it seems."

That raised an eyebrow, and then a vicious grin. "I will soon." She rumbled. "The Council may find that interesting as well. Anything else?"

"Lightsabers, robes if you happen to be interested in what a Jedi wears when he's trying to dress up," Stacey said. "He had a credstick on him, but it's passcoded. Maybe hand it to one of your techs to try and decode or something."

"All good," her grin widened. "I think I will put together a nice little package for his friends."

"Or I could ransom them back to them," Stacey pointed out with a casual shrug. "Unless, of course, you might care to make it worth my while to make sure you get them instead?"

The Dalmatian rolled her eyes. "As if the Jedi will care about clothes and a lightsaber. I will see it is worth your while to include them when my men pick him up."

"The Jedi, perhaps not, but his mate ... I'll be waiting, with him, and with them. If you don't mind, I'll go get dressed before your men get here."

"Very well." She nodded and clicked the link off.

Stacey grabbed a pair of pants, pulling them on with a self-satisfied rumble. All things considered, it had been an excellent night.

"This is bull," Crado grumbled, leaning back against the wall next to the force field that held their prisoner. "He's got enough tranq's in him to drop a rancor, I didn't sign on to babysit vegetables!" The Cathar grunted, puffing his mane back out of his eyes, his tusks locked in an irritated look.

"It's not like the boss can leave a Jedi unguarded, even a naked, unconscious one." His Wolf companion shook his head. "He's not a bad looking one either."

"For all the good that does us," the tawny-furred leonine snorted. "Maybe if the boss'd let us take advantage of it, this job wouldn't be so friggin' dull. Oughtta be helpin' the strike teams set up."

"Yeah, but the boom will be just as big as long as he stays down." Grenin motioned towards Jay.

"Yeah, yeah," Crado grumbled. "Still ticked the next big bang's gonna hit while we're busy playing babysitter. Maybe if it wasn't just interrupting another of Koron's speeches about 'fixing the Republic' it'd be better."

"Yeah, that is getting kinda old ...." Grenin paused, and then glared at the feline in the cell. "Damn. Go get another shot. He's waking up."

"You'd think the boss'd just spring for a cell we could flood with knockout gas," Crado muttered, moving over to a nearby medical case and pulling out a dart gun, loading it with a sedative dart with about half-again the standard dose.

"It's not like she designed this place." The Wolf rolled his eyes and took the dart gun, dropping the force field. "When you're taking over abandoned facilities, it's not like you get your choice." He added and shot the dart squarely into Jay's rump.

"Yeah, yeah, I know," Crado muttered, bringing the force field back up. "At least it's somethin' to do while they set up the next hit."

Shivasta stretched out languidly in bed as she woke up. Fenrik had already gotten up and gone to complete his morning exercises; in all fairness, she should have been up with him, but she'd decided to take the morning off and check to see if Jay had replied to their message when she woke up.

She pulled on her light summer-wraps climbing out of bed and moving over to the message center. She opened up her list of waiting messages, frowning when she saw there weren't any from Jay. He was probably just too busy with his mission. Still, there were a couple waiting for her….

'Something you should know.' Well, that was an ominous subject... and it was from a Stacey Young, somebody she didn't recognize. Frowning, Shivasta opened the recording, sitting to watch as the lean Cheetah who'd sent it appeared in the glowing image.

"Shi?" Fenrik bolted into the room a few moments later, his head still ringing from her silent emotional outburst, and skidded to a stop as he caught sight of the holographic message. "Fuck."

In the life-sized hologram, Jay was in the middle of fucking a Cheetah herm neither of them knew. The artificial roar as he came inside of hir coincided almost perfectly with a barely-stifled rush of anger from Shivasta.

The Ice Walker forced herself to reach out and turn off the recording, despite the fact that Fenrik could tell she was having a hard time doing so. It was almost like a train wreck, in a way. He recognized every one of her responses too; it was little, if any, different from when she'd first caught Jay and Fenrik together almost eleven years ago.

"Shi had to be lying," Shivasta murmured quietly, trembling slightly as she sat back down and Fenrik wrapped his arms around her, nuzzling her.

"What did shi say?" He asked softly.

"That he met hir on Alderaan... that shi invited him to dinner and...." She gestured towards the projector, taking a few deep breaths to try and calm down. "Said he told hir he had mates afterwards and shi thought we should know about what happened. It can't be true," she murmured. "He wouldn't do that to us."

"Remember what we felt from him last night?" He asked her quietly. "There are some legal things that can make a feline loose control like that."

"Ryl, for one," Shi nodded slightly. "Still... he's managed to control himself before...." She swallowed, taking a few more breaths and calming herself. "You're right, it has to be what happened last night... even if it happened like shi said... maybe he didn't want it to, just couldn't stop himself."

"I have to wonder about the motive of recording that, and in sending it to us," Fenrik hugged her tightly. "After all this time, he wouldn't hurt you like this, not if he had a choice. We have no way to know what's off screen. It's not just drugs that could have forced him to perform for hir. He might have been protecting someone ... I'm sure he'll tell us when he gets back."

"I hope he can tell us sooner than that," she murmured, pressing back against Fenrik. "You want to watch it, before I delete the damned thing?"

"It might have important information in it," he sighed and kissed her neck. "If nothing else, if this wasn't willing, I want to have a little talk with this person."

"You're not the only one," she muttered, turning to kiss his cheek lightly. "Hope you don't mind if I pass. I'm already going to have to spend a while down in the Frozen Garden meditating to get that out of my system."

"I don't mind at all." He kissed her softly in return and let her go. "I don't think I'm going to watch unless it's needed. Something's seriously not right with the whole thing."

"Let's check with Master Essani later, see if she knows anything we don't," Shivasta suggested, standing up and going to change into heavier robes for the Frozen Garden. "After I've straightened myself out. Acting like I was a teenager again," she muttered.

"It'll be all right," Fenrik squeezed her hand. "Jay's survived hell in his life already; he'll never let this bring him down."

"Just a little nervous about him being away without either of us there," she admitted, returning the squeeze. "Then that message... I'm just off-balance today. I'll be okay, okay?" She smiled softly, kissing her Panther mate gently.

"All right. Settle yourself. We can't talk to Essani until the Council is over for the day anyway."

"Right," she nodded, kissing him again. "I'll see you later, love."

"Master Kareth?" Master Shan raised an eyebrow at the Grey Vixen's decidedly pale expression when she entered the Council Chamber after they had broken for a short lunch.

"Where is Master Essani?" The Vixen asked him, a sense of urgency in her tone, a small package beneath her arm. "We just received a package regarding Padawan Clawson."

"*I am here.*" She responded from the opening doors. "*What has happened?*"

"The people behind the bombings have captured him," the Vixen said softly, setting the package down and opening the box to reveal the kat's unique lightsabers, Gloveatrix and his robes, neatly folded beneath the crossed weapons.

"*He is still alive.*" Master Essani said firmly. "*Unconscious, but alive.*"

"How did this happen?" Master Shan asked the Vixen. "Does it say?"

"He was drugged during a meal, then... there are more details in a holo-video they sent along, but I would rather not go into them. He wasn't harmed physically, but I suspect he will have a great deal of trouble when he is released. What they did may well have longer-lasting psychological effects."

"We'll have to arrange a rescue mission," Master Shan said, glancing at a nearby chronometer. The rest of the Council would be back soon. "Master Doruth, perhaps."

"*No.*" Master Essani looked at the elder Doberman she was about to take over from. "*He has been held for less than a day. He is still in a position to free himself.*"

"Very well," Master Shan said, inclining his head slightly in acceptance that a Solo Trial had rules of its own and interference was to be kept at an absolute minimum. "However, we must still consider the well-being of the Alderaanians. Master Jolani, perhaps? In case Padawan Clawson is unable to escape in time to prevent further tragedy."

"*She will likely welcome the break from squabbling nobles.*" Master Essani agreed.

"I will inform her before our next meeting," Master Kareth nodded in agreement, closing the package. "Master Essani, I believe you are best qualified to determine what to do with this."

"*Thank you. Please have Jolani pick up his things before she leaves.*" the kushiban agreed. She was confident that he would return; he might be rather unorthodox, but she had no doubts about his abilities, but there was no reason why he should be without his lightsabers if Jolani met him first. She slid the package back by her cushions telekinetically, the three Masters taking their places before the rest of the Council returned.

"You wanted to see me, Master?" Fenrik asked in real concern as he entered Essani's quarters later that night.

"*Yes.*" She didn't bother to control the deep grey color of her fur. "*Both you and Shivasta need to know this, but I believe you know best how to tell her what has happened. The Council received a package earlier today. It contained Jay's clothing, equipment and lightsabers ... and this vid-disk. It is very personal, but you should know what happened to him before he returns.*"

The lack of surprise in the Panther's reaction was almost startling to Essani; he was concerned, but he didn't seem to be any more worried than he had been before.

"What happened?" He asked the kushiban.

"*He was drugged during a meal and ... raped.*" She had difficulty just saying it. Watching it had been torture. But to call it anything else was to lessen what she had seen in her Padawan's face even as his body was in pleasure. "*They sent us a vid of the entire event.*"

"Us too," Fenrik admitted quietly. Essani could feel the tension in him, but he kept it under control well. "Though they made it look much more willing on his part, couched it with a message that made it sound like the Cheetah was letting us know he was cheating. I'm surprised they thought two different messages would work, but not too surprised to find out what really happened."

"*You saw hir face?*" Essani focused on what could be a way to find the one who had hurt Jay in such an intimate way. "*It was carefully blurred in what they sent us.*"

"We saw it, but it may have been disguised," Fenrik said, shaking his head slightly. "It was very good if it was. We should still be able to recover the message, if you want to review it. I asked Shi not to delete it until we knew it wasn't needed for evidence. The first part at least; I don't see any reason to keep the 'proof.'"

"*Until we know if Jay wishes to prosecute hir, they should be kept. It is invaluable evidence in such a case.*" Essani said quietly, her own distress at it clear. "*If he does not, then we can destroy them.*"

"Very well," Fenrik nodded. "I'll make a copy and get it to you; I imagine Shi would rather not know about it. Her gut reaction was bad enough without being told to keep a copy around."

"*That was why I called you, and not her, to tell this to. She is a Healer, but her issues are such I was not sure it would be wise for her to see what happened. I expect this will be difficult enough for Jay to deal with without her anger to counter as well.*"

"Once she knows that happened, he'll be her first concern," Fenrik said certainly. "I'll go handle the copy, and fill her in ... Master Essani, do you know if they still have him?"

"*I expect so. I do not believe he has regained consciousness yet.*" She admitted.

"If necessary, I request permission for Shivasta and I to be involved in the rescue," Fenrik said softly. "Or retrieval, if it goes that far."

"*Granted.*" Master Essani nodded to him. "*I intend to give him more than a single day to free himself. I expect the situation will change rapidly once he is conscious. Not even the best Jedi can do much while unconscious.*"

"Understood," Fenrik nodded, taking the recording and getting ready to leave. "I just almost feel sorry for whoever's watching him when he wakes up."

"*I do not.*" The Master flashed red for a split second before shifting back to a lighter gray. "*Thank you for taking care of Shivasta. Master Ursal and I are here to help if you need it. It could be a long, painful time for all of you in healing.*"

"I understand, Master," Fenrik nodded. "And I'll make sure Jay and Shi do as well. Jay especially."

Jay kept his body as still as it had been unconscious. If his guards realized he was at all conscious, he'd be tranq'ed again and any chance of getting out would be gone for that many more hours. He opened his Force-senses a little more, locking onto the mind of the one right outside the cell.

"*Sleep.*" He crooned to it with enough power to easily overcome the unprepared mind.

Then he reached out to his cell and worked on getting the force field to shut down.

It was one of the things he adored about modern security systems in the Republic; they practically begged him to turn them off. The force field fell quickly. He was free, but he was also naked and unarmed with at least one guard who was awake and probably about to return.

He reached out with the Force again, coaxing a map and directions from the central computer system before lifting the tusked feline with the Force. With only one other person around according to the building, it wouldn't be hard to get out. He drew a breath to center himself and took off en route to where Sharufa would be soon.

"Hey Cra - the fuck?" Jay winced as he realized that the other guard was just rounding the corner. The Wolf reached for his blaster. Jay was pretty sure it was set to stun, but he was not going to let himself be put under again. The look of disbelief as the Wolf pulled the trigger uselessly told him they didn't know quite what he was capable of.

"*Sleep.*" Jay lashed out with the Force again, this time directed at the Wolf's mind. It put him under quickly, and the kat retrieved the blaster. It wasn't as effective as his lightsabers would be, but he had no clue where they were at the moment.

Jay lifted him to join the Cathar in the air and headed for outside and his ship where clothes, contact with the authorities and a place to secure these two were until he had a chance to interrogate them properly.

He managed to make it out to the ship without further incident, though he had to wonder how long he'd been out. To judge by his stomach, it had been more than a full day, probably longer, but not so long than he was more than very hungry.

At least the Sharufa was glad he was back; he could practically feel the ship's pleasure to have him 'home' again.

"Good to be back, Sharufa." He let out a breath as he stepped inside his ship. "Get Sennif Ortol and Sergeant Gavin on the com." He ordered as he moved back to put his prisoners in an impromptu set of cells.

He was just about to turn on the shower when the message came through.

"Padawan Clawson? Where have you been?" Sennif asked on the other end.

"In a cell at the Kimfu-Sujea supermax prison." Jay managed to keep the irritation from his voice. "The next target is the Count's speech."

"This is Sergeant Gavin," the Doberman said, apparently at the same location as the Fox. "We'll arrange for extra security at the speech; will you need assistance when you get here?"

Jay paused, weighing the relative value of the extra help compared to the risk of more lives. "Hunting live bombs is part of my specialty, but I'm not going to turn down help. Do make sure anyone who does join me understands it is voluntary and risky.

"Also, please have Stacy Young picked up for assault, kidnapping and as part of the bombing conspiracy. Cheetah herm, usually dresses as a woman. Shi lives at Kelarin Towers, apartment 173. I have two other members of the group with me who know who the ringleader is, though I don't yet."

"We'll send somebody over to deal with it," Gavin said. "Where will you be going next?"

"Where do you want the prisoners?" He asked simply. "Then to the Corona Amphitheater to find the bombs and set up for any more trouble."

"Bring the prisoners to headquarters then," the Doberman said easily. "You'll have a visitor when you get here."

"One who'll be able to return a few things you lost the other night," Master Jolani said on the other end. "Though now that you're free, I'll leave the rest of the mission in your hands."

"Yes, Master Jolani." Jay couldn't keep a touch of surprise from his voice even as his mind scrambled for how she'd come by his equipment and came up with little that wouldn't severely stress those closest to him. "I will be there within an hour."

"Looking forward to seeing you; I'll bring you up to date once you're here," she said.

"Thank you, Master." Jay replied simply.

"Should we cancel the speech?" Sennif asked.

"Not yet. I will have more accurate information to go by when I've had a few minutes to talk with the prisoners. Please do stay with the Sergeant until I arrive. What I learn from the prisoners you should both know."

"Will do," the Fox agreed. "Hope to see you soon, Padawan Clawson."

"Soon." Jay agreed and closed the connection. "Open voice recording for transmission." He ordered, delaying his shower for a few more minutes.

"Shi, Fenrik, Master. I'm about five minutes outside a prison cell right now, I'm not sure what happened that put my lightsabers in Master Jolani's hands and her here, but I can't imagine it looks good to you. I'm fine. I lost a couple meals and I'm sore, but it's nothing a little time won't fix. I'll send you a more complete message later, after I've gotten what useful intel I can out of my former guards and brought the locals up to date. Take care." He ended the recording and turned his shower on while Sharufa sent the message on its way, all while trying not to think about why he was sore and needed this shower so badly.

Jay drew a deep breath to center himself as best he could before the hatch opened after Sharufa landed behind police headquarters. The locals would never know anything had happened from his appearance, but the Master waiting for him would likely be quite disturbed by the way he must look in the Force right now. He just hoped he wouldn't have to convince her he could finish the mission.

He started down to the briefing room, still wondering just how she'd gotten his lightsabers back. He'd been half-convinced he'd have to make new ones after this mission.

"Padawan Clawson," Sergeant Gavin said briskly, the Doberman coming out to meet him. "We heard your ship coming in; this way please."

"The prisoners are still on board." He informed him as they walked. "They can be transferred when you are ready."

"I'll have men take care of them during the briefing," he nodded. "Did you get anything useful from them?"

"Details on their plan, purpose and who their immediate superior is." Jay nodded. "If we move quickly, we should be able to put a solid dent in their activities on Alderaan."

"Excellent," Gavin nodded, stopping at the door to the briefing room. "The Jedi who came from the Temple is here as well; she said she'd want to talk to you after the briefing, in private."

"I understand," Jay nodded easily before they entered and he caught the controlled look Jolani gave him, in the Force and with her eyes. Whatever had happened there, it had been bad, and the way he looked to her did little to change her mind. "Greetings, Master Jolani." He bowed politely to his superior, his manners flawless and exterior showing nothing of the turmoil inside.

"Greetings, Padawan Clawson," the Tigress nodded. He could sense her concern, but nothing else.

"We were worried when we didn't hear back from you last night," Sennif said. "Then Master Jolani arrived and... well, what happened?"

"I was captured by the rebel group." Jay gave them the fewest details he could get away with. "They underestimated what it took to keep me drugged unconscious. It turned out to be to our advantage. My former guards knew a great deal about the current plans and local members. This is by the same group as the Kallarak Amphitheater incident. They have been trying to discredit the Count to keep him from gaining any more power."

"Do you know where they're going to attack during the speech?" Sennif asked, concern in his voice. "If they're going to try attacking then...."

"They're planning on blowing up the Crescent Amphitheater during the speech, with teams around the city to start riots." Jay said simply. "It would be the biggest attack yet and quite a body count."

"We'll have to cancel it," Sennif said, shaking his head. "The potential loss of life there if we don't... it's unreasonable. What could they hope to gain doing this? How is it supposed to discredit Count Koron?"

"I believe the theory is that if he can't keep people safe during his own speech, it will hurt his ability to have the people trust him." Jay explained something he only sort of understood. "We are dealing with terrorists here. Their logic does not always match up with ours."

"Too true," Gavin nodded. "Unfortunately, their tactics work, even if their logic doesn't. We won't have enough men to protect the Crescent and deal with riots throughout Aldera at the same time."

"We know who their leader is, many of their people and locations. Each one we capture will tell us more." Jay was planning even as he spoke, his mind working double-time to correlate manpower and resources with the local database records. "If the speech is delayed for a few days, say a week, instead of canceled, your officers will be able to pick up a significant number of their people and I can keep the Crescent safe from bombs. Perhaps the Count could be ill, or called away, instead of saying it is delayed for lack of security forces."

"They may still attempt to set off the bomb, or start the riots, but the potential for damage will be lower," Gavin assured Sennif. "If you can convince the Count to adjust his schedule, we'll be able to keep this under control before anybody else is hurt."

"I will speak with him, see what we can arrange," the Fox nodded seriously. "That is our top priority, after all."

"I believe I can find the bombs that are already in the Crescent before the original speech time." Jay added.

"That would be ideal," Sennif nodded. "Should we delay any announcements until you are sure?"

"I would not," Jay decided after a moment. "There is not enough time to do a full manual sweep of the building. I can not be sure I have found all the bombs this quickly, just a majority of them. The sooner you make the announcement, the more planned it will seem."

"Then I will go bring the Count up to speed," Sennif nodded, standing up. "Is there anything else I should be aware of?"

"No," Jay shook his head slightly.

"I look forward to your report when this is all over then," Sennif nodded, bowing politely before leaving the room, leaving Jay with Gavin and Master Jolani.

"Is there anything else you want to fill me in on, before I send my men to start rounding them up?" The Doberman asked.

"No," Jay answered simply. "I can get names and faces from anyone who doesn't want to talk. I'll be at the Crescent finding bombs."

The Doberman nodded, standing up along with Master Jolani. He left the room to go handle the interrogation of the two prisoners, while the Tigress moved to talk to Jay.

"How are you doing?" She asked him softly.

"I'll be fine for the mission, Master." He couldn't quite meet her eyes. "After that, I'll need time to deal with what happened."

"If it helps, very few know about it," she offered. "Master Essani knows, as do your mates... they'll all be there for you, when you get back." She pulled out the small case with his lightsabers and the stolen equipment, opening it for him. "The people who captured you wanted to break you, and destroy what you had back home. They've failed at the second part, and I suspect you're up to proving they failed at the first too."

"I am, Master." He smiled slightly and accepted the case, quickly putting on his Glovatrix, lightsabers and other unduplicated equipment in place with an almost visible shift in his body language for the calmer and more certain. These items resonated so strongly of his Force-energy that they actually helped center him well beyond their value as weapons. "I don't break that easily. Now I am wiser for their failure." He kept his voice even with the controlled fire and determination that was his hallmark on a hunt was easy for her to feel, as was that he would need time and a good mind-healer when he got back and finally faced what had been done to him. "Thank you for bringing my things."

"You're welcome, Padawan. I'll return to Coruscant and let your Master and mates know you're free. Force be with you."

"Force be with you, Master." Jay bowed and watched as she left. He closed his eyes for a moment, focusing himself on his mission and pushed everything else out of his mind.

He opened his eyes and walked to the Sharufa. It was time to go to work.

"Jedi Clawson?" One of the local cops, a well-built Alsatian, walked up to the meditating kat quickly. He wasn't particularly crazy about interrupting him, but the news he'd been given was important enough to warrant it.

Besides; other interruptions hadn't really bothered him too much, nobody thought.

"Yes?" Jay opened his eyes slowly as he came out of the restful meditation he used to monitor the area for trouble.

"I've been informed we have another prisoner," the Alsatian explained, his surface thoughts providing that it was much more than just that.

"Their leader." Jay rose to his feet easily. "Excellent."

"Yes, Jedi," the Officer nodded. "Sergeant Gavin said that they've gotten all they can from her already, they would appreciate your assistance."

"Very well," Jay nodded and followed Durak to the speeder he knew would be waiting to take him to headquarters.

The trip gave them both a few moments to think about things. The last week had been eventful, but in all the right ways. They'd been able to catch up with the terrorists and start bringing them in; Jay had found the bombs in a matter of hours once he knew where to look.

All in all, he expected to be going home soon, and reporting a successful mission. Small consolation for what had happened, but it was something. He could barely stand to wait to be back with Shi and Fenrik. It ached to be away from them no matter what. Hurting as much as he did, it was an agony he didn't want to get used to.

It had also given Jay a working education on the difference between information the security forces could use, and what they could use in court. The first was much easier to get.

Unfortunately, at times like this, it was also somewhat less useful.

The speeder stopped at headquarters, and Jay climbed out wordlessly, making his way to the interrogation room where he knew they'd have the Dalmatian behind this. He just hoped Gavin would still be there; he wasn't sure being alone with her right now would be the best idea.

She may not have been the one who had raped him, but she'd paid to have it done. It was just the kind of fuel the Demon could really use against his self-control. He wasn't even sure he wanted to stop it either.

He jammed the thoughts back down, right along with the soothing, pitying voice that was offering to help make the bitch go away - permanently.

He reached the room and took a calming breath before asking the door to open. It slid aside obediently, letting him into the room with the Dalmatian and her frustrated interrogator, Sergeant Gavin.

"I understand you want information she's not willing to provide." Jay glared unemotionally at the person responsible for why he hadn't dared sleep in over a week.

"Mostly about whether or not they have any more plans, and where her superiors are," Gavin confirmed. "She seems to have dropped into a loop, if you know what I mean."

"You do understand that this may not be admissible in court, depending on how much Force I have to put into getting her to talk." Jay wanted to make sure they weren't looking for confession-grade Intel.

"Just like with the last few," Gavin nodded. "We need to get any more of her people we can, and make sure they don't have any more of those devices hidden somewhere."

"All right," Jay turned his attention to the woman that had made a simple mission a living hell and silently double-checked that this was being recorded. "Desa." He caught her attention with both his voice and a hand around her lower jaw. "Tell me the truth." Pure power echoed in his voice and through his body. "Who are your superiors?"

"What superiors?" She shot back. "I'm in charge."

"Not of the entire Dianogas." Jay replied evenly. "Who is above you in the Dianogas?"

"Blackstripe," the Dalmatian said, catching herself and setting her jaw even as her mind provided a face to go with the name. "Not that it'll do you any good, Jedi."

"Who else?" Jay demanded, pushing against her stubbornness with his own power and slipped for a moment.

"*Let me have her.*" The Demon crooned loud enough for Desa to hear it. "*We will avenge the wrongs. Sooth the pain.*"

"*I could, you know, give you over to the Dark in me.*" Jay breathed against her mind with only a taste of what he was capable of in imagery for her to ponder. "*Who would challenge a Jedi taking a prisoner somewhere?*"

"You're Jedi," she pointed out, though the uncertainty she felt about what he might do was almost palpable... as was her fear of it. Palpable, and very appealing to part of him.

Sergeant Gavin's confusion was just as clear about her answer to his verbal question.

"Who else is in the Dianogas?" Jay demanded again. "*Or you will find out just what you had done to me.*"

"I don't know anybody outside Alderaan!" The Dalmatian bitch snarled at him. "Blackstripe's all the farther I go, after what you did on Coruscant!"

"She's telling the truth." Jay said evenly to the Sergeant, not giving any clue about what he'd told her silently. "Do you have enough to convict her?"

"For being connected to the bombings, we had that before," Gavin nodded.

"Good," he nodded. "I have a few questions for her then, in private."

"How private?" Gavin asked, glancing up at the camera still recording everything.

"It won't record it." Jay told him simply.

"You're just asking questions, right?" Even just knowing she'd captured him, he was worried. Jay was pretty sure that if he knew the real reason, he wouldn't be having this conversation.

"Just questions." He said easily. "I am a Jedi, Sergeant."

It was such an effective reassurance... he just hoped it would hold true when he left. The Demon was definitely active tonight.

"All right," Gavin nodded, leaving the room. "I'll be waiting outside for when you're done with her." The Dalmatian looked at him, but the Dobie ignored her worried look as he left did so.

"You're going to tell me a who, a how and a why." Jay leaned close and spoke softly, his voice seductively dangerous but without any Force behind it. "How you answer will determine just how bad the nightmares are. Understand?"

"What are you talking about?" She asked him. "I told you everything about the bombings already."

"This isn't about the bombings. This is what you ordered done to me." He told her with an amazing level of control. "I know that Stacey Young is an alias. I know you hired hir to drug and rape me before shi handed me over. I want everything you have on hir, hir other IDs, how to find hir."

"Look, shi's been off planet ever since you got out!" Desa protested. "All I know is shi'll be using Spots as hir contact ID, probably find some cantina to slink in 'til shi can blackmail some rich guy."

"Now why." He demanded without raising his voice.

"That was for Coruscant. Blackstripe's call," the Dalmatian added quickly. "And it was the only way to get you out of ours."

She could tell her answer irritated him. A lot.

The next few breaths were an exercise in controlled fear until he stood and turned to leave without another word.

Shivasta tried to keep her nerves under control as she waited with Fenrik and Essani, but all of them could practically feel the buzz coming from her as Sharufa set down. Fenrik had explained what had happened, and Jay had insisted he was fine in the messages that followed after he was free ... but they all knew he wasn't. Right now, Shivasta just wanted to see him again, make sure he was okay.

And to neuter a certain Cheetah, but that was one desire she kept under control fairly well.

Master Essani flashed grey for a moment when she saw Jay's Force aura as he walked down the ramp to greet them, but she quickly got it under control before he saw it. There was no need to make things more difficult by giving him something else to worry about.

The tension, and now close Jay was to cracking right there on the landing pad as soon as he saw them, was too clear to them all.

"*I'm taking him somewhere private.*" Shivasta told Essani silently, but firmly, moving to help her mate back towards their quarters, grateful for the lack of protest from both sides. She was certain he hadn't gotten any sleep since his escape; it was just how he was when dealing with a mission, let alone anything more.

Jay kept his stance straight and face still despite how much he mentally leaned on his mates to make the short walk to their quarters. It may not have fooled anyone in the Temple, but he maintained the look of a Jedi even when he was almost completely crumpled inside.

Both his mates made it clear across their bond that they were there for him, fighting the urge to physically support him as they got him back to their quarters. The Kat had his pride and right now that was all that was holding him together. The fact that Fenrik had to pause to close and lock the door spoke volumes for how upset Jay was; he hadn't thought to lock it automatically.

The almost inaudible click acted like a signal and Jay sank against Fenrik's broad chest as he began to tremble, his nose buried in his fur to close the world to the scent and touch of one of the very few people he trusted with his weakness.

The Panther wrapped his arms around him gently, holding him there as he started to break down. Shivasta moved to hold him from behind, the two of them just letting him feel them close. The tears never came, but they both felt, intimately, what had happened to him that night as he wrapped the events up in their presence and stored them away where they couldn't hurt him anymore.

The two of them worked him into bed, pulling the covers up and snuggling close.

"Go to sleep Jay," Shi murmured softly, kissing his forehead. "It's safe here."

"*We'll protect you.*" Fenrik added softly and silently. "*Sleep.*" He added with just enough of a suggestion behind it to overcome the lingering resistance that had nothing to do with Jay's need to rest or his trust of the safety he had in his mates arms.

"*We'll have to keep him like this for a while,*" Shi told Fenrik mentally, keeping quiet enough to keep from waking Jay up again. "*Might be best to take shifts, make sure he stays out until he's doing better.*"

"*And to help with the nightmares.*" He nodded seriously. "*The Demon is bad enough. This ... this is just evil.*"

"*He'll make it through,*" Shivasta reassured Fenrik, caressing Jay's cheek lightly. "*I'll make sure of it. And I'll handle the nightmares, as much as I can. I've got the training for it.*"

"*I'll help with what I can.*" Fenrik murmured and nuzzled Jay softly. "*Both of you.*"

"*Why don't you get some rest first then,*" Shi told him softly. "*I'll keep an eye on how things are going in his head at first.*"

"*All right,*" he nodded and let his eyes close. Rest would be a rare commodity for a while.

Shivasta felt Jay's mind start to stir just a few moments before he started to tremble and whimper softly, the nightmares starting late the next morning. Fenrik was making breakfast to bring in for them, and Jay was already late for his debriefing with the Council. Fortunately, they'd taken her at her word when she said he would have to reschedule. She had little doubt that what Master Essani had seen when Jay had stepped down the ramp had helped.

The walk to their quarters had honestly made Shi dread if he was ever seriously injured physically. Even here at the Temple where everyone saw past the physical, he had the pride to walk when he had no need to. It was a valuable skill out where appearances mattered, but here he really should know it didn't matter.

She reached into his mind gently, not entirely sure what she would find there, but knowing that it would be painful for him. She couldn't help the audible gasp when she touched a first hand, vividly true to life replay of her mate trying to push the Cheetah herm away as shi kissed him and he kissed hir back. The terror of not being able to escape, to access his abilities, to even stop himself from pushing hir to the floor and fucking her as actively as if he had wanted to.

Shivasta tried to touch Jay's mind with her own, letting him know that she was there, providing a safe place to retreat to and found the offer taken up almost instantly. The memory-nightmare kept playing, encouraged and supplemented by the Demon, but Jay's conscious mind was curled up like a frightened baby kitten against his mother's belly in the protective bubble Shi made for him.

At the same time, she started working to dim the memory, to push it away from his active memory and into the past where it belonged. There but no longer a torture. The first few moments gave her an understanding just how long a process this would be. Not only was it something that had made a major impact on him, but the Demon was using it to break him, enrage him, turn him to the Dark Side.

She wasn't going to let that happen.

"*Back off,*" she told the Demon through Jay's mind, holding her mate close protectively as she worked harder, the Demon working against her to bolster parts of the memory she had just helped dim. She was tempted to just try re-writing the memory; it wasn't something she'd been trained in very much, but she was capable of making a small enough change it might help.

She forced the thought out of the way before she had even seriously considered it, hoping that Jay wouldn't pick up on it. She kissed his forehead tenderly, both in his mindscape and in reality, trying to sooth his pain as much as she could.

"*Focus on the healing, I've got this guy.*" Fenrik's mind slipped into the field and focused his considerable stubbornness and fire on giving the Demon something other than Shi's work to worry about.

Allowed to focus, the young Healer did all she could. She was sure the work wouldn't hold for long; mind-healing wasn't her best field. But she was competent enough to help Jay deal with it for now while he got the rest, TLC and likely meals he desperately needed.

She was more grateful now than ever before than she and Fenrik had special rights even from Jay's unconscious mind. He trusted them to the point he didn't resist whatever they did, even when it was fighting his battles in his own mind.

It was far too long, almost two full viewings of that hours-long event, before Shi felt the Demon retreat fully for the time being, it's energy expended.

"*How's he doing?*" Fenrik asked quietly as he came back, tired from the battle himself.

"*If I weren't more worried about the memories, I'd be worried that he's letting us in so much,*" she said, pulling back from Jay's mind to nuzzle the powerfully built tom in the waking world. "As it is," she said softly, "about as well as can be expected."

"*Good,*" Fenrik murmured and kissed his way down Jay's neck, responding without thinking to the heavy arousal in his nose. "*Breakfast is ready whenever we are.*"

"*Once Jay's awake,*" Shi nodded slightly, kissing Jay gently, squeezing Fenrik's hand gratefully. "*Thank you for the backup.*"

"*He's my mate too.*" He smiled over their semi-conscious bedmate. "*Anything I can do, I will.*"

"Mmm, smells good." Jay mumbled, still mostly asleep as he snuggled close to the pair.

"Think you're up for breakfast?" Shivasta asked him with a soft smile. "Or want me to go get it?"

"Yes, I'm up for breakfast." He murmured and nuzzled her. "And a change of clothes."

"We didn't think you really needed to undress last night," Shivasta chuckled, nuzzling him as Fenrik climbed out of bed. "Want some privacy?"

Jay paused, and then nodded a little shyly. "Yeah, I think so." He admitted quietly.

"We'll be getting breakfast around," she said reassuringly, brushing her lips against his. "Don't take too long." She smiled, climbing out of bed and going to follow Fenrik out of the room.

Essani shook her light grey fur out as she walked into Master Ursal's quarters for the small meeting she was about to have. The Bear had already set out seats for her guests, and Essani took hers silently. Shan and Kareth were already there, waiting for her to finish talking to her Padawan.

"How's the kit doing?" Ursal asked her.

"*As well as can be expected,*" Essani said.

"Should we have him under suicide watch?" Master Shan asked seriously.

"*No,*" the kushiban said, shaking her head. "*Thankfully not. He is disturbed, upset, and it will be some time before he can find his center outside of a mission, but he is not that far gone.*" She felt everyone in the room relax significantly at that. It was always the top concern. After all, as long as a Jedi was alive, there was hope for healing.

"Would you advise keeping him busy with missions?" He regarded his successor, still judging her suitability for the position.

"*I would not,*" Essani said, shaking her head. "*It would keep him centered, but it would be like sedating him. He wouldn't be disturbed at the time, but he would never deal with the underlying issues either. He will heal, given time, but I would not suggest solo-missions for him until then.*"

"It shouldn't be a problem." Kareth nodded. "He was listed long ago as not to be sent solo unless there is no choice. Master Artisan Shen'ri has indicated interest in taking Jay and Shivasta on as apprentices once he is Knighted. If he agrees, it would keep him around the temple most of the time anyway."

"I imagine he'll welcome the chance, distraction value aside," Master Ursal nodded. "At least if he's still as craft-oriented as he was before.

"*If not moreso,*" Essani chuckled mentally. "*On a more serious level, he will be quite some time before he is truly recovered, if ever. The Cheetah did quite a bit of damage to his self-confidence, and not in the way some would argue he could do with.*"

"Which brings up the next serious question." Shan spoke quietly. "From all indications, he has passed his Solo, and done well twice. But with this, is he still ready to be a Knight?"

"*Normally, I would not recommend it,*" Essani admitted. "*He is not going to be of a condition where I would recommend that he take on missions or a Padawan for some time. However, I believe he has already discussed his reluctance to take on a Padawan at all with you, Master Shan?*"

"Yes," the old Doberman nodded. "While that may change in time, he was quite sincere in his desire not to take a Padawan."

"He would not be the first Jedi to be put on limited duty for medical reasons." Ursal pointed out. "He did succeed at his mission, when by all rights he should have failed. Most Knights would have handed the mission over to Master Jolani when she was there and come home. He did not, even though he did not know this was his Solo mission. If this had happened after he was Knighted, there would be no debate. He would be put on restricted duty status until his healer said otherwise. I see no reason to deny him what he has earned, and many reasons for his mental health to give him in title what he has proven he capable of being."

"*Further, assuming he accepts the offer to begin training to be an Artisan, we will not have to publicize the light duty,*" Master Essani pointed out. "*This will be a crucial factor for him; I don't think anybody who saw him yesterday believed for an instant that there wasn't something wrong, but he carried himself perfectly, as though he was going to see the Chancellor despite being wounded. If we tell him that he isn't going to be given his rank because of this, I imagine he will challenge it. Rightfully, in my mind.*"

Shan nodded thoughtfully. "I will take both your assessments of his personality and not consider this in delaying his Knighting. The actual determination will be made tomorrow when he reports to the entire Council, however."

"*Of course, Master Shan,*" Essani agreed, inclining her head to the aged Doberman. "*However, I believe the three of us,*" she indicated Masters Shan and Kareth with one of her forepaws, "*may have to consider arguing this point with the rest of the Council, given they are not privy to his conversation. Master Noloth in particular is one I expect will protest his promotion.*"

"As he has protested all of them." Shan chuckled softly. "It is his purpose, I believe, to make sure the rest of us have a good reason for our choices."

"*A valuable skill, at all times,*" Essani pointed out, her fur shifting to a lighter color. "*We need somebody to keep us honest sometimes, even if he doesn't particularly like it when somebody returns the favor.*"

"Of course not." Ursal chuckled deeply.

"Have you had the opportunity to assess Jay yourself, Master Ursal?" Shan asked the Bear.

"Not yet," she said easily. "Shivasta is technically the healer in charge of Jay's recovery; my involvement is mostly as a secondary opinion and a more advanced mind-healer, if they deem it necessary."

"Very well." Shan nodded. "Is there anything else to discuss?"

"Master Ursal, I would recommend that you speak with Clawson yourself before he reports to the Council." Kareth nodded towards her. "Your assessment will carry more weight with certain Council members than a new Knight who is also his mate."

"I had been planning on speaking with both of them later this afternoon," the Bear nodded. "If for no other reason than to make sure Shivasta's work is holding. From what I understand, this morning was... difficult. Not dangerous, but it taxed her skills."

"*I am not surprised.*" Essani admitted. "*I am sure the Demon is making full use of this event to its advantage. It goes without saying that we'll be monitoring that closely.*"

"A wise precaution," Master Ursal agreed. "I will probably speak with him once he's been up for a few hours longer."

"Excellent." Shan nodded. "If there is nothing else, we all have duties to see to."

The other Masters nodded, standing and starting out of the Bear's room for the Council chamber.

It was going to be a long day.

Master Ursal paused outside Jay's workshop a few hours later, keying up the intercom.

"Jay, are you busy?" She asked the tom inside.

"Nothing too important." He called back as the door slid open for her. "Just building a backup lightsaber."

"Always a wise precaution," the Bear agreed, stepping into the workshop and letting the door slide shut behind her. "How are you holding up?"

"It depends on the moment," he admitted quietly as he put his tools down, though he couldn't quite look at her face. "Some I almost feel normal, some ... I'm back there until I remember I'm not. Shi and Fenrik really helped this morning."

"They care for you, greatly," Master Ursal nodded. The Bear shifted to meet his eyes, not a particularly easy thing for her to do with her larger frame and the reflexive resistance he didn't even think to do. When he realized she was trying, he gritted his teeth and looked up, though he couldn't maintain contact for more than a few seconds at a time. "How long has it been since you wouldn't meet a Master's eyes?"

"Since it happened." He said softly in one of the brief moments his eyes met hers.

It was just long enough for Ursal to realize just how unguarded he was inside when you knew how to look. It reminded her too much of an old saying no one remembered the origins of anymore.

'The eyes are the windows to the soul.'

Most people were unaware of how much their eyes showed of themselves.

Jay was keenly aware of how much of himself was visible, how little control he had over it right now, and the weakness on display for anyone who cared to see it. It was reliving the helplessness and violation all over again, every time someone who could see did.

He probably hadn't met anyone in the eyes since then.

"You don't have to be ashamed, Jay," she told him softly, even knowing that he would probably disagree strongly.

"It's ... not really that, Master." He managed to meet her eyes briefly again. "Showing weakness is dangerous. I can't hide it yet."

"What makes you think you were weak?" Master Ursal asked him seriously. "Padawan, if a Master had gone through that we would have expected them to turn the mission over to Master Jolani when she arrived. You not only freed yourself, but went on to complete your mission and saved hundreds, even thousands of lives, despite the very fresh pain."

Jay opened his mouth, then closed it as he tried to come up with words to explain himself.

"It is not what happened that it the weakness, Master." He struggled with it, knowing he wasn't doing a great job of expressing himself and the fine line between when she thought was wrong and what he was trying to hide. "Being defeated isn't a weakness. Showing how badly it's bothering you is. Showing anyone who cares to look how to defeat you is dangerous for a warrior."

"Even here, with people you know you can trust?"

"Here ... it's embarrassing." He sighed softly. "Here everyone knows how to see, and everyone ... everyone can see how far I have to go to not show my feelings the way a Jedi should."

She considered pointing out that anybody here could already tell that something was wrong, but dismissed it. She was fairly sure that doing so would probably be worse for him than just continuing like this. He was no doubt aware of the contradiction, and protecting himself until he had things better under control.

"There is no need to feel shame, Jay," she reassured him. "I know it will take you time, but know that anybody you want to talk to about this will talk without judging you for it."

He could only nod to this. He trusted her on the level of few others in his life, but it was not an easy idea for him to truly accept at the moment, even though he knew, deep down, that it was likely true.

"I'll leave you to your work," the Bear said, standing to leave. "Make sure Shivasta knows that she can ask for help if you or either of your mates need it?"

"I will, Master Ursal." He nodded seriously and watched her leave before turning to his work again.

Shi paused before she opened the door to her quarters. Jay was inside, alone. He was fairly calm, but keyed up all at the same time. At least it didn't seem to be a bad sort of keyed up. She stepped inside and glanced around, spotting him relaxing on the couch with a datapad in hand.

"Hi, love." He smiled warmly. He still wasn't quite up to meeting her eyes, but he was looking at her face.

"Hi," she smiled back, just as warmly as he easily rolled to his feet and walked over to her with familiar body language; sexual interest. "How're you doing?"

"Better," he murmured and brushed a hand across her cheek gently as he met her eyes briefly. He was scared, not so deep down, but he was also honestly interested in the intimacy they hadn't shared since he'd left on his second Solo mission. Intimacy that had all but defined the last ten years of their lives together.

"Good," she smiled, returning the gentle caress. "*Only as fast as you want to go,*" she promised him softly, mentally. "I've been worried for you."

He nodded slightly and leaned down to kiss her, hesitantly at first, testing his own reactions to the contact, before he brushed her lips with his tongue and ran his hands down her sides.

She parted her lips invitingly, shivering at the contact. She could feel how difficult this was for him and yet, at the same time, how determined he was that it work out and not give them the victory of destroying what he loved so much.

"I love you, Jay," she murmured softly, reassuring him as she started to run her own hands along his well-muscled body. She felt how readily his body responded, the pleasure it gave his mind to realize they hadn't lost that much.

"I love you," he murmured. "*Trust you.*" He added with a soft tremble of excitement in memory of ten years of pleasure. He couldn't forget the helplessness of the last time anyone had touched him like this, but his nose, his mind, every touch and breath reinforced that this was the person he trusted even more than himself and had never done him wrong. "I won't let them take this away from us."

"None of us will," she promised him. "You'll beat this... beat them," she reassured him. "And thank you," she added softly, knowing how difficult it was for him to trust even normally. She kissed him tenderly and felt a bit of the arousal's heat that was usually much more forthcoming against her body before he swung her up in his arms and kissed her almost playfully on the short walk to their bedroom.

"Y'know, I can walk," she pointed out with a giggle, glad to see that he was managing to act a bit more like his old self again, even if it was only for brief moments.

"Yes, but that's not nearly as fun." He managed a real smile as he laid her on the large bed and leaned over her for a kiss that worked it's way down her neck as he lightly fondled her breasts threw her robes in a sharp reminder of their first night out on the balcony.

The difference was, this time, she wasn't going to push him away.

She returned the kiss, her hunger and affection for the powerful tom above her obvious. She caressed his sides and back, finding the points along his body he enjoyed her touching the most and felt the rush of arousal it brought even as he slid a hand inside her robes to cup one breast, teasing the nipple with gentle fingers.

It was a strange combination to feel. He knew what he was doing, he knew her body almost as well as she did, but at the same time every touch was as hesitant as when they'd first shared her bed over a decade ago. Even that memory, how high he'd taken her that night in their mutual learning, brought a shiver to her body and deepened the arousal he could smell.

She whimpered softly when he nosed her robes out of the way to lick and suckle at her other breast.

"Oh Jay," she moaned softly, scritching the back of his head with one hand, pressing up into his mouth. She reached out mentally, brushing his mind with images of the two of them, sometimes with Fenrik, sometimes not, sometimes together like this, other times just together, from when they were both younger. All in all, it was a rundown of some of her favorite memories of him, of just how much she cared for him and thought he was worth caring for.

"*Love you.*" He shivered and let her feelings wash into his mind and swirl around the pain and fear threatening every moment. It wasn't a permanent fix, but for the moment it freed him to move more easily and gently removed both their robes.

Shi kissed him tenderly, wrapping her arms around him and holding him close once their robes had been removed. His fur was hot against her, his skin even hotter where it touched hers.

"I'm yours," she promised him even as he slowly rubbed his body along hers in a familiar prelude that excited them both. "Always will be. Nobody can do anything to change that."

"Won't let them," he agreed with a breath that ghosted over her chest before he slowly kissed his way down her body. No matter how aroused they were, today would be everything different from when the Cheetah had him. Slow and tender instead of hard and fast. Words of affection and encouragement rather than coercion and denial. Willing and in control instead of drugged.

Shi caressed his ears, moaning softly as he worked down her body. It had been a long time since they'd made love like this, but it was no less enjoyable for the wait. In the very background, she slowly realized that it was something that Jay missed badly and had for some time. No matter how eager he was for the games and fire that their sex life had been for years, he missed this, the tender slowness that had been their early encounters.

Shi made a silent promise to herself not to let it take this long, or such a drastic reason, again. She was finding that she'd missed it too, now that she was living through it again. It was a change of pace that was familiar and different all at once.

She cried out without reservation when his relatively cool nose edged over the neatly trimmed hair above her sex and down into the swollen lips and wet slit there.

Her breath caught as he buried his short muzzle in the thick, musky scent of her arousal. She moaned unashamedly, pressing her sex up into the contact as he licked and ate her out just as eagerly. As much as she thought about suggesting her turn around for a 69, she couldn't miss that this, and just this, was what he wanted right now. Any less control was a little too much to give up yet.

It wasn't something she could exactly complain about either as her body began to twitch and tighten at his attention.

"*You're in heat, love.*" Jay's mind shivered in excitement even as he shifted to lay above her again and pressed into her quivering sex in a single smooth motion before he froze, locking in his mind the differences between her body and the one before.

"It's okay," she murmured, focusing through the pleasure of feeling him inside her. "Shi's not here, it's us. We both want this," she reassured him, kissing him gently as he slowly relaxed and began to thrust.

Even now, with the pleasure intense for them both, he kept it slow, gentle, as much for the pleasure as to reassure himself that he could.

Jay's breath still quickened when her body tightened around his, the pleasure of being inside her and her experienced hands on his body and the exquisite familiarity of the taste of her skin as he kissed and licked her neck and shoulder.

She moaned, arching her neck to expose her throat to him. Her body tightened around his instinctively, milking his barbed length as she worked her hands along his back, every once in a while pausing almost on instinct to pay particularly close attention to a tense muscle. She couldn't help but to squeeze in time with his thrusts when she reached his ass. She was so close it was drawing whimpers of pleasure and need with ever motion.

"*Don't hold back.*" Jay whispered to her mind with a soft kiss.

It was all the encouragement she needed; Shivasta cried out in pleasure as her body spasmed around Jay's shaft, milking it hungrily. She held him close, practically screaming for her mate to come with her.

A low whimper of surprise and pleasure escaped his throat before he let go himself and relaxed enough to give his mate what she wanted with a roar of pleasure that held nothing of the pain she'd heard on the vid.

The two of them lay against each other for a few long, pleasant moments before Shi kissed Jay with a languid, happy smile.

"Good?" She asked him.

"Yes," he murmured and snuggled a little closer, his body more than ready for more, though he wasn't so interested in it.

"Good," Shi smiled, cuddling up close and deciding without regret to follow his interest. "Gonna have to do this again some time. And not wait almost ten years for it," she giggled, kissing his nose playfully.

"This may be all I'm really up for for a while." Jay murmured and pulled her close. "Some of the games we play ..." he shuddered. "I don't think I could handle anymore."

"I understand," she nodded. "Fenrik will too. After what happened, this much is surprising."

"I'm stubborn." Jay quirked a grin at her, then turned serious and buried his nose in her hair. "*I'm not going to loose what we have to some psycho.*"

"Shh," she murmured, rubbing his back gently. "We won't let that happen. How about a little nap like this?"

"*I'd like that,*" he murmured and pulled a blanket over them with a bit of Force.

Jay closed his eyes during the short trip on the lift to the council chamber. He wasn't looking forward to this, for all the mission had been a simple one, except for the little bit where he'd been raped and the vid had been sent not only to his mates, but to the Council itself. A vid and package that made it look bad enough for them to send a Master out to finish his mission.

No matter how well the results looked, it was painful to remember what had happened behind the scenes. The parts that the locals didn't know, but these twelve Masters and two Healers did.

Frankly, he would have preferred if nobody knew, and he'd had to finish the mission without any assistance at all. He knew he could have, and that he hadn't had the chance....

Still, they hadn't given him very much help - just returned his lightsabers and Glovatrix. And, at heart, he knew they had to once they knew about it. And he'd already taken his solo without any serious hitches.

He opened his eyes, as centered and in control emotionally as he had been in over a week and as physically in control as he always was before them. Without a sound or hint he was still torn apart inside he walked to the center of the circle and knelt before them, facing Masters Shan and Essani, only peripherally aware that Ursal and Shi were both in the room as well.

He could feel the tremors in the Force caused by the reactions of the Council to something. He tried not to think about the fact that it was probably because of what they saw in him right now; he didn't need to worry about that right now. It did not matter to what he was here to tell them.

"Report, Padawan," Master Shan told him.

"When I arrived on Alderaan I examined the remains of the explosive devices. Despite my Gift, they were unwilling to divulge any information about who put them together. A sensitive with a talent for equipment, much like me, was behind them and instilled enough loyalty that they would not tell me. It was learned after he was captured that his talent was very limited. He was not even aware he was sensitive, and he barely registered as such.

"I then examined the locations that had been hit. While the buildings were quite willing to give information, the area where the bombs were located had been vaporized in the blasts. There was no useful information gained. I realized at that point that my Gift would be of little use in the mission, and turned by attention to more traditional investigative methods.

"I began by downloading all the information to the Sharufa, so I could work with it in the holo environment I think best in for puzzles. The pattern did appear random; two very different sets of bombings occurring at the same time. One targeting government, one targeting people. Other than the timing, they had little else in common. Yet every time I began to work them as two separate cases, I knew that was wrong, no matter what the evidence said.

"So I worked on the angle of what could be the reason behind targeting the two kinds of locations. There were few that presented themselves, and all revolved around disrupting the government and social stability.

"When I broke for dinner, I was drugged and captured. This is when the package you received was put together. They kept me sedated until I fooled my guards into not giving me another dose in time. Once I could think, I use a suggestion to put them to sleep and called Sharufa to pick me up.

"In interrogating them, I learned the names and faces of several others in the organization. I passed this information on to the local authorizes. I also learned what the next target was from them and disarmed the bombs there while the authorities picked up the conspirators. I interrogated those too stubborn to speak otherwise. Within a week we had captured most of those involved and their leader, Desa.

"I also confirmed that this is part was of the Dianogas. The leader above Desa is Blackstripe." He finished with a holo-image of what he'd taken from Desa's mind.

"Were you able to determine why they wanted to destabilize the government of Alderaan?" Master Shan asked him.

"The same reason as the attack here, Master. They wish to destroy the Republic to rebuild it in their own image."

"What package are you referring to?" Master Noloth asked him, not so much pointedly as distinctly unsure what he was referring to, a sentiment he felt most of the Council reflected after a moment to check.

"The one containing my clothes, lightsabers and a vid of my capture." Jay glanced around those in front of him, a bit confused by what he was picking up from most of them. "The reason Master Jolani was sent to complete my mission before I escaped."

"We were unaware of this," the Lizard said simply, glancing at Essani.

"*Not all of us,*" the kushiban told him privately. "*The decision was made by Masters Shan and Kareth as well. We had our reasons.*"

"*Having something to do with why his mate and her old Master are here, I presume?*"

"*You can already see the results, Master Noloth. I'm sure we can all fill in the relevant blanks without making him tell us what happened in detail.*"

"The decision to send Master Jolani was made without some members of the Council present, Padawan," Master Shan explained simply. "They were filled in on events afterwards. Were you able to find any information on where to find this Blackstripe?"

"Very little, Master Shan. What she did know was clearly quite dated. Her last known location was Coruscant, before the Kallarak Amphitheater bombing."

"Definitely dated," Master Surool agreed. "Were you able to put any thought into the question we had for you before this mission?"

"Yes, Master Surool." Jay nodded slightly. "I believe it was an instinctive, unconscious level reaction to falling unconscious in a dangerous situation, while my body was capable of moving. I remember very little of that time, but what I do remember is very base, animal-level thought. Defend myself, defend what is mine."

"Do you believe this is likely to happen again?" The pink-skinned twi'lek asked.

"If the conditions are met again, I would expect so, Master Surool." He nodded slightly.

"How are you feeling, Padawan?" Master Dyba asked, turning her head slightly, the sudden movement unnerving on an instinctive level and had a noticeable effect on Jay for everyone present, though he didn't so much as twitch.

"Badly off center, Master." He admitted quietly. He really didn't know a better way to put it. He could function, but he'd be damned if he could settle himself. Even in here the Temple he was on edge, expecting another assault, for the weakness he felt to be taken advantage of, even though he knew it wasn't going to happen.

"This began after your capture, or after your mission?" The Togruta asked him, despite a mental warning not to push too hard from Essani.

"After my capture, Master Dyba." He answered honestly.

"Why? You may answer generally," she clarified.

It took him a while to figure out how to answer. It wasn't something he'd really spent much time on. He'd been raped. He couldn't stop himself from participating in it. That was what disturbed him. He wasn't sure, though, if that was what she wanted to know, or if he could generalize it much more and still get the point across.

Eventually, he settled on the blunt, painful truth. It was the truth.

"Because of how I was captured," he spoke softly, his body showing no signs of the turmoil that everyone present could see easily in the Force. "I was not simply drugged unconscious, Master. They used a form of processed Ryl, shi wore me out, then drugged me unconscious."

Master Dyba and a couple others glanced towards the graying Panther when Master Charn drew an almost inaudible breath in shock and comprehension of just what the young feline was saying.

"*Ryl is a potent aphrodisiac for felines.*" He explained quietly to those that did not quite follow. "*Properly refined, it can not be detected when mixed into food or drink until it has had effect. It leaves one fully conscious, and unable to resist participating in a sexual advance. Even when all are willing, it can be a very distressing experience.*"

"Padawan Clawson, why did you refuse the assistance of Master Jolani when she arrived?" Master Jamni asked evenly.

He looked over at the Wolf, one of the new members of the Council along with her Togruta mate that had taken the elder Wolf pair's place.

"I did not, Master Jamni. Sergeant Gavin asked if I needed assistance until the Count's speech. I did not know there was another Jedi involved yet. I told him that anyone who helps me hunt the bombs should understand that it was voluntary and dangerous. When Master Jolani spoke later, she said she would leave the rest of the mission to me now that I was free."

"Is there anything else you have to report?" Master Surool asked Jay, not betraying his internal reaction to having his suspicions confirmed.

"No, Master." He answered without resisting the effect of being before the Council.

"I do have one more question," Master Noloth said evenly. "According to the report from the Alderaanian officials, you spoke with the leader of the Dianoga cell privately, and the security camera 'malfunctioned' while you were doing so."

"I wanted what information she had on Stacey Young, the one who captured me for them. She knew nothing more than that shi had already fled the planet and had gone by the codename Spots."

"And all you did was talk? Think carefully; did you use the Force while you were interrogating her?"

Jay paused, going back over those moments carefully.

"I stayed inside her mind enough to know if she was telling me the truth." He answered simply and honestly. "The truth suggestions I had used earlier in the interrogation may have still been affecting her. I did nothing more."

"Did you threaten her?" The Lizard asked him pointedly.

"Yes," he didn't hesitate, though there was surprisingly little emotion to it. "I threatened to give her my memories of what she had ordered done to me and the nightmares it created."

"And did you?" Master Shan asked him.

"No, Master." Jay answered softly. No one could doubt how badly he'd wanted too, or that he had walked away with nothing more than words exchanged. "She did not order it, Blackstripe did."

"Would you do this to Blackstripe, if you had the opportunity?" Master Bas'rath asked evenly.

"I expect I would, Master." He glanced up at the Lioness, the fire of a warrior who was wounded but not broken in his eyes for a brief moment. A desire for vengeance tempered by a belief in justice that ran even deeper than his Jedi training.

"And what do you intend to do with this information?" Master Kareth asked.

The question clearly caught him off guard with something he hadn't thought about much.

"Nothing, Master Kareth. All I know is in my written report. What to do is now the province of the Council and who they chose to assign the hunt to, if anyone."

"Very well," Master Shan nodded. "Padawan Clawson, if you will wait outside the Council chamber until we call for you? We wish to discuss what we have learned."

"Yes, Master Shan." Jay nodded slightly and stood in one smooth motion, leaving them to discuss his behavior without him.

"He does remarkably well under duress." Master Bas'rath said quietly after the lift had begun to descend with Jay inside. "I do not know of many Masters who would have performed so well under the same conditions."

"Thankfully, we do not often have cause to find out," Master Noloth agreed, looking over at Shivasta and Master Ursal, both of whom had been silent throughout the debriefing. "I assume you two are here to enlighten us as to how he is doing?"

"We are, Master Noloth," Shivasta nodded.

"Please do so," Master Dyba said, leaning back to watch the blue-skinned Knight as she stood and approached the middle of the room.

"As we all could see, Padawan Clawson," Shivasta reminded herself not to call him 'Jay' here, "is in a great deal of emotional pain. He is handling it well, but it will be a great deal of time before he is truly centered again. The worst damage, the memories, is also the hardest to deal with. The Demon works to reinforce them as quickly as I can work to dim them. This will simply have to heal over time."

"What duties would you consider him still capable of?" Master Charn asked with a look that was only half with the present.

"For the time being, many of the same duties he has been involved with up until now," Shivasta said. "Teaching technical and combat skills, developing new technologies for the Order, the occasional accompanied mission. I would not recommend solo missions, but his focus and center while engaged in a task is as clear as it ever was. That's part of the problem, in a way."

"Explain," Master Surool told her.

"He could be occupied with accompanied missions for the rest of his life, and he would likely not display the pain and turmoil externally," Shivasta explained. "He would likely perform admirably. However, he would not heal."

"How much danger is there of this Demon turning him with this event?" Master T'qu'l looked at her, his bead-like black eyes in sharp contrast to the flowing silver of his feathers.

"If he were left alone, I would say higher than normal," Shivasta admitted. "However, he held up for a week without any support, while the pain was still very fresh. Given that he is not alone right now, and is under the care of healers, I would say it is unlikely."

"Should not a more experienced Healer be assigned to him, given how serious this is?" Master Krry'nnu regarded both Healers with sharp eyes, silently curious why the Knight and not the Master was speaking.

There was a brief moment of silence, when Shivasta fell back to her old habit of waiting to see if her Master would reply, but when such a reply wasn't forthcoming, she replied herself.

"Even without what has happened, Padawan Clawson has a great deal of difficulty trusting people," she explained. "Given this, the decision was made that I should be the Knight in charge of his case; as his mate, he trusts me, and is more likely to open up and accept assistance with me than with a healer he feels the need to be strong in front of. Master Ursal is monitoring the situation, and has offered her assistance if we decide that a more skilled mind-healer is needed."

"Mates often operate under special rules among social races like Padawan Clawson's." Master Jamni interrupted a half-thought out question from the Eagle. "As his mate, Knight Shivasta has access to his mind that would bypass most of his trained and instinctive defensives. She would also already be present in the evening and morning when troubles with nightmares are most likely. It is a wise choice."

"Thank you, Master Jamni," Shivasta said, inclining her head slightly.

"What is your impression of the situation, Master Ursal?" Master Noloth asked.

"He is badly shaken and his ability to trust has been seriously damaged by how completely he was taken by surprise by this attack." She began, carefully avoiding most details she knew. "He is, however, willing to speak the truth to me and Shivasta has had some success with healing the damage already. It bodes very well for his recovery. It will not be a short healing period, but I expect he has not suffered any irreparable damage.

"I would add that he would do best being treated as little as if he is on light duty as possible. His behavior since the attack has made it clear to me that he takes a great deal from doing the best he can. While he should not be sent on missions of any length, giving him duties befitting his rank here at the Temple would be of assistance to his healing."

"Is there anything else the Council should be aware of, prior to making our conclusion on his performance?" Master Shan asked the two healers.

"No, Master." Shivasta shook her head fractionally even as Master Ursal agreed silently.

"Thank you, Healers," the Doberman nodded. "You may wait, if you wish."

The two Healers did just that, Shivasta moving to take her seat again as the Council settled in to debate what to do about this.

"Is there anybody here who feels that this development, and Padawan Clawson's performance on his latest mission, shows that he should not be promoted to the rank of Jedi Knight?" Master Shan asked, getting straight to the point.

It was a point that the majority of the Council did not seem to feel needed to be addressed, as the assorted nods from the twelve Masters indicated.

"I do feel that he should be put on light duty officially," Master Noloth pointed out. "However, I agree that he conducted himself well. And showed a remarkable level of restraint," the Lizard admitted.

"*I will call him up then,*" Master Essani nodded, sending the mental signal to her soon-to-be-former Padawan. She wasn't sure what to make of the surprise she felt from him at being called back so soon, but he acknowledged the summons even as he walked to the lift.

When he stepped up to kneel before them, he showed no sign of what he might be thinking.

Master Shan paused for a moment before speaking. "Padawan Clawson, it is the opinion of this Council that you conducted yourself admirably on your prior two missions. In particular, on your latest mission you demonstrated the ability to respond to changing situations and succeed in your mission despite significant setbacks and injury.

"Considering this, the Council has decided to grant you the rank of Jedi Knight."

Jay felt a sharp spike of pride deep down where even the Council could have missed it if they hadn't been watching for how he reacted. His mate, standing only a few feet away, got a much clearer look at it. Not just pride at being acknowledged, but a calmness too, as a very real set of fears died for good. He was home, he was doing what he was meant to, and he would not face his great-grandfather's path of struggling with only a partner to lean on.

He flicked his gaze up, almost as if checking that Master Shan was serious, though all knew he did not question the statement.

"Thank you, Masters." He lowered his gaze again in respect for the rank they still had over him, regardless of the promotion.

"*Hold your braid at length, Jay,*" Essani told him mentally, her fur a light golden color. "*I suspect we'd both prefer my full attention was on not cutting too close.*"

"Yes, Master." He couldn't help but smile slightly as he wrapped the long braid twice around his hand and held it out for her.

He heard the hum of her lightsaber, the bright yellow blade igniting for one of only a handful of times he'd seen it in the twelve years he'd been her Padawan. The blade and hilt moved towards him, moving around behind him and lining up so the blade would pass between his head and hand cleanly. A moment later, and the long, thin braid hung limply from his hand, Essani's lightsaber extinguished and back at her side.

"Rise, Knight Clawson," Master Shan said with a smile on his grizzled muzzle as the feline stood with as much grace and poise as he had as a senior Padawan. He rather liked the idea of his last act as head of the Council being a Knighting, particularly of somebody who'd had as unusual a career as a Padawan as Jay's. "We will call you when we have a mission." He dismissed the new Knight with the traditional words, though all knew it would be years before he saw missions like his male mate had seen in his first few months.

Jay nodded to him and bowed to the Council before turning to enter the lift, his Padawan braid still wrapped around his hand. Shi and Ursal joined him in the lift before the doors closed, leaving the Council to its business.

"I hope he recovers quickly," Master Shan said, straightening up in his seat. "I believe there are just two more orders of business left for the day?"

"*Yes, ones you have delayed some years now on my account.*" Master Essani chuckled softly.

"Hardly unwarranted delays," the Doberman smiled. "I've been on the Council for some time, but I'm hardly incapable of meeting the rigors of the office."

"*Of course not,*" Essani agreed with a nod.

"I feel that forty years on the Council fulfills any reasonable expectations for a member of my species," he continued, standing up. "I nominate Master Essani as my replacement for head of the Council; I believe Master Ty'thri'ku'mo has already been selected to fulfill the vacancy. Are there any objections?" He asked, knowing it was mostly a formality. It would be the first time in several centuries that a Councilor's choice for replacement had met any serious opposition at this stage. It had been discussed unofficially for years now, before even Dyba and Jamni had joined the Council.

He looked around at the eleven others and received subtle shakes of heads and indications that all was acceptable.

"In which case, if Master Essani will take her seat, we'll try and figure out how to fit a hundred-foot dragon onto her old one," the Doberman chuckled, walking towards the center of the room as the kushiban's seat moved to the center and Ty'thri'ku'mo's great frame landed outside and one of the floor-to-ceiling windows opened for him to step inside. Without a word, the various Councilors shifted their chairs slightly closer together around the circle so he could settle along it with them.

"You will excuse me for not taking in a chair." Master Ty'thri'ku'mo deep voice rumbled with a touch of amusement, his black scales shimmering in the evening light with his flowing red mane that cascaded down his slender, serpentine neck and across his broad shoulders.

"Of course, honored Master," Shan said, inclining his head towards with a smile and all the respect deserved by the first Drakon Jedi in the Order.

"*Then I believe we are done for the day.*" Master Essani spoke in her first act as head of the Council.

Master Shan bowed to the Council, pausing a moment as the other Councilors rose, starting down from the Spire along with his mate.

"Do you have any idea what he's up to?" Fenrik asked as he fell into step with Shi on the way to their quarters, a place they had both been banished from by Jay until dinner.

"Just that whatever it is, he's nervous as hell about it," Shi said, shaking her head. "Doesn't seem to be anything bad though."

"As if you'd let him shut the door if you did," he smiled a bit teasingly at her. "I'm definitely looking forward to dinner though."

"Of course I wouldn't," Shi agreed with a chuckle. "And yeah, so am I. Fortunately, it's just about time, and the door should be unlocking for us pretty soon."

"Speaking of unlocked." Fenrik smirked as the door slid open for them, letting the rich smells of a home-cooked dinner waft out.

"Mmm ... not sure what I'm going to be happier to see; Jay, or the meal he made," Shi grinned. "After you?"

"Definitely Jay, but it's close." The Panther winked at her and stepped inside to catch sight of an impressive layout on the table, and a hand carved wooden box as the centerpiece. "*Maybe we'll finally find out what's inside that thing.*"

"*With everything that happened, it just didn't feel right to ask him,*" Shivasta pointed out, pulling out a seat at the table for Fenrik. "Have a seat until he's out of the kitchen?" She suggested.

"*I know,*" he brushed her mind softly and sat down as Jay came out of the kitchen with a bottle of dark wine to round out the meat-heavy and stewed sweet fruits.

"I see you have found your places." He smiled warmly, the nervous edge they both felt in his mind actually visible and directed mostly at the box at the center of the table.

"Well, there aren't all that many place to sit down," Shivasta pointed out with a smile for him. "Jay? You don't have to be nervous like this."

"I can't help it." He licked his whiskers nervously and poured their wine, then a half-glass for himself. "It's a big deal, for my family."

"What is?" Fenrik asked him, taking his glass. "Sounds like you need to get it off your chest before we have to sedate you."

Jay bit his lip, torn between having dinner first and having dinner when he'd actually taste the meal he'd spend a lot of effort to create.

Slowly he picked up the rectangular box and stepped around the table to stand between his mates. He could only just keep his hands from shaking as he opened it to reveal three smaller square ones, each the width of his spread hand, nestled inside. The one on his right had a storm carved on it, the one in the middle had a stylized cat's head, and a new moon was on the third.

"Jay?" Shi asked softly, looking at the boxes that had clearly had days, if not weeks, of effort put into them.

"Most pairings do this long before now, but I couldn't until we'd all been Knighted." He set the box down so the storm-designed one was in front of Shi and the new moon in front of Fenrik and unlocked all three, opening the boxes in unison to reveal a simple black collar of exquisite quality with a tri-colored yin-yang design in ice blue, blood red and ebony black made of precious stones.

"The formalities of my family." He began softly and knelt to take one of their hands in his. "I don't remember much, but I do remember this. The symbol of mated partners in the giving of matching collars.

"I would have you both be not just my lovers and family here, but my mates and my partners in the eyes of my family and Bastet." He managed to finish without his voice cracking, but he was trembling.

They both knew, or at least had an idea, of just how much what Jay was asking meant to him.

"Of course we accept, Jay," the two of them said, almost in unison, each squeezing one of his hands gently after a moment of silence.

The relief came out in a breath, along with so much tension he nearly collapsed as he squeezed their hands back.

Panther and Ice Walker alike shifted to help support him, turning to kiss opposite cheeks affectionately as he leaned into the contact with a deep purr.

"Come on," Shi smiled. "Let's eat before the food gets cold. It wouldn't be fair to any of us to let that happen," she winked.

"Fenrik's the one who wanted to see the box first." Jay managed a weak tease as he sat down and took a sip of wine to give himself something to do while he settled as much as he could.

"And you're the one who was so nervous eating wouldn't have helped," the Panther teased back, taking his seat. "Thank you, Jay."

"To us, to memories of good timed, and strength for the bad." Jay lifted his glass in a toast to them. "Partners are forever."

"Forever," Fenrik and Shivasta both echoed, raising their glasses to his.

A Heritage of Power 3: Jay's Story 5: Trials and Pain

NC-17 for M/F, M/M and M/Herm
Het Level is MediumHet Smut Level is Medium
Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is Low
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is LowHerm Smut Level is Very Low

602 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Finished
Written April 24, 2005 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Karl Wolfemann

Setting: Star Wars (Furry)

Primary Races: Bear, Cheetah, Ice Walker, Kat, Kushiban, Panther

Contents: Furry. Het (M/F). Slash (M/M). Bestiality (Off-screen), Rape (H on M), Rape Recovery, Relationship (Established)

Pairings: Doruth Parn/Tes Ramaris, Jay Clawson/Shivasta Stormwarden/Fenrik Aren, Various others

Blurb: Adolescence left well behind for the triad, bonds of loyalty strengthen even as they spend more time apart. As Jay masters his new Force-skills and begun to work with Shi on projects that even the Council is interested in, both Padawans near the end of their formal training and their Trials. Some go well, some less so, but all go roughly as expected.

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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