A Heritage of Power 3: Jay's Story 5:
Trials and Pain part 2 of 3

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

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.

Go to Part 1         Part 2         Part 3        

A Heritage of Power 3: Jay's Story 5: Trials and Pain part 2 of 3

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 Medium
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is LowHerm Smut Level is Very Low

185 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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