Kyp Durron's mouth twisted, his hands balling into fists. All who stood beside him in the tense silence could feel the red-hot anger that stirred within him, could almost see could almost see it rise from him like steam, puncturing the musty air of the Academy library. But just as suddenly as the flash of rage appeared, it thinned and dissipated, seeming to cool into mere frustration.
As if regretting the momentary lapse of composure, he sighed and unclenched his hands, looking to Luke in apology. "I'm... sorry, Master," he said, bending his head down to avoid Luke's eyes. "I know shouldn't have let it get to me like that..."
But there was no judgement on Luke's face, nor was there rebuke--only the understanding of one who had known the feeling of helplessness all too well. He came to the young man's side, placing a hand on his shoulder. "It's all right, Kyp," he said softly. "I don't think there's anyone in this room who isn't as upset as you are over this."
Kyp shook his head without bringing his eyes from the ground. "Master, he brought so many young souls to ruin," he said. His voice was raw with the pain of knowing, of having walked down the same path years ago. "The thought of that maniac on the loose, getting ready to awaken this army of his and destroy all we have here..."
"He won't succeed," Callista said. She came over to him and laid a hand on his arm, but the tension in his muscles told her the gesture was unwelcome. With a sigh of acknowledgement, she took her hand away, then added softly, "I came here to make sure he wouldn't."
He was still for what seemed like an eternity, and for a moment, she feared she had offended him by speaking. Then at last he exhaled and nodded--though never once did he look in her direction. If she ever had any doubt that his reaction to seeing her again was chilly at best, his refusal to look in her eyes just now only confirmed it for her. He made little attempt to disguise his contempt for her; his face couldn't hide it.
Nor could it hide the remnants of distrust.
She felt it from all of them in the room--Luke's former students, now full-fledged Jedi in their own right, gathered in the archives that morning at his request. Here in the small confines of the library, in the presence of the close-knit group whose bond was so evident, there was no escaping the fact that she didn't belong. That they felt she didn't belong. Their eyes bore down on her with the weight of unanswered questions, unspoken accusations that had only grown over the years. And though the words never once fell from their mouths, they sliced into Callista just the same.
Six years ago, she had been little more than a painful reminder of the friend they had lost to a cruel fate. The woman who had taken the place of their comrade and had the same hair, the same face, the same body, but wasn't--couldn't be--her. She remembered the way they avoided her eyes. She remembered the stolen glances that they thought she hadn't noticed, the awkward silence that always followed her whenever she was alone in a room with them, the effort it took for them to see her for who she was.
Had she had the Force, she might have been able to make them forget. But without it, she couldn't even command their respect.
She stood before them now--no longer the mirror image of the one who had given her a second chance at life--but as her own woman. Time had replaced Cray's fine, cornsilk locks with her own malt-brown curls, and changed the delicate, porcelain features to her own face. But still in spite of all that, she felt their reluctance to accept her.
As painful as it was to admit to herself, she knew: even after all these years, they still resented her. They resented her not only for the disappointment of the past, but for the one crime that they could not seem to forgive--leaving Luke.
How can I blame them, she thought. They all loved him--as a father, as a teacher. They loved him as much as she did. And she had hurt him. Intentionally or not, she had hurt him.
She felt Luke's eyes on her. She looked up at him and caught his smile, and she could almost hear him whisper, Give them time. They just need time...
But there was no time to dwell on the sting of their rejection--the matter at hand was far too important for that. There was only one thing she could do, given the gravity of the situation, and that was to push aside their contempt for her and speak to them about what had brought them together under the most tenuous of alliances. In the end, she thought, they would have to see past their history and focus on what needed to be done.
They had little choice but to do so.
"I think everyone knows why we're here today," she said. "We've got to act quickly before Rath strikes-"
"If he hasn't already awakened one of his 'friends'," Kyp said grimly.
Tionne tilted her head at him, an almost motherly gesture that caused shards of light to reflect in her silvery hair. "We don't even know if he knows where they are," she said. "The details of the legend are pretty sketchy--that's why we're here, remember?What if he doesn't know?"
"She's right," Luke said. "We don't know how much he knows, and if there's even the smallest chance that he has no more information than we do, then we've got one thing to our advantage: there's only one of him, but there's far more of us. He can't be in more than one place at a time, and if we strike fast enough, we can get to them before he does."
"And the only way to do that is to comb as many of the records here as we can," Callista said. Their eyes fell on her again, a little more softened than before, though still far from welcoming. It's a start, she told herself, and encouraged, she continued. "We don't have a lot of time. Who knows where he could be now and what he's managed to do already... But with all of us looking for something in here, hopefully we'll be able to find what we need."
From the corner of her eye, she saw Tionne nod. "We'll find it," she said softly, reminding Callista for a moment of the young woman who six years ago had made the rare attempt to connect with her--even help her. "If there's anything at all, we'll find it."
Callista gave her a grateful smile, then watched her and the other students begin to disperse. "Thank you," she called out to them, not knowing what else to say to them, hoping they would know she meant it. They turned to look at her as they exited the room, and Callista could almost swear she had seen at least part of their iciness melt away. It's a start, she told herself. Not much, but it's something.
After a while, she felt Luke's hand on her shoulder, and she turned beside her to face him.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I didn't think that they... I'm sorry..."
"Luke, it's not your fault," she said softly. "And it's not theirs either. It's just... the way things are. I can't change the past. None of us can."
He said nothing for a few moments, though she knew he would have, if he had just known the right words. And as if to spare him the effort, she smiled and said, "Come on, let's go have a look at Djinn's old things..."
"You got it," he said, returning her smile.
He led her down the corridor, past the rooms where the students had gone, and they turned the corner to come to a small out-of-the way room, almost hidden away from all the others.
Time turned back forty years when she entered it.
It smelled of old books and scrolls and treasures long since forgotten, nearly lost in the purge that had all but extinguished the light of the Jedi. It smelled of memories--her memories. Of Djinn and the Chu'unthor, her fellow students, and the pure joy of discovering the Force for the first time, and knowing that despite the agony of leaving home, she had made the right choice to follow her calling.
"This should all be familiar to you," Luke said from where he stood behind her. "It's all the things we managed to salvage from the Chu'unthor." She heard him laugh softly, the somewhat-flustered laugh of his when he was embarrassed. "It's not exactly organized, I know, but... I've never really had much of a chance over the years to go through all of these things myself and put them in their proper places."
She smiled at him in an effort to erase his guilt, then in a silent reverence, looked around her. She touched nothing at first, half-afraid that the ancient artifacts would dissolve under her fingertips from age, or else all turn out to be nothing but breathtaking facsimiles of the things she had forgotten until now. Her eyes took in everything that crammed the crowded tables, the bins stuffed to the brim, the overflowing shelves that crawled along the walls. She made out the items that before now she had only remembered in pieced-together memories: a broken-off piece from the steel platform on Bespin; trusty old remotes, cracked and yellowed over time; the tools they had used to fashion their lightsabers; torn fragments of the brown rough-woven cloth of their Jedi robes; Djinn's countless manuals and books and papers.
She reached for a loose sheet of parchment paper tucked between two fat books on one of the shelves. It felt fragile in her hands, dried and old, and the writing had almost completely faded. As she examined it, she couldn't help but smile, remembering the quirky, wise old man who had been her master--remembering the almost child-like excitement in his eyes when he told them the old legends; his stern, uncompromising voice that drove them to their limits; his quick smile when they most needed encouragement. She turned around to show the paper to Luke. "This was from his notes," she said. "The others used to tease him all the time about insisting on handwriting everything when he could have easily kept his records on data pads and computers. But he always said that Jedi lived simple lives, and that as revolutionary as technology was, we should always try to remember the simple way of doing things."
Luke chuckled softly. "Ah, the wisdom of the old masters..." He took the page from her and turned it over in his hands, and he fell silent for a time. Handing it back to Callista, he said softly, "Sometimes... Sometimes I wonder when I'll ever get to that stage."
She placed the sheet back on the shelf and smiled at him. "You're already further along than you think, Luke," she said. "Look at what you've been able to accomplish on your own-"
"Not without mistakes," he said, eyes not meeting hers.
She touched his hand. "Not without triumphs either. And the triumphs have outnumbered the defeats. I've never met anyone with as much courage and heart. You'll get there, I promise. I have all the faith in the universe that you'll get there."
I just wish I could have helped you get there, she thought. She felt tears begin to burn her eyes, and she turned away, not wanting him to see her like this.
But he must have seen anyway.
"Callista, I'm... sorry if being here is difficult for you..."
She brushed aside the loose curls from her eyes and looked at him. "It's all right, Luke," she said after a while. "I guess I'm just feeling a little sentimental going through Djinn's things."
"No," he said, "I meant... being here. On Yavin. Being here with me."
She blinked at back at him, surprised at his words, not quite knowing what to say in response.
"I know this can't be very easy for you after the way things... after everything that happened with us. We've both moved on with our lives, and... I'm sorry you had to revisit this...."
We've both moved on with our lives...
The words stung her unexpectedly. She was happy he had moved on--she had wanted nothing more than for him to find peace after she had said good-bye. It was the reason she left in the first place. And yet hearing him say it felt like a crushing blow.
But I never moved on, Luke. I never got over you...
"I couldn't... not come, Luke," she said, finally finding her voice after the surprise of his statement. "When I found out... I couldn't..."
"I'm glad you did..."
Slowly, she saw him move closer, so slowly that part of her wondered if she was only imagining that the gap between them was shrinking. She felt his breath on her face, and as her words trailed off, she found herself moving towards him, pulled by a force that was stronger than either one of them. She closed her eyes, and felt the faintest brush of his lips on hers--half-way between touching and not touching...
Threepio's pristine voice jolted them both back into reality, like an unexpected blast of cold Hoth air in the desert heat of Tatooine. Callista could still hear Luke's heart pounding in her ears--or perhaps it was the sound of her own blood throbbing in her veins--and she gave him a slightly embarrassed grin as she pulled away.
It felt like a lifeline had been severed when she pulled away.
As if realizing he had interrupted, the droid paused in the doorway and started to back away. "Oh I beg your pardon, I didn't mean to intrude... I seem to always have the worst timing for this-"
"It's all right, Threepio," Luke said. Slowly--as if it were the last thing in the universe that he wanted to do--he released his hold on Callista. "What is it?"
"It's Mistress Leia, sir," Threepio said. "She's sent an urgent message for the both of you."
Callista's eyes flew to Luke's and she straightened immediately. "She found something?"
"Yes, it appears so, madam. She believes... that she may have found a rather important clue."
"I almost didn't see them."
Leia stood before a faintly humming comm terminal, somewhere deep inside one of the dull, gray crypts where for his generation-long rule--and even years after, that until the labyrinthine vaults were discovered--Palpatine had amassed decades worth of secret files. "With all the data that's in here," she said, slightly flushed and breathless, "I'm lucky it only took me hours to come across this, instead of weeks." The words came swiftly out of her mouth, as if she were already two, or three, or even ten steps ahead in her own mind.
Luke smiled at her, and with a sideways glance at Callista, said matter-of-factly, "We could use some good luck for a change."
Callista watched his eyes crinkle in amusement, feeling a smile of her own form on her lips. "Now you're starting to sound like me," she said. "What was it again that you said Obi-Wan told you? There's no such thing as luck?"
"Ben would have changed his mind," he said, "if he had seen half the things we've been through in our lifetime."
She laughed softly. "I suppose you're right."
The terminal whistled behind Leia and she turned to glance at the monitor, whose pattern of amber lights and shapes captured the attention of Callista's tired eyes. "Are these... Jedi records, Leia?" she said. "I've always wondered if... Palpatine had saved some of the things from the Purge... Somehow I can't imagine that he'd destroy all traces of it--he must have kept some items, if for no other reason than to stash them away in these secret vaults of his."
"No, I'm afraid not," Leia said, shaking her head. "There isn't much left, and what little we did find here when we took over Imperial City years ago Luke kept and took with him to the Academy. All we've got here now are a few random files that unfortunately, won't be of much help to us with this. But..." She turned back to face them and straightened, the braided loops of her hair swaying lightly as she stood, and Callista could have sworn she saw a hint of a cautious smile on Leia's face--one that raised goosebumps on her skin. "I found something that I think is quite interesting."
Luke shifted in his stance and stepped closer to her holo. "What is it? What did you find?"
"The Emperor took no chances when it came to what his subjects could and could not know." Her voice, Callista noticed, had taken on the hardened quality of one who had fought bitterly against injustices for years, the same steely tone Callista heard in her own voice at times, when she spoke of the horrors she herself had witnessed. "We all knew for years that he had suppressed news information during his reign," she said, her knuckles white as she gripped the edges of the comm terminal. "But what we didn't know until just now, is that he had gone much further than that. He had sealed off older news records as well--those that were from before he came into power in the Senate."
Callista's eyes locked with Luke's, and for an electric second, the air ceased to exist in her lungs. "How old, Leia? How far do these news records go back?"
"Far enough," Leia said, her dark eyes alive and vibrant, "for me to have found a mention of a padawan named Ved Larkam. And far enough for me to have found some information about his companions as well."
Callista straightened immediately. "You know who they are? No one's... The legends never mentioned any specific names other than Larkam's..."
"Well, there's nothing in these news records that connects him directly with the others," Leia said. "But knowing what we know... I think we can start to put some of the pieces of the puzzle together here."
"What do they say?" Luke said.
Leia punched at the keyboard, causing the monitor to spew forth a multitude of bright letters in rapid succession. "Callista said Larkam ran away from the Temple when he was about eighteen... Sure enough, right around that time, reports surfaced about a Jedi padawan who turned up missing."
"The news bureaus would have had a field day with that," Luke commented. "A missing padawan would have gotten everyone's attention, I might imagine."
"Indeed it did. They followed the stories for months... Two years later when he still hadn't been found, they reported that he had been presumed dead, though the Jedi never officially stopped searching for him."
"No," said Callista softly, "they would never have given up looking for one of their own."
"It wasn't long after he was presumed dead that it happened again. Nine padawans disappeared this time, just as mysteriously as Larkam did, and when they weren't found after several months, they too were presumed dead."
Behind her, Callista could hear the change in Luke's breath.
"So they never knew what happened to them," he murmured. "Was there any other mention of them after that?"
Leia nodded. "Just once more," she said. "Decades later, an old man surfaced, claiming to have been one of the nine who had been missing. The news bureaus all humored him--by then the story of the missing padawans had become one of the oldest unsolved mysteries--and he told them things that eventually got passed down in the legend. Unfortunately, most of those who covered the story didn't take him very seriously. To them, he was just an old man with a tall tale that would amuse some folks around the galaxy who wouldn't know any better than to believe him."
"Until now," Callista said, "I can't say I really believed the stories much either."
After some time, Leia said, "I'm sorry... I wish there had been more information for me to give you..." She turned again to punch a key on the terminal, and the lights on the monitor screen went dead.
"You've given us so much already, Leia," Callista said. "We know far more now than we did this morning, and that's something. It's not everything yet--but it is something."
"I just hope we find something else soon." She smiled through the holo and opened her mouth to say something, then closed it back again a few seconds later as if unsure of her next words. At last she said, "I'm glad I could help, even a little. And... I'm glad..."
Callista returned her smile before Leia could even finish the sentence. Though the words hadn't been spoken, Callista understood nonetheless what they were. "We'll find them, Leia," she said, and she suddenly remembered something Djinn had told her. "The light will always triumph over the dark."
She knew it. Felt it.
Beside her, she felt Luke's smile.
Luke was still sleeping when Callista had finally given in to her restlessness and rose in the early morning darkness. She had been careful to make as little noise as possible when she tiptoed past his room, weaving her way through the shadows and the obstacle course of furniture in the living room--hoping all the while that she had remembered enough of where everything was six years ago so she wouldn't bump into anything and wake Luke or the droids.
She didn't want him to know that she had woken. She didn't want him to know that all through the night, nameless, faceless images had plagued her surface dreams and kept her from surrendering completely to deep sleep. Thoughts had swirled randomly in her head in her semi-lucid state: half-answered questions and still more questions that arose from those, Leia's discovery, and their failure to find just one more clue after it. The missing link still eluded them, and Callista knew with everything in her that time was running out with each failed attempt to find it.
She entered the archives in utter darkness. Blackness blanketed the walls of the narrow corridors that led to the main hall and branched off to the dozens of other smaller areas. Running her hand across the walls as she walked, Callista finally found the light switch, and the tracklights below and above her suddenly hummed to life.
Her footsteps echoed on the cold floor when she came into the main hall--a sound all too familiar to her. And at once, she remembered.
There were many nights like this one years ago, lonely nights among the books when she would stay into the early dawn pouring over old records in her desperate search for the answers to her missing powers. Luke would long be asleep in their bed by then, never knowing when the morning came that she had left his side while he slept and stolen away to the archives. Every morning she promised herself that she would stay in his arms that night--that she would forsake the ever-fruitless search that called her name like a siren beckoning her. But each night she was unable to resist the call.
Now it was this new search that called her name, calling her forth from sleeplessness to the familiar halls of the library in search of that one more clue or secret--the last piece of the puzzle that would make all of this make sense.
Or at least she hoped.
She knew every centimeter of this place. Even if she hadn't had the tracklights to guide her, she would have known exactly how to navigate the halls that snaked around the various rooms, known exactly what books and equipment each room contained. And she knew, when she walked back in to the tiny, cramped room where she had spent too many nights years ago shedding tears of loneliness and frustration, that whatever they needed to find would be in here.
This room may have failed her once before, but something told her it would not fail her now. It couldn't.
Her eyes went to the shelves instinctively. As in the other rooms, they were crammed full, bent from the weight of the worn books that filled each centimeter along the walls. As if it would ensure that she wouldn't overlook something, she ran her hand across the old bindings, reading the labels on each book as she went along. Old training manuals, instructional references, record books...
The weight of her indrawn breath pressed against her ribs. Her hand shook as she reached for one, part of her almost wondering if it would disappear once she touched it, like a mirage her exhausted and increasingly desperate mind had conjured up. She pulled it from the shelf and gingerly set it down on the table, going through each yellowed page with the eyes of a child in wonder.
Something's got to be in here... Something...
She stood once more, scanning the entire row filled with the others--older ones, each one more worn and fragile than the last. Then her eyes stopped at one. Trembling all over, she reached for it and for a long time, she merely stood, cradling it in her arms like the long-lost treasure that it was.
She gasped sharply in the broken silence, and saw Luke standing in the doorway.
"I'm sorry," he said, "I didn't mean to catch you by surprise, I just..." Slowly, he walked in and came to her side. "I was worried. I didn't know where you were, and..."
"How--how did you know I had left?"
He shook his head. "It doesn't matter," he said. "I'm just... I'm glad you're all right."
She noticed he avoided her eyes, Callista noticed. At length she said, "You had another dream about me... Didn't you?"
He didn't answer her at first, as if he didn't want to admit it to himself, much less to her. Then at last he nodded and sighed. "It wasn't any clearer than the other ones, though," he said softly, almost in the tone of apology. "I still can't tell you what it is, Callista, but..." His hand reached for her cheek and brushed aside a lock of hair--the first time since she had come back to Yavin that he had reached for her so deliberately--and she didn't resist his touch.
"I know you don't need me to protect you. And the last thing I want to do is make you feel helpless, because I know you're not, but..."
She smiled and squeezed his hand, assuring him that though he struggled with the words, she knew what he meant--and was touched by it. "Luke, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to worry you, I promise--but I just didn't want to wake you..." She sighed and sat down at the table, gently pulling him down with her. "I couldn't sleep. Every time I tried, I would just wake up again a few minutes later... I kept thinking about how much time we're losing by not knowing where to find Rath, and-"
"And how much time he's gaining while we continue to search here..."
"You know," he said, smiling, "you could have woken me up. I would have gladly gotten up to help you here."
She laughed softly. "As I recall, it was always quite a feat to wake you up."
"That's because I was usually dreaming of you and I didn't want the dream to end."
Callista felt her cheeks grow hot and she smiled shyly before taking her eyes away from him, reaching for the book to slide it towards him. "I found this just now."
"What is it?"
"It's a Jedi record book, Luke. Every year when they would bring in babies into the Temple as padawans, they would begin to record everything about them in here--birthdays, birth names, family history, medical history... They kept as much information as they could about each child."
Luke looked up at her. "Quite different than what we're used to here," he commented.
"Yes, quite different," she said quietly. She touched the book again, caressing it as she would caress a child. "I wish... you could have known what it was like, Luke... We were strong once, great and thriving, until..."
His hand closed over hers, warm and comforting--knowing her thoughts though she could not find the words to express them.
"This was from around the time that Larkam and the others were in the Temple," she said at last. "I was hoping I'd find something in here--though at this point I'm not even sure what we should be looking for."
He took the book from her and opened it, the yellowed pages crackling as he turned them. "Larkam, Ved... There he is, I found him-" His eyes widened and met hers.
"Luke, what is it?" She leaned in close to him to look at the page. "What did--oh stars..."
Midichlorian count: 3000 (high range)
Tested at the age of 2 years (note: older than most padawans, but still under maximum age)
Entered as padawan standard date 12841138-5422
Family name: Larkam
Location of discovery and testing: Corellia
Birthplace: Chad III
Callista blinked a few times, part of her wondering if the words would change once she opened her eyes again "Chad," she whispered, then looked to Luke once again. "He was born on Chad..."
"Callista, I think... I think I know where the others may be..."
She swallowed hard, knowing before he even said the words what it was he was thinking--because the very same thoughts ran through her head at that moment.
"They went to their birth planets to hide... That's it, isn't it?"
He wasn't looking at her, but
rather on the page, as if
expecting it to confirm his
suspicions somehow. "They're
there," he said, finally
raising his head to look
at her. The determination
in his eyes made her believe
as well. "I know it with
everything in me,
Callista. That's where we'll find them."
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