Kan sat by the clear, rippling pool, its wrinkled surface shimmering as it caught the overhead light and threw it into the waves, making the water explode into fragments of dancing, sparkling colors. Underneath its iridescent surface, blue, green, and purple lights flickered, reflecting the world above in distorted dimensions as they flecked across the stony bottom.
He had been seen by the Council about eight hours ago, alone. They had been understanding, but also disappointed by his conduct. They had been firm in dealing out his punishment ––– a reprimand, which was a great embarrassment to Kan, who had always been considered a "clean student" How his friends would laugh at him now!
But privately, Kan was relieved. Relieved that his punishment hadn't been any worse. He had been so certain that he would be expelled, he actually did not even understand Mace Windu's words until he had repeated himself six times, which annoyed Windu especially. And Kan did not want to annoy Master Windu. To annoy Master Windu meant experiencing the consequences. He had to be extra careful in the future.
Aedan and his cohorts had been confined to their rooms under heavy restrictions. They were not even allowed to communicate by comlink, let alone leave their rooms for mealtimes. Kan actually felt a little sorry for them. Their intentions were good, but they had been overambitious. But wasn't Kan the same way? They were only foolhardy boys like himself, eager to grow up and get out to see the galaxy.
But they were in for a big disappointment. The galaxy was a sorry mess, terribly marred by relentless, bloody tyrants waging war, and twisted by false friendships and deep betrayals. Even the senators, who were supposed to be representatives of their planets, no longer cared for the welfare of their people. The Senate was a gathering place for villainy, frippery, and empty flattery. These fashion models just handed over all their power of decision to the Chancellor ––– who was not a bad choice, but may become greedy with his powers ––– so that they could put down their work and amuse themselves at fancy restaurants and in front of mirrors.
Furious, Kan picked up a stone and hurled it savagely at the water, marring its silvery surface as it descended into the lake with a dull plop. Everything around him was too happy to be in a horrible world like this. Even the pool seemed to smile. It was impertinent to have such joy in the midst of such a disgusting place. Had Ruru really died for all this? For a galaxy ruined by carelessness and corruption?
Jordin was standing over him. Kan knew this because first of all he could feel her presence within the Force, second because he could see her reflection in the water. The waves from the stone he had thrown was horribly distorting her features, making her look more like some skinny, deformed monster than the sweet, innocent little girl that she was. Oddly, it made him think of a lesson he had learned long ago, of anger twisting ones thoughts and deeds and eventually turning something good into something evil. He had been angry, and to provide an outlet to release his fury upon, he had thrown the rock. The rock had horrifyingly altered the appearance of Jordin's reflection. Would his anger serve as a trail, winding diabolically yet creeping steadily towards the way of the Sith?
"Kan? Are you all right?"
Of course I am all right, he said silently, Are you crazy? I have never felt better in my entire life.
"You liar." A voice inside told him.
He frowned at her reflection. He was not going to speak to her. He did not want to. He just wanted her to go away, to leave him alone in his torment.
Jordin should have taken the hint and left. But she didn't. She stayed where she was.
"I thought I would find you here. Zett is looking for you. He's still kind of mad at us for taking off without him as he was snoring away in a corner not ten meters away from our ship. He expects a sincere apology from you, so you'd better hurry up and see him. He really misses you."
Ah, Zett, Kan thought to himself, Before the battle you were seven and I was thirteen years old. What I have learned since then has made me an old man, because I finally realized what the galaxy really is.
He scowled into the depths of the pool. How dare she come and interrupt his thoughts like this? And then begin prattling off to him about how his friend is expecting an apology from him. Some friends he had. Did they have any compassion in them at all? "I don't want to be disturbed," he said harshly. "I can't be expected to continue as if the battle had never been fought, as if they all didn't die. I can't forget him…" he couldn't finish.
She looked at him. "But you must continue," she said. "The Council expects you to. That's is why we weren't expel –––"
"They are unfair in making the assumption that I will go on," he said bitterly. "Why must I live? Why must I have the sounds of the screaming and shrieking of the dying and the sight of bodies tossed into the air by laser fire, blood falling like rain, forever ingrained in my mind?"
"Perhaps," she said. "It is part of our judgment upon ourselves. It is the natural result of our actions. We must endure it. It is the only way we can survive. It is our fully deserved punishment. Or perhaps," she wondered aloud, "it is not only a punishment, but another chance that we have been given?"
"For what?" Kan said vehemently. "The galaxy is a mess. My Mm…my Master. He's…I have none. We no longer have the benefits of being on good terms with the Council. We may not even live through one year of the war. What kind of chance is that?"
"Some things," Jordin said, "are best answered by yourself. I'll see you later."
He felt a slight breeze as her cloak fanned out behind her when she crept off. But the cool puff of air only made his face feel hotter with shame. Now he had even been rude to his own friend. His brow furrowed as he gazed deeper into the water, his nose skimming its surface. He was not going to think about Jordin right now. He must push down his guilt…
Why was he still alive, while Ru…his Master, who had done nothing wrong, was…dead. It wasn't fair. Why was Kan given another chance to live as a Jedi, striving to spread peace in the galaxy? He wasn't the right person for the job. He was not deserving of such an honorable position.
You should leave. The Council is wrong to even let you stay on. No one is going to choose you.
"But if I leave, I'll be sent to the AgriCorps, like all the other failed students."
But you aren't a failed student. You'd be leaving of your own free will. The galaxy is huge. You can go anywhere.
"But where will I go?"
He felt his heart fall. It was all just empty hopes and dreams that he had now. If he left, he would wander aimlessly in and out worlds and most likely fall into bad company that could use him and his Jedi skills to evil purposes. But if he stayed…how would he become a Jedi? He was beyond the age of being chosen. And what reputable Master would want him, anyway? He was a terrible being. He had outrightly disobeyed the Council, and because of that, many others suffered.
And you reacted in anger when it could have been an opportunity for you to be Jedi-like…
Never mind. That was not so important. Nothing bad had come of it. Right now all he was concerned about was what he should do now. The past was gone.
What if I wasn't there? Would He have lived to return to me?
He suddenly felt a surge in the Force, so strong it could only come from a Jedi Master.
He looked around frantically, desperately trying to find a place to hide. He did not want to meet any more Jedi, not after what happened. Especially not now, when the shame and guilt were still hanging heavy over him. He had to get away…
A tap on his shoulder made the blood drain from his face. Too late. They had rooted him out.
Maybe if I don't turn around…
"Are you crazy?" he said to himself. "Stop running away from things you don't want to face. This is life. Live it. The running away stops now. Turn around."
He turned his head to face the Jedi.
To his surprise, it was not the stern Mace Windu, or the harsh disciplinarian Rei Saffron who confronted him, as he had thought. Instead, it was Yoda who stood before him, gazing upon him with his deep, calm, green-blue eyes. There was no emotion revealed on the old Master's face, which made Kan furious in spite of himself. Why couldn't he tell what the Masters were thinking? It was a Jedi skill that he was supposed to be taught. Were they teaching him everything about the Force, or just things that they wanted him to know?
Beside Yoda, stood a taller, trim figure in black. Keen dark-blue eyes looked down at him intently. Kan suddenly felt very uncomfortable under these two scrutinizing gazes. And he felt even more perturbed at the sight of Adriaan. She alone was the last person he wanted to see.
He was in a torment. It felt like all of his thoughts were being pulled out of him against his will, to be stared at with painfully bright eyes, then thrown out into the wind; thrown away, as if it all amounted to nothing. That was how powerful Adriaan's and Yoda's gazes were. They seemed to know exactly what Kan was thinking.
Personally, I feel like running off to crawl into the darkest hole I can find.
"Young Enik, expelled, you were not," Yoda said. "But a problem, now you are."
Kan nodded, keeping his eyes averted so that they would not see the look of pain on his face. "What must I do?" he murmured humbly.
"Yourself, answer you must," the great Jedi answered. Then he nodded at Adriaan, as if receiving a silent signal from her. She gestured with her hand. Then he turned away, hobbling at a surprising rate back down the hallway.
Kan swallowed. Now it would come. A nameless dread was stirring inside him, so that he looked upon the beautiful girl before him as a monster, as a disgusting, loathsome creature that had dared to intrude upon his meditations.
She hates me. I can feel her contempt. Why is she tormenting me?
"Are you going to talk or do I have to leave?" Adriaan asked brusquely.
At first Kan was astounded at her shortness with him. Shouldn't he be treated with kindness, now that the person that had been like a father to him was lost forever? He felt like running up and shouting into her ear, "Leave! I do not want you as a friend!" But then he remembered something that made him stop to think. Something that had happened during the battle, but he had been too distracted to pay much attention to it before.
"I know you can do it, Kan," Adriaan had whispered into his ear. She had been trying to encourage him, to raise him up, to make him keep going. He had been so full of grief that he had never even thanked her. Instead, he had wanted her to go away, to leave him. He had wanted to shout "I hate you!" into her face.
What am I? She was a friend to me, and all I have repayed her with is rudeness and contempt. What am I becoming?
You need to wake up. You need to step forward. Get up. Stop looking back. Look forward.
It starts now.
He looked up at her. He did not attempt to smile, but he hoped that the expression on his face would communicate his gratitude to her. He could not smile. No one could smile in a galaxy like this…
"Yoda and I have had a long discussion," she began hesitatingly. "About…many things."
A vague vision swirled in the back of his mind, but he forced himself to keep his focus. "What things?"
"We spoke of the battle and its outcomes." she paused, her face darkening. Then she went on quietly. "Many Jedi have been killed. Our numbers have decreased to a pitiful amount. And there were so few of us to begin with. We have been spread too thin throughout the galaxy, striving to keep peace. It is getting harder and harder as the need for Knights is becoming more and more evident."
She fell silent again. Kan saw her struggle within herself, as if trying to decide on what to say next.
"That was part of the reason why I was knighted at so young an age," she said finally. "Don't you see? The Jedi need all of us. We cannot forsake…" again her face had a guarded look.
Suddenly Kan realized something. It was not just in her body and looks that made her look too young, it was also her soul that was so unready. It was like a child who had lost its mother in the crowd and could not find her again, could not even move, she was so petrified. Why was she a Jedi if she seemed to still have a need for guidance?
"I heard that she did something that really impressed the Council, so they knighted her. Do you know her?" he had asked so short a time ago. The first day he met her. What had she said in reply?
"I am Adriaan ell Talaan, but I do not know what I did that so impressed them. It was just the timing…"
"Adriaan, what happened to you?" Kan asked her silently. "Why are you so evasive about your Apprenticeship?"
"You said that Yoda spoke to you about many things," he said aloud, trying to encourage her to say more.
She let out a long-held breath. "We talked about my, uh…skills, in teaching. I would have been the class monitor in my clan when I was student if I…" she broke off. "Anyway, it didn't work out, but my talents did not completely pass the Jedi Council. There were some private issues that Yoda discussed with me, so I cannot tell you everything, and there is no way you will ever find out until it has happened. If it happens."
Kan stared at her for a long time. "What about Darc Chun-be?"
Immediately, he saw her brow furrow. "Well, what do you mean what about him? I told you I don't discuss Darc Chun-be."
"But you must!" Kan burst out. "All I've heard from you is broken off sentences and unfinished speeches! If you continue to hide inside yourself, you'll go crazy! You need to talk about Darc. For your own sanity."
Her shoulders were slumped, and her head was downcast, as if disappointed. He suddenly felt guilty for yelling at her. He was becoming too nosy for his own good. He had to remember that she was a Jedi, and Jedi do not discuss their problems with Apprentices. "I ––– I'm sorry," he said in a quieter tone. "You don't have to speak about him if it hurts you."
"No," she said abruptly. "You were right. I do need to talk about Darc to you. It is only your due. Chun-be and I were allies," she said. "We fought, we disagreed on almost everything, but…we stood up for each other. I had wanted to be his friend, but…" she waved her hand in dismissal. "He was too prideful; treated me like a little kid that needed his protection. That drove me crazy. I was in the medical center in critical condition when he decided to leave the Order." her eyes were very bright with unshed tears. "I never saw him again. It nearly killed me. All that time, and I had always thought…" she shrugged. "So you see why I do not like to speak of him. I prefer to think he does not exist."
He looked at her, pondering over what she had said. "Did you talk about this with Yoda?"
Now she looked embarrassed. "Not really," she admitted. "I am not good with words, Kan. I never was. I do not express my true feelings very well, either. Perhaps Darc thought I considered him to be a conceited fool. Maybe I did, at first. Then I noticed something. There are two characters to beings: their public, and their private personality. Some people are honest; they talk and act like they truly are. I may seem businesslike and friendly on the outside, maybe a little brusque sometimes," she added apologetically, "but inside, there is a completely different person. Do you understand what I am saying?"
He inclined his head. Little did she know how well he understood. For wasn't he the same way? Quiet and composed in appearance to his friends, but on the inside…there was much anger in him. Yes, he understood Adriaan perfectly.
"I see it inside you, too," Adriaan said now. "You have always seemed so calm and reserved, but…
His head jerked up. What was this girl? Could she read minds? "What do you mean?"
Her gaze was serious. "Well, for instance, I know that you wanted to kill Jango Fett."
He stood up so suddenly that he almost fell backwards into the pool in his haste. "I do not know what you are talking about," he said distinctly. "I hardly know you, and I will not lower myself to listen to your empty lies. I have never wanted to kill…"
Kan, what are you doing? This isn't the Kan I know. Come back, Kan. You are going the wrong way.
"There is no wrong way," Kan said aloud, brushing past Adriaan proudly. They were all wrong. He was one and the same. There was no other Kan. No secret Kan, no altered Kan, there was just Kan. How dare they suggest such a thing?
"Perhaps it wouldn't have been suggested if it hadn't happened in the first place…"
He stopped in mid-stride. He did not turn, for he did not want her to see that his face was hot red with shame. "What is it?"
"Please don't go away." Her voice floated in the air toward him, clear and sad, but with a wobble, as if her words were like mist swirling over his head, curling and wisping about as if it had been disturbed by his presence. "Don't walk away, like the, the rest…" her words sank down so that they became inaudible. "I thought that you were different from them," she said. "I had hoped…no, I was wrong to even think of it. You are right, Kan, I hardly even know you. I see that now." She was crouching on the floor now, her head between her knees. "Go," she said. "Go and feast upon your empty dreams of revenge. It will do you no good. I know. I know…"
By now, all Kan could see was a blurred, hazy vision of her, forlorn and rejected by him ––– him! The monster, the terrible person that had wanted revenge and would have done anything to get it. And now because of it, he had hurt his friend ––– for she was his friend. She alone had always believed in him. She and his Master…
"Adriaan." His voice rang across the empty space separating them. "I'm sorry."
She hardly looked up. "Ah, it is all the same with you Jedi," she said, as if speaking to something inside her, "that false modesty. They have pulled it off too many times on me. Go away. Don't disillusion me with your false apologies." She stood up as if ready to go.
This is the end. She is walking away. And she will never come back…
"NO!" Kan shouted. "Don't leave! I'm sorry! I haven't been the Apprentice I should have been! I admit my anger! I wanted to kill Jango Fett! I wanted to! But now I know," he said bitterly, "How wrong it was for me to even think about it. How wrong it was for me to even be there. I felt guilty for my actions, but I was afraid. What if the Council expelled me if I told them? So I didn't. I lied. Please, please believe me. I can't lose you like I lost my Mm…"
She was looking at him with an odd expression that was half sad and half…relieved? Had Adriaan ell Talaan been afraid? Afraid of something that may have happened to him? Because of his hatred?
He met her gaze fearlessly. "You don't have to stay. You can go."
"No," she said quietly. "I was wrong. I am glad." She slowly sank to the floor so that she was eye to eye with him. "Kan, you know that anger is wrong to feel. It is a petty emotion meant only for those that are ambitious and determined to become the absolute best and doing anything that is possible to get them there. By anything, I mean that they will use their emotions ––– hatred, aggression, fear ––– to get them there. It is wrong, but it is all too often the easier way for a Jedi to become powerful. All have been tempted by it, many have had an excuse for it, many began trying to do good–––but it was all to no avail. Your intentions don't always make a bad thing good. Eventually, they become so twisted and altered in their beliefs that they become the evil that you must face today. And still, they believe themselves to be doing good, when they are really causing much suffering. You must never become that way, Kan. This is very important. You must not become that way."
"I will not," Kan said, trying to assure her.
She smiled grimly. "Don't assume. You cannot see into the future. Anyone can be tempted. Anyone can fall. Even a Master like Yoda. We are not invincible. It is impossible to never be defeated. Yet still, we must try. Even though you say now that you will never be turned, what will you say to me in the future?" Suddenly she withdrew her gaze. "Kan, I didn't come here to lecture you. That was not in the least my intent. But I cannot look away from this. This is a serious problem that must be resolved before it is beyond my power to help you. Listen to me now, Kan Enik, for I may not have another chance."
His face was serious as he looked at her squarely. "I have heard you. I will remember."
Her expression immediately changed. Her brow smoothed, and Kan could see the tension in her muscles relaxed. "Kan, how are you going to become a Jedi?"
A sharp stab of pain shot through him. "I don't know. I suppose that I will be sent to the service camps like the other unchosen students…" He couldn't finish. His vision became blurred with tears as he struggled to repress the anguish he felt. To his horror, a long-drawn, ragged sob escaped from him.
She stared at him in silence. Tentatively, she stretched out her hand, as if she were going to lay it upon his shoulder. But she didn't, and it remained suspended in the air, as if she didn't dare to touch him. "I…I have an offer," she stammered hesitantly.
Oh, no, here it goes. First-class ticket to the AgriCorps, here I come.
"Will you have me as a Master?" Adriaan blurted out.
Next thing he knew, he had fallen head over heels into the pool.
Where am I? Am I dead?
All around him, brown and green lights flecked with yellow swirled, the muddy tints seeping down his throat and into his eyes, half-blinding his mind in a groggy whirl. He knew that he must swim up, move out of this silent, murky world, but he no longer had the power to command his arms to work, to propel him upward to the surface. All he could do was float, half-suspended in the water, his mind saying over and over, "Adriaan wants to be my Master. Adriaan wants to be my Master. I am not leaving to serve in the failed student camps. I have a Master to go to."
Swim up. Swim up.
I can't breath.
He dimly comprehended a slender, white hand cut through the mesmerizing blue and green sky enveloping him.
Did I die? Is that Ruru coming to get me?
The hand grabbed his arm firmly, and, with a mighty heave that was all too real, it drew him out of the water, pulling him up onto the stone floor of the Jedi Temple.
His lungs expanded painfully, taking in huge gulps of air. How long had he been down there? A minute? An hour? A lifetime? He would never know. His breath came up in long, gasping puffs. "What?" he sputtered, coughing up the water he had swallowed and shaking the clear, cold droplets out of his eyes.
She was looking anxious now. And Adriaan never looked anxious. "I don't mean to replace Ruru," she said. "No one could really replace him, in your heart. But you need a trainer. I am qualified. I may be your only offer. I may seem young ––– too young, perhaps," she added with a sad smile, "but nevertheless, I am willing to teach you all that I know. Will you take me?"
Her words stunned him, so much that he could hardly think. Instead, old memories flooded him, pouring out from his heart and filling the empty abyss in his mind. Jordin, her pretty, pointed-chinned face brimming with laughter. Zett, his long face, serious face slack and peaceful as he slept in a dusty corner. Adriaan, shaking droplets of water from her liquid-gold hair, the water shattering and breaking upon the floor like the rain of thousands of priceless jewels. Aedan, screaming his head off as he flipped head over heels onto the enraged baby massiff. These were memories of his life, things that had happened to him, things that he would never forget, things he would hold in his heart, unfaded, until the end of time.
His last thought was of Ruru, looking, looking at him, his disobedient, undeserving Apprentice, blood pouring like water from the black hole in his chest. This last vision ––– it was not happy like the rest ––– but it was part of his life all the same.
Death is part of life, he realized, it is part of what forms our personalities. We are born, we live, and we die. But is it the end?
Then he remembered something. Ruru had been in pain ––– terrible pain ––– but yet, in spite of it all, he had smiled. Smiled! A pure, brave, true, proud smile, unafraid of death, and confident of his Apprentice's future. Confident? Why was he confident? He had left his Padawan without someone to guide him. And yet, he had left him feeling sure of Kan's destiny.
"Will you be my Apprentice?" Adriaan had asked.
Suddenly Kan knew what he wanted to do.