Leo stood in a vast, desert wasteland that seemed to stretch out forever beyond the legions of heavily covered warriors that filled the space. The air was dry and furnace-like and the wind bit at his exposed skin, each gust filled with grains of sand.
Before him stood a figure, clad from head to toe with robes and bandages, obviously the leader of the force facing off with him. Whoever it was wore a sleeveless, brown cloak belted over a cloth tunic and pants. Hands and face were wrapped up in bandages with bits of metal, resembling the barrels of guns, poking out from his head. The round eye lenses resembled Donnie’s welding goggles and the device hooked around the individual’s neck reminded him vaguely of a harmonica on a metal neckband.
“Master Hett.” He spoke in a voice that did not belong to him, addressing the stranger as though the person was someone that he knew.
“The force be with you Master Kenobi. So, you too survived Order 66, I thought I was alone. What brings you to Tatooine? Let alone these trackless wastes?” The stranger’s voice revealed him to be male, or at least that’s the impression Leo had.Though his words weren’t aggressive, his posture was still guarded. Master Hett watched him warily, despite the relief he’d expressed over his survival of whatever Order 66 was.
Leo didn’t know how to respond, but apparently, his body did, acting with a mind of its own. “You do, Master Hett. You lead these Tuskans as their warlord, not something a Jedi should do.”
The stranger, Master Hett it would seem, tensed. “Do not lecture me, Obi-Wan. We were both generals in the clone wars, ‘Warlords’ for a republic that turned on us.”
He could feel his body move to shake his head, though this physical form seemed so different from his own. It was too tall and lacked the weight of his shell. “Past mistakes do not justify current ones. The danger is near of becoming what you fight. It was the trap the Jedi fell into, and it is s trap that takes you now, you must stop.”
Master Hett was clearly not pleased with that response. “I do not, I was raised to manhood amongst the Tuskans by my father Sharad Hett, the greatest Jedi of his age. He taught me to think and act as a Tuskan. These are my people! Will the settlers stop killing Tuskans? Then blood calls for blood! The settlers will be forced to abandon their land, or be buried beneath it!”
Oh shell, what had he gotten into. “I cannot permit that.” Gloved, human-shaped hands ignited a blue lightsaber. “You were a great Jedi Hett, and the son of a great Jedi. But you have given yourself over to revenge, it stops here.”
Master Hett’s posture turned openly aggressive as he took a fighting stance. “You will have a Jedi’s funeral Master Kenobi.”Twin, green lightsabers, grips stitched over in leather, flared to life. Threads decorated with beads and bone dangled loosely from the handle of one.“ That I promise!
Leo snapped awake, relieved to find himself in his body and his room on the Fugitoid’s ship.
“It was a moment from the past.”
He about fell off the edge of the bed as Gravid’s voice drew his attention to the corner of the room where the ethereal figure of his teacher lounged on a chair. “Holy shell! What are you doing here? Were you watching me sleep? Have you never heard of privacy?”
Gravid considered his questions for a moment. “I’m here to ensure you aren’t screwing up my legacy. Yes, I was watching you sleep. There’s not much else to do while you were wasting time on such mundane necessities. And I have heard of privacy, but don’t really see the appeal or the point.”
Tempting as it was to demand that Gravid leave his room immediately, Leo had a pretty good idea of how likely that was to work and decided it would be a waste of his energy.
In the meantime, Gravid picked up where he’d left off. “As I was saying, that happens sometimes, seeing visions through the Force. You might get a bit of the past, a sense of some other part of the present or glimpses of things that may yet be.You’ll get used to it.”
Leo scowled. “What bit of past was I seeing?”
Gravid waved his ghostly hand dismissively. “That’s not what’s important. The take away is to not obsessively lose sight of the bigger picture just because you’ve taken a small blow. It is easy far too easy to allow distracting minutiae to consume you when you take it personally.”
Leo’s hands balled into fists as he clenched his bedding. “A small blow? Members of my family were abducted by a madman, again!”
As usual, Gravid seemed unconcerned with his ire. “Yes, and playing this game of chase isn’t getting you much of anywhere.”
It was true. For the better part of a week, he’d been trying to follow his connection to Mikey and, to a lesser extent, April, but while he could sense them, it did not translate well into space navigation. He didn’t know how April had done it before, but he had a lot more respect for her accomplishments. He could give Fugitoid a general direction, but once he got it narrowed down, it was like playing a game of hot and cold to inefficiently narrow down to a more exact location and, despite having a slower ship, Maul managed to stay one step ahead.
“And what do you expect me to do?”
Gravid smiled. “Finally we’re getting somewhere. Feel free to keep tracking if you like, but you needn’t spend all day, every day at it. Once Maul gets where he’s going and stops moving, it will be easier. In the meantime, you really should be training your brothers so that they have a chance of, how do you say it, not getting their shells handed to them in the next fight.”
Leo wanted to argue. He really did.But Gravid had a point. His family functioned best as team and if Raph and Donnie were to be assets instead of liabilities, he needed to catch them up before the next showdown. Taking a deep, calming breath, he got out of bed and started gearing up.
Gravid grinned. “It’s about time. I’m actually curious to see how you do.”
As Gravid appeared to wink out of existence, Leo muttered “I’ll bet” before making his way to the holotrainer. He’d get things set up and call everyone in when he was ready.
“For the record, I think this is a bad idea.”
Leo glanced over at Ahsoka, who waited beside him in a holographic version of his dojo from home. “Noted.”
Not having anything specific to do, she’d arrived first. The rest would get here soon, despite the short notice he’d given them.With Mikey and April at stake, no one would argue for a change.
“You are too young and inexperienced to teach.” Ahsoka continued.
He nodded. “I’m know, but I don’t really have a choice, unless you’re willing to step in.”
She shook her head. “I’m not qualified to teach either and am unwilling to accept the consequences of doing something rash in desperation. I know what can go wrong in mishandled Force training and its devastating.”
Leo frowned. “My family is stronger than you know, especially together. I understand that it might not seem worth it to you, but we need to get Mikey and April back. We will get them back.”
Ahsoka looked away sadly. “I understand loss, better than you know, and, though I haven’t been here long, I feel the loss you’ve suffered too.” Her voice was softer than he’d heard it previously, but before he could ask, the door opened and Donnie came in, wheeling what looked like a pile of electronics on a cart.
Leo looked at him dubiously. “Now really isn’t the best time to try multi-tasking.”
Donnie blinked in surprise. “What? Oh, no I’m not going to work on him now, but he wanted to watch.”
Leo cocked his head to the side, studying his brother curiously. “Him?”
Donnie nodded. “I had started working on a mobile robotic body first, based loosely on Fugitoid and my designs for Metalhead, but once I got his senses online, he explained that he wanted it done completely different, so I needed to start over.”
“Tell me you aren’t talking to that computer mess.” Raph and Mona came in just in time to catch Donnie’s explanation.
The heap let out a series of whirrs, clicks and beeps that left Donnie and Ahsoka snickering as Raph looked around in bewilderment.
“It is good to see you again.” Ahsoka smiled as she approached the cart and was answered with another string of beeps.
Raph glared at Donnie. “It said something bad about me, didn’t it? Don’t think I won’t smash it?” Though he’d clearly meant it, Raph did have the good sense to back off at Ahsoka’s glare.
“Relax Raph, he was just making a few completely factual observations about your linguistic limitations.” Donnie’s attempt at a straight face as he spoke wasn’t fooling anyone.
“I swear, I’m…”
“Casey Jones has arrived. Let the beat-down training begin.” They all turned as Casey swaggered into the room.
Leo cleared his throat. “Um, about that. As far as we can tell, you don’t have any Force sensitivity, so…”
Casey crossed his arms over his chest defiantly. “So? Casey Jones doesn’t need any voodoo magic to bring the hurt.”
Leo sighed. “Be that as it may, it doesn’t make this training session specifically relevant to you.”
“What? That’s total BS.I can participate.”
Before Casey’s tantrum could rev up to full meltdown, Mona stepped in. “While they are mastering new skills, I have decided to work on your combat abilities, raka raka.”
“Uh, sure. I could give you a few pointers.” Despite his words, some of Casey’s confidence deflated as he watched in trepidation as she moved to the far end of the large room.
Raph gave him an encouraging elbow. “Don’t worry. I’m sure she won’t mop the floor with you too badly. She wants to teach you, not break you.”
Casey scowled at Raph.“We’ll see who mops the floor with who.” Then he turned to follow Mona.
While that had been going on, Donnie had wheeled, what Leo could only assume was R2D2 whom Ahsoka had acquired from Daedalus, into the corner to observe the proceedings.
“So, is Ahsoka gonna be teaching?” Raph looked between Leo and Ahsoka.
“Actually, I am.”
Raph raised an eye ridge at him. “Isn’t she better than you?”
Leo didn’t have a chance to respond before he was interrupted.
“That remains to be seen. After all, I personally oversaw your brother’s brief education and don’t worry, I won’t allow him to screw up too badly while training you.”
Raph and Donnie both yelped and jumped back, drawing their sais and bo respectively at the sight of an incorporeal stranger materializing behind Leo. Ashoka looked at him questioningly.
Leo cleared his throat again. “Uh, this is the instructor, I found to train me, Gravid sensei.”
Gravid huffed. “I prefer Master Gravid, boy.”
“What exactly is your background?” Ahsoka turned her attention to Leo’s instructor.
“Formerly Sith, though I have since dedicated myself to the creation of a wholly new Force art and philosophy.”
Donnie and Raph’s eyes snapped back to Leo in shock and Raph stomped forward. “Are you freaking kidding me? You want us to train under a Sith? Isn’t that what the guy who took Mikey and April is?”
“Former Sith. As is your opponent, though I suspect for completely different reasons. He still holds to a lot of their attitudes as far as I can tell, even if he does despise the Order rather intensely. My breach was less personal more over conflict with core beliefs and tenets.”
Raph glowered at Gravid. “And we’re just supposed to take your word for it?”
Gravid shrugged. “You can or not, as you will, but I’m no more Sith, than your friend here is Jedi.”
Ahsoka, who’d been eyeing Gravid warily since his declaration, frowned. “Valid as that may be, it’s not entirely comforting and in no way suggests that you are trustworthy.”
Gravid snorted. “Why? Because you’re still as closed minded as your former brethren, though I’m sure they would have liked to consider themselves otherwise.”
Her eyes narrowed at him and for a moment Leo thought she might attack, though what she could do to harm a ghost, he had no idea. Perhaps she came to the same conclusion as she ultimately stayed her hand.
“If you want to prove me wrong, withhold judgement. Observe the fruits of my training and then decide whether or not you agree or disagree.”
She didn’t answer immediately but, after some hesitation, gave him a stiff nod of distrustful acknowledgement. “I’ll be watching.Closely.” Clearly a threat, despite her acquiesce.
Gravid shook his head, chuckling. “My thanks.Your generosity knows no bounds.” Not giving her a chance for a snappy comeback, he returned his attention to Donnie and Raph. “Relax. I’m not asking you to learn from me, I mean do I look masochistic? Your brother will be your instructor. I’m mostly just here for moral support and to loudly point out all of his screw ups.”
Leo shot Gravid one final glance before choosing to ignore the spirit to the best of his ability. “Right, so we’re starting with mediation.”
“What?” Both Donnie and Raph barked out protest in unison for one of their least favorite training techniques. In fact, Leo was pretty sure that he was the only one of the four of them to truly appreciate mediation.
Raph scrunched his beak in distaste. “I thought we were supposed to be learning how to fight with this Force crap?”
Leo took a long, calming breath, wondering not for the first time, how his father hadn’t gone ballistic on all of them while trying to teach. “Because that Force crap is within you and until you’re consciously aware of it, you can’t control it.You want to do this or not?”
Raph and Donnie shared a mutual look of defeat before joining Leo in lotus position, Donnie just miserable and Raph grumbling. “This had better be worth it.”
Leo had trouble hiding his grin. “Just wait. You’ll see.”
Maul landed his ship on Dathomir’s desolate surface, ambivalent towards being back. His last visit to his ruined home world had not gone as well as he’d hoped. While part of his winding journey here had been to throw off his pursuers, at least some of it had been born of reluctance. He’d wanted to present himself as a reigning conqueror, not a supplicant but his options were becoming limited and his desire for success outweighed his pride, though admittedly, not by much.
Standing up from the helm, he made his way to the main cargo bay where he’d dumped his guests to sleep the journey away. The research facility he’d sheltered on before had rather conveniently possessed several functional neural inhibitors of varying types, probably for incapacitating test subjects for whatever it was they’d been studying.
He’d helped himself to a few of the ones designed for bioelectric-biochemical nervous systems which had ultimately proved a prescient move on his part. It had relieved him of the obligation to keep them appropriately contained and controlled as he had with the captured warrior, a task that would have been considerably more complicated with the innate abilities possessed by these captives, even relatively untrained.
They still lay where he’d dropped them, in a coma-like state their biological processes slowed to a near halt by the electronic metal discs affixed to their temples. He picked up his guests and dumped them unceremoniously onto a platform hover-cart to easily transport them to the site where she should be waiting. It didn’t take him long to reach the circle of stones.
Leaving the cart for a moment, he went to stand in the center and waited, knowing that she would sense his presence.
“Maul, you have returned to me.” He could hear her voice seeming to come from both everywhere and nowhere. A faint, ethereal figure stepped out from within one of the vertical slabs of rock.
Despite how she’d faded he could still make out her nearly colorless eyes set in her long, angular face, painted stark white save for a few dramatic accents of black rising up from her eye sockets and spreading out from her mouth, giving her a distinctly skeletal appearance. Her garments were still red and flowing where they did not jut out at rigid points. She reached out towards him with a white, claw-like hand before remembering herself and thinking better of it.
He nodded to her. “Mother.”
Mother Talzin bowed her head. “My son.It has been a long time. I had almost despaired of ever seeing you again.”
His mouth twisted into a parody of smile. “I am not so easily disposed of and now I have outlived both the Sith and the Jedi. It is all mine for the taking, save for one obstacle.”
Mother Talzin floated closer. “Then the obstacles to achieving your destiny shall be removed. You have come for my aid?”
He nodded reluctantly. “I also have a gift.” From one of his belt pouches, he removed a ruined piece of old cybernetics, twisted and deformed from exposure to extreme heat. He’d been fortunate enough to run across it at the auction house.
His mother bent forward to examine it, trailing a ghostly finger along its surface. “To think a piece of Grevious survived the ravages of time. And I can still hear an echo of his essence embedded in it. His suffering and service will be sweet indeed.”
She straightened, looking down at him once more. “What can I do for you my son?”
He scowled. “A group of inexplicably troublesome novices stand in my way and have thwarted my plans twice now. One of them will belong to me, but I must remove the rest before I can claim what is mine. I have managed to acquire a few of my enemies and wish to utilize them against the rest.”
Mother Talzin looked past him towards the bodies piled on the cart.
“The shelled one is Force sensitive. The other is not, though she has the capacity to manifest similar abilities.”
Mother Talzin hovered over the girl. “No, she is more like me, in possession of a power independent of the Force. I can feel it in her.” Her eyes fixated on the pendant around the girl’s neck. “So the Aeons actually gave away a piece of their soul? Interesting.”
“Can you use it?” Maul started to reach for the pendant, but Mother Talzin held up a hand to forestall him.
“It is bonded to her. But that might work out better. She will make an excellent conduit through which the life force of the universe can be drawn.” Mother Talzin hovered a hand over the girl and the pendant began to glow. Even with her neural processes constrained, somehow the girl still arched and screamed as light was pulled from her aura into Mother Talzin making her ghostly form more clear and vibrant. The light faded and the girl collapsed once more while Mother Talzin hummed with pleasure. “Yes, this arrangement will suit me very well.”
Maul crossed his arms, waiting for her to finish savoring the energy she’d drawn. “Can you control them?”
Mother Talzin looked back over the unconscious bodies. “I can bind their will, but their usefulness will have limitations in their untrained state. Neither will have full access to their potential.”
“Unless they believe they know more than they do. There should be something in one of these to maximize their efficacy.” He withdrew the holocrons, retrieved from the collection of the auction house appraiser, from his belt pouches and held them up to her.
Her face stretched into an unnaturally wide smile. “Yes, these should contain exactly what we need to augment your new soldiers.”