“I don’t think this really counts as traini—”
“Shhhh, shhh, shhh, my little Zujubean. Every experience in our lives, every single one, shapes us, just as every breath of wind wears at the mountain and makes it anew.”
“You got that from one of the cookies in Mick’s cantina!”
“I don’t see what you mean.”
“Ah, ah, ah! Chattering is not mission doing!”
Grumbling to herself, Zujenia shimmied on her belly further down the air duct, mindful of her knees and elbows, silent as a shadow. The Force and her training aided her, keeping the Hunter’s senses sharp and her breathing nonexistent as she made her way deeper into the twisting bowels of the Citadel’s inner workings. Out of the corner of one amber eye, she saw her Master wave to her cheerily from her own position crammed in the ventilation shaft.
The half-Ryn resisted the urge to snort and turned around a tight corner, sliding quickly down a slope in the piping. Several long minutes of similar travel followed, down twists and turns and over covered vent faces, dodging fans once or twice. Zujenia’s short tail was wrapped tight around her thigh under her dark, baggy clothing, but she still shivered at the thought of any close calls. The map Atyiru had bid her to memorize held true though, and she eventually found herself at her destination.
Okay, I can and will do this. In and out, she thought, gripping the small satchel she carried tightly.
Filling Lord Timeros’ quarters with chirping wind-up toys right before his return from the Last Light so did not count as training. It counted as suicide. She would rather be back out on who-knew what planet fighting other Journeymen for some mad reason, or perhaps facing down some Inquisitor agents.
But no. It was rainy today, and so she and her Master couldn’t have their regular meditation session out in the sun, and she was stuck with this.
At least I can say I’ve done more than anybody else here ever dared to, was the half-Ryn’s final comfort before she finished unscrewing the vent cover, cloaked herself in Force-touched shadows, and crawled out into—
…the throne room?
“SURPRISE!” yelled a chorus of voices, some familiar and shrieking, some more antagonized mutters. Cloak dropping, Zujenia slowly slithered the rest of the way onto the stone floors, her mouth parted in confusion as the gathering before her resolved in her mind. The Shadow Lady stood with her arms thrown wide, at the base of the dias, her smile brilliant and a colorful hat on her head. Surrounding her, though free of headgear, were other members of the half-Ryn’s summit, including Kordath, Terran, and K’tana. The Hunter suspected there were others, members of Shadow Gate and Arcona both, hiding further back in the shadows somewhere like they tended to.
Rising to her feet, she approached her Master with a frown, silver brows furrowed over her round, chitin-tipped nose. “Master…what’s going on?”
“It’s time, my dear bean!”
Kordath chuckled. “You’ve done well, luv,” he congratulated with a wink instead of answering her, nodding to Atyiru. The Miraluka clapped her hands, then gestured for Zuji to kneel. The half-Ryn crouched with wary curiosity.
“Zujenia,” the Consul intoned, her giggling demeanor disappearing, replaced by a voice like water and wind, a small smile strong, calm, steady. She clasped her hands behind her back and lifted her chin, speaking loudly, “Arcona asks much of its children and brethren. We are a family here, bound in blood and oath and shadow. Ours are required to be bold, brave, strong, and loyal — all things certainly needed to be willing to prank an Adept.”
There were some uncomfortable chuckles. Zuji felt herself grinning slightly.
Atyiru went on, “You not only possess these qualities, but surpass them. You’ve shown great prowess and dedication, and your compassion and belief will drive you to great heights, not only here, but in all things. You, my little jerboa…have made me so very proud.”
From the folds of her white robes, the Miraluka withdrew a cylindrical object and extended it to her apprentice. Zujenia took it, weighing the lightsaber in her gloved palm, bare fingers depressing the actuator. A beam of brilliant golden light exploded from the weapon’s hilt, shining and humming. The Hunter’s eyes widened, mesmerized, as they fixed on it.
“Rise, my dear, not just as a Knight…but as an Arconan, a sister, a friend. Congratulations.”
Scattered cheering rose from those assembled. The half-Ryn felt her throat tighten, but she stood with her head held high and bowed once to her master nonetheless, saber gripped in hand.
The new Knight had found her home at last.