Quorahi mining complex
Little Sullust plateau
Kiast, 35 ABY
The transparisteel pane shattered into a thousand pieces, and three masked Kyuzos came blasting through the viewport amid a billow of grey fumes. The smoke became backlit by a waxing azure glow, until another figure burst through it, a lithe human with a mane of curly brown hair and a blade of blue plasma in her hand. The Kyuzos had not stopped to look back, and neither did the young woman. They raced down the gangway, with the dome of the complex’s central habitat rising high above them. The huge transpari- and durasteel structure was cracked like a nuna egg, and below chunks of debris, burning rubble and bodies covered the loading platforms of the mining guilds.
Nijalah had seen it all before. These pirates were nothing if not ruthless and professional. First would have come the bombardment run, a hard, fast surprise attack to cow the settlement into submission. Then the ground teams, firing indiscriminately to wipe out any remaining thoughts of resistance. The round-ups followed, the survivors marked for the slave pens or for ransom demands at a later date. By this time, the pirate crew would have started boarding the carbonite-frozen tibanna, the raid’s true prized plunder.
The Odanite strike team had counted on this. The pirates’ greed gave them the time window they needed to put their plan into action. Nijalah’s boots clanged on the metal grating, as did those of her quarry. Though this was the only sound reverberating under the dome, the Padawan knew a handful of other Jedi were corralling the marauders, flushing them out of the complex towards their loot-laden ship. She felt the exhilaration of the chase building in her veins. The young woman from Tatooine had always relied on her own strength to get things done, to make a positive mark on the galaxy. Putting her faith in her Odanite friends and allies to defeat these marauders brought a different kind of elation; it was like running the rim of the Sarlacc pit with her eyes closed.
The gangway took a sudden turn, and the three Kyuzos vaulted over the railing to land on a downward sloping ramp. One of them swung round, blaster raised, and Nijalah planted her feet, raising her lightsaber with both hands. She batted aside three blaster bolts with precise, practiced strokes, but the fugitives were getting away now. The Padawan jumped, her feet clomping onto the ramp below. At the same time, she heard a clink of metal-on-metal, something bouncing on the grating. Acting on instinct, she threw herself flat with a breathless huff. Moments later an explosion buffeted her back and perilously shook the ramp.
The prostate human barely had time to suck air into her lungs before the whole gangway, suspended as it was over the rim of the habitat dome, lurched, groaning, to one side. Nijalah felt her heart jump into her throat. Pointedly refusing to look to the drop below, her eyes latched on to a passage above her. She clipped her saber hilt to her belt, swung her arms and leaped. Her fingers gripped the rim of the walkway and she heard the ramp give way below her, crashing and clattering for a surprisingly long time before it hit the bottom.
With a powerful heave of her muscles she hauled herself on top of the walkway, just in time to see the Kyuzos hightail it into the complex’s internal passageways. Nijalah resisted the urge to renew the pursuit. She knew where the three pirates were headed, and she knew her own part of the operation was done. Instead she climbed the stairwells of the cracked dome until she reached a high landing pad that opened outside the habitat.
Panting through her nose, the Odanite thought she would relieve the heat of the chase with some fresh air. A warm waft of air hit her with the smell of rotten egg and almost made her retch. The compound’s outbuildings below were shrouded in the fog-like sulphurous fumes of the planet’s noxious lower atmosphere. Beyond stretched a sea of roiling pale vapour that simmered over the lip of the plateau like a Nightsister’s cauldron. Near the feet of the dome, directly below Nijalah, a larger landing platform harboured a scarred, carbon-scored Tartan-class corvette. The platform was abuzz with criminal activity. Chain gangs of captives being lined up for branding, valuables being sorted, discarded and pocketed according to value, low-floating tibanna-laden hoversleds being led up the loading ramp.
Suddenly three figures dashed out of the habitat dome. Their wide-brimmed circular hats marked them as Kyuzos. They were gesticulating wildly back at the dome’s interiors and, though she could barely make out their words, she distinctly heard the shout of “Jedi!”
The pirates on the platform froze for a second, then everything was in commotion. The last captives were whipped up the ramp, the remaining hoversleds were abandoned, and so were any marauders too slow to get inside before the corvette achieved liftoff. This was where Odan-Urr’s plan would come together, its carefully laden pieces falling, like an eager trap, into place. The Padawan palmed her comlink and sent out a single transceiver pulse. She looked up, but turgid white clouds grappled with the grey smoke of the burning complex and not an inch of the sky was visible. Come on… she thought. She looked down and saw the corvette rising up the side of the dome, its durasteel frame getting closer and closer. She could almost see into the cockpit.
“C’mon!” she hissed, but the clouds above churned like a turbulent sea holding tight the secrets of its depths. The Padawan’s hand went to her belt, where the smooth hilt of her armoury lightsaber hung. The Tartan corvette was now so close… if she made a run-up and jumped; she could even see the manoeuvring vane she could grip as a handhold. The corvette’s engines would not survive the attention of the Padawan’s plasma blade. She probably wouldn’t survive the crash, but the Quorahi captives inside the holding cells would… most of them. Her grip tightened around the hilt, her knuckles blanching white. Stick to the plan, her own voice whispered inside her head. Her friends had counted on her to do her part; she had to show the same respect.
She hesitated. The moment passed. The corvette rose past her with a low rumble and pointed its prow to the sky. Nijalah craned her neck to watch the ship’s ascent, oddly feeling lighter, liberated. Not because she was freed of the responsibility, but because she had recognised her worry as a consequence of her own uncertainties. She knew her friends would do their part.
In fact, as the corvette drew closer to the cloud cover, a white billow began to churn and bulge into a strange shape. Like the breath of a legendary dragon, the cloud suddenly spewed a salvo of turbolaser. The Tartan corvette, more agile than its size might imply, boosted sideways out of the firing line, but then a squadron of B-Wings burst out of the cloud canopy, cannons blazing, and the corvette’s shields fizzled out of existence.
Nijalah held her breath as the pirate ship continued to advance. An Odanite DP20 Gunship ruptured the cloud layer, and the B-Wing squadron began to turn for another run. For a second it seemed the pirates had decided to fight to the death, but then the corvette’s engines powered down, signalling surrender.
The Padawan let out a long breath and closed her eyes. The dense purple afterimage of the corvette’s aft burners floated against her eyelids. Her sigh turned into a fit of coughing, and she hurried back into the habitat dome once she realised her eyes were beginning to water from the acrid fumes of lower Kiast. She decided to find her Master, she was sure there’d be stragglers to round up.
Kiast, 35 ABY
“Beautiful day for it,” Korroth mused out loud.
Nijalah looked up past the snow-capped peaks to a clear, unblemished azure sky. The bracing mountain air made every shape and colour seem bright and sharp, from the jagged massifs rising in the distance to the winding flight of stone steps stretching up above them. A thin layer of frost crunched underfoot with every step; even the slope’s sparse vegetation was frozen in a gossamer shroud of verglas.
“Beautiful day for what?” Nijalah asked, seeming to break her mentor out of a reverie.
“Why don’t you tell me,” Korroth prompted.
Nijalah rolled her eyes. Never a straight answer. “We’re at the Praxeum, it could only be one thing. Some kind of test… the Trial of Insight?”
The Pau’an shook his head. “You already faced your last test.”
“Really?” Nijalah said incredulously. “When? Did I pass it?” She bit her tongue; she knew better than to expect an answer. “Little Sullust. You know how I feel about pirates and slavers. You wanted to see if I would give in to my anger.”
“Close, but not quite.”
The young woman huffed, her breath clouding in front of her. It might have been resigned exasperation, or it might have been the mountain climb. The steps went a long way up, and the two Jedi were almost near the top, where the rim of a rocky plateau cut across the blue sky.
“Was that really the hardest test you faced there?” Korroth prodded.
Nijalah looked up again and spotted a solitary white cloud crossing the wide heavens. It was long and sinuous, with a lighter puff fanning out above it, like the wings of a mythical flying beast. “No.” The Padawan paused to reflect on her memories. “I almost thought I could do it all myself; like I was the only one who could do it. For a moment I didn’t believe in my comrades.”
“But then you let go of that fear,” Korroth spurred. “You showed that you understood the first and last lesson of a Journeyman. Put your trust in the Clan, and the Clan will be there for you, always.”
Nijalah didn’t reply at first. Her eyes were pensive, cast down to the granite steps. Korroth smiled and brought his wrist-link to his mouth. “It’s time. Aura, release the convors!”
The Padawan was climbing the last step when her head was jerked up by the sound of a hundred fluttering wings. The host of puffy white birds rose into the sky, revealing a wide plaza filled with Odanites from all over the Kiast system. They had cleared a wide path in front of her, leading to a stone dais upon which stood the Jedi of the Council and of the Clan’s top echelons, garbed in their finest ceremonial robes.
Standing with her mouth slightly agape, Nijalah didn’t advance until she felt a light push from her Master. She walked to the dais under a snowfall of downy pale feathers, conscious that the gazes of all those gathered were upon her.
Ranarr, Councilor of the Roll, broke from the ranks of the Council and stepped in front of the Padawan and her Master. “Korroth, why do you bring this Padawan before the Jedi of the Council of Urr?” he intoned. Behind the huge Cathar stood Aura Ta’var and Maximus Alvinius, the hems of their long Jedi robes fluttering in the chill breeze.
“Masters of the Council.” The Pau’an’s voice was firm and solemn, but his eyes glinted with pride. This ritual had been spoken a hundred different ways, by uncountable different beings across tens of thousands of years, but this was for his Padawan. “Almost a year ago, the Force revealed a fluttering spark within its currents. Today, I bring you this spark, stoked to a bright flame! For your consideration to the rank of Gray Jedi Knight, here stands Nijalah of House Satele Shan.”
Ranarr’s feline eyes turned to Nijalah. “Though the Clan walks in the shadow of many enemies, it will not lose hope so long as Jedi such as you step forth to protect it. Padawan Nijalah, kneel.” The Councilor’s golden blade sprung forth from its hilt, alighting just above the awed woman’s bowed head. “By the right of the Council.” The blade lowered to her right shoulder, bathing the side of her face in its light. “By the will of the Force.” And it swung round to her left shoulder. “I name you Jedi, Knight of Odan-Urr. Arise, Jedi Knight Nijalah.”
Nijalah stood with a new confidence in her poise, as though it had been the thunderous applause of her Clanmates that had lifted her to her feet.