Life at the Jedi Praxeum is hard work but the younglings always seem to have an abundance of energy. After the day is over they find themselves back in their common room, on the first floor of the west spire, with their minds on a mission to find one of the Praxeum’s treasures: the beloved campus gizka. Thought to gotten there by a passing ship, the younglings race to find it before the adults take it away forever. Some want to save it and some might want to eat it…
Students of all ages milled around the West Spire’s first floor, which served as a large common room. A Jedi youngling named Zoe wandered through the crowds looking for familiar faces. She was still younger than many of them and was thus often ignored by older students, something which annoyed her. She glanced longingly at their sabers, not allowed to carry her training saber outside of classes yet.
The Zeltron youngling did her best to ignore them back and looked in the corners of the room, her face lighting up when she found her new friend Bo-Taen. The Zabrak went to classes with her and he complimented her cape. Not enough people appreciated capes. He was surrounded by some new faces this time. An Ongree, Pantoran, Kiffar, and Gand were of similar ages or slightly older by the looks of their armory sabers were deep in discussion. Of note, the Kiffar was silent but oddly observant.
“But we checked the East Spire already. It’s not there,” stated Vera.
“This one didn’t see you make it to the top. Maybe you missed it,” replied Tanda.
“Remember we have curfew soon. We can’t find Ralph until the morning,” said Joer.
“Stop calling it Ralph. Gizka aren’t pets,” whispered Tanda.
Doing what she did best, Zoe butted in. “I want to help too. My name is Zoe Ta’var. Nice to meet you.”
The older students looked over their assembled group and shrugged before pulling her into the group and hushing her.
“Got to be quiet Zoe. The teachers want to get rid of him,” said Bo sadly.
“I will. But I can help. I’m good with sensing animals,” Zoe replied.
“This one is also good at finding animals,” added Tanda.
“You just want to eat it,” accused Jeor.
“Cut it out you two. We have another kid to help search. Sirra, can you keep the adults occupied once we get closer to the South Spire. I heard a rumor it’s hiding in the kitchens,” asked Vera.
The Kiffar merely nodded affirmatively.
“Let us all go. Get anything you want to bring with you and lets meet outside. This one wants to begin.”
“For Ralph,” said Bo and Zoe.
The group of Jedi students nodded and ran off to get their stuff.
The departure of a few students from the common room went largely unnoticed. With the halls filled with groups departing the day’s final lessons, no one was going to question a few stray neophytes. Hunting through the surrounding campuses with few interruptions, they were able to each quietly depart the West Spire with little opposition. The sun was drifting low as they emerged from the Praxeum’s walls, washing the surrounding area in an orange haze. Yet as each of them arrived, gathering beneath one of the trees beyond the towers, it was clear that many of them had very different ideas as to what would be useful.
“A flare gun, seriously?” Jeor-Mytiss said as Bo-Taen arrived, finishing off the group’s numbers and accounting for his equipment. “How’s that going to help us find it?”
“You never know,” the zabrak smiled in response, “it depends how far he’s run or how far we’ll need to spread out.”
“We have comlinks for that though. At least some of us do.” Zoe butted in, realising that she had undermined her own point a second after she had said it.
“Then it’s there if we need to signal anyone if we’re separated,” Bo-Taen said with a shrug, apparently deciding to go with the easiest answer before moving on. “But do we really need this many weapons?”
No one said anything for a few moments. Most of them had taken the situation as an opportunity to wear lightsabers as any knight would. They had tried to excuse this with the risk of the sun setting and a lack of glowrods, and they had been silently accepted out of a shared desire for the thrill of carrying their chosen weapons on a mission. Yet a few of them had taken it further. Vera had somehow procured a blaster - something that she insisted was set to stun just in case they needed to safely bring the gizka down - while Zoe openly wore an energy slingshot on her arm. Yet almost all of them, as Bo-Taen voiced the question, were looking at Tanda.
“What?” she asked.
“Don’t you think that’s a bit much? A Jedi is only supposed to need their lightsaber,” Jeor piped up.
“And a findsman never hunts without their equipment,” Tanda responded hotly, her combination of twin lightsabers, net gun and slingshot clinking slightly as she folded her arms. “This one does not intend to hunt without taking her task seriously.”
“Sirra, do you have anything to add?” Vera interrupted, trying to derail a fight before it began and noting the Kiffar’s lack of lightsaber.
Looking distinctly uncomfortable at the sudden attention focused upon her, Sirra produced a set of macrobinoculars, a grappling hook and, with some reluctance, a large ornate dagger. Some of the neophytes had seen similar designs in textbooks or historical documents, but never in person.
“Where did you get that?” Zoe asked after some silence, visibly on edge given the weapon’s alchemical origins.
Sirra opened her mouth, struggling to find the words for some moments and then shaking her head. She frowned, and the other students were given a momentary flash of an older memory; of a red armoured figure and a cycloptic giant standing before a forge, hammering the weapon into shape.
“That’s probably the closest thing we’ll get to an answer,” Bo-Taen said, massaging his temple at the abrupt telepathic interruption. “Look, so long as no one shoots or stabs Ralph, we’ll be fine. Got it?”
A series of acknowledgements answered him.
“So, to the kitchens then!” Zoe said, clapping her hands in excitement and swiftly being hushed by the others.
Tanda stared at the Kiffar for some time. She didn’t want to say anything to her peers but the Gand couldn’t help but respect the Padawan’s choice of weaponry. She also couldn’t help but want to keep track of the quietest one. Something was different about that one, and Tanda couldn’t quite tell what it was. Putting the thoughts aside, Tanda took the lead in moving towards the kitchens.
The young Gand had debated hunting the Gikza on her own but, during her last attempt, a Findsman ritual some old Jedi in a dusty robe had caught her and accused her of falling to the Dark Side. She could still remember the sound of their lightsabers crashing when she attacked the hostile sentient. The sound and short fight found its way into the forefront of her thoughts, replaying itself repeatedly as the group wandered the halls towards the kitchen.
“This one is not a fan of ‘probation’,” she muttered to herself as the gang got to the doors of the kitchen. “Zoe, Jeor, Bo, Vera please go in the kitchen and search.”
“What, hunting it with just Sirra to eat it?” Jeor chuckled.
“Wait, don’t eat it!” Zoe almost shouted before Bo-Tean put a finger over his lips.
“No. This one will be right here. She thinks Sirra can help her search for the gikza,” Tanda explained. “While you all check the kitchen. This one will look, while Sirra distracts.”
“We will be back Tanda,” Vera replied.
Tanda was already tuning them out, waiting for them to enter the kitchen. She didn’t think that it was actually there.
“Sirra, this one will need help with distractions. She will be looking for the Gikza with a ritual. Please keep the adults away from her,” the Gand explained. “They don’t like when this one does this.”
Sirra nodded moving around a corner while Tanda got to work. She pulled off her backpack, pulling out what remained of another Gikza. Stealing it had been tough, and the Gand had to break curfew, but it should be a good link. She closed her eyes, and reached into the heart of Kiast. Almost immediately she could tell that the link was too old, but she was able to use it to bridge her senses from that of searching for the Force to sensing for another Gikza.
Tanda opened her eyes somewhere outside. She gazed upward to see the night sky. The stars looked the same as they did a few nights ago, though Tanda didn’t know for certain. Something big roared in the distance and she found herself running. She could see the Praxeum up in the distance but soon found herself in a wooded area. Before her stood a ruin covered in plant life, and a creeping feeling of decay began to wash over her. Seemingly not noticing it, her body continued walking into it when-
Tanda jolted back to the Praxeum, her eyes opening to see Sirra’s face. Tanda couldn’t read what the young Padawan was thinking, but noted an odd look of concern.
“Adults,” Sirra whispered. “Get others. Will distract.”
Zoe, Jeor, Bo, Vera had started their search of the kitchens in the main caf, checking as a group under all of the tables and chairs. Scratched messages under the table were already etched in the freshly painted furniture and small dents pockmarked the wooden seats. Idle hands were the Dark Side’s play thing at times. The children ignored them, oblivious to the older student’s artwork. They found nothing.
“Bo, let’s go check back there. Maybe it’s near the fridge,” said Zoe as she ran off.
“Hey, let me help. Don’t go alone,” the Zabrak already on her heels.
“Let’s check out over there. I’ve always wondered what the back room looked like. Maybe we can find out what’s for lunch tomorrow before everyone else and find the gizka,” said Vera as she nodded toward the other side of the room.
“You already know it comes from our farm,” said Jeor as he rolled his eyes but followed nonetheless.
Zeltron and Zabrak pushed open the door to the storeroom and peered inside, the lights were already turned off. Zoe unclipped her training saber and ignited it with a snap-hiss, casting a blue glow in the surrounding area. The soft blue light revealed tall shelves to their left and a switch off to their right. Bo-Tean easily pressed it, activating the lights overhead. Several columns of shelves were crammed with food supplies and they could catch a glimpse of what looked like cold storage in the back. There was no direct line of sight as it appeared the storage units were moved to wherever made sense at the time.
“I was having fun,” said Zoe disappointedly as she turned off her training saber.
“Yeah but we need to find Ralph. You can play with your lightsaber later,” replied Bo, who was normally much more playful. Zoe immediately picked up on it.
“Right. Let’s find him.”
The two neophytes started at the end rows and made their way towards the center, craning their necks upward to try to see the higher shelves. Food of all types in funny-shaped containers packed the room, leaving no empty space for a gizka. The pair of them headed straight for the cold storage, marking the rest of the room as a lost cause. Perhaps a bit haphazardly, Zoe and Bo turned the end corner without checking around it first and found something unexpected.
The Zeltron froze and held up a hand to tell the Zabrak to stop, finally feeling the other intruder in the Force all of a sudden. She had heard some Jedi could hide themselves from the Force but it still felt very disconcerting. The Force always told her who was around here and what they were feeling. A tall bearded human man with short black hair somehow fooled it. Her heart beat faster with adrenaline as she instinctively backed away slowly, Bo-Tean right behind her. She could not get caught.
That is until both of their hearts stopped. They never knew who did it but someone brushed against a nearby can of roasted porg. The canister fell almost as if in slow motion as both neophytes reached out to catch it. Zoe concentrated as hard as she could but it was no use. The Zeltron neophyte wouldn’t catch it in time. She closed her eyes, covered her face with her cape, and winced as it was about to hit the ground except it never came. The Zabrak smiled with pride and and brought it back up to his hand. Zoe sighed in relief, but it didn’t last long.
The Human jumped and looked around, his eyes tracking upward as he looked for fellow adults. It only took him the span of a breath to notice the much smaller statures in front of him. Puzzled, he took in their scared expressions and quickly pivoted to a feint.
“What are you kids doing? You aren’t allowed in here,” Callan acted, hiding his own fear.
Bo-Tean opened his mouth to explain himself while the Zeltron lowered her cape in defeat, listening and feeling the room around her. Fear, odd thing for an adult to feel in this room, she thought. Her gaze fell to his armory saber and a guilty expression she often found staring back at her when her mother caught her stealing cookies. Her suspicions heightened. Going for it, she went on the offensive.
“Jedi Knight? Ha! I bet you are stealing food. What’s that in your hand, huh?”
Sirra didn’t see the other Neophytes bumping into the older intruder. She didn’t even hear them in conventional terms, but she felt them through the Force. The sparks of emotion as they bumped into one another, with suspicion and alarm rife within their minds, was as loud to Sirra as any raised voice. Tentatively, she uncoiled her mind, reaching out and touching the surface thoughts of Zoe. A cacophony of faces, new details and emotions quickly stood out, most of which were centred upon the new arrival - A remarkably tall human with short-cropped hair, older than any of them but with an expression of uneasiness. That was likely to complicate matters. Yet Sirra was more concerned with the fact that he had been only one of two that she had sensed moments ago.
As Tanda disappeared through the door into the kitchens, Sirra looked about at the exterior walls of the building. Eventually settling on one particularly worn area of the structure, she began snatching at shallow handholds and splintered bricks before hauling herself up onto the roof. Sirra could pick out the thoughts of the other individual nearby - Old, certain and serene, but alert. Sirra could see their owner even with the dim illumination of early starlight, but she could feel them coming gradually closer with every passing second.
Keeping low to the rooftops, Sirra silently crept forward, ducking low between large vents and industrial outcroppings across its sloped surface. A few tiles would tilt slightly underfoot every now and then, and she gingerly shifted her weight about them, sometimes even catching them before they could fall away to the ground. She listened carefully, darting forward in time with the heartbeat of the kitchen’s generators, using the hum of its extractor fans to disguise bolder movements. This came as easily to her as breathing, a lesson taught in a lifetime spent in Nar Shaddaa’s undercity; learning to cling to shadows that others overlooked, using the thrum of industrial systems as cover, but above all else remaining silent at all times.
Reaching out in the Force as she arrived at the opposite of the kitchen roof, she sensed the other adult once more. He was close by now, standing with his back to one wall of the kitchen and leaning against it. Some sense of amusement dominated his thoughts but, most surprisingly, there were no images in his mind. Creeping closer until she was directly above him, she risked a glance down, catching sight of greying hair and a simple tan robe in the gloom.
Prying one of the loose tiles free from just behind her, Sirra looked toward one of the isolated trees which peppered the Praxeum grounds. It was far enough away to keep him busy for a few moments, perhaps long enough to let them flee unseen with the right distraction. Yet before she could hurl the slab and shatter it against the tree’s trunk, the figure below spoke up.
“Please don’t do that, the artesans have enough to fix as it is. And your friends inside are making far too much noise for that to work.”
Sirra froze. For a few heartbeats she had hoped that he might have been addressing someone else, searching through his surface thoughts for any confirmation of what he had just said. An almost cartoonish image of Sirra emerged from his mind, showing her trying and failing to distract him with her plan. Then the old man turned a pair of milky white eyes upward, until he was directly facing her.
“Is there something wrong with the ground, Padawan?”