“I am working!” Quentin snapped at the TC protocol unit as soon as it appeared at his side. The Hunter typically welcomed the aid the droid could bring to his research, but his mood had been off for days. An unsettled feeling nagged at the back of his mind – a sense of some impending shift that he couldn’t quite nail down. Of course, the Shadow Academy’s droids were accustomed to and quite undeterred by such moods.
“A gift, sir,” it insisted as it set said gift on top of his strewn parchments. A cylindrical object rolled neatly in a soft fabric that bore the familiar insignia of the Lion of Tarthos.
“Since when does a Grand Master send Sithmas gifts?” Quentin wondered aloud as his thumb traced the insignia. The unsettled feeling rose to the front of his mind as he took the object in his hands, and his stomach dropped as he unwrapped his “gift”. A simple note fell from a silver lightsaber hilt to the table, bearing a single word in dark letters: Eliana.
Quentin jumped to his feet and turned on the droid, “Where did you get this?!”
“You are to report to C167 immediately.”
The Hunter hesitated before he reached for the panel to open the door. He knew this place. Though it likely had many uses, he knew it as a place for “failed” students to be re-educated – a torturous experience the Headmistress viewed as a type of mercy to give students one last chance to embrace the power of their own darkness before ensuring that the light which hindered them was permanently snuffed out – one way or another. Had he failed her?
The cell door opened with a hiss.
“You try my patience, apprentice.”
The voice of his master, the Headmistress, came from across the darkened cell. Quentin drew closer as his eyes adjusted – just beginning to make out a second figure near his master. He started to speak before another voice arrested him.
“Quentin!” Her voice was strained and weak, but he knew it instantly. The girl he had rescued from slavers on Rishi. “Help me.”
“Eliana,” Quentin all but whispered, feeling the weight of emerald eyes upon him – knowing they saw much more than his reddening face as the light in the room suddenly shifted, illuminating the broken, tortured form of his friend. “W–why are you here?”
“Don’t you know?” It was Ciara’s voice that replied as she traced a fingertip down a crimson trail on the Rishi’s cheek. “She’s come to rescue you, Quentin. She seems to think she owes you the favor?”
Quentin lowered and narrowed his gaze at the question, “It was a long time ago, Master.” His eyes studied the lightsaber still in his grip as he attempted to center his mind on the mix of emotion that was rising within him. He had known Eliana was Force-sensitive when they’d met, but when had she found – or made – a lightsaber?
“It’s a lovely story, really.” The Headmistress answered the question he hadn’t asked aloud even as she moved closer to take the lightsaber from his hand, igniting its bright green blade close to the shackled woman’s face. “Your friend discovered her mother was a Jedi.”
Quentin’s eyes lifted to search Eliana’s, looking for confirmation, but found only shame.
“That is, she discovered it after she took vengeance on the poor slaver that killed her parents and retrieved this from his corpse. Isn’t that right, Eliana?” The cruel smile that played at Ciara’s lips was evident in her voice as she deactivated the lightsaber’s blade and returned the hilt to Quentin’s hands. “Your friend may have potential, afterall. It seems you have a choice to make.”
The Hunter closed his fingers tightly around the silver hilt, drawing the Force closer as he waited for the test he knew would come.
“It’s simple, really,” the Headmistress continued. “Rescue your damsel, kill her and take her blade as your own … or attempt to cultivate this darkness in her. If she can be_properly_ educated, I see no reason to waste her gift.”
Office of the Headmistress
“You’ve broken her, then?” The question came as Ciara turned the silver hilt of the Jedi’s lightsaber in her hands thoughtfully. “Or…?”
“She has … agreed to accept training, Master,” Quentin replied evenly.
“Then why have you returned her mother’s lightsaber to me?’
“What right do I have to it? I did not kill her … or her mother.”
“Perhaps not.” The Tarentae smiled as she drew a small tool from her desk and began to disassemble the silver hilt. “But you will kill everything her mother represented, and extinguish every false ember of hope in her as you wield this weapon as a servant of darkness.”
Quentin straightened as he watched his master extract the crystal from the hilt as though she were plucking out its heart. He lowered his head as she approached and placed it in his palm.
“It is time for you to put the knowledge you’ve acquired to use.” Ciara waited until her apprentice’s blue eyes met hers again. “Bleed it and return it to your Consul on Sepros. If you succeed and have the approval of your Clan, you will rise a Knight and undertake this task with the girl.”
The Hunter didn’t need to ask what would happen if he failed, but he did have one question. “Master, the lightsaber arrived–”
“A gift from Grand Master Ashen, yes. It seems your future apprentice tracked you as far as Geles, where she happened upon him and … drew her newfound weapon.” Ciara laughed. “I suppose she was only spared by his curiosity when she uttered your name.”
Three Days Later
The shuttle had barely touched down onto the surface before things had gone sideways. As the doors opened, a number of figures in black armor had boarded the vessel, roughly grabbing Quentin by the shoulders.
He had been placed under arrest. He had been ushered from the spaceport, through strange jungles. More than one stone structure had been passed as his captors marched him through mud and beneath trees. The whole time, Quentin clutched both his new weapon and kyber crystal close to his chest. He would find some way to escape. He would return to the Consul. He would complete his mission.
Several odd tiered-pyramid structures followed the series of what Quentin could only figure to be temples. There were easily twenty or thirty of the structures, arrayed throughout the jungles. He had stopped counting shortly before he was brought before the largest of the series that he had seen so far. This temple was constructed of an obsidian stone, with a golden pyramid sitting atop its peak.
He’d had scarce the time to take in this wonder before he was pushed into the structure through a set of ornate doors. As he stepped inside, he noted the temperature was notably cold. So cold was it, in fact, that the Hunter felt almost as if he had been thrown into a cold lake or bath after a long day’s work. Which, considering his march, he supposed was not too far from the truth.
Finally, he was escorted by the faceless captors up to a large door constructed of a mosaic stone, scarcely given a moment to gather his wits before he was pushed through the barely opened door. Ever silent, the dark-armored figures held either arm of the man, pulling him through the darkness. When the thud of the closing door echoed in the chamber, Quentin found himself in utter darkness.
“You have been called before us.” A voice practically purred from behind Quentin. The figures released their grip, and he could hear either retreat back a number of steps. The Hunter swept a hand out to either side, trying to find the speaker. “You have been weighed, and measured, Hunter.” The cool voice was not, Quentin realized, coming from behind him. “Now if the time to prove your worth. Or perish.”
As though on some cue, a flame erupted from deeper within the chamber. In the scarce light, Quentin could make out a ring of figures. They were arrayed around a low fire. Quentin felt a cold knot in the pit of his stomach, but he did not let it show. He stood his ground.
“Come forward to the circle and be judged.” Setting his jaw, Quentin strode forward with the most defiant air he could muster. He was already thinking though a way out if things should go sideways with this strange cabal. As he drew within ten feet of the circle, a flame leapt up from the pit in the center. He saw a flash of dark hair framing what appeared to be a single offset, glowing red eye.
“You have been brought before the Conclave.” A dark voice intoned. This voice seemed to belong to a tall man, clad in dark robes with the hood drawn up and shielding his eyes. “We have discussed your accomplishments- as well as your shortcomings. We have, but one thing to ask before we decide your fate.” The figure extended an arm from within the robes, stretching out fingers. “You have in your possession a weapon, and a crystal. Present them.”
Quentin raised the lightsaber up so it gleamed briefly in the light of the fire. He considered the request for more than three moments before placing the weapon tenderly into the waiting hand of the dark figure. He held onto the kyber that he had worked over for the last three days. He felt a greater weight as he placed it into the second outthrust palm of the dark figure.
The man gave a nod to Qunetin before turning back to the circle. The tall figure drew up to the man with the glowing eye, handing over crystal and then weapon before the two exchanged some hushed words. Quentin waited, staring hard forward.
“Quentin, you have accomplished so much, and so little.” The voice in the back of his mind before was now coming from the owner of the strange eyeball. “You have come here bearing a crystal, and a weapon. The weapon you brought with you was not yours to bear, yet. There was an edge to the statement. “For now, you must step forward and take your place. Kneel before our gathered conclave.”
The command threw the Hunter off. He stepped forward in uncertainty. He watched the man fiddling with his weapon for several moments. The dark-haired figure held out his hand, allowing the weapon to float into the air., As though possessed, weapon’s casing slid apart with but a twitch of the dark-haired man’s fingers. The hilt floated up between Hunter and figure, with the kyber crystal turning and aligning into place before the casing slid back to its original position.
“You did well. Take a knee, so we can pass judgment.” Quentin felt a pressure on one shoulder. He chose to embrace the suggestion in favor of uncovering the meaning of all this mystery. As he knelt, he heard the sound of the lightsaber igniting. With a snap-hiss, the weapon bathed all the assembled in its crimson red light. The sound of five similar weapons resounded. A cascade of red, yellow, violet, white and blue lights joined the glow of his weapon.
“You have been tested, you have been measured, you have been found wanting.” Quentin could hear the humming of his weapon draw closer, but he felt himself frozen in place as the weapon paused over one shoulder before gliding over to the other. “And you have overcome that want. You have persevered. You have succeeded. You have bent a kyber to your will. You have crafted yourself into a fine weapon. You have been proven.”
Quentin glanced up, seeing the smirk of the dark-haired man. The man’s scarred face was turned in a smile as the Consul gave him a nod. Bentre deactivated the Hunter’s weapon. Glancing to either side, Quentin could see the others standing with their weapons at ceremonial attention. Yet, all eyes were on him.
“This day, you will stand. When you leave your kneeling position, you will stand no longer as a Hunter. You will stand as something new. By the power granted me by the Dark Side, I do declare you worthy of the title of a disciple of Clan Naga Sadow. More than that, you will stand with your fellows and take your rightful place. You will be Quentin, a Knight of Naga Sadow and the Brotherhood, with all its rights and privileges.”
The other figures broke into smiles ranging from proud to solemn. Yet, all were happy.
“And, as is the tradition, we will gather together as a Clan tonight. We will all drink, and toast your accomplishments, Quentin. And of course,” there was a laugh that had slipped in the Consul’s voice, “once we pick our watering hole of choice, the drinks will be on you!”The Consul gave a wink.
With the declaration delivered, the circle broke their silent watch and the assembled lifted their weapons in celebration of their newest Knight.