Lil looked to the others impatiently. “Look, Kryze is finally here, it’s time to crack this glowie open and see what new form of Jedi hell we got ourselves into.”
Kryze looked disarmingly at the others. The Pathfinder starship that the Nova Suns had was a poor choice for a pursuit ship, having only a Class 2 hyperdrive, but it was an excellent hunting craft, possessing a sensor suite with such range that they could monitor ships long before they had a chance to notice the small craft themselves. “It isn’t a fast ship,” he said through a thick Coruscanti accent. The Mandalorian accent that most people associated with him was in fact an artificial product of his helmet, now, after a long trip in hyperspace, he wore simple civilian clothing instead of the cumbersome Mandalorian battle armor.
“Whatever, who’s got the holocron?” Lil continued, quite clearly ignoring the Mandalorian.
Valan produced the holocron from one of the many pouches on his military fatigues and held it out for the others to inspect. As he did so, the holocron began to hum, the soft aqua light brightening as it rose a few centimeters off of his palm. As Valan lowered his hand, invisible seams in the cube appeared, and the whole structure shifted itself, corners spinning and center adjusting to realign into an octahedron. Emanating from the sphere came a humanoid figure, bathed in the same aqua light as the holocron. As the image finished materializing, a young human man, no more than twenty standard years greeted them, his hair just a shade darker than the Jedi robes he wore. He looked to his audience and nodded, a sincere, yet reserved smile on his lips.
“Greetings, students,” the hologram began, “I am Suljo Warde – well, his memory at least. I am the gatekeeper of this holocron, which Suljo Warde created to store his knowledge of the Force and the ways of the Jedi.”
Lil shook her head, “Great, another one. Why don’t we ever find holocrons of non-Jedi?”
Kryze shrugged, “I don’t think non-Jedi made holocrons, Lil, sorry.” To this, Lil just huffed and leaned against one of the pillars in the hall.
“Alright, then,” Lil conceded, “I guess you have some quest for us then, that’s the schtick if I remember correctly.”
The holocron stopped, and if Kryze didn’t know better he’d say the holocron actually blushed, but it was probably just a trick of the light. Coughing politely into its holographic hand, it continued, “Well, actually, this holocron is currently incomplete. If you were to recover the other three kyber crystals that house Warde’s knowledge of the Force, I can fulfill my purpose and pass on his wisdom to you.”
Laughing, Lil threw up her hands, “I knew it! So where are these kyber thingies?”
The flickering hologram nodded, “Suljo Warde completed the construction of this holocron while on the planet Arbooine. He entrusted one of the crystals to a young Force-sensitive Mirialan named Gel Marcolf. He saw great potential in Marcolf, whom he hoped would become his Padawan. Warde kept the other crystals with him, and where they are now, I cannot say. If you hope to learn the techniques I can teach by unlocking the full potential of this holocron, you must travel to Arbooine and retrace Master Warde’s own steps.”
Lil raised an eyebrow, “And what, precisely, are these ‘techniques’ you can teach?”
The hologram leveled his gaze on her, seeming as if to age, not so much in a physical way, as instead in a spiritual one, “Suljo Warde was known for many accomplishments and feats, both before and during the Clone Wars. His greatest contribution to the Jedi Order, however, was his refinement of the ability to predict the future. Although many Jedi are capable of foreseeing future events, Warde’s ability was different. Rather than focusing on visions of events yet to come, Warde perceived the future decisions, actions and intentions of another sentient. Not only could Warde see beyond lies and deceptions, he could predict another’s decisions long before that person even contemplated the matter.”
Lil’s eyes went wide. Kryze’s stomach dropped. Lil was the first to recover and put voice to the sense of dread they obviously both felt, “If the Emperor and his agents had access to such an ability …”
“An organized rebellion would be impossible,” Kryze finished.
“Should we destroy the holocron?” Valan asked. It was a fair question, after all, with the holocron destroyed no one could learn the power from anyone other than Warde. Though, that led to its own problem.
“What if Warde’s alive? We need to know where he went, and if he is still around, destroying the holocron wouldn’t stop the power from getting into the Emperor’s hands, only our own.” Lil had voiced the very thoughts that Kryze had, though there was the further problem of anyone (like Marcolf) that Warde may have taught the power to.
The hologram nodded, “He may still be alive, although it has been some time since I was created. The Clone Wars must surely have ended be now, correct?”
Lil did some quick math, “If he was in his early twenties during the Clone Wars, and they ended about fifteen years ago, then he’s barely forty now … he could easily have survived.”
“We have to follow Warde’s path to find out what happened to him,” Kryze responded, shaking his head. “If we’re lucky, we’ll find he passed away with the rest of the Order. If not, we need to ensure this power not fall into the hands of the Emperor.”
Lil snickered, “It was so great a power how come he didn’t see the Emperor screwing over the Republic to make his Empire to begin with?”
“He probably never used the power on the Supreme Chancellor, to be honest,” Kryze replied. “It’s not like he was a Jedi of great note. From the sounds of it his reputation was founded during the Clone Wars, when the Jedi were too busy to meet dignitaries and the Supreme Chancellor was busy with orchestrating the end of the Separatist threat. I get the feeling this is a ‘proactive’ power – it isn’t passive flashes of danger so much as a decision to chart the future of an individual. With the strain that foresight places on the user, I would imagine he only used it when he needed to – most likely in relation to the Separatist generals he faced on the field of battle.”
Lil nodded, “So where on Arbooine are we headed? A planet is pretty vague directions.”
The hologram of Warde flickered for a moment before replying, “Suljo Warde met Gel Marcolf when they were attacked by Separatist assassins on Eriadu, and he sensed that the young Mirialan was strong in the Force. He hoped to induct him into the Jedi Order and perhaps even take him on as a Padawan after the war. As of my creation, however, he had not yet explained this to Marcolf. He was not yet mature enough.” The hologram crossed his arms and gazed upwards, as if remembering, “Suljo Warde took Marcolf with him after Eriadu, when he was sent to Arbooine to set the groundwork for a Republic base. The area surrounding the town of Quolas was an ideal location. At the time, Republic intelligence indicated that Quolas was torn by a violent fued between two families, those of Helshar and Tumris. The Sathari of Quolas are fundamentally good people, but prone to long-held grudges. Warde brought Marcolf with him in the hopes that the young man might learn something about conflict resolution and the real responsibilities of a Jedi Knight.”
Lil looked to the others, “So the town of Quolas on Arbooine. Check. HK,” she looked to the droid, “can you plot us a quick jump to Arbooine? One that will put us on approach to Quolas?”
HK blinked his photo-receptors, “Affirmation; Of course I can, Master. May I assume this means I will not be left behind to protect the meatbags from the Basilisk?”
Lil smiled, “Sorry, murder-bot, no such luck. I need you here in case things go sideways with the pet of the ‘Lady Mandalore’ over there.” Lil caught Kryze blanch out of the corner of her eye and smiled deliciously.
HK noticeably slouched, “Acquiescence; Affirmative, Master. I will comply with your wishes, though my circuits and coils wear at the thought of my continued imprisonment in this Jedi infested structure.”
“We’ll need a reason to be there,” Kryze stated. “Imperials aren’t going to let us wander around armed, and we’re going to stick out like a sore thumb. I’m safe as a Bounty Hunter, my weapons are all registered through the Guild, but the rest of you will need a cover.”
Valan looked at Kryze and nodded, “He’s right. Kryze, can you get me registered with Guild?”
Kryze thought about it for a moment. “Well, if we sell the Pathfinder we recovered from the mercenaries, it could cover the cost of registration and weapon permits for you and Tomo. You both look like the type to try their hand at bounty hunting, and you can handle yourselves, but keep in mind that getting registered means yearly fees and the occasional string in the form of up and comers trying to prove themselves by using you as a stepping stone.”
Valan nodded, “Right. Gotcha.” Looking to Tomo, who nodded in agreement, he turned back to Kryze, “We’re in though.”
Kryze shrugged, his sandy blond hair falling into his blue eyes, “Okay, I’ll set it up. That does bring up a good cover story though.” Tapping his datapad, he looked through some strange profiles, flipping from one picture to the next before finally stopping on one in specific. “Ahhh, Mr. 75631, wanted for smuggling. He operates out of a system close to Arbooine, it would seem reasonable that he choose to hide on a backwater low tech world until the heat cooled off. Nobody would question the logic of bounty hunters following a lead to there.” He turned to Lil, “And, if those bounty hunters didn’t fly alone, they’d need a pilot. Lil, that’s your reason for being there.”
He looked next to D’Jrem, “It being a backwater, and one that is low-tech, we’d need a wilderness guide. Especially if we believed he took to the wilds. You can play that part easily.” Finally, he looked to Bail. “Being an Imperial Bounty, the local Governor’s office would demand that an advisor be sent, especially if he were a political risk, I’ve had to work with them before. Smiling used-speeder salesmen always trying to make sure that the image of the Imperial they represented wasn’t damaged by the target or the hunters. You’ll be perfect.”
The trip to Arbooine took hardly any time at all – HK had utilized a fortuitous opening of a local galactic phenomenon to shave a significant portion of their time off the journey. When Lil released the hyperdrive and settled back into realspace, the blue and green orb of Arbooine settled into the front viewport. A temperate world, white clouds swirled around the upper atmosphere as Lil nosed the Corusca Gem towards the planet’s surface.
As Lil flew low over the forest, her frustration grew. The trees below formed a thick canopy, preventing any chance of landing the large craft without significant risk to it. Lil frowned at the display, “It doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to land anywhere close to the city.”
Djrem nodded, “That’s okay, I should be able to guide us through the forest to where we’re going. Arbooine isn’t a significantly deadly planet, flora and fauna wise.”
Valan nodded, “I guess we’re hiking then.”
Lil looked over the scopes once more. “It seems like there’s a break in the canopy about 15 kilometers from the city. I can set up down, but we’re probably going to be camping out before we can get there.”
Djrem looked over her shoulder, “Well, I don’t see another option. We should be fine, though provided there is a trail we can find. With a little luck it should only be about 7 or 8 hours.”
Kryze looked over the distance on the scope and then looked at the forest that awaited them outside the canopy. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
The hike was grueling. The uneven forest floor lacked any form of path or trail, so the group was forced to blaze a trail through the woods. The forest around them was ancient, with growth having accumulated unmolested for centuries. The flora surrounded them in hues of pink and purple, with a preponderance of flower species. The dirt was an odd color, being almost crimson in hue more than a brown. As they traveled, on many occasions their path became blocked by enormous trees, the base of which were often almost a kilometer in girth.
As Djrem led them ever onward, it was apparent that they weren’t going to make the city of Quolas by dark. Scouting a location to make camp, Djrem brought them into a natural shelter made by the roots of one the giant trees, which Djrem said the natives called ‘elrit.’ They assigned watches and settled in for the evening.
Djrem had offered to take last watch, and sat in front of the fire by himself. He had a full nights rest as he was asleep through the first two watches, and now sat having a small breakfast and a cup of caff. He wondered at the natural beauty of the planet, and was forced to admit that despite the difficulty of travel, he was a little taken with the world.
He had barely finished his caff when he noted that the forest had become uncomfortably quiet. Picking up his rifle, he scanned the outskirts of the forest around the camp looking for anything out of the ordinary. Though he couldn’t see anything, something definitely spooked the wildlife. He had just begun to scan up into the tree when the sound of leaves being smashed out of the way alerted him to a threat.
The large beast leapt down at him from the limbs above, its six legs launching it with frightening speed. As the beast leapt, Djrem saw that each of the limbs was equipped with fearsome claws, which had been sunken into the tree above, and now retracted into the toes of the limb as it leapt. Four eyes, shining blue from the reflected firelight in the camp, fixed on him as its mouth, filled with dagger like teeth, opened in anticipation of an easy meal. Four tusk-like protrusion radiated out from the things cheeks, and Djrem wasn’t sure if they were literal tusks or merely matted fur, as the beast had a great mane of crème fur that darkened to sienna the further from its face it grew. From snout to tail the beast was huge – the size of an airspeeder in length.
Djrem rolled back and, with only a moment to think, held out his hand. He reached out to the beast through the Force, reaching out through the mystical energy field to the beast. He felt the hunger of the animal, the excitement of its adrenaline fueled leap, the rush of air around it, lifting and moving its fur. The beast landed inches from him, but he held firm in his control, pushing into the creature’s mind, the confusion it possessed at being linked to him the curiosity of this prey’s strange reaction.
The bond created, Djrem thought to the beast, feeling his conversation more than thinking it. He communed with the thing, seeing its thoughts as well as feeling them. Through its eyes, he saw the avian natives of the planet, heard them shouting ‘bearsloth’ at it. He could feel the beast straining to leap forward, but he calmed his mind, and steeled himself, the effect on the bearsloth mimicking his own calm. Reaching slowly to the campfire, he lifted the rations he was eating for breakfast and offered them to the bearsloth, envisioning the taste and satisfaction of his earlier meal.
The bearsloth perked at the image and feelings. It move forward cautiously, sniffing at the rations. The smell matched Djrem’s memories of it, those memories themselves implanted in the bearsloth, making it more trusting of the offering. It tentatively opened its jaws to accept the food, which Djrem placed into its maw. It greedily devoured the food, which Djrem could tell through the link it enjoyed very much. AS the bearsloth finished the last of the food, Djrem could still feel the hunger in its belly, and through the link assured it that there was more back at the ship.
Now he just needed to figure out how to get it there.