Vahn Berand was on a secret mission. He held a bundle cradled in his arms of the highest importance under his dark grey robes. Perhaps he could even be expelled from the Jedi Order! But no matter; Vahn couldn’t conceive of a mission more dire than the one he was embarked upon at this moment.
Then, a voice. Vahn crouched, using the shadows of the growing night as cover as he approached. Lights flickered in the distance between Yavin’s trees. With the temple far behind him, for all intents and purposes they were, or should be, all alone with just the company of the starry night above them.
“I have returned…” Vahn said, turning around the corner of a tree into a clearing in Yavin’s jungles. “Unseen, and unsuspected, triumphant!” he crowed, and shouldered his robes open.
Vahn fanned his armed wide, producing several sealed bags packed heavy with sugary frybreads. He grinned as realization spread across the cadre of younglings, padawans and even a handful of the non-force sensitive refugee children that now lived on site. It had been difficult to get enough treats to satisfy the small party he’d managed to sneak down into the jungle as is; it would have been difficult to justify exactly the right sort of treats for the “training regimen” he had in mind; so there was an ample supply of nuts, dried fruit and meat. Vahn had an interesting interpretation of what “Survival Training” meant. But that wasn’t *really* what he wanted for this venture, so he’d had to sneak down during the day to make sure he could, well, appropriate some fresh goodies from Aola’s kitchen. She’d understand.
A handful of the older padawans and younglings stood up from the campfire they’d been tending and approached. Vahn handed over the bags of frybreads.
“Make sure everyone gets at least one,” he said, needlessly as they went to start distributing his plunder.
“Master Berand, are you sure we won’t get in trouble? Master Jido always says we need to show restraint and wait for meal time.” A young girl spoke while nibbling the corner of a frybread, a short, beansprout of a Togruta. One of the younger children he’d seen at the temple.
Vahn folded his arms over his chest, and conspicuously looked from side to side, ignoring the question.
“How strange. I could have sworn someone was trying to talk to me just now.” He said, while looking off to a faded, partially rusted over durasteel plate that he’d fixed to a tree. What seemed like ages ago three sets of hands had scoured the words “No Padawans, No Knights, No Masters!” with a lightsaber. One elegant and restrained, one refined and flamboyant, and the last clumsy but bold. Vahn remembered that day.
“Vahn, is it okay?” she said, correcting her speech after a moment with a small unsure smile on her face.
He smiled, and crouched down to tap the youngling on the nose.
“It’s okay if I do it. I’ll just say I ate them all. They’ll probably believe it.”
“Cause you’re so big!” The little togruta clipped between a giggle, and Vahn grinned before flexing one arm into a curl.
“And strong! Don’t forget strong!” he said, standing after a moment as the little padawan scurried off to a series of old mats he’d salvaged from the temple’s hangar.
The padawans and younglings sat in a wide semi-circle on the series of cobbled seats he’d managed to smuggle. There was even a blasted out old X-wing seat he’d found in the temple’s storage room. Vahn didn’t want to think about how long it had been sitting back there, but it was still comfy enough once he braced it against the trunk of a tree. He was certain to claim that one for himself right away. A pile of sleeping rolls were tucked off to the side of the small camp.
The real treasure, however, was an older model, but still highly functional holovid projector that he’d hooked up to a portable generator in the center of the clearing. He’d had this for a long time, stashed away in the storage bay of his X-wing but he always took care of it. Sure, the colors could be a little off, and the resolution wasn’t the best, but someone important had given it to him.
“Alright everyone,” Vahn said, clapping his hands together as he walked in front of the holoprojector. “Sorry I kept you waiting so long, I’m sure the expert performance of Cav Bryno was enough to just keep you all enthralled while I was away,” Vahn fought to keep a straight face against the chorus of “Boo”s and hisses. The Cav Bryno films were just awful. Exactly the sort of schlock that invites one to cringe and laugh at the same time. Vahn had no idea how the man had a career for so long. He delighted in the bit of torment he'd put them through while he was away.
“What should we watch next?” Vahn asked, thumbing through a datapad that had a listing of the many, many films he’d stored on the projector. Mostly Jedi holodramas. Well, actually, almost entirely Jedi holodramas. Lots of Jedi holodramas. Perhaps too many. “We’ve got “A Dream of A Thousand Fountains” Good action, bad acting. Oh, this one’s great; “Between Duty and Sacrifice”. This one has some really *interesting* ideas about what it’s like to be a Jedi.” Vahn grinned as a chorus rose in favor of “A Dream of a Thousand Fountains”.
What do you want to be Alex? The question bounce around her mind day and night. She never found an answer. The Jedi Master had long sense resorted her mental walls. Max’s funeral had been extraordinarily difficult, it had been important in that moment for her to grieve with the Order. That moment had passed. Her struggles were now her own. Oh, she knew she did not face her pain alone. Indy, Maiko, and the others were there for her, but there were some battles you had to wage alone. Who she was without Max was one of those battles. The type of Jedi she wanted to be.
Humid wind rushed past her as she walked the jungles. She found it peaceful out here in the darkness. She was surrounded by life but could escape the crushing feeling of the Temple. Serenity. The surface of her mind was calm pool as her inner thoughts whirled. Leadership had come so easily to Max. He had struggled…she knew that, but the mantel always seemed to fit him. Alex had been a Jedi longer than many of her fellows had been alive. She life experience to spare. That did not necessarily make her the wise Master. Distance often made her seem aloof. Maiko knew that was not the kind of teacher she hoped to be. Not everyone saw that side. Did she want them to?
There were no easy answers while she continued her walk. Before long the sound of laughter reached her ears. What in the Force? Her senses extended out, brushing against an unmistakable bubble of emotions. Unfettered Force sensitivity. She knew what that meant. Alex’s face became featureless. Her Force signature a pinprick. It was easy enough to quietly approach the rather raucous gathering. She almost smiled when she stepped into the firelight. “Jedi Berand.” One eyebrow raised. She knew Vahn only from photos from the reports on Denon. “Leading a field trip are we?” Her eyes swept to the holo. “Very educational.” Yavin was safe but still there dangers leaving the Temple at night this deep in the jungle.
Vahn froze mid motion, half stooped over, cheeks bulged as he was consuming some sugary, melted food as he heard the familiar voice from behind him. One of the Masters he’d been reading about since having returned to the Temple after so long away.
He slowly turned, one hand raised to cover his mouth as he frantically chewed to get the sticky, treat down his gullet. He wound up standing there silently for an awkward stretch of time.
“Master Voran,” Vahn said finally, his voice stiff and still mushy from the snack. A faint smear of some sticky brown stuff stuck to the corner of his mouth.
“Ah, so nice to see you. Yes, yes. See, I scheduled some...survival training for the young ones. It, ah, is very useful to know how to handle a night out under the stars. Can't always expect to operate out of the comforts of a city, after all!” Vahn grinned weakly. His experience living on his own in the wilds of frontier space had been exactly the justification he gave for this training period. Behind him, the holoprojector was currently running an overly choreographed duel between two jedi, while each took turns spouting their life’s philosophy. Badly.
“What brings you out so far on this fine night?” he asked, transparently trying to redirect the conversation.
Her one raised eyebrow somehow managed to climb higher when Vahn tried to hurriedly swallow the candy. What a noble display. He was kind to cover for the student who almost certainly knew their excursion would not meet with approval. Vahn should have known better, but she did not blame him for trying to inject levity into an increasingly serious galaxy. The Order often forget their lower ranks were often children. It was difficult to raise well rounded adults when their lives were all painfully serious. Even with the restriction on family ties removed, the growing war had changed everything.
Still, she valued honesty and open communication. Vahn had only been back for a short time but he should have come to them…and owned up to his mistake. Her eyes swept around the camp again. Many of the young ones pointedly looking at the dirt. “Yes…really roughing it.” Alex lingered on the seats, array of snacks, and holoprojector. She looked back at the holo. “You see young ones, Jedi Berand wanted to show you an example of his lightsaber skills.” A few of them looked up. Sheepish grins on their faces. Alex’s face softened. “He looks just like that.” That got a few laughs. Honestly, the film was horrible.
A simple wave of her hand brought a chair behind her. She took a seat and leaned forward. “I find the jungle peaceful at night.” She turned to look at Vahn again. “And I can always sense trouble.” Yavin was safe. As safe as any world was at this point. She could stop her mind from thinking of the worst. What if something had happened? The Order needed to know where their brothers and sisters were. There was some explaining to do.
Vahn grimaced as the Jedi Master skewered him with the jab about his swordsmanship.
“Oh come on. I just got done telling them about this time I won a duel against an Echani Swordmistress,” he stepped in and spoke hurriedly under his breath, but just loud enough for some of the nearby children to giggle as they overheard. “Cut me some slack, they’re gonna think I’m a phoney and uncool now! You know how hard it is to dig yourself out from under that weight!”
The humorous, unflappable facade broke when Alex continued speaking. His gaze drifted off, and he seemed to stare through the trees around them. The chirping of a thousand little bugs and a hundred little night creatures filled the silence of the air.
“Have you ever been to D’Qar?” Vahn asked after a moment through his moment of distance. “Fewer people live there than even Kashyyyk so it’s virtually untouched. What a sense of history though. Rey. Finn. Leia. Can you imagine the energy that place had? D’Qar really is amazing,” he sighed, and stared up through the small gaps in the canopy above. ”Kashyyyk is amazing too, don’t get me wrong, but it’s...it’s different. Kashyyyk is very stratified. There’s life everywhere, sure, but of all different sizes. It’s hard to really feel everything at once when you have those big Wroshyr trees acting like beacons. It’s like you can’t see anything else but them,” Vahn spoke, gesturing broadly with his hands.
“And Kashyyyk has scars. You can feel it carved a mile deep into the very wood around you. Czerka. Trandoshans. The Empire.” he rolled a hand in the air, suggesting it was a long train of horrible things.
“D’Qar though. Nearly untouched. You can climb up on top of the jungle canopy and just look out into eternity. When the wind blows just right, and the leaves start to dance in the air it’s almost like you’re stranded out on some ocean stitched together from emeralds,” he leaned against a tree, crossing his arms over his chest.
“And then the real treat starts. You close your eyes, extend your thoughts….and then you can feel everything. A stream of life as pure and clear as the air around you. Like a cool drink after baking under Tatooine’s twin suns. No distractions, nothing trying to grab your attention. You can just bask, and receive it all at once.” He sighed, head tilted back as he seemed to revel in a memory.
Vahn bundled his robes about himself, a defensive, vulnerable posture as if he'd accidentally exposed some secret part of himself. He looked towards Alex, deep blue eyes tensed as he carefully chose his words.
"I did go through the proper channels to organize this excursion. And it is still survival training, from a certain point of view. It's just....not exactly the kind of survival training I stated on the paperwork," he explained sheepishly. "And maybe a little ways off from where we're supposed to be."
Alex made a great show of rolling her eyes. She might as well play the role of the stiff Jedi Master. She was awfully good at it. The conversation suddenly detoured very seriously as Vahn recalled a host of past experiences. Alex simply listened. There were times to interrupt, offer your thoughts, and teach. True experience was knowing when to shut up. They were all more than the faces they wore. She smiled and leaned forward again.
“Well young ones, Jedi Berand promised this would be educational…so let’s help him, shall we?” Alex let her mind unspool into the Force. She reached out and touched the thoughts of each young Jedi, including Vahn. “Jedi Berand described all manners of life he felt on D’Qar and Kashyyk.” She paused. “What he showed us is the very essences of the Force…life all around us.” Her mind spread further, inviting the others to reach out. “We are Jedi. Our duty is to protect that life.” A broad smile grew on Alex’s face. “Close your eyes and reach out.” Her eyes closed. Her mind connecting with all those around her. “Together.”
The young Jedi began to search with her help all around them. “Feel the life around us…the teaming jungle…we are Jedi, and we are connected to it all.” The curious minds of the young Jedi surged forward. Alex retreated slightly, opening her eyes to see the wide smiles on the students as they explored the life of the jungle. Her face softened while she turned to Vahn. The stoic Jedi mask fading. “You were right to take them out of the Temple, but you must understand why we insist the rules be followed.” She ran her hand through her short hair.
“We must trust one another, or we will find ourselves facing Denon over and over again.” She held up her hand. “This is not a rebuke, it took me a long time to trust when I returned…with a lot of help.” She shrugged. “We all have to start somewhere.”