Of all the places the Order could have sent him and his Padawan to, it had to be his homeworld.
Haldir suppressed the urge to roll his eyes when he was assigned to investigate a series of kidnappings on a remote mining village that was – absurdly enough – close to the land his family owned. Reports (which he shared with Willa) came from a Knight requesting backup to help her with the investigation, and from his cousin Chie who mentioned a singular pattern the missing victims shared. It matched with the information Knight Magayon provided: they were aged 13-19. Additionally, discovered at the place they were last seen were a sprig of pine cone and a small, crude imitation of an Arkanian Dragon scale, quite possibly left behind by the kidnapper on purpose.
The culprit was (or were, the numbers were uncertain still) targeting teenagers, and no demands for ransom were made yet for the first four victims they have abducted.
And so Haldir, clad in his winter gear and a vulpine mask, found himself exiting the ship alongside Willa after he had directed the Kogitsunemaru to a landing pad designated for ‘guests’ of the Erennor Estate. Chie, who offered to help Knight Magayon with lodgings in the village at Haldir's request, stood poised a few feet away from them, clad in inappropriate winter gear (a fur-lined coat draped over his shoulders) and face exposed as usual. It was freezing, snow falling lazily, and yet the bastard managed to look unperturbed as he shot the Arkanian Knight a smug smirk.
“Out of all the Knights the Jedi Order could've sent in this ice ball, it had to be you, hm?” the dark-haired Arkanian Offshoot teased by way of greeting, using his own voice no less despite Willa's presence, and Haldir could tell that the older Erennor was deliberately ignoring the Padawan for the time being. The Knight could tell that Chie was going to flirt with her to try to make her uncomfortable sooner than later.
Chie was Haldir's only favorite cousin, but even said favorite cousin could sometimes act like a roguish idiot. But there was one advantage the Arkanian Knight held over the other: his dark-haired cousin did not know that Willa Kanz could deal with a mischief-maker like Chie. So the Knight chose to ignore the bait and instead offered the other man a proper Erennor greeting. Stupid etiquette. He just knew Willa could feel his slight annoyance through their bond in the Force. Haldir lowered his head in a deferential bow and took his mask off before facing Chie once more.
“My thanks for your warm welcome, cousin Chie,” Haldir greeted back formally, holding the other Arkanian Offshoot's amused gaze at the subtle sarcasm. “This is my Padawan, Willa Kanz. Padawan, this is Chie of Clan Erennor, retired Sector Ranger, the Dragonsnake. And no,” the Knight shot his cousin a stern gaze, “my Padawan is here to help, so please give her the same respect you would give Hyarantë and Hasebe.”
My brothers, he would clarify to Willa regarding the two names, his thoughts briefly but respectfully brushing hers. He was gone as soon as he came, his attention focused on the dark-haired male before them.
The two Arkanian Offshoots were soon locked in a brief yet tense staring competition before Chie broke out into a laugh, turning to acknowledge Willa once he composed himself and greeted her.
“Hail and well met, Padawan Willa Kanz of the Jedi Order. I trust the Vulptex, Haldir Eressëa, is teaching you well?” the older Erennor addressed her politely, but with enough mischief in his silky voice. He gestured at the modest, two-story cabin a few meters across the landing pad. To the cabin's left was a frozen lake, and a pathway – currently being cleared off of the snow by five people – towards the mining village where the crime occurred. Turning to Haldir, Chie continued and moved to huddle into his coat with a smirk, “Shall we move this discussion inside? I'm freezing my ass off here tryin' to impress your lovely Padawan.”
“How are you still alive– never mind.” Being reminded of the reason why he and Willa were here immediately suppressed any further complaints and traces of annoyance Haldir felt towards thoughts of home. They were here to find the culprit and discover their motive, save the victims (if they still lived, which Haldir hoped the teens did), and return them to their families. “What news from Knight Magayon?”
The abrupt change in Chie's demeanor as the three entered the warmth and safety of the cabin made Haldir pause where he stood by the doorway. His cousin graciously gestured for Willa to take a seat on one of the cozy armchairs near the fireplace and shot the two Jedi a grim look.
“I asked for Hasebe to grant your fellow Jedi Knight permission to stay here in the guest house. Last night the inn owner found her unconscious in her room. I answered the summons as quickly as I could, and after investigating what might have happened I discovered that the Knight had been poisoned,” Chie explained. “I brought her here and gave her medical aid. She's upstairs, but I'm afraid you won't be able to talk to her just yet. She is still unconscious. If you have a question, it's much better to ask now. Two of our cousins will be arriving shortly to check on your colleague.”
Entering the lodge and occupying the seat across Willa's, Haldir gazed at his Padawan and inclined his head towards Chie. Prior to the two of them being Master and Padawan she was close to completing her training, closer still to becoming a fully-fledged Knight. Now was the time to see if she had it in her to lead this mission as a Knight should.
It had been a long while since it was just her and her Master, but time, and effort, cultivated a deep, effortless bond. It was more than like it was with Max, though a part of her heart always held onto her old Master as the father figure she never really had. Haldir was more than that; like an older brother, perhaps, though she wouldn't deny a good part of her was still attracted, it was superficial in comparison to how she felt comfortable around him.
Clad in winter gear and a half-mask to protect her face from the elements, she could sense Haldir's unease even before they touched down. She had given his shoulder a light squeeze, before keeping in step with him, shoulders back and head held high. However...
Holy smokes, Angel. Are all the guys in your family this hot? The mental question slipped out, but with it came a teasing grin, which faded as the two of them bantered. Chie, it seemed, was someone who liked to stir the pot. In some ways, it was highly amusing to see her Master so disgruntled, but on the other, she would have to merely watch before making blind assumptions. However, at Chie's blatant flirting, the Padawan blinked a few times...
Until a full, teasing smirk tilted her lips.
"Well now, Ranger Chie, it is an honor," she replied just as silkily back, cocking her head slightly. Long braids clinked with jade beads, as both blinded and sighted eyes looked directly at him. "If I had known Haldir had so many cute family members, I might have requested a family reunion sooner." After all, if her Master had taught her anything, it was to disarm her opponents as quickly as possible, and de-escalate the situation.
That didn't help the sour, discordant note in the Force that still hummed between the two cousins, however. Something wasn't right for Knight Magayon to not be here to greet them. She couldn't help the stiffness between her shoulder blades; something was wrong. As they moved indoors, the feeling of unease grew, and when she perched on her chair, Chie confirmed it. Her features tightened momentarily, before smoothing, and she gave a thoughtful nod.
Catching her Master's glance, she sat straighter, pulling down her face mask and giving the Sector Ranger a firm, cool stare. "Would it be possible for me to visit her space, nonetheless? We might be able to glean something further with... some abilities." She pursed her lips for a moment, thinking, then stood. "I hope you don't mind if I don't stand on ceremony here, but do you have a map of the kidnapping locations? We might also need more information about the childrens' families; and I'd like to have a look at Knight Magayon myself? If it's poison, I might be able to treat her."
She had to prove her worth as a knight, now; she had been ready for some time, but now she wanted to prove it. If she had some more information, she'd have a better idea of how to move forward.
Willa was becoming– no, she had already become someone Haldir genuinely trusted as their bond grew the more time they spent around each other. It showed in the way he was getting more comfortable either shedding his masks or going out without one as long as there were no other prying gazes, as well as how the Arkanian Offshoot became less conscious whenever she made small gestures to try and soothe away his unease.
While Chie's initial surprise (the older Erennor hid it well, but not too well) at Willa flirting back would've brought an amused smirk to Haldir's face, her question and the teasing about family reunions almost made the Knight choke on air. Despite their bond and relationship as Master and Padawan – and friends – the Knight still wasn't used with some of her quips (especially ones aimed at his physical appearance). So instead of replying he opted to focus on the matter at hand, and at the same time trying to glare his cousin down as the grim expression on Chie's face was easily replaced with a playful smirk as Willa addressed the older Arkanian Offshoot.
“Ah, of course,” exclaimed the older Erennor, smirk turning into a rather charming smile. “Here you three are, two Jedi in front of me, one upstairs, and I have completely forgotten about the Force!” The words were clearly meant to be spoken in jest, but the retired Ranger sobered down as he pulled put a datapad from his yukata's left sleeve. Powering the device and poring over collected data, he handed the datapad to Willa, the screen showing a map of the nearby village.
Haldir rose from his seat and approached the Padawan, nudging off his cousin who was trying to lean over Willa. An invisible force then poked Chie on the forehead, the dark-haired Arkanian Offshoot biting back a gasp of pain while Haldir looked at the map with a benign expression on his face.
Cheeky brat, signed Chie, to which Haldir replied with a blunt, No, you.
“The village of Selgin. The first disappearance took place by the village's ‘gate’. The victim's name is Ania, 14. Her father's a miner while her mother is a seamstress, and Ania is an only child. Next up,” he pointed at the second spot marked with another red ‘x’, “is Creet, 16. Last seen heading off to Ania's house, but her parents said he never popped by to visit. The third one is Rána, 13, Creet's younger brother. Their father last saw Rána by the river, fishing. Like Ania's their dad's a miner, and their mother passed away when they were very young. Our current victim is Janne, 18. She moved in last year to work with the local doctor, and she lives alone. We found the pine and dragon scale in front of the clinic – and the doctor unconscious. Given that the poor man's a possible witness, the villagers are high on guard and none of them keeping the doctor out of their sight. You should go and see him once you head out.
“About the Knight, well, of course you can have a look, she's one of your own. Second door to your left, Haldir.” Chie took a step back and swept a hand towards the stairs. The dark-haired Erennor's gaze flitted from Willa to the window, his brows rising when he spotted two figures clad in black swiftly approaching the cabin. Giving Willa a wink, he then hurriedly shooed the pair of Jedi upstairs. “You and Haldir go on ahead while I distract our wonderful cousins. Work first, chat later, no?”
“Thank you, Chie. Let's go, Willa.”
Without another word Haldir moved, not in the mood to interact with more family members. They would most likely ignore him given his status, but if the newcomers would turn out to be one of the more outspoken Erennors the Knight knew that he and Willa would be hearing scathing remarks here and there. In all honesty Haldir wouldn't have cared but thoughts of such remarks being extended to his Padawan was enough to spark anger in the Knight. They would respect Chie, but they would have none for Haldir. And if they would have none for Willa (or Elidan if the half-Annfyn was here), well...
As Chie moved to the front door to engage the newcomers Haldir quietly ascended, knowing that Willa was right behind him. Finding his fellow Knight's room, he opened the door for his Padawan and gestured for her to enter.
The room was warm and simple. On the bed by the window lay Knight Magayon, still unconscious as Chie had told the two Jedi. The Togruta Knight was out of her Jedi robes and in comfortable clothing, with her double-bladed lightsaber left alone on the bedside table. She seemed to be sleeping well if it weren't for the intermittent spasming of her hands, visible over the covers.
With Willa free to check on the unconscious Knight, Haldir began to search the room for Magayon's belongings, assuming that Chie had gathered and brought them here. He found a box on an armchair and began to investigate its contents. The Arkanian Offshoot found not only his fellow Knight's belongings in a pack, but also the evidences she and Chie had gathered. Bagged and tagged were the sprigs of pine cone and fake dragon scales, each bearing the victims' names, ages, and places of disappearance.
Even a blind womp rat would have sensed the two cousins messing around as both of them leaned over her to examine the datapad's map; she sighed, pausing for a moment, before a sense of something tugging on both of their ears rose, before vanishing.
Grinning at her own joke, she once again focused on the information, humming quietly. It was a pattern of sorts; it seemed like only the outskirts was effected. An easy enough way to take victims without being noticed, even with the wall. She frowned, still absently humming one of the bars of her latest song; she got it stuck in her head lately. She was sure it was driving Haldir crazy, but she loved the melody. It wasn't uncommon for her to become fixated on something she was workshopping, but even now she just liked the sound of it.
Cousins... more family? She caught the wink just as they were about to ascend the stairs, and she gave the man a returning wink of her own, and a faint smirk. So far, he didn't seem anything like how Haldir had commented on his family in the past, but if there were more coming--
She couldn't finish that thought, when they swept through to Knight Magayon's room. Abruptly, she sombered, and walked straight to the Knight, resting a hand over the woman's own.
"Not feverish..." she muttered quietly, then knelt down, closing her eyes to focus. She could try to purge out the poison through the Force, the same as how Haldir had helped with her before. It wouldn't be easy, but she could try. Letting out a slow, quiet breath, she began to focus on Magayon's breathing, her heartbeat, following the flow of the Force from her to the still figure on the bed before them.
Knight Magayon looked peaceful in her unconscious state. True to Willa's observation the Togrutan Jedi wasn't feverish, but her hand felt a little clammy to the touch. As the Padawan began to focus on her attempt to heal the Knight, Magayon's eyes subtly rolling underneath their lids. The hand beneath Willa's twitched more perceptibly, turning until her fingers threaded weakly with the Padawan's. Softly the Knight's hand squeezed once, as if responding to the Force flowing into her still figure. The Togruta's breathing deepened for a few seconds as Willa's attempt to purge the poison coursing through the older woman's system bore fruit, but as the last dregs of the poison began to fade the grip on Willa's hand tightened. Willa would sense what seemed to be a warning from Magayon's slowly tightening grip, as if telling the Padawan to withdraw.
Though the unconscious Knight didn't - couldn't - communicate telepathically with Willa, the Padawan would feel rather than hear Magayon urging her to stop, to withdraw both her hand and the Force from the Togruta. Willa would then see Magayon's expression shifting from peaceful to troubled, the older woman's brows beginning to knot in a mixture of worry and growing pain. The poison had been successfully purged from the Knight's system, but it revealed something far more insidious than the toxin that previously coursed through her veins.
It seemed small, harmless, even. Like a small bundle of energy the size of a marble nestled within the Knight's mind. But the way it clung to Magayon kept her unconscious. Willa would begin to feel the Knight struggling to wake up but her efforts were futile. And as if noticing the Padawan for the first time, the ball of dark energy clinging to Magayon tentatively reached out to Willa.
Meanwhile Haldir was inspecting the evidences Chie and his fellow Knight have gathered. The masked Arkanian Offshoot found himself drawn to the dragon scale imitations. He drew one from the group - Janne's - and held the scale at eye level. It seemed to have been carved from black rock, but when light hit the scale from an angle Haldir noticed something glimmering between the grooves etched on the surface. He thumbed at the fake scale, noticing how it held from the pressure despite its thinness. Now that he was looking at a sample up close the rock from which the fake scales were carved from seemed volcanic in nature, though the grains of glimmering crystals on the surface's etched lines didn't exactly meet the characteristics of phenocrysts.
There were no volcanoes on or anywhere near Selgin. Though it was a mining village the citizens didn't delve too deeply nor greedily, so it seemed unlikely that the miners struck a volcanic vein. Did the rocks used to carve the scales come off-world? Maybe they came from another place planetside. The Knight then regarded the pine cones, confusion furrowing his brows. What connected these symbols to the kidnappings? And why were teenagers being kidnapped in the first place?
Haldir pocketed the crude scale for further inspection later. He turned to face Willa who knelt on Magayon's bedside. Unaware of the wordless exchange the Togruta was trying to convey to his Padawan, he approached the pair and noticed his fellow Knight's eyelids fluttering though they remained shut. Magayon's expression shifted and instinctively Haldir reached out, one hand gripping Willa's shoulder while the other moved to cage the other Knight's wrist. The masked Jedi reached out to Magayon through the Force, but his senses slammed against something - a resistance; a wall that seemingly blocked him out but allowed Willa access to enter.
"Willa?" Haldir muttered, gaze locked on the unconscious Togruta. "What's happening? I can't reach Magayon, something's blocking me out."
She was only vaguely aware of Haldir. Outside of her senses, the rest of the world was dimming. She was focused on healing Magayon, so focused in fact, that she almost missed the Torgruta beginning to hold her hand. It was the tight pressure that caught her attention first, and she grimaced at the clammy feel of it.
But then... something else.
She had felt the darkness before, in Chandrila. With Max. A slithering, cold feeling, like a snake sliding over her shoulders. But it was the feeling that made her pause, to flutter her eyes open. Both sighted and blind eyes gazed down at the Knight, and she withdrew from the Knight, then flinched as sensation returned. From Haldir's grip on her shoulder, to Knight Magayon's grip on her wrist, both throbbed in different ways. She leaned away from her Master, releasing her hand from Magayon's to rest over Haldir's.
"Let go, my shoulder's still sore."
She wasn't aware of it, but a cold sweat beaded on her forehead, slid down her neck. Her hands trembled.
"There's... a darkness there." Her voice was hushed, raspy, as though she hadn't spoken for days. Wincing at the raspiness, she supposed the attempt at healing had taken a greater toll than she expected.
As soon as Willa released her hand from Magayon's grip the Knight's troubled expression melted back into peaceful unconsciousness. Seeing as she was the only one who could reach the Togruta at the moment the Padawan would catch snatches of relief from the older woman through the Force, as if saying that Magayon was relieved to have Willa withdraw. It would be clear to Willa that Magayon didn't want for her to befall what was afflicting the Knight. The Togruta's breathing evened out, though she remained bound in the world of unconsciousness.
Upon hearing her request and at the sensation of her hand atop his, Haldir relinquished his hold on Willa. Gloved fingers remained locked around Magayon's wrist, however, as the masked Knight attempted to reach out to his fellow Jedi– only to be met by the same resistance that had granted Willa entry for reasons he couldn't yet decipher. Haldir's gaze settled on Willa, eyes awash with concern when he noticed the sweat that beaded on her forehead and the sudden raspiness on her voice.
Aside from Magayon – or something else, maybe – blocking him out Haldir could tell that whatever it was that had physically afflicted the Togruta had already been soothed away by his Padawan. A proud gleam flickered in the masked Arkanian Offshoot's smile, but before he could offer her a kind "well done", Willa's next words gave the Knight pause.
At once Haldir focused on Magayon, fingers brushing softly against her forehead. The man closed his eyes, concentrating, as he attempted once more to grasp at a connection with the other Knight. Expecting the barrier that would block him Haldir instead focused on searching for a weakness, a crack he could exploit to sneak through. Nothing gave, Magayon's expression as peaceful as ever. The Arkanian Offshoot shifted his focus, trying to sense the Darkness Willa felt but with the resistance that blocked and pushed him back out made it impossible. Perhaps he could push forward with brute force but Magayon might suffer for it.
The masked Knight had no choice but to withdraw, releasing his grip on Magayon's wrist. He turned to Willa instead.
"I can't feel anything," he told her evenly, his tone not dismissive of her discovery. "Only because something's blocking me out. Maybe it's her doing."
Unconsciously he brushed away the sweat on her forehead, his mind momentarily elsewhere as he pondered on his Padawan's discovery. Why let Willa sense the Darkness' presence and not Haldir? He wasn't in any way belittling the young woman's skills; the current development simply confused him. Chie reported that Magayon was poisoned, and now Willa found out that there was a darkness within the Togruta Knight.
Was there something more insidious to these kidnapping cases?
"Heeey~" Chie's voice broke through Haldir's thoughts, the retired Ranger popping up to check on the three Jedi. Dark eyes scanned the unconscious Knight, his masked cousin, until his gaze fell on Willa. "Not gonna ask about your Force mumbo jumbo for now, but–" the older Erennor's voice dropped into a whispered hiss, "–Sansu let slip just now that another Selgin kid's missing. Haldir, help me bury that idiot's body for not telling us sooner."
The usually laid-back retired Ranger's expression turned dark, serious. "I can't believe that dumbass... Go take your lovely Padawan to Selgin, now. We'll keep watch over sleeping beauty here. Focus on finding the missing teens and capturing whoever's behind this. There are two speeder bikes and a landspeeder in the garage at your disposal. Good hunting to you both."
The masked Jedi didn't need to be told twice. He gestured for Willa to follow him, and as Haldir prepped his own speeder bike he shot her a look.
"Can you drive?"
She did look a little shaken, earlier. Maybe healing Magayon took a greater toll and had sapped more of her energy than intended. Maybe they should take the landspeeder instead? But if she could drive on her own and insisted, he was not going to stop her. She wasn't a teenager, she didn't need him to fuss over her worryingly. She was a Padawan but so close to Knighthood for him to treat her as one.
She was relieved when he let go. Though it had been a long time since they first interacted on the Demon Moon, the cold had begun to make her old scars ache again. Or... was it the Darkness she sensed, plucking the delicate strings of her nerves to almost snapping? She shot her master an apologetic look, when an odd look crossed her face. At first, it was that her own Master couldn't sense anything, which quickly morphed to something entirely different.
At the brush of his fingertips to her forehead, she flinched back in surprise, feeling her face suddenly heat. A blush rose from her cheeks to the tips of her ears, and she could swear the back of her neck also blushed. Which only deepened with Chie's appearance. Suddenly flicking her gaze away as though the Ranger could suddenly read minds, she took a few deep breaths, trying to will her heart to stop thumping so damn loud.
Force damnit. Haldir's going to kill me one day like this.
Attempting to smooth her composure, she lifted her chin to nod at the other Erennor, she rose, only to feel her legs shake. Swaying forward, she attempted her best at showing nothing. After all, Haldir taught her well. Giving a nod to her Master, she stalked out into the bitter cold, slanting him a chestnut-hued stare.
"I'll be all right. The chill should help me clear my head."
Pulling on her half-mask again, she started up her speeder and waited for her Master to take the lead. She hoped the cold air would help cool off the sudden warmth the Arkanian Offshoot brought up as well.
A smile lit up Haldir's face and though it was concealed by his mask Willa would feel it's warmth through the Force, pride and admiration crystal clear to her through their bond. The Knight simply nodded at her response and got on his speeder. He took the lead, keeping in mind to stay close to his Padawan. Haldir was quiet on their way to Selgin, mulling over Willa's discovery and the recent kidnapping victim. If he knew psychometry (or had he been inherently gifted with it) they probably wouldn't be grasping at straws too much. His thoughts drifted to his former Master. Had Rudra been here–
Haldir shook the thought off immediately. If his former Master was here the Morellian probably would have bonked him on the head already, and spoke admonishing words along the lines of "just because you didn't have this or that won't make you a poor Jedi!" And besides, his Padawan was with him. Together, they would solve this case and rescue the missing teenagers.
By the time he finished assuring himself that he and Willa would do fine, the walled village of Selgin came into view. The front gates were closed, manned by four guards who were quick to raise their blasters warily towards the approaching pair of Jedi. Haldir slowed his speeder, motioning for Willa to do the same, until he came to a stop meters away from the guards. The Knight raised both hands in a reassuring manner so as not to further alert the already nervous guards.
"State your name and business here!" called out one of the villagers tersely. They were heavily suspicious and Haldir didn't mind given the circumstances.
"Jedi Knight Haldir Eressëa," replied the Arkanian Offshoot, Poet's voice calm and lacking it's usual crabbiness. "I'm with my Padawan, Willa Kanz. We're here to help with–"
The tension in the air lifted as soon as Haldir introduced himself and Willa, the villagers' shoulders sagging with relief as they beckoned for the pair to come closer. A call for the front gates to be opened was immediately made, and soon enough the sound of creaking wood filled the air.
"Thank the heavens for your help!" the woman who had sternly called out to the two Jedi exclaimed as Haldir and Willa were quickly ushered inside the walled village. The Knight dismounted from his vehicle and stood to his full height, causing the woman who approached him to crane her neck up to meet his concealed gaze. "How is Miss Magayon? Is she well? Is she awake?"
"My Padawan healed her–" Haldir replied but was promptly cut off again when the woman and her fellow guards crowded Willa, expressing their thanks to her. Masked as he was Haldir still couldn't help but bite his lip to keep himself from smiling at how they freely showered the Padawan with gratitude. The villagers of Selgin seemed like a simple yet big-hearted folk.
It made him want to help them even more.
"As much as we're happy about Miss Magayon's recovery, there are still more pressing matters at hand,"one of the guards said reluctantly, almost apologetically. Haldir lifted his gaze and saw that their arrival hadn't gone unnoticed. Those living close by the gates were looking at the assembled group, and through the Force Haldir could hear relief and anxiety clashing amongst those present.
"Another kid has vanished. We have people looking for her since the brother was found unconscious."
"Are the same signs left where the child had disappeared? And when did it happen?"
"Just this morning,"replied the woman in a low voice. "Connie's mother sent her to retrieve borrowed tools from the smith. Her brother went with her, but we found him unconscious ten feet away from the smith's house and Connie gone. Like with Janne's case and the doctor. We found the pine cone and the scale beside him. We left the evidence on the spot and have people posted to guard the scene in case you want to look."
Haldir nodded and turned to Willa. "I'll take a look at the place where they found Connie's brother. Talk to the brother. I'll meet you there."
The woman offered Willa a tight but warm smile."I'll take you to Connie's," she told the Padawan. She would lead Willa further into the village, across the bridge, and onto the house by the river. On the porch sat a woman in her late thirties, presumably the recently missing child's mother. Beside her stood a brown-haired young man sporting a bruised jaw, face painted with guilt. The mother's tear-filled gaze met Willa's when the guardwoman introduced the Padawan. "I'm Lena, and my son, Nier,"the mother introduced herself and her son. She rose from her seat and gestured for Willa to come in as the guardswoman left. "Please come in, Miss Willa, and make yourself at home." The son, on the other hand, followed his mother mutely, refusing to meet either women's gaze. Lena led Willa to the living room and gestured for her to take a seat on one of the armchairs by the hearth. "I'm sorry for the mess, but–"a sob cut through her words, one hand flying to swiftly wipe away her tears. She turned away to busy herself with preparing tea for the Jedi.
Meanwhile, Nier shuffled towards one of the armchairs and sat down, gaze glued to the wooden floor.
"Can I come with you, when you go look for my sister and the others?" he asked Willa quietly.
She was relieved that Haldir hadn't seemed to notice her reaction to being touched. The whipping cold air was biting to what she had exposed, but she managed to take in deep lungfuls of icy air as the speeder ghosted over snow, following her Master. Her thoughts swirled like the snowbanks. The crystalline scales, the pinecones, the amount of children disappearing. The Darkness Magayon let her sense, while keeping her Master shut out. All of it practically screamed Dark Side intervention, but she wasn't so sure. Something about it was Darkness... but this was a humanoid cunning.
She'd keep these thoughts to herself for now, though. She stared at his back, and not for the first time, she almost wished he wasn't her Master. If she could somehow close that gap...
But all too soon, they were at the gates. She let Haldir do the talking in Poet's voice, doing her best to seem calm, cool, silent. For those who still felt wariness or fear, she would allow a subtle ghost of influence twine with Haldir's voice, a soothing calm to settle the thrum of anxiety that sparked in the village.
When the villagers swarmed forward, she didn't move, instead lowering her mask to offer them all a small, but sympathetic smile. She accepted hands in hers, patted shoulders. Still... they had a job to do. Following the guard to Connie's, she could sense the grief almost before her feet crossed the threshold.
"You can just call me Willa," the Padawan spoke softly, both sighted and blind eyes looking to Niers with a slight tilt of her head. Something about his attitude seemed... off. Perhaps he felt guilty? Angry? Afraid? Losing a sibling... she never had siblings, but if she lost any of her friends... would she have felt just as bitter?
She only had to wonder for now. Glancing to his mother for a moment, she waved away the woman's concern with a light touch to her shoulder, her voice low, soothing. "It's alright, Lena. You have nothing to apologize for; we'll find your daughter, I promise."
Holding out her hand to Niers, her gaze was solemn, watchful. "Of course. But if you'd be willing... you can help me now. We won't stop until we find everyone, but I'll need your help a step further than searching in the snow."
Her voice was low, soothing, like one would give to a spooked Kath hound. "I know it's a big ask from a stranger... but could you trust me, and allow me to Look in your eyes to that time?" She kept her hand extended. "It will help us find her much faster. But only with your permission, Niers. I understand if you don't want a stranger into your memories. After all..." A slight smile touched her lips, "it wasn't long ago I had a similar experience, to find a friend. And we did."