A gentle beep flickered along the navigation port of the X-Wing, Now Entering the Yavin System, the words danced across the flickering screen before fading away as quickly as it came. How long had it been? The former Jedi Council member could not remember, most likely years at this point. Things had been different then, so many signatures in the force had changed, there was so many new feelings, connections rippling across the ether, but so many had vanished as well. No one truly dies... He tried to remind himself as he began his descent into the sea of jungle canopies of the old moon he helped secure all those years ago. For years he had tried to remove himself from the galaxy, to try and find peace with his own failings, but no great insight or wisdom had ever come to mind. Perhaps there was no great prophecy or sign that had to be given, perhaps the former Jedi knew the answer all along, within his heart, but it was his hubris that had prevented him from seeing it.
But, he knew that now, what had to be done. His fighter would soar low and close to the trees as the once faint structure of the old jedi temple began to grow larger into view. It brought him a faint smile as he began his descent onto one of the platforms, so much emotion seemed to build up in his stomach, causing his breath to flee with each gentle cascading rise and fall of his chest. There was a mixture of emotions that he felt, shame, happiness, regret. But, the Jedi did not push the feelings away, no he closed his eyes and felt them as they came and would let go -- and with one step he would make his way up the steps and towards the Hall of the Order that raised him.
Alex’s eyes snapped open. Oren. The ripple in the Force was unmistakable, pulling her from bed. The Grandmaster threw her robes on and flicked several messages to the Temple Guard. She rejected any questions. Her soul was certain. The man who had plucked her from the Outer Rim and suddenly vanished had returned. She’d assumed it would remain that way. Hannibal had returned only to die. Alex could only hope Oren did not seek the same.
If it was a warm welcome he sought, she was uncertain that was what he would receive. Alex pressed her hands against her sides. Her robes were smooth, her hair whipped into place. One deep breath calmed her mind. Alex was the picture of Jedi tranquility when she swept from her chambers. The Grandmaster exited those rooms. Alexandria Voran left somewhere behind. Her boots clacked on the floor while she traversed the Temple. She appeared at the top of the stairs as Oren began his claim.
“Jedi Zapan…you have returned.” Her words were polite. Cordial. Oren Zapan was a former member of the Jedi Council. He deserved her respect, but he had been gone a long time. She did not know the man that returned to them. She would not take a chance with the Order’s safety, and she would have an explanation of why he abandoned them. Alex smiled and held out her hands. “It has been a very long time.” The Temple Guard stood lazily nearby. She wished it could be different. She wished she could simply trust Oren…trust the man who had left…but it was not the easy.
It had been a long time indeed, the once clean shaven Jedi Master had no longer looked as youthful as he once had. The scars he received from Lilith had long since faced across the right side of his face, leaving only imprints of a bygone era, though the white force pupil remained to hold onto those memories. She was gone now, her life taken on Ajan Kloss, it was his fault. For if he had not ventured there to cling to the past and its failings, then she nor Nara would have been there. Oren was not sure where Nara had went, she had seemed to vanish just like Lyra, Mila, Byron, and Fiach had -- all Jedi who he had come to know, befriend, and train. Then there were those whose signature who had left this plane, like specs of dust in the wind. Their names seemed to radiate through his mind along with the blurry visions of their faces that became less and less detailed with time.
He felt the signature of the Arcanist, or rather the man he had come to know as Talak, had departed for the force to join their shared apprentice in death; followed by the uncertainty of Max and Hans who Oren could no longer feel among the living. It seemed that he was the last living relic of that bygone era that dated the return of the Sith, and it was he who felt the burdens of their loss on his shoulders, for he had been the one who had abandoned them in Self-Pity of his own failings. So many had perished because he had not been strong enough to keep them alive: Saul and his beloved Nashyr had fallen in the Coruscant Prison, the first of many to lose their life in this senseless war. The galaxy did not need men like him, old masters who had been stuck in their ways, for the safety of their Order and the politics of the galaxy; This was his failing.
Oren's eyes shifted up to meet the Grandmaster, though he did not know it yet. No, he knew her as Alex, the Jedi he had convinced to return to the order, with promises that things were not like the past -- only to leave her behind days later. He lowered his gaze a bit, as if he had known what he had done. "I am no Jedi," he'd say after a moment, he certainly didn't feel like one at that moment. "I've returned to make things right...even if that means to return to my seclusions of the unknown reaches."
Vayla had been out and about that hour, touring the moon’s jungles in search for solace. She found some of it, sometimes settled for simple silence even though it could be just as dangerous. Left with one’s thoughts for too long, left alone to idle, even a Jedi Knight had to be careful with what she meditated on.
Courage, not fear. She would remind herself of that tenet more than most, slipping it in between the lines of the Jedi Code. This one couldn’t show it but there were nights that were too dark to bear and last night was one of them.
Emerging from the trees, a feeling continued to tug at her, a sensation she had not felt since…those mountains. The closer she approached the temple, the clearer the Force signature became, and seeing his back was enough to recognize the man. Oren Zapan...
Resolved, Vayla made her way toward the staircase, acknowledging the presence of Grandmaster Voran. The Knight came in white robes streaked in blue, hood pulled down.
She planted herself at a corner of the triangle so that necks would not have to crane. “Master Voran.” Vayla dipped her head then settled her gaze on the man who once sat on the Council himself.
She would take a moment, her prosthetic eyes unblinking as they burrowed into his. He had lost one. She had lost both. “Oren Zapan.” Vayla smiled. She could have much to say, wondered what had already been said between Voran and Oren, but let serenity serve as instinct. “Welcome home.”
“If you’re here to pout, Oren. You can turn around.” Alex walked down a few of the stairs. She nodded politely to Vayla. “We do not have time for that.” Her boots clacked while she continued to descend. “But if truly want to atone and explain…you better come inside.” She smiled softly. Alex was not the lost Jedi Oren had pulled from the Outer Rim. She was secure her decisions and she needed to know Oren’s heart. Still…one lost Jedi returning was gift…he had welcomed her back once. “Before a crowd gathers.” Alex turned and gestured for Oren to follow. Assuming the former Councilor would join her in walking up the steps, Alex would turn to speak softly.
“So?” Her words remained soft. There was no accusation in her tone. “That explanation?” The Morellian Jedi needed to hear it from Oren. Her mind unfurled to quest against his own. She would need to feel the truth of his words…the conviction of his actions. Alex wished to welcome him back with open arms just as soon as Oren explained why he left and where he had been. There were consequences even to the most innocent of actions.
Oren raised a brow, unsure if his words had come across in a pouting manner, he hadn't come here to try and gain sympathy. What she said was true, they had no need nor time for such things, nor were they constructive. He'd follow the Grandmaster down the steps and towards wherever she lead them. So that the two could speak in private, like they had once did all those years prior. There was a raw sense of emotion that seemed to stir within the vicinity of the temple and those he had once known. So many raw wounds had been left open.
"What I said was true," he'd say after some time had passed. "or at least I wished it to be true. Nashyr, Lilith, Nara...the others, they all told me that I put too much responsibility on myself for the things that were going on. The Order was smaller back then, we were peaceful and stayed away from the affairs of the galaxy. The Knights of Ren, Talak and Lilith changed that...they revealed that darkness had returned or perhaps had shown what was truly lingering from outside our depths. We were Historians, Gardeners, Mechanics, teachers..." The last occupation seemed to linger on his lips -- that was what he had been.
"We had not been trained for war, but we started to adapt. The Knights of Ren faded as quickly as they came, and Hans, myself and others managed to redeem Talak and Lilith. But, they were just the tip of the iceberg, the others that came after them. The Eternal and its dark council, these Sith and Darkside Cultists could not be convinced like the ones before them. Slowly, people had begun to turn to myself and other Jedi.. We recognized the difficulties of what these new challenges were, difficulties that the Jedi Council and the Grandmaster had refused to recognize."
He took a seat a he closed his eyes for a few moments, the near human's natural scarring began to glow a gentle pink hue. "Sacrifices were made, and trust was eventually earned with the Free World Alliance and the Rangers. There was a real bond there. But, it pushed us into the limelight. The Senate and Republic began to push us into the press, faces we had never seen before broadcasting that we were the betrayers. I had positioned ourselves to navigate through the early threats, but was out of the depths on what had to be done. No longer could I simply travel to a planet to assist the people, for my face was known everywhere. I became obsessed with the failings of the Jedi and the idea of the cycle between the rise and fall. I traveled from place to place, trying to mend the feelings of self doubt that I had inside of myself. Even the ghosts of Grandmasters past had joined me. So much history, so many symbols..."
His eyes opened as he looked to Alex, his voice steady and sound. "Little did I know that through my extreme desire to learn from the failings of the past, I had begun to lead us into the same path that the Council prior and the orders of old had. I lost sight of the core tenants of what made us Jedi. It became about that Order as an organization, not what the Order represented. I had begun to feel this doubt within myself as Byron had been taken."
His throat seemed to tense as he recalled what had happened, "It was the failings of myself and the council which had left us unprepared for Ajan Kloss. We managed to evacuate those that we could, but the darkness there...It had been more than I had ever seen. Real darkness that sought to destroy and consume all of life until there was nothing left. The others thanked me for helping to evacuate the Jedi to Yavin, but it was I and the Council who had failed them that day. We were icons of the old way, we grew up during the days of peace.. The Jedi we looked over would have to become soldiers, medics, warriors.. I believe it was something that we as a council could not come to grips with. That we would have to change. I thought I had lost everything, my understandings...everything that I thought I had come to know seemed for nothing. They wanted me to be the Grandmaster, to lead the Jedi into an alliance with the Republic as if it was the days of the Clone Wars. I was just a slave boy who was brought into the Jedi, who became a teacher..who wanted to do what was right. But, I wasn't making the right choices. I feared that I would lead the Jedi into great failure and that it would mean the end of our order."
His hand would clench against the side of the chair as he took a heavy breath, "Just as I, Hans, and Max had lead the Jedi into our return of the galaxy, it was time that new faces take my place. So that there would not be another Ajan Kloss, another Jedi Purge. I exiled myself days before my appointment as Grand Master. I took to the stars, to the worlds uncharted and left behind. Relics of the ancient orders, wounds in the force, both light and dark. I sought to discover what it was that had lead to the council's failings. Each discovery into the past only lead to more hardships and loss. The answers I thought I would find only muddied. I helped those who needed it in the uncharted parts of the galaxy, but it seemed that my past always caught up. Jedi and Sith would arrive, and then they would go. No amount of running would hide me from the truth. That I had failed to let go of my fear of failure."
He'd pull himself up and would directly face her. "I wish I could say that things ended up differently, that if I had done this one thing, we'd be in a different position. But, there's no point in holding onto hopes that can longer happen. I don't have the presence of Nashyr, nor the ability with words like Max, nor the swordsmanship that Hans had. But, I know that I can be there for us, like I always should have been. I am a Jedi."
Alex listened carefully as they continued their walk down the steps. She turned left to lead them around the Temple edge. The struggle he explained was one she knew well. “They’re all gone, Oren.” Her voice was soft. “Max, Talak, Hannibal, Oota, Sada-Nau…each one with the Force.” Would that she could ask their advice. Try as she might, the Force hid them from her. Alex was the guiding light now. She reached for her belt and unclipped her saber hilt. A flick of the Force reveled Oota’s purified crystal within. “We saved one small piece of Oota.” She closed the clasp and returned the hilt to her belt. Her head tipping towards the jungle sky.
“I don’t have any mystic wisdom for you. You ran when you shouldn’t have. You left your family when we needed you most.” Alex raised a hand. “I don’t say it to be cruel but rather to speak the truth you already know. I cannot absolve you of those sins…and you are certainly not the only Jedi less than perfect.” She stopped so she could look him in the eyes. “I hid from my duties for decades before you found me. I’m Grandmaster of the Jedi Order but I barely see the path some days. Failure is part of who we are. It’s what makes us stronger, the will to fight on despite everything stacked against us.” She shrugged.
“You’re a failure. So what? Because so am I. I let Max die on Denon. I barely survived Taris. I got us kicked out of the Galactic Senate. Do you see me running? No.” Alex pointed back at the Temple. “Because the people in there need me and they need you.” Her voice firmed quickly. “I’m happy you’ve come back Oren, but I need to know we can count on you. You are going to fail again but this time you have to pick yourself up and keep going. Can I trust you’ll do that?” There were no easy paths for them. No simple choices. Their lives remained not their own. That meant staying even as death knocked at the door.
Oren bowed his head at the mention of the names, all of them he had held a connection to, and while he had grown a suspicion that they had long since left the words still stung and cut through him. Alex would no doubt feel the feelings of sadness, longing, and happiness that seemed to swirl within the aging Jedi -- and just as quickly as they came, they were felt, and then they were gone.
"You only speak the truth." He turned back to focus himself fully on the Grandmaster. It was almost poetic to see how far her growth had come since he had been away. "But, no one is ever really gone, they live on within the heart and mind." He tried his best to offer a reassuring smile. "We all fail, what separates a person is how they choose to pick themselves back up. This is something I learned, and that is why I have returned. Together we will face whatever challenge the galaxy pushes upon us, because that is what we must do, what we swore to do."
He turned to look out towards the vast jungle, his true home. "I studied under the holocron of the ancient grandmaster and his guidance. There is more to the force than what we as an order had come to know. A way to manifest your consciousness after death. I could show you, if you'd like."
“Of course…” The distance in her voice was unmistakable. “But it would be comforting to see them again.” Alex often felt alone at the top. Drow had been her closest friend and he’d forced her to exile him. He led the Shadows at her direction, but they would never be in the same room again. Lena and Tedimor were steading souls that remained distant to her. They were of different generations with different ideas on the direction of the Order. “We need fighters. It’s the only we’ll get through this…” She could feel Oren was ready. They could work out the details of his return later but for now, he was home.
“We lost so much to the purge, and we’ve managed to recover only a fraction.” A century and mastery of the Force still left her with questions. “I would love that.” Oren had been gone a long time but even now she could feel he was nearly her equal in the Force. Few could touch Alex’s strength. She smiled. She was still stronger but not by such a wide margin and she was eager to learn. “I haven’t been a student in some time.” A small laugh escaped. It was comforting to not be the all-knowing master. A reminder that they all could continue to get better.
The Jedi offered a faint smile as he looked out towards the great expanse of the green canopies around them. So much life was hidden off in the depths of this very moon, but he didn't linger on this thought for too long. Instead, he would turn to comfort the Jedi he helped to bring back into the galaxy. He offered her a faint empathetic smile as he locked his eyes with her own. "I miss them too."
He'd offer his hand to her shoulder, squeezing it if she allowed. "It's been a while since I've been an instructor..." He offered the Grandmaster a subtle wink. "I hope you don't plan on crashing my starship into the swamps like my second apprentice did."
Alex laughed softly. “We’ll knock the rust off.” She took a deep breath. Slowly, she sank into the warmth of the Force. The Light welcomed her home…as it always did. Her mental walls shifted as pushed them to the side. Alex let herself flow with the humming of the Force. Life burst all around them and it brought a flood of feelings with it. She sang with the familiar hum of the Light, her soul perfectly in tune with Yavin. “And I’m an excellent pilot.” She rarely got the chance anymore. Her days were often spent onboard command decks. She certainly wasn’t flying those.
“Now, lets get to work.” She stepped towards the jungle. The Force laying out the path. She could practically see it now. The rough stone beneath her feet. A feeling of rightness. The future was never certain, and darkness clouded each path…but this felt certain. This was the right path. She finally knew it now that she found her way to it.
The Jedi raised a brow as he stepped onto the jungle path, his feet bouncing lightly against the earth as they went. He felt it all from the roots that stretched across the trail to the tiniest of ants marching along the way. There was so much life around them, societies and lives that they often didn't stop to think about, it only helped reaffirm his oneness with it all. Everything that had happened in the past felt like distant memories, Oren was fully in the moment.
"During my travels through the reaches of space, I discovered a few tales that I think could be worth seeking out. There's a story of an ancient temple on the planet Batuu. I think it could be worth uncovering it, to setup another place where we can operate out of. Your thoughts?"
She hummed as she thought. They needed anywhere they could call home. The Temples were not safe. Drow had taken extraordinary care to fortify Yavin but as long as the Sith could find them, they were in danger. Alex spent most of her time here because if they came…they would find her ready for them. Ifrane was known only to the Shadows and deemed far to dangerous for others. The rest of the Temples were publicly known. “We need somewhere hidden…somewhere the galaxy can’t knock on our front door.” Her face scrunched in thought. “That sounds like a good start.” The two Jedi kept walking slowly through the jungle. It was peaceful.
“I can’t give you your seat on the Council back.” Oren knew that without her having to say it. “But I believe you’re here to stay, and we need everyone pulling together.” Alex trusted Oren was back for good. She had to…even if she was wrong the risk was worth the chance taken. “But I wouldn’t allow a Knight to lead an excursion to Batuu alone.” The Morellian Jedi turned to face him again. “You should be able to find some quarter in the upper levels, Master Zapan.” She raised a single eyebrow. “I’ll have to formally ask Tedimor and Lena, but they won’t object. We trust each other.” The Force hummed in her mind. Yes, this was the right path.
She spoke about the position on the council, in truth it had never crossed his mind. He smiled a bit as the pair paused, his eyes softly closing a bit. "A Jedi is more than a rank, it's a way of life." He looked towards the sprawling area around them. "There are places all around the galaxy that we can go, I'll take a Knight with me and the two of us will look into the rumors on Batuu."
His hands slid into his robes as he gave a nod. "I'll be looking forward to working with you, we're all in this together." Oren was finally home, where he should have always been -- with the Jedi.