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3963 BBY - Jedi Temple, Coruscant


Eight years ago a younger, more conventional Catsai Windhost led her newly assigned Padawan into the diplomatic nightmare of the Sarkan Interregnum. Despite spending two days trekking through the jungles after an opportunistic would-be rebel sabotaged their airspeeder the pairing made it through safely and presided over the coronation of the young Queen Azsil to the general acclamation of noble houses prepared to go to war against her four standard weeks previously.

Six years ago the meditations of the Jedi pair at the Order's shrine on Lorrd were interrupted by a Myrialite invasion. The Jedi remained there for a full week in support of the fetal resistance before the High Council's decree demanded Catsai extricate both herself and her apprentice from this untenable situation. As a budding Sage with a raw gift in battle meditation that was still blooming under the Knight's tutelage, Vera-Li S’vrone was simply too valuable a resource in the Council's eyes to risk, for any reason. Catsai and her teenaged student left; reluctantly, to the loud protests of the resistance cells they were abandoning. The whole journey back to Dantooine she had reassured her student that the Lorrdians were talented and resilient. They would endure and surely find their own freedom, but the High Council's instructions must be obeyed. In the end her Padawan seemed comforted but despite her calm outward facade the Knight herself was deeply troubled. The first seeds of her disenchantment with the High Council's decisions were laid.

Two years ago with the news of the Republic Navy’s confrontation with the Mandalorians along the border near Taris, Catsai was but one of the younger Jedi who added their voices to those urging the High Council to act. The Jedi Order was supposed to be independent of the Republic, not beholden to it. Where in the Code did it speak of defending and protecting only Republic taxpayers, while those in need beyond her borders suffered like the Lorrdians had? Instead, their vision clouded and troubled, the Council kept the Jedi close to home and deliberated as war grew ever closer. During this period Catsai and Vera-Li toured half a dozen of ancient Jedi shrines, meditating on each and drawing closer to the full mastery of the Padawan’s battle meditation. Catsai had just enough of the gift to guide her student, to appreciate and observe her mind channeling the Living Force to her ends but at most she could reach out to half a dozen minds. When Vera-Li had come fully into her power she could reach across battlefields; maybe across worlds! Her Padawan had a beautiful mind, and often Catsai caught herself admiring her talented pupil more than she strictly ought. When their minds linked in training and during the occasional skirmish in the sublevels of Coruscant and their rare jaunts offworld, she was careful to keep her unseemly attachment to herself. The last thing she wanted was to frighten her student or damage their accord in any way.

When a band of dissatisfied young knights defied the High Council’s dictates and went to support the Republic Military after the fall of Vanquo, it was chiefly care for her student that kept Catsai from following the same path. Instead she led the blooming Sage to Corellia, where they became involved resolving a series of incidents among the local high society. Both Jedi had the opportunity to hone their own handling of customs in the wealthier strata of the galaxy, while the local more insular Corellian Jedi found it more politic to let the outsiders reap the rewards (and the blame) while they maintained their own working relationships with all the proud families in the future. All through their work there, they kept hearing news of the fighting and the exploits of the Jedi following Revan; how despite a lack of support they were beginning to hold the line and make the Clans work for their victories. Again and again the Revanchist called for volunteers from the Republic and the Jedi… and over time, some began to answer.

When they returned to Coruscant two days ago, Catsai was already making plans with Veri-Li for their journey to support the defense of the Republic. Surely this was why they had been recalled. Within the Order it was no secret that the Council had re-opened communications with the Jedi Crusaders; surely they were about to announce their full support for the defense of the Republic, and the preservation of countless innocents from the flames.





The doorway to Vera’Li’s quarters irised open with a soothing hiss, but the woman it revealed was oblivious to the effort. Her plain blue robes disposed around her, Catsai Windhost stalked into the living area, every line of her body rigid with suppressed feeling. She closed her eyes as the door slid back into place and inhaled deeply once, twice, three times. Clearing the emotions from her mind as she reached out to the Force and accepted its serenity like a crisp Skerrige alpine breeze through all the hallways of her being. Opening her lavender blue orbs more and existing within the peace of the moment, she found her pupil and made her way through the suite she visited so frequently until she sat cross-legged opposite her.

She had all the time in the world now and simply observed Vera’Li as she breathed, waiting for the Padawan to return to the present rather than interrupting her. When at last her eyes are focused on her own Catsai is direct and to the point as is her wont.

“They won’t let us go. It seems there was a rumour of a Mandalorian strike team in the Corellian Sector, so they recalled us for our own safety.”
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Vera-Li S'vrone understood it.

It was as intuitive to her as it would have been counter-intuitive for most of the galaxy. Even to the hearts that were attuned to it there was but pings of sound, distant notes of wonder in which they fascinated upon and meditated upon. This was the Force as they understood it. The longer that a Jedi meditated and reflected upon each sound and note, the better they might come to understand it. One day, many years from now, they might even be able to master it. The very foundational logic in which the entire Jedi Order had been constructed upon over the generations.

It just wasn't always true. What Vera-Li heard when she closed her eyes and opened her heart to the very primordial energies of the universe she heard sounds and notes too. The difference was almost beyond comprehension. Whereas a Jedi Master might hear a distinct sound, prehaps even close, Vera-Li heard many sounds and more. She heard each note played pricely, struck with cosmic precision so that it sang loud and endless into the void of all creation. One note was struck after another, then another, at times simultaneously. Each echoed with the ones before it, until just a moment's meditation upon the Force became a symphony of universal sound playing any time she but slowed her mind and listened.

That she could sense Master Catsai approach was comparable to saying she could see the dim lighting recessed in the polished pale stone ceiling of the tower temple chamber that was occupied by Vera-Li, and had been since she was first graduated to the rank of Padawan at the age of thirteen standard years. There were a few wooden chests tucked carefully under the large bed that had found it's way into her room by a simple requisitions mistake by the temple Quartermaster Corps. Funny how Vera-Li always managed to have the right kind of sweet fruit that the Quartermasters that cared for her tower always favored.

Allow the Force to guide you, and you can never go wrong.

That was the advice the old Holocron gave her. That was the advice she took to heart as a Youngling. It hadn't failed her yet, and didn't especially when she had wished for a larger bed aloud to one of the Quartermasters. She'd already been sneaking them treats for years by that point. Always asking about them, always caring, always being courteous. Some in the Order called her spoiled, most just seemed to agree she was maybe the most agreeable and sweet natured Jedi in the Order.

She sensed her Master from across the Temple, where the Knights were housed. Battle Meditation had come to her from the Sense school of the Force. More specifically telepathy. It was as natural to Vera-Li as breathing. She sensed her Master in her sleep at this point. Respect and her own integrity had kept Vera-Li from going any further than the sensation of presence, and the flares of emotion that licked off Catsai's Force presence like solar flares off a hot star.

When Catsai entered the room, the meditating Padawan floating with crossed legs and hands calmly pressed palms together before her simply but noticably tilted her head to her left--the direction from which her Master entered the room. Even untethered and allowing her mind to float like her body ended up doing in the physical realm she was still hardwired to Catsai. It explained the tiny frown that resulted in the corners of her pale pink lips, still wet from the protective gloss she had applied before entering into meditation. It wasn't enough to her that while most Padawans were trying to follow small floating droids around the Temple, and she was following her Master with laser precision every moment of the day.

Not while Master Catsai felt like this. Moments after Catsai walked in did Vera-Li ground herself, her big green eyes opened, and she stood from the ground in a single fluid motion before approaching the small fireplace framed in the center of the half circle shaped room and the tea kettle. The tea was too hot to do more than take a tiny little test sip. The tea was half as hot as Master Catsai's Force presence.

It was a different kind of heat than usual. Then the news came from Catsai's lips.

"You're upset, Master," words that came like faint murmurs, yet words that would not have been more clearly heard had Vera-Li screamed them instead. Pale pink lips came together as they blew on the cup of Orzan rose tea. Once as she stared at the tea, once as her eyes lifted and stared into Catsai's eyes. It always made her smile, staring into Catsai's eyes. Even hot as her Master was, there was no helping that hint of a smile from playing at the corners of her mouth. The only way she stopped the smile was taking a full sip of the hot tea, before passing it on to Catsai. "Please, my Master, drink."

She sat directly next to Catsai, kneeling beside her before coming to sit on the legs folded beneath her. Catsai smelled of the halls of the Temple, of the places where Knights lingered and spoke quickly in otherwise Temple corridors and vaults. Vera-Li's eyes never left Catsai's now, green eyes smoldering in the dim lighting of the tower chamber, flickering light and shadow from the fire in the small fireplace looming over her face as she focused on Catsai.

Trying to read while keeping herself half-blind. Vera-Li thought she saw, even half-blinded, and the image it brought to her only brought sadness to her voice.

"They made you leave because of me, again."

Vera-Li's head jerked. Away from Catsai. Away from the sight of her. What erupted in the Padawan was emotion, and could only obscure her connection to the Force. Worst of all was the source of the silent and unseen emotional outburst: attachment to Catsai. Vera-Li was anything but impulsive and random. The words that followed were well thought out. She had even practiced saying them before, so she wouldn't mess them up. "I could petition a change in Master. The Council would be inclined to grant any request I gave them, especially in this matter. My holding you back from where you need to be is detrimental to your path in the Force. They would see the wisdom in that."

She nodded after she finished speaking, as if she was adding a level of certainty to her words. As if just saying the words hadn't made her feel nauseated. Emotion would be ignored. This was doing what was best for all, and especially for Catsai, who had never been anything less than an amazing Master to her. Despite the heat, despite the unspoken--and that had to be this. That had to be the feeling that Vera-Li was holding her back.

No more, the Padawan was certain. No more, she promised herself.
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A filament of light caught fire, gleamed and exploded into a blazing corona inside her mind.

Since her days as a Padawan Catsai’s force talents had been well-trained but marginal in the Sense and Control schools. Instead her gifts lay in channeling the Living Force to Alter her surroundings, heal those in need or fade from living view. She was trained and accomplished in three lightsaber forms with a broad understanding of the others, but the more time she spent with Vera-Li the more she felt as though she was on the verge of a whole new level of understanding.

Like this. This… electric awareness of her Padawan, the russet-haired woman (more a girl surely) which had only grown over their years together.

Unlike some of the new ascetics of the order, neither Catsai nor her master had ever subscribed to the idea that a Jedi must forsake all emotional ties. It was rather that they must not let those ties rule them, and the home he shared with his wife and their three budding Jedi children had always felt awash with serene calm every time she visited during her training. This was the proper way for a human Jedi to manage their emotions, not to pretend she was some kind of animate droid. In another place and time she might have spoken with the Jedi Vera-Li S’vrone, flirted with the lovely woman and, with her sweet accord and the grace of the Force, shared a passionate relationship with her that could easily bloom into a deep and abiding love.

The Skerrige Jedi Knight instinctively shied away from that line of thought, curling a finger around one of the beaded braids that framed her face and dropping her eyes to her hands as they cradled the cup of steaming freshly steeped tea before taking a sip.

No the difficulty was that the young Jedi was her sky-blessed storm-born Padawan. By rights she should release her to another Jedi’s tutelage, one of the senior Masters in the High Council if they were so all-fired hot to keep her safe at home and far away from any potential for harm. But… But. Before the dark-eyed Jedi had admitted to herself just how strongly she felt their connection it had never seemed that important. She knew she would never do anything to endanger the girl’s wellbeing, so what harm if she watched over her from her mentor’s reserve? By the time she admitted she was in trouble, she was already lost and she simply could not give her up. Of course she would keep her unseemly feelings to herself; there must never be a pressure on her bright-eyed charge that could stunt the growth of her gift. Besides. Limited though her own skills were in Battle Meditation, they were among the greatest in the Order barring her student’s. If not her, then who? Someone who might care less, be less careful of her well-being? No. It had to be Catsai.

So; the sadness in Vera-Li’s voice brought her head up, but the hurricane of emotion staggered her enough that she could only listen as her student made her pledge of self-sacrifice.

If she knew it was what the girl truly wanted. If she thought this was something that she truly desired, to seek greater lessons from a more talented and less troubled teacher then.. Yes. Catsai would mourn silently, but she would not stand in her way. She would even help her to find a place where she would be happiest, before taking herself off to do what good she could. Instead she felt how hard it was for the lovely redhead to make this offer, and while her heart bled for her she also blessed the Force for this moment of transcendence.

“Fox-child, no,” she soothed, standing and putting a hand upon the other’s shoulder. “You don’t need to do that. I know you feel guilty that the High Council value you so highly… but they aren’t actually wrong in that.” She smiled infectiously, then sipped appreciatively from her tea. “You would be worth keeping safe even if you only had enough Force sensitivity to fill this teacup. As it is,” she made a gently deprecating gesture, “you are a major strategic resource. Their only mistake is that they see the power, not the person.” She squeezed her student’s- no, her friend’s shoulder, looking intently into her eyes as serenity calmed the storm in her chest.

“You are capable of so much more than they know. This is detrimental to your growth in the force, not simply mine… but they are the High Council so we have to assume they know what they’re doing.” She paused, a wry cast to her lips as she listened to herself. “I suppose, there’s always the Mercy Corps…” She lifted one hand, palm faced upwards as she described the one avenue the Council was allowing the Jedi to help with the war effort. "Or we stay here, we focus on your training and we face the Trials in six to nine months." She turned up her other palm, offering the choice to her.

"I'm not going to leave you here, mo chara. Either we stay or we go, together."
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The blood was hot, the pain behind it hotter. Her body shook violent little tremors, her hands covered in her own blood as she moved slowly. The battle was over, the very last of the Mandalorian attack force laying cold and dead in the small chamber just feet away from her, armor and flesh burnt black from the oversized blaster that ripped through the Mandalorian from behind. He'd shot the Jedi first, snapping her out of Battle Meditation. Then he gloated about it, and starting taunting the suddenly shot and suddenly bleeding Jedi Apprentice. The Guard Captain of the Palace had been ordered by Catsai to protect Vera.

He'd saved her life.

So why was Vera anxious about Catsai's return?

Because I'm bleeding. Because she's in love with me.

The thought alone sparked a hotter heat than any blaster wound, and left her feeling drunk. Vera snorted, loudly, as the Guard Captain hovered over her, ripping her robes away from her left shoulder and stabbing in the pain killer. Vera-Li howled, the haze of her body in shock, her knees sliding slowly over the polished marble floor below. The room was little more than a prayer chamber, as they called it. Six walls, two doors, and a ceiling so high it was lost in the darkness of shadow. It was in the center of the Palace, in a lower level where the walls were thicker and the paths much more of a maze than the palace main floors above.

It was the perfect place for her to setup to turn the tide of the battle.

"I don't know how you did it," The Guard Captain said, "Even the youngest recruit started shooting straight."

She tried chuckling at the mental image, but instead the sound of pain came out, and her right hand went straight to her left shoulder in reactionary instinct. The narcotic started working on synapsis after synapsis in her brain, a chain reaction she could track if she focused. Which she could, for all of half a heartbeat, before the Force shifted around her, allowing her to sense what was coming.

Or rather who.

"Slowly, Jedi," the Guard Captain's voice was calm, and firm, his body just the same as he very patiently helped her to her feet. "This was a small Mandalorian attack. We should be ready next time, now that we have enough time to prepare. Thank you Jedi. Now let's get you upstairs to the medics."

Vera thanked the man, and tried to make a step, before her head became a whirlwind of narcotic heaviness and physical shock. A new appreciation for the human Guard Captain's physical sturdiness, that he kept her from falling right back to the floor, that.....she's close. "Excuse me, Guard Captain, I'll get off here." She smiled, the sound of humor in her otherwise pained tone.

"Are you certain? Your wound--"

"--will mend. Trust me when I say you don't want to be here in the coming minute or two. This wall," she said, patting it with bloodied left hand, as if she were an expert on walls testing it's soundness, "can hold me up just fine in the meantime." And as she said it, she shifted her weight, until her left shoulder was leaning hard into the wall so that it kept her upright. The narcotics, the pain, the reaction after reaction inside her body, reverberating from her physical being into the Force all around her.

Even her heart leapt. Was it the pain? The narcotic?

Or the fact that she was in love with the woman coming for her in a beeline?

No, no. She shook her head, hard, harder, and again. Then there was even more heat, tears? Tears were streaming, steaming her hot cheeks. Then the shadow...Vera's eyes followed the shadow from the ground to the source of it: that figure in the door. Vera tried to smile at the figure in the door, tried to say something, but all she could think to say was...

"I'm okay," Her eyes flashing from Catsai in the doorway, to the dead Mandalorian on the ground, back to her Master. "I'm...I'm pretty dizzy but hey at least you got involved in the Mandalorian fight...I'm...gonna sit down." She said, her left shoulder rolled forward until her back was flat against the marble wall, and from there, she slid down until the marble floor stopped her. Her bright blue eyes cloudy and bloodshot, Vera frowned.

"Are you hurt?"
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