Valerie Soung, Trayus Academy, Malachor V
I woke up in a daze and feeling very hungry. Looking out the window it was hard to tell the time as it was still dark and raining. The worst effects of the suppression drugs had worn off, but I was still left with the sensation that I was covered with fur. I was tired of sleep too.
Getting up out of bed was a familiar exercise of trying to reestablish the finer points of balance and posture. Each step was easier than the previous one, and I quickly made my way to the bath. Looking at myself in the mirror, I saw the circles under my eyes indicative of the restless drugged sleep. My lip had healed nicely from the doctor’s treatment but there were still traces of blood around my nose and mouth. I blew the blood out of my sinuses and then washed my face.
While I certainly wasn’t looking great, I certainly looked better than I probably did after the fight with Virstris. I tried to recollect the details of the fight to no avail. The drugs interfered with the ability to recall emotional memories. I knew Virstris and I fought, and we even began insulting each other but I couldn’t remember much more than that.
Ah yes, she mocked my lightsaber, and I made fun of her lack of talent.
Funny how I can think calmly about it now, but couldn’t then. I lost control and Mother had to stop me. Like a little child all over again.
No bath was ready and I didn’t feel like waiting for Gab to come and prepare one. So I took a shower and let the water flow over me. I could feel my power returning slowly, but my grasp on it was as shaky as my legs. Another two to four hours and I should be back to full strength again. Blast it. The drugs could be blocked metabolically if you were quick and skilled enough, or isolated easily – but another sensitive made them difficult to foresee, and a hit in the neck was hard to isolate and left you with little time to work in.
Toweling off, I went to hunt for clothes since none were laid out. I eventually found a simple day dress and put it on. It wasn’t the type of thing to wear about the Academy, but it would suffice around the residence. I didn’t plan on leaving while my power was still recovering. A quick glance at the clock told me it was late evening of the same day. Apparently I’ve been in bed for about eight hours.
Downstairs I found that Mother had had the servants prepare meals that could be quickly reheated. A servant silently appeared next to me and waited for direction. I pointed at one of the meals and then to the kitchen and she quietly went to work heating it. I sat in the screened patio and watched the rain fall while I waited for the food.
I heard the chair beside me slide out as someone sat in it. Trying to hide my startlement, I turned to see Virstris sitting there staring out into the rain as well. I decided not to say anything as my food arrived. Virstris declined the offer for her meal and I started eating. A quick look at her face told me she had been crying recently.
(Virstris) I was really hoping we could make this work.
(Valerie) I am not used to losing.
(Virstris) So I’ve seen.
(Valerie) So you really want this life I live?
(Virstris) I thought I did. After today though, I am not so sure. Seeing you lose control and Mother having to intervene really opened my eyes to the differences between us.
(Valerie) We’re not so different. We both want Mother and Father’s approval and are willing to kill for it.
(Virstris) Does that goal have to be mutually exclusive between us?
(Valerie) Mother and Father don’t seem to think so.
(Virstris) Work together towards that mutual goal then?
(Valerie) Sounds like a plan.
That smile of hers returned to her face almost instantly. While a part of me couldn’t help but be sickened by the sheer cheeriness of it, I couldn’t help but smile a little too. If I can learn something from her, then I can put up with this.
She went off with a bit of a bounce in her step. I had just about finished my meal and left the remains for the servants to clean up. While I was still tired, I was too tired to sleep. Not knowing what to do, I started wandering the residence aimlessly. Father had returned to orbit, and Mother was trying to handle my sister’s duties while she and I were “unwell.”
I ran into Kira in one of the hallways. He was showing obvious signs of being beaten with all the bruises, burns, torn clothing, and bloody nose. I could only imagine it had been Father trying to break him. Part of me had to wonder if this was only making Kira fight back harder. Willful, headstrong, and doesn’t like to lose. Kinda sounds familiar in retrospect.
(Kira) Geez, did the same rancor that trambled me get you too?
(Valerie) Nope, I got to deal with the master assassin.
(Kira) Huh, you obviously won then. I hope you don’t intend to follow through with practice today.
(Valerie) Afraid you’ll lose?
(Kira) Sure, that’s got to be it.
(Valerie) Then we practice as planned. Grab your lightsaber and I will meet you there.
He groaned, but complied. I went to my room to grab my own. I briefly thought about changing into something more pragmatic than this but decided to make a quick turnaround instead. Outfitted for combat, or at least practice, I went down to the training room to meet Kira.
He was already there and waiting for me. He had switched to a tank top and loose fitting pants. He was a lot leaner than the robes would have suggested. He wasn’t scrawny by any means, but it wasn’t a particularly muscular build. I’d have thought all the practice would have put some meat on him. He certainly could move when he needed to.
It was also easy to see the bruises and burn marks on him. Usually a training burn from a lightsaber was hard to pick out after a few minutes, but his pale skin showed them clearly as angry red welts. There were a number of them.
(Kira) Yeah, yeah, no tan lines. How does he do it you ask?
(Valerie) Getting smart with me?
(Kira) Would you prefer I got dumber?
(Valerie) I’d rather you kept your mouth shut.
Again with the annoying bravado and jokes. You’d think it was all he could say at times. Still, to have held up for this long against Father was impressive, if futile.
We started off with some basic warm-ups and then proceeded back to the free form practice we had done yesterday. Not pulling on my power too hard was easy given the handicap I was under at the moment. Luckily Kira was under his own and was unable to detect my weakness. He was beginning to learn move more fluidly and jerk around less in response to his precognition.
He was also learning to integrate the shield into his own personal style better. Although I did manage to knock him off his feet with a kick to the shin once and another time with a backhanded strike with my free arm to his face.
Exhaustion hit both of us quickly though as neither of us was in great condition. He sat on the floor recovering while I stood propped against the nearby wall.
(Kira) Looks like even you get tired when pushed hard enough.
(Valerie) We all have limits, while you should know yours, keep your enemy from knowing them.
(Kira) Cynical, if pragmatic.
We finished practice quickly after a few more, we were both too exhausted and hurt to keep going any longer. Trouble is, you had to keep practicing whenever you could for fear of regressing. It did give me a good chance to reestablish my hold on my power under less than urgent conditions. Besides, practicing with him did wonders for my mood after a less than perfect day. Kira retreated to his quarters and I started heading back to mine.
It was now getting late in the evening at this point. It was frustrating to have most of a day wasted because of a careless mistake. That reminded me, I had wanted to check on something today that I never got the chance to.
(Thelos) Yes, my lady?
(Valerie) Is the old trail still out there and in good condition?
(Thelos) If you are referring to the endurance training trail the family has used in the past, then yes. The mainentance droids have kept the trail cleared and warded.
(Valerie) Good, then prepare a transport in the morning for Kira and I to the beginning of the trail.
(Thelos) Very well then, I shall make the arrangements. Is there anything else you might require?
(Valerie) Inform Kira when he wakes up in the morning to be ready and properly equipped.
(Thelos) It shall be arranged.
I would have much rather have verified that in person. Leave maintenance of such things to droids for too long and everything becomes a veritable garden. I wasn’t entirely clear on what programming limitation was responsible for that though. Servants worked much better for such tasks, but had their own overhead that made using them for such things costly. Besides, droids had to serve some purpose, and if it was to take care of the things no one else could be bothered with then what did I care?
Arriving at my room, I could hear Virstris singing again in her room across the hall. For whatever reason it didn’t seem to bother me as much this time. Stepping into my room, I saw that Gab had already prepared my bath for me. The hot bath water stung my still healing injuries at first, but then it began to soothe and relax my body. The last traces of the headache and the drug induced fuzziness melted away in the calm serenity of the bath.
The back of my head and parts of my face were still a bit tender, but should be healed by morning. Virstris could hit hard and hit where it could really hurt. Hell, the whole exercise this morning was a lesson in humiliation. It was also clear that Virstris and Master Luarn were operating on completely different playing fields.
Master Luarn’s lessons were about overwhelming power, speed, and using the best possible attack at any given moment to cause maximum damage. Virstris was nothing like that. Virstris was all about flexibility and maximizing options. She could block or dodge attacks and move to counter them smoothly like it was a single motion. She didn’t need a plan of attack as you’d beat yourself senseless trying to attack her like I did. I’d hate to see what a Force immune could do with those techniques.
My musings done, I got out of the bath and dressed in the nightgown laid out for me. I crawled into bed and let exhaustion come over me.
This time I dreamt about a city at night. The streets were filled with floating lights of many different colors. There was music, and performers at every street corner. Children were running around laughing and playing. Men and women were enjoying themselves with their own amusements. There were games, food, and drink aplenty to be had by all. Most interesting though were the masks worn by everyone there, even the children. Some were ornate, while others were plain and simple.
The dream was following a group of six youths trying to sneak into some of the adult festivities. They were busy trying to hide from the authorities much of the time. Right when success seemed to be within their grasp, one of them turned to look at me even though I wasn’t there. What struck me most were the piercing yellow eyes and the look of shock in them.
Morning came with the sound of Virstris singing a song about timeless love or some such thing. Stretching the sleep from my limbs, I bathed and dressed in the clothing Gab laid out for me. Today it looked like Thelos told Gab what to pick as it was a dress cut into sections for easier leg movement with light matching pants underneath to maintain modesty. Definitely the type of thing I would want on a run.
I left my bracers behind, but took my lightsaber along with me. I didn’t expect combat since the area around the trail was warded and patrolled by drones, but it was good practice to carry a weapon all the time and Father insisted I carry the thing more often these days. I met Kira in the kitchen already eating breakfast. He reeked of some strange smell.
(Valerie) Fail to bathe this morning?
(Kira) Since I am told we are going to be outside for some time today, I needed to cover myself with sunscreen. Or is the massive sunburn part of the lesson?
(Valerie) Are you always this much of an ass?
(Kira) So my friends and family tell me.
He seemed to get lost in thought on that comment. I could catch glimpses of what I could only guess was him homeworld. He needs to learn to hide these things better, his thoughts could betray him to someone looking for leverage against him. Odd, some of those images looked familiar somehow.
(Virstris) Martial arts practice when you get back?
(Valerie) Sure, why not?
(Virstris) Good, I will be sure to have my stuff ready then!
She then bounded off down the hallway humming some tune to herself. I caught Kira watching her move down the hallway and made sure he saw that I caught him looking. That pale skin of his made the blushing readily apparent. I would have said he needed to work on his tan to hide that sort of thing, but that wasn’t going to work with him. Shielding your thoughts did no good if someone can read your body lagnuage.
Once we finished eating we went outside to find that the chauffeur had the repulsor flyer ready and waiting for us. We climbed aboard and strapped ourselves in as the flyer took off and headed out to the prairies beyond the mountains. Weather outlook for the area looked to be cool but not cold. Once again the clothing I was wearing was proving to be very appropriate to the expected circumstances of the day.
(Kira) Alright, just for my own education, what exactly is a run?
(Valerie) The average person can only run so fast for so long. Slowing down helps, but in the end you are trading speed for endurance.
(Kira) So run and try to hold the stamina technique as long as I can to boost my time?
(Valerie) And the speed technique too.
(Kira) Aw hell, for how long?
(Valerie) This particular course is about eighty kilometers in length.
(Kira) And I am supposed to run for eighty kilometers straight?
(Valerie) You can take breaks, but if you wish to have a flyer there to pick you up at the end, then best not to pause for long.
(Kira) Damn it.
He then asked if there would be water and food at some point along the path and I told him no. That just further deepened his dark mood. At first I thought it was a sign of him falling to the Dark Side, but to no avail. Too bad, falling to the Dark Side might have helped him today.
Eventually the flyer landed in a field with a stone landing pad. Kira and I disembarked and I watched the flyer head back to the residence. The wind was a strong breeze with a refreshing cool air to it. Perfect to keep from overheating badly on an outing like this. A pair of small repulsor droids floated next to us to signal the trailway. One would follow just slightly ahead of each of us to mark the trail through the otherwise featureless grasslands that seemed to stretch out in all directions forever.
The grass itself was a myriad of spring colors as each species focused on a particular color of light. It looked in many ways like a canvas a painter had splattered paint all over with no heed to form or image. Strangely Kira seemed to have an almost identical thought and it caused him to chuckle slightly.
(Valerie) Is something funny?
(Kira) Not really, just thinking about how something like this would never be allowed back home.
(Valerie) Why is that?
(Kira) Too wild, too untamed, and too natural. The people of Alderaan expect the grasslands to be artistic gardens of color and form. Everything in it’s proper place and nowhere else.
(Valerie) Sounds boring.
(Kira) It is, especially after the thousandth damned field I had to help my parents plant.
(Valerie) Your parents are grasspainters then?
(Kira) Yes, about one of the most boring ways to spend a childhood I can think of. Even more so than watching the grass grow normally.
I had to laugh at the thought of it all. I couldn’t imagine doing that sort of nonsense all of my days, let alone try to make a living at it. The fact he was even remotely sane was impressive. Did he rebel just to have something happen in his life and it’s become ingrained in his personality?
(Kira) There is just something magical about something like this that has been allowed to grow wild and natural…
He looked at me as he said that towards the end and then his thoughts became very clouded before he looked away again. What in the galaxy was that about?
(Valerie) Alright, follow the droid in front of you while moving at the fastest pace you can sustain. Sprinting will only slow you down in the long run.
We both took off at a hefty jog. I wasn’t straining myself in the slightest at this pace, but it did keep me within easy reach of Kira. I could sense his power flowing as he tried to balance the stamina and speed techniques. He wasn’t getting it quite right and was going to end up tiring within the hour. I considered taking off without him to leave him with only the droid for company, but something stopped me from running ahead.
At first I ran just a little bit ahead of him to make a point of how I could blaze off if I wanted to. At first he was goaded into taking the bait and would push himself harder to try and keep up only to have to slow down again shortly. After the third time he stopped falling for it. So instead I fell into line next to him and felt his rhythm and matched it with my own. The grass rolled by quickly as we ran up and down small hills, jumped over creeks, and along tree lines.
Eventually though, exhaustion caught up with him and he fell onto his knees breathing heavily. I paused, looked at him disapprovingly and then sat down on a nearby stone. The sweat was beading on his skin despite the cool air. At this rate he’ll dehydrate before finishing the run. So I signalled to one of the repulsor droids and supply droid that had been following us out of sight appeared moments later.
I took out a water bottle from a storage chest on the droid and tossed it to Kira and then took one for myself. He drank it quickly and then looked at me.
(Kira) I thought you said there wasn’t going to be food or water during this?
(Valerie) I lied. It helped motivate you to keep going didn’t it?
(Kira) It helped me think about stopping at the next stream regardless of what you did.
Why am I surprised? You’d think I’d remember his disregard for authority by now. At least he isn’t stupid enough to run himself to death like some of the idiots I’ve seen take this training. Tell them it’s a sign of weakness to stop for a break and they will kill themselves trying to prove themselves. Tell Kira no water will be provided on the run and instead he starts eyeing the streams he is leaping over.
After discarding the empty bottles, we began again. This time I didn’t even bother trying to run a little ahead and just fell right back into his rhythm again. I could feel his Force power take to the pattern and begin to match my own after a while as we both began to speed up a little. Little by little he was improving and holding it together better. We began to take breaks less and less frequently. Hours later we began to reach the end of the trail.
His improvement was remarkable though. I remembered doing this same run as a teenager and nearly breaking myself trying to do it in as few breaks as possible. It took me nearly eight years to finally do it in one go and Kira might be able to do it in one or two years. What was going on?
It’s almost as if he is….
All thoughts on the matter were suddenly interrupted as blaster bolts started streaming towards us both. Reflexively I fell to the ground and spun my legs into Kira’s to knock him down into the grass too. I could hear people trampling through the grass and talking on radios too. They must be pretty serious about this attack to have gotten past the droids that guard the trail.
Not really expecting combat today, I had only brought my lightsaber with me. Kira I saw had brought his too. Gesturing to Kira, we dived into the tall grass to the side of the trail. Reaching out with the Force, I could sense a total of four attackers in the field around us. I quickly gestured to Kira the number and general direction and motioned for him to lie low for now. After making sure he understood, I stalked off into the tall grass to go hunting.
The grass would have barely come to my waist normally and now I was trying to use it as cover. That meant I had to crawl to stay under cover, and crawling was not the quickest method of moving around. I briefly thought about just standing up and mowing my way through them but decided it was potentially suicidal. There was a reasonable chance they had brought a heavy repeating blaster and there was no way I could block something like that.
I found that trying to sneak through the grass quickly without making noise was incredibly difficult. Deciding that speed was more important than being quiet, I levitated myself a foot off the ground while laying flat. Pushing myself telekinetically along the ground, I circled around at as high a speed as I could manage to the back of the pack. I could sense a lone strangler towards the back and figured he was likely to be a commander.
I cut his legs out from under him with a quick slash of my lightsaber. Then stabbed him through the chest. From the camoflague tattoos and armor, I would say this guy was a Mandalorian. Looked like he was armed with repeating blaster rifles, flame throwers, grenades, flash bangs, and a vibrosword. Looks like this bunch is out Sith hunting.
A dangerous game to be playing.
His companions were already turning to see what had happened to their commander. I flung the now dead body at one pair raising rifles towards me while jumping on top of another to my right. He died with a hole in his heart and I rolled into the grass again. Two down out of four so far. Unfortunately they started spraying flames my direction with that. Trying to remain hidden while outrunning the Mandalorians and the flames was proving difficult. Never mind the occasional blasts of automatic blaster fire.
I felt Kira doing something with the Force and heard one of the attackers swearing. Then I felt a good sized explosion wash over the area. From what I could sense, Kira had gotten the other two with that blast. I sensed Kira behind a large rock to my left and walked over there.
He turned to look at me and I pointed to the explosion and gave him a questioning look. His reply was to hold up ten grenade pins dangling from his fingers while grinning from ear to ear.
(Kira) Friends of yours?
(Valerie) Probably mercenaries hired to kill me.
(Kira) Probably? Do assassins try to kill you for reasons other than your death?
(Valerie) Smart ass.
He was grinning wickedly and I had to admit it was contagious. This was fun. I was rather annoyed to find out my dress was slightly burned though. At that point I noticed Kira was missing his heavy hooded shirt and was only wearing a tank top. Apparently he had used it to decoy the enemy fire while trying to get a good line of sight on the grenade pins. What remained of the shirt wasn’t worth bothering with.
(Valerie) Aren’t you going to get cold?
(Kira) It’s not the cold I am worried about. How far to the pickup point?
(Valerie) About twenty kilometers that direction.
(Kira) Best we get going then if I want to minimize the damage.
We started off towards the pickup point at a healthy run like before. Soon though I could tell Kira was wavering, but it wasn’t exhaustion or lack of power slowing him down. It looked like the sun was slowly frying his skin given how red he was beginning to look. Turns out the sunscreen we’ve been giving him washes off with sweat, and now he was missing the heavy shirt too.
When we did finally arrive at the pickup point, Kira was a deep red and was breathing hard. I helped him climb in and messaged for a medic to meet the flyer when we got back to the compound. The ride was unpleasant to say the least as I could feel his pain telepathically and it felt like my own skin was hurting just from sympathy. Not knowing what else to do, I tried to soothe his pain until we arrived.
At the compound, Virstris and a medic were out to meet us. Virstris draped a blanket over Kira and the medic walked him into the medical center. Virstris watched them go before turning to me.
(Virstris) I take it you are unharmed?
(Valerie) Save for a few scorch marks on the dress and the fact that Kira accounted for half the kills today, I’m fine.
(Virstris) What did you do, take a nap halfway through?
(Valerie) Nope, he pulled the pins off all the grenades the Mandalorians were carrying.
(Virstris) Right, note to self: buy locking grenades. I’ve already got men searching the area you were attacked looking for any clues. We think we have an ID match with a group that came planetside after the station was destroyed.
(Valerie) Try to figure out which ship they came in on and trace it back.
(Virstris) One step ahead of you! They came in on that freighter full of hafnium. Got off and to the other side of the station right before it blew. Then took escape pods to the surface. We’d been trying to track them down ever since.
Great, now Kira and I had just killed our only leads as to where that freighter had come from and who sent it. Mother was never going to let me hear the end of this.