It was a beautiful day on Ajan Kloss, and Nara was tormenti... training some padawans.
The temple opened up onto a grassy courtyard, where the plantlife was kept at an appropriate level of order. That meant it was the perfect place to take a bunch of younglings and padawans to kick the stuffing out of each other. Quite why Nara had been volunteered for this training, she never knew, but perhaps the other Knights were busy. She wasn't the best duellist in the Order by any means, but recent events had proved she was certainly no slouch either.
Nara stood in front of them, with a rack of practice sabers beside them. She took out her own, brandishing the hilt before igniting it. The cobalt-blue washed over them all, bright and strong. "Your lightsaber is your weapon, and pretty much a symbol of the Jedi across the Galaxy. For good or for ill, it will attract lots of attention. Though you may choose to specialise in any number of areas outside of combat when you complete your training, it is important that you all grasp the fundamentals of using a saber. If only for your defence, or the defence of others."
She scanned across the crowd of eager-eyed teens, who all looked itching and ready to grab their first taste of combat.
"You," she said, pointing towards a Zabrak boy with red hair, as her saber hummed at her side. "What's your name, padawan? And grab a saber, you're going to demonstrate." There was no choice in the matter, unfortunately for the Zabrak boy.
It was time for saber practice. Rao-Jor and his fellow Padawan classmates waited - some patiently, others less so - in front of the bright-skinned woman teaching today's class on the meadow off the entrance to the Jedi Temple. She didn't introduce herself; Rao had learned that guest lecturers at the Temple rarely did, mostly because their actions spoke for themselves. Besides, they all knew her name beforehand. Instructor Kansen - thorough as always - had mentioned it at assembly the day before.
"So that's Jedi Knight Nara Allam," said Enni. She stood next to Rao-Jor in the second row of the Padawans. Rao-Jor nodded. He didn't have time to answer properly, for at that moment, Knight Allam ignited her lightsaber, and the hum-and-crackle of the cobalt-blue plasma blade shaded the now fully attentive Padawans in a glow. To Rao's right, Enni's eyes glowed almost hungrily at the ignited lightsaber. Rao knew that she wanted nothing more than to master this mystical weapon; in fact, she was well on her way to do so. Rao-Jor's relationship with the lightsaber was more... complicated, as Instructor Kansen tended to word it. And although Kansen's words were always encouraging, Rao-Jor knew that she did not hold out hopes of him becoming a brilliant duelist. Rao-Jor had long resigned to this fact, and on some level he didn't think it mattered. There were other ways to take down one's opponents than with a lightsaber. At least that's what he told himself.
Knight Allam's introductory remark was brief and to the point, much as Rao-Jor would have expected of a Jedi whose life played out mostly far away from the Jedi Temple, out amongst the stars and the countless dangers that resided there. Instructor Kansen had let the Padawans know that Knight Allam was there to instruct them at swordsmanship, and - given her recent time in the field - share the practical, hands-on approach to saberfencing that the Padawans would need if they decided to walk the path of peacekeeping the Galaxy. Perhaps, some of the Temple instructors' stiff and by-the-book fencing would be replaced by the grit and practicality of real close quarters combat. Fighting neither to show nor to win, but to survive. Like Ramail and the others.
Knight Allam looked out over the assembled Padawans. Rao-Jor knew who she was searching for, and shuffled a little to the side. Enni was the best duelist of their class; it was mostly she who demonstrated the sequences during saber practice. Instructor Kansen would have let Knight Allam know of this. However, his hearts sank into his guts, for Knight Allam was not pointing at Enni - she was pointing at him. "What's your name, Padawan? And grab a saber, you're going to demonstrate." It wasn't like Rao-Jor had never demonstrated in front of the class before. But he had come to think of the weapon of the Jedi as something he would never fully understand or master. It felt... alien in his hands. As if it spoke a language that the Zabrak not only couldn't understand, but chose - perhaps unconsciously - not to learn.
Rao-Jor swallowed and willed his feet to move, but succeeded only in forcing a heavy shuffle out of them. "Me?" he said, but he realised how stupid he must sound, so he quickly added: "It's Rao-Jor, Master Allam." Somehow, his feet got him to the rack of practice sabers, and Rao-Jor grabbed one with his right hand. The hilt was supposed to be light, as a feather, almost, but in his palm it felt like a slab of concrete. He positioned himself next to the Jedi Knight, holding the lightsaber hilt with both hands at the end of his breastbone, not only as a sign of reverence but also in a potentially futile attempt at steadying his beating hearts.
The poor kid looked like he was about to have a heart attack. The way he moved to his feet and that face. It was a picture, for sure. She kept as impartial and passive a face as she could, but nobody could've held back a smile. She pulled her saber back and turned it off, sparing the poor boy the thought of having to fight against an actual saber.
"Ugh, please, not Master. It's Nara," she told him, reaching for a practice saber of her own. Holding out her hand, willing the saber into her palm with ease. "And Rao-Jor, if you hold it there, anyone could drive the hilt into your chest and trust me, that hurts." It was a gentle tease, as she held her own saber with one hand.
"I want you to go into a stance and attack me. Yes, you're allowed to attack your teacher. No, I'm not going to go easy on you." She stood casually, waiting for him to comply. "Try your best. Oh, and I don't want you to slip into some Form I, Form V or whatever rubbish. When you're on a mission, you'll rarely have time to get your head straight enough to get your Forms ready. A slaver, sleazebag or Sith won't just wait around for you to dance around the battlefield."
Truthfully, the Instructor had told her a little about the group, highlighting who the best ones were and who could use improvement. She'd made note of that, but she needed to see for herself. Besides, Instructor Kansen could be a horrendous bore and Nara would rather do anything than listen to her wax philosophically on the nature of teaching.
She stood there, facing Rao-Jor, quite open. Practice saber in one hand, casually hanging. Almost loose. "Have a try. When you're ready, go for it," she said kindly.
Rao-Jor lowered the hilt of the training saber as soon as the Jedi Knight shared her observation. "I, umm, I imagine it would... Nara," he said, oddly comfortable with this unorthodox way of addressing his instructor. He had grown up on a first name basis with all of his clanfolk, Mandalorians naturally prefering practical, straight-forward speech over slow and stilted formality. Addressing his superiors as 'Master This' and 'Master That' was one of the many things he had had to get used to after he joined the Order.
A tiny wave of ease swam over the Zabrak boy, his shoulders dropped, and he let the hilt rest by his side, mirroring Nara Allam. He was going over the Forms in his mind, reminding himself of their components, when she told him to have a go at her without utilising any specific Form and its sequences. Suddenly, the boy's hope that the Jedi Knight would teach them something unorthodox, something real, was replaced by doubt. He glanced down at the hilt resting in his right hand, this seemingly (and, in the case of a training saber, positively) harmless cylinder. He could sense the crystal inside it, knew that it was there, and it drew some uneasiness back inside his body.
Come on, Rao, he thought. It's just a weapon. You know weapons. Just use it. His thumb found its way to the ignition switch. Hesitated. Pressed down. The crackling sound of the training saber erupted from the blue, low powered blade extending itself from the cylinder in Rao's hand. He looked at Nara Allam, whose expression seemed wholly indifferent to his igniting the saber. She had not gone into a stance, didn't even have her training saber at the ready; the hand that held it hung loosely by her side. But Rao-Jor knew that she didn't need to. She was a senior Jedi, senior to him, anyway. What they were doing would be child's play to her.
The Zabrak glanced a final time at the hilt, pleading internally for... what? To be heard? Whatever it was, it struck him as being futile. The saber - much like the Force - could let itself be known to him; it would not, however, allow him any form of control. He gripped the hilt with both hands and held it in a right-side guard. Even at that point, Nara Allam had not ignited her training saber. Oh, what the kriff, Rao-Jor thought. Here goes nothing.
With that, the Zabrak would approach the Jedi Knight slowly but deliberately. When he came within a lightsaber's reach of her, he would begin a sequence of slashes and stabs, fast but half-hearted, as if his will did not extend itself down through his arms with enough clarity to be properly interpreted by the training saber in his hands. They were, however, not bad attempts, and most importantly, they were more projections of his own personal style than that of drilled-in Form sequences. At one point, he would even attempt a kick or two to the Jedi Knight's lower body, though their efficacy was hard to tell.
Nara watched the padawan approach nervously. He held the saber decently, once he'd slipped out of his surprised grip. Moving slowly, he came within reach of her. If he'd been a real opponent, or if Nara was trying to make a point, she would have easily knocked the saber aside and gone for him... but that wouldn't be instructive.
Instead, she smiled and waited until the last possible second. When he slashed, Nara activated her saber and swished it before herself, blocking his first slash. She moved with him, dancing on her feet as she met each strike. Twisting to meet the stabs and slices, watching his movements. It certainly wasn't bad. Rao-Jor clearly had some training and he applied it well. He was using his own style and mixing it up. He lashed out with a kick, one she slipped out of the way of. The other skimmed across her stomach, scraping over her toned stomach.
She laughed as she moved back, lowering her saber. "Good!" she said loudly, indicating to the rest of the class. "Great. Exactly what I wanted to see. Rao-Jor moved how he needed to. He slashed when he could, stabbed and tried to kick! Excellent work, you're a credit to your instructor." Nara coulda nit-picked and torn some holes in his style, but he didn't need overly critical rubbish right now. The kid needed confidence.
"Okay, pair off and grab a training saber each. I want you to go for each other. Try and defy your opponent's expectations, don't rely just on what you've learned." She paused for a second, before adding something else. "Oh and... try not to hit each other in the face. Just to be nice."
She turned back to Rao-Jor and nodded. "You did good. How often do you practise?"
The hissing of the two lightsabers as they met each other and came apart over and over was all that Rao-Jor noticed. His mind was locked on his footwork against that of Nara Allam, his slashes and lunges against her twists and turns that seemed to always be in complete anticipation of the young Zabraks moves. He remembered to breathe steadily, to not leave an opening after his attacks, and he did so as well as he could, although he was certain that the Jedi Knight could have moved past his defense in a heartbeat if she wished. Her aim, however, seemed to be to allow Rao-Jor a chance to string together a proper attack - something that he appreciated. Not all instructors would have let him finish his attack without countering it; there were many martially inclined Jedi who believed that a sound defeat was the best lesson of all.
When they broke away, the Zabrak boy had to lift his arms above his head to catch his breath. As the other Padawans paired off to start their own practice, Rao-Jor extinguished the training saber and looked at Nara Allam. She hadn't broken a sweat. She seemed so confident, so at peace with her own place, with the role that she played as an instructor and, he assumed, as a force of order in a tumultuous galaxy. She looked wise beyond her years, although that seemed to be a common trait among the Jedi, the boy had found.
When she posed her question, Rao-Jor took a second before he answered: "Every day. As much as I can, really. I only arrived here a couple of years ago, so I'm parsecs behind some of the others. But my friend Enni's good with a lightsaber, so she's helped me improve."
He glanced down briefly at the hilt resting in his hand, then lifted it and extended suggestively towards Nara Allam. "No matter how much I practice, though, it seems like I can't really... connect with the lightsaber - if that makes sense? It's like we're vibing at different frequencies." He caught the Jedi Knight's eyes and looked away. "Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm doing something wrong."
Nara listened politely, always a little amused to hear the worries of a young padawan. They'd been her worries too, when she was younger. Kind of. Nara had never been one to care openly about people being ahead of her. She preferred to seethe quietly and then complain loudly.
"She must be a good friend to help you out with your training," Nara said, looking over to the crowd of padawans. She'd heard about Enni's skill from their instructor, who seemed quite proud of her. She certainly seemed to be pretty skilled already, judging from the action that Nara could see in the crowd.
"It might just be the training sabers. They're pretty... unsubtle weapons. Have you been on your Gathering yet? Found a crystal for your own lightsaber?" she asked, wondering how far in his training he really was. "It may be a different story once you have a crystal that's more attuned to you in the Force."
"And... look, they're just weapons. They don't matter in the grand scheme of things. There are plenty of ways to defend yourself. I prefer a blaster if I'm not close up to someone. There are Knights in the Order who never even forged their own sabers, so it isn't the height of Jedi-ness to be an amazing duellist. I know I'm not, and I've got the scars to prove it."
"What do you think you're good at, then? What are you better at than Enni?"
Rao-Jor's eyes followed Nara Allam's and found Enni sparring with Doboone, a Devaronian classmate of theirs. Her jet-black hair stuck to the perspiration on her forehead and cheeks, eyes steady, determined, as she warded off Doboone's attacks smoothly and methodically. The Zabrak boy felt a bubble of affection erupting inside his chest. "She is a good friend," he said.
He turned towards the Jedi Knight again and nodded. "I was on Ilum a few months ago with Enni and some of the others." He hesitated. The memory of the trip was still fresh and hurtful. "No crystal called out for me. I wasn't the only one who returned without a crystal, but in the case of the others Instructor Kansen explained that it might be that they were too young, their relationship with the Force too juvenile." He made a sweeping motion from his chest down towards his feet with his hands. "Can't really use that excuse."
What the Jedi Knight said next did give him some comfort. And it wasn't as if Kansen, Enni, or everyone else that Rao-Jor had spoken to about his 'situation' hadn't pointed the fact out to him. The young Zabrak had even spent some time looking into the other, less martial Paths he could choose, and what type of Jedi he would do best to become an apprentice to to get there. But Rao-Jor's heritage was decidedly a martial one, and it wasn't as if he didn't enjoy the martial aspects of being a Jedi or wasn't any good at it. "I'm a better hand-to-hand combatant than her," Rao-Jor said. His hand swept across the gathered Padawans. "Than any of them, really. And a better shot. I know more about how to rig explosives than I do about Galactic history. It's just the blade that doesn't seem to work for me. As if the crystals deny me... or I deny them? I don't know."
Nara watched Rao-Jor's eyes linger on the other padawan, who was currently fighting. The way he looked at her... it made her chuckle a little bit. Eyebrows raised. Oh. A very good friend indeed. Poor kid.Nara didn't comment any more on that. She might be misinterpreting things a little, but the affection there was quite clear.
She listened to Rao-Jor's concerns and worries. She honestly didn't have an answer for why he didn't have a crystal yet. She could offer nothing but the platitude that she was sure he'd heard a hundred times before. "I don't know if I'd say juvenile, but Kansen always did have a particular way with words," Nara muttered, rolling her eyes. "It'll come. It might take a little more time than the others, but it'll come. There's always more worlds to get your crystal. I had to go to Dantooine."
Ah, simpler days. When she'd first arrived in the Order, bundled in a ship with a couple of knights and a load of padawans.
"Well, like I said before, being a good shot counts for a lot. You've got the skills, for sure. I know it's probably not much help, but the connection will come in time." She sighed a little, running her fingers through her hair. "You can't be desperate for it though. I get it, your friends are all getting their crystals and showing off in duelling practice and you're getting frustrated. You don't wanna be the odd one out but... focus on what you are good at. And they're just crystals, don't be intimidated."
She extinguished the practice saber and tossed it aside, reaching for her actual saber. She knelt down, offering the hilt to him.
"Here. Just get a feel for it. I know it's mine, but it'll work. Other people have managed to use it before," she told him, a sour note in her voice at that. Her hilt looked dull and metallic, like it'd been fashioned from faded metal. She pointed to a dial towards the top. "Twist that... after you've aimed it away from me, of course," she added quickly. "Get a feel for it. I doubt any of the others can say they've trained with a Knight's saber."
Rao-Jor could feel that Nara Allam had the best intentions, but her words didn't cure the unrest and the shame that he felt at having come back from the Gathering without a crystal. Though it was true that there were many different kinds of Jedi, many different paths to take, the lightsaber was undisputably the symbol of a Jedi.
And he hadn't been able to create one.
The Jedi handed Rao-Jor her lightsaber. He inspected the hilt. It was a simple design. Metallic. Faded. Efficient, perhaps mirroring its owner and creator? The Zabrak followed Allam's instructions, twisting the dial at the top of the hilt after he'd turned away from her. The blue blade sprung into existence, humming at a frequency somewhere between reassuring and menacing. Rao-Jor sensed the energy vibrating through the hilt as he swung the blade, cutting through the air in a few simple sequences. It was a more elegant weapon than the training sabers, far better balanced, resting more firmly in the Padawan's hand. He held the other hand out towards the ignited blade, feeling the warmth emanate from the plasma.
A real weapon. For a real Jedi.
Rao-Jor extinguished the lightsaber and handed the hilt back to the Jedi. "Thank you, Nara," he said, smiling sadly at the woman. "I can definitely feel a difference between your saber and a training saber. It rested much more reliably in my hand." He hesitated for a moment. "Can I ask you about the design? I thought most Jedi added personal ornaments to their hilts. Why haven't you?"
Nara watched the padawan brandish her saber, trying it out. Slashing through the air with a curious regard for it all. Hearing the hiss and hum of the plasma as it whizzed through the air. Around them both, the other padawans had taken notice. Their own sparring had quietened down as they watched the Zabrak boy wield an actual saber, as Nara looked on with a smile.
When she took it back, she slipped it back onto her belt. Once it'd been clipped into place, she put her hands on her hips as she considered the question. "Uh... honestly, I didn't think too much about the design. I was a lot younger then and.. y'know." She didn't want to say anything like I was a lot dumber when I was a teenager, which while true, wouldn't exactly fill this teenager with confidence.
"You design your hilt how you want to. So yes, some Jedi have personal ornaments or sigils on theirs. A lot of them are very elegant and pretty, with shiny metals and alloys. But I'm just... not that. Shiny isn't me. I like fixing old things, I'm good with broken things, so when it came time to make my hilt, I used metals I'd taken from things like that on my earliest missions as a padawan." She indicated down towards her hilt again.
"There's metal scraps from Nar Shaddaa on there, where I grew up. There's plating from a droid on... Quesh, I think it was. The darker stuff came from something that broke off my ship... well, it was my Master's ship back then." She smirked at the memory, shaking her head.
"You don't have to do what everyone else does, that's the point. Yeah, lots of people have shiny sabers and they're all wonderful works of art, but mine works just as well. And I didn't fashion it straight away, I'd been training for a year before I made mine. And that was only with some help from a Knight."
Rao-Jor listened intently to Nara Allam as she told him about her lightsaber. She made the whole Jedi business sound so... grounded. As if there wasn't a straight line running from starting in the Order to eventually being Knighted. As if there was room for set-backs, blunders, and unconventional ways of thinking and doing things. On one hand, it seemed like something that applied to everyone else but him. But, on the other, it comforted him, knowing that there might be a possibility that his set-backs with the lightsaber and his problems in certain areas of Jedihood did not mean that he would be a bad Jedi or no Jedi at all.
When the woman told him about the components of her lightsaber, Rao-Jor immediately thought of his necklace back in his locker. It held a pendant, a small sigil in the shape of a stathas reptile from his adopted homeplanet, Mandalore. The mark of his clan. He wished that he could add it to the design of his future lightsaber, to show to himself once and for all that his old life had fused with his new. But he doubted that his fellow Jedi would condone it.
He looked at the Jedi Knight. She seemed so understanding, the opposite of the dogmatic people that Rao-Jor had been surrounded by his entire life. His eyes furrowed determinedly.
"Do you think that there's room for as many different Jedi in the Order as there are lightsabers? No matter where they come from?"
The way the kid stared as she talked, his eyes taking everything in... and clearly not wanting to believe it. Just what in the heck have these people been teaching him? No confidence in himself at all.She'd heard that he was getting a master soon. Hopefully it'd be a decent one that'd take him away from these instructors and get him out there, doing stuff. Actually helping people and running missions would do the kid a ton of favours.
The question he posed was easy to answer. "Yes. Completely. Every Jedi is different. We're all different people, we all feel the Force but we act in different ways and have different skills. And no matter where you've come from, what you've done, who you were, there's a place for you here."
"Look, I said I grew up on Nar Shaddaa, right? I used to be a gang brat. I ran schemes, skimmed creds from stores, stole ration packs from warehouses. I did petty criminal stuff for years and years and years, until I was found by the Jedi. And nobody doubts my place here. I don't let them." She smirked at her own insistence. "My master, when I was a padawan? He was rescued from a mine as a slave, now he's on the Jedi Council. My best friends? One used to be a cop on Coruscant, one was an orphan and the other grew up in a Vratix hive."
"You be you. And whoever you are, what you chose to be, you'll be just as much a Jedi as the grandmaster. Even moreso, in fact, because he barely gets off his bony backside, but you get the idea. Promise me that you won't let anyone make you feel like you don't belong," she said, pointing right at him, with a serious look on her face. "And that includes your instructors."