All things considered, the OOF – Order of Fire – is kind of a hodgepodge. All sorts of different people from various walks of life wearing Firemane uniform. Grey Jedi, Vash rangers, Xio healers, Qadiri knights, Dark Jedi – somehow it works. Maybe it’s because we don’t philosophise ourselves about light and dark and whether it’s alright to kill bad guys. Be loyal to the company, adhere to the military code of conduct, kill the enemy and get paid for it. Simple as that. No fuss, no muss, no schisms. No thinking that you’re qualified to command armies because someone once upon a time declared you a Master or you did that yourself.

I believe in the Lifeweb, but I don’t go around preaching about it. One benefit of being here with such a diverse group is that you keep learning new things and meeting new people. One of them is Sergeant
Hikari Saito. Everyone calls her Saito even though her mother and cousin are with us, too. Word is she’s tough and that she could have a fancy commission by now if she wanted. Never interacted with her really, but she fought at Purity. Tempest says she helped banish that big-arse demon those Vaderite bastards summoned on the Scarlet.

Good enough reason to get to know her, and even more so to test myself against her. The OOF firing ranges are busy at the best of times and they don’t disappoint today. Soldiers are busy assembling and reassembling guns, as well as lining up targets to practice. The sound of slugs and blaster bolts being fired punctuates the air every so often. Amidst the whine of blasters of the staccato of slugger fire, I home in on her aura.

Saito looks up from what I figure is a rifle. Or rather its individual components that she’s been methodically putting back together. “Lieutenant,” she says simply. “Belated congratulations on your promotion.”
“Thanks. And congratulations on your medal. I have to remind myself that I don’t have to salute every Mistress in the OOF anymore. Just most of them.”
“Technically I have to salute you.”
I’m not sure whether she’s teasing or not. “I won’t insist on it if you don’t,” I joke.
“Fair. Now that that’s taken of me and neither of us want to slip into our parade dress, how can I help you?”
“Was wondering whether we could spar. Heard about what did on Tephrike and on the Scarlet while I was napping. So I’m curious how a match between us would go.”
“What are your term?”
“Standard rules. Each of us uses our full arsenal. Force and melee. No maiming, obviously. Sabres on low power.” I’ll admit, I’m not too sure about what her skill set. I heard she’s fast and silent and can do something to mess with someone else’s powers. Not sure how that works, but I’ll find out. Besides, I’m tough, too. Should be fun.
“Acceptable. Expect me in an hour at the dojo,” she says after a moment. Then she turns her attention back to her gun.

And so one hour later we find ourselves in the training room – nicknamed the dojo. Got my training outfit on, and my lightsabre. It’s set to stun obviously. Saito is right on time. As we both step onto the training matt, I give her a bow, she reciprocates. “May the best win,” I say.
“Indeed. You may begin.”
I notice something, and raise an eyebrow. “You don’t have a lightsabre?” I figure her blade's lightsabre-resistant, but a glowstick is still faster and I'm certain Inferno has a longer blade.
“I don’t carry one. Not my sort of weapon. A vibroblade agrees with me more” Her tone is so...matter-of-fact. I feel kind of surprised. Granted, I’m not much of a sabre jockey. I still carry one and know how to use it.
“I don’t have to use mine if you prefer. I can use a normal blade. Or keep things Force-only.”

But she waves my words off. “Don’t be worried on my account. Use your full arsenal.” I don’t want to sound arrogant but this seems a little bit unfair. Anyhow, it is my move. I ready myself and call upon the Lifeweb. Heat surges through me as I draw upon my inner flame. The fire I have been bonded to since I was a child. I feel it wash over me. I could summon something big, but I don’t want to hurt. Not a lot anyway. A fireball – pretty standard, really – soars towards her. She is quick, darting to the side. I’m certain the fire singes her a bit, but she rolls to her feet.

Looks like I need to box her in and keep her from maneovuring. I can do that. I call upon the fire inside me again. This time it is stronger. A ball of flame forms inside the palm of my hand and...why is it taking so long? Why is it feeling so...hard? Why will it not grow? It feels like a cold, wet blanket has been wrapped around me. I push, but it just gets colder. I grunt in frustration, but only a feeble ball will form.

Then everything goes dark. I’ve been blind for years. I’ve gotten used to seeing auras instead of actually seeing what a person looks like. Sometimes I struggle to remember what Mum, Mother and Tempest really look like. But this is different. I cannot see...I can barely feel the Force. Darkness closes in around me, like it’s swallowing me. And Saito is gone. Okay, Elpsis focus. You can’t see, but you can hear. My breathing steadies. My hand finds my lightsabre and the ignition switch. Luckily, my Force Sight does not really allow me to see inanimate objects well anyway, so I draw Inferno.

I need to listen and smell. She is near-silent. Her steps are barely audible. But then I hear. It is like the brush of a feather against the ground. There is a wiff something slightly scorched. I spin around, and swing. My block is crude. Honestly, I feel like I’m flailing about. But Inferno cuts through the air, it meets solid metal. I block her. I riposte and she pulls away. I hit the switch and Inferno grows in length. Good thing it has a dual phase mode. That should give some reach. If I can keep her at bay long enough to get my powers back, I can get this back on track. I keep my ears peeled, trying to follow the slightest sound she makes. I can hear the faintest call of the Force, but it is so quiet, as if it is very far away. I slash and I believe I hear a grunt. Maybe I scored a lucky strike.

Then something icy and unyielding wraps around my sword hand. Just as the call of the Force grows a bit less faint, I feel like my arm is paralysed. It won’t budge. It is just a second. Long enough for her to get deep inside my guard. And for me to feel something hard and sharp press against my chest. “I yield.” Two simple words. They gnaw at my pride. Saito withdraws her blade from my chest, and suddenly the Force comes rushing back to me. My sight accompanies it. It feels like a sharp jolt inside my skull. I breathe in heavily. My palms are sweaty. I see Saito’s aura right before.

“How did I beat you?”
“ took the Force away from me. I couldn’t use my powers. Hell, I couldn’t see a damn thing. How you’d do that?”
“No, how did I beat you?” she reiterates, sheathing her blade. “It was no great mystery or special technique. It was one simple thing. Preparation.” I feel kinda small. Like an acolyte in a Mistress’ outfit who doesn’t know what she’s doing. “You are strong, Elpsis, but you did not research me. You thought you could simply swat me away, and if I hadn’t researched your strengths your strengths and tactics I would have been.”

“Look,” I want to retort. I got my pride...but it’s true. “I don’t think you’re lesser than me or anything...but yeah, I did go in this fight thinking I was hot stuff and had this in the bag.”
She shrugs. “I’m not offended. You’re young, you’ve grown very strong and you’ve faced threats I wouldn’t like my odds against. But power isn’t a linear path. There are many things the average Force adept can do that I fail at. I cannot summon fireballs, mind trick someone or shoot lightning from my fingertips. In the time it takes me to lift a pebble with my mind, you will have raised a boulder and flattened me with it. But I’m fast and sneaky; I can stun you, and take away your ability to control anything bigger than a few molecules.”
Understanding dawns upon me. “You couldn’t play by the rules of the other Masters, so you made your one and force them to play your game.”
“Yes. It took me a while to get there. I was quite foolish when I was younger.” She sheaths her blade. “Know your enemy, Lieutenant. Study them. Lead them on if you can.”
"I will." I think for a moment. "Hey, as we've just established, anyone who studies me will figure out I'm kinda screwed without the Force."
"You did not do too badly using your other senses."
"I figure I could overcome your dampening if I push hard enough...but even if it's just a few seconds distraction, they can make the difference between life and death. And then there's ysalamiri etc. Now maybe I can get the drop on them first, but that's a big maybe. My point is, could we try this again some time?"
"I nulllify you."
"I fight blind instead of trying to get my mojo back."
"Come find me in two days. Pick something other than a lightsabre, even a low-powered one. I'd suggest a staff."
"See you in two days." She turns around. "Hey, one last question. No offence meant, but you could, well, be way above me in rank if you wanted to. Just look at what you did on Tephrike and just now."
"Instead I have to salute every young Lieutenant who doesn't want to leave her parade dress at home?" she asks. It takes me a moment to figure out she's joking. "I could get a promotion if I wanted to. I don't. I like getting into the fight. Besides, every army needs NCOs to watch out for the enlisted and advise those above. I think that's even more important for a group as...diverse as ours."
"And sometimes you get to kick the arse of an officer who thinks she's hot chit?"
"No comment, Lieutenant." She is, I can tell, a bit amused. Beneath layers of professional stoicism.