W I N G S
K E Z E C
"I've nothing to say for myself. Not anymore."
The weighted grasp of authority on his shoulder made the young miraluka tilt his head slightly, reaching back through the webbing flow around him to cast his vision towards the one who touched him. The gentle, humming pulse of The Force cast in painted, cool shades. Comforting. Promising. Protective. It was enough to bring a smile to his face and he dipped his head almost immediately out of respect, casting the shouldered strands of his onyx mane down over his chest. "Master Muwian," he greeted her, tilting his face back up proper as her name ceased its roll off his tongue.
"Padawan," he could hear a smile in her voice, "are you ready to go?"
An eager nod proceeded the quick steps that ushered him down the steps sprawling down the front of the temple and he paused in his hurry just long enough to vault over the door of the airspeeder and thrust himself into the passenger side seat. His Master could only chuckle as she followed behind, reaching out to rock his shoulder gently with another grip. "You know, the others made their students drive."
"The others also don't have a blind student." He turned his head out of courtesy, revealing the smirk eating away his expression.
"You're no more blind than you are clever, Kezec. Mind your manners when we get there, yes? I would hate for you to get barred out." Muwian laughed softly, barely keeping tone above the notes of the droning engines charging to propel them from the ground, and it was as the wind whistled through his ears and combed back his hair that he understood they were in flight. He fell silent then, for a time at least, simply appreciating the weightless feeling of flight. It wasn't until his Master spoke once more that he animated, sitting up straight and curling his fingers against the tops of his thighs: "Are you ready?"
Kezec pondered her question for a moment, rolling his lip back and forth between his teeth. She knew the answer already, didn't she? She wouldn't be taking him there unless he was ready; well, unless she thought so. He was older than the other Padawans as it was, his training was somewhat delayed. Perhaps it was due to all the trouble he and Muwian seemed to get into. Or maybe her way of teaching just focused on more important things first, and she moved out of traditional order. Either way, the miraluka hummed a note of thought, nodding ever-so-slowly as he did. "Yes, I am."
"Do you know what it is that will await you there?"
Her question made him draw his robes and cloak around himself more tightly and return his expressionless face forward. A crease folded itself between the brows masked by his crimson and golden blindfold and he sipped the cold air, drawing a curt breath between narrowly parted lips. "I'm... unsure." He offered an honest answer, reaching up in the midst of a nervous tick to brush the right half of his hair behind his ear and tuck it away. "I have given it much thought... but..."
"But what?" she pressed him gently, looking away from her flying briefly. He felt her eyes burning his ears.
"Nothing," he dismissed this before the thoughts could get too far ahead of him and ruin his mental preparation. If he was going to conquer this as countless others had before him, as countless of his brothers and sisters had, he was going to need their steadiness. Their wisdom. Their guidance. Kezec considered these things as he settled back in his seat and once more curled his hands against the tops of his thighs. A deep breath. An exhale. The swelling, comforting warmth of The Force bloomed from his core, sprouting and unraveling petals as new, rejuvenating courage.
Sensing this, Muwian retracted her questioning and focused her attention back on the task ahead of them, and the journey to the cavernous mountains looming far off in the distance. Gloom hung over them, shading the frosted hollow as icy, crystalline teeth were bared to the cloudy, grey sky. She was thankful then, it was one of many times in fact, she was thankful her student was blind. He was clever and quick on his feet, but he did not possess the courage some of those before him did. He was too selfish, sometimes, especially for one of his people. There was no sense of togetherness to him, and she found it perplexing, and deeply disturbing even more so. What possibly could have fractured him away from the beliefs of his kin? She wasn't sure. The Sages weren't sure.
His gifts were average enough, nothing too exceptional had been noted by the Sages either. He possessed no innate abilities that were of import. His natural talents with The Force were minimal- barely able enough to move small objects with telekinesis. But it had been with resolve and dedication to the lessons she taught him that he had expanded his capabilities and outgrown the helplessness she once saw smothering him. He was plagued by nightmares she could never glean from him, nor could she offer him comfort when they were at their worst. In many ways, perhaps despite her best efforts, she felt such a deep, almost maternal tie to the young miraluka.
Kezec was this little lost puppy found wandering down the street without a single claim to its name or person to claim it. He had been lost when she had found him and taken him under her wing, and while he fought it at first, he seemed content and genuinely accepting of the rules and conditions imposed on him. There seemed to be the innate disdain for unsettling the balance within him that all of his people possessed, and while he was generally rebellious, she was thankful that sliver of civility he often hid was enough to keep him in the proper line. That would help him tremendously in the trials to come- when it was he had to walk the path and find his balance and peace, lest the Dark side destroys him.
Yet, Muwian had never sensed anything corrupted in him when she looked to him. Never had she awoken in the throes of night sweats, gasping in the wakes of horrible nightmares Masters sometimes were granted. She was no prophet, but the isolated time a student had turned to the Dark side, she had foreseen it, and thankfully before he could harm her, or the others. She saw nothing of the sort when she looked to the miralukan padawan, rather, she saw the opposite. She wondered, sometimes, how suitable of a Knight Kezec was going to be. He was too caring and soft at heart to do the things it was Knights sometimes had to do. The same things that... the Jedi had done to his people. That rather sudden realization made the Master scowl and she ruminated over it, wrestling with the morality in silence for the rest of the ride.
Beside her, still tucked in his seat, he was meditating. That, itself, was enough to bring her comfort in a time when her thoughts fought amongst themselves and she struggled with that pinch of doubt sprinkled between the verses of her oath. She had been a loyal Jedi for as long as she could remember. It's what shaped her. Built her. Gave her every opportunity she had ever grasped in life, and absolutely, was she going to share it with the young man she had come to foster. Not wishing to disturb him as he prepared himself for the inevitable challenge he was to face, she landed the craft on the flattened stone placed ages ago for this purpose and drew her hands from the steering, resting them on her lap. She would wait for him to finish before she sent him on his own and waited here in anxious silence.
"We're here, aren't we?" his voice surprised her.
"Yes, from here out, you must go alone," she said, reaching over to tug his hood up onto his head, shielding his ears from the icy teeth of the wind. "Whenever you're ready, Kezec. I will be right here, waiting for your return."
The miraluka expelled a weighty breath, feeling the feathers of his excitement now striking the pit of his stomach as lead. It was colder here than he anticipated, too. Maybe that was the anxiety. Doubt had a way of scraping away warmth and wearing down the skin of those afflicted by it. He could do this, he need only hold out until the end of the night, he had been told. 'Face your fears and overcome them, only then, are you ready.' He felt as though, in many ways, he was born ready. His people had been pulled from one side of The Force to the other and nearly torn apart for it. But his feet were planted firmly where he stood. "I shall return soon, Master." He opened the door and slid from his seat, mindful of the ice he felt beneath the toes of his boots. The padawan turned his head from the beaming, dancing pulse of light echoing from the cavern in the distance, to the surging, steady flame of it still sitting in the speeder. "Don't worry yourself too much for me, will you?" Kezec couldn't help but tease her, as much as she teased him, and he reached up to grasp either side of his hood amidst his turn, holding the fabric in place against the fighting winds.
It was all she could do to gulp down the lump in her throat and nod, keeping her gaze on him for as long as the encroaching snowstorm would allow. Her venture into the same cavern all those years ago felt so distant, but she would never forget the pain she felt in its depths as The Force tested her. The wicked memories she was forced to relive over and over and over until she broke no more in their faces and instead fought them back, even if it made the scars splitting up her back ache in phantom pain. Kezec was strong, she knew this, but he was... vulnerable, all the same. Just as she had been. "You've taught him well, Mu," she murmured to herself, watching the wispy tendrils of frost ride the wind of her breath, "he'll be just fine."
He wasn't entirely sure what he should have expected when he crossed through the mouth of the cave and was presented with a tunnel he found full of vibrancy, despite the lack of coherent light lying within its depths. It was... warm here, strangely, but there was no danger that piqued the hair on the back of his neck or made him feel stalked. No, the padawan felt comfortable. He felt safe, like he'd merely stumbled into a home he had lost ages ago. It was disarming enough for him to throw his head back, shedding the protective hood drawn up to guard his ears, and slowly, he drew a breath from his nose. The excited hum in his chest had kicked into a nervous flutter he felt in the back of his throat, forcing him to self-soothe by threading each hand into the opposite sleeve, curling fingers around his wrists. This wasn't at all what he had anticipated.
There were far less horrific creatures and nasty wraiths churning up The Force here, threatening to eat him alive. It raised a question in his mind about the nature of this trial. Something physical, is what he had come prepared for, yet, there was nothing here beyond the expansive, winding tunnels and the soft thrum of The Force into the soles of his boots. Perhaps that was the trial. Overcome the nothing. Or, perhaps maybe he was overthinking it, as he was wont to do. Kezec kept himself from frustration as he ventured deeper, extending an anxious hand to his side to gently trail his fingertips along the stony, crystalline carapace of the wall countless padawans had passed by before him. Somewhere, distantly, he heard their voices.
'Master, Master! Look!'
'It wasn't even that bad. Hah! You had me scared.'
'Yes, I was terrified.'
Each one widened the smile his presence here etched across his face. So they had felt the same way that he was in this moment, had they? It was reassuring, to say the least. The realization that he had neglected to mention to Master Muwian that the voices of those gone on before him had grown louder and more common in his daily life. The ability to sense such things was not entirely uncommon, but it was one that required special honing, so he had been told, to be used for the betterment of the Jedi and their kind. 'It's easy,' his Master had cautioned, 'to listen to the lies of the dead and fall into the Darkness.'
The miraluka huffed aloud, allowing his cheeks to puff out briefly in his slow-pan around the cavern. Four paths in total branched out from the chamber he currently stood in, each one almost perfectly identical. He considered the logic of the setup. Of course, it was entirely possible the pathways were physically distinguishable from one another but held no differences in conductive composition. A curious hum departed as he stepped off, stretching up onto his toes to extend a hand over his head, allowing him to brush his fingertips along the roof of the cavern. He could leave himself a trail, couldn't he? Just in case he needed to backtrack? That would be the logical option. Just as he carefully began to unwind the scarf from around his throat, he felt a thread pulled from within the bottom of his stomach.
Enough, that was, to make him freeze. That feeling- it was as though someone had stitched a line through his navel and anchored it to his spine, threading back around between the vertebra and back out the same way it had come. It was faint but strong enough to propel him forward almost against his will. The Force was calling him. Without a second thought or moment of hesitation, Kezec rushed down the path that was the second from his right, filling the quiet cavern with the echoing thump of his sliding boot steps. This tunnel spat him out into another chamber, one just as similar in its painted, illuminated greys as the previous. Only through The Force, could he see each of the tunnels webbing out from where he stood. Rather than think so hard, he furrowed his brow, creasing his blindfold, and focused intently on only what it was he felt. He reached for that strange, stringy tug at his gut once again, and the second he felt it ushering him in one direction over the others, that was the direction he set his feet.
The Force was calling him.
It was guiding him.
And it was the key to his success. It always had been.
The guiding hand drew him on and he kept pushing, no longer requiring a moment to pause and hone back in on the path he was so easily being offered. This was everything he had been instructed to expect. Everything he had told would occur. 'Listen to The Force', 'Reach for The Force', 'Let The Force guide you'. Muwian had been right, of course. As hard-headed as Kezec was, even he could admit that she had an incredible penchant for being right. She was far wiser than he was, but it went beyond that. There was something.... else there. She wasn't one of his people, but he had never felt as though she was an outsider either. She felt like family. Like he could tell her anything and she could understand, and even if she didn't, she would try for his sake. The mother he never had, in many ways. He wasn't supposed to form attachments, but, it was a little late for that. He couldn't admit it to himself then, nor would he ever, but she was family.
Focusing back on the task at hand, Kezec slid on his feet into a much, much darker room. It was enough to smother out the twinkling streams of energy converging upon it, each ribbon having impossibly vanished mid-tangle, leaving him buried in a shroud of indistinguishable black. The sight of nothing. This was it, wasn't it? Hands flexed anxiously by his sides as he tilted his head to his left, listening intently for any sign of motion or shift in his surroundings- any indication at all that something beyond him and those who had come before was at play. But there were no sounds in the cavern, not beyond the echo of his heart in his ears, and the slight quiver to his breaths as he drew each.
'Kezec-' a voice right against his left ear made him jump out of his skin, swatting and defensively swinging in that direction with the sudden sound in a world that had seemingly grown void of any at all. His heart drummed harder now and he gasped. Such a sudden, unsteady motion had thrown his balance on the icy floor of the cavern, sending him sliding and losing his footing. Unceremoniously, the padawan crashed to the floor in a heap, skidding across the ice momentarily. Yet he scrambled to his knees, bracing himself on both and his hands to keep steady. He didn't bother to lift his head to speak.
"Who's there?" He demanded of the featureless, icy dark.
No response came, not in any tangible way, at least. Seconds dragged into a minute. That minute bled into more. Yet, his adrenaline kept pumping through his boiling blood, spurring on the rise of moisture through his skin. Was there someone else in here? Why had they gone silent all of a sudden? Why couldn't he see them? A million questions rushed through his head and none came with answers, so, he struggled to find balance and stand upright once more- only to fall right back to his knees with a hushed whimper. What was that pulling at his robes? Dragging him back? Raking at his hair? It was enough to make him panic and he swatted fruitlessly, slapping and slashing at the air with his hands.
'You can hear them, can't you? See them?' the voice asked him, speaking up now with enough volume to force hands over his ears. The crystalline floor beneath his bruised knees trembled slightly with the bass of such rolling thunder. Yet, he did not recognize the one speaking. It was not a voice he could ever recall hearing before.
"W-who are you?" the padawan asked trepidatiously, fighting the urge to try to rise to his boots once more.
'No one you have been a stranger to your entire life,' it answered cryptically, 'a friend you have always been meant to meet.'
Parts of him were growing increasingly suspicious as the voice continued its thundering bellow, but this was a place of the Light, was it not? The Sith... the Dark side... none of that could touch this place, right? He was safe from that influence here? This doubt is what Muwian had warned him of, wasn't it? That The Force would test him to ensure he was worthy to bear its gifts. This was all just that, he reassured himself with a nod only offered towards his hands. "So what then, my mysterious friend, do you want?" The young miraluka asked at last.
'To show you, what is awaiting you.' the voice answered earnestly, with a tone almost too devilishly pleasured for Kezec to keep himself from shuddering, 'Do you want to see, young padawan, what your future holds? What the future of the galaxy holds?'
He had to stop himself from lunging at the opportunity. That was the bait. His greatest fear.
Uncertainty. Being nothing more than a powerless puppet in the face of Fate and forces beyond his comprehension. Life had been cruel, uncertain, and full of nothing but spite for him. He despised it, secretly- hiding that secretive little morsel deep within himself to keep the Sages from finding him out during his training. The training made him feel useless and ill-measured alongside the other students. He could not heal a scratch, much less a grievous wound. He could barely move objects with his telekinesis. Physically he was frail and often found himself coughing in the sand of the sparring pit, regardless of who they pitched him against. Would he ever reach the level he knew he could? Would he reach the destiny he was meant to? This... voice... this friend offered it to him there. A glimpse. A peek beyond the curtain to see what lay on the other side. Dare he look?
Kezec shook his head solemnly, tilting his face back in the direction the voice seemed to source from. By now, his fear had subsided and was replaced by curiosity fringed with a hint of anxiety. Just enough to keep him on edge and make him tremble with building tension. He wanted to run. Everything in him told him to run. But he remained.
'Don't lie to yourself, Kezec-' how did it know his name? 'You've always been a slave to your curiosity.'
The voice wasn't wrong by any stretch of the imagination. But this temptation it offered him seemed way too good to be true. There was no way this wasn't some sort of test or trap, and given where he was, he refused to risk it. "I only seek the knowledge I need to know." He fired back, scraping at the icy floor with his fingertips as he struggled once more to stand. Yet, it was to no avail, just as before. The invisible wires just wrenched him right back down, bashing his knees into the harsh floor once again. Only now, his bruises had grown so extreme he yelped softly at the pain.
'You don't wish to see what happens to your Master?'
Once more, beneath his blindfold, his brows pinched together and he shook his head with the dawn of realization beaming warmth over his freezing limbs. This was a test of his endurance. A trial of his will. It must be. He could stitch together no other comprehensible solution. "No, I don't. What will be, will be. What comes to pass, comes to pass. The Force moves how it wishes, guiding us to the Fate it has laid out in our stead."
'The Force isn't the only power in the galaxy, little padawan.' suddenly there was a chilling echo so harsh in its tone that Kezec quivered in response to feeling the baritone crackle as resonating lightning in his bones.
The miraluka gulped, not understanding quite what the voice was implying, or what it was suggesting. Of course, The Force wasn't the only power in the galaxy... there were the gods. The goddesses. He tilted his face back up in the direction of the voice, wetting his bluing lips to speak once more, but was stopped dead as pressure against the center of his forehead bloomed rapidly spreading razorice through him, crystallizing his blood and leaving him paralyzed. It was all he could do to gasp, consciousness sent reeling in a matter of a half-second at the abrupt contact made with this unknown.
'Open your mind, Kezec. You are not so blind.' the voice pulled him through the dark nothingness.
It felt like eons before something sparked in the black and he could discern shapes. Snaking tendrils of twisted energy, dancing, and wreathing round the shattered remnants of a world like a gluttonous serpent unable to control its hunger; swallowing itself up. A burning core, hot, and bright. He felt it searing his hands. His face. He was floating, weightless, yet he could breathe. He did not feel the chill of space. The dryness of the air. Once more, he could not perceive the one the voice belonged to, even here, if it was still with him at all. He could not say for certain, but he did not let that fact distract him from what the figure so obviously insisted he bears witness to. A planet destroyed, plain and simple. The life bled from it, spilling into the cosmos. Debris drifted by him, carrying bodies oozing life essence so freely into the open, indifferent air. The smell of smoke. The crackle of a distant fire. Yet, beyond this, it was silent.
Not a soul made a sound. His own heart had gone silent in his chest, remorsefully withholding its rhythm out of respect for the tragedy that had obviously taken place here- even if he was unsure of the true scale. Something tugged at the back of his mind, drawing his attention to turn, and he spun himself around- unimpeded by gravity- to expand his sight to the beyond. The entire sector... just as this planet lay in tormented ruination, so too, did the other. And its moon. And the other beyond that. As far as The Force reached from him, he felt naught but destruction in every direction. Space warped around him, compressing his body into an unnatural vacuum before spitting him back out onto the ground with a fading 'pop!'.
The ground was soft. The air was rife with the stench of sulfur and flames. Brimstone. Gases. Still alone, the padawan stooped over to comb his fingers over the ground, identifying the cushiony material his boots were sinking into. The pad of his thumb dragged it along his fingertips, feeling the chalky texture smear and break down. He curled his fingers towards his face, drawing a breath through his nose to sniff. The acrid, metallic spike of decimation roused his attention, causing him to abruptly jerk his head back. Ash. He was standing on what he could only guess was a mound of ash. This world was destroyed too. And beyond that, it was silent. What had happened here? His breath lodged in his throat, burning with the lingering smoke and gases wafting through the air.
'Do you see, young padawan?' the voice returned to him, echoing from the depths of space he once more found himself warped into with a resounding 'pop!'. All around him, corpses oozing what little life force remained from them floated by. Death in every direction. Silence for endless lightyears. And not a single flicker of Light or hope to be found. Had.... had the Dark side won? He didn't understand... 'There is more to the galaxy than just The Force, no... The Force is only one fraction of the power that exists...'
"Then what is all of this? Where were the Jedi to stop this!?" Kezec cried out in response, gesturing to the rotten, faceless stormtroopers drifting by. "I don't understand why you show me these lies!"
'Lies? No, no child...' the voice suddenly was not so cold, but almost... sympathetic. Whoever... or whatever it belonged to seemed to take pity on his ignorance, 'death is no lie. It is the only truth, the ultimate truth, in your world.'
He had heard something similar before, yet at the moment, he could not grasp where. "I do not wish to see this anymore-"
'You are already haunted by it, Kezec. It will follow you wherever you go. You cannot escape it. You... should embrace it.' there came a rustle from behind him, though this time he did not jump with fright. Was that... the sounds of birds' wings?
"How... do I stop this? Why do you show this to me?" He stammered, struggling to fight back the urge to flee, even if there was nowhere for him to go.
'To beat anything... one must rival it, no?' a loud, bony crack clapped beside him. Yet still, he did not start.
"Yes..." he whispered.
'Do you understand, now?'