ABY 853
Core Worlds - Corusca Sector - Coruscant System - Coruscant
Jedi Temple - Spire of Tranquility
Twelve Days Later

Atmospheric tidings were controlled by an elaborate network of monitoring stations and high, membranous vessels that tried to subtly tug and corral flows of acrid, industrial moisture. Coruscant lacked any form of natural weather cycles, with only a slight axial tilt and a wane in the early calender months bringing a subtle 'nip' to the air. This morning, weather controllers had made a miscalculation in rain accumulation and now isolated thundershowers ripped and roared across disparate surface patches. Greasy water pattered over industrial landscapes, tower-stacks chugging obliviously, mixing foaming clouds of steamy or inky smoke into the turbid, bruised skies.

The Jedi Temple and surrounding grounds for fifteen kilometers about suffered a pitching fit of rainfall. The high, five spires settled atop the Temple ziggurat were washed grey, tall shadows in the low fog banks rolling in from the south. Cloaked figures in earth-toned robes rapidly plied up and down the Processional Way, rain logged as boots slipped through barely draining puddles, wiping droplets from their brows that threatened to stain and haze their eyesight. A few individuals more lax in the face of the storm threw their hoods back and accepted the lancing sky fall. When was the last time the Temple grounds saw a good storm? They relished in the splash of boots through rippling quagmires, streaked with a dewy sheen, laughing.

They hardly paid note to a short youth trudging up the Processional, a packed rucksack strung over muscled shoulders.

Seroth whipped his knuckles over his eyebrows, shrugging off clinging saturate. A trio of ident checkpoints, set up with grim-jawed Republic Army regulars stacked with polished plasti-plate and long-rifles, stole his momentum and held the boy up as they ran his somewhat outdated ID chip. It was a relic of his youth spent in a decade and some years as a Tython apprentice, authentic but casting doubts in the face of increased security. A Jedi Knight on observation and managerial duties, a humourless Gran woman, coasted closer.

[You have an itinerary, for reference?] She asked, brusquely. Seroth produced a data-chip from his freighter passage, watching it snatched up in the Gran's thick fingers. It plugged into her wrist-strapped datapad, rolling up a small holofield glittering with digital characters. [...What was your business on Kashyyyk, Padawan?]

"Personal off-time," He explained, unperturbed by his Ident misidentifying his recent Knight ascension. "Visiting the lower wroshyr levels beneath Northayyk."


"I'd served with Masters Wraith, Watts, and Ravos at Cato Neimoidia," Seroth referenced, recalling the Republic's Naval intervention in that... controversial sortie. "Kashyyyk promised a little peace, quiet, and some isolation in the afterward."

[Any reason why you couldn't have visited the Service Corps prior to departing, to recall and replace your Ident?] The Gran Knight pressed, unimpressed. [This gives me and my boys here a headache every time some gungho Apprentice goes gallivanting off without - One moment.]

The Gran turned away, consulting a collar-bud mounted close to her truncated neck. In the next few seconds, a quartet of Jedi, Guardians by their heavy builds and cropped hair, shouldered past. One noted Seroth's predicament, smiled in wry sympathy, and nodded before marching on. It used to be that security strictures were far more lax, with the Empire wallowing in one endless interregnum after another and the Mandalorians satisfied to harry targets in the Outer Rim. Now...? Now the Jedi were in unpronounced war. And the re-established Council decreed that vigilance needed to be raised.

[It seems you are expected, Master Ur-Rahn,] The Gran said. Her hand pushed the old Ident chip back into the boy's waiting, calloused palm and signaled for the checkpoints to hurry him along. [Next time, a little forethought? Update your Ident. Enjoy your stay.]

She then added. [Before we've got another raid falling in over our heads.]


The Tranquility Spire featured internalized turbo-lift shafts, lined with smoothed , viridian vriotaer stone traced with scoring branches of cabling and piping. Seroth pressed an open hand against the plasti-steel walling, transparent, polished to an impeccable sheen, 'till he could make out his own sorry expression of whiskers, hollow eyes, and a few new cuts lining the skin from his cheek bones to jaw. He hadn't come in the usual Knight finery's. No loosened robes or clasped cortosis gauntlets, or thickened belts looped with shield generators or shin-guards plated with spare cell-charges for his laser-swords. Only plain slacks and a loosely buttoned shirt, which clung to his skin from the hoarse water fall outside. The boy counted down the seconds. Another five... Three more...

The lift-doors oscillated aside, into a short corridor lined with durasteel and roan planking shaped to conform to the wall stanchions and jambs. Fainter scents of oil and ozone coiled behind his nose, reminding Seroth of the interiors of a battle cruiser. Too akin to the smells of making war. He strolled forward and curled his rucksack off his shoulder, holding it aloft over one forearm. A tall autodoor barred the way: thickly constructed of treated metals, shielded with a thin skein of smoky-blue energy. Beside, to the right, waited a black, unadorned thumb-pad. The boy reached and pressed his forefinger against the scanner, feeling a subtle prick through his skin. Print and biometrics were analyzed, processed, then cleared. The shield-skein briefly deactivated while the door shuttered upward in a hiss of air.

An austere office waited beyond the threshold. An armoured viewscreen showcased a 360 virtual panorama of the Temple district and surrounding areas, with holo-monitors keyed to feeds of the Senate floor, the Supreme Chancellor's office quarters, the Army and Naval mustering nerve-centers, and other operational hotspots. Audio was silenced, leaving only visuals of moving bodies and blinks of tapping holoboards. The flooring was dominated by a single piece of smoothed metal, contoured to rise like liquid steel out of the carpeted decking. One side was piled with annotated datapads, the other with physical sheet copies, odd pieces of cycling field energizers, emitter shrouds, and power cells. Despite its reputation as being an open chamber of public as well as private council, the Grandmaster's quarters were forcibly enclosed.

The man himself stood with his back turned to the entry-portal, pouring over a communique 'pad he idly thumbed through. Darron Wraith was tall, even by human standards, his swelled physicality dominating the room. A mane of sandy-straw blonde hair was tied back across his throat nape, where hints of a strong jaw tightened by years of unconscious tension worked soundlessly. He told Seroth, once, that at sixteen he'd been so skinny. The boy balked... but then came a twinge in the older man's vision that spoke of pain, necessity, and hours lost to honing himself for the long decades of trial and tribulation. The Grandmaster's head twitched every slightly and he turned to regard the invitee standing at the ready.

Blue eyes grinned. "You egg me whenever I'm five seconds late to anything, but you saunter in here two months after I sent my word out."

Seroth scoffed and tossed his rucksack aside. "I was waist-deep in mud and poisoned ferns fending off hollering monkeys bigger than Wookies. You on the other hand - "

"Don't," Darron warned.

"Every other briefing or training session - "

"Don't go there," He pressed again, fighting a fit of chuckles.

"You take half an hour of quote-unquote 'Prep' - "

"Boy, I am warning you," Darron strolled around the curled desk legs.

"Which is usually timed for whenever Master Mazhar is on leave," Seroth finished, holding his arms high akimbo in a mirror image of the taller Jedi Master, who leaned over him sporting a nonplussed frown. "So don't even go there about my so-called 'lateness'."

"Sometimes I don't know whether to hug you, slap you, throw you out the nearest airlock," Darron said. "Or just bust you down to agro duty dusting crops on Tatooine."

Three beats followed as the pair stood off from one another, bathed in soft glowstrip lamp light from the overhead recesses. Darron Wraith, for his Galactic reputation as an emblematic scion of the Jedi Order, was known to pride himself on his informal and relaxed relations amongst those he deemed close. Master Ben Watts sparred time and again, showcasing a caustic, dry, razor wit honed by years fencing off Wraith's regular jibes. Poor Jaxton Ravos found his heritage as a Zeltron, along with his colossal frame, the subject of practical pranks: he swore he'd make the Grandmaster eat one of the many undersized void-suits the Zeltron had been forcibly stuffed into for so many umpteenth occasions.

"I'm out fifty creds on your account, I should tell you," Darron mumbled.

"Over what?"

"We held a pool on how long it would take for you to deign us with your presence," The Grandmaster explained. "Me, Ben, Jax, hell, even Rosa got in on the bet."

Seroth paused. "...Incidentally, who - "

"Karkin' woman walked out with four hundred credits when she saw you at the checkpoints!" The man exclaimed, throwing his arms high in exasperation. "And I'm still paying for dinner in a fortnight!"

"Love is a battlefield," The boy chimed in.

"Speaking of which," Darron gestured to a tall high-seat placed across from his desk monitor. "Sit down. We've need to have a little talk."


"You disappeared after we took Cato."

Seroth sat slunk in against the comfortable, heated dandin-leather plush that Master Wraith had bade him to occupy. The banks of rowed virtual monitors situated behind the man himself added a strange, ethereal, electric aura that backlit his impressive frame. The boy looked to the rucksack sagging at his ankles, back up, and silently nodded.

"Why?" Darron asked.

"...I just needed a little quiet, Master," He said.

"We've meditation chambers, private quarters, entire training halls to get 'a little quiet'," Darron chided. "You left without so much a word and we had to scour the sensor banks to figure out you'd jumped to the Mytaranor Sector. ...You were missed, when we took a night to celebrate Cato's success."

It'd been a gauged test and the acidic glint behind the boy's grey eyes spoke of disquiet. Seroth shifted uncomfortably against the plush, jaw working but producing no words. Darron leaned forward, chin supported over clasped knuckles. "...I know you've a penchant for being taciturn, you had next to no friends training on Tython. I may have been in error, placing you out of a comfort zone - "

"It's not that," Seroth spoke up. Darron let bide the moment, measured in gaze and demeanor. But, silence took to working a gloom in the chamber when the boy proffered nothing further.

"...Then what?" The Grandmaster finally pressed.

"I'd rather not sound discontented," Seroth murmured.

"But I'd rather a modicum of honesty," Darron kept his gaze centered on the boy's young, chiseled features. "There's no stockade or firing squad if you've got something bothering you, my friend."

"...The Jedi shouldn't have been at Cato Neimoidia," Seroth finally said aloud.

"Why not?"

His hand clenched lightly. "If anything, it was an exercise of Naval superiority, the Senate flexing its legislative muscles to prove its not totally impotent. They didn't need individuals of our caliber there, not when you've got Admiral Kahoshi's marines and Admiral Noir's fleet in play. The Navy and Army had Cato Neimoidia under a pin. Our presence... was just overkill."

"We were entrusted to bring the struggle to a swift close," Darron said. "You know that. Which we did, to sterling commendation might I add."

"But it was immoral..." Seroth said softly. That brought the Grandmaster to a pause, where something akin to the boy's private struggles bloomed behind his knitted stare.

"...Well, go on," He pressed in a gentler tone.

"I won't say the Trade Federations choice to toll was legal," Seroth said. "But that's not something you throw military might at in the hopes it'll be brought under heel. Certainly not a Grandmaster and as many Knights as can be ordered."

"It was at a special request from the Chancellor's office," Darron intoned. One finger fiddled with a holopad by his wrist and swelled the sound-cancellation wells installed in the walling. "I've had to make concessions enough to the Senate as is but there was still talk of 'censure' if we 'didn't toe the line.' Seroth, I'm perfectly aware of of our Order's history, of what we've had to give and take and lose over the centuries. But we're suffering from the legacies of old renegades. Caedus, Revan, Durron, and others. Checks and balances have to be kept in place, culpability, responsibility. There's no room for wild cards."

"I'm not saying that every Jedi should grab their blades and go jumping into the unknown..."

"But the regular mould of service is grating with you," He concluded. "You've got those old Journeyman stories locked up in your head."

Seroth felt increasingly pinned, stuck at a crossroads to where his career may lead. The Jedi found him newly orphaned, stuffed in an oversized rad-suit as radiation storms blazed overhead on Tund. His parents laid crippled with lesions as their skin was turned to greying ash. Growing up in the Tython compound afforded him endless hours swinging from tree bough to bough, filled with day dreams of old Jedi Knights treading long roads on nameless worlds, imagining himself to be one of those swashbuckling heroes or heroines. So he spent hours recommended with meditation on strength training and swordplay, 'to your detriment' the instructors would chide. They promised these so-called 'bouts' of wanderlust would wane as pragmatism set in and he learned what was expected of both himself and his skills. Then... One day a summons asking for his presence at the abandoned Yavin Praxeum found its way into his hands. What followed was a whirlwind of sparring practice and rigorous lecturing, with Darron Wraith presiding over the finer points of his swordsmanship.

"They said it'd wane," Seroth said.

"...D'you know why I called you out from the Shadowlands?" Darron asked suddenly.

Seroth shook his brow, widows peak dislodging a few errant streaks of raven hair. "I presumed it was to maybe chide me for running off so. Perhaps... dereliction of duty, conduct unbecoming of a Jedi Knight - "

The Grandmaster raised a hand for quiet. "When we first met at the Praxeum and I got to know your make as a man, I'd got... this notion stuck in my thoughts. Bear with me while I try to piece it together."

His fingers tapered together, pushed into a high steeple resting atop his burnished breastplate. "Four hundred years, Jedi and Sith alike have suffered through the horrors wrought by Zero and his biological magnum opus; the Gulag Virus. Ben told me when I came out of cryosleep that it'd take us another hundred years before we'd even see the Order return to a tenth of its former strength. Then... Out of the woodwork, we've Sensitives coming in for training. Many have a taste for war, for glory, for finding their names out on the battlefields and working to build their own legends. The Jedi Order has never seen so many warriors straining at the bridle.

"I'm proud. Don't mistake that," Darron waved a stern finger. "But I've always known how to balance a Jedi's needs against their wants. The Force has been kind in giving me modicums of insight. And you, Seroth, have been a damned niggling rock stuck in the cuff of my gauntlets."

Seroth peered unsure towards his friend. "...Master?"

"Because you don't ask for frontline duties but you study swordcraft religiously. You don't bother for glory but you work hard for exemplifying out tenants, our core beliefs. And you've a heart for winters and summers yet spend your time aboard starships and satellite bases. Everything about it begs that I find some purpose for your attention, but I draw a blank every time," Darron said then, taking to pacing 'round the curl of his desk. "But finally... It's come to me now. I'm sending you away."


By his wide, earnest smile and the triumphant note playing in his blue eyes, Seroth couldn't make if the Grandmaster was telling a joke at his ignorant expense. Yet, what impressions the Force subtly drew off his broad frame and whisked soundlessly into the boy's ear warned him of no lies. So the young Knight just stared a moment, waiting for elaboration. Darron reached into a pocket fold across his hip and produced a hard copy stationery, sliding into his friend's hand.

"It's called the Rangers Mandate and it's a piece of legislature that's about as ironclad as anything the Senate can concoct at its leisure," Darron gestured. "It was old even when the Mandalorian Wars picked up speed. And irrefutable. Even if we're virtually joined at the hip to the Republic, it guarantees the Jedi Council, or at least someone with equivalent authority, enough autonomy to initiate independent ventures."

The Grandmaster leaned forward over his waist and tapped the paper with a gloved hand. One could have heard a pin-drop. "So I'm hereby adorning you with the powers vested in a Jedi Journeyman, save that you're not limited to setting up shop upon a single haunt."

"I don't understand..." Seroth said in a half-tone.

"You're a Ranger now, boy," Daron explained. "I've needed a man in the Unknown Regions for some time now, someone I can trust to look into world's we've not heard from in close to three hundred years."

"You don't trust any scout companies from the Republic Navy?" Seroth asked, starring over the digitally printed parchment.

"I need someone with a streak of pure altruism," He said quietly, and placed one hand over the boy's shoulder. "And my paranoia says that the Navy isn't free from Senatorial interference. There's money to be had, reestablishing contacts in the far reaches. Uncharted resources, rich worlds, abandoned cities perhaps emptied by the Gulag virus. This isn't about setting up business contacts, this is a chance to bring aid and contact between sections of space that's been isolated for centuries."

The enormity of Darron's appointed task settled like a lead cloak over his brow and neck. He was being afforded enormous independence and a writ-of-law that dolled out freedoms not even enjoyed by most Republic agents. Seroth could act as he saw fit, within reason, and go about restructuring law and order wherever he encountered chaos and banditry reigning. The immensity of the unexplored Unknown Regions coupled with the multipliers of extreme, acute danger and grand risk... brought a rushing thrill up from his feet into his brow. The starched paper in his hands shook a moment, handed back to Darron who folded it about and replaced the copy with a proper datapad.

"So...?" The Grandmaster followed the glazed film of the boy's eyes as he sat back, waylaid with deep thought. "I can always rescind it."

"Don't," Seroth simply said, and looked up as one hand idly twirled a hilt over in his palm. "...When can I leave?"