A few weeks later
Threepwood Homestead, Chaldea
Ishani’s sleepless night in her childhood bedroom was broken by the cry of an infant. Usually it was Eloise who would wake and scream, but tonight it was Marcus. She entered the nursery, taking the fussing baby from his crib, and carried him out before he could rouse his sister.
Mom and Dad didn’t stir from their bed even as Ishani passed right by their room. Her footsteps were muffled by the upstairs carpet, and she descended the stairs carefully, making no sound.
She wasn’t sure what possessed her to go outside, but after retrieving a bottle for Marcus, she opened the front door and stepped onto the porch. It was a warm night in spring. Chaldea’s moon, Zara, was full, casting her strange pinkish-purple light on the dark woods beyond the house. The air was fragrant with plants in bloom, and the world seemed unbelievably quiet.
She sat down on the old porch swing. Marcus was preoccupied with his midnight snack. She hummed a tune just to stave off the strange feeling of emptiness, like wandering in a violet void.
Her eyes stared out into the distance, distracted. Of course, she sensed Arlo Renard’s presence in the Force long before she saw the figure emerging from the magenta twilight. He prowled across the yard and ascended the porch steps like a cat returning from the hunt, still clad in the garments of dragonskin that served as his armor. His pale eyes fixed on Ishani, clad in her nightgown and with her long hair braided like a frontier woman, then for a brief moment darted down to the child in her arms. If he was at all surprised by the sight, he didn’t show it.
Ishani sat very still, the soles of her bare feet brushing the wooden boards as the swing continued to gently rock. She wasn’t sure what to say or do. Maybe Arlo was here to see her father, not her. Here to see Dad, in the middle of the night?...
“We didn’t get to finish our discussion,” Arlo said, silencing her doubts. “Or is it too late?”
His question seemed to have a double meaning, referring both to the time of night and a delicate state of mind. She shrugged. “Just don’t talk so loud. Everyone else is asleep.”
Arlo adjusted the volume of his voice accordingly. “Have you given up childish things at last?”
“I don’t know what you mean by that,” she murmured, busying herself adjusting the folds of Marcus’ blanket.
“Your notions of compromise. Of being all things to all people. Sith and Jedi and Mystic…”
“I chose to end my Jedi training,” she replied. Caedyn Arenais had been very understanding, although she hadn’t provided much of an explanation for her decision. He probably assumed it was because of the twins. “As for the Sith, that part of my life ended when I left Korriban.”
“Have you truly cut all ties?”
She thought of Arcturus. Her memories of him were already beginning to change, distorting further with the endless passage of time. He was fragmenting into parts for her hungry heart to devour as needed. The tickle of red hair against her skin; a nose and a mouth that stole her breath. A smile, a wink, a sigh. She could trace the lines of his blue eyes in her mind, yet his face was no longer whole. If only she’d had a photo of him, maybe she would remember better...
“That’s more difficult. But I am beginning to think I never should have left home,” she murmured, still keeping her head down. “Or I should have stayed closer to home, at least. Saved myself a lot of trouble.”
“You took the long way around. There’s no shame in that.” Arlo took a step toward her, hesitated, then sat down next to her on the swing. “Why do you want to become a Mystic?”
There was enough space between them on the seat that Ishani didn’t try to shy away. Instead, she studied him. She was surprised to find that he was older than he had looked when she first met him on Jakku. Even in Zara’s pinkish glow, his curly hair was visibly graying and his skin was tanned to leather under the harsh desert sun. He crossed his muscular arms over his chest, and her gaze was again drawn to his armor. Even long dead, the hide of a Chaldean dragon lost none of its luster.
“I want to protect the things I care about,” she answered finally. Cupping Marcus’ head in her palm, her thumb traced the curve of his tiny earlobe. “I consider the Force a gift that I can use to shield myself and others from harm. All I have to do is learn how to control it.”
“Pretty words,” Arlo said dismissively. “You just don’t want to give up this power over reality you inherited from your ancestors.”
“But—” Ishani started to protest, only to realize she had lied, giving him a prepared answer to hide her doubts about her motives. “Yes,” she admitted in a whisper. “I couldn’t bear it. The Force is life, don’t you understand? Being able to sense it gives me a connection to all living things. I’d feel insecure and alone without it...”
His brow furrowed at her words, then he heaved a long sigh. “Then it’s a drug, one that you’ve become addicted to.”
“Everyone is addicted to something. This drug isn’t harmful, if you use it the right way.”
“And what is the ‘right way’?”
“The Light Side, I suppose. Or maybe there is no right way. Maybe the Force is just the Force, and it doesn’t matter. Maybe none of it matters.”
Arlo stared at her as if she were dense. “You believe that, and yet you want to be a Mystic?”
She pressed her lips together. “I understand the Mystics. I want to go with what I know.”
“I don’t think you understand at all. Who are you to wield the power of a god?” He kept the volume of his voice low, but the look in his gray eyes grew more intense. “If power is your reason for wanting to be a Mystic, then I can’t teach you. A Chaldean Mystic rebukes the powerful, Sith and Jedi and all else who would manipulate their world with godlike powers. Not with the vanity of a revolutionary defying the elite, or the greed and envy of princes toward kings. We are martyrs, revealing the truth of tyranny. If you do wind up protecting your loved ones in this way, it will be because you sacrificed yourself to stand for truth and justice and freedom. Not because you destroyed whatever threatened them by matching the enemy’s power with your own strength and might.”
They sat together in silence for a while, until the quiet became oppressive once more. “Fine,” Ishani said at last. “I believe you. It’s wrong to have that kind of power, especially after I’ve seen what they do with it...” She closed her eyes and rocked back and forth. The swing creaked under their combined weight. “But my parents... I was raised to hate anyone who wasn’t like us. That's why I rejected my upbringing and ran away from home. Because I was tired of hatred.”
“There is more to Chaldea than your family’s views,” Arlo said.
“I know that now. Maybe if I had found something better out there in the galaxy, I never would have come back here. But there’s nothing better than this.” Or perhaps there was simply nowhere else she felt at home, no other way of life she truly understood. Chaldea was part of her identity. Its roots were too deeply entrenched in her psyche; trying to remove them would be like tearing her own heart out. She believed in what she had been taught because she had no other choice.
After talking to Arlo that night, though, some part of her did begin to truly believe.
“Will you become a Mystic?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I’m ready now.”
The swing creaked as he leaned toward her. His hand grasped the base of her braid, while the other unsheathed a dagger from his belt. With one swift motion he cut off her hair. It didn’t hurt, yet she still flinched as if he had slapped her face. The cutting of the hair would mark her rebirth, removing that which had grown before she began a new life. The ritual would not be complete, however, until she shaved the rest off.
Sheathing his dagger, Arlo wound the long blonde braid around his fingers like rope. “Meet me at the Academy tomorrow morning. We’ll begin your training there.”