“Boy! Wake up, boy.”
Niko’s twilight-blue eyes fluttered open in response to the call. The boy hopped up and pulled on his tunic, quickly brushing his raven-black hair out of his face. He was small, no older than five standard cycles, yet there was something about the way he held himself, the way he walked, an aura about him that projected quiet power. Power muffled by surrounding disapproval and disbelief.
The dark-haired child strode swiftly to the edge of his clan’s cliff, looking across at the Dathomir sunrise. Few children his age were so passive and serious, but Nik was not exactly an ordinary boy. Growing up in the Dancing Valley Clan with the clan ruler Tyns Ja, Niko had watched women take authority and power, and had watched his mother beat his own father to the ground. The witches of Dathomir had “magic”, but the men had it, too. Nik knew he had this “magic” within him, as well. However, his mother disapproved of him pointing this out, and now it was time for him to leave.
The intense blue eyes flicked across the landscape, stopped, and followed as they spotted a man on rancor approaching the Dancing Valley Clan. Turning back to the room he was in, Nik took in the sight one last time, knowing the man was coming for him. Sighing, not quite unhappily, Niko headed down to ground level to meet his visitor.
One of the clan sisters was waiting impatiently for him at the bottom of the stairs. She grabbed his arm and, scolding all the way, dragged the boy off to meet the dark man on the rancor. Nik’s arm hurt from where she was holding it, and his heels burned from being dragged across the rock.
He never complained.
The clan sister thrust the boy outside next to Tyns Ja, then headed back inside. Nik watched her go, realizing that he may never see her again, either. Turning back, the boy inspected his new caretaker with a critical eye.
The dark man on the rancor was tall, pale, well-built, with blond hair and cold gray eyes that seemed to penetrate Nik’s very flesh and bone. The boy never flinched, but went on to examine the man’s clothing. It was all black, with a scarlet-lined cape covering his shoulders. The boy decided he must have been a male version of the Nightsisters, the dark “magic” users of Dathomir.
Leaning down on the rancor, the man extended his pale, battle-worn hand to the small child. “So, Niko Kitana, we meet at last. I’ve heard a great deal about you. I am Axum Senn, former disciple of the great Lord Brakiss. It will be a pleasure working with you in the future.”
Nik just nodded solemnly, taking the older man’s hand briefly before stepping away. He looked back at his mother, wondering if she knew this man had come to corrupt him. Nik knew why he was here, and knew with similar certainty that there was nothing he could do to stop him. And so, the intense boy stepped boldly toward the rancor and ascended, taking a seat behind Axum. He hoped the fear he felt did not show through his face.
Tyns Ja nodded slightly to the boy, then to the man, then turned and went inside. Sighing and letting his shoulders sag a little, Niko Kitana watched helplessly as he was taken away from the only home he’d ever known.
A tall, smiling Codru-Ji official approached Zekk at the docking bay of the large starport. The Jedi Knight tossed his dark ponytail behind his shoulder and bowed. The official crossed his four arms across his chest in a sign of thanks and farewell. Zekk raised a pale hand as a gesture of respect, and walked up the ramp of his ship, the Redeemer. It was a deep shade of emerald matching that of Zekk’s eyes.
Zekk raised the ramp and headed to the cockpit to bring up the ship. He had been on Munto Codru to keep the peace between two groups that had become violent. Traditionally, coup abductions were a political norm and were handled diplomatically on both sides. In this case, however, the groups were apparently tired of tradition.
Zekk had restored peace, albeit with more than a little compromise on both sides. Now it was time to report back to the Jedi Academy on Yavin 4. The young man flipped a few switches to power up the sublight drives. The repulsors came next, and the ship lifted off. He flew low, passing over the Munto Codru wilderness. And all of a sudden, a feeling in the Force made him stop, hovering above an ancient castle that was not an uncommon sight on the planet.
Zekk narrowed his emerald green eyes. He sensed something here, a certain strength in the Force. Zekk, not all that long ago, had stopped trusting in the Force and became a bounty hunter. This was after he had been the Darkest Knight. He had killed so many, done such evil. How could he trust himself again? But he had turned to the light and regained his confidence thanks to the help of his friends, the Solo twins. Still, he was hesitant to delay in a mission longer than he had to. He needed the Masters’ trust. His orders were to return immediately to the Academy. He had to take care of his eight-year-old apprentice, a Bothan boy named Jayk Terro.
But what if this was important? Surely they would understand. He had to check it out.
Zekk brought the ship to rest on a grassy plain near the forbidding castle. He left the ship and approached the castle at a cautious pace. As he neared the busted down drawbridge, his hand fell automatically to the lightsaber hilt at his side. Unhooking it from his belt, Zekk stepped over the lichen-covered wood that once protected the entryway to the ancient structure.
Zekk’s boots echoed in the large foyer. The darkness was tangible. While shading his vision, at the same time he ignited his lightsaber. A fiery orange glow filled a small section of the area, just enough for Zekk to keep his footing. At the same time, this made the corners of the room that much blacker.
Zekk walked across the room into an adjacent hallway, following the sense he was getting much as a hound would follow a scent. He finally found her in a small room close to the back of the castle. She looked to be around six years old, and was kneeling near a wall, beckoning calmly at something in the shadows. Her feet were bare and she wore what appeared to be tattered animal skins. She looked as though she hadn’t had a proper washing in a long while. Her hair was beautiful, although it was somewhat dirty and tangled. It was black with golden stripes running all through it. A Firrerreo, Zekk thought. Firrerreos were almost exactly like humans, excepting the membranes over their eyes and their distinctively striped hair. But what would a member of that nearly extinct species be doing on Munto Codru, a child no less?
Never mind that now, Zekk told himself sternly. What was important was that she appeared to be extremely strong in the Force, and homeless, too. Zekk cleared his throat.
Startled, the girl looked up. She squinted her startlingly large, dark brown eyes in the glow of his lightsaber. She put up a small, grubby hand as if to reflect the light.
Zekk began, “I won’t hurt you.”
The girl studied his face intently and replied, “I know.” Then she raised a small finger to her lips. “Shh. You’ll scare it.” Then she turned back to the shadows.
Zekk watched the girl, confused. What? What was out there? He looked into the shadows, too, but for some reason the girl saw something he couldn’t. He did sense another lifeform there, though. It’s lifepulse was weak, and it was cold. “Would my lightsaber help?” he asked the girl.
She looked up at him, and her eyes clouded as if she couldn’t understand his language. Then she saw his glowing sword and understood. She smiled up at him and nodded. Zekk knelt beside her and handed her the hilt, murmuring a warning not to touch the blade, or to let the unseen creature touch it.
The girl crawled forward a little and lay the ignited blade on the ground before her. It sank in a bit as it slowly cut the stone, but stayed high enough for Zekk to see the creature by it. It was a young mishalope cub, with light brown fur and black stripes. It’s black oval eyes and nose glistened faintly in the glow of the lightsaber. It was clearly injured. Its long, rat-like tail was wrapped around its small body, ending in a light brown tuft. Another creature from Firrerre, Zekk thought. A coincidence. But Zekk knew that in the Force, there were no coincidences.
The cub raised its head and slowly edged toward the warmth of the blade. When it was close enough, the mysterious girl scooped it up in her arms. She stood, and Zekk retrieved his lightsaber. “It’s badly hurt,” Zekk told her gently.
The girl stroked the cub’s blood-matted fur. “It’ll be okay,” she murmured.
“I’m Zekk, a Jedi Knight. What’s your name?” Zekk asked her.
“Kurie,” she replied. “What’s a Jedi Knight?”
“Will you come with me? I’ll explain on the way.”
The girl shrugged her small shoulders and followed him out of the castle. Together, they boarded the ship and lifted off the planet. As he prepared the ship for hyperspace, Zekk explained the special powers of the Jedi and how they used them. Finally, as they entered hyperspace, Zekk turned to look at her.
Kurie sat the mishalope on her lap and began to stroke its fur again. Zekk watched with increasing disbelief and fascination as the cub’s wounds closed, and even the blood on its fur disappeared. The cub mewed joyfully and licked the girl’s hand. She giggled.
“How did you do that?” Zekk asked, awestruck.
The girl looked at him, confused. “I...I just, you know, asked him to heal. And he did. I did that to lots of animals down there.”
Zekk was astonished. He had never seen such healing powers in even a fully trained Jedi! What raw power! He was glad he had stopped to find this girl. If she had ended up in the wrong hands...