Soon after, Nik was speeding away to the track again. Drying tears streaked his pale face. Around his neck hung Master Arkon’s silver amulet, with the smaller, engraved circle. Under his arm was the only other remnant of the great Jedi, a tattered cape that had been covering his furry shoulders.
When he reentered the arena, he saw his friends standing, getting ready to leave. They saw him and stopped. Kurie and Leara were sobbing and grasping each other’s shoulders, while Jayk met his gaze grimly. Of course, they had sensed it.
Finish the race, Padawan. Be strong, and finish.
Nik zoomed ahead, hearing the announcer mentioning his return. He also heard that everyone else was quite close to the end of their third lap. Clenching his teeth, Nik opened the throttle as far as he dared. His eyes closed again, and he returned to the rhythm in hiccups of grief and disillusionment.
As he raced, he heard his Master several times. He listened desperately to the Tersion’s gravely, gentle voice. Somehow he understood that after this test, after the race, he would not hear from Arkon again.
As he heard his Master, he felt an odd pushing against his pod. He looked behind him and saw nothing, and it was as though the Force was helping him, unbidden. He opened his spirit fully to the Force once more, and sped ahead at uncharted velocities as the crowd rose in utter bewilderment.
He whizzed past racers, but he couldn’t count and couldn’t listen and couldn’t think. It was all too fast, too amazing. And when he crossed the finish line and stopped abruptly, fans flooded his pod although he saw he was not the winner.
He had placed fourth. This did not qualify him for a trophy, although he had just missed it. He didn’t care, though. He had finished, as Arkon had wanted. If only he could have done more for his Master...
You have done enough. You honor me, and you honor the Jedi. You are a Jedi Knight, Nik, and now it is time for you to move on. Do not focus on my death, but focus on all life, and what the Force asks of you. Goodbye, Padawan, and thank you.
And then Kurie and Leara had wrapped him in a tight, comforting embrace. Jayk joined it. They stood for several moments together, drawing consolation from each other’s presence. When they separated, it was several hours before they moved to leave in the ship.
As they loaded the Podracer onto the ship, Nik recalled an image of Arkon as they had approached the planet. Sad, but accepting. At peace.
And Nik realized at once that his Master had known from the start that he would die on Dathomir.
Jayk saw the younger boy’s stricken face, and interpreted it differently. “Nik, the funeral,” he said. “We’ll be back by nightfall. We could have it right away.”
Turning from the pod to his friend, Nik’s eyes cleared in his newfound understanding. “No,” the Firrerreo said slowly. “Let’s have it at daybreak.”
The deep chasm on Yavin 4 was filled with mourners. Jedi Padawans, Knights, and Masters alike had gathered from the Academy and from across the galaxy. Such was the love felt for Master Arkon.
Master Skywalker stood behind Nik. He firmly gripped the boy’s shoulder. This man, who was so strong, and who had seen so much death in his life, wept before the funeral pyre. Nik, too, was crying, but his feelings were jumbled. He was happy to be a Knight, and to have made his friends and Masters proud of him. But he would not be the same without Arkon.
Arkon would always be with him, he firmly reminded himself.
Jayk, Leara, and Kurie all had their hands resting in the same reassuring manner on Nik. Tasio looked quite upset, and the boy wondered at his perception. Zekk stood nearby, his face sorrowful. Efseven whistled in the mournful way that all droids of the R-series are wont to. It almost made Nik cry harder.
But Nik felt a growing courage inside of him as he watched his Master’s cape wither in the flames. Arkon believed he could continue on, and he had support from his friends and other Masters. He was a Jedi Knight now, and the Jedi always faced tribulations. Not so long ago, he had promised Arkon he would follow through with these trials.
And he would.
As his Master had quoted, “Easy is not for the Jedi.” He hadn’t truly comprehended that phrase until this moment.
The rising sun exploded brilliantly from behind the Massassi trees.