The Krayt Rider touched down on the landing field at Yavin 4’s Jedi Academy, metallic green shimmering in the morning light. Luke Skywalker and Zekk waited together nearby. The two, Master and Knight, approached the landing ramp as it lowered.
Leara clomped down first, Jayk following. Kurie brought up the rear, clutching a dark form that turned out to be a young Firrerreo boy. Nik had used the refresher unit before arrival, but there hadn’t been an available change of clothing. His hair was tied at the back of his neck, black and silver strands falling about his forehead. The group approached Luke and Zekk.
“Hello,” Luke said in his calm voice. “Who is this?” The question was not voiced in an interrogative or intimidating way--it was as simple a question as “How’s the weather?”
Nik looked uncomfortable, but Leara stepped forward. “This is Niko Kitana, Master Skywalker.”
Kurie added in a solemn voice, “He’s my brother.”
Zekk raised his eyebrows in surprise, but Luke took it all in stride. “I see,” he said in an accepting tone. “Why don’t we go back to my quarters for a discussion?”
“Nik, why don’t you tell us about your past?” Reacting to the frightened look on the boy’s face, Luke added, “Don’t worry, no one here is going to judge you. We just need to clarify as few things.”
Nik hesitated, then began warily. “Um, well, I grew up on Dathomir, in the Dancing Valley Clan. They told me that my mother was the clan leader, Tyns Ja. She hated me, just like the other women. The men, though...they revered me. They said I brought them hope. Then, when I was five, my mother--I thought she was my mother--she sent me away with Axum Senn. I never forgave her for that, and Senn used that to his advantage.”
Zekk started at the name. “Brakiss’s minion.”
Luke suddenly looked very sad. “I suspected as much.”
“And he convinced you to turn?” Zekk asked understandingly.
“Yes. Even though...” Nik stopped.
“Yes?” Luke asked.
“Well, I don’t know. I didn’t like him. He scared me. When he touched me, it made me want to retch. He was a horrible, horrible man. I didn’t want to do anything for him. But I had nowhere to go. I was confused. And I wanted the power to show up my mother and the clansisters.”
“What happened to him?” Zekk asked quietly.
Nik looked down. “I killed him. I was eight. We had a lightsaber duel. I was merciless. I wanted him dead, so he wouldn’t be near me, so I wouldn’t have to look into his haunted eyes.” Nik choked back tears. “I was eight.”
Kurie looked horrified, and Leara and Jayk were shocked to say the least. Luke and Zekk looked sorrowful, Zekk more so for some reason.
“Axum never could let go of his anger,” Zekk said softly.
Nik looked up, realization dawning on him. “Are you...Zekk?” The older man nodded. “He hated you,” the boy continued.
“I know,” Zekk replied, and he shook his head despondently.
“Every day, he would rant about your ‘treachery’. I always wondered what would have happened if...if I had met you, rather than him.” Regret gripped the boy again.
Luke drew each of them in with his sad, but understanding, gaze. “You cannot fix the past. But you can shape the future. Regret cannot be dispelled, but with reform, it can be helped. The four of you must work together in order for Nik to heal.”
The three Jedi and the boy met the next morning on the roof of the Great Temple. Arkon, a wise Jedi Master of an indeterminate species, met them there. He walked on all four, long legs, and his body was covered in black fur. He had a long tail, with a bushy tuft of fur on the end. Long, black claws extended from his four paws, but there was nothing threatening in his dark, kindly eyes. His noble head was completed by a long, large snout with flaring nostrils, and long, pointed ears. Beneath his muzzle was almost beard-like fur, shorter than but resembling Jayk’s. He wore no form of clothing, but a smallish, circular, silver amulet with a smaller circle engraved in it hung around his neck.
The four approached to sit next to Arkon. Tasio curled around Kurie’s neck, and Efseven, Nik’s faithful R7 unit, trundled up behind the boy. Jayk and Leara seated themselves cross-legged next to Arkon and the other two. The Jedi Master had been lying with his front legs crossed in front of him, but at their approach he raised himself to sit with dog-like posture before them. He spoke in his deep, purring accent.
“Greetings, my children,” he began. He did not patronize them in this way. He was middle-aged by his species standards, about a century old, and simply saw the young Jedi as full of life and energy. “I am pleased to see the three of you again. And it is a pleasure to meet you, Niko Kitana.”
Nik smiled for the first time with the group, and it wasn’t twisted and evil like the one he’d shown them on Telti. It was sad, but not without hope and light. “And I am honored to meet you, Master Arkon. These Knights have told me of your wise nature.” Arkon was loved and revered by everyone at the Academy.
The alien inclined his great head humbly, smiling. “I am honored. But wisdom comes not of the self, but of the Force. Someday, I hope you can all understand it in that way.” He extended a paw toward the group. “Please, look with me at the sunrise.”
They all turned with the Master to observe. Leara and Kurie glanced over at Jayk, but saw only strength in his face. They smiled at each other in satisfaction. Nik looked troubled, though. Telti was really a space station, without a nearby sun. Perhaps the last sunrise he had really watched had been the morning Axum took him away.
“What do you think of when you watch a sunrise, children?” Arkon asked benevolently. He kept his eyes fixed on the sunrise, but his pointed ears swiveled to Leara first in a sign the Knights recognized as an acknowledgment.
“The Dune Sea,” she said, without hesitation. “Watching the Banthas crossing, before the sun got too hot.” Arkon nodded, then turned his ears to Kurie.
“Beauty,” the Firrerreo girl said simply. “The start of a life cycle in the Force.” Again, the alien nodded, turning his ears toward Jayk.
“Strength over sorrow.” The boy said this without fear or sadness. “Once, I could not watch a sunrise because of the painful memories it brought. But with the help of my friends, I overcame this.”
Jayk was pleased by the proud look Arkon gave him. Finally, he turned to Nik. The boy looked at him, then at the sunrise. “Dathomir,” the Firrerreo boy said, his voice far away.
Arkon nodded. “The sunrise often brings to mind a specific place or feeling for people. I myself am reminded of Tersion V, my home planet. The sunrise is memorable for me there because there were four suns, each rising an hour after the last.” He paused retrospectively before continuing.
“It is important to listen to thoughts or feelings. They remind us of something inside that will never die, or something we will have to face again. Leara, Tatooine is in your blood. You are a child of the sand, meant to live among the dunes. Kurie, you are so close to nature. Your affinity for animals makes you this way, and you appreciate life more than anyone I’ve ever known, or am likely to ever meet in the future. Jayk, you overcame the trauma of your parents death with admirable strength that is a credit to you and your friends. And Nik...I think you have unfinished business on your childhood home.”
The boy shook his head firmly. “There’s too much anger for me there, even now. I spent eight years plotting to return there and kill my family!”
“Even so, you must return. It is your destiny.” Arkon’s gentle face regarded him gravely. “Have you ever heard of Podracing?”
Nik was taken aback by the subject change, but thought about the question. He thought he remembered reading about something like that in the files on Telti. He nodded.
“It is often difficult for humanoids to race pods,” the alien continued. “But with Force powers, it can be accomplished. It is a challenge worthy of one trying to redeem himself.
“There was recent mention of clearing out a track on Dathomir to revive the old sport of Podracing. Challengers are preparing across the galaxy for a chance to compete in two standard years.”
Arkon turned to the face his listeners. “I have talked with Master Skywalker and with Zekk. I think that often teamwork and building helps to heal. If you are truly repentant and hope to change, Nik, I think you should construct a pod to compete in the race.” He looked at Jayk, Leara, and Kurie in turn. “And I think you three should help him.”