Arkon told Nik to meet him each morning for the next twelve months on the Great Temple’s rooftop before beginning the pod’s construction. He insisted there would still be plenty of time before the race.
Nik climbed the roof alone the next morning, mulling over what possible intentions the Jedi Master might have. The thirteen-year-old feared a lecture on the weakness of falling to the dark side. Nothing hurt worse than being told something you already felt inside you.
Reaching the summit, a thin coat of sweat beading on his forehead, the Firrerreo boy stood up and looked around. His shoulder-length hair, tied in its usual ponytail, glistened black and silver in the morning light. He observed the great Jedi with awe and renewed respect.
Arkon stood, facing the rising sun on the furthest reach of the roof. His lionlike size and stance struck wonder into the boy’s heart. Never had he seen such a noble, beautiful creature. And yet, the Master would almost certainly tell him that what counted was one’s connection to the Force.
“Come here, young Kitana,” the alien called from where he stood. Nik shook his head in astonishment. He had thought he had ascended quietly, but the Master knew he was here.
Nik walked forward to stand beside the Jedi. He followed his gaze to observe the sunrise. After a few moments, Arkon turned to address the boy.
“You are afraid of many things, Nik,” he began. The words were not stated in an accusing manner, but they cut Nik deeply.,/p>
“It is difficult to be an ambassador of the light when so much darkness resides within you.”
“But I am penitent for my actions!” Nik burst out. “I wish to change.”
“A Jedi must know calm and patience.” The wise alien taught this lesson before addressing Nik’s deepest fear--the inability to reform. “I said it was difficult--not impossible--to turn to the light. Do not give in to your fear so easily. It must not be your master.”
Both turned to face each other now, away from the rising sun. Arkon gestured with a paw for Nik to be seated. He did so, and the Master continued.
“The most important--the most important, crucial thing for a Jedi to remember--is not to let their darkest feelings take over. You must be the master of your fear. You must be the master of you anger, hate, and aggression. If you fail in this one thing, you will be a servant of the dark once more.
“Darkness will not always be so clear-cut for you as Axum Senn was. You will face many things that will test your will and strength in the light. This is important to remember. There was a saying once--“Easy is not for the Jedi”. You would do well to remember that. Knowing this, will you continue your training in the light?”
Nik didn’t hesitate. “Yes. I will face the challenges that come to me. I cannot give in to darkness any longer.”
Arkon nodded. “Then learn with me.” And he descended the temple, Nik following dutifully.
Nik had been following Arkon for hours, saying nothing, reflecting inwardly. He knew they were several miles from the Great Temple now. He calmed his curiosity, choosing instead to focus on what Arkon had taught him thus far.
When they reached a deep, slender chasm, Arkon stopped and turned to face Nik. He gestured with one paw, balancing gracefully on the other three. “Focus your mind around this rock.”
The boy closed his eyes and centered his Force power on the rock. He was hesitant to use too much strength, afraid to do something wrong.
“Banish your fear,” Arkon chided gently. “Know that if you act without fear or anger, but with peace, you take the right path.” The boy calmed himself and focused again, more peaceful this time. “Good. Now, attempt to lift the rock.”
The boy’s eyes snapped open in disbelief. “But I can already--”
“Do not question so much,” The Master replied calmly. “You have never acted upon the Force without darkness. Thus, you must begin at the beginning. Now, the rock.”
The boy sighed and focused on the rock again, attempting to cast out his frustration. When his thoughts on moving the rock were nothing but peace, he attempted it The rock shifted, clinked into other rocks, and finally lifted to hover above the ground.
“Good,” Arkon growled in his strange accent. “Now, try to lift another.”
The boy brought his mind to bear on another stone, leaving part of his concentration for the rock still floating. Sweat beaded his forehead, and his face scrunched in strained concentration. And then the boy forced all doubts and fears from his mind. He had aspired to be the Darkest Knight once. He had fulfilled that dream. But he had been wrong, he had dreamed for the wrong reasons. He saw in Arkon such a selfless wish to pass on what he knew, to help the poor, lost little boy, entangled in too great of matters. Suddenly the boy could think of no greater dream than to be like Arkon. With this thought fresh in his mind, Nik lifted the second stone.
Whether Arkon knew what Nik was thinking or not, he was pleased with the progress. “Excellent! Keep going!”
The Jedi Master did not explain himself, but somehow Nik understood what Arkon wanted from him. He realized with elation that Arkon had decided to take Nik as his apprentice. Their minds were connected through the Force, flowing back and forth as one, the sign of their bond. Nik did what Arkon wanted--he lifted more and more stones with the Force. When he had lifted a dozen or more, he spun them together in a tight circle over the deep chasm’s drop. When he felt Arkon was satisfied, the boy lowered each stone gently to the bottom of the pit, far below them.
The Jedi Master called Nik over to sit with him at the chasm’s ledge. The boy seated himself, dangling his legs over the pit. Arkon did not look at him, but started talking.
“You must not be so quick to question what I ask of you, Nik. Questions are important for understanding, but not for mistrust. You were trained in the dark ways. You can no longer rely on your old skills, and must learn to function in the light.
“Also, in a real battle situation questions waste precious time. If ever we were in danger, Nik, I would need you to do exactly what I asked of you. Learning to make personal decisions is also part of becoming a Jedi, which you will learn. But for now, it is good to learn first, ask questions later.”
Arkon paused, and turned to look at the boy. He was looking away, staring down into the chasm, wounded by the Master’s words. Criticism was hard for the boy, especially from the alien he admired so much. But he needed to learn strength.
“You have a good heart, Nik. I have always seen its light, burning in you beneath the darkness. And you have strength that surpasses any student I have seen here. You have great promise in serving the light. I would be honored to take you as my apprentice.”
Nik looked at the Master, smiling in appreciation. “And I would be honored to accept, from such a great Jedi Master.”
Arkon smiled back, saying, “Then we shall train for the next year, and see how you progress.”
Master and Padawan rose each day with the sun. Often they would meet on the temple roof, or at the river near the waterfall. For special exercises, they returned to the chasm.
One morning the two sat together near the river, meditating. After a time, Arkon opened his eyes and looked at Nik. The boy turned to acknowledge him.
“I call you Padawan. Do you know why?” The boy did not, and shook his head. “This was the title a Jedi Master gave his apprentice in the old days of the Jedi, during the reign of the Old Republic. Beginning Jedi training in the New Republic, Master Skywalker knew very little about old methods of training. In recent years and with much research, we have gone back to the old way of a Master having a single apprentice at a time. Of course, when Masters are scarce, things are different. This is true in Zekk’s case.
“However, in the days of Obi-Wan Kenobi and his predecessors, a Master took on a single apprentice at a time. This was his Padawan, and they shared a bond of trust that was not to be broken by anything less than the dark side.
“You did not know why I called you Padawan, and yet you answered to it unquestioningly. I told you once not to question so much. I did not say, do not question, ever. This is dangerous. I meant only that questioning of a teacher’s instruction indicates mistrust. Not questioning something you honestly do not understand is quite different.”
Nik took in what Arkon said, used to his gentle chiding after only a month. However, he was more confused than ever. “But, Master, when will I know whether it is right or wrong to question?”
Arkon looked at him sternly. “The answer is in your heart. You have been to darkness and back. You can tell the feeling of the one from the other. You must be mindful, and judge.”
Nik nodded. Another lesson. He was progressing more slowly in the ways of the light than he had in the dark. But he learned much everyday, and his confidence in his abilities grew stronger. “Thank you, Master. I will be mindful.”
Arkon smiled. “One more thing. I sense you did not ask because of what I told you about questioning. Try not to take my lessons so literally. The Force, remember, is not literal. It is in everything, true, but it is full of symbols. Meditate on this, and we shall meet again tomorrow.”
Arkon moved away to the temple as the daylight faded.
In the evening, Nik often met with Kurie, Leara, and Jayk. They would explore Yavin 4 together, the three Knights showing the Padawan their favorite places. The Temple of the Blue Leaf Cluster was where they went most often. Here they would sit and chat about anything and everything, often inquiring on Nik’s studies and relating tales of their day with Zekk.
As the weeks passed, Nik learned to drop the barriers he had once held up. He came to respect them, and they him. He even ventured to regard the three of them as his friends. It was odd, since he had never had friends before. He liked the idea.
One evening, the four sat conversing in the ruins of an ancient temple. “I’d be happy to help rigging up some superior computer systems for the pod,” Leara was saying. “Not that I’ve worked with pods before, but I understand the basic configuration of starship computers. It shouldn’t differ much.”
Nik smiled at his friend. “Thanks, I’d appreciate that. As for the other mechanical stuff, I think I could figure it out. The wiring shouldn’t be much different from a droid’s.”
Jayk nodded. “I think you’re right. I know a few tricks with droid wiring myself that might be helpful. And Kurie here is great at sensing internal things. I bet she could help with the inner layout.” Kurie nodded.
Nik grinned. “That’ll work out great. I’m sure we could salvage all the parts we need from Telti.”
“That’s a great idea!” Kurie exclaimed. “We could take the Krayt Rider--that is, if it’s okay with Leara.”
“Sure, we’ll all go,” Leara affirmed.
Nik felt great. Only two more months of his training with Arkon were left.
He was sure he would succeed.