Nik felt happier than he had in as long has he could remember. He had made great friends, including with his sister, and was in his final week of training. He sat with Arkon early in the morning near the deep chasm. He waited, as always, for his Master to speak first.
Arkon stared into the distance as he began to speak. “Nik, you have been to parts of the galaxy I have never traveled to. Have you ever seen another being that looked like me?” The question was stated in a sad, yet hopeful way.
Nik had never heard his Master speak with such emotion before. “No, Master, I haven’t. On Dathomir, there were only humans, and on Telti, only droids.”
The great Jedi nodded. “I thought not. I come from a far off planet, close to the Unknown Regions. My planet is called Tersion V.
“I am a Tersion, Nik. In a school book of alien species, I would not be included. But Tersion is the only name I have ever had for my species.
“Realize, Padawan, I tell you all this in confidentiality. No one knows my history except for Master Skywalker. He found me on Tersion V, along with a dark legion neither of us were prepared for.
“The strange beasts, all agents of evil, swooped down and destroyed the village of my birth. I alone survived. Luke came too late...
“When Luke discovered me, together we set off to face the demons. All had ghoulish faces and creaking, leathery wings. Their eyes, though...they were small, bright, and wicked. I shall never forget their eyes, the gleam as they murdered my family, the pure hatred as they slashed a me.
“Luke saved me then. I was bleeding badly, and barely able to move. He defended me, for how long I can’t say, swinging and slashing at the beasts with his lightsaber. And when all had fallen, he took me with him to Yavin 4.”
He turned to Nik, his eyes bright with moisture. “I am the last of my kind. No other Tersion lives. But this thought does not cause the hope to leave me. You see, Nik, the light teaches perseverance and humility. Remember your childhood. When your clansisters treated you roughly, did you complain?” Nik shook his head. “You see? At that time, you understood the light. Patience was important to you, and you knew you wouldn’t always be resigned to that life. And so you waited, but you turned to the dark. This was a waste of patience on your part.
“And yet, you have rediscovered the light within you. I am glad of this, as should you be. A Jedi must never surrender to hopelessness.”
Nik realized then that his training would never be complete. He had so much to learn.
Niko Kitana stood surrounded by darkness. He was at the base of the chasm, and it was the middle of the night. The only light came from the gas giant Yavin above and the glowing lightsaber in his hands. The blade was a calming indigo, not fiery and challenging like his old yellow one. For a deadly weapon, it was almost peaceful.
Nik had constructed his new lightsaber a few days ago. As a gift for his fourteenth birthday, Arkon gave his Padawan a beautiful bluish-purple crystal to use in the construction. It was a symbol of his transformation from dark to light.
Now Nik held the weapon in a defensive posture, muscles tight, sweat streaming down his back. In the close quarters of the chasm, Nik was dodging and striking flying pieces of rock that Arkon was directing. This was to be their final exercise together.
As Nik dodged and sliced, he forced out of his mind all thoughts of doubt. He knew he could succeed. Closing his eyes to the oppressive darkness, Nik looked within himself to find the light he needed.
And then the Force was flowing through him, guiding his actions, telling him when to move, how to strike. The boy, of average height and strong build, moved gracefully as if in a dance. He lost himself to the Force, and lost track of the time. He must have been dodging for hours, for his muscles burned and his arms hurt.
But he would persevere.
Strike. Step forward. Dodge. Step right. Strike again. Thinking of nothing but the rhythm and the instructions the Force was giving him, Nik didn’t slow. The Force strengthened his body, giving him endurance he didn’t know he had.
And then it was over. The Force told him there was no more danger, no more reason to strike. Nik opened his eyes. The sun was rising over the Massassi trees. He had been fighting all night. The boy’s muscles burned, but he didn’t feel weary somehow. The boy climbed out of the chasm with little difficulty, using protruding rocks as foot-and-handholds.
When the boy reached the top, Arkon was waiting for him. A grin split the Tersion’s face. “I think you’re about ready to start constructing that pod.”
Nik tossed and turned in his bed that night. The boy spoke nonchalantly to his friends and Master about picking up the parts for the racer. But he couldn’t lie to himself.
Nik was scared of going to Telti.
Perhaps he was more worried about the eventual return to Dathomir. But returning to the place where he had turned so evil, where he had killed...
Nik couldn’t sleep. When he closed his eyes, he saw Axum Senn’s face there. His haunted gray eyes, his neat blond hair, his dark cape and clothing...Nik envisioned the man the way he’d been before he’d killed him. Hysterical. Scared. Insane.
The Firrerreo shook his head to clear it. Senn would want him to think of him like this, so that he himself would go insane. But Nik wouldn’t let that happen. Nik would return to Telti, heart strong and head held high.
Zekk approached Nik the following day. “Hi, Nik,” the older man began. “Look, I know you were planning to go to Telti today. The thing is, Kurie and Jayk have been helping me repair my ship for the past couple of days while Leara’s been prepping hers. Leara’s done, and I thought we’d finish in time, but we’re still working. I have to go to Coruscant tomorrow, and it’s pretty important. Could you wait another day?”
Nik nodded, rather relieved at having another day to prepare himself for his return to Telti. He sat down to breakfast at his usual table, only to find Jayk and Kurie standing up quickly from their breakfast.
“Hi, Nik, sorry,” Kurie said in a rush. “You can help us if you like, but you don’t have to. We’ll go tomorrow, all right?”
“Sure, it’s no problem, Kurie,” Nik replied, trying not to sound too relieved. “Bye, Jayk.”
“See you tomorrow, Nik,” Jayk replied, and hurried off after Kurie.
Nik and Leara sat alone together at the breakfast table, both seeming to concentrate deeply on their breakfast of nerf sausages, Bandomeerian rolls and Bantha milk. Nik kept glancing up at Leara, a weird feeling in his stomach, making him suddenly shy and self-conscious. He’d never really sat down with her without Jayk and Kurie, and for some reason it suddenly struck him that he thought she was very pretty. Nervously, the Firrerreo boy tightened his black-and-silver ponytail.
If Leara noticed his furtive glances, she pretended not to. When both had finished their breakfast, the fifteen-year-old girl from Tatooine stood up from the table. “Nik, would you be interested in practicing with our lightsabers? I’m not too good yet, and Arkon told me how skillful you were last night.”
Nik, normally of such a pale complexion, blushed a deep crimson. A small, embarrassed smile twitched at the corners of his mouth, and he stood as well. “I’m not that good,” the boy said nervously, but he nodded his consent to a duel.
“All right, so what are our guidelines?” Leara asked as she and Nik took positions facing one another in a grassy field far from the Great Temple.
Nik shrugged. “Just keep going until one of us gives in, I guess. Obviously we don’t want to be injuring each other.”
Leara nodded and unhooked her lightsaber from her belt. Nik did the same, and as one they ignited their lightsabers. Nik made the first tentative strike. Indigo sparks clashed with bronze, and then Leara and Nik both spun away. After a few moments of trial strikes and parries, both seemed to find their rhythm. They moved together, complementing one another as though part of a choreographed dance.
Nik felt an easiness enter his manner, a fluidness. No dark feelings called to him as they usually did. He felt no temptation whatsoever to use dark power to help him. Remembering Arkon’s lessons and last night’s test, Nik kept his focus calm and peaceful.
Leara didn’t have much trouble, either. Her biggest trouble in her training with Zekk had been her fear. Quite shy, being raised nearly secluded on Tatooine in her parents’ moisture computer shop, Leara had feared judgement and criticism. She had conquered this feeling under Zekk’s tutelage--mostly. At times, she felt twinges of her old timidness. But wielding a lightsaber brought out her boldest side.
The two clashed, spun, stepped, clashed. Leara lost track of time, concentrating on the Force. Parry, slash, jab, strike. On and on the combatants fought. Leara’s shoulder length hair was drenched with sweat, and Nik’s had broken loose of its ponytail. Now the smell of singed hair, charred flesh and burnt cloth filled the air. Neither spoke, faces expressionless, sweat dripping off the tips of their noses.
Nik wasn’t sure how long they’d been fighting, but he was sure it had been more than an hour. His clothes were torn and his arms ached. His body was begging him to stop. Strike, parry, slash...the boy’s movements slowed...and finally, the boy spun away, extinguished his blade and clipped it to his belt.
They bowed to one another and then Nik collapsed, bone-tired. It was only then that he realized the sun was setting.