The Sins of the Father

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The Sins of the Father

Post by Archangel »

Village of the Setti tribe, Orto Plutonia
"You useless pile of hail."

The words, spoken in Modig's native tongue of Talzzi, would have sounded like a series of guttural grunts to a human ear, some drawn out, some stopped short. To Modig Falla, it was the frequent curse of his wretched father. Onyr Falla was not his tribe's leader; he was not even well-respected in the tribe as a warrior or a hunter. When the tribe, called the Setti, hunted, riding their tamed narglatches against wild ones, or against the large troppus, a herd animal native to Orto Plutonia, Onyr chased behind on foot. He was the mockery of the Setti, ridiculed and despised.

At home, every gram of disrespect he received, he earned.

Modig bristled at the insult. His thick white fur rose on his back, and he clenched his fists; his claws dug into his flesh, but the wounds in his body could not match the wounds that his repressed rage cut into his soul. His large eyes were shut tight, protected from the glare of Orto Plutonia's white-blue sun, shining through the clouds above and reflecting off the walls of the icy canyon in which the Setti lived. His smaller eyes were like chips of stone, cold and unforgiving.

Onyr twisted his proboscis aside and scowled. "Do you have something to say, or are you going to keep sitting there like a stupid boulder?"

Modig stood. He towered above his father--Onyr was the runt of his mother's litter, but Modig, barely an adult, was taller than any other Setti. Some of the older Talz, who had traveled far and wide across their world, had commented that they'd never seen a Talz his size anywhere on Orto Plutonia. He was easily the strongest, the fastest, and the toughest. He had been pinned by a wild narglatch and walked away with a month's meat and barely a scratch. Some said that he was destined to become the ruler of the Setti, but the tribal elders swore that no child of Onyr the Wretch could be a leader.

But as brave and as strong as Modig was, every time he looked at his father, he felt again like the little boy standing by his mother's grave. "This is your fault, Modig," Onyr had said then. "Your mother and your sisters would still be alive if not for you. You led the narglatches here. From now on, you will do everything I say, or I will make you truly regret your part in this."

Looking down at his father, who quivered with impatience, Modig bowed his head and stepped out of the hut. Onyr, tired of being shunned by the Setti, no longer hunted for his own food according to the Talz way, but forced Modig to provide for them both. Onyr twisted his responsibilities into demands; once, he should have hunted for Modig, but now, he made Modig hunt for him. The tremendous young Talz resented it, but he still viscerally feared his father's wrath.

Modig approached the gathered hunters. Twenty Talz, each on his own narglatch--except Modig. Like Onyr, he was forced to walk, but unlike the squat, impotent creature that repulsed and repressed him, Modig was strong. He could not keep up with the six-meter narglatches at a full sprint, but when stalking prey, he was more than quick enough to stay with the pack. Shrugging his shoulders to stretch, he returned the glare of Fohr-Ten, leader of the Setti. Fohr-Ten had called for the abandonment of Modig and Onyr, but Reti Evavar, high priest of the tribe, had stayed his hand. Modig did not know why Reti was kind to him, but the ancient Talz was said to have abilities beyond any mortal Talz--abilities that only priests could have--abilities to see the future, to capture and direct the minds of others, to protect themselves from harm. Perhaps the gods had told Reti to protect Modig, but the young Talz could not imagine why.

Once Modig arrived, the hunt was ready to begin. The narglatches took off at a steady lope; Modig pounded just behind them down the canyon. Fohr-Ten led them down the rock formation for kilometers; usually, they turned off and searched the plains above for a troppus herd, but today, they pressed on, deeper into the ravine. "Fohr-Ten!" Reti called out. "We are coming very near to the wild narglatch lair where two hunters were killed last cycle."

"Then we shall have to be more careful!" Fohr-Ten replied. "Modig! Come to the front of the pack."

The colossal Talz obeyed. When he stood beside Fohr-Ten's narglatch, the tribal chieftain gestured with one claw. "Lead us into the lair of the enemy, and bring us to victory, and I will let you live in a hut with the rest of the village, instead of exiled to the canyon."

Modig nodded. Reti reached out and laid his claws on the young brute's shoulder. "Young Falla," he said, "you do not need to do this."

The deep snarl that followed came from deep within Modig's chest, pouring through his heart and out his proboscis into the cold world. "I will do whatever I must." He bowed to Fohr-Ten and proceeded, leading the pack into the perilous gorge.

Then he saw a narglatch, but not on the path before him. He saw it in a flash, as far off as the stars, but close enough to touch. It was lying in wait, ready to pounce. It peered over a ledge with a peculiar oblong shape, looking down--on the Talz! It sprang its trap, and others along the canyon followed suit. The hunting party would be cut to shreds!

Modig spun, ready to fight. Fohr-Ten reared back on his narglatch, gargling angrily. "What are you doing, you fat fool?" he demanded.

There were no wild narglatches to be seen. Modig furrowed both brows, daring to squint open his larger eyes, as if they might provide some proof that he had not imagined the danger. He sighed; he had been so sure. Had he only imagined it? He looked up at Fohr-Ten; the chieftain waited impatiently for a response. Modig was surprised to find his inquirer expecting an answer; his father never needed one before the punishment began. He hefted his spear. "The narglatches know that we have come."

Fohr-Ten was livid. Reti looked amused, like he knew something that no one else did. The priest interrupted before the chieftain could respond. "Suppose he is right. What should we do next?"

Fohr-Ten glanced at the priest, then at Modig. "We came for a narglatch; whether it knows we have come or not, here we stand--let us hunt it and take both food and trophies!" He spurred his mount forward.

Modig felt an intense urge to act. He had to stop the massacre of his people. Without aiming, without even waiting to see the enemy, he hurled his spear past Fohr-Ten's back, up toward a familiar oblong ledge. He snatched a second spear from a nearby hunter, using his narglatch as a spring to launch himself high into the air. He hurled the spear forward and down.

By the time he landed, two wild narglatches were dead, slain as soon they leapt from their hiding places--but the canyon was rapidly filling with more. "Fohr-Ten!" cried Reti, "There are too many! We must retreat!" Narglatches were solitary hunters most of the time; the only ones Modig had heard of in a pack were the ones tamed by the Talz. To find a whole nest, where a pack of narglatches lived together, was unheard of.

Fohr-Ten snarled, but agreed. "Fall back! Retreat!"

The order was obeyed post-haste. Tamed narglatches and proud hunters turned tail and ran from superior numbers and superior strength. They made their way back toward home empty-handed; but the hunt would continue, in another place, until all the families of the tribe were fed. That was the Talz way--press on until the hunt was done. But the retreat had left one Talz standing alone against the multitude.

One Talz who had no spears left.

Modig raised his claws. He was afraid, deathly afraid, but he channeled that fear. He poured it into a mold of anger, which he forged into a weapon. If he turned and ran, without a mount of his own, he would die with his face in the snow; he refused to come to that end. If he was to die today, he would take some of the sacred beasts with him.

The narglatches were more than willing to oblige him. They began to charge, trying to circle him. He backed up to a narrower point in the canyon, so that the huge predators could not surround him effectively. But the narglatches did not wait for a tactical advantage; their strength in numbers ensured their victory. The first to attack came at Modig's left; he rolled away from its pounce, then planted his feet and launched himself into its side. He wrapped his arms around its neck, and his claws dug deep into its soft underbelly. He gripped and tore; gore spewed onto the ground and the beast roared in its death throes.

The next narglatch acted quickly. It struck out with its paw, knocking Modig from the back of his dying foe. Sensing its end, the bleeding beast dragged itself to the edge of the canyon, out of the way of its pack.

Meanwhile, Modig was beset again. He tried to repeat his earlier tactic, but the second narglatch saw it coming and spun, headbutting the falling Talz in the chest. Modig fell, pinned by heavy claws for the second time in his life. He remembered what he had done before, and attempted it again: he brought his claws up sharply into the beast's neck, shredding its throat. The blood gushed into the Talz' face and the narglatch crumpled atop him.

With a great growl, Modig pushed the body away. He stood, eyeing the sacred creatures that menaced him. His white fur was now soaked red, his claws splaying a spotted pattern across the snow as he advanced a pace. The narglatches seemed reluctant now, stepping away from him--they were unwilling to let him proceed further, and did not seem to want him to retreat, but none was ready to attack next.

Suddenly, the pack divided, opening to allow one narglatch passage into the clearing formed in fear of Modig. The beast was bigger than the others, seven meters from head to tailtip, and two meters tall at the shoulder--only a little shorter than Modig at his full height. Its fur was brown, but mottled with a blue powder, probably from a nearby cave. Its mane of quills bristled as it walked, and scars on its face tightened as it advanced against its prey. At last Modig realized why there was a whole pack of narglatches here--they were still young. Somehow, a whole group had become beholden to this one tremendous beast, relying on each other for protection and hunting. If the pack were a family, this was the patriarch.

The patriarch did not slow as it advanced. It snarled, circling Modig. It feinted left, then lunged right, catching Modig as he tried to dodge away. It slammed its head into his chin, knocking him fully prone, arms outstretched. It planted its forepaw on his chest and pressed down, then gaped its maw and went for his neck. He barely got his hands in place to catch the falling jaws. The two of them stayed there, wrestling fiercely. The weight of the narglatch bore down on Modig, crushing the air from his lungs; he knew that he did not have long. He thought of his father, of Fohr-Ten, of all the Setti tribe and their hatred of him, their disgust; he thought of the fear he felt in his father's presence, the fear he felt standing before the swarm of narglatch, about to die. This was his last chance to escape, his last chance to survive; as he had done so many times before by accident, he did now on purpose: he wielded his emotions like a weapon, giving strength to his hands and ferocity to his heart. With great effort, he closed the roaring jaws of the narglatch patriarch.

Their eyes met. Ferocity met ferocity, and power met power. They struggled, brought to a standstill. An unstoppable force had met an immovable object, and what remained was such intensity as Modig had never felt. It was as though an understanding passed between them, in that moment, trapped in each other's claws, like two savages discovering civilization for the first time. At long last, they stopped struggling, and the narglatch patriarch backed down.

From his position on the ground, Modig got a better look at the beast, and corrected himself: the narglatch matriarch. He sat up, then stood. The narglatch pack did not move. The matriarch snapped at them, and they retreated to their lair. Modig reached out a cautious hand, stroking the slender mane-quills of the sacred beast. It allowed him, then stepped closer. Reaching up, he took hold of her quills and pulled himself onto her back. He expected her to throw him off, but she did not even complain. He pointed up the canyon, toward his home, and she agreed.

* * * * *

First Order Human Resources Office, Gane, Unknown Regions
"Tell me, Tiiona, what one characteristic do you believe qualifies you to serve as a Special Operations Officer on board a frigate for the First Order?"

Tiiona Cato nodded once. Of what use were interview questions for a position like this? Did it actually matter what her five greatest weaknesses were? Or that she did not have an anecdote about her greatest success? This position would mean traveling the Galaxy again, seeing other worlds, other species. Only the most trusted First Order officers were granted that chance. She set her slender jaw, pushed an errant brown hair over her ear, and tried not to smile. "Life experience." She kept her brown eyes as hard and cold as durasteel. She wanted this duty; she always had.

"Oh?" The friendly gray-suited officer behind the desk smiled broadly. He glanced down at her application. "Two years as a naval lieutenant and four years as an analyst prepares you for psychologically intense field work?"

She shook her head slightly. "No, sir, I suspect not. I was referring to my experiences prior to joining the Navy."

His eyebrows went up. "Your life as a civilian?"

Her eyes narrowed. "Is the daughter of an Imperial Security Bureau commander ever really a civilian?"

The commander frowned. He glanced at her application again. "Who was your--" He checked his console and failed to close his mouth appropriately. "Your father is Commander Cale Qualto?"

She smiled now, unable to contain the pride she felt at seeing others fear her father's name. "He is. After twelve years working for COMPNOR, he joined the First Order as a true believer in the ideals held by the old Empire. He instilled those beliefs in me. He also taught me everything he knows."

He smiled. He almost stammered, which would probably be a first for a recruitment officer. "I guess that explains your test scores. Even natural talent doesn't account for outstripping your classmates by that much." He glanced at his console again, then smiled. "It looks like Cato is your mother's maiden name. Why not keep the Qualto?"

She set her jaw again. She liked smiling, but a woman who smiles doesn't get promotions in the First Order. "I didn't want any favors."

He twisted his smile smugly. "And mentioning your father's name now is...?"

"Stating facts, sir." She did not back down from his gaze. "I'm not riding his coattails--I'm pointing out that living under his roof prepared me for far more than navigating new hyperroutes and studying reports from the other side of the galaxy."

The commander nodded. "There will be a severe training regimen. Commander Qualto may have given you some pointers, but this will be the most intense training of your life. Included are some of the techniques taught to the Knights of Ren. Special Operations Officers must be the most resolute, the most stalwart of all military officers. No one will hold back, not even if your father himself told them to."

She straightened her back just a tiny bit more, though it was almost impossible. "I wouldn't have it any other way, sir."

He nodded again. "If you don't wash out of the training program--most applicants do--you will receive a promotion to commander and be assigned to a First Order vessel, either patrolling the Unknown Regions or the Outer Rim." He raised an eyebrow at her again. "It is very likely you will never return to Gane after your departure. Do you understand?"

She let a smile of victory crease her faintly freckled cheeks. "Yes, sir."

He nodded again. "You leave for the Punisher to begin your training in one local week." He smiled; his eyes twinkled with mischief. "Good luck."

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Re: The Sins of the Father

Post by Archangel »

Village of the Setti tribe, Orto Plutonia
Modig and his narglatch, whom he had named Gemedren, returned to the Setti village quietly as the sky dimmed. There was no fanfare as the creature crept into town with her rider. It was startling, then, when Modig found Reti Evavar waiting for him. The priest stood in the canyon, apart from the village, near the Falla hut; the wry look on his aged face told Modig that the priest was expecting his return.

"You were victorious after all," Reti greeted him. "The gods knew you would be."

Modig barked a laugh. "It would have been nice if they had told me."

As Gemedren came to a stop, Reti reached up and stroked her scarred cheek. The narglatch growled. "Did you feel it?" The priest's voice was hopeful. "The presence of the gods. They gave power to your limbs and strength to your mind."

Was that where that power came from? Modig wondered. The gods? Part of him rejected the idea, but down to his bones, he knew that his salvation had come from something greater than himself. "I felt it."

Reti opened his larger eyes, lowering his proboscis into a Talz smile. "Would you like to feel it again?"

That question needed less internal debate. "Absolutely."

Reti nodded. "Come," he offered, "Stay with me, in the village. Myna and Sibbe will make room for another student at our table. I will train you to encounter the gods at will, to use their gifts to guide the tribe and lead us to victory and peace. You will have power like no other Talz, and when the time comes, you will take my place. What do you say?"

Modig felt pulled to acquiesce, immediately and without question. But his eyes flitted over Reti's shoulder, to the hut he shared with his father. Onyr had stumbled out onto the snow, scowling. Modig stammered, "I-- I must think about it." Dismounting, he pulled Gemedren past Reti, toward the hut.

Reti quirked his proboscis to one side in disappointment. "Do not take too long, young Modig. This offer cannot stand forever." The priest departed, leaving Modig with his father.

Onyr glared at the departing Talz. "What did that old liar want?"

His son took a deep breath. "He wants me to stay with him and study to become a priest."

Onyr cuffed Modig on the ear. "I'll have none of that! Your mother held to that superstitious nonsense, and look where it got her--eaten by narglatches, no thanks to you! No son of mine will become a priest." He turned to Gemedren. "What's this, then? You brought home a pet instead of a meal? Useless pile of hail."

"She is not a pet!" Modig objected. He stood taller, letting his anger guide him. "She is my mount, Gemedren." He warmed up to the story, watching his father as he told it. It was his greatest tale yet. "You should have seen me, father! Two wild narglatches I killed, and I faced a whole herd more, when Gemedren, their matriarch, stepped forward to attack me! We fought to a standstill, until... we finally understood each other. She is wise and powerful, and she agreed to be my mount. I do not own her; we work together."

Onyr snorted. "You killed two, you say? Pity you didn't pick up the bodies." He drew a knife from his belt. "I suppose the meat from this one is as good as any."

His advance toward Gemedren was cut short. Modig hoisted the small wretch by his neckfur and hurled him toward the hut. "She is my mount! She is not for you to touch, much less to eat." He shook his head. "I should have known as much, father. You never change. But I do." He pointed toward the village. "I am going to live with Reti, to become a priest, and to lead our people to victory and peace." He nodded slowly. "But don't worry. I will still deliver food to you after my hunts. It is the Talz way to care for our own. But you can survive off your fat for a few days until I go out again." He turned, pulling Gemedren with him. The narglatch snarled at Onyr as she showed her back.

Onyr stood and leveled his knife at his son. "Don't you walk away from me, boy! You will pay for attacking me! In fact, it's high time you paid for killing your mother, too! Don't forget that it's your fault she's dead!"

Modig paused. Old habits died hard. He wanted to turn back, to face his punishment. But something stronger compelled him forward. He glanced over his shoulder. "I know. But I have my punishment: my guilt, here in my heart, forever. Now it's time you live alone with yours." He pressed on.

"Come back here, boy!" Onyr danced impotently. "You thrice-damned snow-spawned pile of hail! Boy! Modig!"

* * * * *

Imperial-class Star Destroyer Punisher
"Welcome aboard, Lieutenant."

Tiiona bowed her head. "Thank you, Captain." She shook the hand proffered by Captain Darro Zapal of the Punisher firmly. His grip tightened around hers--no doubt a test. She held strong for a moment, and he smiled. "It's an honor to be here."

"No doubt," said the Captain. "She's a beautiful ship, and she has served the First Order almost as well as she served the old Empire." He gestured, and they started walking. The hangar was abustle with activity--Stormtroopers and pilots and officers and technicians going this way and that, taking care of business. Tiiona's arrival was generally unimportant, and she was curious why the Captain had come to meet her instead of some functionary.

"How did she survive the war?" the operative asked.

Zapal smiled. "She wasn't at Jakku, if that's what you're asking. There were a few Imperial ships like that--out of the way, and easily forgotten by the Republic. Those fools were so eager to disarm themselves that they never quite followed up on the locations of all our equipment. It made the trip into the Unknown Regions that much easier."

Tiiona raised an eyebrow. "You were there for that? You remember it?" The excitement in her voice made her blush. "Forgive me, Captain--you don't seem that old."

Zapal smirked for but a moment, then it was gone. "I was a navigation officer then. Ensign Zapal. But the First Order recognized my potential, and it was not long before I was in charge of my old vessel." As the blast doors to the hangar closed behind them, Zapal's tone was almost paternal. "Perhaps sometime I can tell you more about it. Commander Qualto's family is always welcome on the Punisher."

That was it, she realized. That daft recruitment officer had told Zapal about her family connections. So much for not getting any special treatment. "I guess the Commander thought it prudent you know about my father," she said hesitantly.

"On the contrary," Zapal replied, "Commander Geedhur made no mention of it. But I recognized you immediately, from the holos your father kept. He and I served together, many years ago." He smiled. "But don't worry, Lieutenant. I have no intention of going easy on you. Your training will be at least as hard as that of your fellow cadets--in no small part because you're a woman. Ever since the old Empire, women have had a hard time advancing through the ranks--but those that work hard and truly deserve it are well-rewarded."

Tiiona straightened her spine. "I look forward to it."

Zapal nodded. "Good." They stopped at a door, and he gestured toward it. "This is where you will be sleeping--and training--until you either fail miserably or gain your promotion."

She stepped toward the door, but paused when he did not accompany her. "Are you not coming in?"

"I will let the other trainees introduce themselves." He clasped his hands behind his back. "Your special treatment ends here, Lieutenant." He turned on his heel and departed, saluting to two troopers that happened to be passing by.

Tiiona swallowed hard, nodded to herself, and entered.

The door opened into a large chamber, tall enough to span two decks and broad enough to house a barracks, but it was too small to be a hangar. It had probably once been a cargo bay, but instead of crates and boxes and rations, it was full of obstacle courses, weapons ranges, and at least two classroom settings. In one of them, about fifteen men and women--mostly men--were gathered, waiting. Tiiona joined them. She slipped in between two men in officer dress. The one on her right was tall, slender, and hard-faced. Every angle of his features was sharp, precise, as if chiseled into place by a mediocre sculptor. His ears clung to the side of his head and his perfectly trimmed black hair was pristine.

She held a hand out to him. "Lieutenant Tiiona Cato."

He turned. His eyes were dark blue, cool and unconcerned. His lip twitched, and after long years in the First Order's navy, Tiiona knew that was suppressing a sneer. But he took her hand and nodded. "Lieutenant Ruto Janrand." He released her and returned his attention to the front of the group.

She turned to her left. This man was about her height, blond hair, and generally a little softer than Janrand. Though he stood at attention, his pose was less recruitment-poster-boy than Janrand's had been. She held her hand out to him as well. "Lieutenant Tiiona Cato."

He turned, his brown eyes meeting hers evenly. He smiled in a way that involved his entire face. "Ensign Sion Ecker," he answered, shaking her hand firmly and genially.

"At last!" declared an imperious voice from the front of the room. "Lieutenant Cato has finally decided to join us." Tiiona wanted to reply, to defend herself, but she knew from long experience that no excuse--no matter how true--could save you from a trainer's wrath. "You can thank her for having refresher cleaning duty every night this week." There was a collective groan from most of the cadets--Tiiona, Janrand, and Ecker excluded, at least.

"Now," said the voice, whose owner finally stepped into Tiiona's view, "we can get started." He was short, angry, and held a long switch--the quintessential training officer. "My name is Major Corr Typhe. You will call me Major, Sir. I will call you whatever I want. The hardest training of your life is about to begin."

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Re: The Sins of the Father

Post by Archangel »

Village of the Setti tribe, Orto Plutonia
The home of Reti Evavar was set apart from the village, but not by much. Where the Falla hut was further into the open canyon, exposed to the elements and the wild beasts, the Evavar manse--for so it seemed to the meager eyes of its newest inhabitant--was nestled into a cave, tucked away from storms and from prying eyes. Secrecy, Modig would come to learn, was a crucial element in the priesthood of the Talz.

Reti pushed the door into the home; it groaned under its own weight, which drew Modig's attention. His father's hut had no door at all, only a flap to keep the wind at bay. A door was a luxury, and it was not the last. As his eyes flitted around the room, he caught sight of one extravagance after another: plush beds blanketed with narglatch pelts, lamps guttering with flame, a long table and four sturdy chairs for dining, and storage cabinets for cookware. Modig decided right off that he could become accustomed to living like this.

But Reti evidently misunderstood his interest. "I know things are sparse, but over the generations, we have found that depriving ourselves of some of the comforts that tribal leaders take can guide us to better know the gods."

Modig nodded, not quite hearing, or not quite caring.

The priest gestured at the other two Talz in the room. "This is Sibbe Kule," Reti introduced the first. He was a short Talz, almost a full meter smaller than the gargantuan Modig. His fur curled naturally, framing his face with childlike innocence--or was that the twinkle in his eye? In the dim lighting of the hut, he had his larger eyes open, and they seemed to pop as he took in the new arrival. He placed his left hand out, palm up; when Modig responded in the traditional fashion, placing his right hand in--or rather, around--the proffered limb, Sibbe completed the gesture and bowed his head.

When Sibbe stepped back, the last Talz stepped forward. Modig had seen her before, sometimes on the tribal hunts, sometimes around the village, but always with a fire in her eye. "This is Myna Brentil," said Reti, "my most promising pupil." She did not blush at the compliment, as Modig expected her to, but stood a little straighter, owning the claim. She was proud of her identity. From what he had seen of her on previous hunts, she was quick-witted, keen-eyed, and a little too brash. When he extended his palm, her rejoinder was quick, pulling her claws through his fur.

He liked her immediately.

"We Setti are trained to be hunters and warriors from an early age," Reti was saying. "Especially after your victory in the wilds, I do not doubt your prowess in battle, young Modig. But here, in this place, you will be trained as a priest of the goddess Kalti, the god Fask, and the god Muot. Perhaps, in time, you will learn to speak to other gods as well. Further training in combat, you cannot get from me. Are you ready to begin?"

Modig glanced between Reti and Myna, then over at Sibbe, until finally resting on Reti again. "Immediately?"

Sibbe flourished his hands and lowered his proboscis. "As Fask asked of Eriset, first priest of his order, 'Why wait?'"

The would-be priests engaged in their training in a second room--a second room!--of the Evavar home. This room had small pallets on the floor, but the space was otherwise bare. Modig found it an incredible luxury, not only to have such space, but to use it to hold nothing at all. Under Reti's direction, he sat between Myna and Sibbe on one of the pallets. Reti sat on another pallet opposite Modig; he spread his hands wide and intoned softly, "Hear again the words of Kalti to her priest Baldo in ages gone past: 'Whatever happens at all, happens as it should; watch closely and see the truth,' and, 'Death is an icicle above your bed, about to break; while you yet live, do good.'"

In his normal voice, he continued, "Think on these things. Embrace the wisdom of the gods and put behind yourself all emotional troubles. The gods speak most clearly when we are without turmoil in our minds."

Modig recalled how he had felt when facing down the pack of narglatches--how his heart had burned with fire looking into Gemedren's eyes. He had achieved his greatest power while embroiled in hotheaded emotions. Had he been wrong? Or was emotion only the first step to discovery, and true mastery required utter rationality? Modig did not know. The Talz warrior loathed the idea that he would need to become some frail push-over, blown down by the first gust of hot air from an angry tribesman. But this was only the first lesson--he paid attention, for he had much to learn.

* * * * *

Imperial-class Star Destroyer Punisher
Major Typhe glared into her eyes. She was on the obstacle course, knee-deep in mud, which was convenient for the vertically-challenged Typhe. "What do you think you're doing, limp-neck?"

Tiiona opened her mouth to answer, but Typhe cut her off. "Did I say you could speak? I told you to go across this course, not down it! Who in the Nine Hells taught you to run, Cato, a Hutt?" He continued berating her for a few minutes; she took it in silence, spending most of that time berating herself for her failure. Commander Qualto would have been disappointed. A simple obstacle course should have been no problem for her--and indeed, it would have been, but Typhe had ordered two other trainees to... deter her progress. Her mission was to cross the obstacle course, and she thought that was the case for everyone else, too--but two dumb boys that she had pegged as inevitable washouts were on a mission to make sure she failed her mission.

And they succeeded. They had successfully tripped her, dumping into the mud pit. Try as she might, she was stuck, and only after the rest of the day's activities had been completed did Typhe come back to her for her dressing-down. The more he spoke, the more she realized that he was not about to let some girl--any female, really--through his training program. He was hellbent to knock her loose, even drum her out of the service, if he could.

Her only choice, obviously, was to double down and try all the harder. She'd be damned before she let that bucket of Nikto squirt keep her from anything she wanted.

"Now drag yourself out of there and get cleaned up! Be at the classroom in thirty--or is that too much for you to handle, limp-neck?"

Tiiona resisted the urge to sneer. She saluted sharply, "accidentally" flinging mud in Major Typhe's direction. She missed, which she appreciated--if she'd struck him with it as she wanted, she probably would have been put on boot-shine duty on top of everything else. Already she was on latrine duty (with the rest of the trainees, at least), Typhe was out to ruin her career, Janrand--clearly the top of the class, and destined for greatness, though whether that was everyone's opinion or just his Tiiona had yet to discover--wouldn't give her the time of day. She didn't want help, but when the time came, she wanted resources--but he only saw her as inferior. She had to change that.

And then there were the nicknames. "Limp-neck" was what Typhe called lieutenants. Ensigns, like Ecker, who was now approaching, were "swine." She glowered at Ecker. "I don't want your pity," she snapped.

"No pity," Ecker answered. He held his hand out from the edge, and she glanced at his face. He was right--there was no pity there. He was just offering her his hand. She glanced around the room again. The others had gone off to get ready, she supposed, but when they had been here, their faces were a mix of disappointment and embarrassment--except for the knuckle-draggers that Typhe had put up to her ruination. They had laughed. But Ecker wasn't laughing, and he wasn't blushing, and he wasn't scowling. He was just helping.

She was still loath to accept it, but she knew that if she didn't, she'd never make it to class on time. Now she did sneer, grabbed his hand, and the two of them pulled her free.

By the time she was out, she only had twenty-four minutes to get to the classroom. Two minutes back to her room, nine minutes in the 'fresher, ten minutes shining boots, straightening uniforms, and tying up hair put her on a brisk walk to the classroom with only three minutes to spare. And wouldn't it just rankle Typhe's liver to see her arrive early? She smiled, but only for a moment. She met with Ecker--Sion--as he entered. The other trainees were filtering in, too, so they grabbed a pair of seats quickly. She hadn't intended to sit next to him, but that was how it worked out.

"The classroom" was not the space where the trainees had first met--that was "the meeting hall"--but rather the other table-and-chairs setting in the former cargo bay. There was a screen and projector, flanked by a large desk, presumably where an instructor would sit, but this was the first time they had been called to the classroom for anything but marching orders. And Typhe never sat; probably a side effect of being too short to see over anyone on his own level. The chair at the head desk was filled, though, by a creature Tiiona had never seen in person.

His face was almost human, but his forehead swept high and back, showcasing his dark, leathery skin. He had no hair, but his temples bloomed out to the side and extended back downward in tremendous curved horns. His eyes were golden and did not flit, but flowed gently from one trainee to the next. When they fell on Tiiona, she felt exposed down to her soul.

Typhe interrupted the sensation. "This is Vosen Raeki. Today, and every day until you limp-necks and swine get it right, he's going to teach you about how to control yourselves in the presence of enemies of the First Order." He nodded curtly to the Iktotchi, then left. He almost seemed in a hurry. Did Typhe actually fear this creature? Just because of a little unsettling feeling?

Raeki stood. "What can you tell me about the Jedi?"

Someone scoffed. At least two laughed aloud. "They're a myth," said one. "Completely made-up," said another. "Republic fairy tales so their whelps can sleep at night."

The ponderous man held up a hand. "Please. You are applying to the most prestigious corps of naval intelligence officers in the First Order. Put aside your assumptions and what you have been told by the propaganda machine, and think for yourselves. Jedi did exist, and though we seek to exterminate their plagued ideas from our galaxy, there may be some yet. My own grandfather, fool that he was, belonged to their number." He leaned forward, eyes gazing intently at the students, who were suddenly self-conscious and awkward. "But of all the powers ascribed to the Jedi, which poses the greatest threat to the First Order?"

"Their lightsabers!" someone exclaimed.

Raeki shook his head. "Their weapons are formidable, but they can be overpowered. You will even learn how in the coming months. What can they actually do that threatens not just our lives, but our way of life?"

"Their so-called 'Force powers,'" said Janrand. Tiiona glanced at him. He did not acknowledge her.

But the Iktotchi shook his head again. "I need specifics, Lieutenant. To move with the mind can be dangerous, but we can protect against it. Thrown lightning needs only a shield. Faster speeds, quicker reflexes, all these can be trained into you as well as born in through the Force. But what can destroy the First Order without even touching it?"

Tiiona spoke. "Their ability to affect our minds."

"Yes!" Raeki pointed at her with a broad smile. "Precisely. More than anything else, a Jedi's ability to read and influence our thoughts is their greatest threat. They need not even face us, but can glean from the shadows all they need to defeat us. They can change tides in a battle by invigorating their own and demoralizing their enemies. They can spark a revolution by spreading their ideas like a disease--just as they did against the old Empire. Do you really think it fell because the Rebellion had superior numbers or strength or strategy?" He chortled. "Of course not! The Empire fell because they failed to do what was necessary to establish order: eliminate the infectious Jedi from the galaxy."

He nodded, gesturing toward the exterior hull. "That is why the Knights of Ren have come together: they pursue the ultimate goal of eradicating that wretched faith from the galaxy." He pointed back to the trainees. "But they need your help. Herd immunity is impossible without at least some of us taking the inoculation." He smiled, pointing at the deck. "That is why I am here. This class is your antidote to the most insidious weapon the Republic wields: the faith of the Jedi."

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Re: The Sins of the Father

Post by Archangel »

Village of the Setti tribe, Orto Plutonia
"Feel the fire against your skin. Know it. Embrace it."

The flame licked Modig's hand like a beloved pet. He resisted the urge to wince, but he knew he was gritting his teeth. His large eyes were shut tight, and he glared at the fire with his smaller ones. There was a slight tremble in his hand now. But he had held it there, in the fire, for two minutes longer than Myna's record. He wielded power by sheer will.

"Now release the flame, Modig!" Reti commanded him. "You fight this pain with your great strength, like a troppus. You must fight it with your mind, like a narglatch on the hunt. Do not admit the power of pain and overcome it with your own; deny pain its power, and stand secure in your freedom from it."

Modig didn't know what that meant. He snarled, pulling back his hand. "I am resisting the fire!" he snapped. "What more do you want from me?" He nursed his hand, sucking at the heat that rolled off it. He was angry again; Reti did not like that, but the priest was ever patient with his pupils.

Reti shook his head. "The point is not to show off your resilience, but to free up your resilience to fight other battles. Pain is but a small thorn in a pit of spears; if you expend your energy on it, you will be too weak when the real battle begins."

Sibbe interrupted. "What is the real battle, Master? If it is not physical, is it spiritual?"

Reti nodded approvingly. "Very good, Sibbe. You are always open to insight from the gods." He gestured for the three students to join him in a circle. "It is time I began teaching you one of the greatest abilities granted by the gods to their priests: the influence of the mind. By the power of the gods, we can glimpse the thoughts of others. With great practice, we can even begin to give thoughts to them, and convince them to think a certain way. A devout priest can even guide his entire tribe, and they may never know that they were directed at all." He smiled. "But that is a lesson for another day. Let us begin with a simple thing. I will think of something; each of you will tell me what it is that I am thinking."

Silence reigned. For a long time, no one moved. Reti directed, "Reach out with your mind. Brush against my thoughts with your own, and you will pick up what I have on the surface. Let the gods fill you, grow you, expand you. When you can fill the entire room with your presence, touching my mind will be easy."

Sibbe closed his eyes. Modig tried to do likewise, but found he could not mimic the others' behavior with his eyes closed. He peeked one small eye open toward Sibbe, to watch his steps, trying to discern what to do next. Myna caught him off-guard by speaking first. "You think, 'Beware the white steps in the snow.'"

"'Darkness fills the absence of light, but flees from even a single spark,'" Sibbe continued.

Modig, meanwhile, heard nothing. He saw nothing. He "felt" nothing, whatever that meant. He growled, scowling, scrunching his eyes into fine points. His anger spilled over to his hands and feet, which he tensed fiercely.

"Relax!" said Reti, "Be patient. Your time will come."

"I am tired of being patient!" Modig jumped to his feet, throwing aside the pillows and nearly tossing a table full of candles. Myna and Sibbe looked at him, eyes wide.

Reti smiled. "Modig," he said softly, "I spoke nary a word."

Modig took a deep breath, calming a bit as realization dawned. Slowly, he sat down and resumed the exercise. It seemed like it would be useful eventually, but for now, he dearly missed the hunt, and Gemedren, and battle. But those times would come again, all too soon, he knew, so he tried to make the best of his tutelage under Reti Evavar.

* * * * *

Imperial-class Star Destroyer Punisher
"You are thinking of your family back on Telderosa," Raeki told another trainee, barely more than a boy. "And no, they will not be able to hide your tears."

The boy broke down and wept. Two other cadets led him from the room. The experience of dueling Raeki's telepathy was harrowing, Tiiona was given to understand. Five times now, a student was subjected to the Iktotchi burrowing into his mind, and five times, the trainee had fled the room feeling violated and afraid. These were men who had been trained to withstand normal measures of torture. Tiiona could only imagine that Raeki's abilities were on a completely new level for them; in this program, even the washouts were formidable, and she was not about to underestimate the alien's power.

"Who's next?" the Iktotchi asked. His yellow eyes flowed over the room until they settled near Tiiona. "How about you?"

Lieutenant Ruto Janrand stood and bowed briefly. He came forward and sat in the chair that Raeki designated. "How shall we proceed?"

Raeki smiled, showing sharp teeth. "Like the rest of your classmates, Lieutenant, you have secrets. It is your job to keep them from me, and my job to find them out anyway. Are you ready to begin?"

Janrand frowned. "I don't understand. You clearly can read minds. How do I keep my thoughts from you?"

Raeki grinned. "Ah, I did not say to keep your thoughts from me. I said to keep your secrets. Think on whatever you like. Just know that I am coming for your secrets--yes, even that one."

Janrand snapped up a glare at the Iktotchi. He scowled, sure in his reliability.

Raeki rolled his eyes. "You shouldn't make it so easy, Lieutenant. I suspect Lieutenant Cato is quite attractive underneath her uniform, but no, I don't think you will see the reality anytime soon."

Tiiona's eyes went wide, and Janrand blushed. The man actually blushed. She almost whooped in victory. Other students oohed like schoolboys. Janrand objected, "That hardly seems fair. You speak to us of secrets and somehow we are supposed to avoid thinking of them?" He sneered. "It's probably all parlor tricks, anyway. Cato's the only woman here. Being attracted to her makes me red-blooded. Anyone could have guessed that."

Raeki shrugged. "I find her a rare beauty, and I have black blood. What do you think of that?"

Janrand's sneer deepened. "I don't really care."

"Start to care, Lieutenant." Raeki leaned closer. "Because next time, I won't take the one you left out for me; I'll dig deep and tell everyone about the scared little boy waiting for his father the war hero to come home... and what you did to him."

Janrand's eye twitched, but he backed down. Unlike those who had gone before, he returned to his seat. Raeki called out, "Your turn, Lieutenant Cato."

Tiiona had tried to learn from the mistakes the others had made. She knew the old game--make someone think of something by telling them not to think of it. Finding secrets was easy if you told your victim up front that you were looking for secrets. But no doubt Raeki was more capable than just that; she had to bury her secrets, her fears, her doubts, along with everything else that could be weakening or embarrassing--especially with Major Typhe still looking for a way to kick her out of the program. As she approached Raeki and sat in the chair in front of him, she occupied her mind. First, she counted cards in an imaginary pazaak deck. Then she went through the list of winning sabacc hands. When she got to Idiot's Array, she started enumerating the flaws of Lieutenant Janrand, making sure each was alliterative. She started with "insufferable idiot," and continued with "feckless phlegm-bucket."

Raeki was concentrating hard on her now, something he had not yet done with the other cadets. When she got to "angry, arrogant, antisocial ape," Raeki laughed aloud. He waved her back to her seat. "I'll get you yet, Lieutenant Cato, but I'll let you go for today. No need to insult Lieutenant Janrand any further." He paused, then smiled. "Excellent work, Lieutenant. That is a difficult skill to master, but you seem well on your way. You have a natural talent for this business."

She smiled and bowed. "Must run in the family." As she returned to her seat, she caught both Janrand and Major Typhe glaring at her. She smirked at the former and winked at the latter. In his seat, Sion was snickering.

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Re: The Sins of the Father

Post by Archangel »

Imperial-class Star Destroyer Punisher
The electric bolt caught Tiiona in the thigh and she went down hard--just like everyone who had gone before her. Raeki's capacity to predict their movements was uncanny. He stood at the far end of the obstacle course, which had been reconfigured to present not just one route, but seven. Raeki waited patiently at the finish line with a bolt gun, stunning students just enough to make their teeth chatter and their muscles spasm. No matter which route a student took, they always caught a bolt before crossing the finish line.

A shadow fell over Tiiona; she scowled up at the Iktotchi. He held out his hand, and she ignored it. As she got to her feet, her stunned leg shook, threatening to throw her down again, but she caught herself on a wall. Glaring at her trainer, she stumped back toward the group. Raeki bowed at her, and she ignored that, too.

Raeki called out encouragement to the beleaguered cadets. "Resisting telepathy in an interrogation is easy enough. Your whole focus can be dedicated to blinding a telepath, throwing up walls to stop him from finding what he wants to know. But a Jedi's telepathy takes on a new role in combat; no longer is he seeking information, but reading signals. You are not trying to resist his probes; you are focused on your tactics, your strategy, your goals. A Jedi can read these things as you plan them, as you execute them. Some unenlightened fools call this 'precognition'--as if the Jedi can see the future. It is nothing so mystical; they simply grasp what you plan to do, and they prevent you from doing it."

Tiiona watched as Sion entered the obstacle course. As usual, he was the most out-of-place among the cadets; where she and Janrand and the others had crept and stalked and sprinted, Sion strolled. He was just a civilian, ambling through a park. He picked one of the seven paths and started down it, then changed his mind at the last moment and took another path.

Odd though he was, Tiiona liked him. He was honest; he was fair; he was strong-willed. She wanted him to succeed here almost as much as she wanted to succeed herself. She tried to distract Raeki. "How do you engage in strategy without thinking about it?"

"Ah," the Iktotchi shouted back, unseen, "the problem is not in thinking about strategy, but in deciding on it. How many paths did you weigh in your mind, Lieutenant, before you committed to just one? Why not keep weighing them? Why not imagine alternatives, think outside the box? Avoid a linear mind."

"That's nonsense," Janrand yelled out. "Once you have taken a path, you must follow it. What use is it pretending otherwise?"

"Two benefits stand out to me, Lieutenant: first, creative thinking has only ever helped win wars, and nothing is more creative than imagining you're doing something different than you're actually doing. Second, a Jedi can't necessarily see what you're doing, just what you think you're doing. Perhaps even you can grasp how it might be beneficial to-- Ungh!"

His grunt drew the crowd of students around the obstacle course rather than through it. When they reached the other side, Raeki sat on the floor, laughing. Ensign Sion Ecker stood over him, wielding the wounded Iktotchi's bolt gun, a wry smile on his young face. Raeki gestured to the successful cadet. "Or you could ask Ensign Ecker how he accomplished the task, and emulate him!"

* * * * *

Village of the Setti tribe, Orto Plutonia

The quarterstaff broke over Modig's shoulder blade. He arched his back and yowled. The sound was muffled by the thick black mask he wore. His claws tore into the mask as he ripped it from his head. "Why must we suffer these indignities?" he demanded.

Reti gently retrieved another mask--probably the fifth replacement for Modig--and handed it to the brutish Talz. "No lesson is an indignity," he replied, "You must learn to anticipate your enemies. It is not enough to read them in the moment; you must see the future before it happens, and react while it still forms. Only then can you prevent evils from befalling you and your tribe."

Modig sighed. Reti struck at Sibbe, then Myna. Each was about as successful as Modig had been, although Sibbe seemed aware of the danger. Modig watched the other Talz; he was no fighter at heart, which--in a way--made the priesthood perfect for him. He saw the world from a different angle than Modig; for Modig, everything was predator or prey, but Sibbe saw in such a wide range of color. Modig tried to emulate that. He almost laughed at himself when he realized that he, Modig Falla, the brute, the champion of Gemedren, was following in the footsteps of a peacenik like Sibbe.

The hunter donned his new mask. He calmed himself, trying to feel the space around him. He even prayed, asking the gods for clarity.

Nothing happened.

Modig scowled beneath the mask. Frustration did not begin to describe how he felt; this was yet another failure piled on top of his entire time with Reti and his training for the priesthood, and no matter how hard he worked, how hard he focused, he could not achieve what the old man considered simple actions! How was he supposed to become a priest, much less work the kind of wonders that Reti told him were in his future? Modig could not abide lies, and if Reti did not speak honestly, the warrior would make the old man pay!

Sparks of light pierced his vision. Color swirled through the blackness. It seemed an eternity before it coalesced, and when it did, Modig saw himself--standing in the middle of the priest's home, being struck with a quarterstaff over his right shoulder. Then the vision faded, and the blackness returned.

Then he got hit in his right shoulder with a quarterstaff.

There was a moment of silence. Then: "Modig? Is there a problem?"

Modig turned his head slightly. "No. Should there be?"

Reti sounded like he was grinning. "You did not react to being struck."

"It was not," Modig answered hesitantly, "unexpected." What he had not expected was that his emotional outburst had spurred him toward the revelation; Reti had been more than clear that stoic rationalism was the key to success in the priesthood. Was it possible that he had discovered something Reti knew nothing about? Or was he doing something that Reti would disapprove of? Modig wasn't sure, but for the moment, he planned to use this advantage to the fullest.

"Excellent," Reti replied. "Now, let us try something else. Myna, Sibbe, do not react. Modig, focus on your friends; ask the gods to protect them. Seek their good. If you speak in their defense, I will stay my hand. Understood?"

Modig nodded. Silence returned, and darkness reigned. Seconds passed. Perhaps minutes. Modig could not tell.

Sibbe cried out.

"Focus, Modig!" Reti ordered.

The warrior sneered. He latched onto that frustration, then dug deeper; he thought about Fohr-Ten, and about his own father, and all the indignities and humiliations he had suffered, cast out by the tribe. He thought of his failures and his shortcomings. He dove into that anger, swam in it, reveled in it.

The sparks returned, then the swirling color. An image coalesced, then a whole world. A thousand sights passed before his eyes, not just one as before. He saw Sibbe lying on the ground, his fur stained with blood. He saw Myna with bared teeth and shining claws. He saw a huge wedge, like the head of a spear, soaring across the skies of Orto Plutonia. He saw strange creatures, like Talz, but small and smooth-skinned, all in black and white. He saw another creature, of the same size, with brown fur on its head and smooth skin; it reeked of danger, but it looked frail.

He saw the village of the Setti burning.


He opened his eyes. He was on his back, and his mask had been removed. "What happened?"

Reti's smile held more mischief than Modig liked. "You tell me, my boy. What did you see?"

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