Litii’s hands danced over the components feverishly. She didn’t know how long she’d been in the workshop by this point. All she knew is there was a task to finish. It had gripped her since the incident in the cave…no, the other incident. The second time something had spoken to her in her mind. Was it a crystal, a cube, or Jhoren? The Force? She wasn’t fully sure, but it had shown her things and she’d understood.
She also understood other things in the throes of the vision. There were so many things dancing around in her head that it made things hard for the Mirialan to focus. Was she still in the vision or was it simply still with her? There was no way of truly knowing at the moment and she didn’t really care. There was just the work right now. The necessary work.
“Alright, I’ll look into it. It gives me something to do anyway.”
She remembered saying that to Jhoren and wandering towards the exit of Veles. The sounds of speeders and freight craft had filled the air and Litii had been glad when she’d finally exited the colony. A cave with a source of power in it sounded an awful lot like a strange thing. Those are what she’d told Seela that she, Litii, would keep an ear out for while waiting to see what their next steps would be.
It hadn’t taken long to find the cave in the wildlands. In fact, Litii had known where to go instinctively when Jhoren had begun to describe it even before he mentioned the spiders. Verrac was fond of the cave. Seela was fond of the cave. That thing had spoken to her in the cave. There was no denying there was a nexus of power there as Jhoren suspected.
The darkness of the cave had overtaken Litii quickly and she’d taken out her staff rather than her rifle. Not the training saberstaff that Seela had made for her, but a genuine, carved staff like Litii had used for drills on Mirial. And before drills too. Before joining the Republic there had been the desert and the staff.
“Wha! Oof,” Litii cried out as she fell and tumbled onto her butt after the flurry of movement from her elderly grandfather.
“Stay alert, granddaughter, the sands are always treacherous.”
A ten year old Litii looked up at her grandfather with the frustrated eyes of a child suddenly surprised by a cruel trick, but the expression melted at the kindly expression on her grandfather’s face. There was not malice…only gentle humor with a hint of playfulness. The old man offered a hand and helped his granddaughter up.
“Now…since you were clearly paying attention…tell me why we take a staff with us into the desert.”
“Uh, because it’s hard to walk up sand?”
Her grandfather laughed and his head moved in a circle of sorts as he nodded and shook his head at the same time.
“Yes and no. There are practical matters, of course, but we have many other options these days beyond a simple staff. However, we carry them still as a matter of faith when it comes to fate. Look on the staff you dropped, child, and listen to my words. One day it will be your turn to walk with Fate in the desert and I would have you prepared.”
Litii stooped and grabbed up the fallen staff as her grandfather began to speak.
“As Fate, the staff has two ends, child. Not a beginning and an end, but rather the point that makes contact with the world and the point that makes contact with the infinite. Fate is both these things and all else is between them. This is only one of the reminders though.
As Fate, the staff may strike hard, swift, and leave one dazed in an aspect of war and pain. However, the staff, like Fate, may also guide and protect. The same end that strikes may be used to test for loose sand and to help yourself up a dune. Most of the time the staff simply is though. As Fate.
As Fate, a good staff is balanced. It works in both capacities without tiring one’s body. It simply is. When properly balanced, the staff is an extension of the body as Fate is the extension of the soul. Each action in harmony with your movements as each action you take is in harmony with Fate.”
Litii barely stifled another yawn as she looked up at her grandfather. He saw it…as he always did, but this time he did not knock Litii over. Instead the old man held out a hand.
“…we’ll continue another day, granddaughter. We can speak of symbols, Fate, and meaning another day. There are years yet before you walk with Fate in the desert…and you need your rest. Just remember the staff and carry it with you if you forget your way.”
Have I forgotten my way?
The question had echoed through Litii’s mind as she worked her way through the cave. Dipping, dodging, and striking with the staff. All the old movements were there from training with her family. The preparation for her time in the desert with Fate. She could rush forward as the scouring wind and playfully dart back like a zephyr.
She struck the legs of the spiders like Fate strikes the fools that would claim mastery over it. Sometimes she stepped lightly into the deeper dark and used the staff to find her way to avoid conflict. Even here in the cave, the staff was a guide that drew her deeper and deeper down towards the massive crystal cluster.
The path seemed to take longer this way, but she didn’t mind. Waiting and watching were second nature to Litii these days. Endless time doing such things for the Republic had required it of her. Litii had learned. She’d become the Sergeant over time.
“Most of all, recruit, remember that when you put the uniform on that you are a symbol of the Republic. You are its public face. You are a symbol of its protection. You carry with it all the honor of the Republic and should conduct yourself accordingly. That said…welcome to the forces of the Republic, recruit.”
Litii gave her first awkward and faltering salute at that. She was sixteen. The Mandalorian Wars were still threatening everything and she woke up every day wondering if today would be the day they came to Mirial. Her parents and grandparents kept insisting that she just keep preparing for her walk with Fate in the desert, but the threat of war just kept being there. It had been there for so many years of her life now, but it just kept seeming worse with each passing year. That had been what had taken her to the recruiter.
No one was going to stop her. This was her building her Fate, of course, but at the same time the weight of things undone hung over the dinner table until it came time for Litii to leave for training and then, inevitably, the front lines. The young Mirialan dressed solemnly that morning and looked herself over in the mirror as she finished tugging on the uniform.
She sighed and looked to her training staff in the corner. Part of her wanted to take it with her, but the recruiter had said that the Republic would provide all she needed. It was best to travel light as they would likely be traveling a lot over the coming months. Litii shook her head and grabbed her pack as she turned to go and shut the door on the past.
Is it forgetting when you choose? Is forgetting itself a choice?
Litii walked heavily into the crystal chamber. It had taken a long time and one of the spiders had gotten in a solid blow. Nothing to threaten her life, of course, but she was going to be sore for a couple of days. The Mirialan clacked her way across the stone floor and went to hide in a small alcove she’d seen when down in the cave with Verrac and the others.
Sliding her way down the wall, Litii sighed to herself and set the staff in her lap. There was no combat here. The strange, whispering voice in her head wasn’t around either. All there was in the chamber were the crystals, Litii, and Fate. The crystals were beautiful, but there was nothing about them that spoke to Litii as a source of power. Was she wrong? Was Jhoren wrong? Then came the tug.
The Mirialan’s gaze drifted to her right. At the base of a crystal, a single cube rested with a strange weight about it. That’s what she thought she saw anyway. Reaching out with her staff, Litii brought it closer and reached out with her hand when it was close enough.
That was when it happened.
Litii landed roughly on the sand and cursed. What had that thing been? A trap? Some sort of grenade? There had been some sort of flash and…and…was she on sand? The Mirialan opened her eyes and looked around as the dunes of Mirial stretched endlessly around her.
“No, no no. I was just…wasn’t I? I was…in a cave. Viscara…not here. Not here.”
Licking her lips, Litii felt the moisture leave them quickly under the sun and her training began to kick in. She looked herself and her surroundings over quickly. There were her clothes, of course, the not quite robes she’d found to wear to remind her of home rather than her many-pocketed semi-uniform. Her staff was nearby too and she felt the weight of her rifle.
It wasn’t a good scenario. No landmarks to guide by. No real supplies. Just the clothes on her back and what she had with her. But this wasn’t the first time ever. Recon had prepared her for this. Her family had too. The Mirialan took a deep breath and exhaled through her nose before stooping and grabbing her staff. A bit of cloth normally used for wrapping her hands served to help fashion a crude covering for her head and face.
She walked for hours until she found an outcropping of stone and took shelter. The nap she got in revitalized her, but by the time she woke the light was fading and the cold would be on her soon. Heat and cold. The twinned threats of the deserts of Mirial. Still…Litii drained the last of her canteen and set out again. Traveling at night would be easier and movement would keep her warm. If she were lucky, she might find some sustenance or water before the sun came up and another shelter.
As long as I live, I shape my fate within Fate.
Days had passed. Or had they? It was hard to tell now. Litii felt delirious. Her skills and supplies had gotten her far, but the desert was winning. Fate would find her soon if she weren’t careful. Everything she had on her weighed so much now and there was still so far to go…wasn’t there? She wasn’t sure, but something had to go.
Take stock of what is truly needed. Get rid of unnecessary weight. Keep walking. If you surrender, then you give up on shaping your fate.
Litii swallowed dryly and tiredly shrugged free of her rifle’s harness and dropped it and her pack to the sand. Her staff, her robes, and what supplies she could carry in a few pouches as well as a canteen were all that she’d carry now. It was as basic as she could go and have a hope of making it out of the situation.
She took a few steps and leaned on the staff tiredly, looking towards the rising moon, and sighed while making sure to keep her mouth shut. It was going to be another long night.
“Am I hallucinating?”
“If you are, you’re wasting moisture by talking to me.”
Jhoren…was it Jhoren? Whoever he was, the an who looked like Jhoren made a valuable point as he looked into Litii’s temporary shelter for the day. The Mirialan laughed tiredly and coughed for want of water.
“So this is it…is it? My fate…my destiny according to Fate is to die crazy in the deserts of Mirial after some weird grenade sends me home. There’s some…some irony in that.”
“Is there? I thought as long as you were alive, you shaped your fate within fate.”
“Ha. Well, whether you’re real or not…”
Litii shifted and offered the man space in the small outcropping to get out of the sun. He moved in wordlessly and sat by her. Looking out, it seemed like another endless day in the desert in which no night would ever come. Litii knew better, of course, but it was still disheartening.
“Another in your position might have tried to kill or rob me, you know. See if I had anything to ensure their survival.”
“Not who I am. Said I’d…protect. Nothing good comes from just lashing out.”
“There’s wisdom in that, I suppose. But what if I had come upon you while you rested, and you woke to be running off with your canteen?”
“Take…take you down quickly. Drag you back, share…share what I got and try to convince…convince you we got a better chance of getting out of this if we work together.”
“But I’ve taken from you then.”
“Desperation makes…makes people’s heads go funny.”
“I’ll say so. You’ve been out here for days and never once asked for help.”
As she looked towards Jhoren, he was gone. Litii let out a harsh, dry cough of a laugh at that and sank down to the stone, curling up, and trying to clear her head.
Fate is as the deserts of Mirial. Empty, yet full. Burning, yet cold. Still, yet racing. Known, but unknown…please, guide me.
She felt the ground drop out from under her.
“On your feet, Sergeant!”
“What? Oh, my head…”
“I said on your feet, Sergeant!”
Hands roughly pulled Litii up as she opened her eyes only to see herself in full Recon uniform pulling the dusty, sand coated Litii off of the ground. The Sergeant released Litii roughly once she was on her feet.
“What have you got to say for yourself, Sergeant?”
“What have I got to…what?”
“I asked a clear question, Sergeant, and I expect an answer.”
“But I was ju-”
“An answer, Sergeant!”
“STOP CALLING ME THAT!”
The anger welled up in Litii’s voice as she shouted at the Sergeant and moved carefully. She began to test her limbs as the sands fell from her now traditional Mirial robes. The fatigue was gone. The delirium of dehydration was gone too. Was she dying?
“Wait, what was the question?”
“What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Wrong answer, Sergeant.”
Litii threw herself to one side as she her the familiar flick of the safety on her blaster rifle and barely missed being shot. She came up a moment later and saw the blaster moving to train on her again. Her instincts kicked in and Litii bolted again, dodging, and trying to close the distance. The blaster fire rained around her as she tried to get close to the Sergeant.
After what felt like an eternity, Litii got close enough and leapt her her staff, targeting the rifle, and felt the staff connected with the rifle for a moment, but it quickly turning into a hissing crackle as Litii found herself holding a saberstaff and striking a similar blade in the Sergeant’s hands. Yellow and red lights danced at one another as the combatants fought. Trying to gain an advantage.
“Just us, Sergeant. Do you really think you stand a chance?”
“Just…us…and Fate,” Litii growled back.
The duel went on and on just as the desert had felt like it had. Each moment racing to the next until Litii saw it. The moment. The Sergeant’s hand dropped too low and Litii feinted for a strike, as her double moved to block it, Litii delivered a solid kick to her wrist. There was an audible crunch as the Sergeant cried out and dropped her saberstaff. One quick flourish later, Litti brought her…staff down upon the rifle laying in the sands of Mirial as she heard clapping.
“You surprise me. Not every mind can withstand being turned upon itself like that.”
“What? You again?”
Jhoren stood nearby and in front of a series of crystals. The man gave the Mirialan a mysterious smile and gestured behind him.
“You’ll find new truths at your disposal now, but new battles. The one within will always be the most difficult though. But…I think you know that now.”
“What are you?”
“Just another speck in the cosmos…like you. Or would you prefer I say I was just another grain in the desert of Fate?”
Litii looked at the man and laughed. This entire situation was absurd. She had to be hallucinating. It had started when she’d touched that cube…or was it a crystal? Looking past Jhoren, Litii saw the same yellow crystal and made her way over with her staff and reached out for it again…this time as a grain in the desert. A speck in the cosmos. And visions danced in her head.
Sweat poured down Litii’s face as she aligned the cluster. It had been hours since she’d woken on the cave floor with knowledge in her mind like a gift. She wasn’t entirely sure how, but she knew it was connected to Fate…to the Force. It was pushing her forward. Guiding her. It had always been doing that.
She’d just lost sight of it somewhere along the way. Seela had been right. In her deepest heart, Litii had separated Fate and the Force. But how could they be separate when they were the same? How could she separate them when they both were? When they were in all and guided all? It had been folly.
So too had been clinging to an old symbol as Althea, Sandra, and Tara had pointed out. Litii had been the Sergeant, it was true, and she had learned things that way, but then she had chosen differently. She had shaped her fate by choosing another way. Fate had ensured she remembered that she had a choice.
The crystal slotted into place and Litii closed the hilt carefully. Choice was integral to fate. Choice was, in the end, the connection to it. To the Force. All choices had symbols too. Some obvious and others hidden. New understandings and paths too. This was what she had been shown. This is what she knew.
A new choice and understanding meant it was time for a new symbol. Litii’s hands played across the hilt as she held it out and moved to activate the emitters. Normally, Litii would have felt nervous. She always did when preparing to fire a new blaster she’d assembled. There was always that lurking, nagging doubt in her head. Not now though. Not now. She knew.
The workshop lit up with twinned yellow glows…and Litii smiled.