Now that I had my own ship and was mobile Lord Vader no longer saw any reason why I should not come to him rather than meet at the retreat. Being at his beck and call was part and parcel of this job but flying all over the galaxy to do this job was not what I had imagined when I had signed my contract. I wondered more than once why he simply did not request I be stationed on board the ship with him and be done with it, but one of the pilots I had been speaking to told me that while Lord Vader spent a great deal of his time aboard the Devastator it was not the only ship he traveled on or with.
I suppose it made as much sense to me as anything else around here did. I didn't really mind the traveling, I liked flying and any chance to practice and get to know my ship better was a very good thing. It was just a little frustrating when it interfered with my training schedule. I hated having to send messages to Master Kjestyll that I would not be meeting with him as usual due to my own hectic work time table. In the end he sorted this out for me and arranged that we met when we could and in between I had a list of lessons to work on.
Some people might think this was dull but space can be dull without things to do. Even things that seem mindless, like repetitive exercises, can suddenly become fascinating. The long gaps in between hyperspace jumps needed something to fill them and there were only so many books I had to read. The midship’s common area had become on more than one occasion turned into an impromptu training area for me. While there was not enough space to practice large polearm work I could certainly go through the motions and movements I knew. The style of martial art that Master Kjestyll was teaching required no weapon. In some ways it was good for me to not be able to fall back on the easier style I had been used to. I felt almost naked without a polearm or stick in my hands, less strong somehow, but Master Kjestyll had said that the style of combat I was now learning required nothing more than force of will, concentration and a body in good physical shape.
‘Your body and your mind and your spirit working as one’, he had said ‘will be a far more powerful weapon than you running around the galaxy, half trained wielding a big stick.’
The tone of my lessons with Master Kjestyll had shifted after my return from the mission with Captain Thrawn. There was not much I could hide from my Master it seemed and I was almost glad that this was the case. There was no one else for me to talk to and although I had been very careful not give any details, the tone of what had happened on Myrkr had not been lost on him.
“Something lies heavy upon your heart. Something in your spirit has shifted.” It was the first thing he said to me as we met for my first lesson upon returning to Naboo.
I knelt in the center of the room in the meditation pose, trying to collect myself but found it hard. Images of the hunt flashed through my mind and no matter how hard I tried I could not turn them away. Master Kjestyll has stood behind me, as always, calm and thoughtful.
“You will find no peace as long as you carry this weight. Stand up, child so that I might look into your eyes.” He said.
I did as I was bid.
“You have seen death and you have taken a life.” He said. It was not a question but I answered it with a nod anyway. I wondered how he could tell this from just looking into my face. It was though the bloody markings Thrawn as Za’ar had placed upon my face were still there.
“Man or beast?” he asked.
“It was a creature. It attacked me, I defended myself.” I said. I did not tell him that chances were good I would have killed a man as well if that moment had come. It never even occurred to me that he might be talking about the fact that I had died and been brought back to life. Of course, that was something I had pushed to the very back of my mind and did not even want to think about let alone talk about.
“How did it feel to take this life?” he asked. The question was unexpected and I frowned. The Imperial way was not to question if lives were lost be they creature or sentient beings. He waited for me to answer never taking his eyes from mine. I wanted to look away but dared not break the contact.
“Sad,” I answered after a long time. “Sad yet at the same time, powerful as well. I don’t know how to describe it. It happened so fast that I didn’t think I just reacted. I cannot put it into words.”
“Would you have killed it if your life were not in danger?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No.”
“The power comes from knowing you have that ability to give or take life. The sadness tells me that you have not sold your soul to this power.” He said. “You were not alone when this occurred?”
I shook my head. I had given no names and said nothing that would indicate who I had been with but Master Kjestyll seemed to understand that secrecy was a part of what ever it was I had been through and he did not press.
“The one who was with you, he acknowledged this event for you.” And while once again it was not a question I nodded. I opened my mouth to tell him about what Za’ar had done but he waved his hand at me, silencing the words on my lips.
“I do not need to hear or know the details. These things are sacred and secret. Each tribe has their way but he probably marked you, most likely with the blood of the kill and gave you a name to mark the rite of passage if his ways follow that of a Hunting society. While the methods of marking and the naming differ from tribe to tribe, species to species these things follow a similar path. I do not need to know what or how because I see the results in your eyes. You have taken the first steps away from childhood and I shall treat you accordingly. I merely needed to confirm this was so.”
I made a face. All this talk about me stepping away from my childhood made me both sad and annoyed at the same time. I was not a child and I had not felt like one for a very long time. Yet, in some deep part of me I knew he was right as Za’ar had been right. Myrkr had marked me for better or worse, it had change who I was and how I saw myself. How exactly was something I didn’t know. It irked me to be called a child but I was somehow saddened by this strange need to mark the step away from being one. It made me wonder what childhood really was and why we need to celebrate the fall from grace and loss of innocence.
I looked at Master Kjestyll and sighed. What he had been teaching me coupled with my own weirding ways had probably saved my life on Myrkr. How he could tell all of this from just being in my presence both awed and troubled me.
“Child, you possess a powerful ability. Gifts that come from the Force are a double edged blade, while they can be used as tools and weapons for your own use they can and will be turned against you if you allow it. What I teach you allows you a way to pass through this power without the dangers of it ever owning your soul. This teaching was built around being able to take the energy from the Force and those who wield it and deflecting it back against them without letting it destroy you. What others teach you…” he shrugged. “You must use your own inner guide for that.”
“Lord Vader said a name for your teachings, he called it …” again he held up his hand, silencing me.
“We do not speak that name here or anywhere. Honour this above all else.” He had said and I had bowed in the traditional manner, from the waist with my hands flat together to acknowledge his request. I wanted to know why this was so but dared not even ask.
“Now, return to meditation pose and let us see if we can release some of these demons that create the tension which blocks your shi-lu.” He tapped my solar plexus. “That place where energy comes from, your center of being.”
I did as he had asked and for three solid hours all we worked on were ways for me to rid myself of tension. I, although I did not think that being a personal assistant was a stressful job, was not a relaxed person. It had never occurred to me that there were so many places and so many ways one’s body stored its stress. At the end of the session I was exhausted but a whole lot more relaxed. I was able to think clearly and my shoulders did not feel as though they were permanently placed up by my ears and made of stone any more.
In the lessons that had followed I was able to center much faster than ever before and with each session my ability to find that place where the energy I needed to fight came from became easier and easier. It was like tapping into a brilliant ball of light. Perhaps knowing that what I was learning not only could but someday would save my life made it all the more important for me to learn it properly. Many of my lessons were held in almost complete silence. I watched and emulated what master Kjestyll did. When I did the movement wrong he corrected me and we repeated it until I perfected it. This style or martial art was all grace and fluid beauty. Each movement aligned the next with an energy that was invisible but all around me yet did not tap directly into the Force and use it. I could feel the Force dance around me and I knew it was there but this form of fighting seemed to move with it rather than use it or fight against it. We would start off with the motions and movements being slow and deliberate but as I became more proficient in each movement so we sped up the move. It was a style of dance that was as stunningly beautiful as it was viciously deadly.
There were moments when in order to demonstrate how a move should look Master Kjestyll would show me by completing the motion himself. I did not think it possible for any one to move with such certainty and speed. He would become a blur. I would quietly despair of ever being so good but never said anything about my fears to him. It served no purpose to tell him something I was almost certain he already knew.
Something had changed within me and I had not been able to figure out exactly what it was. I approached my lessons with more seriousness than I had before. I could not put my finger on what it was exactly but it niggled in the back of my mind. So after one particularly gruelling session that we had chosen to do outside in the quiet of a secluded area near the lake I had asked what had changed.
“You have killed.” Was the answer I was given. “It is too simple an answer?” Master Kjestyll has smiled.
“Before, when you came to me, you were a girl, learning the movements as though they were choreography for a dance recital, hearing the philosophy without truly understanding its meaning. Now, you return from this journey of yours having put to practice that which you have learned. You went beyond the memorized steps and the borrowed knowledge.” He said. “You have discovered that that if you must you can complete the action through to the death blow. This knowledge gives you strength, which in turn allows a certain level of confidence, and that confidence allows you to step over the hurdles your fear creates.” He gave me a slight smile that never really reached his eyes. “It was the biggest question written in your eyes when you first came to me.”
“Could I kill if I had to?”
He nodded. “Yes. And now you know the answer. That answer is yes. You have faced this demon and overcome it. You will not hesitate should you come face to face with this challenge again.”
I wasn’t so sure of that last statement though, killing an animal that was about to have you for lunch was one thing killing another person, well that was another. “A man I know told me that killing changes you and takes away from you.” I said thinking on Thrawn's words to me that night on the balcony when he had kissed me for the very first time. “Killing an animal is one thing….”
“Killing is killing. Life is to be valued no matter what it is.” Master Kjestyll said. “And he was right. To take a life away from any creature or being is a life altering experience. It is not something ever to be done lightly although there are many in this galaxy who do not think this way. Do not be fooled, child, they pay a heavy price for the debts they incur. I do not worry about you ending up like this. Despite what you think and may feel, despite your own doubts and worries in your soul, your Shi-lu, you honour life above death. The challenge is to hold onto this honour and see it as important above all else, even when anger and fear tell you otherwise.” He must have read something on my face. “I know that is not the way of Lord Vader or his Master. I know that Lord Vader will instruct you to find your strength and your power through the energy that anger and hatred will give you but it is not your path, child. Even now you fight against his ways, conflicted with your desire to please him but eventually he will see what I already know and find a teaching method more in accordance to your needs or he will destroy you in the process.” He had tucked two fingers under my chin then and lifted my downcast face upward to look him in the eyes.
“You and only you know what is in your heart. You and only you dictate the path you walk. Others may guide and advise but only you may walk it and you do so alone. I do not know how strong your particular touch with the force is nor in what direction your particular gifts lie but I do know this, you are not weak minded nor are you easily led astray from your own beliefs or morals. I know and trust that you will take all knowledge that is given to you, that you will learn from all those who would teach you and use the best of it to the best of your abilities without losing your way.” He paused for a moment to correct my posture on one of the cool down stretches. “You have a difficult road to walk because you have chosen that strange and elusive middle path, neither one thing nor the other. Whatever your destiny is, all I can do is provide you with good tools to help you along the way.” I listened to these words with a sense of wonder. I knew at that moment that I adored him the way a child will look up to and even love a favourite teacher or mentor.
I looked at him and nodded. I could not help but wonder how this man came to be in the employ of the Emperor with views on life such as he had. I had felt the darker side of the Force and knew that this was not it. Master Kjestyll was one of the Emperor’s most valued martial arts trainers. It was a great honour to be considered one of his students. I knew this from the whispers I had heard. I knew he was held in high esteem because even when Lord Vader spoke his name there was a level of respect in the dark Lord’s voice that was not apparent when he spoke of others. I wanted to ask on more than one occasion why master Kjestyll worked for the Empire but somehow it seemed far too personal a question and I did not dare. It was just another little mystery in a long line of things that didn’t make sense to me because I did not know the whole story.
These conversations with Master Kjestyll were rare and to be treasured. He did not often give lengthy speeches such as these and almost never were they so open and honest. But we were outside and away from the retreat in the quiet of the woods. I knew that the rooms in the retreat building were all bugged and filled with surveillance equipment, that internal spies were everywhere. The Emperor liked to be kept informed no matter what. There were few secrets within the Empire and little that the Emperor did not know.
I pondered these moments and conversations as I traveled through space to meet Lord Vader and questioned my feelings and connection with him. Under the tutelage of Master Kjestyll I felt safe. His hands were gentle and his guidance subtle and non threatening. Lord Vader scared me but that did not override my desperate need to please him. I craved his attention and his teachings even though I knew they were both brutal and about as subtle as a sandstorm. These two mentors in my life were at complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Where everyone else was in between, I had no idea. I was starting to wonder if there were not too many influences in my life, too many hands, all pulling me in too many different directions. I certainly did not understand where everyone fit into my life or how I fit into theirs. It was a sobering and very discomforting thought.