Winter Fete Week is a crazy time on Coruscant. It seems that almost everyone takes the week off from work and celebrates as much as they can. There are parties almost every night of the week and various organised celebrations and parades throughout the week itself all ending in a huge spectacular event that consists of dancing, music, fireworks and of course dressing up. It is a time when people forget their problems, and conflicts and just get on with the business of having a good time.
I avoided it all as much I could. It was enjoyable to have peace and quiet. Most of the other departments had shut down for the duration of fete Week so the palace felt very deserted. I spent a lot of time in the office sorting out stuff, dealing with Lord Vader’s appointment calendar and his endless lists of things that needed to be done. It seemed to me that, as of late, Lord Vader had become distant, withdrawn, and pensive. He was single minded in his determination to find out who it was that destroyed the Death Star.
While he never actually speaks of it, sometimes I pick up these thoughts from him, much to his annoyance. He has decided not to return to the planet for any of the Fete Week festivities, which is probably a good thing since he tends to put a damper on the happy party mood when he’s around. I want to talk with him but not via holo transmitter but he’s not exactly been in the chatty mood.
Shiv, fearing that I was becoming as antisocial as Lord Vader, has dragged me off with his gang for several lunches and an evening out. This has been fun but exhausting. I don’t know where he gets all his energy from really. We mostly hang out in the fashion district because that’s where Shiv has most of his contacts and knows the best places to eat or party depending on the time of day. Mostly, hanging with him and his friends is fun, it’s light hearted and anything but serious. Sure makes a change from my job and my training.
Master Kjestyll has been working hard with me and our sessions have taken a turn for the weird. Lately the emphasis has been on survival techniques and some very odd training exercises. I am not sure what is going on but shortly after I got back from Naboo, he told me that we would start to concentrate on other aspects of staying alive. The most recent exercise was to have me wear a blindfold while he took me someplace. I had no idea where I was being taken but when we arrived and he removed the blindfold I still could not see.
The only thing he said to me was. ‘Use all your senses to find your way out.” It had been a frightening experience. The room was darker than anything I had ever experienced and it took me what seemed forever to trace my way around it, to ‘feel’ the walls and learn about the space. Only once I had done that did it occur to me that I could perhaps use my weirding ways to ‘see’. I found the key to the door that had been hidden in the wall only because it felt different. Even then it had taken me several hours to figure that bit out. Sometimes I think I am really slow but Master Kjestyll had been pleased with me. Saying I had actually figured it out a lot faster than others who were, in theory, a lot more talented with the force than I was.
I asked him if this was normal training for someone like me and his reply was that the Emperor had requested it. I guess I must have made a face because he had gone on to explain that the Emperor had said it might be enjoyable for me to learn something more challenging than the kata forms we had previously been working on. I told Master Kjestyll that being blindfolded and stuck in a black room with no way out was not my idea of fun.
“But you were challenged by it were you not?” He had said.
I had nodded. It certainly had been challenging as well as unnerving. It would not be the last time I would go through such an exercise either. We spent long hours talking about what had happened and how I should and could deal with the exercises better. Each time I was placed in one of these scenarios it was different and each time I learned something new. Sometimes I was required to fight my way out of a labyrinth and sometimes I was required to memorise the way in and out of a building. Sometimes it was the black room again each time with a different solution to getting the door open. When I asked why I was being put through all of this Master Kjestyll had shrugged. He surmised that perhaps the Emperor felt that as someone who worked closely with his right hand man such training would not be so out of place, but it was not his place to question the Emperor. I thought it very strange that a Personal Assistant be put through this sort of training at all and it made me nervous.
In the quiet of the night when I was safe and in my own flat, usually recovering from aching muscles and frayed nerves I wrote to Captain Thrawn of my experiences along with many other things. It seemed that writing to him became easier and easier and I looked forward to being able to put my thoughts down on paper. I had not heard from him since his last letter describing his trip to the Sikadian Gardens and that had been a couple of weeks ago. We were now three days into Fete Week and I hoped that he would somehow make it back for at least the latter part of the festival but so far I had heard nothing from him.
Today in the office absolutely nothing was going on. Even my droid was bored so I packed it in early and went home. Since everything, including my sessions with Master Kjestyll were on hold till after Fete week and I had turned down Shiv’s offer to go out partying with him and the others. I decided to have a nice bath and relax with a good book. Somewhere between ten and eleven at night my doorbell rang. When I opened the door all that was there was a glass on the foot mat and a small hand written note that said. ‘I know I owe you a dance but would you settle for a drink instead?’. It made me smile. I knew where to go.
I stood, leaning against the doorway to the balcony and watched him for a moment. It felt to me as though we had been apart for years not weeks and it puzzled me how much I felt for this enigma of a man. He was considerably older than I was and alien in more ways than I could count. Yet, standing there seeing him again made my heart race and my knees tremble. I wanted to rush up to him and throw my arms around him but something about his stance and manner made me rethink that urge. Instead I waited until he turned around to watch me watch him, smiling as he did so.
“Good evening, Miss Gabriel.” He said. “You are just in time for the fireworks.”
“Captain, when did you get back?” I replied hoping to match his even polite tone. We were playing the formal game again. It was almost a competition to see who could out-polite the other. While it puzzled me I never got tired of it.
“My shuttle landed less than two hours ago.” He said taking the glass I was clutching from my hands.
I watched as he poured a pale pink liquid from a beautiful bottle into it and then took the glass back when he handed it to me. He filled his own and we touched glasses and drank, well sipped.
This drink was like nothing I had ever tasted. Sweet and tart all at once, with a wild sort of flavour, fruit like or perhaps berry like I didn’t know. It was cold as ice and very potent.
“Do you like it?” he asked.
I took a second sip and shivered involuntarily, letting it sit for a moment on my tongue, in my mouth.
“It’s extraordinary.” I nodded. “Yes, I do like it.”
“It is a gift from Kirja’navaar’inkjerii, Cracker Berry Liqueur.” He said.
“You saw him?”
Thrawn nodded but gave no details. “He wished you well, extended an invitation to visit his home on Hjal and said I was to share this with you.”
“I take it the hunt was a success?”
Thrawn shrugged. “He did not say and I did not ask. Our meeting was very brief.”
“How was he?” I pressed.
Thrawn gave me a look “He appeared to be in good health.” He said. “But I did not come here to talk about him, you know.” He added.
I would have found a suitable retort I am sure of it but the sudden crack of fireworks that exploded around us cut off my train of thought. They were amazing as usual. Each night of the week there was an astounding display of fireworks at midnight. Coruscant, the center of all things in the Galaxy spared no expense on showing its citizenry that it could celebrate with the best of them.
We watched in silence as the night sky lit up with every colour imaginable. Blooms of light in patterns I would never have thought possible decorated the city. On every available space people stood, just like us, and watched. Their eyes turned upwards marveling at the spectacle, unaware of anything else around them except the brilliant fireworks. I sipped at my drink until the glass was empty then turned to put it on the small table that sat in the corner of the balcony. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him and the fright made me drop the glass. It would have shattered on the ground but the Emperor, with a subtle move of his hand caught it with the force and set it upon the table easily. For a moment I just stood there like an idiot then more out of reflex than thought I genuflected and bowed my head. The Emperor walked over to where Thrawn was standing and all but ignored me. I guessed he wasn’t in the benevolent old man mood this evening. For a moment the silence was deafening. I dared to look up at them and found the Emperor staring at me. His gaze was hard and unreadable. I shivered.
“Leave us.” He said coldly to me.
With my heart pounding I did as I was told. I was more than relieved to be back in the relative safety of my apartment. My hands were shaking as I made myself a cup of tea. I sat in the quiet, dark living room half expecting a knock on my front door but it never came and after an hour or so I went to bed. It took me a long time to fall asleep and when I did I dreamed.
I knew this place but what I was doing there and how I had gotten there were a bit of a mystery, the Dune Sea, a vast expanse of sand, dunes and not much else. I could feel the wind against my face and the heat from the suns but despite the heavy hooded cloak I was wearing I was chilled to the bone.
I walked forward. The wind became stronger and the sand whipped up to form a veil around me. It stung my face and my hands and made it hard to breathe. It howled around me like a Krayt Dragon, pushing and pulling until I stumbled to my knees.
I huddled in my oversized cloak but to no avail. Stuck on the Dune Sea in the middle of a terrible sand storm I was going to die. Oddly enough this thought did not instill fear in me instead I felt a strange sense of peace. I closed my eyes and concentrated. Meditation the way I had been taught by Master Kjestyll.
Look inward his voice said so I did.
When I opened my eyes all was silent and dark. The suns had set and the stars shone. I stared at the man kneeling across from me. Like me he too was wearing a heavy brown hooded cloak. When he raised his head I read surprise in his brilliant blue eyes. His hair and beard were the same colour as the sand and his face lined with age and time. He was familiar to me but I was sure I had never met him before.
“You are not the chosen one.” He said. There was such sadness in his voice I felt tears well up in my eyes.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I am the teacher awaiting the student, the student awaiting the teacher.” He said cryptically.
I looked around me. “What happened to the storm?”
He smiled. “When one stills one’s own fears, one stills the world around them.”
“Are you saying I caused the sand storm? Am I dead?” I asked.
“No, in this place you are not dead, nor am I alive.” He said. “You brought the storm with you but you also stilled it.”
“Why am I here?”
He sighed. “You are on a journey. You are seeking guidance.”
“Are you my guide?”
He shook his head. “I do not know. I do not know who you are or how you came to be in this place. I was not expecting you.”
“Then why am I here?”
“A circular argument.” He remarked. “You are not the chosen one, yet you bear his mark, his touch. You must walk your path with care. The trial before you will take you deep into darkness but remember…in the darkness there is light and without the light there is no darkness. Be careful. Do not forget who you are.”
“I don’t understand.” I said feeling a sense of panic rise in my gut.
He began to fade and became ghost like. “Be wary of hate and be mindful of your passions, they are your greatest source of strength and your greatest weakness…” he said, his last words drifting off into the wind which had picked up again. As I knelt there watching his physical body melt away I felt an unreasonable fear well up in me. His body was replaced by the outline of the Emperor but before I even had time to scream it was not the Emperor who stood before me but Lord Vader. He did not speak but his hand reached out towards me and as it did so the wind once again became a howling storm. The sand whipped about me, it got in my mouth and in my nose. No matter how hard I tried I could not help from breathing it in. I began to choke. I wanted to scream but I could make no sound. I reached out to grasp Lord Vader's outstretched hand, seeking his help but my hand passed through his incorporeal body. The Emperor’s laughter filled my ears, drowning out the wind. That was when I found my voice and screamed, drowning in sand as I did so.
I woke up gasping for breath. I was shaking and soaked with sweat. My own screams still echoed in my ears, had I yelled out loud or had that too been just a dream. I didn’t know. With a sigh I heaved myself out of bed and stared at the clock till the time of 4am registered. Usually I had no recollection of my dreams but this time I remembered every single detail. I wrapped a blanket about my shoulders. I was freezing cold and went to make tea. There would be no getting back to sleep now.