The Journal of Mordith

Campaign: Echoes of the Force

Consumed
In the dead of night, the Pelican landed gracefully atop a lightless skyskewer that stood alone amid all the other flickering metal towers of Nar Shaddaa. Mordith sat and sighed pensively at the controls. Out of habit, she ran her hand absently beneath the console, checking for a tracker, feeling nothing.

Get out or get eaten.

She rose abruptly, stalked through the corridors to the loading bay, where Umbra lay eyeing a tremulous blob of blue-grey blubber on the floor. The panther stretched languorously and padded over to Mordith, brushing past her calves as Mordith lowered the loading ramp. The blubber slid, then rolled down to the rooftop, grunting as it went. Mordith followed after it, unhurried, and knelt down to remove the lengths of synthrope with which it was trussed. Finally, reluctantly, she tore the gag from its mouth.

"Miserable schutta!" Nubb Nessu cried after he spit his long snout from his mouth, setting it to wagging angrily in front of his face. "May grabworms have your entrails!" The Toydarian hopped into the air and beat its wings furiously, only to squeal in pain and flop back to the ground. Seven hours prior, Sononah, with an expert throw of her vibro-knife, had pinned Nubb to the doorway through which he was trying to flee. Even after Leenk tended the wound, a ragged tear remained in the Toydarian's left wing.

"Mebbe I don't know the Jedi stories so good," Nubb muttered as he rose to his feet, "but I can'ta remember them choking helpless people witha their own appendages!" Nubb stabbed a claw up toward Mordith for emphasis.

"Me neither," came the somber reply. Three hundred stories in the air, the only light was the dim yellow glow that poured from out the belly of the Pelican. From Nubb's perspective, Mordith was just an inky silhouette, a shade.

For several long moment, silence hung in the air.

"So, uh..." Nubb edged perceptibly backward, toward the edges of the light, claws clacking against the durasteel roof. "Whata now?"

The shade shrugged. "I guess we're letting you go." Mordith remembered the look on Sononah's face, the anger and pain in her eyes, as she gave in to Leenk's pleading.

It's not the Jedi way.

An unctuous smile instantly cracked open beneath Nubb's trunk. "Good! Good! Best for all involved, really. I go missing, Agruppa starts asking questions, BIG problems for you, eh?" Nubb chuckled awkwardly before clearing his throat. "Hey, uh, you tell Leenk and Sononah, I always like 'em, eh? Brodoodla, too -- always good to me. BIG heart for a Hutt, and that a rare thing! But for crime boss... mebbe not GOOD thing, eh? Smells like... weakness, and Agruppa, huh, he SMELLED it! So when he comes to me with offer, what can I do? Little fish, big fish, bigger fish -- you understand."

"But now, we clear the air, and no harm done..." Nubb grimaced at his torn wing for a moment, but then the slimy smile returned with an enthusiastic clap of his hands. "But, uh, mebbe you stay outta Hutta Town from now on, eh? No more, uh, 'unfortunate run-ins'. You go be Jedi somewhere else." He couldn't hide the slight snicker in his voice, the hint of a sneer on his face. "Best for all involved, really."

The shade stood motionless as Nubb peered about, squinting into the darkness. "So, uh... where are we, exactly?"

"The top of the Hollows."

Nubb frowned. "Uh... BAD conduit worm infestation in the Hollows. No power, no hoverlifts, no shuttles. You thinka, mebbe, you drop me closer to home? That's, eh... ten kilometers of stairs, straight down--"

The shade took a step forward, her eyes flashing yellow. "I know a shortcut," she hissed.

Get out or get eaten.

Without another word, Nubb scurried away into the dark. After a minute of groping about, he found the metal door, stuck partly open, that provided access to the stairwell. With a few grunts, he squeezed his pudgy body through the crack, and with some quiet cursing, he began his climb down.

Mordith stood there, breathing deep, for several minutes. Even at this elevation, the pollution from the city below somehow choked the air. She smelled smoke, and sweat, and something else...

Mordith turned back up the ramp, ascending. Umbra passed her, descending. Not a word, nor glance, nor thought was exchanged between them.

Mordith returned to the cockpit, to her stiff leather chair. Already her conscience was flashing warnings in her mind, but she pushed them aside, refusing to worry, refusing to care. She remembered black eyes rimmed with tears.

Then she closed her own eyes, breathed, and -- for the second time ever, without really meaning to -- she emptied herself into Umbra, entirely. She allowed herself to be subsumed within the beast, feeling what it felt, pursuing what is pursued, savoring what is savored -- without judgment or concern, without direction or interference. Bound together as tightly as ever, but both completely free.

For over an hour, Umbra stalked Nubb as he inched blindly down the countless flights of stairs in the Hollows, panting hard, his hand locked around the handrail in a deathgrip. Occasionally he would stop, catch his breath, and peer desperately upward. Sometimes he looked right at her, but he never saw her in the dark.

Finally, 48 floors down, the hard durasteel handrail turned slimy and squishy, a conduit worm wrapped about it, twitching at his touch. With a shriek, Nubb began running back up the stairs. When he was an inch away from Umbra, she roared in his face.

And then he was running, yelling, sobbing, stumbling down the steps as she bounded loudly after him, nipping at his wings, snarling ferociously, exalting in the last leg of the hunt. With a final scream, Nubb flung himself over the railing and into the dead space between the staircases, apparently hoping that he could slow his descent even with one broken wing.

Nubb fluttered desperately in midair for a few horrible moments, and then he began to plummet.

Mordith withdrew in that instant. And just as she had once before, in that instant, as her own senses came flooding back into her awareness, she recognized something beyond sight and hearing, beyond taste, touch, and smell. A sense of connection.

And in that instant she knew that the hunt was all-embracing and everlasting. She felt pure desperation, and hunger, and fear, not just in Umbra and Nubb but in dozens upon dozens of starving, colossal parasites that infested this forlorn building. She could feel it farther and deeper still, tracing it all the way down to the bustling streets, and all the way back up again. In billions of people in thousands of skyskewers across Nar Shaddaa -- adrift, trapped, consumed. All the way back up to her.

Mordith's eyes snapped open, and through the windshield, she saw stretching before her a great gaping maw, with bits of meat caught in its teeth.

But the realization was fleeting, like a fragment of a fading dream. By the time Umbra returned, nothing remained but a sense of disquiet, and an old warning that kept returning, unbidden, to mind.

Get out or get eaten.
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Caged
Mordith briskly paced the edges of her cell, one way then the other, over and over again. She clung to herself, the nails on each hand digging deep into the opposite forearm, and she cast uneasy glances at the only other presence in the room: two red lights in the corner that seemed to track her movements.

Alone again.

She hadn't heard a word from her companions since Angel had issued her ultimatum. Mordith had tried and failed to pick out Sononah's form among the rolling hills of metal and refuse as the Machinists led her back to the Cathedral.

She had watched the droids walk up the loading ramp of the Pelican, then listened through Umbra's ears as the panther slunk through the hidden crawlspaces, heavy footfalls landing on the walkways overhead. They had been close, too close, when the link between Mordith and Umbra was severed -- broken by distance, or something worse.

Mordith had fallen to her knees then, began to sob. The veiled droids had to drag her the rest of the way.

Now, she crouched low and pressed her back into a corner of the cell, as though forcing herself into the room's farthest inches might span the gulf between her and Umbra. She'd tried every corner, every inch, but she couldn't find her companion.

Always alone.

She gulped painfully, and her stomach growled. It had been hours since she'd arrived here -- how many, she couldn't tell -- and she'd had no food or water. She barely noticed, hardly cared. She thought of her arduous search for her friend on Tython, and then another, even more punishing search on Dathomir -- before she'd even met Umbra, before she even knew who she was looking for. Battered by the elements, deprived of sustenance, surrounded by threats, swimming in fear: somehow, she'd always found the strength to keep looking.

(Mordith makes Resilience checks to resist the effects of thirst and hunger, rolling 1 Proficiency dice, 1 Ability dice, and two Force dice, thanks to Enhance. She uses Destiny points and takes Conflict to convert Dark Side results into Force points as necessary, and she uses Natural Outdoorsman to reroll the first failed roll.)


She blinked, slowly... Then again, slower...

The door opened, and Mordith jumped. A gleaming black orb, one meter across, floated silently into the room. Its red eye gleamed with what looked to Mordith like the hunger of a predator.

The door slid shut, and the droid approached slowly. The sharp, wicked-looking tools that jutted from its frame softly twitched and whirred. Mordith hugged herself tighter, pressed herself deeper into her corner.

A few feet away, the droid stopped short. Its voice was a sonorous boom, with a faint mechanical buzz at its core. "What is your name?"

She tried and failed to suppress a whimper. "M-Mordith."

"What is your species?"

Her brow furrowed slightly. "I'm a person." She began to stammer, felt heat rising in her cheeks. She hoped droids couldn't get offended. "A-A human, I mean."

"What is your system of origin?"

Mordith rose to her feet, a bit of confidence returning. "I'm from Dathomir." Garrett had only managed to show her a few astrogation charts before she'd grown frustrated and given up on his lessons. There were too many names, too many places that seemed too far away at the time. This, however, was one of the tidbits that she had retained. "In the Dathomir System."

"Do you have any diseases, especially any of a terminal or infectious nature?"

Her brow furrowed deeper. "I don't think so? I mean, I had a bad case of fester lung when I was nine. It's normally very infectious, very fatal, but Mother Visconi caught it in time. Cured it, I mean. So no, nothing you need to worry about." She gestured feebly at the droid's metal chassis. "Obviously."

"How long have you known you were Force-sensitive?"

"Um... three years? There's a ritual, sort of a rite-of-passage, that all the girls in my clan undergo at 15, to see if we're 'attuned to the magicks' -- that's what we call the Force, you see. You have to--" Mordith paused, catching herself before she mentioned Umbra, in case her friend had slipped the Machinists' minds. "--To prove, if you are. And I was. Am."

"Who are you working for?"

Mordith's panic returned in a sickening wave. How was she supposed to answer that? "I, I mean, I don't have a-a job, exactly. I just... fly the ship, for my friends, but I don't really 'work' for them. Sometimes Jak gives me money to live on, but that's just because he's rich. His family's rich, I mean." Her eyes flashed with inspiration. "They'd probably pay a lot of credits to get him back! And his friends, too." She nodded enthusiastically.

"What are you trying to find out from the Church of the Machine?"

"Nothing." Mordith's voice was little more than a whisper. "I just... fly the ship."

"Did you intend bodily harm or destruction of any of the Machinists?"

Mordith shook her head. "No. Were they... was anyone hurt? Besides Sal and his men, I mean?"

"What relationship did you have with the man Saloon Grimbo?"

"'Did'?" Mordith's expression became grim as the realization set in. "He owned the Pelican before we did. We barely knew the guy." Her tone turned pleading. "Whatever he might have told the guards at the gate, we definitely weren't friends. We didn't invite him here, we didn't want him here."

"Why did you steal his ship?"

"Steal his ship?" Mordith averted her gaze as her mind raced. Wait -- hadn't Aden said something about Sal? Spun some lie about Nar Shadaa? She'd been so focused on the mercenaries at the time, she'd barely heard it. "I don't... you-you should ask Aden about that. He knows the story better than I do." She looked back at the droid. "Is he okay?"

She thought of the moment in the cockpit when she first "met" Sal on Cato Neimoidia. She had felt the rumble in Umbra's belly, tasted the saliva dripping in her maw. She had wanted to pull the trigger, to say the word, but she had spared him instead. Get out or get eaten.

And he had returned to rain disaster down on her and her friends. Of course he had -- he had already tracked them halfway across the galaxy for his stupid ship. Why would he ever stop?

Trust your instincts, but be mindful of the future.

She should have fed him to Umbra.

The droid ignored her question. "Have you ever had previous interactions with the Kandisian Murder Gangs?"

Her voice rose slightly. "I don't know who that is. Is Aden okay? What about Jak and Leenk?"

"Have you ever had previous interactions with the crime syndicate known as the Guild of Ogun?"

Her voice rose louder. "I don't know who that is! Where's Sononah?! WHERE ARE THEY?!"

The droids tone remained unchanged, unmoved. "Do you always resort to such violence when confronted by a problem?"

For several long seconds, Mordith stood panting in the corner, eyes full of anger. "No." Her next words came in a savage rasp as she took a long step toward the droid. "But when anyone tries to hurt my friends, I hurt them back... And when I go hungry, I eat whatever I can get my hands on."

Silence hung in the air for a time, before the droid finally left -- flying backwards as it went, keeping its red eye fixed on Mordith.

Alone once more, she slumped into her corner and quietly wept, too exhausted to make sense of all she had been asked, blinking through her tears.

She blinked, slowly... Then again, slower...

...And then she was running through a sweltering jungle, swiping vines from her path, trying to gain ground. She couldn't see what was pursuing her -- she never could -- but she could feel it closing in, fast. Ahead there was a giant oak, its bark covered in moss that luminesced with red light that filtered through the heavy mists. She rounded its base and the mists parted...

...Revealing the craggy grey slope of a barren mountain. She descended the summit at breakneck speed, certain that it was still behind her, as the blue-black maelstrom of a Force storm churned overhead. A bolt of lightning struck nearby, and she lost her footing, tumbling down the slope...

...Until she hit the sandy floor of a desert canyon, with massive piles of bone towering on either side of her. She sprang up and without a backward glance -- it was still there, she knew -- she dove into a nearby cave. Winding through sinuous stone tunnels, maneuvering through tight clusters of stalagmites, she finally found the refuge she sought -- it was never in the same place, but it was always the same.

A wellspring, murky and roiling, erupting from below. Mordith plunged in headlong, drank deep, and sank deeper, toward a sickly green light.


She awoke as Meili entered the room.
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Crippled
The gales of Tython ripped tears from Mordith's eyes, sweeping rivulets back across her ashen temples. Her protective shawls had been stripped away hours before -- she had barely noticed. She stumbled, fell to her knees in the same grey dust that scoured her face amidst the unrelenting winds. She turned to the blue-black maelstrom that roared overhead, the dark moon Bogan silhouetted beyond.

I've lost her.

The Force Storm swirled faster, then answered with a crackling white-hot bolt of lightning that struck nearby. The force of it knocked Mordith from the earth, up several meters, toward the roaring tempest. For a moment, she felt like a part of it.

Darkness. Silence.

She was alone. Always alone.

Mordith awoke to the gentle rumble of Umbra's purr, reverberating through her thigh, the panther's angular chin resting on her leg. Two yellow eyes greeted her in the darkness. Mordith almost sobbed in relief, reached out eagerly to stroke the coarse fur at Umbra's cheeks.

Had it been a dream? Mordith's body ached with the slightest movement, but given the physical rigors of Old Master's training, that was nothing new. She felt a mattress and pillow beneath her as she shifted; even after several weeks in the new barracks, they still were uncomfortable somehow, like she was sleeping in someone else's bed.

Just as Mordith was ready to let go of the nightmare, Old Master spoke.

"You've been abed for two days."

The voice was close, resonating through the darkness.

Vision beyond sight.

The darkness fell away in layers as Mordith's eyes gleamed. She turned her head and saw the wizened Jedi sitting on another bed nearby, leaning close, his chin perched pensively on a single closed fist.

"Leenk's ministrations have done much, but still you required time and rest. Umbra has not left your side. Has not eaten or drank. I imagine if your positions were reversed, you would do much the same." The Old Master's body creaked as he sat up straight. He fixed Mordith with that imperious gaze she was quickly learning to hate.

"How did you fail?"

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In the forlorn wilds of Dathomir, in the bustling space lanes of Nar Shadaa, Mordith had learned to navigate hostile environments. She'd always had Umbra.

But she'd never had friends.

Since arriving at the temple, Mordith had scaled the precipitous faces of the temple's mountain as Sononah shouted encouragement alongside her. She had piloted through the neverending Force Storm again and again, learning to make course corrections as fast as Aden could relay them. She had tracked Jak to the cave he used for meditation, and watched in hiding, in wonder, as he lifted fallen stalactites from the ground and sent them dancing in orbit around his head.

Her latest test was to be a simple one. At Old Master's instruction, Umbra and her friends had left the temple through the main entrance, then immediately split up. Mordith was to find them all.

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"I started with Umbra," Mordith began. "Her tracks led to a cliff face. That's where they ended. I looked and looked. It was way too steep for her to climb, so I started to think, maybe she had..." Mordith frowned, shook her head fiercely, sniffed. "I checked, top and bottom, backtracked, reached out with my mind, for hours, but I couldn't find her."

"Did you think to find one of your fellow students first, so they could help you?"

Mordith's dumbfounded look was answer enough. "I couldn't just give up on her. I was so... I had to find her first."

"You were never going to. The others had already brought your panther back here."

Mordith's confusion grew deeper. "The others...?"

"...had simply walked a wide circle around the temple, then returned through the back entrance, as I had instructed them. Aden then took the Pelican to find Umbra ahead of you, and Sononah coaxed her to jump into the cargo bay. Within an hour, everyone had made it back safely to the temple...except you."

"Wait, so it was... a trick?"

Mordith turned to face Umbra, tears beginning to well. Did you know?

The panther did not meet her gaze. Instead, a low growl parted Umbra's lips, leaving fangs bared, as she stared at Old Master. Four wrathful feline eyes fell on him in the dark.

"A trick is meant to conceal the truth. A lesson is meant to illuminate the truth. And the truth, my young padawan, is that, had you tried to find any one of your other friends, you would have found them all. The truth is, had they truly needed you to find them, your dependence on Umbra would have meant their doom -- and yours."

"You said Umbra could be a part of this!"

"And she can. But you must recognize that your bond with this animal, from which you draw so much strength, is also a weakness that can leave you crippled. You must learn to trust in those that walk the same path as you. And you must learn that, in the end, it is your connection to the Force -- not to your pet -- that you must rely upon. It will be your companion when all others have fled."

Mordith shook her head, still angry, still confused. She wrapped her arms gently around the neck of Umbra, and found comfort. "You don't understand how I feel."

"I don't understand?" The Old Master's eyes flashed suddenly, and his voice grew thunderous. "Listen well, my young padawan. There was a time when the Jedi would not accept one so old as you for training. Beyond a certain age, a person has trouble finding the emotional serenity that lies at the core of our teachings. Despite this, and against our better judgment, we have nevertheless made exceptions."

"And we have found that even a connection as pure as love can foster the same fear and despair upon which the Dark Side feeds. We have found that, when the object of his affection is threatened, even a Jedi can find himself willing to forsake everything, sacrifice everyone, to keep his loved one safe. Make no mistake, my young padawan -- I understand exactly how you feel."

The Old Master stood up, the long sleeve of his robe falling over the empty space where his hand once was.

"And I know exactly how it ends."
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