The pain was unbearable. It wasn't such a pain that could be healed with bacta or quelled by counseling. The pain was a chronic consequence of emotional restraint. Jedi Padawan Learner Barriss Offee had spent her entire life learning how to control her emotions and focus her mind on only what she wanted to see; what she was supposed to see. It was her duty as a Jedi to take in the galaxy around her and participate in its events as a peacekeeper. However, it was also her duty to serve the Galactic Republic Senate and the Jedi Order. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine her basic duties would ever contradict one another. It was beginning to come clear though that she could not continue down a path of ignorance when she was no longer blind to certain truths.
Every single time the Republic approached a situation in the Clone Wars, negotiation was treated like an annoying formality. So many respectable Jedi Masters would even complain about a lack of action. General Skywalker's tenacity and assertiveness on the battlefield was far from unique. Many Jedi charged into battle like it was what they were meant for. Barriss had a unique perspective that far fewer Jedi were even aware of. She saw the pain. As a Jedi healer, she spent countless hours tending to the thousands upon thousands of Clones and civilians who were injured in a war that made less and less sense with every passing day. Jedi were becoming soldiers. Some were even falling to the Dark Side of the Force. All the while, the Jedi Council dictated nothing aside from a 'keep fighting' attitude.
The frustration built up in Barriss like a fire in her heart. It was increasingly aggravating that so many Jedi, even her closest friends, seemed to find happiness on the battlefield. No one was looking for peaceful resolutions anymore. No one seemed to see what was happening to the Jedi besides her. It came to a point that she spent all of her downtime locked in her living quarters. It was a very small room in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. With nothing but a small mirialan totem, a bed and a few personal belongings, it was an empty box of a room, but it was there where she felt solace. There, alone and away from the other Jedi, Barriss could find peace and meditate the fire in her heart away. It was ironic; she could heal numerous injuries and relieve pain for so many, but she struggled to push her own feelings and pain aside.
Nevertheless, all of her frustrations and opposing views were merely nuisances on her mind. She was a Jedi. She always had been and she always would be. There wasn't anything she could do to affect change. Especially in an Order that had been cemented in traditions for over a millennia. However, near the end of the Clone Wars, Barriss Offee was losing the one thing that held all other Jedi in place: trust.
Back from yet another mission filled with indiscriminant violence, Barriss Offee gazed upon the Jedi Temple as her Delta-7b starfighter flew on autopilot waiting for clearance to land. 'I remember when it was a beacon of hope. Now it is just a military installation. I can hardly think of it as home anymore.' Barriss thought to herself. As her fighter was making its final approach she made the impulse move to turn off autopilot and turn away from the ominous building. She didn't quite understand why, but Barriss simply wasn't ready to go back to the Jedi Temple just yet.
After a few moments of meandering over the endless city of Coruscant the Jedi Padawan Learner decided that she needed some fresh air. Her mission report was already completed and sent. She had the time and chose to return to the Temple on foot. A few kilometers away, Barriss landed her fighter, hopped out, and instructed her astromech to take the starfighter back to the Jedi Temple for diagnostics. With a few whistles and beeps it was away. Barriss stood for a moment in one of the streets as pedestrians stared at the mirialan girl with curiosity. She had rarely even seen nonetheless walked the base-level streets of Coruscant. Perhaps it could have been an educating experience.
The Jedi Temple already looked enormous even from her distance away. Most mountains that she had seen on other planets were dwarfed by comparison. After walking for a few minutes, Barriss was successfully blended with the crowd going to and from. She overheard gossip and small talk. It was fascinating to hear about the daily lives of the people who lived in the galactic capital. You'd think they would be discussing politics or something important, but their concerns were on the simplest of things like have running water in their home or making sure they had enough food for the week. It was serene for Barriss. She felt like she was returning to the values that she had grown up cherishing; protecting the people's way of life.
The attitude of the crowd quickly shifted from mundane concern to wartime subjects of conversation and none too pleasant as she neared the temple. Barriss listened in as civilians talked about how the war was ruining their lives. They were losing friends on other worlds and their businesses were closing down. The arguments came to a head as Barriss reached the front steps of the Jedi Temple. There was a small mob of protestors to the war shouting and waving anti-war signs.
Barriss thought to herself. 'How can the Jedi Council not see this as a clear sign that we are slipping from the Light? The people of the Republic, the people we protect, are at OUR doorstep protesting the war!' She almost wanted to reassure them that there was at least one Jedi who agreed with them, but Jedi Master Cin Drallig was standing guard with several Jedi Temple Guardians right in front of the mob. He wasn't even acknowledging the mob's presence, but he broke from his statuesque state when he saw Barriss approaching. He motioned one of the Guardians to help lead her through the mob. 'This isn't right. This shouldn't be necessary at all.'
Caught up in thought, Barriss wasn't paying much attention to the protestors in the mob. In her lack of observation, one of the protestors reached over and grabbed her lightsaber off of her belt. The Guardian immediately used Force Repulse to push everyone away from him and Barriss. He lit his thick, yellow double blade and commanded that her lightsaber be returned. He stared directly at the thief, a large Abyssin staring directly at Barriss with his singular yellow eye. "You want your lightsaber back, Jedi? Show us your true nature and kill me for it!" The Temple Guardian ordered yet again for the Abyssin to return the lightsaber with the ultimatum that violence would ensue from a lack of compliance.
The Abyssin lit Barriss' lightsaber and continued to stare directly at Barriss. She was confused, terrified, and bewildered by the situation. A citizen of the Republic was ready to die by attacking her with her own weapon!? Barriss was about to try and talk the citizen into calming down and returning her weapon, but her hesitation left an opening for the Guardian. The Temple Guardian advanced quickly on the citizen to outmatch him and take the lightsaber back… with a severed arm if necessary. Barriss thought quickly and reached out her hand to use the Force. Her lightsaber deactivated and flew out of the Abyssin's grip and into hers. She clipped the lightsaber back on her belt and walked up to Jedi Master Cin Drallig. The Temple Guardian stopped just before his first swing towards the Abyssin. He turned and followed Barriss without another word.
The entire mob was silent and completely focused on Barriss as she approached the Jedi Master. When she reached him, he spoke softly with a smile. "Well done, Padawan. Your resolution to the situation almost excuses the fact that you let that citizen obtain your lightsaber in the first place… Almost. You should be more mindful of your surroundings." He then turned to the mob and spoke with a much louder and authoritarian voice. "Attack or threaten another Jedi or any other representative of the Republic and this mob will be disbanded by force with extreme prejudice!"
His threat only inspired their goals and they began protesting again. Barriss looked back at them once more before walking inside the Jedi Temple. That tall, green Abyssin was standing like a statue glaring at Barriss along with a shorter human woman. Barriss didn't like the way they were staring and hastened her pace into the Temple. Rather than feeling agitation or frustration at the protestors, Barriss felt pity. She pitied the people for screaming at deaf ears and she pitied the Jedi for allowing themselves to erode away into a mere shadow of the Order's former self.
Once inside, Barriss Offee made her way directly to one of the Jedi living accommodation halls; though not the one where her living quarters were. This was becoming a bit of a routine for her as she returned from each mission. She casually walked up to a Padawan's room and knocked on the door. It was Ahsoka Tano's room. Ahsoka was one of the very few if not the only person left that she could confide in. As usual, she would knock and as usual, there was no answer. Ahsoka had been on a mission nearly every time Barriss had been back on Coruscant for nearly a year.
With the expected disappointment sinking in, Barriss walked a lot slower back to her own room a few halls down. Jedi Masters such as Ki-Adi-Mundi and Mace Windu passed her in the halls. Barriss maintained her pleasant and respectful demeanor. She grew up learning how to hide the feelings she couldn't suppress. To pretty much any Jedi aside from Yoda she could hide any form of inner turmoil. The only other Jedi who could see through her mask was Ahsoka only because of their friendship. Barriss entered her room, removed her cloak and lightsaber, and sat in the middle of the floor to begin meditating.
The Abyssin's gaze was still fresh in her mind. As she sat cross-legged on the floor in middle of her small room she slowly managed to focus her meditation. First there was nothing outside of her room. Then, her walls and ceiling vanished. Soon there was nothing but Barriss within the depths of her mind. She could hear echoed voices from the ambient void around her. Clones screaming in pain as she healed them, the protestors yelling, her Master's words of wisdom and guidance along with thousands of other voices surrounded her. After a long moment of severe concentration, the voices finally fell silent.
Within the deepest and most isolated part of her mind, Barriss could find solitude and peace. She began to float a few feet into the air while she meditated at this level. Here, she worked on burying any troubled feelings that would otherwise cloud her focus. This floating meditation used to be easily achieved for Barriss. It came naturally to her just like being a Jedi Healer. After a few years of war however, it was becoming far more difficult and more time-consuming.
In middle of cleansing her mind, her room's door opened. The immediate presence of her master, Luminara Unduli, broke Barriss' concentration and she fell to the floor with a fairly ungraceful thud. Luminara did her best not to chuckle at the sight. "Still struggling with meditation, Barriss?" Luminara tried to ease any feelings of embarrassment.
"Meditation, sleep, and a few other simple practices… yes. Greetings, Master." Barriss rose from her floor and bowed respectfully to her master. "It's nothing." She tried to make light of her troubles. It was unlike her to reveal any sign of weakness.
"Would focus on the present be in that list as well?" Luminara inquired. Barriss shook her head 'no' with a confused look. "I was just speaking with Master Drallig. He told me about you losing your lightsaber to a citizen. What were you even doing out there?"
"I needed some air. I thought a walk would serve me well before returning here to meditate." Barriss was beginning to tense up in preparation for another lecture, but her Master remained at Barriss' doorway and smiled.
"While I agree that you shouldn't have been taken off guard so easily, I think you handled the situation incredibly well; more than Cin would acknowledge. I'm proud of you." Luminara spoke softly and with care. Barriss was relieved to have her master support her actions. There wasn't a lesson or a lecture.
"Thank you, Master." Barriss smiled warily. After a moment of silence between them, Barriss couldn't help but ask why Luminara was there. Ever since the war started there was very little time for any training or time together that wasn't spent on the battlefield. "Is there something I can assist you with, Master?"
Luminara's smile vanished. "I'm afraid your meditation must end now. You won't be spending your time tomorrow here for a meditative retreat as scheduled. We have been summoned to the Jedi Council Chamber."
Barriss was very disappointed in not finally getting a day off, but she wouldn't let that be seen by her master. She bowed again in acknowledgement before gathering her cloak and lightsaber. The two mirialan Jedi walked briskly down the halls of the Jedi Temple in silence. While some masters and apprentices had a more casual friendship, Luminara made sure to keep her relationship with Barriss strictly by the book. She felt that by maintaining protocols and structure Barriss would be less likely to make reckless decisions or act out in any rebellious form.
Barriss was being swallowed by the silence between her and her master. She was old enough and skilled enough to be a Jedi Knight. There was hardly anything left for Luminara to teach her. Without any active lessons to be learned, there was barely a word spoken between them in times like this. When they entered the Council Chamber there were only a few Council members present. Mace Windu, Ki-Adi-Mundi, and Kit Fisto were sitting in their respective seats.
Barriss and Luminara walked to the middle of the circular room and bowed respectfully. As usual, Mace spoke first. "Padawan Offee, your recent healing mission on Sullust was a strong testament to your abilities and perseverance. It was very impressive just how many lives you saved in the time you were there." Barriss bowed slightly as a silent 'thank you' and patiently waited to see why she was summoned.
Kit Fisto smiled and spoke next. "Your skills both as a Jedi Healer and a Commander are impressive and reflect those of a Jedi Knight."
Luminara smiled and responded. "My Padawan is ready for the trials. However, considering how much she has faced and overcame in the Clone Wars, the Jedi trials almost seem trivial." Barriss' heart began to race as her master gave such a glowing review.
Mace Windu remained stoic and indifferent. "While we agree that Knighthood is at hand, that is not why we have summoned you here now. Barriss, we need you to return to Sullust."
Barriss nearly expressed her frustrations, but managed to bottle it all in and respectfully inquired. "Why must I return? Has there been an accident?"
"No." Ki-Adi-Mundi answered. "The harsh environment continues to take its toll. The battle is drawing out far longer than we had anticipated. Had we received the reports earlier, we would have extended your tour there rather than have you returned here. I'm sorry, child, but you must turn around and head straight back until this battle is over."
Nearly losing her patience, she bit her lip and eyed the Council members warily. "Hasn't any of the Republic battle strategists figured out a safer way to fight on Sullust? Some of the Clones are being sent to the medical outpost before the old wounds had even had a chance to heal."
"We cannot devote the resources." Mace answered. "There are more vital battles to be won elsewhere. We need Jedi Healers to assist the medical officers on Sullust. If we can combat the environment effectively enough the Clones can focus on the droids and finish this battle."
"Perhaps my abilities in battle would better serve to end the bloodshed on Sullust." Barriss was revolted at the idea of going back at all, but she'd rather take out her frustration on the droid army than spend 36 hour healing sprints amidst the harsh conditions.
"You will go to Sullust and aid the medical officers. You should be grateful to be an active part of this war in a capacity that doesn't involve violence. That should be enough for you." Mace waved them on motioning that they may leave. "Your orders are waiting in your starfighter. May the Force be with you."
Barriss almost retorted Mace Windu's remarks, but her master cut her off by speaking first. "May the Force be with you, Masters." Luminara turned and led Barriss out swiftly.
As soon as the Council Chamber doors closed behind them, Barriss began to vent. "They dangle the carrot of knighthood in front of me and then send me back to Hell!"
"Barriss! I've trained you better. You should be patient and welcome knighthood when the time is right and not before." Luminara's voice was soft but stern.
"Forgive me, Master." Barriss returned to her respectful demeanor. She wished that just once she could speak with Luminara as a friend to a friend rather than an apprentice to a master. "I have been increasingly frustrated with the Council lately. The longer this war goes on the more they lose focus on the Jedi Code."
"War brings out the best and the worst in people. With the Jedi leading the war the Council has been under a lot of strain." Luminara put her hand on Barriss' shoulder as they walked. "Be patient with them. You will be a Jedi Knight, and a far better one than I was."
"Master, I don't resent my mission. I am truly grateful to be serving as a healer rather than a warrior. It's just…" Barriss fell silent for a moment searching for the right words. "Well, sometimes I don't think the Council remembers that lives are being lost needlessly."
"Needlessly?" Luminara was a bit surprised by the statement.
"Those Clones on Sullust don't have to be suffering and dying as they are. There is more than one way to fight a war. It almost seems callus of them to send me back. I heal the Clones so that they can go right back out into the environment that sent them to me in the first place. The Clones know that they will return to the battlefield, but by sending me there the Council is robbing the Clones of a chance to rest and recover emotionally. The Council is using my healing abilities to throw the Clones back into the fire sooner after the traumas. It's like torture." Barriss bit her lip in frustration.
"Be mindful of your thoughts, my young Padawan. To disagree with the Council is one thing, but don't turn them into villains in your mind. You've taken an oath to serve and they trust you to do your duty as you should trust their judgment." Again, Barriss was silenced from speaking her mind to her master. Her feelings hadn't changed. She once again bottled up what she was feeling. Barriss had no idea how close she was to all of those bottled up emotions erupting back to the surface…