But there was still something about the tall grass up to his knees, and the view of Onderon on the horizon that never quite got the taste of fifteen years ago out of his mouth no matter how many times he came up here.
Dustil had been living on Onderon for almost a decade, but he'd never stop hating Dxun.
"You want to start North or South?" Dustil finally said to Lydie now that they had landed on the far side of the moon, a few kilometers away from the Mandalorian camp.
Lydie was studying a datapad intently, her brow furrowed in thought. "We can start north and do a radius," she murmured without looking up. When she was satisfied, she thumbed the datapad's power switch and slipped it back in her pack, stepping forward and past Dustil. "This'll have to be more feeling than actual looking."
Dxun was great for feelings.
Dustil ignored the tickle of the tall grass on his four fingers still left and clenched that hand into a fist to avoid it. "What are we feeling for?"
"Anything not right. Anything someone would lie about."
That was incredibly specific. Dustil tried not to let the annoyed breath he let out his nose sound as loud as it did. "North it is," he gestured ahead like he was holding the door open for her.
The Zabrak watched him warily for a moment and then went on ahead.
"You seem upset about something." He couldn't see her face, but there was a wry smile in her voice.
"I just hate how everything always ends up being on this stupid moon." If there was a rock around, Dustil would have kicked it.
There was still a hint of playfulness about her words. Like there was anything to laugh about lately. "If you consider Mandalorians and ancient Sith tombs and boma everything."
Mandalorians he'd grown to consider almost family, that the reality was one day he might be fighting against. His children might be fighting against.
Sith tombs that held Sith Lords, while more Sith Lords called off in the distance and took more than a year of his life away. Fern bushes that held confused teenagers and one messed up memory Dustil still didn't want to think about where everyone seemed to be drunk but him.
"Yeah, love those boma," he said dryly, ignoring how his voice sounded. He started dredging through the grass. "So you think Eli Fennut might be a Sith?"
Lydie shook her head, brushing a fern out of her path. “He’s not Force-sensitive.” But she hesitated. “I think he might know one. Maybe even be working for them.”
Dustil paused in his steps a little. "Are you sure he doesn't have the Force? Sometimes the most dangerous people are the ones good at hiding at it."
"I think he's got too many other things to hide."
Dustil turned to face her and just raised an eyebrow. That sounded like a simplistic way of dealing with things, but Lydie Korr had never exactly been a Sith. That was to her favor. Dustil looked away again and sighed stepping back into his pace. "It's hard to sense much on Dxun, it's probably why the Mandalorians like it so much. Makes you rely on tracking abilities instead of the Force."
Lydie made a noise of agreement, distracted by her datapad again. She stopped, looked to the left and the right, and then continued on ahead again.
"I'm surprised you wanted to come, with the riots and all."
"It's a lead it needs to be checked out," Dustil said with a distracted shrug his eyes canvassing the area.
"A lead to what?"
"The possibility of a Sith threat here," Dustil shifted his jaw and narrowed his vision at the landscape. There was something here that seemed off, but he couldn't quite place it. He tried to ignore the feeling as they kept walking. It wasn't anything that was helpful to whatever they were trying to find anyway. More like a nagging in the back of his head. A memory covered by kinrath spider-webs.
The Zabrak's mouth quirked. "Azen thinks you were just bored."
Dustil snorted without humor. Sure he might be bored while Azen was here to do all the paperwork for him, much better than he could ever manage, but the second he and Lydie left, Dustil would be worse than he was before Mekel got untanked.
He was still trying to figure out who the Council would send to replace Devn. Someone who had to learn the codes and conduct of Iziz, to every last nitpicky detail. Who'd be open and willing to listen to someone who wasn't actually a Master.
He glanced back over his shoulder. "You thought I was bored too, or have a different idea?"
"I thought you found me incompetent," Lydie replied immediately.
"You'd have to actually help to be incompetent," Dustil muttered, replying back just as instinctively as Lydie had.
"Excuse me?" Her voice was sharp.
Dustil turned towards her, walking backwards slowly, using the Force to make sure he didn't trip over anything. He regarded her carefully. "Why did the Council send you here?"
Not to be outdone, Lydie took a few steps forward. "To investigate who was behind the recent murders of alien citizens and why."
Lydie didn't look like she was lying. Dustil turned back to walk forward, shaking his head. She probably wasn't.
Count Lydie Korr as an extra hand, when her mission had nothing to do with the run of the Enclave... perfect bureaucracy of the Council.
Behind him, the Zabrak scoffed. "That's what's bothering you? You didn't know my mission?"
"This entire situation is bothering me, Lydie," Dustil said, kicking his foot as it got caught in an upturned root, until it dislodged and the brown root was ruined in the tall grass below. "Possible Sith attacks, Eli Fennut maybe being involved with them or someone else, corruption in the Election far beyond the usual, Mekel being reassigned because the Council thinks that he's using the Jedi to get into our pants, the fact that I'm not sure he's not, me losing one of my best Knights-- it's just--"
He let out an annoyed grunt, summing it up.
The sound of Lydie's footsteps stopped abruptly. "Mekel's being reassigned?"
Dustil stopped too, turning back towards her. His assumption that they would have informed Lydie for Ollie's sake was faulty. He did wonder why Mekel hadn't told her though. He nodded, frowning a little. "He's Padawan Mekel now."
"I knew that much. Devn can't seem to decide whether he wants to complain or brag about it." The Zabrak was silent for a moment. Then she started walking again.
"Are you surprised?" she added once she had passed him.
Dustil opened his mouth to respond and then closed it, sighing. "Honestly I don't know what I am."
"You're upset, at the very least."
"Good observation," Dustil said back, dryly.
"You've known Mekel longer than I have." Her voice was almost bitter, definitely hostile. "Did you really expect him to not to take any possible excuse to cut and run when things got too difficult or uncomfortable for him?"
"What?" Dustil blinked at her. "It's not an excuse, it's where the Council's assigning him. You think Mekk became a Padawan just so he couldn't be near us?"
If anything it had to be the exact opposite, which was why they were moving him. The fact that they were probably right, only added to Dustil's bad mood.
Lydie scoffed. "You think he became a Padawan because he believes in selflessness and sacrifice for the greater good of the galaxy?"
Dustil crossed his arms over his chest. "Maybe, maybe not. It's not my job to discount that if the Council approved him." He shrugged one shoulder. "Besides, better late than never."
"So you're not upset with Mekel, and you're not upset with the Council," the Zabrak said slowly. "I'm really going to be surprised if you're upset with Devn."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Dustil demanded.
Lydie exhaled, exasperated. "It doesn't mean anything. If you don't want to talk about it, fine, but stop taking it out on me."
"I was talking about it," Dustil snapped. He paused and took a deep calming breath. "I'm not trying to take it out on you. I'm just--" he waved his hand encompassing the area. "Annoyed."
"I got that."
He raked his hand through his hair. "It's just... everything feels out of control since he got back. I think it'd be easier if there was someone to blame."
"Blame him," Lydie replied sharply. "No one else."
"Lydie," Dustil said taking a breath, "how do I blame him for trying to rejoin the Order?"
"Because he's doing it to escape. Or to prove something. Or get back at someone. Mekel doesn't do anything unless there's something in it for him."
"That's a cheery outlook," Dustil said frowning at her, "if you think that way why are you letting Ollie around him?"
"Because I'm hoping that the something in it for him is getting to know and caring about Ollie," Lydie said quietly.
"It is," Dustil said, sighing, once again feeling lost without control of the situation, "I don't need a Force bond to see that."
"If that still upsets you, or if it's interfering with his relationship with Myleah and Ganesh, I'm sorry." Her words were guarded, cautious.
"Of course it doesn't," Dustil said, reactionary, not really knowing whether on not that was based on truth. Just that it was what he felt at the moment. "Ollie's-- Ollie's a great kid," he said more firmly, knowing that was the truth. "It's--" It was annoying in a lot of ways to be honest and making him feel more petty and vulnerable than it should have. Second place finisher. He turned away and sighed. "I don't think he should be faulted from getting to know his biological father either."
"The only way that'll happen is if Mekel hurts him."
"Yeah well," Dustil ducked under a tree as they came away from the open space of the grass and into a closed canopy of wildlife. "Not really an expert on preventing that. So you'll have to wing it." He frowned at the area for a moment something was off, he shook his head and pushed back some vines in his way.
She was watching him now with an eyebrow raised. "What? Did you feel something?"
"Maybe," he looked back behind them which was covered with a deep canopy of trees too now. Making it seem like there never was an open plain of grass. "How far are we from the camp?" He said mostly to himself, pointing towards the general direction of where the camp should be and turning around before focusing on--
It had changed over the years, Dustil hadn't checked because he was careful not to hike here.
It had changed enough that he hadn't recognized it until now. The long slope that had been caused by an unnatural earthquake was covered in overgrowth and plants and probably more wildlife underneath, but Dustil could still tell where it curved out of his vision. Where it was just low enough and just at the right angle enough to fry that creature and his father in what he thought was to death.
He involuntarily looked in the direction he'd ran that day, to where there might still be a clearing in the trees big enough for a ship to land. To where he'd gone off and been--
Dustil pulled himself out of it, muttering, "Force," underneath his breath and straightening out, "over there, that rock formation in the distance, that's where the Sith Lord used to be, right?"
Which meant they were probably standing where Dustil had to hear Lydie and Mekel--
Now he felt a different kind of sick, Dustil tugged at his collar and attempted to look unaffected.
Lydie stared where he had pointed without blinking. Then she turned, observing their surroundings silently. She made a slow, noiseless inhale. "I think so."
"You want to check it out? Maybe there's something by the surrounding area?" Or they could go in another direction. Anything but duty was making Dustil want to do that.
The Zabrak nodded, looking at her datapad again and heading towards the overgrown ruins. Tendrils of vine and branch hugged the stone and gripped the broken statues. The Mandalorians had no interest in Sith ruins, and it appeared no else had in over fifteen years either.
Lydie crept around the crumbling steps as if looking for a lost piece of jewelry. The sudden beep of the datapad came just a split second after the sharp turn of her head.
"There," she said, pointing to a nondescript mound of moss against the side of the ruin. "Do you feel it? It's bad, but it's not Sith."
It felt... wrong, off, but not in a specific way. In a familiar way, but with a taint of something else. Like there was a pressure in the Force that wasn't supposed to be there. He nodded and stepped forward, his hand on his lightsaber, a milisec away from it being activated. "What is it?"
“I don’t know.” Lydie had laid the datapad on the spongy earth, running her fingers over the rough stone methodically. Her fingers dragged a little, and then dropped to the spongy earth.
“It’s here, whatever it is.” She glanced up at him. “Dig in.”
Having a metal arm for over a decade didn't really get you used to people treating it as if it were a tool. "Not a shovel," Dustil muttered under his breath, lowering onto his knees and over the space in the Force. He pushed his right hand into the soft dirt and pulled out bits of rubble, rock, and fragments from the cave-in maybe or something that had been pushed over it. It was hard to tell. He dug in with his other hand once most of the harder bits had gotten out of the way. Lydie watched to see which areas he was focusing on, then quickly rolled up her sleeves and began digging when the harder surfaces were moved away.
It took a few minutes, before he got anywhere. Dustil was pretty deep into the dirt, his robes were going to be a mess later, but he hit on something-- something, it took him a moment to clear all the dirt away from the thing inside the ground.
Dustil's intake of breath was sharp, going mostly into his still organic lung.
Lydie rubbed her forehead with the back of her wrist, leaving a faint trail of dirt across her horns. Her nose crinkled, though whether it was in thought or at the sight (or smell) of the dead body before them wasn’t clear. “This doesn’t look like the ancient corpse of a Sith Lord.”
Dustil had only met the man once, officially. He'd seen him shadowing the good-natured Aves Dromus on every single occasion since the Election preliminaries began. Maybe it was knowing what dead bodies looked like from too much experience. Maybe it was because the man had the same expression when he died (with what was left of his still decomposing face) that he did when Dustil had shaken his hand with his metal one, months and months ago.
"No," Dustil said, his breath strained, as he fought to his feet, "it looks like Eli Fennut."