Sorry for another delay!
Again, a lot is going on in this chapter (the plot thickens and all that stuff)
As always I do hope you like it. Please read and review :)
Brutal moments down there! Not described graphically. However, you've been warned.
Disclaimer: I own nothing except for my OC characters.
~~~ Chapter 12 ~~~
They looked at the body closely. There weren't marks of fight, he had been strangled. And he hadn't been a planned victim, of that they all could be sure.
They has been just standing there silently, looking at the dead man with some grey hair and a few wrinkles under his green eyes.
"I guess we have nothing to do with it now." said suddenly Anakin. His voice was quiet but strong.
They looked at him, still saying nothing. It was Padmé who eventually spoke.
"What? Are you going to leave him?" her tone was surprisingly calm but it was easy to see that she wasn't very happy hearing this.
"Leave? He's dead, there isn't anything we can do for him now." yes, dead. He knew it isn't something you can stop. Even if one tries as much as it's possible. He tried.
"Maybe you can find the killer?" she asked but it wasn't a suggestion. An order, that was more like it.
"Dear Queen, I can assure you we will." broke in Obi-Wan. He didn't want to tell her that it's most likely Tanrai, she's still been in shock after the news.
Padmé closed her eyes but only for a second, as if she tried to calm down. Then, looking at the two Jedi, she gave a light smile and nodded.
"Thank you. Please, if you discover something, tell me immediately."
"As you wish, your Majesty." the Knight had bowed slightly and the woman turned around to face Anakin.
Giving him a stern glance, she left the dungeons and disappeared from their sight.
He followed her with his gaze wondering if he wasn't too rude again.
The day was incredibly warm and quiet. The sun in the middle of the sky was shining very brightly and although this planet is always calm and full of life, today something was different.
Anakin sat on the bench in green, big gardens where he could concentrate. He wasn't as experienced as Obi-Wan, but he knew if he focused enough, he would find an answer to troubling him questions.
He closed his eyes and took a calm breath, enjoying this moment. He felt safe here, for no one was observing him. The whole palace was on alert and he, being a Jedi, was respected among guards and servants. But despite it, he still has been doubtful if he really should be treated like a true Peace Keeper. He cannot keep even his emotions at bay.
He felt the Force within him. Powerful energy filled his mind and let him deepen in his thoughts.
He focused as never, for a moment he even couldn't feel the fear - present since the day he escaped the Zygerrians.
He was close, really close. Khir-Ah was on the planet and of that he could be certain. He just felt his evil presence, his lust for the revenge, anger.
"Can I interrupt?" a female voice brought him back to the reality and his irritation reached the very top. When he was about to turn around to shout, he saw who came.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, I didn't mean to." said Padmé quietly. Her shiny eyes truly apologised to him. She didn't have to say anything to make him notice she was really sorry.
"Pa-- Your Majesty? N-no, you're not... disturbing anything. I was just... thinking." he lied. He didn't want to be rude again. So he gave her a slight smile to reassure her.
She replied with the same and looked at the bench.
"Can I?" she asked.
"Oh, of course."
An awkward silence fell on the area and even birds weren't chirping now. All of this felt... odd, not a moment ago, they were arguing about the dead body and Tanrai. Now, they are sitting next to each other in such a nervous atmosphere.
And it had lasted for a few moments until he decided to speak.
"Listen..." began the Jedi Padawan, a bit shyly. "I-I'm sorry for being a jerk down there, in the dungeons." looking at her, he smiled lightly, hoping she hasn't been angry.
She found his gaze and saw sadness in them.
"I don't know why I snapped at you like that. My nerves-- I shouldn't have." he whispered and looked down.
"It's alright." she smiled. "I understand that even Jedi aren't perfect."
"Do you?" he turned his attention to her again.
"Yes." she nodded. "Believe it or not but... being a Queen taught me many things. And one of them is the pressure..." she stopped for a second. "Everyone wants you to be... perfect, wise and reasonable. And you... are fed up with it because you're also human. And you have rights to rest and be... yourself. Just yourself." she looked at the distance. They heard a small wind which was forcing leaves and grass to dance to its calm rhythm.
Anakin followed her gesture and did the same. How much he understood...
"Yes. Especially when... you hear that your emotions are bad and lead to the Darkside."
"The Jedi cannot have them?"
"They shouldn't. I mean... we are supposed to release our feelings to the Force. We shouldn't feel fear or anger. We shouldn't love. Or we'll lose our way." they made a quick eye contact.
"I haven't heard a bigger absurd since I don't remember. I think feelings shape us. They help. To be human is to feel. No offense, of course."
Anakin smiled lightly and nodded.
Indeed. If not for his feelings, he wouldn't be here now. His hope for happiness and anger for abandoning helped him survive. Anger might be wrong, but if it is the only way to stay alive... what's wrong with that? What's wrong with emotions for the Force's sake?
"I can't disagree with you." he added shortly and decided to change the subject. "What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you're supposed to be in the palace, safe with your guards and the Jedi."
Padmé laughed quietly and shook his head.
"I slipped away." she answered and gave him an amused look but then, the smile disappeared from her face and her expression turned serious. "I needed to think. I hide here sometimes. It's so peaceful here."
"I agree again." he grinned. She was different from other royal people, now he was sure. She even felt different. "It's beautiful here. That's a pity I have to go. Master Obi-Wan will be looking for me."
"He seems to be worried about you. He trusts you."
"Yeah." he nodded. "He trusts me."
He looked at her questioningly.
"Do you trust him?"
He hesitated. He wasn't sure. He didn't know. Many feelings, wrong and right ones were driving him crazy. The answer just got stuck in his throat.
"I..." he began quietly. "We-- it's complicated."
"... I'm sorry, I really do need to go." he said quickly. He didn't have any blasted desire to talk about it. Even with her.
Not turning to her to say her goodbye, he disappeared behind flowers, trees and bushes.
Padmé's gaze followed him and when he was nowhere to be seen, she sighed and looked around. The boy intrigues her almost as much as annoys sometimes. He is secretive and hides something. Of course, it wasn't her place, she was aware of the fact that she shouldn't push him, he will say everything when he trusts her more. And she really wished he would start doing so one day.
Obi-Wan has been searching for his young apprentice. He disappeared from his sight an hour ago and he hasn't returned by now. It was worrying him. The palace wasn't safe, especially for this young, reckless boy.
"Anakin, where for the Force's sake are you?" he asked himself, concerned. He was being paranoid, probably.
His Padawan would never risk his life but what if he decides to leave again? For some time, he's been different. Yes, grumpy he was often but not more than to 'stop annoying me' state.
He had been in hurry so he didn't even notice the person walking up to him. They bumped into each other.
He'd lost his balance but managed to stay on his feet. What he couldn't say about the other person.
"Oh, forgive me I didn't s-- Anakin? Oh, here you are, thank the Force." he said and looked at the boy. He helped him stand up.
"Thank you, Master. I've needed to get smacked, you know." he said half jokingly, half snappy.
"I'm sorry. I've been looking for you for an hour. Where have you been?"
"I... um... I needed to check on something. Have you discovered something new about Karann?"
"I have hoped you would tell me. I see you don't have anything."
"Well... I..." he saw a sparkle of hope in his Master's grey eyes. To be honest with himself, he has forgotten about Karann. "No I haven't. But I want to visit Tockocri one more time. He's surely got some information for us by now. Besides, if Karann is still on the planet, he will know that."
"Anakin... can we really trust him?" Obi-Wan wasn't convinced of the idea. Okay, that Twi'lek seemed to be honest but... it was about their safety, about Anakin's safety. He cannot lose him again.
"Why couldn't we? I've known him for some time, I know he is a good person."
"Anakin, you know I didn't mean it. You know what I'm talking about." he said firmly but still gently. Anakin knows him too well not to guess what he is thinking about.
The boy looked down and sighed heavily. Do they really need to go in this direction?
"Master... I know. But I trust him, he is my friend. One of few." he glanced at him. His eyes were a little wet but he was fighting.
He still pretends to be strong, untouched by these events. Inside he was wrecked. But it isn't hard to force a smile. It's much harder to keep a straight face, but a smile isn't a challenge. He has done it many times.
"I'm sure he is, young one. I'm just afraid he might tell someone inappropriate your real identity."
"He doesn't know it, Master. He knows me as Lars."
"Doesn't he really, Anakin?"
Anakin hasn't responded. No, he couldn't be sure. Tockocri may know. He is just good at hiding it. But if he hasn't tell anyone anything by now, he has no reason to do so at the moment, right?
"He... he won't say anything. I do trust him, Master." he replied suddenly. "Moreover, we both know there isn't any option left. We both need to trust him because he is now our last hope. Only he is able to gain the trust of conspirators."
Obi-Wan hated to admit it but Anakin was right. And they both knew it. He only couldn't stand the thought of the risk.
"... Fine. We do it your way." he eventually agreed.
"Thank you, Master." smiled slightly the younger Jedi. "You won't regret that."
"I hope so, young one. I hope so..." he lowered his voice.
It doesn't happen often, hardly ever actually, but Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi Knight and the Master to young Anakin Skywalker, was really afraid. Not because of a failure, but because of the loss. The loss of his beloved Padawan. In this case though, the failure and the loss is the same thing. The same terrifying and upsetting, blasted thing.
Tockocri, the orange-skinned Twi'lek in his thirties, was just sitting in his shelter, watching some ants on the ground.
He wasn't a Jedi, he wasn't a bounty hunter. He was just himself. A man who hid here not because he was forced to, but he just wanted to.
He doesn't like living in luxury. Maybe that's why he and Anakin started to get along. The boy when he met him was very scared and not trusting. He didn't want to tell him where he is from or his age.
Despite it, he helped. And didn't regret that, for this young Jedi regained the part of happiness which had been stolen from him. And he found in him a friend. He showed him other side of humanity. And when once he had discovered his real identity, he wasn't surprised of the secret. He understood.
Leaves moved, wind disappeared and he heard steps coming closer and closer. So he stood up and searched for anything suspicious.
"Who's there?" he asked. He wasn't afraid, no. He's learnt to fight.
When, as he expected, no one responded, he grabbed a blaster and looked around cautiously.
Something stirred in shadows. He stepped back, clutching the weapon even tighter.
"Show yourself!" he demanded firmly, bravely.
This time answered him a chuckle. Something eerie was in this voice. Something he did not like. Evil.
"Come on, you won't kill me, will you?" asked the raspy voice as the person emerged from the shadow. A tall Zygerrian of cruel gaze, grinning maliciously.
"What are you doing here?!" he asked again, his voice didn't shake. He didn't know him but when on Naboo appears a Zygerrian, it isn't a good sign. They are never the cause of happiness.
"I'm looking for... information. You sell some?" their eyes met. The intruder was still grinning.
"Not to people like you, scum!" he snapped angrily, gritting his jaw. He's remembered how Anakin told him about a tall, well-built Zygerrian, with brown, merciless eyes - Khir-Ah.
Although he didn't know the entire story, the man standing in front of him wasn't a pleasant view. He knew he shall not trust him.
"Hah... dear friend... why are you so mean? Aren't you curious what I'm doing here?" his tone still was irritating, hiding something.
"Not really. Better go away until I'm still calm." he aimed at him. He now noticed how his hands were trembling.
"It doesn't sound like calmness. Listen, I'll give you a choice, okay? You'll give me the information I seek for, and I'll let you live. The second option is... less pleasant, I can assure you." he grinned evilly.
The Jedi boy will pay. Khir-Ah knew he'd been here. He just felt this wrong odour. Revenge - it is the goal he's going to achieve.
"I choose the second one."
"Really." he frowned.
"Huh, I see. You're one of these... ehh, pity. We could have been good friends..." he lowered his voice to a dangerous level and after a moment of eerie silence, he grabbed the Twi'lek's neck. He fired but missed because of the sudden attack. He coughed as some of air escaped his lungs.
"The Jedi boy, what's his name?!" he hissed.
"I will tell you nothing, scum!" Tockocri spat.
"His name..." he tightened the grip. Twi'lek had less and less air. His eyes were about to close without a warning.
Can he betray a friend? Maybe he didn't tell him the whole truth and even his real identity, but it means he had reasons to.
"N-no!" he groaned weakly.
Khir-Ah growled and frowned, pushing him on the wall. Then, he hit him a few times, hoping his jaw would break. He will get the answers. One by one. He is never giving up.
"Tell me." he took a knife out of his pocket and in one second showed the Twi'lek his place. The sharp blade cut into his arm. The Zygerrian repeated the move three times. And each time was too painful to stop the scream erupting from the man's mouth.
The blade twisted. And a scream followed it.
Khir-Ah loved it. He wanted to kill the man right now. But he had a goal. Yes, he will break every single bone of the Jedi Padawan, he will make him scream louder than ever.
He will cry as he always used to on the interrogation. He will fall like a fly.
Smiling at all these thoughts, he twisted the blade two more times.
"And now? Will you tell me his name? Or another strike will be aimed at your throat."
Tockocri coughed, and tried to stop the bleeding. He wasn't going to give up. And Khir-Ah seemed to know that. So he pushed him on the wall and then on the floor, backhanding him.
"You are dying, but I can make it more painful for you, if you wish." he stated and grinning, stepped on his injured arm.
This time, agonised scream left his mouth. He wasn't sure if he heard cracking of the bones. The foot was heavier and heavier.
"An-Anakin!" he finally shouted. But just right after that, he started to regret the decision.
Has he just betrayed his friend? The boy was younger than him about 12 years but they got the connection very quickly. He felt good in his company. They were starving together. Hiding together, and fighting together with some aggresive people. Every memory ran through his head as grey, blurred flashbacks.
He closed his eyes, he saw more black dots but he couldn't give up. He had to warn Anakin somehow.
But he couldn't stand up. So he was lying on the cold ground, watching Khir-Ah, as he walked away, satisfied and happy, thinking of sweet death.
Anakin again showed him the way to Tockocri's hideout. He still hasn't been certain of this idea, but what choice they had? Besides, Anakin trusts him. He should start doing that as well. Maybe the man really wasn't bad.
"So... when did you meet him?" he asked, breaking the exhausting silence between them. The boy glanced at him.
"We-- I met him accidentally." a moment of silence again. "When I got here."
Obi-Wan sighed. Foolish of him was thinking that Anakin would tell him something more. The feeling he hides many more things hasn't left. But perhaps it's better if he hides some things. After all, he had been alone for six months. Without any support which he should have given him.
Why was he still thinking about it? Anakin was safe now and forgave him everything...
He looked around, feeling something wrong in the Force. Glancing at Anakin, he saw the boy wasn't feeling that.
... Maybe he was just being paranoid. Again.
But he sensed it very clearly. The darkness has returned. With double power. He had no doubt of that.
"Anakin, wait." he stopped him, grabbing his arm gently. The boy turned to him questioningly. The expression of his Master's face was concerning.
"What?" he asked and instinctively touched his belt where he had his lightsaber.
"I think someone's here. I sense the dark presence." Obi-Wan whispered. Anakin grew in worry.
He had a bad feeling about this. He may know who has come. And Obi-Wan saw his fear growing, his facial expression was clear. He needed to intervene to prevent him from another panic attack.
"Just don't leave my side and everything's going to be alright." he tried to comfort him. Anakin looked at him and nodded. The Knight sighed with relief.
They arrived at the place shortly thereafter. The presence seemed to disappear, so Obi-Wan could stop worrying that much. Anakin looked relaxed as well.
He didn't want to fail his apprentice, that's why he remained focused even if the darkness wasn't here already.
"Hello? Somebody's here?" called Anakin, walking into the dark, quiet cave. He followed him.
He looked around and saw the person on the ground. It was the Twi'lek.
'Not good.', he thought.
"Tockocri!" Anakin immediately ran up to the body. Crushing to his knees, he lifted the man's head gently.
They both saw blood marks on the robes. He was bleeding. But still, miraculously, alive.
"Lars..." he coughed, feeling guilty for betrayal. Will Anakin be very angry? Well, he surely deserved that.
"Tocky, what happened?" he asked concerned, nervously, biting his lips.
"Khir-Ah... the Zygerrian... he was here." he whispered quietly. "He knows... knows, Anakin. He knows... your name..." he coughed one more time.
Both, Anakin and Obi-Wan's eyes widened in disbelief. The Jedi Padawan swallowed thickly.
"You did know." he stated but there wasn't a surprise, nor anger, in his voice. Tockocri nodded.
"I... discovered it... accidentally... while you were... talking to that Jedi friend of yours, Devo."
His breathing and pulse were weaker and weaker. And Anakin's heart was breaking. He wasn't angry with him, he couldn't be.
"I'm s-sorry, Anakin. I..." he gasped but didn't finish. The last bit of strength left him and his lungs stopped working. Still in the boy's arms, he died.
"No! No! Don't leave me, no!" he shouted, his voice broke and he didn't bother to stop the tears, which were now slowly rolling down his cheek. He clenched his fists and hit the ground a few times, still protesting.
Obi-Wan crouched next to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. The boy looked at him tearfully.
"Master, help him! You must do something!" he said, trying to sound strong. Everything he had said earlier, in the dungeons, just lost sense. He now wanted to do something, anything.
"I'm sorry Anakin... I cannot. There is no way to reverse time. We cannot do anything now." he didn't want to say that, he really did want to help. But he couldn't.
"Don't say that! There is always something to do! We must help him! We must-"
"Anakin." he interrupted. Unlike his Padawan, he did sound strong, what didn't mean he wasn't sad. "Come to your senses. All we can do is to bury him." he just was the reasonable one.
Anakin was staring at him silently. Obi-Wan swallowed, waiting for his response. He didn't know what to expect. He wouldn't like to deal with outburst at the moment.
But Anakin hasn't answered. Instead, he just stood up and nodded. Then, the silence took over. And the atmosphere was dread.
Obi-Wan wondered if Anakin is in danger now. But if he is, one thing was certain - he will do everything to protect him.