The Chosen Path from The Book of Paths
Summary: Six years have gone by since The Long Twilight Path. The newly reunited Republic is straining under martial law. As sentiments are turning against the Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi and his apprentice Bali Tiro return…
The usual disclaimers apply. George Lucas owns it all; I am not making any money on this.
Author's Note: This is the third and final chapter of The Book of Paths Trilogy. While this is an AU and much has changed, much remains the same. The first two chapters are: Book I An Uncertain Path and Book II The Long Twilight Path.
For my ally is The Force. And a powerful ally it is. All of life feeds it and makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we…not this crude matter. Feel it you must. Feel the flow. Feel The Force around you...
The Book of Endings
Along the very edge of the swirling Komari Nebula, where blues and golds danced in an eternal ballet of light just beyond the Mejor Straights and through a debris field of destroyed battle fleets was the tiny world of Itheria. It shined with the silvery brilliance not unlike any star as the inhabitants celebrated the first full planetary cycle without war.
The Galactic Republic had conquered its rebellious children, the League of Secessionists, and brought order to the front lines of the civil war.
Life had returned almost to normal for the Itherians for after nearly five years of being caught between the warring governments the fighting stopped and the blockades ended. Aid and trade were quickly resumed to the world of great soldiers and ship builders.
For through the darkest days of the civil war, they had kept their allegiance to the Republic. They had suffered through starvation and constant fear of Aveniar raiders as the battle lines changed daily. The Itherians had been cut off from the civilized galaxy as a whole and only in the end learned of the great battles and bloodshed that had marked the war.
All along the front lines of the battle, worlds had been devastated, as they had been the staging grounds for the armies and armadas of both sides. The Itherians learned how lucky they were to have survived with relatively little damage.
The Hokep world, a few days by hyperspace travel was little more than a burning husk left from the battle of Terkania where the Aveniar were soundly defeated and where the tide of war had turned in the Republic's favor. After Terkania, the foundering Republic pulled itself together and marched toward the Aveniar throne world. With barely a shot fired, the Aveniar crown surrendered and like that, the war was over.
The Itherians, nevertheless, had suffered from the blockade. Their world ran on the export of solva-alta, a cousin of the healing bacta. It worked on many species where bacta did not and had often been found as an excellent addition to bacta treatments. While the war raged, the solva plants continued to grow and be refined even if ships could not transport the healing material to where it was most needed.
Without the solva trade, they could not get the materials to build their legendary yachts and Toyga class corvettes.
Aid had come in the form of Bail Organa leading a small fleet of service ships with much needed supplies and help under charter of the Senate Loyalist Committee.
That was well over a standard year ago and while Itheria was far from complete recovery, it was stronger and ready to celebrate.
Supreme Chancellor Palpatine had welcomed the rebelling worlds back into the Republic under the Terkanian Edict. The returning worlds would submit to the law of a regional governor and would be forced to repay the damages brought to member worlds and protectorates of the Republic. The toll was heavy but the former Aveniar Imperium and its allied worlds agreed with little protest.
Palpatine named the Grand Duke of Itheria's Mohab sector the Mejor Regional Governor at the recommendation of the Loyalists.
The sovereign ruler of Itheria, Edylo Tanát, encouraged by his subjects, created a day of celebration to honor such an achievement for an Itherian. The Republic Senate had chosen Grand Duke Edylo Ledó as protector of the Mejor region, the highest position any Itherian had reached in its millennia long membership to the galactic wide government. Under the Senate's directive, the Archduke would help guide the former rebels to become a better, more productive part of the Republic.
Tanát stepped from the podium to usher the Archduke up with an ethereal grace. The Itherians were long believed to come from the same ancient, genetic stock as that of the little known Kamino. Although Tanát often swore to the contrary as he saw little resemblance between his people and the so-called cloners.
The tall, ash gray Ledó quietly eyed the crowd of well wishers and politicians before addressing them. "My fellow Republicans…"
The silent Kahier protected every strategic point inside and outside the room of dignitaries. The deep purple cloaked royal guards were of sturdy, Itherian stock and presented an intimidating presence.
For nearly seven centuries, since the royal family had first come into direct contact with members of the Jedi Order, they had strived to create a similar guard. While the Kahier did not possess Force sensitivity and carried energy pikes they were no less skilled warriors.
They mingled amongst those who had gathered around to listen to the Archduke's speech, yet their attention was not placed on political agendas. Immensely large, silvery black eyes scanned the surroundings and every being for the barest hint of threat.
In the room, filled with richly dressed beings and the tall Kahier, one figure stood out in the murmuring crowd. The knight was considerably shorter than the other cloaked figures but the sheltered face possessed respect from both the crowd and the Kahier.
Warm light cut through the elegant stained glass dome bringing a pattern of golds and blues cascading over the large room. The red highlights that seemed to dance in the crowd illuminated the bright green eyes that peered from beneath the oversized cowl. He was not Itherian, but rather what they strove to emulate.
He was Jedi.
Much like the Kahier, he too had been trained from infancy and it showed in his every move. This young man embodied the Jedi spirit, yet by their standards, at nineteen he was still a child. Bali Tiro had lived and experienced much more at that age than most would in their entire lifetime.
Twisting about the crowd, the padawan searched through his Force sense for the vague tug of warning. Through the ancient power, the young man cast out, reaching into every shadow and corner of the room and then beyond.
The intense fire of the Kahier burned bright as they too used their specially honed senses to study their surroundings.
A ripple so gentle moved through the Force that it would have gone unnoticed by a lesser trained Jedi. Even as Bali sought the source of the disturbance, it vanished as quickly as it appeared. Not allowing it to pass unchecked, the young Jedi scanned the room again. It came alive around him as the Force outlined the life energies that made up every being and object within. It sang to him, marking every thought and emotion flowing through the crowd, sensing descension and danger.
Pinpointing it, he turned to a nearby Kahier and with the smooth sweep of his hand, alerted the Itherian of danger. The tall figure silently messaged the other Kahier and raced toward the platform where the Edylo stood.
Two of the Kahier sprang into action, silently wielding their energy pikes with great efficiency and putting down the threat. It would have gone unnoticed by the crowd had the attempted assassin not begun screaming.
"Turiata Aveniar! Turiata Aveniar!" The yellow skinned Aven cried out drawing a whispering hush over the room. His continued pronouncements of "long live the Aveniar" grew unsettling.
Just as Bali moved to interfere, wanting only to stop the man's protestations another warning spiked through the Force. Bolting through the crowd, the Jedi shrugged off the flowing purple cloak revealing the soft tans and creams of Jedi dress. Green flashed as the lightsaber deflected two shots fired from within the crowd. Reaching out with the Force, he shoved the elegant podium out of the way and threw himself at the two startled royals sending all three of them sprawling to the floor.
The stunned crowd did little to keep the assassins at bay. Blasters fired from two different points in the maddened crowd. The Kahier struggled through the raging masses to calm them and prevent undue injury while still doing their duties to protect the sovereign and grand duke.
"Padawan Tiro," Tanát gasped as the young Jedi pushed him toward a door behind the stage.
"We must move quickly," Bali said, raising his weapon as the blaster fire became more directed. Reaching out, he hit the door behind the platform with a powerful Force shove sending it flying off its hinges.
A young Kahier quickly joined them and aided Ledó toward the door. "There are assassins outside, too!"
"We're targets if we remain here," Bali argued pushing Tanát closer to the door. "We need help."
Nodding, the young Kahier raised his head and unleashed a feral howl that drew the attention of all Kahier.
"That works," Bali replied with a smile as Itherians clamored around the Tanát and Ledó forming a living shield. Breaking free as the Kahier guided the royals out of the endangered chamber, Bali raced into the shoving crowd as dignitaries rushed to escape the assassin's blaster fire. He leapt forward deflecting blaster shots away as other Kahier desperately tried to herd everyone to safety.
A flash of blue and a pained cry rose from deep within the crowd. One of the points of blaster fire suddenly stopped but Bali had little time to notice as he struggled against the continuing bolts that flew toward him.
Halfway across the room, blue cut through the air and then there was a sudden silence. Like the blaster bolts, the crowd suddenly stopped.
Creating a wide circle around the lightsaber wielder, they revealed a sobbing Aven rocking on the floor and clutching his handless arm.
Obi-Wan Kenobi quietly eyed the room before deactivating his weapon.
The Book of Keeping Secrets
"What do you mean you are not returning to Coruscant yet?"
"Just what I said, my love." Those last two simple words should have possessed great affection with their utterance instead they were cold and stiff. The blue holoimage of Anakin Skywalker fluctuated and threatened to break up before finally stabilizing. He offered up a smile but it no longer possessed boyish charm. "As soon as I tend to business on Oselem, I will be home."
"That is what you said the last two times," Padmé Amidala wearily replied before sinking back into her desk chair. She felt tired on so many levels, both physically and mentally and her husband's vague references to "business" left her feeling ill. "But Anakin, we—"
The words caught in her throat. They had often suffered this conversation but it always ended in stalemate. Still, she had hope and would not quit trying. "I may be a Senator, but that is not all that I am. I do have a life outside my duty and am not expected to be a Senator every breathing moment. Certainly, whatever the Chancellor has you doing for him cannot be so important that you are unable to spend anytime with your wife. You are never home anymore." Pale fingers smoothed out the folds in the plain cut of her long blue shirt.
Sadness danced in Anakin's eyes as he shook his head. "You, better than anyone, know the Republic is struggling to rebuild. The reconstruction is a massive project. His Eminence needs my help."
"But why? You cannot be the only person in the entire Republic who can aid the Chancellor. There are others." She paused hoping this time Anakin would tell her about his duties, but the image only stared at her. It left her feeling uncomfortable because she did not know if it was because she was his wife or a senator.
"It is not your concern, my wife," the words were firm, carrying with them a hint of warning. Then, he offered her another smile. "I will be returning in a few days. Then we can speak." The holoimage seemed to be staring right at her and all she could see was a mask that hid his emotions behind it. "Duty gets in the way of us," he offered. "When I get back, we should travel to Naboo and we will wake in the mornings after a long night in a warm embrace and watch the sun rise over the country lake."
Anakin's words brought softly swirling remembrances of the first time they had gone to the lake retreat. He had been her protector then. They had laughed and enjoyed each other's company. There he had offered her his heart.
"Our feed is breaking up," Anakin abruptly said. "I must go." With that, the communication ended.
Padmé huffed. "It isn't enough that you withhold information from me, but now you are lying? The feed never breaks up." She stood up, trying desperately to release her agitation. Leaning over her desk, she opened a small panel on the side of the holoimager and proceeded to work the controls. The blue image appeared and the last transmission information was displayed. She scanned line after line of code until she found what she was looking for.
Anakin's transmission had gone through the stable Muok relay station near the Roche asteroid field. She had learned to read the data and regularly checked where her husband's messages came from. It seemed no matter where in the galaxy he was, the communications always came through the Muok station. Knowing that if she told him, he would become upset, she kept the information to herself.
Closing the panel, she began to pace about her office. Feeling cramped inside the small area, she quickly marched into the more expansive common room. Hands nervously tugged at her long shirt as she glanced around the muted greens and browns of the nearly six-year-old renovation. It was time to redo the apartment again or move she had not quite decided which. Twisting about, Padmé froze and stared out the expansive windows at the distant Senate.
Disgust turned into a knot in her stomach.
Her husband's secret missions for the Chancellor put her on edge. There were more things. There always were. Her distrust of Palpatine had grown since the senate had voted him emergency powers in the civil war.
Now, with the war ended, Palpatine had proven more than reluctant to release those powers. Republic doctrine declared once active hostilities had ceased the powers would be relinquished and all decisions would be made through the Senate.
It wasn't his control of the fleets of member worlds, it was the emergence of Palpatine's Grand Army of the Republic. They were created with little knowledge of the Senate to protect the Republic from further attack. Without senate control, they continued to exsert their authority, putting down the last of the rebel holdouts. And while the Senate was locked into debate about the merits of this army, funds continued to drain out of the Republic coffers to fund the growing fleet of ships.
In her few conversations with the Chancellor, he always spoke calmly about the need to protect the Republic while it remained so fragile. Yet, she had seen Palpatine's "protection." The brutal martial law he had instituted was choking too many worlds and the explanations were thin and often contrived, but no one would speak out against his authority. By doing so they would be branded as traitors and embargoes against their worlds would be installed to punish. If such outspoken beliefs continued, a blockade would be established.
She had even heard that some "traitors" were put to death, the same beings that had fought loyally against the secessionists at the Republic's side.
Walking over to the couch, Padmé pulled a dark shawl from the arm and wrapped it around her shoulders. She needed to focus and not allow her emotions to get in the way. There were important matters that needed attending to.
After all, Anakin was not the only one with secrets.
The Book of the Insubordinate Padawan
"Respectfully, I disagree, Master," the nineteen-year-old apprentice adamantly replied as he slowed his gait just enough to keep in his proper place at his master's side.
Obi-Wan glanced over at the youth and quirked a ginger eyebrow. Gracefully his pale blue gaze turned back to the stretch of hall that lay before them. He wearily tugged at his cloak for warmth.
Bali sighed while looking about and causing his long padawan braid to twist over his shoulder. The blue, red and white markers were stark against the rich brown of his cloak. Pulling his hand free of the billowing sleeves, he reached up and tugged lightly on the ginger strands of the flame tip.
He studied the calm presence of his master before noting the two Kahier patrolling the corridor, Bali nodded at them with a gentle smile, which was easily returned, even if smiling was not normally an Itherian facial expression. In the year he had lived among the Itherian's he had learned much about their ancient race especially not to underestimate the willowy figures. The Kahier may have been fierce warriors but they understood they must adapt to survive in the changing galaxy.
The two Jedi arrived to the struggling world expecting resentment. After all, Coruscant had not suffered as Itheria had. Shipments of goods arrived by the thousands daily.
Unlike the galactic seat that seemed to thrive because of the war trade, the Jedi's numbers dwindled during the years of battle. They had been targets, hunted and murdered by the secessionists and even members of the Republic.
The Itherians understood because the Jedi were welcomed into the Kahier training facility not only as fellow warriors but also as survivors of the civil war even though they had come to help the Kahier learn to guard against new threats to Itheria and the Republic as a whole.
When they were at a good distance from the two Kahier, but not out of earshot, which was truly impossible because Itherians had highly sensitive hearing, Bali continued his argument. "But Master—"
"No," Obi-Wan said evenly.
"You are being difficult again."
Obi-Wan spun about to face Bali, "And you are being insubordinate, my very young padawan learner."
The apprentice breathed heavily through his nose before humbly nodding. "Forgive me, Master."
The older Jedi folded his arms into the sleeves of his cloak again. "You would not have to keep asking for forgiveness if you would just remember your place."
"I am well aware of my place," Bali quickly returned. "I am also aware that I am late for my knowledge trials. You can't begrudge me that, Master."
Obi-Wan frowned. "Yes, I suppose I should encourage you in wanting to take a test."
"Besides," Bali grinned, "Bant must be near comatose from boredom not having you to entertain her."
Offering his padawan a withering look, Obi-Wan returned to the journey through the winding corridor. "I am certain Bant has kept herself quite busy."
"She has no one to argue with."
"She has the entire Temple."
At a doorway in one of the Kahier barracks, Obi-Wan stopped and palmed it open. The glowing opaque surface spiraled open allowing entrance into a small two-occupant cell.
Once inside the apartment weariness permeated everything about Obi-Wan's movements. Under the bright white overhead lights, stark gray wisps frosted his ginger locks and beard. Lines were etched deep into the flesh around his pale eyes. After only a few steps he faltered, no longer able to maintain the charade.
Lightning quick reflexes allowed Bali to catch the older Jedi's arm. Sometimes Obi-Wan accepted the aid; sometimes he shrugged it off. At this moment, the youth was glad when his master took the offered support.
"You are wearing yourself too thin, Master."
"I just need to meditate for a time."
"Of course." Bali guided Obi-Wan to a nearby chair that his master had shown a fondness for. "These last few days have been strenuous for us all. Now that the celebration is over…we will get plenty of rest back at the Temple."
Cool blue eyes studied the apprentice.
"They will not keep us long," Bali quickly added, his bright green eyes twinkling. "Just long enough for me to prepare for the knowledge trial and to pass it." He knelt to one knee next to his master's chair. "We'll be off again before you even have a chance to get settled. We're needed elsewhere."
Sighing heavily after a pause, Obi-Wan finally nodded. He reached out and brushed trembling fingers through the youth's dark spiked hair drawing a warm laugh. "Let the Temple know we are coming."
"So they can lock the doors and pretend no one is home?" the apprentice happily teased as he leapt to his feet.
"Let them try."
Bali had enjoyed his time on Itheria but it was not the Temple and not where his friends were. All he truly wanted was to go home. He rushed to the door eager to get to the communications center but paused and turned back.
"Master," the apprentice softly whispered, quietly retreating to the chair where Obi-Wan slumped in a deep sleep. Adjusting the older Jedi's cloak to better protect from the phantom chill that had haunted him for so long, Bali whispered, "You should not wear yourself down so."
The Book of the Old Acquaintances
In a brightly lit corner of a small café on the bucolic world of Oselem, Qui-Gon Jinn sat at a stone table. The salty air of the Criapin Sea where the tiny village of Macaco overlooked tingled the elder Jedi's nose. Reaching languidly across his notes spread over the marble surface he picked up a delicate white teacup holding it firmly at the sides. The steaming liquid that passed for tea went down smoothly as he returned to the study of various reports he had recently gathered. The white haired master paused to make a secondary notation on the data pad he had been studying.
He had managed to spend the better part of the last six years removed from the Jedi temple. The apartment that he had long held was abandoned to temple housing for he had no apprentices to maintain such a fine, double-occupant place and no desire to stay there alone.
Sighing softly, Qui-Gon tried to focus on his notes and not the dread of his impending return home. There was just one last incident of abuse to check into and completing his report before leaving Oselem. Then his special mission for the Senate Loyalist Committee and alternately, the Jedi Council would be finished. Unfortunately his report gave little proof that Supreme Chancellor Palpatine was using his war powers in an unethical manner. Except that the growing list of dead politicians and power brokers charged with treacherous actions on scant proof was growing too difficult to ignore.
By dawn of the following morning, he would be on his way to Coruscant to personally deliver the report. The Republic was so unwell that one could not tell friend from enemy or trust normal communication routes. Everything must be done in person.
While taking another sip of the warm tea, the elder master felt a gentle ripple in the Force that sparked his attention. The familiarity caused the Jedi's breath to catch. It had been so long since—
He leapt up from the table with a speed that defied his age and abandoning his work, he raced outside the café. Glancing about the street that was filled with locals making their way home from a day working on the edge of the salty sea. He pushed against the current of pedestrians searching for the source of the familiar signature. Even as he reached for it, the signature quickly dissipated.
Over the years, he had imagined sensing the signature, imagined it heralded a return. Reaching out again, he felt it, even as shielded and shrouded as it was.
A deep blue cloaked figure wading into the crowd did not slow but instead kept a steady pace, vanishing into the throng.
His heart beat wildly in his chest fearing that he would lose to boy again. Driven by determination, Qui-Gon sprinted toward the powerful beacon in the Force that had once been his padawan. "Anakin!" he called out again. Midnight blue eyes caught sight of the cloak just ahead. A relieved smile danced over his aged features. "Anakin." Shock, hurt and joy filled that one word as he reached out and pressed his large hand to the tall figure's shoulder. "Padawan."
The unwarranted touch and that final pronouncement caused the figure to spin around wildly. Hand gripping a blaster as the cold, hard gaze from beneath the lowered hood settled on the startled Jedi master. "Master Jinn," Anakin cooly replied. He shrugged away from the hand placed on his shoulder. "It has been a long time."
"Yes," Qui-Gon said struggling with the joy that was quickly overcoming him as he studied the young man. "Six years. So much has changed."
Anakin nodded then adjusted the indigo blue cowl and turned away.
"Wait," the master still managed to call out although he was stunned by his former apprentice's abruptness. "I was having tea, won't you join me?"
"I am on business." Anakin paused, eyeing the older man. "I am in service to his Eminence, the Chancellor," there was a haughtiness in his tone.
"I have heard that you are captain of the Praetorian Guard." Who had not, Qui-Gon wondered, it was spread far and wide over the Holonet of Anakin's promotion after the war to protector of the Republic. In transport stations, he had often watched the holoprojector spill images of the youth to the public. The hero of the Battle of Bogden was now fighting a war against those who would ruthlessly betray and harm the Republic and its civilians.
"I serve the Republic in my own way as I am sure you do, Master Jinn." With that the twenty-five-year-old nodded curtly, turned and marched away.
Qui-Gon was left standing there alone watching as his former padawan disappear into the crowd again. His shoulders slumped but not with age. The pain that had filled him those months following Anakin's departure from the Jedi Order returned with a vengeance causing a stabbing sensation in his heart he could do little to dull.
Taking his time, he returned to the little café and the undisturbed table with his abandoned work. Fingering the edge of the data pad where his notes were stored he roughly shoved it away and stared out the nearest window toward the Criapin Sea. Its green waters glittered under the white sun as it passed toward afternoon.
The way the young man had said his name reminded Qui-Gon of how Obi-Wan had spoken so many years ago. Everything about Anakin was cold and detached and emanated of a vague warning.
Shoving that last thought to the side, the white haired Jedi wondered what he had done to hurt his padawans so.
The Book of Heading Home
In the glowing white of the two-occupant cell deep within Niosk Barracks on the Kahier training grounds, Obi-Wan Kenobi knelt in a deep healing meditative trance. It was a daily ritual for the Jedi but it was not to calm his thoughts but to allow the healing energies of the Force to flow through him mending the torn fiber of his very being.
It had been so easy to open himself to the Force, shunting the energy through him into that of his dying padawan just as it had been when he saved his master. Every argument and every practice session was rife with the knowledge of just how close he came to losing Bali. And he knew he would do it all again just to hear the youth's laughter one more time.
His thoughts were too strained and unfocused to remain in the depths of a healing meditation. The flight back to Coruscant would take several days and he would have plenty of time to rest.
Still keeping in a light meditative state, he sought the raging emotions wishing only to be able to release them into the Force but they unmercifully held fast. Obi-Wan dreaded returning to the Jedi Temple. Admitting softly to himself, there was fear that he would not be allowed to leave once he got there. It had been quite difficult to secure this or any mission from the Council. They feared his health and his mind were not up to the stress of a mission even though knights were desperately needed in the field.
While his face remained a mask of serenity, his heart ached. He had spent the mass of the civil war in the Temple recovering from his injuries as his friends and Jedi brethren died in the field as resentment of the Order grew.
Towards the end of the fighting, he and Bali had finally taken a few short diplomatic missions to sympathetic worlds, where he had learned much on those missions. He could show no signs of weakness it would be exploited. Again he had returned to projecting like he had in the years before he took on a padawan. It was the only way. The cold, hard image served him well and it kept those who would threaten he or his padawan at a distance.
Bali often said it made him nervous.
Every time he looked at the youth, he was surprised. Bali had grown so much in the blink of an eye. He wasn't a little boy scrunching his nose in curiosity. Bright green eyes were sharp and focused always on the task at hand. He was a good padawan. Obi-Wan knew Bali would never stand among the best or the greatest the Order had to offer, few did. He would not even be close, but Bali would be a good Jedi because he embodied the ideals of millennia of teaching. In the end that was all that mattered to Obi-Wan. Not how high scores were or how many contests his padawan won, but that Bali upheld the Code and always acted in an honorable fashion. That he would be the best he could be.
From far down the corridor, he felt his padawan's warm Force signature. It was almost time to leave. Their meager belongings had long since been packed away for the journey back to Coruscant. He had left Bali to tend to the details while he meditated.
It had been a blessing to be sent to Itheria. It got him out of the Temple and away from Bant's constant nagging and Yoda's determined prodding. He had enjoyed teaching better ways to handle security to the Kahier. And he and Bali had learned invaluable lessons in handling energy pike users in battle, although the ginger haired Jedi was quite certain he would never put such knowledge to use unless he just happened to be storming the Chancellor's office.
Relaxing into his meditation again, he allowed the Force to move through and around him, flowing like a gentle stream. Its waters were alternately warm and cool as the power ebbed and flow easing tired muscles and calming his thoughts.
And, like it had every time he found peace a bright flash of electric blues and purples blinded his mind's eye. Jerking from the calm state, his pale gaze danced around the room as he struggled to find his center again. Breaths came short and shallow until the spots cleared from his vision and he found himself in the center of his quarters on Itheria again.
It had been years since his mind had sought the warm sands of that path lost to him. Instead of dreaming of sand and wondering what his purpose in life was, he had found one in a dark haired padawan and the visions had passed quietly without notice.
After saving Bali from the clutches of death, the visions had returned but not in the form of gently shifting grains. Instead, it came as a shrouded face and wicked laughter with electric bursts of energy that he knew too well to be anything other than Sith lightning. He had felt the pain on his own flesh and had known what it had done to his padawan.
Knowing what it was did not explain why the image haunted his meditations or whose face it was he could not see.
The Jedi sighed softly long before he heard the footsteps anyone else would not. Rising smoothly from his meditative stance and then he quickly masked any thoughts that would give away his vision. Bali did not need to know. Pale blue eyes turned to the doorway just as the apprentice appeared. "The ship is ready."
"Why did I bother walking all the way down here if you already knew?" Bali playfully inquired.
"Because you are afraid I will not leave Itheria unless you personally drag me to the transport," Obi-Wan said as he shrugged into the folds of his cloak and approached the door.
"It would not be the first time." Bali wickedly grinned. "Remember Talis Oonae?"
"It was hardly because I was afraid to leave, my apprentice." Obi-Wan returned the smile as he stepped into the corridor and waited until Bali joined him.
"Yes, I remember now," the apprentice teased. "Lady Marnia was waiting outside your door for quite some time. She was very upset to discover you had climbed out the window."
"Yes and I had to walk on a narrow ledge half way around the palace before I could find some place safe to land. That was why I was late for the transport."
"Of course, Master," Bali teased.
As the two Jedi walked through the empty, alabaster corridor toward the small transport landing Obi-Wan glanced over at Bali.
Nervously the green-eyed youth glanced about then sought his master for answers. "Did I do something wrong?"
"No, Padawan, I was just thinking."
"You are not the same little boy who left the temple a year and a half ago."
"I was only seventeen. I am almost a senior padawan."
"You still have another year or two."
"As soon as I pass my knowledge trials. No more classes—"
"No more daily classes. There will still be many lessons to learn and many seminars and specialty training courses to advance your knowledge. And no, you do not become a senior padawan until you pass certain proficiency trials and are allowed on your first independent mission."
Placing his hand on the youth's shoulder Obi-Wan lightly squeezed it. "Do not grow up too fast, Padawan."
In the landing bay, a band of the Kahier honor guard lined the walkway leading to the luxurious ambassadorial yacht that waited to take the two Jedi back to the Republic core. At the appearance of the two robed figures, the guard stood to attention and their long slender arms raised energy pikes to honor them.
Obi-Wan paused at the display but the patiently waiting image of Tanát at the end of the walkway would not bring the Jedi to shirk his duties. Raising his head high, as he had through his stay on Itheria, the older Jedi walked evenly across the platform with his apprentice a step behind and to the side.
As they passed through the lineup of guard, each Itherian dropped their pike to their side and rattled the steel against the armor plating protecting their legs.
At the end of the long walk, standing before the chrome and blood red of the luxury yacht stood Tanát. "You break my heart, Master Kenobi and Padawan Tiro," his voice boomed so all the Kahier present could hear. "My guard are my friends, my family and I see you both as such and I shall miss your presence here in the crystal city."
The Jedi bowed before the royal and Obi-Wan said, "It is with regret that our duties call us back to Coruscant."
"There is no regret, Master Jedi. I was young once and know what it is to be stationed far from home for a long time. I was once a Kahier just like these young men." The ash gray figure swept his arm out indicating his guard. "Lived on Coruscant protecting my uncle a senator for nearly two standard years. You long for home and I do not blame you."
"Thank you." Obi-Wan glanced over to Bali who waited quietly. "My apprentice is looking to begin some of his trials."
Tanát offered the Itherian equivalent of a smile and nodded to the apprentice. He offered a Kahier warrior's blessing, "Mihak kote aallie."
No greater honor than to serve.
Bali bowed humbly.
Turning back to Obi-Wan, Tanát continued, "I am told another team will be arriving in a few weeks."
"That is my understanding," the older Jedi replied.
"Good. But they will not be you."
"That may be a good thing, your Grace."
The Book of Healing Part I
From the quiet comfort of darkness came the soft glow of light. It was so far away and the padawan wondered if he had the strength to reach it. He needed the warmth and protection of the light wishing only to wrap it around his sleepy form.
The Force beckoned him toward the golden glow that that lingered just beyond his reach. He could feel the energy of life all around him and longed to join them.
Reaching out through the familiarity of the training bond, Bali brushed up against his master's warm thoughts. Joy erupted through him as bleary green eyes opened to the small room in the healing center.
"Master?" the boy softly croaked as he searched the world filled fuzzy blotches of color. "Mas—"
A gentle hand pressed his mouth closed stifling the sound that made his throat hurt.
Recognizing the voice in his head, Bali bounded forward into the heavy cloak and warm body within, wrapping his arms around his master's neck. Tears streaked his pale cheeks. "I had to go, Master," he whimpered clutching tight and burying his face against Obi-Wan's chest. "I had to go. He would have killed you."
Through the bond, he felt his master's understanding but he wished only to be told with spoken words that everything would be all right. Bali settled with the protective arms that wrapped around his trembling, weak form.
It is all right, his master's voice whispered through the training bond.
"He wanted to hurt you. I felt it. He wanted you to hurt. Master Spex said someone was trying to break the prophesy and everything is messed up. He said the chosen one would kill you. I couldn't let that happen." Even though weakness laced through his thirteen-year-old form, he held on for his life. His master was there, alive and that was all that mattered.
The Book of Political Adversaries
The Senate Guard remained motionless, as if not noticing the procession of Senators that marched through the entrance to the Chancellor's offices. Their deadly Force pikes rested against the blood red material of their uniforms always just a beat from reacting to any threats against Palpatine.
Offering the guard little attention, Padmé Amidala and Bail Organa led the parade into an anteroom before the security corridor to the main office. Behind them was a myriad group of senior Loyalist senators from powerful worlds throughout the Republic.
The imposing, blue skinned Chagrian, Mas Amedda, blocked the entrance to the corridor. "You will stop," he commanded.
Stepping to the lead, Bail Organa used his own height to create an equally powerful presence. "We will not be ignored by the Chancellor anymore," the Alderaan Senator boomed.
"You will not barge in on the Chancellor like this. He is in a meeting—"
The Loyalist Committee surged forward, pushing Amedda to the side as they poured into the corridor and burst through the simply decorated doors and revealed the deep reds of the expansive inner office.
The beautiful Senator from Naboo marched forward as Palpatine quickly rose to his feet in shock at the interruption. "Chancellor, we must speak," Padmé demanded while she glanced about the room noting that it was empty.
The withered expression of the politician framed dark eyes that coldly studied the impetuous Senator. "Then schedule a meeting."
"It appears you are free now," Padmé shot back. "Certainly, Chancellor, you cannot be too busy to speak with the Loyalists." She was always conscious to refrain from using any title other than "chancellor". The connotations of referring to him as "His Excellency" bothered her.
"Amidala," Palpatine said with a forced smile as he held his open palm out to her but she refused and he took back his gesture. "It is a time consuming and great burden to guide the Republic. As indeed you must know from your days upon Naboo's throne."
"I did not rule with an iron grip." She adjusted the heavy skirt of her deep blue dress. The dark colors suited her mood and she knew she was more likely to be taken seriously in them than fluffy light colors. "The civil war is over."
"Only the fighting, my child," Palpatine replied less than warmly. "There is still a war going on."
"What war?" Bail interjected speaking in the smooth, cultured tone of a high born member of Alderaan society. "The Aveniar and other seceding parties have surrendered amicably. A treaty has been drawn and they have agreed to accept Loyalist governors during the period of reconstruction. Far too many worlds suffered during the fighting and now they suffer under an unreasonable martial law."
The Loyalist senators erupted, all agreeing with Organa's assessment of the situation. All of them rallying for the Chancellor to turn the governorship of the reconstruction back to the Senate.
"Please, please!" Palpatine called trying to quiet the group. "If I did not believe you to be nothing but loyal to the Republic I would think you are threatening mutiny. We cannot suffer another civil war."
"Chancellor," Padmé said evenly approaching the politician. "You have taken control from the Senate. Your loyalist laws are far too stringent and too easy to convict anyone of wrongdoing—"
"All I want is to protect this great Republic, much like your husband. His command in the Battle of Bogden saved so many lives."
"This conversation has nothing to do with Anakin," she said sternly.
The aged politician studied the young woman for a moment, then returned to the subject of the impromptu meeting, "The Republic has become ill. While it is weak those who would seek to undermine it will cause the most damage. They are an infection that must be fought against before it turns into a disease that corrupts the entire body. As the Republic strengthens the hold will be loosened."
"That could take years, decades even."
"Perhaps." The Chancellor eyed her sadly, his gaze pausing on her too long. "It is a small price to pay for peace, is it not?"
"It is when loyal worlds are being targeted for no clear reason."
Muton Urot of Udali cut in. "There is no proof of secessionist activities on Magus Io, yet you blockade them. You have offered no reason—"
"There is a terrorist cell—"
"A cell?" another senator laughed. "A cell? A few dozen members out of a population of forty million. You have cut off all trade with the Republic. Their world depends on trade especially that of Miscus. They need it to refine a vaccine against a deadly plague that affects their people. They are dying without it."
Palpatine's dark eyes searched the faces of those who waited for an answer. "I am not at liberty to discuss…I am working for the good of the Republic, you must understand that."
"Of course we do." Padmé straightened displaying her finest diplomatic mask. Yet she could not help the chill the raced down her spine as Palpatine's eyes settled on her once more. "As we all are looking out for the good of the Republic, the emergency powers should be transferred back to the Senate. Lay this burden on the community and not on the shoulders of one man. It tends to look less like a dictatorship."
"I understand your concern—"
"Evidently you do not," Bail interrupted. "You have repeatedly refused Senate inquiries into the origin of the Republican Army. If this is an army of the Republic is should be controlled by the Senate."
Drawing his dark gaze to the tempestuous man, Palpatine said warningly, "Be careful, Senator. Such a tone might be misconstrued as anti-loyalist and have to be dealt with." Walking briskly away from the stunned senators, he returned to his desk.
Padmé and Bail exchanged startled looks.
"I suggest, Senators, you look at the larger picture." The Chancellor sank into his luscious desk chair. "The few worlds that are crying abuse have always cried. They have taken up our time in the Senate, keeping us occupied while the Republic crumbled under strain. It is after all, the petty bickering of senators that has led us down this treacherous road to begin with."
The Book of Strained Positions
To the even hum of engines of the blood red and silver Itherian ambassadorial yacht graciously loaned to the Jedi for their return to Coruscant by the Itherian Archduke Ledó, a figure moved silently through the open cargo hold.
Sweat glistened against his golden flesh as he moved into one of the more complex moves of an upper level kata. The pale glow of his lower powered lightsaber cast soft shadows over taut muscles that rippled under the skin as he breathed out a calming breath. The blade hummed twisting though the air, lightly grazing the corner of a packing crate. The long blade arced and drew back, easily coming about in an elegant back slash. The light splashed across his gently arched spine.
A deep intake of air as he twisted about, bringing the weapon forward and then twisting again with the grace of a dancer. Rivulets of sweat worked their way over the concentration-furrowed brows as he brought the glowing blade within a millimeter of the low ceiling.
The Jedi's tight chest expanded with another deep breath. Cool air ached in his warm lungs but he would not let it draw his attention away. Taking the hilt in both hands, he withdrew a step. Silently placed boot steps took him quickly forward before evenly thrusting the emerald green blade forward, stopping just short of the bulkhead.
Exhaling again, the deadly weapon deactivated as it was fluidly brought to his side. Remaining perfectly still, Bali continued the slow breaths allowing each one to completely fill his lungs before thoroughly emptying them. Once his mind had returned to a meditative still the young man relaxed allowing the gentle vibrations of the ship to enter his being. The carefully blocked silence was released and all the sounds of the ship returned.
Holding the saber hilt at arm's length, he studied the weapon. He had not built it but he carried it with comfort for it had been in his possession for over two years. Its sleek silver and black body had belonged to a young knight named, Urim, who had been killed during a dangerous mission. Urim's former master had offered it to Bali as he had lost his own on the same mission. It had never occurred to him to build another. The green bladed saber was a fine weapon by the youth's standards.
Lightly brushing his fingers through his dark sweat matted hair he drew it back up into the standard padawan spikes. A flick of the braid pulled it from behind his shoulder to brush lightly down his chest. Near his ear was a small red thread tied around the braid, further down a blue. Tying off the plaited hair was another red but above that by centimeters where the ginger flame tip turned to the youth's natural dark brown was a white string tied carefully around the plaited hair.
It was a reminder, if ever there need one of in his youth when he had first faced a Sith. His fear for the safety of his master had given him the strength to Force push the black-cloaked figure across the room.
More often than not though, the white marker reminded him how that same Sith had killed him.
There was no nearly. Had his master not intervened he would have been dead from his injuries. Instead, he passed them onto his master during the older Jedi's desperate attempt to save a disobedient child.
Bali stalked across the cargo hold and found his tunic and cloak. Absently he longed for a warm shower, then on to the terrible task of his studies. At least he was at the age when classes were no longer a daily part of apprenticeship. That was of course, if he passed the basic knowledge trials.
His journey through the narrow ship ended at the lounge. It was well lit and extravagantly decorated. One of the Archduke's many wives was reputed to be a decorator and she had spared little expense on the fancy Itherian built yacht.
In a tall-backed chair sat Obi-Wan Kenobi who looked terribly out of place in all the surrounding luxury. The Jedi was wrapped as always in his extra heavy rust colored cloak. Fingers of his left hand lightly trailed the edge of a data pad reader.
Briefly, the apprentice wandered what tome of Jedi philosophy his master was reading now. Not that it particularly mattered. It was something the older Jedi had taken to in recent years. It occupied his mind while his body struggled to conserve strength during downtime.
Quietly reaching out, Obi-Wan picked up a small cup and lightly sipped the steaming liquid. Bali sniffed the air, noting the rich smell of saroppo tea. It was a smell common to healing center back in the Temple. The drink was high in nutrients and quite gentle to those recovering from prolonged illness. It had taken several years but his master had learned to quit complaining about the taste and tolerate it.
Bali slipped the rumpled tunic on over his damp skin and sank to the chair across the table from Obi-Wan. He started to speak but was cut off.
"Instead of running through katas you know by heart you should be practicing up to face Master Windu when we return."
A slight frown crossed the youth's lips. "Master Windu will resume my saber practice?"
Obi-Wan took a sip of his tea but offered unhappy apprentice no look. "Some. It will do you good to practice with others and their style. You have been fighting me for too long."
"You have an unique style," Bali agreed.
"It would do you not to advertise it once we return to the Temple."
"Of course, we would not want Master Mace to find out about it too soon."
"At least not until we face off." Obi-Wan gave a mischievous grin before taking another sip of tea.
Bali returned the smile, hoping he would be lucky enough to catch the two masters at saberplay. His master's style had changed in the last few years. It was further altered by his time on Itheria. While the Kahier used metal swords, their technique and style would equal any Jedi in battle. With a few alterations to accommodate lightsabers, the art of saber fighting and defense could be further enhanced. Obi-Wan had learned well from the Kahier masters that taught swordplay.
Looking up from his studies, Obi-Wan stared at Bali for a time. Finally, breaking the silence, he asked, "Why do I dread going back?"
"Because Bant is waiting to give you grief," the padawan lightly answered. Growing more serious, he added, "They were offering us return to the Temple. You know how rare it is for anyone to get that leave to come back. They know I need to take my test. That is the only reason, Master."
The silence seemed to stretch forever between them and it allowed the padawan's thoughts to wander ever so slightly. He understood how his master felt. Truly he did. The Jedi were diminished by nearly a third in six years of war. The already strained ranks were put upon as they struggled to keep up with their duties throughout the galaxy. Bali understood this, truly he did. He also knew that every Jedi had lost a friend, crèche mate, master or padawan to the hostilities of the last few years.
In the civil war, Obi-Wan's friend Garen had been killed. The beautiful and wild Adjani'esan had died shortly after that near the front lines.
Bali knew, without a doubt that those deaths among so many others had been hard on his master. His friends were dying when he barely possessed the strength to journey from their apartment to the Council chamber. He also knew without question that had his master been well, they very well would have been casualties too.
"Bant may not even be there," Obi-Wan said softly allowing no expectation to filter into his voice.
The older Jedi quirked a brow in curiosity.
"Liril is on medical leave so Bant is working the healing center."
"Was she injured?" Worry shown in Obi-Wan's pale blue eyes as he looked to his apprentice.
"No." Bali's cheeks burned bright red. "I'll let Bant tell you. She's already told me way too much."
Bali shook his head. "Talk to Bant." He giggled nervously glancing about the room and hoping to think of something to change the subject with. "It's some sort of weird Liril thing."
Obi-Wan nodded in understanding. "At least I don't have to go through some weird Bali thing with you." He eyed the apprentice. "I don't, do I?"
"No, Master. I am Jedi and will not be distracted by…certain passions."
"It is not a crime to have passion, Padawan." Then he added, "In an appropriate manner and place of course."
"My studies are far more important than any frivolous personal entanglements."
"You sound like an old man," Obi-Wan said folding his arms across his chest. "We cannot always help it. Our hearts sometimes become conflicted."
The Book of Temple Ghosts Part I
Qui-Gon Jinn stormed through the anteroom to the massive doors that sealed the Council chamber away. His hands met with the cool wood that kept him from his goal.
The doors swung open and he marched in. The gray-hared master was not surprised by the calm manner in which the circle of twelve greeted him. He sensed they knew he was coming. He twisted about, studying the masters before stepping back and adopting a peaceful pose of the Jedi master he was.
"What is the meaning of this interruption?" Mace asked coolly never allowing his gaze to falter. "We are—"
"Making a grave error," the tall master said quickly not wanting to give the councilors a chance to chase him out of the chamber. In the ensuing silence, he folded his arms across his broad chest. His deep blue eyes studied several of the silent faces. The quiet was only broken when Qui-Gon chose to. "I know you sent Obi-Wan to aid Ka-Yro."
"Master Jinn," Plo Koon said sternly as he leaned forward in his seat, "that is privileged information. How did you—"
"I spoke to Ka-Yro. I know only the gravity of her missions and not the purpose. You sent a newly knighted Jedi to aid in her escape." He carefully eyed Yoda before allowing his gaze to search the placid gazes of several of the other members. "While I know nothing of the original mission or its nature," he stressed, "I know you were wrong to send Obi-Wan."
"Well trained knight, he is," Yoda said.
"A knight of merely a few months," Qui-Gon corrected.
"Do you doubt his training?" Depa Bilaba asked.
"I have great faith in Obi-Wan's ability." The graying Jedi said slowly so not to be interrupted. "I doubt he is ready to face such dangerous missions."
"He faced them as your padawan," Depa replied, he deep brown eyes looking to and through him to discern the truth in his answers. "Did he not make critical judgements on his own?"
"Yes." Qui-Gon closed his eyes and frowned. His passions had driven him to abandon Anakin at the healing center to storm in here. His passions were going to make him say things he would later rue but he could not heel himself. "Do not send Obi-Wan on these retrieval missions. Let him get his footing as a knight first."
"He was the most capable Jedi within a reasonable distance," Mace vaguely explained before leaning back in his seat.
"I understand. One time, possibly but he has already experienced three such missions. Three! Most do not see that many dangerous missions in years of service." Qui-Gon struggled with his raging emotions trying desperately to keep them in check. The calm faces that stared out at him were infuriating.
Marching forward the Jedi grabbed Mace by the arm and pulled the stunned Council member to his feet. "Come up to the healing center and see your handy work!"
"Master Jinn!" several voices called out.
Nearly yelling, Qui-Gon continued, "He's drugged out of his mind! Tied up like some criminal—"
Plo Koon and Ki-Adi Mundi were on their feet pulling the maverick and the senior councilor apart.
"You sound like a master defending your padawan," Plo Koon hissed through his breathing mask as he pushed Qui-Gon to the center of the room. "But knight Kenobi is not your padawan. Young Skywalker is."
"Seeing Obi-Wan is a knight," Ki-Adi Mundi picked up, "choice of missions should be his undertaking, not yours. Skywalker is your padawan and his training should be your only concern now."
The Book of Evil Plans
The dark shrouded figure moved silently over the debris-strewn floor. A red haze permeated everything where shadows did not exist. There was a distant ethereal hum floating around the crumbling structure in the heart of Coruscant's industrial district.
Sidious paused in the center of what once had been a grand room in an ancient Senate building. He imagined his predecessors had walked amongst the various races while silently plotting their domination of the galaxy.
Where they had failed, he would succeed.
Making his way to an old stairwell, the dark lord slowly took down the broken steps into a poorly lit chamber. The deep red, waste filled skies and the nearly blotted out sun gave a menacing glow to the sealed room. A large window, new to the crumbling edifice stared out over the industrial wasteland. It looked like the center of hell and the bright shining city planet was hidden beyond the smog curtain.
Without hesitation, he approached the silent figure sitting in a large durasteel chair facing the window. A thrill raced through the dark lord as he pressed boney fingers into the figure's slumped shoulders eliciting a soft groan.
"It is time, my pet," he hissed.
The form did not move. Could not move for heavy restraints bound arms and legs to the unwavering structure of the chair.
Slowly making his way around the chair, Sidious delighted in the visage of his shrouded visitor. Stopping, his carefully hooded gaze shot to the distant corner of the room to find an old humanoid trembling. "I hope I will be pleased with the results, Dr. Makado."
The nervous man trundled closer to Sidious and his prize. "Created, I did, your Excellency, just as you asked." He kept bowing his head but fearful eyes remained fixed to the floor.
"You are an excellent reconstructionist, Makado, that was why I required your services." He paused, turning his attention back to the figure sitting before him. Pale hands stroked the figure's lowered hood, then grasped the black material pulling it away from the hidden face. A black emotionless mask stared out dully.
Bearing an evil grin, Sidious grasped the mask and ripped it free. A soft gasp escaped the Sith. "I had forgotten how beautiful you were." Never taking his gaze from his unresponsive prisoner, he spoke evenly to Makado. "Excellent work."
"Entirely flesh and bone, as you requested," Makado shakily intoned.
"Good." The dark lord's withered fingers stroked the soft flesh of the prisoner's cheek. "One last thing, Dr. Makado, and you are free of me. Inject the toxin."
"After all this work—"
Sidious twisted, but even with his hood lowered, his presence was enough to send the scientist into action. Makado raced about the room preparing a syringe with a specially developed poison.
The quaking humanoid slowly approached Sidious and his prize. "The toxin." When the Sith retreated a step that was all that was needed for Makado to drive the long needle through the layers of black material that protected years of work. Squeezing his eyes closed, he depressed the hammer and injected the bright orange liquid. "There."
Force shoving Makado away from his prisoner, Sidious studied the emotionless expression. While the dark lord's attention was occupied, the trembling Makado began to retreat from the room.
"I have not paid you for your services," Sidious said quickly, straightening. The moment Makado turned, the dark lord unleashed wave after wave of lightning from his fingertips. It took remarkably little energy to kill the scientist, having forgotten they do not possess the strength of a Jedi to resist death.
With the smoldering corpse quickly dismissed, Sidious' complete attention returned to the silent figure. "Now, my pet, you will do what you were meant to do. You will not fail me. In your blood flows a poison that will kill you without an antidote. You must receive injections every few days to continue living." He grasped his prize's chin, tilting the expressionless face up. "You only get the antidote as long as you continue to please me."
Drawing withered fingers into a tight fist, the bonds shattered and the figure toppled forward into the dark lord's comforting grip. "Master," came a soft whisper.
"I have a mission for you, my pet." From the folds of his cloak, Sidious produced a lightsaber. "Soon, you shall pay that troublesome Senator Amidala a visit. Make sure her husband knows who is responsible." He grasped the silent figure's chin again and directed it toward a small table a few feet away. "Fresh clothing for you, my pet." He smiled at the sight of creams and browns carefully folded on the table.
Withdrawing from the figure, he watched with great interest as the form stood and activated the pale blue saber blade. He had longed to see that particular lightsaber in action ever since he had stolen the weapon from his failed apprentice.
How dare she think he would allow her to keep Kenobi's lightsaber!