The Broken Cadence Rolls
Written by LuvEwan
PG-13 (Dark subject matter)
Disclaimer: Nothing belongs to me.
Acknowledgements: This is dedicated first and foremost to shanobi, who thought of the plot bunny that later appeared in her thread and bit me hard. Thanks also to oe for her pm'd encouragement. And to each of my readers who have given me the courage to try new things, to experiment with my writing when I never would have before. The title is taken from the Norah Jones song 'One Flight Down', by Jesse Harris.
WARNING: This could be interpreted as a stand-alone, since I may not be able to work regularly on this while my other three fics are still in the writing process. But I had to get some ideas out. I think everyone can relate with that.
Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice encounter a terrifyingly skilled-and familiar-warrior during the epic battle of Naboo. AU.
/A seed grows where it is thrown/
Qui-Gon Jinn heard the words coming through his mind like a winged creature that darts with sleek, unexpected abruptness into a focused line of vision. There was certainly no time to recover from the strange shock, not even to pause and blink away the ripples that were widening through his intentionally uniform thoughts.
The Theed Hangar was usually a pristine area, with its stainless marble floor and classic architecture. But today, the harbor of starfighters and starships was no more than a crinkled, blood-soaked shell, holding death and desperation within, reflecting the struggle on the polished walls and the tile, somehow left without the scuffs of dashing feet.
They were traveling in a tight group, but the collection of guards on the fringes were loosening that strict binding as stray bolts made contact with vulnerable flesh. The victims went down with quick, surprised cries, but Qui-Gon knew they could not spare a moment to assess their conditions. And for many that went crashing to the ground, there was no question of their condition.
Death. Beginning at the heart of the city, it had spread cancerous to the very outskirts of Naboo, where weapons were now poised in the Gungan marsh. The war had even transcended the heavens. The pale sky was spotted with soaring, swerving, exploding compact vessels. Most of them were gone from the hangar, leaving the open end deserted by the bright yellow, molded bodies. Afternoon streamed unimpeded through in pallid blue and violet.
The Jedi Master glanced sidelong at his Padawan. Bruck Chun's colorless hair was set to a nearly eerie glow, the tips going a shade lighter while the base seemed to burn with the young man's determination. His profile had always been odd, helped none by the regulation, cropped style of that bleached mane, and Qui-Gon felt a tendril of worry worm its way into his gut.
"The disturbance." Qui-Gon murmured to the apprentice. They were moving quickly, but were still at the toe of the battling form, and the weak breeze teased along their necks. "It's here."
Bruck nodded, his severely black eyes trained ahead. "And its hungry."
An ominous observation, but Qui-Gon had to agree. Throughout the mission to Naboo, there had been an undercurrent composed of shadow and nameless dread, now sharpened and brought to the surface. It would have been a natural thing, to be intimidated by the potential power such a threatening force could wield.
But as a Jedi, some intrinsic reactions had to be overruled.
Qui-Gon spotted among the throng of handmaidens, at the core of the velvet, maroon gathering the Queen, running alongside the Naboo warriors and her young friends as though she herself were a seasoned fighter. He could be thankful for that much. At least he would not have to devote too much of his attention to ensuring her immediate safety. Padme Amidala could hold her own.
The band was closing in on the huge, ceiling-high double doors when they appeared to open of their own accord.
In unison, the guards, the girls and the sovereign skidded to a halt. Only Qui-Gon and Bruck could claim true Force sensitivity, but in this case, the rare gift was unneeded. A tacit caution connected them all. And in one, lurching instant, their hearts sped to an awful frenzy.
It was akin to a chalice of pure water, clean and filtered with a crisp taste, suddenly clouded by ink. The ebony horror began at the lip of the chalice, at the opened mouths of the warriors, and descended in a shivery rush, until darkness polluted the very atmosphere.
And the air was foul at Qui-Gon's tongue.
The stone curtain had parted smoothly to reveal a new player.
Death. Here it sprung again, and the Master recognized the demon before them, for it was decked in the feathers of his earlier, momentary distraction. He didn't know how he knew. But he did.
Darkness pooled around the figure, tangibly and spiritually. Beginning at the crown of the bowed head, black spilled in wicked fluidity to a cowl that ended at squared shoulders. The attire was striking in its similarity to Jedi garb. Tunic, belt, leggings, boots.
But while Qui-Gon and his Padawan wore a palate of earth tones, the intruder's were chosen from thick midnight. Fitting. It matched the shades that oozed from the Force, clots of boiled tar and acid.
From the distance stretched between he and the creature, he could not see the face, concealed as it was by the hood and shadow. He didn't have to. The dripping web that inexplicably drew him to the cloaked specter was enough to tell him that he could not allow the current situation to escalate. "We'll handle this." His voice was commanding while maintaining its quiet, smooth inflection.
Padme was soon jolted from the shared paralysis, tearing her eyes from the unnerving scene laid out. "We'll take the long way."
And, for reasons he could not yet begin to comprehend, her order echoed in his head.
The cluster swerved to the left in a fleeting din of steps.
Then, there were but three housed in the grand Theed Hangar. Two Jedi, and someone who was most definitely the polar opposite of one. But still, Qui-Gon found a thin layering of his innermost thoughts straying to those words.
Deep in his heart, he knew the contrast between himself, his Padawan and the shadow-masked warrior was not so stark, black and white. Because there was gray. Twin pools of silver, staring at him from across the hollowed hangar.
While he and Bruck had slipped from their cumbersome robes, their opponent had pulled the roomy cowl away from his face. His face--
Qui-Gon had to stop himself from gawking, from squinting to make out the landscape of the revealed countenance. What did the composition of those ghost-gray eyes, nose, mouth matter? Outward appearance was a misleading masquerade meant to be stripped away. And the mystery that lay beneath that face had already been spelled out for the Master, in rasping syllables that echoed through the Force itself. Evil. Death. As Bruck had said, Hunger.
And thirst, Qui-Gon added to that mental listing. Bitter, bottomless thirst. The horror before them had drank in the tainted moisture as though it were a cool pool in the center of wilderness.
Qui-Gon had encountered wickedness in many, many forms during his career as a Jedi. He had barely escaped with his life, from those who thrived on the grounds of desolation. This being, draped in malevolence as surely as he was draped in cloth, was different.
What the hells is it? Human?
Bruck's stunned and faintly curious inquiry was repetitive of Qui-Gon's own wonderment. It was human, that much could be ascertained, even by an untrained eye.
The warrior's robe dropped from its body to an obsidian puddle at its feet.
But there was more.
Though it appeared to wear a normal tunic of wrapped fabric bands and billowing sleeves, the dark enemy moved to strip away the clothing, as easily as he had abandoned its sooty cloak.
The material exposed was not armor, although it gleamed in a similarly unyielding way. Their enemy's form was sharply defined by the blackness that clung skin-tight to muscle-almost like onyx liquid, poured over the flesh and hardened to a malleable suit. It climbed up to the neck, but did not extend to the face.
The face. Surrounded by a short veil of raven hair, its pallor was creamy ivory. The eyes were slate, thin streams of murky cloud that seemed to shift and catch every color of the room, yet simultaneously, were carved in haunting stillness.
When Qui-Gon's own eyes could finally emerge from the hypnosis, they fell to the cylinder hanging from the phantasm's lean waist.
Bruck ripped his gaze from their patient enemy, the first real tinges of fear welling in his eyes. Master?
The man inhaled, subtly. Keep your wits about you, Padawan. This is no common foe we engage.
With his trademark mix of recklessness and flame-bright confidence, Bruck sent the message, I know, Master. And we have to destroy it.
There was a split second hesitation, when indescribable thoughts streaked through his consciousness. But the man quickly shook it off. Yes. But conserve your energy. Take the offense only when you must.Eyes of striking sapphire flickered to the menacing form, This being is strong. Physically. And in the Force. Even with uneven numbers, we just might be in an equal fight here.
Bruck's jaw was set. We're Jedi. What can this cretin do that we can't match? Or better?
I have no idea, Padawan. But I'm afraid we're to find out.
The step of the enemy resounded in the hangar, and as the gap between them rapidly decreased, Qui-Gon was appalled by how the creature was able to all but suffocate the brilliance of the Light. This was worse than the criminals that roamed Coruscant's lower levels, beyond the greed and corruption of the Trade Federation drones.
Could it be that this was the epitome of all Qui-Gon had been taught to abhor? Was this thing stalking toward he and his protégé Dark itself?
And, more pressing a question, would they be able to defeat it?
The silence was total, stretched out taut between them. Breaths seemed heavier in the absence of sound, but perhaps they were coming quicker, in time with the approach of their opponent.
The sheer malice that sheeted off the stranger's aura was not present in the darkly captivating visage. It was solemn, composed of gold and shadow, waiting. As though the creature expected a smooth, uncomplicated victory. As if Qui-Gon and his apprentice were reeds to be mowed down.
But they would not bend willingly.
When there were but a few meters separating them, the weapons were called to cold, preparing hands. Qui-Gon gripped the handle and worked his fingers along the familiar grooves. It was a comfort, however bare and departing, in the midst of violent clash.
Now all that remained was the activation, the final formality before rules were forgotten, and hell took reign.
He was the first, emerald shooting out in a sharp buzz. Then Bruck, a scarlet blade with a light haze, held at a defensive stance.
And lastly, there was the enemy. It held a deeply ridged, almost stylized elongated hilt, but turned the cylinder sideways.
Bruck's shock was swallowed up by the exposing of not one, but two blades, hurdling out both ends of the lightsaber. The dark figure possessed flawless balance, the red glow pooling in the curves of his cheekbones, and setting unnatural light to the black strands of hair.
Qui-Gon swallowed. May the Force be with you, Padawan.
And with you, Master.
Then, the battle began.
Qui-Gon was targeted first, the creature's saber slamming down on his mercilessly. Bruck hurried to defend his mentor, but was sent sliding across the buffed floor by a single strike.
Worse, it appeared their antagonist's attention was not divided by the extra opponent. The double-ended saber was whirled like a baton, becoming a blur of electric blood, blocking hits while delivering powerful, unrestrained blows that sent shock bolts up the arm.
Bruck stormed back into the fight, attacking, grunting. Already, the anger was bubbling in the young Jedi.
And there was no time for the Master to warn him about the consequences of such unbridled rage. If the boy did not know now, after a decade of training, he would never know. Qui-Gon just prayed there would be a chance for it to be discussed-afterward.
The muscled figure continued to parry every attempt at his person. His control over the assault was demonstrated when he threw out his palm behind him, opening a hatch, and leading the others through a corridor into a new arena.
A power generator, Qui-Gon registered, sweat beginning to spike at his temples. He was an aging warrior who would have to keep this younger, swifter, frighteningly skilled warrior at bay. And the obstacles were multiplied, for they no longer stood on a solid surface.
The generator core was a multi-tiered grid of catwalks, the thin bridges spreading out circular to house horizontal beams, tubes of pale energy that up close, quivered like quicksilver threads.
The dark fighter leapt from the corridor to the first bridge, twisting effortlessly mid-air, landing to face the two Jedi.
Bruck tucked into a clean somersault, Qui-Gon following.
The Master and apprentice were able to flank the warrior, engaging him at left and right, searching for a hole in its guard.
But it was fast becoming evident that there were no openings to take advantage of. The duel was tight, with every movement testing the edge of life and death.
Then, a well-placed kick blasted Bruck in the chest, knocking him off the entire level.
And it became a true war of wills, Master against villain.
The Jedi's foe seemed to meld in with the pall of the generator, the gray eyes a mirroring of the sparking collision of jade and scarlet.
A roundhouse kick was aimed at Qui-Gon's head, but somehow, he was able to duck the move well before it was executed. Of course Jedi could sense potential attacks, but he had known, precisely, where that booted foot would go, at what speed, at a specific intensity.
That kind of subconscious rhythm was usually reserved for a weathered battle team, lifelong sparring partners, like that of a Master and Padawan.
It didn't happen again during the conflict-but Qui-Gon didn't forget it.
They worked their way down the narrow lane, constantly leaping and striking and guarding. Perspiration ran down their skin, plastering hair to their foreheads. Qui-Gon wanted desperately to check on Bruck; the boy had not returned yet, plunged into the unknown depths of the core.
He hoped, if the boy was alright, that he used haste in rejoining the fight.
Qui-Gon needed backup. The man could admit, at the knee of his own Master Dooku, he had matured into one of the finest swordsman of the Order. On his worst day, he could best most opponents, Jedi or not. And it would have happened long before this, before the sweat saturated his tunics and his strength threatened to wane.
Their blades were entwined, bringing them face to face, their breaths like hot smoke on each other's flesh.
Qui-Gon looked into the gray eyes, still dumbfounded by their beauty, disgusted by the evil pounding at the pupils.
Neither gave way to the other, able to lean forward only a moment before being forced back again.
"What is your purpose here?" Qui-Gon demanded through grit teeth. He was growing dizzy from the reactions in the Force, now that they were in such intimate proximity.
The warrior shook his head. He was displaying shreds of strain, biceps tensing, the muscles of his back constricting. His skin was bathed in his efforts.
For a moment, the ethereal, white cast of the power beams spilled on the unnamed assailant's face, leeching the shadows from its features.
And Qui-Gon's heart clenched, then dropped to the turbulent pits of his stomach. No. His focus was torn to that face, unearthed by the nearby radiance. His eyes were reduced to slits. He could barely find the courage to speak, to say the words he had restricted from his lips for so long. "Obi-Wan?"
The other blinked, but said nothing. The hum of the sabers rose.
Then, a neon line was drawn through the dark, intersecting with a black shoulder.
Qui-Gon watched with shaky disbelief as the bolt shot through, taking the enemy down. The two-edged saber rolled away from a limp hand. He wheeled around and saw Bruck, standing some distance away, gripping a slim blaster.
A breath broke from Qui-Gon's laboring lungs. He closed his eyes briefly, in relief that the battle was ended. They had survived--a fact that he had been, for awhile, beginning to doubt the possibility of.
Then, he sank beside the felled warrior, taking in the scorched, blackened flesh as if he were functioning in a dream. Qui-Gon reached out one trembling hand, to turn the head towards him.
"Oh Force." He whispered. Even with the vivid eyes closed, he knew the identity of this cold-hearted fighter. The skin was covered in a gleaming wet sheen, the cheeks slender, forehead high and slightly wide. Parted to allow weak pants to pass, the lips were sculpted and thin, as Qui-Gon remembered. Beneath them was a distinct cleft in a prominent chin. The hair was vastly different from the auburn, spiky cut of his recollections.
Tentatively, he touched the silken drift--and a horrible shaft of anguish went through him. "Obi-Wan."
To his astonishment, black lashes lifted, and pain-bright eyes adhered to him. "You speak of someone long dead." The voice was still a soft, understated melange of dulcet and fine culture. But it wasn't the same. Just as the rest of him, it was a shadow of the real thing.
"Someone that no one mourns," A grimace, "Someone I've never mourned."
When the eyelids fell again, Qui-Gon looked up to see Bruck. From the expression marking the boy's pallid face, the Master knew the boy understood.
"Are you alright, Padawan?" He asked hoarsely.
Bruck nodded. "Yes, Master."
Qui-Gon compressed his lips. "Then…Then find a healer."
The apprentice stole a last glance at the still form, a storm flitting over his face, then sprinted to carry out his teacher's order.