But even exhaustion could not foster sleep in a troubled spirit.
He sat on the cot, his booted feet hanging limply over the edge, just brushing the dusty floor. In his lap, lay the obake. A rough fingertip traced the black stitched image of a face, drawing it slowly over the two wide eyes, down the nose and over the line that represented the mouth.
A trembling sigh escaped him as he shifted the doll, cradling its cloth head in a large palm. He wondered if Kuiin Otome's mother had placed a doll like this in her daughter's room to protect her young daughter from mischievous spirits.
A sound, likely from down the corridor caught his attention. He looked up only to find a figure standing quietly in the corner of his room, blocking the closed door.
An armored Sarujaa warrior glared at him through hate filled eyes.
She was Kuiin Otome, Ranshin's fierce daughter. In her hand, she gripped the dagger that had pierced Obi-Wan's flesh more than once. "Hisai, Jee-dai," she growled.
In the low light that filtered in through the clouded window, her yellow skin was given an almost ethereal glow. Her long black hair cascaded over the heavy red armor plating, and feathered wildly against the knots tied in it. Tall and thin, she was dressed in leather and lacquered wood armor that left her looking more like a boy. Very much like Ranshin had raised her.
The glint of the dagger blade drew his attention to her shaking fist. Liquid red ran down the tarnished silver.
"I killed you," he said in a flat tone, remembering the shock in her eyes the instant he had driven his weapon through her chest. "I took your life, just as you tried to take mine." Silence lingered. "It was self defense," he told the specter. "You have no old on me." Brave words that belied the ache that claimed his heart.
"Hisai, Jee-dai," she hissed in an otherworldly tone that was neither male nor female, human or alien.
Exhaling heavily, he closed his eyes, wishing the apparition away. He clung to the obake and wondered if this was the real reason the dolls were created, to protect their warriors from the ghosts of the battlefield.
Seeking out the apparition once more, he found Ranshin standing in her place. He too would pass, like they all did, everyone he had killed in the name of the Republic, whether by his lightsaber or by the troops he commanded. He did what he had to do, knowing that if he allowed, there would be more ghosts walking Haigara than the living.
"Do you come to see your words fulfilled?" he asked, looking back toward the being that had nearly taken his life.
In Ranshin's face was death incarnate.
Obi-Wan pressed his back against the unforgiving wall, drawing the obake close. He tried to look away, to wish this demon from his thoughts—his conscience—but the sound of its regulated breathing through the menacing mask could not be escaped.
The black shrouded figure was tall, impossibly tall, with a long black cape that hid an armored body beneath. The dark warrior turned to stare at him through the emotionless mask that hid any trace of its origins.
"I do not know you," the Jedi said, shaking his head sadly, wondering why this spirit came to him.
"I'm hurt," a friendly voice mocked. "It's only been a few months and you have already forgotten me."
Obi-Wan looked up to find the spirits gone, replaced by his former padawan standing at the door. He smiled at the familiar face and felt the weight on his heart lighten. "A total mind wipe would not rescue me from maintenance droid nightmares and the often heard 'oops'."
Laughter, warm and friendly, but did not hide Anakin Skywalker's underlying weariness as he pushed the sliding door all the way open and leaned heavily against the door frame. The dark colors of his tunic and cloak blended together in the low lighting as he folded his arms across his chest. The casual action did little to detract from the surprise that held in his blue eyes.
It seemed though, the instant that Obi-Wan had recognized the look, it vanished behind the deep shadows that clung to youthful features as Anakin's cursory examination fell to the sling that held Obi-Wan's left arm immobile. There was uncertainty before they shifted to the rest of the room. "I knew you were on medical leave—"
"If you had checked your messages—"
"I suppose I would be," Obi-Wan tiredly replied as he shifted, setting the doll off to the side before finding the edge of the cot and setting his boots square on the floor.
Anakin narrowed his gaze but remained quiet, just watching.
Ignoring the silent watch, the Obi-wan slipped his fingers between the layers of is inner and out tunic. He could feel the protective thickness of bacta infused gauze that covered his battered chest. He looked up to meet his friend's worried look. "Why are you here?" He doubted that it was just a social call.
"I went to the command center, the captain said you had returned to your quarters to rest." Hesitation, then softer, "He seemed quite relieved."
Hearing the words, Ob-Wan frowned before turning his attention back to the obake lying next to him on the cot. "Yes, well, Master Ka'tau dismissed me."
When there was no response, he looked up from the doll that possessed his attentions.
Anakin was staring at him strangely. "I see," he said slowly before stepping into the room and closing the door behind him. His rich brown cloak swept about, brushing the edge of the room before he reached out, in a languid motion, toward the obake. "Since when did you take up playing with dolls?" he teased.
The curious question jarred the older Jedi's attention away from the sense of alarm he briefly felt from Anakin. "It is hardly a doll. The natives use it for protection from mischievous spirits."
"If you say so."
"I believe you." Laughter.
Obi-Wan visually followed Anakin as he strode nearly the length of the room in just a few steps. "I sense you do not believe me."
Pressing his hand to his heart, Anakin turned with a wounded look that melted into a warm grin. "Master, I'm hurt that you don't trust me…what?"
Stifling a smile, Obi-Wan glanced worriedly about the room before replying: "I am just expecting Master Yoda to jump out from behind something to hit me with his gimer stick for something you did."
A smirk. "It could be worse."
"Master Windu could punch you again." The young knight could not hide the grin that crept across handsome features.
Obi-Wan quirked a brow, then winced as laughter pulled at his chest wound. "Please," he softly demanded, pressing his hand to his chest. "Laughter hurts."
"You should be resting, not staring aimlessly at the wall like you were."
"I am not tired." The words were brusquer than he had intended.
Straining a little, he watched as Anakin pulled out the chair to the desk and flipped it around before sitting backwards in it. Resting his arms across the back, he leaned heavily against it.
"It appears that I am not the only one who has seen too much action," the master said. "Why are you here?"
Anakin frowned before speaking bitterly, "Apparently things are going so well in the war, my time is better spent playing delivery boy."
Shifting about, dark blond hair fell across the knight's brow, which he quickly swiped away before straightening. "I had been granted personal leave after my mission to Raxis Hedron for the Supreme Chancellor—"
"The Chancellor?" Obi-Wan interrupted, but he knew that he would not receive an answer, at least not a satisfying one.
"Raxis is a mess." Mirthless laughter. "Everything touched by this war is a mess." Staring at his arms folded across the back of the chair, he stared at the black glove that covered an artificial hand. He drew it into a fist before glancing over it to meet his former master's steady gaze. "Even you, Obi-Wan, have seen better days."
"Oh good, I was worried that I looked like a speeder wreck." He chuckled as he brought his bandaged hand up and stroked his beard. After only a moment, his hand sank to his chest, where he pressed it supportively against the healing wound. The merciless ache certainly had to be the source of his sleeplessness.
With a clatter, Anakin rose from his chair. "You need to rest. I'll go and wander about and see if there is anything that I can do to help out for a little while before we leave for Coruscant."
"We?" A mixture of emotions bit at Obi-Wan. He felt relief—joy—at the thought of going home. At the same time, he understood that he was being offered a chance that few were and that some never would get, at least not in this life.
"I am returning to deliver news to the Chancellor of the Raxian battlefront and to take some personal leave. I would like to see," the words drifted off. "Of course, the Jedi Council intervened, wishing that I make a detour to retrieve a team out of Cestus to take over command here."
"Is Ka'tau finally throwing me off the planet?" came the indignant question.
"Obi-Wan." There was that worry, glittering in his former apprentice's eyes.
"Things are not stable here," Obi-Wan began, shaking his head. "I should stay—"
"Things are not stable anywhere," Anakin replied. "You didn't start this battle, you and your team only came in to replace the one that had been wiped out. It's time for another team to step in. You are the only one left; you cannot run this on your own, not well and certainly not now.
"Master, the Council is worried."
"About this place?" Strain pulled at Obi-Wan's voice.
"About you." The knight shook his head. "You've gone from one battle line to another, from mission to mission without a break for months." He played with the edge of his dark cloak. "As much as I would like to see this war end soon, I know it isn't going to happen. Not yet. Killing ourselves with exhaustion is not going to change that."
Obi-Wan just stared at the ash-covered floor before him. It seemed the student was teaching the master. "I know."
Retreating to the door, Anakin paused and looked back. "I'll check in at the command center, and then I need to send some messages. I'll be back after while."
Offering only a nod, Obi-Wan waited until Anakin had departed. He picked up the obake, its soft body pressed against his hand limply as he brought it close. The gentle caress of the Force, warmed his weary being, comforting him. He exhaled slowly, allowing the pain to wash away. "Anakin, for whatever reason, was being to polite to say it. They think I have suffered a breakdown."
"War does that to even the strongest of spirit," a deep Core accent wafted into the silence of the chamber.
Rough fingertips brushed over the doll's gray cloth hair before he closed his eyes. He knew. He knew. Holding the doll out, he announced, "I do not think these work."
He had read the reports before he had ever stepped foot on the forsaken world that Master Ka'tau was dead; her entire team had been slaughtered by Ranshin's men.
Yet, that knowledge had slipped him when a soft voice, filled with great knowledge pointed out a flaw in his team's battle plan. The same flaw that had cost the lives of the first team when Ranshin's warriors had overrun them.
There had been no question in his heart, accepting that Ka'tau a'Eimei stood there before him at the precipice overlooking the Bourei Valley. Her flowing robes shifting in a gentle breeze as she twisted and smiled—untouched by the hardships of the battlefield—offering a gentle greeting. He could feel her presence, so strong in the Force, that he never questioned her ethereal appearance.
He did not want to question it.
For the truth was, he had wanted to believe that the reports were wrong, as he wished of so many battle reports he had read over the months. Soon, he feared, the lists of the dead would outnumber the living. He longed for hope that all of the suffering was worth it. That all the killing, the destruction, homes and lives being torn apart by a game of giants was worth it.
He had known that Ka'tau was only a memory of something that had been.
"The Force speaks to us all differently," the voice whispered in his mind. "We must listen and accept the gift it has given us even if we do not always understand it. We are Jedi; we fear not the darkness for there is always the light.
"There is hope, even when you think it has abandoned you. You must not forget that. There is always hope."