Summary: A young Jedi padawan and her Master are helped on a supposedly routine mission by Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn, with unexpected consequences
Rating: PG (violence)
Time: The Old Republic, though the prologue and epilogue are set about 2 weeks after events in Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters, situations, and events created by George Lucas. Nothing belongs to me, except the original characters Aryn K'hil and Tora Naprem. Not getting paid, in credits or any other form of compensation.
Author's Notes: I wrote this in about two weeks' time, right after I saw The Phantom Menace. It was written mostly so I could spend time with Qui-Gon Jinn. I admit that. But it's odd what surfaces in any story I write–looking back at it is like opening an emotional time capsule. This is the only real self-insertion story I've written, though I hope Aryn avoids Mary-Sue status. All comments and feedback eagerly solicited–particularly since I gave this a fairly decent edit before posting.
Grief Is Not the Opposite of Peace
Aryn Kh'il, Jedi Knight, approached the entrance to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant quietly. The light of the planet's brilliant sun reflected from the many windows in the magnificent tower, scattering light and shadow on the group of sentients gathered before it. Most wore robes of brown, tan, or gray, with a few in white or blue, and all but the younger apprentices wore a lightsaber. The doors to the Temple had not yet been opened. There was little movement or speech except in low tones-though Aryn could sense the echo of voices silently projected through the Force.
She recognized many of her fellow Jedi, both knights and apprentices, nodded to several, and exchanged a handclasp with a red-haired padawan and her elderly Master. There was a hush in the air. The very building seemed to tremble with it. It was a hush of unknowing.
Standing alone near the door was a young man who stared out across the city scape with an air of being somewhere else entirely. Aryn smiled when she saw him and quickly picked her way through the crowd. He didn't notice her until she touched his shoulder. "Obi-wan! It's good to see you."
The young man started, turning to face her. He smiled, but it wasn't his usual quick expression. "Master Aryn."
Aryn stared into his eyes for a moment. They were shadowed with something his smile could not clear. She reached out with a tiny tendril of the Force, and stiffened as though she had been slapped. But the feeling was pain, not anger. "Are you all right?" she asked, in a voice near a whisper.
"I will be," he answered softly.
Aryn sighed, releasing her tension, and noticed something new about Obi-wan. He no longer wore the padawan braid. "Congratulations, Jedi!"
His smile this time was wholly genuine.
"No wonder Qui-Gon isn't with you-you're on your own now," Aryn continued. She would have said more, but Obi-wan's smile had vanished. Aryn again sensed pain, but it was overshadowed by a sense of terrible knowledge, of certainty. "Do you know why we've all been called here?" she asked.
Obi-wan said nothing.
A sudden intuition set Aryn's heart racing. "Why isn't Qui-Gon here? Is he part of the reason for this meeting?"
Obi-wan's face was white with an inner struggle. Finally he spoke one strangled word, "Yes."
At that moment the doors of the Temple swung open. Obi-wan took the hand of a boy standing in his shadow, whom Aryn had not seen before, turned, and was the first to enter.
Aryn stared after them, noting the boy's padawan braid. Qui-Gon not here, Obi-wan already a Jedi Knight with an apprentice, and so many Jedi called together. . . no wonder the hush of uncertainty was so strong. Aryn brushed a strand of black hair from her face and stood still, drawing on the Force for peace to banish her fear. Then she straightened herself and entered with the others, her heart shadowed with a memory of pain.
Aryn sat quietly in the ranks of her fellow knights. Crossing her legs and resting golden-brown hands in her lap, she looked up expectantly at the dais where six members of the Jedi Council, including Master Yoda, sat.
For a long minute nothing happened. The silence deepened in intensity. Then Master Yoda spoke.
"For such a gathering of Jedi, always there is a great reason." The crackling voice was full of power, and yet wary. "If any of you passed near the planet Naboo two weeks ago, know something already about this reason you do."
A slight murmur went through the assembly. Aryn frowned. She had not been near Naboo recently, but two weeks ago. . . . That would be the day she had felt so tired and worn when there was no real reason for it. Perhaps the Force had been giving her some warning.
The dark-skinned figure of Mace Windu stood beside Yoda. "A great danger may be threatening the Republic and the Order of Jedi. None of us knew anything beyond the vaguest future images until two of our number, Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice, went to the planet Naboo to conduct negotiations between that planet and the Trade Federation." His face was grave. "Qui-Gon cannot be with us today, but his one-time apprentice, now a full Jedi Knight, is here and will tell you what occurred during that mission. Obi-wan Kenobi, approach."
Aryn drew a deep breath. So he did know. Peace, she reminded herself, a Jedi is at peace. The child she had seen with Obi-wan, his padawan, sat on the dais steps. Obi-wan mounted them, bowed to Yoda, and turned to face the assembly.
"When Master Qui-Gon and I were sent as the Supreme Chancellor's representatives to settle the dispute between Naboo and the Trade Federation, neither of us thought the mission would take long. Most of you have probably heard something about the dispute-but the whole story has been known to none but the Jedi Council and a few others until now." He stared out over the crowd, as if hunting for words in the air. "I had a feeling that something unusual was coming, but I didn't connect it with our mission until later, and I did not realize how much it portended. . . ."
Aryn listened to Obi-wan's simply-told tale with full attention, and reached out with the Force as well for the memory images the young Jedi was providing to supplement his words. She watched and listened with her eyes closed, still somewhat uneasy, but pleased to hear how well her friends had acquitted themselves in aiding young Queen Amidala to escape the clutches of the Trade Federation. When Obi-wan related how they had stopped at Tatooine to refuel, he beckoned to the boy at his feet, who rose and stood beside him.
"This is Anakin Skywalker, whom Qui-Gon befriended in the city of Mos Espa."
The boy spoke, almost too softly to hear, of how he had met Qui-Gon Jinn and helped him obtain parts to repair the Queen's ship, and of how Qui-Gon had won Anakin's freedom and taken the boy with him to Coruscant to be trained as a Jedi. Some of the memories Obi-wan projected during this were rather startling, including an image of Anakin's minichlorian scan. Over twenty thousand! Aryn was amazed. She looked at the boy with new respect, and smiled to think how surprised Qui-Gon must have been when he discovered what a find he'd made.
Then Anakin sat down and Obi-wan continued his tale, beginning with the strange being, trained in the Jedi ways, who ambushed them on Tatooine. Aryn heard mutters of shock and disbelief and felt her own breath falter, when the young Jedi hinted that the Council and Qui-Gon had agreed that this might be a Sith Lord.
The noise rapidly died down as Obi-wan continued, telling of the mission to free Naboo, the replacement of the Supreme Chancellor, and of how he and Qui-Gon again encountered the Sith Lord. He told of the fierce battle on the ground and in space, which Anakin had helped win; of the seizure of the royal palace; and of the intense fight between two Jedi and one Sith.
Aryn saw the rooms of the fight through Obi-wan's memories, and saw the laser walls that shut him off from Qui-Gon and the Sith. She felt his desperate speed as he ran forward, clearing all but the last, and watched with him, trapped, as the Sith used his lightsaber staff to deadly advantage. She saw Qui-Gon run through with one venomous blade, saw him fall, felt his burning pain and Obi-wan's helpless rage as he cried out in grief.
Aryn didn't think she had moved at all, but a hand rested on her shoulder, bringing a line of strength through the Force, and her own rage and grief momentarily abated. She listened to Obi-wan tell of the end of the fight, and was overwhelmed by his sense of shame-he had used his anger and fear to fight, nearly joining his Master in death. But in the end he remembered his training and defeated the Sith.
She heard Qui-Gon's last words, a trust in this young boy Anakin, but the wave of pain and loss from Obi-wan she hardly felt this time. Her own sorrow was too strong. She continued to listen, but bowed her head and wished for tears to ease the terrible weight within her. None came.
Now the tale ended, and Obi-wan told of his advancement to Jedi, and of how the Council had agreed to his promise and granted Anakin as his padawan learner.
Then Master Yoda stood and spoke of the Sith, warning more powerfully than Aryn could remember anyone doing of the snares of the dark side of the Force. He warned all Jedi to be more than ever vigilant but not to give way to fear. Then he dismissed the assembly.
Aryn sat for a minute, gathering her thoughts and strength. When she rose, her back creaked and for the first time in many weeks, she felt old. With the power of the Force in her bones, it was usually easy to forget (unless she looked in mirror at the fine lines in her golden-brown skin) that she was nearly sixty.
And she felt empty. Tired and empty. When Obi-wan touched her shoulder, though she could feel his loss, hers seemed to have bunched up somewhere inside, trying to become invisible. She turned and embraced him, stepping back only to question him again with her eyes. Are you all right?
He nodded and smiled faintly. I will be.
Aryn knelt before the small figure at his side. Placing one hand on each shoulder, she gazed into his face, burning into her mind the countenance of the child in whom Qui-Gon had placed so much trust. "May the Force be with you," she whispered at last. "You are strong already-now be sure to grow wise, Jedi."
The boy nodded, a little puzzled.
"This is Master Aryn Kh'il," Obi-wan said. "She's a friend of mine and a great friend of Qui-Gon's."
Now Anakin smiled, recognizing a kinship with Aryn. She had to smile back.
Outside the Temple, there was much more talking than before the meeting began. Aryn, walking alone, caught snatches of conversation about the Sith, about Qui-Gon, about the Senate and the Republic in general. Then she heard a young human apprentice turn to his companions and comment, "How could Qui-Gon be so stupid? Even I can see that there's something odd about that boy. I don't think the Council should have agreed to his training. He's too old, anyway."
Aryn stopped walking and slowly turned to face the speaker. The hollowness inside her seemed to fill suddenly with fire. The apprentice and his companions felt the heat and looked sharply at her. Aryn's gray hood was thrown back, and her gray eyes held the same deadly calm as her voice. "Qui-Gon Jinn was a wise and noble man, and a powerful Jedi. You will not speak of him that way."
The apprentice shrugged. "You heard the Council. Couldn't you feel the division there? That's the last thing we need right now, a difference on the Council-and Qui-Gon brought it."
"You will not speak of him that way." In a sudden surge of anger, Aryn reached out through the Force.
The apprentice stumbled backward, eyes wide in shock. Instantly all sound in the crowd before the Temple ceased.
Aryn's vision seemed to clear, and Master Yoda's words rang in her mind as she focused on the apprentice's face. Fear and anger, these lead to the dark side of the Force.
She drew back sharply, stumbled, and hid her face in her hands. What had she been doing? She was a Jedi, she had trained other Jedi, what was she doing?
Aryn could not bring herself to look up, though she felt all eyes on her. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she said, and the gasping apprentice, though she was certain he had heard, did not answer.
An arm went around Aryn's shoulders, and she knew before he spoke who it was. Obi-wan's voice was gentle. "Why did you provoke my friend to anger? She grieves the loss of a man she loved, as do many of us here. And why do I feel such fear from some of you?" His voice shook a little. "Aryn Kh'il is no Sith. She is Jedi, and great among us. No one has been hurt, and she has taken responsibility for what she did. There is less shame here than when I faltered in the battle."
In the following silence, Master Yoda's voice was clear. "Agree with Obi-wan we do. Dismissed this assembly is. Go."
As the footsteps of the other Jedi receded, Aryn allowed Obi-wan to help her to her feet. "Thank you," she said. "Qui-Gon taught you well."
"Yes, I believe he did." Obi-wan's smile was real, if weary.
Aryn bowed again and left the Temple to walk, lonely among the crowds, to her temporary quarters.
She sat in the small, tidy room brushing out her long black hair. The late afternoon sun gleamed through the window, a thousand reflected shards of light from the tall buildings of Coruscant. It tinted her face with a harsh glow and hurt her pale gray eyes.
Aryn welcomed the pain. If she could focus on that small external thing, it might lessen the deeper, unrelieved pain of loss and regret. Qui-Gon. . . .
Abruptly Aryn dropped her hairbrush and picked up her lightsaber, turning it over and over in her hands. It still seemed strange to her, even after all these years, that Jedi knights, masters of both skill and emotion, should be subject to grief just like those less Force-talented. Yet so it was. She had spoken to other Jedi about it and, with the exception of a few who refused to discuss it, had found that it was true for them all. In fact, the Master she trained with had been the first to mention it to her.
Aryn suddenly smiled down at her lightsaber. Such a long time ago. . . what, forty years now? Such a very long time ago. . . .