Author's Note: Wow, three years of loyal steadfast membership…but then one ignores for a month or so and they change everything on you! For the better, I'm sure. Alright, this is my latest catastrophic epic fic, um, drama, adventure, humor and much, much angst to come, so warnings. But have you ever really read a fic of mine without angst?
Dedicated to: The talented Lady Jurious, because she made Qui/Dook adventure fics cool.
A strange and marvelous thing, the rain. Refreshing, gloomy, oppressive, watering, cleansing, dismal, healing, quiet and loud all jumbled up together in a downpour of life. It is, quite simply, the pure essence of growth itself. The clouds bruise the sky, and the thunder threatens, but after the rain flood comes, what's left behind is shining. Rain is growing up.
The irregular clomp of boots echoed down the hallway of the grand palace of Trisstar. The high-ceilinged design of the long, marbled hallway magnified even the most dainty of steps; running was elevated to chaotic clatter. The sound of the footsteps increased, and then briefly paused, only to resume a few seconds later at a slower, more casual pace.
Dooku finally stopped, flashing a bemused half-smile and turning around to face his apprentice. "Did we not have words about running indoors, Qui-Gon?"
The younger Jedi closed the distance between himself and his mentor at a quick trot, his face coloring. "You left me in the negotiations room, Master." His voice was embarrassed, slightly hurt. "I didn't know where you had gone..."
The Jedi Master raised his eyebrows briefly, and then motioned for his Padawan to follow. "I told you we were leaving, but you were too busy gawking at the princess to notice. So, I assumed you would just realize it eventually and catch up. As you have."
"I wasn't 'gawking,' Master." Qui-Gon replied cooly, falling into step with Dooku. "I was observing. She's one of the royal family, and we're assigned to protect them. I should at least know what they look like.."
Dooku's smile broadened.
Qui-Gon frowned at him and then burst out, "and she's only, what, fifteen...sixteen?"
"Something like that." Dooku said, laughing softly. "Only a rough three something year difference, and what is time, really?"
"No, Master." Qui-Gon mumbled, shooting him as frosty a look as he dared. The boy wouldn't properly glare at his Master out of respect, Dooku knew, but the disdainful sulk was as close as it came.
The Jedi Master clapped him lightly on the shoulder, and offered a placating smile. It wasn't often that he took to teasing his Padawan like this, but he felt something ought to be done to lighten the oppressive severity Qui-Gon had adopted of late. The boy was tired; they both were, of course, but Qui-Gon was taking it the worst. It seemed that the galaxy would not let him up for even a moment. They had hardly time at all to heal the wounds from their last disastrous mission-gone-wrong on Childor before being thrust into another situation.
But this mission would be different, Dooku told himself. It was a simple election on Trisstar. He was hoping a nice, straightforward assignment like this would be what Qui-Gon needed to shake off the darkness of the past few months. Even Jedi required a break sometimes. Even the best.
For his part, however, the boy was not playing along. He gave Dooku an irritated glance, his brow furrowing. "That rough four something year difference is enough. I think perhaps not."
"She not your type, mm?"
He rolled his eyes at his Master and kept walking.
"No one's your type." Dooku sighed, giving up. "So, how do you like the palace?"
Qui-Gon reached out, brushing the pinkish stone walls lightly as he walked. The indignation was gone from his voice; he was every part the dutiful Padawan again. "Beautiful," he murmured. "They've certainly invested a good amount of money to make their royal estate this lovely."
Dooku nodded. "The ruler's quite a character. And you must admit, his daughter is lovely. This whole planet seems to have such an idyllic setup, don't you think?"
"A bit too idyllic," Qui-Gon commented, exhaling a sigh.
"Your thoughts, then?" Dooku raised his eyebrows higher still at his apprentice.
"Well, if it was truly an ideal world, we wouldn't be here, would we?" Qui-Gon shrugged. "But I suppose you're right. There isn't much that can go wrong at an election where the ruler is the people's hero. But something always does, doesn't it?"
Dooku turned a corner and they found themselves in a new corridor. All along the rose walls hung long, gilded mirrors, running the length of both sides. The Master paused beside a ornamented doorway; a break in the reflective rose quartz walls. "If it didn't, what would you and I do to amuse ourselves?" he smirked, punching a security code into the lock. The door hissed open, and he motioned for his Padawan to go in.
"...I'm not sure, maybe something involving something other than shooting, torture, or death, just for once?" Qui-Gon mumbled, stepping through the threshold and into the guest quarters with another hefty sigh. "Not that a dangerous struggle for one's life doesn't have its own-oh-!" He stopped suddenly short.
Dooku walked straight into his Padawan from behind and stumbled. "What's..." Frowning, he placed his hands on Qui-Gon's shoulders, regaining his balance and carefully steering around him. He leaned forward, staring into the quarters to see what had so captivated the boy's attention. "What's the matter?"
"It's...so...nice," Qui-Gon said, motioning around him, eyes reflecting how boyishly impressed he was. "Look at the view!"
Dooku stepped inside, nodding appreciatively. Qui-Gon was right. The guest quarters were as ornate and lavish as the rest of the palace. They had stepped into some form of connecting common room, furnished with plush crimson couches and matching curtains. The marble walls were covered with paintings and tapestries. On one end of the room a large fireplace splashed warm, flickering light over the floors, and seemed to coat the room in a rosy glow. Opposite the fireplace stretched a great window that looked down into the rainy palace gardens.
"Impressive." He noticed two doors on either side of the chamber. "Those must be the bedrooms."
Qui-Gon's brows drew together in concentration as he looked around at the ornamented furniture. "...I wonder how much this room alone cost..."
Dooku shook his head in amusement at his dazzled apprentice. "Why don't you go take a look at it all?" he suggested, sinking into the inviting warmth of one of the couches. He watched Qui-Gon head off with a lingering smile. Qui-Gon was so wonderfully naive about some things. Dooku had long ago jaded to the novelties and pleasures of rich palaces. Once you saw one, you had really seen them all, and the more you saw of them the less charm they possessed. Usually it meant a greedy ruler as well, and more work for him in the long run. But Qui-Gon was still rather young. And they both did so desperately need a break.
Leaning back, Dooku stared into the flames of the fireplace, listening to the sound of doors opening and boots clattering on marble floors as his padawan inspected the bedrooms. Those ridiculous boots of Qui-Gon's! He'd recently grown out of his old ones, but apparently didn't quite fit in the new ones either. He listened to their echoing footfalls with vague interest wondering idly how much more the boy would grow before he finally settled into a shoe size. He was almost as tall as Dooku now as it was. Suddenly the Master felt disturbingly parental.
And yet it was a familiar feeling of late. He had grown closer than he thought he could to the lad.
His thoughts were interrupted, however, when one of the doors hissed opened and Qui-Gon appeared again, apparently having completed his tour. "This place is enormous," the padawan commented, still looking slightly bewildered. "Do...do they realize there's only two of us?"
Dooku rolled his eyes at the ceiling and adopted a mock serious expression. "Qui-Gon, come now. We're in the Great Rose Palace of the Standing Monarch of Trisstar! Of course it's grand. What else would the good ruler do in his spare time?" He rose as suddenly as he had seated, pacing to the window and gazing out of it.
"Yes, the Monarch doesn't seem to have much else but the title, does he?" Qui-Gon commented, following his Master a few steps before pausing, hesitantly. "Don't you think it's odd? He's such an unassuming character for a planetary ruler."
Dooku plucked a purplish fruit from a bowl resting on one of the ornamented tables, twirling it idly. "I suppose. Still, the people appear to love Fortin, and the election forecasters seem to all be betting on his Royal House remaining in power. He must be doing something right." He tossed the fruit in the air and caught it deftly.
"I'm not sure I completely understand Trisstar's government system. Fortin is a king, and yet, they're holding elections?"
"To decide if his family is to remain in power another term, or if another family should replace them. It's a bit complicated. Ah, well, you can ask him all the questions you'd like tonight. He's invited us to a dinner or some foolishness in the ballrooms downstairs..." Dooku stopped, turning to give Qui-Gon an appraising look. "...personally, I'd suggest you shower. And do try to look somewhat presentable and well-mannered." He turned back away, continuing to toss the fruit.
Qui-Gon nodded and quirked a small grin. "I'll do my best."
"Splendid," Dooku whirled without warning and hurled the fruit at his apprentice with all his strength. The purple orb whizzed straight for Qui-Gon's face. "Now, don't blink!"
A moment passed, and there was no impact. The boy glanced down in mild interest at the fruit, which was now floating centimeters from his nose, suspended in the air with the force. He watched it hover for a moment, and then carefully floated it back to the original bowl. It dropped amongst the other fruit with a soft thud, and Qui-Gon looked up at Dooku expectantly.
The Jedi Master began to laugh. "Excellent instincts, Padawan! Quite impressive! Although you cheated–you were supposed to catch it!"
Qui-Gon shrugged, and flashed a brief smile. "So try again."
"No, no, no..." Dooku smirked at him, nodding toward the fruit. "I shouldn't be teaching you to play with food."
The boy raised his eyebrows at his Master in response.
Dooku snorted. "And besides, now you're expecting it. I'll get you later, when you've forgotten. Now run along and shower, that silly dinner is in a few hours." He started toward his own room, still shaking his head and smiling.
"Anything else, Master?" Qui-Gon paused.
Dooku put his hand to the door and thought for a moment. "Oh yes, just one more thing." He looked the boy in the eyes seriously. "While we're here do try to have some degree of fun."
Qui-Gon's laughed echoed softly as the door hissed closed. For a moment there was silence from the doorway, but then Dooku heard a clunk, followed by a faint clattering noise. He allowed himself a small smile. He could imagine quite clearly the boy's attempt to work the quarters ornate shower. For all his grace and dignity, Qui-Gon simply wasn't an indoor creature. Which was a pity, because he cleaned up so well. He would make a perfect diplomat to kings, or a representative of the Jedi to the Senate with his smooth subtly. And could he argue! Dooku sighed, wistfully. But it would never be. Perhaps he was too raw, too alive, too much of a free spirit to ever be the perfect Jedi that Dooku knew he could be. There was not a cage built by person or ideal that could hold him.
In a far off way, he reminded Dooku a tiny bit of himself.
The Jedi Master strode to the window and pressed a hand against the glass, peering out at the pouring rain. Perhaps he would take a bit of a walk, to calm his mind before this banquet. Social affairs were such irritating things to Dooku, such a depressing waste of his valuable time. And yet, it would be rude to refuse. And it was a casual way of learning about what attitudes and agendas they would have to face on their mission. He always told Qui-Gon: a half-hour of direct experience was worth eight hours of research.
The door hissed again as Dooku walked back out of the apartment and into the main hallway again. He meandered down the rose stone floors for a good bit, neither knowing where the hall would take him, nor caring. His mind wandered pleasantly as he went. Dooku thoroughly enjoyed his own company. Even walking with his usually quieter Padawan was no substitute for the golden silence of his own thoughts. He was content on his own, one of the reasons he had been loath to take another apprentice in the first place. Of course, that had been before Qui-Gon slammed full tilt into his life.
The hallway divided out, and he turned down another stretch. The palace was a huge honeycomb of different passages and foyers, all interconnecting somehow. After taking one or two more turns, he found himself in a wide, high ceilinged type of conservatory, the roof and walls completely made of glass. Rain danced down on all sides, and he could see through the foggy curtain the vague shapes of a forest of plants.
Dooku liked the room. The greenish hues and the drumming of the rain created a soothing effect, and he leaned against the giant window, almost relaxing. There must have been hundreds of rooms like this in the palace, never used and seldom visited. It was very still here. It would be a good place to meditate. He closed his eyes with a soft sigh, intending to do just that.
"A Jedi comes to hide in the spiders nest. Oh, irony." A strange, whimsical voice made him start and whirl. His narrowed gaze raked the room, as his heart battered against his chest. To be startled was a rare and unpleasant experience for Dooku. Inwardly he cursed himself. He ought to have immediately sensed that he was not alone.
Then he caught sight of her. A woman was seated cross-legged on a stone bench. Her silver shimmersilk gown spilled down onto the rose marbled floors, and her head was lowered. She seemed amused. Dooku felt himself stiffen. He was not one to be mocked. "I was unaware I had disturbed any..." his lips gave a wry twist. "...'nests,' as you say. Apologies, I shall take my leave..."
The woman looked up. He found himself regarding a pair of violently pink eyes, outlined with sliver eyeliner and mascara. Her hair was cropped short into spiky white-blonde tufts, and her skin was almost transparent. Dooku found himself staring. She was an albino.
The woman stood in a fluid movement and a light laugh. "Oh, there is no need. It is such a lovely room, is it not?" She did not wait for him to answer. "Fortin built it singularly for me, to mediate in. But feel free to use it if you would like," she smiled, revealing pointed teeth. "anything for a Jedi."
Dooku barely resisted rolling his eyes. He forced himself to smile, or, at the least, grimace painfully, and nodded at her. "Thank you for your hospitality." He turned away, heading to the door. He had better things to do than exchange words with an egomaniacal concubine.
"Are you leaving so soon, Master Jedi?" she breezed toward him, her silver-lined eyes flickering over his form. Her lip curled slightly, and her tone became simpering, sickly sweet. "But I was hoping we might have a teeny chat."
Dooku paused, folding his arms over his chest. "I'm ah-charmed, of course," he gave the woman the flat, unimpressed look he usually reserved for when Qui-Gon was being particularly exasperating, all the while edging for the door. "...but I am a Jedi, as you have so keenly observed, and as such, I have many duties and responsibilities to attend to. Perhaps some other time."
"Do you realize exactly who I am?" Her nostrils flared slightly, as if being turned down for anything was overly upsetting. She took a few steps forward, her stance intimidating. Her pink eyes were bright with intensity.
Dooku had been often warned as an initiate to think before he spoke, although he never quite understood what the Masters were speaking of. Quite the contrary, he made a point to think before he spoke, for wasting time on meaningless or useless prattle was a damnable sin to his mind. He pondered through exactly what phrase would best defame, belittle and deflate the arrogant buffoons that so often crossed his path. Words could be as elegant weapons as lightsabers, if used properly.
Now, though, he hesitated. Not think about what to say, he chided himself, think of the repercussions. He really ought not to make more enemies, for Qui-Gon's sake at least. Some point along the line Qui-Gon was the one that usually ended up getting hurt as a result of Dooku's revenge obsessed foes. He forced himself again to smile at the woman. "No, I don't know who you are, I'm sorry. The wife of the Monarch, perhaps?"
The woman sniffed arrogantly, somewhat like a placated child. "Hardly. Fortin's wife died years ago."
Dooku raised his eyebrows. That he hadn't known. "Really? I was unaware."
"Yes, right after the princess was born." She answered abruptly, redirecting the conversation back to herself. "I suppose your guess was a valid one, however, for I am second heir after the Monarch's princess. My name is Des Lasteera, High Priestess to the Monarch." She lowered her eyes confidentially. "I am Fortin's most trusted advisor."
"Ah, I see." Dooku's smile was both ingratiating and sardonic. "How long have you held that position? It's odd, I didn't read anything about you in the briefing on the Royal Household."
"I have served Fortin's House since they came to power forty years ago!" She rapped out, her ivory skin blushing over with fissures of pale pink. "I should hope that I am mentioned in a political overview!"
"That does sound logical." Dooku nodded slowly. He could hear her breathing accelerated in anger, and felt like sighing hopelessly. He peered out at the rain, wondering if it would be considered rude if he left at this point.
"I..." she paused, still flustered. "...I shall see to it that your information is updated."
Dooku continued to gaze out at the rain. "Fantastic."
Des Lasteera was silent a moment, and for a flickering instant Dooku felt hope of ever leaving her presence flare inside him. Then she spoke again, randomly. "Holy man, Fortin."
Dooku turned from the window. "What's that?" He noticed that her vibrant pink eyes had turned to slits, carefully trained on him.
"I said, Fortin is a very holy man. Something about losing his young wife, I'd imagine." The priestess' lips were parted slightly, Dooku could see her bared teeth. Her voice was would-be casual, with underlying strain. "It seemed to remind him of our gods and rituals. It has become his obsession, as it well should be. I suppose that is how I came to have such a high position in the Rose Palace originally, none can interpret the signs and wishes of the gods as a seer such as I."
"Of course," Dooku smirked.
Her intensity seemed to increase at his words. "Fortin will trust whatever the gods speak to me. My word is almost infallible to him. Do you understand what I'm saying, Jedi?" She gritted out, her meaning unable to miss. For a moment, she stared at Dooku. Then she turned away, her dress trailing after her footsteps, her voice soft and low. "...yes, holy man Fortin, very spiritual, holy man..."
Dooku turned on his heel, whirling out of the room, the sound of his boots drowning out the soft swish of her gown. His irritation carried him out of the room, but as soon as the coolness of the stone hallway touched his face, he felt deflated. He was still working out what the exchange had been. Pompous ranting, a warning, a threat? His feet felt leaden as he headed back to the quarters. All he knew was this mission didn't seem as simple and carefree as it had when he had begun his walk. These things never were, as much as he had wished for his weary padawan's sake that they could be. He sighed, and glanced back toward the room, feeling Qui-Gon's gloomy black cloud of doom hanging low over his head, heavier than ever.
…..tbc…soon, actually, I have most of chapter two done if my creative-author-ego-momentum thing keeps up! Hope you enjoyed the first installment.