Title: Fallen Embers
Chapter One: The Dying of the Light
Disclaimer: I don't own them, but I have played with them for a long time. Sadly though this is the last adventure I shall recollect with my two favorite Jedi.
Warnings: This is going to have a bunch of Qui and Obi torture, more so for Qui.
Rating: G but it will be full of angst.
Summary: While on a mission, Qui-Gon is severely injured, struggling to survive. Obi-Wan is believed to be dead, but Qui-Gon believes that his padawan still lives though all evidence points to a grisly death. With Qui-Gon's health diminishing due to a mysterious force block, the council takes drastic actions, which may wipe out all memory of Obi-Wan. If Obi-Wan still lives, its up to Qui-Gon to find his way around the block and go rescue his apprentice, before all is lost on a dying world.
/force thoughtsItalics Flashbacks & Dreams Qui's POV
AN: This is my last Star Wars fic. I am currently writing some Lord of the Rings fics, so I will continue to write and I want to take a moment to thank every one that has reviewed my fics and given me such wonderful feedback and encouragement. Without your words, I would have lost all inspiration and desire to write and I never would have met the people that have become my extended family. To them, and to you all, I give my respect, my admiration, and my deepest, profound heartfelt gratitude. Reviewers are balm to the soul, and from all writers, you are most appreciated. Thank you!
AN2: This was writtenseveral years ago, before 'Attack of the Clones' came out, so it was done before I knew that Dooku was Qui-Gon's master. I think that its more poignant to have Yoda as his master. Call it writer's prerogative. ;)
A small shuttle streaked into view, its sub-light engines shutting down, and the craft steering easily into the upper atmosphere into the dusty, copper colored world of Aphidia. Fourteen Jedi Knights and Padawans, three healers, and one very stern, stoical council member filled the small cargo hold of the transport vessel, all intent on making a very hasty rescue of two of their own that had been victimized by the inhabitants.
The dark eyes of the council member swept the scene approaching in the viewport, picking out details, making observations, and silently plotting the course of action that will be needed when the contingent lands.
The brilliant iridescent sun was beating down on the world, mottling colors from deep rose, to pastel blue, and then shifting again to a vibrant orange and rich violet. The colors accented the deep scars that etched their way along the planets surface. Abysmal craters dappled along the landscape, smoke plumed high into the sky sporadically along the horizon, fire illuminated the shadowed areas the sun cast, showing the planet well into their deadly civil conflict.
The planets surface, which normally was even and defined, covered in mounds upon mounds of dwellings, clustered together and joined in a dizzying network of intersecting roadways and catwalks, was now uneven, charred and ruined. Large, multilevel buildings scattered throughout the region, most of them now in ruins from the war raging all around. Housing units were collapsed into heaps and flames jumped high into the air, as if reaching for some sort of celestial guidance to pull them away from the carnage.
A thick fog of acidic, tempestuous smoke covered the planet's crevices and valleys like a soft comforting blanket, but the soothing it promised was an illusion, hiding desolation, hatred, and the ongoing battle that raged over the terrain.
Skimming lower through a thick, dense cloud formation, the shuttle broke through the veil of stormy gray, ashen smoke, and began searching for a suitable place to set down.
As the shuttle neared the surface, the roars of the engines were lost in the thundering of bombs, echo of blaster fire, and the unstable rumbles of the surrounding terrain. Loud bangs pierced the afternoon air; thermal updrafts from the scattered ruins below shook the craft as it made another drop in its decent. Inside, the Jedi concentrated on the force to help them stifle their emotions to better focus on the task at hand.
At the orbital height the craft assumed over the planet, beings looked like pinpricks clustered together and could be seen shuffling about in small groups. Several beings, more than likely snipers, spanned wide to give better coverage to their associates in case of an enemy attack. Brilliant flashes of lights, followed a few seconds later by deep rumblings, echoed around the civilization below.
Two larger groups of the planets inhabitants converged on a courtyard, weapons fired, and several succumbed to the heat of war, collapsing into smoldering heaps. The yells of battle were lost in the throes of war on the planet and went undetected by the Jedi from the whine of the crafts' engines as it sped high overhead.
Inside the craft, a tall, dark-skinned Jedi Councilman with penetrating black eyes, heaved a heavy sigh, his eyes surveying the landscape now coming into clearer focus as the craft descended, vectoring in on the prearranged landing coordinates.
"Don't worry, Mace. We'll find them," a female Knight reassured the leader.
Jedi Master Mace Windu nodded briefly, his mind wondering over possibilities, scenarios, and questions that he so desperately sought answers to.
What would happen if they were gone? Why did the force allow this to happen? What could have gone wrong? Were they even alive?
A painful hitch in his chest made him flinch slightly as his heart constricted with fear. He crossed his arms tighter across his chest, biting his lip and scowling out of the viewport, as he dared to ask himself, and regrettably; answer, the question that would be more difficult than any mission he ever been assigned.
How will he tell Master Yoda his padawan had been lost?
With a dull ache, he imagined the senior council member's face. Feel his disappointment, his fear, his anguish, and his grief. His stomach dropped at the thought.
Another master, much taller and dressed in robes of pale beige, came to stand beside his friend, trying to ease his melancholy, "They will be alright, Mace. We'll find them. We have their last known coordinates from Jinn's last transmission, and everyone here will search until they drop to bring them home."
"I know," Windu sighed, keeping his eyes trained onto the quickly approaching ground. "But what condition will they go home in?"
The other master shook his head in sadness, his voice strangely hitched, "We can only leave their condition to the force, and hope for the best."
A somber nod and vigil at the viewport answered.
A crackling over the ships communication system started the group that watched their leader contemplate in silence, "Master Windu, the landing field has been destroyed."
With another heavy sigh, the Jedi master pressed the relay button to answer, "Just find the best place to set us down."
"The terrain is pretty rough. I don't know if I can find a place big enough for a landing. It may get a little bumpy," the pilot called back. "With all the fighting and bombs, I don't know if there is a safe enough place to sit down."
"I'll trust your judgement. Just get us down there as soon as you can."
With a tremor and a shudder, two Jedi padawans buckled to the cabin floor, then hastily scrambled to their feet. The Jedi found seats to strap themselves in, praying to the force they would survive the landing and that their pilot was reliable.
The youngest of the group, a newly chosen padawan in her early teens, projected her anxiety and fears into the force, where the other members of the search party detected it. Her master placed a scaled hand on her arm and smiled, "Everything will be fine. It's just a little bumpy."
"Yes master," the girl replied quietly, then tensed again as a rocket whizzed by the small vessel, its lettering visible through the small porthole. Shockwaves rocked the vessel from the blasts of missiles that sailed by the small portholes, their vortices causing the shuttle to buck in midair.
The restraining harnesses cut into the Jedi's skin as they were thrown from side to side by the turbulence and jerky flying done by the pilot. A particularly heavy jolt made everyone rise a few inches off their seats, then come slamming back down onto their chairs, then whiplash sideways as the vessel lurched.
Padawans tensed by their masters' side, some clenched their hands together to hide their trembling. The younger Jedi focused on their elders to help find their center. Several of the masters looked over to their leader, worry clearly evident on their faces.
"Don't worry, he's an excellent pilot. He'll get us through!" Master Windu called out to everyone, then mentally chided to himself. /He better hope he's as good as he claims, or I will personally hunt him down/
Everyone united their force signatures and sent peaceful thoughts and serenity into each other, hoping to ease the minds of the younger contingent. The force ebbed like a collective sigh, shifted, and crested as the Jedi in the cabin released their tensions and fears into the force, as they were taught since their initiate days.
"Found the perfect place!" the pilot shouted happily as the craft swerved to avoid another rocket, then lunged forward in a steep decent.
Heat began to fill the cabin as the temperature outside began to rise with the painful distress of a rapid reentry into the lower atmosphere and rural fires licked at the underbelly of the craft, turning it a vivid puce. Smoke and cinders flew past the viewports as the craft descended to the planets surface. The Jedi braced themselves as the craft swerved to avoid a collision with a stray projectile, then heaved a sigh of relief as the vessel shuttered into hover over their landing sight, and alarms rang out announcing the docking procedure.
With a violent jolt, the craft settled down on the safest port the pilot could ascertain which happened to be a park, long since devastated by the turmoil and military assault now surrounding the barren wasteland. Around the perimeter, twisted stumps of what were once giant trees, sprouted out of the ground; resembling blackened skeletons standing guard over the vessel now nestled amongst the wreckage. The normal soft green vegetation was no longer recognizable under the charred ruins of the obliterated flora. Small fires lingered here and there, casting ominous shadows over the desolate and scorched earth.
The reverberating roar of militia pounding down the streets and firing their weapons drowned out the sound of the engines hiss as it cycled down and prepared for its occupants to disembark. The ground rocked as another blast wave swept over the land, causing all objects to shudder in terror at the eminent destruction.
As soon as the craft settled, and the last sound of disengaging engines died away, Master Windu un-strapped himself and hurried to the entrance. Standing at the hatchway in anticipation, a frown etched his handsome features, hiding the sense of dread he sheltered away inside to be meditated on later. His mind focused on procedures, hoping that the others would remember the protocols, and the force would favor them with a quick, easy rescue.
The force will be difficult to access with all the tumult and strife, building and filling the Jedi's senses and overwhelming them, screaming out to be abated. Thousands, if not millions of lives were in chaos with the war. Emotions crested the force in waves powerful enough to physically throw an unsuspecting Jedi to their knees.
The hatch hissed open and the ramp extended down to allow the Jedi to disembark into a light gray mist, formed mainly of soot. Immediately pain, fatigue, fear, and anxiety flooded over the Jedi's senses from the locals and military leaders that hasten over the region. The sensations tingled along their spines, then raced to their minds, tearing and burning with agony.
Several of the Jedi winced with the onslaught of such raw devastation, the force allowing them to vicariously experience each individual's plights. With a deep force impression and a slight meditative trance of calm and serenity, the Jedi allowed the sensations to flow over them and dissipate away, cleansing their minds and emotions with the fresh light of the force.
The surrounding fog began to billow, rippled by a strong breeze, and began to filter away from the Jedi and reveal the surrounding terrain to a better degree.
Several of the Jedi gasped at the scene, now closer and visible through the war-induced fog that hovered over the area. Bodies littered the streets, heaped, and smoldering, some dismembered beyond any kind of recognition. Pools of white tinted blood could be seen seeping out from corpses and trickling down throughout the streets and soaking into the hardened, charred earth.
The underlying Jedi instincts screamed out to assist those fallen from the battle. Now was the time for actions, to help those who needed their assistance. Officially, there had been no formal requests, no summons before the Republic by any governing body, asking for assistance, and the Jedi were not welcome.
But how can they just turn their backs on all the suffering?
The Jedi were sworn to obey planetary laws and not interfere with political disputes. Bound by the duty, the oath, the bond to their brethren prevented them from completely obeying the rule of the Code, and had gathered as many rescue members as they could to go to the war torn world.
"This is a mission to rescue fallen Jedi, not immerse ourselves into the planets dispute," Master Mace Windu had informed the Galactic Republic when they demanded an explanation for his mutinous act of assembling other Jedi in order to search for the reportedly missing master and his padawan that escorted the diplomatic ambassador back to his home world.
The Jedi contingent pulled their attention from the devastation all around and surrounded their leader, awaiting their orders. Several waves pulsed as apprehension dissipated into the force from the masters and apprentices.
"Keep focused on finding Jinn and Kenobi. Don't let your personal feelings get in the way or else they will be lost. Don't take any risks. If you encounter any hostiles, retreat immediately to the shuttle! We can regroup and come back when they lost their patience," Master Windu called to his colleagues, who nodded then began to disband in an attempt to search of the desolate grounds. "Morra. Zeller. You're with me!"
A tall Korddian master and his Arlieez padawan nodded and followed the council member towards a small abatis, hoping to find their downed colleague before the sounding battle surrounding them got too close.
The council member took the lead and personified the outward calm of a skilled, trained warrior. Fluid movements allowed the figure to glide effortlessly across the rocky, scarred terrain. His face showed only determination and unwavering stubbornness. A silent resolve resounded in his head, promising himself he would never again rebuke his friend for his blatant disregard for rules, and the nasty habit of teaching his padawan that it was alright to defy the council if you so wished. He only hoped his friend would be alive so he would be able to implement the new resolution.
The Korddian master racing along at the councilmen's side, was over seven feet tall, with a muscular build, covered in a soft, pale golden fur, which didn't hide the chiseled face that resembled a historical god of lore. His exceptionally sharp hawk-like eyes of deep amber allowed the master to see great distances, and added to the sense that, though his nature was very gentle and compassionate, he was not someone to mess with.
The Korddians' counterpart, Padawan Zeller, was small for his age, even compared to other Arlieez. He was a humanoid, twenty standard years old, but barely over a meter tall, with rough honey colored skin, small dulled horns along the underside of his lower jaw, and gentle pale blue eyes. What the padawan lacked in physical structure, he well made up for it in force acuity. His precision was unmatched, and his strength in the force was quite literally, a force to be reckoned with.
Smoke, mixed with a heavy fog covered the ground as more buildings disintegrated from blast waves, sending debris flying and soot billowing out into the already thick air. The surrounding terrain seemed to sense the newcomers, and double its efforts against them. The ground shook, debris rained down, and the heat coming from the structural fires made the fog seem to breathe with life.
The three Jedi coughed and wheezed, pulling their robes up over their faces to better aid their breathing. Hurrying down a small lane, the trio centered on the coordinates that Master Jinn had relayed to the Jedi Temple in his last transmission.
The lane opened out into a small courtyard, surrounded by small buildings of one or two stories in height. Focusing on the force, the trio broke out into a dead run towards the end of the street, where a large chunk of durasteel arched high into the sky like a giant scale off a mythological beast, the only remains of its once tall and luxurious apartments. The last known coordinates of Qui-Gon Jinn.
The master/padawan team accompanying the council member were considered the opposites of Jinn and Kenobi, though truth be told, they were more alike than not. The Korddian/Arlieez pair pretended to be strict and follow the Code to the letter. Whereas, Jinn and Kenobi were often brought before the council to face reprimand for their constant, blatant disregard for the rules. This happened at least once a week. The masters of the quartet were great friends, no matter how many times they argued and fussed at one another. Some of their disagreements were legendary, and still talked about among those who remember or witnessed the quarrels.
The masters' friendship had started years ago when both were newly knighted and accepted their first padawans. They were assigned to a mission to assist in transporting wounded to medical facilities on a backward, war torn planet. The planet was transitioning over to the Republic ways, to which many inhabitants disagreed, and a vicious faction had started to sabotage the local governing body. The Jedi masters and their new padawans were dispatched to protect the prince and his family of concubines and wives.
The two masters had worked rather awkwardly with each other, each trying to take control of the situation, and reminded each other, and their padawans, that they were only there as protection for the royal family. Unfortunately, with all the injured that needed help, emotions running high, and each wanting to prove themselves, the warnings the force screamed out went unnoticed by either master. They sent their padawans to a local medical facility as humanitarian aid.
The Jedi masters were knocked to the ground by a thunderous explosion, then felt the tearing at their minds as their training bonds were severed.
Mentally raw, empty, and painful, they stumbled through the rubble and realized that they had lost their first padawans in a blast that destroyed half a hospital, and killed over four hundred other innocents. Though they argued continually when they first met and never agreed on anything, they found a commonality in each other, and grieved for the loss of so many lives and their precious charges. A bond of solace was forged from that horrifying experience, to which both masters kept mainly between themselves, rarely discussing the incident with anyone.
Master Morra halted at a large pile of rubble and opened up his senses, sorting through all the turmoil flooding in around him and scanning for his friend's life signs. A flicker of life energy greeted the master, but it wasn't Jinn or Kenobi. It was one of the Aphian people.
Sighing, the Jedi Master focused on the force and started channeling a path through the debris. The Korddian's size enabled him to heave large chunks of durasteel and charred bricks out of the way, trying to focus on the source of the life sign that called helplessly into the force like a beacon. "I'm coming! Just hold on!"
Master Windu heard the other master's call and joined him, force shoving a boulder out of the way, and throwing clastic debris, helping to clear the path to the ailing individual. Sweat beaded on his forehead, and his breath was coming in gasps with his exertions.
An avalanche of glowing, red-hot debris rained down from the top of the assemblage, cascading down to fill in the voids left by the large chunks removed by the hands of the Jedi. An internal shudder of shifting construction made more gusts of soot and smoke billow out, making the Jedi's eyes sting and burn.
Master Morra suddenly stopped, then grabbed the council member's arm and shook his head, "They're gone."
Closing his eyes sadly, the councilman sighed, "Let's move on. I don't sense any more life signs and I don't know how much time we have here until the battle finds its way to this region."
Morra nodded solemnly and followed the senior master to the next building. Padawan Zeller could be heard in the courtyard, struggling and arguing with the rubble he was trying to wade through as he searched the adjacent building.
Master Morra picked up pieces of wreckage and hurled them away with his hands aching from strain, calluses already starting to form along his palms and sweat starting to drip down his face. Smaller chunks of flotsam rained down, shifting the already precarious ruins, piled around like graves, marking where buildings returned to dust. Ashes and soot puffed out in clouds in the master's face, causing him to choke and splutter. His face was blackened with ashes, clinging to his sweaty fur. A small ring of gold could be seen through the thick soot surrounding his eyes, giving him an almost predatory look.
A large missile whistled overhead, the vortices causing the ground to shudder and the rocks to shift again. Fire swelled up beneath the slabs of duracrete, twisted metal and crumbling baked earth. Shrapnel rained down on the two master's heads as more of the building shifted in the aftershock of the missile's distant impact.
The remains of the building quaked with an aftershock, a large crack raced up the wall beside where the masters stood, bits of earth started to trickle down as ashen rain. With a look at each other, the two masters ran away from the crumbling establishment, just as the wall collapsed over the place where they were standing, and fire erupted from the bowels of the devastation.
"If the weapons don't kill us, the buildings will!" Master Windu shouted out in frustration. His exterior of calm and serenity was cracking with stress and fatigue.
"Mace," Master Morra breathed, his fur covered with flakes of the burned wreckage. He roughly grabbed the council members arm and pointed in the distance, "What is THAT?"
Windu looked confused, then followed the stare of his comrade and gasped as a strange creature emerged from dust and smoke filtering through the air. "It's one of the Aphian people."
"One of the rebels?" Morra asked in a hushed tone as the being approached.
"We'll soon find out," Master Windu answered, then smiled as the being stopped directly in front of the two Jedi masters.
A being the size of Master Windu stood before the two masters, a long deep blue, soot covered cloak hid its body. The top of its triangular head was donned with an ornamental wreath, matching the designs on the coat chest, and had a set of small antennae perched on top of its head. The being was obviously a member of a military group, by way of rank and designation on the dusty uniform.
A series of loud clicks, chirrs and snaps came out of the creature's mouth as it extended a clawed pincer towards the two Jedi. The small translator on the Jedi's collar took a few seconds to translate what the creature had said, "Honored Jedi. My Leader wishes to see you. Follow me."
The two masters exchanged looks, their thoughts clearly on the same thing –this must be the faction friendly to Jedi or else they wouldn't have been asked so nicely.
"Lead the way," Mace nodded.
The creature scuttled over the terrain easily, the large uniform cloak the creature wore muffled the sounds of many feet hitting the ground. The sound resembled a soft stampede.
"Padawan!" Morra called to the small figure pushing its way through another edifice riddled with destruction.
The small Arlieez apprentice stopped his searching and followed his master and council member behind the large, strangely lopsided, creature. As the padawan drew nearer, he gasped at the site of the being in the lead, and swallowed a large lump of anticipation that appeared in his throat. His blue eyes were wide with shock as he fell into step behind his mentor.
The three Jedi were led to a small annex of a tiny dwelling made of earth and reinforced with thick strips of durasteel. A rumbling of weapons fire and deep impacts from the continuing battle caused the small building to creak, its supports holding strong in the aftermath of blast waves and after shocks.
/This is probably the safest place on the planet./ Master Windu thought to himself as he was led inside to meet the leader.
The three Jedi approached a taller being than the one escorting them, this one also in a royal blue robe, but only draped across his shoulders and not shrouding his appearance.
The Aphian leader that greeted the Jedi was typical of the insectoid race, standing on three sets of multi-segmented legs that sprouted out of the beings thorax, and ended in flattened claws with thick pulvilli that muffled the sound of movement. The body was consistent with most insects, having a stomach, thorax, and head, but evolution had transformed the regular exoskeleton into a vast array of multi-layered sclerites that shone copper in the fading light. Two sets of 'arms' ending in chelae, sprouted out from the middle of the thorax. Large overlapping pinchers accented the mouth, the larger set opening to reveal the mouth surrounded by two sets of smaller, sharper mandibles. Large black, almond shaped, multi-facetted eyes dominated the triangular head, which was topped with three sets of cerci, sensory antennae. One dominate set, larger than a human arm, the other two sets were short and covered in miniature bristles.
The Aphian looked up from a small datasheet he was holding in his pincher-like hands, and let out an audible gasp, drowned out by the cries of war around him. He towered over two of the Jedi, but the third was a challenge to his height, and covered in a strange fur.
On Aphidia, caste systems ruled over the planet, sorting individuals by their height and prowess. The taller a being was, the higher ranked they were. This leader was almost eight feet in height and therefor, in charge of his armada. His impenetrable black eyes roamed over the three bipedal Jedi standing before him, trying to discern their ranks.
"Come to help your brothers," the being chirred, the Jedi's translator making the audio more acceptable to humanoid hearing.
"Yes," Master Windu answered, but the being focused more on Master Morra, obviously believing his stature meant his dominance of the group.
The Aphian leader blinked its opaque eyes lazily at the Korddian Master, ignoring the ranking council member, and clicked loudly. "We are controlling this region but for how long, I do not know."
Master Morra perceived the being's misinterpretation of their rank, "Master Windu has briefed us on the situation. We do not want any confrontations."
The Aphian leader regarded the dark council member for a moment, then returned his attention back to the large Korddian master. "We can not aid you in your search, but we can offer you some protection. You are safe as long as we are in control of this sector."
Master Morra bowed his head, "We appreciate your willingness to allow us to search for our brothers, and to offer us your protection. It is most gracious of you."
The Aphian leader bowed his triangular head in return, "We are honored to assist. However, not everyone of our kind believes you to be noble, and only wish you harmed. You must make yourselves blend in, or else you will become a target to those enemies that have infiltrated our borders and defenses."
"We will do whatever is necessary," Morra said firmly.
"You must not let others see you are not of Aphidia. Hide your faces and bodies. It is most important," the clicks, chirps, and whirrs filled the small enclosure as the Aphian gave out instructions.
The three Jedi raised their hoods, concealing their faces, and pulled their robes tighter around themselves, hiding the fact they lacked the extra sets of arms and pinchers.
"Excellent," the Aphian chimed into the translator. "Now, we have information to pass onto you." He turned his back momentarily, grabbing a durasheet and pushed it towards Master Morra. "This is the last information we have on your brothers. I hope it helps you."
Master Morra showed the durasheet to the councilman, who was disgruntled at his treatment, and to his padawan, who was still wearing a look of utmost shock upon his face. The three scanned the markings, none identifiable, and looked over to the Aphian leader.
"We can not read what this says," Master Windu took a step forward, trying to show his leadership in the trio.
The Aphian leader cocked his head and chirred, "I am sorry. I forgot you can't read our language. It says the youngest brother was at our refuge for weak and elderly. That establishment was destroyed in the first wave of attacks. There is nothing left of the building."
Padawan Zeller opened up his mouth for the first time to speak, "You mean, Padawan Kenobi is dead?"
The Aphian seemed ruffled by the youngsters' outburst and shifted uncomfortably on his clawed feet. He glared at the young Jedi, refusing to address his question.
"Was Padawan Kenobi killed in the attack?" Master Morra asked, returning the attention back to himself.
"The older brother was rushing to find the young one, and aid those that escaped the first bombing, but our intelligence tells us that he never made it to that location," the Aphian leader's triangular head rotated on its pivot as its eyes glared at the tall Jedi master. "Another explosion destroyed the building shortly after the first. We have found very few survivors. Unfortunately, they did not survive long."
A loud battle cry, followed by a series of thundering echoes of weapons, resounded close by. The sound of another building succumbing to disaster shook the ground.
"Where was Master Jinn's last location?" Master Morra pressed, knowing their time was running short.
The Aphian lead the Jedi trio around the corner of the enclosure and pointed down an alleyway that opened up onto crumbling intersections of walkways. "His last location was down there. I have no precise location to give you. I am sorry."
"We appreciate all you've done," Master Windu nodded and started heading down the alley, hoping against hope he would find his friend and his padawan in one piece.
"Keep hidden! We do not know how much longer we will be here to offer you protection," the Aphian chirred. The Jedi translator on Master Morra crackled with static as it translated.
"We will be on guard. Thank you for everything," Morra bowed quickly and followed his hurrying Jedi leader.
The Aphian clicked his hands in a gesture of departure and returned to his enclosure and troops.
Master Morra silently contemplated all the information. He was grateful for all the help the military leader had given, but under the current circumstances, it was nominal at best. The Aphian leader understandably had other concerns, but his information was sketchy, and knowing how the majority of the Aphian people thought about outsiders, the information only heightened fear and misgivings, not ease their minds and solve the immediate problems.
The master was also silently grateful for the translators that were provided to the group by the Jedi scientists. Most species, especially humans, couldn't reproduce the clicking and chirping noise the Aphidia people use to communicate. Several Jedi scientists had spent months creating translators that would enable communication between the Aphidia people and the diplomatic ambassadors sent by the Republic in hopes of settling the dispute between factions of government that were tearing Aphidia apart.
Master Windu spoke into the comm unit on his robes as he came to a halt at the center of the intersection the Aphian leader had pointed out, "This is Mace Windu. Raise your hoods to hide your identity. Also, I want half of you to cover the bombed out refuge center. The rest, converge on my transmission at once! We have reason to believe that Jinn is still alive and are somewhere in this area."
Several voices answered back, calling their destination and their estimated times of arrival.
Master Morra stood by the dark council member and frowned, "We have no information on either one being alive, only speculations and expectations."
Master Windu turned to his college, wiping his sweaty face on his sleeve. "We have no evidence to the contrary either. If I know Jinn and Kenobi, they are more than likely alive, and in desperate need of rescue."
"How can you be so sure? The Aphian leader said that Kenobi was at the refuge center when it was bombed and the survivors they did rescue didn't make it. And Master Jinn was on his way to the center, but never made it. How can you be so sure that either is still alive?" Morra's brow furrowed with worry and concern. He really wished his friend and padawan were safe, but logically speaking, the hopes that both were still alive were slim.
"I've known Qui-Gon Jinn my entire life," Mace grinned. "Every time he was thought dead, he has miraculously risen from the grave. He has an uncanny ability to thwart death and flirt with danger. A reason he has been brought before the council on many occasions, let me tell you."
The trio felt a surge of force, announcing the arrival of the search party. Three Jedi came running down a walkway, followed closely by a smaller trying to catch up to their companions, and caught the attention of the Korddian master. "I am well aware of the track record with those two. But you know Mace, even they can't cheat death so often and not fall short. It is bound to catch up with them sooner or later."
Mace sighed and rubbed his weary eyes. He knew what the other master spoke was truth, and his heart sank with the prospect. Nevertheless he remembered all the times that Jinn and Kenobi were thought dead, and had wandered into the Temple, completely drained, emotionally and physically, and surprised everyone, even those that held out hopes of their survival. It became a common knowledge that when they were believed to be dead, they would return, bloodied, battered, bruised, and using the last of their energy to find their way home.
Master Morra put his hand on his friend's shoulder and added, "I do hope this is one of the times where they cheated death again, and they return to the Temple. In whatever shape they care to appear." He added with a weak grin.
"I do too," Master Windu surveyed the devastation around him with darkened eyes, contemplating on where to begin.
Large buildings were crumpled, smoldering all around as the Jedi trio headed to meet up with their colleges.
The ruins and devastation scarred the landscape, and the Jedi teams wondered if they would have enough time to find their fallen brethren, or even attempt a rescue. The sound of weapons echoed around the tightly knit area, making the sounds magnify. Multiple feet pounded the ground, sounding like distant thunder, flashes lit up the sky as explosions rocked ground as the Jedi spread out to begin their new search.
The remains of buildings weren't the only setback. Bodies littered the ground, some dismembered, others scorched beyond recognition. The area was obviously a rural housing unit center. The Jedi held their breath when they came across an adusted body, choking on the stench of burnt scales and smoldering flesh. The thick robes the Jedi wore to conceal themselves from the locals that may attack slowed their progress, clinging to their bodies, soaked in sweat, and becoming discolored with ash and soot.
Shouts of shrill chirring and clicks reverberated painfully off the heightened hearing of the Jedi moving in coordinated search patterns around the perimeter. Chunks of metal and earth fell to the ground with heavy impacts, shrapnel peppered down from the debris smoking amid the dust clouds that filled the area.
Smoke rose from the flames that stretched up in large coils, like serpents lashing out at the marauders who dare to disturb their slumber. Buildings shuddered with each explosion, some collapsing under the pressure and aftershock of the blast, others creaked in warning, swaying precariously from side to side with eminent doom.
The billowing smoke began to shade the fading sunlight, making the job more difficult for the rescuers. Coughing and spluttering, Master Windu looked out over the landscape, watching the other Jedi teams searching the rubble for his long time friend. The force pulsed and crested like tidal waves with the manipulation of the Jedi teams, trying desperately to hone in on the life form that eluded them.
Master Morra lifted a chunk of duracrete and heaved it aside, the skin on the back of his hands split open and began to trickle blood through the golden fur. He cursed under his breath, then called out to the other master, "You realize it will be a miracle of the force if both of them survived this?"
A loud blast sang out into the air as pieces of bomb fragments fell from the rooftop of a swaying building. The ground shuttered, and a large crack snaked its way from the edge of the building, forking out and disappearing under other structures that were just as close to their demise.
"I know," Windu panted, using the force to move charred bodies out of the way, and laying them gently a small distance away. His own hands were covered in soot, and sporting a collection of wounds and abrasions from the shifting rubble that peppered down onto him without mercy.
The four Jedi that joined the master/padawan/council member team, quickly fanned out, coordinating their search. Starting on the opposite side of the courtyard, their criss cross pattern converging with the other Jedi team at a partially bombed out annex. Their heaves and groans of stressful pursuit could be heard around the plaza.
Master Windu threw a clast out of his way; sweat pouring down over his face with his exertion. He panted, and favored a glance over at a stationary figure. Padawan Zeller's eyes were closed, his hands were clenched into tight fists, and the force pulsed around the youngster. "Everything will be alright, padawan. You can meditate on this later, but right now, we can't afford the time."
Master Morra force shoved a large pipe out of his way, then looked over at his padawan, sweat glistened on his face and plastered his fur to his body, "Padawan, what do you sense?"
"He's not here," Padawan Zeller answered quietly, and began to walk away from the rubble of the building.
Master Morra clambered over the debris, abandoning his search, and started to walk slowly behind his padawan.
"What are you doing?" Master Windu shouted over another rumble of a chain reaction of explosions.
Master Morra grinned and pointed at his padawan, who was walking away with his eyes closed. "He could find anyone, and I mean ANYONE, under any circumstance. You could hide someone on the other side of Coruscant, in the deepest levels, surrounded by any force suppressant, and he could find them in a couple hours, blindfolded!"
Master Windu gave his companion a look of astonishment, "You're kidding!"
"No, I'm not," Master Morra replied, keeping a good distance away from his padawan who was winding a way through rubble and debris, navigating the path with exceptional force perceptions. "The Arlieez people are gifted telepaths. They don't need the force to sense someone."
"HERE!" Padawan Zeller called over his shoulder, pointing at an alleyway between two large buildings that were partially shelled out from the blasts. "He's down there. I can sense him!"
Master Windu focused on the force and felt the slight trance of consciousness just beyond a large section of fallen debris. "He's alive, but barely. We have to hurry!"
Master Morra dashed forward, his size a great advantage as he wound his way through the piles of durasteel, pipes, molding, and still active electrical cables. Sparks shot out into the air, charging the atmosphere with a sense of foreboding.
Master Windu grabbed his comm to alert the others searching in the area, "Junte, Pilo, Erty, Treys, we found Master Jinn. He's in an alley between two unstable buildings. Get here as soon as you can."
"We're on our way!" the master/padawan teams answered crisply.
"Help is coming!" Windu shouted out to master Morra as he hurled another clast out of the way. Padawan Zeller was a few feet behind his master, his concentration on the Jedi Master buried under the rubble, trying to send enough force energy to keep him stabilized.
The building shuddered as another blast wave hit it, wreckage rained down inside, causing a domino effect as the extra weight added to the burden the already strained structure was sustaining. The floors collapsed on top of one another, sandwiching the levels together in a compact fashion. The walls shuddered, then toppled inward, large chunks amassing on top of smaller pieces and crushing them into powder.
A large conduit snapped and fell from the overhead wires, writhing, twisting, and flailing about across the felled wreckage surrounding it, and automatically igniting every surface with its deadly charge. Master Windu pulled Padawan Zeller away from the lashing just in time, as the cable wiped around, its backlash grazing the padawan's robe and singeing the material.
"Be cautious, Padawan. It will do no good if you get there first, but have to be rescued yourself," the council member chided with a smile.
"Thank you, master," Padawan Zeller bowed his head and returned to the aiding of his master in removing the offending debris.
The missile blasts in the night sky lit up the scene with flashes, illuminating the cloaked figures pulling, dragging, carrying, and force pushing shrapnel out of their way, fighting to get to the figure buried within its depths, struggling to hold onto life.
"Master Windu!" Master Pilo shouted, running to the senior Jedi. "We are sorry for our delay. Padawan Erty was injured."
Master Windu nodded, glancing over and seeing the small humanoid padawan who was gingerly holding onto his shoulder that sported a huge tear in his robes. "Are you okay, Padawan Erty? Is it serious?"
The padawan raised his head defiantly, "I will be fine. I am still able to help search for Master Jinn."
Master Junte smiled as nodded as his charge, "You can assist by concentrating on the hulled building, make sure it doesn't collapse on top of us while we search. Padawan Treys will assist you."
A soot covered Rodian female stepped by her fellow padawans side and nodded. The duo, which were top of their class in force manipulation and control, closed their eyes and started to mount and channel their combined force prowess and allow it to swell and envelope the area, stabilizing it within a kind of force bubble.
The masters of the two padawans smiled to the council member, then started to force shove debris out of their path. Pieces of building, Aphian denizens that were caught in the wreckage, and twisted remains of durasteel supports were force pushed a safe distance away, where they wouldn't cause immediate danger to the Jedi struggling through the destruction.
Master Morra continued to channel through the alleyway, his golden fur and robes were plastered to his body as he heaved and hurled chunks of building and rocks out of the way. With a mighty force push, he moved a boulder the size of a cloud car up and over a small restraining wall, and saw a flash of deep brown material. "I FOUND HIM!"
Master Windu quickly joined Padawan Zeller to the Korddian Masters' side, panting from their own exertions, while the other two masters continued to clear away debris to make the area as safe as possible. The two padawans that were manipulating the force to prevent the demise of the partially destroyed building, continued their vigilance as the force peaked and swirled around them. Their concentration unbroken. Their wills resolute and determined.
A piece of deep brown paletot protruded from under a large piece of twisted metal, the remains of a missile casing, still hot from its ignition and impact.
Using his senses to check the conditions, Master Windu used the force to raise the large obstruction, and sent rubble cascading down in a sooty wisp and red hot coals that still smoldered.
"Junte!" Windu yelled. "I need you here to help move this debris!"
The Alderanian master hurried to his leader's side. "We have to do this one layer at a time, or the whole thing could collapse on top of him!"
Master Windu nodded, "I'll try to keep a force shield around him to buffer the debris that may slip through."
Master Morra stood by his colleague's side as focused the force, sending the offending wreckage scattering. With a force nudge, a chunk of melted vermicular durasteel shifted, the cascading effect sending the majority of the ruins backwards, away from the Jedi and making their path easier.
When the smaller rubbage was cleared away, Masters Morra and Junte assisted their leader in raising the last, boulder sized chunk of building that had cocooned a Jedi Master.
As the body of the fallen man came into view, the pale light of the dying sunlight lit up his face, but most importantly, brought his injuries into better perspective. Qui-Gon Jinns' head lolled as his limp body was freed from the section of building that had fell on him.
Master Windu reached for his comm and shouted, "We have Master Jinn! Keep looking for Kenobi! Healer Yet'ilia, we need help transporting the patient, he's severely injured. Use the locator on the comm to find us."
"I'm on my way," came the clipped reply.
"Mace, he's bleeding pretty badly," Master Morra said, checking Qui-Gon's pulse and gesturing to the large bloody stains splashed over the frail body.
Without hesitation, Windu pulled back the thick woolen overcoat and gasped as the full extent of his friends injuries struck him.
Qui-Gon's legs were mangled, sporting several long deep gashes, twisted up at a strange angle. A long, thin piece of shrapnel was embedded in his shoulder and neck, peeling back the skin and exposing the bubbly, fatty layer of skin and bone. A gash ran the length of the left side of his face; his hair stained in the mass of blood that was flowing freely from the wound hidden among the mane of hair. Large, deep bruises covered his face and neck and a collection of swollen lumps dotted his body, some still imprinted with what ever impacted the skin.
"It's going to be okay, Qui-Gon. The healer is on her way," Master Morra spoke softly, applying pressure to the bleeding gashes and using his limited force healing ability to keep the man lying prone on the ground stabilized.
Master Junte joined the two padawans, who were tiring of their force exertions and allowed the neighboring building to shiver slightly with the weakening of the force manipulation upon it.
A loud burst of static jolted the two Jedi administering to their downed comrade. One of the other masters voices filtered through, "Master Windu?"
"We found the place where the refugee center was. It's nothing but a crater," Master Mi'Lowi answered.
"Any sign of Kenobi?" Mace asked quickly, wishing for the answer, but dreading it all the same.
"We found a piece of metal, melted from a weapon impact and fused into the rock. It has the same characteristics and alloys that we use for our lightsabers. There is no way to be sure, and no way to tell that it's Kenobi's." Master Mi'Lowi panted into the comm.
"What about life signs? Have you been able to find anyone alive in the surrounding area?" Mace asked desperately.
"There are no life signs in the rubble or surrounding area, but he may have gotten out before the blast," Master Mi'Lowi replied, trying to inject some hope into her voice.
Qui-Gon stirred, his eyes fluttered open in a grimace, "O… Obi… Obiwan…"
Master Windu wiped the blood from his friend's eyes and held on to his lolling head and peered into unfocused deep blue eyes, "What about Obi-Wan? Where is he, Qui-Gon?"
Qui-Gon coughed painfully, winced, his breath coming in ragged, desperate wheezes, "Dead…..staying… dead."
"What?" Master Windu stuttered. "Obi-Wan is dead? Qui-Gon, are you sure?"
"My…. my fault… fault….he…" Qui-Gon rasped out. Pain seared through his mangled body, adding to the difficulty of breathing.
"What is your fault?" Master Morra prodded gently, sensing the man's consciousness fading. "Qui-Gon, where is Obi-Wan?"
"Obi… dead… stay.." Qui-Gon shuddered, let out a muffled sob, then fell limp against the ground as the pressure of his injuries and grief made his breathing too painful and he slipped away into a dreamless sleep.