Author's Note: Please allow me to express my deepest gratitude to:
Demmie, Mathematica, Majestik Moose, ObiBettina7, Harm Marie, Jedi Ani Unduli, Ann Jinn and Victoria Wan for your wonderful comments.
Thanks to everyone for reading. This story is finally finished. Please let me know your thoughts.
Two men stood side by side waiting for the Dark games to begin. They knew they were in a vulnerable position, but both aimed to be steadfastly vigilant and cautious enough not to fall into the trap of becoming unwitting pawns to be played by a machiavellian devil.
"Some mighty and fearsome Sith Lord, you are." a sardonic Xanatos brashly goaded. "Lurking in the shadows sulking like an embittered sore loser? Afraid your saber technique doesn't quite measure up to my swashbuckling snuff?"
Chuckles of mirth reverberated within the tabernacle. "Oh...my wayward Prince. Your arrogant bravado never ceases to amuse me. Alas, I've no intention of continuing our robust duel to the death at this particular time. Even though nothing would delight me more than a challenging rematch, I'm afraid that my ability to fight to my utmost has been unfortunately curtailed due to the injury I sustained when last we clashed."
"Why do I not derive any solace from that pronouncement," Xan muttered under his breath.
"Because," Obi-Wan perceptively retorted, "Odds are probable that that conniving conjurer has diabolically contrived an alternate method to rid himself of us."
It was sheer instinct that sent the pair simultaneously leaping off the altar mere seconds before the religious platform disintegrated in a thundering explosion. When the dust from the marble rubble cleared, the knight keenly alerted, "Incoming!" Two lightsabers brilliantly ignited fending off a barrage of star-shaped poison-tipped projectiles shooting their way.
Obi-Wan adeptly somersaulted over some heavy debris landing next to his friend. "Every square inch of this place has probably been jury rigged into either blasting us or blowing us to bits."
"Count on it," Xan was certain. "But, Palpatine's still here. He wouldn't dream of leaving before witnessing the scintillating thrill of our demise."
A serious of small blasts were triggered and the Temple was fast becoming an inescapable fiery furnace as deadly smoke billowed and scorching flames raced throughout the sanctuary.
Perched high atop in the Temple's aerie, the Sith Lord admired his destructive handiwork. Though he could only make out the sight of a pair of lightsabers efficiently slicing through the dense toxic haze from down below, he relished the thought of the two men assiduously defending themselves while rapidly being engulfed by the blazing conflagration.
The bright azure blue blade was the first to be extinguished. Subsequently, the light from the amber hued saber completely vanished as well. Palpatine closed his eyes and sighed in supreme exultation, taking a precious moment to revel at the elimination of the troublesome constant thorn in his side duo.
As the smug Sith Lord moved with smooth alacrity to make good his swift getaway, he froze dead in his tracks discovering his access blocked by a charcoal ash smudged, lightsaber wielding Jedi knight.
"Leaving so soon?"
"Kenobi...," was the surprised and venomous response. Stunned for an instant, the elder man quickly recovered. Drawing forth his crimson blood red saber with a sinister sneer, he taunted, "You may have bested my student, Jedi. Let's see how you fare with the one who taught him all he knew."
The Sith attack was vicious and relentless, but Obi-Wan kept his cool. Fighting Darth Maul taught him the valuable lesson of going with the flow of the Force. From the onset, the observant knight took note that Palpatine, though extremely powerful and saber proficient, did not prevaricate about being debilitated for he favored his right side. The combatants fought intensely as the heat and flames surrounded them. Dueling through narrow Temple corridors, the Sith, in an effort to avoid falling burning debris, staggered and lost his footing next to a railing. Feigning feebleness, Palpatine desperately pleaded, "Help me."
Immediately, the knight lowered his guard and reached out in order to offer assistance.
The Sith smiled at his clever deception, but before he could lethally strike out at his benefactor, another blade expertly swept into play.
"Mind if I cut in?"
Growling in fierce aggravation that neither of his despised adversaries succumbed to his deadly game plan, the Dark Lord knew he had a few options left.
"My dear boy, if a confrontation is what you're looking for, let us commence."
Before swords engaged, the floor violently shook as if about to collapse. Fight or no fight, the three men knew they had to escape the raging inferno straightaway for fire was totally consuming the building. The trio were almost home free as they precariously made their way to the nearest exit when suddenly the insidious vengeful Palpatine turned with hidden blaster in hand and opened fire.
Obi-Wan was closest in proximity and would have been instantly killed had Xanatos not moved in at the last second. Even though seriously wounded, the noble managed to retaliate by hurling the gilded ceremonial dagger he secretly carried, nailing the Sith Lord squarely in the chest. The vile villain shrieked in agony before falling back into the flames.
The knight quickly draped his arm around his injured friend in bracing support as they hurriedly made their way outside to safety.
Carefully laying Xanatos on the ground, Obi-Wan grimly assessed the condition of his companion's wound.
"You saved my life twice. I figured it was about time that I returned the favor," the fallen Jedi wryly acknowledged. "I'm glad that I was able to settle my account before it was too late."
"Don't talk like that, Xan. You'll be back on your dancing feet before you know it."
The determination on the knight's face spoke volumes of the Jedi's intent.
"Wait...You're too weak to pull off another Naboo miracle...Save your strength." When the young man did not reply, the Telosian clenched the front of his friend's tunic and implored, "Don't be a noble fool, Obi-Wan...You'll kill yourself...Please..."
"I appreciate your concern and impeccable manners, Xan, but you of all people know better than to tell me what to do."
The time for argument was past. Xanatos felt blackness closing in on him. Despite the pain, he could feel his body being infused with healing energy.
Strangely enough, he was at peace. Even though he had qualms whether the Force would consider him redeemed for his past sins and found worthy of transcendence into the Light, he didn't fear death at all.
In fact, he welcomed it.
Then darkness fell.
Tranquil floating was the only sensation that Xanatos was conscious of. /Bacta tank,/ he surmised as he drifted under the effects of drugged sedation. The injured man felt extremely frail, bone weary and so very very tired. His accompanying spirits were at low ebb as well. Sadly, they were as wane and limp as his physical body.
It was then that Xan swore he could hear the familiar faint sweet sound of a little girl giggling. Sensed his body and soul suffuse with a jolt of warmth and vitality. Felt the gentle feather-like brush of a kiss on his cheek before falling into a serene deep sleep.
Upon awakening, the first thing to coalesce into focus was the dour face of Qui-Gon Jinn whose bleakly somber facial features immediately relaxed into a genuinely relieved smile.
"Obi-Wan...,"the injured patient anxiously rasped, then attempted to rise.
"Easy, Xanatos," The Jedi master firmly grasped his former apprentice by the shoulders, stopping his forward momentum, before motioning to the adjoining bed where the knight lay in quiescent repose. "I give you my word, he's alright," the older man reassured, "He just overextended himself, tenaciously hanging onto your life force until help finally arrived."
Reacting to the sound of Jinn's distinct baritone, the ginger head slightly stirred as Obi-Wan's eyes fluttered open. Elated at espying the very much alive Telosian noble across from him, the young man groaned when becoming cognizant of his surroundings. "I'll wager that this is the exact same room I occupied not too long ago."
"I don't mind pointing out to you both that you aged your solicitous old master considerably with your latest exploits." Jinn was in lecture mode. "There was a dire critical stage while you were submerged in bacta, Xanatos, when your vitals plummeted so low that healers feared you were lost for good." Qui-Gon shook his head in dismay. "There was utterly no hope, but amazingly you somehow sparked back to life all on your own."
"Someone out there in the Force must be looking out for me," Xan flippantly remarked with a wisp of a profound grin.
From his expression, Obi-Wan perceived that his friend was literally telling the truth with his particularly facetious comment. "Council is probably impatiently waiting for an official report. Did they find Palpatine's body?"
"The authorities went through the wreckage of the burned out Temple with a fine tooth comb. Even a Jedi search team headed by Mace swept the entire premises, but no traces of bodily charred remains were found."
"Is the consensus that he really made it out alive?"
"It's not out the realm of impossibility." Xanatos speculated. "The more I mull it over, the more naive I think I am to believe that a stab wound to the chest could actually stop a Sith Lord as ingenious and crafty as he is." He sighed in disappointment. "So, ultimately there was no victor in this round."
Qui-Gon disagreed. "The Sith may still be out there, but you two exposed him and thwarted his burgeoning nefarious plans. I shudder to picture what the future would have held had you not acted as you did." Jinn elaborated. "You performed as shining examples of what truly great Jedi are and should aspire to be." He mildly cleared his throat, then spoke sincerely and unabashedly. "I'm very honored by the distinction of being recognized as your former Master and to have had the privilege of training you as my padawans. I'm so very proud of you both."
The knight and noble were left speechless, touched and humbled with the open heart declaration.
"I say we should take a page from out of your own book of wisdom, my Master and live in the 'here and now.'"
"Meaning what exactly, Xanatos?"
"Meaning...which of us is going to throw the get well celebration this time?"
Qui-Gon delightfully informed, "Nothing would please me more than if you would allow me to do the honors."