... Blaster fire splattered on the rock wall beside them as several gravsleds joined the fight. Momentarily distracted, Obi-Wan's parry slipped, the force of the blow from the red blade throwing his body off balance, knocking his own blue 'saber from his hand to clatter, deactivated, across the stones. He curled to absorb his fall backward in a roll.
"No!" Qui-Gon cried.
Before Obi-Wan could react, Xanatos grabbed his hand, pulling him from his fall, spinning him and locking his arm behind his back. The ruby energy blade came to rest across his neck, so close it seared his skin. His body was pinned against Xanatos' front by the man's arm holding the blade reversed across him. With his free hand he gripped Xanatos' arm, but struggling with him would only bring the blade closer to his throat. He could not move except to lean his head back against Xanatos' chest to avoid the red lightsaber, conscious as never before of the dark energy that pulsed through Xanatos, strong with the beat of his heart, swirling with his every breath. Obi-Wan breathed deep and tried to center his awareness, to move his focus away from the blade, away from the darkness compelling his fear.
Qui-Gon stood a scant two meters before them, his blade pointed to the side, his free hand upraised where he had failed to reach Obi-Wan before Xanatos snatched him from his fall. His eyes were wide, fixed on Xanatos' face.
"Let him go, Xanatos. It's me you want."
Xanatos laughed, satisfaction edging his voice. He stepped back, dragging Obi-Wan with him.
Qui-Gon lowered both hands a fraction. "I will not fight you, only let him go!"
"Oh, no, Qui-Gon. This situation suits me well. Now you will know how I felt to watch you take my father's life."
Qui-Gon lurched forward, then froze as Xanatos took another step back, pushing his blade ever-so-slightly closer to Obi-Wan's exposed throat. Obi-Wan gasped at the searing pain and shrank back against Xanatos.
Xanatos laughed once more, quietly. "Much as I am enjoying this game, I have other business to attend to. Come no closer. If you do, I promise you I will kill the boy."
"Let him go, and I give you my word, I will not pursue you."
"And give up my advantage? No! Obi-Wan is coming with me. If you follow us before I reach hyperspace, I will kill him. After that... I look forward to your joining us. When you can find us."
Xanatos continued stepping back as he spoke, grinning wickedly. Qui-Gon dared not follow: instead he looked to the boy held tight in the man's arms. This is not the time I would have chosen, he thought, but - "Obi-Wan -" He paused and locked eyes with the boy. "Padawan."
Obi-Wan's eyes widened at the promise implicit in Qui-Gon's words. He looked into the older Jedi's face, his features twisted with anguish, but also firm with determination.
Truly? You will take me back?
A wave of confirmation swept through Obi-Wan, a wordless reply that nevertheless told him: With all my heart. Deep in the core of his being a spring welled up. A faint, sad smile touched his lips.
"I will wait for you, my Master."
A gravsled swung around behind Xanatos as they spoke; it hovered over the acid pool. Without turning, Xanatos leaped backwards into it, using the Force to carry Obi-Wan with him. As soon as they touched the bottom of the gravsled, it took off, heading up toward Tech Dome D. Obi-Wan heard the sound of blaster fire break out where they had been standing on the ground. He craned his head to look, but Xanatos' body blocked his view.
A hard rod poked into his side, searing him with pain, and his body went limp below the neck: he'd been hit with an electrojabber. It would be at least an hour before he could move again. Xanatos deactivated his lightsaber and dropped Obi-Wan onto his stomach on a gravsled bench. The boy looked around at the miners in their unisuits, busy packing up equipment. One approached Xanatos and handed him a coil of insulated wire.
"We've been able to get all the major equipment out already, Boss. Nearly all of the smaller stuff and the processed minerals are already gone, or loaded and ready to go. There's been no organized resistance as of yet. We're among the last to move out."
Xanatos pulled Obi-Wan's wrists together behind his back, binding them with the wire. "Good. Have the starfighters remain to guide the last convoys on their way out." Xanatos gave a last sharp twist to the wire, tightening the bindings painfully. Then Xanatos and the miner moved away from Obi-Wan toward the front of the gravsled.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes, opening himself to the Force. He breathed deeply, focusing his senses and moving beyond his fear. If he could not move to help himself, at least he could think. Perhaps there was some way he could use the Force to create a disturbance on the small craft, to somehow delay their progress? He knew without needing to see that Qui-Gon was watching them, looking for some opening that would give him an advantage. Obi-Wan opened his eyes and reached out with the Force to a box of detonating equipment, sliding back the loose lid.
Crack! Xanatos backhanded him across the face, slamming his head against the bench. Obi-Wan's vision splintered; when he was able to focus once more he saw Xanatos crouched in front of him, staring into his face with fury in his cold blue eyes. "Don't try that again," he said softly, menacingly. Obi-Wan stared back at him, determined to hide his pain and dismay. When Xanatos finally left him, he closed his eyes and rested his aching head on the bench.
Qui-Gon's thoughts came strongly, filled with worry.
I'm all right. Obi-Wan gathered his courage, sent reassurance winging through their bond. In return he felt a query - was there anything he could do? Obi-Wan struggled against his paralysis - if only he could move even a finger! He tried to control his distress, mindful of Qui-Gon, not wanting to worry him further. I'm not getting out of this easily, he thought back, emphasizing the negative. He smiled sadly, feeling Qui-Gon's answering rush of frustration.
The gravsled slowed; came to a halt. Xanatos pulled him up by the collar of his tunic, then slung him over his shoulder. He stepped off the gravsled, Obi-Wan's head hanging at his back, one arm around the boy's legs.
"Be honored, my young Jedi friend. You will be the first to travel with me in my private starship."
Obi-Wan stretched his neck to see where they were headed, but only got a face full of Xanatos' black cloak for his efforts. In a minute they had crossed the tech dome and ascended the ramp of a small black ship. Xanatos dropped Obi-Wan to the floor and closed the hatch, then used an end of the coated wire binding Obi-Wan's wrists to fasten them to a grab-bar about a half meter up the wall, so his arms twisted painfully away from his back. Obi-Wan watched Xanatos disappear into the cockpit. He was in a small central room. Seats and a table with an embedded data station occupied one end. Three doors - the one to his right leading to the pilot station - led out of the room. The ship's hatch was behind him to his left.
Obi-Wan reached out to Qui-Gon, a solid presence in his mind. Desperate as the situation was, he felt strangely calm, with his master close in the Force. My master - he thought, half wondering, an edge of doubt creeping in. Will he regret a decision made now, in the heat of the moment?
Qui-Gon must have caught the gist of his thoughts: a sharp mental negative reached him. Then he felt an outpouring of care, of respect, even of sorrow: an apology. He let Qui-Gon's presence fill him, twining closer in his mental embrace. I'm sorry, too - he replied, that I left you at Melida/Daan, that I failed to trust you.
In their intimacy, feelings crystallized into words, each one clear in its conception, then melting into overtones of emotion, echoed in their renewed bond. Have courage, Padawan. Don't let Xanatos muddle you with his lies and half-truths. He will always see weakness where I see strength: such is the nature of the Dark Side. Trust yourself, and trust in me. I promise you, I will come for you.
I know. I will wait for you.
Obi-Wan felt the repulsorlift engines come to life, felt a shiver as the ship lifted off, the sudden acceleration when the sublight drive engaged and they left the planet's gravitational field. He felt his connection with Qui-Gon grow weaker, the intensity fading with distance; felt his fear and loss growing in his throat. He felt utterly alone, trapped with Xanatos in the tiny ship.
Come quickly, Master. I need you.
Qui-Gon watched the small black speck that was Xanatos' ship with his microbinoculars as it sped away to open space. Dread filled him. Even as he admired Obi-Wan's courage, he knew the boy was frightened. And with good reason. Xanatos had struck him, callously, and would not hesitate to hurt him again, if it suited his purpose. Xanatos was enraged at the failure of his schemes on Telos, and their part in it, and Obi-Wan was there to take the brunt of his anger.
He cursed his impatience, his single-mindedness that had led him to chase Xanatos into the middle of an Offworld mining camp without thought of the danger. Fool. Twice fool. It was exactly what Master Yoda had warned him against, if he had only chosen to hear: "Seek you out, Xanatos will. Pursue him, you must not." And yet Qui-Gon had twice fallen prey to Xanatos' traps by chasing him down, and it was Obi-Wan who would pay the price of his stubborn impatience this time. No, he told himself: I will find him first. I must.
There was one thing he must do: swallow his pride and request help from the Council. They would not be pleased: he was already here against their wishes. But he must do everything in his power to get Obi-Wan back. And to stop Xanatos once and for all.
Obi-Wan rested against the curve of the wall where his wrists were bound behind him. He had finally been able to get his legs under himself by the time he felt the quiet swelling of the powerful hyperdrive and saw starlines through the transparisteel viewport overhead. Now he knelt with his eyes shut and let his mind slip into a state of quiet meditation.
Xanatos entered from the pilot's station; the door slid quietly shut behind him. Obi-Wan heard him stop and stand, felt him watching from the other end of the room, and was careful not to react. Perhaps his captor would leave him alone. He listened as Xanatos crossed the room, entering the door across from him; heard the door shut. He sighed in relief. But then the door opened once more, and he heard Xanatos stepping toward him, crouching before him. A hand cupped his face. He opened his eyes.
Xanatos smiled slyly at him. "I hope you find your accommodations satisfactory."
"I must admit I've had better."
"Such a brave front. The Jedi mask of honor and bravado wins out." He lowered his voice and moved his face closer to Obi-Wan's: so close the boy could feel his breathing. "I feel your fear, Obi-Wan. Your spirit trembles like a dead leaf in an autumn breeze. I wonder: what would it take to get past that Jedi calm, to expose you for the coward you are?"
Obi-Wan felt his fear growing, and struggled to control it, and to control his body's reactions so Xanatos would not see. What would Qui-Gon do? "Breathe," he would say. Obi-Wan focused on breathing, and was surprised to find he had been holding his breath. Xanatos laughed quietly and released him, sitting back on his heels.
"Now what shall I do with my young guest?" he mused.
"You could free my hands before they go completely numb."
Xanatos' smile was eerie. "Perhaps later." He studied Obi-Wan for a minute longer. "Perhaps..." his voice trailed off. Then he stood, turning, and exited to the pilot's station. The door slid closed behind him. Obi-Wan sighed, closed his eyes, and returned to his meditation. There was nothing else he could think to do.
Back and forth in the small guest room of Den's apartment, Qui-Gon paced, scouring his memory for any clue to where Xanatos may have taken his Padawan. Andra and Den had helped him to clear the charges against himself and Obi-Wan. After contacting the Temple, Telos' provisional government - those officials remaining in power after the flurry of resignations and indictments in the wake of OffWorld's departure from the Sacred Pools - had formally apologized for detaining the two of them on Xanatos' word alone.
Now Qui-Gon awaited word from the Temple regarding his requests. Master Yoda had been grim upon hearing the news of Obi-Wan's kidnapping; though he had not said a word of recrimination, Qui-Gon had felt keenly his disapproval. But the wizened old Jedi had promised help: at the least, a transport. And he had said he would ask Tahl to compile a list of all known and suspected OffWorld bases and holdings. But he had also issued a warning and a directive: "Set out to find Obi-Wan before the Council approves you must not! Patient, be! Prepared you must be, or end in failure your efforts will." And so Qui-Gon waited, chafing at the delay, though he could have found transport and headed out by now.
At last his transponder signaled an incoming connection. He knelt by the low table where he had placed it with his holographic disk and datapad jacked in, and pressed the button that completed the connection. A small image of Yoda and Tahl appeared before him. Tahl spoke first.
"I've compiled a list of Offworld front companies and their holdings, Qui-Gon. Are you ready for the transmission?"
Tahl reached out and clicked a connection out of the viewing range of the holographic recorder.
"Found help for you we have, Qui-Gon. Arriving in the city port in six hours will be Tomas Ellmore and his Padawan. A fast ship they have."
"I will be waiting for them, Master Yoda."
"I will continue to search for Offworld holdings and clues to Xanatos' activities," said Tahl. "Check in with me as often as you can."
"I will do that, Tahl. Thank you."
"Our thoughts are with you, Qui-Gon. You will find Obi-Wan."
"Find him you will, Qui-Gon, and Xanatos with him. But heed me in this you must! Careful you must be, and patient, or make the situation worse you will. Treacherous Xanatos is, and wily. Try to trap you he will."
"I am aware of that, Master Yoda."
"With you always, the Force is, Qui-Gon."
They bowed, and Tahl closed the connection.
Perhaps an hour after he had left, Xanatos once more entered the ship's main chamber from the cockpit. The dark Force swirled around him, strong with hatred. In his meditation Obi-Wan had felt the slow gathering of the dark, had felt the shift from anger to hatred and greed. Now, wary of Xanatos' mood, Obi-Wan watched him approach.
"Good news, Obi-Wan. I have found a use for you. But you will need some preparation. You hardly look the part yet."
Xanatos' high spirits filled Obi-Wan with anxiety. He knelt quietly while Xanatos reached behind him to untie one of his hands.
"Not even curious?" Xanatos pulled Obi-Wan's arm around in front of him and tied it to the wall once more, so that Obi-Wan now knelt facing the wall.
"What are you planning?"
"Curious after all! But no, I think I will keep this my secret for a while longer." Finished, Xanatos stood and exited the room to the chamber at the back of the ship. A few minutes later he returned with a small carton of the sort used for interplanetary shipments. He placed it on the floor near Obi-Wan, and drew from it a meter length of flexsteel cable with a length of synthplas shaped like a handle affixed to one end.
"What is it?" Obi-Wan asked in a subdued voice. His throat had gone dry.
Xanatos looked at him, his eyes glittering. "Primitive construction, but effective. On the planet we're going to, the locals make these out of salvaged materials, cannibalized from old junk." He ran his hand lightly along the cable. "It's quite sharp, with these twisted filaments. Haven't you guessed yet what it is?"
Obi-Wan felt sick with foreboding. He leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes. He felt the cable cold and hard against his skin as Xanatos rubbed it lightly down his neck. His skin prickled.
"Stop your games, Xanatos." Obi-Wan spoke quickly, his voice hoarse with the effort of keeping it steady. "Carry out your plans. I don't expect there's anything I can say that will prevent you."
"Oh, I don't know, I can think of a few things. If you were to beg me to take you as my apprentice, now, that would please me enough to change my mind."
"Hutts will dance the Juta first."
Xanatos chuckled. "That I wouldn't mind seeing, either." He looped the cable around Obi-Wan's neck, then used it to gently pull his chin up and back. "You amuse me, boy."
"Why don't you untie my hands, and see how well I amuse you?"
"Why do you cling to the Code? It chains you to a stone, when you could be free, you could have true power. You're stronger, you're smarter than that fool you call Master. Why do you limit yourself?"
"Why do you serve a power that's eating your soul?"
Xanatos snapped the cable away from Obi-Wan, slicing his skin with the sharp edge. "You know nothing of power," he snapped.
"I know very little, I'm sure. But I know enough to understand your offer. And to reject it."
Obi-Wan felt the Dark Side building around him, strong with Xanatos' anger.
"You are a fool, Obi-Wan."