A/N: Hey guys! Thanks so much for the encouraging reviews. There seems to be a little confusion about when this takes place that I'm going to try and clear up now: in this verse, the purge of the Jedi takes place YEARS before it does in canon. Like…thirty-five years before, or so. You can calculate that out, if you want, and start to draw your own conclusions. More of what happened will be revealed with time. Promise!
Also, if you're interested, check out the homepage link in my profile for my DA page, which has character design sketches, among other fun things.
Promise of the Jedi
It had taken very little use of the Force to convince the owner of the casino that Qui-Gon was the man he wanted to hire. All he'd really done was influence the man to give him a chance to do a demonstration. It hadn't taken much for him to beat the clumsy guards on duty.
The wages were ridiculously low, but he'd lost interest in the money for now. What Qui-Gon really wanted was to find the source of the Force disturbances he kept sensing.
For two days, as he prowled the casino floor, the ripples had come at random intervals. They were small enough to make them difficult to pin-point any further down than that they were in the building, and whatever tactic he tried Qui-Gon couldn't get it any more specific than that. They were definitely there, however, and that alone meant quite a lot.
It was important for Jedi not to live in the past; now more so than ever. The days of the Temple had long since vanished in the ashes. Qui-Gon knew this. It had been almost five years since he'd seen another Jedi. He'd heard rumors of some, like his former Master, but most were long dead.
That was part of his excitement. If there was another Force user, somewhere, with any amount of training, it meant that he was not alone. That should have been enough, really. He should be content with the knowledge that someone with some training existed. He wasn't. He couldn't be. He had to see; had to know how they'd survived all these years on the capital planet of the Empire without being captured and killed.
His blue eyes scanned the crowd, seeking the source as he felt the ripples again. A small motion of the hand, anything that seemed out of place on the busy gambling floor.
All he saw were the usual rabble of aliens and unwanted creatures that populated the casino's close quarters, the flashing lights and loud noises that accompanied the slot machines, and the dealers calling for bets and raising. The usual noise of the smoke filled building, and nothing more.
Qui-Gon began his circuit of the tables, even as he tried to release his feelings of frustration. It was a ritual of habit more than any allegiance to a long forgotten code. Still, he could not allow his feelings to cloud his senses, and block what might be a tiny clue. Searches of the slots the previous week had revealed nothing of the mysterious feelings, except that they stopped after a few hours, and that they only returned every third day or so. He'd drawn the conclusion from this that whoever his Force-wielding friend was, they were using their powers to cheat.
People were much easier to fool with the Force than machines, or else less likely to show signs of tampering, which was why Qui-Gon was now scouting out the tables.
Nothing here seemed too out of the ordinary. One blonde humanoid looked much to on edge not to be up to something, but Qui-Gon couldn't blame him for that. Betting against a Wookie would make anyone look that nervous.
There, the ripples again…
"Hit me up one more time, chief." The cocky voice carried over the crowd easily, breaking Qui-Gon's concentration. His eyes zeroed in on the source automatically, and it was all the Jedi could do not to roll his eyes.
The laws of the Republic that Qui-Gon had studied so hard in his youth didn't apply to the lower levels of Corusant. Kids, like the current focus of his annoyance, would have been removed as under-aged from any respectable institution. Here, they made up quite a percentage of patrons.
This particular boy Qui-Gon had seen several times before. He had distinctive ginger hair, cut short and held back from his face by a pair of fighter pilot goggles, that set him apart from many of his fellows. Actually, his overall appearance—dark leather vest over a sleeveless shirt, dark leather pants and boots, long leather and metal arm guards from wrist to elbows, a blasters on both hips, and a small knife holstered just above his right knee—made him easily recognizable.
The boy groaned good naturedly as the dealer showed the card she'd flipped. He'd obviously lost, but his bet had been small and he didn't seem to mind too much. Qui-Gon looked away, prepared to continue his search, when something else caught his eye. The boy wore a stone around his neck.
This alone wouldn't have been unusual, many of the younger ones wore jewelry, but Qui-Gon couldn't shake the feeling that he recognized that particular rock. As a young boy, Qui-Gon had found a very special stone in a river on his home planet, and had given it years ago to a friend. To her. To…
"I'm not letting you go off alone like this. You think you're strong enough, and if it was anyone else you'd be right, but this time you're underestimating the strength of your heart."
Qui-Gon winced as the memory invaded. He'd thought the sound of her voice long forgotten, but now that stone was acting as a medium for the dead.
"Tahl, you're not coming. This is my mistake, and it is my responsibility to set it right."
Her face, her green-gold eyes, as she smiled at him sadly, flashed briefly through his mind.
"I won't let you go without a promise that you'll come back."
"I can't do that. You know I can't."
"Yes, you can. You can say it. Come on, it will be easy. A promise that you will do what you have to, and come back."
"Tahl…I…" he reached into his cloak, removing from the inner pocket his stone that he always kept safe there. His rock from the River of Light. "I want you to keep this safe for me, until I return for it."
"That isn't a promise, but I'll take it."
Smoke and ash and the smell of cooking flesh as the Temple burned that night invaded his nostrils, as strong now as it had been then. He had returned, but Tahl and the stone had not been waiting for him.
It was cut and polished now into a smooth crystal shape, but there was no mistaking the soft pulse of the Force the stone emitted when Qui-Gon brushed against it. His had been, to his knowledge, the only Force-sensitive rock in the galaxy, and there it was hanging around that boy's neck.
The boy in question now turned to look at him, and Qui-Gon realized, too late, that he'd been staring too long. He'd been noticed.
"Looks like I'm all tapped out for today," the boy said jovially, dropping from his stool to the floor as the others at the table groaned. The teen's only response to this was to grin and wave jovially. "I'll see you guys next week, yeah? Good."
Their eyes locked across the room for a moment, and it was clear the boy knew that Qui-Gon was after him. It was doubtful the teenager—if Qui-Gon could call him that, as he was very likely only eleven or twelve years old—knew the reason why the guard was after him, but that mattered very little. The fact that he'd obviously been gambling was enough.
With rather astonishing speed, the youngster disappeared into the crowd. An average guard would have lost him then, but Qui-Gon was better than that. He'd spent his life training in observation, and one quick flash of red-gold hair was all it took for him to know where the young boy was.
The Force user, his job, all of it was forgotten as Qui-Gon melted in to the crowd after the boy. He had to know where he'd gotten that stone. The boy would have been a toddler, at most, at the time of the Temple's destruction, and it was unlikely he'd gotten it from the ruins. Someone else must have had it before him.
The image of anyone taking his precious rock from Tahl's lifeless charred fingers made Qui-Gon's insides boil with rage. This, too, was habitually shoved aside, but the image it had created was not so easily removed.
On the crowded street it was much more difficult to follow the boy. He darted between people and shadows with an ease that came only from nativity. The child had grown up on these streets.
Part of the Jedi mourned that he felt nothing about this realization other than annoyance at the added advantage to the party he was pursuing. Years ago his heart would have felt pity for the child. To never have seen sunlight? To always live where you could not be safe? That was no kind of life. He should have felt something for the boy, but he didn't. Too many in the universe were like him, and this number grew everyday as the Empire expanded, and the Jedi were no longer present to act as peace-keepers.
One more person suffering in this galaxy made little difference.
Down one alley to the left, then quickly right again. Down one level, up two. When the path doubled back on itself for the third time, Qui-Gon had to admit that the boy knew he was being followed. No one was this paranoid.
They turned down a nearly deserted alley, and Qui-Gon was not surprised to see the boy turn to face him. Those eyes, looking grey in the dark light, glared up at him defiantly, even though the boy's body language screamed of nervousness. "Will you quit following me? I lost all my money today; I don't have anything to pay a fine or whatever you're after. Leave me alone."
"I'm not after your money." Startled by the near growl his voice came out as, Qui-Gon paused to collect himself. Clearly he had not pushed his anger away far enough. He swallowed and started again, trying to sound more pleasant. "I want information."
"I'm not a rat." The boy bared surprisingly white teeth as his fists clenched tight around his blaster. A not so subtle reminder that even small dogs could be vicious when cornered. "'Sides, I'm not with any of the gangs or nothin', if it's them you're after. Leave me in peace."
"I want information about you." Qui-Gon said flatly, taking a step into the boy's personal space.
To his surprise, the boy didn't even lean back away from his presence. He looked more nervous than before, certainly, but he didn't give an inch. "About me? Nothin' to tell. Nothin' of any interest to you, anyway. You best be moving along."
He was so tired of games. For years now that was all his life had been. Power games with crime lords he would sooner have locked in prison than accepted deals from. If it wasn't for his mission, he would have happily tried to fight the Empire alone. Died before allowing himself to be associated with those deeds and places.
No more games. Not with a small boy who had something that was rightfully his; a fragment of his past.
Qui-Gon's hand shot out, clutching the stone tightly and pulling the boy forward with it. It was warm in his palm. "This. I need to know where you got this."
The boy stared at him, eyes wide with panic. A slight whisper of warning in the Force, and Qui-Gon released him, lightsaber jumping to his hand as he whirled around, deflecting the blaster bolt that had been aimed at his back.
"Jedi!" The boy behind him gasped, and Qui-Gon mentally cursed. He could always claim that he'd killed a Jedi, and taken the weapon from him as a trophy. He'd done it before, and would obviously need to do so again.
Qui-Gon set his stance further as another hailstorm of blaster bolts rained down on him, and he worked to deflect them away from himself and the boy. Why hadn't the kid run when the attack started?
Of course. They were friends of his. So much for his claim of not being affiliated with a gang.
A slight roll of the Jedi's wrists angled the bolts better—back toward their source instead of wildly away. An explosion and a cry moments later told Qui-Gon his deflected bolt had found its mark.
"Bastard!" The sudden weight on his back took Qui-Gon by surprise. Had the boy just jumped on him?
A warm tingling at his neck distracted Qui-Gon momentarily, and he glanced down. In the boy's hand was the smallest lightsaber Qui-Gon had ever seen—more of a laser knife than the legendary Jedi blade.
"Do you really intend to fight me with that?" Size matters not was a lesson all Jedi learned very young, but really how much damage could he really do with such a thing? Once it was away from Qui-Gon's neck it would be of little trouble...and just one more thing to ask about.
Switching his lightsaber into his left hand, Qui-Gon used his right to call a lid to a nearby waste-can towards them. With a surprised cry, the boy released him and dodged away.
So much for saying he had killed a Jedi. At least Corusant was big enough that he could easily get lost again, on another level in another sector, once he had his answers.
The boy rolled to his feet, knife in one hand and a blaster in the other.
"Stand down, Obi-Wan. He's not our enemy." The voice from the shadows, quiet and low, startled even Qui-Gon. That was not the voice that had cried out. When had a third person arrived?
"He hurt Siri," the boy, Obi-Wan, shot back. "And he knows something about…"
"Well, I would hope so." A female disengaged from the shadows. She jingled as she walked, and once she'd stepped into the dim lights it was easy to see why. Over her formfitting clothing and in her long dark hair she wore more beads and bracelets than Qui-Gon had ever seen on one person.
It wasn't any of these that held Qui-Gon's attention. It was her eyes, brought out so strongly by layers of sparkling make-up. The tattoos there were wider and longer than the more modest designs of years ago, and there was weariness about the figure that hadn't been there in the past, but there was no mistaking those green gold eyes.
Lips painted deep red turned up at him in a grin. "It is, after all, his rock."
"Tahl." For him, her name was a whispered prayer. She was supposed to be dead. He knew this like he knew his own name. Everyone he loved was gone; dead or otherwise. How could she have survived the slaughter at the Temple? The fire that had consumed the bodies afterwards, erasing the Jedi completely? How had he not known?
"Obi-Wan was right about one thing Qui-Gon." Her grin widened as she stepped closer, but he couldn't move. "You are a bastard."
So certain was he that she was an apparition that he didn't even try and dodge when her fist shot out to connect with his nose. It was the last thing he saw.