Sorry everyone for taking so long to update. I have been really busy lately and have had little time to keep up with my daily posts on another fic let alone keep up here. This one is now complete.
The usual disclaimers apply. George Lucas owns it all, I'm not making any money on this.
His head hurt.
No, it just didn't hurt. It throbbed.
The only way to cure the pain would be to lop it off.
Qui-Gon shook his head slightly in an attempt to clear the fuzziness that permeated his thoughts.
His senses came back to him too slow for comfort.
Gradually the Jedi master became aware of the transport.
He was lying in the middle of the cold floor. An ache had taken hold of every muscle and joint. A soft groan as he rolled over and stared up at the transport ceiling.
How did he get on the transport?
He had been in the negotiations. There had been an explosion. Armed soldiers burst in through the smoke. He had tried to fight. Tried to protect Vison.
The transport was moving.
Slowly the master forced himself sit up. Dizziness swept through him.
Where was Obi-Wan?
Immediately he was on his feet moving through the cramped transport. A clearness of mind took over as he shoved the cockpit door to the side. His breath hitched the moment his eyes settled on the slumped form in the pilot's seat.
Qui-Gon twisted the seat to face him. Large hands gently pushed the padawan back into the seat.
A low whimper.
A quick glance to the NavCom Unit. They were en route to Coruscant.
Sweat glistened in Obi-Wan's chestnut hair but his skin was cool to the touch. A dark bruise had formed against his right temple. Qui-Gon brushed his fingers against the swelling then gently tilted the apprentice's face toward the low light of the compartment.
Concern swept through him at the sight of the dark rings around the youth's unnaturally pale complexion.
Dull, unfocused eyes fluttered open.
Qui-Gon couldn't help the relieved smile that flowed over his leonine features.
"I'm here, Padawan."
"SorryI triedcouldn't stop. II tried, Master."
"It's going to be all right," Qui-Gon whispered, sending comforting waves through their bond.
"I triedI couldn't stophurts, Master." The youth faded back into unconsciousness.
"Obi-Wan?" Panic moved through the powerful Jedi as he became aware of just how thin the apprentice's respiration and pulse were. He nudged the boy slightly. "Obi-Wan, wake up."
Sensing Obi-Wan's slide into deep unconsciousness, the master gently reached into the tortured mind. His first instinct was to retreat but he pressed on. Immediately mind barriers shot up roughly shoving the master out.
Qui-Gon stood there, surprised. "Padawan?" Again he tried to touch Obi-Wan's mind.
The push was rougher this time, nearly knocking the master off his feet.
Reorienting himself, Qui-Gon gently reached out physically and brushed his fingers through the damp hair, lighting briefly on the dark bruise across the youth's temple.
"Who did this to you?" he asked softly, not expecting an answer. Gently he shifted the unconscious form into his arms.
The boy was getting too heavy for his old bones but Qui-Gon bore the weight well. Moving carefully through the transport, he carried Obi-Wan to a small cabin.
After laying the youth down on the sleep couch, the Jedi Master shrugged off his long cloak and laid it over the still form.
He hesitated, noticing the tight wrap just beneath Obi-Wan's tunic. Carefully he shifted the material to the side to reveal bound, broken ribs.
How did this happen?
There was no time to think about it.
Obi-Wan continued to sink into the depths of unconsciousness.
Halor stepped to the top of the stairs. Her long black robes flowed like water off her sleek form. Her hair was tied back in a bun with long wisps of black ribbon hanging loose down her back.
Hundreds of waiting dignitaries rose from their seats and turned to face her.
The Lady's bright, dignified eyes addressed the masses silently. Everything about her echoed her regal authority.
Bows and blessings filtered to her as she glided down the stairs.
The Jedi stood silently at the front of the religious hall. The only thing between them and the long aisle guiding Halor to the altar was Egrarian.
The great hall glowed with the joy that emanated from the guests. The illumination of the walls was strongest in the massive room behind Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Many of the guests noticed the response of the living wall. Soft comments fluttered through the room and it had nothing to do with the scene Halor had created. Casually Obi-Wan leaned back against the wall, listening to the ancient words that echoed over the murmur of the dignitaries.
Anakin sighed loudly. He had expected to sit quietly off to the side unnoticed. Not front and center behind the altar. He took a deep calming breath, his gaze focused on Halor. It was almost over. As soon as Halor was crowned there would be no more attempts on her. Nothing would change after the ceremony.
The whispering voices were so loud in Obi-Wan's head that they nearly drowned out his headache. He tried to focus on the ceremony but their whispers grew louder.
Warnings floated on their alien tongue.
"No!" Obi-Wan cried out as he leapt forward, igniting his lightsaber in a fluid motion.
Anakin gaped wide-eyed at his master until Halor screamed.
Four of the guests--high-ranking Teserek officials--leapt from their seats, weapon tight in their grips as they surrounded the Lady.
The masked Teserek senator turned and fired randomly into the crowd, sending dignitaries scrambling for safety.
Anakin waded into the sea of panicked creatures behind his Master. He was nearly knocked off his feet by a large, fleeing Lothian.
Two more dignitaries in the crowd turned and fired at the Jedi. The blaster bolts were easily deflected.
Don't hurt them. They are not in control of their actions.Obi-Wan warned over the bond, as his voice would not be heard over the screams.
Hurt them?returned Anakin as a blaster bolt flashed past his ear.
Obi-Wan reached through the maddened crowd, scanning for Thesia.
The number of armed dignitaries was multiplying. Blaster fire ricocheted through the massive religious hall.
The Teserek pulled Halor across the sanctuary and out a large door, disappearing into the escaping crowd.
The Jedi ran into the hall and Anakin quickly pointed the way. Sprinting toward the main entrance Obi-Wan came to a sudden stop. Anakin dodged quickly, nearly colliding with the knight. A meeting of eyes and Anakin understood as he took off running again followed closely by several palace guards.
The panicked crowd had not entered the long hall. They were passing it by as if it did not exist.
There was only one reason why.
Obi-Wan walked silently along the hall length. At the first room he arrived at, the knight spun around. "Release them," he demanded to the vacant room.
"Why?" came Thesia's voice. "That would interfere with my plans."
She stepped out from behind a large column. "I finally got wise to you, Jedi. I learn from my mistakes. You will not harm the dignitaries." She laughed as she quietly paced the room; her eyes keenly aware of the subtle movements of the glowing blue blade that kept her at a distance from him. "Fortunately they do not have the same obligation." Her laughter echoed from the walls.
The Jedi cautiously watched her. The walls shown brightly, feeding off his presence.
The Cere noted it and growled, "You have a choice. Save your pathetic padawan from me or save the Lady from the dignitaries. But you cannot do both."
In a liquid motion, Obi-Wan made his choice. The glowing blue blade arched through the air tearing through the shrouded figure. He brought the saber up to strike again but found himself alone.
The alien voices seemed urgent, driving Obi-Wan back down the hall. He sensed Anakin was in danger.
Fighting a losing battle.
The fuzziness encroached on his brain. It was disrupting his connection to the Force and starting to make it difficult to zero in on Anakin's whereabouts.
Still the whisperings called to him, their voices insistent. Guiding him with their bright, friendly light.
Obi-Wan charged around the corner only to find an unconscious Anakin slumped against the far wall. The walls were dark where the Cere knelt close to the boy. Her fingers traced over his temple.
"Troublesome Jedi," she hissed. "You will not be fast enough."
Suddenly Obi-Wan understood the urging of the whispers. Without a word, he slammed his hand against the nearest wall. The Force flowed through him into the stones. A powerful ripple surged as light shot over the stones. At the point closest to Thesia, the light arched through the air and struck the Cere. She wailed in pain as she was thrown backward across the room.
The knight leapt forward and threw himself between Anakin and Thesia. With the heel of his boot he nudged the unconscious padawan.
The boy groaned and rolled onto his knees. His head hurt, of its own volition and not because his master was projecting. "Obi-Wan?" he asked groggily. Quickly he became aware of the creature on the ground wailing in pain.
"Get up," the knight told him.
Anakin's head cleared as he stumbled to his feet and with the aid of the Force summoned his lost lightsaber.
Thesia rose to her feet. Her eyes as black as space settled on one Jedi, then the other. "My benefactor will not be happy if I do not get the boy."
"To bad," Obi-Wan said moving toward her.
Anger fluttered across Thesia's face. She withdrew a step as the glowing walls surrounded her. "No," she hissed to herself.
"You do not deserve them," she smiled just as several bewitched diplomats stormed around the corner, firing blindly into the room.
Anakin immediately bounded forward, deftly wielding the blade. Blaster shots deflected harmlessly into the walls.
Turning to grab Thesia, Obi-Wan clutched at empty air. "She did it again!" he growled as a subtle look met Anakin's.
The delegates approached, their blasters trained on the two Jedi.
"Out the window," Obi-Wan ordered as he pushed Anakin back to the small opening, his own lightsaber providing the cover from the flying bolts.
The youth leapt to the window ledge and pulled a line and grapple from his utility belt. Firing it, he glanced back at his master just before he stepped out the window, swinging from the line and catching another window ledge a level down.
A blaster bolt deflected off the window ledge and Obi-Wan flinched as pieces of stone exploded outwards. The armed delegates converged on him. He didn't have time to grapple a rope. Without cover he would have to jump and hope the fall wasn't too far.
Only a few steps.
Another blast chipped stone away. A fragment caught him in the face. He stumbled and fell against the pinkish stone.
The walls exploded in a flash of white light that arched through the room striking the dignitaries. Their cries of pain flooded the room as their weapons clattered to the ground. Looks of confusion colored their features as they looked to the Jedi for answers.
Gripping the lightsaber hilt tight, Obi-Wan pushed through the dazed delegates. The well tread soles of his boots hammered over the smoothly laid floor.
At a staircase, Anakin bounded up and fell into step beside Obi-Wan. The Jedi Knight seemed to know where he was going and Anakin trusted his instinct completely.
Near the entrance to the great meditating gardens the Jedi met up with the palace guard in a stand off against the armed Teserek.
No longer willing to play games, Anakin drew on the might of the Force again, pulling the weapons from the dignitaries' hands. The weapons quivered and collapsed. He glanced sidelong at Obi-Wan. "I've got it, Master. Stop her."
Without questioning Anakin's statement, Obi-Wan bolted back the other direction.
He sensed her.
No armed dignitaries blocked his way as he chased after the Cere's signature.
She was drawing him away from Anakin.
Back to the altar.
"Take it easy," Anakin said calmly as he approached the standing dignitaries. The Teserek delegation stared at him. Everything was going good, he thought. "You're being controlled by a powerful telepath."
The blue Teserek gaped at him. Then suddenly they started grabbing statues and anything else that fell into their grasp. Like maddened creatures they pitched their makeshift weapons at the guards and the young Jedi.
With keen control of the Force Anakin easily sent a large bust of the first ruler crashing against a wall. His focus tightened as he caught sight of Halor being dragged down the hall by Commander Sel.
The dark ignored part of the palace came to life as Obi-Wan jogged back to the sacrificial chamber. He paused just outside the doorway.
Her presence was powerful there.
Everywhere and no where at once.
The Cere's laughter echoed through the ancient room. "From here the glory of the Cere will return. The Cath will bow before me again."
"They won't worship you," Obi-Wan responded coolly.
"They have betrayed me," Thesia cried out. "They worship you now, but that will change."
Thesia melted out of the shadows. She paced silently through the large room to the altar. Her eyes focused on Obi-Wan. "You are injured, Knight Jedi."
The pain suddenly came back to Obi-Wan. His knee and side started to ache at the mental suggestion. He resisted the urge to press a hand against his bruised ribs.
"You are feeling cold," Thesia suggested.
A chill raced through Obi-Wan. He desperately tried to tighten his mental shields but the fuzziness in his brain made it nearly impossible. Her presence was cutting through layers of dense shielding.
"You annoy me, Knight Jedi."
"You can't hear them anymore." Obi-Wan turned on the Cere. "You're deaf to the whisperings in your own temple."
The mind carver's expression hardened. "Regardless, they cannot save you now."
The knight caught the image of Egrarian at the periphery of his vision.
"Do you hear them?" Thesia asked the priest.
"Not yet," the ethereal voice answered as the tall robed figure glided toward the Jedi.
The pounding in Obi-Wan's head became a crippling roar. Thesia was in his head, keeping him from escaping.
"My benefactor wanted only the boy. He said I could dispose of you as I wish." She laughed. "He may not have been so willing had he known my plans." She reached out and brushed a gloved finger over Obi-Wan's right temple.
"Honored Jedi," Egrarian hissed. "You will be the first in a thousand years to be sacrificed on the Cerean altar."
"No thanks," Obi-Wan said as he tried to retreat back toward the hall.
"Your injuries will keep you from escaping," Thesia said. "Can't run with that wounded knee."
Obi-Wan took a step, but withdrew as the pain in his knee was overbearing. His breathing quickened with the sharp pain gnawing at his side.
"This is a blessed day," Egrarian cheered as he pulled a long silver dagger from the layers of his robes.
Obi-Wan could feel Thesia moving in his mind. He turned, activating his lightsaber. In a flash of the blue blade he struck out at the Cere. Slashed through the empty air.
Wicked laughter echoed through the chamber. "Haven't you learned yet? You can't kill me."
Turning, the breath caught in the Jedi's lungs as Egrarian drove the dagger through his shoulder. Obi-Wan sank to his knees.
Egrarian began chanting as he pulled the injured Jedi to his feet. With unnatural strength the priest tossed Obi-Wan onto the altar. The dagger clanged dully against the stone as Obi-Wan cried out in pain, tears springing to his eyes. He gasped for air as he tried to pull himself from the smooth surface.
"To the glory of the Cere!" Egrarian howled as he shoved Obi-Wan down against the cool, dead stone.
Warm blood ran into the ancient crevices. Warming the dark stone.
The Force swirled around the altar.
"I can feel it," Thesia sang.
The altar glowed brightly.
The Cere pulled away the sleeves of her long robe. Her pale, iridescent skin was alive with pulsing red veins. "Finish it," she demanded to the priest.
Just as Egrarian turned his attention back to the injured knight, he was struck by a powerful Force push. His red robes tangled and twisted as he was thrown backwards.
The altar radiated as Obi-Wan rolled and fell from its newly enlivened form. Biting back the pain, he gripped the blood-slicked dagger, pulled it free of his shoulder and dragged himself to his feet. A chill settled deep within as he turned on the Cere. Willing the guidance of the Force, he drew the dagger back and in a swift motion launched the weapon in the air.
Thesia screamed, vanishing as the dagger tore through her shrouds.
Egrarian rushed fiercely at the knight.
Anakin fell up against the wall as a telepathic scream raged through his head, numbing his senses. Shaking the intense pain off, he turned to see the attacking dignitaries standing there with a dazed look. The mismatch of weapons hung limply from their hands. All looked terribly confused.
Just beyond the Teserek senator's shoulder, Anakin caught sight of Halor being dragged into the gardens behind Sel.
That's not right, he realized. Everyone else seemed to be free of the control.
Just steps behind, Anakin bounded into the garden. Sel turned and fired at him while pulling harder on Halor's wrist.
Anakin dodged the bolts and Force jumped over a large, ornate water fountain, landing directly in their path.
Sel fired again and this time Anakin deflected with his lightsaber, sending a shot right back at Sel, hitting him in the leg. The large man cried out as he tumbled forward.
A few long steps and Anakin was in the middle of the scene.
Halor screamed as she moved between the Jedi and Sel. Her look was sharp, almost menacing. "He's done nothing to you!"
"He was trying to kidnap you!"
Halor knelt next to Sel, who shivered in pain. "He wasn't doing anything I didn't want."
"You shouldn't have interfered, Jedi. I love him. And all I needed was to be bonded to Sel."
Halor rose and paced angrily. "Did my mother set you up to this?"
"I'm here to protect you."
"I was trying to kidnap myself!" she screamed. "No one in this palace would bond Sel and I. We had to get out for the ceremony."
Anakin stared at her.
"My mother doesn't want me to be bonded before the coronation. If I am, I get to pick my life mate, not the state. If I don't bond with him before I'm crowned, I'll never be able to." She grabbed Anakin's hand her eyes pleaded with him. "You must help me."
"I don't know if I should."
Halor dragged the young Jedi over to the injured Sel. "You're the only one who can help." She stared back into the palace. "The guards are coming. Everyone has to accept the blessing of a Jedi. Bless us." She pleaded.
Sel sat up, wrapping his large hand over Halor's. "Please."
Anakin felt the guards storm into the garden. His heart pounded. "How?"
Halor squeezed Sel's. "Bless us and make it sound official."
"Stop!" A royal guard demanded as he grabbed Sel by the arm and tried to pull him away from Halor. She screamed but held tight to his hand.
"I officially bless your union!" Anakin cried out.
"My honored friend," Te-Hut's voice rang out as he marched through the crowd toward Anakin.
The young Jedi turned glad to see a friendly face. "It still might not be safe–"
"Of course it's safe dear boy. Look around you. The mania has passed and the Lady Halor is saved."
"Yeah," the youth said absently as he pulled his gaze from the small Dilurian and watched as Commander Sel was carried off on a pallet for medical attention with Halor directing the scene. She turned back and gave him an appreciative smile.
Anakin, for his part, stood there calmly even though doubt raged through him.
Denara ran into the gardens, the guards following her eyeing the scene protectively. Her countenance stiffened as she saw her daughter. She moved swiftly to Anakin and bowed formally. "Honored Jedi," she said excitably. "That Cere made you bless their bond--"
"No, my Lady, I did it of my own free will. I did it because Halor asked me too."
"You blessed this?" Denara asked uncertainly.
Denara bowed, doing little to hide her displeasure. "May your wisdom bless us." She straightened and stormed away.
"I hope so," Anakin thought out loud.
Te-Hut said comfortingly, "You did the right thing."
"I will be explaining this to Obi-Wan until I'm blue in the face." Anakin suddenly stiffened.
"Master!" He half cried out as he took off in a sprint back through the busy hall.
How stupid of him?
How could he have not noticed?
Eyes darted the length but it was the pull of the Force that guided him. He made several turns before arriving at the dead hall. To his surprise and relief he found Obi-Wan standing at the entrance.
The Jedi Knight leaned heavily against the wall, his arms folded over his chest, head bent forward with eyes closed.
Approaching, Anakin noticed the blood stained tunic. "You're injured," he breathed. Berating himself for not realizing it sooner, he checked the deep wound. "Master?"
His eyes were wide in panic. Even though he knew Obi-Wan was right there, something about his Force signature, his thoughts seemed far away. Anakin said softly, "We need to get you to the healers." He reached forward.
The simple act of help set something off. Obi-Wan started to fight. Anakin struggled not to let him escape, but the wild, dangerous look in Obi-Wan's eyes made Anakin withdraw slightly. It was just enough for the Jedi to sweep Anakin's feet out from beneath him.
Anakin rolled back onto his knees, glancing down the hall where Obi-Wan had disappeared.
"Are you all right, my honored friend?" Te-Hut wheezed as he finally caught up with Anakin.
"Sure," he huffed as he drew himself to his feet.
Te-Hut pointed into the dark hall. "Your friend went that way."
"Thanks," Anakin said. "You need to go someplace safe." He didn't wait for confirmation before he took off down the hall.
Just vaguely Anakin sensed a Force presence. His master's shields were drawn up tight.
"Master?" Both reverence and fear echoed on the utterance of that one word. Anakin's senses stood on high alert as he stepped cautiously into the large room.
The Force swirled around the ancient altar. The fury and agitation repulsed Anakin and drove the boy to the edge of the room. Still the altar held his attention. He felt entranced by the large stone object dominating the sparse room.
A deep, calming breath.
Through the Force, he brushed against Obi-Wan's presence and gave an audible sigh of relief.
The youth moved against the shifting tides of the Force as he drove deeper into the room. The walls cast their light across the floor. The high priest lay where he had been struck down, the silver dagger driven between the coils of Egrarian's neck. The air caught in his lungs as the familiar sound of a lightsaber springing to life drew him around quickly. Instinctively Anakin mirrored the action by activating his own.
"It's just me," the boy said hurriedly.
The knight did not answer as he stepped into the pale light.
Falling a step back, Anakin was struck by the determined look that danced over his master's calm face. It was a look he had seen too many times to take lightly.
Obi-Wan was ready for battle.
"Master?" Anakin drew the Force around him protectively. "Deactivate your lightsaber," he said coolly. "I am not your enemy."
Battle hardened reflexes sent Anakin quickly retreating as Obi-Wan slashed through the air in a fierce attack. The youth screamed as the glowing blue blade singed his sleeve. "Master!" He screamed, blocking a viscous blow.
Obi-Wan turned, driving his weapon down hard against Anakin, who struggled to defend himself.
Keep your head together, Anakin repeated like a mantra. This isn't a sparring match. Not a game. Weapons are hot.
A glancing blow of Obi-Wan's lightsaber burned the youth's neck and made him cry out.
He means to kill me!
Anakin stumbled, rolled and leapt to his feet. He twisted through the air, his lightsaber arcing beautifully in the poorly lit room.
Sabers crashed together.
Obi-Wan broke off the attack. He held his blade out between them, guaranteeing a certain distance.
"It's me, Anakin," the boy tried to reason a second time. "That Cere is in your head. She's making you fight me. Come on, Obi-Wan. Think!"
"She's gone," he answered dryly.
"She's playing with your head."
Obi-Wan rushed forward. A crackle livened the air as the two weapons clashed once more. Anakin never had a chance to defend his ground. He was driven to the wall. Ducking and rolling along the cool floor, his only means of escape, he screamed again as the arching blade singed his tunic.
"No, Obi-Wan, stop!"
Quick reflexes saved the youth from being run through.
Drawing the Force around him, Anakin reached out and attempted to call the lightsaber from Obi-Wan's grip. To his surprise a powerful resistance met him. The moment Anakin realized what the knight had done, it was too late. He was pulling so hard, all Obi-Wan had to do was let go. The blade flashed through the air and Anakin threw himself to the side, narrowly avoiding being impaled as the weapon crashed against the wall, falling lifelessly to the floor.
Anakin noted how the light cascaded over the spot Obi-Wan stood. His eyes fell to the bleeding right shoulder, the blood soaked weave. With a calming breath, the youth deactivated his own weapon. Never taking his eyes from his master, Anakin called Obi-Wan's lost saber to him.
"You're hurt, Master." He took a cautious step forward. "All I'm trying to do is help."
"Stay away from me," Obi-Wan growled with a deadly look in his eyes. He paced the far edge of the room like a wounded Melorian panther.
The Force swirled and lapped at the edges of the room. It brewed and rolled in great turmoil as it crashed against the altar. In the pale light, the blood spilled on the altar surface shined eerily.
The Force pressed against the altar as if willing the blood to disappear. Never before had Anakin felt the uncertainty, the agitation flowing within it. The Force had always been a friend and companion, like a warm cloak. He had never feared its awesome presence before. A part of him wondered if this was what the dark side felt like.
He shook off the notion. There was not evil nor malice in what he felt. Rather, that same strange sense of warning and protection that he had sensed before.
"Master, please, you are injured," Anakin managed pulling his attention away from the altar.
Obi-Wan clutched at his wounded shoulder. He whimpered as he fell against the stone altar.
Without fear or thought of repercussion, Anakin bolted across the room to him.
"Go away," Obi-Wan snarled as he reached out and pushed Anakin back.
The boy refused to be dismissed so easily. He could feel Obi-Wan's strength waning. He wrapped his arms around his master, careful not to damage the shoulder further. All he wanted was to get them away from the altar to a healer.
He felt the strangled feeling wither and fade from their bond. Pain rushed to the boy through the connection. He staggered then drew up the Force around them like a protective shell. He gathered his strength even as the barrier that had closed him out for so long shifted and opened.
Obi-Wan didn't have the strength to maintain his unraveling shields.
Red washed over Anakin's vision. His heart pounded. A strange hum deafened him.
"Master?" The youth gasped.
In Anakin's head, beneath the hum that roared in his ears the distinctive clash of lightsabers. His breathing grew shallow.
Not fast enough.
His heart pounded. Reflexes twitched anxiously. Adrenaline coursed through him.
Should have run faster.
So much red.
A shift in the hum.
It came to him, unbidden, washing over the youth through their bond. He could feel himself screaming. The tattooed man from the desert world that had fought Qui-Gon. A menacing smile of rotting teeth greeted him as Qui-Gon collapsed.
Make the Sith beast die.
In his head, Anakin could sense--remember--moving around the melting pit. Anger flooding him. His actions wild as he attacked the Sith.
Anakin could feel the rage choke him.
The Force. His friend. His companion turned against him by the will of the dark creature. A Force push sent him tumbling.
His hands catching something solid.
He could feel Qui-Gon's waning presence.
The living Force called to him.
Battles are not won on emotion.
Anakin's breathing calmed, the Force swirled comfortingly. It's ancient voice calling to him. Guiding him.
No thought. No emotion. Only peace.
He released himself to the awe-inspiring power. Airborne again. The familiar and safe touch of a lightsaber hilt in his hand. A green glow arching through the air.
The Sith beast toppled backward. It's body separating, crashing against the walls of the pit.
Anakin shifted, attempting to break the visions.
Still the images and emotions flooded into him--unable--unwilling to block them.
Master?But it wasn't his voice.
He could feel the cold floor against his knees. Qui-Gon's warm body as he pulled the dying master into his arms.
Don't let him die.
"It is too late."
No, Master, you must fight.
"Train the boy."
Anakin waited for more. For something. He wanted more.
"Heis the Chosen One."
It was not the words he needed to hear.
"No!" Obi-Wan cried out, shoving the boy away from him.
Anakin lost his footing and fell to the cool floor. A part of him still waited for that final word. That something to fill the void. He made no move to stand. No attempt to chase after his master who had retreated to the balcony.
It hurt to breathe. To think. A hole had opened up inside of Anakin.
"My honored friend!"
Anakin looked up, surprised to see the Dilurian jogging toward him.
"Are you hurt?"
"Te-Hut. I'm fine." He was disoriented. "No, you shouldn't be here."
"I am where I should be. Tell me you are fine again and I will prove you a liar."
Anakin frowned as he stood up. "No, my sage friend," he whispered. "It is not safe here."
"Nonsense." Te-Hut stared curiously over at Egrarian's still form. "Should have known," he hissed softly.
"Where there is a Cere, one of her priests is never far." The small man stared at the blood-tainted altar. "A sacrifice–"
"You must leave."
The Dilurian ignored the youth's order and walked toward the balcony. Anakin stepped in the way, blocking him.
Te-Hut's jovial expression slipped away as he waved his hand slightly. "It is better to stand next to the wall."
"It's better to stand next to the wall," Anakin repeated. He knew he was being mind tricked but the compulsion was so strong he couldn't stop himself as he moved out of the Dilurian's way.
Te-Hut approached the balcony, his eyes settling on the knight leaning heavily against the stone railing. "You are unraveled, my young friend."
"Leave me alone," Obi-Wan answered coolly.
"I suppose I could, but that would leave me with a lot of paperwork. Besides, I don't want to explain to the Council why one of their favorite troublemakers was lost during a simple coronation, of all things."
"I am not in need of your help, Master Kol."
"Oh, so you remember me? Could have fooled me. You did not bother to call me. How long did you plan on waiting? Hmm? Until it was too late?"
Obi-Wan frowned as he glanced over to the little man who stared out through the railing. A powerful Force signature radiated from the small creature. A long silence held between the two Jedi.
"Why did you wait so long before speaking to Yoda? Did you think you could take care of this yourself? Always been too stubborn for your own good.
"Answer me," Te-Hut demanded, the agitation dancing over his gray features. "You will not deny the orders of a master. You may be Qui-Gon's apprentice but even he instilled obedience in you."
Obi-Wan turned and stared down at the little master. "I am tired."
Satisfied with the answer, Te-Hut's expression eased. "With that hole in your shoulder I suppose you are."
Obi-Wan shook his head and withdrew back into the chamber. Keeping his eyes glued to the floor, he began walking slowly towards the door, weaving a little.
Te-Hut turned back to the room. "We must take care of your shoulder and begin healing meditations soon."
Anakin moved to block the exit.
Seeing his escape route blocked, Obi-Wan turned back toward the balcony.
The Dilurian master's voice was calm, flowing with peace as he spoke. "You do not want to consider that. We only want to help you. The boy is worried."
Obi-Wan became noticeably unsteady.
Anakin bolted across the chamber, catching his Master as he fell.
"Would have traded places with Master if I could have," Obi-Wan mumbled, slipping into unconsciousness.
"I know," Anakin whispered as he gently cradled Obi-Wan in his arms. He tried to grasp the shining thread. It kept slipping from his grip.
His eyes pleaded with the small Jedi master who approached. "Help him, please."
Master Kol placed his hand on Anakin's shoulder, looking down at the pale knight huddled in his apprentice's arms. "That's what I'm here for, youngster."
"Stop pacing, my honored friend," Te-Hut said without glancing up from his notes.
Anakin spun, glaring at the Dilurian who sat in the middle of the guest apartments. "Yes, Master," he said tightly. For a long time, he just watched Te-Hut.
"Anger leads to fear," Te-Hut said calmly.
"I am in no mood for lectures," Anakin said coldly. Absently he rubbed his arm. The burn from Obi-Wan's lightsaber had been healed, but it still bothered him. What had happened in the sacrificial chambers bothered him.
"Are you sure he was ready to be discharged from the healer's care?"
"I have been a healer for a dozen of your lifetimes. I think I have a little experience with this."
"You're a mind healer."
"You are impudent, just like your master. His shoulder is healing fine." Te-Hut dismissed the boy with a wave of his hand.
Anakin began pacing again. "I should go and talk to him."
"No," Te-Hut said sternly.
"You can't stop me," Anakin said as he walked toward Obi-Wan's side of the apartments.
The small master moved surprisingly fast to block the doorway. "He does not need you hovering."
Anger flashed in Anakin's youthful features. He took a few deep breaths to clear his head.
Te-Hut stood his ground, keenly aware of the confusion and frustration that welled up in the youth.
"How could I have not noticed something was wrong?"
"Obi-Wan tends to keep things to himself," Te-Hut said with a hint of understanding in his voice.
Anakin shook his head and wandered around the room, knowing Te-Hut wasn't going to stand down. "I should have known. It wasn't right when he pushed me away," Anakin growled. "I was off marrying Lady Halor and her body guard while that Cere was hurting Obi-Wan."
Sadness graced the small master's face. "She didn't–"
"Yes, she did."
The youth frowned, drawing back. "He was stabbed in the shoulder. That's what caused him–"
Te-Hut laid a stubby hand against Anakin's shoulder. "He's been fighting the unraveling for too long. The injury to his shoulder was too much," he said softly.
Drawing his hands into tight fists Anakin shook his head. He glared down at the master. "You're wrong, Obi-Wan hasn't gone crazy."
But even he doubted his own words. His master had fought him with the intent to kill. The shoulder injury had sapped what strength his master had to battle the madness that had been slowly consuming him.
"He's not crazy," Anakin repeated if for no one else but himself.
Anakin refused to hear it. His master, his always strong master, was losing a battle and he felt helpless to do anything. Stalking toward the door, he was given a not so gentle Force push back. His bright blue eyes shot Te-Hut a sharp look.
"You," he growled. "You've been with us since we left Coruscant. All you've been doing is playing a game with me by pretending to be someone else and not doing anything to help Obi-Wan."
He tried to storm into the room only to have Te-Hut send him flying backwards again. Sprawled across the floor, Anakin stared up at Te-Hut.
The Dilurian stood there calmly. "I cannot help him unless he truly wants help."
"He may die before he asks for help."
Anakin scrambled to his feet, bending the Force like a shield to deflect any attempt of Te-Hut's to stop him. He knocked the Dilurian over as he raced into the small rooms on Obi-Wan's side of the apartment. To his surprise, the sleep couch was empty. He glanced around, casting out with the Force.
"Master!" He leapt around the empty furniture to find Obi-Wan curled up in the corner. "Master," the boy repeated, falling to his knees before the knight.
Obi-Wan backed himself tighter against the corner. "Go away," he growled.
"No, Master," Anakin said quickly, ignoring the reaction. "You've got to ask Master Kol for help."
The youth gasped, suddenly struck by the image of the Sith driving his glowing red saber through Qui-Gon. He struggled to tighten his shields. "Obi-Wan?"
Wild, frightened eyes drew back deeper against the corner. "Stay out of my head."
He's like a child, Anakin thought, with no control or comprehension of what is happening to him. He reached out, grasping Obi-Wan's wrist. "You need to have Master Kol help you."
Suddenly Obi-Wan shoved Anakin back, knocking the boy from his feet. "Leave me alone!" he roared before he shrank back into the corner.
Almost immediately, Anakin tried to leap back to his feet only to be pulled back by Te-Hut. "What are you doing, you fool boy?" With strength that belied his size, Te-Hut drug Anakin back out of the room.
"Master Kol, no," Anakin begged.
Te-Hut pulled Anakin to the middle of the room and turned to face the youth. "Honored friend," he said gently.
"Until he is ready, I cannot help him. Telling him to ask for help is not the same as choosing help."
"Instead you would sit there and let him hurt," Anakin responded angrily. "You said Jedi who don't die, lose their minds."
Te-Hut gave the boy a sad look. "Yes, I said that."
"Master Kol?" A weakened voice matched the pale complexion it belonged to.
Anakin looked up to see Obi-Wan leaning heavily against the doorframe. "Master?"
Weary eyes met the youth's, then the small master's. The knight pulled the folds of his cloak tight around him, careful to protect his still damaged shoulder.
"How are you feeling, my boy?" Te-Hut asked softly.
"I can'tI can't focus," he said slowly. "My head hurts."
"Yes, I suppose it does," Te-Hut answered.
"I can't do this. So tired."
"Of course you can," Te-Hut said.
Even with his mind barriers pulled tight, Anakin could feel the ebb and flow of uncontrolled memories and emotions through his bond with Obi-Wan. His master was fighting to block them, to hold them back, but the control was gone.
"I told Qui-Gon I couldn't do it," Obi-Wan mumbled to himself. "I can't–"
The knight slid down the doorframe, what little strength he had quickly dissipating. "Why wouldn't he listen to me?" He drew the layers of his cloak tight. "I didn't mean to fail him."
"You have not."
Obi-Wan looked up at the Dilurian. A weary smile crossed his face. He slumped against the doorway. "Master," came a soft whisper.
Te-Hut drew close, a gentle smile gracing his face.
"Stay with me, Padawan."
Qui-Gon fought back the sigh that had been building in his chest for over an hour. He leaned back against the wall from his perch on the sleep couch in Obi-Wan's room, arms folded tightly over his chest as he finally gave in and forcefully exhaled the air from his lungs.
A sad look graced his face as he stared down at the figure curled up in the corner of the small room. His large cloak swallowed the boy.
After waking following his collapse in the Council chambers, Obi-Wan had been combative. The fighting had taken Qui-Gon by surprise. It took all of his patience and strength to keep the boy from hurting himself or others.
Eventually, to the master's relief, that had subsided, giving way to resentment. The boy wouldn't explain the reasoning behind it, although it made little difference. The constant stream of unguarded thoughts and emotions painted Qui-Gon an all too clear picture of his padawan's torments.
The incessant worrying about a yet committed failure wounded the elder Jedi.
What ever made the boy think he had failed him?
A weak smile graced his commanding features. It was a strange thought, but he was beginning to prefer the hostile reactions to the one that now had control of his bright apprentice.
Master Yoda had felt the privacy of their apartment would be better than the healing center. At first, Qui-Gon had been determined to argue that point. He felt the healers could better aid his ailing padawan. But as the hours moved on he realized that home was for the best.
Obi-Wan's shields had collapsed nearly a day ago, his failing mind open to any access. There was nothing to hold back the ocean of emotions that raged uncontrolled through the youth.
The Jedi master was thankful for Yoda's insight. Whatever fight the boy had left was almost gone.
It had been nearly two days since the call for Master Kol had been made. He should arrive anytime, but Qui-Gon wondered if it was already too late.
"Padawan," the master whispered.
"Leave me alone," came a weak voice from beneath the folds of the large cloak. Dark rings circled the boy's eyes as he looked up. "Go away," he growled. Then he pressed himself deeper into the corner.
Qui-Gon sighed and settled deeper onto the sleep couch. Since the ordeal began, he had been forced to keep his shields drawn tight. Still, the pain radiated from the damaged mind. The constant throb of the projected headache had nearly brought Qui-Gon to his knees. He could only imagine what it was doing to Obi-Wan.
There was no comfort he could offer. Already having made the mistake of trying to get close to the apprentice, Qui-Gon did not want to be yelled at again, or rebuffed as roughly as he had been before. All he could do was sit back and watch. With his shields tight and Obi-Wan's sometimes violent reaction to any mental intrusion, the only way he could communicate with his apprentice was by word.
Leaning forward slightly, "My padawan–"
"Leave me alone," Obi-Wan growled. The words were shaky. "I want to be left alone."
"I won't do that."
"Go away." Obi-Wan's head sank to his folded arms across his knees. Warm tears stained the heavy brown cloak.
The front door chimed.
Hoping for an improvement of the situation, Qui-Gon stood and stretched his worn muscles. At the door of the small room he looked back at the cowering form. Without further hesitation, the tall master strode into the common area and palmed the front door open. He stared out into the empty hall before dropping his gaze to a small gray skinned Jedi.
They exchanged formal bows before Qui-Gon ushered the other into the apartment.
"When did you start to go gray?"
"A few years ago," Qui-Gon answered with a weary smile.
"I see this last padawan has been hard on you." Te-Hut Kol smiled mischievously as he glanced about the plainly decorated room. "I was beginning to wonder when you were going to start showing your age. After all, we all get old at some point."
Te-Hut studied Qui-Gon's absent glance toward the private rooms. Without further hesitation he marched down the little hall and stood in the doorway of Obi-Wan's room.
"How long was he unconscious?"
"A couple of hours maybe."
"No, before. From the transport."
"Nearly two weeks. Healer Dirad said it wasn't a coma."
"No." Te-Hut wandered quietly into the sparse room. He considered the figure curled up in the corner. "You've gotten yourself into a fine mess, Padawan Kenobi."
"Leave me alone!"
Te-Hut frowned but was unaffected by the outburst. "I can't do that," he said calmly, walking slowly toward the cowering figure in the corner. "You don't like your head hurting, do you?"
There was a long silence. Obi-Wan looked up, tears streaming down his face. "I can'tmy headcan't–"
"You've got your master very worried."
"Out of my head," Obi-Wan whimpered, burying his face in the folds of Qui-Gon's cloak.
The Dilurian sat down on the floor across from the youth. "Do you feel safe in corners?"
The small master bristled at the wave of unblocked emotions riding on the Force. So much raw uncontrolled emotion. He had experienced it too many times to be overly affected by the sad sight, but still it made his heart ache to see a Jedi in such terrible condition.
"I told Qui-Gon I couldn't do it," Obi-Wan whispered.
"I failed him."
"I doubt that."
Waves of pain radiated through the boy.
Cloudy blue eyes stared out blandly at the small master. "I can't do this."
"You can." Te-Hut spoke softly, in a soothing manner that still demanded attention. "You were attacked by a creature called a Cere. No, you don't remember it. That's all right. The Cere most likely forcefully took some information from your mind, damaging it in the process. I promise you, with some work, it can be repaired. The headaches will go away. You'll be able to focus again."
A little smile graced Obi-Wan's exhausted face.
"I see I've caught your attention. Good, you're not a total loss."
The voice was soft, hurt. "Are you here to help me?"
"Would you like me to?"
"Good." Te-Hut leaned back slightly. "Let's talk about meditations."
"I'll help you with that."
"I thought you might be resting," Anakin said softly as he stepped out onto the balcony.
Obi-Wan shifted. His cloak was drawn tight in the cool evening air as he stared blankly out at the countryside. Dark circles around his eyes only compounded the weariness in his face.
Soft, slow words. "Master Kol thought fresh air might do me good." He gave a weak smile. "I don't remember feeling this sick the last time."
Anakin grinned. "Te-HutI mean Master Kol said you were barely conscious last time. He thought you were easier to work with."
"He would." The truth was Obi-Wan knew how close he had come to that lifeless hull he had been once before.
Anakin turned to stare out at the countryside. "Lady Halor and her consort, Sel, were crowned this morning." The youth shuffled, staring down at his feet. "I'm sure I will be censured by the Council for my actions."
"Did Halor ask you to marry her and the Commander?"
"Yes." Anakin frowned, knowing he had given Obi-Wan one more reason to distrust him.
"Did she make it public that was her request?
"When she was crowned she thanked me for bonding her to Sel."
"You have nothing to explain then."
"I found out that she had hired the Cere to help get her out of the palace so a priest could bond them. She was forbidden to marry so no one in the palace would help her."
Obi-Wan closed his eyes. The cool breeze whipped through his cloak.
Anakin spoke up after a long of silence, changing the subject. "A lot of people were upset to learn that Egrarian was a Cerean priest. They are killed as traitors to the Cath." He glanced over at the silent figure next to him. "Everyone is very thankful to you for driving the mind carver away. She and Egrarian were trying to bring about another dark age." He remained silent for a moment. "They've searched everywhere. The Cere hasn't been found."
"She failed two benefactors. Halor and someone else." A flash of Thesia crouching near an unconscious Anakin danced through the worn knight's mind. She had said her benefactor wanted Anakin. That wasn't Halor. "She's gone."
Anakin frowned. A part of him wished he had found the creature before she escaped. Punished her for what she did to his master. Even as Anakin thought of her, the image that had been Thesia was fading from his mind. He tried to remember her. Tried to keep a perfect picture of the beast, so next time he would be prepared to kill it if it ever reared its head in the Republic again.
The boy watched helplessly as Obi-Wan pressed his hand to the nearest wall. It glowed brightly and faded the farther he drew his hand away. A part of him felt bad that the handprints were gone.
Distant alien whispers.
Obi-Wan gave a weary smile. "I guess this means I'm getting better. Although I don't really feel like it."
"I'm sorry," Anakin offered up weakly as he adjusted the lining of his cloak.
Surprise colored Anakin's face as he turned and stared at Obi-Wan. Genuine confusion reflected back at him. Anakin instinctively lightly probed his master's tired thoughts. The same emotion clouded them.
"Back at the ballroom," Anakin stuttered. "I said–"
"I don't remember much of what has happened these last few days," Obi-Wan said absently. "I barely even remember stepping off the transport."
Anakin frowned. "You're a good master," he said softly as he surprised Obi-Wan with a big hug. Then the boy immediately released the older Jedi, noting the pained look. "I couldn't imagine a better master and friend," the padawan said as he lightly smoothed out Obi-Wan's rumpled cloak.
The knight watched the boy curiously, smiling as he lightly pushed Anakin's hands away. "I don't need you to take care of me."
"Someone needs to," Anakin answered softly.
Te-Hut stood on the balcony and stared back at the door of Anakin's room. "He will be leaving shortly."
Obi-Wan nodded in silent acknowledgement.
The small master studied the knight for a moment. "You forgave him for his cruel remarks."
"How could I not?" Obi-Wan asked tiredly. "What good would it do him to have that in his mind? It would only interrupt his training." After a long silence, "He cannot help his feelings and neither can I."
Anakin quietly stepped out into the main room. His pack hung from his shoulder.
"I should stay here," the boy argued as he faced the balcony.
"You have classes to attend to. Yoda will handle your training for the time being," Te-Hut said.
"I should stay," Anakin said a little more forcefully.
"These boys," Te-Hut grumbled. "Stubborn. Obstinate. Rebellious. Poisoned them both you have."
Anakin glanced around the room but Te-Hut did not seem to be speaking to either he or Obi-Wan. Still, he felt like he was listening in on a private conversation.
The small master marched toward Anakin. "You will leave because I say you will leave. I outrank you in position, years and experience. Unless you want to explain to the Council why you were insubordinate I suggest you do as I say."
"Yes, Master," Anakin bowed submissively.
"Walk with me," Te-hut sighed softly as he led Anakin out of the apartment and into the quiet hall.
After they had gained some distance Anakin stopped and stared down at the Dilurian Jedi. "My place is here with my Master."
"You're loyalty is admirable, young Skywalker. I cannot fault you that." He smiled sadly as he stared down the empty hall. "The mind carver is gone. She escaped. The beast should have been hunted down and killed." He looked up, noticing Anakin's wide-eyed stare. "Unbecoming thoughts of a Jedi? You share them too. They are true and I do not deny that. I have lost too many good Jedi to Cere. I am not in the mood to lose another."
Anakin knelt to face the Dilurian directly.
Te-Hut played with the lighted wall for a moment. "Your master is one of my many students. I teach them how to live with the damage Cere has caused. The encounter must be buried and tamed with calming meditations. Some can't control it. They become unraveled. Left to dwell on the damage and what the creature did, they slowly loose focus. Control. Swamped with the pain that accompanies attempts to probe the lost memory, it breaks them down."
"That's why he didn't want me in his head," Anakin realized out loud. "Thesia did that to him?"
"Her or one of what's left of her kind did that when he was your age."
"I didn't know." The youth slumped against the glowing wall. "How stupid. Instead of realizing Obi-Wan was hurt I said some things I shouldn't have. Bad things."
"We all say something out of spite at some point in our lives."
"It wasn't entirely that way, Master. It wouldn't have been there to be said if there wasn'ttruth behind it."
"Your master is a very bright man. He can see that actions speak louder than words. And your actions, my young friend, more than make up for a few hurtful words. Trust me on this."
"I would like to, Master, but you have already deceived me once."
"It was necessary."
"You needed someone to talk to. Would you have said what you did if you knew you were speaking to a fellow Jedi?"
"Of course not."
"By my honor, what was said stays between the two of us. It is no one else's business."
Anakin smiled at the sentiment.
"I still think I should stay," Anakin said looking longingly back at the apartment doors.
"You must leave, it is for the best. Obi-Wan's shoulder is healing fine. Now we must focus on his mind. He will return to the temple when he is ready. The High Lady Halor has granted him indefinite stay as a thank you."
"Will he ever be the same?"
"He will never entirely be the same, but you will have no trouble recognizing your old master soon enough."
A look of dismay fluttered over Anakin's young face. "Are you sure he has to be too much like his old self? Can't you tweak him just a little? Improve his personality? Make him easier to get along with?"
Te-Hut laughed loudly. "I see now why Qui-Gon's so fond of you."
"You knew Master Jinn?"
"Well of course dear boy, he's the one who sent me here."
Sands shifted in the harsh climate.
Oceans of dry brown terra moved in the crisp desert winds that quickly obscured the trail of footsteps.
The Cere stopped and stared up at the menacingly dark form of Jabba the Hutt's palace as the twin suns slowly began their descent beyond the horizon.
"I wonder what my new benefactor has in store for me"