Summary:It is now five years after the events of An Uncertain Path. The Republic is divided and on the verge of civil war. Key political figures that have held the fragile galactic government together are being systematically assassinated. Now it is up to Obi-Wan Kenobi and his apprentice Bali Tiro to find the assassin before it is too late.
The usual disclaimers apply. George Lucas owns it all; I am not making any money on this.
Author's Note:This is the sequel to An Uncertain Path. While not required, it would be helpful just to know what is going on. You can read AUP here:
Okay, here is the deal. I am posting the story daily over at tf.n's fanfic forums. I will post a compilation of the previous week here every weekend.
There's a dark side to each and every human soul. We wish we were Obi-Wan Kenobi, and for the most part we are, but there's a little Darth Vader in all of us. Thing is, this ain't no either-or proposition. We're talking about dialectics, the good and the bad merging into us. You can run but you can't hide. My experience? Face the darkness. Stare it down. Own it. As brother Nietzsche said, being human is a complicated gig. So give that ol' dark knight of the soul a hug. Howl the eternal yes!
Chris Stevens, "Northern Exposure"
The Long Twilight Path
The Book of Knowledge of Good and Evil
In the bleak light of the dying day a soft rain fell against the intricately laid cobblestone road. Water pooled in the dips and tiny streams on the roughly paved surface.
The dull sky reflected in the little rivers as they flowed carelessly around the smooth rocks mixing with the crimson tint from the day's earlier battles.
The touch of red twisted around the ancient stones, thinning and blending with the water until it vanished into the shadow of the great wall that divided the city of Koba.
A loud hacking broke the gentle silence of the rainfall.
"Miserable weather," a large human Clausum grumbled as he paced before the gateway leading to the Tomenaar side of the city.
"It could be worse, Roik," the senior officer said. "Those hairy beasts could be rioting like earlier."
Roik just grumbled between coughs as he pulled the collar of his cloak up around his ears and leaned back against the fortified wooden doors.
Saar paced along the wall, pausing to listen to the falling rain. The weather was too cold and miserable for anyone in his or her right mind to be out on the streets and it suited the older man just fine. He turned to glance back at the door that protected him from the Tomenaar half of the city.
It was his job to protect the Clausum's from that vermin and he did his job with verve. No matter what the weather threatened he would vigilantly maintain his post. No one would escape on his watch.
Not like what had happened just that morning during another guard's watch.
The wall breech had left twelve Clausums dead.
Over the rain slicked cobblestone streets came a gentle splashing of small footsteps as a boy ran toward the two human guards. The falling rain had plastered his dark hair to his scalp and the water trickled down his forehead. Tears streamed down his cheeks from bright green eyes. He whimpered as he approached the men. "My father is missing." He stood there for a moment and then burst into sobs. "I want my patri!"
The two Clausums eyed each other but did not move from the shelter of the great wall.
The boy wiped thick tears from his eyes as he humbly approached the two guards. "Please, sirs, have you seen my patri?"
Saar considered the soaking wet boy. His eyes were red and he appeared to have been sobbing for some time. Sighing he stepped into the gently falling rain. "I don't know, what does he look like?"
The boy held his hand above his head. "About this tall." Sniffling he stared up at the senior officer. "He didn't come home and he works near here. Sells camir fruits at the market." Again the boy wiped tears from his big green eyes as he looked up at the two men standing before him. "I heard there was a break in the wall this afternoon. He hasn't come home yet." He fought back another sob waiting for an answer.
A sad look briefly danced across Saar's face. "I need to make a call," he said plainly knowing he did not want to be the one to break the news to the boy if his father was among the victims. "Let's see if I can get someone to help you, all right?"
The boy nodded through tear blurred eyes. "Yes, sir," his voice trembled.
The tall commander turned only to find Riok lying face down on the white stone behind him. "What the—"
Instantly the boy reached out, a powerful Force push sent Saar slamming back against the heavy wooden doors. The large form crumpled to the wet street.
A soggy form stood in the shadows. "I do not believe you needed to hit him that hard."
"Sorry, Master," Bali Tiro said as he ran his fingers through his wet hair making it stand up in short spikes. Then he carefully pulled his padawan braid out from where it was tucked under his collar. The ginger tip made the tight braid glow in the dull light. "He was big. I thought he needed an extra push."
Obi-Wan Kenobi stepped out of the shadow of the wall. The cold rain ran through his trimmed ginger hair and glistened in his beard. "Never judge someone by their size, Padawan. You would not think Master Yoda was weak because he is small. Or Master Melack is strong because he is large."
"No, Master," the boy said as he quietly fell into step behind the Jedi.
Obi-Wan searched Saar's coat for the keys to the heavy door as Bali kept watch for anyone approaching. Quickly the Jedi Master had the keys and unlocked the door. Tossing the keys back into the pile the two men made up he turned back to the patiently waiting thirteen year old boy. "Pull your hood up. The Tomenaars will be hostile to us as we look like Clausums."
"Yes, Master," Bali replied dutifully as he followed the Jedi through the gate making sure to lock it behind them.
The two wet figures stole silently into the cold air of the Tomenaar side of the city. Just inside the gate the muddy ground was scarred from the battle earlier that morning. The Jedi carefully sidestepped the small rivers of maroon that flowed over the street like veins.
From under the sagging cowl, bright green eyes peeked out and briefly studied the master that walked two steps in front of him.
Pay attention, Padawan.
Yes, Master,Bali obediently replied as he turned his attention back to his surroundings. Where his vision failed him in the fading light the Force sang. Dank, dull surroundings glowed in a rainbow of colors with the energy of the Force. Life all around him exploded in his senses.
Mud oozed and squished underfoot. They had left the pristine, rich Clausum city of Koba and walked into another world.
Run down shacks populated the muddy, ill shaped streets. Thick billows of black smoke rolled out of the shanties obscuring the fading sky.
The walk through the sinking mud was difficult and Bali had to struggle to keep close behind his master. He made sure though to imitate Obi-Wan's movements, keeping his arms folded in the sleeves to help obscure his form in the folds of his cloak.
A creaking sound drew Bali's attention and he struggled not to turn his head toward the noise and sight of a nearby shack door opening. Dull firelight poured out of the opening into the grim, cold street.
"Who goes there!" A scratchy voice called out.
The Jedi did not hesitate but kept walking silently toward a predetermined destination.
"You there!" Another voice called out.
Doors opened all along the muddy street spilling the pale light into the Jedi's path.
"It is curfew!"
Keep walking, Padawan,Obi-Wan sent through their bond.
More doors opened.
Whispers echoed just above the falling rain.
"Who goes there!"
"Jedi have come!"
In a gentle yet familiar surge, Bali could feel the Force pulling and twisting at his master's command. Taking the cue, the apprentice breathed deeply as he focused on the power that enveloped the two Jedi. At his own willing, the Force bent around him, taking some of the strain of masking their presence from the older Jedi.
Slowly doors closed and the Tomenaars disappeared back into their homes as whatever had drawn their attention had faded.
Unnoticed the two Jedi traveled into the depths of the quiet city.
Bali ducked into a narrow alleyway just behind his master and nearly slipped as the muddy street sloped sharply downhill. The momentary shock faded as he found his balance and fell back into step behind Obi-Wan. He could see a jumble of dingy mud huts sitting at the base of the hill. The stench of old rot clung to everything.
The apprentice had been numerous places in the last few years, after the Council had deemed it fit that he was trained enough to leave the safety of the Temple. The first few missions with his master had been gentle. They consisted of a series of simple diplomatic exercises that had allowed him to see other worlds for the very first time.
Bali inwardly grinned at the thought of what always happened when he returned to the Temple after each mission. All of the other padawans wanted to know what great battles they had been in. The question that was invariably asked was if they had fought any Sith, as if his master was a magnet to the dark side users. When he tried to explain to them it was not like that, the padawans and initiates were convinced the Council itself had made him swear to secrecy about the missions.
His head had been filled with tales and fantasies about the famous Sith killer but Bali knew the truth. Obi-Wan Kenobi, Sith killer, was just Master. Still the adventurous part of the padawan could not wait for the more exciting missions his master was known for before they became a team.
Tracking through mud, though, was not his idea of an exciting mission. Even though his master had assured him that all missions were important no matter how menial they seemed, Bali still had trouble with the thought.
On guard, Padawan,came the quick warning just before Bali bumped into the suddenly motionless knight.
Before Bali could register a threat, Obi-Wan had activated his lightsaber and engaged an attacker. The falling rain sizzled against the glowing blue blade. Bali quickly activated his pale violet weapon as the shadow moved toward them. He slashed through the heavy air driving the dark form back a few steps.
The large hairy black beast swung a heavy piece of discarded lumber at Obi-Wan's head. The master ducked and deftly sliced through the crude weapon halving it. The beast howled in frustration and pitched the section he still held at the Jedi. Obi-Wan went to the side, pulling Bali backward to safety.
Before Obi-Wan could turn, the creature lashed out with a heavily clawed hand tearing through the soaking wet cloak. The Jedi twisted, narrowly missing the sharp talons a second time.
Bali's low height easily kept him out of the beast's reach as he ducked under the attack and thrust out with the pale violet blade.
The beast howled as the saber singed his long fur. Turning its attention on the boy, he growled viscously sending Bali stumbling backward. The apprentice tumbled into the thick mud just missing a devastating blow.
The slick ground made the battle difficult, keeping the Jedi constantly on the defensive as they were driven toward a dead end. As his master defended against the furious larger creature, Bali searched for an opening to escape.
The creature lashed out with such speed Obi-Wan could not defend himself fast enough without severely wounding the beast and was smashed against the side of the head throwing him to the wet street. The hairy creature drew back a clawed hand to strike at the downed Jedi.
"We are searching for Nochian Spex!" Bali screamed the only Tomen phrase he knew as he moved to his dazed master's side.
The beast stopped, turning to look at the mud covered boy. Its dark eyes glinted in the poor evening light. It responded in a heavily accented Basic bark, "Pink skins do not speak his holiness' name!" The furry beast reared his clawed hand back to strike at the blasphemous child.
Just as the dripping, taloned hand flew forward, Obi-Wan threw himself over the apprentice. "Nochian Spex sent for us—"
A pain filled cry escaped the Jedi as the sharp claws ripped through the muddy brown cloak.
"Stop!" A voice rang out over the din of the falling rain. A furry gray face appeared within the folds of a deep red cloak standing just feet from the stilled fray. "You foolish child," the figure growled as he shook an ornamented staff toward the black haired beast. "Do you not see these are Jedi? How dare you attack them!"
The beast withdrew slightly, lowering his face in shame.
The Tomenaar shaman motioned to the Jedi in the mud. "Come, he is expecting you."
Bali looked to his master anxiously and received a reassuring pulse through their bond.
Disengaging his weapon Obi-Wan slowly rose to his feet and then helped Bali up. Both Jedi straightened their mud covered, disheveled appearances before following the shaman.
They were led deeper into the Tomenaar village, through winding, labyrinthine alleys.
"Jedi," the shaman said to himself then turned back toward the following figures. "Come. Come."
Bali looked around curiously as rain ran down washing some of the mud from his dirty face. He tried to bite back the concern filling him knowing he was just being childish and afraid for no reason. His master followed the shaman without question. There was no worry for the youth to sense from the older Jedi.
The small group entered another short alley that clearly ended in a dead end. Bali cast out to see what the near darkness concealed. The alleyway that appeared empty was actually teaming with life. The old man before them, followed by the wild beast thing that had attacked them and the silent hidden masses. It seemed they were in the heart of the slum city. Torches with glowing yellow and blue flames lighted the narrow alley. In the flickering light Bali noted the clinging wet cloak that hung off his master's broad shoulders. The deep brown material was slashed open the length of the boy's outstretched hand. Deep red mingled with the water below the gash.
Master?He asked worriedly through the training bond.
A wave of reassurance moved through the bond as well as an instruction to pay close attention to what was going on around them.
It was so hard to pay attention when there was so much to distract him.
A well-made ceiling of poor materials covered the very end of the closed alley. The shaman guided the two Jedi beneath and asked them to shed their dirty cloaks. Obi-Wan quietly obeyed while Bali hesitated before mimicking his master.
The gray haired creature turned to the Jedi and spoke in his stilted, heavily accented Basic, "Come, Jedi. Awaits you he does."
The old wood that made up the end of the alley shifted revealing a door held together with wire and hope. The shaman pushed it open and ushered the Jedi into a round common room.
Glancing around at the village mystics sitting on colorful floor pillows and sporting brightly colored tunics Bali decided it was the Tomenaar equivalent of the Jedi Council chamber.
They bowed before the gathered creatures.
Each of the five Tomenaars mumbled something and inclined their heads to the newcomers. The shaman moved to the man in the center of the group and spoke to him in their native tongue.
Bali studied the elder Tomenaar. His fur was a yellowish gray and his eyes had lost the bright yellow the others sported. Under the thinning fur Bali could see the shifting of bones.
Pale yellow eyes sought Obi-Wan out and studied the master silently for a long time. Then they fell to Bali who stood patiently under the scrutiny before the elder turned his attention back to the Jedi Master.
The elder coughed weakly, making a pain filled grimace for the action. "Thought you would arrive too late," he said in a perfectly cultured core accent.
Bali perked up slightly at the voice.
The ancient Tomenaar laughed. "Schooled the boy, you have not on me." Before Obi-Wan could reply he went on. "I was a Jedi once."
Bali struggled not to look surprised.
Weakly the old man motioned to some pillows on the floor and the Jedi gratefully took the offering. The hut was quite warm even though no fire burned.
"Tell me," the elder began, "does that troll still live?"
Obi-Wan smiled. "Master Yoda still wields his walking stick with a vengeance."
"Bah!" The old man grumbled. "You should investigate him for use in the dark side. No one should live that long." He paused noting Bali's concerned look and laughed warmly. "Do not worry, Little One, my Master is used to my cruel jokes."
Obi-Wan turned to Bali. "Master Spex was one of Master Yoda's apprentices."
"Oh," Bali said looking at the old man.
The old man coughed and was obviously in pain. After a moment, he opened his eyes and studied the apprentice. "Come here, Little One," he said softly, motioning Bali to him.
The boy hesitated, unsure what to do, but a reassuring hand to his back sent him forward. He stood before the old man and knelt when he was silently commanded to. Spex lightly fingered the flame tip of Bali's braid, studying the ginger that blended into the boy's natural dark hair. He brushed bits of mud away that was already drying between the strands. Then the old man motioned Bali to lean close and he whispered something very soft in the boy's ear. Bali sat back with a confused and worried look. His hands twisted together and he consciously struggled not to fidget. Spex motioned him close and whispered something else.
"Now go to your master's side," he softly ordered and Bali quickly obeyed. "Remember, Little One, that is for you alone to keep."
"Yes, Master," Bali replied grateful to be close to Obi-Wan's warm, familiar aura again.
Spex studied the boy for a while longer before a coughing fit caused him to look away. The other elders tended to the ill form before Spex pushed them away. He turned his complete attention to Obi-Wan. "The Republic cannot save us," he said flatly. "It is under attack."
"Are not assassins. But assassins roam the Republic, poisoning it."
Obi-Wan's calm blue eyes studied the older man.
Spex coughed again, this time the pain nearly overcame the old Tomenaar. "Know this, you already do," he said weakly.
It took all of Bali's calming techniques to remain impassive like his master. Between the whispers the ancient one had imparted to him and the fact the boy was certain Spex was dying unsettled him terribly.
Nochian Spex laughed. "I have been poisoned and now my time grows very short." His voice was thin and the Jedi had to strain to hear. "The assassin came in the night bringing death on wings of caari birds." His colorless eyes sought out the knight. "Have you ever heard their death song?"
"They thought to rob me of my voice." He studied Obi-Wan for a moment. "They will come soon for you, young Jedi." The old man collapsed into a coughing fit and the others moved to protect the dying elder. They gently laid the convulsing body into the gathered pillows wrapping him in ornately woven blankets. Again Spex pushed his help away and motioned for Obi-Wan to approach.
The knight knelt quietly next to the dying man.
"Assassins," Spex groaned. "Assassins are killing—"
There was a long silence as the old Tomenaar stared up at the ceiling. "Dark times loom close to the horizon. Not even the brightest sun can overcome the shadows. There are assassins." He motioned weakly to the red clothed shaman.
The shaman handed the elder something.
"Many died for this," Spex said softly as he palmed a data chip off to Obi-Wan. With his dying breath, Spex whispered, "You mustkill Palpatine—"
Then the life of the ancient one quietly ceased.
The Book of Deadly Alliances
The deep red interior of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine's office gave an artificial glow of warmth to his withering features. "Senator," he beamed as he glided to the gateway of his office to meet the approaching entourage.
"Chancellor," was the formal reply from behind an emerald green veil that draped over an elaborate headdress. "It has been so long."
Palpatine bowed graciously before the figure while briefly glancing at the waiting handmaiden and security officer.
"I am no longer queen," her formal voice rang out as she pulled the veil away revealing herself as Amidala, former ruler of the Naboo. "Such formalities are no longer necessary. After all, it is you who I should be bowing to." She offered the older man a genuinely warm smile.
Palpatine returned with a humble smile. "You honor me, but I am merely a politician," he said with a flourish as he escorted Padmé into the common chamber of the office. "I trust your journey was well?"
"It was long and tiresome as always." Padmé smiled as she took care to spread her travelling gown out to sit on the edge of the deep red couch. She eyed her entourage who had taken up silent position at the far side of the room. The rest of her security waited patiently in the corridor. She inwardly frowned knowing that heavily armed soldiers had replaced her innovative handmaidens. All that remained was Sirceé and only because she demanded the handmaiden's presence as a personal assistant.
The Chancellor twisted his dark robes about before taking the seat across from the young woman. "You must forgive me for not greeting you upon your arrival."
"You are quite busy, Chancellor. I thank you for this bit of time that you have gallantly made in you schedule."
Palpatine offered up a friendly laugh. "So busy I am afraid, that I have not been to my beloved Naboo in nearly a year. Tell me of it," he said leaning forward with great interest.
"It is the fall and the yarels have turned their lovely shade of gold." Padmé hesitated as she stared at the kindly, yet stress worn face of her friend and fellow Naboo. There was a more important reason for her visit to her political predecessor and she knew her visit would be short, as there were other pressing matters both needed to attend to. "There are great rumblings in the Senate."
Palpatine frowned and sank back into his chair. Just as he opened his mouth to respond he was interrupted by the unsubtle sound of throat being cleared. A very annoyed look glazed his imperious features as he turned slightly. "Yes?" The word was laced with venom.
Boldly stepping up to the two politicians was a bouncy young woman with platinum blond hair tied back in intricate knots and ugly yellow bows. She excitedly studied the Senator. "Your Highness," she bubbled, "I have always wanted to meet you." Then quickly she put her hand out to shake Padmé's.
The former queen just stared dully at the excitable female who had so rudely interrupted her much needed conversation with the Chancellor. She nodded slightly but gave no friendliness in the action. "Senator," was the brusk correction. "I am no longer the ruler of Naboo and should not be addressed so," she said curtly in her deep, formal tone.
Jira frowned slightly before masking it with a smile as she withdrew her outstretched hand.
Palpatine offered an apologetic look to Padmé as he stood up. "Senator Amidala, this is an assistant of mine, Jira Thelo."
"The house of Thelo from the southern lands?" Padmé asked only semi politely wishing the blond would leave.
Jira nodded energetically, "Yes, Senator. My Father—"
"As a favor to her father," Palpatine calmly cut in, "I am allowing her to intern in my office for a short time. Get to know the ways of the world outside the Naboo country life."
Padmé smiled. "Then indeed, you have not lost all touch with Naboo."
The Chancellor nodded graciously then turned his attention on Jira. "Are those transcriptions for my meeting with the Trade Council finished?" The tone clearly stated that he was tired of humoring her.
"Almost." Jira frowned and withdrew a few steps. "I will get right on them, sir." She turned back to the Senator for a moment and tried to smile happily. "It was nice meeting you." Without hesitation she quietly left the room.
Offering up a frustrated sigh, Palpatine turned back to address Padmé. "Her family had always been kind to mine. I could not very well tell Lord Thelo that his daughter is a useless twit and I would have her no where near me."
Padmé allowed a girlish smile to escape her plainly decorated face. "Is she truly that awful?"
"There is no corner of my office that is safe from her," Palpatine replied as he sat back down. "I would not wish her on my worst enemies. Her assistance turned my conference with the Leolian Federation into a complete disaster. They nearly walked out in the middle of it." He waved his hand. "But I digress."
A low whistling sound rattled the transparasteel walls of the lush office.
Padmé placed both hands to her side as the vibrations in the room quickly intensified.
Palpatine slowly rose in his seat his eyes wide. "Gracious, what is that?"
An armored, Colocoid tank, literally an air borne destroyer, hovered just outside the expansive windows behind the large desk.
"It's an attack!" Sirceé barked as she and the guard rushed at the Chancellor and Senator.
The tank fired, ion cannons slammed into the shielded outer walls of the Senate office building. The tower shook and rattled as the tank continued to fire melting through the transparent plating.
Bright flashes of light quickly blinded Padmé before she could respond to the attack. She barely had a chance to register the Chancellor grab her arm and push her toward the back of the offices. Sirceé and the guard quickly threw themselves between the politicians and their attackers, shoving them quickly forward.
The cannons tore through the protective wall causing the office to explode. Icy winds cut through the room in a torrent, sweeping up debris in a small cyclone as the tank continued to systematically destroy the room.
Pushed into the safety of a corridor, Padmé glanced back just in time to see the flash of the cannons before everything went black.
The Book of Ties That Bind
Obi-Wan leaned back in the pilot's seat of the small transport. "We have only just passed Tomen's outer rings. The transmissions are still unstable," he said quietly answering the master's question before it was even asked.
The small, bluish hologram of Mace Windu shimmered, briefly breaking up then appearing again. "Did he speak of his visions?"
The ginger haired Jedi hesitated a moment as he gathered his thoughts. "Master Spex was quite ill upon our arrival. His strength was quickly fading." There was a moment as he silently replayed the scene in his mind. "He said assassin, stop, assassin and," there was a long pause, "kill Palpatine."
The Senior Council member appeared contemplative for a moment. Then he turned to stare off screen listening to a silently delivered message. Turning back to the holocamera his expression was grim. "A report has just come in." The image flickered before slowly stabilizing. "There has been an attack on Chancellor Palpatine and Senator Amidala of Naboo." After a moment of hesitation, he turned back. "Both have survived. It is unclear who was the victim of the attack though. The Chancellor or the Senator for her loyalist views."
"The Chancellor," Obi-Wan said firmly. "That must have been what Master Spex was trying to say." Still, something about it felt wrong.
"And what of Spex?"
"He is dead," Obi-Wan replied flatly, pushing the stray thought to the side to review later.
Mace's image fluctuated slightly but the figure himself remained motionless.
The younger master leaned forward slightly. "He said an assassin poisoned him."
"Did he know who it was?" The image briefly broke up.
"He said the assassin came at night on wings of caari birds."
The dying master had wanted to know if Obi-Wan had heard their death song. It was not something anyone could ever forget once heard. At least he knew he would never forget that sound.
"Much like his master to the end." There was a moment of hesitation as the Councilor gathered himself. "A great voice we have lost," he said absently. Then his digital gaze seemed to meet Obi-Wan's. "Did you acquire the information?"
"A data chip."
"Good. Make a copy of it." Again, there was a slight hesitation before the image stabilized. "You have been requested to report directly to the Chancellor."
"Yes, Master," was the obedient reply as Obi-Wan tiredly waited for the image to finally shimmer out.
There was a strange sense of sadness knowing Nochian Spex was dead. The venerable Jedi master, much like Yoda, had always been and he could not imagine a time without the presence even if it was in the periphery of his existence. Master Spex had lived nearly five hundred years and his visions were believed to be far more accurate than Yoda's. After his health called him away from daily life in the Temple, he sought refuge among his people. Often offering his services to various governments, he had acquired a great many who were indebted to him. In return, any information he requested was provided.
Obi-Wan held up the eagerly awaited data chip. He briefly wondered why, but did not attempt to find out. He already knew the information was encrypted and he had no means of unlocking the puzzle. Instead he pulled a data pad and set it up to make a copy of the information from the chip.
He twisted back in his seat slightly to look in the common area of the transport. The dying master had imparted some information to Bali, whether it was good or bad he did not know. The padawan would steadfastly keep the secret. Still, the young master worried that he might not be able to protect the boy from the unknown prophecy.
Warding off the chill of space, he wrapped his clean cloak tighter around himself. It had been so refreshing to have a nice, clean and dry set of clothing waiting for him aboard the runner. He stood, but paused for a moment to gently massage his aching shoulder. The torn flesh along the blade was not serious but it still hurt. The cold and the mud had done little for it or the constant backache that plagued him.
Whether he wanted to admit it or not, he was getting old and the hard life he had subjected himself to was taking its toll on his body.
Slowly the Jedi moved into the common area and just stopped. A little smile quirked his expression at the sight before him.
Bali laid face down on the bench that doubled as a sleep couch. Appendages went every which direction sticking out under a mangled blanket and cloak. The boy groaned and whimpered within the confines of a dream. Or nightmare as Obi-Wan had long since decided but was unable to help, as Bali never spoke of the images that haunted him.
The Jedi Master drew to the edge of the bed and pulled the rumpled cloak out from under the apprentice. Bali grumbled incoherently but did not wake up. Obi-Wan carefully shook out the cloak out and draped it over the small thirteen year old.
Kneeling at the side of the bench, he studied Bali's peaceful expression mashed into the folds of the blanket. His attention immediately fell to the small bandage that covered a gash just above the boy's right brow.
Obi-Wan gently brushed his fingers around the edge of the wound and frowned.
"Go away, Master," Bali mumbled softly as he turned away from the hovering Jedi. "I am sleeping."
Frustration welled up in Obi-Wan as he knew he should have been easily able to heal the simple wound. He could not and Bali had to walk around looking like an accident victim for it.
His dear, sweet, and annoying friend Bant had promised to teach Bali the fine art of Force healing when he was ready. That time had not quite arrived.
"Go away," Bali mumbled as he raised a sleepy hand and pushed the doting master back. "Sleeping."
Obi-Wan chuckled as he caught the searching hand and gently placed it to the boy's side. "Yes, I suppose I should not disturb your beauty sleep. I just thoughtnever mind." Fighting the smile he stood up and walked back to the cockpit.
"Awake!" Bali said suddenly very lively as he shot up on the bench.
The master took his time facing the green-eyed boy with the mussed up hair. Biting back the grin, he gave Bali a wry look. "Did you not just tell me to go away?"
Bali made a face. "You are being difficult again."
Obi-Wan grinned as he walked back over to the sleepy faced boy and ran his fingers through the dark hair that was plastered to Bali's head making the spikes stand straight up.
"Master," was the plaintive cry as the apprentice roughly adjusted his mashed hair.
The playful mood slipped from the Jedi as he stared down at the tired boy. "I know it has been a rough day."
Bali made another face at the understatement.
Ignoring the response, Obi-Wan continued rather sternly. "I am certain—at least you were supposed too—that you took time out this morning for meditation."
"I always meditate before I start my day," Bali replied dutifully.
"I suppose you were quite reflective as well?"
"That would be the purpose of the meditation, Master."
Obi-Wan nodded, remaining in quiet contemplation for a time. "Very good," he said quickly as he turned and disappeared into the cockpit.
Bali just sat there staring out blankly. Loudly yawning he mumbled to himself, "He woke me up for that?" Then, unceremoniously, he flopped face first back into the blanket.
The Master stuck his head back through the open door, only to find the boy deep in sleep. Stifling a soft laugh, he crept quietly over to the sleeping form again. After studying the child, he gently adjusted the cloak again. The whiteness of the bacta bandage caught his attention for a second time.
Without lingering on the thought, the Jedi carefully peeled the bandage away from the small wound. Gentle fingers brushed the edges of the gash as he carefully guided healing energies to mend the damaged flesh.
The moment the healing was complete, he pulled his hand away fighting the chill and pain that rippled through him. It took every bit of control to keep quiet and shielded. Short, quick breaths kept him from crying out.
He should not have done that.
Slowly the worst of the pain subsided with a shudder but a cold weakness had seized hold of him. A sad awareness washed over him as his still trembling hand removed a small item from his utility belt.
Carefully Obi-Wan pried open Bali's hand and placed a smooth river stone in his palm. "Happy birthday," he whispered.
The Book of Arrivals
Two tall, hooded figures glided silently through the debris-strewn corridor of the Senate office building. Their varied brown cloaks flowed in the breeze created by their swift movement. No notice was taken of the soft murmurs floating in the hall from the multitude of alien creatures clinging to open doorways and intersections.
"Reports are coming in"
"It was the secessionists"
"Madness, it is all madness"
"Where were they?"
"Should have known the Jedi would show up late."
The Jedi stopped before the protected corridor that opened into the Chancellor's private office. Four heavily armed guards, weapons at ready, blocked the entrance.
"You will let us pass," the slightly taller of the two figures said.
Without any hesitation, the guards quickly stepped to the side allowing a narrow path for the Jedi to pass through.
With their cloaks sweeping out at the edges of the narrowed corridor the Jedi stepped into the demolition area that had been Palpatine's office. A portable generator had already sealed the exterior as crews worked to replace the melted transparasteel wall. More crews worked to repair the deep gouges left in the floor and walls as others brought in replacement carpet to cover the work.
More armed guards were posted around the massive office. Outside, stepped up patrols slowly flew around the building.
"I will not leave," the defiant voice of the Supreme Chancellor rang out.
"Your safety, Chancellor," Mas Amedda pleaded as he turned his attention away from orchestrating the clean up of the office to the elder man.
Palpatine rose unsteadily from his chair sitting next to the burned up remains of his desk. A deep gash ran across his cheek. The bleeding had been staved off but the wound remained dark and angry. "I am well protected," he said as he spied his new arrivals. "The Coruscant patrol and the Senatorial Guard are hunting these attackers down. It is unlikely a follow up attack will occur anytime soon." He swept his hand across the damaged room. "Look at this mess, they expected one attack to finish the deed. Hiding now would only show fear. That is not the image I chose to show."
"Chancellor," Amedda argued.
"I will hear no more," Palpatine ordered with a wave of his hand. Turning his back to Amedda, he walked to the two arrivals. Greeting the tall figures, Palpatine forced a weak laugh. "You will have to excuse my office. It seems I am in the midst of spontaneous redecorating."
The cloaked figures lowered their cowls, revealing the more salt than pepper image of Qui-Gon Jinn and his eighteen-year-old apprentice, Anakin Skywalker.
"Chancellor," Qui-Gon said, formally bowing with Anakin quickly following suit.
"Master Jinn and young Skywalker, indeed I must be blessed," Palpatine replied with a weary smile.
"We were nearby," Anakin offered, "and witnessed the attack." His bright blue eyes quickly swept the office before settling on the older gentleman before him. "I hope there were no injuries."
Palpatine motioned to his gashed cheek. "Merely cuts and bruises and rattled nerves." With a flourish of his dark robes, he led the two men deeper into his shattered office. "The Guard of course are in pursuit. These assassins will not get away." He said with conviction, placing great faith the investigative skills of the Senate guard.
Almost as soon as silence had fallen between the three men, Anakin's attention drifted as Qui-Gon fell into step beside the Chancellor. They paced quietly through the office toward a large black table. The apprentice allowed his thoughts to wander as they too often did these days.
Through the unlimited flow of the Force, he could see the damage beneath the hasty repairs. They were just masking the ruin and devastation under a pretty façade.
Anakin turned slightly to see his master quietly conversing with the Chancellor but did not attempt to approach. Instead, he turned his attention back to the room.
There was something familiar—warm—that he could not quite place and continued to search it out. It reminded him of the past.
Another group of guards surrounded a small alcove. In their midst, Anakin thought he saw a touch of maroon. The color reminded him of the clothing the handmaidens—Padmé—had worn during the battle of Naboo nine years ago. For him it was an entire lifetime ago.
"Padawan," Qui-Gon said with virtually no hint of agitation in his voice, unlike through the training bond where it reverberated strongly. The shift of the master's eyes told the young man that he should show the proper respect and follow the conversation.
"This is a new play for the rebelling worlds," Palpatine continued oblivious to the unspoken conversation as he found a seat at the conference table.
"I did not know the League of Secessionists were actively inciting war," Qui-Gon said unobtrusively as he folded his arms across his chest taking on a more relaxed, but no less imposing stance.
"The Senate is rumbling with rumor and innuendo that the League is behind the assassinations that have plagued the Senate in recent months. I have information that proof of these allegations is in route as we speak.
Qui-Gon remained silent but the Chancellor did not explain further. "This," he swept his hand through the air indicating the damaged office, "was to make a statement. The murdered senators were killed discretely."
"It is a troublesome piece to the puzzle," Palpatine said softly. "Of course, I am uncertain that I am not the target of the attack."
"It is your office," Anakin said plainly, sensing the older man was hiding something, he just could not place it. There was something else distracting him and he turned to seek out the glowing warmth.
"I was the target."
At the voice, Anakin spun, knowing before his eyes settled on an Angel of Iego. His eyes widened taking in the sight of the young woman standing just beyond the circle of conversation. A happy grin found his lips.
Padmé's stern expression surveyed the room before approaching the three men. She settled on Palpatine briefly before seeking out the warm expression of the gray haired master. Her make-up had been straightened and she was now wearing a simpler outfit. A deep blue fitted tunic and matching leggings with high boots and a black waistcoat altered to her figure.
Her gaze was steady but the slight tremble of her lips gave away her frayed nerves.
"Master Jinn," she said formally tilting her head toward the elder Jedi.
Anakin brightened with anticipation for the young woman to look his way. She was as beautiful as he remembered, maybe even more so. Warm colors highlighted her delicate eyelids making her eyes more welcoming even if she did not look his direction.
He knew he should look away, he had to look away. It was wrong just to stare but he could not take his eyes from the vision before him. The apprentice realized that Padmé was speaking and he chided himself for not paying attention.
"Much like yourself, Chancellor, I will not hide. By doing so these terrorists will win." She eyed Anakin briefly but then turned her complete attention to the Jedi Master.
Qui-Gon spoke firmly. "Senator, all that is being done—"
"The Chancellor," Padmé interrupted with equal determination, "has convened an advisory council. Members of the Senatorial Committee on Republic Civil Affairs, of which I am a part of, will be arriving shortly. Regardless of whether I was the focus of the attack or not. It is my duty to participate. I will not go to my room and hide like some frightened child."
Anakin beamed at the fearless nature of the Senator.
"The Loyalist Committee," Qui-Gon said bringing the committee's informal name to the forefront.
The apprentice silently noted the hint of distaste in the master's voice when he had spoken. The Loyalists, the Master had often lectured, were well on their way to becoming grand inquisitors. It was under their recommendation and counsel that the Republic close off any trade routes or shipping lanes that could make travel easy for the League and its rebelling parent, the Aveniar Imperium. After all, it was only, fair since the Aveniar closed shipping lanes first.
Qui-Gon had described the actions of the Republic and the League as giants in the playground. They were purely motivated by a political game of tug of war with neither faction caring about the worlds they strangled in the process.
"If that is what you choose to call it, Master Jinn, I cannot deny what it is." Padmé studied the tall master before asking pointedly, "The Jedi are loyal to the Republic, are they not?"
"It is our duty to serve," Anakin said quickly earning a quick look from the young Senator.
Book of Flesh and Bone Part I
Stealing his breath a jumble of emotions flooded together in one agony filled cry.
He was completely helpless to stop it.
And for once, he did not want to.
Imprisoned in the moment, it was the only thing Obi-Wan could control. It would not make the pain go away. It would not change what had happened.
But he could control his cries.
He could scream if he wanted to.
His vision swam and showed no signs of improvement as long as he howled in agony.
That was all he wanted.
Just to scream until he no longer possessed a voice. Until he was no longer strong enough to keep screaming. His cries drowned out the whispers of the dramatic failure that encroached in his wounded thoughts.
So, he screamed to drown out the physical and mental pain that was quickly crushing his spirit. Even a little pain was a weight he could no longer bear.
He continued to scream until his throat and bruised lungs could no longer handle the torture and he sank into an uncertain silence. His weary mind drifted to the edge of unconsciousness floating precariously between dream and the waking nightmare.
The cold was making his sore lungs ache with every shallow breath.
The warmth and protection of his cloak was gone and he no longer possessed the strength to search for something else to warm him.
For a long time, he just focused on each stilted breath. The air that flowed in and out of his lungs was life. With every excruciating gasp of air, he drew a little more strength. Calling softly to the Force for help in this terrible moment, he welcomed the comfort it offered.
The mission may have ended in failure but it was not over. Obi-Wan silently promised to see it to its conclusion. He had to go on.
A weak smile crossed his pale lips as the awesome power of the Force began to ease some of the pain. Even if it was just a little bit, he was thankful.
After a while the unsteady hum of the ancient Golian transport became a dull roar against the back of his head. His salvation, Obi-Wan thought dully. Or the instrument of a long, drawn out death.
Still, the knight was mercifully thankful to the captain who remained sequestered in the cockpit.
The tears slowly cleared, leaving their salty trail clinging to the sides of his face. Slowly Obi-Wan focused on the dingy ceiling he helplessly stared up at. The powerfully uneven vibration of the durasteel floor he laid on did not help the terrible ache that radiated through his body. The mind-numbing source radiated from his spine making movement difficult at best.
At least he hoped it was only pain that kept him frightfully still
The slightest muscle twitch set his body on fire. The Jedi grunted and gritted his teeth as he carefully sought out the source of the pain. He was one massive bruise. What little he could see of his tunic without moving was singed, dirty and blood stained.
Separating his thoughts from his surroundings, Obi-Wan slowly closed his eyes and focused on slow, steady breaths. He accepted the pain that radiated throughout his injured form and released it into the Force until all that remained was the deep throb in the center of his back. When he had become sufficiently relaxed, he focused his attention at his feet still secure within his boots. Then slowly, with teeth gritted, he wiggled his toes.
A deep sigh of relief at the movement immediately turned into a flood of pain.
It had been a long fall.
A few broken ribs, a broken arm—no, just fractured—everything else just hurt terribly. He tried to roll onto his side but the movement brought a squelched cry.
Two fractured vertebrae. Just fractured, right?
Carefully he called on the Force to probe the injury further.
Fractured, he sighed. His strength long ago sapped as he allowed himself to slip toward blissful unconsciousness.
The fall had not been so bad. The abrupt stop was what had really hurt.
Slowly he became aware of the ache of a lightsaber burn that had clipped his wrist. Without thinking Obi-Wan raised his arm to examine the wound but the flood of pain and the sudden weakness that consumed him nearly overwhelmed him.
Anger bloomed briefly only to be quickly allowed to dissipate into the Force. There was nothing to do about it now. The damage was done and he would have to accept it and go on.
Still he could not easily let go of it and wondered how he could have been so blind.
The Force had warned him he should have left Xim the moment he arrived but he had ignored it and remained at the Calor V colony.
Obi-Wan turned inward knowing he could not push all the pain away. It hurt too much. But he could not focus to begin to heal his injuries unless he did something. If it was discovered that he was seriously injured the Masters on the Jedi Council would forbid him from taking anymore missions. He could not allow himself to be imprisoned in the Temple.
He had to make the pain go away.
In quiet desperation, he allowed each wounded thought to come to him. Mercilessly he crushed each image, pressing it into a small ball and buried so deep he would never willingly access the memory. It was all he could do, knowing that he could never just release it to the Force. He would keep it to himself and maybe, someday when it was old and forgotten he would release it when it could no longer harm him.
The past was fixed and there was nothing he could do to change it.
Qin Luc, a noted researcher in cloning body parts for transplant, was dead. He never even got her to the ship before she was brutally cut down by blaster bolts. In truth, no on wanted the Melorian found they wanted her dead. His arrival there at the behest of the Melorian Federation had upset many.
As if matters were not complicated enough, The former Jedi, Ighista Trocha, had escaped. The knight did not question that the furious master would be plotting whatever revenge to satisfy his blood lust. Trocha was a powerful man and Obi-Wan knew he would have to be on his guard.
The same guard he should have used during the entire mission.
Offering a silent chide for failing to notice that the Master Healer had been hiding something.
The knight gave a weak laugh because it hurt to do too much else.
He had missed it because he had beendistracted.
Still, not so distracted to miss what was going on in the research colony.
Biting back the pain he carefully reached up and patted the folds of his tunic. His fingers moved dully across as small, rectangular shape.
A tiny data chip containing images of Trocha's secret project. The one Qin Luc had been stolen away from and held hostage by the Xim locals who were afraid that they were 'manufacturing life' in the colony.
The Senate certainly would be interested in the illegal cloning facility. They had long since passed strict legislation banning the creation of artificial life.
If he had only been paying attention, Qin Luc could have been there to tell the Senate herself just what was going on in those white buildings.
Things would have been different.
Halla would also be alive.
The Book of Accusations
Without preamble, guards burst into the Chancellor's damaged office, their dark boots were stark against the dust that had settled into the deep red weave of the carpet. In their protective midst walked two senators: Erigar of the Caris Regime and Werm Nou of the Twi'lek.
Once in the safety of the office, Erigar pushed past the guard and his bloated green form swaggered arrogantly through the room, threatening to knock over anyone who got in his way. His beady yellow eyes jumped from the Chancellor to the Senator before stopping on the two Jedi. He snorted, jerking his head upward slightly revealing two dark tusks buried under layers of flesh protruding at the sides of his mouth. "This is retribution," he growled as he approached the conference table without taking his eyes off the Jedi. Staring right at the Jedi, but not particularly addressing them, he continued, "Had the heir to the Aveniar Imperium not been murdered by the Jedi we would not be having this problem now."
"There is no proof that it was the Jedi," Palpatine replied curtly. "Besides, one political assassination does not bring about an orchestrated withdrawal from the Republic. The Aveniar had been unhappy for some time."
"Please, Chancellor, everyone knows you support the Jedi. You do not need to protect them. We know the assassin was a Force user. Only Jedi can manipulate," Erigar waved his thick arms about, "the air. The boy was crushed from the inside, not a bruise on him. Only Jedi have that power," he hissed jutting his chin out daring anyone to argue with him.
"That is a lie," Anakin said coarsely shooting the fat Senator a dark look.
Qui-Gon patiently raised a hand silencing any further outbursts from the impetuous youth.
It will do no good to argue with the Senator, Padawan. His beliefs are ingrained and will not bend easily.
Erigar snorted loudly. The Caris were not known for Force sensitivity and therefore they instinctively distrusted anyone, especially Jedi, who could manipulate the unseen power source.
The flourish of anger quickly passed and Anakin sank back a step, allowing his attention to fall again to Padmé who had quietly been watching and listening to the exchange.
Her look bled away and she twisted slightly in her chair to face away from the young man completely. Her attention focused on the two new arrivals that gathered at the conference table.
The politicians exchanged pleasant, worried conversation never really letting on just how shaken they really were.
Anakin often found himself amazed by the mask the Senators wore. They appeared mildly shaken but in control, inside though, he could sense the chaotic rage of emotions every one of them was struggling to hide.
A pulse through the Force, drew the young man's attention to his master. The slight sweep of Qui-Gon's hand indicated they should withdraw.
"Master Jedi," Palpatine said as he slowly stood. "Please, stay. An outside voice may help clearer heads prevail in these tense moments."
The elder Jedi bowed slightly. "Chancellor."
Anakin sensed his master's displeasure at being drawn into a loyalist committee meeting. He quietly took up position next to Qui-Gon at a comfortably detached distance.
Erigar did nothing to mask his dislike of the Jedi's presence and shot them a suspicious glare before focusing on Padmé. "Senator Amidala, Chancellor, we were concerned when we heard of the attack. The audacity of these rebels."
Just as the Chancellor was about to reply, a guard appeared at the protected entrance of the office. The final arrival was Senator Muton Urot of the Udali. He quietly greeted the waiting Senators before taking his place at the large table. "I take it Senator Organa has yet to arrive?" he asked in a soft tone.
"He is in route from Alderaan," Erigar said.
Padmé quietly greeted the new arrival and settled back into her seat. She hesitated a moment and twisted slightly to look back at Anakin waiting by his master. Almost nervously, she ran her fingers over the back of her neck before setting down again.
It was wrong to smile, Anakin told himself. He knew he should not react to her beautiful eyes that occasionally turned to him but he allowed a slight upturn of his lips anyway.
Muton quickly spoke up, "Only moments ago I heard that the would-be assassins were cornered in the recycling district."
"Excellent," Palpatine breathed.
Padmé offered the thin Udali Senator a light, relieved smile.
And Anakin felt a pang of jealousy that it was not offered to him.
There was a brief, uncomfortable silence before the Chancellor spoke up. "Certainly the Senator and myself have earn many enemies."
"Always the politician," the Twi'lek Senator, Werm Nou finally spoke up. "While it might be diplomatically preferable to blame no one until the proper evidence has been brought forth, it is not realistic. We know this is the work of the League of Secessionists. We live in dangerous times. A member of this committee," the cream skinned Twi'lek tapped the tabletop with a long fingernail for effect, "has already been murdered. Senator Irisi was one of our greatest voices. The Senate listened to him when he spoke. The Aveniar listened to him when he spoke. Irisi was the voice of reason in all this chaos. Now he is dead." He turned his attention to Padmé. "Senator Amidala here, has graciously attempted to fill the void. For that, she has become a target of the assassin. The League does not want peace. They do not want to make the Republic whole. They want war." His dark eyes swept the surrounding table studying each seated figure. "Any world that opposes these rebels' secessionist plans is brought under fire. The Aveniar are purposely segmenting the Republic by closing off shipping lanes." He turned his complete attention on Palpatine as he leaned forward against the black table. "Chancellor, the Republic will not stand divided. We must take action."
"I will not push for a war resolution solely because an attempt has been made on my life or the Senator's." Palpatine shook his head. "We must continue to negotiate." He looked over to the silent Muton. "Tell me, please, that Aveniar have agreed to restart the negotiations?"
Muton shook his head slightly. "They have refused negotiation with the Jedi mediators."
Padmé spoke up. "I have attempted to at least open a dialogue with the Aveniar but it is slow going at best."
"Because one of their kind killed the heir to the throne," Erigar snapped sending a sharp look to the silent Jedi.
"Our kind?" Anakin returned, bristling as he turned a dark gaze on the green man. Somebody ought to teach the greasy—
Padawan,came the unspoken but stern reprimand.
"Your kind," Erigar repeated. "You know, sorcerers. You bend minds and make people obey your will."
Palpatine irritably cleared his throat. "Come Senator, these accusations will get us no where. There are more important things that should be discussed.
The moment Padmé leaned forward to speak again, Anakin cooled as his attention completely fell to the lovely image before him. She had her back to him but he was not too bothered.
Her hair was drawn back in a high knot with a series of intricate braids dangling down her back. The shorter of the braids brushed against the pale skin of her neck and all he wanted was to sweep the braids to the side. Just a little push from the Force would do it. His eyes sought out the gentle curve of her back under the black jacket before it disappeared behind the bantha leather chair back.
"With all do respect," Padmé said, "this committee was formed with the express purpose of evaluating the threat the Aveniar Imperium and its cohorts possess to the Republic."
Palpatine started to argue, "Yes, but—"
"Irisi left a very complete study on the Aveniar's activities. After confirming several of the allegations myself, I do not believe we can no longer passively stand by. They are arming for war. Action must be taken."
The Twi'lek senator brightened. "We thought the report was destroyed."
"I was given a copy for safe keeping. Irisi believed his life was in danger and he was right."
Palpatine's worn expression just stared at Padmé for a time. Then his eyes nonchalantly shifted about the room. He spoke evenly, "Then this information must be brought forward."
There was a moment of hesitation and then surprise fluttered in the young woman's eyes. "Chancellor, I forwarded a copy of the report to your office before leaving Naboo. I would offer you mine but it was destroyed in the attack."
For a long time, Palpatine just stared at her. His expression remained unsettlingly calm as his hand glided across the smooth tabletop to the built-in comm unit. He attempted to call it up, but the panel remained dark. With a frustrated grimace, he turned in his seat and sought out the nearest guard. "Private," he called out. "Go to my assistant's office and bring Miss Thelo here. Thank you." He turned back to Padmé. "I don't suppose you need an assistant?"
"No thank you, Chancellor." Then Padmé allowed a light, slightly shaken laugh.
The simple, innocent sound was so wonderful to Anakin's ears. It reminded him of the sweet handmaiden that had been nice to him and treated him like a real person—not a slave—nine years ago.
He could not help but to note his master's growing agitation. The elder Jedi shifted slightly, folding his arms across his chest as he stared evenly out over the conference table looking at no one in particular. Anakin knew though, that Qui-Gon took in everything that was happening. Even his continuous lapses in concentration. It was so difficult with that lovely vision in front of him.
The clack of boots against the bits of debris that remained on the office floor alerted everyone just moments before the private marched back into the room. He had a rough hold of Jira's arm as he forcefully led her to the conference table.
Jira's dull brown eyes danced wildly about the room through tousled blond ringlets. She tried to pull away but the private held her in place.
Palpatine was immediately on his feet when he saw the frightened girl. He reached out and released the trembling figure from the iron grip. "I said bring her in, not drag her in."
"She would not come out from under her desk, sir," the guard gruffly replied.
Anakin could not help but to notice the absolute, unbridled fear that radiated off the blond as she continued to look wildly about.
After a moment, Jira noted everyone staring at her. Red faced she struggled to regain her composure before the committee. "Yes, Chancellor?" her voice quivered.
"Senator Amidala has graced with a copy of her report to the committee. Apparently we have had it in our possession for several days." He hesitated before calmly continuing. "Do you know anything of this?"
Jira trembled slightly. "Maybe," she whimpered.
"Why have I heard nothing about it until just now?"
"I forgot about it." She nervously twisted her hands together. Her eyes pleaded with the older man not to be angry. "You had me do the transcriptions for—"
"Fetch it," Palpatine ordered irritably, apparently no longer willing to humor the quivering mess before him.
Without hesitation, the young woman ran from the room struggling to hold back the tears in her eyes.
Sighing loudly, he sat back down and gently massaged his temples. "Forgive me. It has been a trying day."
"Good help is often hard to find," Erigar said sympathetically. He turned to Padmé. "That report made you the real target of the assassin. You need to expand your guard. I offer you a contingent of Calis soldiers for your protection."
"I would also suggest," Palpatine quickly interjected, "that the Jedi also make their presence known."
Erigar huffed at the imagined insult.
The Chancellor turned to Qui-Gon and Anakin who had been standing there in silence. "Master Jinn, can I expect that you and young Skywalker would serve as protection to the Senator?"
Padmé twisted again, studying Anakin with a surprised look.
Qui-Gon, followed by Anakin, bowed. The Jedi master spoke evenly, "We are at your service, Senator."
Padmé tilted her head slightly. "Again you have been called on to protect me, Master Jinn." She offered him a gentle smile before allowing her gaze to fall to the tall apprentice.
It took all of Anakin's self control to contain the grin that was threatening to explode under the young woman's intense scrutiny.
When Padmé glanced away, Qui-Gon took the moment to eye his padawan noting the not so subtly veiled look.
Anakin immediately straightened with the warning pulse sent through the training bond.
You are allowing your emotions to cloud your judgement.
Forgive me, my Master,was the humble reply.
The moment did not last long as his extraordinary senses were piqued by something elusive. In unison with his master, both Jedi drew their lightsabers and moved to protect the committee members.
The Book of Meetings
Werm Nou twisted around nervously. "Not another attack," he half whimpered as he considered ducking beneath the conference table.
Qui-Gon and Anakin sprang forward, creating a human shield between the politicians and the office doors.
The security force looked around worriedly, unsure whether to help or run.
The familiar and deadly hum of the blue and green blades filled the air. The lightsabers glowed brilliantly against the rich red interior of Palpatine's office. The two Jedi moved in a perfectly choreographed display as they took up position against the unknown that was quickly closing in on them.
Qui-Gon drew back to spring but immediately lowered his guard. Anakin caught his master's response and eased back slightly but not enough that he could not react if need be.
The door swished open and two cloaked figures silently entered the room and pulled their hoods back. Obi-Wan and Bali gave little attention to the two armed men and breezed past them to approach the conference table.
Qui-Gon quickly deactivated his weapon, turning to visually follow the two arrivals.
At first, Anakin just stood there tightly gripping the hilt as if ready to spring on them at the slightest provocation. It took the gentle touch of Qui-Gon's hand against his wrist to make him lower his weapon.
"Ah, my emissaries have arrived," Palpatine said with obvious relief. "I trust you bring much news?"
The two bowed respectfully before the Chancellor.
Obi-Wan took note of the mixed company and paused to choose his words carefully. "I regret to inform you that Nochian Spex is dead."
"Oh my," was all Palpatine could muster before he sank to a nearby seat. "You learned nothing?" Concern deepened the lines around his eyes.
"Very little Chancellor. He had been poisoned and was in the final moments of life when we arrived." The younger master swept his gaze around the room taking in everything at once. "He informed us of an assassination attempt, of course to late to prevent."
"They were after Senator Amidala," Anakin growled as he clipped his lightsaber to his belt and walked to the table.
Obi-Wan turned giving the young man a harsh look, then returned his gaze to Palpatine. "Master Spex seemed to believe an attempt would be made against your life."
"Are you certain?" Worry briefly fluttered across the older man's face.
"He said assassins will kill you. He also spoke of dark times on the horizon before dying."
Anakin glare at the ginger haired Jedi.
Palpatine's shoulders drooped as if a great weight had been placed upon them. "Then we are only beginning our great struggle. I fear the Republic is in its twilight years and we may be unable to save it."
His words brought a grim awareness to those in the office.
In the silence, Bali took the moment to scan the room. They had arrived so quickly that other than the two Jedi inside he had not had a chance to study the room any better. He knew he would have to be quicker about that. It was not good to walk into a potentially tense situation blindly. Within moments, he had decided Werm Nou and Muton Urot were harmless, Padmé was all right and he decided he did not like Erigar. Something about the green skinned Calis Senator did not set well. He could feel the man's hatred for the Jedi rolling off him like a thick miasma. He cast out on the Force, seeking the other two Jedi in the room. He did not sense any threat. The older Jedi seemed to be blocking though. Finally Bali turned his attention to the Chancellor.
He had met him several times but there was just something elusive he could not figure out. His master had advised him that politicians were different. They often thought one thing and said something completely different and it made them hard to read. And the Chancellor was the ultimate politician, Bali reasoned. He looked up, slightly startled to find Palpatine staring at him with a cold expression.
Quickly Bali withdrew into the safety of his shields and struggled to refrain from drawing close to his master for protection.
With high heels clattering over the roughly patched floor, Jira jogged into the room as she juggled several data chips. She stumbled over the torn carpet. Her balance robbed of her, arms flailing, she crashed into Obi-Wan.
With lightening quick reflexes, the master caught the shaken woman by her pink jacket sleeve with one strong arm and the dropped data chips in the palm of the other.
The side of Jira's face pressed to the heavily cloaked shoulder. Her tousled blond hair dipped to one side as she looked up into pale blue eyes. There was no attempt to escape the Jedi's hold. "What pretty eyes," she breathed. Taking in a deep breath, she whispered, mostly to herself, "Amien wood." The young woman immediately realized everyone was watching her and pulled away, looking terribly embarrassed.
Bali curiously watched the exchange. Every time they were at the Supreme Chancellor's office, that woman always seemed to hover around the older Jedi. He was not sure but he thought she liked his master. Of course, Bali was certain that his master did not like her.
"You will have to excuse my assistant," Palpatine said flatly as he pulled the leering blond away and took the data chips the knight still held, "the attack has frayed her nerves."
The Jedi said nothing but nodded slightly as he folded his arms into the thick sleeves of his cloak.
The apprentice stifled a little frown at the action.
Palpatine took the data chips and handed them out to the committee members. "I believe we should review this information first. And meet tomorrow?"
Erigar studied the four Jedi for a moment. "Will they be present?"
Palpatine warily eyed the Senator. "Of course Senator Amidala's protection will be present."
Jira withdrew slightly but never took her eyes off the young Master.
The little padawan tried not to look at her, knowing his master would not approve. Still, Bali stole a glance.
The woman seemed to be waiting for something as she intensely studied Obi-Wan. Her lips trembled on the brink of a smile when the knight turned slightly.
A firm warning through their bond: Pay attention, Padawan.
The Calis Senator growled and pointed a stubby finger at Obi-Wan and Bali. "For all we know they are the ones that killed Nochian Spex."
"He was a Jedi," Obi-Wan said sternly.
Erigar sputtered as if he were going to argue the statement then quickly changed his response. "He was old and frail. I hear you kill your own kind when they become too weak to serve. Or tell me, why are there no old Jedi?" He aimed his finger at Qui-Gon. "He is the first I have seen who shows age."
He definitely had never seen Master Yoda, Bali thought.
Pay attention, I know.
"I owe a great deal to these men," Padmé said in a tone that defied argument.
"As do I," Muton Urot said softly.
Erigar snorted, "I don't care—"
"That is enough," Palpatine barked. "It has been a very trying day and I am tired. I have better things to do than listen to some squabbling children. This meeting is over." He stood there quietly waiting for the committee to file out save Padmé and the Jedi.
Muton paused, waiting for Erigar and Werm Nou to leave the conference table. The thin senator turned to Obi-Wan. "Master Kenobi."
"Senator," the Jedi bowed respectfully.
Then Muton turned and quietly exited behind the other two Senators.
As soon as the distraction of the senators had dissipated, Bali turned his attention back to the other two Jedi in the room. The first one to capture his attention emanated with a powerful Force signature. He had felt it before but it almost felt overbearing without the constant hum of the Force in the Jedi Temple. He knew it belonged to the apprentice, the important padawan. The one who had not been very nice to him once. The one who had told him lies about his master.
He looked to the other Jedi and was surprised to find Qui-Gon studying him as well. Although, to Bali's knowledge, he did not think he knew this particular Jedi. After a moment of quiet study, the little padawan decided he had often seen the master around the Temple. Sometimes just watching he and his master from a distance. He looked at the kind, deep blue eyes and gave the tall man a little smile.
Anakin saw the exchange and unhappily looked away.
Padmé quickly excused herself to return to her own quarters. She gathered her belongings and started toward where her entourage waited but hesitated before walking around a large area of debris. Anakin leapt to her aid, using the Force to push the fallen support out of her way. Padmé jumped and stared at Anakin in shock.
He gave her a warm, roguish grin, but did not receive the response he was hoping for when she walked on.
Palpatine ignored Anakin and Padmé as the young man tried to escort her to her waiting entourage.
Bali watched Qui-Gon gently eye his master, but Obi-Wan seemed oblivious of the attention as he quietly spoke to the Chancellor and detailed Spex's death.
The tall, graying master just quietly stood there as if waiting for a moment of the younger man's time.
Bali thought Qui-Gon looked sad.
Padawan,came a gentle prompting through the training bond.
Readily, the small thirteen-year-old turned to focus on his master and the Chancellor.
At the entrance of the office, a Senate Security Inspector entered. The rich blue of his uniform contrasted against his dark skin. Long thin braids that were loosely tied between his shoulder blades swayed slightly as he waited patiently for the Chancellor to take notice.
"You will have to excuse me for a moment," Palpatine said as he retreated and walked over to the inspector.
Intricate silver tattoos that lined the flesh above his brows glinted in the uneven office light. The man locked eyes with Obi-Wan and tilted his head in a respectful greeting.
The ginger haired master replied the same before turning away to allow the Chancellor and inspector privacy.
Bali fell into position at his master's side and waited patiently for the Chancellor to return. Innocently he adopted his master's quiet stance. Behind the padawan's solemn mask, he could sense the unspoken tension between his master and the other who waited just a few feet away.
The subtle tightening of Obi-Wan's shields drew Bali's attention.
The apprentice was not worried. Sometimes his master did that.
Master was very good about never completely blocking him through their bond. It was always open, just enough for Bali to sense the protective presence on the other side.
"It seems the Temple is larger than I imagined," Qui-Gon said, finally shattering the silence that threatened to engulf the trio. "In five years we have barely crossed paths."
Pale blue eyes focused on the traffic lines beyond the office windows. "And yet, we still cross paths, Master Jinn," Obi-Wan answered dully without offering the elder master even a glance.
Bali desperately tried to remain motionless so not to embarrass his master. He struggled not to fidget although the training bond had been strangled almost to nonexistence. The little padawan knew it would come back in a little while, he just had to be patient. His master would not close him out forever.
Still, he was worried. His master had never closed him out like this.
Master?Bali questioned silently, concern rising in him that it would not be answered. He tried not to worry.
Master Yoda would say: "Do or do not, there is no try."
Taking a slow, deep breath, Bali released his anxiety to the Force and for a few moments felt better. He then carefully stole a glance at Qui-Gon who was just standing there as if trying to decide what to say next.
The graying master looked down to greet Bali's stare. He gave the boy a sad smile before speaking softly. "The Senator is waiting." His gaze found Obi-Wan again and lingered on the other man's profile briefly before retreating.
Master?Bali called out again but received no answer through the blocked bond. After a short but impatient wait for Qui-Gon to turn away, the padawan reached up and tugged roughly on Obi-Wan's sleeve.
The instant Obi-Wan looked down at the boy, the bond snapped open. In that initial moment, Bali thought he felt remorse, but it was gone before the he could study it further.
Forgive me, Padawan.
Do not do that again,Bali warned.
Absently Obi-Wan reached out and ran his fingers through Bali's spikes flattening them to his head.
"Master!" Bali plaintively cried, as he quickly made the spikes stand back up again.
Giggling drew the master and apprentice's attention and they turned to see Jira approaching. Her long dark lashes fluttering as all of her attention fell to Obi-Wan. "I'm sorry," she said coyly pressing finely manicured fingers to her lips as she stifled another giggle. She spoke in a soft, breathy tone, "I just always thought Jedi were supposed to be dull."
"We're hardly dull," Bali grumbled.
"Padawan," Obi-Wan quickly chastised.
"Forgive me," the youth said lowering his head to the woman.
Jira paid Bali no attention. Instead, she took a step closer to Obi-Wan. Deep brown eyes seemed to dissect the Jedi.
In an air of weariness, Obi-Wan shrugged into the folds of his cloak, drawing his arms tight in the safety of the brown material. He gave the obtrusive woman an empty, dispassionate stare.
She casually reached out to brush ivory fingers over the folded material that covered the Jedi's crossed arms. Fingers hovered before she withdrew her hand. "I just want to thank you," she said softly, only for Obi-Wan to hear.
Bali used the Force to enhance his hearing.
"For catching me when I fell."
Obi-Wan bowed his head slightly.
"Miss Thelo," Palpatine said coarsely as he returned to the conference table. His dark eyes held a hint of menace in them as he glared at the blond. "I am certain you have plenty of work to entertain you."
"Yes, Sir," Jira replied, quickly backing away before turning and walking very quickly from the room.
"You will have to forgive her," Palpatine sighed irritably as he turned his attention back to the Jedi. "She has never been beyond the small country her family owns. Working here is a new thing for her."
"It is nothing to apologize for," Obi-Wan said coolly.
Yet, Bali was certain his master was relieved that the Chancellor ran the woman off.
Palpatine turned his complete attention to Obi-Wan. "You have always been a worthy ally, Master Kenobi."
"I only serve," was the humble reply followed by a bow.
"Yes, I suppose you do." The older man quirked an eyebrow briefly, then offered a gentle sweep of his hand as he motioned the master and apprentice to follow. "As a Naboo and as a sentient member of the Republic I am indebted to you."
"No," Palpatine stopped Obi-Wan. "As we both know, that cloning facility you discovered on Calor V would have been the ruin of the Republic. I have recently received information suggesting Ighista Trocha was an ally of the League of Secessionists."
Obi-Wan stopped and stared at the Chancellor.
"Of course it is not widely known. Your Council will want to keep that information quiet I suppose."
Gathering himself, Obi-Wan continued to pace along side the other man.
"You have done the Republic a great service," Palpatine said as if his earlier remarks had never existed.
"It was only through the swift actions of the Senate that the facilities were shut down. The commendation should be directed at you, Chancellor, for pushing the legislation through."
"Like you, Master Kenobi, I only serve." Palpatine laughed lightly but he still appeared quite shaken from his earlier ordeal. His voice was low in its graveness. "You were injured on that mission if I remember correctly."
"Yes," Obi-Wan said flatly.
Bali noted the tenseness in his master's aura.
"Betrayed," Palpatine lightly pressed.
The silence clung to the air like the dust from the earlier attack.
"The past is what it is. The future is what concerns us now," Obi-Wan said as he attempted to direct the conversation away from the mistakes of the past.
The padawan silently hesitated when his master did, and walked when his master walked. He followed the conversation but did not offer any information. His place was to remain quiet and listen, but not to interrupt.
When Palpatine's weary gaze settled on him, Bali froze. Something about the look unsettled him and sent a chill racing up his spine as he withdrew behind the protective folds of his master's cloak.
Obi-Wan handed two data chips over to the Chancellor.
The politician studied the two small objects in his open palm. "Your findings?"
"The Calis are arming the Aveniar."
Palpatine's eyes flickered then drooped. "I see. And all the proof?"
"Is there, as well as corroboration through Master Spex's sources, I believe."
For a little while the Chancellor studied the simple black data chip in his open palm. His voice was laced with sadness. "This changes so much."
The Book of Advancing and Retreating
The corridor outside the Chancellor's office was slightly cleaner than it had been when Obi-Wan and Bali had arrived.
The older Jedi internally reviewed the details of the meeting he had just left. As often as he had been forced to deal with Palpatine, he had never been able to get past that elusive feeling of distrust.
Palpatine was a politician and that was reason enough. There was always an ulterior motive to even the most innocent of actions.
There was a price to pay for successfully completing most of his missions. It had earned him the Chancellor's regard and made him number one on the politician's request list.
The Master was weary of dealing with the politicians and the dark underbelly of Republic politics. It had been over a year since he and his apprentice had mediated anything simple like a labor dispute.
The Republic was faltering and the Jedi were racing about the galaxy attempting to patch small leaks in a quickly decaying dam.
He folded his arms into the billowing sleeves of his cloak, fighting back a chill.
As they walked quietly through the office building, Obi-Wan glanced down at the dark haired apprentice with the ginger flame tipped padawan braid.
While they were before the Council, Obi-Wan decided that he would request some down time. Bali was starting to fall behind in his studies and needed to return to the normalcy of Temple life.
The apprentice glanced up and gave Obi-Wan a small smile.
The master returned the weary smile and pulled his cowl over his head, noting that Bali mimicked the action. "Something bothering you, Padawan?"
"A great many things, Master." The boy fell into silence not offering to speak of the things that troubled him.
Obi-Wan had noted his padawan's reserve. The boy had been quiet most of the short trip back to Coruscant. He had slept some as well as meditated and studied, but had for the most part kept to himself.
Worry had clouded the master's thoughts ever since Nochian Spex had whispered in the apprentice's ear. Obi-Wan had felt the sadness and worry edge into the padawan's aura and felt helpless to do anything about it.
"Master Jedi!" Jira's loud cry wafted through the corridor, slicing through the Jedi's thoughts. "Please wait up!"
Luckily for Obi-Wan the large hood masked the pained wince as he turned to face the clumsy blond running toward him.
Her high heels dug into the floor snagging on bits of debris as she barreled up to the cloaked figures.
Using the Force, Obi-Wan gently buffered Jira's erratic path so she would not lose her footing and need him catch her again.
"The Chancellor forgot to give you this," she said as she held up a data chip. "He said your Council will be expecting it. The chip contains the record to the official inquiry of Senator Irisi of Tamboa's death."
Some instinctive part of him felt like drawing up his shields in the woman's presence.
The Jedi met Jira's almost probing gaze with a serenely impassive look. Under the scrutiny of her gaze, he always felt like a laboratory experiment being dissected.
"Thank you," Obi-Wan replied formally as he reached for the chip when Jira's jog came to an abrupt stop. Her high-heeled shoes snagged on the carpet and she stumbled but Obi-Wan's gentle manipulation of the Force she did not fall.
The chip bounced across the tight gray weave of the floor.
With a small sigh, Obi-Wan knelt to pick it up. He tried not to visibly notice the garish yellow shoes that took a tiny step closer. When he stood, Jira was hovering just inches away. Casually, he retreated a step, desperately needing space between he and the woman.
Unperturbed, Jira took another step forward.
A ripple of childish laughter danced through the training bond with Bali.
This is not funny,the Jedi silently warned.
Jira never even glanced in Bali's direction as she leaned forward slightly. Her brightly painted lips turned upwards in a devilish smile as thick eyelashes fluttered just for the Jedi Knight.
"Is there anything else?" Obi-Wan asked, hoping there was not. He was tired and not in the mood to deal with the flighty assistant.
The blond gave a teasing little frown as she made an unhappy face the moment the Jedi tried to retreat. Without hesitation, she chased after the two brown cloaked figures.
Obi-Wan tried to pick up the pace, but Bali was working hard not to drag behind. So he slowed to allow the apprentice to catch up, but it only allowed Jira to move in and block his exit.
"So what do Jedi Masters do in their free time?" Jira asked then slowly drew her tongue over her rich red painted lips.
The Jedi stared at her dully as he sought out another escape route. "Meditate," came the flat reply.
"Oh." A look of disappointment fluttered across her face. A look of determination glossed her features. "Don't you ever just take in the Coruscant sights? Sit down to a long candle lit meal? Stroll in the moonlight?"
"My time is quite limited."
"Oh." Carefully she leaned a little closer taking in the mild fragrance of amien wood that clung to his cloak. "No time for even for a little tumble?"
Obi-Wan looked at her dryly.
Bali just looked confused.
Shifting to better see Obi-Wan's hidden face under the cowl she purred softly. "Your little apprentice said Jedi were not dull."
Bali snorted as he tried not to stare at Jira's advances.
Yet, the soft tone of her voice was reserved just for Obi-Wan. "A big, strong Jedi with all those special powers," she breathed. "I have always wondered what you would be like in bed. I bet it would be spectacular."
Bali's eyes widened.
Pulling at the edges of his cloak and weary of being subjected to Jira's advances, Obi-Wan spoke in a slow, deliberate tone and he gently waved his hand. "There is much work to be done. You should tend to it."
The young woman's eyes glazed over as she repeated, "There is much work to be done. I should tend to it."
"You should go."
"I should go." She turned and walked back toward the offices.
"Come, Padawan," Obi-Wan said calmly as he returned to his journey.
For a while, they walked in silence. Then Bali spoke up. "Master?"
"Was that considered proper?"
"Probably not." Obi-Wan sighed.