Disclaimer: George Lucas owns Star Wars. I am not making any profit from this work of fanfiction, which is shared for entertainment purposes only.

Author's note: Part six of the Freefallverse, but can be read alone. For those who may be interested, the other five novels and several assorted works are available both here on ffn and also on my LJ account under WynCatastrophe.

CHAPTER ONE

The drugs throbbed in his brain, an odd reverberating effect Obi-Wan tried to isolate and expunge using the Force. So far it wasn't working, but Obi-Wan kept trying. It wasn't like he had anything else to do –– except worry, which wasn't productive.

He couldn't quite keep himself from doing a little of that, anyway. He was trapped in the clutches of Granta Omega, which did not speak well for his prospects. Anakin and Ryn were back on Fjornel, trying to keep the whole terraformed moon from dying and taking all the inhabitants with it. At least, he hoped they were still on Fjornel. Repeated attempts to find them through meditation had given him nothing but a headache. But what he knew about the two of them was not reassuring. Of the two, Ryn was probably the more level-headed ... but then, she had a value system very different from the Jedi, and who knew what she might think was a good idea? And Anakin, despite his independent streak, was more often than not willing to follow her lead. Sarta was with them, but Obi-Wan wasn't sanguine about Loreth's prince as a steadying influence. And Gunryth, aside from being a practicing heretic, was an unknown quantity.

One thing he was reasonably sure of was that they were no longer traveling through hyperspace. The telltale vibrations that accompanied such travel had ceased some time ago, with a last shudder that might have been landing. In which case, they must be sitting somewhere on the far side of the Outer Rim - but for what purpose,Obi-Wan could not begin to imagine.

He missed Qui-Gon with an ache that was almost physical in its potency.

Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force, Yoda's voice reminded him. Mourn them do not, miss them do not.

Yes, Master Yoda.

Qui-Gon's defiance, I sense in you ...

[]

They strode out of the Temple of the Living Force like they owned the place, Ryn leading. After they had bowed and given their sincerest thanks to the Healers, Anakin had half-expected to be detained somehow. His knowledge of Lorethan culture was limited at best, but he doubted whether even here their plans to stage a coup would pass without comment. But the Temple acolytes asked them no questions, and when Ryn thrust aside the wooden doors set into the mountainside - a side entrance, not visible from the glen below - and stepped out onto the narrow trail that led down through the glistening rocks and disappeared into the trees, Anakin and Evinne and Makesh fell into step behind her as though it had always been meant to be. Sarta and Gunryth returned to the transport and headed for Fjornel to muster the Rangers.

They were making for a village, some five leagues north (according to Ryn, but this gave Anakin only a very hazy idea of the distance involved), presided over by some of her mother's kin, who apparently lived in the local fort.

"Distant cousins," she said, "but it won't matter. They are bound to give aid to travelers. We will ask for no more than we need."

"Will you ask for warriors?" Evinne asked moodily. "Because we might be needing those."

"I pledged you the help of my own Clan, not of all the North," Ryn answered sharply. "We can take Stevan without their warriors, and we will." Pause. "They'd be fools to go with war with us."

"Then why are we going?" Anakin said.

Evinne snorted; Ryn sighed. "Because the sea crossing at Enysvran is some hundreds of miles from here. We could scarcely reach it in a week on foot. We need steeds in order to cover the ground quickly. The accepted mode of travel here is sleipniri. I hope to get some of those for our journey."

Okay. Stick to basics. "What are sleipniri?"

"Eight-legged mammals commonly used for riding," Evinne said over her shoulder. "They are very fast."

"If we push hard, we should be able to make Enysvran in three days, maybe two and a half," Ryn added, waving a hand north and west. "We'll have to leave the sleipniri with Eremais Mabonar once we reach the port, and trust him to see them home. Then we take ship, cross the sea, and get fresh sleipniri on the other side."

"Because they'll just be waiting for us?" Anakin said.

Ryn shook her head, either missing his sarcasm or willfully ignoring it. "Ruwan Ardel keeps a house not far from the port. He should be wiling to help us."

Anakin kicked a stone out of his path. "Not if we tell him what we're doing."

"So we won't."

Anakin frowned. This was a side of Ryn he had never seen before, and he wasn't sure he liked it. There was something a little chilling about her ruthless practicality. It was going to prove effective, probably ... but was it right?

Evinne didn't seem concerned, though this was her relative Ryn was planning to dupe. If anything, she appeared mildly amused by Ryn's answer.

So many it's a cultural thing, Anakin thought uncertainly. Maybe you have to be raised here to get it.

Unstoppable as the wind, Ryn led them on.

[]

Obi-Wan had lost track of time in that changeless place before Granta Omega came to gloat over him. The door of his cell slid back and standing in the opening was not the protocol droid who brought him meals but a nondescript man with shaggy brown hair and angry eyes.

"Obi-Wan Kenobi," the man greeted him. He made the name a mockery.

"Granta Omega," Obi-Wan acknowledged him, declining to respond in kind.

"I trust your stay has been pleasant?"

"Quite the reverse, I assure you," Obi-Wan returned evenly.

Omega tutted. "I'm so sorry to hear that. You grieve me, Master Kenobi, you really do."

There was no point in dignifying that with an answer; Obi-Wan waited.

Predictably, Omega's patience broke first. "Perhaps you would care for some news of your apprentice?"

"If you have any."

Omega's smile made his skin crawl. "I hear he's doing quite well for himself - though maybe not for the Code. I'm told he is indulging his passions in the most unbridled way."

Obi-Wan lifted an eyebrow. "I didn't know there were any podracing circuits out here."

Omega faked a laugh, not very well. "Podracing! My dear Obi-Wan, I speak of the pleasures of the flesh! Your innocent young Padawan has fallen to the charms of a barbarian temptress." He shook his head in mock sympathy. "These young men are so easily led."

"Anakin will come for me," Obi-Wan answered with certainty.

Another laugh, not quite as fake. "Master Kenobi, Anakin is currently traipsing about the surface of Loreth, following the whims of the woman who holds him in thrall. I fear you underestimate the power of desire - or perhaps you overestimate his loyalty to you."

Omega must have thought that was an exit line, because he took a step backward and slid through the opening doorway. It shut behind him without a sound.

Barbarian temptress? Anakin, what are you doing? He thought of Bridein, stepping naked into the tub with the boy, and frowned at the wall. Be mindful, young Padawan.