Chapter 24

The Hall of Remembrance was spacious enough to accommodate a few hundred, at capacity; but upon the evening of Master Sen Sen Xerxes' funeral observance, only the Council and the two Jedi who had met the ancient Thisspiasian on Rhellis Massa were in attendance. There was no body to commit to flame; and indeed, there was no symbolic need to burn anything in its stead, as might be done for one whose corpse could not be recovered. Sen Sen Xerxes had already proved in striking manner that his spirit was indeed utterly liberated from gross matter. All that remained was to acknowledge his place, and his life of service, within the august ranks of the Order.

Master Yoda spoke the traditional words of the ceremony; succinct, admonitory, pure. And the white memorial beacon was lit, a thin and brilliant spear of light connecting the empty pyre and the distant sky. It was over.

Cloaked and cowled figures processed through the arched doors between the tiered seats, footfalls gentle on the Temple's polished marble floor. In the end, Obi Wan was left alone with Yoda in the hushed serenity of the chamber. Raising two hands, he carefully lowered his hood.

The diminutive master leaned upon his stick, half-lidded eyes reflecting the vertical line of white, wizened features relaxed into peaceful contemplation of its far terminus overhead, where it blended into purple heavens visible through the dome's small open apex. At last he lowered his thoughtful gaze to his companion, ears perking. "Rare privilege is it, to witness passing of a sage."

Obi Wan nodded. "He was a venerable master; I was privileged to know him, even for such a short time."

"Led to his place of exile you were, by the Living Force. Glad I am, that reconciled he was with the Order before his death."

He headed for the door, waiting politely for Yoda to hobble alongside him, each step echoing as his gimer stick accented their slow pacing. "He did not seem …concerned.. about his status with the Council, master, if you will forgive my saying so."

They reached the broad concourse. Yoda waved a clawed hand. "Sent for help from another Jedi, he did. Committed Friends to your care. Trust, forgiveness: the same are they. No words necessary were."

"Forgiveness?" He stopped, beneath a soaring buttress. "Master… may I ask, what was the substance of Sen Sen Xerxes' argument with the Council? I know from the historical records that you were among those who decided not to send aid to him after he went to Rhellis Massa at the end of their war."

Yoda grumbled a little, leaning on the smooth knot surmounting his stick's twisting haft. His clawed fingers rubbed absently at its contours, his eyes sliding up to consider his interlocutor gravely.

"Hmmm. Mistake was that, perhaps." The tiny Jedi loosed a mournful sigh. But then his face hardened. "Or perhaps not. Difficult to know. Clouded."

Obi Wan waited, obstinately extending the silence, unsatisfied with this riddling pronouncement.

Yoda glanced up, snorting. "Forbidden to interfere he was. Rhellis Massa, a hopeless cause had become, so the Council believed. Murdered was the last Jedi to be sent. Disdainful of all intervention, the warring factions were. Master Xerxes well accustomed to defiance was – a critic of the Order and the Coucnil was he, for many years. Feared we did, that one of the Lost he would become. Much was clouded," he repeated.

Obi Wan pondered this for a moment. He thrust his hands into opposite sleeves, frowning at the inlay in the tile beneath their feet, and strode slowly down the corridor again, Yoda tapping along beside him. "Was that defiance related to his esoteric studies?" he wondered aloud.

The ancient Jedi shrugged, his frayed robe crumpling with the small motion. "A student of the Whills, did he aspire to be. Also a believer in prophecy, Obi Wan. Foretold destruction of Order, downfall of Republic. Apocalyptic visions, he courted."

They walked on, through the grand entry hall, where the last rays of sun burned resolute between deep bars of shadow. Younglings scampered by ahead of them, doubtless late for some lesson or activity. "Do you think…? That is, the war has certainly cast things in a different light, master. What if Master Xerxes' portentous visions were true?"

But Yoda only waved a dismissive hand, batting at shadow, dispersing dread as a nerf chases away gadflies with a swish of its tail. "Hmmph. Future. If Dark it is to be, then better not knowing are we. Exist to serve we do, even if twilight it is. Know better, you should Obi Wan. Your mind –"

"Ought to be in the present moment, yes master." Something about that phrase brought him up short again. He ransacked memory, reaching… for….what? The connection was elusive, fading to nothing. He sighed.

Yoda watched him carefully. "Ill at ease you were, before this mission you began," he grunted. "Changed has that?"

Had it? "I suppose so."

"Disturbed you no longer are, hm? The Living Force you have decided to trust?"

Forward again, toward the doors at the far end, the broad entry to the Room of a Thousand Fountains, the Temple's vast meditation gardens. There had been a moment, beneath Rhellis Massa, entombed in its depths, when he had shed all suspicion and resentment. He couldn't quite recall exactly…. But then, did it matter? He had the certainty, and that was all that counted in the end. "Yes, I have."

Yoda beamed upon him. "Good is that."

"Yes, master."

They parted ways at the doors. "May the Force be with you," Yoda said, shuffling his way into the misty interior of the arboretum.

Obi Wan bowed deeply to the Grand master. It was. And it always would be.

"You're late," Anakin scolded, when Obi Wan finally emerged into the senior upper level dojo the next afternoon.

He got a sarcastic twist of the mouth in reply. "Pining ill becomes a Jedi, Anakin. I had a previous engagement."

"So now I'm Plan B?" the young Jedi lamented, feigning hurt feelings.

"Don't flatter yourself," Obi Wan shot back, selecting a training saber from the rack by the door. "You rate more in the vicinity of desperate last resort."

Anakin snorted, flipped his own weapon over in his hand. "So you're desperate."

"For intelligent company, yes." The two blades leapt into buzzing life.

They prowled. "Maybe you should spend less time in solitary meditation, then," Anakin grinned.

"You're right," Obi Wan agreed, amicably attempting to decapitate his companion, "I should spend more time teaching you a well-deserved lesson or two."

Anakin parried, ducked, blocked the next shower of strikes. "In geriatric saber technique?…No thanks. I'm too young for Soresu, master."

They danced around the salle's perimeter, fluidly switching offensive and defensive roles. After a few minutes, they disengaged and warily circled each other in the center of the polished floor. "What previous engagement?" Anakin wanted to know. "Not another mission briefing?"

"No… I checked in on the Friends. They're settling in well enough, thanks to Master Rancicis' kind oversight."

"On Vandor? Ugh. I'd rather live in an underlevel scrap-pile."

"Now you're just waxing nostalgic. I thought you'd outgrown such things."

Anakin lowered his blade, thoughtful. "So they decided to stay together rather than return to their own native species' homeworlds. You would think they'd be sick of each other after all those years at close quarters."

Obi Wan flourished his saber in a lazy circle. "You would think," he affirmed, meaningfully. "The frustrations and resentment engendered by tedious companionship can foster violence."

"True." Anakin replied with academic detachment. "Experience confirms your insight."

Obi Wan looked sideways, bored. "Yes…. most things do."

A heartbeat's indifferent pause.

They fell upon each other like clashing stormfronts, stirring the cycled air into a hurricane of ozone and howling light. The pale walls reflected bright striations of blue and green, flickering shadow-play cheerfully mimicking the blazing original. They ended in a bind, struggling for dominance even as they laughed in breathless gasps.

"Pathetic, Anakin."

"I learned from the master."

"So you're an autodidact?"

The sabers screeched. They pushed, grunted, slipped on the smooth floorboards. A mutual Force push sent them sailing apart again in opposite directions.

They kept their distance – cautious, appraising. "What I'd like to learn-," Anakin began.

"Besides better swordsmanship, I presume."

"-ha ha – is how the kriff Dooku traced us to Rhellis Massa. I'm still not convinced that Master Xerxes wasn't an old fraud."

Obi Wan scowled, paced around the edge of the wide room, blade up in guard position. "That is the question, isn't it? And yet I don't; think he had any idea why we were there; perhaps he thought the Republic was scouting out the planet for a military base."

"He can have it," Anakin said, sourly. "It was… well. We've been nicer places. Like Hoth in midwinter. Remember that? When your beard froze solid with icicles?"

Obi Wan grumbled something unintelligible under his breath, and launched into a new attack sequence, a tricky one which occupied Anakin's attention for the next five solid minutes. They lunged, ducked, parried, exchanged a whirlwind of blows, and ended up disarming each other simultaneously. The two sabers skittered across the room and rolled into the far wall.

"It's a draw," Anakin decided, with satisfaction. "No lectures on Soresu's superiority today, master."

Obi Wan called the two hilts into his hands, strode over to replace them upon the rack. "Oh, I'm sure I can find another subject. What about an extemporaneous speech on the virtues of humility, obedience, and respect for one's elders?"

Anakin folded his arms. "How 'bout one on the virtues of wearing armor? Don't think I've forgotten about our deal."

Obi Wan avoided his gaze, crossing his arms in a mirror version of his friend's posture. "Yes… armor," he mumbled. "I suppose we should discuss that."

Was that… could that be… surrender? "You promised to keep an open mind, remember."

"Yes, I did." Now Obi Wan was fascinated by the dojo floor, the grain of the boards, the sheen of the varnish under the mellow lights.

"And?" Anakin could practically taste victory. He bounced on the balls of his feet, chest puffing out slightly. He had out-negotiated the Negotiator. He must really be the Chosen One.

"And… I've decided that wearing armor might not be a bad idea, either."

"You have."

"I have."

It was delicioius. It was…intoxicating. "You're gonna wear the stuff I designed. No more resistance." It was like being Knighted all over again.

"Except the helmet."

"Okay, no helmet." He could afford to be magnanimous, accommodating. Today, Obi Wan listened to him. He could get used to somebody listening to him, come to think of it.


Uh oh. He hated it when ObI Wan's eyebrows went up like that. He should have been shielding his thoughts more carefully. His friend's inscrutable gaze was resting on him with an impish abstraction, a look of veiled cunning. "No pay-back, either," he warned, a sinking feeling in his gut.

The eyebrows went up another notch. "Anakin, I would only ever act in your best interest."

"Yeah, so why are you smiling like that?"

Obi Wan could do bland evasion like nobody's business. "Like what, my insightful young Padawan?"

There was something wrong about that word… it was far, far more than a taunt. It was a clue, a threat, a wicked seminal idea budding in his mentor's devious mind. It was something which should have tipped him off. But the mental walls concealing Obi Wan's latest piece of treacherous mischief were already firmly in place, and could not be breached. Abandoning hope of penetrating that invisible armor, and resigning himself to keep an open mind about whatever retribution lay in store for him, Anakin bowed and led the way out. At least they had solved the armor question once and for all.

Even if he could feel Obi Wan still smirking behind him as they exited.

Neither of them heard the ethereal voice which chuckled softly in their wake, watchful and gently amused.