I don't have time for individual responses now, but thanks to all my readers for your kind reviews.
Qui-Gon watched as the woman perused a datapad, her light honeyed features locked in deep concentration as she sorted through the stack of crates in front of her.
"Anything I can do to help?"
She turned to the tall figure standing in the doorway. "Mace told me you were looking for me. What can I do for you, Qui-Gon?"
"I heard that your medical relief team is going to be making several stops all along the Outer Rim. I'm wondering if you might have room for an extra person." He paused and his features curved into a hopeful smile. "I don't have much medical experience to offer – maybe only knowledge on certain herbs, but I'm willing to do whatever I can to be useful."
Jun Windu nodded her head, letting out a light chuckle. "I don't know what Mace tells everyone about me, but I'm not some sort of taskmaster."
"I want to help where I can, but I also want you to be aware that I don't know where the Force will lead and when I might need to stay on a planet or part company. I may have to leave suddenly."
"You are welcome to come regardless." She shrugged her shoulders. "I warn you, we aren't going anywhere exciting, and some of the locations are barely developed. We will be stopping on Eked, Fzob, Tatooine – some real dustballs."
"That's okay." He closed his eyes, delving into the Force and all its subtleties. It hummed its approval. "This is right."
His head was hung low, the coarse edges of a hood falling around his face, gently scratching his skin. He could sense he was in the midst of a group. Most heads were bowed, and the ambience was solemn, respectful and quiet. Though he was aware of the frequent glances in his direction, it was also obvious he was not the focus of this gathering.
The steady crackling of a fire drummed in the background, catching his attention, and he looked up, squinting against the blazing heat. He felt his knees immediately buckle and tried to regain his footing as he struggled to draw in his next breath. Qui-Gon's body lay before him, sunken in a sea of flickering flame. His chest further constricted and tears stung his eyes, but he held his composure, sensing it was expected.
Small fingers intertwined with his hand, squeezing tightly, and he pulled his gaze away from the pyre to see who had touched him. At his side stood a small boy in worn clothing, looking very much lost. Crystal blue eyes glistening with unshed tears looked up at him, and the boy whispered.
"What will happen to me now?"
The sound of desperation in the small voice echoed his own, from many years earlier. It was he who had stood clutching Qui-Gon's hand while three pyres had burned before them.
But this boy was not him.
The presences faded, even the boy, leaving him alone in front of the pyre, and he looked around to see where he was now. Stars dotted the canopy stretched over an expanse of gently rolling plains, except in the distance where a mass of dark clouds obscured his view. He quickly stooped down and fingered the long blades of grass, their lavender color telling him he was on Dantooine. Turning, he looked until he found the small figure in the distance. Half running, he quickly made his way there.
"Is he going to die?" he shouted out as he approached, not caring about the un-Jedi-like emotion coloring his words.
Yoda looked up at him revealing no answer in green catlike eyes.
"Please tell me," Obi-Wan pleaded as he dropped to his knees. "Is he going to die?"
"Look." The figure stretched out a clawed hand, pointing into the distance. "Destiny rises on the horizon."
"What are you talking about?" Obi-Wan asked. Seeing nothing, he glimpsed back to the still burning pyre. "Are you saying it's his destiny to die?"
"Look." A smile graced the small being's serene features. "Destiny rises on the horizon."
Obi-Wan looked off into the distance as the first rays of the morning sun peeked up over the horizon, casting a rich glow across the plains. It was not the sunrise Obi-Wan expected to see. It was not the Dantooine sun. The fiery brilliance was far more powerful, far more intense than any sun he had ever seen.
"Did Master find him already – the Chosen One?" It was hard to believe it possible as he had only been gone for barely over week, and probably had just left Dantooine after meeting with the elders.
"Destiny rises on the horizon."
Obi-Wan looked down at his haunting companion, feeling a certain amount of frustration and confusion. "I know. You said that already, but I don't understand what it means."
"You, your master … for such a time as this you both were destined."
"Will he die?"
"The future is always in motion."
His mouth was like the driest cotton and he could feel the sticky, clammy feeling of perspiration dried on his skin. He licked at his lips, and for the first time tried to move stiffened muscles. While being in a Force trance was usually relaxing and calming, he found when such powerful visions came over him without warning or preparation, he emerged spent and tense.
"Try to drink something."
He felt the rim of a glass placed at his lips and obeyed the familiar voice, taking the water in greedy gulps as he tried to open his eyes. When he finally focused on the room again, Byram stood in front of him with a look of intense concern painted across his face.
"The Force has some sense of timing. One minute you were asking for a file, the next minute you were somewhere else," he said as he pulled the glass away. "Are you okay?"
"I think so," Obi-Wan said. "How long …"
"Around two hours." From the way he shook his head, Obi-Wan assumed it had been an exhausting two hours for him as well. "I think I was able to cancel and reschedule everything without incident. You're fortunate that I am your aide."
"Thank you, Byram." Yes, the Force's timing often seemed odd, but it had never placed him in a dangerous or compromising situation.
"No problem. If anyone asks you how you're feeling, I told them that Senator Kenobi fell suddenly ill." Byram settled back into a chair. "I don't suppose you are going to tell me what you saw."
Obi-Wan squeezed his eyes shut against the still vivid image of Qui-Gon's dead, burning body. "I …" Words failed him. How did he explain what he didn't even understand? "Something big is coming, and I don't think the future is written on it yet. I don't really want to speak about it here." He picked up the things from his desk and began to put them away. "I need to go make a transmission that I can't make from here."
As Obi-Wan stood, both men heard a knock on the office door. "Yes," Obi-Wan called, surprised at how cracked his voice sounded. He picked up the glass and took another sip of water as the door opened.
Senator Kitab stepped in with an air of satisfied joviality, wrapping his arms in front of his chest as he looked Obi-Wan over. "Go home. You look like hell."
"Thanks," Obi-Wan said. "I'm actually feeling somewhat better now …" He put a hand up as the elder senator began to protest. "But you aren't going to get any arguments out of me. I'm leaving."
"Good. I came to give you a bit of news to send you off." His eyes twinkled as they always did when the small delegation had wrestled a triumph. "Senator Shak met with me today, as you were indisposed, to inform me that you have been chosen as part of the oversight committee."
"That's great news," Obi-Wan said, noticing the deep, qualifying pause that followed. "Now what's the bad news?"
"Senator Palpatine will co-chair the committee."
"Perfect." Obi-Wan let out a deep breath. "I'll just have to hope we are on the same side."
From all outside appearances, there was nothing to associate Senator Palpatine of Naboo with Senator Xanatos Marojni of Telos. They seldom voted along similar lines and seldom exchanged civil words in public. No one would suspect that one was, in reality, the loyal apprentice of the other, each action carefully planned to paint an image.
Acutus was careful to only seek out his master after the office had emptied for the day. As an expert in stealth, he was able to avoid security holos and stragglers working late so there was no record of his indepth involvement with the senator from Naboo and their elaborate plot to take over the very Senate they appeared to serve.
"You have done well, Lord Acutus." He felt a surge of pride at the words of approval. "It was essential you find your way to the oversight committee and I had every confidence in your abilities."
"I noticed Senator Kenobi and Senator Gallia were also given places."
"Yes." The Sith Lord walked behind him, resting a hand to his shoulder. "Your concerns have not fallen on deaf ears, my apprentice. We will watch them closely, and I sense we may yet make use of them."
"Thank you, my Master."
"I have sent Maul on an errand – one that will assure our continued success and control of events."
Obi-Wan stood outside the door to the apartment he had shared for so long with Qui-Gon. Usually, he would have just let himself in, but he wasn't sure how Master Drallig would feel about an unannounced intrusion so he chose to knock.
"I've been expecting you," Cin said with the slightest hint of a warm smile.
Obi-Wan closed the door and shrugged off his coat. "Did you see something as well?"
"No, but Master Yoda did. He said that he had an interesting discussion with you in the Force, and that you would know what that meant."
"I wonder if he got clearer answers out of my counterpart than I got from his."
"I'm going to say that he didn't." Cin inclined his head. "He is most eager to speak with you."
Obi-Wan followed him to the other room. "Did he say if my master is still there?"
"Qui-Gon left Dantooine already so he was not able to speak to him …" He paused. "You're very concerned for him … your vision."
Obi-Wan paused, probing for breaches in his shields. He wasn't accustomed to being read so easily.
"I didn't sense it from you," Cin assured him. "It is written all over your features … your posture … you carry this concern plainly on your shoulders."
"I need your help."
"Yes?" Obi-Wan pulled an object from his bag and began to free it from the cloth covering it.
"Can you teach me to defend against this?" Obi-Wan said, carefully handing the newly constructed saber to Cin. He had wrestled with the idea of asking on his way to his apartment, finally deciding it was only his pride in wanting to succeed on his own that kept him from seeking valuable help.
"Your master warned me that I might see something like this." He rotated it in his hands, carefully looking it over. "It is fine workmanship, and it seems it was a group effort. I recognize some of Knight Muln's work here with the mechanisms."
Obi-Wan nodded. "Byram helped as well."
Cin walked with a non-rushed even pace to the practice room. Standing in the center of the room, he held the hilt in front of his body and activated one blade then the other, an action that eerily reminded Obi-Wan of the demon from his visions. The saber master began to rotate the weapon with grace, moving through a few simple steps. Obi-Wan could see the initial awkwardness wear off as Cin began to move as one with weapon. He was studying it, already probing its strengths and weaknesses.
"I've worked with some staff weapons before, but never a double-bladed saber, though I've heard of them." He glanced around the four walls surrounding him. "We will need more room than this."
"I have room at my apartment, and a couple locations where Master and I have practiced in the lower depths if we need more room than that."
"Excellent." Cin powered down the weapon and walked over to stand in front of Obi-Wan, placing a hand on his shoulder. "But now you are troubled. We will first contact Master Yoda, then seek guidance in the Force before proceeding."
The demon could see his target approach. The tall man walked with confidence, completely unsuspecting of his coming fate, and Maul felt the animalistic thrill of the coming kill well up in his soul. He fed it to the Darkness, feeling it gorge itself and swell and savored the strength surging through his veins.
His prey neared and he cast out with his senses. They were alone. There would be no one to hear, no cries or screams that could alert anyone. Placing his hand on his saber momentarily, he scowled. He was a master with the dual-bladed weapon, even having bested Acutus on occasion. But this deed called for a different approach. The bolt screamed from the blaster, dropping the man to a heap on the ground.
He had done his part. Although Maul lacked the brilliance of both his master and his rival, he understood the politics of the situation. Senator Shak's death and the carefully fabricated evidence of Nebula Front involvement would throw the Senate into chaos once again. Palpatine, his master would emerge with more respect, firmly in charge of the oversight committee.
But lurking in the shadows with a blaster was not worthy of a Sith. There was no challenge, no satisfaction. The kill was hollow and left him longing for more.