As soon as Obi-Wan reached the chambers where the Oversight Committee met, he quickly began to look for Senators Organa and Gallia, and any excuse to break away from his unwelcome companion. Senator Marojni's presence on the trip to the Senate Arena had made it impossible for him to share and discuss any of his concerns with Garen. The Force was strangely silent concerning the Telosian senator, other than telling Obi-Wan that his mind was shielded. He was concerned probing further would give up valuable information about his own capabilities if the senator was, in fact, the Sith he had seen in the Temple. He sat down next to Adi, relieved when Senator Marojni broke away and took a seat next to Senator Taa.
"Do you know what this is about?" he whispered to Adi.
"The entire Oversight Committee has been called, but that's all I know. I saw Palpatine leave the Opera and Valorum followed soon after. Something is wrong."
There was no question something was wrong. That "something" was as yet undefined, but was rapidly gaining momentum in the Force. Obi-Wan looked around the room at his fellow senators, all obviously pulled from various evening events judging from the formality of their attire. It was suspicious that he did not see Senator Dodd of Neimoidia among those in attendance.
"Senators … I am sorry to have pulled you away from your evening, especially considering all the effort this Committee has invested in the resolution the Senate voted on a few days ago." Valorum paused, giving a brief glance to Palpatine, who stood to his right. "While you certainly deserve rest, I am afraid that I have received grave news that will affect the Republic and our dealings with the Trade Federation. I will turn it over to Senator Palpatine of Naboo."
Palpatine stood before the small body, his face forlorn and tired, making him look older than usual. "My home world's Queen Amidala sent a transmission earlier informing that the Trade Federation has set up a blockade of Naboo, and are calling for a new treaty to be signed."
"That's impossible," Senator Marojni interrupted. "They don't have the units necessary to blockade an entire planet. We saw to that."
"Apparently they do," Palpatine bit back immediately. "I assure you, our planet is quite blockaded."
"I know that when I bring this to the attention of the Senate as a whole, it will launch us into endless debate," Valorum continued. "I see this situation as still falling under the mandate of this committee and look to your wisdom in finding a solution to this crisis."
The plea was not surprising to Obi-Wan. Since the attempt on his life and the massacre on Eriadu, Valorum had seen a waning in his support in the Senate. There had been whispers of replacing him. The last thing he needed was a long, draining conflict.
"We should contact the Diplomatic Corp immediately," Bail Organa said. "This is a trade dispute and should be handled as such."
"It will take them too long to get up to date on the situation," Adi Gallia said. "It would also require Senate approval to dispatch a diplomat, and I am sure the people of Naboo would prefer a more prompt solution."
"I can go." The words slipped from Obi-Wan's mouth, prompted by the Force, before he could stop to evaluate what he had just volunteered to do." He shifted uncomfortably, realizing all eyes were on him.
"And what makes you think you're qualified?" Senator Marojni sneered as Taa nodded his bulbous head in agreement.
"No, it's actually a brilliant idea," Senator Organa said, standing to address his fellow senators. "I worked with Senator Kenobi while he was a part of the Diplomatic Corp. He's a gifted negotiator and is already well acquainted with the situation. I also believe the Trade Federation would be more likely to listen to a Senator over a random diplomat assigned to the case."
"He has a vested interest in Mid-Rim matters. Can we assure that he will be unbiased?" Senator Taa asked.
"Perhaps we should put it to a vote," Bail suggested.
"I suggest we make it an immediate vote," Obi-Wan said. "If I am permitted to go I have a lot of preparation and little time."
"Then we vote, here and now," Valorum said.
"Give up Corrar."
"I have never been good at admitting defeat, Cin. You are also fighting with an unfamiliar weapon which means I might have a chance this time." Corrar parried the strike, turning in time to meet the second blade that slashed towards his legs.
"I am finding it is a fierce weapon – designed to kill, not defend."
"It is the one from Obi-Wan's visions?"
"Yes," Cin said softly. "I only wish I could get him to reflect on his visions long enough to see the fight he experienced … to see what went wrong. I can only approximate how a Sith would fight from technique I have studied."
Corrar made his next strike, bumping Cin's arm with his blade. "I shouldn't have gotten that by you, Cin. You are distracted."
"The Force is agitated."
"I sense it too."
Cin rotated the weapon around to slash at Corrar's feet again. Corrar jumped the blade, preparing to parry the second blade as it came by. At the last moment, he changed his mind, striking instead at the center of the weapon instead of the blade. Cin stood, arms stretched out in front of him, the hilt of the dual blade weapon beginning to melt under the heat of Corrar's blade.
"That's it," Cin whispered, lowering his weapon as he retracted the two blades.
Cin held the melted hilt for him to see. "If your saber had not been on a training setting, it would have severed this weapon in half."
"The wielder would be on equal footing – one blade against one blade."
The sound of multiple sets of fast-paced footsteps on the stairs drew their attention. Siri approached with Byram and Auren. Corrar could see at once that his daughter was troubled.
"Was the opera that bad?" he asked.
"Obi-Wan was called out early. It appears there is some sort of emergency. He mentioned perhaps needing to speak to the elders, but that was all. We stayed because we assumed it would look odd if we left soon after he did."
They heard more footsteps as Obi-Wan made his way up the stairs with Garen trailing on his heels.
"Is everything okay?" Byram asked.
"There is a situation," Obi-Wan said, sighing deeply at the understatement. "I will be leaving tomorrow to mediate a trade dispute on Naboo."
"You are negotiating?"
"I will start packing," Byram said.
"No." Obi-Wan rubbed at his chin. "I need you here, maintaining close communication in case I get any interference on this end." He turned to Garen. "I suppose you already know I am going to ask you to make sure the ship is ready to go. And, I would rather limit the size of my security detail."
"How small?" Garen asked skeptically.
"Just you." Obi-Wan added a smile, certain the request would draw a reaction.
"That's very unwise."
"I don't want to go in appearing to be a threat. The Trade Federation are cowards as it is. The negotiations should be quick once they realize the Senate is not going to support this action."
"Byram, I know it's late, but I need some help pulling up information. I have dealt with the Neimoidians and understand them, but I know very little of Naboo. If their queen is anywhere near as headstrong as the senator that represents her, I will need all the information I can get."
"I will start right away."
He last turned to address the two Jedi masters standing in the room.
"I wish you had chosen to ask for guidance before making this decision," Corrar said.
"I realize that it might seem hasty, but I think my master would be proud. I answered at the prompting of the Force." He ran a hand through his hair. "I will admit that now that I've had time to consider it more, I am less certain. There is something out there, elusive, in the Force that is making me uneasy. But I still think I am supposed to be there."
"We should at least inform the elders of this decision and any other pertinent information."
"There is another thing." Obi-Wan bowed his head and let out a sigh. "I have nothing more to go on than a feeling that it was his voice I heard when I saw the two Sith in the Temple … but I need you to watch out for Senator Marojni. He still seems to be too interested in me … and Siri."
"We will keep look out," Corrar said, gathering his daughter almost protectively near him. "You concentrate on keeping yourself safe."
"I told you Kenobi was going to be trouble!"
Xanatos stormed into the cavernous main room beneath an abandoned warehouse that served as a meeting and training place for the Sith Lord and his two apprentices, hair and cloak flowing behind him as he approached the shrouded figure that stood serenely in the middle of the room. The response was instantaneous; the smell of charged ozone in the air the only warning before a stream of crackling lightning propelled him against the wall, holding him there as current surged through his body.
"How dare you address me, your master, with such contempt and irreverence," the Sith Lord hissed before halting his attack.
Xanatos wrenched himself up off the ground, appearing to bow in submission as he surveyed the scorch marks on his clothing and the smell of burnt fabric and skin. The pain would be beyond excruciating for any human, but he pushed pass it. He was no normal human – he was a Sith. Pain was a teacher, a reminder not to fail again, a reminder to not be weak. And with the vicious attack, the master had added a powerful weapon to his apprentice's arsenal – anger.
He looked up, his master's condescending sneer clearly expecting an apology, and drew on the stormclouds of darkness, thicker in this place than any other on Coruscant. The darkness delighted in the rage offered to it and whispered of great reward. Xanatos thrust out his hand, lightning springing from his fingertips. Sidious defended, engaging his apprentice in the battle for dominance They continued to pour out Darkside energy, arms trembling as both howled in rage until Sidious slowly overtook his apprentice, once again sending him careening into a wall.
Xanatos dragged himself to his feet in an instant, steadying himself against the residual resonance of current through his body. He heard the igniting of a saber and then Sidious sprang at him with grace and agility that did not match his age.
Xanatos met the first strike with great force, knocking Sidious backwards to the ground. Lunging forward, he brought his saber down forcefully, pushing his master's crimson blade down until the glow lit up his face. Straining against Xanatos' strength, the Sith lord reached a hand to the side, calling on the Force to dislodge a decrepit piece of machinery from the wall, forcing Xanatos to give up his advantage to avoid being hit.
The two combatants paused to gather themselves, circling like two desperate predators. Lessons were always a matter of life and death for a Sith. Xanatos knew well that should he ever gain an advantage over his master in training, hesitating to kill him would be a deadly mistake. But this was different. By attacking his master, Xanatos had stepped over a boundary and was fighting on unfamiliar territory.
They continued to move around the room, each strike a brutal attempt to take the other's life. Xanatos slashed down diagonally, seeing smoke as the blade cut through the edge of his master's hood and sleeve. The Sith lord seemed unaffected, pushing the younger Sith back with renewed vengeance and powerful blows, finally knocking the weapon from his apprentice's hands. Xanatos stretched out his hand to call his weapon back, leaving himself vulnerable to a powerful Force push that crumpled him one last time into the wall. He pulled himself to his knees this time, breathing heavily as he lifted his chin to meet his master's eyes and face the crimson blade held at his throat. He held Sidious' gaze, not willing to grovel or beg for his life. That was weakness. In another act of defiance, he stretched his neck out further as though daring the Sith Lord to strike him down. A brief flicker of light and the blade was at his shoulder, pressing against his flesh. Xanatos bit down hard to show no reaction as the blade burnt deeply into his skin before flickering out of existence.
"You are such a remarkable creature, Acutus." A hand rested gently, almost tenderly on his shoulder. Cold pain seeped through his arm, something he recognized from years of training as healing. "I sense no fear in you, but pride and arrogance are your weaknesses. You still have much to learn about patience, my apprentice. It is not yet your time to be the master."
Xanatos bowed his head, realizing with those words that he had been allowed to live, but that it would come with a greater expectation of loyalty.
"I regret that it is necessary to remind you of your place yet again." A cold hand cradled his chin, lifting his eyes up to make contact with his master's. "But as a token for this new vow of loyalty, I want to grant your wish … I agree … it is time we saw an end to Kenobi."
"Thank you, my master," Xanatos said humbly.
"Now come – we have much to do."
Xanatos stood slowly to his feet. He had further injuries, but it was understood he would tend to them later, alone. As Sidious turned, he noticed his master's blood-soaked sleeve for the first time. Carefully protecting his thoughts from the older Sith, he allowed a slight smile to slip across his lips. He had done something he was never capable of before. He had injured his master. Never before had he been offered a gift for his loyalty, which only meant one thing – Sidious now had reason to fear him.