Obi-Wan remembered the Force. The acrid blast, like a whiff of something sour, as Savage Oppress blew battle droids apart with it. The witches had not steered Obi-Wan wrong in his pursuit of the murderous Zabrak, and his few exchanges with Oppress had shocked him.
"He is powerful," Obi-Wan said. Seated beside him in the pilot's seat of the Toydarian king's sleek ship, Anakin nodded. Both of them were resting from the battle, shedding heat and assessing wounds. Assessing what had just happened, too. Obi-Wan had gotten a taste of Count Dooku and Asajj Ventress' Force signatures but had seen no sign of either of them. The Sith were infighting.
This was good for the Jedi.
Their mission had been to find out more about the presence they had encountered in the flesh, though, and that had been largely a failure. Savage Oppress had blasted out of the corridor like the crazed man Mother Talzin said he was, and if Obi-Wan didn't trust the witches of Dathomir to be on his side, he at least trusted them to understand whatever Force alchemy had created Savage.
Anakin had come to the same train of thought. "He's a monster. But something feels...off."
Obi-Wan nodded. He didn't like this designation of 'monster' - at least not this quickly. And something was bothering him, some pinprick in the Force. "Something felt familiar about his presence, though."
Anakin weaved the ship back and forth enough that the stars seemed to loop, and Obi-Wan averted his eyes from the viewport. Anakin was right to maintain an erratic path, no matter how it unsettled his master: Count Dooku was still behind them, and Asajj Ventress who-knew-where. Obi-Wan could sense both of them seething.
"We'll need to report the location of this ship to the council," Obi-Wan said, looking backwards into the small, ill-fit body of the Toydarian ship as if he could see the Separatist flagship through the engine and the walls.
"It's going to leave in a minute, and I have the coordinates," Anakin replied curtly. "We need to get out. We can't take that whole ship."
Obi-Wan was surprised by the answer: he would have expected his Padawan to jump right into a fight. Being slow to involve the Jedi Council was something that, as much as he had sometimes tried to prevent it from carrying through Qui-Gon's entire lineage, Obi-Wan often thought was a good decision too. So he sat back, trying to rest his gaze somewhere beside the starfield. A moment later, his stomach lurched as Anakin pushed the small ship into hyperspace.
The Toydarian King's ship spend away, and Obi-Wan wondered what would happen to the Toydarian people now. Their kingdom was only loosely associated with the Republic, not a vassal planet. In wartime, the Republic had been known to let planets slip through their fingers.
But now Obi-Wan had something more pressing in mind. The dark warrior's Force presence wouldn't leave him, eddying around in his thoughts, the familiar feeling rising while everything else fell away.
"You said something seemed familiar," Anakin said.
"'Keep you up at night' familiar, or 'we've seen crazed maniacs like this before' familiar?"
Obi-Wan turned away from the starfield and looked at Anakin, then to the side, distracted again by the play of lights on the console. An image was forming in his head. Sinister, but he knew why it was familiar now. "It was as if I was seeing a shadow image of someone I know, an old friend..."
"We know one other Zabrak with a double-bladed weapon, Anakin."
"You think Master Surin is involved?"
"Ciaràn and I were good friends when we were apprentices. I think it would be at least worthwhile to ask him what he knows about a Zabrak warrior imbued with the dark side."
"But Master Surin is from Iridonia, not Dathomir. There are probably plenty of Zabraks in the temple guard. That's speciesist."
Obi-Wan chuckled. "You're right. They could be from different sides of the galaxy. But I have a feeling, Anakin."
"And we're always supposed to trust our feelings."
"I feel like a cool bath and the end of the war."
"Trust it, Anakin." Obi-Wan chuckled, but he couldn't keep from frowning, feeling the fading echo of Savage Oppress's presence like an old scar. "Trust it."
The general stood on a hillside watching his troops return.
The grassy field below was littered with mangled droid bodies and scorched circles. Clones moved among the wrecks, stamping out small orange fires that lapped hungrily at the grass. The horizon was empty, flat, just the verdant grass as far as the eye could see.
Behind the general, the city.
Droids needed nothing: not food, not shelter, none of the resources that motivated a flesh army as much as strategy did. Hontor was a peaceful Republic planet which traded mostly with itself, and the attack on the large city of U'halau was a terror strike.
It had not succeeded.
A clone commander surmounted the hill, dirt and char flecking his blue-edged armor. "We're completed the cleanup, general. No sign of reinforcements."
"Good, Lieutenant." The general nodded at his soldier and turned to look back at where the city suddenly, dramatically rose from the grassland. Silver towers and blue repulsorfields, no speeders rising from what would normally be busy avenues now that the war was on. He would need to go in there next, to traverse the single step that would take him from grass to pavement. He would have to end the lockdown and reassure the governor.
He didn't like that part. It felt too much like lying to a child.
More clones were coming over the rise now, talking and gesturing in choppy, masculine signals that were half language themselves. The wind picked up and fluttered the edges of the general's cloak and hood, a gentle, warm wind. There were still ruined machines to clean up, droid landers on other plains, but the Jedi's work here was done. The Separatists had not deigned to deliver any of their hard-hitting generals to U'halou.
The Jedi turned back to the city as the clones arrayed around him, the wind blowing back his brown hood to reveal hooked Zabrak horns and a narrow face. He tapped the end of his double-bladed lightsaber, never activated during the skirmish, against the plasticine armor covering his thigh. The leg armor and a white equipment belt also requisitioned from Kamino were the only additions to his brown and black Jedi attire. He nodded at the city with copper-colored eyes, exchanged a look with the masked clone lieutenant, and took a single step toward U'halou.
His commlink buzzed. The general plucked it from his belt quickly, and looked at the ID. The Old Folks' home. Mace Windu's face appeared in blue shimmering light, the human Jedi master's brow tight and his imposing voice held in check just shy of a shout. The general could almost sense his tension from lightyears away. Surely it was vicarious anger; the Jedi Council, the general knew, could take comm calls all day and then fight off armies. That was their ability and their burden.
He was glad he wasn't one of them, sometimes. "Master Windu," he murmured.
"Victory, Master. The droid armies wiped out."
"Good. You need to return to the Temple immediately."
The general nodded.
He hadn't been going to ask but Master Windu read his curiosity without touching his Force presence. "There has been an...unusual event on Toydaria. Master Kenobi will fill you in."
The general raised an eyebrow. He knew barely anything about Toydaria except that its natives were resistant to many Force abilities. And Obi-Wan was involved? With the Zabrak general often in the field dealing with more violent battles than this one and Obi-Wan shouldering his own duties along with making up half of the public face of the Jedi, they rarely had time to talk. It would be a relief - at the same time as being exactly the opposite. The general had expected the next few days to be largely political, as he hashed out the future of U'halou with the governor and made nice for the Republic.
"I will finish my task here quickly, Master."
"You can leave a clone contingent to do the paperwork. Apologize later."
That had been the general's plan. "Yes Master."
"May the Force be with you." Master Windu's image disappeared, leaving the general's gaze drifting back toward the grassy plains.
He finished his sentence, a secular farewell habit picked up from the clones, at a whisper. "Surin out."
Savage Oppress was exhausted.
His vision blurred from anger and confusion as much as from pain. Dooku and Ventress' Force lightning had left him aching, but the fight with the battle droids after had been easy. He shouldn't be hurting this much.
The confusion made it worse.
Nightsisters moved aside to let him pass and chattered and sighed with their voices like birds. What was he supposed to do now? His mind so clouded. Talzin had traded him to Ventress had traded him to Dooku, and then he fell back down the ranks in one lightning-filled lash of betrayal. He had a feeling that there should be more, should be another rung down which he could fall that would actually cushion him. There was some murky memory that he thought of when he looked at the Nightsisters but couldn't quite touch.
He dragged himself into the room Talzin had prepared. Her antechamber, her throne room, her dining place, he didn't know. He just knew that when he sank to his knees, the floor against his palm was dusty and cold. "I have been betrayed by Ventress," he said, laboring over the words, laying them out slowly. "The Jedi are after me. I was not strong enough to defeat them all."
Mother Talzin approached him, the fronds of her clothing waving. As before her Force sense was a potent mix of darkness and something else, a strange, unchanging emotional tinge that might have been disgust or resilience. "Calm yourself. You will be." She helped him up and he stared between her and the table. The air smelled of spices and ichor. She seemed to have been ready for this.
He said, "I don't understand. Who will teach me?"
At the end of the table, a crystal ball was filled with swirling green light. She passed her hands over, stared into it and moved her lips as if she was silently reading. Surprise passed through her and was swiftly whisked away.
She said, "Let me show you."
He moved closer and craned his neck to see. At first there was nothing, just the oddly eddying green smoke, moving like gravity within the glass was different. Then a face resolved.
It was a Zabrak, face narrower and horns shorter than Savage's. The other's skin had been red at birth, and the ichor poured over him had split into branching black markings pattered differently from his own. The other Zabrak calmly stared at Savage with brown eyes, occasionally blinking.
Mother Talzin said, "This is your brother."
Savage shook his head slightly. The memory from earlier threatened to resurface but bobbed back underneath the melange of smells in the room. "A brother? But all of my kin were killed."
"Not all of them. He lives. He has been...taken, far beyond our sphere. Take care, Savage." She looked up, close enough that Savage thought she might grab his face. "You will find him. His path has not lead him in the direction I believed, but his fate is yours now."
"My brother." Savage tried out the word again, balancing its alienness and familiarity. So much was supposed to ride on a word like that. "How? How will I found him?"
"This talisman has been imbued with the power of our planet," said Mother Talzin. "It will be your compass." Now she did reach up to touch him, first hanging the talisman around his neck - heavy, but then settled against his armor he didn't feel it at all - and then stroking his cheek with the back of one curved nail. "You have an important destiny to fulfull, Savage Oppress." She flattened her palm against his cheek, her body temperature seeming hotter than a lightsaber blade, and then his chest beside the amulet. When he looked down at the talisman he saw that it was a stack of five circles, three gray stone and two blue crystal. "You will know where to find him," Mother Talzin said, and it was as if another voice, deeper and more haunting, was echoing behind her own.
"I will return, Mother," Savage said. So she was pushing him further down the rung, foisting him onto a new master who called himself his brother...but those angry thoughts only lasted a minute until the scent of home was in his nostrils again, and he breathed deep of the humid air past the murky streams outside. He had a new master now. He had direction, and that was exactly what Savage Oppress always wanted.
Security had tightened during the war, but a Jedi could still walk into the Temple on Coruscant and have a few minutes to himself.
Ciaràn Surin breathed in the orange light of the Great Hall, trying to purge from himself the accumulated hatreds and stresses of war. The Jedi didn't pay enough attention to what the war was doing, he thought. They were not honest with themselves about what war was doing.
As Battlemaster Cin Drallig's apprentice, Ciaràn had been taught early and tested at length about how to control his emotions in battle, how to use them and let them slide away, how to combine ferocity and purity. Not all Jedi had the benefit of that training, though, and Ciaràn made an effort not to exude his own darkness into the greater Temple.
In the midst of a calming breath Ciaràn heard a familiar voice. Obi-Wan Kenobi walked around the corner with his head high, one hand raised in a wave and a moment later tucked tightly across his chest with his other arm. Obi-Wan went from relaxed and friendly to businesslike in a second. Mastery suited him.
His affect was clouded, though, and Ciaràn eased his own confusion into the Force before either of them said a word.
Obi-Wan began. "It's unfortunate that we don't meet under better circumstances." There was still levity behind his words despite his closed stance, evidence of the flexibility that made him the perfect match for the petulant, outrageously powerful Anakin Skywalker. In the war the prophecy that many council members thought concerned Anakin had been largely forgotten as it showed no sign of affecting the outcome. Ciaràn made a mental note to ask Obi-Wan later about whether he personally thought the prophecy was becoming less or more likely to be true.
For now, though, the human Jedi continued speaking, his eyes flicking nervously up and down Ciaràn's rumpled robes. The Zabrak had left his armor behind but had no clothes left in his ship that he hadn't already worn in battle. "I believe I...met someone who will be of interest to you," Obi-Wan said. No niceties, no preamble.
Ciaràn blinked. "And who is that?"
"The council wishes that we attend to them. They have footage from my last mission, and a...decision they have not even told me."
"You want to tell me."
"Yes I do, old friend. But the council sent me down here with the caveat that I leave your experience a complete unknown." Ciaràn could see an apology in his eyes, but Obi-Wan was not one to speak out against the council, even in jest.
"I presume I will be filled in."
"And I will be there. Half of it has yet to be filled in for me either."
"Huh." Ciaràn made a quiet noise of surprise and asked about Anakin, and the rest of their walk was made up of quiet small talk. Ciaràn wondered whether the council wanted to reprimand him but could not think of any reason why except his hasty departure from the theatre of war, which they had ordered. He had not been in the council chamber in a long time, not since his assignation to a clone squadron.
When the two Jedi arrived, the council doors opened for them immediately. Masters Yoda and Windu looked at them, the latter impassively and the former with a hint of a smile on his furred face. Many of the council masters - Ki-Adi Mundi, Coleman Kcaj, Adi Gallia - were present only in holographic form, sitting somewhere star systems away.
"Welcome," said Master Windu. "I am glad to see you have safely returned."
Ciaràn bowed his head slightly, not wanting to break eye contact.
Windu shifted in his seat, laying one hand along the arm of his chair. "The matter we discuss today must be quick, as it only tangentially relates to the war, but you will surely have questions when we're finished. They will be answered, to the best of our ability. Our reach in this case is not long."
Ciaràn looked toward Obi-Wan for some clue in his friend's eyes, but Obi-Wan simply stared straight ahead as well, focusing somewhere beyond Yoda's chair.
"Jedi begin training at a young age, and for good reasons. Force-users who grow unsupervised are unlikely to resist the dark side or the manipulations of others. They grow emotional, dangerous. So it was with the dark warrior you fought, Obi-Wan. Ciaràn, so it was with your brother."
Ciaràn bowed his head and blinked. His first response was to question, to poke at this assertion that felt like a meaningless lie. He had grown up without the concept of family and so the sudden addition of one left him feeling not shocked but adrift. It was so alien that he could not see how it referred to him. "My brother."
Mace said, "Yes. Obi-Wan will tell you more."
Obi-Wan cleared his throat, and started speaking as if he had not expected to give a rundown of his knowledge in this chamber. Perhaps he already had once, and was now repeating his debriefing. "The warrior in question is Savage Oppress. We first heard about him when he killed the Toydarian king. Oppress was taking his orders from Asajj Ventress, who got him from the Witches of Dathomir. Beyond that...we don't know who he is loyal to now."
Ciaràn could only focus on what he already knew. "But if this Oppress is from Dathomir, how can he be my brother?"
"Many Zabraks were brought from Iridonia to Dathomir a long time ago," Shaak Ti said from her seat to his left. "They are genetically the same species as Iridonian Zabraks but have interbred with the local human population."
"With all respect, Master, you must have known that when I was brought to the Temple." Ciaràn breathed, easing into exercises he didn't have to name for them to work, patterns learned from Cin Drallig and others. The council would recognize this, see how he was trying to calm himself. It worked for him too. He had questions, nothing more. No anger, no sadness, no betrayal.
There is no emotion, there is peace.
Or that was the idea, anyway.
Shaak Ti and Mace Windu exchanged a look, and Ciaràn could feel the Force shifting, a textural change like a fold in a blanket.
"The council did not feel that it was relevant to tell you about your parentage," Master Ti said. "This is no different from our practices with every Jedi for millennia. But now Dathomir has become a factor in the war. It is a third party, and we wish to alert you of your brother's involvement to prevent it from harming you further."
"Will you task me with finding him?"
"No," Ti replied quickly. She raised a red-skinned hand. "We will task no one with finding him. The Clone War rages, and from what Obi-Wan tells us your brother may be lost."
"We wanted you to know," Master Windu said, "So that you could not be taken unawares. We trust that you will continue with your duty."
I've been reassigned to the Temple and nowhere else, Ciaràn thought, but did not say it.
Windu said, "And we wanted Obi-Wan to understand what he faced. The Witches of Dathomir are not a threat. Not now. But we must be aware of them."
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said, and Ciaràn felt like the audience was done. But it had been so brief.
"Is there anything you wish to add, Master Surin?" Master Windu said, and Ciaràn wondered whether there was.
"Will Obi-Wan fill me in on the details of his mission?"
"You know all that you need to," Master Windu said.
Ciaràn said "Yes, Master," automatically.
The council watched them go.
The two Jedi took the long elevator back down.
Obi-Wan looked at Ciaràn. "And how do you feel now?"
It wasn't a sentence that asked for a one-word answer, from a Jedi. Obi-Wan was also being polite, not acting on any of the emotions he might feel in the Force. Ciaràn battled through the swarm of questions and comments at the tip of his tongue. He was always patient with picking out words. "When she said 'lost', she didn't sound like she meant 'misplaced'."
"To be honest, that part surprised me too. Oppress was...defeated when I last saw him, but it almost seemed like he chose to flee the battle. Maybe his heart wasn't in it."
"That sort of lost."
Ciaràn shook his head. He was still working through it all, trying to figure it out. He had no mental image of his family tree and was unused to having to struggle to create one. "So my mother...was a Dathomiri."
"Could have been a Zabrak or a human cross," Obi-Wan said.
"It doesn't matter," Ciaràn said, as much to try out the idea as to verify that it was true. It was unlikely he would ever encounter a member of his blood family. Any support he could have gained from them he had gained from the Jedi, and from what he knew of the witches' misandry he had had a far better life in the temple than he would have had with them. "So you encountered this...brother."
"Yes." They stepped out of the elevator together into a passageway as golden-lit as the Great Hall, but smaller. Memories were layered over this place he had stood in so many times before he approached the council: Ciaràn being appointed a Padawan, missions and trials, becoming a Jedi Master himself. He remembered fearing this place when he was a Padawan and always half-breaking rules. He had stood here with his best friends - Obi-Wan, Asha Scarzi, Kate Misinjian. Also lost.
Obi-Wan continued to talk about the warrior he had encountered. "Anakin and I fought him briefly, on Count Dooku's ship."
"You have been busy, Mediator."
"Well, such is life."
They can't expect me to do nothing about this, Ciaràn thought, but he could.
There is no passion. There is serenity. Family didn't matter, and there was no harshness in that. It simply passed through him.
A presence skirled through the Force, dislodging but not reinforcing his thoughts. A new presence, bright as twin suns. Anakin Skywalker dashed around a corner, a moment later followed by his apprentice, Ahsoka Tano, pacing him on lanky legs.
"Did you find out what they wanted?" Anakin asked.
"I did," Obi-Wan said. "I believe it is up to Master Surin to tell you."
Ciaràn said, "The Zabrak you faced was my brother. So they tell me."
Anakin looked back and forth between them fast. "The council knows this?"
Obi-Wan said, "Yes, Anakin."
"What are they going to do?"
"Nothing. Savage Oppress is far away. If he arrives, whatever Jedi is present will deal with him. We must all let this go."
Anakin blustered for words, then came out with, "But his last name isn't Surin!"
Obi-Wan glanced at Ciaràn.
The Zabrak shrugged. "Far be it from me to know Dathomiri naming conventions. The council..."
Again Anakin looked between them, his chin dipping down to look at Ciaràn. His movements gave the impression that he was frantic, but his Force sense was calm. Any Jedi of a certain generation knew that Anakin Skywalker had known his mother. It had made him a novelty among the children. Ciaràn knew a little more: Anakin had once noted to Obi-Wan that none of the other Padawans asked where his father was. It had reassured him. Obi-Wan had replied that when you had no parents at all, one was a lot.
Anakin said, "The council is going to do nothing."
"Of course." Anakin looked at Ahsoka as if assuring himself that she was ready to leave. "We're here in between missions, Master. Perhaps I might talk to you later?"
"As am I," Obi-Wan said. "Of course."
Ciaràn was the only one not between missions: when Obi-Wan left him with a fraternal look he was left alone. He moved to find a window, not yet content to go back to his rooms. Better to look away from the temple for a moment. Something of importance that he had never known was out there.
Author's Note: Here we go again. This will be four chapters or so. You can find more about Ciaràn under the penname Silver Sky 1138.