Exquiste Pain: Linked
Disclaimer: Star Wars belongs to George Lucas and not me. If they belonged to me, I'd be richer right now.
Dedication: To my awesome friend, Layren, who encouraged me to write in an era that I wasn't too sure about...and now love to play in.
Coruscant. Home to billions of varied beings and thousands of representatives of thousands of worlds. The Republic Senate, in to its eighth hour of sessions, was at a deadlock on an important voting matter. A faction on the planet of Nandorshi wished to join the Republic as a separate entity and the barely ruling faction was opposing the wish. Nandorshi was split almost in two with the factions constantly bickering. One half, the dominant Quarlins by fifty-two percent of the population, claimed that the Kladmeans, the other forty-eight percent of the population, had no say. Manklili, the Nandorshi Senator of the Quarlin race, was currently trying to persuade the Senate of the absurdity of Lamkptu, a Kladmean representative’s, claims.
Rising, Chancellor Valorum commanded silence. “Senators, this is a very serious matter. We will adjourn until tomorrow to refresh our minds and to think this over carefully.” A loud bell vibrated the large, circular room and the Senators began leaving.
Lamkptu, her slight lavender skin on her humanoid frame darkening somewhat with emotion to a darker purple, turned to Manklili standing behind her. In her musical voice, she bowed respectfully and said, “Thanks to you, Senator, for the use of your box and time.”
Manklili scowled, his light yellow skin a contrast to her purple. “You scum,” he spat, one of his two tentacles on his face swaying with his intense emotion. “Why do you wish to upset the balance of Nandorshi with your unhappiness?”
Lamkptu blinked her wide, blue eyes in surprise. “We are as many as you. You do not represent what we want; contrary to it, in most facts. If we were allowed our own Senator to represent ourselves, we could be assured of our well-being.”
“You watch yourself, backtul,” Manklili frowned. “You may not make it until tomorrow’s session if you are not careful. Coruscant is a dangerous place to be for the likes of you.”
Lamkptu gasped and fluttered her webbed hands in agitation. For her people, Manklili had uttered as close to a death threat as they dared. He had added insult to her with the use of an obscene nickname the ruling class had for her people. For the first time since coming here two days ago, Lamkptu began to fear for her life.
Manklili stomped out of the chambers, leaving her alone to tremble.
“…and therefore, friend and Master Jedi, I urgently request the use of two of your finest Jedi for protection. I am the only eloquent speaker for my people and we are too distantly away to send another in time for the vote,” the beautiful lavender representative finished via Holocomm transmission.
Master Yoda, small, green and wise, nodded once. “Jedi you will have, Representative Lamkptu. Protection they shall be until done these votings are.”
Mace Windu glanced over at Yoda before stating, “One of our best Master/Padawan teams has just come back from a mission. We will send them to you as quickly as they are able to depart.”
Lamkptu bowed her head in acquiescence. “And may I know these two by name?”
“Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Mace answered.
“Their reputation has proceeded them, honored Masters,” Lamkptu stated, surprised and pleased. “I thank you.” The transmission winked out.
“Send for them we shall,” Yoda commanded an aide who bowed and scurried out the Jedi Council’s doors.
Obi-Wan Kenobi performed a half-twist in midair so that he would change direction to land beside his master instead of behind him where his original flip would have taken him. Landing lightly on his feet, he quickly dropped down and swept his leg out, catching his master unaware and making him sprawl on his back.
Swiftly, to not lose momentum, Obi-Wan jumped on Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn’s stomach to pin him to the cushioned mat in the exercise room. Sweat dripped from his short brown hair to land on Qui-Gon’s front tunic as if in proclamation of his rare victory.
Qui-Gon, long hair fanned out behind his head, laughed. “Very good, Padawan. Very good indeed. Is that the new move you’ve been practicing that you’ve been so eager to show me?”
Carefully extracting his still-growing arms and legs from his master’s, Obi-Wan laughed as well and stood. “Yes, Master. Here, let me help you.” He bent down to offer his hand to help his master to his feet.
Surprising him, Qui-Gon took his hand and gave it a mighty yank, causing Obi-Wan to lose his balance and go toppling over like a felled tree. Snapping his hips around, the Jedi Master used his lower body to successfully pin his apprentice.
“Never let down your guard, Obi-Wan,” he cautioned with a smile. “Or you could find yourself in a bad situation.”
The sixteen-year-old grinned and took the fall with good grace. “Yes, Master.”
Qui-Gon’s next reply was cut off by the sound of his comlink beeping from across the room where their cloaks were stored. Heaving himself to his feet, pleased to notice that his padawan had given him a good workout this session, he crossed in three strides to his cloak and thumbed his comlink on.
“Master Jinn,” a clipped female voice said. “You are wanted at the Council chambers. Please bring your Padawan as well.”
“I’ll be there,” he promised, and he turned to Obi-Wan. “Looks like we already have another assignment, Padawan. Shall we go see what it is this time?”
Obi-Wan smiled. “Hopefully it doesn’t involve breaking mandates or rescuing pathetic lifeforms.”
Qui-Gon laughed as he swung his cloak around his shoulders, in a good mood along with his apprentice. “We’ll hope not, Obi-Wan. We’ll hope not.”
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan bowed, Obi-Wan closer in height more and more to his master lately. Yoda noted with pleased approval that both master and apprentice seem to be in jovial moods this evening.
“What is it that you require?” Qui-Gon asked when they had straightened, a formal and respectful attitude of waiting in his question.
Yoda spoke first. “Needed for protection you are. Representative Lamkptu of Nandorshi.”
Qui-Gon’s brow furrowed. “Isn’t that the representative trying to gain acknowledgement of the Senate of her people?”
Mace nodded. “Yes. She believes, with just cause, that her life is in danger. We are assigning you and your apprentice to guard her until the voting is completed, hopefully tomorrow, though with these Senate meetings you never can tell. Think you can handle that, Master Jinn?”
Qui-Gon tried to hide the little curve of his mouth. It was an easy assignment, meant to give him an opportunity to prove that he could go on a mission and not break a mandate or twist the Jedi Council’s instructions to fit his purposes. He must have really irked them with that last little stunt he pulled on his mission to Arborané.
“As you command, my Masters. When are we to leave?”
Yoda blinked. “Immediately.”
Obi-Wan tried to conceal his surprise at his first meeting with the colorful Kladmean female. She resembled a human female in every aspect except for three things: the light lavender of her skin, the wideness of her eyes, and her webbed slender hands. Since becoming Qui-Gon’s apprentice, he had met hundreds of different beings from all over the galaxy but he had never seen a more delicate alien being than this.
Her voice, when she spoke to greet them into her chambers, surprised him with its musical tones and softness and he found himself smiling at her. Focusing in the Force and directing it at her, he felt only peace and gentleness in this graceful being. Who would want to kill her?
Politics, he thought disgustedly. The older he became, the more he hated anything to do with politics.
“…my Padawan learner, Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Qui-Gon was introducing him.
As respectfully as he could, Obi-Wan bowed, his hands in the opposite sleeves of his Jedi cloak and long braid dangling in front of his face for a brief moment. When he straightened, he noticed Representative Lamkptu’s intense blue eyes on his for a moment and he read puzzlement radiating from her through the Force.
She turned to his master and asked, “Master Jinn, I have believed Padawans to be younger. Is he not too old?”
Obi-Wan flushed red as he felt his master try to hold in a laugh. Very seriously, Qui-Gon answered, “Padawans stay with their masters until they are old enough to take the trials to become a Knight, Representative Lamkptu. And that differs from each Jedi to the other on age and maturity.”
The alien nodded with understanding. “My apologies, Jedi Kenobi,” she said as she faced him again.
Obi-Wan swallowed his stung pride and responded, “No offense taken, Representative Lamkptu.”
Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon growing more serious and alert as they all sat on chairs that resembled waves and contoured to the body occupying them. Leaning forward, Qui-Gon got down to their business.
“Master Yoda said that you believe your life to be in danger. Could you elaborate for me by whom and why?” The Jedi Master inquired, folding his hands into the shape of a steeple as he listened.
The purple being crossed her long legs before beginning her tale of being threatened in the Senatorial chamber that afternoon by her opposing Senator, Manklili of the Quarlin ruling race.
“And he never lies, friend Jedi Master,” she completed. “My people cannot send another in time for voting here on the morrow. I…” A dull ringing sound broke off her sentence. “Excuse me, Jedi.”
With unhurried strides, Lamkptu crossed her spacious chambers to access her portable Holonet connector. She typed in her password with her flexible fingers and read the message that awaited her there.
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan could feel her dismay coming in strong waves through the Force. They stood as she turned around, luminous drops of wetness in her eyes.
“What is it?” Qui-Gon demanded.
“It is done,” she whispered, half in shock.
She shook her head of white blonde hair. “No. That the voting is prolonged. Manklili succeeded in convincing the voting to be taken a week from now, instead of on the morrow. I am afraid that my protectors for longer than you intended you will have to be, friend Jedi.”
“Master, I have a bad feeling about this…” Obi-Wan trailed off, his focus mostly in the Force.
Qui-Gon watched his apprentice, knowing fully well the strength of Obi-Wan’s connection to the Force. Everyone but Obi-Wan seemed to be aware that Obi-Wan was one of the strongest Jedi at the Jedi Temple, which was probably for the best. Even though Qui-Gon did not yet feel anything, he knew to trust his Padawan’s instincts.
“Can you pinpoint it, Obi-Wan?”
His apprentice slowly shook his head. “It’s elusive…”
“Then do not try too hard to focus on the feeling,” Qui-Gon cautioned. “It will emerge in time.”
“Yes, Master,” was the reply but Qui-Gon could feel that Obi-Wan was still uneasy.
“I am ready,” Lamkptu said as she came into the main area of her chambers. Dressed in a enveloping cloak to try to hide and shadow her distinctive features, the Kladmean swept past the Jedi.
Shortly after the shock of the postponed vote, one of Lamkptu’s contacts in the Coruscant underground had contacted her and requested a meeting. Her contact had hinted at the possibility of the meeting consisting of another Senator sympathetic to her cause so she had accepted—without consulting the Jedi.
Qui-Gon had argued that it could be a trap meant to catch her out of the safety of her chambers but Lamkptu had refused to back down from her meeting. Obi-Wan had a hard time trying not to roll his eyes at the representative’s reasoning.
“I need sympathetic ears to help out the voting,” was her constant fall-back argument. “And you will protect me.”
So now the two Jedi were discreetly following the representative further and further down into the bowels of Coruscant to a shady cantina named The Mynock’s Breath. Obi-Wan could not understand why someone would want to eat at an establishment named for the breath of one of the ugliest creatures in the galaxy but he followed anyway.
The inside of the cantina was dark with very little lighting. All the booths were in recesses to hide the patrons who occupied them and a very horrible screeching creature was on stage performing its version of music.
Obi-Wan’s sense of danger increased. “Master…”
“I feel it, too,” was his master’s tense reply. “Separate. I will navigate the rest of the cantina, searching with the Force, and you stay close to the representative. I’ll come back to you when I am satisfied.”
Obi-Wan nodded and continued to follow the tall alien as his master detached from her side to become one with the plentiful shadows in the cantina.
Lamkptu quickly found her contact in a booth near the back exit door. He stood behind her chair, senses alert, as she sat down.
“It is just you. Where is the Senator?” Lamkptu was asking, confusion in her voice.
Her contact, a small scaley reptilian creature, shrugged. In a voice like ground marbles, he said, “I didn’ promise he’d be here, honey. Besides, I got paid more for another job.”
Lamkptu was about to inquire about his ‘other job’ when Obi-Wan’s sense of danger flared through the Force. Snapping his lightsaber up and out, he felt a shock from a stun setting on a blaster catch him in the small of his back, dropping him, nerveless, to the floor.
As he lay there, panting with the uncomfortable tingling sensation of the stun bolt flowing over him to render him helpless, he sent out an urgent call to his master through their Master/Padawan bond.
Two large booted feet entered his view from his uncomfortable sprawled position on the floor. With the effects of the stun bolt he could not lift his head to look at his assialant. A large beefy hand picked up his lightsaber before crouching in front of Obi-Wan so he could see who it was.
Obi-Wan didn’t recognize the other human with the large scar running down the left side of his face and in his befuddled condition he couldn’t pull enough of his senses together to send the image to his master, wherever he was.
“Caught a little Jedi rat, I did. But this is a Padawan so the Master is nearby. Let’s konk you out so you can’t help out your Master any, little Jedi,” the human said with a nasty grin. Holding his blaster so Obi-Wan could see exactly what was about to happen, he pointed it at Obi-Wan’s head, giving Obi-Wan an excellent view of the barrel. Through his life, Obi-Wan had heard of the problems law enforcers had had with shooting down their criminal captives and the lingering side effects of being hit in the head with a full blast from a stun bolt. If he could have, he would have winced.
Blue from the blaster surrounded him, making the nerves in his limbs jerk and spasm painfully before darkness mercifully took him.
Qui-Gon had swung around when Obi-Wan’s first call from him had shot through his brain. He had not seen where Lamkptu had went so now he had to try to find his Padawan the hard way, since all he was picking up from their bond was uncomfortable pain. He had taken one step in the opposite direction when three hulking shadows had surrounded him.
Whipping his lightsaber into his hand, he stood facing them beyond the green blade, his eyes taking in their professional manner of waiting. Waiting for what, he could not guess.
When the silence had stretched for a moment, Qui-Gon broke it with a question. “What is it you want with me?”
One of the humans who surrounded him shuffled a little forward. “We don’t want anything with you, Jedi. One of us has an appointment with someone you are guarding and we just need you to stay put for a minute.”
Qui-Gon immediately thought of his apprentice but did not mention him. He was considering what to do next, since they were making no aggressive moves toward him, when he heard //Mast—//, and then felt only silence from his padawan.
That decided him.
“Sorry, I’m afraid I can’t do that,” he answered, gathering the Force around him in preparation for a leap.
At his words, the men unsheathed their blasters and started shooting. He found himself having to try to deflect the blots into the walls to avoid the now panicking patrons of the cantina from getting accidentally shot. His green blade became a blur of motion, but with three against one the odds against completely avoiding a blaster bolt were slim.
As he was directing his blade toward two simultaneous shots, a third buried itself into his upper arm, burning a hole through the packed muscle there. The intense fiery pain shot its way into his concentration and he had to adjust his fighting position to be mainly one handed since his right arm was sluggish now.
He was about to try to leap over their heads when a big booming voice commanded, “Stop!”
Immediately, the three men stopped shooting at him, giving him time to try to catch his breath and grit his teeth against the pain in his arm.
“What is the meaning of this?” The voice, hidden in the shadows, asked in a cold voice. Shocked, Qui-Gon could feel the dark side of the Force coming from the shadow in waves. Here was a formable opponent, and he was telling them to stop.
Once the three men had reholstered their blasters, and the one who had spoken to Qui-Gon earlier stepped forward. “Forgive us, sir. He was trying to leave and we had to stop him.”
With cold fury, the voice said, “I told you not to wound him. That was my duty, not yours. Whose is the blaster that wounded him?”
As the three denied having anything to do with harming Qui-Gon, Qui-Gon himself was struck by the bizarre irony of the situation. Since they were preoccupied, he searched for an opening around them to try to continue his search for his apprentice.
The dark Force user in the shadows noticed his direction of thought immediately. Using the Force to cut off the three men’s air supply, he held a hand out to Qui-Gon. “Stop there, Master Jinn, or your precious little Padawan has drawn his last breath.”
Taking a risky chance, and trying to ignore the hot pain in his arm, Qui-Gon replied, “If you truly had my Padawan, you would show me and stop hiding in the darkness like a spider.” He relaxed his grip on his lightsaber, but kept it on in case he needed it. He was hoping he would either bluff them out, or make them show him that they did indeed have Obi-Wan.
Qui-Gon sensed a smile from the shadows. “Very well, Master Jinn. You wish to see your precious little Jedi so here he is!”
With an abruptness that surprised him, the man in the shadows stood fully in the light without taking a single step. Qui-Gon did not even notice the long scar that ran down the left side of his face at first because his horrified attention was caught on what the man held.
Obi-Wan Kenobi, a gangly and sturdy sixteen-year-old, lay limp in the man’s arms, seeming to be small and frail in his unconscious state. With a quick mental probe, Qui-Gon could tell that his apprentice was mostly unharmed, though a strange electrical kind of buzzing echoed in Obi-Wan’s brain that Qui-Gon did not like.
“What do you want?” Qui-Gon asked quietly, finally powering down his lightsaber.
The man with the scar grinned and motioned toward the side, prompting a terrified Lamkptu, who was also surrounded by men and one strange reptile creature, to come to him. “I want you all to come with me. We have some things to discuss.”
Qui-Gon twisted his lithe body, trying to find any position that was comfortable, but he had to eventually give up. He could no longer keep track of the hours that he had been here. Seeing no other option, he had gone with Scarface, surrounded by all his minions, to ensure he did not try anything. He had been led to an enclosed landspeeder and from the moment he stepped into the landspeeder his mind had been clouded with a strange blankness that only the dark side of the Force could convey. When he had had his wits about him again, he was tunicless and stretched to the tips of his toes with his hands manacled high above him on a short chain from the ceiling.
Taking stock of his rather bleak surroundings, he realized escape would have to come later in his captivity when he was able to glean more information about where he was and how deep underground he was. All he knew now was that he was in a primitive stone chamber that had dirt as its floor. He was also alone, which did not surprise him. A dark Force user would not be stupid enough to place him and his Padawan in the same room.
When he had tried to contact Obi-Wan through their Force link, all he had gotten was that strange buzzing feel. He could not even tell if his Padawan was awake or not, although he suspected Obi-Wan was not. What had Scarface done to Obi-Wan?
He had had hours to wonder about it in his solitude.
Finally, he heard measured, unhurried footsteps coming toward the heavy wood door that was the only thing to break the monotony in his prison. Without having to focus much in the Force at all, he knew who it was that was coming to pay him a visit.
When the door opened, he found he was right.
“What right do you have to hold us prisoner?” He asked sharply, staring at Scarface with a cold, level blue gaze.
Scarface laughed harshly and spread his hands wide. “Why, no right at all, Master Jinn.” He practically spat Qui-Gon’s title at him. “I was hired for a little clean-up job with the representative and, with my good fortune, ended up getting you and your little Jedi as well. I am going to absolutely love our time together.”
Qui-Gon let the man’s words glide over him like water, not losing his control or presence of calm. Honestly curious, he asked, “Who are you? Do I know you from somewhere? What have I done to you?”
Again, the man laughed. “You haven’t done anything to me, Qui-Gon Jinn. And no, you don’t know me, though you did know a friend of mine. A friend who came up missing after a certain tangle with you on Arborané. Ringing any bells now?” Cocky, Scarface crossed his arms and leaned against the wall right beside the open door, waiting for Qui-Gon to figure out the pieces to the puzzle he had given him.
Qui-Gon thought for a moment. A great many things had happened on Arborané, the greatest of which he had twisted another mandate from the Temple. Yet, this man seemed to have a vendetta against him carried over from a certain person there. There had been many people there…But then, at the end, there had been…
Looking at the scar on his face more closely, Qui-Gon slowly said, “Xanatos had been there, waiting for me. He said he had a friend, and one night in an alley someone jumped me. I defended myself with my lightsaber as I stumbled back into some garbage containers and only barely caught my attacker. I had thought it was Xanatos, but when we met again he had been unharmed. I didn’t have time to think of it then and I haven’t since, either. Obi-Wan and I arrived from our six day journey from Arborané, had a day at the Temple to relax and was assigned to protect Representative Lamkptu. But now I remember Xanatos speaking of a friend. He bragged that he had found someone who wanted to learn to use the Force and he had taught him all he knew. You are the friend.”
Scarface applauded. “Very good, Jinn. Now, I worry about your poor little Padawan. See, I shot him with a stun bolt in the head and I can’t get him to wake up, no matter what I do to him. He has to be awake for what I want. Wake him up, Master Jinn. If anyone can do it, you can. I’ll wait.” He settled against the wall with his arms folded again.
Qui-Gon was appalled by this man’s confession on what he had done to his Padawan. Any idiot with a blaster knew not to stun someone in the head—shooting the complex and fragile center of the nervous system in the brain could end up doing more damage than most people intend to do when using ‘stun’.
Knowing that Scarface was impatiently waiting and that he could feel if Qui-Gon was complying or not, Qui-Gon again reached for his link to his Padawan. Again he felt that buzzing that was not normal in his Padawan’s brain.
//Obi-Wan,// he urged. //Obi-Wan, can you hear me?//
He waited, but got no answer. Patiently, he tried again.
//Obi-Wan! Hear me!//
If his Padawan were aware, the traditional command of a Master to his Padawan would make him respond…but still nothing.
Qui-Gon, truly feeling anger stir in him now and fighting to push it away from his focus, turned to Scarface again. “He is not responding to me. You’re an idiot if you thought that you’re little stunt with the stun bolt was not going to harm him. He will wake when he’s healed himself enough, if ever.” He held back the temptation to spit at the man lounging so casually against the wall.
Scarface pushed himself off of the wall and came near enough to Qui-Gon that their noses almost touched. Tilting his head to the side, he frowned. “I don’t think you tried hard enough.”
Qui-Gon felt like rolling his eyes. “Even as his master there are limits to what I can make him do. He is not my puppet.”
Scarface shrugged and pulled back a little from Qui-Gon. “Still, I don’t think you tried hard enough so I’m gonna have to teach you a lesson, Master Jinn.”
Without warning from the Force or from body language, Scarface punched Qui-Gon so hard in the face that he felt and heard his jaw crack. Pain traveled from tooth to tooth to travel to his brain in white hot agony. Caught unaware, Qui-Gon’s mind was in a state of shock from the pain, preventing him from blocking the thudding pain from the other blows that Scarface landed squarely in his chest and the echoing pain from his blistered arm from his earlier fight. When Scarface’s knuckles were red from his effort, he switched to using his feet to kick Qui-Gon against the unyielding stone wall. As Qui-Gon swung into the stone, the stone cut the skin of his back as Scarface used his feet to punish his chest.
Qui-Gon gathered the Force around himself with effort, trying to cushion his mind from the beating he was receiving. He was mostly succeeding when a particularly hard kick cracked two ribs on the left side of his chest simultaneously. In tune with the Force, he shuffled the pain beyond his nerves to avoid the crippling hurt that he surely would feel. Instead of feeling the pain, however, he felt one of the broken ribs push inward, aiming toward his lung. If he was kicked or punched once more in that area, the rib would puncture his lung and he would slowly suffocate.
“If you don’t stop…” Qui-Gon panted. “You’ll kill me before you can show my Padawan how much you’ve hurt me.”
It had been just a guess, but evidently he was right; Scarface immediately stopped and focused in the Force to make sure Qui-Gon was not lying to him. When he was apparently satisfied, he backed toward the door, not even breathing hard.
“I’ll have some water brought to you, Jinn, while I work on your apprentice,” Scarface sneered. “I wouldn’t want him to miss the fun.”
The door slammed shut and Qui-Gon immediately sank deep into a healing trance to heal his ribs. If he did not succeed before Scarface’s next visit, he might not survive to help Obi-Wan escape.
Obi-Wan floated in a lazy sea of nothingness. He was aware that he had a physical body and that something had happened to him to place him here in this void, but none of it mattered much to him anymore.
Once, he thought he heard a voice that had meant something to him at one time in his life calling his name, but he had already slipped into this place of no feeling. He had escaped to this place of safety from the pressure that had been building in his brain after he had been shot by that second stun bolt.
Another time it seemed that he could see himself in a featureless room, as if he were outside his body and floating in the air above it. A man with a scar on his face had been using a knife on him, shouting things at his unconscious body that Obi-Wan could not hear. He watched in detached fascination as the knife traced patterns of red across his bare torso, seeing the muscled chest split easily beneath the knife as if it were fruit. The knife only went too deep once, near his neck, extremely close to his jugular vein and he jerked slightly with an echo of the pain that he knew he would be feeling were he not in this safe place. Tired of watching blood, his blood, running in rivulets down his stomach and sides, he had faded back into this void.
And here he planned on staying.
Very faintly, he thought he heard words that should make sense to him. Words that seemed like a command, but he simply lacked the will to try to make sense of them, or to try to remember the person who the words belonged to.
One word drifted toward him, almost tangible, and he idly reached for it to try to understand what it was. After several half-hearted attempts to grab the floating word, he was about to give up when it bumped into him and absorbed into his mind.
Frowning, he began to make himself think to try to remember what the word ‘padawan’ had meant to him.
Qui-Gon hung limp in his chains, not noticing the metal digging harshly into the skin of his wrists, sunk as he was into his deep healing trance. He focused all his energy on repairing the two broken ribs that he had sustained in his beating, knowing that if he did not have them fixed by the time Scarface returned, he would perish in his next encounter with the dark Force user.
Slowly, he coaxed the rib that was perilously close to his lung back into a semblance of its rightful place below the other broken rib. Swirling the Force around the jagged pieces of bone inside himself, he let his healing strength absorb into the two ribs. For eternity and for no time at all inside the trance, the ribs finally healed so solidly that they did not seem to have been messed with at all.
As he awoke slowly from his healing trance, tired but not exhausted and feeling somewhat better, he was aware that he still had many injuries that needed to be tended to. Bruises began to darken his chest at various places and the blaster hole in his arm still bled, the blood running down his muscled arm to mingle with the newer cuts on his chest from his previous beating.
Sighing, he suddenly noticed a bowl of somewhat clean water that seemed to drift directly in front of him. No one held it and no one else was in the small chamber with him. Curious but cautious, Qui-Gon used a tiny amount of the Force to guide the bowl to his mouth. Right as he was using the Force to tip the bowl so that water would run into his parched mouth, an unseen Force presence shoved the water in his face so that water ran over his chest, missing his mouth and chilling him in the coldness of the chamber. As the bowl crashed to the floor in front of him, he did not have to wait long to see the person responsible for his bathing.
Scarface entered the chamber, once again leaving the door wide open to reveal the featureless hall directly opposite from Qui-Gon’s chamber. He seemed angrier than ever and dried blood stained his tunic, blood that Qui-Gon knew was not his own.
His blue eyes flashing, Qui-Gon had to calm himself considerably before he could make himself look at the dark Force user again to face what he knew to be Obi-Wan’s blood.
“I can’t understand it,” Scarface was muttering, angry and pacing in front of Qui-Gon, a whip held in his hands. “Your stupid apprentice doesn’t even make a sound and what I’ve done to him should have at least gotten me a flinch through the Force. But nothing. I can’t sense it but I know it has to be you. You are either protecting him from me or he needs more persuasion to come out of wherever he’s hid himself in his mind. Either way, it means I get to take my pleasure with you.” He growled, sounding very unhappy but Qui-Gon didn’t care.
“What have you done with Obi-Wan?” He demanded to know, straining against his chains. “I can’t reach him, you tyrant! He doesn’t respond to me so get over it!” He was hoping that if he made Scarface mad enough, he would concentrate only on working Qui-Gon over and would leave Obi-Wan alone.
With his taunts, Scarface’s face turned a dark, angry red, leaving his scar a dead white contrast. Bringing his face close to Qui-Gon’s, he screamed, spittle flying out of his mouth to land on Qui-Gon’s face and chest, “It’s got to be you, Jinn! He’s not old enough or skilled enough to resist me! Xanatos told me all about the stages of Force development that coincides with age. At sixteen, your little Jedi should be awake and squirming by now! Why isn’t he? Why!”
Smiling calmly, Qui-Gon relaxed against his chains to lean against the stone wall. Very quietly, in a voice that carried down the hall, he answered, “Because Obi-Wan Kenobi is more powerfully connected to the Force than you will ever wish to be, even at sixteen. Xanatos was wrong about a great many things, my friend. This is simply another.”
Scarface’s anger receded slightly. “That can’t be possible. No sixteen-year-old Padawan has that much control of the Force to be so strongly connected. None of his friends do. I researched…None of them do…”
Qui-Gon chuckled, a real chest-heaving laugh that swelled and bounced off the walls of his cell as he lost himself in the humor of his captor’s inability to figure out his apprentice. Obi-Wan was complex, but a kind-hearted soul to those who knew him best.
Qui-Gon’s laughter provoked a wild frenzy in the man before him. “Stop it!” Scarface screamed in renewed anger. “What’s so funny? Stop it, I say!”
With an effort, Qui-Gon ceased his chuckles as he prepared himself in the Force for the reaction he knew his next words would create. “I find it amusing,” he said slowly, “that my Padawan has beaten you so thoroughly and he’s not even conscious.”
Like he knew it would do, Scarface was driven to the breaking point of his control. With a wild cry, he swung the whip in his hand and brought the separated points of the end of the whip crashing down across Qui-Gon’s chest. Qui-Gon sucked in a breath as the strong leather cords tore into and across his chest, ripping the skin with an audible sound. Pain shot straight to Qui-Gon’s brain and it was all he could do to keep from crying out from the hot shock of it. Again and again, the whip flashed down, tearing into untouched skin and into already opened welts. Soon, Qui-Gon was hanging limply from his chains, trying to focus into the Force to shunt the pain around his nerves, but he simply could not concentrate enough to accomplish his task.
The whip paused after what had seemed like hours but in reality were only a few minutes. Qui-Gon fervently hoped that Scarface was done now that the skin on his chest was hanging down in tattered strips and blood gushed around the tips of his boots in the dirt floor to make a muddy puddle.
He hoped in vain. Dimly, above his haze of pain, he felt himself being turned around on the chain to face the wall and he knew with sinking horror what awaited him next.
With a fury that surprised Qui-Gon, Scarface sunk the whip into Qui-Gon’s back again and again, driving the breath from his lungs. The strength of the force of the whip pushed Qui-Gon’s torn chest into the protruding stone of the wall, crushing bits of dirt and stone into the gashes that bled there, doubling the pain of his chest as his back was being torn apart.
Qui-Gon could feel himself sinking fast into unconsciousness and he welcomed the release from this torment. As if Scarface could also feel Qui-Gon’s descent into the blacking of nothingness, he doubled his intensity. Qui-Gon’s mind cried out as he lost consciousness.
Obi-Wan was restless in his void. He was used to being active and the unending monotony of doing nothing was eating at the core of his being. Plus, although the voice that had called to him was silent, there was a feeling that surrounded him that filled him with unease. It was a nameless malice and inside his cocoon he could not fight it as he wished to.
The meaning of the word ‘padawan’ was still just beyond his reach of knowing when a jolt of terrible pain shocked him. The pain was not his own and yet he had felt it as if it were happening to him. He was confused, his mind churning…until he thought of the word ‘padawan’ again…
And suddenly it all came back to him. The fight in the cantina. The man with the scar. Representative Lamkptu crying out in fear as he fell into this deep, dark place within his own mind. And, above all, his urgency in trying to reach his master, Qui-Gon Jinn through their Master/Padawan link.
Through that link now he felt Qui-Gon’s agony as he was being whipped against the wall of his chamber of stone. In perfect clarity now he knew who he was and that he had to do something to help his master. Knowing that what he was about to do would bring him back into touch with the physical part of him that was still throbbing in pain, he opened his mind before he had a chance to second guess himself.
Burning, running pain blurred his vision as he came to full consciousness in a dimly lit cell with a dirt floor. He tried to sit up but gentle hands insistently pushed him back down in accompaniment with a renewal of the intense pain.
A soft, musical voice urgently requested that he lie still and try not to move.
“Qui-Gon…” he gasped out through a dry, parched throat. A dull pain made itself known at the hollow of his throat as soon as he tried to talk and he could say no more.
“I do not know where the Master Jedi is, young one,” the voice said. “And I only knew where you were because our captor sent me to wake you just this morning. We have been here for two days now, I believe. I have been most anxious about you. You would not wake.”
Obi-Wan wiggled his fingers as his eyesight tried to focus but everything remained extremely blurry to him. His head ached from the stun blast still and he would bet his lightsaber that his eyesight was not normal because of it as well. At least he had not lost it completely; just enough to be annoying.
A lavender blur leaned over him with big round blue spots where the eyes would be. “Young Kenobi,” the voice said again, but Obi-Wan could not see well enough to tell if it was the alien speaking. He knew it was, though, because he recognized Representative Lamkptu's voice. She continued, “We must find our way from here if we are to live. I see blood and I wonder how badly are you hurt?"
Obi-Wan groaned. “I can’t see so well, Representative Lamkptu, and I feel like I’ve been in a wrecked landspeeder that rolled with me in it. What did he do to me?” Determined now, he slowly started to sit up off the very flat stone table he had been lying on, ignoring his protesting and aching body.
Lamkptu, once she saw that he was going to move whether she willed him to or not, moved to help him ease into a sitting position. “The man with the scar played you for his own carving roost, young Kenobi. I have used my tears to heal but some of the cuts will leave scars if not taken care of with bacta. You must take care.”
Obi-Wan was not really listening to her reply as he focused inward, trying to locate his Master. All he could sense was dormant pain and a blankness of mind that indicated his Master was unconscious.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” he muttered. But what could an injured apprentice who could barely see do for an unconscious Jedi Master and a delicate alien who did not appear to know how to defend herself?
An injured apprentice, Obi-Wan discovered as he placed his feet on the floor, that was barefoot. At this moment, he was having a hard time keeping himself from using the words that his old rival, Bruck, used to love to toss around whenever Obi-Wan beat him in something.
Steadying himself against the stone slab that he had been lying on, he tried to make sense of the dark blurred images that he saw around him. A distant memory came to him of seeing perfectly from above his body a stone chamber, so that must be where he was. He channeled his frustration at not being able to see clearly into his hands, which he squeezed tightly.
“Young Kenobi?” Representative Lamkptu’s musical tones rose in pitch sharply at his tense shoulders and white-knuckled grip on the slab of stone.
“I can’t see,” he muttered. “Or, at least, my sight would be better off if I couldn’t see.” Blindly, he reached out toward a wall, his barefeet shuffling in the loosely packed dirt. Under the dirt he could feel a stronger substance which led him to believe that the dirt was simply placed over a regular floor.
When it happened, it happened in threes. Suddenly, as Obi-Wan’s fingers brushed the protruding stone of the wall he brought his exposed foot down on a very sharp and jagged object that sliced clean into the meat of his foot. Not able to help himself from yelling from the sharp pain, he also sensed Qui-Gon wake and reach for him.
//Master!// He thought, trying not to whimper in pain in his mind. Gingerly, leaning on the wall, he brought his foot up to the level of his knee and blindly tried to let his fingers find the protruding object that was buried halfway into the flesh of his foot.
Qui-Gon’s thoughts were tired and filled of surpressed pain. //Padawan, it’s good to have you back. Is everything all right with you?//
Obi-Wan shut his useless eyes, trying to control his breathing. //My sight is blurred so badly, Master, that it would be better if they were shut. And I feel like a child’s punching toy.// Focusing in his mind, he sent to his master the image he had seen of himself when Scarface had been trying to rouse him out of his safe place in his mind, when he had been above his physical body. //Some of those cuts are healed and some are not. Also, our ‘friend’ has left me a surprise in the dirt of my cell. Walking will be painful and running almost out of the question. Be careful, Master, if you walk around.//
//I can’t, came the grim answer. I’m in chains. Scarface has had a fun time of using a whip on me since I can’t get away. Do you—//
Suddenly, Obi-Wan received a staggeringly painful burst of white-hot something that ran behind his eyes into his temples. Letting out a cry, he soon found himself curled in a ball on the floor, receiving more slices from other hidden sharp glass shards in the dirt.
//Obi-Wan! Obi-Wan, answer me!//
“Young Kenobi? Obi-Wan Kenobi?”
Eventually, the pain subsided and Obi-Wan focused on Qui-Gon’s mental voice instead of the representative’s nearer one.
//Padawan, are you okay?//
Obi-Wan panted for a moment, recovering. When he felt like the room had stopped spinning, he responded, //Yes, Master.// Standing up slowly, he reached out to feel for a support of any kind and instead felt the soft skin of the representative.
“Hold on to me, Young Kenobi, and let me guide you. Where do you want to go?” The Representative instructed.
//Master, where are you?// He asked, a little desperately.
The reply was rueful. //If I knew that, I could devise a way of escape. Focus on my presence, Padawan, and you will find me. Hurry. We do not know when our ‘friend’ will return.//
“Representative Lamkptu,” Obi-Wan said, keeping his offending eyes shut. “Could you please see if our door is locked?”
The touch of her soothing skin left his fingers for a moment and the sound of a heavy door being opened made it to Obi-Wan’s ears. There was silence and Obi-Wan began to fear that the representative had decided to escape on her own and leave the Jedi to their own devices. Soon, though, Obi-Wan felt the reassuring pressure of her webbed fingertips on his arm.
“It was open,” she whispered. “It seems as though our captor highly values his own skill.”
“Then let’s find Master Qui-Gon before he returns,” Obi-Wan returned.
The musical voice was puzzled. “But how will we find him, Young Kenobi?”
Obi-Wan smiled grimly. “Leave that to me.”
Qui-Gon’s arms shuddered and shook on their own from the strain of holding all of his muscled weight in the chains. He believed that he had now been in this featureless, windowless chamber for more than a day. His body ached but his mind was now active from the contact with his apprentice, though he was worried with the strangeness of Obi-Wan’s wakeful mind. He could only hope that the sight of his Padawan would quench his fears.
Unfortunately, it did not.
Obi-Wan came in, supported by the slender representative. Obi-Wan’s eyes were closed shut against the offending and confusing blurred images that he was receiving so he did not see Qui-Gon’s intake of breath at his condition. Blood covered one foot with more blood oozing from over half a dozen deep slashes on his chest. Someone, the representative more than likely, Qui-Gon thought, probably cleaned up the dried blood that would have been all over Obi-Wan’s chest. In only his loose-fitting sand-colored pants, Obi-Wan looked as bad as Qui-Gon felt and suddenly Qui-Gon didn’t want to know what he looked like.
“Master?” Obi-Wan asked as Representative Lamkptu led him over to where Qui-Gon dangled, his chest a tattered mess and his back on fire. “What do your chains look like? Can I pick them, or simply use the Force on them to open?”
Qui-Gon’s heart twisted with how exhausted Obi-Wan sounded. Craning his neck upward, ignoring how the movement of his neck muscles pulled at some of the upper chest muscles that had been flayed, he got his first good look at the chains above him that held his wrists locked together. “There’s no place for a key, Padawan. He must have used the Force to lock them there. Do you have enough strength to do this, Obi-Wan? If we join together…”
Obi-Wan shook his head. “You need to concentrate on healing yourself, Master,” he replied, his boyish eagerness shining through his voice. “I’ll focus on freeing you.”
The lavender representative finally let go of Obi-Wan’s arm and stood back against the wall, looking down the hall to watch for their captor so the Jedi could do what was needed in their chamber.
Qui-Gon closed his eyes, feeling the Force flowing around him from Obi-Wan’s probing of the chains that had held him helpless for so long. He wanted to be able to feel when he was released so he could try to soften his body’s impact with the ground when he fell.
Even focusing as much as the pain would let him focus into the Force, Qui-Gon almost missed the subtle change when Obi-Wan finally caused the complicated hooks and latches inside the chains and binders to release. Dropping like a stone, Qui-Gon was working on taking the majority of the impact on his legs, since those were basically the only pieces of working flesh that didn’t flare in hot protests of pain whenever he tried to use them.
Landing on his feet in his boots, he suddenly felt little hot stabs of needle-like pain all over his feet. Yelling involuntarily, he found himself rolling on to his side on the floor to try to avoid getting any more dirt in his slashed chest and back.
Dimly, he was aware of Obi-Wan kneeling awkwardly beside him but Qui-Gon was merely trying to focus on breathing normally. After a moment, he choked out, “Can you get my boots off of my feet, Obi-Wan? They have to come off.”
Fingers fumbling down the length of his legs to feel where his feet were, Obi-Wan obediently started pulling off Qui-Gon’s boots. In Qui-Gon’s condition, there was no way that he could ever reach down to pull off his own boots.
Silence greeted him when he felt both boots had been slipped off.
“What is it, Obi-Wan?”
The reply was quiet. “There’s glass shards in your boots, Master. Like the ones that were in the dirt in my cell. He must have put them in there at some point when you were unconscious…or in your healing trance.”
Qui-Gon nodded, forgetting for a moment that his apprentice couldn’t see him. Sighing, knowing that he couldn’t stay on the ground forever, he pushed himself off the ground and grit his teeth when he put his weight on his feet. “Come on, Obi-Wan, we have to get out of here while we can. Representative Lamkptu, is the way clear?”
The purple being nodded, her big blues eyes even bigger than usual. “Yes, Master Jedi. But I do not know the way out to safety.”
Gently, Qui-Gon guided Obi-Wan’s hand to his arm so that his apprentice could keep in touch with him physically and be guided simultaneously. Bracing himself, he slowly started walking on his tattered feet toward the door to his cell, Obi-Wan following alongside him.
The hallway was covered with stones only in places directly across from cell doors and was a regular up-to-date corridor with shining transparisteel everywhere else. Clearly, the entire rustic feel to the chambers was faked, as Qui-Gon had already suspected. He even believed that they were still on Coruscant, but had nothing at the moment in which to prove or disprove his theory.
Gesturing with a wide hand motion, Representative Lamkptu waved the Jedi to follow her as she glanced both ways and began to turn toward the left.
Qui-Gon frowned and felt a vague pulling from the Force, though he could not figure out what it was trying to tell him. “No,” he said slowly as he faced the opposite direction. “I think we should go in this direction.”
Lamkptu tilted her head quizzically. “But, Master Jedi, the ground slopes upward in this direction. Is it not logical that we should head for above ground?”
“Yes, Representative,” he answered politely. “But I believe nothing should be taken for granted when dealing with our foe.”
“There’s a trap in that direction, Master,” Obi-Wan piped up suddenly, his hand pointing in the direction that the representative had wanted to go in. After a brief, tense silence, he pointed at the direction that Qui-Gon wanted to go in and said, “And another in that direction.”
Qui-Gon and Lamkptu stared at the apprentice’s furrowed brows and tightly closed eyes. “Padawan, are you sure?”
Obi-Wan nodded quickly with no hesitations. “Yes, Master. I can feel it.”
“Which trap is more likely to prove harmful, young Kenobi?” Lamkptu inquired as she rejoined the Jedi in front of the chamber door.
Obi-Wan stretched outward with his feelings for a moment to feel the pulsing of the Force around him. Finally, he pointed to the left. “This way, Representative, is the most harmful. We should go right.”
Although a frown marred her intense beauty and showed that she clearly did not understand, Lamkptu silently followed the two injured Jedi as they gingerly made their way down the corridor broken by irregular intervals of rock.
Obi-Wan, highly in tune with the Force since he was denied his sight, was gathering confusing images from the Force and trying to make sense of them before the little group of three was surprised by anything. Most pressing on his mind was the feeling that someone who wished them harm was near, though it did not feel like Scarface. Scarface’s dark side energies were clearly bleeding through the Force farther ahead in the direction they were headed. He had not wanted to go this way, toward their tormentor, but he had sensed death to the left of where he and the representative had found Qui-Gon instead of the feeling of merely more suffering that was toward the right.
Suddenly, when they had walked more than a few minutes up the long corridor, Obi-Wan stopped dead.
“What? What is it, Padawan?” Qui-Gon’s tired and pained voice softly inquired. The hand on his arm tightened slightly.
Without a word, Obi-Wan stretched out his arm and let his fingertips brush against a rough surface which must be more rock. Hardly aware of what he was doing, letting the Force completely guide his movements, he pressed on three specific rocks and heard a soft grinding noise as a result of his actions.
“Our lightsabers!” He heard Qui-Gon breath happily. Mere seconds later, the familiar cool handle of his lightsaber was pressed into his hand. Obi-Wan almost wept with relief to have his lightsaber returned to him. Now he felt like he had more of a chance against their captor.
“Padawan,” Qui-Gon was asking, “how did you know?”
Obi-Wan shrugged. “I let the Force guide me, Master. I’m letting the Force be my eyes for me and so I just knew.”
He could almost see Qui-Gon’s thoughtful nod. “You are learning much, Padawan. I’m only sorry you have to learn it this way.”
Obi-Wan tried not to glow from his master’s praise. The warmth from that small praise spread through him and helped soothe many hurts he still felt from his torture that were trying to disrupt his connection with the Force. And with that cleansing feeling came the sudden, unavoidable knowledge of whom it was that wished them more harm. Keeping silent, knowing that he would find an opportunity in the near future to confront that person, Obi-Wan merely smiled sadly.
More confident now, the company of three started off down the hall again.
Qui-Gon was limping down the corridor, using the Force to shunt aside all the many places in pain both outside on his flesh and inside his body that any movement caused to flare upward into his brain. His mind, though, was alert for danger; his eyes roamed ahead of him warily as the beautiful representative silently followed them down the hall.
He sensed a troubling disquiet in Representative Lamkptu that caused constant emotions to tumble and shift in her presence. For the moment, he mostly ignored her, keeping his focus on the way ahead of him and his Padawan.
Hope blossomed and strengthened within him as he felt the subtle rising of the corridor under his feet. The rising meant they were closer to the surface and a way out to get to safety and Jedi Healers. Unfortunately, it seemed that a final showdown awaited them before they made their break into the world above: Scarface was just up ahead and by his presence, he was calmly waiting for them.
When, for the first time, the corridor began to curve toward the right, cutting off further sight, Qui-Gon knew the time had come. Releasing his Padawan’s arm, he took a deep breath, trying to ignore the way the flex of his chest muscles pulled and caused more pain to begin that seemed to spread outward throughout his entire body.
“Obi-Wan…” He began.
“I’m going, too, Master. Don’t ask me or order me to stay here because I’ll only have to disobey,” his Padawan interrupted with such quiet determination that Qui-Gon let the subject settle and rest where it was. They both knew that without Obi-Wan having his full sight, the apprentice would be severally limited in his defense; it was a risk they would both take willingly if the other agreed.
Letting his hand rest briefly in silent agreement on Obi-Wan’s shoulder, Qui-Gon saw that his Padawan already had his lightsaber held ready in his fist, his thumb held ready over the activation switch. Smiling slightly as his apprentice’s quiet eagerness, one of the only things left from his boyhood through the filter of his Jedi training, Qui-Gon determined to talk to him after they had finished their business with Scarface.
“Let’s finish this, Padawan,” Qui-Gon said quietly.
“Yes, Padawan,” a voice mocked as footsteps sounded around the bend in the corner. Soon, Scarface was standing, his arms folded and now in a black Jedi cloak. He gave Qui-Gon a chilling smile. “Your little Jedi has shown me how strong he is by resisting me—now I want the honor of single combat with him.”
Qui-Gon frowned, wondering if Scarface knew about Obi-Wan’s condition with his eyesight. More than likely, Scarface had had their cells fit with listening devices so he could eavesdrop on them at his leisure.
“You know I can’t allow that…” He started to say, but broke off as Obi-Wan placed a hand on his arm. His sightless apprentice had his lips set in a grim line and his face was one of intense concentration.
In a loud, clear tone, Obi-Wan said mockingly, “You’re pretty brave for someone who ties up his opposition and tortures them and doesn’t reveal his name. Now you must be even braver to knowingly go against a young Jedi Padawan who cannot see. I’ve never met anyone so brave before. Perhaps I’ll become your Padawan.”
Qui-Gon stared at Obi-Wan. In the years that he had known this quiet and usually reserved young man, he had never heard such scorn come from him before.
Scarface was silent, his fury radiating through the Force at Obi-Wan’s words. After several tense moments, he barked out, “Balio Gordanti.”
Obi-Wan smiled. “Now we can do whatever you want, Balio.”
Balio scowled, his scar pulling at his face. With only a slight warning in the Force, he somersaulted through the air to land directly in front of the two Jedi, his lightsaber swinging down as he did so. Qui-Gon’s lightsaber was up and intersecting the red blade in a heartbeat. Balio was caught off-guard by Qui-Gon having his lightsaber and the strength behind the bigger Jedi’s defense.
“What…Lamkptu! You were supposed to make sure they did not find their lightsabers!” Balio screamed to the cowering lavender alien behind the Jedi. Lamkptu did not respond, merely fled in the opposite direction of the corridor.
Qui-Gon, using the Force to keep the pain from his chest, back, and feet from his concentration, used his muscled strength to push the Dark Jedi backwards into the hall. Balio stumbled as he fought to keep his balance and Qui-Gon ran forward to press his advantage, sensing Obi-Wan light his blade behind him.
Balio, seeing both his opponents armed and coming at him, yelled a battle cry…and ran away from the Jedi. To Qui-Gon’s left, he heard Obi-Wan laugh light-heartedly.
In a mock-deep voice, the apprentice joked, “Beware of the big, bad Jedi!”
Fighting not to smile and to keep his amusement from traveling to his Padawan through their bond, Qui-Gon rebuked, “Obi-Wan Kenobi, keep your sense of duty here. We have to escape and we have to make sure Balio Gordanti doesn’t terrorize anyone else in his escape.”
“What about the representative?”
Qui-Gon paused for a moment. “You sensed a trap back there earlier, correct?” At Obi-Wan’s nod, the Jedi Master went on, “Reach out now. What do you feel?”
A line appeared in Obi-Wan’s brow for a moment before he turned away.
But Qui-Gon knew.
“Let your anger go and bury your sorrow; there will be time enough for sorrow later,” he advised, doing the same to his anger and sorrow over Lampktu’s death. “Now, let’s go make sure our business is settled.”
Qui-Gon carefully stepped out onto a thin catwalk that spanned a three hundred or so meter drop into a repair shaft. His senses were heightened by the Force so everything he saw and heard was crystal clear to him. He knew that the heavy metal door at the end of the catwalk was the way out of his and Obi-Wan’s prison, just as he also knew without a shadow of a doubt that Balio was lurking near the catwalk, hoping to surprise him or his Padawan.
Allowing a grim smile to touch his angular features, Qui-Gon made sure that Obi-Wan was in position halfway to the wide platform across from the catwalk he was balanced on. Just because the two Jedi were injured did not necessarily mean that they were out of the fight; a lesson Balio evidently had not learned yet.
Qui-Gon had proceeded across the catwalk about seven halting steps to reach the middle when he heard Balio utter his battle yell that sounded like a dying cross species of bird. The surge in the Force had already warned Qui-Gon that Balio was coming up behind him, but the Jedi Master calmly waited where he was, without turning around to face the Dark Jedi. Thinking he had an advantage and that perhaps Qui-Gon was too injured to move quickly enough to turn to fight him, Balio recklessly slashed his red lightsaber blade where Qui-Gon’s head had just moments before been.
As Balio’s charge brought him right behind the larger Jedi, Qui-Gon dropped to his knees and slid backwards so that now he was the one behind the other. Unfortunately, Qui-Gon’s hurt and overtaxed body was a little slower than he needed it to be as he stood and Balio had recovered his balance, losing the precious moments that Qui-Gon had been trying to use to his own advantage.
With a snarl, Balio spun on his heel and viciously sidekicked Qui-Gon in the stomach, pressing the flayed strips of his flesh into barely healed cuts. Doubling over, Qui-Gon found himself pushed against the thin railing of the catwalk. Momentum took over along with gravity and suddenly he found himself falling through the air in the empty space.
Obi-Wan had heard the fight and with the level of deep concentration that he was at in the Force, he could almost see what was happening across the open space between his platform and the catwalk where his Master was currently on. He definitely felt the change and emotions when his Master was pushed off the catwalk. He knew that there were no other supports in this repair shaft for Qui-Gon to land safely on. What to do?
Pushing the panic from his mind, Obi-Wan stretched out with his arm and the Force and envisioned a large hand forming below his Master’s falling form. His hand of air firmed enough so that once Qui-Gon hit it, he stopped dead in the air, his lightsaber landing beside him on seemingly nothing.
Straining, sweat forming on his forehead and all of his lacerations and pain hitting him like a load of transparisteel, Obi-Wan tried to keep enough control over the Force to slowly raise Qui-Gon back up to the catwalk that was now at least a hundred meters above him. Qui-Gon felt what his apprentice was trying to do and joined in with his own Force strength to help lift himself to crawl back onto the catwalk.
Once Qui-Gon was safely back on the catwalk, Obi-Wan felt himself collapsing.
Qui-Gon was trembling now with the effort to use the Force to hold himself upright and to block his pain. Joining with his Padawan had drained more of his strength than he wanted to think about just now. Glancing over at the platform, he saw Obi-Wan fall over on his side, blood oozing from his cuts as the young man lost consciousness.
Malicious laughter diverted his attention from his apprentice.
“Nice trick, Jedi Jinn,” Balio mocked. “Too bad your little Padawan couldn’t keep himself awake long enough to see the ending. Guess he’s not that much better than me after all.”
Qui-Gon could only stare at his tormentor for a moment. If Balio could not feel the effort Obi-Wan had put into his rescue, then Balio was not even half as talented as Obi-Wan was at thirteen! Suddenly, puzzle pieces clicked into place in his mind and he found the effort to stand tall and glare down at the younger man was not so hard with his new knowledge.
“You want me, come get me, Balio,” Qui-Gon growled. “But I know the truth now and you can’t hide from it anymore.”
For the first time since Qui-Gon had been forced to be in Balio’s presence, the man seemed uncertain. Taking a hesitant step back, Balio stammered, “What…what do you mean? You don’t know anything but what I’ve told you!”
Taking a menacing step forward, Qui-Gon smiled. “I know that you weren’t trained at all, by anyone, let alone my former apprentice. You might have watched Xanatos from a distance, or he even probably let you tag along, but he never taught you how to use your abilities. My making Xanatos leave you on Arborané left you without a focal point so you decided to take it out on me and my Padawan. Yet, you knew you couldn’t hope to beat us in a fair fight so you lured Representative Lamkptu into your little plot. I don’t know what you did to make her agree to help you, but that’s not important right now, is it, Balio? You had to torture us to get us injured enough so that you wouldn’t just be killed outright in a fair fight that you knew you couldn’t win. Am I close?”
Balio’s face contorted in rage, his scar a livid white against his flushed face. “Shut up! Lies! All lies! I’m a great Jedi! Xanatos was gonna show me everything; he promised. But then you showed up and he was gone shortly after. I want you to just shut up!” So saying, he screamed and, brandishing his lightsaber, charged Qui-Gon at a dead run.
Qui-Gon was ready for him. Snapping his lightsaber up into a reverse spin and taking a long sidestep out of the way at the last possible second, he sliced downwards and a little to his right. Leaning heavily on the railing beside him, he panted and gazed at the surprised Balio.
Blood gushed from the hole where Balio’s left arm used to be. The severed arm was tumbling end over end down the repair shaft, quickly disappearing into the darkness of the seemingly bottomless pit. Balio’s mouth hung open in disbelief as shock stole over his features. Qui-Gon, suddenly feeling weak from his entire ordeal, merely stayed where he was, recuperating for a moment. He warily eyed the Dark Jedi to see what he would do.
Balio’s eyes glazed over and he stumbled on his feet for a minute. Yet, even as Qui-Gon looked on, the spurting blood slowed and became a mere trickle and Balio straightened. When he opened his eyes again, his orbs were completely black and he smiled evilly.
Before Qui-Gon do even take another breath, Balio vaulted over the catwalk’s railing and smoothly arched through the air to land solidly right beside the still unconscious Obi-Wan. Still wearing his evil smile, the Dark Jedi easily lifted the slight form of the limp Padawan with his one hand.
“How much do you want to see your Padawan live, Master Jinn?” Balio sneered, holding Obi-Wan upright by his shoulder as if he were standing.
Qui-Gon at first did not bother to answer him as he frantically probed Obi-Wan’s status through the Force. Obi-Wan was close to waking but was very weak with his feat of strength earlier to save his master.
//Obi-Wan! I need you awake, Padawan,// Qui-Gon thought at his apprentice, trying to smother his panic. //Padawan, hear me. Wake up! Come on, Obi-Wan! Obi-Wan, you need to wake right now. Padawan!//
“What’s the matter, Jinn?” Balio mocked. “Avian got your tongue? Maybe this will entice you to answer me.” With a menacing glare, he shifted Obi-Wan’s weight to lean against his chest as he used his remaining arm to light his lightsaber.
Qui-Gon felt his danger sense prickling like a mad insect trapped in a bottle. Slowly, he began to turn his body more toward the drama unfolding on the platform and began to gather the Force inside of him like a dam holding water. Carefully, he masked from Balio what he was doing and gritted his teeth. He would have to wait another moment longer…
With a look of pure hatred at Qui-Gon, Balio met his gaze solidly as he brought the red blade directly under Obi-Wan’s chin. Because his eyes were on the Jedi Master, the Dark Jedi did not at first notice when Obi-Wan groggily came to, prompted by his Master’s desperate calls.
Qui-Gon was almost ready…
But Balio noticed Obi-Wan’s change of breathing as the apprentice gasped in ragged breaths from his pain. Grinning maliciously, Balio screamed at Qui-Gon, “Hate me now and forever, Qui-Gon Jinn, for what pain I can cause you that you will never recover from!” Shifting his stance slightly, Balio sliced inward, intending on severing Obi-Wan’s head from his neck.
With his absolute last burst of strength borne of desperation and an overwhelming urge to save his own life, Obi-Wan threw his body weight to the right. Missing his intended mark and instead slicing into the top portion of Obi-Wan’s left shoulder, Balio screamed in rage as Obi-Wan screamed in pain and they both collapsed.
Obi-Wan was sunk so deep into unconsciousness now that Qui-Gon doubted that nothing short of a dip in a bacta tank would revive him.
Which left the Dark Jedi off-balance and Qui-Gon a window of opportunity.
Using the Force like a sling-shot, Qui-Gon leaped on the rail, balanced delicately, and then shot through the air to land directly in front of Balio. Igniting his lightsaber as Balio swung his around, they met and the blades shot sparks with the force of their blows. Qui-Gon set his jaw and leaned inward, coming closer and closer to Balio by tiny increments. Balio recognized his death looming in his face and was yelling as Qui-Gon’s greater muscular strength pushed both of their locked blades into his face and chest. A heartbeat or two later, the gory remains of Balio’s body crumpled into a heap at Qui-Gon’s feet.
Staring down at the body that had inflicted so much pain on him and his Padawan, he felt nothing but sadness for the direction this young man’s life of hatred had taken him. Xanatos had taken another life needlessly.
Sighing and closing down his lightsaber, Qui-Gon slowly made his way to his apprentice.
“How is he?” Qui-Gon quietly asked the Twi’lek Jedi Healer Pos Rn’athu as he stared at Obi-Wan floating in the bacta tank. His Padawan had been immersed since Mace Windu and four other Jedi had answered Qui-Gon’s mental call through the Force two days ago. Qui-Gon himself had been treated with bacta for a day and urged to meditate to heal himself faster. Meditation had been hard with thoughts of his apprentice coursing through his mind but he had finally managed for a few hours.
The green-skinned Twi’lek woman twitched one of her two brain-tails, called lekku, in agitation. “Your Padawan, Master Jinn, has physical wounds that have healed nicely,” Rn’athu said in a voice as equally quiet as Qui-Gon’s. Her pointed teeth showed briefly as she grimaced. “His eyesight is why we keep him still in bacta. We hope that with extended care and exposure to bacta, the damage will be either reversed or healed. You came in time for us to let him test his sight again.”
The technicians who were standing on top of and around the bacta tank nodded at the healer and one of them, another Twi’lek but with pink skin, maneuvered levers beside her. Obi-Wan brought his head up, the white breathing mask in the pink liquid making his face seem odd and distorted, and kicked powerfully upward.
Qui-Gon and Healer Rn’athu unhurriedly made their way over to where Obi-Wan was being dried off over a grate that allowed the extra bacta that dripped off of his healing body to return to the tank. On closer inspection of his Padawan, Qui-Gon could see that a conforming bandage covered Obi-Wan’s eyes.
He gestured toward the bandage. “What’s this?”
“This is to protect his eyes from light while intensifying the bacta’s healing effects to that specific area. We placed it on him this morning,” Rn’athu replied, stopping near Obi-Wan. “Hello, Padawan Kenobi. How are you feeling this time out of the bacta?”
Qui-Gon’s heart twisted against his ribs as he saw his apprentice reach out to blindly grope for the arm of the Healer. He wanted to fold Obi-Wan into his arms and comfort the boy in his darkness but he refrained so he could hear his apprentice’s answer.
To his surprise, Obi-Wan grinned, his hand finally finding the soft flesh of the Twi’lek. “Very boring, Healer Rn’athu. If I have to go in there again, can you knock me unconscious so I don’t have to float there without anything to do?”
Putting a mild rebuke in his tone, hiding the smile lurking there, Qui-Gon replied, “Padawan, that is hardly a logical or sane suggestion. Though, if Healer Rn’athu agrees, perhaps I can dig up an old enemy of yours to do the knocking unconscious for her.”
Obi-Wan laughed, feeling lighter than he had since this whole ordeal had started five days ago. “Bruck might do it, Master. I’m sure he’s eager for the job, though I don’t know where he was sent to.”
Now Qui-Gon allowed himself to smile. “Peace, Obi-Wan. It’s time to check your eyes again.”
Obediently, Obi-Wan allowed the Healer to bend down and, with gentle hands, touch the side that would release the bandage. With a faint popping noise, the bandage came off to reveal Obi-Wan squeezing his eyes shut.
Qui-Gon found himself holding his breath, waiting to find out if Balio’s malicious stunblast had damaged forever Obi-Wan’s vision. He knew, without being told, that if after two days of constant bacta therapy Obi-Wan’s eyesight did not return, then it more than likely would never return.
“Open them slowly, Padawan Kenobi,” Healer Rn’athu urged. “Let them have time to adjust to the light. It is dimmer here than anywhere else in the temple so do not fear the harshness of the day.”
Obi-Wan very slowly let his eyelids relax and open. At first, everything was still blurred and smeared. Feeling tears form in disappointment, he rapidly blinked them away and as he did so, his vision suddenly swam into focus. In perfect clarity he could see the green skinned healer and her weaving lekku as she waited on him to speak, and he could see Master Qui-Gon standing with his arms in the opposite sleeves of his robe. Through the Force and their bond, he could feel his master anxiously waiting on his declaration.
In answer, he grinned broadly at his master.