Murder at The Palace
It was a horrible sight. One which they had tried to protect her from seeing, yet something inside her she insisted that she must. She had a responsibility for every being on the planet. For her that included those who were no longer living.
As soon as she seen what they were trying to shield her from, a part of her wished that she had listened to their concerns. It was something which she would not forget, nor would she wish to do so. Something which sickened her, filling her with a disquieting mixture of feelings and thoughts. Revulsion, horror, disgust. Panic, confusion, concern. Disbelief, disillusion, resolve.
The last measure was the most important. Nothing and no one had prepared her for this, she doubted anything could, nevertheless, the matter, along with the duties to rest of everything on the planet, was now resting upon her. She had been preparing to assume such a role for some time, it was not a position which she could abandon now, just because she was suddenly feeling out of her depth.
With one last look she bowed her head for a moment before turning away, feeling the need to honour the being lying within the room with a final piece of respect. He did not deserve the fate which had befallen him. It was up to her find out who had dealt the fatal blow and deliver them up to justice.
She wished that she could investigate the matter personally, but her position denied her that privilege. Like her predecessor she must delegate, let her security personnel continue to do what they had been doing.
Turning away, she walked back to the throne room, silently preparing herself to inform the necessary parties who had yet to learn of the matter. A roll of precedent ran through her mind, shifting between two planets, Naboo and Coruscant. For the former she knew her government had been summoned to the council chamber by security, waiting for news. There was the possibility that their lives were in danger too.
As for the latter, protocol dictated that the Senator informed the Chancellor. However the Senate had been in recess for some time, so he was waiting for her in the Council room, along with the rest of her government. She knew that her predecessor had been close friends with Chancellor Valorum, a relationship that he had been carefully helping her establish as well.
Therefore she felt justified in placing a transmission to him first, before she informed her government of the matter.
"I have a bad feeling about this."
Qui-Gon Jinn, Master of the Force and a member of the Jedi Order, turned to his apprentice somewhat puzzled by his words. "I don't sense anything."
"Its not about the mission, Master," Obi-Wan Kenobi elaborated. "Its something elsewhere, elusive."
"Don't centre on your anxiety, Obi-Wan," he advised. "Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs."
"But Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future," Obi-Wan pointed out.
"Not at the expense of the moment," Qui-Gon countered. "Be mindful of the living Force, my young Padawan."
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan replied, yet Qui-Gon could sense that his apprentice was still concerned, not yet ready to put the feeling aside. He was relying on his own judgement more and more frequently lately. It was a sign that he was ready for the trials, however Qui-Gon had no desire to lose his pupil just yet. A feeling Master Yoda would probably tell him to let go, were he here.
The wisdom of the oldest living Jedi was to be respected, yet there were times when Qui-Gon found himself annoyed by the Master's interference when it came to Obi-Wan's training. He saw the need behind it, Yoda's experience was beyond any of them within the Order, his power within the Force favoured Obi-Wan's abilities, though his apprentice had yet to realise his true potential. But Master Yoda had passed on the honour of training Obi-Wan to knighthood to him. It should be his instruction that his apprentice respected, before the rest of the Order.
Still, Obi-Wan was nearing his trials, that he could not ignore, however much he may wish to. The matter which the Council had sent them to deal with was an unusual one, traditionally considered outside their remit. Perhaps it would require unusual methods with which to deal with it.
"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon addressed his apprentice, causing the young Jedi to turn and face him, "I would like you to take the lead in this investigation."
"Me, Master?" His apprentice was shocked by the passing of such responsibility.
"I have faith in your abilities to proceed, my padawan," Qui-Gon assured him. "I think that this matter needs two routes with which to uncover the truth. One that is the official front of the investigation, which will be under your purview. You will receive the briefings from the new sovereign, the government, the security. You will gather the evidence and let it lead you to any answers that it may reveal."
"And what will you do, Master?" Obi-Wan asked.
"I will investigate quietly, observe what whoever has committed this foul act desires to be concealed," Qui-Gon answered. "If there is truly something elusive waiting within the shadows, perhaps together we may light a candle to shine upon the darkness."
She is beautiful.
For a moment, those three words were all he could focus on.
He had been struck by beauty before. Not just beings whose outward appearance could be considered appealing, but those who possessed something which seemed to come from within, a beauty that could be sensed by the Force, or draw those who held the ability to grasp its mysteries towards them. These beings need not have the ability to access the ancient energy, or possess an unrecognised or untrained potential, yet their existence cast a light within the ancient energy, making it glow brightly around them, giving a resonance that sung inside him, a chorus of comfort and joy.
And this the new Queen of Naboo held in spades.
When he could draw his focus away from those three words, he took in what else he could he see of her, which only leant strength to his first impression.
Her appearance was regal, yet with minimal decoration. No ostentatious trappings of monarchy, as he had seen about some other sovereigns which he had met during their missions. An elegant tiara adorned her head, a few strands of dark brown hair coiled around it to keep it in place, while the rest hung in gentle waves to her waist. Eyes of a similar shade, seeming far older than her overall youthful, slender, figure suggested, regarding them with keen interest and intelligence.
Those two traits showed within her voice as she spoke to them, briefing them on the immediate events. She knew her duties well, understood their roles and that of others within the Republic. She may have succeeded to the throne of Naboo suddenly only hours ago, yet nothing gave any indication that she was not prepared for the responsibility such a role entailed. She was diplomatic, welcoming, respectful.
Beside her stood some security, keeping watch on everything and everyone within the room, along with a few attendants, their features concealed by orange and yellow gowns, hair veiled, heads bowed. Their uniform silence and concealment suggesting to Obi-Wan that they were perhaps used as decoys for the sovereign by her security team.
Her government were in the Council chamber, setting in motion the necessary steps that were required to have her accession officially recognised. Naboo chose their sovereigns as opposed to inheriting them, she had been voted for among many other candidates, elected to the role of Princess of Theed, the title accorded to the heir a few years ago. Another would need to begin their campaign to be chosen so they were prepared to succeed her, after the late king was buried and she was crowned.
Once their investigation was concluded, that is. Obi-Wan wondered how she and her government were coping with such a delay in the usual manner of proceedings. The Queen appeared untroubled by it, yet there was no denying her concern for her predecessor and the manner in which he had been murdered. A part of him sensed that if she could, she would take part in the investigations herself, not because she was responsible for the act, but out of a desire to see justice done.
The longer their briefing with her continued, the more he found himself intrigued by her, wishing to know more of her. More than perhaps was permitted by his position within the Order. Thoughts he knew would face admonishment from his master if he sensed them. Desires that Obi-Wan immediately buried before Qui-Gon could begin to do so.
Master Qui-Gon introduced themselves, explaining their position within the Order, before laying out their intended plan that Obi-Wan would assist the Security team, while he made discreet inquiries concerning the victim's last moments. Qui-Gon conveyed the impression that this was the usual practice within the Order for a senior apprentice, a gradual shift from the role of padawan to knight.
Obi-Wan expected some form of objection from her, as to his age and experience, not to mention that it was unusual for an apprentice to shoulder the main burden of investigation for the mission, as opposed to the master, for all Qui-Gon's eloquence upon the matter. Yet she voiced no disapproval, only a silent nod of understanding, as though she saw through Qui-Gon's diplomatic words to the plan they had agreed upon the ship before their arrival, perhaps even desired such a course of action from them.
A possible answer occurred to him as he followed her head of security to the crime scene, regarding her lack of objection concerning his responsibilities. From his brief observation within the throne room and the information they had been given before leaving Coruscant, she was of a similar age to him, with almost the same amount of years spent in training to prepare her for the role which had been suddenly thrust upon her. Doubtless the same judgements about her age and experience might have been made about her, at one time or another. She was giving him a mark of respect as they had given her, that youth mattered little when compared to wisdom or instruction contained therein.
Her head of security briefly paused to unlock the door to the crime scene when they arrived. He stepped aside to let Obi-Wan enter first, while locking the door behind them again. Inside there were a few more members of the Palace security present, quietly documenting the scene, which was still as they had discovered it hours before, waiting for the Jedi to gather what insights they might from it before beginning to restore the room to what it once had been.
Obi-Wan took a deep breath, pushing his musing on the Queen to the back of his mind as he focused on the scene before him, his master's words of wisdom a faintly echoing reminder in his mind to centre his thoughts and direct away his horror at what he saw.
Keep your focus on the here and now....
What was here and now, was a scene of violence, unnatural violence. A body posed upon a bed, blood covering the furnishings, as well as most of the floor surrounding the piece of furniture. The head lay against a pile of pillows in a twisted position, lifeless eyes gazing upwards at the mantle, rigor mortis setting in from the tension within the back, legs and arms. He could not see an exit or entry wound for the blood, so it was a reasonable supposition to conclude that the latter would be somewhere on the front of the body, facing the mattress.
"How long would he have been lying like this?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Some hours." The Queen's head of security answered. "His majesty preferred to retire after full darkness. Usually he rose with the dawn, unless there were no appointments until later within the day."
"Were his chambers completely private?" Obi-Wan sought to confirm.
"There was a certain amount of privacy," the Captain replied. "There were arrangements to check on his majesty every hour, unless he requested otherwise. And then there were the surveillance monitors." He paused before adding with a certain sense of dissatisfaction at not noticing the discrepancy then, "which were conveniently disabled last night."
"Any hint as to how?" Obi-Wan queried.
The Captain shook his head. "They blink out as though there was a power surge, which there was not, as it would have alerted us to the danger sooner." He paused before elaborating regretfully, "the security room is occupied at all times, but the officers who were charged with that duty last night reported nothing unusual. They don't even remember the blackout."
Obi-Wan nodded, not surprised by the information. Clearly a lot of premeditation had gone into this crime before it was carried out. Though the officers were scattered about the room, recording the scene, there was little evidence that could be gathered to give any indication as to who might have committed the murder. Aside from the bloodied sheets and floor, the room was relatively clean, almost spotless, making the contrast between the two harsh and extreme.
Yet he could feel something within the Force about the place. A lingering remnant, almost like a fragrant echo, of what had happened. He could feel the darkness that lay within it, a malign influence, seeping into everything, from the body, to the furnishings, to the walls. It whispered to his own sensitivity concerning the ancient energy, a crackling, smug, almost gloating seduction, as though if it could speak, it would boast of what it had done, gleeful at the chaos it was causing.
He wondered if whoever it was had anticipated that the Jedi would be called? Usually the Order tended to stay out of such matters, letting the justice system of the planet deal with it, but in this case the late King of Naboo had been a close friend of Chancellor Valorum, who volunteered the Order's assistance to the new Queen when she called the executive office to inform him of the crime.
That remnant seemed to welcome challenge of a Jedi stepping in, although whether he was allowing his thoughts to influence him wrongly on this, Obi-Wan could not be certain. All he knew was that what he had sensed on the ship before they arrived, was present within this room, stronger, yet still elusive.
Waiting in the shadows, for a candle to shine a light upon the darkness.
After the Jedi had dispersed to begin their investigations, she left the throne room for the Council Chambers once more. She had informed her government of the news before the Jedi left Coruscant.
Their reaction was what she expected to receive. Shock and sadness, for King Veruna had been well liked and respected throughout Naboo and the Republic. Senator Palpatine had immediately offered to be indispensable to her, assuring her that his duties to the Senate could be handled by his assistants still on Coruscant, until the Chancellor called an end to the recess and summoned every member back to the jewel of the Core Worlds.
She was grateful for his offer, but a little reluctant to rely on him so heavily. He may be one of the longest serving members of her government, but his duties focused more on intergalactic matters rather than domestic. He represented the Naboo in the Senate, lent them a voice within the Republic, but his authority did not extend to one over the planet. That was her charge, it was not one which she could shift elsewhere.
Giving her best diplomatic response to his gesture, she turned to other concerns, the steps required to ensure a smooth display of the passing of the succession was given to the Naboo. Now that the Jedi were here, King Veruna's body could be examined, then prepared for a state funeral, after which her coronation would take place. It seemed a little unfeeling to discuss and make arrangements for these ceremonies so soon after such a tragic and evil event, however it was what the Naboo would take comfort from, the ability of their government to continue to operate in the face of such violence.
When the arrangements were settled and the necessary papers prepared to set things in motion, they moved on to the usual meetings and matters of the day, those that would have occupied them if the murder had not taken place. She was familiar with the details for most part, having attended council meetings as part of her training and preparation for the role of sovereign while she was Princess of Theed. Their complexity allowed her to immerse herself within them, forgetting the violence that had thrust her so suddenly into the role of deciding their resolutions, until the meeting came to an end.
When she left the Council Chamber it was nearly sunset, the shifting hues from the sky bathing the Palace in a series of brilliant colours. Without conscious thought she moved to one of the balconies to admire the view over the waterfalls, content for a moment to savour the beauty of her surroundings, unmarred by the horror which had taken place within its walls only hours before. Positioned upon a cliff edge which jutted out before the waters, at times it appeared that the Palace was almost floating upon the waves. Coupled with the setting sun and the shades of amber, red, purple and blue left by its descent, the view was incomparable.
She stood there, lost in the beauty of nature, until the sun disappeared from sight, whereupon other sounds intruded on her privacy, bringing her sharply into the present. There was a conversation occurring between two individuals nearby, so close for the words to be understandable. Soon she recognised them as the Jedi, their core accents a contrast to that of the Naboo, however once she realised the meaning within their discussion, it was what they were saying which took over every other thought in her head.
They spoke of the murder, the crime scene in all its gory details, the conclusions that they had drawn from it. The darkness which they could sense from the Force, how they had felt it as they approached the planet, that it gained strength to linger within the murder room. What the existence of such darkness meant, the elder one putting forth a foreign term she had never heard before. One that they used to excuse the lack of evidence pointing to a possible suspect, as though the term would gift them with the ability to leave no discernible trace of their guilt in committing the act.
In the wake of their words that serenity she had drawn from observing the beauty of the sunset faded, leaving behind naught but horror and grief. She did not notice the conversation ending over the sound and fury of these revelations, nor that her solitude was disturbed.
It was only when a hand gently removed hers from where it gripped the balcony tightly that she woke from her thoughts and turned to face her new company. The younger Jedi regarded her steadily, his callused fingers stroking her hand soothingly, the gestured motion strangely calming, soothing the chaos inside her mind.
"How much of that did you hear, your majesty?" he asked her.
"Enough to understand that this is more than just a murder," she replied. "That it could be the beginning of a change for the Republic, and not a good one."
"My Master and I fear that it will be the start of a dangerous era for the galaxy," he confirmed. "If the Sith have indeed returned, everything anyone holds dear is at risk."
"I confess that I have not heard of that term before," she admitted.
"They are everything that is the opposite of the Jedi," he explained. "They turn the use of the Force into something that is twisted and evil. They care for nothing but their own advancement, their own gains. Power in everything is their aim and they will stop at nothing and no one in order to gain it."
"What can I do to help?" she asked.
"How much do you know about the history of your planet, of your subjects?" he queried.
"A fair amount," she answered. "The established families, those who have first settled on this planet and continue to live here. Who they are connected to, in government and business, financially and personally."
"Who ever is responsible for this has been planning their move for a long time," he said. "They must be secure in their position here before they would make a move like this."
"Surprisingly, that group of beings is probably much smaller than you might think," she remarked. "But before we launch into that," she withdrew her hand from his soothing caress only to offer it towards him once more. "Padmé."
He took it in a tender shake. "Obi-Wan."
Jedi reside in the light, Sith reside in the shadows. Those had been the first element of his teaching about the Force's dichotomy at the Temple. A simple description of a matter which proved to be far more complex than he knew. As the years passed and he grew older, his education about the ancient energy grew also, allowing the darkness to acquire shapes, surroundings, figures. Sometimes they were known to him, sometimes not. He was secretly grateful when it proved to be the latter, for the painful betrayal of the former cut him to the quick. The only remedy was to forget the past and all that once mattered concerning the betrayal, a cure which soon became his philosophy.
Perhaps he relied on this practice too much. Sometimes it could blind him to the elusive subtlety of the shadows, whispering at the fringes of the light. To the concerns of his apprentice, who was more attuned to those quiet voices, who in hindsight seemed worried from the moment they arrived at Naboo. Given their current findings, Qui-Gon regretted that he had not listened to him more.
The nature of the crime was dark in itself, the scene was even worse. He had the unfortunate chance to observe it alone, a brief moment of time in between the security leaving the scene to brief the sovereign's staff concerning arrangements regarding the body before returning to insure that the crime scene remained undisturbed. Obi-Wan had sensed his arrival, given him access, then slipped outside on to the balcony that ran around the king's suite, leaving him alone to absorb the unnatural contrast between the neat and tidy appearance of the room and the violence attempting to conceal the true horror of return of the Sith that lay beneath the surface of the murdered sovereign.
From the entrance it seemed that the King was asleep. It was only when he ventured closer that the pose of the sovereign became foreign and mortal. Qui-Gon stared grimly at the sight, contemplating the evil strength that such an act required. He then closed his eyes to the sight before reaching out with the Force to see what the ancient energy could find and gather from the room.
The response with which he was met staggered him. Darkness so deep and profound, it black in strength and colour. He could not see even a flicker of light within its depths. Never had he encountered its like before. It sickened and revolted him, all his senses and feelings rebelling against the encounter. There was strength and power within the darkness, beyond what he could sense from those within the Order, even those on the Council, including Master Yoda, whom most Jedi considered the most powerful Force user currently living.
But while he took in all of this, he also questioned it. How could such darkness escaped the notice of the Order, of the galaxy until now? Had they been so blinded by the years of peace, or had the Sith learned to conceal themselves from detection?
Whatever the answer to that question was did not matter now. The source of the darkness had to be expunged. It was too powerful to ignore.
Qui-Gon joined his apprentice on the balcony outside. Obi-Wan seemed pensive, yet he remained silent, waiting for his master to speak first.
"I believe the killer to be a Sith Master," he confided to him.
Obi-Wan showed no surprise at this confession. "I felt the same, Master," he replied softly, aware that their voices might carry far, in spite of the sound from the fountains that surrounded this area of the palace.
"This Sith must be found and confronted," Qui-Gon added. "I shall start a search of the Palace. I leave the task of informing the Council to you, my apprentice."
"Tonight, Master?" Obi-Wan asked.
"No, it can wait until the morning," Qui-Gon replied. "A few hours delay will not matter considering the distance they will have to travel, if they so choose." He sighed, leaning his arms upon the rail of the balcony. "You will need to use all your eloquence to convince them of the truth of our findings."
Obi-Wan nodded knowingly. Despite their past dealings with the darkness, it was an accepted belief amongst the members of the Council that the Sith had been extinct for a millennia. "I shall do my best, Master."
Qui-Gon stared at the fountains, their continuous falling water trails failing to soothe him. "For the first time in a long while I cannot fully focus on the here and now, my padawan. I feel as if a great change is coming to the galaxy. That the Jedi are all who stand between the Sith and the known universe, who are backed against a precipice into darkness from which I fear there will be no escape."
It was after those foreboding words from his master, followed by the visit from Queen Amidala, that Obi-Wan was left to contemplate his upcoming meeting with the council. Qui-Gon withdrew back into the crime scene that was the late sovereign's bedroom. When he heard the soft click of the door to the chamber shut, his thoughts turned in the direction of the other encounter he had after his conversation with his master.
Padmé Amidala was of a similar age to him and very beautiful. Usually he did not meet with sovereigns so young. Most of those in positions of power within the galaxy were of his master's age and sex. As for her beauty, usually he could withstand such attractions, however not this time. Something was calling him to her, something beyond his feelings, beyond the darkness that threatened to spread from the room behind him out across the galaxy. He felt as though it were the Force directing him to her.
She had given him intelligent and sound replies to his inquiries about those in power on Naboo. It had occurred to him that whoever the Sith might be, they must be in a position of monetary security and authority in order to have existed undiscovered for so long. They would have needed seclusion to train, a place of isolation for the violence which such schooling would have incurred. Only those with some kind of pre-existing wealth could have accomplished the level of ability within the teachings of the Sith that he and his master had sensed in the bedroom behind him. Sith artefacts which would been necessary to aid that education had been scattered about the galaxy, it would require a great many travel expenses to retrieve them.
Her answers narrowed down the search of possibilities, though of course it was likely that it was someone who worked in the Palace, as only they would know the routine of the sovereign, how to move around the rooms, commit the dark deed and leave without being detected or arousing suspicion. However there were a great number of beings whom worked in the Palace, not just those who attended upon the late sovereign and his successor, but those who served in the government and security, officials and non-officials who usually could be trusted without question. Not all of these positions could be eliminated from being likely suspects either, as he had learned from Padmé that the Naboo did not use monetary wealth or heritage when it came to positions or status in society.
It was another attractive practice of the world and her by extension which called to him, a similarity to the Jedi Order that indicated to him the possible easiness of the transition he would face if he left. That his thoughts had jumped so rapidly to such a step seemed incredulous to him, yet also natural and just. He felt a comfort and familiarity in talking to her, in being with her, that he rarely felt elsewhere, except perhaps when he was in deep meditation with the Force. Not even in the Jedi Temple did he feel such tranquillity.
He could not help but wonder if she felt the same way. He had no idea of the limitations, if there were any, for her in her position, however he thought it likely that she had more to lose than he did. He may be an apprentice on the cusp on his knighthood, yet he had a feeling that she would face the brunt of the criticism for luring a Jedi away from the Order. If all the attraction turned out to be just on his side, he would conceal his feelings, protect her from them, continue with his training, ignore the voice within him that seemed to call him to stay with her.
However, if she were to feel the same, then he would be prepared to do whatever it took to show her that he would be willing to stand beside her, in the face of the oncoming storm, whatever it may bring.
Padmé left Obi-Wan standing on the balcony outside the late king's rooms for her set of chambers some distance away. Since she won the election to become the next sovereign of Naboo, she had been given her own apartment in the Palace, as well as staff and the title Princess of Theed. Despite her career in the legislature, it had taken some time before she fully came to understand the nature of her responsibilities as sovereign in waiting. Succession was not immediate, there was a period of transition designed to educate her as to what amount of power she would be able to wield, along with the rituals for the passing of the crown, the way of Palace life, the beings in what was to become her government, her household staff and the security who would aim to protect her. Whether it was intentional or not, so far the whole experience had left her feeling that she had no idea of what she would be facing when she put her name forward for the nominations to be Naboo's next sovereign.
To be fair, no predecessor had dealt with a murder being committed before. Naboo sovereigns all reigned for their elected number of terms, then passed the crown on to their successor. Unlike those planets who had a hereditary and sometimes largely symbolic monarchy, Naboo's was designed for democracy and pageantry, conveying both the symbolism and the government, with term limits that allowed for any easy transition of power. No one anticipated that murder would interfere with such a design, it reminded her that no matter how much security surrounded her, if someone was determined enough, they could put an end to her, just as they had to her predecessor.
She was filled with concern about the future. The conversation with Obi-Wan Kenobi had not helped. She did not doubt his and his master's suspicions that the Sith were responsible for the death of her predecessor, yet a part of her could not help but hope that the culprit would turn out to be a criminal who was not force sensitive. Someone whom she could dispense her planet's form of justice on, rather than turning them over to the authority of the Jedi Order. While they were better than the Republic Courts, whose reputation of long unending procedural measures that rarely progressed towards a trial, let alone a verdict, was well earned, it was the idea of letting some other authority resolve the case rather than her world's justice system was not a comfort to her at present.
It was difficult to focus on anything else, even the normal business of her government, now that she was handling it solely as the new sovereign of Naboo. She had yet to be crowned, an event which usually took place before the power of the throne was transferred, however normal practice could not be put into the place this time, something which everyone was having trouble adjusting to. In an effort to distract her thoughts from the murder, she tried to focus on small things, the minutia buried within the laws she was discussing with her government, the conversations with her security and attendants, the time spent with the Jedi. Aside from her discomfort at their conclusions from their investigation and their resolve to effect their own justice on the murder, she found herself fascinated by them. She knew that such an interest was not uncommon, the Order was mysterious in the way that they ventured out into the world from their temple, yet no one was permitted to travel from their worlds to visit their environment. Or at least, she had never heard of anyone doing so.
She watched them when they were in her company, taking in the way they communicated with each other without words, the style of their dress and hair, their Coruscanti accents. Master Jinn resembled the old established members of her government, cordial in his manner towards her, his tone carrying that unspoken but implied teaching from an elder educating youthful ignorance. His apprentice was all earnestness and determination, he seemed to have a sudden empathy with her in being suddenly thrust into a role of responsibility before either of them felt ready for it. She found it strange that the Master remained in the shadows, letting his apprentice take the lead in the investigation, until a few hours ago when Obi-Wan confided in her the truth behind their conduct after she had overheard the conversation between him and Master Jinn concerning the Sith.
Even then it appeared to her that there was still a great deal of risk involved. She was worried about the Master roaming about the palace on his own searching for this Sith master. She was concerned about the apprentice having to deal with briefing her security, government, the Council of the Order and the being who represented her world within the Senate, who was taking a close interest in the murder, as he came from Naboo and had held the position of governor before running for the Senate. Of all of them, only the Council of the Order were briefed upon the full nature of the crime and their suspicions as to who was responsible. However they had yet to be informed about the Sith, for that was a recent discovery. Obi-Wan was to brief them tomorrow, at his Master's request, while Jinn begun his search of the Palace in order to try and find said Sith.
Talking to him about the old families of Naboo, the ones who had served the government and the sovereignty in various positions for generations, she had felt a little of the helplessness that she was feeling from being unable to deal with the investigation herself fade away. Despite the democracy practised on Naboo, there were always certain families who tended to send their younglings into the same careers that they were involved in. Her father and mother took part in relief work, it was where she had started before she entered the legislature, one world-wide tragedy making her realise that she could make more of a difference by taking on a more powerful position. When she entered into the elections for the sovereign of Naboo, it had been with the intention of serving her two terms, then moving on to a position within the Republic government. A Senator maybe, providing she found the support for such a position. It was there that she felt she could have the authority to make the changes she wanted to, give the galaxy the relief from the suffering that parts of it so desperately needed.
Yet over the last days, since the murder and the arrival of the Jedi, she had begun to have doubts about taking on such a role. If a Senator really had as much authority as she believed and they professed. She was included in the meetings between Obi-Wan and her Senator, whom always seemed to her to possess more layers behind his affable mask than a few of the others that she came into contact with, during her time as Princess of Theed, in the company of the King and his government. With Obi-Wan, there was a slight and subtle difference from her previous meetings. He held himself distantly from the Senator, as though he was being polite only because manners, customs and diplomacy dictated it. She had asked him about during their conversation a few hours ago and his response was both expected and yet surprising.
He did not like politicians. There were a few members of the Senate that he respected, however most of them he held little regard for, as they only seemed concerned with their own ambitions, rather than the concerns of the beings which they were elected to serve. His somewhat cynical insight into the workings of the governing body of the Republic gave her a new perspective on the Senate, as well as her future career. She felt as if she had been a little sheltered until now, the murder of her predecessor thrusting her into the galaxy, whereas before she had been only within her world, dealing with beings who provided an unintentional barrier between the Republic and herself, as it was them who interacted with those on other worlds rather than herself, until now. It was as if that barrier had tarnished her view of the galaxy and now with the murder of the King, she was seeing the Republic truthfully for the first time.
She had asked Obi-Wan who on the Senate he felt truly served the beings who voted them into office. His answer was a lot smaller than she had hoped for. She had feared to ask if they managed to make a difference but she had to know. His response was mixed. It depended on the power of the Chancellor, the connections he and those Senators had forged. If they managed to make their appeals work in some form on the members who only cared about their own ambitions, then yes they could make a difference. However those occasions were not as common as they once had been. He believed that the Republic had become complacent, stagnant through years of peace and prosperity. The troubles of others seemed far, far away. He feared that it would take a crisis to make them all wake up from their petty designs and truly focus on the needs of the Republic. He confessed that he feared that the Sith responsible for the murder of her predecessor could and probably would engineer it.
After that, Padmé feared what the future could bring. She had stood in silence next to him, his words overwhelming her. She had not expected him to say anything more, yet to her surprise he spoke again, quietly asking her about her world, requesting that she speak about the beauty of it, the nature of Naboo before this act of violence had marred it. She had been concerned that she would be unable to find the words but they had come surprisingly easy. In talking about her previously sheltered, peaceful view, she felt herself become calm and resolved that the present and future horror would tarnish her view completely. That she would not shy away from her desire to make a difference, to effect a change where she believed there needed to be one. Though he had given her despair with his fears for the future and the suspicions which he and his master held, he had also provided her with comfort and strength, a wise counsel that she often felt in need of.
When she left him for her apartment, a part of her had contemplated asking him to stay, even though she knew it was impossible. He was training to be a Jedi, she could not ask him to make such a sacrifice. She knew the limits of the Order, the incredibleness of what she was feeling after so short a time in his company, feelings she knew, yet had never felt so deeply or so surely before, nor never would again. It would be selfish for her to ask, yet she could not help but feel that it would not be right to keep the truth from him.
Ultimately, she supposed, it all depended on the outcome of their investigations. She could only hope that they would soon reach a conclusion that would satisfy all of those concerned.
And pray that she did not have to be careful in what she wished for, as she feared that such a hope would not be granted without a price.
Qui-Gon Jinn stole through the Palace, his cloak bellowing out behind him as if he were some sort of avenging angel in mid-flight. His mind was open fully to the Force, as he searched for the Sith. Theed Palace was large, old and opulent, the result being many rooms with rich furnishings and lavish decor. Behind them were also the slightly plainer chambers, those which served the security and household staff, such as kitchens, passage ways, back and service staircases and quarters, vaults, surveillance rooms, protection shelters, even the odd secret corridor or two. As he searched through some of them, Qui-Gon found sundry trace elements of the darkness, a shadowy echo that spelt out where the Sith had been, with varying levels of residual strength providing him with a kind of time frame as to the force user's movements.
He had begun the search after a night spent in a mixture of meditation and sleep, preparing himself for a possible encounter with the Sith. Given the traces found in the late king's suite, it was inevitable that he would face the source of that darkness sooner or later. Their display of power showed that they had not committed this act in the mind of slinking back into the shadows of obscurity. Instead this was their way of revealing themselves, an introduction to show what they were capable of, that this was only the beginning, that the Republic should cower and tremble, in fear of what violence would come next.
Obi-Wan had sent him some information on the most powerful beings on Naboo, as possible way of narrowing down the identity of the Sith earlier, after he first roused from his meditations before beginning his search. Qui-Gon appreciated the information, however he believed that the time to contemplate who the Sith was would be after he found them and, force willing, put an end to their violent ways. Such knowledge was some times a cause for hesitation in confronting them, which would give them the chance to slink back into the shadows, arm their defences to make it seem impossible that they were what the Order proclaimed. Or worst still, make their next strike probably more violent and bloody than the first, leaving grief and paralysis in their wake.
He had said nothing of this to his apprentice, thanking him for the information. It was Obi-Wan's preferred way of dealing with things, acquire everything there was to know before going to face them. His apprentice was a strategist, able to deal with the instinct to pause and reflect, to create a situation where he could engineer his opponent into facing them, achieving a positive outcome even when it seemed everything was against them. In the future, he imagined that Obi-Wan's skill would enable him to jump into the darkest depths of his opponent's lair, and still manage to overcome them.
In many ways this was what he was doing now, if the echoes of the Force were anything to go by. Nearly every room he had been in so far contained a remnant of the dark side, a clear sign that the Sith knew the palace well. Whether he knew it well enough to call it home, he could not yet tell. So far he had only searched the reception rooms, those that were used in the daylight hours, by service, security and governing beings alike. Since it was still early, he had decided not to start searching the bedrooms until they were no longer occupied. If his opponent was staying in the palace, the chance of lying in wait for them in their chambers was too good to miss.
The latter option would also allow him to contact Obi-Wan for back up, if required. From what he had sensed, this Sith would be powerful, it would take a lot to overcome him. Qui-Gon was fairly confident of his skills with a saber, however he knew that when he and his apprentice fought together as a team they were quite formidable. If he were fortunate enough to have time to wait for the Sith in their rooms, then he would be able to ascertain their identity and assess if he would need Obi-Wan's assistance. After briefing the Council, Obi-Wan was supposed to provide a public front to keep everyone from wondering where his master was and what he was getting up to. As he was taking the lead in the investigation anyway, the disguise was easily established, though it was his first time, he handled being the Jedi in charge well. Qui-Gon knew that it would soon be time to put his apprentice forward for the trials, though he was not ready to let go of him yet. Obi-Wan had become his apprentice during a difficult time; he was still recovering from losing his previous padawan to the dark side, doubting his ability to train another so soon. Despite this uncertain beginning over the years they had come to form a close bond with one another, so it was going to be hard to let him go and face the possibility of training another, even though this time it was for entirely different reasons.
By the time the Nubian sun had reached its zenith, his search had moved on from the principal rooms to the hangar bay and the surrounding area. A slender silver vessel sat amongst yellow coloured fighters, its sleek and elegant design a stark contrast to the bulkier vessels that were littered about the bay. He spared only a glance at each of them, his senses detecting something at last. There was a sudden deepening of darkness within the force, a lightning spark of luring temptation, a shard of seductive terror, alive and active, nearby.
He turned to a door where he could feel the origin waiting behind. It opened as he stepped within sight of the motion sensors, revealing the source.
A black and red skinned warrior, his weapon at the ready, stood before him, his face grimly confident for the task ahead.
Qui-Gon called for his saber, then stepped forward to face him.
He could feel it again. That elusive sense which he had experienced ever since they approached Naboo. This time it carried an ominous quality to it, as though something was about to happen that would change everything. It caused him to spend every moment from when he woke fretting over anything that was brought to his attention.
He contacted Qui-Gon to give him the information that Padmé had provided last night about the most powerful families of Naboo. After his master had thanked him for the information and ended the call, Obi-Wan spent a long time pondering whether he should ask security to keep an eye on his master's whereabouts while he conducted his search for the Sith. He could not do so himself as he had to brief the Jedi Council this morning and continue his investigations with Theed Palace security, distract those responsible for the murder of the King from the whereabouts of his master. Both of them could not disappear to search the palace for the day, as much as he wanted to provide his master with backup should the need arise. He knew Qui-Gon was more than capable of defending himself, however the ominous feeling was making him worry that one Jedi against a Sith would not prove to be enough.
When he briefed the Jedi Council later that morning, it took some time to convince them of their findings. While there had been a few incidents of the dark side, the Sith were largely considered extinct. Given the distance from Naboo to Coruscant it was difficult to convey what he and his master had felt within the Force using only words, for the darkness was too far way for the Council Masters to sense.
After what seemed like hours of debate, Master Yoda and Master agreed to come to Naboo and conduct further investigations into the matter. Not belief, yet something close to it, which Obi-Wan knew he would have to settle for.
The rest of the morning was spent with the palace security as they went over the measures placed around the late sovereign's chambers, trying to see if the murderer had been foolish enough to leave holo evidence of themselves heading towards the king's apartments before the power loss.
It was not long after the sun had reached its zenith that he felt something go through him, something powerful enough that it felt like his insides were being ripped into shreds. He doubled over, unable to keep his composure in front of the security who turned to him in concern, just as an alarm began to sound, indicating a security breach.
Hurriedly one of the officers turned back to the controls and clicked the holo cameras on to the location of the alarm, before calling out to rouse the young Jedi from his pain so he could see the cause of the breach, hoping that it may prove to be of some comfort to him.
Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth.
When Masters Windu and Yoda arrived, Obi-Wan tore himself away from his vigil over his Master's body to meet them. Padmé stood beside him, along with several of her security and attendants. She had honoured him with her companionship whenever her duties permitted her time to do with as she wished, standing beside him before the ledge where his Master lay, under a shield to protect him from the elements, for the palace burial shrine was situated outside in the gardens, under a stone pillared temple. Neither of them spoke during their time together, yet there was something conveyed in the silence which went deeper than words ever could, framing their plans for the future.
Qui-Gon Jinn had been a respected member of the Order, the two Council Masters held a high regard of him, considering a place among their ranks for the Master many times, something that Qui-Gon always refused. Yoda had chosen Qui-Gon as Obi-Wan's teacher, knowing that the youngling held the potential to become a great Jedi one day.
It was why he held no hesitation in conferring the rank of Knight upon Obi-Wan as soon as they were granted a moment alone within one of the palace state rooms. Much surprised he was, when the padawan refused to accept the promotion.
"I no longer feel that my place is with the Jedi Order, Master Yoda," Obi-Wan offered simply by way of explanation.
"Where do you feel it is then, hmm?" Yoda queried.
Obi-Wan blushed. "With Padmé," he murmured softly.
Yoda moved to object, then a prodding from the Force told him to hold his tongue. Instead he clasped the youngling's shoulder gently, assuring him that he could call upon the Order whenever he may need assistance.
A few hours later he stood by Master Windu as they paid their respects to Qui-Gon, watching the cremation of his physical remains.
"There is no doubt," Master Windu murmured to him, careful not to let his voice carry to the other attendants. "The mysterious warrior was a Sith."
"Always two there are," Yoda remarked thoughtfully. "A master and an apprentice."
"But which one fought Qui-Gon?" Mace asked. "The master or the apprentice?"
Yoda could give him no answer for neither of them could be certain either way. Only Qui-Gon and his opponent could have answered that. But the former was now one with the Force, while the other had vanished just as mysteriously as he had appeared. No one could ascertain how he got into the palace, or how he left. It was one of the many loose ends within the investigation into the King's murder, one which like the rest, the Council Masters held doubts that they would find the answers to soon.
All they could do was watch the flames of the cremation, as they paid their respects to Qui-Gon Jinn, while praying for guidance from the Force.
Some time passed before the Sith Master decided what to do next. After the murder of the King and the subsequent investigation undertaken by the Jedi it had been necessary to conceal himself from view, so that no one and nothing would lead to him being discovered. He had hoped to achieve more from the incident than what he actually accomplished, yet the matter was not without success. A Jedi Master had been killed, by his apprentice no less, an act that he must make sure did not stroke Maul's ego. One death did not wipe out an entire Order. And there was still the Jedi's apprentice to be taken care of. The Sith Master had expected him to return with the Council Masters to Coruscant. He had been quite taken by surprise when he learned that the apprentice decided not only to stay on Naboo but to leave the Order. For a time he had contemplated the possibility of turning the former apprentice, only to discard those plans when the Queen announced their engagement.
Also he had underestimated Padmé Amidala. He had hoped that the murder of her predecessor would cause her to consider removing herself from the succession, letting someone take over ruling Naboo. Someone such as himself. His current position how not allowed him as much authority as he hoped, sovereign of a planet would have given him the opportunity to build a base for the Sith, from which he would take over the galaxy. Her strength had thwarted that plan, forcing him to retreat into the shadows until he could think of an alternative.
The upcoming trade summit on Eriadu would provide him with a new opportunity to seize the power he hungered for. The Senate was restless and unstable, his secret negotiations with the Trade Federation were going well. If events proceeded as he had foreseen, then soon he would have the pick of positions, sovereign or Naboo, or Chancellor of the Republic.
Darkness was coming for the galaxy, and everything would fear and tremble within its wake.