The foul, dank air of the cave was doing little to improve Anakin’s mood, which had been going steadily downhill as the day progressed.
Or failed to progress, as the case seemed to be.
The reasons why the Council, in all its wisdom, had believed that the rebels of Hargoeth would be willing to listen to reason were completely escaping Anakin. They were a filthy, miserable faction, one that would spell doom for their entire people.
Anakin would see to that.
They would see how foolish they’d been, after the Separatists wiped them out. They’d want the help of the Jedi then, when their children were cut down by unfeeling battle droids. When the blood of their people ran silver in the streets, they’d scream out for aid.
They would know, in those last moments, the cold truth that their own people were to blame for the Republic’s withdrawal.
And whatever they’d done to Obi-Wan, whatever hurt they’d caused him, Anakin would personally see to it that they would pay the appropriate price.
He knew that if Obi-Wan were here, he would chide Anakin for his uncharitable thoughts.
If Obi-Wan were here…
But he was here, somewhere. And Anakin would find him.
Anakin would not fail this time.
His bond with Obi-Wan might be weakened at the moment, but it wasn’t severed -- it wouldn’t serve as a homing beacon, but it did reassure him that wherever Obi-Wan was trapped, he was still breathing.
Anakin shivered, pulling his cloak more securely about himself.
If Obi-Wan were here, after the lecture, he would… tell Anakin to be calm and still, to allow the Force to guide him.
He supposed that it was worth a try.
Anakin let out a quick breath and dropped to his knees.
He closed his eyes, shutting out the mottled blues and grays of the cave walls around him. He pushed away the close scents of excrement and carnage, and ignored the sounds of small creatures rustling in the distance as the jungle came back to life. He dulled his sense of the world around him, of the rocky floor underneath him and the slimy muck that clung to his cloak.
The meaning of time itself drifted from Anakin as he searched for that inner peace that Obi-Wan always found so quickly.
Three different possibilities, three different tunnels… and the Force refused to show him which choice would bring him closer to Obi-Wan.
Mediating wasn’t helping.
Anakin let out another impatient breath. Thinking like Obi-Wan wasn’t helping either. Not that it ever did.
If Artoo were here, Anakin could have scanned for Obi-Wan hours ago.
At the time, Anakin had been unable to argue with Obi-Wan’s reasons for leaving Artoo behind. Anakin and Obi-Wan hadn’t come as fighters, but as negotiators, and the people of Hargoeth were known to be mistrustful of droids.
In retrospect, of course, Obi-Wan had been completely wrong, and Anakin would enjoy telling him that just as soon as Anakin had located him.
Well, as Padmé had told him once, inaction aided no one. He had to choose. If he went down the wrong tunnel, he could always retrace his steps and start over. As long as he could still feel Obi-Wan, he had time.
Anakin opened his eyes, and the world rushed back in.
The tunnel on the left sloped slightly downward, and he could only see down it for a few meters before it curved out of sight. The one on the right had a sharper descent and seemed to go on for quite a long distance before there were any turns. The middle tunnel was roughly level, and clearly the one most used.
Given the kind of day that he’d had so far, down seemed the most appropriate direction to go.
“Right it is,” Anakin said. He felt a brief, irrational surge of relief that Obi-Wan wasn’t there to see him talking to himself.
He took the tunnel entrance at an energy-conserving jog, doing his best to extend his awareness outward, just in case he sensed something from one of the other passageways. He pulled his lightsaber off his belt and ignited it, the blue light bouncing off the walls of the tunnel.
In time, the tunnel started to turn, twisting inward and underneath the other tunnels. And Anakin’s sense of Obi-Wan’s presence was stronger than it had been at the entrance to the cave.
Anakin sped up.
Finally, the walls of the tunnel opened up as he burst into something of a room. Roughly circular, empty but for a wooden door at the far end, inexpertly and recently wedged into the rock face.
Obi-Wan was on the other side of that door.
Anakin slowed to a halt just before he reached the end of the chamber, and he stretched out his senses, trying to determine if Obi-Wan’s captors were still with him.
He frowned when Obi-Wan was the only presence he picked up.
Had that little toad Ulgdo been telling the truth, then, when he’d said that his people meant the Jedi no harm? Unless they believed they'd weakened Obi-Wan enough… but still, to avoid even the simple precaution of a guard, it would be foolish.
But Anakin had sense such fear from Ulgdo, far before the end, fear that Anakin had thought was unwarranted if they’d wanted him to find Obi-Wan.
It had to be a trap.
But as Obi-Wan had taught him, knowing that there was a trap didn’t make the path that he needed to tread any less necessary. It just meant that Anakin would need to be on his guard. And the best thing to do in this kind of situation was to be straight-forward.
Anakin reached out with the Force, ripping the shoddy door to pieces.
And there, before him, was a pool of what looked to be water, stretched from wall to wall. And lying on the far side of the water was Obi-Wan, unconscious.
Anakin tightened his grip on his ‘saber and leapt across the water-
He landed in a heap on the other side, agony slicing through him. He could feel the pain of Dooku’s lightsaber, a thousand times over, in every part of his body. His mother’s voice was screaming in his head, calling out for him, begging and pleading. He could hear Padmé crying softly, and it was his fault, he was breaking her heart. Obi-Wan’s face, old and worn, smiling and then gone, and an aching absence where their bond should be. The fires of Qui-Gon’s funeral pyre circled around Anakin, and he couldn’t breathe.
And then, through the shudder of pain, Anakin heard a voice, unfamiliar and yet known, calling out to him.
I've got to save you.
A name came to Anakin’s lips and he whispered it, soft and uncertain, “Luke?”
But the thought was gone as quickly as it had come, and the odd sensations started to recede, leaving a lingering weakness.
Was this what they had done to Obi-Wan?
Anakin forced himself to open his eyes. He could still see Obi-Wan, lying just outside his reach. He used his mechanical hand to pull himself forward, gouging finger-shaped holes into the rough floor.
Anakin pulled himself up against the wall nearest Obi-Wan, and then reached out towards Obi-Wan with both his hands and with the Force.
His mind touched Obi-Wan’s and Anakin felt almost light-headed with relief as Obi-Wan reflexively responded, his mental touch as soothing as always. Obi-Wan was warm and solid, and Anakin pulled him closer, cradling Obi-Wan’s head in his lap while he recovered his strength.
Whatever had happened, it had taken more out of Anakin than he’d thought he could endure, and if it had caused him that much pain, he shuddered to think at what it had done to Obi-Wan.
But it hadn’t felt malevolent. Painful, yes, but not evil.
Anakin sighed in frustration, gently stroking his real hand through Obi-Wan’s hair. Soon enough, Obi-Wan would wake up, and they would solve this mystery in the best way possible – together.