“Watch out he—”
There is a startled, garbled cry before one of the men tumbles off the roof, clutching the bright hot mess of his shoulder. The rain streaks down out of the dark, roiling sky. The rooftops of the complex are slick, and even the guards who have been there for years feel disoriented, the winding paths flickering in the light of the lightning streaking across the sky so far above. The forest surrounding the facility sways, branches twisting and leaves rippling to match the skies. This little unnameable moon rarely hosts such terrible storms and the men are not used to it. When the storm had first started they had huddled down, content to wait it out, but then—
Then an intruder was spotted in the Archives and the alarms were set blaring and bright and they had no choice but to face the terror of the skies because the terror they would face if they failed was much greater than this.
“He’s headed to the woods!”
The security guards skid across the rooftops, eyes peeled for the slip of shadow they pursued. Amidst the roiling chaos it is a miracle they could follow him at all.
Perhaps that had been his intent all along.
One of the guards who dotes upon ancient Gods and believes in much more than the rest shudders to think that the intruder has called upon the storm. Has coaxed the fury of the planet to life and whirled it like a cloak about his shoulders to keep hidden.
Later he will voice these concerns in a trembling voice and the others will laugh, but deep in their bellies fear will knot and weigh down upon their hearts.
But for now he races over the rooftops, hands clutching a sniper blaster rifle. His eyes flick over the low roofs, along the high walls of the facility, and— there! His eyes catch on a wisp of shadow. Immediately, he drops to one knee, feet slipping for a moment before he finds his balance. Rain sluices into his eyes and he has to blink hard to clear his vision as he lifts his rifle. He lets the butt of it fall heavily upon his shoulder, and he hides a wince he doesn’t have to. No one can see him. Not in this rain, not now that he is still as the steel beneath his knee. He peers through the scope and breathes steady, letting his trembling cold fingers become as still as ice.
There. He spots the slip of shadow again. Unnervingly small. He breathes deep again. Follows the figure with the barrel of his blaster. Breathes in. Breathes out. Pulls the trigger.
The intruder goes down in a burst of scarlet light.
The guard’s breath hitches. He’s done it!
But just as he lets his fingers relax— Just as another guard finally catches up to the downed intruder—
A burst of bright hot light blazes through the dark of the night.
The guard watches slack jawed, breath lost, as the intruder rises up, a band of blazing light shatters like the trail of a comet from their fingertips. The light flickers upon the intruder’s features— a child— and the guard who had caught up with the intruder falls with an eerie silence.
Everything seems to stand still. The guard cannot feel the rain upon his frozen cheeks. Does not hear the rushing howl of the wind. Does not see the swirling of the clouds above or the churning trees edging along his vision.
The intruder. The child. He looks across the slicked rooftops, blazing light still in hand, casting his face in a sick light, and catches the guard’s gaze.
His eyes are like twin cold stars.
Then without a sound, the intruder disappears up and over the wall into the roiling storm.
“…nt? Bant? Padawan? What is on your mind today? I feel as if your body is here and your eyes in the clouds.”
Bant blinks hard, lets out a harsh breath she hasn’t known she’s been holding. “Yes, Master Tahl.”
The woman standing in front of Bant gives her an incredulous look, gold-green eyes wide. Her dark honey hands set her holobooks onto the desk between them. She turns her full attention upon her apprentice when she says, “Yes what, my very young padawan?”
Bant ducks her head, cheeks flushing crimson. “Yes, I was listening, Master.”
“Then what did I just say?”
There is some amusement in her Master’s voice and yet Bant still feels mortified. They haven’t been Master and apprentice for long enough that Bant feels completely comfortable with Tahl yet. She still feels an overwhelming need to prove herself even as a tiny whisper in the back of her mind asks: Why do you need their approval to be proud of who you are?
Bant does not utter a word. After some long moments she hears her Master let out a long and deep sigh. “Is it him, again?”
Bant stares at the floor beneath her webbed feet. She gives a slow, shaky nod.
There is another, deeper sigh. “Perhaps we need to visit the Healing Halls today.”
Bant’s head shoots up. “No!” She backtracks, eyes wide, mouth gaping, trying to find words to cover her outburst. “I- I only mean…It is not serious. Only a feeling. A- An impression of words, of an image. Nothing more.”
Tahls raises one single, dark brow. Her braid cascades over her shoulder, beads bright against her skin. “And just what did you see, my padawan?”
Bant’s eyes tremble, heart in her throat. She chokes once and, defeated, the words stumble from her lips. “The wrath of the gods. Fear. A bright blaze— steady in the midst of roiling storm. But it- the cold blue of it was wrong, I- I don’t know. It caught oddly in the hollows of his eyes, his cheeks…” She trailed off, brow furrowed, mouth twisted. “I- there was no ill intent. Just, just misunderstanding.”
Tahl eyes Bant for a long, silent while, brow still raised. Then, as if she has no choice, she sighs. Again. It is like there is a weight upon her shoulders when she slumps, hair bobbing about her temples like rings of a planet. “I have to wonder…”
Salmon pink hands fidget as Bant ducks her head for the second time that day. She cannot look her Master in the eye. She feels ashamed. Confused. Worried and defensive as she has felt since the day one of her dearest friends left her. “He means no harm.” Her voice is a harsh whisper, pleading. Almost teary. Most definitely weary. She’s said this many times over the past two years.
“You are my dear padawan.” Tahl’s fond tone leaves no room for argument. She lays a gentle, firm hand upon Bant’s fragile shoulder. “Any worries I have are for your well-being.”
The small Mon Calamari’s head shakes sad and slow. “I know, my Master.”
Tahl’s fingers squeeze, reassuring. “Tell Master Yoda of your latest vision, we will.”
Bant has a sudden flash of half-remembered words whispered in her ear, arms curled warm about the curve of her back.
Miss you, I will
Sorry, I am
Her eyes glaze, she shakes her head, raises her eyes to meet her Master’s concerned gaze. “Yes, Master.”
Master and apprentice quickly and quietly return the holobooks to their proper places and leave the Archives. Tahl keeps a concerned eye upon her apprentice’s small back. There is rigidity in the young Mon Calamari’s spine, hidden within the softness of her character. Kindness of the heart is not the only reason Tahl chose her padawan. Nor is her budding skill in healing.
There is a bitterness in the youngling’s eyes, to the crook of her mouth, that Tahl knows has not always been there.
Tahl lets her fingers clench, then relax.
One day she will meet Obi-Wan Kenobi. One day she will meet him and demand to know if he had intended to do all that he has done.
“Clearly I need to invest in superior employees, for the ones in my current service are not good enough.”
The Nautolan cowers, lekku trembling as his eyes stare at his feet and not up at the terrifyingly blank face of the man before him. “I— I’m sorry, sir, but—”
“Enough.” The voice is like a lightning strike.
The Nautolan does not need to look up to know that the man lounges back in his seat like a panther, long fingers artfully placed on his smooth polished desk, eyes like twin black holes. The Nautolan knows his employer, and he is right to be afraid of him.
“I have spent that last five years rebuilding what was lost. I have spent the last five years in careful planning and it is all about to go up in smoke because you cannot keep a simple facility secure?”
“I am sorry, my Lord, I—”
“Stop your blubbering. You are dismissed and will be replaced by someone who is more qualified than you. If you are not gone from this facility within the next five minutes you will regret ever coming into my employ.”
The Nautolan does not bother to say that he has regretted it since day one.
He makes a quick bow and turns to hurry out of the room before his employer’s voice stops him once more.
“If you would please send in the last set of personnel you hired in order to correct your mistake.”
The Nautolan gulps. He knows his now former employer well enough to realize that politeness does not equate to authenticity. Or respect. “Yes, sir,” he mutters and leaves the room.
The man at the desk lets out a long, irritated sigh, leans forward and lifts his hand to massage his temple. A moment of weakness he’d never allow anyone else see. The room is circular, home to one large desk, rows of shelves and holobooks and one enormous window that take up the space behind him. Outside the burnished sunset sets the towering city about them aglow. It casts the room into flame and the man and his desk smudge a shadow that looms in the room. The glass is transparisteel and there is no chair for any visitor to sit in. The man himself is a sharp silhouette of coal.
A light knock. The man drops his hand back onto the desk and sets himself into an easy lounge once again. “Enter.”
The double doors swing open and four people file in. The man surveys them with a critical eye. The first is a hulking Annoo-dat Prime. He is a bulging mass of bloody-scaled limbs. Out of confidence he wears very little, clothing draped about his hips and his claws dipped in steel. His reptilian head bows not in reverence but in promise of a threat. His maw gapes, horrid smirk curling his non-existent lips, letting his crowded teeth glint in the light, and his eyes flash, one set nestled beneath the other, jutting above his cheeks. The spikes of his head have thin strips of leather wrapped about them, and with every step he takes, the tiny bones at the end of the strips clatter against each other.
The Gorum is a little surprising. The man thinks he might never have even seen one in the flesh before. The humanoid slouches instead of standing tall, hair messy and a dank brown, falling into his shadowed scarlet eyes. His eye sockets and cheeks are so hollow you could practically see the bones beneath his skin. He wears simple armour. A blaster at his hip. His prehensile tail is a curl of anxiety against his ankle, and his forked tongue wisps over his lips.
The third is a female Khil. She is completely swathed from throat to toe in leather and armour. A giant, curved blade with many jutting teeth rests upon her back. Her skin is a sickly green-grey upon her smooth head, gristled greyer around her black eyes, and the tendrils that dangle from beneath her sharp nose and cheeks curl into the darkest green. They tremble slightly with her every breath.
The last is almost expected. There are so many Ubese bounty hunters. This one looks no different from the rest. They’re small, possibly a woman, but how could one tell with the mask. Their hood gapes about their leather-covered throat, well-worn armour dulled and plated beneath the collar. They are, of course, completely covered, as all Ubese bounty hunters tend to be. Straps line their hips, as do several blasters of varying size. Their mask seems oddly disproportionate to the rest of their body, but the man supposes he’s gotten used to it over the years.
The man stays silent for some long minutes, simply observing. The Annoo-dat shifts from foot to foot, huffing almost imperceptibly, eyes narrowing with each passing minute. His massive hands flex and his claws clink against one another. The Khil is completely still but for the faint tremble of her tentacles, and a single tilt of the head, expectant. The Gorum’s tail is a constant twitch. His eyes dart from left to right. If he had ears to match his tail, the man suspected that they would be flicking, too. The Ubese is a silent wisp of shadow.
“You have been called in here because my… unfortunate associate deemed it appropriate to fix his blunder. He thought you all capable and worthy of employ here. However, his judgment has been called into question. As of this moment, you are not official employees here and will remain so until I have evaluated you personally.”
This is the test. Not that the Annoo-dat knows that. As he so proves in the next moment when his spikes bristle and a rumble quakes through his chest to burst through his gaping maw in a roar.
His words are garbled as he hunches and springs towards the man at the desk, talons slashing and jaw primed to rip and devour.
He goes down in flashes of blaster fire and a terrible whorl of crimson.
His body smashes into the desk, splintering the wood with his bloodied bulk. The only sounds when his body settles into the creaking wood are the sizzle of cauterized flesh and the bubble of fresh blood from his split skull and chest. His tongue lolls, half bitten through, flabby flesh. His back is a riddled mass of smoking pits.
The man has leapt to the side. Now a profile of curling eclipse limned in bloody-gold. His cheek catches the dying of the sun which in turn edges shadow into the circular raised scar below his eye. He turns to the remaining three bounty hunters. His eyes blaze in the scarlet of the lightsaber he holds in his hand.
“Self-preservation is admired, and yet I do not look for that in an employee. You, Gorum, may leave.”
The Gorum, who huddles against the door, blaster clutched tight to his chest, frantically nods his head and, tail quivering, scrambles out the doors.
“You two, however, I would like to employ.”
The Khil eyes the smoking corpse and gives a tight nod, tucking her hidden blaster back into the depths of her armour. However, she keeps her grip of the blade, steady and long against her side. Defensive.
“What is your name, Khil?”
“Lev’noxi Moulti,” she says, voice lilting as Khils’ tend to be.
“Lev’noxi. You are now our new head of security. If you step outside one of the sentries will show you where to go.”
The only surprise she shows is a slight widening of the eyes and the flutter of tendrils along her jaw. “Yes, my Lord.” The doors click behind her. Her sword is still in her hand.
“And now you.”
The man turns the intensity of his gaze upon the Ubese before him. “Who are you, Ubese?”
The Ubese’s blasters are tucked into their belt. But the man knows that one of them is still warm from recent use. He saw the scorched hole at the vulnerable base of the Annoo-dat’s skull. Saw the charred mess of the Annoo-dat’s right eyes.
He knows a single kill shot when he sees one.
The Ubese looks like they haven’t even moved since they entered the room. When they speak, their voice is raspy, as all Ubese’s are. But instead of speaking Ubese, as Ubese usually do, their words are in Basic while their hands flutter in Ubeninal sign language. “I am Olau.”
The man lifts a brow. “And do you speak Basic purely for my sake, Olau?”
Olau inclines their head. “My only wish is to accommodate my employer. And be paid for finishing the job.” Their hands still flutter. It is like they do it without a thought.
The man studies the Ubese for a long moment. “Well, then, Olau. I appreciate the honesty. However, I would like my new bodyguard,” and hear the Ubese’s head jerks, “to address me properly.” The lightsaber still ablaze in his hand snips into death, to grow cold in his palm.
The Ubese is silent for one long moment. The last rays of the sun are weak against the dull gleam of their helm. Then they bow deep and low, voice grating in the silence of the office. “Yes, My Lord Xanatos.”
Xanatos’ smile is a nasty one. Jagged, curling, elegant blood red lips against pale white skin. “I think we will get along well, you and I.”
The sun finally slips below the horizon, silent, like a wisp of smoke, the final ember flickering out. Telos IV is thrown into the darkness of the night.
“You know, Master? It might be best if you did give in to Master Yoda and finally took on another apprentice.”
“You know I can’t do that. And I am your Master no longer. You have no need to call me by anything but my name.”
A huffed laugh.
“Whether you like it or not, you will always be my Master. Even when I am annoying you into grey hair I will always be your padawan.”
Qui-Gon lets out a weary, belly-laugh. He leans back in his chair and sets his cup of tea upon the table before him. “Oh, Feemor, there is no doubt about that. You have already been doing that for an age.” His smile is good-natured and he seems a little more energetic than he did earlier that day. When they caught wind of the latest news.
Feemor lets a gentle smile grace his lips and has to remind himself not to let his brows furrow. His former Master has seemed drained the past few years, and only recently has the light begun to truly shine in his eyes once more. Feemor lets himself study the crinkles at the corners of his Master’s eyes, at the edges of his mouth, as Qui-Gon reaches out to grasp his tea once more and close his eyes to take a long, steady sip.
They sit in Qui-Gon’s modest apartment. They’re settled in the kitchen, hands wrapped around cups of tea, pot steaming between them. The light of the afternoon drifts in, soft, from the living room where plants curl and stretch along the windows and up the walls. This is the apartment Qui-Gon has had for years. Since Xanatos. Since Feemor. He is content with his place, and forces his eyes not to linger upon the empty room at the end. Where he thinks no padawan will ever sleep again.
Yet he has not the heart to leave. To deny himself completely.
They have fallen into silence. Qui-Gon knows his former apprentice watches him. He takes one more drink of tea. Clinks the cup upon the table once more. Heaves a sigh. Says:
“Young Bant Eerin is having…difficulties.”
Feemor does frown this time. “Master, we have no way of knowing what she is truly seeing. It could be past, present or future— and we do not even know if the future she sees will come to pass.”
Qui-Gon raises shadowed eyes. “It is still troubling.”
They share a moment of silence, then:
“Especially when what she sees seems to be connected to young Kenobi.”
Feemor knows this. That is why he is worried.
“If we could only find him—” Qui-Gon interrupts himself, gaze far-off. “In another life, maybe, he could have been my- my padawan, but now…”
Feemor distinctly remembers two years ago when the Temple was in an uproar. A youngling had disappeared. An Initiate. Barely ten. He’d been about to get his own ‘sabre crystal, but had been waylaid by a strange bout of sickness. No one could figure out what was going on. Then one morning the youngling was simply…gone. No word. No indication of how or why or where he might have gone.
Feemor had not found out until later that Qui-Gon had been the last to see him. That Qui-Gon had been the last to speak with him. He did not find this out until several months later when a hesitant knock sounded at his apartment door and outside it stood Qui-Gon, hair frazzled, great shadows beneath his weary eyes.
“I am sorry, my young padawan,” he had said. His words had sent a jolt through Feemor who had not spoken with his former Master for three years. “I am sorry I renounced you. I was a fool. Caught up in my own pain, I did not think of you.” Then:
“I do not know what to do.”
“I do not what to think.”
“This youngling told me— but now he is gone and I—”
His voice had broken off with a choke.
Feemor, outwardly calm and inwardly reeling, had stepped into Qui-Gon’s shaking arms. Then led him into his apartment where they sat together until well past morning’s first light.
Neither had forgotten the pain of the past, but they were on good terms once more. Though Feemor was a little leery of this youngling who had so shaken his former Master, he was grateful for the reconciliation Kenobi had inadvertently set into motion.
But with young Bant’s frequent visions…
“Master, have you ever thought…”
“What?” Qui-Gon’s glance is sharp.
Biting his lip, Feemor looks down at his hands. The cup has gone cold between them. Even seems to begin sucking the warmth out of his fingers, his callused palms. “It is nothing.”
Bant’s visions are troubling, full of shadow and violence. At the centre of it all is one person. Sometimes man. Sometimes boy. Sometimes something else entirely. But it is always Kenobi, there is no denying that. His essence is the same, no matter how it twists and warps and crumbles. His Force signature churns in the depths of her dreams. The visions are occurring more frequently. She has to have weekly meditation with Yoda now, who knows more about the Unifying Force than most anyone.
And now one of Kenobi’s other friends, Reeft, who has just entered apprenticeship, is beginning to get them, too. But these are of a different nature. Darker. More confusing. The youngling recognizes nothing in these and has to fight to get words out. Any that make sense, at least. Feemor thinks of “Chosen One,” of “Sand Eaters” and of “The People of the Twin Suns.”
No one can hardly make any sense of it. The thought of the Chosen One, of a prophecy yet to be fulfilled, looms over the Temple like a great shadow. Not many are supposed to have heard of these visions, but word travels fast.
“Is there to be a second Rising?” Jedi whisper.
“Do the Sith yet live?” Jedi cannot help but fear.
“Who is to blame?”
“How can this be?”
“What do we do?”
“What can we possibly do?”
Feemor refuses to join in the gossip, but that does not mean he is above eavesdropping. He likes to know what is going on, especially when it is so incomprehensibly connected to his former Master whom he cares for more than the Code says he should.
Feemor has perhaps always cared more than he should. It is probably why he and Qui-Gon get along so well, why they made such a good team as Master and padawan.
Qui-Gon gives him a long, searching look. But he only deigns to say, “Tahl wants to sup with us tonight. She has a new bottle of Corellian wine she is willing to share.”
Feemor groans. “I hope she doesn’t expect me to cook.”
Qui-Gon’s mouth curls in a wry smile. “Well, would you rather I cook?”
Feemor groans again. “Please Force no, Master. You would poison us all.”
Qui-Gon lets out a hearty laugh. “I believe this is how she tricks you into cooking, my naïve padawan.”
Their solemn mood is forgotten as they refill their cups with steaming tea, laughter ringing in the waning afternoon sun.