"Master, not again," sighed the young man. It was a refrain of concentrated exasperation. Unfortunately, the words had lost their meaning long ago.
"That sandstorm will be here within the hour, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon stomped up the slope, sand whipping at his robes. His long brown hair caught on his nose as he turned to look at his padawan. "If you have a better idea, please, tell me."
Obi-Wan glowered up at him, mouth twisted into a grimace. He actually paused for several moments, wracking his brain for an alternative. Eventually, he sighed. Qui-Gon turned back around and resumed marching, and Obi-Wan trudged fast to catch up. The apprentice squinted into the blinding horizon, and then up at the massive sandstone statues flanking the entrance into the grand temple. "It doesn't make any sense," he said.
"What doesn't make sense?" Qui-Gon asked, not turning around.
"Why should they have Jedi here?" Obi-Wan motioned to the cloaked, saber-wielding stone sentinels. "They aren't Jedi."
Qui-Gon turned and gave him a reprimanding look. "They are our brothers and sisters, Obi-Wan,"
"They're heretics," the padawan insisted.
"They are children of the Force, as are we," said the master as though to a child, "And their Order is far older than ours; if anything, it is we who are heretics to the ancient orthodoxy."
Obi-Wan peered up at the stone memories as they passed under their ever-watchful gaze. A great stone chamber opened up in front of them, lit with floating globe lamps that orbited around some unseen star, exuding a tone of peace. It did not quiet the uneasy feeling pooling in his gut. Privately, Obi-Wan wondered what Master Windu would say if he could hear what Qui-Gon was saying about this place. At nineteen, Obi-Wan's teachers already thought that he was a fully indoctrinated rebel, but next to his master he was the paragon of Jedi philosophy. "They do not adhere to the Code," Obi-Wan muttered. In the vast stone hall, the words echoed more loudly than he'd intended, and Qui-Gon heard him.
"No, but they serve the Force all the same." From the tall doorway at the end of the hall, a pair of monks came to meet them. The Jedi stopped and waited reception.
"But the Code is built to help us serve the Force in the Light," Obi-Wan hissed back, keeping his voice quiet.
"But the Code is not Light itself,"
"Then why do we follow it?"
Qui-Gon did not answer this question, and instead bowed low to the monks. Obi-Wan bowed hastily with him.
"Sojourners, Masters Jedi," said the monk, her voice floating soft and strong like a nebula, "it has been a long time since a Jedi has stepped foot in our sacred temple,"
"Then it is an honor to rectify a long absence, sister," Qui-Gon said cordially. This earned him a small smile.
"You come to seek refuge from the storm?" asked the woman.
"Indeed, for myself and my apprentice."
The monk glanced at Obi-Wan, and the piercing gladness in her eyes made him feel guilty. "The Force has led you here, and the Force will shelter you. We would be honored, Master..." she paused expectantly.
"Qui-Gon Jinn," the man bowed lightly again, "and this is Obi-Wan Kenobi."
The monk bowed back. "And I am Del-Nara Thul," she said. "Please, come with me, I will introduce you to the others."
The others consisted of twelve other monks, of varying species and gender, dressed in a mismatched ensemble of robes. All of them were shades of black and grey, but some had red trim, or white, or blue. They all smiled and shook the Jedi's hands warmly, genuine and unabashed pleasure shining on their faces. Obi-Wan spotted a face watching them with interest from one corner, younger and more serious than the monks. He spotted the Jedi looking, and ducked away.
"Come," Del-Nara was saying, "I will show you to a room where you can rest. You have traveled far."
They were shown their rooms, and given a tour, and treated to a home-cooked meal. As the dull roar of the sandstorm echoed in from outside, the two Jedi settled down to sleep. Or at least, they tried to sleep. The noise from the storm made rest difficult, and continued on through the night. By the time it was morning, the storm roared on and the Jedi had hardly slept a wink.
Obi-Wan shook sand out of the blanket they'd given him. The stuff was everywhere on this planet, and try as they might, the locals couldn't seem to eradicate the grit even in freshly-washed linens. Locked away deep in a mountainside, the sand still snuck in and made a home.
"I'm going to go speak with Del-Nara," Qui-Gon announced as he folded the bedcloths, "would you like to come with me, or are you allergic to courtesy as well as heresy?"
Obi-Wan floundered, trying to look nonchalant. "I really need to finish my report, Master," he knew it was a lame excuse. "I didn't have the chance during the flight."
Qui-Gon only shook his head. "Opening your mind does not mean your beliefs will fall out," the master said as he went to the door. "It only means that some new ones might fall in." The door hissed open, and the tall Jedi paused, back turned to his apprentice. "There is no fear, Obi-Wan, there is only the Force."
Obi-Wan stewed, and pulled out his datapad with a spiteful frown.
Del-Nara was nowhere to be found, so Qui-Gon happily wandered the ancient halls alone, hands folded contemplatively into opposite sleeves. The temple was poorly lit and falling apart in places, but the walls were steeped in the history of the Force's oldest guardians. It glowed up at him like a sun.
"Who are you?" asked a voice. Qui-Gon's eyes followed it to his left, where a nondescript doorway opened up into a gauzy blackness. "Yes, you," said the voice, cracking pubescently. It coughed and said in an intentionally lower voice, "sorry."
Qui-Gon smiled. He stepped into the doorway and looked into the dark, willing his eyes to adjust. They did not. "Who wants to know?"
"You are a Jedi," said the voice.
"So I am."
"You have starlight hanging on your belt."
Qui-Gon glanced down at his lightsaber. He stepped into the room and stepped carefully forward. He heard sand and pebbles crackle under his boot. "You mean my lightsaber?"
"Its kyber heart is like the heart of a star," said the voice. Its owner was somewhere to his left. "I've never met a Jedi before," it said, and cracked again. It coughed again. "Sorry." Qui-Gon chuckled. He was struck my memories of Obi-Wan's self-conscious pubescent years. They were not so long ago. "There's no need, little brother," the Jedi said, shuffling further into the dark. "Where are you?"
"Just here," said the voice. Qui-Gon's boot toe hit on an uneven stone. "Careful," the teen said, "There's a fallen pillar there. Take three steps to the right and come around." Qui-Gon did.
"Why are you sitting here in the dark?"
"I have no use for light," said the boy. "I'm practicing."
Qui-Gon pondered this, stepping forward. He nearly tripped again, this time over an upturned tile which shattered into smaller pieces and tumble away. "Careful," chuckled the boy. Qui-Gon straightened.
"Would you mind if I…?"
"Of course not," said the boy. Qui-Gon ignited his lightsaber, and a green glow overtook the room. He could now see the owner of the voice, a lithe, black-robed teen with short-cropped hair and light, shining eyes. He had his head cocked away from Qui-Gon, a long cane propped on his lap.
"Kyber sings in the light," he said. "I wish I could see it's color."
Qui-Gon caught a glimpse of the boy's eyes and realized that their airy blueness engulfed not just the irises, but the pupils as well. It plucked a chord of memory, and his heart softened. "Do you know the color green?" He asked.
"Well, it is that color."
The boy smiled. "It suits you, I bet."
"Thank you," Qui-Gon said, and went to sit next to the boy. He turned off his saber. "You see through the Force?" he said.
"I do not see at all," said the boy. "I hear, and I smell, and I feel. The Force is in all of those things, too."
Qui-Gon smiled, and wondered if the boy could sense it. "You are very wise for your age."
"I didn't make it up," said the teen. "That is what the elders told me after I lost my sight. The fever passed and I lived, but not without cost. I try to remember their teachings."
"You honor them well." He glanced down at the place where he knew the boy was. He could not see, but he could feel the glowing presence there. "But you sensed my lightsaber."
"The kyber, yes. Our temple is rich in kyber, nearly as rich as Ilum."
"You can feel it through the Force, then."
"I cannot use the Force as you can," the boy's robes rustled as he shrugged. "But I know it is there. Sometimes, if you listen closely enough, it makes the kyber sing."
"That sounds beautiful. I have never heard it."
"But you see it every day," the boy said, "in a beam of green light."
Qui-Gon smiled. "Yes."
"I wish I could see through the Force as you do," the teen said wistfully.
It must not have been all that long since the illness, Qui-Gon realized. Practicing, that's what he said he'd been doing. Practicing seeing in the dark with a wooden cane. The monks here were not sensitive to the Force as Jedi were, he knew.
Qui-Gon's eyes never had adjusted to the dark. He closed them now, and focused his hearing, searching for something he'd never heard before. "There was a Jedi," he began, "who was incredibly close to me, years ago. She lost her vision on a mission assigned to her by our Jedi Council. Afterwards, she saw the world through the help of the Force," he said. "Imperfectly. She also had a droid, which she hated." The boy chuckled at this. "And me," Qui-Gon said.
"You helped her see?"
"She did not see at all. She trusted in the Force, and the Force entrusted her to me."
"I do not have power in Force like you do, Master Jedi,"
"But you do have faith. The Force is with you," Qui-Gon ventured out a hand, and found the boy's shoulder. "And you are with the Force."
"That is our prayer," said the boy, surprised to hear it out of the mouth of a Jedi.
"Even we Jedi may study broadly."
"I should hope so. This planet was named for the Jedi, you know. But now we guardians are heretics - or so I hear." Qui-Gon's surprise must have been evident in his silence, and the boy chuckled. "That is what your apprentice said. He speaks very loudly, and these halls echo quite a bit."
"You must not mind Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon apologized, "he is a bit… stuck in his ways."
"But he is strong in his faith," said the boy. "When he walked by here, I could hear his steps singing like kyber."
The thought made Qui-Gon smile fondly. "You are very insightful."
"For a blind man," he said.
"For any man."
"Chirrut?" called a new voice from outside the room. It was another young boy, whose voice was already deep and steady, "Is that you?"
Qui-Gon looked up to the door to see a tall young man in too-big robes with brown skin and prominent ears. He hoisted a lantern into the darkness. "Oh, Master Jedi, There you are. Chirrut, what are you doing here?"
The light shone onto Chirrut's young face and Qui-Gon thought he saw some annoyance there. "Just practicing," Chirrut shrugged.
The older boy seemed to consider this, and shook his head. He glanced at Qui-Gon. "Del-Nara sent me to find you. The storm has passed. She can give you a ride into the City, if you like."
"I would be most grateful."
The boy nodded at him, and glanced at his friend. "She says she hasn't seen you since yesterday morning, Chirrut, where have you been?"
"Practicing," the boy said again, and stood. Qui-Gon stood and watched as Chirrut put out his cane to feel his way along the uneven floor.
"I will help you," said the other teen, stepping forward to take Chirrut's arm.
"I'll do it myself," the blind boy shook him off. "I'm fine, Baze, really."
Baze gave a frown far too serious for someone his age. He stood away from his friend and watched like a hawk while the shorter boy crossed the upturned, ruined ground of his favorite practicing arena. "The Force is with me," said Chirrut carefully, shuffling across the littered floor, "and I am one with the- ow," he tripped over a crease in the tile, and recovered with a gangly, graceless bound. "-Force," he said, and smiled at Baze. Baze sighed heavily.
"So it is," Qui-Gon smiled. They left the room, and Baze led Chirrut to the left. Qui-Gon strayed right. Chirrut and Qui-Gon paused, while Baze carried on down the hall.
"You trust the Force," Qui-Gon said, "but the Force also trusts your friend. You must listen to them both."
Chirrut cocked his head as if listening to something. He nodded. "I will practice," he said, voice cracking. He coughed, but did not apologize. "And you, master Jedi, you must be patient with your apprentice."
"Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon asked, surprised. "Why do you say that?"
"His faith is still growing, but he is made of kyber. The Force has plans for him."
Out of the mouth of babes, Qui-Gon thought, not sure what to say. Chirrut tested the ground with his cane. "Your mind is open, Master Jedi, but you may need to open it further here."
"How do you mean?"
Chirrut paused, head still tilted slightly as if listening, hearing some song no Jedi had ever imagined. "The Order of the Whills is not done with you yet, I feel. Listen close, listen well."
It was not often that he could take lessons from youths. Qui-Gon smiled, and hoped that Chirrut could sense it. "I will do that. It was good to meet you, Chirrut."
"And you, Master…" Chirrut paused, realizing he'd spent all this time talking to a man whose name he did not know.
"Qui-Gon Jinn," the Jedi said. Chirrut's face froze, and then, slowly, he began to smile. Although his eyes were covered in clouds, for a moment, Qui-Gon thought he must've seen across time and space itself.
"Jinn," the boy said, blind eyes crinkling, "I like the sound of that name."
"Chirrut!" Baze called, impatient. Chirrut turned his ear down the hall and sighed. The Jedi chuckled.
"May the Force be with you, Chirrut," said Qui-Gon.
"It is with me," said the boy, turning away with his cane, "and I am with it."
Qui-Gon thought, not for the first time, that Force sensitivity was not always what the Jedi Order imagined it to be. "As you always will be," he said, and took his own path.
Qui-Gon walked side-by-side with his apprentice out of the Sacred Temple of the Whills and into the blinding day.
"What?" Asked Obi-Wan irritably, having caught his master staring at him.
Qui-Gon blinked himself out of a reverie, a ringing moment in time where he'd seen Obi-Wan as an old man, heart singing like a crystal in the middle of a desert storm. "Nothing," He said, "just listening to the sound of the Whills."
Obi-Wan sighed and plunged on toward the speeder that would take them to Jedha City. "You know, master, sometimes you make no sense at all."
That's okay, a quiet voice told him, one day, you will.