Category: Romance, Drama, Adventure, Angst.
Rating: PG 13
Archiving: Early Years & Jedi Apprentice
Spoilers: Yes, for the JA books
Disclaimer: All recognizable Star Wars characters are the
exclusive property of George Lucas. All others belong to me.
I have no official permission to use these characters, but
I'm not being paid for it either, so that's okay.
The selected verses I used for the story are from a song called "Kissed by a Rose" and is done by Seal, it also does not belong to me, no money involved... yada, yada, yada.
Feedback: Yes Please!
Time Frame: 8 years before TMP. Obi-Wan is 17.
Summary: While on a mission, Obi-Wan meets a strange girl with a mysterious past. While the Jedi struggle to bring peace to the planet, Obi-Wan finds himself losing his heart to her.
But there is a secret hidden deep in the heart of the forest, and an ancient myth that may be more than it seems...
NOTE: Um... this is my first, my one, my ONLY attempt at a Romance story. I do not usually write romance and when you're done reading you'll probably be glad of that! *cringe*
I wrote this story for a friend of mine and but since I've got it I might as well make you all suffer through it. :D
This "wee romance story" :) is dedicated to Ellen, without whom it would never have been.
I would also like to thank Siobhan for her invaluable advice and assistance! :D
Well, enough blabbering, let's get on with it...
Things bracketed by *'s are *italic*. (But you could all figure that out, couldn't you?) :D
There used to be a greying tower alone by the sea.
You became the light on the dark side of me...
But did you know, that when it snows,
My eyes become large and the light that you shine can be seen.
The blue-grey mists of Valhalla parted as the two Jedi, Master and apprentice, disembarked from the vessel that had brought them to this planet.
Qui-Gon Jinn scanned the hazy terrain. Something felt strange here, cold. His apprentice, seventeen-year-old Obi-Wan Kenobi, seemed to feel it too. The younger Jedi looked around as he stepped off the transport behind his Master.
"The reports did not exaggerate about Valhalla's weather," Obi-Wan commented, pulling the warm material of his long brown robe closer around him. Yet there was something in the chilly air that seemed to penetrate even through that. A frost that went beyond the atmospheric conditions.
"Greetings!" a voice called out, as a lone figure emerged from the swirling fog. The Chief Superintendent and regional manager of Issgard Inc. stepped forward to greet the visitors. "You two must be the Jedi, Master Jinn and Padawan Kenobi. I am Administrator Mishta Graw. We have been expecting your arrival for some time," Administrator Graw bowed respectfully. Half a dozen other figures were now visible, behind the Administrator, but none of them moved to come any further forward. The Jedi got the impression that they were guards of a sort.
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan returned the bow. "Administrator," Qui-Gon nodded. "What is the present state of relations between Issgard and the Halla? The last message from President Ciorni stated that the situation here had been worsening."
Mishta Graw shook his head. "Unfortunately, it has gentlemen, or Mr. Ciorni would never have asked for Jedi aid. I didn't even dare come out here to meet you without bringing several of the men along," he added, nodding at the others, still half-hidden in the mist. "But come, we can discuss it more comfortably inside, out of this infernal damp and cold. If you'll follow me Gentlemen? Your quarters have been prepared for you."
Mr. Graw led into the main living compound for the Issgard employees not far away. The rooms he took them too were lit with a welcoming cheery glow that drove away thoughts of the gloomy outdoors.
Obi-Wan shook his head and found that his hair was damp with dew. Their robes too, were heavy with moisture.
Mr. Graw bade them remove their damp over-garments and hung them up in a special closet to dry. The off-world crew here had quickly found ways to deal with Valhalla's dismal weather. Removing his own, water-repellent outer wrap and settling his guests with a hot cup of tea, Mishta Graw picked up the conversation again.
"As you probably already know gentlemen," he addressed the Jedi, his greying beard and weathered face making him look older than he really was. "Issgard Inc. is a research and development company that creates and markets new medicines and drugs. The founder and CEO, Mr. Ciorni first came across Valhalla in his reports about ten years ago. Valhalla is only lightly populated, 9,000 native people at most. They call themselves the Halla and are primitive, superstitious people. It was discovered that water of this planet contains a rare substance called Trio-Ithitain 3HX. Issgard had just recently come upon a formula for a potential cure to some diseases, otherwise thought untreatable, but large amounts and a steady supply of Trio-Ithitain 3HX were essential. Mr. Ciorni and his representatives tried unsuccessfully for three years to contact the leaders of the Halla, to gain their permission and set up terms for putting up a plant here on Valhalla, but they never responded and refused to meet with anyone. Finally, Mr. Ciorni took the matter to the Senate. Since the Halla were apparently unreachable, and because of the importance of our work, the Senate granted Issgard Inc. permission to proceed with their plans for Valhalla, so long as they did not in anyway displace, mistreat or interfere with the Halla and their way of life. Well, for the first year or so, all went well, and we've done everything possible to honor those terms. Yet from the start, the Halla avoid us and resent our presence. Then they started sabotaging our equipment. They want us to leave. We have tried to reason with them, tried to explain the importance of what we do and why we're doing it, but they refuse to listen, refuse to believe us. When some of our workers started getting harmed by the sabotage, it was decided that things had gone too far. That's when you were called upon." Administrator Graw leaned back in his chair.
"I hope you can help us. I would hate to see this project abandoned, but I can't condone my men's being harmed. I don't want to start a war gentlemen, especially since that would most certainly violate the terms of our operation here and we'd have to leave anyway, but I don't know how much longer I can keep the men from doing something stupid. They can only take so much of being sabotaged, tricked, humiliated and injured before they begin wanting to retaliate. I am afraid that the situation is becoming critical."
"Indeed," Qui-Gon nodded slowly. "Your position here is precarious, but not impossible. By all means, keep your men in check. A miss-step now could certainly spell disaster for all hopes of a peaceful resolution. It seems that the first step which needs to be taken is for Obi-Wan and I to attempt to make contact with the Halla leaders. But for that to succeed, I think it would be best for us to avoid their associating us with you as much as possible. Since they seem to be set against you, there is little we could accomplish if they put us in the same category."
"Very wise Master Jinn," Mr. Graw nodded. "We are prepared to help you in any way we can."
"Thank you," Qui-Gon nodded cordially. "Then the best way to keep from a damaging association would be for my apprentice and myself to stay somewhere else, somewhere not associated with Issgard."
"It is well thought of. There's a little cabin about 500 kilometers from here, near the edge of the forest. It was originally erected by our scout parties, but has not been used in years," the Administrator suggested.
"That will serve well," Qui-Gon agreed.
"Good," Mr. Graw smiled. The first real smile the Jedi had seen him give since they started talking. "Then directly after dinner, I'll have some of my men take you over."
The cabin was small, but comfortable enough once the heating units were engaged once more. There, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan strategized about how they were going to accomplish their ends.
"Master, if the Halla have refused to speak with anyone so far, what hope do we have that we will be able to make them listen to us?" Obi-Wan inquired thoughtfully.
"Because we must Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said simply, just as Obi-Wan had known he would. "If we cannot avert a disaster here, then lives will probably be lost, and a cure that many people in the galaxy desperately need will never be created. What do you think we should do first?" Qui-Gon turned the question around on his apprentice.
Obi-Wan considered thoughtfully. "Well, we don't have much to go on. Other than that the Halla are essentially human looking and highly suspicious of outsiders, we know very little about them. Without more knowledge of who we are dealing with, it would be a mistake to take too much action. First I suppose we must find one of the Halla settlements and find out, if we can, what their side of this story is." Obi-Wan looked to Qui-Gon, he had confidence in his conclusions, but there was still a part of him that was looking to his Master to see if he had gotten it right.
Qui-Gon nodded his concurrence and his approval. "Yes, that is exactly what we must do."
"From what Administrator Graw told us over dinner," Obi-Wan continued, into full planning mode now. "There is known to be at least one Halla settlement somewhere to the northeast of us, around the eastern edge of this forest. They haven't been able to locate it, but I'm sure we could."
Qui-Gon smiled faintly as he watched his apprentice eagerly spinning out the plan for how they were going to find the Halla village.
"Oh," Obi-Wan stopped suddenly, almost flushing, afraid that he had overstepped himself. "Forgive me Master, you should have stopped me."
Qui-Gon shook his head, the faint smile still on his lips. "Why should I? Your plan is sound, well thought out and well researched. Pretty soon you're not going to need me around at all." It was a jest, but Qui-Gon was pleased with the way Obi-Wan was advancing in his training.
Obi-Wan flushed again, but this time with pleasure. "I still have much to learn Master," he said softly. "I know that."
Qui-Gon nodded. "You will never stop learning Padawan, it is something we do everyday," he commented thoughtfully. "But for the present, we had better see what we can learn about the Halla."
The Jedi were indeed able to locate the Halla village and the next day was spent observing in shifts, without making their presence known. The Halla were a private people, even amongst themselves. They had complex superstitious beliefs that governed much of their daily lives. That they resented the Issgard plant and it's workers as intruders and bad omens were obvious.
Obi-Wan moved almost noiselessly through the dense forest, returning alone to the small cabin that he and Qui-Gon shared. It was just after nightfall. Obi-Wan's shift at watching was supposed to have extended until almost midnight, but the unusual amount of activity that Obi-Wan had observed made him think that he had better return sooner. Qui-Gon should know what was going on and his comlink was either not working, or running into interference somehow. He would have to get that checked out.
The mist was not so bad tonight, and Obi-Wan had a clear view of the crystalline sky, studded with it's myriad of twinkling stars, like rare fire stones flecking it's black velvet covering. Suddenly, as if the stars had become weary of the sky, small, iridescent points of light began to fall from the sky above the blackened treetops. A moment later, Obi-Wan realized that they were actually large, fluffy flakes of snow.
The young Jedi held out his hand in mild surprise. It was always chilly at night on Valhalla, but not nearly cold enough to be snowing. Yet another quirk of the unusual weather he supposed. The woods were eerily quiet. The snowflakes glittered brilliantly in the bright light of Valhalla's three moons and melted in his hand. Looking down, Obi-Wan saw that they did not linger on the ground but melted immediately, leaving no residue but moisture, no trace that they had ever been.
Obi-Wan looked up and saw, to his surprise, a figure standing not twenty paces away. A young girl of approximately his own age with raven hair and a pale white dress was looking at him through the tree branches. Obi-Wan did not feel threatened, but he almost stopped breathing, as one would when afraid of frightening away a wild deer that crossed their path.
*What was this girl doing out in the forest at this hour?* Almost certainly, she was one of the Halla, but as far as Obi-Wan had known, the Halla avoid the woods like the plague, calling them haunted, and cursed and refusing to set foot in them after nightfall, and very seldomly even in daytime. Administrator Graw had told them that the forest sometimes created strange communication blocks and anomalies, (which, he realized, probably accounted for his comlink problems) but little else.
The moment seemed to linger oddly, almost surreal as they considered each other through the veil of falling snow. The girl looked almost as surprised as Obi-Wan at finding someone else out here.
"Hello," Obi-Wan said quietly, taking a step forward.
The girl started at the sound of his voice. Turning, she fled noiselessly into the darkness of the trees.
"Wait! Don't be afraid!" Obi-Wan called, chasing after her for a moment, but it did no good. The girl vanished without a trace, just like the snow.
Obi-Wan was still thinking about this strange encounter when he returned to the cabin. Qui-Gon was waiting for him, dressed to go out again, so the younger Jedi knew something was up.
"Obi-Wan, I was just coming to look for you." Qui-Gon's words confirmed Obi-Wan's suspicion. The Padawan reported that there were unusual goings on in the Halla village, they were preparing for something, but what he wasn't sure. Obi-Wan also told of his chance encounter with the girl in the woods. Qui-Gon wasn't sure what to make of it either, but if the girl was from the village, it could mean that the Halla now would be aware of their presence.
"I think that we have observed enough. The time has come for us to approach the Halla," Qui-Gon said thoughtfully.
"Right now?" Obi-Wan inquired, trying not to sound incredulous.
"Yes," Qui-Gon nodded his head. "Now. I spoke to Mr. Graw while you were gone and found out that the Halla attacks on the Issgard plant seemed to have a pattern to them," he informed. "They seem to be tied with the moon cycle, which would fit with the Halla's beliefs. It is now nearly to the point in the cycle when they usually try something. The Issgard workers know this and are very on edge. What you saw was probably the Halla preparing to hit the Issgard again, and if what Mr. Graw says about the disposition of his men is correct, then we must not allow that to happen. A war would not benefit the Halla either, they have inferior arms, many would die no one would gain, and that is what we must make them see."
Obi-Wan nodded, that made sense.
Qui-Gon pulled the hood of his cloak up. "I am going to speak to the Halla, I want you to go to the plant. Try to avoid any unpleasantry if anything should arise."
"But Master," Obi-Wan protested. "Surely it is unwise to approach the Halla alone. Shouldn't we *both* go?"
Qui-Gon shook his head. "Under normal circumstances, perhaps. But we do not know if the Halla saboteurs have already left for their target, or if my words will sway them, so someone must be on hand to try to avert disaster at the plant. Keep the Issgard workers calm; do not engage the saboteurs if they do not present an immediate threat to anyone else. Frighten them off if you can. We don't want an open confrontation."
"Understood," Obi-Wan nodded, arguing no further. "But, Master?"
"You too Padawan."
Everything seemed quiet, but Obi-Wan knew better than to trust the silence, or mistake it for peacefulness. Somehow, the stillness of the dark area just beyond the reach of the Issgard plant's giant floodlights reminded him more of the eerie calm of standing in the eye of a storm then anything else.
At his suggestion, the floodlights, usually left off to conserve power, had been turned on and security on all Issgard grounds doubled. It was the apprentice's hope that a show of watchfulness might peacefully ward off any attempt planned by the Halla.
The young Jedi shifted quietly from foot to foot. He had been standing here, in the shadow of the main plant building for the better part of three hours. Obi-Wan had chosen this location because it seemed to be against the main plant unit that most of the attacks and sabotage had been aimed. So far, not a thing had disturbed the misty twilight, yet the Padawan's senses were alert and probing. If anything were to happen, he was ready.
A soft, rustling movement in the distant woods, more felt than seen, made Obi-Wan tense and search the shadow of the trees. Yet he did not sense any threat, or danger...
Slowly, cautiously, a lone figure stepped out of the woods. Her pale dress reflected the light like a fragment of the moon, fallen down to earth. Obi-Wan recognized the girl as the same one he had seen in the woods earlier. Was she really a Halla operative? Merely curious? Who *was* she? The young Jedi held very still and waited to see what the mysterious woman would do.
The girl made her way slowly towards the very spot where Obi-Wan was standing in the shadows. She held something in her right hand that Obi-Wan could not quite make out. She seemed to be looking for something or someone, stopping every few paces to look around before venturing a few more. Obi-Wan kept himself hidden and shielded, watching her until the young lady was within five paces of him, but still unaware of his presence.
Stepping out in one swift move, Obi-Wan put himself in her path. "Where are you going?" he asked firmly but not unkindly.
The girl started violently at the surprise, but did not scream. "You scared me!" she said, placing her empty left hand over her heart, but not seeming terribly 4surprised to see him there.
"What are you doing out here at this hour?" Obi-Wan asked again, still being cautious.
"I..." the girl hesitated as if embarrassed or frightened, or both. "I-I was looking for you."
"For ME?" Obi-Wan was not sure what to make of that. "But... why?"
"I-I brought you this," she said, thrusting the silver, cylindrical object she carried into his hands. "It's something hot for you to drink, it-it gets very cold here during the night..." the girl was obviously frightened of him. Obi-Wan was not sure why she was doing what she was. How did she even know he would be here?
"How did you know... why would you..." Obi-Wan looked at the thermos in his hands and tried to figure out what he was asking. "Why?"
"I saw you in the woods. You're not Halla, they will not set foot in the forest because they say it is cursed, you're not some of those new comers, they will not venture beneath the trees because the fear the Halla. I was curious. I followed you to your cabin. I should not have listened, I know," the girl hung her head. "But I heard your plans. I thought you'd like to know that there will be no Halla attack tonight. Your friend, the tall man with the long hair reached them before the party left. They have agreed to wait, maybe to talk, but they do not think it will change anything. Your friend is a mighty man to change the minds of the Halla on this subject," she ventured, glancing up to hesitantly meet his eyes.
"Yes, he is," Obi-Wan nodded, sincere, but not quite sure of what to make of this yet. "I shall stay at my post here, just the same," he added politely. He saw no deception in the girl's amber-gold eyes, but no one was getting him to budge for any reason.
"I didn't imagine you would," she shook her hand. "That's why I brought the drink." The girl hesitated as if realizing what he might think of her offer. "I promise there's nothing nasty in it, really," she assured.
Obi-Wan did not reply, but just studied her.
The young woman seemed uncomfortable. "Well, drink or don't drink as you decide," she said at last. "I-I just wanted you to know that I appreciate what you're trying to do... Valhalla needs peace... we..." but she could not seem to decide how to continue, so instead she turned to leave. "Goodbye then, I'm sorry if I've troubled you."
"Wait," Obi-Wan called after her as she hurried back towards the woods.
"Thank you," he said when the girl paused to look back at him. She smiled at him, then disappeared into the trees.
Obi-Wan shook his head. Who was that girl? He realized he hadn't even asked her name. Shrugging it off, the apprentice checked the liquid in the thermos she had given him. It proved to be safe. Obi-Wan wasn't too surprised really, if someone had wanted to poison him they would certainly have come up with a less obvious, or at least, less strange, way than this.
The drink was foreign to him, but it had a pleasant, warming effect that drove the night chill from his body.
Settling down into the shadows once more, Obi-Wan returned to standing guard.
The first faint light of dawn was just beginning to color the sky when Obi-Wan felt his Master's presence approaching. The young Jedi stepped out of the shadow of the building to greet Qui-Gon.
The elder Jedi looked very tired and worn, but the aura around him was one of satisfaction.
"You were able to stop them," Obi-Wan stated it for a fact.
Qui-Gon nodded. "Yes, at least for now. They do not trust easily and are even harder to sway, but fortunately, they seemed to know something about Jedi. We are part of their legends apparently..." Qui-Gon smiled in semi-amusement. "Only, as legends do, it's all gotten turned around a bit. But the good news is that they have agreed to hold hostilities, and to discuss this further. They are a very cautious people and will decide nothing quickly I fear," the Jedi shook his head. "This may take some time. They wouldn't even think of meeting any of the Issgard workers yet, but with time..." Qui-Gon trailed off and blinked several times, as if trying to bring his apprentice back into focus.
"You need to rest Master," Obi-Wan said quietly, but with some concern. Qui-Gon was obviously very run-out.
Qui-Gon did not argue, but nodded, running his hand over his forehead. "Yes, after Administrator Graw is informed of these developments." The big Jedi turned back towards the plant, but he took one step and wavered unsteadily.
Obi-Wan caught his Master's arm quickly, steadying him. Qui-Gon winced and Obi-Wan promptly pushed the elder Jedi's sleeve up to see why.
Qui-Gon's strong arms were mottled with fresh, nasty blue-black bruises that continued up his arms and doubtless across his shoulders, back and chest.
"Master!" Obi-Wan's voice was sharp with alarm.
"No, no," Qui-Gon waved the Padawan off; pulling his arms away and letting his sleeves slid down to cover the bruises once more. "I'm all right, really. Just very tired and a little stiff. The bruises look bad but it's nothing that a little time and proper meditation won't heal," he assured.
"What happened?" Obi-Wan wanted to know as he guided Qui-Gon to sit down on a nearby tree stump.
"Oh, well," Qui-Gon shrugged stiffly. "The Halla weren't very receptive to having an unannounced, unknown visitor enter their camp. For primitive people, they can put up quite a ruckus when they want to. I did not wish to draw my lightsaber on them, but in the end I had to. It all turned out well in the long run, however. Because I was able to stand them off, they decided I was worth listening to, and when they saw my lightsaber... well, they remembered their legend and the rest is as I said."
Qui-Gon closed his eyes for a moment. He was obviously very tired.
Obi-Wan felt guilty. "I should have been with you Master," he said softly.
Qui-Gon shook his head, his eyes still closed. "No, someone needed to be here, just in case. Besides, they would never have listened had there been two of us." The Jedi Master did not need to open his eyes to tell that his student was puzzled.
"It all has to do with their beliefs and superstitions Padawan," he explained briefly. "They're rather complicated and confusing to an outsider, but the Halla won't do anything outside them. They will speak only with me I'm afraid. I cannot take you there with me, or Administrator Graw, or anyone else yet..." Qui-Gon leaned his head into his hands. He really did not want to show Obi-Wan how drained he was, but his body seemed to be leaving him little option. "I've got to let Graw know..."
"You're in no shape to do anything right now Master. I'll give the report to Administrator Graw and inform him that you will give him details later," Obi-Wan said firmly, not caring if it sounded like he was ordering his Master around or not.
"All right," Qui-Gon nodded.
Obi-Wan was surprised that his mentor put up no argument. Qui-Gon must really be drained.
"We're getting you back to our cabin right now for some rest," the Padawan added, helping Qui-Gon up.
Qui-Gon smiled wearily. "Yes, Master," he mumbled teasingly. He knew Obi-Wan was simply concerned about him.
Obi-Wan smiled and shook his head.
Obi-Wan looked up at the sky. It looked like some kind of storm was approaching. That wasn't too surprising. Did it ever do anything else on this planet besides storm, chill and fog?
The young Jedi returned to the small cabin that had been his and his Master's home for nearly a week and proceeded to pace the floor as had become a habit of his lately.
The Halla continued to talk with Qui-Gon, and progress was being made, only it was painfully slow. There was so much formality and ceremony around the talks that it was almost suffocating, even for a patient, trained Jedi like Qui-Gon. The Jedi Master would come back in the evenings weary, but hopeful and Obi-Wan would have food and drink waiting for him, which was something that the Halla never seemed to consider.
Obi-Wan supposed they might not even have thought of the idea that Jedi needed to eat or sleep at all, at least not considering the kind of schedule they seemed intent on keeping Qui-Gon on.
While all of this was draining to his Master, it had just the opposite effect on Obi-Wan and the young Jedi felt more and more like a caged yanari. Not allowed to participate in the talks with his Master, he spent most of his time here and the cabin had begun to feel like a prison. Sometimes he would stay with the Issgard while Qui-Gon was gone, but they were all very busy and Obi-Wan hated the thought that they might feel they somehow needed to *baby-sit* the teenage apprentice. Besides, at least he was that much closer to the Halla camp should Qui-Gon need him. So he preferred to wait here. Even if there was nothing to do...
Qui-Gon looked around the assembly. Something seemed different than usual. At least ten or eleven of the people he had become used to seeing at these daily talks were not present today, and the ones who were there seemed slightly edgy.
Ismaren, the chief, or Grandhaka of the Halla, avoided Qui-Gon's eyes when questioned on the subject, but eventually revealed that those people were part of a faction that were displeased with the Halla's decision to deal with the Jedi.
"They think it wrong that nothing is being done to rid our planet of the outsiders," Ismaren confessed. His dark grey eyes were serious and he was apparently very troubled.
"The majority has spoken, we say that we do not wish to anger the great Je-di, that we will continue to keep faith with him as we promised, to hear out what he has to say... but they will not listen," the Halla Chief shook his shaggy head, his silver hair glittering metallically as he did.
"To the intruder's village they have gone. Death is in their eyes and hate is in their hearts. They carry with them the dark cloud of bloodshed," Ismaren bowed his head as if ashamed. "We could not stop them. They have broken faith with you Je-di and called down the curse of the oath-breakers upon themselves. Even now, the our people are performing the rights of protection, to keep the curse from falling upon us as well."
That explained all the chanting and smoke Qui-Gon had seen rising from the village on this way here.
"Grandhaka," Qui-Gon tried to inquire calmly. "How many have gone on this dangerous mission? When did they leave?"
"At least fifty. They left when the sun was high. They do not intend to return. To their deaths they know they go, but sworn oaths they have, to take the intruders with them," Ismaren provided. His interesting way of speaking was sometimes reminiscent of Master Yoda, although other than that, the two had absolutely nothing in common.
"I must warn the Issgard," Qui-Gon said, turning to go. "Thank you Grandhaka," he bowed. "I will return and we may continue then..."
"No," Grandhaka Ismaren shook his head. "You must not leave Je-di. The world outside is trembling," he pointed to the darkening sky. "Wrath is going to fall; you must not to be caught in it. If leave the circle of protection of this village, the curse will fall upon you as well, and speak to you again, we cannot."
What was Qui-Gon supposed to say to that? Inwardly sighing in frustration at these stubborn people and their superstitions he nodded. "Very well then, I will stay."
*"But that doesn't mean I can't send Obi-Wan to warn the Issgard..."* he added mentally.
Obi-Wan thumbed his comlink on quickly. Qui-Gon never called him during the day. Something must be up.
"Yes, Master?" he didn't expect anyone but Qui-Gon to be calling him, so he answered directly.
"Obi-Wan, listen carefully," Qui-Gon's voice was hushed. "Somewhere around fifty Halla dissenters have taken off on a suicide mission to destroy the Issgard plant. I cannot leave here and my attempts to raise them on the comlink have failed. The Issgard must be warned immediately."
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan responded, already sliding into his outer-robe. "I'm on my way."
"Good. Be careful Padawan, it looks like there is nasty weather brewing," Qui-Gon cautioned.
"I will," Obi-Wan nodded, even though he knew Qui-Gon couldn't see him.
"Jinn out," Qui-Gon cut the communication short and Obi-Wan hurried outside. The wind had picked up considerably and the apprentice hugged his robe around him tightly. It was chilly, but not biting.
The quickest way to the plant was straight through the woods. As Obi-Wan entered the initial fringe of trees, the first few snowflakes began to fall from the heavy sky.
By the time Obi-Wan was halfway into the woods, the snow had become a blinding curtain around him. It was so strange, because the snow did not accumulate, and the driving wind was cold, but not freezing, as one would expect from a blizzard like this. It certainly did a good job of binding one though and Obi-Wan had to grope his way from tree to try, stretching out with the Force to keep from totally losing his way.
Then, he sensed something else. Away through the swirling snow, he thought he glimpsed a moving shape. Low to the ground, it appeared quickly, then disappeared again. The same thing happened again off to his right, then his left...
Obi-Wan stopped, a feeling of warning creeping up on him. He stretched out to feel what was there, and something made his blood run cold. Instinctually, he ignited and brought up his lightsaber just as the first beast tore itself from the blinding veil around the Jedi and sprung at him.
Qui-Gon watched the huge storm kicking up outside and wondered if Obi-Wan had made it to the plant all right before the storm hit. He didn't think there had been enough time, but it didn't seem deadly, and Obi-Wan had a good sense of direction... he told himself that worrying was pointless.
From somewhere in the woods beyond the village a lone, howling cry went up and was immediately joined by dozens of others. The very sound was enough to freeze Qui-Gon's blood.
It seemed to have a similar effect on Grandhaka Ismaren because the chief stopped speaking in mid-sentence and a shared shudder seemed to pass around the assembly.
"The devils are out, have mercy on us," he whispered.
"What do you mean?" Qui-Gon asked, suddenly not sure he wanted to know.
"The Hadi are out," Ismaren said gravely. "Huge beasts with bodies of white and fangs as long as a man's hand. They hunt in packs in the woods and fields when the white-blindness falls. They cannot be seen now, when it gets like this, and heaven help the creature or man who is in their path. It is the fulfillment of the curse, the punishment of the faith-breakers," the Grandhaka said solemnly. "They will never reach the intruder camp now."
Qui-Gon didn't give two shakes for their curses, but the new knowledge that these kinds of storms brought out deadly creatures in the woods chilled his heart through.
"Please excuse me, I've got to make a call," he said quickly. In the privacy of the next room, he tried to raise his apprentice on the comlink, but got no answer. He tried at the cabin with the same effect. Hoping that the storm was interfering with communication, he once again tried calling Administrator Graw. His stomach tightened uneasily when Graw's voice answered him, soft, but clear.
"Administrator, this is Jinn," Qui-Gon said. "I tried to call you earlier but could not get through."
"Yes, right before a big storm like this communications usually get quite tricky," the administrator replied, his voice muffled by a sudden wave of static. "The connection we have now probably won't last very long either. You had better stay with the Halla until this is over, it's not safe to venture out."
"Yes," Qui-Gon nodded distractedly. "But right before the storm started, I sent Obi-Wan to warn you that around fifty Halla militants were headed your way, without the approval of the Halla leaders. Has Obi-Wan arrived?"
There was a few agonizing moments of silence broken only by the crackling static.
"I'm sorry Master Jinn, but he hasn't," Mr. Graw said quietly, realizing what that could mean. "It could be that the weather has slowed him down, or..." the man's voice trailed off. From somewhere deep in the woods another bone-chilling howl split the air, rendering the rest of the sentence unnecessary. They both knew what could have happened.
"I will try to call you should he arrive," Graw assured. "And we will be on the alert for any attack... I hope the boy will be all right," the administrator added softly.
Qui-Gon hoped so too. Reaching out, he tried to find Obi-Wan in the Force, but he did not seem to be able to make a connection.
As much as he wanted to leave immediately and search for Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon was stuck in the Halla camp until the storm was over. He would have to wait...
Qui-Gon switched his comlink off and looked out the window. He could see nothing but white.
Obi-Wan was well trained and able... Qui-Gon would not let himself consider any other possibility then that the apprentice would be all right. Still... he did not like this one bit.
Obi-Wan cleaved the head off the ravening beast, stopping it mid-spring, before it could reach him. Instantly, another one was on him from behind, and another, and another.
Two beasts caught their claws in Obi-Wan's long brown robe, attempting to pull him down between them. Only by sliding out of the garment and sidestepping quickly, did the Padawan evade them. Obi-Wan spun and twirled, lightsaber flashing. The fierce wind made him struggle to hold his footing and the blinding snow left him to rely fully on the Force for knowledge of where the beasts were. To his dismay, he could feel dozens of creatures around him, and more massing every moment.
He could not hold them off here forever, there were too many of them and more just kept coming. He tried to maneuver his way forward while still fighting, and for a few minutes, he succeeded. Then a tangle of low shrubs and scrub growth blocked his path. He could not take his attention off the attacking Hadi long enough to get through it, so he had to change course.
The young Jedi ended up zigzagging through the trees until he had completely lost all sense of direction. He seemed to be picking up more creatures as he went, but he dare not stop now.
A dip in the ground made Obi-Wan stumble. Instantly, one of the Hadi was on him. The massive, snarling, white beast hit him squarely in the chest, the weight of its solid, muscle-packed body carrying the apprentice down to the ground. Sharp claws raked across Obi-Wan's right shoulder and chest and Obi-Wan only just brought his lightsaber up in time to avoid having the beast sink it's fangs into his throat. Rolling sideways, Obi-Wan barely managed to avoid three other beasts.
Springing to his feet, the Jedi tried to ignore the blood that was dripping down his arm and torso and the lines of fire that the claws had drawn there. He could not last much longer at this.
Retreating almost blindly, Obi-Wan hacked and slashed, but his head was starting to spin and his breathing was coming in ragged gasps. Without warning, the ground failed beneath his feet and he found himself tumbling down a steep hill, crashing painfully through bushes and over rocks as he went. His tumble was suddenly checked when he crashed smack into an obstacle that did not give way before him.
The impact with the tree knocked the wind out of him and for a moment, Obi-Wan was dazed. Part of his mind screamed that the moment it would take him to regain his breath would be a fatal moment too long, but there was nothing he could do about it.
The Hadi came barreling down the hill after him, sure-footed and deadly in their headlong rush.
Suddenly, Obi-Wan felt the tree behind give way, like a door being opened and a set of hands grabbed his arm. Before he had time to even think, the hands yanked him backward. The young Jedi found himself tumbling back and down. There was a blur of motion that he could barely see as he hit the ground hard. Then, there was the sound of something slamming shut and the blinding white around him was replaced by an inky blackness.
For a moment, Obi-Wan thought he had passed out, but then the pain in his chest made him realize that he was still very much awake. Outside, the Hadi howled and raged, but they could not get into wherever he was. Blinking in the darkness, Obi-Wan became aware of another presence.
A glow-ball lit and flared for a moment before settling down to a comforting warm radiance and Obi-Wan found that he was sitting inside a small, round room. Although room, was not quite a good description. The floor was hummocky, but smooth and the wooden walls rose up and up into darkness without ever revealing a ceiling.
Obi-Wan took all this in in an instant, before his attention was completely taken by the person who had just rescued him. Somehow he wasn't surprised to see that it was that girl again, the mystery one that he had seen in the woods, and again at the plant that night.
"You should not be in the woods when the white blindness falls," the girl remonstrated, shaking her head and starting two more glow-balls that hung from the walls.
"I can see why," Obi-Wan answered, getting slowly to his feet. The room could not have been more than 10 feet in circumference, which did not allow much room between them, but the girl did not seem concerned by the small quarters. He checked his belt for his comlink, but it was gone, probably lost in his wild descent. "Do those things always come out when it snows like this?" he asked, trying to catch his breath. That brush with death had been much too close for his comfort.
The girl nodded. "Always. The ancient people built these sanctuaries in the woods in case the storms should come suddenly and they could not get back to the village. Now the Halla never enter the wood and so they go unused and forgotten, except to me," she added.
"Where are we?" Obi-Wan looked around again, studying his surroundings more intently this time.
"We are inside one of the mighty Kalorns," his companion explained.
"We're inside a tree?" Obi-Wan knew the huge Kalorn trees were big, he had never really thought that they must be big enough to put rooms inside of without damaging the normal growth of the tree.
The girl nodded. "You looked like you needed some help."
Obi-Wan made a face. "I did. Thank you," he added. "You saved my life... what is your name?"
"Liana," the girl said softly, brushing stray strands of ebony hair from her face. "Liana Vasanay, and you?"
"Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Padawan to Master Qui-Gon Jinn," Obi-Wan bowed slightly by way of greeting. However, when he tried to straighten up, the room seemed to spin dizzily.
Reaching back, he steadied himself against the wall.
Liana seemed to notice the bleeding cuts that had rent both his tunic and skin for the first time. Alarm colored her golden eyes. "You're hurt."
"A little," Obi-Wan admitted the obvious. "But it will be all right..."
Liana was not paying attention. "Sit down," she told him quickly, but gently. "And put your head between your knees."
Obi-Wan was confused. "What? Why..." The sudden faintness that Liana had seen echoed in the paleness of his face a moment before overtook the apprentice and he half-sat, half-collapsed to the floor.
He felt woozy and ill as Liana propped him up against the wall and quickly removed his shirt.
Ripping a piece off the already torn fabric of his tunic, Liana moistened the cloth in a small bucket of water by the door, which was probably kept filled in case the inclimate weather should keep the person taking refuge here for an extended period of time.
Quickly, the girl set to work bathing the gouges on Obi-Wan's chest and shoulder. "There's poison in a Hadi's fangs," she explained, her voice full of concern.
Obi-Wan winced at the touch of the cloth against his injuries, but did not make a sound. "Why do you seem to care so much what happens to me?" he inquired, only realizing afterward that it could be considered a very rude question after all Liana had just done, and was doing for him.
Liana did not seem offended however. Instead, she smiled slightly, rinsing off the bloody cloth and cleaning the wounds once more. "I would not let those cursed Hadi get their fangs into my worst enemy," she admitted. "Besides..." her voice trailed off. "You do not avoid me. You do not treat me as if I were an object to be feared. I saw it in your eyes the first time I saw you in the woods. You did not try to hurt me, you did not run away in fear, and when I came to you by the new-comer's home you spoke to me like a person..." Liana turned away quickly under the pretense of wringing out the cloth.
Obi-Wan thought he had seen tears in her eyes. "Liana, why do you live in the woods if the Halla hate it so? What reason would anyone have to hate or fear you?"
There was a long pause before Liana answered. "I am an outcast," she said simply. "Shunned from Halla society. If I were ever to go into the village, I would be killed. They fear me as they fear everything about this wood, and they hate me because they live by a set of rules that cannot bend. The newcomers just don't trust anyone..." she shook her head, pain glistening in her eyes. "I tried to approach some of them, but they must have thought I was one of the Halla. They... they drove me off," Liana's voice dropped and she lifted her arms, pushing up her thin left sleeve to show the scar that marred her pretty upper arm.
"They have weapons like I never saw before, that shoot fire... They hurt very much," she said softly, letting her sleeve fall again. "I have not approached them again."
Obi-Wan's heart went out to the poor girl. Gently, he reached out and squeezed her shoulder. "I'm sorry Liana. I'm sorry they treated you that way. The Halla did a lot of harm to them and I'm sorry you got caught in the middle."
Liana smiled sadly. "You're very kind. Now, I'm going to put some of this," she ran her cloth along the wall of the room, gathering onto it the sticky sap that oozed in places from the living tree around them. "On your wounds. It will sting a bit, but it's got a natural healing element in it and a purifier that will neutralize the rest of the Hadi poison, all right?"
Liana hesitated. "Do you want something to bite on? This is pretty bad..."
Obi-Wan shook his head. "No, I'll be fine, go ahead." Closing his eyes, he centered himself.
Liana applied the sap and Obi-Wan tensed sharply. She had not been exaggerating about what it felt like. The sticky pitch burned like fire in the claw-cuts, lancing through him like white-hot needles in the open wounds. The young Jedi grit his teeth, but otherwise remained perfectly still and silent.
Liana finished up as quickly as possible and sat back to wait for the stinging to stop.
The fierce burn subsided down to a dull ache and Obi-Wan unclenched his jaw and fists slowly. Opening his eyes he saw Liana watching him.
The apprentice smiled weakly. "Yeah, that does sting a bit, doesn't it?"
"I'm sorry," Liana said sincerely. "I know it hurts, but you're safe now, the poison is gone. You were very brave." Liana had never seen anyone go through that treatment without a sound before.
Obi-Wan shrugged. "I am a Jedi."
Liana leaned back on her hands, considering the young man before her. "What does that mean, really? The Halla have legends about your kind, but legends can often mix so much fact with fiction... What is a Jedi?"
Well, now that was a question. Obi-Wan proceeded to explain and Liana sat in rapt silence, seeming to drink up his every word.
"It sounds wonderful," she breathed when he was done.
Obi-Wan grinned a little lopsidedly. "Most people think that. And it is, after a fashion. But it's not an easy life... We aren't... well, we aren't normal people," Obi-Wan said, for lack of a better way of saying it. "What I mean is, our lives do not tend to contain many of the elements that most beings in the galaxy consider normal. And people do not always react to you as they would just anyone. Often it is with respect or awe, but that kind of awe usually places us on a non-human level and can make it very hard to relate to people. I also know what it's like to be feared," Obi-Wan said, catching Liana's eyes. "Feared, hated... even rejected and scorned by people who don't understand..." Obi-Wan sighed. "It's not a stable life either. Master Qui-Gon and I are almost constantly on the move, you never know if it's going to be a peaceful negotiation, a long, boring process, or a life-threatening situation that you're sent to, or land in next..."
"Uncertainty is not so bad," Liana shook her head. "An unknown future is better than one that is fixed. You may not have consistency in your life, but at least your future is your own to determine," she said, a distant look in her eyes.
Obi-Wan nodded; Liana was right about that. "Master Yoda says that the future is always in motion. No one's future is set, we all have choice."
"Not all of us," Liana said quietly.
"Why not all of us Liana?" Obi-Wan inquired, sensing that there was something behind her words.
Liana shook herself and looked embarrassed, as if she had not meant to say so much. "Well, like me," she said simply. "Everyone hates me. There is no future for me here Obi-Wan. None but emptiness..." she looked so sad.
"I don't hate you Liana," the young Jedi said softly. "The others wouldn't either if they could just see past the ends of their own noses."
Liana smiled and crossed her eyes, as if attempting to see the end of her nose. "You know... I think it's a lot easy to see *past* than anything else..." she said with a mischievous grin.
Obi-Wan actually laughed. "I guess so!" Liana was so sweet and she seemed so lonely... Obi-Wan wanted to help her. "I have an idea, what if, when this storm is over you come with me to the Issgard compound. They know I'm a friend, and we can show them that you are too-"
But Liana was shaking her head emphatically. "I'll never go back there Obi-Wan! I-I can't..." her voice trembled with fear.
"They won't hurt you, I promise," Obi-Wan assured. "I'll be right there with you..."
"No," she refused. "I- They... all those strange men, they scare me. I'm sorry, I know I'm a big baby..." she turned her face away.
"No you're not," Obi-Wan soothed, reaching out gently and turning her head back towards him with his hand on her cheek. "It was just a suggestion. If you're not ready to, that's all right."
There was silence for a moment.
"I was trying to get to the plant, some faction of the Halla is mounting an attack against them," Obi-Wan said by way of changing the subject. "But I don't suppose much will come of it now..."
Liana shook her head. "The secret of the sanctuaries have been forgotten to the Halla, and without them no one can survive being caught outside the village when the white blindness falls," she said numbly, as is she were not talking about the horrible death of over fifty of her own former people.
Obi-Wan shuddered. Outside, he could still hear the howl of the hunting Hadi's. "That's terrible," he said softly.
Liana looked at him curiously. "They would have killed the outsiders you know, if they had made it through, or at least they would have tried," she said, as if he did not comprehend this.
"I know," Obi-Wan shook his head. "But that doesn't mean I don't feel sorry for them. They were doing what they thought they had to, even if it was misguided..."
Liana smiled. "You're a very interesting person Obi-Wan Kenobi. Are all Jedi like you? Tell me more about your life, the other planets you've seen, your home-world... It's all so very different than here."
So, Obi-Wan told her, and as they talked, he found himself relating stories from his child-hood that he had told precious few other souls. He told her about the Jedi Temple and what it was like to grow up there, about his friends and his fun, and his times of pain and worry. Told about how lost and alone he felt when they sent him off to Bandomeer and he seemed to see before him a future that was set, and it was not one he wanted...
Liana smiled softly at him. "You see?" she said. "You do understand what I mean."
The Jedi nodded slowly. Yes, he thought he did now. It was probably the most horrible feeling in the galaxy. But then, he told her about Qui-Gon and the unlikely events that had brought them together.
Obi-Wan was not usually a talkative person, and he generally considered himself a better listener than converser, but now he found himself talking freely about anything and everything and not feeling in the least odd or shy about it.
Liana talked too, speaking of her hopes and dreams, what she thought and felt...
They talked for a long time and the sharing seemed so open and mutual that Obi-Wan did not notice that Liana never once told him anything about her own past.
Outside, the storm raged on and slowly day wore on into night. Obi-Wan had tried been unable to contact his Master through the Force, and that concerned him slightly, but it could have just been part of that anomaly that the woods created. He knew Qui-Gon was probably worried about him, but there was little he could do about that at the moment.
When they tired of talking, the two teenagers took turns teaching the other games and tricks that they had learned as children.
Finally, as the night wore on and the storm showed no signs of lifting, the two tired young people leaned back against the walls of their sanctuary and a warm silence settled over them. Yet, it was no longer the uncomfortable silence of strangers who do not know what to say to the other, but the cozy silence of friends who have said all they need for the moment, and do not need a lot of chatter to be comfortable around one another.
Liana shivered slightly at the chill air that crept in from around the door. Wrapping her arms around herself, she scooted over and leaned hesitantly against Obi-Wan for warmth.
Obi-Wan was surprised by how icy she felt and wrapped an arm around her shoulders to try to warm her.
Liana's body was tight at first and ridged in his arms and Obi-Wan was not sure if it was because she was afraid of him, or because she was cold. He eased off, least his gesture of consideration have caused her distress.
Instead of pulling away however, Liana snuggled down deeper against his chest.
She felt like ice against him and Obi-Wan once more put his arms lightly around her, using the Force to gently warm her chilled body. Her dress was light, almost flimsy under his touch and the young Jedi shook his head. "You're so cold Liana," he said with concern. "You should dress warmer."
"I always feel a little too cold," Liana dismissed it. "But Valhalla is like that, my body is adjusted to it."
Obi-Wan felt her body relaxing slowly against him, like butter melting on a hot day.
Closing her eyes, Liana smiled sweetly. "I don't know what you're doing, but I haven't felt this warm in years..." she said somewhat dreamily. "Thank you."
Obi-Wan smiled and gave her shoulder a little squeeze. "Thank YOU, Liana," he replied. "It's been a long time since I've had the time, or the inclination to just sit down and talk to someone about anything, especially about my life. I'm sure I bored you to tears, but thanks for being such an appreciative audience."
"Ah, but you forget," Liana said warmly. "It's been even longer since I've talked to anyone at all. I enjoyed it. Besides, one thing you could never be accused of Obi-Wan Kenobi, is being boring!"
Obi-Wan chuckled softly and comfortable silence stretched around them once more. Lulled by the soft wail of the wind, the two teenagers fell asleep.
The storm had passed and the mist-shrouded sun was just beginning to rouse itself above the tops of the horizon when Liana stirred.
Obi-Wan was still asleep, and she was still lying with her head cradled against his chest. For a moment she just lay there, feeling as she had thought she would never feel again... had never wanted to feel again...
Finally, tearing herself away from the peacefulness of the moment, she rose slowly, careful not to wake the sleeping Jedi. Looking at him sleeping there, she thought he looked like a light-spirit out of one of the legends...
Bending down, she gave him a soft, tender kiss on the cheek. Obi-Wan stirred, but did not awaken. Lightly touching his shorn, ginger hair, Liana whispered a quiet farewell in her own language, before sliding noiselessly out of the tree and disappearing into the woods.
When Obi-Wan awoke, he could hear birds singing in outside; the happy cacophony that they make to greet the dawn. Sitting up abruptly, he looked around, but found Liana gone. He felt strangely... sorry that she was not there, but pushed it aside quickly as a silly and irrelevant. Still...
Stretching, Obi-Wan went outside and saw that the storm was over and the sun was rising. He had get back to their cabin quickly. No doubt his Master was having a silent fit worrying about him.
It turned out that Obi-Wan did not need to go all the way back to the cabin to find Qui-Gon, because halfway back, Qui-Gon found him.
Obi-Wan noticed with chagrin that there were circles under the Master's eyes and he wondered if Qui-Gon had slept at all last night. That made the apprentice feel rather guilty, because when he looked back, he realized that he was almost glad for the storm, because he had had quite a good time with Liana.
Qui-Gon was relieved beyond words when he saw Obi-Wan walking towards him. The first thing he did was hug the boy, letting all the nervous tension and concern that had built up over the night evaporate, then he held the Padawan at arms length to examine healing, but rather nasty looking claw-cuts on the boy's bare chest and arms.
"I'm all right Master," Obi-Wan assured. "But I - eh, seem to have lost my robe and comlink."
"Your tunic too," Qui-Gon observed. "But that's all right, if you didn't pack an extra you can always borrow one of mine..." the Master allowed a half smile.
Obi-Wan grinned ironically, remembering the way Qui-Gon's huge clothing hung in folds off his smaller frame. "Um, no thank you Master, I'd like to be able to move still," he teased. "Besides, I do have more back at the cabin."
"Well then let's get you there. And on the way, you can tell me what happened last night," Qui-Gon said, as they walked that direction.
"Well," Obi-Wan began. "After the storm started..."
Baby, I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the grave.
The more I get of you, the stranger it feels, yeah.
Now that your rose is in bloom.
A light hits the gloom on the grave.
There is so much a man can tell you,
So much he can say.
There's so much inside.
You remain, my power, my pleasure, my pain...
The negotiations with the Halla continued to go well, but very slowly. Eventually, Obi-Wan became bored with never being allowed to attend the meetings. After Qui-Gon left in the morning and he completed whatever tasks or assignments his Master had given him for that day, the young Jedi found himself with almost the entire afternoon and evening free. To occupy himself and stretch his legs, he would take long walks, which usually ended up with him straying into the forest...
Liana was almost always there, somewhere. They soon fell into a pattern in which Obi-Wan spent nearly everyday in the woods with Liana, only returning to the cabin at night to prepare food for his Master and help Qui-Gon plan and prepare for the next day's round of talks.
Obi-Wan no longer dreaded the boredom of the next day, or the tediousness of the talks. Right now, they could go on forever as far as he cared. He found himself curiously anxious and excited about seeing Liana again each day and would find himself storing up little things that happened when they were apart that he wanted to talk to her about. He thought of her often. In a short time, she had become one of the best friends he had had in years.
As he spent more time with Liana, Obi-Wan slowly began to realize that she was becoming more than just a friend to him... he was loosing his heart to her.
Every night it became harder to leave Liana and return to Qui-Gon. Somewhere inside he felt as if his heart were torn between duty, and this new feeling that was growing stronger every day...
Not wishing to disturb his Master, who was working himself to near exhaustion attempting to keep up with all the Halla protocol and politics, Obi-Wan kept his shields in place around him so that his swirling new emotions would not distract Qui-Gon. If Qui-Gon did not ask Obi-Wan what he had done with his days, Obi-Wan did not make it a point to bring it up. Qui-Gon knew he was at least occasionally spending time with Liana, but if the elder Jedi noticed the inner struggle that was beginning to take root in his apprentice, he said nothing about it.
Once, Qui-Gon came back just as Liana was leaving, but whether because of a trick of the fading light or Liana's uncanny ability to blend into the woods, Qui-Gon did not see her, even when Obi-Wan pointed out her reseeding form.
Qui-Gon shook his head. "Maybe you've been spending too much time alone here Obi-Wan," he said with an amused smile as the apprentice continued to insist that there was a girl where he could neither see, nor sense one. He supposed he should be worried about Obi-Wan, but assumed that the teenager was attempting to play a joke on him.
Obi-Wan shrugged. Qui-Gon must be more tired than he knew. "I'll make some dinner Master," he said, heading inside the cabin.
Obi-Wan leaned with his back against a tree, twirling a strand of grass aimlessly between his fingers. Liana leaned against his shoulder as they watched the sun set in glorious reds and oranges above the treetops. The vanishing orb set the underside of the clouds afire as purple night pressed down from above.
"Funny, isn't it?" Obi-Wan mused softly.
"What?" Liana murmured.
"The clouds. During the day we grumble at the clouds, wish they'd go away... but if you think about it, sunsets wouldn't be half so beautiful without them."
"Maybe that's a little like life, hm?" Liana said. "We couldn't truly appreciate the wonderful times if we never had trials and problems..." she laughed softly. "Now I'm starting to sound like you!"
"You're right though," Obi-Wan said with a wistful smile. "If I hadn't spent my life running around trying to protect the galaxy from itself, would I appreciate this moment, here like this, with you, so much? I don't know..." he shook his head. "Have you- have you ever been in love Liana?" he questioned softly. They had talked of many things, but matters of the heart had always been left strangely silent. It was as if neither of them dared to go into that realm, as if it would be treading too close to what was in both of their thoughts and hearts, but neither had yet spoken aloud.
"I thought I was, once," Liana looked away as if remembering old pain. "But all I ended up was used." She didn't know why she was telling him this. It seemed that she just... wanted to, for some inexplicable reason. "What about you Obi?" she queried to cut off any further questions that the young Jedi might have. "Has there been a special girl in your life?"
Obi-Wan seemed to consider this for a moment, his eyes turning distant. "Once, a long time ago."
"What happened to her?" Liana asked.
"She died," Obi-Wan said quietly.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Liana said. "Was it serious between you?"
Obi-Wan hesitated. "We were only thirteen Liana, just kids. She was my friend, a dear friend, but there was so much going on... I don't think we ever had one solitary conversation about romance. It wasn't that the thought didn't cross my mind. I-I loved her, perhaps only with the romanticism of youth, but it was still there. But there was a planet to save, a war to stop, things were so busy, I never told her how I felt. I always thought there would be plenty of time, after the war was over and the government established, plenty of time... but there wasn't. She died in my arms and there wasn't even time to say goodbye."
Liana laid a gentle hand on Obi-Wan's arm. "Oh, Obi, I'm so sorry."
Obi-Wan sighed slightly. "It was a long time ago," he said simply.
Liana gave his hand a squeeze, but didn't say anything. She knew that sometimes, five years could seem like an eternity and sometimes, silence said more than words ever could.
"Her name was Cerasi. It was after losing her that I realized we don't really have as much time as we think we do," Obi-Wan continued softly, that distant, almost sad look in his soft blue-green eyes. "I learned not to take things, or people for granted, because they can disappear in the blink of an eye. I live a very transient life Liana, Jedi never stay in one place very long and although I make many friendships, very few, if any, are really lasting. I love what I do, the Jedi is my life, but sometimes... sometimes I wonder if I'm missing something." His eyes met Liana's and the girl's breath caught. The young Jedi's eyes were in the present now, clear, and filled with emotion so deep that it made her giddy.
"You know," Obi-Wan said after a moment. "I've never told anyone this before, how I felt about Cerasi I mean. Not even Master Qui-Gon. We've talked so much that I feel as if you know everything about me, as if you know my soul. I-I like that feeling, I only wish that I knew more about you. You're a mystery to me Liana," he smiled at her. She looked so pretty sitting next to him, the silver moonlight catching in her raven hair and making her fair skin glow luminously. She was beautiful, yet her sparkling eyes held a mysterious, almost sad look in their amber-gold depths. Obi-Wan's instincts told him that Liana was a flower, but one that had been touched by a strange frost, like the weird warm-snows of Valhalla. She had the strange, mysterious quality of a rose laid upon a grave. Beautiful, yet isolated and tinged with sorrow like a bittersweet memory...
Obi-Wan shook the thought away. That was so gloomy and cold, and Liana was anything but cold. She was warm and glowing with a kind life and spirit that stirred a fire in Obi-Wan's heart. He could practically feel her presence invading his senses as he sat next to her, so warm, so sweet, so beautiful...
"Me?" she laughed. "I'm no mystery Obi-Wan, there's just nothing in my life worth telling. There's been nothing in my life worth much of anything, until I met you," she said softly.
Obi-Wan felt as if he could melt into her eyes. "My Master thinks I'm losing my mind you know. He insists he's never seen you, even though at least twice I think he should have. I would really like you to meet him, he seems stern, but he's a wonderful man. He's like a father to me."
"I'd like that Obi, I'd like that a lot," Liana smiled sweetly. "But, not just now," she pleaded. "It's so beautiful tonight, let me enjoy now, this moment, here with you like this. I've been so lonely Obi-Wan and there seems to be a cold wind sweeping over the earth." Liana shuddered and looked away. "It frightens me," she whispered.
Obi-Wan's heart went out to her and he touched her arm gently, only to find that it was freezing cold, Liana was shivering. Wrapping an arm around her shoulder, the young Jedi pulled her close to chase away the cold.
Liana snuggled up against him, resting her head on his chest.
Warming Liana's shivering frame against him, Obi-Wan petted her hair gently; it was so soft under his fingers.
Obi-Wan hesitated. The stars were coming out and he knew he should be getting back... yet he couldn't seem to tear himself away from her. The moment seemed perfect, and everything in his heart was crying to be brought to the surface.
"Liana," he whispered softly in her ear as he held her. "You fill an empty place in my heart that I did not realize I had. You-you make me whole in a way I've never felt before..."
Liana's shoulders shook and Obi-Wan realized she was crying.
"I'm sorry Liana," he apologized, tilting her head up on the crook of his finger and wondering what he had done. "I know I'm clumsy and un-eloquent, I guess I'm a fighter, not a poet. I have so little experience with girls, I-I don't know how to say things right." He brushed away her tears with his fingers. "Don't cry, I'm sorry," he pleaded softly, cupping her cheek gently in his hand. He hadn't wanted to make her sad...
"Oh Obi!" Liana shook her head. "You're anything but clumsy and un-eloquent! It's not you... It-it's just..." there was a long pause. "I've never felt this way before either," she dropped her eyes, burrowing her head down, against his shoulder again. "And I'm afraid, I'm so afraid..." she whispered, almost too soft for him to hear. "Afraid that this can't last, afraid that I'll lose you and go back to the empty void of the world I lived in before I met you, or worse, I'll take you there with me!" Liana sobbed on his shoulder.
Obi-Wan petted her shoulders, holding her tightly and whispering reassurance. "There is nowhere I would not go for you," he whispered softly into her hair. "Nowhere I could not call home if you were there, nowhere I could not be happy if only I knew that you were happy too. I love you Liana," he whispered, almost breathlessly. He had never said those three words to another being before, not like this anyway, not meaning so much... "I love you," he repeated, savoring the taste of the words, letting go the feelings he had been holding back so long. Seeking to wrap Liana in the enveloping warmth and tenderness of his love for her.
Liana clung to him as a drowning woman holding on for dear life. "I love you too," she whispered back, her voice still trembling with tears. "By all the gods Obi-Wan, I love you!"
Obi-Wan buried his face in her hair, smelling the sweet, unique fragrance of roses that always clung to Liana. He kissed the silky tresses on the back of head tenderly as she leaned against him, drinking up his affection.
"Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon's voice called through the mist.
Obi-Wan kicked himself for letting the night get so late that his Master had to come looking for him. But maybe this wouldn't be so bad...
Liana sat up abruptly. Obi-Wan tried to hold on to her. "No, no, don't go again, it's just Master Qui-Gon. You said you'd like to meet him, I really want you to know each other," he tried to convince.
"I do want to, but-but not now, not like this!" Liana scrubbed her red-rimmed eyes. "I'm a wreck! What would he think of me? Please Obi-Wan, I-I'll meet him later. Not now, I just can't now," she begged, pulling against his hold on her wrist.
"All right," Obi-Wan let her go sorrowfully. "But-"
"I'll see you again, I promise," Liana called as she hurried away, disappearing into the swirling mists.
"Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon appeared a moment later. "Obi-Wan, I've been looking for you. It's late, where have you been? Didn't you hear me calling?"
"Yes, Master, I'm sorry," Obi-Wan sighed, casting a last look at where Liana had disappeared. He shivered slightly, as if her cold had seeped into him and chilled his bones.
Obi-Wan was surprised when, over breakfast, Qui-Gon announced that he would not be leaving in the morning as usual.
"The negotiations are very nearly over now Padawan," he replied to Obi-Wan's inquiring look. "Tonight, the Halla have agreed to meet with Administrator Graw at last and I foresee that all will be settled." Qui-Gon was obviously pleased that it was all working out so well, and he had reason to be. The long ordeal had been very trying on him. He was glad too that they would be leaving soon. He was not sure he liked the effect this place and all the inactivity was having on his Padawan. Obi-Wan seemed... different lately, it worried the Jedi, but he could not put his finger on what exactly was the problem.
Obi-Wan's heart lurched and he froze mid-bite. He had known of course, that they would not be here forever, but the terrible reality of having to leave Liana reared up suddenly and slapped him in the face. He didn't want to go... but how could he explain that to Qui-Gon? He didn't think he could. In fact, he knew he couldn't. Yet that was exactly what he wanted to do. The young man yearned to share his heart with his mentor, to tell him what he was feeling... but how would Qui-Gon take it? Might he not see it as Melida/Daan all over again? Obi-Wan agonized as he had agonized for days. He had dedicated his life to the Jedi, to Qui-Gon... but Force he had never counted on feeling like this! He did not want to leave the Jedi, yet neither did he want to leave Liana... did he have to choose?
Realizing he was sitting with his fork suspended halfway between his plate and his mouth, Obi-Wan quickly forced himself to continue eating. "That's good," he said, trying to sound more than half-hearted about it.
Qui-Gon's brows furrowed. He would have expected Obi-Wan to be overjoyed at the prospect of their eminent departure.
"I thought you would think so," Qui-Gon decided to disregard Obi-Wan's quietness for the moment. Perhaps the boy was feeling bad that he had not been able to play a more active role in all this. He knew that Obi-Wan hated to feel useless. "You've been very patient Obi-Wan, I'm proud of you," Qui-Gon wanted to let Obi-Wan know, that even if he hadn't participated directly, his actions were still important. "I realize these past weeks have not been what you might have preferred. Yet, how a Jedi conducts himself, even in private, or in times of waiting is very important Obi-Wan. You have a lot to learn, but I am pleased with the patience you have exhibited." Qui-Gon knew that patience was a particularly hard subject for his Padawan, yet Obi-Wan had not uttered one solitary complaint to his Master and Qui-Gon wasn't sure whether to be pleased or concerned. He settled on pleased.
Obi-Wan wished he could sink through the floor. Ordinarily, such praise from his Master would have made him glow with pride... but he knew *why* he had not complained, *why* the time had just seemed to fly by... and he was beginning to feel uncomfortably as if he were hiding it from Qui-Gon.
"When is the meeting with Mr. Graw to take place?" Obi-Wan inquired to change the subject, not able to respond to Qui-Gon's compliment without feeling guilty.
"Tonight," Qui-Gon said, finishing up his food. "It will take a few hours at least, or it may go all night," the big Jedi shrugged. "It's difficult to tell with the Halla. And..." he hesitated. "I'm afraid they will see only Graw and myself."
Obi-Wan nodded. He was not sorry. That would give him time to say goodbye to Liana... but how on earth could he do that? "I understand."
"Good," Qui-Gon smiled, laying a friendly hand on the apprentice's shoulder. "Then I suggest we do some exercising together while we have the chance. I will work out the kinks all this talking has helped me acquire, and I'll see if you've really been doing your assignments or not," Qui-Gon grinned.
The day passed quickly and night seemed to fall earlier than usual. As the time approached for Qui-Gon to leave, he told Obi-Wan that several Halla emissaries were coming to meet him here, and then pick up Administrator Graw from the plant. After that, they would all go back to the Halla village for the final talks.
Qui-Gon watched his apprentice with growing concern. Obi-Wan had been semi-distracted all day and it had shown in their training. He had asked Obi-Wan if something was wrong, but the padawan had denied it. Yet, Qui-Gon knew, something was wrong. That Obi-Wan did not want to tell him what was the matter concerned the Master even more. Still, he had grown a relationship of trust with his apprentice and would not trample on that too lightly. He would not try to force the boy; he would have to wait until Obi-Wan decided he wanted to confide in him. As it turned out, he did not have too long to wait.
"Master," Obi-Wan asked thoughtfully as he helped Qui-Gon get his things together. "Do Jedi to fall in love?" The whole situation had been becoming heavier and heavier all day. Obi-Wan had to know. He had to find out if he was tearing himself up for no reason, or if his worst fears were true.
Qui-Gon glanced sidelong at the younger man and smiled faintly. "I think you know for yourself Obi-Wan, that Jedi are not the heartless automaton that many people make us to be. You also know that we are not as perfect as we try to be. We are simply beings, human, alien, whatever, we're just people, so yes, Jedi fall in love. It has happened before, it will happen again."
Obi-Wan considered for a moment. "So... What would it mean, say, for a Jedi to fall in love with a non-Jedi?"
Qui-Gon paused, looking keenly at Obi-Wan, who had stooped to retrieve something that fell on the floor. "Is this a hypothetical question Obi-Wan?" he inquired slowly.
"Yes," Obi-Wan nodded, but Qui-Gon noted that he hesitated for a split instant first. "I just wondered."
"Well," Qui-Gon sighed. "The Jedi hold a common goal, a common purpose. It's not an easy life, nor a safe one. Initiates are raised by the temple from childhood, the Jedi become their family, their life. If devotion is split, between the order, and love, there can be a dangerous loss of focus. Besides, what about the spouse? Could they stand to be alone, sometimes not knowing where their mate was, and knowing they were probably in life threatening danger for most of their life together?"
Obi-Wan looked pained, although he was obviously trying not to let Qui-Gon see it. "So it comes down to a choice between the Order, and love? They must leave one or the other?" Force! That was just what he had been afraid of! He didn't think he could make that kind of decision!
"It sounds hard," Qui-Gon said softly. "It is hard, but for many, yes, that is the choice they must make."
"For many, but not for all?" Obi-Wan jumped on to Qui-Gon's words with a desperation that confirmed Qui-Gon's growing suspicion that this conversation was anything but hypothetical.
"No, not for all," Qui-Gon stopped what he was doing, giving the apprentice his full attention. "There is nothing in the Code, or laws of the Jedi that forbid love, or marriage. If Jedi leave the Order for love, it is a voluntary, not a forced, decision. It is simply a usually necessary decision. Yet, there are some Jedi who have managed to balance both their Jedi duties and a family and they are some of the happiest people I know. Much depends on the individuals and the circumstances. Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said gently. "We're not talking hypothetically, are we?"
"No, Master," Obi-Wan hung his head, flushing slightly.
Qui-Gon took the younger Jedi gently by the shoulders, giving boy a soft Force-nudge to look at him. "Who is she?"
The warmth coming from his Master's hands on his shoulders reassured Obi-Wan and he hesitantly lifted his eyes. "Liana," Obi-Wan almost whispered. "The girl you don't believe exists."
"I didn't say I don't believe that she existed," Qui-Gon corrected. "If nothing else, this would certainly convince me that she is very real. I simply haven't seen her some of the places that you seem to have. She must be quite a girl," he said softly.
"Oh, she is!" Obi-Wan enthused, his eyes lighting up brightly. "I haven't been trying to hide it, honestly. I really want you to meet her... it just hasn't seemed to work... I'm sorry Master, I-I didn't mean to. I didn't *try* to feel this way for her, honestly I didn't!"
"Shh, shh," Qui-Gon shook his head again, putting his finger to Obi-Wan's lips. His heart went out to Obi-Wan, he could see the passion, devotion and sparkle in Obi-Wan's young eyes and knew that his Padawan was very sincere about what he felt. "One never tries to Padawan," he said softly. "I'm not blaming you for anything. There is no *blame*, these things happen, it's nature, and it's beautiful. But, Obi-Wan, what do you know about her, really? There is a mystery that surrounds this young lady, something... not right that I feel, but cannot figure out."
Obi-Wan pulled his shoulders from Qui-Gon's grasp, looking away. "She-she's lonely, she's been hurt. Somebody she trusted hurt her badly and she can't talk about it. The other Halla all reject her because of it, you can't listen to what they say!"
"Obi-Wan, Padawan, you don't have to defend her to me," he assured the young man. "I think no ill of her, I would like very much to meet the young lady who has managed to capture your heart," Qui-Gon smiled softly. "I just want you to be careful because there is *something* going on that does not yet meet the eye."
"Yes, Master, of course, I'm sorry," Obi-Wan nodded.
A loud knock sounded at the door. "Master Jinn? Are you ready Master Jinn?" One of the Halla emissaries called out.
Qui-Gon blew his breath out in frustration. This was important. It was a crucial time for Obi-Wan and he felt that he needed to be here for the boy, not run off to some meeting, no matter how important, that his Padawan couldn't even attend. Duty, choices... wasn't that the whole point of this conversation?
Obi-Wan pulled Qui-Gon's robe from the closet, holding it for the big Jedi to slide into. He could see his mentor's inner conflict. "You have to go Master, they're waiting."
"I'll be here when you get back, we can talk more then. I'm all right Master, really, you need to go," the last thing Obi-Wan wanted was for his personal problems to interfere with their mission. That would only cause the very conflict of interests that he feared.
Sensing Obi-Wan's feelings, Qui-Gon reluctantly decided that perhaps going would be the better choice after all. "All right Obi-Wan, but we will talk more when I get back."
"Master Jinn, we're going to be late Master Jinn!" the voice beyond the door became slightly irritated.
Qui-Gon quickly shrugged into the robe Obi-Wan was still holding for him. Hesitating by the door, Qui-Gon locked eyes with his apprentice. "Oh, Obi-Wan," he shook his head, touching the side of the boy's face. "You're growing up so fast. You've become a man before my eyes and I've hardly realized it. I haven't prepared you..." there was a proud, yet sorrowful ache in Qui-Gon's eyes. He loved Obi-Wan like a son, had he been as blind as a father to how much the Padawan had grown up?
"Of course you've prepared me! You mustn't think that Master!" Obi-Wan denied vigorously.
"Coming!" Qui-Gon called distractedly. "Padawan..."
"Master, you really do need to go," Obi-Wan said with an amused smile. The banging on the door grew louder. "Before he breaks down the door! I've survived this long, it will keep for a few more hours."
Qui-Gon cuffed the boy affectionately on the jaw. "All right. I'll be back as soon as I can." Opening the door, Qui-Gon deftly avoided being accidentally pounded upon by the man on the other side who quickly hurried him off.
Obi-Wan shook his head with a small smile and took a deep breath of the cool night air. When he opened his eyes again he found himself unexpectedly face to face with Liana.
"Liana!" he started in surprise. He hadn't felt her approach, but he hadn't been very aware of his surroundings either. "You surprised me."
"Not easy to do," she smiled prettily, yet something in her eyes tonight seemed... haunted.
"Are you all right?" he asked with some concern. "Would you like to come in for some tea or something?" The young Jedi noted that the filmy, translucent blue dress that clung to Liana's thin frame hardly looked substantial enough to ward off the evening chill.
"I'm fine," she smiled. "Wonderful in fact. Come with me Obi-Wan, I want to show you something," she said, reaching out her slim, white hand.
Obi-Wan took her hand, encasing it in his own and once again feeling the unusual chill of her touch. He wished she wouldn't dress so thinly on such cool evenings, even if she was acclimated to Valhalla's weather, he worried about her! Following her out into the moonlight, the young man let Liana lead him away from the cabin. He had told Qui-Gon that he would be there when the elder Jedi got back, but the meeting would doubtless go on for hours, perhaps even all night and he would be back before then.
"Where are we going Lia?" Obi-Wan asked as she led him into the woods, between the black, dew-heavy boughs of the yew trees and deeper into the misty forest.
"You'll see," Liana said coyly, squeezing his hand.
Obi-Wan smiled and squeezed back. "You're just taking advantage of me because I told you that I'd go anywhere with you," he teased.
Liana grinned and tugged harder, picking up the pace until they were running flat out through the trees. The mist roiled around them and the wet tree branches slapped at their hands and faces as they pushed their way through.
After ten or fifteen minutes, the pair stumbled into a small clearing, breathless and giggling.
"Okay Lia," Obi-Wan gasped. "This is it, tell me where we're going, or I stop right here and assume that you just want to see how long it takes a Jedi to collapse from exhaustion!"
Liana smiled, brushing her curly locks out of her eyes, her cheeks flushed like a blooming rose. "As attractive as that idea is, it's not necessary, we're here."
Obi-Wan looked around. The mist seemed to avoid the clearing, lurking in the woods around them, but not penetrating the sacred atmosphere of the grove. The black tree branches reached up towards the star flecked sky and the bright light of the three full moons filled the clearing with silent, shadowless light. The grass beneath their feet was green and Obi-Wan had the odd feeling that he was standing in a fairy circle out of the old myths.
"It's beautiful," he breathed in awe, the awesome quietness of the place taking his breath away in a manor that had nothing to do with the running they had just done. "It's unusual for all the moons to be full like that, isn't it?"
"Yes," Liana said softly, her gaze fleeting away for a brief moment.
Obi-Wan followed her eyes and saw something that looked strangely out of place, and yet strangely not, in the beautiful stillness of the grove. In the far right corner, a small mound of grassy earth lay at the feet of a shadowed tombstone. "Is that your parents' grave?" Obi-Wan inquired softly.
Liana ignored the question, and Obi-Wan, not wanting to bring up a painful subject, let it drop. Instead, Liana gripped his hand tighter and put a finger to her lips. "Shh, can you feel it?"
Obi-Wan stopped, listening to the soft sounds of the night around him and thought he could. "I feel... I feel you, Liana," he said with a smile, then his brow creased as something else tickled his senses. "And there's something else, something dark..." he squeezed her hand tightly, instinctively putting himself in front of her in a protective manor.
"It's just the woods Obi," Liana said quickly, turning the young man back towards her. "They always feel that way. It doesn't mean anything. Obi-Wan, I brought you here for a reason. You have asked about me again and again, well, the best way to know me is right here. This is my place, where I go when all the world seems against me, just as it seems against us. I wanted to share that with you Obi-Wan, I want to share everything with you." Liana was standing so close that she was almost touching Obi-Wan. Almost, but not quite. There was a desperate desire in her amber eyes and an aching sorrow that touched Obi-Wan's heart.
"I want that too," Obi-Wan said softly, brushing a curl of hair off her forehead. Right now, like this, Obi-Wan felt sure that nothing could stop them, Qui-Gon had said it himself, there were Jedi who had managed both family and their work, and Obi-Wan knew that he and Liana could make it. "I want to be with you forever," he whispered. "I love you Liana."
"I love you too Obi-Wan," Liana breathed, her voice cracking. "It-it is an ancient custom of my people, that if two people loved each other, they could marry themselves, with no others necessary, when the three moons stood full in the sky together and the union would last forever, even beyond the grave. Obi-Wan?" she looked up at him. "How much do you love me?"
"More than life," Obi-Wan said softly, feeling as if he could lose himself in her eyes. "So much more."
Reaching up, Liana curled her arm lightly behind Obi-Wan's neck, offering him the option to refuse.
Obi-Wan did not refuse. A few inches closer and their lips met. Obi-Wan felt an exhilarated tingle rush up his spine.
Liana wrapped her arms around his shoulders, but as they lost themselves in the passion of the kiss, a solitary tear traced silently down her cheek.
As Qui-Gon and Mishta Graw entered the Halla village, Qui-Gon was immediately struck by a sense of fear that he had not felt here before. The villagers seemed fidgety and, unlike his previous visits, there were no children out on the streets, chasing after the luminous night-bugs as they usually loved to do.
Shoving the oddity aside, Qui-Gon focused on the meeting, which went rather well, despite the fact that the Halla elders and leaders also seemed tenser than usual. Several of them kept glancing up at the sky, and then out at the forest, but Qui-Gon could not figure out why. The sky was clear and star-splashed, set ablaze with the radiance of the rising full moons. It did not look as if it would storm again, what were they so uneasy about?
The talks went well despite all this and an agreement was reached quicker than Qui-Gon had anticipated. Mr. Graw seemed visibly relieved, as they all shared in the huge feast that the Halla had prepared to celebrate the occasion, but Qui-Gon noted that that relief was not entirely shared by the Halla. Quite the opposite, they seemed to be getting more and more edgy. Finally, Qui-Gon caught Grandhaka Ismaren alone.
"Grandhaka, you seem disturbed, is there something about this settlement that you do not like?" the Jedi inquired. Had this peace been reached too easily? Was he missing something that was going on here?
"No, no Je-di, it is good," Ismaren shook his head, trying to smile. "I must apologize for myself and my people. We wanted this to be a happy time... we should not have set it for tonight. But who could know that this was coming...?" he glanced up at the sky and shuddered.
"What was coming?" Qui-Gon too, glanced up at the three moons. He saw nothing alarming about them.
"The moon curse," the Grandhaka said quietly, taking hold of his charm-amulet nervously as he spoke. "We never know the exact date when it will happen. The third moon's cycle is not predictable. But when all three moons are in the sky... it is the night when the devil woman takes her victim."
Qui-Gon felt strangely uneasy. "Grandhaka, who is the devil woman?"
"Beautiful she is, but deadly," Ismaren shuddered. "Know you not Je-di, why we fear the forest? It is haunted, haunted by the spirit of a young woman who roams about, seeking a young man to seduce and devour. She is a wraith, and no real woman, for it is said that she can appear and disappear at will and some will see her while others do not. I myself, have seen her only once, peering out from the shadow of the trees..." he fell silent.
Qui-Gon tensed uneasily. That sounded much too much like the mysterious young woman that Obi-Wan had fallen for. The Jedi did not believe in ghosts or vengeful spirits, but most legends had some grain of truth in them...
"Her hair the black of a radan's wing, she seems to glow in the moonlight... so she was when I saw her. Everyone will stay indoors tonight. I would advise that you and Admin-strate Graw stay here as well, and not venture through the woods until the danger has passed."
The Grandhaka's well-intentioned words fell on deaf ears. Qui-Gon was no longer listening. The deep dread that had been working in the back of his mind for longer than he had even consciously realized connected suddenly and sprung to life.
"Excuse me Grandhaka," Qui-Gon bowed urgently. "I must go at once."
"But Je-di! It is not safe! Wait!" Ismaren's voice faded into the distance as Qui-Gon hurried away.
I've been kissed by a rose on the grave,
I've been kissed by a rose... been kissed by a rose on the grave.
I've been kissed by a rose on the grave,
And if I should fall, at all I've been kissed by a rose...
Been kissed by a rose on the grave.
Obi-Wan gave himself up to the passion of the moment, to the flame that was bringing his and Liana's hearts together as one. He loved her; he would commit to her for the rest of his life, whatever else happened. He should have talked to Qui-Gon first, he wanted the Master's blessing like that of a father, but the moment was here and he seemed strangely unable to pull himself away from it. Qui-Gon would understand. Force, please let Qui-Gon understand!
As they kissed, Obi-Wan was aware of a subtle transference that seemed to be taking place. As if something of him was passing on, or being pulled into, Liana. The young Jedi supposed that that was how the complete surrender to one another translated to him. It took a lot of trust, and yet, it almost seemed as if it would happen no matter what, as if he had no control over it. Things seemed to blur and time distorted in a funny manner. Obi-Wan did not remember how they ended up on the grass, but Liana's lips were soft and sweet, drowning his confusion, drowning his senses, his concerns, and his rational mind.
Liana looked at the young man beneath her on the grass and thought her heart would break, if that were possible. Obi-Wan's usually bright eyes were becoming glassy as she slowly sucked the life out of him. This was the only way to save herself, but she was condemning Obi-Wan to a fate worse than death.
Suddenly, Liana jerked her head away with a small, strangled cry. "I won't do it! I don't care! I won't do it!" she half-screamed, half-sobbed up at the sky. Sitting up and rolling off Obi-Wan, Liana bent over her knees and dissolved into tears.
Obi-Wan, yanked out of the near-stupor he was sliding into, sat up quickly and caught her arm. What had he done wrong? "Liana, Liana I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you. I love you, I want to be with you forever, please, please," he begged, trying to pull her into his arms.
"You haven't done anything Obi-Wan, it's me, it's all me, but I won't do it! Do you hear me Zima? I don't care if I'm damned forever! I won't condemn anyone else to this life! I won't! Especially not-" but her voice choked with emotion and she couldn't finish.
Obi-Wan was confused. Wrapping his arm around her shoulders, he let her cry on his shoulder. "I'm sorry Obi, I'm so sorry!" Liana sobbed, nearly hysterical. "I am not what you think I am. I am not a normal girl! Do you want to see whose grave this is? Come, look." Nearly dragging Obi-Wan over, Liana pointed a trembling finger at the inscription, now clearly visible under the light of the tri-moons.
Obi-Wan stared at it in stupefied confusion. "Liana, I don't understand, what does this mean?!"
"I tried to use you Obi-Wan!" Liana sobbed. "Not by choice, but I did! Every time the moons cycle full like this at the same time, it happens! I was a victim too, at the last cycle, over one hundred standard years ago."
Obi-Wan was trying to absorb the information that Liana was over a hundred years old... Yet he knew her people did not live that long. That she had somehow tried to use him... No, it was too much. "Why?" he rasped, his voice seeming to have left him.
"Zima!" Liana spat the word like it was a curse. "She's a powerful being, whose race I don't know, but her kind feed off of other people. Untold centuries ago, she was exiled from her own world and bound here, under the constraint that she could only take a new victim under the tri-full moons. She had to make each on last her a hundred years, keeping them forever young, but slowly eating them away until every moment was empty torment. She can't get her own victims, her previous one must bring them to her, must suck the life out of them..." Liana looked away, her shoulders shaking. "Like I started to do to you. I was supposed to seduce you, like I was seduced, devour you like I was devoured, only then would I be able to die, to rest in peace. All I want is to die Obi-Wan! I've lived too long, I can't take it anymore! I wasn't lying when I said that that the only thing that made my whole, miserable existence worth anything at all was you. But... if I fail her, I will be damned to this torcherous existence forever! As punishment, she'll take me away to her terrible haunt and-and torture me slowly! Zima's been around for centuries! Slowly can be a very long time for one of her kind!" Liana scrubbed her eyes roughly, trying to stem her hysteria. Her choice was made, to Sith with the consequences! "When I met you in the woods that day, Zima told me that the time was right, you were the one she had chosen to replace me. And-and I was supposed to get you for her," Liana sobbed harder. "That's how it started. I had been used, I had been betrayed and trapped into this hell, it didn't seem so hard to do it to someone else. By the gods Obi, I would have done anything to get out of this! But-but you had to turn out to be so wonderful!" she shook her head with a heartbreaking, heartbroken smile. "Heaven help me Obi-Wan, I fell in love with you, I never meant to, but I did! I couldn't stand myself for what I was doing, but I was trapped. But I won't do it! I love you Obi-Wan, and I will not see you suffer this horrible, living death! I'm sorry, I'm so sorry! Please, please forgive me!" she pleaded.
Obi-Wan was reeling, devastated. He couldn't breath, couldn't believe this was happening. Floored, stunned and left without anything to say, Obi-Wan groped for words.
"I forgive you Lia," the young Jedi whispered brokenly with tears in his eyes. He could feel no anger, no resentment towards Liana. He loved her too much, besides, what choice had she had?
*"I'm the one to blame,"* Obi-Wan kicked himself. *"I should have seen this! Master Qui-Gon could tell something was wrong, but I let my emotions cloud my judgement!"* Yet, he couldn't feel sorry for loving Liana. "I'm sorry... I-I guess I was pretty blind..." Obi-Wan shook himself out of the incredible pit of self-pity he was sliding into.
"But, I won't let anything happen to you!" Obi-Wan took her hands as they sat on the ground. "There's got to be a way..."
"No," Liana shook her head hopelessly. "There is no way out of this. Believe me, after 100 years, I know! I-" a sudden look of pure terror came over Liana's face. "She-she's coming!" she whispered, her already fair face going deadly pale.
"Who?" Obi-Wan had a feeling he already knew.
"Zima," Liana whispered, her eyes reflecting deep-seated pain and fear. "She's coming for me!"
"I won't let her take you!" Obi-Wan said fiercely, determination blazing.
"You can't stop her," Liana cried sadly. "She's not the kind of enemy you can defeat with your lightsaber! Hold me Obi-Wan, please, hold me one last time!" she begged, clinging to him in terror.
Obi-Wan held the young woman close, never intending to let her go. "I love you Lia! I won't let you go!" he insisted stubbornly.
A cold wind blasted across the clearing, chilling the young couple to the bone. The mist whirled like a mini tornado.
"LIANA!" an icy voice boomed, echoing off the trees. "LIANA!... Ah, there you are," a wraith-like figure formed out of the whirling mist. "Do I have my-" Zima's eyes, which were more like empty places in the misty mask of her face, turned angry as they fell upon the two teenagers, huddled together in the clearing, both of them very alert and alive. "Your time's up Liana!" Zima shrieked furiously, gesturing at the sky. The three moons had reached the apex of their cycle and stood, in perfect joint alignment, in the sky above the clearing. "You've failed! Now you pay girl!"
"I don't care!" Liana shouted defiantly, although Obi-Wan could feel her trembling uncontrollably in his arms. "I won't do to anyone else what was done to me! I'll go through all the seven hells before I let you get your icy clutches on my Obi-Wan!" she nearly screamed.
A freezing blast of air nearly knocked the teenagers backwards. Zima gave a terrible shriek. "Oh, you'll go through much worse than the seven hells could ever give you! Maybe while you're screaming for the next *ten years* you'll come to regret you're impudent rebellion!" Zima screamed, angry and desperate.
Reaching out one, vaporous arm, Zima drew Liana towards her, despite Obi-Wan's desperate attempt to hold on to the young woman.
"No! No!!" he cried as an inexorable power wrenched Liana out of his arms. The young Jedi tried to hold onto Liana with the Force, and for a few moments, Liana stood, torn between the two, but Zima proved stronger, wrenching the girl away with a slam that sent Obi-Wan stumbling backward, head spinning. Drawing his lightsaber and springing forward, Obi-Wan swung at Zima, but the sizzling blade passed harmlessly through the mist-wraith and Zima only laughed. A sudden, powerful blast, equivalent to being punched in the face by a 500 pound opponent, knocked Obi-Wan down.
"Nice try little one!" Zima mocked, holding Liana close to her, wrapping the young woman in her icy shroud. "You would have been quite a treat for me, I could possibly have gotten two hundred years out of you! As it is, Liana here will have to tide me over," there was a hopeless air in Zima's voice. "Or at least, she will suffer until we both die."
"No! Wait!" Obi-Wan cried desperately, pulling himself to his feet and wiping the blood from his mouth and nose. In an instant, his mind was made up and he knew what he was going to do. If he couldn't fight Zima, then... "You need a victim, right?" he demanded. "Well you've got one! Take me, let Liana go!"
Zima gave a greedy, expectant hiss.
"No, Obi! No!" Liana cried, struggling in vain with the strong, clammy tendrils that held her. "You don't know what you're doing!"
"I take you, and the little girl gets to rest in peace? Done," Zima nodded hungrily. Releasing Liana, Zima swirled towards Obi-Wan. "Channel him Liana, it is his choice," she hissed.
"No!" Liana refused, sobbing. "I won't! Obi, Obi don't do this, not for me!"
Obi-Wan pulled her into his arms. "I said I'd go anywhere for you, and I will. Even hell can be home if I know that you are happy," he whispered, and kissed her hard.
Liana tried to pull away, but Obi-Wan held fast, practically forcing the transference upon her. He felt his life-energy draining out of him, being sucked away like mist on the wind, but still he clung to Liana. She was still sobbing, but had stopped struggling, realizing that she could not stop what was happening. As Zima's hold began to switch from her to Obi-Wan, Liana felt a leaden weakness coming over her, eternal sleep tugging at her tortured soul. It was what she had wanted for years, but not now, not like this!
With a final, painful wrench, Obi-Wan felt Zima achieve complete hold over him, taking his life, his energy, his soul into her hands. It was like being plunged into a freezing lake of ice, one so cold that it burned like fire. His knees buckled and the young Jedi slid out of Liana's arms, collapsing senseless on the grass by Liana's empty grave.
Liana let out a last, desperate, sobbing scream as Obi-Wan fell away from her and she felt her own depleted strength slipping away like the last grains of sand through an hourglass.
"NO!" Qui-Gon shouted in horror as he burst into the clearing, too late.
Qui-Gon ran through the woods at full tilt. The tree branches tore at his robes and roots seemed to lift out of the ground in an attempt to hold him back, but the Jedi would not be deterred. Something was happening, there was a dark, dangerous energy rolling across the forest, making goosebumps chase each other up and down the Master's arms.
Somewhere out there in the dark hurricane that was brewing, Qui-Gon could feel his apprentice's presence, but he could not reach the boy through the massive disturbance.
Obi-Wan had not answered his calls and had not been in the cabin when he returned, but the Jedi Master could feel him out there, like a tiny, flickering beacon in the middle of a growing tempest and he followed the signal like a ship to a lighthouse.
No doubt Obi-Wan was with Liana, and if he was, then he was in terrible danger, danger that Qui-Gon told himself he should have seen and prevented, but didn't. The Jedi pushed himself harder. He had to get to Obi-Wan, now!
Suddenly, Qui-Gon felt Obi-Wan's flame flicker, like a candle in the wind. Desperately shoving his way through the tangle blocking his path, Qui-Gon stumbled out into an open clearing and was hit by a full blast of the cold, dark, creeping terror that he had been feeling enshrouding the entire wood that night. A horrible, misty specter floated above two teenagers, silhouetted in each others arms under the moonlight. Just as he broke into the clearing, Qui-Gon felt Obi-Wan's light flick out and saw the boy fall limply to the earth. At the same time he felt the specter's signature swell and expand dramatically.
Fed by the new power rush of Obi-Wan's strength, Zima rumbled with satisfaction, the dark evil of her presence intensifying.
Qui-Gon heard the girl, Liana scream and read in her agony at losing Obi-Wan in that instant that somehow, whatever else was going on, she truly had loved his apprentice.
"NO!" Qui-Gon shouted, rushing to Obi-Wan's side. "Obi-Wan!"
Zima laughed, the rumbling sound rolling out to fill the glade. "Too late little one, he's mine!" she gloated, a bright, orange flame springing to life in her formerly empty eyes as fed off of Obi-Wan.
Liana was fading fast, but she made it to Obi-Wan's side before she sank to the ground. Turning pleading eyes towards Qui-Gon, she shook her head weakly.
"I'm so sorry Master Jinn!" she whispered. "I-I didn't want this..." bestowing a gentle kiss on Obi-Wan's forehead, Liana sank back on the earth. "Goodbye Obi," she whispered.
Hovering over the two, Zima pulled Obi-Wan upright, ripping him away from Qui-Gon as she had Liana from Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan's eyes opened slowly, but he still felt as if he were in the middle of that freezing lake, stuck at the bottom, suffocating slowly, slowly. No wonder Liana had always felt so cold to him.
Zima swelled, enjoying her new strength.
"Obi-Wan!" Qui-Gon called in concern as Zima wrapped the seventeen-year-old apprentice in her icy shroud.
"I-I'm sorry Master," Obi-Wan shook his head, realizing painfully what losing him might do to Qui-Gon. "I'm so sorry!"
Qui-Gon realized that there was no physical way to fight Zima, she was mist and illusion and one could no more fight her than the thick, choking fog of Valhalla. There was no concrete presence to go up against. The wraith seemed to operate solely on the non-physical plane, relying on her victims for strength and substance. She seemed to be getting an incredible high out of Obi-Wan, her power increasing tenfold every few moments.
Obi-Wan grimaced in pain as Zima, exhilarated by the renewal of her strength, tried to pull more out of him, faster than his body could safely handle. Wrapped in Zima's shroudy mist, assimilated into her essence, the young Jedi found himself confronted with memories that went back centuries and a darkness so evil he thought he would go mad if he had to live with it's crushing depravity.
Connected with the wraith like this, the apprentice felt himself inundated with pictures, memories and emotions that were not his own, but Zima's. It was as if Obi-Wan knew everything that had transpired in Zima's long lifetime, and the new memories made him shudder with horror. He could see a beautiful little city on a planet full of peaceful people, then Zima came and devoured all in the town, delighting in their torture and destruction and feeding off the fallen. Again, and again she did this with each city on the planet, growing stronger each time and capable of more destruction.
Then her own people caught up with her. Appalled at her actions, they banished her, with their combined power, to the sparsely populated planet of Valhalla. To ensure that she never got enough power to make her dangerous again, they starved her of her power, and then allowed her only one victim. That victim could only channel another victim for her when all three moons were full, every hundred years. It was adequate to sustain her, but not to make her strong enough to be able to channel her own victims. She would always need her last victim to channel her next, and so, her people had thought, to keep her in check. However, they had never counted on her getting a Jedi victim.
In an instant, Obi-Wan realized that his strength was enabling Zima to grow to proportions she had not reached in centuries. She might even be able to channel another victim by herself, while still holding Obi-Wan. It would be a stretch of her powers, but if she could succeed, then she would have no trouble channeling the next, and her power would grow, and grow, until she could do to Valhalla what she had done to the other planet that Obi-Wan could see in her memory.
*"Oh yes, little one,"* Zima's hard voice spoke to Obi-Wan in his head. She could tell that he was reading her thoughts and memories, and her plans for the future. *"And you will be there with me, to see it all."* The wraith felt Obi-Wan's revulsion and horror at the thought and smiled.
*"Maybe we'll start with your friend, hm?"* Her flaming eyes locked on Qui-Gon. *"He is like you, what are they called..."*
Obi-Wan felt uncomfortably like she was going through his memory and realized with a shudder that, if he could tap into her memories and thoughts, then she could also tap into his.
*"Jedi,"* Zima hissed, finding the appropriate word in Obi-Wan's mind. *"Yes, you Jedi are a feast!"*
*"You will not take Master Qui-Gon so easily as you think,"* Obi-Wan shot back, desperately hoping he was right. *"You have no idea what you're dealing with."*
*"Oh, but I do!"* Zima laughed. *"You see, I have all your memories to draw on, short and limited as they are. Maybe I can't take him as he is but..."*
Obi-Wan felt a cold shudder run through his body.
*"When one is half dead, there is surprisingly little resistance,"* Zima finished.
"NO!" Obi-Wan screamed as he realized what Zima was planning. "Master! Look out!"
The entire exchange between Obi-Wan and Zima had taken only a few moments, and Qui-Gon could hear none of what passed. Suddenly he felt the Force give a warning, followed by Obi-Wan's cry. He got his lightsaber up just in time to deflect two powerful beams of fire that shot from Zima's burning eyes. The power of blasts were equivalent to the turbo lasers on a small star-fighter and they made Qui-Gon stumble backward, sending a burning ache vibrating up his arms.
Gail-force winds tore through the clearing, flattening the Jedi Master to the ground. Again Zima shot fire at Qui-Gon. The Jedi Master ducked and rolled, but the winds changed directions abruptly, blowing him back into the path of the flames. Using the Force, Qui-Gon managed to throw himself clear, but the heat of the blast seared his left arm and side. Pain hazed Qui-Gon's vision as he pulled himself to his feet against the force of the wind.
Obi-Wan's heart wrenched as he watched Qui-Gon stagger painfully to his feet. The apprentice's own strength was being used to attack his Master and he could do nothing about it! Obi-Wan's gaze strayed to Liana, stretched on the grass over the grave. The girl was still alive, but only just barely, and her time was winding down fast. She had lost her life to this monster that held him, now he had lost his. Qui-Gon must not be added to that tragedy! No one must be added to that tragedy! No one ever again. Suddenly, Obi-Wan realized what must be done. Attacking Zima was a waste of time...
"Master!" he called out, shouting to be heard over the roar of the wind. "Zima plans to destroy this entire planet, one person at a time!"
Zima hissed in fury, trying to shut Obi-Wan up. But Obi-Wan would not be silent, even though each word cost him an agony of pain.
"You mustn't - mustn't let her..." Obi-Wan broke out in a cold sweat from the pain that was tearing him apart. "Without me, she-she'll die." Obi-Wan fell to his knees in Zima's grip, his body buckling under the torture Zima had loosed upon him.
Suddenly, horribly, Qui-Gon realized what Obi-Wan was telling him. Realized that in order to save this planet and everyone on it he had to stop Zima, and the only way to stop Zima was to take away her power source. The only way for Qui-Gon to do that, was for him to kill Obi-Wan.
Qui-Gon felt physically torn. He could think of no more horrible choice to be forced to make. The master locked eyes with his apprentice, his heart breaking.
"Master," Obi-Wan gasped through clenched teeth. His blue-green eyes glazed with pain, but determined. "I'm already in a living death. You MUST stop her!"
"No!" Zima thundered. She would not lose her energy source! The wind intensified, chilled by a biting cold. Qui-Gon had to dodge as the gale tore off tree branches, hurling them through the air like projectiles. Dodging and using his lightsaber to stop the ones he couldn't dodge, Qui-Gon fought to keep his ground. Willing or no, he may not be given the opportunity to follow through on Obi-Wan's plan.
Liana lay on the earth, feeling centuries old. She was only dimly aware of what was going on around her, but she knew that Zima was making Obi-Wan suffer, making Obi-Wan's friend suffer. If she had done everything in her miserable life wrong to this point, Liana wanted to do at least one thing right. Gathering her strength, Liana began to prepare for the almost inhumanly difficult task of rising to her feet.
A branch he could not deflect in time collided with Qui-Gon's burned side. The jolt of pain distracted the Jedi for a crucial instant. Another branch slammed into the side of Qui-Gon's head, dazing the big Jedi and knocking him to his knees.
"Master!" Obi-Wan cried as a burst of flame from Zima's eyes caused a tree to topple straight towards Qui-Gon. The dazed Jedi was unable to move or comprehend the danger and in an instant the tree would kill him.
Suddenly, Liana, whom everyone seemed to have forgotten, or at least counted out of the picture, was there. With the last of her failing strength, Liana shoved Qui-Gon forward, rolling him out of the way at the last minute. The deadly trunk of the tree missed them both by centimeters, but a few good-sized branches caught the Jedi and the teenage girl across the waist, chest and legs, pinning them down. However, Liana could not have moved again even without that. She was halfway between this world and the next and barely conscious of what was happening around her anymore.
Dazed, bleeding and bruised, Qui-Gon tried to bring the Force to bear on the fallen tree atop them, but it seemed as if the tree were being held in place by a great weight, pressing down and threatening to crush him to death.
Desperately, Obi-Wan tried to reach out, tried to tap into the Force to help Qui-Gon move the tree, but the instant he did, Zima stopped. Almost forgetting Qui-Gon and Liana, she turned her attention all on Obi-Wan who was still wrapped up inside her. To his horror, Obi-Wan felt the wraith try to take over his connection with the Force, try to suck the Force-power directly into herself. Unable to even imagine what kind horror Zima would become with that sort of power, Obi-Wan slammed the connection closed immediately. Zima could not reopen it without his cooperation, and he would die first.
Immediately, Obi-Wan felt as if he had once more been pushed under the freezing lake that was Zima's captivity. He actually, physically could not breathe and his lungs burned as piercing cold enveloped his body. He tried to battle his way to the surface, but something held him down. Obi-Wan was on the verge of passing out when Zima released him. Gasping and choking for air as if he really had been underwater, Obi-Wan held his hurting lungs.
"You have a power you did not reveal to me boy!" Zima hissed greedily. "Give it to me! I must have it! I must have more!"
Obi-Wan did not respond, which earned him another excruciating trip under Zima's illusionary waters. Once more he came up gasping. "W-what are y-you going t-to do Z-Zima?!" he chattered contemptuously through frozen lips. "K-kill me?" Obi-Wan gave a short laugh. "Go ahead!"
"Ah, but there are things so much worse than death!" Zima snarled.
Qui-Gon watched helplessly as Zima subjected his Padawan to icy torture. She wasn't doing anything to Obi-Wan that could be observed, but Qui-Gon could see that the boy was in pain, horrible pain. Strangely enough, Qui-Gon could see Obi-Wan's suffering, but he couldn't feel it. The elder Jedi realized that this was because Obi-Wan had slammed their connection shut on his end.
Gears began turning in Qui-Gon's head. Obi-Wan would only have shut Qui-Gon off in an attempt to keep Zima from using their connection against the Jedi Master. With Obi-Wan assimilated as part of her being, Zima obviously had access to anything that the Padawan had access to, but she did not know how to do what he did, or have the ability to control his use, or non-use, of the Force. That's what Zima was after now, Qui-Gon pieced together. She wanted Obi-Wan's ability to connect to the Force, to an energy so much bigger than any one person, or even any one galaxy for that matter...
Obi-Wan cried out as the pain became unbearable, unable to even struggle in Zima's icy clutches.
Zima hissed in frustration. This was no good. Torturing Obi-Wan only weakened her own power source, besides, the boy was stubborn and unafraid of his own suffering. But the suffering of others...
Turning her attention outward once more, Zima set ablaze the tree that held captive both Obi-Wan's Master, and the girl he loved.
*"No!!"* Obi-Wan's silent scream echoed loudly in his own ears. Zima was tempting him, trying to get him to reach out to the Force again so she could capture his connection. What was he supposed to do? Could he sacrifice the lives most dear to him in the galaxy to keep Zima from achieving her ends?
The flames crept closer to the two prostrate figures. Liana lay still, only the pain and fear on her face betraying that she was not already dead. Qui-Gon could feel the heat of the flames on his chest and face. He had a plan, but was not sure it would work. If it did, they would all be freed, but if it did not, they would have created a monster that no one could defeat. There was also the chance that Obi-Wan could end up severely damaged, but, as Obi-Wan himself had said, he was already in a living death...
"How long will you watch them burn slowly little Jedi?" Zima mocked Obi-Wan cruelly.
Qui-Gon saw on his Padawan's face the agony of the choice that was being forced on him. "Do it Obi-Wan, give her what she wants," Qui-Gon rasped, his voice hoarse with pain and from the pressure of being trapped under the burning tree.
Obi-Wan started in surprise. That was not something he had ever expected Qui-Gon to tell him. How could he... sudden realization of what Qui-Gon had in mind washed over Obi-Wan. Quickly, before Zima could read in his thoughts what he had just figured out, Obi-Wan re-opened his connection with the Force.
"You want it Zima? You've got it!" he said, flinging his mental doors wide open and allowing Zima to drink freely, helping her actually, channeling the pure, sheer energy of the Force into her being.
Zima laughed evilly at her triumph, sucking the new power into herself with greedy haste.
"Ha! You fools! You have made me the most powerful being in the galaxy! There is nothing I cannot do!" she thundered as she expanded outward and upward like an erupting volcano. "I have no limits! No bounds! I can devour entire universes! I can - I can... Wait! WAIT!" Zima's maniacal joy turned to sudden horror. "NO! Stop! STOP IT!" she shrieked in panic at Obi-Wan. "It is too much! I cannot absorb..."
A huge, cacophonous blast rocked the woods as Zima literally exploded from the power-overload, killed by her own greed. She had tried to devour something that was bigger than her, something she could not imagine, and it was her undoing.
The blast flattened Obi-Wan to the ground as Zima's destruction tore a painful gash through his mind. All his shields had been down, focused on channeling the Force. He had had time to put up no damper, no protection against the resulting explosion when it slammed into him.
At the last moment, right before Zima exploded, Qui-Gon tried to throw out a protective barrier around Obi-Wan.
Dead silence hung in the cool night air. Not a thing in the clearing moved. Now able to heave the tree off himself, Qui-Gon rose shakily to his knees. Liana lie directly in front of him, her pretty eyes closed, her body still. Gently, he touched the girl's forehead.
Liana was dead.
Tenderly, Qui-Gon folded the girl's arms across her chest. He wished he could have gotten to know her. He wished, for Obi-Wan's sake that things could have worked out differently.
Qui-Gon felt unable to stand, but slowly pulled himself on hands and knees across the grass to where Obi-Wan was also lying, silent and cold.
Fear that he tried to expel clutched at the Jedi Master's heart as he approached his Padawan. He felt no flicker of life from the still body. Touching Obi-Wan's face, Qui-Gon felt that the boy's skin was impossibly cold.
Drawing the Padawan's head and shoulders up into his lap, Qui-Gon cradled Obi-Wan close, attempting to warm the young Jedi with his own body. He had tried to protect Obi-Wan from the final blast. If he succeeded, then Obi-Wan would almost certainly be hurt, but would be able to heal. If he had not succeeded, and Obi-Wan had absorbed the impact of Zima's death full force and unshielded... then Obi-Wan would either be a living vegetable, or a dead Padawan.
Hesitantly, Qui-Gon reached out, afraid of what he would find. His despair deepened as he felt... nothing.
Obi-Wan blinked slowly. He didn't hurt and that surprised him. He felt certain he should hurt.
It was daylight. That was another thing that was wrong. Or at least, it registered to him like daylight. A soft hand brushed his forehead. Opening his eyes all the way, Obi-Wan found himself looking straight into Liana's face. The young Jedi sat up quickly and Liana smiled at him. A warm, real smile, the kind she had never been able to give him before.
Obi-Wan drew her gently into his arms and she rested her head against his chest. The moment seemed eternal. It could have been either minutes or years later that Obi-Wan spoke.
"Liana, what's happened?" The teenager thought he should feel confused, but he didn't. Instead he felt unexplainably happy.
"It's over Obi-Wan, Zima can't hurt anyone anymore," Liana smiled up at him, radiating happiness.
"Liana, are we... am I..."
"Well, yes and no," Liana said, but she was still smiling sweetly. "I am, but you're not. It's not your time yet."
Obi-Wan sighed. Somewhere inside, he had already known that. Yet, he couldn't feel sad, not even at the prospect of having to leave Liana. One just couldn't feel sad here, in this wonderful place.
In the distance, it seemed that Obi-Wan could see other people, many others. Some of them were familiar to him. One stopped to smile and wave at him and he realized that he knew her. Obi-Wan smiled and waved back at Cerasi, somehow not at all surprised to see her here. The wonderful thing was that he felt no conflict of interests between say, her and Liana, because that sort of petty problem just didn't seem to matter here. This place was perfect and there was no pain or sorrow here, just sweet, sweet joy...
It seemed like forever that they sat there, simply content to hold each other and enjoy the beauty around them. Finally, Liana gave him a light kiss.
"You've got to go back now Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon is very worried about you."
Obi-Wan kissed her back and smiled. "Yes, I know. I'll see you again though."
"Yes," Liana nodded. "And Qui-Gon will be here too. I do look forward to meeting him. He can tell me all sorts of embarrassing stories about you I can tease you with when you get here!" Liana's pretty gold eyes sparkled. "It's really such a short time until then Obi-Wan, and then we'll have all eternity together. Not just us either, all those we love. I am so happy Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan smiled and traced the curve of her cheek with his hand. "Then I'll look forward to that. As long as I know you're happy, I can wait. Jedi are good at being patient," Obi-Wan laughed.
Liana kissed him one more time. "I'm very happy Obi-Wan, and I'll be waiting for you."
*I'll be waiting for you...*
*I'll be waiting for you...*
Obi-Wan stirred and moaned.
Qui-Gon's heart leaped hopefully. "Obi-Wan? Padawan?" there was an unmistakable pleading in the Jedi Master's voice. *You've got to be all right Obi-Wan, please be all right!*
"Master?" Obi-Wan murmured as Qui-Gon's face came into blurry focus above him. The pain he was in confirmed to Obi-Wan that he was once more among the living. *"Ooh, I wish I could say it was nice to be back..."*
"Obi-Wan!" Qui-Gon smiled. His apprentice recognized him! From farther off in the forest, Qui-Gon could hear the sounds of people approaching. Probably both Halla and Issgard workers, coming to investigate the explosion.
"Master?" Obi-Wan said faintly. "Master, you look terrible."
Qui-Gon actually laughed. Yes, Obi-Wan was going to be all right.
Now that your rose is in bloom.
A light hits the gloom on the grave.
The sun was just rising over the treetops of the clearing. Somewhere deep in the forest, birds were singing to welcome the new day.
Until we meet again.
Tenderly, Obi-Wan ran his hand over Liana's tombstone. He had added that last line himself. He missed her, he mourned her, but her memory and the knowledge that they would meet again sweetened his sorrow.
"There is peace, between the Halla and the Issgard workers now," Obi-Wan whispered. "Master Qui-Gon and I are returning to Coruscant. They keep insisting some nonsense about my needing the healers," he conversed softly.
Qui-Gon watched the Padawan kneeling on the grass by Liana's grave. The young Jedi looked haggard and drawn and his right arm was in a sling, but Obi-Wan was strong, and Qui-Gon could tell that he was going to be all right. It might take time, but he would be.
"Padawan," Qui-Gon said softly when it was time to go.
Obi-Wan nodded. "Just a moment." Obi-Wan considered the single, beautiful, blooming rose in his hand. Giving it a gentle kiss, he laid it upon Liana's grave. Then, slowly, he rose and together, he and Qui-Gon walked out of the clearing.
As they left, a faint breeze, scented with flowers stirred the branches of the trees. Qui-Gon reached out and squeezed Obi-Wan's shoulder gently.
*It's really such a short time until then Obi-Wan, and then we'll have all eternity together...*