A vague curiosity about what urgent tidings must have compelled the Jedi council to disturb a Jedi Master on a Search flitted through Obi-Wan's head, but he firmly put it out of his mind. It was not his place to speculate.
The ship was now clear of Namcha's atmosphere, and the planet had melded into one huge green woodland, dotted here and there with freshwater lakes. Obi-Wan punched the destination of Coruscant into the ship's computer, and blasted into hyperspace with the familiar jolt. Unbuckling himself, he got up from the pilot's chair and headed towards his quarters, thinking only of getting something to eat and maybe a hot shower.
But as soon as the door to the cockpit whooshed shut behind him, he was aware out of the corner of his eye of a humanoid figure standing in the shadows to his right. Drawing his lightsaber in one smooth, practised motion, he levelled it directly at the figure and said in a deadly quiet voice, "Move out of the shadows --slowly."
As the figure did as he asked, Obi-Wan used several Jedi tricks to calm himself from the shock of finding an intruder, one who had evaded the ship's sensors, and, even more disturbing, his own telepathic sweep. The stowaway came into the light, and Obi-Wan saw that she was a young woman, a Namcha native, with blonde hair cropped very short, and the unnerving white eyes that many Namchese possessed.
"What is your name, and what are you doing on my ship?" asked Obi-Wan in as menacing a voice as he could manage, his lightsaber levelled at the woman's neck.
"Wee-ellll," answered the woman in a light conversational tone. "My name is Nialla, but my friends call me Nia. I'm from the village of Wiallu, and if you haven't figured it out yet, I'm on your ship because I want to go to Coruscant--- why else would I be here? But anyway, I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, Obi-Wan Kenobi." She stuck out her hand for Obi-wan to shake, ignoring the deadly weapon pointed at her.
Obi-Wan eyed the hand coldly, and left it dangling there, until Nia removed it. He was taken aback by her off-handed tone, but like a good Jedi, he did not let his face show any surprise. Instead he asked brusquely "How do you know my name?"
"I wouldn't be a very good passenger if I didn't know my Captain's name, now would I?" said Nia with a smile. It was a very nice smile, one that lit up her whole face. Obi-Wan resisted the urge to smile back, and instead tried to read the woman's mind using the Force. His mental dart was rebuffed easily, and Obi-Wan almost gasped -- no one other than a Jedi had been able to resist his mind searches that easily since the beginning of his training. Perhaps the young woman was wearing a mental shield.
"So, what are you going to do with me now?" asked Nia amiably. "Jettison me?"
The question annoyed Obi-Wan, who in truth didn't know what to make of this strange stowaway who was unruffled by his lightsaber, unawed by his position as a Jedi, and impervious to his mental abilities with the Force. "Sit down," he growled, gesturing to a nearby bulkhead. The woman did so, while Obi-Wan kept his lightsaber trained on her. "Now," he said. "You have not answered my question -- how do you know my name?"
"I was looking for a transport ship to Coruscant on the rosters," Nia said, starting to look a little annoyed. "There were no transport ships leaving for a week, but your ship came up. Obviously you were listed as the owner, and since you were slated to take off in about ten minutes I had no time to ask you politely, so I--- oh WILL YOU STOP THAT?" While she had been talking, Obi-Wan had been busily trying to break through her mental shield to verify all this information. The vehemence of Nia's yell startled him, and he stopped to look at her. She was undeniably mad now, and had half-stood up from her bulkhead, despite the lightsaber still pointed at her.
" GET THAT DAMNED THING OUT OF MY FACE!!" she cried, and the weapon was ripped from his hands with the Force and flung violently to the floor. For the fourth time in as many minutes, Obi-Wan was astonished, but this time so much so that he gaped audibly as Nia rose fully from the bulkhead, her eyes glowing a menacing red. Obi-Wan felt her enormous mental power building, and then he was flung like a rag doll against the side of the ship. His head struck a shelf, and he blacked out.
Obi-Wan slowly swam back into consciousness, his head pounding. His vision slowly recovered, and he saw Nia's form standing over him. His memory came back, and with a cry he sprang to his feet to find his lightsaber and fight against this demon.
At least, that's what he would have done, if Nia had let him. She had him immobilized somehow, and he was at her mercy.
"Oh relax, Ben," said Nia in an easy tone. "That's your other name, isn't it? It's a much nicer name than Obi-Wan, at least I think so. I'm sorry I knocked you about like that, but your clumsy pokes at my brain really annoyed me, and I knew you wouldn't believe me no matter what I said. Besides, you might have actually hurt me with that lightsaber."
" My Jedi friends will rescue me." Obi-Wan spat out scathingly.
Nia sighed. "Look, I told you the truth about how I had to get aboard this ship. I have to go to Coruscant right away, and your ship was the only way. If you Jedi weren't so damn stubborn, you'd believe me by now." Obi-Wan glared at her. Nia sighed again, and said, "Here, I'll even let you rummage through my brain like you're so eager to do, and then you'll see that I'm telling the truth."
Still immobile, Obi-Wan suddenly found the young woman's mind open to him. He read in a flash her overwhelming desire to get to Coruscant. He also found in her thoughts an underlying prejudice against all authority figures, especially Jedi, and a sense of her honourable intentions and good will. The reason why she had to go to Coruscant was still a mystery however, but just as Obi-Wan began to discover that, his telepathic attempts were cut off, and Nia's mental shields were put back in place.
"If I let you go now, will you attack me?" Nia asked, her now light green eyes staring into his.
"I will not," said Obi-Wan, still absorbing what he had learned about her.
Nia snorted. "You people aren't very good at apologies, are you?" Obi-Wan found he could move again, and began to get up, his muscles aching from his short fight.
"I would say we're pretty even, what with me insulting you, and you flinging me against a wall," Obi-Wan said wryly.
"Touch," said Nia, laughing as her eyes turned a bright purple.
Qui-Gon Jinn waited patiently in the Jedi landing bay on Coruscant while Obi-Wan's ship landed. His normally calm mind was filled with turmoil at the news the Jedi Council had told him. It was certainly worth disturbing his Search for, and the Council needed to inform Obi-Wan immediately so that they could start on their mission.
The ship docked, and Obi-Wan came out, followed by an attractive young woman. Qui-Gon's left eyebrow shot up.
"Greetings Obi-Wan Kenobi," Qui-Gon said formally.
"Greetings Master," said Obi-Wan.
"Hey Robert." said Nia. Qui-Gon's left eyebrow raised even higher. Obi-Wan looked embarrassed.
"I don't believe I've met this...friend of yours," said Qui-Gon.
"Er....um," stuttered Obi-Wan.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Robert!" cried Nia, her violet eyes twinkling. "That is your informal name, isn't it? Well anyway, my name is Nialla--call me Nia. I stowed away aboard your student's ship here, because I needed to get to Coruscant. Unfortunately, he was kinda surprised when he found me...but that's a pretty boring story, so I won't tell it now. But it all ended happily, except for Ben here having a bit of a head-wound." Nia gestured at Obi-Wan's large bandage.
Qui-Gon would have raised his eyebrow higher, but it was not physically possible, so he settled for "I see," with a significant look sent to Obi-Wan.
"Master," said Obi-Wan, moving closer to his master and slightly away from Nia. "What news did the Jedi Council have that was so important?"
"Patience, my young apprentice," said Qui-Gon. "They will soon tell you themselves."
"Do either of you guys know where I can get a taxi?" asked Nia, sticking her head in between the conferring Jedi.
"Just go out that door, and press the orange button to your left." said Obi-Wan, pointing. "Do you have any money...?"
Nia gave him a look that plainly said she didn't need his help anymore, then raced off, shouting, "Bye Rob, nice meeting you! Goodbye Ben, maybe I'll see you again someday!"
"Strange girl," stated Qui-Gon in a flat voice.
Obi-Wan looked embarrassed again. "I'm sorry about the way she treated you Master, but I have a feeling she does it to everyone."
"Why is she here?" asked Qui-Gon as he began walking with Obi-Wan towards the elevator that would take them to the Jedi Council Room.
"I never found out. She has an extraordinarily strong connection with the Force though. I don't believe she's had any training, but she easily overpowered me while I was interrogating her. She also has a mental shield that I couldn't penetrate at all."
"Interesting. I shall have to report her to the Council," mused Qui-Gon. "She must have read my mind to find out my informal name....however, if YOU ever call me Robert...."
"Understood, Master," Obi-Wan said with a slight smirk.
"Greetings, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, and Jedi Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi," said Jedi Master Mace Windu formally. "We, the Jedi Council, are gathered here today so that we may properly inform Obi-Wan Kenobi of the Jedi renegade."
"Jedi renegade?" Obi-Wan was surprised enough to repeat.
"Believe we said that already Mace Windu did," Master Yoda said wryly. Obi-Wan bowed his head, accepting the rebuke.
"It has come to our attention that a former Jedi apprentice, Jan W'Sala, is attempting to build up his own army of Jedi-trained mercenaries which he would then hire out to make money," continued Mace Windu. "Our haste in summoning Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn was due to the fact that Jan W'Sala was his apprentice before he was cast out of the Jedi Order."
"A question, revered Mace Windu," Obi-Wan said, with the proper respect this time.
"How does this affect me?"
"An excellent question, Obi-Wan Kenobi, one which brings us to the crux of the matter," said Mace Windu. "This renegade was last seen on Namcha a month ago, negotiating with a remote village in the southwest hemisphere. It was thought that since you and your master had been Searching there for three weeks now, you might have seen Jan or have some idea as to why he was there."
"I'm sorry, but as my master has probably already told you, we have seen almost nothing while on Namcha. Our three weeks there were spent navigating through dense forests to remote villages (for almost all villages on Namcha are remote) and finding no young children with any talent with the Force at all."
"Disappointing extremely we find this," Master Yoda said. "No more information have you?"
Thinking furiously, Obi-Wan's head began to throb. He absently scratched his head under the bandage when an idea occurred to him. "Master Qui-Gon," he asked. "How much training did you give Jan before he was cast out of the Jedi Order?"
"He was a miserable apprentice at best," replied Qui-Gon. "I took him on at twelve, after the seven requisite years of preliminaries, but I only trained him for six years until I caught him trying to make a young boy pay for the "favour" of rescuing him from some thugs. He was a bright boy, but lazy. He was always better at talking other people into doing things than doing them himself, and his bullying was the last straw. He couldn't have learned more than the basics from me. Why do you ask?"
"If you will indulge me for a minute, revered Masters, I think I have an idea," said Obi Wan. "If this renegade was cast out before receiving very much training, it is unlikely he will be able to train this mercenary army without proper teachers. Since there are only a few apprentices that have ever been cast out of the order, it is unlikely he will be able to find enough to act as trainers. Might he then try to find a number of people who have a natural talent with the Force?"
"It is possible," mused Master Yarael Poof. "But how does this explain his visit to the village on Namcha, if there was no one of interest there for him?"
"Well, sir," said Obi-Wan. " While I was on the planet I did not find children who were strong with the Force, but as I returned my ship was hi-jacked by a young woman from Wiallu (a remote Namchese village) with extraordinary talents. It was she who is responsible for my head wound."
"Jedi Padawan Kenobi," intoned Mace Windu severely. "This Council does not appreciate jokes. Are you truthfully telling us that a young woman with no formal Jedi training overpowered you, a soon-to-be Jedi Knight?"
Obi-Wan's heart skipped a beat when he heard Mace Windu say that he was almost a Jedi Knight, but he ignored the emotion. "I do not jest, Masters. This woman, by the name of Nialla, disabled my ships' internal sensors, and masked her thoughts with an extraordinarily strong shield. When I discovered her, she seemed unimpressed by my lightsaber and powers with the Force. When she became annoyed at my questioning, she..." Obi-Wan hesitated. He was sure now that Nia was somehow connected with this Jan W'Sala's plan, but his pride still choked at telling the most powerful Jedi Masters in the galaxy that a mere outworlder had overpowered him.
"Continue, Obi-Wan," prompted Qui-Gon gently, knowing his apprentice's turmoil.
"When she grew annoyed with my questioning, she pulled my lightsaber out of my hands with the Force, and flung me against a wall, knocking me out," Obi-Wan finished quickly.
The Council room erupted into talk. Mace Windu stood, and silence instantly fell. "Obi-Wan Kenobi," said Mace Windu, sitting down again. "This is indeed momentous news. If this Nialla of whom you speak regards her powers, and yours, as no great thing, then she must come from a village where such powers are common. We have almost certainly found the reason why the renegade has been visiting Namcha. Do you know where this young woman can be found?"
Obi-Wan winced. "Sirs," he began, bracing himself for a reprimand for having let Nia go.
The reprimand never came, for just as Obi-Wan began, there was a knock on the door to the Council room. "Enter." said Mace Windu, his face impassive despite the irregularity of someone disturbing a session of Council.
The Jedi who had been guarding the door entered, his eyes strangely blank. "If you would permit it, Masters," he said. "I would request that Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi meet a visitor waiting outside...."
Nia flew in, waving her hand at the guard. "Never mind that," she snapped. She caught sight of Obi-Wan. "BEN!" she cried. "He won't reconsider, and now he's gone to take them all, and I can't help them!!!" Obviously distraught, Nia buried herself into Obi-wan's chest and sobbed, ignoring the guard, who suddenly shook his head and returned to his station looking puzzled.
"Master Jedi," said Obi-Wan, trying to preserve what dignity he had left. " I present to you the young woman of whom I speak, Nialla."
Mace Windu remained impassive, but his voice was gentle as he spoke to Nialla. "Young woman, who exactly is this `he', who won't reconsider?"
Nia turned from Obi-Wan to look intently at Mace Windu, her tear-stained eyes a deep ultramarine. "Jan the Prospector sir. He offered to buy the land on which my village stands, because of `valuable' mineral deposits beneath us. I was sent to barter with him here, because when we refused his offer he began to threaten us with relocation, saying that we did not legally own our village. But when I arrived, he had already left, and the thoughts of his officious secretary were plain -- he means to evacuate my village by force, and do it today."
"Ah," said Mace Windu. "His plan becomes clear now. Tell me, are powers like yours common in your village?"
Nia grew puzzled. "What powers?"
A murmur of astonishment ran through the Council, but Mace Windu simply said, "Powers such as mind manipulation like that of our guard at the door, and the power to move things."
"Oh yes," replied Nia. "That's why we find you Jedi so funny. What you, and the rest of the galaxy, think are great, mystical powers, we just consider a way of life. But we are happy just as we are, so why draw attention to ourselves?"
"I think the situation is clear to all of us now," said Mace Windu. "Nialla, we believe that this `Jan', who is actually a former Jedi apprentice, wants your village to train ordinary mercenaries to use the Force. He was never interested in buying your land at all."
"That's horrible!" gasped Nia.
"That is why we shall dispatch two Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, to aid you in rescuing your people and capturing this evil renegade as quickly as possible," said Mace Windu formally. "May the Force be with you."
"Thank you, Master Jedi." said both Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. "Hey, thanks, Mace!" said Nia, her eyes changing to purple as some of her mischievousness returned. "You know, for a bunch of old windbags, you guys aren't too bad!"
"The hyperspace drive has been initiated, and we have a few hours before we get to Namcha. I suggest that we all use this time to relax and gather our thoughts," said Qui-Gon as he walked out of the cockpit of Obi-Wan's ship.
"Yes Master," said Obi-Wan.
"Sounds good to me," said Nia. "Do you know where I could get some food? I haven't eaten since yesterday, and I'm starving."
"The kitchen's over there," said Obi-Wan, pointing. "If you need any help..." he trailed off, for Nia had already rushed away, and judging by the clanging sounds coming from the room, she could cope just fine.
"Let us meditate," said Qui-Gon.
"Yes, Master," said Obi-Wan, despite his own hunger pangs. When your master told you to meditate, it wasn't a suggestion. So the two Jedi closed their eyes and emptied their minds of all thought.
At least they tried to. There were still many things about this mission that Obi-Wan didn't understand, and he found the calming exercises that usually worked were ineffective this time. He opened his eyes, to see Qui-Gon sitting patiently, waiting for his apprentice's question.
"Your mind is full of turmoil, Obi-Wan. I sense neither of us will have peace until these questions of yours are answered."
Obi-Wan was ashamed, but continued anyway. "Master, how do you think Jan W'Sala intends to capture Nia's village? If Nia is truthful, and all of Wiallu has powers like hers, how can a fifth-rate Jedi overpower them all?"
"I do not know, Obi-Wan," said Qui-Gon. "I know that is an unsatisfactory answer, but I believe that even Mace Windu does not know. Creating an army of Jedi willing to fight for anyone who will pay them enough is a disturbing thought in itself, but how Jan plans to overpower the people of Wiallu is an even more disturbing idea. If he manages to neutralize their powers, what will prevent him from turning to us and the Jedi Council?"
Qui-Gon seemed to have forgotten he was speaking to his apprentice, and the last question was directed more to himself. Obi-Wan looked distressed, and Qui-Gon snapped out of his reverie. "I am afraid I have not quelled your questions, Obi-Wan, and instead of being a comfort I have disturbed you more. But rest assured, Jan has his weaknesses, every man does, and we will find them."
"Yes Master," said Obi-Wan, the only response he could find that would not express his anxiety. "But I have one more question. Could you ever penetrate Nia's shield?"
"It would be difficult, but I believe I could do it. Your young friend is not invulnerable, Obi-Wan. Ah, your thoughts are transparent. You are worried that because Nia was able to overpower you, the Jedi Council will now believe you to be weak and not almost ready, as Mace Windu said, for the Jedi trials. But did you not notice how when you told them of your misfortune, not one thought this meant you were weak? It only raised their opinion of Nia's powers, not lowered yours." Obi-Wan looked surprised, and Qui-Gon smiled slightly. "You seem not to be aware, my apprentice, but the Council thinks very highly of you. They have watched your training most carefully, and it would take a fairly momentous blunder on your part to dissuade them of their opinion."
Obi-Wan tried to keep his impassive face, but failed and a huge smile broke out on his face. The Jedi Council liked him! You could never tell these things from their words, and as for reading their minds....
"Perhaps I have said too much," Qui-Gon said, looking severe. "I do not want this news to affect your training in any way, and I plan to make sure in the next few weeks that this news does not affect your concentration or abilities. Vanity leads to the Dark Side. Now, let us meditate."
"Yes Master," said Obi-Wan, and closed his eyes.
"Where should I land the ship, Nia?" asked Obi-Wan Kenobi from the pilot's chair.
"Oh, that clearing there should be good," Nia said from behind him. Her tone was offhand, but her blue eyes betrayed her anxiety.
With a few deft maneuvers, Obi-Wan set the ship down neatly in a field. As soon as they left the ship, all three were hit with a wave of negative emotion -- anger, fear, and hatred. It made the atmosphere oppressive, and that coupled with the eerie silence of the forest would have warned even the most slow-witted that something was wrong.
"I have a bad feeling about this," Nia said. The two Jedi did not reply, but merely tucked their hands into their sleeves, and set off towards the centre of the negative emotion -- the village. A small winding path led towards it, and as they grew nearer, the Jedi silently drew their lightsabers. Nia suddenly realized she had no weapon, but before she could say anything Obi-Wan took a blaster out from under his robe, and handed it to her.
Seeing her eyes starting to turn a jet black, which he supposed must mean fright, he gave her hand a quick, reassuring squeeze.
Ahead of them, Qui-Gon had reached the edge of the forest path, and he was suddenly covered in bright sunlight as he stepped out into the village clearing. He looked around for a moment, then beckoned the other two to follow him. The village was empty.
Still feeling the oppressive weight of negative emotions in the air, Obi-Wan realized that these were only echoes, for he could sense no one in Wiallu. They began to walk along a road, which was really only a passageway between rows of small houses thatched with straw. However, it was fairly straight, and seemed to lead to the main square, where a small fountain tinkled merrily. As they passed the huts, Obi-Wan noticed several with their doors hanging open, half shattered as if they had been kicked. From what Obi-Wan could see inside, there were clothes and belongings strewn everywhere, and it looked as if the occupants had left, or been forced to leave, in a hurry.
The three companions reached the village square, and again Qui-Gon went out first, looked around, then beckoned the other two to follow. The village was deserted, and the only sound in what should have been a bustling town square was from the falling water from the fountain.
"It seems that we have arrived too..." began Qui-Gon, when suddenly Obi-Wan felt a tingling of the Force. Turning instantly, he deflected the blaster bolt and used the Force to fling back the droid who had fired at him. He saw that the road they had entered from, and all the other roads leading to this square, were now blocked by battle droids. He was aware of Qui-Gon and Nia spreading out, each facing the droids with their backs to the fountain. Then there was no more time for thought, because the horde closed in.
Grasping his light saber firmly, Obi-Wan sheared through two of the nearest droids, and deflected the fire of a third. Reacting only to what the Force told him, he suddenly turned around, using his light saber to destroy the droid about to shoot him at point blank range as he kicked out with one foot, knocking back the robot behind him. A hoarse cry from the other side of the fountain made him worry for Nia, but a quick mental check told him that it was only her way of expressing anger against her attackers, and she was not in any real trouble.
Whirling his weapon in a tight circle around him, Obi-Wan cut off the heads of all the mechs near him; immobilizing them and leaving him with some breathing room, at least for a moment. Soon the droids he had just disabled were pushed aside and other wave came up to him. As he leapt to kick out his legs at the droids to either side of him, Obi-Wan sliced through the two blaster arms of the one in front of him, leaving it harmless. He wondered how long he could keep this up, for though each individual droid was no match for a trained Jedi, scores of them would slowly wear him down, and the crowd in front of him seemed endless.
"How goes the battle, revered Master?" asked Obi-Wan, using the Force to contact Qui-Gon.
"Well, so far. But I fear these infernal machines will wear me down. We must do something soon, Obi-Wan; Nia is already tiring."
Obi-Wan paused before answering, deflecting two blaster bolts back into the droids who sent them, and thrusting out his hand with the power of the Force, scattering the droids in front of him like new-mown wheat.
"What shall we do, Master?" he asked.
Before Qui-Gon answered, Obi-Wan was pushed forcefully backwards -- the droid he had disabled but not killed had rushed forward and shoved him. Obi-Wan fell into the fountain behind him, striking his head on the centrepiece before being immersed in the cold water. Refusing by sheer will to lose consciousness, Obi-Wan pulled his feet under him, braced them on the bottom of the fountain, and jumped. Using the Force to vault himself over the droids, he landed softly behind them and began to slice into the ranks.
"Are you well, Obi-Wan?" asked Qui-Gon, sounding worried.
"Fine," he replied curtly, as the mechs he was cutting through finally grasped that he was behind them now. "Do something that will surprise them. These droids aren't too bright."
A burst of almost blinding light from the other side of the fountain told Obi-Wan that his suggestion had been accepted. Suddenly finding that all the droids around him were now in pieces, he took a running leap over the fountain to land next to Nia. She looked tired, but was firing her blaster with deadly aim, dismantling droids all around him. The robots could not cope with this new enemy, and offered little resistance. Soon he found no more enemies, and he relaxed, shutting off his lightsaber.
As he did so, his Force-heightened senses left him, and again he almost blacked out. His body ached with many blaster shots that had grazed him, veered from more vital parts of his body by an unconscious thought. He realized that he couldn't see out of his left eye, because the blood from his head wound was covering it completely. Nia shut off her blaster, and gave a short cry when she turned to see Obi-Wan's wounds.
"Come Obi-Wan, we must go back to the ship and close that head wound." said Qui-Gon as he walked over. His own wounds were only slightly less severe than Obi-Wan's, but he ignored them. Suddenly a noise from the fountain made them all turn to see a projector on the top of the fountain turn on to reveal a pale-green, sickly looking man.
"Jan," said Qui-Gon in an-almost neutral tone. However, Obi-Wan knew him well and recognized this flat voice as one as close to open hatred as the Jedi Master could get.
"Hello revered Master," sneered Jan sarcastically. "I see you found my droids."
"We did indeed," replied Qui-Gon. "However, their reactions seemed a little slow to me."
Jan sighed. "It's so hard to find good help these days....but maybe these guys won't disappoint you so much." he gestured, and Nia and the Jedi turned to see hundreds more droids, along with destroyers, marching into the square.
"Have to go now," said Jan off-handedly. "You know, I've got an army to train, all that stuff."
The projector snapped off, and Qui-Gon's furious face betrayed his emotions. Obi-Wan leapt into the air, and grabbed the projector lodged in the fountain. He tucked it into his robe and drew his lightsaber. "What will we do?" asked Nia in a tone of despair.
"When you cannot fight, run," said Qui-Gon, having controlled his emotions again. Obi-Wan understood immediately, and began to run towards the road they had entered from, clearing a path through the droids as he ran. Nia only stood, gazing dumbly at the army of advancing death, until Qui-Gon grabbed her hand, and ran with her towards the dubious safety of the forest.
Dragging Nia with them, the Jedi used the Force to sweep a clear path as the army behind them fired increasingly. They reached the forest, but found no respite there, because in the dense foliage droids could hide and ambush them as they ran along the narrow path. Nia seemed to have recovered from her initial shock, and ran without help, but still did not draw her weapon and ran with the blank look of the truly terrified. The Jedi ran on either side of her, using their lightsabers more as a battering ram in front of them than as the elegant weapons they were meant to be.
Finally reaching their ship, the companions ran up the hatchway, beating off the last few following droids as they did. Obi-Wan was the last to enter the ship, shearing a droid in two just before the hatch door whooshed shut.
Qui-Gon strode into the cockpit as destroyer droids rolled into the clearing to batter at the ship. He sat down, not bothering to buckle his belt, and ignited the engines. Taking hold of the controls, he pulled them towards him and the ship shot up. It climbed quickly away from the ill-fated village, taking its exhausted occupants out of danger.
Obi-Wan Kenobi hissed as the shower turned on, beating his bruised back with stinging spray. He punched a code into the computer on the side of the shower, and the flow of water lessened and became laced with a liquid anaesthetic. Sighing with relief, Obi-Wan spent several minutes just letting the water flow over his back, numbing his pain and allowing him to forget, at least for a little while, that dreadful moment when the second droid army had appeared.
He turned off the shower after his bruises had been numbed, put on a terrycloth robe, and emerged from the bathroom. "I'm done!" he called as jauntily as he could to Nia, who was sitting at a table in the corner. She had been silent ever since they had returned from her village, and Obi-Wan had begun to get worried. "Did you sleep well?" he asked. "Do you need a shower?"
"I'm fine," Nia said quietly. "Here, let me look at your head wound." Obi-Wan obediently went over to her and sat down next to her at the table. He had washed off the blood in the shower, but had not taken off the bandage, which was the original one Nia had put on him after throwing him against the wall. That seemed so long ago now.
Nia slowly unwrapped the bandage, Obi-Wan gritting his teeth when she reached the base of his skull where the fountain centrepiece had cut cruelly into his head. She pulled out an anaesthetic from a regulation ship's medi-case next to her, and slathered it on the wound liberally, numbing the back of his head. "Don't move now," she said, in the same dull tone she had used before. She pulled out a dermal regenerator, and turned his head gently so that the wound faced her. Obi-Wan heard the device being turned on, and a few moments later Nia said "It's done. In a few days, it will be completely healed."
Just then Qui-Gon walked in. "Ah, thank you Nia. I had not looked forward to healing Obi-Wan myself, as he can be an impatient subject. Where did you learn your healing skills?" Qui-Gon was using the same light tone Obi-Wan had used a few minutes before, and Obi-Wan instantly knew that his master was worried about Nia too.
"All the people in Wiallu are trained as healers when they turn five. I fear they will need that skill now," Nia said.
"That is why we must move quickly," said Qui-Gon after an awkward silence. "Now, Obi-Wan, where is that projector you picked up?"
"Here, Master," said Obi-Wan, reaching behind him to pull the smooth, round machine out of a niche in the wall.
"Very good, Obi-Wan," said Qui-Gon. "It was quick-thinking of you to pick it up, for we might be able to find out where Jan was when he sent the message. I admit I would not have thought of it in the face of all those droids." At this, Nia made a small noise, something between a sigh and a sob, and both Jedi looked at her. But she only stared back at them with no emotion on her face except for the tell-tale navy blue eyes, so Qui-Gon resumed talking. "We'll have to dismantle it, which might be tricky. It will probably have many safeguards and self-destruct codes built in, so we'll have to be careful." He turned the metallic object over in his hands, and said almost absentmindedly. "Obi-Wan, you'll need to get some clothes on. I don't think that bathrobe will help you concentrate any better." Obi-Wan blushed, but did as he was told, and returned a few minutes later with his customary flowing Jedi robes on.
Obi-Wan handed him a sonic torque device, and the Jedi set to work, watched from the other end of the table by Nia. They worked in silence, dismantling the outer core of the projector first, and exposing a network of wires, any one of which might send the signal for the device to self-destruct with a powerful explosive. The Jedi concentrated all their powers with the Force on this one task, relying on it to tell them which wires to cut and which to avoid. Finally they reached the inner core of the projector, which contained the computer interface they had been working towards. Qui-Gon activated the computer in the middle of the table, and a long, thick cord emerged. Qui-Gon connected this cord to the device and with a beep, the ship's computer started downloading the projector's memory.
Only Nia, sitting opposite the Jedi, noticed a small orange light start blinking on the underside of the projector. "Look out!" she cried, launching herself toward the projector and thrusting out blindly with the Force. The light turned red and the projector exploded.
Nia awoke with a gasp as Obi-Wan began to bandage the burns on her arms and hands. "Hello," he said, "How do you feel?"
"What happened to the..." Nia said, sitting up from the bench and looking around.
"....projector?" finished Qui-Gon, gently pushing Nia back down so that Obi-Wan could finish healing her. "It was completely destroyed in the explosion, and I believe we would have been too, if you had not thrown a Force-shield around it. But as it was, we were just a little shaken up, and the only wounds you have are those burns. Thank you," Qui-Gon said sincerely. "I am afraid we could not help your friends if we had been blown up."
Nia grinned, her eyes quickly turning from blue to a light purple. " Thanks, Rob. I figured, why waste two good Jedi if you can help it?"
"We were also able to find out the location where Jan had been projecting from," said Obi-Wan, visibly relieved that Nia seemed to be back to normal. "The computer downloaded it just before the projector exploded. We're now headed for Kuzenno, the only habitable planet in the Dankmar system. It is a mercenary planet, packed with paid assassins, criminal masterminds, and other unsavoury types."
"The perfect hive of scum and villainy for Jan to build up his Jedi army," said Qui-gon grimly. "But I think we are aided by the Force in our mission, for it seems that we will have some allies when we get on to the planet. There is a contingent of Jedi down on the planet, sent there by Master Yoda some six months ago to infiltrate various underworld groups and learn of their plans."
"Friends in low places, eh?" said Nia, grinning broadly.
"Indeed," said Qui-Gon. The auto-pilot in the cockpit beeped, and he excused himself.
"It is good to see you acting like yourself again," Obi-Wan ventured carefully, as he finished healing Nia's hands. He was extremely curious as to why Nia had been so subdued after their fight on the planet. He considered using the Force to find out, but discarded the idea when he remembered what had happened last time he had tried to read Nia's mind.
"Yes," said Nia shortly, getting up from the bench.
"Why were you so....quiet?" asked Obi-Wan, going out on a limb.
A pained expression flashed over Nia's face, but all she said was, "Never mind that. What matters now is figuring out a plan to free my people from whatever evil means Jan has used to entrap them."
Obi-Wan nodded in agreement, his curiosity satisfied. In the moment before Nia had responded to his question, her mind had been momentarily unshielded. Obi-Wan had felt a sense of shame, of letting the Jedi down, and he knew Nia must feel as if she had been a burden to him and his master on the planet because she had frozen in fear. It was not her fault, she had no control over her emotions like a Jedi would, but it would be useless to try and tell her this. At least she would feel better now that she had saved Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon from the projector's blast.
Qui-Gon returned, and said, "I've set us into orbit around the third Kuzenno moon, which has a small lookout base on it manned by those friendly to the Jedi. Nia, if the Force is with us today, you will see your people in a few hours."
Jan W'Sala peeked out from his palace window high above the massive courtyard. He saw with pleasure the huge crowd that had amassed, lit by the red brilliance of the setting sun. They were all waiting impatiently for him, "Renegade Jedi" W'Sala, to address them. He saw the representatives of many different races and gangs in the throng below him; of course there were his own mercenaries, in distinctive green uniforms, but he also saw skinny Progoshites, some members of the Seven-System Mafia, and even a few deadly black-robed Xennine raiders.
Jan smiled with malice, his yellowy-green skin stretching unnaturally. If his speech this evening were successful (and he had no doubt it would be) then all the many cutthroats, mafia members, and murderers here today would join with his elite mercenaries, and fight under the banner of Jan W'Sala using deadly Jedi techniques. With a power like that under his command, nothing could stand in his way. Jan W'Sala, head of the Jedi Council, Jan W'Sala, Supreme Emperor -- the possibilities were endless.
A cringing child servant brought a message to Jan, interrupting his feverish dreaming. "What?" he cried irritably, his yellow eyes glaring the slave. He grabbed the message pad from him, and read it. A faint look of fear passed over his features, replaced almost immediately by one of glinting cunning. "Excellent," he rasped, rubbing his gnarled, six-fingered hands together. "This is even better than I had hoped."
Looking at the small slave with disgust, he said, "Go get me some roast mankei, boy."
As soon as the child had scuttled off, Jan walked over to his ornately carved gold desk, and flipped on his communicator. "Get me Wanton, the head of my mercenaries," he said curtly, and flipped the communicator off, grinning evilly. This was going to be a very good evening.
"Ben, where did Robert get these robes?" whispered Nia from under her flowing black hood. "They smell horrible."
"Quiet, Nia," hissed Obi-Wan, glancing at Qui-Gon, who was standing immobile on the other side of him. "It doesn't matter. They got us into this compound without any questioning, and any plan that can do that is a good plan. After all, no one dares to upset Xennine raiders, unless they are tired of living."
"Suck-up!" was Nia's only reply.
Anything else that Obi-Wan could have said against this accusation was swallowed up by the roar of the crowd around them as a small figure in green, Jedi-like robes came out onto a balcony above them. The mercenaries at the front of the throng began to chant "Jan, Jan," providing Obi-Wan with all the identification he needed. Jan W'Sala let the chanting go on for some moments, then raised his hands for silence.
"Greetings, loyal followers," he said, his voice booming due to the sound enhancer tucked into his collar. "I have asked you here today to tell you of an unparalleled opportunity that is available to you, and to demonstrate a new weapon I have found."
Jan paused dramatically. "I know many of you are not, shall we say, on friendly terms, with the law and order in this galaxy."
There was scattered laughter at the feeble joke. "You have found their rules and responsibilities trying, and many of you wish only to live your own lives without the burden of arduous government. But there has always been one organization, one foul group of aliens and humans who have thwarted our attempts at overthrowing the government and finding some peace and prosperity for ourselves. These slavering watchdogs of so-called justice are given special training, and are treated like royalty simply because they protect a frightened public from us, the 'bad guys'. Who among you has tangled with these foul beings? Who among you knows their name?"
Jan held out his arms to the rapt audience, imploring their answer as to who these evil people were. There was a breathless pause, and then one old man in the middle of the crowd shouted, "The Jedi! They are the ones who take away our successes!" Jan smiled on his platform as an angry roar from the crowd confirmed the man's opinion.
"I wonder how long Jan coached that man to say that in such a perfect tone," Qui-Gon said quietly to Obi-Wan, his voice almost inaudible because of the noise. "There is much more danger for us here now, Obi-Wan. Keep your eyes and mind open, and do whatever those around you are doing."
"Yes Master," replied Obi-Wan as Jan resumed his crowd- pleasing speech.
"I am glad so many of you agree with me, for I, Jan W'Sala, have found a fool-proof way to undermine the Jedi and their unfair advantage, the 'Force'. I have journeyed far and wide, and found a small band of villagers on a remote planet who have the abilities of the Jedi. The Jedi have led us to believe that their powers may only be learned during long, boring training sessions in which they prate on about good and evil. But this is not true! These simple villagers, who hate the Jedi as much as you and I," here Nia snorted with disgust, "naturally possess the talents and abilities of the foul Jedi. A number of them have agreed to work under me, and teach you (if you decide to join my mercenaries) the secrets that the lazy and stupid Jedi do not deserve. With these powers, no pitiful government or police can stop us. We may do as we choose, and the strong will once again rule, as they should, in this galaxy!"
A huge roar erupted from the audience. Jan's masterful speech had completely convinced them. If they joined Jan, they would be invincible, and would crush the pitiful Jedi. The tough and brutal villains were willing to give up everything they owned to join the small green-skinned man on the balcony before them. But Jan was apparently not done. As the last rays of the setting sun just happened to bath him in their fiery glow he again raised his hands for silence.
"I see you agree with me, my friends, and together we will triumph! But before I begin to train you, I must tell you something. There are a few among you who do not see the wisdom of my idea, and they will now be unmasked to show their true, scheming selves." Without warning, the men behind Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan ripped off their fake Xennine raider robes, exposing their Jedi robes below. The murderous crowd turned with a howl of rage.
"Be patient, my friends," Jan said, calming the enraged gathering. "I would indeed enjoy immensely the sight of these hated Jedi being ripped to pieces, but they will have much useful information. My guards will take them to my interrogation chamber, where I will personally wring the locations of any undercover Jedi on this planet from them. We will start by taking over this planet as our own, and we will not stop until we have the entire galaxy under our control!!"
The disguised guards around Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon grabbed them roughly, and began to drag them through the crowd, as the people on either side jeered and cursed at them. Nialla still had her Xennine raider robe on, and had miraculously maintained her cool during the sudden capture. As he was dragged away, Obi-Wan tried desperately to catch her eye, to tell her to go back to the third Kuzennno moon, find an undercover Jedi, anything, but the guards dragged him too quickly, and her black-robed figure was soon lost to him in the sea of shouting mercenaries.
Obi-Wan Kenobi paced from side to side in the small cell, his mind whirling. How had Jan known? Had Nia been captured? What could he and Qui-Gon do now?
"Be still, Obi-Wan," said Qui-Gon Jinn, sitting cross-legged on a bench at the back of the cell. "Bring your thoughts under control. Your racing mind is disturbing my meditations."
"I'm SOOO sorry, Master," said Obi-Wan sarcastically. "I'm sure that had I not disturbed you, you would already have found a solution to the simple problem of our imprisonment."
Qui-Gon stood up abruptly, his eyes furious. "Obi-Wan, that is unacceptable. I am your master and Jedi teacher, and you MUST pay me the proper respect. No situation is hopeless, but your chaotic thoughts do nothing to help our predicament. Now SIT DOWN." His last words thundered inside Obi-Wan's head, and the apprentice sat down. He was still mad, but he simply directed the fury not at his master but at Qui-Gon's former apprentice.
This former Jedi walked into their cell a few moment's later, a smug expression on his sickly green face. "Hello Qui-Gon," Jan said nastily. "And this pimply youth must be your new apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Tell me Obi-Wan, is he kind to you? He was always most cruel to me, but a youth of your..., proportions, might excite him more than I. After all, you never know about men these days....." Jan's eyes glinted with malice.
Obi-Wan, enraged beyond coherent thought, launched himself at Jan, only to be flung back onto the cell floor by the force shield the renegade carried around him. "I see you have not changed, Jan," said Qui-Gon, seemingly unaffected, as he walked over to help the dazed Obi-Wan onto the bench, where he lay holding his head in agony.
"Why improve if you're already perfect?" asked Jan. "I cannot say the same for you, however. I am sadly disappointed in you, Qui-Gon--your feeble old mind must be slipping even further. Did you really think my guards would not recognize you and your Padawan apprentice? I have kept an eye on your movements ever since you had me so graciously expelled from the Jedi Order, twelve years ago."
"I did underestimate you, Jan," admitted Qui-Gon. "And one facet of your plan I have not been able to decipher at all -- how did you get the Namchese to go along with your plan?"
"Ha!" laughed Jan. "I thought even you would be able to figure that part out. You yourself told me this innumerable times. You so often said, in that pompous voice of yours, 'Jan, you must be calm. All young boys are impatient to see the world, and you are no exception. Eagerness leads to the Dark Side'. By the way, Qui-Gon, what exactly doesn't lead to the Dark Side?"
Qui-Gon ignored the question, and stared impassively at his former apprentice.
"Huh," snorted Jan. "I guess you don't know either. In any case, let's just say that for the first time your words inspired me." Jan grinned, the happy expression ill-suited to his face. "By the way, Qui-Gon, how did you get away from all my lovely droids?"
Qui-Gon remained silent, and Jan shrugged. "Oh well. You can stay silent if you wish. It doesn't matter to me. When my new...friends use their mind tricks on you, all will be revealed to me. See you soon!" With a deliberately nonchalant wave, Jan waltzed out of the cell, the door locking shut behind him.
"Is he always like that, Master?" groaned Obi-Wan, still lying prostrate on the bench.
"I'm afraid so, Obi-Wan," said Qui-Gon, clenching his teeth. "But at least one mystery is solved. It stands to reason that Jan, with his smooth-talking ways, could convince the young men of Wiallu to fall in league with him. Young men are the same all over the galaxy."
"I certainly know that, Master," said Obi-Wan, sitting up slowly, still clutching his head. "I am sorry I spoke to you in such a way. My mind was not focused, and I lost my temper."
"Apology accepted, Obi-Wan," said Qui-Gon. "Jan is not an easy person to deal with, especially not when he has won. In fact, if I know him well...." Qui-Gon broke off to stare at the door the their cell. It suddenly whooshed open, and a droid with armed blasters came in, and pointed them menacingly at the Jedi. Behind it came a smaller droid, bearing two covered silver dishes. The droid whipped off the covers to reveal two steaming plates of gruel, and the two robots then exited as quickly as they had entered. Obi-Wan looked to his Jedi teacher, an unspoken question in his eyes.
"I always made Jan eat gruel for dinner if his training for the day did not satisfy me," explained Qui-Gon, looking down at his meal with faint distaste. "Now eat well, my apprentice. This may be our last meal for some time."
Late the next morning the two prisoners were herded out of their cell by a squadron of heavily armed droids and mercenaries (for Jan was taking no chances) through the maze of Jan's mercenary palace to his personal office.
"Good morning, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon--did anybody ever tell you that those names sound really funny together?--I trust you slept well?" said Jan W'Sala, rising from his ornate chair as they came in, bound in shackles hand and foot.
"Well enough," said Qui-Gon curtly.
"Oh good!" Jan said. "I was hoping those stone benches wouldn't be too soft for you tough Jedi. But on to the point --I brought you here today so you could have a good, heart-to-heart talk with one of my new Namchese friends, Briall. Come on out, Bri, so that you can meet these nice Jedi."
A tall, muscular young man walked out from a side room where he had been waiting. As he came into the light Obi-Wan almost gasped. Bri looked looked like a older, male version of Nia, including the short blond hair, and white eyes. Obi-Wan quickly clamped a mind shield down on this thought, but he was not fast enough.
"You know my sister!" said Bri with an accusatory tone. It was not a question.
"What?" said Jan, surprise evident on his face. "You've been keeping secrets from me, Qui-Gon."
"Where is she?" asked Bri.
"Dead," responded Obi-Wan, before his master could do anything. "She was with us when we landed back on Namcha, and when Jan's second wave of droids came, she was killed before we could do anything."
Qui-Gon, not to be outdone in quick-thinking, turned to his apprentice. "I am disappointed in you, Obi-Wan," he said. "Do not say anything unless I permit you to. Loquacity leads to the Dark Side."
"Now that's the Qui-Gon I remember," cried Jan. "I guess Obi-Wan isn't perfect either, eh Qui-Gon?"
Qui-Gon ignored him, and stared hard at Nia's brother. When Obi-Wan had said that she was dead, a quick flicker of blue had passed across his eyes, but now they were pure white again, and Bri jutted his jaw out. "Shall I take them to the interrogation room now, Revered Jan?" he said.
"Why not?" said Jan. "Do your stuff."
Grasping Obi-Wan's arm with an iron grip, Bri led them out of Jan's office, where they were again surrounded by droids and mercenaries. They got into an elevator and went down several floors. Bri's face stayed grim, and no one spoke on the ride that seemed like hours to the Jedi. Obi-Wan closed his eyes, ignoring the twinges of his bruised head, his hunger pangs, everything physical, and concentrated on calming himself and reinforcing his mind shield. No matter what Bri did to him, he would not let himself give up information. Too much was at stake here. Feeling his emotions come under control, and his heartbeat slow, Obi-Wan slowly opened his eyes.
The elevator slowed, and the doors opened automatically to reveal a large room covered in archaic as well as modern elements of torture. More of Jan's green-clad mercenaries rushed about the room, turning on machines here, tightening screws there. "Now," said Bri in a deadly cold voice as he escorted the Jedi out into the room. "We will discuss the location of your hidden Jedi."
"Not today, Bri!" cried a mercenary, whirling around. Nia punched her brother square in the jaw, knocking him out. "Now!" she cried.
The 'mercenaries' around the room all turned and activated their lightsabers, and rushed to battle the droids and real mercenaries surrounding the Jedi. Jan's troops were well trained, but they were no match for Jedi Knights on a rescue mission. In a matter of moments it was all over, and Nia stepped calmly over her brother's prone body to undo Obi-Wan's shackles.
"What are you doing here?" asked Obi-Wan, dumbfounded.
"What do you think, Ben?" Nia scorned him, purple eyes flashing. "I'm rescuing you. Duh."
One of the Jedi behind Obi-Wan snickered. The Padawan whirled around, but all he saw were serious faces.
"How did you know where to find us, Nia?" asked Qui-Gon, but the Jedi undoing the Master's shackles interrupted before Nia could answer.
"With respect, Master Qui-Gon Jinn, I think I can answer that," the tall, gangly Jedi Knight said, offering to shake Qui-Gon's hand once the chains were off. "My name is Emaw Tofor, and I have spent the last year as a member of Jan W'Sala's mercenaries, under Master Yoda's direction. It was I who originally informed the Council of Jan's plan. I attended the rally last night, but I must admit I was as shocked as anyone else to find you and your apprentice there. However, I knew, as Jan did not, of your third party member, so I found her after the rally, and contacted a few of the other undercover Jedi. We formed a plan, and now..." The young man trailed off, not knowing how to finish.
"... you have rescued my Padawan and I in a very smooth operation. I commend you on your quick thinking, Knight Tofor," finished Qui-Gon smoothly. "But with your approval, I will take over leadership of this mission. While your knowledge of this compound will be invaluable, I know Jan like no one else, and we may need to make some quick decisions. Would you permit me to take over command?"
"Of course, Master Jinn," said Emaw, expressing his relief by rapidly blinking his three eyes. Jedi law required a formal request to take over leadership, but Emaw wouldn't dream of refusing the famous Qui-Gon Jinn.
"Excellent," said Qui-Gon briskly. "Now, we must tie up Briall and any surviving mercenaries. Later, if all goes well, we will return for them, and they can stand trial for their crimes."
Qui-Gon paused, surveying the Jedi in front of him. They were mostly young Jedi Knights, and this was probably their first undercover mission. Emaw seemed competent (most Guthans were very level-headed), but he would have to keep an eye on some of the others. It wouldn't do to fail now. "We must move quickly, before Jan can have a chance to react. Emaw, did you contact any other Jedi before you set out on your rescue mission?"
Emaw grinned, exposing his wide blue teeth. "Of course, Master Jinn. I sent out a message on a secure link to all undercover Jedi on this planet before I left. By now they should all be making their way to this compound."
"Good," said Qui-Gon. He was about to say more, but just then Briall began to wake up. A couple of Jedi rushed to finish tying him, but Briall knew he was beaten, and made no struggle. He simply stood up and stared at his sister, white eyes boring into her.
"How could you fight on their side?" he asked Nia, pointing to the Jedi with scorn evident in his voice. "These so-called honourable Jedi told me you were dead. I thought you had more sense than to make friends with liars, little sister."
"Don't you dare call me that," said Nia, also angry. Her eyes, however, were a bright red, and Obi-wan could feel the Force building within her. "You have been convinced by Jan's propaganda, while I made my choice freely. I am old enough to make my own decisions now Bri -- I'm not your little sister any more."
"You may be able to make your own decisions, but who will respect you if you can't control your emotions? Your eyes still give you away, sister," Briall said viciously.
Nia screamed and punched her brother again, the Force augmenting her blow. Briall collapsed, and Nia knelt down and covered her face with her hands. Obi-Wan rushed over to calm her and dampen the dangerous amount of Force that was building around her.
"You two." Qui-Gon calmly pointed at two gaping Jedi Knights, directing them as if nothing had happened. "Drag the mercenaries to that corner there. They should not be found easily, for screams coming from this room will be commonplace. Quickly now. It would be most disappointing if we were recaptured before we could do anything."
Jan W'Sala, dressed in his finest green robes, surveyed his mercenaries, who were lined up in the courtyard under the blazing red sun. He reprimanded sloppy officers, and commended those whose dress was immaculate. His routine midday inspection was taking longer today, for the ranks of his army were now augmented by new recruits from last night's rally.
Jan glanced quickly at the front gates of the courtyard, to see again the steady stream of men and women coming to his gates to beg permission to join him. His heart leapt with pride -- his dream was coming true. He had his old Master captured, his Jedi trainers were working well, and the inhabitants of Kuzenno were rushing to join his cause. Nothing would stop him now.
A sudden rush of talk through the ranks of warriors brought Jan out of his thoughts of glory and into the present. He looked to see his Jedi prisoners being brought out in chains and walked slowly down the ranks of fighters. The mercenaries yelled derogatorily at the two men as they passed, their hooded heads bowed and hands folded in their sleeves.
"What is the meaning of this?" Jan demanded loudly of the mercenary leading the prisoners, a young Gutharian corporal. "I did not sanction this. Where is Briall?" Jan glared suspiciously at the guard, his voice ringing over the now silent courtyard.
"Revered Jan," said the young man, rushing up to speak placatingly in Jan's ear. "Briall has interrogated these men quite brutally, and they have given all the information they know. Briall is currently compiling his report to you, and told me he thought it would boost the men's morale to see the nefarious Jedi beaten and subdued."
"Ahhhh," said Jan. "An excellent suggestion, Corporal Tofor. I give you my permission to..." An uneasy feeling in the back of his head that Qui-Gon had taught him to be aware of stopped Jan mid-sentence, and he ducked. Emaw Tofor's quickly activated lightsaber passed inches above the renegade's head, and Jan leapt away, shouting hoarsely, "A traitor, a traitor! To me, mercenaries!"
Qui-Gon straightened, and threw back his hood as the fighters escorting him moved aside, donning Jedi robes as they did. "Jedi Knights!" Qui-Gon called, his voice echoing through the courtyard. "Show your true selves, and fight for justice and Light!" Obi-Wan, at Qui-Gon's side, activated his lightsaber and took a fighting stance. Silently, the undercover Jedi in the ranks shed their disguises to activate their lightsabers and took a similar fighting stance.
An eerie silence hung over the courtyard for a second, and then chaos broke loose. The orderly ranks of mercenaries broke down as those loyal to Jan attacked the Jedi, many of whom they had been standing next to a moment before. The Jedi fought back bravely, but they were outnumbered three to one. Having no choice, many Jedi used the Force to stave off rushes by loyal mercenaries, and loud thunderclaps and waves of pure light made the courtyard tremble.
Jan recovered from his initial shock, and ducked away from his `corporal' Emaw, coming up with his own lightsaber in hand. Grabbing his pocket communicator, he activated the alarm, and soon shrieking sirens added to the din of the courtyard. Janžs elite Renegade Jedi troops would come in a moment, and then the battle would turn in his favour. Jan smiled grimly. This pitiful uprising would be quelled, and the Jedi would pay dearly.
With this thought, Jan rushed at Emaw, anger making his lightsaber strokes come quick and fast, battering the young Knight with their intensity. Surprised, Emaw was forced to give ground. "Did you think I was old and slow, Jedi?" Jan spat out, launching an overhand stroke at the Jedi's head. "I know all the Jedi ruses and tricks, or didn't your wonderful Leader Qui-gon remember that?" Emaw parried the stroke just in time, and didn't bother to reply.
Obi-Wan crouched to sweep the legs out from under a mercenary, who fell with a heavy thud, and spun to deflect a blaster shot from another fighter. Beside him Qui-Gon felled his opponent with an easy overhand stroke, and looked over his shoulder to see more mercenaries pouring out from the courtyard entrance. However, these warriors were equipped with lightsabers, and a sudden shift in the Force told Qui-Gon that these were no ordinary mercenary rabble. "Obi-Wan," he said. "Jan's elite Jedi troops are arriving. We must get to Jan himself, or this battle will be for nothing."
"Yes Master," said Obi-Wan. A sudden cry, and a disturbance in the Force made Obi-Wan look to his right in time to see Jan, with a wild look in his eyes, slicing his light saber deep into Emaw Tofor's arm.
Nia breathed deeply, trying to instill herself with the calm that the Jedi seemed to possess naturally. But she couldn't slow her beating heart, and her black eyes remained fear-filled. Peering through the air-duct grate in front of her, she could see the people of Wiallu -- those who hadn't agreed to go along with Jan -- huddled on the floor of the large room below, surrounded by guards with drawn blasters. In spite of the alarms shrieking around them, the guards had remained steadfastly at their posts, and this was the source of Nia's anxiety.
Qui-Gon had not been able to spare her any Jedi for this mission, and after making sure she knew the plan, Nia had been left alone. She swallowed, the noise seeming to echo loudly. A sudden rattling at the door of the room caused the already worried guards to start, and some of them turned to face this new enemy. This was Nia's signal. She leaned back, kicked the grate off the air duct, and jumped.
Emaw Tofor staggered under the weight of Jan's heavy blow, and the hand clutching his lightsaber began to loosen as Jan's lightsaber ground deeper into the Jedi's left arm. Emaw quickly transferred his lightsaber to his other hand, and gamely made ready to defend himself against the dangerous renegade.
"You Jedi don't know when to give up do you?" asked Jan, still not breathing hard, as he swept his lightsaber at Emaw's legs, trying to make him lose his balance. "That's why you're all so damn pompous, isn't it? You think you can save the galaxy, and no one can stop you. So what do you do if I stop you?" Jan laughed and took a firmer grip on his lightsaber, specially made to accommodate his six long fingers, and swung the weapon back, preparing to deliver a final, killing blow to the staggering Jedi Knight.
With a final lunge, Obi-Wan placed himself between Emaw and Jan, just in time to block Jan's blow with his own lightsaber. The two weapons connected, crackling furiously. "Oh, hello Obi-Wan. Come to save the day?" inquired Jan, sneering at his new opponent.
"Stand aside, Obi-Wan," said Qui-Gon, coming up behind his apprentice. At the sound of his voice, Jan turned to look at his old master. "This is my fight, -- you take care of Emaw," said Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan nodded, and stepped aside.
"Oh, this is even better," cried Jan. "The brave Qui-Gon Jinn, battling his evil apprentice to save the galaxy. How heroic. How original." Jan lunged at Qui-Gon, lightsaber outstretched and yellow eyes blazing maniacally.
Nia whirled around to fire her blaster at the last guard, killing him quickly. Surveying the room to make sure all the guards were dead, she re-holstered her blaster, and walked over to the door of the large prison room to unlock it and let in the droid who had been pounding on it so ominously.
Nia turned around to face the gaping villagers of Wiallu. They were still stunned by the appearance of the young woman they had thought dead, falling as she had from an air grate to dispose of the guards who had terrorized them for the past two days quickly and efficiently.
"Hey guys," she said cheerfully. "Miss me?" With a wave of her hand Nia directed the droid to begin cutting the shackles off the bound villagers.
"Welcome back, Nialla," said Leader Brinta, stretching out her hands palm up to give Nia the traditional Wiallu greeting. "It is good to see you are safe."
Nia grinned, her eyes shifting to a bright yellow. "It's good to see you guys too." Frowning, Nia looked at the small band of villagers, all of whom she had known all her lives. "How many of the young men went with Jan?" she asked.
"All of them, I'm afraid," said Brinta. "Even your brother." "I know," said Nia quickly. "I...met with him already." Nia paused to collect her thoughts, her happy mood dissipating. "Now, I know how you feel about fighting, but I have to ask you something..."
Obi-Wan stood, back to back with the tiring Emaw, fighting off Jan's mercenaries from all quarters. Most of the regular mercenaries had long since been killed or run away, and Obi-Wan now had to deal with hordes of assassins with training in the Jedi Arts. Admittedly, they were not very good, but having to repel mental as well as physical attacks was tiring him quickly.
Cutting down the Progoshite cutthroat in front of him, Obi- Wan cursed silently as he realized his next opponent was another young man from Wiallu. It created extra conflict when he had to face a Namcha native because not only were they very strong in the Force, Obi-Wan was hampered by the thought that if he killed these men, he might be killing one of Nia's life-long friends, or even a relative. So far he had encountered two other Wiallu men, and he had not killed either, but knocked them out with mental Force. This method was very tiring, but Obi-Wan thought it better than killing the men, who seemed so much like Nia.
Swinging his lightsaber in a tight arc, Obi-Wan feinted at the Namchese man's head, and then made a quick stab for his arm. The Namchese man brought his own lightsaber up, and the two weapons crackled and hissed until the young man swung his lightsaber away to try a short jab at Obi-Wan's legs coupled with a strong mind-blow. Obi-Wan deflected the mental attack, but was not quite quick to deflect the man's lightsaber, and hissed as his left leg was cut open by the lightsaber. Obi-Wan redoubled his defences, both mental and physical, and thought of Nia, letting the image in his mind be unshielded.
"You know Nia?" questioned the young man suddenly, looking confused, and Obi-Wan used the momentary drop in his shields to blast the man's mind, knocking him unconscious.
Before his next opponent, a regular mercenary, closed in on him, Obi-Wan looked quickly to his right to where Qui-Gon and Jan still battled. He wished he could ask his Master how the battle was going, but he dared not disturb Qui-Gon's concentration in what Obi-Wan knew must be a titanic battle. Qui-Gon looked tired, as Obi-Wan himself did, but he had a determined look on his face. Obi-Wan knew that look, and knew that Qui-Gon would continue to battle until he killed Jan, or Jan killed him.
Obi-Wan's attention was torn away from his master as the mercenary in front of him charged, yelling wildly. Obi-Wan felt a slight tug at his right arm, and realized the mercenary was trying to rip his lightsaber out of his hands. He brushed off the attempt easily, and grabbed the fighter's hand as she came up to Obi-Wan, using the woman's own inertia to fling her onto the ground. The mercenary rolled out of the way of Obi-Wan's lightsaber, and came up with her own weapon, a long, jagged knife, in her hand. Suddenly Obi-Wan felt Emaw behind him stagger and almost fall. The Jedi Knight's arm wound was sapping his strength, and having to use his lightsaber in his left hand was awkward. Obi-Wan felt Emaw begin to black out, and did a quick backwards leap, landing in front of the Guthan just in time to catch him as he passed out. Swinging his lightsaber in a wide arc to keep the mercenaries at bay, Obi-Wan put Emaw down at his feet. They were surrounded now, and Obi-Wan knew he couldn't stave off attacks from all sides for long.
The mercenary Obi-Wan was fighting rushed up, and stopped quickly a few feet short of the Jedi to snap her wrist in a quick, practised motion. Obi-Wan reacted on instinct, shielding his face with his lightsaber to deflect the well-aimed dagger. He ducked rapidly to avoid the mercenary rushing him from behind, and the two warriors crashed into each other, knocking themselves out. Obi-Wan flung his hand to the side to deflect the blaster shot aimed at him as he parried the lightsaber thrust of a new mercenary in front of him. Obi-Wan heard a cry near him, and knew that another Jedi Knight had succumbed to the overpowering waves of mercenaries. He couldn't go on like this.
"Stop!" cried a voice from above. Without knowing quite why, Obi-Wan did stop, even as a mercenary in front of him levelled a blaster at his head. But then the mercenary stopped too, turning to see who had spoken.
Nia stood, arms outstretched imploringly, on Jan's palace balcony. The people of her village surrounded her, and they were humming softly. "Please," Nia cried passionately. "Stop this madness! There can be no gain in killing each other like animals." Her eyes were so bright a green that they seemed to shine through the daylight.
Obi-Wan, feeling strangely calm, lowered his lightsaber and de-activated it. The deadly assassins around him did the same, all staring at the young woman above them. Obi-Wan knew that everything would be fine now that Nia was here.
"Friends," she said. "I wish that you would cease this horrible practice." Nia ignored the fact that all of the people in the courtyard already had stopped fighting, and were staring at her instead. The humming of the Wiallu people behind her intensified. "There could be so much good accomplished on this planet, and in this galaxy, if only there were no wars. Imagine it, no one would have to worry for their safety, or that of our loved ones. We could be safe, and free from pain. Wouldn't that be beautiful?"
"Yes," breathed Obi-Wan, entranced.
"Put down your weapons, friends," said Nia soothingly. "There are no enemies here. There is no need to be afraid."
Obi-Wan instantly put his lightsaber back in its holster, noticing that his Master and Jan were doing so as well, along with the rest of the people in the courtyard. Obi-Wan fought through the odd haze in his brain, trying to remember something about Jan. Something...bad?
Nia frowned slightly, and looked directly at Obi-Wan. "Calm down, Ben," she said. "You don't have to remember anything. I will take care of you, of all of you. Don't worry. Just put away your weapons."
The courtyard seemed warm and comforting, and Obi-Wan felt so tired. He just wanted to go to sleep. Abruptly, the door to the courtyard clanged open, and Obi-Wan's eyes started open. He saw Briall standing at the door of the courtyard, breathing hard, his white eyes furious and an activated lightsaber in his hand. "Hello brother," Nia said. "There is no need for that weapon here. We are all friends, Bri."
Briall did not even look at his sister, but kept sweeping the courtyard with his eyes, looking for someone. "I'm not falling for your cheap mind tricks, little sister," he scoffed. "You won't catch me going into some daze." Briall's eyes fell on Obi-Wan, who gazed at Briall placidly. "But," finished Briall with an evil smirk. "Your `friend', doesn't seem so resistant." Briall rushed at Obi-Wan, swinging his lightsaber.
Obi-Wan watched the oncoming young man with quiet contentment. Briall was not an enemy. Nia had said so.
"NO!!" cried Nia as Briall reached Obi-Wan with a triumphant yell, swinging his lightsaber down to shear off Obi-Wan's head. A deafening explosion of Force flung Briall away from Obi-Wan. Briall connected with the courtyard door, hitting with a sickening crunch, while Obi-Wan was thrown backwards, slamming into someone.
The humming of the villagers behind Nia faltered and then stopped as they stared at Nia. Nia herself was wide-eyed with fright, her hand still outstretched in the gesture that had unleashed the power she didn't know she possessed.
As the soothing humming stopped, the crowd in the courtyard, Jedi and Mercenary, gradually realized what the Wiallu had done. They began fighting again as the last inhibitions that Nia and her villagers had placed in their minds were swept away. Obi-Wan got up slowly, his head still ringing from the enormous explosion that had flung him halfway across the courtyard.
Re-activating his lightsaber, Obi-Wan turned around just in time to see Jan, enraged by the ruse and by his losing battle, fling himself at Qui-Gon, trying to kill him with his bare hands. Obi-Wan had landed on Qui-Gon, and the Jedi Master was unconscious, his arm twisted at an odd angle, and his head bleeding.
Jan seemed not to notice his opponent's lack of response, but pummelled Qui-Gon with his bare fists, screaming, "It's all your fault!! If you hadn't expelled me, I'd be a success!! I'll make you..." Jan's last words ended in a gurgle as Obi-Wan drove his lightsaber through the renegade's back. Obi-Wan pulled the lightsaber out again, and Jan turned to look at his successor, the apprentice who had done so much more as a Jedi than he. Jan tried weakly to stand up from where he had been beating Qui-Gon, and seemed about to say something to Obi-Wan. But his body failed him, and Jan toppled over, yellow eyes glazing as he died.
Obi-Wan rushed to his master's side, ignoring the battle that still raged around him. He was just about to pick Qui-Gon up when something hit him in the back of the head. The world went dark, and Obi-Wan collapsed.
Obi-Wan Kenobi woke up slowly, feeling warm and comfortable in a soft bed piled high with blankets. He opened his eyes to see a middle-aged woman standing over him, smiling slightly. Before Obi-Wan could do anything, she laid a strangely strong hand on his chest and said, "Don't worry Obi-Wan, I am a friend. My name is Brilla, and I am from Wiallu. I'm here to help you."
Obi-Wan relaxed, knowing that the woman was being truthful. "Where is Qui-Gon?" he asked urgently, remembering how he had last seen his master. "Is Nia safe? Where are we?"
Brilla laughed, her white eyes twinkling merrily. "It's good to see that not all Jedi are as stern and silent as Qui-Gon Jinn. Your master is fine, recovering from his wounds in the next room. Nia is her usual self, running around with enough energy for everyone, and we are on the Jedi-run base on the third Kuzenno moon. Does that answer all your questions?"
"Yes. Thank you ma'am." said Obi-Wan. The reminder of Qui- Gon had made Obi-Wan bring his emotions back under control. He was now reserved, acting in a manner befitting a Jedi Padawan. "I see all Jedi would like to be stern and un-emotional, even if that isn't their true nature," observed Brilla dryly. "But I should not judge. After all, it was the Jedi that saved us. Now, sit up so I can look at that head of yours. It took quite a beating in the last few days."
Obi-Wan sat up and let the woman gently examine his aching head. She was a competent healer, and very thorough in her inspection. "Good," Brilla said finally. She was about to say more when the door whooshed open and Nia bounded in.
"Ben!," Nia said. "You finally woke up --I thought that you were going to sleep forever!" She turned to Brilla accusingly. "Why didn't you tell me he was awake, Mother?"
"I didn't want you to do him more harm than good with all your exuberance, Nia." said Brilla, putting an affectionate arm around her daughter's shoulders. "Besides, he only woke up a few minutes ago."
"Good, then I can tell him all the news!" said Nia happily.
"While you two talk I will check on Qui-Gon," Brilla said, disengaging her arm from her daughter and slipping out the door.
"So, what do you want to hear first?" asked Nia, sitting down on the end of Obi-Wan's bed.
"What do you mean?" asked Obi-Wan, confused.
"Do you want to hear the good news or bad news?" asked Nia impatiently.
Nia snorted. "Typical Jedi," she said, but then smiled. "Oh well, I guess you can't help that. The bad news is most of the mercenaries that got some Jedi training escaped. The people of my village were able to round up most of Jan's regular fighters, and I must tell you, we were quite annoyed with that one that clonked you on the head. But most of those with Jedi training escaped, and there's no point in trying to find them now. Qui-Gon says they'll go into hiding on Kuzenno, and they could be there for years." Nia paused, and took a deep breath before continuing.
"Also, a couple of the young men from my village have disappeared. Most of them came back, but Briall's two closest friends were never found. Obviously the Jedi who were undercover on Kuzenno can't go back now, so there's no point in trying to find them. They will probably carry on where Jan left off."
Obi-Wan nodded, digesting the information. "What about Briall?" He asked slowly, not sure what Nia's reaction would be. "He died." Nia said shortly. "And you know Jan's dead, so the two most powerful leaders are gone, but still...." Nia trailed off, her blue eyes looking off into the distance.
"What's the good news?" asked Obi-Wan, hoping to divert her thoughts. Nia looked up, startled, but started talking again.
"The good news is the only people seriously injured were you, Qui-Gon, and Emaw. I've been told by my people to thank you for not killing those Wiallu you had to fight. They've all realized their mistake, and Qui-Gon says he might be able to get the Jedi Council to consider training them! Of course, I'm not interested -- you Jedi all wear such ugly clothing.." Nia smiled, her eyes a mixture of purple and yellow.
Obi-Wan unconsciously smiled back, and would have said something, but just then a battered-looking Qui-Gon Jinn came striding through the door into his room, followed by Brilla. "You're not supposed to get out of bed yet!" said Brilla to Qui-Gon, giving an imploring `help-me' look to her daughter.
"With great respect, Brilla," said Qui-Gon, waving his bandaged arm at her. "Obi-Wan Kenobi is my Padawan apprentice, which means he is my responsibility. A few little scratches are not going to prevent me from making sure he is recovering properly." Brilla humphed.
"Master!" said Obi-Wan, trying to get out of his bed to stand before Qui-Gon. After a few moments of wrestling furiously with the covers, Obi-Wan triumphantly flung off his covers, and stood up. He promptly fell down.
"Ben," said Nia, laughing at him. "You've been unconscious for two days, have a serious leg wound, and are weak as a monguin pup. Did you really think you could stand up? Or is this the traditional Jedi greeting?"
Brilla laughed, sounding like her daughter, and even Qui-Gon smiled, briefly, but they all helped the Jedi apprentice up, and put him back into his bed. "It is good to see you looking healthier," said Qui-Gon. "You have not looked so active in days."
"What Rob means is that you used to look like a corpse," translated Nia, patting Obi-Wan's arm. A beep at the door heralded the coming of other visitors, who squeezed into the already crowded room. Emaw Tofor, with a giant bandage on his long arm, grinned and waved at Obi-Wan, while Brinta, the leader of Wiallu, bowed gravely.
"Greetings, Obi-Wan Kenobi," Brinta said. "On behalf of the people of my village, we wish to invite you and your master (and all the Jedi here) to a ceremony to acknowledge the Jedi's efforts to save our people. When you are properly recovered, we will accompany you back to our home planet, where the ceremony will be held."
"We would be honoured to attend," said Obi-Wan trying not very successfully to bow while lying down.
"Woohoo!" shouted Nia, startling Emaw beside her. "We're gonna have a party, Ben, and everyone's invited!"
Brinta looked complacently at the young woman. "Nialla," she said. "When will you ever learn to control your emotions like the rest of us?"
"Why should I?" asked Nia, winking at Obi-Wan. "I have so much more fun the way I am!"