A Simple Mission
By Berzerkerprime

Summary: On the famine-plagued world of Algerog, Obi-Wan, Anakin, Keerina, and Tila-Shen investigate the cause of an explosion and get much more than they bargained for.

Chapter Two:

AN: ALERT!!!  This chapter does not have the same tone as the last one.  In fact, I ended up having to up the rating on the fic for some violence in it.  The end of this chapter is NOT for the faint of heart.
Thanks to everyone who reviewed and told me they wanted more.  And a special thanks to Omega, who corrected my spelling of Coruscant. - Berz.


     Anakin couldn’t wait until he was taller.  It was such a nuisance not to be able to see over the railing of the balcony he was standing on.
     Quitzagrin, Algerog’s capitol city, was located on the edge of a massive, blue, salt lake.  The palace of the Prime Minister overlooked the lake in a dazzling array of stucco vistas.  The four Jedi had been given a pair of rooms that overlooked the courtyard and the lake beyond.  A cool breeze was blowing, tingeing the air that tickled Anakin’s nose with sea salt.
     Of course, the young Padawan couldn’t enjoy the view; he couldn’t see over the balcony railing.
     “Anakin,” he heard Obi-Wan call from the inside, “come along, we’ve work to attend to.”
     “Yes, sir,” Anakin answered back, tearing himself away from his attempt to see the view.
     Obi-Wan had just opened the door to their quarters to admit Keerina, Tila-Shen, and two Algerogans.  The beings native to Algerog were stout, pot-bellied, dog-eared bipeds of varying size, each with their own distinctly colored layer of fine fur.  Of the two who had come to meet them, the elder’s face was lined in shades of grey while the younger, shorter one practically blazed in shades of orange.
     “And this is my Padawan Learner, Anakin Skywalker,” Obi-Wan told the two Algerogans as Anakin approached.
     “Hello,” Anakin greeted only to be elbowed by Obi-Wan, “I mean, uh…” he corrected himself, bowing instead.
     The grey furred Algerogan threw back his head and laughed heartily.  “Massa Jedi,” he said, “you making your young ones grow up too fast, yah!”
     “Anakin is a new Padawan, Prime Minister” Keerina explained, “it is Master Kenobi’s job to teach him the proper decorum of being a Jedi.  Among other things.”
     “Issa, issa!” the Prime Minister exclaimed.  “I’ll not barging in, den, yah.”  He motioned to his fire-furred companion.  “Minister of Health, Food, and Drug; Kalicutt.”
     “Grateful for your helping, Massa Jedi,” Kalicutt answered.
     “How is the situation, Minister?” Obi-Wan asked as they all moved a few steps further into the room.
     “Issa-naa!” Kalicutt sighed heavily, shaking his head.  “South continent losing all food sending der.  We suspecting der is stealing.”
     “Perhaps we can assist with arranging security,” Keerina suggested.
     “Issa!  Would be greatly appreciating,” the Prime Minister agreed, “will setting up meeting with Minister of Defense.”
     “Tila-Shen can handle those arrangements,” stated Keerina.
     It was about then that Anakin’s mind began wandering and he let the older folks take care of business.  Thoughts thoroughly elsewhere, he began musing over the planet he found himself on.  The people all seemed friendly enough; boring, but friendly.  And there was nothing that seemed alarming about the place they were in.
     Suddenly, a thought occurred to him; he was finally starting to visit the stars he had so wanted to touch as a child.  This was just one of those tiny, distant points of light he had gazed up at from Tatooine.  He was finally doing it!  It would be interesting to see how the stars looked from Algerog once night fell.  Assuming, of course, that no one attacked them, first.
     Strange, where had that thought come from?
     Suddenly, Obi-Wan had scooped him up and was carrying him out the door to their quarters.  In the flurry of action, Anakin noticed that Keerina and Tila-Shen had tackled the Algerogans, pushing them in the same direction.
     They had just crossed the threshold of the door when there was a bright flash and a very loud explosion, rocking the entire building and sending stucco and plaster flying.  Smoke came next, stinging Anakin’s lungs as he coughed.
     And then, silence as everything cleared.
     It was a few moments later when Anakin realized that Obi-Wan was above him on all fours, shaking his head to clear his hair and face of dust and coughing smoke out of his lungs.
     “Are you all right?” the Knight asked.
     “Uh huh,” Anakin whimpered out.
     “Blast it!” Tila-Shen exclaimed, pushing aside a fallen wood beam as she unearthed both herself and Minister Kalicutt.  “What the Sith was that?”
     “A very large explosion, my astute Padawan,” Keerina stated, helping the Prime Minister to his feet, a hint of irritation in her voice.
     Obi-Wan had rushed to the edge of the blast area and stood perched on the rim of the jagged hole in the wall and floor.  His eyes efficiently scanned the area below as members of the palace staff and the palace guard rushed around in a flurry of activity, putting out side fires and helping the few injured below.  It was apparent that the room they had been in had been the target, since little else was damaged.
     Obi-Wan’s eyes fixed on a figure near the walls of the courtyard, dressed head to toe in black.  He was moving in the opposite direction of those working on the cleanup effort.  The figure turned to look back up at him, locked eyes with the Jedi for a moment, then jumped into a nearby tree, climbed up it, and leaped over the nearest section of wall.
     “Anakin, stay with Keerina!” Obi-Wan barked out.  Not waiting for a response, he then stepped off the edge of the floor, dropped to the balcony below, leaped that railing and landed in the courtyard.  Dodging the Algerogans there, he ran over to the tree and disappeared over the wall in a single, efficient jump.
     “Issa-naa!” the Prime Minister spat out, calling Anakin’s attention back to the group he had been left with.  “Crusaders!  Dey is messing everything, yah!”
     “The Crusaders, Minister?” Keerina inquired.
     “Rebels!  Wanting to separating from Republic.  Not understanding Algerog food predicament, issa!”
     Keerina sighed heavily, quite obviously not liking the sound of what she was hearing from the Algerogan.  “Perhaps, Prime Minister, you should go into further detail.”
     “Master, you’ve been hurt!” Tila-Shen exclaimed, moving closer to the older Knight.  She touched her hand to a forming spot of white blood that was beginning to ooze out of Keerina’s forehead.  The master, too, touched a hand to it, cautiously.
     “It is nothing, Tila-Shen; a scratch, nothing more.”
     “Why don’t you let those of us who can see it be the judge of that,” the Padawan shot back, then turned back to the Algerogans, “where is your healer?”
     “You worry too much, Padawan.”
     “And that is precisely why you’re still alive today, Master.”
     The hair on the back of Anakin’s neck suddenly stood up and he wasn’t entirely certain why.  As he observed the two lady Jedi, a shiver ran up his back and he found he couldn’t take his eyes off of Tila-Shen.  There was a sudden, short, sharp glimmer of…
     What?  What was it, exactly?  Anakin wasn’t certain what he was sensing, what the Force was sending him.  But somehow, he knew that whatever it was was screaming out for his attention.
     And just as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone.
     Keerina sighed.  “All right, Padawan,” she conceded, “if it will keep you quiet, I will see the healer.  We should all be checked, anyway.”
     “We should going this way,” Kalicutt said, motioning in a direction, “healer is on main floor of palace.”
     “Master Keerina?” Anakin inquired.  “What about Obi-Wan?  Shouldn’t we go help him?”
     “Not to worry, little one,” Keerina replied, “Master Kenobi is quite capable of taking care of himself.  Now come along.”  The Knight proffered a hand to him, beckoning him onward.
     Anakin cast one last, uncertain glance in the direction Obi-Wan had gone and momentarily bit his lip, obvious worry flashing over his face.  At length, he tore himself away from the gaping hole in the wall, took Keerina’s hand, and followed the Algerogans with her.

     The chase thus far hadn’t lasted long, but even still, it was obvious to Obi-Wan that a year of relative inactivity at the Temple hadn’t done him much good.  He wasn’t unfit by any stretch of the imagination, but the run was already taking its toll on the muscles in his legs.
     From the palace, the chase had cut through only a small corner of the city.  Chase and pursuer had torn through a crowded marketplace, pushing aside many an irate Algerogan in the process.  After that, Obi-Wan found himself chasing down a beach of white sand further and further from the palace at the heart of Quitzagrin.  The sun was beginning to sink low on the horizon in front of them and it was getting harder and harder for Obi-Wan to see the fleeing attacker with his eyes alone, so he let the Force light his path.  It was a good thing he was concentrating so hard on it because he only barely managed to sense the threat of the attacker’s laser weapon in time to deflect it with his lightsaber.
     The sun disappeared behind a cliff side as the two runners approached it.  Still firing off blast after blast at the Jedi, the attacker fumbled with a second gun.  He was pointing it into the air just as Obi-Wan got close enough to tackle him and what fell to the sand was what appeared to be an assent gun.  Tearing the attacker away from the cliff, Obi-Wan threw him into the shallow waters a few yards away.  The attacker scrambled around in the water in the brief moments before the Jedi followed him in, trying to get to deeper water where he might have a chance of swimming away.
     As Obi-Wan pulled the attacker back to within his effective fighting range by the ankle, it became obvious to the Jedi that he wasn’t fighting an Algerogan.  The fists that were thrown back at him were too hard, too rough.  He couldn’t make out what species he was, though, as there was simply too much water flying in all directions for him to see anything with his own eyes.
     Finally, Obi-Wan managed to pin the attacker in the shallow waters.  As the figure in black struggled under him, Obi-Wan heard a desperate gurgle and allowed him to come up for air.
     “All right!  All right!” he exclaimed from behind a black mask.  “I give up!  No bounty is worth messing with the Jedi, enough all ready.”
     One firm hand on the figure’s chest, Obi-Wan reached up and pulled back the mask to reveal a grey, lizard-like face.  “You’re a bounty hunter?”
     “Yeah, yeah, what’s it to ya’.”
     “Who hired you?”
     “Hey, look, I’m a business man.  It’s not good business to tell everyone who-”
     Obi-Wan dunked the bounty hunter under the water, holding him under for a moment and letting him gurgle before pulling him back up again.  “It’s also not good business to be drowned in a salt lake.  Tell me who hired you.”
     “Na-uh, no way.  Jedi don’t kill.”
     Once again, Obi-Wan dunked the bounty hunter.  “Well, I’ve got a bit of news for you; you’re having a very unlucky day, my friend, because you’re trying to tell that to the wrong Jedi.”
     “You mean that you’ve-” was all the bounty hunter got out before Obi-Wan cut him off by shoving him under the water once more.
     “Believe it.  Now, who hired you.”
     “I dunno how they let you past the Jedi Council, you’re a lunatic!”
     “Answer me!”
     “He used an alias, but I wouldn’t be much of a bounty hunter if I didn’t know who he was.  Galagyula of Bellici, the former representative for the southern continent.”

     “Wherever did you hearing that name?” Kalicutt asked of Obi-Wan some time later.  Upon returning to the palace, he had rejoined the other three Jedi and the two Algerogan ministers in the infirmary.  Keerina now sported a small bandage near her hairline and the healers were busily checking over their Prime Minister.
     “Our new friend down in holding volunteered it,” Obi-Wan answered, “he mentioned something about the southern continent.”
     Kalicutt shook his head in a gesture of obvious frustration, letting his floppy ears flap back and forth.  “Terrorist.  Galagyula leading separating movement.  He talking like being a lunatic all the time, der.”
     “How do you mean?” Keerina inquired.
     “Issa!  He believing Republic is exploiting Algerog, mining the resources.  Also, believing Jedi been infecting by something calling Sith.  Everybody knowing that is impossible!”
     “That would explain why he tried to blow the place sky high,” Tila-Shen put in, “he’s obviously had the ability to do this for a while, or else some time would have passed after we got here before he attacked.”
     “A sound observation, Padawan,” Keerina agreed.
     “But what about the bounty hunter?” Anakin voiced.  “Didn’t you get the name really easily, Master?”
     “Hardly,” Obi-Wan said, not without a hint of indignation, “it took some… persuading.”
     “Is the Council gonna be mad at you, Master?”
     “What I’m saying is that bounty hunters are all alike; concerned with their own self-interests and nothing more.  Needless to say I made it much more… profitable for him to tell me the name.  You would do well to-”
     “In any case,” Keerina interrupted, sensing more than a little tension that needed to be diffused, “there is obviously a connection to the southern continent.  And it could be related to the exaggerated food shortages there.  I would say that a trip there is in order.”
     “I agreeing,” the Prime Minister put in, finally free of the healer who had been fussing over him the whole time, “will sending Kalicutt going along with you.”  He shook his head.  “Crusaders.  Irrational, extreme… I knowing not what to doing about them and still keeping democracy.  Freedom of speech making blood boiling, sometimes.”  Muttering similar sentiments to himself, the Prime Minister departed.
     “Tila-Shen and I shall see to our travel arrangements,” Keerina told Obi-Wan.  The elder Jedi and her Padawan then departed as well, followed closely by Minister Kalicutt.
     “Massa Jedi,” the healer spoke up for the first time since Obi-Wan had arrived, “is your turn, sirrah.”
     “Me?” Obi-Wan asked.  “Oh, I’m fine.  Just need to wash up and my apprentice and I really should be going.”  He turned to lead the way out of the room…
     … only to find said apprentice standing in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest and a rather irate look on his face.
     “Master…” Anakin said, “you’re always saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
     Obi-Wan blinked at the boy for several moments.  “You haven’t known me so long to know me so well.”
     “I’m just observant,” Anakin stated, defensively.

     Stars surrounded him as he floated in gravity-less space that pressed against him in its emptiness.  One of the stars, in particular, seemed to stand out.  It was near him, yet further away than all the others.  It shined in the darkness, imbuing the area with clean, white light.
     Fading out of the darkness of the stars, a hand grasped the star and held it out in front of him.
     “Take it from me,” an old, familiar voice commanded.  He blinked once, and found that the rest of the form that belonged to the hand had faded into existence, the leonine features of his face looking down at him.  “Take it from me, my Padawan,” the figure commanded once again, still holding the star out to him.
     He reached for it, but his master pulled it away from him.  He tried to grasp the star once again and again it was moved out of his reach.
     “You’re not listening,” his master told him, “take it from me.”
 He tried again and failed once more.  His master held the star closer to himself and shook his head.
     “Do not take it from me.  Rather, you must take it from me.  Do you understand me?”
 He felt it rather than said it.  It drifted across his voice like a whisper among a crowd.  “Why did you leave him to me?”
     Somehow, his master looked sad, as if he wanted to say more but was somehow kept from it.  Instead, he indicated the star in his hand.  The moment he looked to it, its brilliance dulled and faded to darkness.  His master then looked to his side, left or right, he couldn’t say.  In the distance, two bright stars faded from view.
     “You are a wiser man than I was.  Mind the future.  Mind the present.  And for Force’s sake, boy… wake up!”

     Obi-Wan’s eyes were forced open due to a reflex he knew not where he had ever picked up.  Somehow, it had always been there, ever since he was first a Padawan under Qui-Gon Jinn.  It was a ripple from the Living Force, pushing its way into his consciousness and warning him of something that he had to pay attention to.
     Now awake and unable to deny it, the Knight looked around the small room.  Since the attack, undamaged space in the Prime Minister’s palace was at a premium, so the four Jedi had been placed in a single room, together.  Keerina was laying on the couch across the room, snoring softly.  Anakin was not far from Obi-Wan, curled up on top of a portable mattress and practically woven into a cozy looking blanket.
     A cool wind blew through the room and it was then that Obi-Wan became aware that the sliding double doors to the balcony were open, allowing the curtains at its sides to flap in the night breezes.  Tila-Shen was standing on the balcony, cloak pulled in tightly around her, leaning on the rail and looking out over the salt lake in a manner that seemed very far away.
     Careful not to disturb his Padawan sleeping on the floor, Obi-Wan rolled out of his cot and wrapped himself up in his cloak.  As quietly as he could, he wandered out to the balcony and approached Tila-Shen.
     “Sorry, Master Kenobi, I didn’t mean to wake you,” she said as he approached.
     Obi-Wan shook his head in disbelief; Tila-Shen had inherited Keerina’s extra set of eyes.  “A little late to be awake, don’t you think?”
     “Master Jinn never snored, did he?”
     “No.  Why?”
     “You haven’t been woken up until you’ve been woken up by a snore transmitted through the Training Bond.”
     “I did not know that was possible.”
     “Master Keerina denies it of course.”
     “Who wouldn’t?”
     They both sighed in unison as Obi-Wan stepped up to the railing and leaned against it, mimicking Tila-Shen’s pose.
     “So, if it’s so late, why are you awake?” she asked him after several moments.
     “Oh, I don’t really know,” he responded, “supposed to be, I guess.  The Force moved me.”
     “Can I ask you something, Master Kenobi?”
     “Isn’t that a question in and of itself?” Obi-Wan laughed and immediately regretted it as he noticed the Padawan’s mood darken slightly.  He cleared his throat apologetically.  “What’s on your mind?”
     “When your master died, the Training Bond you had with him had to have shattered completely.  How did you deal with the grief without that support?”
     Obi-Wan shifted uncomfortably and fixed his gaze on the lights on the other side of the lake.  It was the last question he had expected to hear from her and the last thing he wanted to dwell on.
     Tila-Shen seemed to sense his tension and shook her head.  “Never mind, forget I asked.  It’s… it’s not really all that important.”
     “Tila-Shen, is there something-”
     “No, no, just forget about it.”
     “Well, you must have asked that question for a reason.”
     She turned around and faced toward the inside of their room and sighed heavily.  “I don’t suppose anyone ever told you how I was found, did they.  A dirty, starving, half-drowned little girl on a flooding planet where a massive volcano had erupted and the polar ice caps had suddenly melted, half crazed because of what she was sensing of her planet’s turmoil through the Force-”
     “Parents having died right in front of her and unable to control what was happening to her.  Master Mundi came across you and brought you to the temple, gave you some rudimentary thought controlling exercises and you only barely passed the test to become an initiate.”  By the time Obi-Wan had finished, Tila-Shen was looking at him with eyes big enough to fly a podracer through.  “I make it a point to know who I’m working with,” he explained.
     “Oh, you sure know how to take the fun outta dramatic moments.”
     “It’s a talent.”
     “I’d like you to know you managed to derail a thoroughly profound statement on Jedi and Padawans that I was building up to.”
     “That one’s a skill.”
     There was a substantial pause in the conversation.  It was in that pause that Obi-Wan felt what it was that had pulled him there through the Force.  A shiver ran up his spine as he sensed an all too familiar emotion emanating from Tila-Shen’s direction; fear.  Curiously and cautiously, he reached out with the Force and tried to touch it.  But, as soon as he brushed against it, it had disappeared, burying itself in layer after layer of the Force.
     “Oh well,” Tila-Shen finally sighed, stretching her hands into the air, “busy day tomorrow.  I should go back to sleep.”  As though it were the most natural thing in the world for her to be doing, she wandered back inside.  “Good night, Master Kenobi.”
     As Tila-Shen shuffled around inside and finally settled back into her small sleeping space for the night, Obi-Wan turned his gaze back to the lake below.  It was calm, not a ripple forming on the water’s surface.  In silent contemplation, he studied the stars reflected in it.

     Below the palace, where one would have thought there would be only solid ground and bedrock, there was a dark, stone room, moist with the cold drippings of water that condensed at such temperatures as one might find underground.  There were several small rooms here, each with a door of metal bars and a window high on one wall, also blocked by bars.  A very small amount of moonlight filtered in, casting an eerie blue glow to the stone room.
     The bounty hunter, Sillias Maht, sat in this darkened underground, waiting.  He had been waiting for quite a while, now, far longer than he had anticipated.  He wondered if his benefactor intended to go back on her agreement.
     That was the trouble with being a bounty hunter; it was so hard to trust those who employed you.
     Sillias occupied his time by tossing a small piece of stone that had chipped off the wall in his hand over and over.  It had become a sort of a game; how many times could he toss it into the air before boredom made him fall asleep.
     But he couldn’t sleep.  He had to be ready to move.  His benefactor would be along soon… he hoped.
     One last job.  This was his last job.  This benefactor would pay him enough to settle on some fringe planet where he could live out the rest of his life without putting it at risk any more.  Perhaps he could even eke out a meager bit of happiness for himself, meet someone…
     His acute senses told him there was a figure outside his window, crouching low on the ground there and peering in at him.  The very little light there was reflected off of two smooth, black orbs where eyes should have been, the rest of the figure’s face was obscured by the hood of a black cloak.
     Sillias was on his feet in a moment, tossing aside the stone.  “About time you got here.  We had an agreement.  I give them Galagyula’s name, you get me out immediately.  I’ve been rotting here for almost twelve hours.”
     Something red flashed.  And for just an instant, Sillias Maht saw the face of his benefactor.
     When the Algerogan guards returned in the morning, they found one, whole bounty hunter… some assembly required.

     “My people do not kill!”
     Galagyula was a surprisingly well-spoken Algerogan.  There was hardly any hint of an accent in his Basic at all.  Besides that, he was hardly the picture of a terrorist; dressed well enough, brown and black fur well kept, he was even fairly short by Algerogan standards.
     The four Jedi had found their suspect in an apartment in the thick of the city of Bellici, over a food store of some sort or another.  The city itself was located in the middle of the southern continent, well away from most large bodies of water.  It had a small river running through it which had recently dried to a pathetic creek, drying out the farmlands and the large forest on the city’s outskirts.  Bellici had, of late, suffered from a decline in its population, drought chasing away family after family and only worsening the food shortage in this normally fertile land.  A few were determined to stick it out, though, and Galagyula was obviously one of them.
     And right now, he was pissed.  However, he visibly reigned himself in.  “Some of the more extreme who believe as I do may… blow up a weapons store from time to time, but I do not condone killing of any sort.”
     “Then perhaps you can give us a reason why someone would want to put the blame for this attack on you,” Obi-Wan stated, evenly.
     Galagyula gave him a rather dirty look.  “Perhaps you should ask your Republican friend staying at the hotel down the road.”
     Obi-Wan and Keerina gave each other simultaneous, brief looks of concern.  Minister Kalicutt was, indeed, at said hotel.  But they had taken steps to keep his location fairly well hidden.  The fact that Galagyula knew where he was told them that he had numerous eyes, everywhere in the city.  Bellici was, indeed, Galagyula’s chosen ground and they had walked right on to it.
     “Jedi, fah!”  He spat.  “You all think we’re so incompetent, that we can’t survive without your precious Republic.  You merrily go about the galaxy and do the biddings of your hopelessly corrupt Senate.  Drought here, floods in the far north, diseased livestock in the east, all at once; this planet is dying.  Where is the help from your precious Senate?”
     “But that’s what we’re here to do!” Anakin protested, pushing to the front of the group.
     Galagyula looked down at the boy with an angry eye.  “Getting them young, I see,” he hissed, “you call this help, little boy?  All I see are four more mouths to feed.”
     “But-” Anakin began again, but was silenced by Tila-Shen’s hand on her shoulder.  The older Padawan looked over to Keerina as if waiting for something.
     “Perhaps,” Keerina said, waving her hands, nonchalantly, “cooler heads will prevail.”
     “But maybe cooler heads will prevail, in this,” Galagyula agreed, his entire demeanor changing.
     Keerina waved her right hand once more, fingers moving gracefully and specifically.  “Any information you have would be useful.”
     “I have some information that may turn out to be useful.”
     “Please, go on,” Keerina bade the Algerogan.
     “There has been some unusual activity at one of the abandoned farms lately.  The one near the woodlands to the west.  Strange energy readings, as though there were some sort of machine there; at least that’s the only explanation I have for such power levels.”
     Absently, Tila-Shen turned her head to the west and her eyes narrowed in her concentration on the Living Force.
     “Any idea what this machine may be doing?” Obi-Wan asked.
     “I’ve tried to find out,” Galagyula told them, “but…” and here he chose his words very carefully, “… the only person I know who went there to find out hasn’t come back.”
     “Master,” Tila-Shen broke in, not taking her eyes off the west, “I’m sensing an upheaval in the Force in that direction; a great confusion.”
     “Perhaps we should go and take a look,” suggested Obi-Wan.
     Galagyula’s irritating demeanor returned with his blink.  “Perhaps you should,” he snapped, “and leave me and my people be.  We have the right to say what we wish to say without being harassed for it.  This is a democracy, after all.”  With that and nothing further, he slammed the door in front of the four Jedi.  There was a click of a lock that told them with finality that they should leave.
     Tila-Shen whistled.  “All hail the ruthlessly opinionated.”
     “Talk about rude,” Anakin agreed, “all we’re doing is asking him some questions.”
     “Mind your thoughts, Anakin,” Obi-Wan corrected, putting a hand on the boy’s shoulder.
     “I’m not angry, just annoyed.”
     “Trust me; annoyance can lead to anger, as well.”
     “I believe it would be wise of us to depart,” Keerina stated, her blue eyes scanning the area.  Several of the other Algerogans from the neighborhood had paused in their activities, trying not to look conspicuous about it.  They were all giving the Jedi those look-but-don’t-look stares, suspiciousness playing across their features quite obviously.
     “I believe you’re right,” Obi-Wan agreed, “let’s go look into this disturbance in the west.  There’s something very strange going on, here.”

     On the surface, the dried out old farmland looked normal enough.  The land was cracked and thirsty and what few remains of plant life there were stood on hideously bent stalks, threatening to tumble away with the next strong wind.  A mud brick house stood on one corner of the land, fallen into disrepair and beginning to crumble.  The forest to the west was in similar shape; tired trees beginning to drop their leaves prematurely, creating a carpet of dry debris.
     The four Jedi had decided to split into groups of two to investigate.  Keerina and Tila-Shen were already on their way to check out the house and the eastern side of the farm.  Obi-Wan and Anakin, meanwhile, began a slow, mindful trudge through the fields toward the western side of the farm and the forest edge.  They weren’t far from the speeder when Obi-Wan stopped in his tracks, suddenly compelled to put a hand on his lightsaber in readiness.
     “What is it, Master?” Anakin asked.  “Danger?”
     Slowly, Obi-Wan took his hand off his lightsaber and looked about.  “I don’t think it’s immediate,” he said at length, “but there is something here; something very dangerous.”  He tried to focus in on the source of the disturbance, but it led his sense on a wild goose chase, winding in and out of various features of the farm until it finally faded to a nebulous feeling that simply hung over the place as a whole.  “Anakin,” he said, “I want you to open your senses.  Concentrate on the Living Force and tell me what you feel from this place.”
     “Is this a test or something?” Anakin asked.
     Obi-Wan bobbed his head back and forth in a non-committal way.  “Of sorts.  I need… a second opinion, you could say.  Concentrate on this place.  Look outward and let the Force flow into you.”
     “Can I close my eyes?”
     “If it helps you.”
     Anakin did so and took a deep breath, forcing himself to relax.  He reached out with his senses, all six of them, and one by one they each fed information to his attentive mind.  His eyes, of course, were closed.  He had discovered quite quickly that it was a distraction to him while trying to focus on his other senses.  The first to come to him was touch; a slight breeze blew through his hair and his fingers.  Next came smell; accompanying the breeze was the slight tinge of dust which crept into his taste as well.  A strange aftertaste that Anakin knew well came to him; mech fluid.  He had tasted it more than once while trying to siphon it from one droid to another on Tatooine.  Finally, slowly and dull at first but growing to a sense as focused as his others, the Force tickled his mind.  The green smell of a voice whispered across his fingers, communicating the feelings of the place to him.  It was sad, lonely, afraid; Anakin understood it quite well and urged it to be strong, saying that he was here to help it.
     “This place is sad,” Anakin finally concluded, telling Obi-Wan, “it’s in pain and it’s afraid.”
     Careful not to break Anakin’s concentration, Obi-Wan spoke softly and calmly.  “Where does it come from?” he asked.
     “All over,” Anakin responded, “one is close, but the others are far away, almost like they’re a world away.”
     Obi-Wan puzzled over this; was Anakin really sensing things in the Force that were beyond his physical sight?  Such a thing for a Padawan of only one year of training was almost unheard of.
     “Yes, that’s it,” Anakin stated, “this place… this planet is in pain.  It wants us to help it.”
     Obi-Wan blinked, stupidly.  Planet?  Did Anakin just say he was sensing the entire planet?
     The Knight shook himself out of his astonishment, reminding himself that Qui-Gon hadn’t thought this boy was the Chosen of the Midichloians for no reason at all.  Carefully, he reigned in his thoughts enough to ask Anakin a second question.  “Can you locate the place near to here where you sense a disturbance?”
     Anakin put one hand out in front of him, pointing with his index finger.  Slowly, as if scanning the place with a line that extended from his hand, he turned around until he stopped, pointing in one direction.  “It’s that way,” he said with utter certainty.
     Gently, Obi-Wan put a hand on the boy’s shoulder.  “Very good, Padawan,” he said, bringing Anakin out of his concentration, “let’s go see what we can see, hmm?”
     Anakin swayed a little, looking a bit punch-drunk from what he had felt.  Figuring that it wasn’t in the least surprising, Obi-Wan allowed him a moment, kneeling down in front of the boy and putting both hands on his shoulders.  The Knight decided that in order to function properly, Anakin needed to be shored up a little.  He concentrated on the tiny, delicate, hardly adequate link that called itself their bond and pushed the Force through it, mixing it with as much assurance he could, but not certain that it actually made it to the boy.  He gathered the force around them like a warm blanket and wrapped his Padawan in it.  The effort seemed to do only a little, but he could tell from Anakin’s expression that the boy was grateful he was making the attempt.
     Obi-Wan hadn’t even noticed that his concentration on the Force around him had dropped away completely with the effort.  Otherwise, he would have felt the ground beneath them scream out in agony.  As such, he was startled when a massive rumbling sent them both sprawling on the ground in a heap.  Grasping at his concentration like hands on a greased covered pole, Obi-Wan was forced to see what was happening using his eyes instead of the Force.  He rolled over onto his back just in time to see a large column of steam rise into the air from the very spot Anakin had previously indicated.  An instant later, droplets of hot water began to rain down on them.  Obi-Wan reached over to Anakin and pulled him on top of him with one hand and pulled his cloak over them both with the other.  As the boiling rain intensified, he flopped both himself and the boy over so that he could protect the tiny form in his care from getting burned.
     Once he was certain the rain had come to a stop and all was calm again, they both slowly got to their feet.
     “What was that?” Anakin asked, more than a little fear creeping into his voice.  Obi-Wan didn’t bother to tell him to keep it in check.  It was obvious they had more important things to concentrate on.
     “A geyser,” Obi-Wan stated, “what’s it doing here?”
     “What’s a geyser?”
     “I don’t suppose you had them on Tatooine.  Water close to the planet’s molten core boils, becoming steam which then bursts out of the ground, rather violently.”
     “I gathered that part.”
     “Stay here, and keep your hood up in case it goes off again,” the Knight instructed.
     “Where are you going?”
     “To have a look.”
     “But what if it goes off while you’re close?”
     “This time, I’ll know before hand.”
     Obi-Wan cautiously walked in the direction of the geyser, keeping his senses attuned to the Force around him.  As he approached, he began to sense a certain growing darkness around him, as though he were slowly walking into a very dark room at the end of a long hallway.  Again, he felt compelled to put a hand on his lightsaber.
     He came to the fresh crack in the land where the steam had gushed forth.  The edges had worn away, revealing a few large stones that were now dripping with cooling water.
     But something else along the edge glinted in the sunlight and caught his eye.  Hand still on his lightsaber, he crouched down for a closer look.  Tentatively, checking to see whether or not it was still hot, he brushed some of the mud away, revealing a flat surface of silver metal.  He laid his hand on it and felt perfectly timed, thrumming vibrations.  It was a machine.
     Hand still inexplicably bonded to his lightsaber, he stood and surveyed the ground nearby.  If the edge of the machine hadn’t called his attention to it, he would have missed the massive, circular indentation in the abandoned field; a slight dip in the ground, an only barely disturbed look to the soil.  Around it, puddles had formed from the rain of the geyser.  Obi-Wan noticed one of them retreating into its center.  Curiously, it was doing this far to fast for it to be simply due to evaporation.  It was as if something were pulling it down into the ground.
     “A pump,” he mused to himself, “this machine is one giant pump!”
     He had no time for further reflection, however.  A hole opened in the ground behind him, spitting forth not boiling water, but a man, climbing the air on a jetpack, taking the tactical advantage of the sky quickly.  At the very same instant he fired off blasts from a laser weapon, Obi-Wan drew the lightsaber hanging off his belt and lit the glowing green blade that was the legacy of Qui-Gon Jinn.  Deftly, he deflected the blasts.  One of the laser bolts sped directly back at what a small part of Obi-Wan’s brain had decided was another bounty hunter, knocking the figure out of the air and apparently damaging the jetpack.
     In an effort to keep the bounty hunter off his feet, Obi-Wan quickly searched the Force.  In the blink of an eye, he found a small pocket of hot steam.  He called on the Force to open a hole in the ground to it and the planet was only too happy to oblige, moving aside the soil and rock and allowing the pressure to escape into the air, directed toward the bounty hunter.
     The new, unexpected geyser threw the bounty hunter backward as he let out a cry of pain.  Once the geyser had finished, the bounty hunter sprang to his feet and took off at a sprint in the direction of the dried out woods.
     “Anakin, get the speeder!” Obi-Wan called to his Padawan just before taking off after the bounty hunter, green lightsaber flashing in his hand as he ran.
     Anakin didn’t wait to watch them both disappear into the woods.  Instead, he sprinted off in the other direction.  He reached the speeder they had used to get there just as Keerina and Tila-Shen did.
     “What’s happening, where’s Obi-Wan?” Keerina asked.
     “Chasing someone,” Anakin stated, climbing into the driver’s seat of the speeder.  Keerina got into the front seat next to him and Tila-Shen climbed in behind her Master.  “We were attacked out in the field, near the woods and Obi-Wan told me to get the speeder and then went after him.”
     Anakin brought the speeder to life, twisted it around, and sent it skimming across the fields toward the woods, hoping he would be able to find Obi-Wan in it well enough to catch up with him.

     For the second time in as many days, Obi-Wan was frantically chasing after a bounty hunter.  However, this one was quite different from the first.  There was a certain air of urgency that accompanied this one’s flight that hadn’t been present in that of the first.
     He deflected a pair of laser blasts from the bounty hunter and picked up his pace, trying to gain some ground.  A face full of it was what Obi-Wan received when the bounty hunter aimed his arm at him and fired off a small missile of some sort.  The concussion momentarily knocked the Jedi off his feet and in the time it took him to get up again, he heard the tell-tale whine of an engine that signaled a starting up of a speeder.  An instant later, the bounty hunter emerged from a patch of thick, dry bushes atop a one man speeder bike.
     As the whine of that engine faded into the distance, Obi-Wan heard another behind him.  He put his lightsaber away, called up the Force, and propelled himself upward to the nearest tree branch.  He flipped over it and lighted on top of it, waiting to time his coming jump perfectly.
     The Jedis’ speeder approached and for an instant, Obi-Wan allowed himself relief that Anakin had also managed to collect Keerina and Tila-Shen.  Just as the speeder swept by beneath him, he hopped from the branch and landed in the last remaining seat, behind Anakin and next to Tila-Shen.
     “You’re right on time,” he called over the hum of the engine, “follow him, Anakin.”
     “If only the public transportation on Coruscant was this prompt,” Tila-Shen quipped from her seat.
     “Watch that tree!” Keerina exclaimed.
     “I see it!” Anakin responded, just before touching the control ever so slightly and maneuvering around the half-dead tree by mere feet.
     “Take us up over the trees, Anakin,” Obi-Wan commanded.
     “I can handle this, it’s just like the podraces back on Tatooine,” Anakin called back over his shoulder, “besides, we won’t be able to see him from up there.”
     The speeder only narrowly avoided another large tree.
     “Your Padawan is insane!” Keerina yelled to Obi-Wan.
     “I’m learning that!” Obi-Wan yelled back, ducking a branch he was sure was going to hit him square in the face at a speed approaching seventy miles and hour.
     Suddenly, something dropped out of the trees above them, in pure defiance of the senses of the four Jedi in the speeder.  It was closest to Obi-Wan and he had only an instant to light his saber and parry a glowing red blow from a similar one.  On instinct, he stood up to get better leverage and push back the blow.  Something swept under him, knocking him off his feet and sending him tumbling backward out of the speeder.  By the time Tila-Shen and Keerina had turned to see what was going on, they only caught a glimpse of black flutter out of their sight.  They both leaned over the side of the speeder and saw two forms disappear into the green and brown foliage below.
     “Master Kenobi!” Tila-Shen exclaimed, pushing out of her seat and jumping out of the speeder after them.
     “No!  Tila-Shen, wait!” Keerina said as her apprentice dropped as well.  She hit her hand against the side of the speeder.  “Blast it!  Young people!”
     “We should go after them!” Anakin shouted, preparing to turn back.
     “No!” Keerina stated.  “We have to catch that speeder!  We’ll come back to find them later!”
     “You will do as I say, Padawan Skywalker!”
     Anakin straightened to attention and gripped the controls tighter.  “Yes, ma’am!”

     In the foliage below, Tila-Shen rolled to a stop and regained her feet in an instant, sensing immediate danger.  Her lightdagger was out first, its green blade parrying a blow over her shoulder as her other hand grabbed and lit her matching lightsaber.  She spun around on the ball of her foot and slashed the saber.  The blow deflected off a blade of red.  Instinct told her to jump and she leaped over a slashing green tentacle as it whipped along the ground.  Parrying one blow with her dagger, Tila-Shen sent forth her own slash, snapping her fingers tight around her hilt of her saber.  That slash was deflected as well.
     Her opponent parried several more blows with a red blade that spun wildly through the air, all the while gaining some distance.  Just before her opponent was out of range, Tila-Shen sent one more slash to the other fighter’s head.  The green saber sliced through only the easily giving cloth of the attacker’s cloak, though.
     The attacker’s black hood fell away, revealing green skin and a head the shape of more than one species of snake she had seen.  The darker flaps on the sides of the creature’s face stretched as it opened its mouth and hissed, revealing two long, white teeth that looked as though they could bite through the thick skin of a Taun Taun.
     An instant later, the creature feinted with its saber, then whipped its massive tail through the dirt and debris on the forest floor, sending it flying into Tila-Shen’s face.  The Padawan backed up, shielding her eyes, expecting the moment to be her last as the creature cut her down.
     But the killing blow never came.  And by the time Tila-Shen cleared her sight, the creature was gone and she felt no more impending danger through the Force.  To double check, she pushed her senses outward and let the Force speak to her.  But all it told her was that the danger was passed.  She turned off both her blades but kept her lightsaber in her hand just in case.
     She wandered back in the direction she had tumbled from, figuring that Obi-Wan was somewhere on that path.  She came across him a few minutes later, working his way out of a pile of branches and other forest detritus that had been the nest of some wild creature before he had fallen on it.  He had just managed to get his head above the branches when Tila-Shen met up with him.
     “Master Kenobi?” she ventured between his rather irate sounding mutters.
     He paused and turned his head around to look at her.  “Yeah?”
     “Are… you all right?”
     “Other than being stuck and just having decided I hate flying?  I’m fine.  Whose idea was it for Jedi fashion to be big, floppy, and prone to tangling?”  He shook one stuck arm and pulled.  There was a substantial ripping sound and Obi-Wan moaned as he held up the free but torn right sleeve of his brown cloak.
     “You, uh, ripped your sleeve, there.”
     “Are you just going to stand there, or are you going to help me out, here?”
     “Well, truth be told, this is rather amusing.”
     Obi-Wan gave her that look that was well practiced on his own Padawan.  Tila-Shen decided that it was probably better for her health that she assist the Knight.
     “That thing that attacked us just now,” she said, beginning to pull some of the branches away, “it had a red lightsaber.  You don’t suppose…”
     “A Sith,” Obi-Wan confirmed, “we’ll have to be on our guard.  Any sign of it?”
     She nodded.  “Had a nice little run in with it.  Some kind of… snake being, a Halsion, I think.”
     “You fought it?”
     “More like flailed around while it fought me.  It felt like I was fighting Master Yoda, I didn’t have a chance.  I don’t think it was out to kill me.  It blinded me long enough to disappear back to Force knows where.”
     Obi-Wan was finally free enough of the ruins of the nest that he was able to kick away what remained and climb out.  “That means one of two things,” he said, “either it didn’t mean to reveal itself and falling into the speeder was a mistake, or it meant to separate us.  We have to assume the worst case scenario.”
     “So if it did mean to separate us and if it’s not coming after you and me…”
     “Oh, bloody Sith!”
     “Keerina and Ani!”
     “We need to find them,” Obi-Wan stated, “Keerina would have kept after that bounty hunter.”
     “This forest is huge,” she said, “we’ve got to be ten miles into it and Keerina and Ani must be twice that far away by now.”
     “I hope that isn’t despair I hear, Padawan Razeek.”
     “Not at all, Master Kenobi.  I’m simply taking an inventory of all our problems.”

     Anakin and Keerina, meanwhile, were still speeding after the bounty hunter.  As they continued west, the forest abruptly fell away and left them in the middle of a sprawling prairie.  Noting that his cover had fallen away, the bounty hunter poured on his air breaks and swung his little, one-man speeder around to face the two oncoming Jedi.  He fired off a shot that Anakin managed to avoid by a very quick, subtle swerve.  He couldn’t slow down enough, however and soon the bounty hunter was tailing them rather than them tailing the bounty hunter.
     Keerina lit her blue lightsaber and climbed over her seat to the back.  “Keep your eyes ahead,” she told Anakin.  She then got to her feet and wrapped her tail around the handhold of the seat she had been sitting in.  As the bounty hunter closed, firing laser shots from the blaster mounted on his speeder, she deflected the blasts, biding her time.
     The speeders got closer and closer to one another until finally, Keerina felt they were within a distance that she could leap from one to the other.  Calling on the Force to assist her, she did so just as one of the bounty hunter’s shots clipped the back end of the Jedi speeder.  She flipped around as she sailed over the bounty hunter’s head and landed behind him on the speeder.  Before he could do anything, she plunged her lightsaber into the drive system on the back.  The speeder lurched and it took all of the bounty hunter’s concentration to safely slow it down to a non-lethal speed.  As soon as they were close enough to he ground, Keerina jumped off and rolled to a stop.  The bounty hunter did the same not far from her.
     The old Jedi Knight was first on her feet and she had the blade of her lightsaber pointed at the bounty hunter’s throat in very short order.
     “Do not move,” she warned him.
     The bounty hunter looked up at her defiantly.  “You’ve had your thousand years, Jedi,” he hissed out.  Then, he shifted his jaw and bit down.  Something in his mouth cracked and very shortly thereafter, his eyes rolled back into his head and Keerina felt the Living Force leave him.
     He had poisoned himself rather than be taken prisoner.
     Keerina sighed as she switched off her lightsaber and let that be her only sign of frustration.  Instead of dwelling on that, she made her way to where Anakin had put down the speeder, following the smoke that was rising out of its back end.  The young Padawan was already inspecting the damage to the back end when she got there.
     “The whole drive system is fried,” Anakin informed her, “there’s no way we can ride this thing back into town.”
     “Are you certain?” she asked.  “We’re in for a very long hike otherwise.”
     “Positive.  I know my machines.  Even the best mechanics can’t fix things without parts, though.”  He paused and turned to look back at the elder Knight.  “Master Keerina, ma’am.  What about Master Obi-Wan and Tila-Shen?  What attacked us and can they fight it?”
     “We must have faith, little one.  Your master and my Padawan are both accomplished fighters.  They can take care of themselves.  We will find them.  But, to do that, we have considerable ground to cover, so let us begin.”
     Anakin nodded his understanding.  He grabbed the two bottles of water and the food rations that were stashed in the speeder, tucked them into his cloak, and they were on their way.

     By the time night fell, Obi-Wan and Tila-Shen couldn’t have made it any further than five miles.  Their way was blocked by thick underbrush and a plethora of other forest debris.  They couldn’t use their lightsabers to cut their way through, though, because all of it was dry as a tinderbox and the last thing they wanted to do was compound their troubles by starting a wildfire.  However, each time they came to a sizable clearing, Tila-Shen took the lead, taking the chance to gain just a little bit of time.  Finally, she was far enough ahead of Obi-Wan that he was getting nervous.
     “Tila-Shen, slow down,” he called, “we’re on the same side, remember?”
     Huffing for her breath, she paused in the next clearing and turned back to him.  “Apologies, Master Kenobi,” she said, “I’m just trying to make some progress.”
     He nodded his understanding as he came to a halt next to her, also puffing for breath.  “I understand, but our progress is slowing as we get tired.  We’ve been going full speed for three hours and it’s getting too dark to see anything.  We should rest for the night.”
     “I’m fine, I can keep going.  C’mon.”
     “Tila-Shen,” Obi-Wan said, tone deadly serious, “I can sense fear and urgency radiating off of you.  I understand your concern for your Master, but you must mind yourself.  And we must stop for the night before we get lost.”
     The Padawan bent over and rested her hands on her knees, catching her breath.  She visibly regained her composure and Obi-Wan felt her fear bury itself in the Force.  “You’re right, of course,” she conceded at length.  Tiredly, she allowed herself to flop down on the ground, “it’s just that they’re out there, somewhere, and so’s that Sith.”
     Obi-Wan sat down next to her.  “Think of this; if something were to happen to Keerina, you would feel it, would you not?”
 She nodded.
     “And have you?”
     She shook her head.
     “Then she and Anakin are both fine.  Put your faith in their abilities.  We will find them or they will find us.”
     She nodded again.  “I guess you of all Jedi would understand.”
     Avoiding the subject through the use of silence, Obi-Wan set about clearing a wide circle on the forest floor down to the dirt.  He then piled some dried leaves in the middle and set some pieces of wood on top of them.  He lit his lightsaber and touched it to the pile.  The dried out pieces of dead plant took to the heat willingly and fire began to lap around its edges almost immediately.
     “That’s Master Qui-Gon’s lightsaber, isn’t it?” Tila-Shen asked as Obi-Wan put the weapon away.
     Obi-Wan turned it over in his hand, pondering it for a moment before nodding and clipping it to his belt.  “I guess I inherited it after Naboo.  Seems fitting, but somehow, if doesn’t quite feel right.”
     “I’m surprised you didn’t remake your own.”
     “I carry my Master’s lightsaber.  How many Knights get to say that?”
     She blinked at him.  “Master Kenobi, do you realize what you’re saying?  A Jedi’s lightsaber is his life; Qui-Gon had to die to leave that with you.  And you’re saying that you don’t have a problem with that?”
     “That is most certainly not what I am saying.”
     “Well, then what are you saying?”
     “I’m saying that-” Obi-Wan stopped himself and sighed, careful not to lose control.  This was bringing up more than he cared to deal with at the moment.  “He left his life in my hands and I have an obligation to fulfill my promise to him, that’s all.”
     “Qui-Gon didn’t ask you to become him, he asked you to train the kid.”
     “We were talking about the lightsaber.”
     “Is there really a difference?”
     “That’s enough!” Obi-Wan snapped, shooting to his feet.  As he began to pace, hands pressed to his temples and visibly struggling to let his emotions drift away into the Force, Tila-Shen fell silent.  She curled her knees up to her chest and rested her arms on them, studying the fire in front of her.
     “I’ve always been fascinated by the Force in fire,” she said after several moments of strained silence, “the way it jumps and dances.  It’s got an energy to it that charges the Force around it.  Each fire is different, too.  Some are cooler than others, giving its life to the sparks it sends out as if hoping that by doing so it might spawn a braver fire elsewhere.  Others are hot and they burn themselves out quickly, never pausing to realize the life it has or the effect it has around itself.”
     Obi-Wan felt a ripple in the Force tickle the back of his mind and call his attention.  He turned back to Tila-Shen and found that she was not looking at anything in particular.  Her eyes were foggy, half glazed over and her face had no expression, as if hypnotized.
     “There is a flame inside you, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  A flame that will one day reignite a fire lost to the Jedi.”
     Cautiously, Obi-Wan crouched down next to her and waved a hand in front of her face.  Her expression didn’t change, but she slowly turned her head to look at him.
     “Do not fear this fire, Obi-Wan.  It will not consume you.  It cannot harm you.”
     The Force brushed against his senses and Obi-Wan felt the shiver of time through his entire being.  He wasn’t sure how long he stared at the debatably conscious Tila-Shen, but he finally reached a hand out and shook her shoulder.
     Tila-Shen blinked, started, and shook her head.  Obviously shaken, and opened and closed her mouth several times before she found her voice again.  “Don’t ask me,” she said, “I’m just the messenger.”
     “That was…”
     She nodded, turning her attention back to the fire.  “A Force vision, yeah.”
     “You’re a diviner?”
     “It isn’t anything I can control,” she responded, voice shaking a bit, “I just get these images in my head at random times and every time someone has to snap me out of it.  Thank the Force I’ve never had one during a fight.”
     “How many times have you…?”
     “Let’s see… seven I think.  A couple of those were the same person, duplicated.”
     “Who else?”
     “You just now, Padawan Kissil, Master Yoda… twice, Anakin twice… once was before I even met him in fact… and… and Master Keerina.”  She said the last one rather solemnly, as if just saying that she had had the vision of her master would let some demon out of confinement and let it ravage the entire galaxy.
     Obi-Wan felt her fear bubble to the surface before she buried it once again.
     “What do you see for Keerina?”
     “I see her floating above darkness that will strike her down with a frozen spear of nebulous purpose.”
     “That’s the reason,” Obi-Wan realized.
     She nodded.  “Now you know, Master Kenobi.  It’s the reason I’m not ready to take the trials.”

     About thirty miles west, a similar fire was burning but there was no conversation.  Instead, Anakin was curled up into his cloak, sleeping as close to the fire as he safely could and Keerina sat watch, steeped in light meditation and senses alert.  The Knight heard the boy shift and give out a soft moan so she opened her eyes to check on him.  Finding that all was physically right, she returned to her musings.
     The training bond with her Padawan was present, of course.  Through it, Keerina could feel that Tila-Shen was struggling with her emotions and thoughts.  The Padawan was concentrating on keeping, above all things, her fear in check.  Uncertainty colored their bond and Keerina wished that the myth about Masters and their Padawans being able to communicate words through the bond were true; Tila-Shen needed reassurance that Keerina was with her.
     This was exactly the scenario that Tila-Shen always worried about.  Yet the Knight also knew that the fear wasn’t of a threat to the girl but of that to the Master herself.  Keerina knew that the Force had given her Padawan a vision about her, but Tila-Shen always refused to tell Keerina what it was.  That, alone, didn’t bode well.
     Truly, Tila-Shen had just as far to come as the little boy restlessly sleeping in front of her.
     Since she couldn’t use the bond to physically communicate, Keerina gathered up her own confidence and reassurance and pushed it through the training bond to her Padawan.  It was all she could do.  She could only hope that Obi-Wan was with her, helping her keep her thoughts in check.
     That was assuming, of course, that he could handle his own.
     The past year had been very taxing on the young Knight, Keerina reflected.  He was perhaps less composed now than he had been when he had first returned to the Temple following the mission to Naboo with Qui-Gon.  In the Temple, he had been able to carefully balance the turmoil within him, but in the course of this mission, Keerina had come to realize just how fragile Obi-Wan really was.
     He was certainly not in any danger of turning to the Dark Side, though.  She knew he had too much respect for Qui-Gon to let him down that way.  But he was beginning to grow thin in such a way that one would only see it if one was looking for it.
     Keerina shook her head and sighed.  “Qui-Gon, you old fool,” she whispered to herself, “look at what you’ve left him with.  You had to make him promise himself to the boy, but you couldn’t be bothered to say good bye to him.”
     And that, Keerina knew, was the problem Anakin and Obi-Wan were having now.  Neither one had let go of Qui-Gon, the man who had been a teacher to both.  They still clung to the spirit of that man rather than reach out to each other and realize they needed to look elsewhere.  Obi-Wan needed Anakin and Anakin needed Obi-Wan.
     Keerina could only hope that they didn’t both break before they realized it.
     Letting these thoughts drop away, Keerina found herself curiously fascinated by the fire in front of her.

     The elder Knight and the younger Padawan had been up with the sun, much as their tired bodies protested.  They each managed to eat one of the ration packs that Anakin was carrying, then they made sure their campfire was completely out and struck out again as the Algerogan sun slowly made its way into the sky.
     Keerina had to admire Anakin.  He was managing to keep up fairly well despite his smaller size.  She figured he had that same endless well of energy all little boys had.
     “Master Keerina,” he ventured, “how much further do you think we have to go?”
     “Well, we’ve been traveling for seven hours now.  I’d say about another ten miles or so.”
     “Do you think Obi-Wan and Tila-Shen are coming this way?”
     “It is possible.  Are you getting tired, little one?”
     “No,” Anakin said, defiantly, “I can keep going.”
     “With that spirit, we’ll find them in no time.”
     They walked onward for several moments before Anakin spoke again.  “Master Keerina?”
     “How long have you known Master Obi-Wan?”
     “I was Knighted the same year Qui-Gon was apprenticed to Master Dooku,” she answered, simply.
     “Oh.  I guess that’s a long time.  How old are you?”
     “You sure don’t look it.”
     “My kind can live to be nearly two-hundred.”
     “Is there something specific you wish to know, little one?”
     “I’m just talking, that’s all.  I’m bored and it’s just really quiet.”
     Keerina nodded, her tone turning quite serious.  “Yes, I had noticed that myself.  Almost no sound at all.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “Take a moment and listen, Padawan,” she instructed, “a forest is usually teeming with wildlife that makes its presence known.  Not just through the Force, but through the sounds of movement of animals, birds singing, and other things.  This forest is very quiet, all of a sudden.  Open your senses to the Force.  Tell me what you feel.”
     As the walked along, Anakin quieted his mind as much as he could and still have enough concentration to keep moving without falling over.  He reached out through the Force and called to the trees, the animals, anything that would answer.  There were no animals to sense, but the trees seemed to tremble with anxiousness, as if a dark force was walking among them.
     “There’s something nearby,” Anakin said, dropping his voice to almost a whisper, “something very dangerous.”
     “Yes,” Keerina answered in kind, “I’ve sensed it for the past few minutes.  We may be ambushed soon.  But, before that, I want you to realize what you’ve just accomplished.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “Little one,” she said, “you just used all six of your senses at once.  Your Master mentioned to me that you had been closing your eyes in order to concentrate on the Force.  To keep walking, you couldn’t do that.  Now then, let’s quiet, shall we.  I believe our opponent is near.”
     Keerina was correct.  It was only a moment later that the snake-bodied Sith creature dropped down from the trees, slashing its red lightsaber.  Keerina met the attack swiftly, flashing her blue lightsaber in a practiced set of maneuvers that drove the Sith back, away from Anakin.  The boy took this time to unclip his own blue lightsaber from his belt and activate it, ready to back Keerina up.
     The Sith realized what Keerina was doing and went on the offensive.  It feinted a slash to Keerina’s head, then changed attacks fluidly and went for the Jedi’s legs.  Keerina jumped the downward slice, adding a spin to her jump.  Her tail flailed across the Sith’s face, blinding it for only a moment as she landed and regained her footing.  Keerina blocked the Sith’s next blow and shot forth a riposte that the Sith sidestepped.
     The battle went on in such a manner for several moments.  All the while, Anakin hung back and watched, knowing that while he knew how to fight, in theory, he had had very little real experience.  A Sith was simply out of his league for now.  He watched Keerina carefully, though, in case the Sith managed to get hit on the Jedi.  He would gather the Force up within him and at least be a distraction if she needed to regain her feet.
     Keerina sent forth a slash to the Sith’s head, her three-fingered hand tensing around the grip of her lightsaber and causing the tip of the blade to whistle through the air.  The Sith blocked the blow, red blade flying up in front of its face horizontally.  Keerina kept the pressure on her blade, locking them in a duel of strength.  They remained thus for almost an entire second before Keerina dropped into a flip, kicking out with her powerful, animal-like legs and knocking the Sith in its jaw.  The Sith lost its balance and tumbled backward.  Keerina twisted around and headed for Anakin.  She deactivated her lightsaber and scooped him up in one fluid move.  Dropping low to the ground, she flipped the boy up over her head and on to her back.
     “Hang on!” she exclaimed, pushing off the ground in a powerful jump, the Force assisting her way into the treetops.  In a dizzying sequence of jumps, Keerina climbed into the forest canopy like a gymnast, even using her tail at one point to spin herself around the trunk of a tree and change her direction.  Before Anakin knew it, the Sith was well in the distance.
     They came to a break in the trees and suddenly Anakin realized that there was a muddy swamp below them.  Keerina called on the Force once again and leaped the distance across it into the nearest tree on the other side.  Hopping from tree branch to tree branch, Keerina descended back to the forest floor and continued their flight on the ground, running along on all fours, using the full strength of her legs to propel them forward at a rather quick pace.
     “This is so wizard!” Anakin exclaimed.  “Can you teach me how to do that?”
     “Don’t talk or you’ll bite your tongue!”

     Well behind them, the Sith smiled to herself, looking in the distance the two Jedi had retreated.  Her satisfaction flowed through her, mixing with her excitement.  If all went well, she would kill two, possibly three Jedi this night.
     She put away her lightsaber and pulled out her holoprojector.  When she activated it, the cloaked figure of her master sprang from it.
     “Report, Lady Kardis,” he commanded.
     “All four of the Jedi make their way toward the determined location,” she hissed out, “I have sped the boy and the older knight on their way.  They will reach it by nightfall.”
     “Excellent.  You have done well, Darth Kardis.  I give you the authority to take your revenge for Lord Maul.  Provided the boy remains unharmed.”
     “And the Jedi who struck down Lord Maul?”
     “Kill the other two first.  Then you may go after him.  But be warned; the Jedi Kenobi is a formidable opponent.”
     “I understand, my master.”

     Nearly two hours later, as night was beginning to fall once again, Keerina plodded to a stop in a clearing and stood up, letting Anakin slide off her back.  Cautiously, she looked around for a moment, checking to see they weren’t followed.  Finally deciding they were safe enough to take a rest, she sat down hard on the forest floor, puffing for breath.
     “Force!  I can’t remember the last time I ran like that,” she exclaimed.
     “Here,” Anakin said, handing her one of the two bottles of water he had been carrying.  She took the proffered bottle and took one long pull from it before handing it back.  “That’s all you’re gonna have?” Anakin asked, pushing the bottle back into her hand.  “You really should drink some more.  Believe me; dehydration is nothing to laugh about.”
     Keerina cocked an eyebrow at him, surprised at the boy’s maturity in the matter.  She let out a tired chuckle and took the bottle once again.  “I suppose I should know better then to argue this matter with someone who comes from a desert planet, hmm?” she said, taking another substantial pull from the bottle.
     “Do you think we should stay here for the night?” Anakin asked.
     “That may not be an unwise decision,” Keerina agreed, “I can sense Tila-Shen and Obi-Wan not too far from here.  Perhaps they will come this way.”
     “What about the Sith?”
     “I have not sensed it for some time.  But that means nothing.  Sith are trained well in stealth and hiding.  We must be very cautious.”
     “Right.”  Anakin paused for several moments, seemingly pondering the ground in front of where he sat.  “Master Keerina, why do the Sith hate the Jedi?  And why do the Jedi hate the Sith?”
     “Jedi do not hate,” Keerina sternly corrected, “hate causes suffering.  We do not even hate the Sith.  The Sith represent the Dark Side of the Force so to hate them would be to hate the Force.  No, we do not hate the Sith.  We simply… violently disagree.”
     “Then why do Jedi fight them?”
     “Because the Sith fight the Jedi.”
     “It is one of the great mysteries of the universe, Anakin,” she responded, “the light and the darkness cannot exist without each other but nor can they mix and mingle.  It is simply the way of things.  The Force has its own purpose and we must trust that it knows what it is doing.”
     “But, how can I trust something that let someone like Qui-Gon die?”
     “Ah, so that is why you struggle so.  You are very strong in the Living Force, little one, so it is no surprise you don’t see it.”
     “What do you mean?  What don’t I see?”
     “Anakin, has Obi-Wan taught you about the Unifying Force?”
     “Just a little.  He keeps saying I should concentrate on the Living Force, though.”
     “Your Master is strong in the Unifying Force, what the layman might call ‘the big picture.’  It is the part of the Force that brings life together.  While the Living Force is the life in all things, the Unifying Force is the set of bonds that brings everything together, the interactions between the small parts of the Living Force.  Now, take Qui-Gon, for example.  You and Obi-Wan both cared for him a great deal.  And when he rejoined the Force a year ago, you were both confused and sad.  In fact, you both are still.”
     “Master Obi-Wan doesn’t look it.”
     “That is because of his training.  He lets go of those feelings, lets them bleed off into the Force.  He has not yet realized that he is continually doing it.  But, the important thing is that it is something you both have in common.  You see?”
     “You mean, it’s the way the Unifying Force is trying to make us friends.”
     “That is correct.  You will see it, feel it, in time.  Now that you are aware of it, you can look for it.  When we find Obi-Wan and Tila-Shen, quiet your mind for a moment and seek the connection out.  It is there.”
     “So, the Force let Qui-Gon die so Master Obi-Wan and I could become Master and Padawan?  That doesn’t seem very fair to Qui-Gon.”
     Keerina sighed.  “No, perhaps it is not.  But now you know that his death was not without purpose.  You should take comfort in that rather than mourn it.”
     “Well, I guess so, but-”
     Their conversation was abruptly cut short when the Sith, Darth Kardis, dropped out of the trees once again.  Briefly, for but an instant, Keerina scolded herself for not suspecting it; it seemed to be the Sith’s trademark after all.  The snake creature dropped down to the ground between them and before Anakin could react, she slashed her tail through the air at him, knocking him across the clearing and out cold.  She baked away from Keerina and lit her red lightsaber.
     “Filling the young one’s head with your Jedi nonsense?” she spat.
     Calmly, Keerina stood and lit her own blue lightsaber.  “So, the Sith speaks at last,” she said, “truth be told, I was beginning to wonder whether or not the Dark Side had a voice.”
     Kardis charged in with the first attack and the battle was joined.  Keerina parried it easily and shot forth a riposte aimed at Kardis’ belly.  The Sith slithered to the side, avoiding it, then spun, lashing her tail at the Jedi, following through with another slash at head height.  Keerina jumped the tail, ducked the blade, and slashed around for an attack toward what would have been Kardis’ feet if the Sith had had any.  Kardis parried the blow in an arc, swiping along the forest floor with her lightsaber as she did.
     The two combatants backed away from each other as a line of fire formed.  Sparks snapped and flew through the air, spreading the flames quickly and Keerina silently chided herself again; this was the driest, most debris-strewn clearing she had Anakin had come to yet.  It had simply been ripe for a fire and Kardis had wasted little time in lighting one.
     They had walked right into a trap.

     “I’m just saying, the next time-”
     “What makes you think there will be a next time?”
     “The next time, if you want something edible, I hunt and you cook,” Tila-Shen groused, poking Obi-Wan in the chest as they both trudged along tiredly, “although, from what I hear that may not be such a good idea either.  At least with my cooking, the only thing we have to worry about is hair in the stew.”
     “You heard about…” Obi-Wan just couldn’t bring himself to repeat the misadventure, “but that was nearly four years ago.”
     “Who didn’t hear about it?”
     “There was only one pot they couldn’t chisel out again!”
     “I hear they sold it to some Mon Calamari to use as a boat anchor.”
     “You see?  There’s a use for every-”  Obi-Wan stopped in his tracks and looked directly ahead of their path.  A ripple from the Force was tickling his mind, screaming out agony and energy.  As he listened to it, he felt it spread and at the same time a glow began to grow from its direction.  “What in blazes is that?”
     Tila-Shen followed his gaze and opened her senses to the Force as well.  “I think a blaze is exactly what it is.”  She paused.  “Oh, Force!  Keerina’s over there!”
     “She’s not the only one,” Obi-Wan said grimly, “so’s the Sith, I can sense the Dark Side, as well.  C’mon!”
     Obi-Wan led the charge as they both broke into a sprint toward the ominous orange glow.  He unclipped his lightsaber from his belt, ready to use it at a moment’s notice and took comfort in the fact that Tila-Shen was following suit.  They reached the outskirts of the fire zone quickly and were brought to a sudden halt by a series of fallen, flaming branches blocking their way.
     Just beyond this fiery barrier they could see Keerina and the Sith, both fighting tooth and nail with everything they had.  Keerina’s blue blade stood out against the orange of the flames beyond, flashing its scintillating presence, its smooth grace mirroring the inner skills of its wielder.
     “Keerina!” Tila-Shen called, helplessly through the flames.
     Kardis, still swinging her red blade with a malevolent grace, reached a three-fingered hand out toward Obi-Wan and Tila-Shen.  The Force warned them only a split second before a burning branch fell from directly above them  They were forced back about another yard to keep from getting trapped under it and burned.
     As the battle within the burning circle continued to rage on, Obi-Wan spotted Anakin, fully unconscious and laid out in a rather uncomfortable looking position near a tree.  A sudden sense of dread built up and he quickly pushed it down, forcing himself to think clearly and find a way in to help both the boy and Keerina.  As both he and Tila-Shen cast about for ways through the fire, the only thing they could do was watch the battle within rage on.
     Keerina was obviously beginning to tire and show her age.  Her parries and thrusts were slower, less precise.  Her crouch wasn’t as deep, her slashes not as long.  It wasn’t long before she was on the defensive.
     Obi-Wan noticed Tila-Shen’s distress; she had obviously taken note of her master’s state as well.
     Keerina parried several blows, backing up as far as she dared so as to continue to defend the unconscious Anakin.  Finally, she had backed as far as she could and her blocked Kardis’ vicious overhead slash, locking their lightsabers together very near the hilts in another test of strength.
     Kardis gave a short, sharp, malevolent grin just before she straightened a section of her tail, springing forward and jerking Keerina’s saber far over her head and knocking the Jedi slightly off balance.
     A split second before it happened, Obi-Wan sensed it come and trapped Tila-Shen in a desperate, restraining bear hug.  The Padawan let out an ear piercing scream of terror.
     Kardis spun her red blade around in a massive vertical arc, neatly severing Keerina’s right leg from her hip.  The cut continued around and sliced through her saber-bearing arm as well.  The Sith caught the Jedi Master in one hand as she fell, mercilessly holding on to her face.
     Tila-Shen beat against Obi-Wan’s restraining arms with the butt ends of both her lightsaber and her lightdagger, desperately fighting his grasp and still crying out.  Obi-Wan could feel fear, anger, and hate radiating off the Padawan in droves.  In that instant, he felt the scream of the end of part of the Unifying Force and the slow fade of a section of the Living Force.  Struggling, he pushed aside his own darker emotions, his only concern being the restraining of the distressed apprentice next to him.
     Kardis calmly put away her lightsaber, clipping it to her belt, still holding up the fading Keerina.  The Sith cast a wicked grin over her shoulder to the other two Jedi, then turned her attention back to Keerina.  Swiftly, she pulled her free hand back, pointing her three fingered, clawed hand directly at the old Knight’s chest.  It flew forward and went straight through, as if moving through nothing more solid than a liquid.  The Sith slowly turned back to Obi-Wan and Tila-Shen, holding up the dead body of the Padawan’s beloved master, then shook her hand free, dumping what remained Keerina on the burning forest floor in an unceremonious heap.
     Obi-Wan grabbed a hold of Tila-Shen’s head and turned it to face him.  He locked eyes with her and accessed the Force.  She had finally lost her breath and had stop screaming, whimpering instead.  Obi-Wan pushed the Force into her and called out to the calm part of her mind.  It was well buried under layers of emotion now, but was easy to get to since she was vulnerable with shock.  He gently brought it to the surface and her face went completely blank.  Her knees gave way beneath her and Obi-Wan helped her sink to the ground.  She looked off into nowhere at all, eyes glazed over, completely inactive.
     Tila-Shen sufficiently hypnotized, Obi-Wan turned back to see what the Sith was doing.  The snake creature was gazing directly at him with her two unsettling black orbs of eyes.  Her mouth curled on one side into a self-satisfied smirk and she turned to point at the helplessly defenseless Anakin.
     “He’s next, you know,” she said, “unless you do something, Sith-Killer.”
     Silently, still keeping a firm grip on his emotions, Obi-Wan removed his cloak and let it drop to the ground.  He lit his lightsaber, Qui-Gon’s lightsaber, and regarded the Sith with steel cold eyes.
     “You know who I am, then.”
     “And you must understand what I am after.”
     Obi-Wan waved his free hand and cleared a path using the Force, an unusual amount of concentration suddenly filling his being and casting out all sense of darkness within him.  He stepped into the circle of fire and took up a defensive stance, facing off with Kardis.  No further words were spoken as they began their dual.
     Meanwhile, Anakin slowly rose to the surface of consciousness.  His eyes slowly cracked open and his line of sight was such that he was able to take in the red and green flashes that was the lightsaber battle in front of him.  As his vision cleared further, he took note of the severed arm near him, still holding a lit, blue lightsaber.  He recognized it as a hand he had held only hours before.  His vision expanded again and he spotted the insensate Tila-Shen just outside the ring of fire that was burning around him.  For some reason, he fixated on her slumped form.  The Force reached out through him and his mind put all these things together.
     The Sith, the one that Obi-Wan was now desperately fighting, had killed Master Keerina.
     At that revelation, something began to grow within him.  It spread across him like a blight, eating away at what fragile control he had.  Inexplicably, it took the form of a massive monster within his heart.  Anakin’s eyes locked with Tila-Shen’s unresponsive ones and the Force sparked between them.
     Tila-Shen blinked, slowly getting to her feet, holding her two blades ready and silently lighting them.  The Force erupted out of her, manifesting itself in a massive, dark wave that funneled in Kardis’ direction, knocking Obi-Wan aside and carrying the Sith off into the burning treetops.
     Obi-Wan seemed startled by this and had only an instant to turn off his lightsaber before he hit the ground not far from Anakin.  He landed hard on his side and swore he heard something crack.  But, quickly assessing the situation, he ignored it.  Noting that Kardis was not in sight, he decided that it was time to leave.
     The Knight scooped up his semi-conscious Padawan and took off at a run across the clearing for the hole in the fire ring that he had previously made.  He was brought up short when another burning branch fell into the space, blocking them once again.  The fire had spread, beginning to shrink their little, clear space, and Obi-Wan found himself suddenly quite drained, concern for the bundle in his arms wracking his mind.  With no other choice left to him, Obi-Wan gritted his teeth and dove through the burning wall.  A small cry of pain escaped him as he felt the hot tips of the branches dig their way into his skin, but he tumbled through to the other side and regained his feet.
     He nudged Tila-Shen and brought her the rest of the way out of her trance.  “We have to get out of here!” he exclaimed.
     Still not quite all the way back, Tila-Shen slowly nodded and began to follow Obi-Wan’s lead as they began to run eastward, out of the fire.  However, she stopped after only a few steps and turned back to regard the ring of fire.
     “She’s coming back,” she stated, simply.
     Obi-Wan halted, feeling the heat of the forest fire growing and the fire as a whole spreading.  “Tila-Shen, we have to leave, now!  Before we can’t any more!”
     “I just saw it,” she told him in an eerily calm voice, “the Force just showed me.”  She shook her head and took a step back.  “I’ll stay here and cover your retreat.  Go.”
     “Padawan Razeek!” Obi-Wan snapped, hoping to startle her into motion.  “This is not a debate!  I gave you an order, as a Knight!”
     She shook her head again.  “You don’t understand.  I wasn’t meant to leave here.”  She lit her dagger and held it up her here Padawan braid, cutting it and throwing it into the fires nearby.  “I wasn’t meant to be a Jedi.  Ani!  Ani, wake up!  I have something important to tell you!”
     In Obi-Wan’s arms, Anakin twisted around and looked at Tila-Shen, eyes still half clouded with half consciousness.
     “You will bring balance to the Force.  In your own way.  You will know the time.  When it comes, make sure to listen to your own feelings and not those of others.  Redemption lies there.”  She turned her attention back to Obi-Wan, locking sad eyes with his.  “May the Force be with you, Master Kenobi.”
     Obi-Wan hesitated, knowing there was nothing he could do any longer.  He wanted to return her sentiment, but the Code forbade it.  “Fight well, Tila-Shen Razeek,” he said, instead.
     She smiled a sad smile of understanding, then turned away from them, silently awaiting what remained of her destiny.
     Kardis returned just as Obi-Wan left, Anakin in his arms and running half blindly through the fires.
     Sith and Padawan stared each other down for several moments, hate bouncing between them the same way the sparks of the fire jumped and crackled around them.
     “Killing for revenge?” Kardis spat out.  “Your Jedi Code forbids such an action.”
     “You know what?” Tila-Shen responded, shrugging.  “Screw it.”

     The dry condition of the forest had caused the fires to spread rapidly.  It had blossomed out from the ring of fire and was carried on the prevailing eastern winds back toward the farm they had started at a day ago.  However, it was the direction Obi-Wan had been forced to go, carrying the small form of his Padawan.
     A wall of flaming bushes blocked his path and he skidded to a halt, casting about for other possible directions he could go.  There were none, so he shielded the boy as best he could and dove through the weakest spot.  He landed hard, rolling to a stop along the ground and swatting out flames that clung to his tunic.  The motion finally jarred Anakin into full wakefulness and he squirmed out of Obi-Wan’s grasp.
     “You left them behind!” the boy shouted.  “How could you just leave them there?  We have to go back and help them.”
     “Anakin, there’s nothing we can do!” Obi-Wan answered in kind.  “We have to get out of here, right now, before we’re burned alive!”
     Anakin glared at Obi-Wan, seemingly oblivious to the encroaching flames around them.  He stalked up to the Knight, arms flailing wildly and beating at Obi-Wan’s chest.  “You just left them there!  You could have fought that Sith, you’ve done it before!  You could have killed that thing!  It deserves to die!”
     Obi-Wan grabbed onto Anakin’s small wrists, attempting to arrest his anger-sparked assault on him.  “Get a hold of your senses, Padawan!”
     “No!” Anakin screamed, a wave of uncontrolled Force flowing out of him and knocking Obi-Wan back into a smoldering tree.  “You could have killed it!”
     Regaining his feet and ignoring his burns and bruises, Obi-Wan stared Anakin down, the Force rippling between them and echoing the leaping sparks and snapping flames of the fires around them.  A shadow began t build within the Knight, an echo of that which was beginning to blot out the light in Anakin.
     “Qui-Gon would have killed it!” Anakin continued.  “But you just ran away!”
     Obi-Wan covered the expanse between them in only a few long strides.  He grabbed Anakin by the shoulders and shook him.  “You will not speak of Qui-Gon like that!  I will not have it, Anakin!”
     “He was my friend, too!”
     The spark between them jumped and flashed, brightening for but an instant before burning away the darkness in them both.  At the same instant, they both felt a surge in the Force that originated from one another and the Unifying Force cooled them both, sucking away the heat, the anger, the pain.
     “He was my friend, too,” Anakin repeated, fire shining off the fresh tears in his eyes.
     “Oh Force!” Obi-Wan breathed, embracing the sobbing boy.  “This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen.  It shouldn’t have taken this.  He might as well have taught me nothing.”
     “Obi-Wan,” Anakin mumbled into the Knight’s shoulder, “we have to go.”
     For a moment, Obi-Wan rested his forehead on that of his Padawan.  “Then let’s go.”
     The Force warned him of it before it fell and Obi-Wan only had an instant drop to the ground and cover Anakin before a massive branch broke free of the tree that was disintegrating above them.  He gave out a cry of pain as the burning mass crashed into him, white-hot heat licking at his back.  Covering Anakin as best he could and pushing outward with the Force, he shook them both free and rolled clear, feeling a stab of pain from his ribcage.  He ignored it, though, and forced himself to his feet.  He staggered for a moment before a felt a small hand on his elbow.
     “Obi-Wan!” Anakin exclaimed, obvious worry coloring his tone.
     The Knight placed a firm hand on Anakin’s shoulder and motioned him along.  They ran a few steps before Obi-Wan jerked him to a stop and covered Anakin’s face with a sleeve as more burning wood fell from above.  They stumbled along like that for a long time, the Force guiding their path and Obi-Wan’s reflexes filling in for Anakin’s lack of experience.
     Finally, they stumbled out of the woods and tumbled down the western embankment of the farm just outside Bellici.  The fire had spread to some of the dried out remains of crops, but wasn’t getting far because of patches of long neglected dirt.
     Anakin was first on his feet and covered the small distance between where he was and where Obi-Wan was still on the ground, breathing hard and struggling to get up.  Wordlessly, he helped his master to his feet and put his shoulder under one of the Knight’s elbows.  They slowly made their way back toward Bellici and Anakin couldn’t help but noticed that Obi-Wan’s steps were slow, careful, deliberate.
     It took them nearly two hours, but they finally reached the village.  The place was teeming with activity, the whole community bustling about in an attempt to control the fire that was beginning to spread across the open prairies and threaten the town itself.  Obi-Wan was leaning heavily on Anakin by now and once they were seen by several of the Belliceans, he finally lost his footing and fell to the ground.
     Anakin crouched down next to Obi-Wan as several of the Algerogans hurried up to them.  Finding his master unconscious, the boy looked around from face to face, imploring them for help.
     Wonder of wonders, he found it in both Minister Kalicutt and Galagyula, who came up to the two Jedi at once, differences obviously set aside for the moment.  The two politicians both cleared the crowd aside and joined Anakin by Obi-Wan’s side.
     “He’s hurt!” Anakin exclaimed.  “We got caught in the fire!”
     “Issa-naa!” Kalicutt breathed.  “He did getting burns all over!”
     “We can take him to the clinic,” Galagyula commanded, waiving to one of the Belliceans near by who came to assist.  Between the two of them, they pulled the unconscious Obi-Wan up onto their shoulders.  Anakin followed only a step behind as they made their way off the streets.