by Christine Morgan
Author’s Note: the Star Wars universe and the
characters from it are the property
of Lucasfilm Ltd. and are used here without
their creators’ knowledge or
permission. All other characters belong to
Mature readers only, please.
“How come you don’t like the Queen?”
Anakin Skywalker asked as the
transport began descending.
“Don’t like the Queen?” Obi-Wan
Kenobi turned to his young
apprentice with a puzzled look. “What gives you that idea?”
The twelve-year-old boy hoisted
himself onto the counter beside the
console, swinging his feet. “Whenever we come here, you’re always in
a hurry to
“That’s not true.”
“And you feel uncomfortable. I
“It’s not me that’s in a hurry
to leave. Our business demands us
elsewhere. With things in the Republic as they are, we have precious
little time for visiting.”
“If our missions are so important,
then, how come you’re leaving me
“This time, my Padawan, I must
“But I’ve got a bad feeling about
this. Is it dangerous?”
“Is it exciting?”
“Danger usually is.”
“Will there be fighting?”
“I hope not, but probably.”
“Then I should go with you!”
Obi-Wan sighed and wondered if
he’d been this much trouble to his
Master, Qui-Gon. Upon reflection, he thought not, for he had been identified
inducted into Jedi training when he was barely out of infancy, whereas
hadn’t been accepted by the Council until three years ago.
“Anakin, you’re not ready for
a mission of this sort.”
“I helped you on Endor’s moon,”
the youth pointed out.
“That was entirely different.
And look how it turned out.” He gave Anakin a stern look.
Abashed, the boy pretended to
find the utmost fascination with the tuft at the end of his
thin braid. “I didn’t mean to. I was just telling them stories. How
was I supposed to know
they’d take it so seriously? Besides, what harm could it do?”
“Don’t ever say that,” Obi-Wan
advised. “Those are the words that will
come back to haunt you.”
The ship settled to a stop, and
the pilot came into the rear compartment.
“Naboo Royal City,” he announced. “There’s
a greeting party on the way.”
“All right!” Anakin hopped down
and smoothed his cream-colored Jedi
tunic. “How do I look?”
The portal irised open and a ramp
extended smoothly onto the marble
flagstones. Directly ahead of them was a mammoth arch of pale stone,
sculpted and decorated. Obi-Wan and Anakin moved forth into the clean,
smelling air to meet the approaching group.
Anakin rushed ahead. He had shot
up several inches in the past three
years, and thanks to his rigorous training, his build had kept up with
his height, so that he
lacked the gangly appearance of most teens. He stopped, swept his dark
behind him, and executed a gallant bow.
“I once believed angels came from
the deep reaches of space,” he said to
the central figure of the group. “Now, having been over half the galaxy,
I know I
was wrong. They come from this world.”
Queen Amidala, her slender body
unbowed by the weight of her elaborate ceremonial
gown and headdress, smiled brilliantly at Anakin. Her blush couldn’t
be seen through the
layers of white make-up, but Obi-Wan could sense that it was there.
“Welcome, honored Jedi,” she said.
Her warm gaze shifted from Anakin to include
Obi-Wan. There, it lingered, and grew even warmer, until he had to
avert his eyes and
will his own face not to redden.
“Majesty.” Obi-Wan inclined his
head. “I’m afraid I must impose upon the generous
hospitality of your people once more.”
“We are always pleased by your
visits. It’s hardly an imposition.”
“He’s dumping me here,” Anakin
said brightly. “While he goes off and
does neat Jedi stuff. Hey! Artoo!”
A flurry of excited blips, beeps,
and whistles issued from the squat droid
as it trundled forward to meet Anakin.
“Oh ... I see.” Amidala looked
at Obi-Wan again.
“If that is agreeable to your
Majesty. I would have sent word ahead, but
this all fell together with rather short notice. If we might speak
privately ...?” he
The Queen nodded graciously and
her party escorted them into the
palace. Obi-Wan could hear Anakin regaling Artoo with the stories he’d
the poor primitives of Endor, blithely answering the droid’s questions
as if he still
hadn’t realized how unusual was his ability with languages both organic
“We are prospering under the guidance
of the new Senate,” Amidala said by way of
small talk as the Jedi followed her to her smallest throne room. “Chancellor
working most diligently to drive out corruption. Some criticize his
methods as harsh,
but he assures me it is necessary to lead with a firm hand.”
“I’m sure his wisdom is a credit
to his office,” Obi-Wan said.
Her orange-gowned handmaids flanked
her as she slowly lowered herself
onto the throne. Each bore a vague resemblance to Amidala, and Obi-Wan
sure which was the one who replaced the Queen as a decoy in times of
could, he reasoned, be any of them. But he’d no doubts that the one
speaking to was the true Queen.
“I apologize again for the suddenness
of my request, Majesty, and I am
very grateful that my apprentice will be able to await my return here.
should I ... fail to do so promptly, the Jedi Council will send for
Concern filled her dark eyes.
“Is there a significant chance that you will
fail to return promptly?”
Anakin laughed. “Don’t worry,
Ami. They’re always saying things like
A few of the handmaids and most
of the guards bristled at the youth’s
casual address of their Queen, but she paid it no mind.
“I must go ...” Obi-Wan said heavily,
“The prison moon?” Amidala’s voice
stayed even, but he felt her spark of alarm
“Governor Tredze of Lancas has
been usurped and taken there secretly. Some fear
that he may be slated for execution.”
“That cannot be allowed! The Governor
is among the most just and reasonable
members of the Republic. His death would be intolerable!”
“Which is why it must be prevented.”
“Surely there are other means.
A plea to the Senate ...” she broke off with her lips
pursed, perhaps remembering how well her pleas to the Senate had gone
when the Trade
Federation invaded her system.
“There’s no time.”
“No one has ever escaped Rannok.”
“No one’s ever had a Jedi come
rescue them,” Anakin said.
“Why just one Jedi?” Amidala asked.
“Why ... you?”
This time the roil of fear that
didn’t show in the Queen’s outward composure was
more intense. Even Anakin caught it. He looked sharply at Obi-Wan,
a line of suspicion
creasing his forehead.
Calm, calmer, Obi-Wan thought.
“The Governor knows me. He will recognize and
trust me. That will save valuable time that might otherwise be spent
convincing him of our
intent. One Jedi, alone, stands a better chance of entering the prison
“It’s not getting
the prison that’s the hard part,” Anakin remarked.
“Which is why I mean it when I
say there is a chance I might not return
promptly,” Obi-Wan said pointedly. “And should I not, I will be counting
“Come rescue you?”
“No!” Obi-Wan dropped both hands
on the youth’s shoulders. “That, you shall
not do. You’ll return to the Jedi Council and complete your
training. What happens to
me is not important.”
“How can you say that?” Amidala
protested, and Artoo warbled in agreement.
He ignored them, fixing his will
on Anakin. “Qui-Gon believed in you. So do I. You
won’t disappoint us, but neither will you throw your life away.”
Anakin’s lower lip jutted stubbornly.
“I’m supposed to be your apprentice.”
“You are. And a good one. But
that means I’m responsible for your well-being. I
cannot, in good conscience, lead you into a situation like this.”
“You’re going to die on me, aren’t
you? Just like Qui-Gon. Then I’ll be handed off to
other master. It’s like being a slave again.”
“Ani!” Amidala gasped.
“It is not like that,” Obi-Wan
said, giving Anakin a little shake. “Don’t you believe it,
no matter what Master Yoda might say. You will be a Jedi Knight,
and a great one.”
“But in the meantime, I get left
“Yes, I’m afraid so. But hardly
as the unwanted baggage you’d make yourself out
to be,” he added with a smile. “After all, aren’t you the Hero of Naboo?”
Anakin grinned. “Well, I guess
“That’s better. Now, Majesty,
if you’ll excuse me, I must be going.”
“Our thoughts go with you,” she
“Thank you. May the Force be with
you.” He bowed, and left the throne room.
“I’ve got Cahaldra in view,” Jefin
The pilot’s voice roused Obi-Wan
from a state that was part doze and part meditative
trance. “Let’s have a look.”
The screen filled with the image
of the gas giant, which hung in space like a clouded
marble of violets, blues, greens, and yellows. The bands of colors
swirled and revolved
with slow grandeur in a smooth flexion of colors that gave lie to what
must be the truth of the planet’s atmosphere. The winds would be screaming,
“The God’s Eye is just coming
around.” Jefin tapped the edge of the screen. A
colossal storm, bright violet with a brilliant yellow ‘eye,’ appeared
as the orb continued in
its rotation. Even from this distance, it was shot with flashes of
electric blue lightning, each
flash large enough to incinerate an entire city. “We should be picking
up the Eye’s
interference sweep in ...” he consulted his instrument panel, “six-point-five.”
“Where is Rannok?”
Jefin called up the image of a
small moon, dark and featureless. “Not much to see,
I’m afraid.” He enlarged it until they could detect a few glimmers
of light -- signs of
civilization. “That’s the main prison compound. I’ll set you down here,
two clicks away,
past these rock formations. We’ll make our initial pass when the moon
is under the sweep
of the Eye, so they won’t be able to detect us. Our window won’t last
long. I’ll have time
to land and take off again, and somewhere in there, you’ll want to
jump out. You’ll have
to make your way overland to the compound, and then meet me back at
the same drop site.”
“How long do you think you’ll
“I wish I knew ... give me forty-eight
hours, and if I’m not there to meet you, another
forty-eight. After that, assume that I’ve failed.”
“Understood. This sensor will
track the sweeps for you.”
Obi-Wan pocketed it and leaned
closer, studying the view intently. “Rock formations
... they look too regular for that. Almost like ruins.”
Jefin chuckled. “Trick of the
eyes. Without regular supply ships and power generators,
even the prison colony couldn’t survive. Nothing grows. The only light
and heat that dead
moon gets is from Cahaldra itself, what the astrogators call a ‘brown
dwarf.’ The system’s
star won’t look much different from anything else in the skies from
this far out. We’re
almost closer to Nachu, the next star over.”
“Still, there’s something ...”
he let his eyes go half-closed and pressed his fingertips to
the screen. “I sense something down there.”
The pilot gave him a sidelong
look. “Um ... we’re almost into the interference
sweep; I need to shut down all non-essential systems until we get through
“Fine.” Obi-Wan sat back, only
the slight furrow of his brow betraying his troubled
state of mind.
Rannok was a tidally-locked moon,
the same face of it always turned toward
Cahaldra. That side was barely hospitable, with a thin but breathable
by gases issuing from fissures in the moon’s crust. The surface was
bathed in dim, flat,
blue-violet radiance that was more shadow than light. The other side,
facing away from
the gas giant toward the far reaches of space, was eternally frozen
Not a place that many would willingly
go. The perfect choice, some twenty years ago,
when the Republic had authorized Minister of Justice Dol Bethra to
construction of a prison compound.
Like most things that turned out
badly, Obi-Wan reflected grimly, it had seemed like
a good idea at the time. But misuse of power, and the corruption that
was fighting in the Senate, had turned Rannok into a hellhole where
enemies of those in
power, not even necessarily criminals, could be kept out of the way.
“Entering the sweep now,” Jefin
The cabin was lit only by the
amber glow of the instrument panel. The ship dipped
slantways as if caught by atmospheric turbulence. Irregular patterns
skittered across the
screens. Outside, beyond the viewports, violet flickers sparkled and
swirled in the
“How wide is it?” Obi-Wan asked.
“Like a cone,” Jefin replied.
“It widens but disperses, weaker the farther from the
planet it gets. We should be coming through in a few more minutes.
Then I’ll swing
around the back side of Rannok and wait for the next sweep.”
Obi-Wan rose from his seat, bracing
himself with both hands as the ship
continued rocking side to side. He made his way into the rear compartment.
pack was there, and he mentally went over the contents yet again. It
was always a
challenge to balance what might be needed against what was too much
The ship’s motion smoothed out.
Jefin spoke over the intercom. “We’re
through, and beginning the approach. Should be just shy of an hour
“I have some things to attend
to back here,” Obi-Wan replied. “Alert me
when we’re close.”
He sat down and shut his eyes,
turning his thoughts inward to clear them and
prepare himself for the mission at hand. The sought-after state of
alert serenity didn’t
come as easily as usual. Distractions kept intruding.
The look in Queen Amidala’s dark
A recent meeting with Yoda, in
which the diminutive Jedi Master insisted for the
thousandth time that there was still fear in Anakin, that it was a
mistake and a dangerous
one for Obi-Wan to carry on with his training.
His own concern that Yoda was
overpowered by the promise he’d
made to the dying Qui-Gon.
One by one he pushed the distractions
aside. Calm, calmer. Heed the future and
the past, but not at the expense of the now.
At last, his mind relaxed and
opened. He quested outward.
There. The mild disturbance in
the Force that was born of people, prisoners,
in torment. Flavored with the cruel malice of their Wardens and the
of the Kadav warriors who served as guards and inquisitors. He let
it flood fully into
him until he was faint and shaking from the horror of it, then began
constructing barriers against it to keep from being overwhelmed.
As he was finishing, he felt again
what he had briefly noticed before.
Something ... someone ... a presence.
He reached for it, and for a bare moment
was assailed by a wave of icy anger. It wasn’t directed at him; had
it been, he might
have been knocked flat.
Someone strong with the Force.
But no Jedi; he was sure of that.
“Landing in two-point-eight,”
Jefin announced. “Ready?”
He came out of himself to the
realization that the ship was rocking again, back in
the interference sweep. He looked out the viewport and saw the bleak
landscape of Rannok getting closer.
“Yes.” He shouldered his pack
and moved to the hatch at the rear.
When the ship touched down, the
hatch in the floor slid open and Obi-Wan was
looking down at black stones scoured clear of dust by their descent.
“Forty-eight hours!” Jefin called
back. “During the first sweep after that!
“I’ll do my best.” He dropped
through the opening, ducked, and hurried
out from beneath the craft.
Jefin immediately lifted off again.
Obi-Wan spared a moment to watch the graceful
ship wheel and soar into the distance. Then he was alone, with Cahaldra
filling half the
pale violet sky above him.
Obi-Wan broke into an easy jog
that carried him swiftly toward the rock
formations between him and the prison compound. As he neared them,
His earlier instinct had been
They weren’t rock formations at
He saw the tumbled wreckage of
octagonal columns, and the shattered dome of
the roof they’d once supported. A rubble-strewn flight of wide steps
A tilted obelisk of some obsidian-like substance, half-buried in the
earth as if it had
sunk. At its base, an opening in the ground with stairs leading down,
but only a few
feet before the passageway was choked with debris. Further on, a broken
statue of a
woman in a draped sleeveless gown lay face-down in the middle of what
once been an avenue lined with large decorative pots.
Obi-Wan trailed his hands across
the objects, and the clamor of the past
filled his head. He heard voices crying out in agony and fear, silenced
another with brutal suddenness. He smelled blood and fire. He felt
trembling beneath him, heard the topple and crash of buildings being
The past ... but not the far distant
past that he might have expected. Not
terribly recently, either ... but sometime between ten and a hundred
He moved on, more cautious than
ever, hand poised near his light saber.
Every now and again, like whiffs of
an elusive aroma, he caught faded impressions
of that cold angry presence. It had been here. Whatever ... whoever
... it was, it had
Nothing grows, Jefin had said.
That wasn’t true. Vines snaked among the ruins,
their color a dark gold, their leaves veined and edged in a purple
that matched the sky.
Matched, also, the clusters of tiny berries dotting the vines. Black
flat tops merging into large soft plates, sprouted in the hollows.
He found part of a fountain, the
basin cracked into shards but water still trickling
from its central spout. It was cool and slightly oily to the touch,
and when he brought
a drop of it to the tip of his tongue, it tasted of minerals.
Ahead of him, a ridge of heaped
stone blocks barred his way. He scaled it carefully,
keeping his head low until he could see what was on the other side.
The blocks had once made a wall
around a courtyard. The building across from
Obi-Wan was impossible to identify; it had been reduced to a heap,
the very stones
nearly pulverized. But that wasn’t what drew his attention.
The bones ...
A huge mound of them, their ivory
painted lavender by Cahaldra’s glow, filled
half of the courtyard. They were laced together by more of the golden
vines. He even
saw the tiny fragile bones of children. Hundreds of people.
Obi-Wan made his way down the
far side of the ridge and approached. A
great and inexpressible sadness washed over him. He reached out, but
before touching any of the pitiable remains.
“Force be with you,” he said softly.
Questions filled him but he had
no satisfactory answers. He was glad to put that
terrible sight behind him, although the sight ahead of him once he
reached the edge of
the ruins was not much better.
By every report, the prison on
Rannok was to have been a simple thing. Long low
dormitories to house the prisoners, a few sentry towers to monitor
them, a fenced
perimeter. The moon itself was their prison; there was nowhere to go
and no way to
survive even if someone did escape.
Why, then, was he looking at a
fortress? The walls were sheer cliffs of stone
topped with razored coils of bladewire, the gaping eyes of motion and
set into them every few yards.
Obi-Wan crouched low, blending himself
with the terrain, and dug his scanner out
of his pack.
Kadav warriors restlessly prowled
walkways on both sides of the walls, their grey-
white skin and four-armed shapes unmistakable. On many planets, their
sunlight made them nearly useless; here, they could be as formidable
as they were on
their own home world.
According to Dol Bethra, his guards
were to be armed only with stun-batons. Yet
those were Nachuran whip-knives at their waists, and most of them paced
rifles resting on their shoulders. Security drone droids moved in precise
Some of the structures within
bore a striking resemblance to the architecture of
the ruined city he’d just come through. Others were clearly of another
and functional. The prison had been constructed on and incorporating
buildings that had already been on Rannok, long before Dol Bethra had
Senate that the barren and uninhabited moon would be a perfect site.
Bethra’s duplicity aside, Obi-Wan
was faced with a more immediate problem.
He began a wide, stealthy circle
of the walls, looking for a way in and not finding
one. There was a landing station atop the highest tower of the fortress,
where the supply vessels docked, but no gates.
Obi-Wan waited and watched for
With the moon tidally locked,
there was neither day nor night on Rannok. Just
Cahaldra, always looming in the heavens, always shedding that strange
light. Thus, no
one time looked to be any better than another. No concealing cover
of darkness to ease
He let down his mental barriers
and viewed the fortress through the Force rather
than his sight. What he’d felt on the ship came back now, stronger
than ever. Pain
and misery. Savage malice.
But when he sensed the presence
of that icy anger again, it wasn’t from
within the fortress but from the ruins behind him. Even as his mind
touched it, he
felt it burst into a killing rage. And heard ... with ears as well
as the Force ... the
familiar and startling sound of a light saber flaring into readiness.
As he ran, he heard the sharp
snap of whip-knives, blaster fire, and the death-
bellow of a Kadav, so loud it shook the earth. Mingled through it all
was the resonant
hum and clash of a light saber.
He rounded a corner and stopped
short as a blaster shot blew off a chunk of wall
just above his head.
Two wide avenues intersected at
a large square that might have once been a
marketplace. The buildings around the square were demolished. At the
center was a
vine-entwined octagonal dais with steps leading up to a round well.
Half of the columns
rising from the dais were sheared off. The remaining four still supported
roof, though as another blaster shot smashed a hole through the dome
and the whole
thing shuddered, Obi-Wan didn’t think it would last much longer.
Six Kadav were converging on the
dais. A seventh was on the ground with two
hands clamped across the cauterized stubs of his other two arms, veins
bulging and jaw
tooth-cracking tight in an effort to keep from screaming. An eighth
was beyond such
concerns, sprawled on his back with his torso laid open from collarbones
to belt, his
organs bulging out between the charred edges of the blow that had killed
The violet light was brighter
here, coming not just from the sky but from the light
saber wielded by a woman in black. It was an amethyst streak as she
spun and sliced
through a stun-baton. Sparks showered as the baton exploded, sending
the Kadav head
over heels down the dais steps. The woman threw back her head and voiced
a laugh part
triumph, part challenge.
She was clad in black from head
to toe -- boots to the thigh, close-fitting trousers,
a long-sleeved tunic that fell in front and back panels to knee level
but was open to the
hip on the sides, and a cowled cloak very much like the one Obi-Wan
himself wore. The
cowl was thrown back, and violet energy spilled across her face. Her
hair was as black as
her clothes, drawn back in a braid.
The nearest Kadav charged at Obi-Wan,
shouting a guttural warning in his own
Obi-Wan’s light saber, vibrant
blue-white, cut an arc through the dimness of the
day. He caught the woman’s astounded expression, then put it from his
the battle was upon him.
The Kadav’s whip-knife lashed
toward him, each of the thousands of tiny needle-
sharp blades winking in the blue-white glow. But Obi-Wan anticipated
its path, and
severed it. He thrust his other hand at the Kadav. With a single push
of the Force, he
sent the four-armed warrior flying backward.
He deflected a blaster shot from
the second Kadav into the leg of the third, then
made a cartwheeling leap and came down right in front of the one who’d
as the Kadav’s eyes widened in surprise, Obi-Wan had sheared his blaster
The first Kadav regained his footing
and swung at Obi-Wan with a stun-baton in
each of his lower hands. The third, injured, flicked his whip-knife
at an awkward angle.
Obi-Wan leaped over the whip-knife,
parried both stun-batons, came down, pivoted,
kicked the first one in the head, drove his elbow into the face of
the second one who had
been rushing him from behind, took a blaster shot from one of the others
flapping hem of his cloak, realized he wasn’t going to be able to get
out of this without
killing them, beheaded the first, and hit the second on the juncture
of shoulder and neck,
leaving a deep burnt score diagonally across the pale chest.
The third Kadav was up and running
despite his wounded leg. Obi-Wan pushed out
at him again, a hard sharp thrust of the heel of the hand, and the
Kadav soared headlong
into a section of wall. It broke apart and fell on him, sending up
a gout of dust.
Looking swiftly around, Obi-Wan
saw that there was only one Kadav left moving.
He had the woman cornered on the lip of the well, or so he thought,
but as he lunged,
she jumped-flipped over backward, cloak flying, and landed neatly on
the far side.
The Kadav wasn’t so lucky, striking
the lip of the well at knee-level and
plunging straight down. After what seemed a very long silence, a crunch
up the well’s stone throat.
Now it was just the two of them,
Obi-Wan and the woman, regarding each other
warily through the glow of their light sabers.
Her eyes were a rich gold, like
the eyes of a bird of prey. He searched them.
“You’re no Jedi,” he finally said.
“What are you?”
“Revenge,” she replied.
“You helped me against the Kadav,
and my idea of repaying debts doesn’t include
leaving a stranger to be slaughtered for things that I’ve done.” The
woman in black
indicated the well. “This way. Quickly.”
“There’s a Kadav down there.”
“And there will be more up here
any minute. Hear that? It’s one of their
groundskimmers.” She grabbed one of the vines that trailed into the
swung halfway in. “Whoever you are and whyever you’re here, I don’t
getting caught, interrogated, and then executed was part of your plan.”
“True,” he admitted.
She began a rapid hand-over-hand
descent, and he followed. The well opened out
at the bottom into a circular chamber with a narrow ledge ringing the
water. It was upon
this ledge that the unfortunate Kadav had ended up, dead from a snapped
“There’s a hidden door.” She edged
halfway around the well and her body concealed
her action from him, but moments later, there was a grinding squall
of stone and part of
the curved wall slid back to reveal an opening.
“Are you a prisoner?” he asked
as she started into the dark space.
She paused and turned her forearm,
pulling up her sleeve. There, burned into the
tender flesh of the wrist, was a brand in the shape of a diamond filled
with an X.
“They did this to you? The Senate
outlawed physical torture --”
“Oh, yes, mind-probe droids are
so much better ... effective, they don’t leave
marks, the prisoner only thinks he’s getting his skin peeled
away in strips.” She
yanked her sleeve back down and looked at him evenly. “And the whip-knives
Kadav carry are just for show. They’d never use them on the prisoners.
“They’re not supposed to have
those. The Senate --”
“-- has a lot to learn about Rannok,”
she finished. “Or maybe they know, and just
choose to hide the truth. Come on.” Her fingers folded around his and
pulled him into
the darkness. The hidden door closed behind them, leaving them in utter
With his free hand, he tried to
explore the walls. Sometimes he could touch them,
the bumpy candlewax formations damp and slightly moist and smelling
of the same oily
mineral odor as the water. Sometimes he stretched his arm as far as
he could and found
nothing. Once, while doing that, his foot strayed over a drop and he
halted with his pulse
beating more rapidly.
“There’s a bridge up ahead,” the
woman said, and though she spoke in a very
hushed tone, she may as well have been shouting. “Stay with me, right
behind me. One
misstep, and ... well, you think the Kadav had a long fall ...”
“How can you see?” he asked as
they began moving up a gradual slope.
“I just know.”
Obi-Wan shut his eyes and let
the Force tell him what was around him.
Everything seemed to suddenly swim into
visibility, dark on dark, a thousand
shades of grey. And, when he realized they were nearing the center
of the bridge
she’d warned him about, realized that it was a span that he could have
with both hands, and that the floor dropped away into a fathomless
which a breeze sighed like cold breath, he almost wished he had stuck
to trying to
use his vision.
They reached the other side and
pressed on. When he touched the walls
again, he found them to be smooth stone, cut and worked stone, not
walls of a cave.
Finally, the woman stopped and
let go of him. “Stairs here. Spiral stairs.”
Obi-Wan became aware of a faint
light that grew brighter as they climbed. It came
from a small room that opened off one of the landings. The room was
round, and monastically simple in furnishings. At the back, water from
spout in the wall and pooled in a basin. The light source, a battery-powered
rested on a low table ringed by stools. Aside from that, there was
a recessed bed-niche
piled with blankets, and some shelves holding a few books and other
“This is where you live?” he asked.
“It’s a place where I sometimes
sleep,” she corrected.
“Where do you live?”
“Here and there.” She took two
earthenware jugs from a shelf, sloshed them,
nodded, and gave him one. “Now. I’m Raven. Who are you? And what are
on Rannok? You’re not a prisoner.”
“I am Obi-Wan Kenobi. A man is
being held unjustly in the prison, and I’ve come
on a rescue mission.” He sniffed at the jug. Juice from the vine-berries,
Risking a taste, he found it pleasantly sweet.
“Just you?” she asked, askance.
“Just me. I admit, we’d been incorrectly
informed about the size and security of
the compound. Dol Bethra has misled the entire Republic as to what
he’s doing here.”
She snarled at the mention of
the name. “You can’t expect to succeed.”
“I had hopes.”
“You’ll die. Without help.”
His eyes narrowed. “What are you
“Bethra claimed one of our Citadels
for his headquarters. He keeps his most
important prisoners there. I know every inch of it. There are secret
they’ll never discover.”
“What do you want in return?”
“You must have access to a transport.”
“You want to leave your home?”
She gestured at her surroundings.
“There’s nothing for me here. Bethra’s army
annihilated everything. I’m the only one left. There’s no point in
dying for the sake of
an empty pile of rocks and the memories of the dead.”
He nodded. “Very well. What do
we do first?”
“Eat, then rest. The main shift
will have started by now. We’ll wait until third
shift, when the prisoners sleep and the guards are less attentive.
Bethra sleeps then, too.”
As they ate, supplementing her
meager supplies with high-energy bars from his
pack, she described the layout of the Citadel for him.
Wrapping himself in his cloak
and a borrowed blanket, Obi-Wan sent himself into
the alert but refreshing trance-state that the Jedi used when they
didn’t dare risk full
slumber. Across from him, the woman fell swiftly into a deep and genuine
erased the habitual pain and anger from her face, and left her beautiful.
“Where did you get that?”
Obi-Wan asked, watching as Raven checked her light
saber, activating it and turning it back and forth.
“It belonged to the Noctus. He
taught me to use it.”
“Who is this Noctus?”
“Our high priest. Bethra killed
him,” she said flatly, switching it off and
slinging it at her waist. “He foresaw the attack too late to save everyone,
many of his people into hiding. My mother was a tei-gam, a holy bride
“Why would Dol Bethra destroy
“Maybe he feared the power of
the Noctus. Maybe he wanted the wealth of our
city -- what little of it there was -- for his own.” She looked up
at him with glittering
golden eyes. “Maybe he’s a viper on legs who deserves to be cut slowly
smoking pieces, a bit at a time, while he yet lives.”
The sheer venom in her voice made
Obi-Wan draw back. “Don’t give in to your
hate, Raven. It can only make you vulnerable to the Dark Side.”
“My hate keeps me going.”
“It will destroy you. Master Yoda
says that fear and hate lead to suffering, which
is the path to the Dark Side.”
“I think your Master Yoda has
it wrong. Suffering leads to hate. And hate hones
the blade of revenge.”
“Is that the teaching of your
Noctus? What would he say to hear you speaking so?”
“As a matter of fact, that is
what he taught us. It’s Noct’s will.”
Obi-Wan sat down and exhaled slowly.
“Did ... did many of your people
subscribe to that faith?”
“All of them.”
“And your Noctus ... who was he?
You said he had powers. What kind?”
“You have them too. When I first
saw you, I wondered if you were a Noctus.
You move like he did, with his speed, as if you know what’s going to
it does. I saw you throw that Kadav with nothing but your power. The
do that. How can you?”
“I am a Jedi Knight.”
“Jedi ... the Noctus used to tell
stories about the Jedi. I never thought they were
real.” She sat opposite him.
“What was his name?”
“He was only the Noctus. He didn’t
need a name.”
“Did he ever tell you about the
“You ... your entire people ...
worship the Dark Side of the Force! But you know
nothing of the Sith? This is madness, impossible!”
“How can you have the powers
of a Noctus and know nothing of Noct?” she
demanded in turn.
“It’s the Force, Raven. It’s in
all of us, in all living things. Stronger in some than
in others. I sense it is very strong in you. A Jedi is trained to use
the Force, but also to
control our emotions so that we do not fall prey to the Dark Side.
We serve the Republic,
and see that justice is done.”
She leaned forward alertly. “So
you’ll kill Bethra?”
“That’s not why I’m here. I came
to rescue the Governor Tredze of Lancas before
he can be wrongfully executed. But I will report Bethra’s deception
to the Jedi Council
and to the Senate.”
“What will be done to him?”
“I can’t say for sure. He may
be removed from his post. They might even
disband the prison altogether.”
“But they’d let him live?”
“Then it’s a good thing that his
fate’s not up to the Senate to decide.” She touched
her light saber and a cold smile curved her lips.
“No!” Obi-Wan recoiled from the
surge of deadly emotion he sensed.
“Murdering Bethra is not the answer!
It will not bring your people back, restore
your city. It accomplishes nothing.”
“Nothing but his death, and that’s
enough for me.”
“You can’t let your hatred for
him rule you. To give in to your desire for revenge
will lead you down that path.”
She came at him with such speed
that even he wasn’t prepared. Seizing his chin in
her hand, she riveted him with that golden gaze. “Have you ever seen
someone you care
for die in violence and agony?”
“Have you?!” She gave his chin
“My master. My teacher. He was
... he died in battle against a Sith.”
“Why didn’t you help him?”
“I tried! The energy fields --”
“You couldn’t get to him. So you
watched him die.”
He could feel the Force pouring
from her now. Not used with the subtlety and
finesse of a Jedi, but a raw bludgeoning that battered at his will.
That wouldn’t bend
the weak-minded but break them.
“How did it feel, Obi-Wan
Kenobi? Were you angry? Did you know hate? Like
a cold black flame consuming your heart? Did you fight his killer?
Fight him and kill
him, hoping that his death -- and your revenge -- would douse
some of that flame?
He pulled roughly away.
She reached again, lightning-quick,
but this time he reacted. Her wrist smacked into
his palm and he held her there, his fingers pressed against the coarse
scar of her brand.
His grip was so tight that his knuckles whitened, but she showed no
signs of pain, no
signs of backing down.
Seconds stretched into minutes,
neither of them dropping their challenge-locked gaze.
“You did,” Raven said softly.
“Only for that short time. Only
in the heat of battle. But yes. I did.” He let go of her.
She didn’t draw back, but slowly
brought her hand to his chin. She touched it gently,
then with one fingertip traced the line of his bottom lip. “See? We’re
not so different
Obi-Wan suppressed a shiver. He
dipped his head slightly, brushing his lips against
her hand, closing his eyes as conflicting impulses pulled at him. “I
wouldn’t have hunted
him for revenge. I wouldn’t have let myself be ruled by that dark desire,”
he said, his
voice little more than a harsh whisper. “That is the difference.”
“You killed him. He’s dead
and gone. You’ll never have to find out what you
would have done if he had gotten away.” Her tentative caress, so warm
in contrast to
the coldness of her words, moved to his cheek, his jaw.
“There is no good in hatred and
revenge. It can only bring evil, only the Dark
Side.” He spoke the words as if reciting by rote, covering her hand
with his and holding
it more firmly to his face.
“I don’t think life can be that
clear-cut. Good or evil, light or dark ... there’s some
of both in everyone.”
“That’s why the Dark Side is so
persuasive. You must resist it, or it will overpower
you.” His lips brushed her hand again, almost a kiss, and his soul
moaned in mingled
yearning and denial.
“I can’t turn my back on everything
I’ve ever known.” She withdrew, moved
away from him, the breaking of physical contact both a relief and a
piercing sense of
loss. “On everything I am. You said Noct was this Dark Side
He nodded. “So it seems.”
“Then I can’t ever escape it,
even if I wanted to. Noct is my father.”
The cavern walls were covered with
carved images and statues. In the eerie
flickering unlight, they seemed to breathe and stir, and observe the
movements of the
Obi-Wan stood among them, concealed,
one shape amid many. He knew he
should not be here, but when Raven had left to prepare herself for
infiltration of the prison, he’d been unable not to follow with discreet
stealth. He had to
see if what she’d told him was true.
Daughter of the Dark Side?
It couldn’t be, it was impossible. Conceived through
her mother’s ceremonial union with this world’s god of shadows and
And yet ... and yet ... what of
Anakin? His mother had been chosen to bear him;
was that so different? Qui-Gon had believed the Skywalker woman, had
known her so
well that lies would have been impossible between them.
He wasn’t inclined to disbelieve
in the power of Raven’s god, not here in this
place. This was one of their halls of worship, the deepest and most
known to her people. This was the cave of the Soulfire.
It burned in a circular pit in
the center of the onyx-smooth floor. With no visible
fuel, like no fire he had ever seen before. Its flames were violet-edged
black, golden at
the heart. They leapt halfway to the high ceiling, not crackling but
emitting a low songlike
melody. A blaze that size should have warmed even this large chamber,
but the Soulfire
seemed to give off no heat.
In front of the pit where the
Soulfire burned was a long low altar of that same
onyx-smooth stone. Raven knelt before it, head bowed, black against
black and nearly
invisible. If she knew she was being observed, she gave no indication.
She conducted her prayers in silence,
then rose and unfastened her light saber,
setting it upon the altar. She took off her cloak and laid it there
as well. Then her boots.
Obi-Wan struggled to mask his
sudden shock as he realized she was undressing. Now
more than ever, he knew he should not be here, but was unable to leave.
Raven lifted her tunic. She was
facing the altar, her back to Obi-Wan, and as the
black fabric came away from her pale skin he saw the vivid thorny weals
her from waist to neck.
His fists clenched, recognizing
the marks of a whip-knife. They weren’t recent
wounds but old, so old they must have been inflicted when she was barely
She removed the last articles
of her clothing and unbraided her hair. It fell in ebon
waves to the middle of her back. With calm, measured strides, she went
altar and approached the Soulfire.
“No,” he murmured, knowing what
she was about to do.
She stepped into the flames. Her
hair streamed upward as if tossed by an unseen
wind. She tipped her head back and raised her arms, her features transfigured
Fire wreathed her limbs, danced along her body, clothed her in black
and gold and bright
Obi-Wan was drawn helplessly forward
by this dreadful wonder. He stopped far
from the altar. She opened her eyes, reflected flames shining in their
gold. Rather than
anger at his intrusion, she radiated serenity for the first time since
he’d met her. Now
hers was the mind of a Jedi, composed and aware.
When she emerged, tiny flames
ran along her body like water, coursing down her
torso and legs to leave glimmering fire-pools in her footsteps. Violet-gold
smoke rose all
She held out her hands, palms
upraised as if to show Obi-Wan that this was no
trick. He extended his own hands, holding them above hers, and the
around his fingers.
“What is in there?” he whispered.
“Everything,” she said simply.
“You’re not burnt.” He touched
her hair, then gasped as runnels of flame flowed
from it onto his skin in a tingling path that left him unmarked.
“It’s the same fire that burns
in us all,” she said. “It can only harm those who don’t
believe, or take their fears in with them.”
“But I do fear the Dark Side,”
“Then maybe you need to redefine
it ... or me.”
“You’re too beautiful not to fear.”
He took her face in his hands, and brought his
lips to hers. Their minds flared together, setting them ablaze in a
way even the Soulfire
Her arms went around him, her
body pressed against his, alive with its own heat
that went though his clothes and left him feeling as if they were both
bare. Her mouth
tasted of violet-gold smoke, her kiss both pleading and demanding.
There was no
hesitation in her; a creature of raw emotion, she gave in to her passion
as readily as to
her anger. Caught up in it, Obi-Wan tried to regain control of himself.
“No, don’t,” she murmured, sensing
his sudden resistance. Her breath was warm
on the side of his neck as she embraced him tightly. Her lips made
a trail down -- below
his ear, on the pulse beating in his throat, his collarbone, along
the edge of the vee
formed by his collar.
“Raven, this is wrong,” he said,
but he was stroking the starless night of her hair,
holding her to him.
She didn’t answer, just parted
his shirt and slid a hand inside, kissing his chest. His
restraint, his will, was crumbling, crumbling away. He caressed the
sleek curve of her
hip, the small of her back ... and froze as he felt the ridges and
knots of the scars.
Raven tensed at his reaction and
moved his hand to her waist. “I know how they
look. I know they’re hideous.”
“It’s not that.” He very delicately
touched them again, shutting his eyes as a terrible
sadness assailed him, reading the awful past in the writing on her
flesh. “They did this to
you. The Kadav. They did this and no one stopped them.”
“Bethra ordered it done.”
“Why? You can’t have been very
“I was thirteen.” She pulled away,
turned away, crossed her arms over her breasts.
“He wanted me. I fought him. Wounded him. He planned to have me whipped
for it in front of all of his Wardens. He laughed while I bled. The
Noctus saved me, and
it cost him his life.”
Obi-Wan finished bandaging Tredze’s
wounds and sat back on his heels. The
governor had regained consciousness a few times, trying to speak, but
now he was
sleeping the sleep of the drugged, his pallor masked by the strange
glow of the Soulfire.
Thankfully, his injuries were
minor, and the only ones sustained during their
escape. Now all they had to do was stay hidden, survive, and make their
way to the
rendezvous point in ten hours, when the transport returned.
He stood, and looked at the woman
who stood taut as a wire facing the cavern’s
“You stopped me. You drew
“I couldn’t let you --”
“You knew I meant to kill
him. I had to kill him. I thought you understood that.”
“You didn’t want to kill him.
You wanted to torture him.”
She whirled on him, eyes flashing
dark fire. “And you stopped me.”
“We hadn’t the time --”
“That’s not it at all.”
Obi-Wan sighed. “No. It isn’t.
Raven, I am a Jedi, I could not stand by and watch
you sear the flesh from him inch by inch.”
He winced at the memory, of her
light saber lowering toward the pinned and
terrified Dol Bethra. The man had been pressing against the wall as
if he hoped its
stones would turn to mist and allow him to pass through, but there
had been no way
out, no way to avoid the humming violet beam as it paused just above
In his mind, Obi-Wan could still
hear the crisp sizzle of Bethra’s leonine
silver-white hair burning away, and then the first scream as the light
scored a slow path down his forehead, forever marring his aristocratic
handsomeness, headed relentlessly for his bulging, staring blue eye.
Such control; even in his horror
Obi-Wan had been forced to admire Raven’s
control of the weapon, the precision with which she handled it. Worthy
of a Jedi ...
except for the savagely cold expression shown clearly in the backsplash
He could feel the sadistic satisfaction emanating from her, and how
had turned to cheated fury as he knocked her blade aside in a the nova
“He deserved it,” she said now.
“A swift death would have been too good for him.”
“It’s not the way.”
“It’s not your way.” She
began to turn away, and he took her by the shoulders.
“Raven, what you could be if you
could forsake this madness for revenge!”
“Forsake myself? It’s all I have,
all that I am. You’re the one who doesn’t
understand. You and your Council, high and mighty, coddled and comforted
righteousness, unwilling to admit to your own darker emotions
as if that’ll somehow
make them go away ... but do you know what? I think they don’t go away.
I think they
fester, buried and locked away in your hearts, and you make greater
monsters of them
than they truly are. If you let them out, accepted them and admitted
they were a part
of you, instead of calling them evil and condemning those who don’t
follow your strict
code ... oh, Obi-Wan, what you could be!”
“The Dark Side cannot co-exist
“Denying the Dark Side doesn’t
make it go away. If this Force of yours is to be
balanced at all, you have to have both.”
“What did you say?” he asked,
“Both. Light and dark. Good and
evil. They both exist in all of us. Your Council
doesn’t seem to understand that. They’d destroy everything they think
of as evil. Then
what would they have? Nothing. They’d start seeing evil other places,
making it up
where it didn’t exist. There has to be a balance.”
“No ... no, that can’t be ...”
“Am I all evil?” Raven demanded.
He tightened his grip on her,
shaking his head as he wrestled with what she’d
said. “I ... I don’t want to believe that you are. There
good in you.”
“And there’s darkness in you.”
Overriding his protest, she continued. “In all of
us. Yes, I’m further one way than the other, it’s my
we both have a lot
“The Council would never agree
with your reasoning.”
“They would sense the hatred and
bloodlust in me and call me evil. It’s easy for
them to say, from their safe and lofty place.”
“No one can blame you for accepting
the only life you’ve ever known. But Raven,
Raven, it doesn’t have to be like that anymore. We’re leaving Rannok.
You can start
“If I leave now, with Bethra still
“No!” His hands slid from her
shoulders to the sides of her neck, no longer
gripping but holding, loose tendrils of her hair tickling softly along
the backs. “Bethra
He sensed her struggling with
her next words, and saw the earnest appeal in her
golden eyes when she lifted them to his. “I cannot be the kind of woman
me be. No matter how much ... no matter how much I might like to be.
This is what
“You can be more than revenge.”
“I wish that was true.” Her fingertips
found his face again in that tender
“You have been so badly hurt.
Let it go, Raven. Let it --” He was silenced by her
kiss, silenced and overwhelmed as her passion stormed with power equal
to her fury.
“Too far a distance,” she murmured
against his mouth, “Why ... why ...?”
“I don’t know,” he murmured in
reply. “I want ... I can’t ...”
“You can.” She moved willingly
against him. “The rest doesn’t matter.”
“It does. I ... if
I were to ... make ... love ... to you ...” each pause was
filled with a kiss, unable to stop himself, on her lips, her cheeks,
her brow, the
smooth column of her throat, filled with helpless increasing ardor,
with his kisses. “It would be ... like ... yielding a part of myself
... to the Dark Side.”
“This part?” She grasped
him with devastating effect, and he threw back his
head with his jaw clenched against a hoarse cry.
“Raven, stop ... you don’t understand
...” Now his pauses were filled with frantic
gasps for breath, his arms closing around her with involuntary strength.
“A Jedi ... is
not as other men.”
“That’s not how it feels from
He managed a strained laugh. “Not
what I meant.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve sworn an
oath of chastity.”
“No ... that’s not it ...” It
took a tremendous effort of will, but he made himself
take her arm and move her delicious, tormenting hand. “When a Jedi
is ... intimate ...
more than his body is involved. Even as I ...” he swallowed and nearly
trembled at the
thought, and she uttered a breathy moan as his feelings transmitted
themselves to her,
“even as I entered your warmth, I would be ... touching your soul.”
“And my soul frightens you more.”
She leaned her head on his chest. His shirt
had come open and her cheek rested on the skin just over his rapidly-pounding
“My mind and my emotions are at
war. I want you, and I fear you. What
passes between us is more than a meeting of a man and a woman. Our
very fates are
“Are you my redemption, or am
I your downfall ... is that it?”
“It could be that.”
“I fear you, too,” she admitted,
drawing away from him. “You and all that you
represent. I ... don’t want to learn that there is more to life than
pain and anger; it
makes my purpose and very existence a hollow thing! But at the same
time ... oh, how
I want you.”
“You’re right ... we’re not so
different. I have been raised to be Jedi for as long
as I can remember. All that we are, is what we’ve been taught to be,
and now we are
a threat to each others’ way of living. My path is not to be feared,
wouldn’t find emptiness behind your pain, but a new purpose.”
“My path’s not to be feared either.
But there’s no way ... except one.”
“What do you mean?”
“Walk in the fire, Obi-Wan. If
you’d know my soul, know all that I am,
you’ll find it in the fire.”
“The ...” he looked at it, at
the leaping gold-black-violet flames reaching toward
the cavern’s ceiling. “I can’t go in there.”
“It will only hurt you if you
let it. It won’t change you, only show you.”
“Will you come before the Jedi
“A test for a test?” she asked
with a slanted half-smile. “Fair enough.”
“Then we’re agreed.” He moved
toward the Soulfire.
Raven stopped him, her smile widening.
“Oh ... you’ll need to remove your
He raised his eyebrows at her.
“Honestly,” she said. Picking
up a scrap of leftover bandage from his tending
of Tredze’s wounds, she tossed it into the flames. It blazed gold,
then settled in a
heap of glowing violet embers.
Obi-Wan cleared his throat. “And
this will only hurt me if I let it?”
“You saw me go into the fire.
You touched me, felt the flames run over your
skin without burning.”
“Mm-hmm,” he said, unconvinced.
“I promise, I’ll keep my hands
to myself.” She placed them demurely behind
He shrugged out of his cloak.
“What about your eyes?”
“Oh, now, Jedi, that is
asking a bit much.” The eyes in question, bright gold,
“I think I finally know what Master
Yoda meant about being seduced by
the Dark Side,” he muttered, undoing his belt and stripping off his
shirt. “I never
expected it to be literally.”
When he finished undressing and
looked over, saw how she was biting the
fullness of her lower lip and watching him with such desire, he came
very close to
forgetting the fire and just going to her. Her hands were still clasped
her back, the posture pushing her breasts forth, and they rose and
fell in time with
the quickness of her breath.
Instead, with the last strand
of resolve, he turned and stared into the depths of
the Soulfire. Right beside it, he still felt no blistering heat, but
its radiance bathed his
bare skin and its whispering crackle filled his mind.
He hesitantly sent one foot toward
the flames. They reached for him, and there
was no searing pain, only a warm and welcoming fluttering sensation.
Inhaling deeply of the smoke,
Obi-Wan stepped into the Soulfire.
Black and violet and gold, all
around him, seemingly all through him. No sense
of solid floor beneath his feet, as if he were suspended in space,
No fear. It melted away like a
thin sheen of ice. In the blink of an eye he was
in a depth of meditative trance that it usually took even the best-trained
minutes to reach. Keenly alert yet thoroughly relaxed, distanced from
his body yet
aware of every nerve ending.
Peace and serenity. As one with
all things. As one with the Force, both sides of
it light and dark and all the myriad shades between. And he saw, understood,
far removed as Raven was from the Jedi, she was nearly as far removed
Sith. Yet ... yet they were all far closer to one another than he would
“In us all,” he said, and the
words came from his mouth as visible puffs of white-
blue that mingled and then were absorbed in the hue of the flames.
He looked out at Raven, saw the
tension and anxiety on her face, felt her worry
that she’d been wrong, that he would find only agony in the fire.
Her soul was laid bare to him,
as she’d known it would be, every secret and
every hope set out before him, and the bravery, the sheer courage that
would let her
so expose her innermost self ... the miseries that she had endured
brought him near
to screaming, what a wonder that she wasn’t evil, under such
torment, even a Jedi
might have broken ... then, stark and terrifying, the realization that
she would have
gladly died once she’d seen her revenge complete, that the end of Bethra’s
would be the completion of her own.
“Raven,” he called, reaching out
with hands and mind. “Don’t let it end that
way! If you die to kill him, he wins even in death!”
Visions whirled around him. The
past, the future, a confusing cyclone that made
perfect sense. He saw himself approaching a domelike structure in a
landscape, an infant in his arms and a terrible sense of loss and dread
steps. He saw the child that he’d been, standing with the others as
the Jedi Knights
came in to choose their Padawan. A vision heard but not seen, of ominous
bellows laboriously drawing and releasing air.
Then came an image still sharp
and painful, only a few years old. Reddish energy
keeping him apart from Qui-Gon as his master knelt in calm readiness,
and beyond, the
horned scarlet-black visage of the Sith. But with the new understanding
of the fire, their
souls were open to him too, and something that he had long suspected
admitted even in the most private corners of his thoughts was now proved
“Nooo!” he cried, and stumbled
from the flames.
He fell to his knees and would
have toppled full-length but Raven was there,
catching him, kneeling with him, holding him.
“He knew,” Obi-Wan said shakily.
“He knew he was going to die, and he let it
happen. It was the only way to bend them to his will.”
“My Master, Qui-Gon. He let himself
die so they would allow me to train
the boy. They wouldn’t ... I wouldn’t ... refuse his last wish.
He knew that. Had
he lived, he would have gone on fighting the Council, defying them.
He believed ...
he believed it that strongly. And I doubted him. We all doubted him.
He made us
accept it the only way that he could, at that cost.” Mute sobs wracked
unshed tears hot behind his eyelids.
She held him and he clung to her
until the wrenching grief began to ease. He
realized how foreign the task of giving comfort was to this woman,
never done before. What, he wondered, would Qui-Gon have made of her?
“He would have liked you,” Obi-Wan
said. “And seen the good well before
the danger. He was ... a much wiser man than I will ever be.”
“I should have warned you. I’m
sorry. The fire ... it can be --”
“No. I needed to know. All this
time ... I’ve blamed myself for failing him. Now ...”
“Now you know he had faith in
you. If he let himself die, he did so knowing
that you would be able to finish what he’d begun.” She twined his short
hair through her
fingers. “He did better than trust you with his life, Obi-Wan. He trusted
He closed his eyes and lay his
head on her shoulder. “Promise me you won’t do
the same. You have more to live for than revenge.”
“You’ve seen my soul ... what
else is there for me?”
He let his lips be the answer.
No longer colored with fear, no longer struggling
against himself, he gave over wholly into the kiss, feeling her surprise
in sweet dissolving desire.
“My hands,” she whispered.
“I forgot about keeping them to
“I forgive you.” He unbraided
her hair and let the midnight satin spill down her
back. “Do ... do as you will with them.”
“It’s much easier now that you’re
undressed.” She drew her palm and trailing
fingers down his chest, to his waist, lower.
He groaned softly, pulling her
close as she caressed him. “You’re not.”
“That can be remedied.”
“Let me.” He lifted her tunic
over her head. Soon she was as revealed as he
was. They reclined together in the shifting gold-violet light.
She explored his body with a demanding
fervor that left him breathless. Her
hands, her mouth, her full yet muscular curves, her hair sweeping across
him like a
curtain of night, her passion as intent and powerful as her anger had
startling, the brush of her mind that told him this was her first time
willingly, first time
with a man of her choosing, the apprehension she felt, and a surge
tenderness filled him, no longer just wanting her and needing her but
an overpowering wish to show her how it should be, share with her how
it could be.
He gently pushed her down on the
onyx-smooth floor, her skin untouched by the
light of any sun as pale as milk, beautiful, the scars only accentuating
that beauty, and
bent to explore her just as diligently, just as purposefully, as she
had done to him,
taking even greater joy in her gasping cries than he had in his own
But as he rose over her, made
ready to complete the act ...
“No,” she protested, suddenly
tense, suddenly shamed. “I can’t --”
“Be calm, Raven, and trust me,”
he urged. He lay back and drew her atop him.
She hesitated, searched his eyes
and his mind, and saw that he never meant to
hurt her in love. With excruciating slowness, she lowered herself,
and they were one,
body-mind-soul as one, the Force so strong in both of them creating
sinking into one another.
“Ohhh,” she exhaled in wonder.
Backlit by the Soulfire, her body
arched, her hips moving in a lazy rhythm, and
he could feel the gathering explosion in her loins, both of them yearning
for it and
then striving for it, and her wail was silent, echoing only
in his mind. She fell upon his
chest, his arms encircling her tightly, locking their lips in a kiss
as he let himself go, let
himself pour into her, not so much meshed now as fused, her
thoughts his, his thoughts
hers, a single soul shining between them like a star.
“According to the sensor, the sweep
should be beginning in a few minutes,”
Obi-Wan said. “The ship will be along soon. We’ll have to be ready.
He won’t dare
land for long.”
“Kenobi, I am in your debt.” Governor
Tredze glanced at Raven. “Yours and
your ... friend’s.”
“Don’t thank us yet,” she said.
“We’re not off this moon.”
Tredze nodded. He was able to
walk, albeit with a severe limp, and Obi-Wan
hoped the man would be able to move quickly enough.
He turned to Raven, but before
he could speak, the Force was on him with a
premonition. He saw her golden eyes go wide and she reached for her
even as he drew his. Both flared alight in time to deflect the barrage
of blaster shots
that streaked through the dim air.
“Down!” Obi-Wan commanded the
“Kadav!” Raven spat as a groundskimmer
lurched over a rise.
Then came another, and a third
... followed by a large armored vehicle with a
familiar figure standing in the back compartment.
“Bethra!” Obi-Wan and Raven said
“I want them alive!” the Warden
“Never!” Raven leaped in a somersault
to the top of a broken pillar, and from
there onto the hood of a groundskimmer.
Her first strike impaled the driver,
passed completely through him in a shaft of
amethyst light, pierced his seat, and came out the other side in a
puff of smoldering
padding. Her second blow cut through the instrument panel. The groundskimmer
began to veer out of control. She dove off, rolled, and came gracefully
to her feet.
Obi-Wan used the Force to push
a hard bolt at the second skimmer, bucking
the front end. A half dozen Kadav warriors tumbled out. A blaster shot
his head, he parried a second and sent it into the engine of the already-ailing
that Raven had crippled.
“We’re outnumbered,” she said
in a low voice, getting back-to-back with him
as they stood protectively over the governor. “If you had let me kill
He checked the sensor. “No, we’re
The ship soared over the horizon
exactly on cue and dipped briefly as Jefin
spotted and assessed the trouble. The lasers began loosing pulses of
The Kadav opened fire on the ship, but their blaster beams rippled
and diffused on
“Time to go,” Obi-Wan said. He
helped Tredze to his feet. The governor
tripped on a rock and went to one knee, ankle badly twisted, his limp
now a hobble.
Obi-Wan slung one of the man’s arms over his shoulders and all but
along over the rough terrain.
The armored craft bore down on
them, its shields proving more than adequate
against the ship’s lasers. Bethra stood tall in the open back compartment.
She halted and wheeled.
“Raven, no!” Obi-Wan shouted.
Tredze was leaning heavily on him, the ship
was coming down with the hatch opening. “Forget him!”
“You’re a dead man already, Bethra!”
She tossed her light saber menacingly
from hand to hand.
“That toy of yours may defeat
a single blaster, but it’s no good against a
ten-spread!” Bethra hefted a gleaming silver cylinder to his shoulder.
swath in his hair and the burnt scar on his brow were very visible.
“Give up now
and I’ll let Tredze and the Jedi live!”
She began walking steadily toward
“Get to the ship.”
“I don’t intend to die.”
His instincts told him something
altogether different. She continued on,
unwavering as the barrel of the ten-spread centered on her.
“No!” Obi-Wan made a sharp seizing
gesture but it was too far, too far
away, all his effort did was slap the weapon a few inches to the side.
The moment he did it, Raven went
into a blur of motion. Bethra fired, but she
was no longer there, no longer even close to where the ten projectiles
detonated. She jumped to the top of the vehicle and then down into
it, tackling the
silver-haired Warden. They vanished from Obi-Wan’s sight, inside the
Jefin appeared at the top of the
Obi-Wan bundled the governor at
the young pilot. “Take to the air. Quickly.”
“What about you?”
“I’m going back for her.”
“Why? Who is that madwoman?”
Jefin’s eyebrows shot up and his
jaw fell open, effectively widening his entire
face into an incredulous gape.
Obi-Wan paid it no mind and ran
back to the vehicle. It shook from within from
blaster fire, the hum of a light saber, a Kadav war-cry, Bethra’s frantic
orders, and the
snap-crack of whip-knives. He leaped up and over, dropping neatly inside,
landing on a dead Kadav.
“Kill her! Curse you all, what
does it take to --” Bethra’s voice rose in a shriek
and he reeled backward into Obi-Wan, then went sprawling on his back
with his left
arm severed at the elbow and his left leg scorched from hip to knee.
Ignoring the Warden, Obi-Wan ducked
through the door and another
premonition slid like melting ice down his spine. Deflected blaster
fire had gone
into the power core. Already, smoke was belching from it and sparks
casting the interior into strobic flashes.
Then he saw her, cornered by three
Kadav, cloak missing, right sleeve torn and the
skin beneath bleeding, a blaster singe along her side, disarmed.
He started toward her and his
foot came down on something cylindrical, her light
saber, he brought it instantly to his hand with the Force and activated
it; wielding both,
he struck down two Kadav from behind and Raven crouched and drove a
the belly of the third. That one drew his stun baton as he fell, but
the baton only
plunged into the damaged power core and burst in a gout of phosphorescent
“Come on!” Obi-Wan sheathed both
sabers and steered her toward the door.
A shadow fell over them as they
emerged, and both looked up in alarm. But it
was the ship, hovering over the rumbling-shaking-smoking vehicle. The
open, and through the viewscreen, Obi-Wan could see Jefin mouthing
“Jump,” he said to Raven, and,
drawing her close to his side, sprang straight up.
He landed with neat precision inside the opening.
The bladed whip snaked around
Raven's leg and Bethra yanked. The
sudden tug made Obi-Wan lose his footing just as he landed. He was
spun in a
circle and fell, ending up on his stomach, half in and half out of
Raven slipped, and he caught her
by the left hand. She hung suspended
between him and Bethra, who jerked at the whip with his right hand,
Obi-Wan braced himself and held
on. The blades were shredding her clothes,
carving deep gashes in her thigh and calf. He was treated to the hellish
sight of her
blood raining down on Bethra’s upturned maniacal face.
A small explosion jolted the vehicle.
The ship rocked, nearly dumping them from
their precarious perch in the hatch.
Jefin made the ship rise, and
now Bethra was being lifted, hanging from
the whip-knife. Raven cried out as his full weight dragged on the blades,
them cruelly into her flesh.
Using all his strength, both physical
and mental, Obi-Wan pulled her up
until she was able to catch hold of the retracted edge of the ramp.
She hooked her
left elbow over it and clamped her wounded right arm with that hand.
were clenched tight, her eyes slitted.
Obi-Wan leaned down as far as
he could, and sliced a blue-white arc in
Bethra screamed as he tumbled
down and away, his severed hand still clinging
to the haft of the whip-knife. The Warden landed with a bone-jarring
crash atop his
vehicle, tried to raise his head, and was engulfed in red-orange as
the power core
The shockwave tossed the ship
onto its side, sending Obi-Wan tumbling
across the floor and flipping Raven after him. They fetched up in a
heap on the
curved wall of the passenger compartment.
“Hatch closed!” Jefin called back.
"Is she all right?" Governor Tredze
"Unconscious." Obi-Wan used a
damp cloth to wipe Raven's brow, and
checked the bandages that wrapped her from elbow to shoulder, and from
hip. Her boot had protected her lower leg from the worst of it, but
were slowly blossoming higher on her thigh.
"I am in your debt, both of you."
"Then I must ask that you indulge
us a while longer."
"Of course. Anything."
"Before we can take you to Coruscant
to present your case to the Senate, we need
to stop on Naboo and retrieve my apprentice. As well as seek proper
for both of you."
Tredze glanced wryly down at himself
in the dirt-smeared and singed grey prison
uniform, then skidded a hand up his gaunt, stubbled cheek. "And an
"I'm sure that can be arranged."
The governor nodded. Obi-Wan could
see the weariness in his eyes and
feel it radiating off of him. He packed up the rest of the medikit
and dimmed the
lights, then made his way to the front where Jefin was alertly scanning
"All's well," the pilot reported
brightly. "After what happened, I wouldn't
have put it past the Wardens to be hiding their own armada, but we're
here. Naboo, next stop. Passengers?"
"I sent a transmission ahead telling
Naboo we've got wounded."
"Good." He slid a small glass
tube into the ship's scanner and observed with no
real surprise as the readout confirmed in Raven's blood sample what
determined for himself. And what, he wondered, would the Jedi Council
that? What would Master Yoda, who had been so opposed to the young
harmless-seeming Anakin, have to say now?
When he leaned back and closed
his eyes, he saw flames leaping there.
Violet-edged black ones with hearts of gold. Never mind the Council's
Raven, what would they think of him? Would they see it
as he did? Would
All of his musings left him with
no greater insight, and before he knew it, the
blue-green ball of Naboo was growing in the viewscreen.
They touched down in the same
spot, in the marble courtyard. Obi-Wan went
back and roused the governor.
Even before the hatch opened,
he could hear Anakin's high, excited voice
assuring someone -- the Queen, most likely -- that she shouldn't worry,
never got hurt.
"If only that were true," he murmured
He helped Governor Tredze down
the ramp, and felt the wave of relief
emanating from both Anakin and Amidala when they saw him unscathed.
Queen retained her demeanor, her regal manners, and inclined her head
governor just as if he'd arrived in state as an honored guest, instead
and in rags.
"You're back!" Anakin crowed,
rushing up to Obi-Wan. "I knew you
would come back!"
He smiled at the youth. "Is this
the same Padawan who was certain I was
going to 'die on you', as you put it?"
"Aw, I never meant that!"
The physicians came forward as
Tredze finished managing a polite greeting
to Amidala, and coaxed him onto a floatpad. As they ferried him through
arch and out of sight, the Queen approached Obi-Wan.
"We are pleased to see you return
promptly, and unharmed," she said, extending
He touched it. "I'm pleased to
do so, Majesty."
"Tell us all about it!" Anakin
enthused. "How did it go? Was there a lot of
"I will ..." perhaps not all
of it, he amended mentally, "but first, the
"Are you hurt?" Amidala
"No, I --" he began, then stopped,
feeling her presence without even needing
to look. Confirmation of it was in the Queen's gaze that shifted past
him and upward.
He turned as Raven emerged into
the clean light of a living sun. She winced
and recoiled, then nearly fell as her leg threatened to buckle.
"So ... bright!" she said as he
reached her side. "The world is full of colors. I ...
"I should have warned you. It
does take some getting used to." He took off his
dark brown robe and draped it over her shoulders, then raised the hood,
as he might turn down a bride's veil, to shade her eyes.
As he did so, he sensed sudden
hurt comprehension from the Queen and
a sort of leering curiosity from Anakin, but his attention remained
fixed on Raven.
She blinked several times, then
peered squintingly up at the crystal-blue sky
fluffed here and there with pristine clouds. "It's ... pretty," she
"You shouldn't be walking."
"I'm fine." She tried to take
a step to prove it, and this time her leg did
buckle. He caught her even as she began to lose her balance and supported
with an arm around her waist. She laid her hand alongside his cheek
through the pain. "All right, maybe I'm not, but you're
going to carry me, Jedi!"
"Will you let the physicians do
"Um ... Obi-Wan?" Anakin asked
hesitantly. "Who's this? Picked up
another pathetic lifeform?"
"How many times must I apologize
for that remark?" he laughed. "This is
the Noctani Raven, who helped us greatly on Rannok."
"She's --" Anakin broke off and
looked meaningfully at Obi-Wan.
"Here we go again," Raven muttered.
"He's one, too. Please tell me I'm not
getting the lecture on evil and the Dark Side."
"This is my Padawan Learner, Anakin
Skywalker. And this ... this is Queen
Amidala of the Naboo."
The two women regarded each other,
and Obi-Wan felt a flurry of unspoken
exchange pass between them. It occurred to him that perhaps bringing
had been a mistake ... or the best thing, under the circumstances,
that he could
Raven's lips curved. "Your highness.
I'd curtsey, but then I'd fall down
and bleed all over your nice clean courtyard."
"We'd not want that," Amidala
returned coolly. "Welcome to Naboo."
"What's going on?" Anakin wondered
in an undertone to Obi-Wan. "Why's
"That ... might be an explanation
best left for another time."
He woke, bathed, changed, and was
just readying himself to go down to
the formal dinner the Queen was holding in the Governor’s honor when
chimes over his door sounded their sweet music.
Raven walked in with the barest
hint of a limp, her hair drawn back not in her
customary simple braid but in two golden clips that spilled it in a
loose torrent down
her back. “Talented physicians,” she said.
“Talented tailors,” he replied,
taking in the sight of her with great admiration.
She stroked the simple gown of
topaz-colored velvet. “I’d prefer black.”
“It matches your eyes.”
“These Naboo are very generous.
This belt ... what are these stones?”
“Black pearls, from one of the
“I’ve brought your robe.” She
set it over the back of a chair. “Thank you.
It’s one thing to hear of a sun, another to see it for myself.”
“There are many more worlds for
you to see. Snow-covered mountains,
desert sands, deep forests ...”
“And the planetwide city where
your Jedi Council might condemn me
straight back to Rannok as a threat to their galactic order.”
He took her hands. “I will not
let that happen.”
“Nice to have at least one ally.”
“You will win many others.”
“Not your Queen.” A grin played
about Raven’s mouth. “She doesn’t seem to
like me much.”
“Ah. Yes. Well ...”
“What is there between you?”
“It’s not like that. Only her
“Once, perhaps ... but she is
very young. And Anakin ...”
“Gallant of you not to steal the
queen away from your smitten apprentice. But
does she know your feelings?”
He caressed the side of her face.
“I imagine she does now.”
She covered his hand and led it
to her mouth to kiss the palm. “Careful, Obi-Wan
... remember, I’m dangerous.”
“Only to those who stand between
you and your revenge.”
“Which you did. But then you killed
Bethra, so I suppose I’ll forgive.”
“The danger is a part of it. I
do not know, and I fear to learn, what the Council
might say. I doubt you’ll ever be a Jedi. The restrictions of our codes
and ways would
infuriate you. Yet the Force is so very strong in you. You’ve already
Your gifts should be trained. If only they could understand, as I do,
what the Soulfire
was, and what it meant.”
She backed away from him, intent
in concentration. Placing her fingertips and
thumbs together, she made a space like a rounded diamond between them.
The air in that space began to
darken, to flicker. It took on the inconstant
shape of flames, then took on the deep, distinct colors.
“The fire ... how?”
“It’s in us all, Obi-Wan. It’s
in me. I am Noct’s daughter; where I go, the fire
goes with me.”
He passed a hand into it, and
felt the same things that he had before -- serenity,
awareness, peace, knowledge. And presences, fleeting but comforting,
against him like the barest flick of a moth’s wing. Presences of the
“Master,” he breathed as he felt
the familiar spirit nearby. Offering him silent
strength, counsel, support. Assuring him that what he did was the right
Then he sensed another, stern
and strong but kind. Through the smoke,
Raven’s face relaxed into a smile.
Obi-Wan reached out, seeking.
“A ... a Jedi? He was Jedi! Wait! Who are you?
What was your name?”
Reached, reached ... gone as the
chimes sounded again, startling Raven so that
the flames dissipated.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“He was Jedi,” Obi-Wan insisted.
“I touched his mind. The training was
there, Raven. He was one of us.”
“That’s impossible. He was the
Noctus, always the Noctus.”
The chimes rang longer. Shaken,
Obi-Wan called, “Come in.”
The door opened and Anakin was
there. He spied them standing so close
together, and grinned knowingly.
“Dinner time,” he said.
“A moment.” He looked at Raven.
“Where is your light saber?”
“I’m never without it.” She hiked
her skirt and Anakin’s eyes grew round. The
weapon was bound to her thigh with violet ribbons. She extended her
leg to untie it
and the youth’s eyes nearly fell from his head.
“Are you expecting trouble at
dinner?” Obi-Wan inquired amusedly.
She turned and pressed her hip
against his side. “I could ask the same of you, or
are you just pleased to see me?”
“I can tell them to re-heat your
soup for you if you’re going to be a while,” Anakin
offered with a smirk.
He looked at his Padawan and sent
a very clear message, which Anakin ignored.
Sighing, Obi-Wan took Raven’s light saber and studied it.
“This was made by a Jedi. I’d
stake my life on it. See these symbols?”
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Raven
argued. “He told us of Jedi, but he would
have said if he’d been one!”
“The Council will have to see
this. They’ll have the answer.”
“Um, so, are you coming down or
should I go make excuses?” Anakin said.
Raven retrieved her light saber.
“It can wait for the Council. But I don’t know
what kind of answer they’ll be able to give.”
“Nor I ... but there must be one.”
They followed Anakin to the spacious
dining hall, where the setting sun
through the arched windows turned everything to crimson and orange,
dancing waterfalls became showers of jewels cascading into the dusk-shadowed
Obi-Wan was just a little too
late to stop his apprentice from gleefully
announcing to the assembled that he was so sorry for the delay, but
practically had to drag the two of them out of Obi-Wan’s room.
“There is such a thing as manners,”
he scolded the boy as they sat, very
conscious of the way the Queen’s spine stiffened and her clipped tone
ordered the droids to begin serving the meal.
“I thought you wanted me to be
truthful.” Anakin put on his most
innocent face and held it for several seconds before breaking into
Mace Windu’s countenance was as
stony as a statue, a statue of some
unforgiving god who demanded regular volcanic sacrifices.
“You are becoming too much like
Qui-Gon,” he intoned.
“Thank you.” Obi-Wan stood straight
in the center of the Council’s circular
“It wasn’t meant as a compliment.”
“But it is an honor.”
“You are putting yourself, your
future, and our entire order at risk.”
“A danger, she is,” Yoda agreed.
One of the smallest and least threatening
in appearance of the beings in the room, his disapproval fell on Obi-Wan
weight. “Yes, strong in her is the Force, but a Jedi, she shall never
“She was trained by a Jedi.”
“No,” Windu said. “You’re mistaken.”
“But Master Windu --”
“Rules her does the Dark Side.
Consumed by it, she is.”
“It’s not like that,” Obi-Wan
said. “Her teacher, this Noctus, was a Jedi! I
know that to be true! I felt his presence.”
“You are mistaken,” Windu said
again, slowly, clearly, so that the upstart
would not miss a single word, would not dare contradict.
He dared. “The light saber was
built by a Jedi. Raven has been trained in many
of the ways of the Force.”
“Of the Dark Side!” Yoda leaned
forward, his wizened features pulled into a
scowl. “Much hatred is there in her!”
“Who was he?” Obi-Wan asked. “This
Noctus ... who was he?”
A murmur rippled through the rest
of the Council. He felt their minds closing to
him, shutting him out, but not before he learned --
“You knew. You knew there was
a civilization on Rannok, and you gave
Dol Bethra permission to destroy it!”
“It was necessary.” Mace Windu’s
voice was now as cold and dark as the
vast distances between stars.
A collective sigh issued from
“Let this go, young Kenobi,” Zadrek
Kellnu, another of the Masters, advised
gently. “It does not concern you.”
“But it does. I --”
“Say it not!” Yoda snapped, whacking
the arm of his chair with his gnarled
“Then tell me! Let me understand!”
Obi-Wan pleaded. “What happened
“His name was Blake Damon,” Zadrek
Kellnu said, paying no attention to the
annoyed looks she earned from her fellow Council members. “And yes,
was a Jedi. A Master.”
“A fallen one,” Windu added.
“A Sith?” Obi-Wan asked warily.
Kellnu shook her head. “No Sith,
but one who followed his own ways, his own
teachings. He held beliefs that the rest of us did not share. He was
dismissed from this
Council, cast out of the order.”
“Never again the ways of the Jedi
was he to practice,” Yoda said. “Yet
discovered did we that a temple he had raised to the Dark Side.
The people in
the ways of the Dark Side he was instructing. Disobeyed the Council’s
did, defied us.”
“You had him killed.” He said
it in a tone so shocked it was devoid of
Windu scowled stormily. “He could
not be allowed to continue. It posed
a threat to the way of life of the entire Republic.”
Obi-Wan shook his head in slow
unwilling belief. “He disagreed with you, and
you had him killed.”
“It was not like that,” Kellnu
said. “We do not order deaths.”
“But when Bethra came forth with
his idea to start a prison, you suggested
Rannok. You knew what he’d find there, and what he’d do about it. You
and let thousands of people die, all to rid yourselves of one man ...
one man who
was not evil!”
“Evil, he was!” Yoda said.
“To the Dark Side --”
“No!” Obi-Wan never would have
expected to hear himself interrupt Master
Yoda, but the word burst from him before he could stop it. “Not like
us, but not evil!
I have seen it!”
“You yet lack wisdom and experience
in these matters, young Kenobi,” Kellnu
“My eyes have been opened, Master,”
he said to her. “We have become self-
righteous and close-minded. Are we so threatened by any way different
that we must eradicate it?”
“Enough!” Windu barked sharply.
“You would do well not to challenge
this Council. What was done has been done, and it is best put behind
“I understand that, Master Windu.”
He bowed his head. “But what of
A long and heavy silence stretched
out, during which he felt only barriers
around the minds of the Masters.
“See her again, you should not,”
Yoda declared. “A bad influence she is.”
“On you, and perhaps also on your
Padawan learner,” Windu said. “His
fate is already clouded.”
“I will not let her be killed,”
Obi-Wan said, putting into words that worst
“Has your faith in us been so
shaken?” Kellnu asked sadly. “We know you,
Obi-Wan Kenobi. We know your soul. Headstrong, yes, and impetuous.
your master, as Mace Windu noted. We know your feelings for this woman.
a Jedi, and of great value to us. We would not wish to make you choose.
you ... we do not forbid.”
Yoda’s expression was sour; he,
at least, Obi-Wan was sure, was more
than ready to forbid. “Dark times are there ahead for us. This we have
At risk are the Jedi, all the Jedi. If a part of this threat
this woman becomes ...”
“She will not.”
“See to it,” Windu said.
He nodded and, sensing their dismissal,
left the Council chamber toward
whatever future might await him.
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