Whew! Sorry it’s taken so long to get here – I’ve been run off my fingers (because typing, y’know, not actually literally running) with coursework, and TV show prep again, and getting my costume ready to apply to the Rebel Legion, and… life, yeah?
However, here we all are, mostly in one piece. Today we have mud, blood, and broken glass, not necessarily in that order. Blame Obi-Wan. I found his personal theme music online and have been quietly reveling in it.
The Council sent Xan and me to Sempidal to clear up – two-week posting, they said. Long enough to tidy away any pockets of Sep activity Obi-Wan and Ben might have missed, and to arrange the command handover from Council to regular army. All in all, very basic.
Since we got here last week, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing. Going out in the field, removing a nest of clankers or a gun emplacement, and then slogging ahead to the next place and doing it all over again. Sleeping on the ground, rolled in cloaks – for us – and blankets – for the troopers – and coming back to the base every few days to sleep under canvas for a change. By a large margin, this is the most boring mission I’ve ever been assigned, and I figure Bi-An had nothing to do with it – it’s just Master Windu trying to be kind by giving us a quiet beat. I’ve been repaying that, in my own way, by practicing flying: by now, I can sweep through a pack of two dozen battle droids without touching the ground once.
When I was with Qui-Gon, we always used to take the missions that nobody else wanted because they were on hot, dry, sun-parched worlds. I loved it – as much as anything, I loved that my Master took the trouble to draw postings to places I could cope with. But… now Qui-Gon has gone off with Dooku, and I’m at Sempidal. Sempidal’s cursed with unpredictable thick fog, and filthy weather in between. Long nights, with heavy clouds and heavier rain. Short, wet days, with filtered sunlight like cotton candy: pretty, but not good for much. And cold, cold, cold.
It smells of mud here – mud and fuel smoke and old death. The stink of the earth muffles anything else I might have picked up. I’m sitting under a slowly oozing canvas tent, trying to warm my hands around a cup of hot but insipid caf that tastes of water and smells of burnt, listening to the troopers argue and the rain splash thickly into the viscous soup of muck that passes for ground out here.
In the middle of last night, I woke up to a startlingly luminous, consuming fear, and a whisper of surprise, because while I knew it wasn’t mine, it looked – rather, felt – as if I ought to recognize it. I lay awake, listening to the rain, for a few minutes, before realizing I did recognize it; its proper owner just hadn’t been around for a long time, and had changed some in the meantime. Rolling off my camp-cot, I crept across the tent to talk to Xanatos.
“DuCrion, wake up. Qui-Gon’s in trouble. I promised him that when this happened I’d come find him. Xan?”
“Okay,” he mumbled. “Where are we going?”
“I don’t know,” I said slowly. “I don’t think Qui-Gon knows where he is either.”
“Well, what did you see? That’s good for a start, at least.”
“See? Xan, I didn’t see anything… what do you mean?”
“You said Qui-Gon was in trouble. I assumed you were basing that conclusion on some form of data. What – did – you – see?”
“Nothing.” While I was dimly beginning to understand what Xan meant, it was cold, and dark, and I was tired and hungry and agitated. “I just know, okay? You don’t do this to Bi-An when he tells you something.”
“Bi-An is thirty-six, and usually has the decency to tell us as much as he can rather than talking nonsense about not seeing anything. I mean, if it was too dark to make out any detail, say so, but –”
“Xan. It wasn’t dark. There just wasn’t anything.”
Sitting up suddenly, Xan regarded me with new interest. “You can’t see,” he breathed. “Me, Bi‑An, Qui-Gon, Feemor, Bruck – Ani, I guess – we can all see things coming. Sometimes it’s fuzzy or dim, but we can see it. You…”
“Please, Xan, I know because he told me. And he was… different. Wronger.”
“We have to finish our posting before we can even think of moving on, kiddo. If the old man decides to tell you anything else, let me know.” And he rolled over and started snoring again. I couldn’t sleep anymore, and I slipped out into the mud and cold drizzle of the camp. A few stars gleamed through a rare break in the clouds, and I stood staring up at them, wondering where in the whole wide Galaxy I was supposed to be, until the trooper on sentry duty sent me back to bed.
Xan called home this morning, and by a crazy stroke of chance, connected into the middle of a family conference at Bi-An’s place. Ben was home from the medbay, Ani was tinkering with something… it was nice. I wish I could have been there. Although I guess everybody must have been talking about something before we called, Xan just jumped right in and told Bi-An about what I’d said last night.
“Nightmare, Sriel,” Bruck commented loftily from out of camera range. “We understand you miss him, but… move on.”
“I believe her,” Anakin murmured, then appeared suddenly in the holo and said it again, harder, sharper. “I didn’t have much more than that to go on when I came to get you from Jabiim, Master. I trust Sriel to know what she’s talking about. I owe a lot to Qui-Gon too,” he told me. “Let me know what you need me to do.”
“Are you listening to this?” exploded Xan. “Kenobi? This is crazy. Qui-Gon was given a choice; he chose to leave; he chose to defy the Council, again, and join Dooku, again. Now the kids want to go after a Sith. Obi-Wan, listen to me. You can stop this.”
Looking thoughtfully from me to Anakin, Obi-Wan said quietly, “I’m not so sure I can. You two – Anakin, Nasriel – if you’re certain you’re doing the right thing, then… do it, and I’ll tell the Chancellor it was on my orders.”
Later: Two-week posting, hah. We were here a week before I had the first… dream? Wrong word. The first time I knew I had to go and find Qui-Gon, and find him soon. And we’ve been here two more weeks since that. Ten days wasted on droid-wrecking and petty command squabbles – I’m running out of time, I know that much. And the wet weather’s taking its toll on me. When we got here and I saw the terrain and climate, I told Xan I couldn’t stick it more than a few days. It’s been fifteen so far, and my whole body’s on the verge of deciding to quit, one piece at a time. I’m eating more than usual and still always hungry. Persistent low-grade headache that ramps ups when I move – and I’m still dealing with troops of clankers every day, still practicing flying, so… persistent ramped-up headache. Always freezing cold, even when I’m sitting so close to the space heater I can smell my hair singeing.
Can’t sleep. I guess the dreams don’t help with that – not a night has gone by without my waking up suddenly, absolutely certain something terrible is happening to Qui-Gon right now. We haven’t been able to get a signal back to the Core in a week, and I can’t help fidgeting that if anything has happened, the folks at home will have heard about it and sorted it out before I know anything.
Self, self, self, Threeb. Stop it.
Xan hates Sempidal too, and he’s doing his best to get clear as fast as he can. He’s still not a good Master, and he’d be the first to agree – a good Master, in this situation, with a Padawan who is biologically unable to cope with the climate, would either ask to be reassigned, or send the Padawan home – but at least he’s trying to get us out of here. Although I’ve tried talking to him – get to know each other – we’re supposed to be Master-and-Padawan for Force knows how long – the only thing we really have in common is Qui-Gon, and Xan’s already made it clear that’s not a topic for discussion.
I woke up in the dark this morning, to find Xan shaking me. He let go pretty fast the instant he worked out that the little ridges on my arm are raised scars, but stayed crouched by my bed, watching me anxiously.
“Are you okay, Sriel?”
“Yeah, why?” Feeling my hands still trembling from the fear I had found in the night and the shock of waking, I clenched them into fists.
“You were yelling and waking the whole tent.” And it’s a long canvas tent, a dormitory with a leaky roof. “One of the sergeants came to get me.”
“I saw something, Xan.” Horrible though it had been, in a way it was a relief, after two weeks of featureless dread haunting my sleep, and of drifting off every night holding the warm stone pendant, reaching out into the Force searching for Qui-Gon, and begging for anything else he could tell me.
“Well, that’s great.” Xanatos laughed, a soft gasp of relief. “What was it?”
“Blood and white marble.” The single still image I’d been given burned in my mind, so that it was a few moments before I could see clearly enough to tell Xan any more. He waited, one eyebrow cocked upward in an odd, hungry expression. And I realized: he’s as anxious to find Qui-Gon as I am. Maybe more – he’s known him longer, and besides, I can accept that Xan might not be enthused about the idea of being stuck with me long-term. With that in mind, I told him all I had managed to take in from the fleeting glimpse I had – at any rate, it felt fleeting.
The white marble was a section of wall, maybe a meter wide, between two high arched windows. There was what looked like a lamp, on a bronzium bracket, in the middle of the wall, about two meters up. It was white glass, shaped like an upturned flower – a riyo flower, by the look of it. The glass was broken, and there were sharp edges everywhere. There was blood pooled inside it, and running out through the cracks to trickle down the wall and spread out through the gaps between the floor-tiles.
“What color?” asked Xan calmly.
“Red. Human-arterial red.”
“I meant the floor.”
“The tiles are about the size of my palm, and they’re square, but there’s some sort of pattern by the wall,” I said. “I think… I think it’s green?”
“No,” corrected Xan, “You don’t think it’s green; you just know it contrasts with red. Can you see anything out the windows?”
“Is anyone there?”
“No… wait. It’s reflected in the window… I can’t see properly… Oh, Force, Xan. He’s – I think – he’s dead. Xan…”
Grabbing a handful of my hair and yanking my head down to where he could reach it, Xan knocked on my forehead with his knuckles, hard, like banging on a door. “Here, you think he’s dead –” and switched suddenly to knock on my breastbone, right on the pendant. “Or here?”
“He’s not dead,” I said firmly. “You’re right. I’d know.”
Instead of going back to sleep, I found a flashlight and started noting down everything I could remember from the image. When we get away, when I can get a signal home, I’ll see if Tahl can help me work out where I’m going. I just hope I won’t be too late.
Head still ringing from being slammed against a wall, Qui-Gon prods gingerly at the deep cut glass-razored along the side of his skull. He swallows, an experiment he immediately regrets, as it only heightens the dull ache in his throat: being Force-choked is… frightening. He has been nearly garroted before now, on-mission, and while that was in no way fun, it was easier than gasping for breath, slipping in and out of consciousness, and having nothing at which to strike out.
Dooku is not easily provoked, but once the fuse of his fiery temper has been lit, nothing can prevent the explosion. And the man holds grudges for decades. Qui-Gon had hoped, when he came here, that his past self had been exaggerating, had perhaps overstated how fierce the storms could be. Standing, slowly, because the bloody tiles are slick and treacherous, he mutters an apology to the shade of Dooku’s first Padawan – yes, I know you told me so. Anyway, he has done what he came here to do. Now he just has to wait for Nasriel to keep her promise – certainly there is no way he can just up and vanish from the middle of Separatist holdings, not alone and without transport.
A doubt creeps into his mind – will Nasriel even know where to come? But… he has been here before, with Feemor. Surely as soon as the girl describes the image Qui-Gon has forced across the tattered remains of their bond, Feemor will know the system, the world, even the city. Surely it won’t be long now.