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Hello, everyone! Yes, “The Hero’s Dream” is back!!! There will be some violence (and lots of intrigue) in this chapter; something that almost classifies as momentary mild torture as well. Almost, but not quite. It’s still covered under the fringes of general battle.

[10/27/2013: Minor edits, to correct small errors.]

[11/2/2013: Changed tagging to reflect current story status; aka, completed.]

Chapter IV

                Obi-Wan leaped sideways in a desperate effort to avoid the blade. It would be hard not to revert unconsciously to his Soresu training, which could be applied to unarmed combat as well as lightsaber technique; a reversion that would be particularly damning, seeing that it was a distinctly Jedi style due to its non-aggression, and rare was the Sith that studied it for its own sake. If he were to display his ability with Soresu, it would be enough to give him away as Jedi trained, since the knowledge of Soresu was not something he would pick up by watching the Sith’s training sessions. Ataru, on the other hand…

Obi-Wan leaped instinctively out of the way as Maul attacked again, trying to make it look more desperate than it truly was. Amedda threw his stick at Obi-Wan. Reflexively, Obi-Wan ducked, then caught it, sweeping it briskly at Maul’s legs. The Sith Lord merely jumped over the staff. It wasn’t Amedda’s staff in reality, Obi-Wan realized. It lacked the headpiece… and it had an odd sort of hum that made his fingers tingle…

Obi-Wan activated the blade of the lightsaber pike just in time to block Maul’s next attack. The Sith backed up a few steps, then activated the second blade of his weapon. Obi-Wan prepared for Maul’s next attack. Two blades in a staff. Quarterstaff, and singlestick, Obi-Wan thought. Don’t let him get any blows in. Obi-Wan blocked the next strike, leaping sideways clumsily. Two objectives… keep his cover, and stay alive. Obi-Wan was almost relieved to find that, though at his level in saber training, Maul was letting anger rule him, and was largely intuitive rather than calculating. Obi-Wan might not be his superior in saber skills, but he was intellectually on a higher level. And, too, Maul’s control was rather weak… Obi-Wan made another bladelock, slowly giving way to maintain his energy and exhaust Maul, then suddenly swept the long haft of the saber pike under, giving Maul a hearty whack in the midsection. Obi-Wan bent gracefully back, avoiding Maul’s broad sweep, coming up inside Maul’s guard. It was an unorthodox tactic that came as a complete surprise to Maul. Though Obi-Wan was technically trapped by Maul’s arms holding the lightsaber, the surprise factor was more than enough to compensate. Obi-Wan struck Maul hard in the jaw, and Maul dropped the saberstaff in an instinctive attempt to get away from his aggressor. Obi-Wan spun neatly around Maul, catching him in a sleeper hold to subdue him. He thought that the duel was over for a moment.

The next moment, he was writhing in agony on the floor, having lost control of all his muscles thanks to Sidious’ Sith lightning.

Obi-Wan back-flipped as Maul attacked again. This time, the contest was brief to the point of being anticlimactic. Obi-Wan grabbed the pike up, crossed blades, disengaged suddenly, disarming Maul, caught up the saberstaff and spun, then froze. There was absolute silence, the only sound the vicious hum of twin red blades extending out from Maul’s back.

Maul’s rage had been his fatal error. Obi-Wan had outmaneuvered him, and Sidious’ attack had cost the Zabrack his life. Maul would never find his way to the backstabbing and manipulative way of the Sith.

Obi-Wan deactivated both the lightsaber pike and the saberstaff, tossing them away, distaste wrinkling his nose. Padme looked on in shock and probably horror. Sidious watched him, a calculating sneer on his lip. He clapped three times. Obi-Wan bowed, icily. “Impressive,” Palpatine murmured, “most impressive.” Obi-Wan returned to the alcove behind Palpatine’s chair in icy silence. A long space of silence in which no one but Sidious moved as the Sith sipped at his wine. Mas Amedda cleared his throat, awkwardly. The fight was unquestionably over.

The banquet continued far into the night. Some of the less pleasant guests stayed long after the others had gone home, but Palpatine remained in the room, his face coldly serene, the one center of cold, ironic, calculating peace and order in the otherwise debauched room. Palpatine remained after all the others had left or been dragged out. He had not eaten while the others were there, but now he consumed his own supper, with Obi-Wan serving him, alone, in the giant, echoing, empty banqueting hall. Palpatine was in his pensive mood, and Obi-Wan knew better than to interrupt him. Passive resistance was far better than active, and active defiance was far worse than either.

“Ah, Obi-Wan,” Palpatine said. Obi-Wan swallowed the indignation that arose in him at Palpatine’s use of his given name, and listened. “Maul mentioned that he found you in the library earlier.”

“One must make do with what is available, no matter how unpleasant the circumstances,” Obi-Wan said coldly, pretending to yawn.

“Indeed,” Palpatine said. Obi-Wan’s eyes narrowed as he searched for a possible reason for this veiled interrogation. Palpatine continued, “Such an impressive display, earlier. What a pity that your natural talent shall never be refined and honed as it ought. Have you ever wished…”

“No,” Obi-Wan snapped. “I never have. If I ever wished for anything, I wished that the Sith had been conquered instead of conquering during the ancient war with the Jedi. I am not your pawn, Darth Sidious. I never desired this throne that you sit on, the throne that is my birthright, and it is a deeper birthright that runs in my blood. I am of the same lineage that gave Erin Kenobi to the galaxy, I come of the same line as Ae’enn Narshala, the Dispossessed, and I am the heir to that legacy. I disowned Deriaka before I was ten years old, and once more I renounce him. Only in name and blood am I his descendant, in nothing more.”

“The laws of primogeniture are harsh, I concede,” Palpatine began. Obi-Wan cut him off hotly.

“I am not a fool to be deceived by your fair words hiding a foul meaning, or a weakling to be bent to your will by a mind trick! I am not your pawn, and I never was your possession. You would do well to remember that.” Obi-Wan turned to walk away. He dropped to his knees as the Sith lightning coiled around his body. Sidious came nearer, quivering with rage.

“Give me another pretty, defiant speech like that, slave, and I should cut that silver tongue of yours out of your head!” the Sith hissed.

“Do that, and I’ll figure out speak into your mind and haunt you in your sleep, backstabber!” Obi-Wan returned. With an effort, Sidious controlled his rage.

“Perhaps Obi-Wan Kenobi is of more use dead than alive,” he hissed. Sidious turned on his heel and left the room. Obi-Wan struggled to his feet and followed.

Obi-Wan returned to the regal room set aside for his use, his mind in turmoil. Like all the rooms of the palace not consigned to slaves, it was richly furnished and elegantly decorated. However, unlike the other rooms, this one was—if that was possible—even more ornate and fancy than any of the others. Huge velvet drapes adorned the walls; the glow panels were overlaid with delicate filigree metalwork. Mahogany tables along the sides held many-armed candelabras, an alternative to electric light. The huge, canopied, curtained double bed was not one Obi-Wan had ever felt comfortable sleeping in. It was decorated like a nightmare version of a little girl’s dream room, except that there was no macabre version of a dollhouse set up against the right wall, and no posh decorations on the walls. No decay, either, Obi-Wan thought ruefully. It might actually be livable if it was a ruin—in a sleepover-with-Quinlan, tell-ghost-stories-and-see-who-gets-hysterical-first sort of way. Obi-Wan would much rather sleep over here, than live here. In another life, it might have been interesting as an addition to a historical museum; now, it was the last place he wanted to go to sleep.

Obi-Wan paused outside the door, danger sense prickling up and down his spine. However much his master teased him about the trademark “I-have-a-bad-feeling-about-this”, Obi-Wan’s danger sense was nearly always accurate and existed for a good reason. It had saved both his life and Qui-Gon’s multiple times.

Obi-Wan drew in a deep breath and opened one of the huge, carved, black double doors. He entered the room and took a calming breath. A second later, a ruby-colored lightsaber crossed his throat within a breath of the skin. The heat of the blade scorched his neck.

“If I wanted you dead,” Dooku’s deep voice proclaimed, “you would have never known what killed you.”

“I beg to differ,” Obi-Wan said, still immobile as the lightsaber hovered a finger’s breadth from his throat. “One would think that you Sith would be more original in your choice of venue—and introduction—to what you so obviously believe to be an important encounter. This is the third time today—no, sorry, fourth—that my life has been threatened and I owe my safety to a reflex.”

“Perhaps,” Dooku acknowledged, removing the saber. Instantly, Obi-Wan was on his guard. The Sith were never so dangerous as when they agreed with you—or seemed to. “I came to speak with you, Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

“About what?” Obi-Wan kept his face deceptively calm, already preparing to defend himself if necessary.

“About your obvious lack of training.” Dooku said, raising one eyebrow exquisitely. Obi-Wan did his best to look genuinely confused and at the same time intrigued.

“What about it?”

“You possess a great gift,” Dooku pointed out.

“And you crave it,” Obi-Wan challenged. Dooku bowed his head.

“Perhaps.” A hit.

“I am not anyone’s fool, Count. You should go find some scumbag who will actually be deceived or intimidated by you.” Strike.

“Ah, but it wasn’t some scum bag I wished to talk to.” Deflection. Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow at the implied flattery.

“Why do you want to talk to me, then?” The direct attack, sometimes the best option. Even for a Makashi master.

“Why won’t you let me say it?” Dooku returned. A point. Obi-Wan mentally acknowledged it before moving on.

“I will listen, but I reserve to myself the right to remain silent and the right to a choice.” A flicker crossed Obi-Wan’s face, and in that moment Dooku’s respect for the young man jumped suddenly to a level he had not previously imagined. Maintaining to himself the right to not answer and the right to choose for himself? Kenobi was wise. The implication that even given a seeming choice, people were maneuvered into exactly what the Sith wanted was not lost on Dooku. He shot a look of slight surprise at Obi-Wan.

“Of course,” he said. “You speak as a man of the world, one who understands its ways, Master Kenobi.” Dooku bowed ironically, mockingly. Obi-Wan stood still, unperturbed.

“You give me too much credit, my lord.” he said.

“But more than that, your speech indicates the thought and wisdom of our greatest Sith,” Dooku continued. Obi-Wan remained in his lightly balanced, fencing pose, raising an eyebrow again.

“And now, too little.”

“Most of all, you speak as a Master of the extinct Jedi Order.” Obi-Wan froze in surprise, but pushed it aside and quickly regaining his footing.

“I am not old enough to be a Master, if the records speak true,” he remarked.

“That is only part of the record, my young friend,” Dooku said. “Like us, the Jedi chose to reward merit where they saw it.” Dooku began to pace up and down the room. “Have you never wished to learn to use your gift?”

“I would not want to use it as you do,” Obi-Wan countered. Dooku took no notice and continued to pace, beginning to circle the younger man.

“You are strong in the Force. You might become more powerful even than Sidious.”

“You offer me something that holds no temptation for me.” Obi-Wan said. “I do not wish to be twisted by what you would offer. I do not desire power for its own sake, or control of others. If I had my way, I would follow the path of the ancient Jedi.” Dooku looked at Obi-Wan, his expression hard to fathom.

“You would challenge the Sith?”

“I would try to overthrow them, with every atom of my being, so that the galaxy could live in peace and freedom.” Dooku shook his head.

“So you truly believe in those misguided ideals that the Jedi so foolishly taught?”

“I would die for them.”

“You will not consider my offer?”

“You have nothing to offer me that I might be tempted by.” Seemingly defeated, Dooku bowed and prepared to go.

“One request, Obi-Wan, if I may call you by your name?”

“My lord holds the right to take whatever he wishes,” Obi-Wan replied icily.

“Meet me at noon tomorrow for a game of chess. I believe you might make the first worthy opponent I have faced in a long time.”

“As you wish,” Obi-Wan replied with a slight bow. With a swish and swirl of his cloak, Dooku was gone. Obi-Wan sighed with relief. Now that he knew what Dooku was after, he was slightly less afraid… though he was more concerned. He would not put it past Dooku to have him kidnapped and pushed towards the dark, and if such an occurrence did take place, he doubted he could keep his training as a Jedi a secret for long.

Padme sat down on her bed, still scrubbing at her face with a washcloth. The makeup was always harder to get off than the dress, even if the dress had to be sewn onto her. There was a knock at the door, and Padme felt her heart suddenly jolt as she realized it was Obi-Wan. She wondered how she knew, but she had no time to ponder this as she rushed to the door and opened it. Her intuition proved correct. “Quickly.” Obi-Wan breathed. “Are you ready?”

“Y-yes.” she said. “Well, almost. I can’t get this stuff off.”

“May we come in, then?”

“Well, yes, but…” Obi-Wan slipped inside, followed by Anakin and Shmi. Hurriedly, he introduced them.

“Padme, this is Anakin and Shmi Skywalker. They’re friends.” Anakin looked up at Padme in wonder, even as she scrubbed her face with a washcloth.

“Are you an angel?” he asked.

“What?” Padme replied, distractedly.

“An angel. Obi-Wan told me stories. They live on the moons of Iego, I think…”

“Millius Prime,” Obi-Wan corrected absent-mindedly.

“They’re the most beautiful creatures in the universe,” Anakin continued self-assuredly.

“You’re just a little boy,” Padme said, fascinated. “How do you know so much?”

“Sometimes I get to go hear the deep-space pilots telling their stories…”

“Yarning,” Obi-Wan corrected again, standing by the door poised for action. No one took any notice.

“And Obi-Wan’s pretty smart too,” Anakin grinned.

“Thank you,” Obi-Wan said absently. “Now, if you’ll excuse me…” He grabbed Anakin and unceremoniously dragged him under Padme’s bed. Shmi dived after him. The footsteps of a guard paused outside the room. Go on, go on, Obi-Wan thought at him urgently. But the guard didn’t go on. The door of Padme’s room creaked open. Obi-Wan froze as Sidious’ presence wormed its way into his awareness. He drew a concealing fold of the Force over the three of them crouching under the bed.

“Ah, my dear young lady,” Sidious’ voice oozed. Obi-Wan swallowed. Even though Sidious did not know they were there, his voice sent a sickly sensation up the young man’s back. “I have no doubt you are wondering what you are doing here.”

“I do think I have a right to know why someone kidnaps me,” Padme retorted regally. Obi-Wan silently applauded her retort, but gently brushed her mind, warning her to be careful.

“All in good time, dear lady,” Sidious continued. “You will have your curiosity more than satisfied, I can tell you.” Obi-Wan almost attempted a mental probe to try to find out what Sidious was planning, but desisted. They had to stay hidden. “Let us just say that we did not agree with your politics. You were brought here to reconsider.”

That’s not his main purpose, Obi-Wan warned Padme silently. She tried to brush off his contact while retaining her unconcerned appearance. “I would have listened better, perhaps, were the threat—I beg your pardon, the request—made to me in less unpleasant surroundings.”

“Indeed,” Sidious said. He turned to go, pausing in the doorway. “You will not be harmed, and I suggest that you sit tight and wait patiently.” With that, the Sith left.

Obi-Wan scrambled out from under the bed. Padme gasped and sat down on the bed, terrified. “Are you all right?” Obi-Wan asked, concerned.

“That man!” Padme whispered. “He… he makes my skin crawl! And his voice slithers inside my head!” Obi-Wan inclined his head slightly.

“I’m sorry. I’ve been blocking him out for so long… I’ve forgotten how bad it can get.” He grabbed Padme’s wrist. “Come on. He’s set us back an extra fifteen minutes. If we don’t hurry, we’ll miss it.”

“Miss what?” Padme asked.

“Just hurry!”

With surprising speed, and still more astonishingly, few interruptions, they made their way down to the subterranean levels of the palace. Obi-Wan led them into a large, empty cavern beneath all the other rooms. “Almost no one ever comes down here,” he half-whispered. “It’s never warm here, even when the sun is blazing down aboveground. Even the Sith don’t care to come here, which makes it perfect for our purposes.” Obi-Wan slid off the hood of his cloak and bowed deeply as another figure came out of the shadows. “Master.” he said.

“Obi-Wan,” the man acknowledged him, taking his arm. “I’ve been worried about you… the witch hunts they’ve put out for the rest of us are getting fiercer.” Obi-Wan frowned, worried.

“Have they found any more of us?” he asked, concerned.

“Master Jabeckra went missing two days ago,” Qui-Gon said. “We’ve had reason to fear the worst.” Obi-Wan closed his eyes in regret.

“I’ll keep my eyes open. I’ll have to see if I can hack the system and find out if she’s been captured.” His voice was steady, the only emotion to be heard sorrow.

“Are you sure you aren’t in danger?” Qui-Gon asked.

“No,” Obi-Wan laughed. “Palpatine can’t see past the tip of his own nose. He’s too arrogant to think that I might possibly be a Jedi. Has that idler Quinlan turned up yet?”

“This idler Quinlan, is right here. He arrived two seconds ago.” Quinlan Vos materialized from the shadows, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “Hey, Kenobi. Long time no see.”

“I haven’t missed you,” Obi-Wan teased, the twinkle in his eyes giving him away.

“Still making the ladies swoon with that accent?”

“Not really. The last one slapped me in the face.”

“Okay, Kenobi. What did you do?”

“I,” Obi-Wan said aristocratically, “did nothing whatsoever. Obviously she did not like the idea of being told to clean up her act by a slave.” Quinlan burst out laughing.

“Let me guess, you read her the whole riot act, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t see reason to mince my words,” Obi-Wan admitted. “I gave her a shawl to cover it up, as well.”

“Excuse me,” Padme said in annoyance. “I’ve been languishing here in hopes of an introduction…” Quinlan gave a wicked grin.

“You’ve been waiting for him to introduce me? What a charming lady. Quinlan Vos, at your service.” Quinlan gave a wicked grin and a roguish bow. Padme eyed him coldly, with some inner amusement.

“I’m not in search of a date, merely an introduction.” Quinlan grinned again, elbowing Obi-Wan in the ribs.

“Might want to stick with this one, Kenobi,” the miscreant murmured out of the side of his mouth. Obi-Wan flushed hotly and smacked Quinlan upside the head.

“Shut up, Quinlan. I’m not interested.” Quinlan merely whistled innocently. Obi-Wan gave an annoyed huff and turned to Padme. “I apologize, Padme. This is my mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn, and this irredeemable reprobate is the scoundrel known to the world as Quinlan Vos.” Padme bowed.

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Jinn, Mr. Vos.” she greeted. Quinlan grinned and elbowed Obi-Wan again. In response, the Shendi firmly placed his heel on Quinlan’s toe.

“Pretty manners, too,” Quinlan said. As Obi-Wan’s heel landed on his foot, he added, “Ooooh! Cold, Kenobi, cold! You wound me.” Obi-Wan raised his eyes skyward in frank supplication.

“Lead me not into temptation…” he said. Anakin folded his hands, as in prayer.

“He can get there on his own,” the little boy added wickedly. Padme snorted.

“Isn’t someone going to explain the meaning of the incident someone referenced earlier, to me?”

“Naturally,” Qui-Gon Jinn said, shooting an amused look at the two young men. “Obi-Wan has a high standard for what constitutes decent dress, and is not about to doublespeak in order to sugarcoat the truth if it’s violated.” Padme laughed. Obi-Wan rolled his eyes.

“It would help if the Sith didn’t have such a penchant for revealing attire,” he said. “But that’s beside the point. Master, I brought Padme here because I’m afraid Sidious has some plan involving her.”

“But how are you…” Padme began.

“Going to help?” Quinlan finished for her. “You’d be surprised.”

“Padme, I think it’s time you knew.” Obi-Wan said. “What you are about to hear will contradict everything you’ve ever been told, but it’s true. I am absolutely sure that you can be trusted to keep silent about this…” He summoned a cylindrical object from Qui-Gon’s belt and ignited it. A perfectly slender shaft of blue energy extended from the hilt. Padme watched, open-mouthed, as Qui-Gon and Quinlan activated them as well. These were not red, like the weapons of the Sith; Obi-Wan’s was blue, while Qui-Gon’s and Quinlan’s were each green. It took her a moment to realize what they were, given the difference. Obi-Wan saluted her with the gleaming weapon.

“The Jedi do exist.”