Hello, everyone! This chapter has been such a bear to write, but hopefully it will be enjoyable, and the rest of the story will be easier from now on. 🙂
Also, I apologize for not posting something for Star Wars week yesterday. If need be, I’ll go overtime to make it up to all of you. 🙂
Warnings: None in particular.
Anakin seemed to be walking in a field of twilight. It was empty, and cold, and he was alone.
You don’t seem to understand what’s at stake here, child. The voice was… different. It seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.
“Who are you? Where am I?” Anakin shouted back.
Don’t you know this place?
“How can I? I’ve never been here in my life before!”
And yet, you’ve been here your entire life. Anakin turned to find something solid, something concrete. There was nothing.
Anakin, you must fight! You must fight the evil! Anakin fled. He didn’t know where he was running to, but he did know what he was running from. And he was too terrified to meet it face to face. He ran and ran without thinking of stopping. He didn’t dare to look back at the thing behind him. He knew it was following, silent, unseen, inexorable, beyond the senses, yet at the same time, horribly there, horribly present, horribly real. Anakin swallowed and ran harder. He thought he could hear Obi-Wan’s voice in his head—Anakin, it will not catch you if you fight it! You must fight your fear! Anakin! But the voice was only an illusion, only a dream. He ran harder.
Obi-Wan woke suddenly from a restless, disturbed half-sleep he had never meant to take. He could feel the disturbance in the Force around him, as tangible as a hard, metallic smell in the evening air. The air was tight with roiling potential energy, as through a storm was brewing. Slowly, he rose to his feet, wondering why no one had bothered to start their joint journey yet. The ship was silent, still, dark. Obi-Wan went to check on Anakin and Shmi.
After the rest, brief as it had been, and agitated, he felt much better. A nearly-instinctive healing trance had worked its magic on his injury, and it had begun to heal already. Obi-Wan thoughtfully turned his mind on Ventress, the apprentice he had—even if unintentionally—left behind. He had to rescue her, somehow, and soon. The mercuric temperament of the Dathomirian girl would dispose her to rapid, bitter despair, if she was not rescued soon.
There was a bitter wind blowing through the Force. He could feel it. There was an east wind coming, and many things would wither under its harsh and breathless blast, leaving only the things that could endure, that could last. And nothing, no matter how strong, lasted forever. Palpatine’s actions—his own existence—they rattled the foundations of the Sith Empire, threatening to topple it. And if his mere existence was worth so much, then what could he do… when he really set his mind to it? The thought was staggering, frightening, even.
Shmi was sleeping, peacefully, it seemed, but Obi-Wan could sense the foggy, murky inner turmoil behind feeble natural shields. He sent a soothing breath to her, and she relaxed. Obi-Wan moved on.
Anakin was not in his bunk. Despite the apparent peace of the moonlit, mysterious, magical, still night, Obi-Wan’s growing, nagging unease blossomed into a sharp prick of lucid, almost painful alarm. Something in the Force—something inside him in answer—screamed a warning half a second before a shuddering yet powerful whirlwind of hate caught Obi-Wan and hurled him backward, against the wall. Against the ringing in his ears, Obi-Wan struggled through the haze of his own half-stunned intellect and scrambled to his feet. Still trying to regain his balance, he chased off after the fleeing boy.
It was early in the morning when Ninane found herself pounding down the hallways of the Imperial Palace, disturbing the few who were already awake, perhaps even awakening a few of those who were not. She paused in front of the entrance to Dooku’s quarters, trying to improve her haphazard appearance, but before she had finished, the door opened of its own accord and Dooku’s deep voice rolled majestically out to meet her. “Enter.”
Swallowing hard, Ninane stepped into the quarters, an elegant and impressive antechamber and study with the bedroom hidden at the back. Ninane slowly tiptoed into the room, feeling very small, insignificant, and frightened. Dooku might pretend familiarity with her, but she knew her place far too well to offer it in return, and here, on the Sith Lord’s turf, she was reminded yet again of her own lowliness. In her own laboratory, she might offer objections, but here, in the inner sanctum of the Sith, she could not even raise a hand to defend herself if attacked, unless Dooku willed it.
Dooku was already up and dressed immaculately, not a hair out of place, despite the early hour. Ninane swallowed as he turned to face her. “Ah, Ninane. I trust you have the test results I wanted?” Ninane swallowed again.
“Yes, my lord. But I think they must be impossible.” She handed the print-off sheet that she had obtained from the computer to Dooku, who perused it.
“Over 20,000—too high to accurately test, in fact?” Dooku said, one silver eyebrow raised. Ninane swallowed, a third time.
“Yes, my lord. I wasn’t sure what it was, a malfunction or a mis-calibration, or if it was something else, so I brought it to you…” she babbled, her words falling away as she realized that Dooku was looking at her.
“It was undoubtedly a malfunction,” he replied. “A midichlorien count that high is impossible.” Ninane gulped and bowed.
“I can re-calibrate the equipment and bring back an accurate count before this evening,” she offered, tremulously.
“No need,” Dooku said in his sonorous voice. “The matter is of no importance, after all.” Ninane heaved a sigh of relief. “Of course, you will keep this confidential,” Dooku continued, authoritatively. Ninane bobbed her head hurriedly.
“Yes, my lord, of course,” she said. Dooku’s smile was thin and knifing as a cold wind blowing shards of ice before it.
“I have no doubt you will,” he said.