Website: Moon of Moons http://www.geocities.com/jedilover99/
Special note: Many thanks to Alex for awesome beta support and friendship.
Summary: Love, jealousy and the power of darkness.
The whir of anti-thrusters caught Obi-Wan's attention seconds before the ship appeared out of the mist. The red, bulky F-class transport hovered a moment before landing on the platform in the forest clearing. Its deep hum, reminding him of the chants sung at evening prayer.
With his hood up and his cloak wrapped about him, Obi-Wan stood behind the official greeters, deferring to their seniority. He watched three similarly cloaked and hooded figures disembark from the ship, wondering at their history. This small Jedi Temple, on the forested planet of Capaah, rarely saw visitors, and only extended invitations twice a year to fellow Jedi seeking peace and renewal. It was not only a great honor to live at this Temple, but to be allowed to visit.
At the bottom of the ramp, the Jedi greeted one another with deep bows.
"Welcome, Jedi brethren," Master Ogu said from within the shroud of his voluminous robe.
These were the only words spoken; traditional, expected and revered.
The Jedi monks led their visitors single file, receding into the forest along a worn footpath that led away from the landing platform. In moments they heard the transport leaving, once again cutting off the tiny enclave from the rest of the universe.
The forest thrummed with the Living Force, embracing and propelling them deeper and deeper into the green. Without the path and without the Force to guide, one could easily be lost in the vast, untamed environment of the planet. Perhaps the very wildness of this place explained why the Jedi had built a temple here a millennia ago, to be closer to the origin of the universe.
It was nearly an hour before the group arrived at the Temple compound. The ancient structure seemed to have been birthed from the very ground and embedded within the forest. Vines clung to its sides, and trees grew snugly against its stone walls. Several trees had even grown from within, up and out, requiring the roof to be opened to allow for the teeming life of the forest.
The rectangular, stone Temple stood nearly as tall as the trees and was characterized by great arched doors and vaulted ceilings. At its center was an open courtyard, again filled with trees and other native vegetation.
But the Temple was only to be glimpsed now. The group walked passed its main entrance and along the path to the living quarters of the enclave. Each Jedi monk and each visitor was given his own stone cottage. The little buildings had been standing nearly as long as the Temple and were scattered among the trees, some in rows, and others randomly placed. Though quite small, the cottages afforded a measure of privacy for a community that shared daily tasks, meditation and meals.
The visitors were shown to their cottages and the next traditional words spoken, "Ready yourself for the cleansing."
The monks then waited outside the cottages for the newcomers to strip out of their tunics and re-emerge wearing only their robes. This tradition had been explained to the visitors prior to their arrival, so that the ceremony could be completed with as few words as possible. Though the monks were not a silent sect, they did believe in an economy of words.
In moments, the visitors had rejoined the monks and were led along the path once again. This time the path took them to a secluded pool at the base of a waterfall.
Though Obi-Wan had no role in this ceremony, he was occasionally asked to attend. The monks had taken a great liking to him since he had been assigned as the Knight Protector of the enclave two years ago. It was a great honor for one so young to be chosen by the Jedi Council and the monks, but also a difficult path to accept. Though he was not a monk, the twenty-five year old Obi-Wan essentially lived the life of one, and would remain at this Temple indefinitely.
One by one, the visitors were addressed and asked to disrobe and stand under the cool water of the falls. This was the first glimpse that Obi-Wan had of the guests. He was not surprised to see that the first was an elderly male human. It was often not until late in life that Jedi were able to visit this distant Temple.
The second guest was more of a curiosity. She was a Bothan. The fur-covered Bothans were known for their skills in espionage and not for their Force-sensitivity. Thus, a Jedi Bothan was unique indeed. Obi-Wan watched with interest and reverence as the Bothan was prepared for her stay at the Temple. Her robe was taken and she stood under the waterfall, her light brown fur becoming dark under the torrent of water. After the ceremonial words had been spoken, she walked from the pool and was handed her robe and led back to her cottage by one of the monks.
The last Jedi to be cleansed stepped to the edge of the pool. Obi-Wan identified him as a human male by his large, bare feet sticking out from under his robe.
"Name yourself who comes to be cleansed by the waters of life, waters of ice from the mountain high," Brother Negla said, raising his hand to the Jedi.
"I am Qui-Gon Jinn, master first degree of the Jedi Order."
"Step into the water's embrace, Qui-Gon Jinn," Negla said, holding out his arms to the shallow pond.
The Jedi's robe fell from his shoulders, pooling at his feet, and revealing a tall, lean and well-muscled man. Obi-Wan swallowed as he stared, concealed by the hood of his robe. His lips parted as the man stepped into the cold water without flinching, legs and buttock muscles rippling with the grace of a feline. The falls tumbled down from one hundred feet above, sluicing over the hard body.
Distantly, Obi-Wan heard Brother Negla completing the words of the ceremony. "The water cleanses and renews."
In seconds, the man's long brown hair was drenched and his body ritually cleansed.
"Now emerge in welcome."
The knight stepped out from under the falls, wiping hair and water from his eyes. At the water's edge, one of the monks handed him his robe, and then Master Ogu nodded to Obi-Wan to lead the visitor to his cottage.
The request surprised Obi-Wan. Even though the ceremony was complete and technically anyone could lead the Jedi to his quarters, usually one of the monks fulfilled that task. But it was not Obi-Wan's place to question the senior brethren, and so he turned, retreating down the path with Qui-Gon Jinn following him, hooded and silent.
At the cottage door, Obi-Wan reached his hand out, opening the door for the newcomer, but not stepping inside.
"You should warm yourself by the fire," he said as he bowed. "Then join us for evening meditation."
The appearance of his host's hand made Qui-Gon curious to see more. This Jedi had kept himself entirely concealed, shrouded within his heavy cloak. Qui-Gon leaned forward to glimpse the face so deeply hidden, but the young man turned and walked away.
There were numerous stories surrounding the Temple of the Ancients, but Qui-Gon had never hoped to visit. Only six to ten Jedi visited each year, and with tens of thousands of Jedi in existence, odds were you would never make the trip-unless you were accepted as a monk upon release from the field. And that was definitely something Qui-Gon did not want for himself-if he lasted that long. The monks not only spent all their waking hours living simply off the land and practicing ancient meditation techniques, but they were also celibate. A practice Qui-Gon had never understood.
Inside his cottage, Qui-Gon found that a fire had been lit in the hearth. He sat down in a handmade wooden chair and stretched out his long legs until the soles of his feet nearly touched the dancing flames. He very much needed this break from active duty and was grateful to Master Yoda for suggesting and arranging the retreat.
Qui-Gon was especially looking forward to reading the ancient texts. The texts were prized among the Jedi for their handmade paper, meticulously handwritten calligraphy and exquisitely drawn scrollwork. And only those at the Temple of the Ancients could view these leather-bound treasures first hand.
Now warmed to the core, Qui-Gon dressed in his full Jedi uniform and robe and stepped outside. The forest had darkened quickly into evening, but oil lamps held on poles outside each cottage and along the paths, illuminated the shadows. All was quiet save for a distant chant that Qui-Gon assumed was coming from the Temple. He took to the path, wondering idly when the lamps had been lit, and eager to see the Temple and the host of monks who called it home.
As he walked, the chant grew stronger, like a prayer rising from the night. He had not known that the Jedi brethren sang as part of their meditation. It was something that many Jedi would find enchanting.
The Temple doors were open when he arrived, an orange glow coming from within. He stepped into the ancient structure and was immediately overwhelmed by the glow of a thousand candles amid a room with a vaulted ceiling and flying buttresses. The flickering of the tiny flames was the only source of light.
His eyes quickly fell downward to the center of the room where the beautiful chant was originating. Ten monks stood facing one another in a circle, with their heads slightly bowed and covered by the hoods of their robes. Around them sat or knelt several dozen monks and the two other Jedi visitors.
Qui-Gon moved behind the gathering, his eyes transfixed on the scene before him. The sound of the voices raised in chant was lovely. It resonated in the ancient halls and within him. These Jedi were very different from the Jedi he knew at the Temple on Coruscant.
As he listened, one voice rose above the others, taking the chant more into song. The voice calmed him and called to him with its clarity. And though the singer had taken a half-step forward, all Qui-Gon could see of him were his hands. Those were the hands of the young man who had shown him to his cottage. Those hands and that voice belonged to the same young man. Now, if only he could see his face.
The words were sung in Veda, a language Qui-Gon recognized as that of the first Jedi. Veda had developed to symbolize and resonate the very essence of the Force. It was taught to the Initiates at the Temple on Coruscant, but because most Jedi traveled into the far reaches of the galaxy, Basic was the language of choice. Veda had become only an honored tradition for the Jedi, but here on Capaah, it was very much alive, at least during meditation.
When the hymn came to its lovely, but melancholy end, Qui-Gon was surprised by the silence that followed. No one came forward to speak or to begin another chant after the beauteous prayer. He took the quiet as a chance to reach out to the Force. With a deep breath, he closed his eyes and centered himself, letting the Force's energy flow around and through him.
He was content to share the silence with his fellow Jedi and soon realized this was part of the evening meditation. Through the Force he was aware of all the life around him-from each Jedi's presence to the moss that grew at the base of the walls and to the moth that fluttered above the warm flames. But shining most brightly in this tapestry of the Living Force was the young man whose voice had captivated him only moments before.
It was not uncommon for Jedi to touch each other's minds during meditation. Though shields were carefully in place to maintain a level of privacy, the Jedi brushed against each other's presence like the feathers of an avian. But Qui-Gon's exploration went further. He lingered on the young man's Force signature, gently, enticingly flitting about him. It was not wrong, but it was bold.
Obi-Wan felt the initial caress, as he felt those of the other Jedi, but he didn't expect this one caress to remain. For whatever reason, Qui-Gon Jinn, master of the first degree, was finding him more interesting than the rest of the teeming life on the planet. Obi-Wan smiled to himself and then nudged Qui-Gon's mind-a polite way of asking him to move on.
The request was heeded after a moment's hesitation, and Obi-Wan returned to his meditation without further interruption. Long minutes later, Master Ogu quietly ended the meditation by inviting everyone to evening meal. Obi-Wan opened his eyes to see Qui-Gon looking in his direction, but Obi-Wan turned and walked out of the hall with the other monks.
At the communal dining hall, located in a separate building, the monks were served a buffet style meal. Each took a clay-fired plate and silver utensils and walked through the line, choosing from an appetizing arrangement of vegetarian fare.
Obi-Wan sat at the end of one long table, setting down his plate and utensils and shrugging out of his robe. The others did the same, certainly making the Jedi visitors feel more at ease. At least now they could see their hosts.
Brother Ece Tukiya sat across from Obi-Wan, also shedding his robe.
"I almost missed the Meditation of Welcomes," Ece said as he took a bite of golden millet bread.
"No doubt you were engrossed in your writings again," Obi-Wan said, smiling at his friend.
"You know me too well."
Perhaps because Ece was closest in age to Obi-Wan of anyone at the Temple, the two had become good friends. Normally, forty was considered too young to become a monk, but after a bounty hunter had severed Ece's weapon hand in a surprise attack, the knight chose not to be fitted with a prosthetic and withdrew his name from the active duty roster. A petition had been successfully made for him to retire to Capaah where he quickly mastered the art of calligraphy with his left hand. Ece now spent his days copying the ancient texts and writing his own insights about the Force.
"You sang beautifully tonight," Ece said.
"Yes, he did," Qui-Gon interrupted as he came up to the table.
The two Jedi looked up from their meals to the newcomer.
"May I join you?" Qui-Gon asked, nodding to the empty place next to Ece.
Ece nodded and moved his robe aside to make way for their guest.
"I'm Qui-Gon Jinn." The tall Jedi took his seat and shed his robe.
"I'm Brother Ece Tukiya," Ece said, appraising the man at his side.
"Obi-Wan Kenobi," Obi-Wan said with a slight nod.
"Not Brother Kenobi?" Qui-Gon asked.
"I'm not a monk."
"That's evident by your active duty attire, and the lightsaber at your hip. But you're not a visitor either, Knight Kenobi?"
"I'm the Knight Protector of this Temple."
Obi-Wan knew he need not explain the significance of the title Knight Protector. A master Jedi would be aware that only knights of superior lightsaber skill and connection with the Force were considered for this mostly symbolic, yet highly revered position.
"I am honored to finally make your acquaintance," Qui-Gon said, bowing his head slightly. "And you, Brother Tukiya, you look too young to be retired. What special talent brought you here?"
Ece lifted his right arm, revealing the stump.
"Brother Ece is the Temple's finest calligrapher," Obi-Wan said, nodding to his friend and ignoring his crude display. "Perhaps tomorrow you will see him at work in the library."
"I would enjoy that. If that's all right with you, Brother?" Qui-Gon asked, courteously.
"Of course," Ece said, giving a little smile. "We are here to serve."
After dinner, Ece was called away by one of the other monks.
"Would you mind if I walked with you, Knight Kenobi?" Qui-Gon asked, as he stood and cleared his place setting.
"Not at all." Obi-Wan took his plate and set it in the dish receptacle.
They each donned their robes and walked from the dining hall back into the night. The forest at night was a glorious, if not ominous thing. Its darkness seemed endless and held only at bay by the flickering lamplight.
"Curious," Qui-Gon said, breaking the silence between them.
"What is?" Obi-Wan asked, glancing at the taller man.
"You," Qui-Gon said with a smile.
"And why is that?"
"You dress as a knight, but follow the ways of the monks," Qui-Gon said as they came upon the first of the cottages. "I wonder how many of their ways you've adopted."
Obi-Wan stopped walking. "And I wonder why you think it is your place to ask."
"Have I mis-stepped?"
"A master of the first degree should know the answer to that without having to ask," Obi-Wan said, lifting his chin.
"Does something amuse you, Master Jinn?"
"I'm beginning to see why you were chosen as the Knight Protector."
Obi-Wan's brow tightened. He could not see how this conversation had any bearing on such a significant appointment.
"If there's nothing else, I'll be retiring for the evening." Obi-Wan bowed and then continued up the path to his quarters.
Qui-Gon watched as Obi-Wan receded into the darkness, hoping the young man might look back over his shoulder. When he did not, Qui-Gon grinned. He was subtly amused by Obi-Wan, but not in a disrespectful way. Instead, it was an intense curiosity that was causing him to test the young knight's boundaries. Though Obi-Wan made a show of putting up defenses, Qui-Gon would bet a Republic cruiser that with a little effort he could get to know the other side of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Back in the solitude of his cottage, Obi-Wan removed his robe, boots and belt. He walked out the back door to grab some firewood for the hearth. He looked up at the night sky through the clearing in the trees and was surprised to see a shooting star.
"Beautiful," he whispered into the night.
The bright streak lasted only seconds, but Obi-Wan savored it. He tried never to take the beauty around him for granted. As an apprentice he had been eager to see the galaxy and to help others, but he quickly grew to understand the words of the old masters: The life of a Jedi is not an easy one.
He had seen horrible things in the eleven years he was apprenticed to Master Hdon. And yet, when he was offered the position of Knight Protector at the age of twenty-three, one year before the end of his apprenticeship, he spent days meditating before accepting. Though the life of a Jedi was often dangerous and lonely, it was the only life Obi-Wan had known or wanted. But the Force obviously had other plans for him, as it revealed in his meditations. Capaah was his destiny.
And so, Obi-Wan's apprenticeship was completed on Capaah. Though the monks were kind and generous and Obi-Wan had developed true friendships with several of them, he still was unsure of what destiny he could possibly be fulfilling. Every day he participated in the Temple activities and chores, but he always looked forward to his solitary nights when he could meditate or read uninterrupted.
But tonight that shooting star seemed to be telling him something. He stared up into the deep sapphire sky and wondered at the message. Maybe he was beginning to take life on Capaah for granted? He had settled into his new role rather quickly, but perhaps the prospect of spending an undetermined number of years here was making him, in some ways, passive.
He had become lax on his saber drilling. Though Temple chores kept him physically active, he had been in part chosen as the Knight Protector for his skill with a lightsaber. Even if Capaah was a quiet and nearly forgotten world, it was his duty to be prepared for any circumstance.
I'll get back to my daily saber exercises tomorrow, Obi-Wan thought as he brought the logs into his cottage.
In moments the fire was warming and lighting the small house, and Obi-Wan sat down in a chair next to it to read. This was truly his favorite time of day, when he was alone with his thoughts and not sharing a meditation with dozens of other Jedi. As satisfying and as bonding an experience as that could be, group meditations were a bit intrusive-as this evening's proved to be.
Obi-Wan remembered how the Jedi visitor, Qui-Gon Jinn, had brushed against his mind and then lingered. That had not happened to him since he was an Initiate and he and his friends had tested each other's shields during meditation. Qui-Gon's touch was certainly an exploration, but of a different nature. As he had told Obi-Wan just moments ago, he was curious about him. That intrigued Obi-Wan. The master Jedi was handsome and his Force touch had been pleasant. It would be interesting to see where Qui-Gon's curiosity led him.
The next day, Obi-Wan only saw Qui-Gon from a distance at meditation and first meal. He was surprised that Qui-Gon did not approach, but didn't think about it again as he went about his morning routine. He seldom came into contact with the visitors anyway, since they generally immersed themselves in spiritual pursuits while at the Temple.
After a light meal of rice, fruit and broth, Obi-Wan retreated to one of the many falls nestled in the forest around the Temple. The misty air and constant sound of the water was a perfect setting for his lightsaber drills. Having neglected this part of his training for weeks now, Obi-Wan prepared for an intense workout. He stripped out of his robe and tunics, baring his upper body to the cool morning air.
Standing with his legs apart, Obi-Wan ignited his lightsaber, the unique hum soothing in its familiarity. He reached for the Force and began an advanced exercise in one of the fighting disciplines, pushing his body to its limit.
When he was nearly halfway through the intricate sequence he sensed a presence approaching. Without interrupting his routine, Obi-Wan reached out in greeting and was surprised to find Qui-Gon Jinn greeting him in return. That gentle communication nearly made him stumble, but he nevertheless completed the exercise flawlessly.
"Good morning," Qui-Gon said as he stepped into the clearing and continued to approach.
"Good morning," Obi-Wan answered, setting his deactivated saber on his robe and picking up his inner tunic to use as a towel. "Shouldn't you be on a tour this morning?"
"Master Ogu mentioned something about a guided tour of the Temple grounds, but he didn't specify a time."
Obi-Wan noticed the man's eyes flick over the movement of his hand as he used the tunic to wipe the sweat from his chest.
"I'm sure he meant for you to join him after first meal."
"I understood that visitors are encouraged, but not required to adopt the schedule of the monks."
Obi-Wan nodded as he dropped his tunic to the ground. This was true, but he was not pleased with the man's independence. "You are not interested in adopting the Temple's schedule and yet you chose to take your retreat in a place where ritual is at the very core of daily life."
"Does that bother you, Knight Kenobi?"
"Only that I find it puzzling," Obi-Wan said, reaching down for his belt and his saber and securing both about his waist.
"And everything and everyone is straightforward here?"
"Of course not, but the old ways are unchanging. I would think anyone who chose to come to Capaah would do so because of the traditions, not in spite of them."
"Is that why you came here?" Qui-Gon asked, raising an eyebrow.
Obi-Wan sighed, unwilling to let Qui-Gon lead him into revealing something about himself. "If you are looking for enlightenment you should speak with one of the senior brethren."
"You don't like to be disturbed, do you?"
"Are you asking whether I appreciate having my evening meditation and morning exercise intruded upon? Then no, I do not like to be disturbed."
Qui-Gon bowed slightly. "And staring at my nakedness like a bantha in heat is just one of your many duties on Capaah?"
"Excuse me?" Obi-Wan asked, indignantly.
"Yesterday," Qui-Gon said slowly as he stepped closer, "I could feel your eyes on me."
Obi-Wan blushed, the accusation catching him off guard. "I was asked by Master Ogu to observe the ritual of cleansing."
"Yes, but yours were the only eyes that I felt," Qui-Gon said, putting his hand on Obi-Wan's arm.
Obi-Wan looked down at the large hand. It felt warm and its touch resonated through him.
"You couldn't know that," Obi-Wan shot back. "Everyone was hooded and cloaked. There were several of us there."
The Jedi master smiled. "You know better than that. Every living thing has a distinct presence in the Force. And yours shines above all else here."
"That's ridiculous," Obi-Wan said, taking a step back and extricating himself from the touch.
At the same moment, they both sensed another presence coming into the clearing. Qui-Gon turned to see Brother Tukiya walking toward them.
"There you are, Master Jinn," Ece said with a smile. "We've been looking for you." His eyes flickered between the two men and he seemed to sense the undeniable tension. "Is everything all right?"
"Yes, of course," Obi-Wan said, quickly. "I was just finishing my saber drills." He picked up his clothes, and slipped his robe over his shoulders.
"And I was about to return to the Temple," Qui-Gon said, immediately heading off.
"Good. I can escort you," Ece offered, stepping in time with the other Jedi's long strides.
Obi-Wan followed a few paces behind, staring at Qui-Gon's back. How had Qui-Gon felt that lustful gaze at the waterfall? Had Obi-Wan been broadcasting his feelings? He hadn't thought so, but it had been a long time since he had been attracted to anyone.
The notion caught him by surprise. The monks were celibate and as the Knight Protector, Obi-Wan was entrusted with protecting their ways, and in the process had set aside his own desires. Up until yesterday that had not been a problem.
At the Temple, Qui-Gon joined Master Ogu's tour in progress with the other Jedi visitors. They were shown the site where the construction on the Temple had first begun so many centuries before, and explained the daily routine of the monks, noting that no automated technology was used to accomplish their tasks.
Qui-Gon found their devotion to simplicity and to the Force honorable, but shuddered at their isolation. Though he treasured and appreciated solitude, he found its use here to be extreme and out of balance with the rest of the Jedi Order. Perhaps it was merely a matter of perspective, after all, Qui-Gon was an active duty knight, but somehow the remoteness of this Temple disturbed him.
"And how do you communicate with the Temple on Coruscant?" Qui-Gon asked Master Ogu.
"We have a standard communications room located in one of the Temple's towers, but its use is limited to myself and the Knight Protector."
"Then you are in contact with Coruscant on a regular basis?" the Bothan Jedi asked.
"We contact the main Temple only four or five times a year, but should they wish to make contact with us the commpanel sounds a tone that can be heard on the Temple grounds."
Everyone seemed satisfied with that answer, and so the master led them to the library.
Located in a long hall adjacent to the Temple, the library had the same high vaulted ceiling as the rest of the structure, but this ceiling was made of stone. Qui-Gon smiled as he marveled at the beauty of the irregular stones pressed against each other and held in place by the sheer weight of the outer walls.
"No mortar of any kind was used to build this portion of the Temple," Brother Tukiya said as he got up from his writing table.
Master Ogu smiled at the young monk. "I must leave to prepare bread for evening meal. Would you mind continuing the tour, Brother?"
"Thank you, Master. I would enjoy that."
The two monks bowed to each other and then Master Ogu left quietly to attend to his task.
"Why was this hall constructed differently?" the elder Jedi male visitor asked.
"It is believed that the early Jedi wanted a structure for the library that would reflect how knowledge is linked to previous knowledge."
"As each lesson builds on the previous lesson," Qui-Gon added.
"Yes, exactly. If any of these stones were removed, just as if any lesson was missed in our training, it would de-stabilize the entire structure," Ece explained.
"Fascinating," the Bothan said.
The visitors' eyes drifted around the hall, taking in its breadth and noting the book-lined shelves around its perimeter.
"Please, let me show you what I am working on." Brother Tukiya directed the three Jedi visitors to follow him to his work table where a large, oversized book lay open and a pristine sheet of white vellum lay next to it. On the vellum, Ece was copying with exacting detail the pages of the book.
"This is incredible," the Bothan said. "How long does it take for you to copy each book?"
"I don't know," Ece said, smiling mischievously. "I have yet to finish one."
"You do beautiful work." Qui-Gon admired the precision and elegance of the man's script.
"Thank you," Ece said, bowing. "Please, feel free to look at any books that you wish."
This invitation made each of the Jedi visitors smile and they quickly went in different directions, scanning the shelves.
Qui-Gon noted that Ece followed him from a slight distance, seeming to watch him with a piqued interest. He had also sensed the younger man's observations of him the night before at mealtime. Though Qui-Gon did not think that Ece was attracted to him, the younger Jedi seemed to find him worth watching.
After a few moments, Ece approached. "Are you enjoying your stay on Capaah?"
"Yes, though I have been here less than one rotation of the planet." Qui-Gon removed an ancient book of tomes from a shelf.
"How do you intend on spending your time?"
"Most likely as other visitors have done... in meditation and reflection."
"That's good." Ece used the stump of his right arm to scratch under his chin. "You're welcome to spend as much time as you like here in the library. It's always very quiet. Or you may prefer to take a book to your cottage to read... alone."
Qui-Gon's eyes narrowed on the monk. Was he hinting at something? Well, it wouldn't do to keep guessing.
"Or perhaps I should seek enlightenment by speaking with my Jedi brethren," Qui-Gon said, watching Brother Tukiya's reactions carefully. "In fact, I wouldn't mind finishing that conversation I began with Knight Kenobi this morning. He seems to be a very enlightened young man."
Ece's eyes widened briefly. "We are all here to serve, though for your purposes you may find your time better spent with Master Ogu or one of the other senior brethren."
"Thank you," Qui-Gon said with a nod. "I'll keep that in mind."
Brother Tukiya bowed and retreated to his work copying the ancient text.
Though he had not sensed any animosity from the other man, Qui-Gon had gotten the impression that the monk didn't want him spending time with Obi-Wan. Or was he reading too much into their conversation? After all, Obi-Wan was the Knight Protector and not a monk. If Qui-Gon was truly seeking enlightenment he should follow Brother Tukiya's advice and speak with one of the senior brethren.
Just before mid-day, Qui-Gon and the other visitors were directed to the kitchen for supplies. All mid-day meals were taken at the individual's convenience, since the monks' schedules differed depending on their tasks and meditations.
In the kitchen, they were given a basket filled with nuts, uncooked rice, fruit, bread, aged cheese and a bottle of wine--all products made or harvested by the monks.
Qui-Gon returned to his cottage with his bounty, pleased at the variety and quantity of food at this remote outpost. Inside his sturdy shelter he set the basket on the table and removed his robe and boots. The day was now his, at least until evening meditation, and Qui-Gon was looking forward to doing absolutely nothing. But first he needed to get the fire going in his hearth. It seemed the welcoming fire of the previous day was a one-time gift. He was now expected to provide and regulate his own warmth.
He stepped out the back door of his cottage and found that at least a week's worth of wood had been cut and stacked neatly. He would be at the Temple for one moon cycle, but he did not mind the prospect of chopping wood. In fact, it sounded quite pleasurable. As Master Ogu had explained on the tour, manual labor was a form of meditation.
In moments, a fire was burning and Qui-Gon had settled at the small wooden table, shelling nuts for his meal. Just as he got into the rhythm of his task, he was interrupted by a knock at the door. Instinctively, he reached out in the Force to identify his caller, and smiled when he sensed the familiar, bright presence.
"Come in, Obi-Wan."
The door opened slowly and Obi-Wan stepped inside, giving a slight bow of his head.
"Would you like to join me for mid-day meal?"
Obi-Wan seemed to take in the scene and then bowed slightly again. "I am here to make an apology."
Qui-Gon gave his full attention to the young man. With the door open behind him, Obi-Wan fairly glowed with the intensity of daylight behind him.
"My behavior yesterday at the waterfall was inappropriate," Obi-Wan began, taking another step into the cottage. "I apologize not only for my misconduct, but also for not recognizing how it had affected you until you mentioned it this morning."
Qui-Gon was tempted to smile, pleased by the apology. "Thank you. I appreciate you coming here to tell me."
"And now I'll leave you to your privacy."
"Wait," Qui-Gon said, standing. "Why not stay and talk a while?"
The young knight shook his head. "Thank you, no. Perhaps another time."
"Yes, another time."
He watched Obi-Wan go, closing the door behind him as he left. What was it about that knight that so intrigued him? Was it merely the young man's obvious beauty? Or was it the way he held himself apart from the others, belonging and yet not belonging?
"He's unhappy here," Qui-Gon said, as he resettled in his chair.
If true, it was an unfortunate circumstance for a man in Obi-Wan's position. The status of Knight Protector generally lasted for many years until the knight was no longer capable or willing to perform his duties.
Something about Qui-Gon made things more difficult, more complicated for Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan prided himself on the careful treatment of others, but for some reason when his trespass had been pointed out to him, he had instinctively defended his actions. And yet, he had plainly been in the wrong.
Why had it been so hard to apologize? Certainly Qui-Gon's presence was formidable, but not intimidating to another Jedi. Though Obi-Wan imagined Qui-Gon could be very intimidating if he chose to be. There was something about Qui-Gon that made Obi-Wan pause, catch his breath before he even realized the effect. The reaction required further contemplation, but as Obi-Wan approached his cottage, he spotted Brother Tukiya waiting in the shadows outside his door, and momentarily put thoughts of the Jedi visitor aside.
"Ece. What brings you here this time of day?"
"Are you not pleased to see me?"
"Of course, but usually you are deep in your work at the library."
"I thought we might spend some time together this afternoon. If that is amenable to you?"
Obi-Wan chuckled. "I seem to be popular today."
"Oh, do you have other plans?"
"No, I declined the previous offer." The question mark on Ece's face prompted Obi-Wan to explain. "Master Jinn invited me to join him for mid-day meal, but I declined, of course. He would be better suited to spend time with Master Ogu."
"Yes, I suggested as much to him this morning."
Obi-Wan nodded. "Perhaps he is not accustomed to taking advice."
"I believe this retreat is not what he is looking for."
Obi-Wan looked at Ece more closely. Usually the brother was not so quick to judge. "Do you have concerns about our visitor?"
"No," Ece said quickly. "Only that he makes his own way. Does not try to blend in."
"Perhaps I should watch him more carefully?"
"No, Obi-Wan it's only been a day. He is no bother."
Obi-Wan's brow knit with the apparent contradiction in Ece's comments. He respected this monk very much and it was not like Ece to be so vocal.
"I'll keep an eye on him," Obi-Wan said, reaching his hand out to open his door.
"No please don't," Ece said, putting his hand over Obi-Wan's.
Obi-Wan looked into his friend's eyes, confused. What emotion was he reading there? "Ece? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Ece said, smiling and laughing lightly as he withdrew his hand.
"Are you certain? I have time if you'd like to come inside and talk."
Ece swallowed, then looked over his shoulder to the residential compound. "Maybe another time," he said, nodding to Obi-Wan and turning to leave.
"Ece..." Obi-Wan reached out to his friend, but Ece was already in motion.
"Another time, Obi-Wan," Ece called back to him, walking away rapidly.
Obi-Wan shook his head, puzzled by the strange behavior. He and Ece had always shared a comfortable friendship, spending many hours in each other's company, often not speaking a word. This awkward retreat made Obi-Wan wonder.
Several days later after last meal, the senior brethren left the communal hall together, waiting outside for the other Jedi to join them. Once they were all gathered, they set-off along a candlelit path to the Temple. Not a word was spoken, heightening the evening song of the forest around them. Their steps were soft on the earth and the rustle of their cloaks a mere whisper in the cool evening as insects and frogs chirped, and avians settled in the trees.
Qui-Gon was certain this ritual had been performed a thousand times before, but he felt at once its freshness and the monks' peace at its familiarity. In the Temple they gathered in a circle, sitting on handmade benches. Qui-Gon looked around at the bowed heads, his understanding and appreciation for these gentle Jedi growing with each moment.
It was time once again to reflect on the nature of the Force, on the ebb and flow of life, on the questions that were always there and never answered, and on the quiet re-affirmation of being Jedi and among Jedi. It was this opening of minds, this seeking of connection that so amazed and enthralled Qui-Gon. Each day these men and women took time to reach out to one another-intimately. A remarkable and respectful intimacy when one compared it to the clumsy and often complicated physical intimacy that most people shared. And yet, few other Jedi in the Order had incorporated this ritual into their daily lives. Yes, they were all capable of this level of communication with each other, but perhaps the isolation of Capaah made it a necessity and not merely an ability.
Even with newcomers among them, the Temple Jedi were open to sharing themselves. Eager to welcome and reach out to new Force presences in their midst. Once again, Qui-Gon was tempted to reach out to one presence in particular. He resisted at first, enjoying the harmony and strength in the group's unity, but gradually he felt Obi-Wan above the others.
And why was this, he wondered. He had not sought Obi-Wan's presence, and he did not sense that Obi-Wan was seeking his. Was it merely that Obi-Wan possessed a deeper connection to the Living Force which shone for all to see? Though the Jedi could feel one another's presence, they could not reach into each others' minds to read thoughts and intentions without permission. That left Qui-Gon feeling this attraction was of a more personal nature.
With Obi-Wan's apology still fresh in his mind, Qui-Gon drew closer-metaphysically. Discretion was key since this young man had a keen sense of space and personal identity, but Qui-Gon could not stop his open curiosity, especially now having seen a chink in the armor. The vulnerability expressed in that most sincere apology had touched Qui-Gon deeply. He knew such an apology would not have come easily to a young man holding so much responsibility.
And so with caution, Qui-Gon observed and absorbed all that was Obi-Wan in the Living Force, finding himself transfixed by his very presence.
It was as if no time had passed when Master Ogu stood, ending the meditation. No words were needed and the others began to slowly rise as well. For some, it would take several minutes to come fully out of their meditation, but gradually all rose from their benches and left the Temple proper.
Qui-Gon's eyes sought Obi-Wan's, and as the young man turned to leave, Qui-Gon stepped toward him, but not before Brother Tukiya interrupted.
"Your connection to the Force is great," Ece spoke quietly.
Ece's eyes shifted, looking toward Obi-Wan. "His presence is beautiful in the Force."
"Yes," Qui-Gon admitted.
"All who know him, admire him."
Qui-Gon nodded again.
"It is essential that he not become distracted. The Knight Protector must maintain a level of surveillance and readiness so that we may commune with the Force."
The brief sermon surprised Qui-Gon, but he graciously bowed to the brother and then moved on. The delay was enough for him to lose sight of Obi-Wan and so he hurried from the Temple.
Rushing into the night, Qui-Gon glimpsed Obi-Wan again, this time the young man was on the tree-lined path that led to the housing compound. With long strides, Qui-Gon shortened the distance between them, sidestepping monks who were in no hurry to be anywhere this evening.
A few final steps and Qui-Gon was walking side-by-side with Obi-Wan. The young man looked up at him, his eyes shining with curiosity.
"Your conversation with Brother Ece ended so soon?"
"I wouldn't call it a conversation," Qui-Gon said, smiling.
Obi-Wan seemed to understand and grinned in return.
"Are you returning to your cottage?" Qui-Gon asked.
"Not just yet. I'm taking a detour tonight. The moon is full and bright and I thought I would walk a while."
Qui-Gon looked up into the night sky. Indeed, the darkness was pierced by a bluish light from above. He wanted to accompany Obi-Wan, had wanted to spend more time with him for days now, but he didn't want to intrude on his privacy. "I'll leave you-"
"It's all right. I would enjoy the company."
Qui-Gon smiled, pleased by the unexpected invitation.
They continued in step, down the path until they approached what looked like an animal path. Obi-Wan looked at Qui-Gon over his shoulder and then stepped onto the little used trail.
There was something different about Obi-Wan tonight. He seemed to accept Qui-Gon's presence, and had even allowed the master Jedi to brush against his mind during the meditation. A warm hope stirred inside Qui-Gon. Could there be something here? Might they make a deeper connection after all?
In the distance, Qui-Gon could see the greenish glow of the planet's ground covering moon plants. This rare foliage was known for its soft, radiant light that attracted prey to its sticky leaves. Of course, the preferred prey were small insects, but the greenish light drew admirers of many species.
Obi-Wan stopped several feet from the moon plants. His eyes transfixed on their curious glow. "In the two years I have been on Capaah, I have never grown tired of looking at them. They say the plant's radiating color sends a vibration to the onlooker's brain, mesmerizing them."
Qui-Gon smiled. "It is a pleasing shade of green. Not unlike the green flecks in your eyes."
Obi-Wan looked up at Qui-Gon with surprise and doubt in his eyes. "I do not see the comparison."
"Ah, but from my vantage point it is clear."
Obi-Wan shook his head, turning his eyes back to the plants. "I did not bring you here to flatter me. On this forested planet, a clear night sky is uncommon. The moon plants can only glow and attract their prey when the moon is high. Tonight may be the last moonlight for weeks."
He looked up then, high up through the forest canopy to the opening that let the moon light shine down on them. With his head tilted back, Obi-Wan closed his eyes, and the smallest of smiles curled at his lips.
Qui-Gon was captivated. So beautiful, he thought. Then he stepped forward, taking advantage of the moment and pressing his lips to Obi-Wan's. When the younger man started, Qui-Gon put his hands on Obi-Wan's arms to hold him still. Remarkably, with little more hesitation, Obi-Wan opened himself to the contact and grabbed Qui-Gon's robe in his hands, pulling him closer. His lips parted and the kiss grew deeper.
Qui-Gon raised his hand to Obi-Wan's face, touching his cheek as he pulled out of the kiss. He looked into Obi-Wan's eyes. "Can you forgive such boldness?"
"I have since you arrived on planet."
Qui-Gon grinned and swooped in again for another kiss. Their mouths opened to taste one another, and their bodies pressed together.
"Not here," Obi-Wan said between kisses. He grabbed Qui-Gon's hand and set off along the path once again.
In moments they had arrived at the residential compound. They walked through the trees, behind a row of cottages, out of sight of the monks who had gathered to talk before parting ways for the night.
Respecting the monks' vow of celibacy, Obi-Wan concealed his and Qui-Gon's presence. The forest was thick with trees just beyond the compound and it was fairly easy to move about without being noticed. At last, they arrived at Obi-Wan's cabin, choosing to enter with some privacy around back.
Inside, the door closed behind him, and they came together in a fierce embrace. Obi-Wan had surprised himself by reacting so eagerly to Qui-Gon's advance. In some ways, he had been expecting it, overwhelmed as he was by his attraction to Qui-Gon. An attraction he did not yet fully understand, but one that had started the day he had first laid eyes on the other Jedi. He needed this man, needed his touch in ways none of his brethren could understand.
They kissed, shedding their cloaks, and methodically peeling away the layers of their Jedi tunics. Obi-Wan rested his hands on Qui-Gon's bare chest, feeling the warmth and definition of muscle there. It sent a fire to his belly. He had missed this physical intimacy with another. And he knew he would soon discover that he had also missed sharing a deep mental and spiritual connection. He had thought he would gain that connection in this community, but that link had never truly materialized for him even though he was fond of the monks and greatly honored to be their Knight Protector. He had been lonely all this time, but before Qui-Gon arrived, Obi-Wan had not felt it so keenly.
"You let me get close to you tonight in meditation," Qui-Gon said, kissing Obi-Wan's face.
"I got tired of resisting."
Qui-Gon smiled. "Was I that persistent?"
"You were that irresistible."
They stumbled toward the narrow bed, arms wrapped around each other, and dropping onto the mattress with their full weight. Kisses were placed on each other's lips, cheeks and chests, intermittent with efforts to remove boots and pants. At last they were bared, naked skin pressed against naked skin. They fell back onto the bed, Qui-Gon atop Obi-Wan, covering the smaller body in his strength and breadth and arousal.
"Your eyes, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon murmured. "I see so much in your eyes."
When they first had met, Qui-Gon had no way of seeing Obi-Wan's eyes, but he had felt them. It seemed they both had been intensely aware of each other from the start, going so far as to caress each other in their meditations.
"And yours " Obi-Wan said, staring into the gentle blue of Qui-Gon's eyes. He touched Qui-Gon's face and then kissed him, drawing him as close as possible.
As they moved on each other, Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon claiming him, pulling him deeper into the unexplainable connection they had formed. Qui-Gon's hands were confident on Obi-Wan's body, following the subtle curve of Obi-Wan's hip and running along his thigh and then back up to his chest.
There was barely enough light coming in from the small window to illuminate their lovemaking-the moon's glow, washing gently over their naked bodies as they came together. Their explorations were rushed and enthusiastic. Qui-Gon prepared Obi-Wan quickly, and then raised himself up on his hands and thrust inside Obi-Wan, joining them in the most intimate way. Their bodies thrust toward one another, slowly increasing the rhythm, looking into each other's eyes, moaning with this needed touch.
Obi-Wan spread himself willingly, eagerly letting himself be filled. Qui-Gon was a force, a beautiful, moving force, and he wanted all the man could give him. Their bodies moved easily on each other, smooth, sweat slicked and heated. For the first time in many moons, Obi-Wan's voice turned to the song of moans. Qui-Gon drew the most delicious, deep moans from him, each one seeming to ignite his desire and that of his lover's all the more.
Long, slow thrusts assailed his senses until at last the rhythm increased. Obi-Wan reached for Qui-Gon, his hands going to the man's long hair, feeling its softness, and then slipping to broad shoulders as Qui-Gon thrust harder, faster and deeper.
"Yes," Obi-Wan moaned, slipping away to another plane as he moved with his lover. He had forgotten the joys of physical touch, but he had never felt anything quite this intoxicating.
The cottage smelled of sex, blissfully of male, lustful sex. They made love, on and on, until at last their bodies demanded release. They climaxed one after the other, grinding and gasping and then lying motionless on top of one another.
Obi-Wan was awash in a mix of joy, satiation and a strange, unwanted grief. He turned his face away, confused.
"What is it?" Qui-Gon asked.
"I'm not sure. Maybe I'm overwhelmed." He looked at Qui-Gon, and saw the worry in the man's eyes. "That was very beautiful."
Qui-Gon smiled. "Yes, it was, Obi-Wan." He smoothed the young man's hair from his eyes. "Do you regret it?"
"No," Obi-Wan said, shaking his head. "I don't know what's happening between us, but I don't regret it."
They moved to lay side-by-side with Qui-Gon wrapping his arms about him. Obi-Wan thought back to that shooting star, the one he had seen the night Qui-Gon had arrived on planet. He was not superstitious, but the monks had taught him that the Force often speaks through nature and that such signs should not be dismissed outright. Perhaps that star had forecast their love, forecast this change in his life?
"We only have a short time together," Obi-Wan said, laying his head on Qui-Gon's chest. "This may be the only time we ever have."
"Then we will make it all we can." Qui-Gon drew himself up to look into Obi-Wan's eyes. "We will live in the moment, and not in a future we cannot know."
The words warmed Obi-Wan-words of wisdom that shone of Qui-Gon's years and experience and connection to the Force. Perhaps Qui-Gon was the destiny he knew he would meet on Capaah? But what purpose could this destiny serve other than to ultimately bring him sorrow?
Despite their new relationship and the desire to be close, Obi-Wan could not spend all his time with Qui-Gon. The Jedi visitor had much he wanted to learn from the texts held in the Temple's library, and Obi-Wan continued his training and daily activities within the enclave as its Protector.
However, after evening meal and group meditation, the lovers would slip away to enjoy each other intimately. They also occasionally shared private meditations in the afternoons, deep within the forest, where they could fully indulge in caressing each other's mind and Force-self, and conclude their mediation by making love on the forest floor.
Each day, Obi-Wan rose to live in the moment. He tried desperately to heed to the Jedi maxim, but it seemed not to understand that this blissful happiness would be all too brief, and that not looking to the future would mean not preparing for their inevitable separation. Qui-Gon was much more in tune with the present. He soothed Obi-Wan's concerns, and each night shared the lessons he had read in the ancient texts as they stripped each other bare and made love.
It was the most intensely personal and enlightening period in Obi-Wan's life-as if he had somehow not been whole until Qui-Gon had come into his life. Obi-Wan had always felt a keen sense of self, purpose and drive, but Qui-Gon heightened and focused those feelings, making Obi-Wan feel like an apprentice again.
On this misty afternoon, Obi-Wan was thrumming with memories of Qui-Gon's touch. He cheerfully assisted one of the monks with unburdening a small equine of baskets filled with stones.
"You came along at just the right time, Obi-Wan," the older monk said.
"I'm glad to see you are going ahead with your project. A stone wall will make a nice enclosure for the animals."
"Yes, and the labor will make for a good meditation. Perhaps if you have time you would like to join me?"
Obi-Wan smiled. "Thank you. I may." He finished setting the stones in a pile and then noticed that Brother Tukiya had been watching.
"I was only passing by, but thought to speak with you," Ece said, now stepping closer.
"Of course." Obi-Wan wiped his brow.
"Would you care to share mid-day meal with me?"
Obi-Wan had hoped to take Qui-Gon away from the library for a short time for that very purpose, but he had spent so little time with Ece lately that he thought it best to accept this offer. "Yes, I would like that."
They walked to the kitchens where preparations for evening meal had already begun. With care not to interrupt the tasks at hand, Obi-Wan and Ece went to the store room where small, prepared meals were wrapped in cloth. They each took one and darted out a side door, heading for a stone circle.
Obi-Wan sat on the ground, leaning against one of the large stones and spreading his meal before him. Ece did the same only feet away. The bundles contained nuts, dried fruit and a slice of honeycomb--just the right nourishment to keep them going until their savory, hot meal that evening.
"You're happy these days, Obi-Wan," Ece said as he carefully arranged his meal.
"Yes, I suppose I am."
"Is it because of Qui-Gon Jinn?"
Obi-Wan looked over at his friend. He had not shared the relationship with anyone, but it made sense that people would notice.
"Yes, we've become friends."
"A different kind of friendship than you and I share?"
Obi-Wan blinked. Ece had been antagonistic to Qui-Gon since his arrival. Obi-Wan could not help but feel that Ece was out of line yet again.
"Yes, a different kind of friendship. I am not bound by your monastic ways."
"They suited you well enough before."
Obi-Wan stared at his friend. "Ece, if I have offended you, I apologize. I have done my best to keep my relationship with Qui-Gon private."
Ece gave a snort. "It's hardly private when you two lust after each other so openly. I knew he would be trouble."
The criticism was felt acutely, for Obi-Wan had taken great care to keep his emotions in check and his daily activities as close to the usual routine as possible. That Ece was picking up on his feelings for Qui-Gon, and vice versa, seemed to indicate a level of scrutiny that went beyond concern for a friend or for the well-being of the enclave.
"I am sorry if you are jealous, but Qui-Gon and I have a special connection, and I intend to explore it fully while he is here."
Ece's demeanor tightened and his eyes narrowed. "I thought you were my friend, Obi-Wan. To accuse me of so dark an emotion as jealousy disappoints me greatly."
Obi-Wan quickly gathered his meal and stood. He had had enough. "I am your friend, Ece. And that is all I will ever be."
He turned, swiftly leaving the stone circle and returning to assist the monks with the wall. Obi-Wan did not see Ece again that day, but he had a bad feeling about their conversation and the underlying emotions it revealed.
That evening, Obi-Wan told Qui-Gon of his encounter. Though the conversation had bothered him all day, when he recalled it to Qui-Gon, his anxiety slipped away. Qui-Gon did that to him, and it wasn't just that the man was massaging his shoulders.
"You seem at peace, Qui-Gon. Did you really need this retreat?"
Qui-Gon chuckled, kissing the back of Obi-Wan's neck. "This place has brought me back to my center. The last few years have been difficult. The galaxy is in turmoil. But here, I am at peace, largely due to you."
Obi-Wan looked over his shoulder at him. "You have brought me peace as well. I only wish we could stay together."
Qui-Gon's hands stilled on Obi-Wan's shoulders. "Are you suggesting you would relinquish your position as Knight Protector?"
Obi-Wan took a deep breath and then turned to look at his lover fully. "I did not accept this position lightly, nor would I give it up easily."
Qui-Gon nodded. "The Council and the monks were wise in their choice."
"But if I stay "
"Yes, we will be separated."
Obi-Wan put his arms around Qui-Gon and drew him into a warm embrace. "Why were we brought together if this is all we could have? And please don't tell me that the answer lies in the Force."
Qui-Gon smiled and then kissed Obi-Wan as if to stop from saying that very thing.
With a fire burning brightly and warmly in the hearth, they began to make love, renewing the bond they had discovered just weeks before. A bond they would always share even though their Jedi duties would soon separate them. And yet it was that they were both Jedi that allowed them to understand each other and to come together in this way-a tug-of-war between duty, gifts, desire and love. Tonight they would indulge in their love, as they had each night since coming together.
Obi-Wan removed his boots and lay back on the bed, propped slightly by the pillows. Qui-Gon knelt between his legs, leaning over to kiss him and begin the task of removing his clothes. Each day they clothed and unclothed one another, and each day Obi-Wan found great pleasure in the ritual.
Qui-Gon opened Obi-Wan's tunic, parting the layers and caressing the bare chest with his hands and lips. He bent lower, unfastening his lover's belt and pants and dipping his hand inside, grasping and stroking Obi-Wan into hardness. When his lover was fully erect, Qui-Gon knelt on the floor beside the bed and proceeded to lick and to pleasure Obi-Wan. He sucked him into his mouth, causing Obi-Wan to cry out.
Obi-Wan reached for Qui-Gon, putting his hands in his hair, stroking it as he concentrated on the movement and feel of Qui-Gon's mouth on him.
Outside, a sudden, howling wind sent a draft down the chimney, causing the fire to flutter and swirl violently in the hearth. Obi-Wan absently watched the flames dance as Qui-Gon's lips and tongue pleasured him. He moaned and closed his eyes, and as Qui-Gon brought him closer to orgasm, another fierce wind whipped through the compound, causing the tiny cottage to shudder.
"Yes," he moaned, squeezing Qui-Gon's shoulder. "Love you, Qui."
Bang! The door suddenly burst open, letting in chill winds and an even more sudden downpour of rain.
Qui-Gon sat up and looked to the door. "That's strange," he said, and then went over to close the door.
"There was no talk of a storm," Obi-Wan said, sitting up. It rained nearly every day on Capaah, but storms this strong were rare this time of year.
Qui-Gon returned, sitting next to Obi-Wan on the bed and pulling him into his arms. "Now where were we?"
Obi-Wan leaned in for a kiss, but something did not feel right. The air was charged and heavy with low pressure. Just then they heard pounding on the roof. They looked to the ceiling.
"Hail?" Qui-Gon asked.
"It certainly sounds like it." Obi-Wan got up, righting his clothes, and then going to the door. He opened it to find the monks gathering in the compound, their arms shielding their eyes as they looked up at the storm. He ran outside in his bare feet, braving the large hail stones.
"The harvest will be ruined!" one monk said as he clutched Obi-Wan's arm.
"What can be done?" Obi-Wan asked.
Another monk came forward. "We can harvest the grain before it is pounded into the mud."
The prospect of harvesting at night and with the rain, wind and hail at their backs was not pleasant, but seemed necessary. With that decision, the monks went quickly into action, rousing the entire enclave. Obi-Wan returned to his cottage for his boots and robe and then he and Qui-Gon joined the others in their race to save the harvest.
For the self-sustaining enclave, losing their fall harvest would place a great burden on the community. They had stores of dried foods in reserve, but it would be a tragedy to see their work destroyed by an unseasonable storm.
As they set-off for the fields, walking further from the compound, the storm began to dissipate. Obi-Wan looked back, squinting into the darkness. It seemed the storm was centered over their cottages. Could that be? Could a storm be that concentrated?
They continued on until they came to the fields. The crops were unharmed. Everyone looked at one another in disbelief.
"How can this be?" one monk asked.
"I have never known weather like this on Capaah," Master Ogu said.
Qui-Gon put his hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder. "Isolated storms can occur in most any system, but this does seem unusual."
Obi-Wan agreed, but he was not sure what to do about it. Some of the monks talked of going ahead with the harvest in fear that another storm would come, but Master Ogu cautioned them.
"The crop is not nearly ready to be harvested. Like a storm, fear can also spoil it."
His sage words calmed the group and they began to walk back to the compound. It was then that Obi-Wan noticed that Brother Tukiya was not among them. Was he working late at the library? If so, why hadn't he sensed the enclave's distress and come to their aid?
Obi-Wan turned to Qui-Gon. "I need to find Ece. Something's not right."
"Do you want me to go along?"
"No. I'll see you back at my cottage."
Obi-Wan set-off at a determined gait. After his uncomfortable conversation with Ece that afternoon he was not looking forward to more animosity, but there was a chance that something was wrong and Ece might need his help. And no matter what, Obi-Wan's duty was to protect the Temple of the Ancients and the monks who served it.
The library was quiet and dark. Only one lantern burned in the main chamber, indicating that someone was there. Obi-Wan took the lantern by its handle and walked slowly through the hall, scanning the work and seating areas.
"Ece? Are you here?"
A wave of distress hit him, and he followed its source to a small alcove where Ece was sitting with his head in his hands.
Obi-Wan knelt at his friend's feet, setting the lantern on the floor next to him. "What is it? Are you ill?"
Ece looked up at Obi-Wan, revealing wild, bloodshot eyes.
Obi-Wan pulled back in surprise. "What's happened?"
"I've made a discovery," Ece said, sounding crazed.
"What kind of a discovery?"
Ece smiled. "I would tell you, but we're no longer friends."
"Of course, we're friends. It was only a small disagreement---"
"No, Obi-Wan. You made it perfectly clear that you are in love with Qui-Gon Jinn."
Obi-Wan's brow knit. "What does that have to do with our friendship?"
Ece shook his head and then scooped a small book from the table into his arms, holding it close to his body. The cover was dark, almost black leather with deep crimson scrollwork. It looked very old, but remarkably unworn. Obi-Wan did not recall seeing it before, but there were so many books in the library. It would take a lifetime to read them all.
"You're tired," he said, placing his hand on Ece's knee.
Ece swatted the hand away. "Don't touch me. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself and this entire enclave."
"We all look out for each other, Ece," Obi-Wan said as he stood. Obviously, he would not get through to his friend tonight. "Get some rest and we'll speak again."
The next morning, Ece was all smiles as he approached Obi-Wan before morning meditation. "I am sorry," he said, touching Obi-Wan's arm. "I wasn't myself last night. Please forgive me."
Obi-Wan looked into Ece's eyes. They were as clear and bright as always. "Yes, of course I forgive you. But what was wrong?"
Ece shrugged. "I was overtired. I've been putting in long hours at the library."
"You mentioned you had discovered something---"
"I did?" Ece scratched his head with the stump of his right arm. "It must've been one of those moments of clarity after many hours of study."
"A moment of enlightenment?"
"Yes," Ece said, and then his eyes lost their focus as if he was suddenly transported to a distant place. "Great enlightenment."
"That's wonderful. Perhaps we can discuss it over mid-day meal?"
Just then, Qui-Gon joined them. Ece blinked, seeming to come back to the moment.
"I located the Veda tomes that accompany the text of Legends," Ece said, pleasantly.
"Thank you," Qui-Gon said. "I have enjoyed reading the original Veda texts."
"Yes, a rare privilege. I am glad to be of assistance." With that, Ece bowed slightly and followed several of the other monks into the Temple.
Obi-Wan turned to Qui-Gon, confused, but pleased by Ece's good mood. "He is greatly changed since last night."
"I sensed none of the animosity and anger you spoke of."
Obi-Wan shook his head. "I shouldn't worry. He is his old self again."
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan's remaining days together were spent deep in meditation and deep in each other's love. At the end of the retreat, they would not see each other again. No Jedi had ever visited Capaah more than once in a lifetime. Qui-Gon would not be permitted to return, and Obi-Wan would not leave his post.
In meditation, Qui-Gon had explored the nature of their love. The Force had shown him its beauty and truth, and yet had resonated in the rightness of their separation. They were on the right path, clinging to duty and honor. Their love would endure despite the ache of separation.
Qui-Gon trusted the message, but did not trust himself to heed it. His bond to Obi-Wan had grown deeper each day, bringing great joy and great trepidation. He tried not to question why they had been brought together only to be separated.
It also troubled him that twice in recent days, Obi-Wan had woken from bad dreams. He had been vague about their content, but it was easy to see that the dreams had disturbed him. Perhaps, as Obi-Wan had said, they were merely manifestations of his feelings over their impending separation.
The morning of Qui-Gon's departure arrived too soon. He had spent twenty-six days on planet, and all but a few in Obi-Wan's arms. They embraced privately in his cottage, one last time.
"It will get easier as the months pass," he said, whispering into Obi-Wan's soft hair.
Obi-Wan's arms tightened about him. "I don't want it to get easier. I don't want my feelings for you to change."
"Change is inevitable, Obi-Wan." He sounded so wise suddenly, and so accepting of this moment, but it couldn't be further from the truth of his heart. "Remember, this is the right path for now."
Obi-Wan pulled back and looked at him in surprise. "For now? You mean a new path might present itself?"
Qui-Gon smiled at the hope in that question. "As I said, change is inevitable."
They kissed then, taking each other's lips in the familiar expression of their love. Breathing each other in, using these last moments to imprint and remember.
They walked with the two other Jedi visitors and Master Ogu to the landing platform in the forest clearing-the long walk undisturbed by conversation. Most visitors found it difficult to leave this sanctuary behind, but Obi-Wan had never found it difficult seeing them go. Until now.
The Republic cruiser was waiting when they arrived. The Bothan Jedi and elder human Jedi approached Master Ogu, each clasping the master's hands in farewell. They shared quiet, thankful words, and then boarded the ship.
Qui-Gon then turned to the master and bowed. "Words cannot express my deep feelings for this place and the friends I have made."
Ogu smiled, taking Qui-Gon's hands. "Thank you. We are richer for your visit as well." The master's eyes flicked to Obi-Wan. "I will give you two a moment."
It seemed the senior brother had silently been aware of the relationship Qui-Gon had formed with Obi-Wan.
Qui-Gon turned to his lover, taking his hands and looking into his eyes. Obi-Wan's eyes revealed so much. Today, they seemed to reflect the dull weather about them, cast in grayish-green, but filled with determination and love.
"May the Force be with you, Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan nodded, seeming to understand that the time for their declarations of love had passed. "And may the Force be with you, Qui-Gon."
They squeezed each other's hands and indulged in a quick embrace.
With his pack slung over his shoulder, Qui-Gon walked up the ramp and into the ship without turning back. He had to believe his own words. This separation was right, and would get easier over time.
Obi-Wan and Master Ogu stepped back from the platform and watched as the ship powered up fully and then lifted off from the platform. Within seconds it was out of view, but Obi-Wan's eyes remained fixed on the patch of gray cloud cover which the ship had pierced. His heart beat fast with longing.
"I would understand if you chose not to attend the meditation this evening."
Obi-Wan blinked, turning his eyes from the sky. "Thank you, but I will attend as I always have."
Master Ogu put his hand on Obi-Wan's arm, causing the young knight to meet his eyes. "Your position as Knight Protector is not irrevocable."
"I understand, Master, but it is my true path as revealed in the Force. I would like to continue as the Knight Protector as long as it pleases you."
"Thank you, Obi-Wan. It pleases us greatly."
Living with his decision, the one revealed by the Force, was not a simple matter. But Obi-Wan accepted this path, managing the loss as best he could-the loss of Qui-Gon's bright physical and Force presence in his everyday life.
Obi-Wan had one advantage as the Knight Protector. He had access to the comm panel located in one of the Temple's towers. He and Qui-Gon could send each other messages, and share something of their lives with each other. But Obi-Wan used great restraint when it came to this privilege, and had sent only one message to Qui-Gon.
Life returned to the way it had been before Qui-Gon's arrival. On the surface, it appeared as if he and the other Jedi visitors had not been part of this community for a cycle, but it was the way of the monks. Though they enjoyed sharing the Temple and all it had to offer, their focus was to commune with the Force. The visitors were seldom mentioned again.
Obi-Wan spent his evenings alone, reading and often daydreaming about Qui-Gon. He wondered where he was, and if Qui-Gon was thinking of him in the same moment. In many of his meditations he thought he felt Qui-Gon's presence kneeling beside him, brushing his mind as he had in the Temple. It seemed their bond was stronger than Obi-Wan could have hoped for.
Ece embraced Obi-Wan's friendship once again, and they shared meals, but Obi-Wan knew better than to mention Qui-Gon. Despite Ece's cheerful demeanor, Obi-Wan sensed a deep resentment towards his relationship with Qui-Gon.
On this afternoon, Obi-Wan met up with Master Ogu who was returning from the communications room.
"I sent a message to Coruscant that all are well. Here is my report."
Obi-Wan accepted the small holoprojector with a bow. "Thank you for sharing it."
"There's a message on there for you. It was received sometime in the night. I transferred it onto the holoprojector without opening it."
"Is it from Qui-Gon?"
Master Ogu smiled. "Yes."
It was the first communication he had received since Qui-Gon's departure two weeks ago.
Obi-Wan bowed, and then walked some distance to a secluded garden to view the message. He sat on a stone bench, placing the holoprojector on the trunk of a large Cica tree that had fallen some months before. He was surprised by his own childlike excitement at seeing Qui-Gon again, and took a breath before playing the recording.
Qui-Gon's seated form appeared before him. "Obi-Wan, I hope this message finds you well. I have traveled to several planets since leaving you, and may be sent to the Outer Rim any day. We Jedi are too few to solve the galaxy's problems, but the Senate has faith in us, even if it does not understand our true nature."
Obi-Wan was mesmerized by the image of his lover. Qui-Gon was seated in what looked like the galley of a star ship, his robe parted just enough to reveal the layers of cream colored tunics beneath it. He was a beautiful man, dignified and strong, but Obi-Wan could see the sadness in his eyes. Qui-Gon was questioning this separation, struggling with it just as Obi-Wan did.
"I suspect life continues as it always has on Capaah. It is a beautiful world, though I explored little of it beyond the Temple grounds. If not for you, I would have explored more but that is not a criticism. Once I found you, there was no need to search any further."
Just then, Obi-Wan heard the snap of a twig. He turned from the hologram, putting the message on hold, and re-focusing his eyes to the shadows of the garden. He could not see anyone, and instinctively reached out to the Force.
"Ece," he said, in recognition.
The monk came forward, brushing leaves from his robe as he squeezed through some of the undergrowth. "My apologies, Obi-Wan," he said, bowing slightly.
Obi-Wan looked the man over, wondering how long he had been listening. "Is there something I can help you with?"
"I did not mean to disturb you. I was taking a break from my writings and " His words trailed off as his eyes gazed at Qui-Gon's frozen image. "Is he well?"
"Yes," Obi-Wan said, his brow tightening.
"That is good." The two men stared at one another a moment and then Ece turned to leave. "Perhaps we can talk after evening meditation?"
Obi-Wan did not reply, and Ece did not remain long enough to hear if he did. Obi-Wan could not help but feel Ece had been eavesdropping, watching him, following him. If true, it was a violation of Temple conduct.
Ece's behavior of late was troublesome, but more troubling was the return of the terrible dreams that Obi-Wan could not remember clearly, but left him feeling exposed. He had never experienced dreams like this in his life, and curiously they had begun after the night of the storm when Ece's eyes had been so wild. The connection to Ece and the storm could be a mere coincidence or it could be more. As ever, Obi-Wan was reluctant to think ill of his friend. Even so, he decided to take the holoprojector back to his cottage to finish watching Qui-Gon's message privately.
That evening, Ece asked Obi-Wan to accompany him back to his cottage to talk. It had been months since Obi-Wan had been invited into the monk's residence. He thought the meeting would help to diffuse the growing uneasiness between them.
Obi-Wan shed his cloak and sat on a cushion in front of the fireplace, folding his legs in lotus position. He watched Ece fuss with a plate of nuts and berries, before joining him on the floor and setting the plate between them.
"Please," Ece said, gesturing to the treats. "Summer berries can be tart, but these are quite sweet. Do you like it?"
Obi-Wan ate a berry and nodded. The fruit was sweet and so he picked up several more.
"Master Ogu and I discussed allowing a handful of senior Initiates visit Capaah to study Veda. What do you think?" Ece asked.
"I'm sure they would be honored by the privilege, but who would teach them?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Those duties could easily be shared by several monks, including myself."
"But wouldn't that interfere with your writing and research?"
"Yes, but only for a short time. The sacrifice is worth it."
This sounded like the old Ece-the generous scholar, eager to share the written word of the ancient Jedi.
"It's a fine idea. I would be happy to coordinate these visits if you wish."
"Thank you, Obi-Wan. It would be a pleasure to work with you."
They ate the savory treat, sitting in near silence and simply enjoying each other's company and the warmth of the fire. It was as it had always been-an easy friendship.
Ece set the empty plate aside and inched closer to Obi-Wan. "We have been friends, since you arrived on Capaah over two years ago."
"That's right. You shared much about Capaah with me in those first days. It made my transition to life here much easier."
"I've always felt a connection with you." Ece placed his hand on Obi-Wan's leg. "You understand me."
Ece's face was very close, a hand span away, and Obi-Wan could see an intensity in his eyes.
"I try to understand all the monks."
"But you understand me best."
Obi-Wan blinked. He wasn't sure about that, but he didn't have time to reply as Ece leaned forward and kissed him. Obi-Wan put up his hands, holding Ece back. "What are you doing?"
"What comes naturally," Ece said, smiling.
"But you are a monk. You have taken a vow--"
Obi-Wan's words were cut off as Ece took him in his arms and kissed him hard. Obi-Wan was forced back onto the floor, Ece's lips pressed tight against his, and his body hard.
Obi-Wan pushed at his friend and broke out of the kiss. "Ece don't. Think of your vows."
The monk persisted, kissing Obi-Wan's neck and dipping his hand inside Obi-Wan's tunics.
"Ece we're friends. I don't love you that way."
The fondling stopped. Ece raised himself, and looked down at Obi-Wan, the pupil's of his eyes dilated and black. "You led me on. I thought you wanted me."
"What? Why would I do that? I love Qui-Gon."
Ece bared his teeth, practically snarling as he withdrew, pulling his knees up to his chin as he re-positioned himself on the cushion.
"I'm sorry," Obi-Wan said, trying to sort out what had just happened. "My reaction should not have surprised you."
"Leave before I report you."
"Report me? For what?"
"For attempting to seduce me."
Obi-Wan laughed in shock. "You're not serious? Ece, what's wrong with you? Where's the friend I knew?"
Ece turned his face away, staring into the fire. "We are friends, no more."
Obi-Wan sat staring at the man he thought he knew. When had Ece developed these feelings for him? And what were they exactly?
"I'm sorry," Obi-Wan said again, getting up and leaving the cottage.
Outside, the night air was cool on his cheeks, but it did not soothe him. Obi-Wan felt off balance and confused by Ece's behavior. He would have to address this problem and quickly. They lived in such a close community that there was no room for animosity. Harsh feelings could affect the entire enclave.
That night, Obi-Wan could not sleep. His mind tumbled over Ece's words and the way he had been touched, violated. Ece had wanted him, and would've taken him if Obi-Wan had been willing. Obi-Wan had never sensed these feelings before in his friend. It was as if the introduction of Qui-Gon into their lives had unleashed these desperate feelings in Ece.
At first, Obi-Wan had thought Ece was simply jealous about not spending as much time with his friend, but now Obi-Wan knew better. These feelings of possession reached deep. He had felt them ripple through the air around them when Ece had forced himself on him.
If only Qui-Gon were here, to tell Obi-Wan that this raw feeling was only his imagination. That it would pass, and things would go back to the way they had been.
Obi-Wan was suddenly startled by a loud crack and then crash. It was distant, and sounded like a tree splitting and falling to the ground. He sat up, and listened carefully as he reached out with the Force. Only a lightning strike would create such a noise, but there was no storm tonight, even though he now sensed the air was charged.
He got out of bed to investigate. As he dressed, he heard another crack and clatter. His heart raced. Something was wrong. He hurried, wrapping his cloak about him as he ran from his cottage.
He cut across the compound, and saw the monks coming out of their residences, all with the same worried expression.
"Obi-Wan?" they called to him.
The concern in their voices sent a jolt through him. As on the night of the storm something was happening that did not fit. It was changing this peaceful world.
He took the main trail to the Temple, reaching for the glow rod on his utility belt and igniting it to light his way. He heard another crash, this one much closer. He slowed his pace, his senses alert.
Several monks came down the path toward him, running away from the Temple.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Something is destroying the trees around the Temple," one monk said, his breath coming hard.
"Did you see it?"
"No it was like an invisible energy."
Obi-Wan's eyes widened. "Go back to your cottages. I'll take care of this."
"But Obi-Wan, we don't know what it is." The monk put his hand on Obi-Wan's arm and squeezed. His eyes filled with fear.
Obi-Wan nodded. "Whatever it is, I'll handle it."
"Thank you," the monks said in unison and then hurried along.
Obi-Wan turned back to the path before him. He set off again, even more unsure than he had been before. An invisible force was destroying the grounds around the Temple of Ancients? That energy had to belong to a being or an atmospheric phenomenon. Whichever it was, Obi-Wan would determine the best way to deal with it.
When he came into the Temple grounds he saw the debris everywhere. Tree trunks, hundreds of meters high, had been felled and blown apart. Large chunks of bark, branches and leaves lay everywhere. He walked through the debris toward the creaking sounds coming from within the Temple.
Inside, the sanctuary was in complete darkness save for the white light of the glow rod. It was unusual for no candles to be lit, but a strange breeze, strong and cool, was swirling through the ancient building. That breeze or the peculiar invisible energy that had destroyed the trees outside was tugging at the trees that had grown inside the Temple walls. Obi-Wan could see their limbs bending, swaying, creaking with the pressure. It made him ache to see the stress they endured.
He reached out with the Force, trying to understand the nature of the attack. But he felt a strange presence-familiar, but clouded, angry, and dark.
"Ece? Is that you?"
He didn't want to believe it, but Force signatures were unique. Ece was here, trapped perhaps by the violence of this lashing energy.
Obi-Wan moved through the hall, searching for his friend with the glow rod lighting his way. The hairs on the back of his neck raised and he turned to see his friend standing directly behind him.
"Ece." Obi-Wan stared into the now all-too-familiar wild black eyes.
"I've been waiting here for you to come and meditate with me." Ece's disheveled appearance belied his pleasant tone.
"I was not aware that we had agreed to meet."
"Yes, Obi-Wan. We must meditate, and then I can touch your mind and show you all I have learned."
"What have you learned?"
"That there is great beauty in Darkness."
Ece held out his arms as if in supplication. "The Darkness that is all around us. Can't you feel it?"
Despite the fears of the monks, and the chaos of the strange energy, Obi-Wan had not drawn his lightsaber. He had approached this situation with no intent of facing an enemy. He had believed this phenomenon to be natural. But now it seemed that Brother Tukiya had tapped into a Dark power.
"Can you dispel this energy? It's destroying the trees around the Temple."
Ece laughed. "Why would I send it away? It's here to help us, Obi-Wan."
"How is it helping?"
"It's bringing us together. It brought you here." Ece stepped forward. A strange smile curled at his lips. "Come kneel with me, Obi-Wan. Let us meditate and join together."
"What's happened to you? Why are you speaking like that?"
"I am enlightened. Let me show you " Ece knelt on the stone floor of the great hall, next to the stone and wood benches used by the monks in their meditation and study groups. He bowed his head. Immediately the air began to swirl around him, stirring his robes. "Kneel with me, Obi-Wan. Feel the power, the energy that will unite us."
Obi-Wan took a step back. It seemed as though his friend had gone mad in his quest to deepen their relationship. But would he go so far as to turn to the Dark side of the Force? The thought alarmed, Obi-Wan. He had to save his friend.
"Ece, it is not our place to control the winds. This energy is changing you."
Ece looked up at him. "You mustn't be afraid, Obi-Wan. The Darkness is beautiful. It wants us both."
"Listen to what you're saying. Follow the teachings of the ancients and let this energy go before it consumes you."
"But the ancients showed me the way. In the language of Veda, I found enlightenment."
Obi-Wan shook his head. "Enlightenment does not destroy."
"Please," Ece said, holding out his hand in invitation. His voice was still calm, but it was as though he was fixated, addicted to the power that surged around him.
Obi-Wan's heart ached to see his friend so confused. He clipped the glow rod to his belt and took Ece's hand, hoping the physical contact would wake him from this trance.
"Yes, Obi-Wan," Ece said, smiling up at him. "Now, kneel with me, and I will give you this world."
Obi-Wan pulled his hand back and reached for his lightsaber, but did not take it from his belt. "That is not the way of the Jedi. We are here to serve, not to dominate."
Ece's eyes narrowed. "Don't fight me. I can give you everything you desire."
"There is nothing I desire."
Ece barked a laugh. "Not even Qui-Gon?"
Obi-Wan's grip tightened on his lightsaber. "Leave him out of this."
"Oh, but he is so much a part of you now. I can feel it in the Force. He reaches out for you still wanting you. You could touch him, Obi-Wan, if you would only open your mind. Let me show you "
"No!" Obi-Wan shouted. "I do not need your tricks. Qui-Gon is in my heart, and that is enough."
Ece snarled. "You always thought you were better than us, that you were above our ways."
"That's not true. I've learned a great deal from you and the others especially Master Ogu."
"You've always done as you please, Obi-Wan. You mocked us by taking a lover and flaunting him in front of us all!"
The breeze began to twist and rush around them, and Obi-Wan could sense a great disturbance gathering. This conversation was going nowhere. Ece was blinded, determined to use the powers he had discovered buried in the writings of the ancients.
"Speak to Master Ogu," Obi-Wan said, in a last effort to reason with his friend. "Tell him what you have found and he will guide you in dispelling it."
The trees rattled as they began to sway once again.
"Don't do this, Ece. Don't lose control."
"I have never been more in control than I am right now!" With those words, the wind gusted through the Temple, slamming into the trees and blowing them apart.
Obi-Wan dove for cover behind a stone column as wood fragments pierced the air. The Living Force in the trees cried out and then was silent. Obi-Wan breathed hard, overcome by the loss and the great anger that had destroyed the trees.
"You are either with me or against me, Obi-Wan," Ece called out, above the sound of the swirling air.
Obi-Wan centered himself for a fight, knowing there was no other way. He took his lightsaber in hand, igniting it, and stepping from around the column, the blade coloring his and Ece's faces in blue.
"That is your answer?" Ece asked, now standing before him.
"It is my duty."
"So be it." Ece raised his arms, and the benches came hurtling towards Obi-Wan. Stone and wood benches were thrown at him from every angle. There was no fighting this assault with a lightsaber. Obi-Wan again found cover behind a support column. The benches slammed into the stone pillar, making it shake. If it fell, the very Temple itself might fall around him.
He had to get out of here. Save the Temple by focusing Ece's rage elsewhere. He focused on the Force, centering himself on its guiding hand, and ran at Force speed out of the Temple, and into the night. Outside, he stopped beyond the Temple grounds, standing amid the forest, looking back, watching for Ece.
The monk had quickly realized that Obi-Wan was gone, and the destruction within the Temple stopped. All was quiet, but Obi-Wan felt that prickling, uneasy feeling once again. Ece's reign of terror was not over. Just then, Obi-Wan heard a loud crash in the distance, and then another.
He took to the path, running again at Force speed to the residential compound. There, he saw that several cottages had been blown apart.
The monks were coming out of their homes, afraid and confused by what they saw.
"What is happening?" they asked Obi-Wan.
"Brother Ece has been seduced by the Dark side of the Force."
Master Ogu stepped forward. "Ece is doing this? How can that be?"
"He is angry. I could not reason with him."
"Angry at you?" the master asked, putting his hand on Obi-Wan's arm.
Obi-Wan nodded. "We must get everyone to a safe place."
"I will speak with him."
"No, Master. He will not listen."
Boom! Another cottage was smashed by the invisible energy, and the nearby trees destroyed with it. The monks gathered into a tight circle at one end of the compound.
"You must stop this, Obi-Wan," they pleaded.
Obi-Wan stepped aside to speak with Master Ogu privately. "There is only one way to stop him."
Master Ogu shook his head. "No, Obi-Wan."
"Master, it is my duty to protect you. This power he has unleashed will destroy us all."
"We will retreat to the caves, and find another way to deal with this."
Obi-Wan's brow knitted. It was too dangerous to stand here and argue, so he agreed. He would lead the group to the mountain caves.
The monks quickly gathered supplies to sustain them for several days-blankets, water, dried fruits, nuts-anything they could carry that would not slow them down. Obi-Wan advised them to dim their presence within the Force, and then they set out on the rough trail that ran up to the mountain. The path was seldom used, and much overgrown with vegetation, but several knew the way. Obi-Wan hoped that Ece did not.
The destruction continued, but as they moved deeper into the forest its impact dimmed, and finally quieted altogether. Perhaps Ece had grown tired or had sensed their disappearance?
That night, the enclave settled into the caves that ran deep into the mountain range. No fires were lit and no meditations held, in order to keep their presence secret. The monks were safe for now, but Obi-Wan knew he would have to face Ece again. He also knew it was best if he did not remain with the group.
"I will go back to the Temple," Obi-Wan explained to Master Ogu as they sat at the entrance to one of the caves. "If I can keep Ece busy, perhaps I can find a way to stop him."
The master frowned. "I do not know how this happened or why he would want to destroy us."
"He said he found this power in the Veda writings of the ancients."
"Then the legend is true that the Jedi hid the writings of the ancient Sith here. But in all my years, I have never seen such writings."
"The other day, Ece was clutching a book and telling me he had made a discovery."
Master Ogu shook his head. "We must find that book and do all we can to bring Ece back to the Light."
"I will do all I can," Obi-Wan said, and started to get up, but Master Ogu put his hand on his shoulder to stop him.
"Rest, Obi-Wan. You will need your strength."
"I cannot stay here. Ece's anger seems to be focused on me."
The master's hand gripped his shoulder. "You would not abandon us, Obi-Wan, and we will not abandon you."
"Thank you, Master," Obi-Wan said, accepting the older man's wisdom.
Obi-Wan sank back against the cool stone of the cave's wall, and gathered his robe around him. He would try to sleep and prepare himself for Ece's next onslaught. If only Qui-Gon were here. Obi-Wan could use the man's strength and calming presence right now.
He heard it in his dream-a voice more dead than alive, calling to him, searching for him. He hid, cowering in the deepest, darkest place in the forest, fearing that voice. It was a power greater than any Obi-Wan had known, and it was making its way through the forest. Like an invisible fist, it smashed a path hundreds of meters wide.
"I will find you, Obi-Wan," it said. "I will destroy everything you love."
Obi-Wan woke with a start, his arms tight around his body. Somehow he had slept through the night, but now his heart raced as the words from his dream echoed inside him. The voice that had spoken was distorted and powerful, but somehow he knew that it belonged to Ece.
Obi-Wan stared out at the new day, listening to the chirping avians and feeling the forest around him. He wondered how long it would last. If Ece had found him in his dreams, then it would not be long before he found him physically, and destroyed everything in his path.
With a deep breath, Obi-Wan rose to his feet. He would make his way back to the Temple and confront Ece before he could destroy them all.
Obi-Wan set off alone, but it was not long before Master Ogu caught up with him.
"You should remain with the others," Obi-Wan said, stopping on the path.
"I need to speak with him, Obi-Wan."
"He will not listen."
"You don't know that," Master Ogu said. "It is my responsibility to look after all the monks."
"Your responsibility ended when the enclave was attacked. Now it is my duty to protect you."
The master nodded. "I am not questioning your role as the Knight Protector "
"Then return to the caves, Master."
"I cannot do that, Obi-Wan. I must see what Ece has become and do what I can to bring him back."
Obi-Wan stared at the older Jedi. He knew that Master Ogu had spent his entire adult life here on Capaah. He had never faced an enemy, never traveled to a world devastated by war, never fought an opponent who wished for his death. Ogu was a good man, but like most of the monks here, he was merely a scholar, a servant of the Force, and not a Jedi warrior. That was why the Council had created the position of Knight Protector. But Obi-Wan also knew Ogu to be very wise. Perhaps he could reason with Ece in a way that Obi-Wan could not.
"We will work together," Obi-Wan said with a small smile.
Master Ogu smiled in return and the two continued on the path to the Temple.
The grounds were quiet, as if all the living things had shrunk away into the shadows. Hidden away like the monks in the caves. It was strange to hear such a great silence from the forest-strange and sad when the monks had done so much to nurture the teeming life around them.
The two Jedi stepped into the library. It too was silent, and curiously undisturbed. After witnessing the destructive powers of the Dark side, it seemed odd that this place had not suffered as well. But then, the library was Ece's treasure. They knew they might find him here, but before that happened, they hoped to find the book of Sith teachings.
Master Ogu and Obi-Wan walked along the rows of ancient texts, silent and watchful. This place had been one of great joy and learning, and now was charged with a heaviness that was almost unbearable. They scanned the shelves and tables, hoping to notice a volume out of place. At last they saw a small, black book lying on Ece's work table. It was the same book Obi-Wan had seen him clutching.
Master Ogu stepped towards it, but it was suddenly swept aside, out of his reach.
"So predictable," Ece said. "You took the bait."
The two Jedi turned to see Ece standing there, his robes billowing from an invisible force.
"Brother, why are you destroying the Temple?" Master Ogu asked.
"It is your arrogance that is destroying it. Bow down to me and fulfill the prophecy of the ancients."
"What prophecy?" the master asked.
"The prophecy of Darkness," Ece said.
"You mean of the Sith," Obi-Wan said. "We will not bow to you or anyone else."
"You will kneel for me, Obi-Wan. You will pay for the sins of the Jedi or everyone will die."
Obi-Wan drew his lightsaber, activating it. "You've gone too far, Ece. I won't let you hurt them anymore."
Ece smiled. "I can take you dream by dream, Obi-Wan. I can take you into the Dark where no one will hear you scream." He raised his hand and a dozen chairs were hurled toward Obi-Wan and Master Ogu.
"Get down!" Obi-Wan cried out, quickly finding safety behind a row of bookshelves.
The elements seemed to be gathering again, charging the air, swirling about them. And then, Obi-Wan heard a familiar, but unexpected sound-the hum of another lightsaber. He stepped from behind the bookshelves to see Ece holding a lightsaber in his left hand.
Master Ogu looked at them from behind the relative safety of a table. "It is forbidden for monks to create such weapons."
"But not for a Sith," Obi-Wan said. At least now Ece was using a weapon Obi-Wan could fight.
Ece growled and lunged forward, unafraid of Obi-Wan's greater skill. Their sabers clashed, buzzing as they connected. They pressed into each other and just as Obi-Wan could feel Ece weakening he shoved Obi-Wan back with a powerful gust of wind. It was like a Force shove only it was a manipulation of the elements.
Obi-Wan stumbled back, but quickly found his footing and charged. He swung at Ece, their lightsabers hissing, but this time Ece seemed to want to play. He led Obi-Wan around the room, swiping at him occasionally, throwing objects at him, anything to wear him down. But Obi-Wan was determined to defeat him, get Ece to a place where he would weaken.
As the fight progressed, Master Ogu grabbed the Sith book and rushed from the room. Ece seemed delighted by this change of events.
"You can't protect him now, Obi-Wan," Ece said, laughing.
Jumping on top of a table, Ece raised his lightsaber high above his head and closed his eyes. The very structure of the building began to shake, and books and tables and candlesticks swarmed around Ece like a whirpool. Obi-Wan held up his arm to his face, trying to see as dust and debris clouded the room. He stepped back, sensing danger, and then saw Ece's eyes open and look straight at him. Obi-Wan dove under a table just as the torrent of objects was hurled at him, battering him even with the table partially protecting him.
Obi-Wan blinked his eyes open, but darkness shrouded him. What was the heaviness pressing on him? He tried to move his limbs, but he was pinned. He moved his fingers, feeling with their tips-books? It felt like pages of a book. That was it, Ece had buried him under the weight of hundreds of the libraries most precious texts.
Gathering the Force around him, Obi-Wan shoved off the books and everything else that was piled on him. He regretted having to damage the volumes, but it could not be helped. He looked around the room, cast in gray from this cloudy day. He was alone, and he had a very bad feeling. He reached out again, touching the Force, searching for Master Ogu and Brother Tukiya. Nothing. He could not sense either one of them.
I must get help, Obi-Wan decided. Though it could take days, even weeks for anyone to respond to a distress call, Obi-Wan had to let the Temple on Coruscant know what was happening. He retrieved his lightsaber and rushed out of the library and to the communications room, high in one of the towers.
He climbed the stairs, taking them two at a time, but the closer he came to the top the more a feeling of dread overcame him. He opened the door onto the communications room to find all the instrument panels destroyed, and the lifeless body of Master Ogu lying on the floor. Obi-Wan knelt down and closed the Jedi monk's eyes. Then he noticed that Master Ogu's hand was severed. He looked about the room and saw his hand lying atop the burned out panels.
He had tried to send a message, Obi-Wan thought. But had he succeeded? Obi-Wan got up and looked at the controls more closely. They were entirely useless. Ece must have followed Ogu here and destroyed everything. Obi-Wan could only hope that the master Jedi had sent the message before Ece could stop him.
He gathered the master into his arms, knowing there was no time now to grieve him, but he did not want to leave him here. He carried the body down the stairs, and came face to face with Ece.
"Tell me where they are, Obi-Wan." Ece's eyes were red like hot coals.
"You think I would betray the monks? Look what you've done. You've killed an innocent man. For what?"
"He was merely a sacrifice. He wanted to stop my creation."
Obi-Wan set the body down gently, putting his hand on the hilt of his lightsaber. "Is destruction your creation?"
"I'll make you believe in me, Obi-Wan. You will bow your head to me."
"I will never serve you."
"Then you will burn for me. Lose your eyes for me."
A sudden, swift wind came down on them, bringing with it dirt and forest debris. Obi-Wan turned away, unable to bear the blast of tiny pellets on his face. But the air churned around him, moving every which way. He could not stop the onslaught. He covered his face with his hands, stumbling back onto the stairs. Then, just as suddenly as it began, it stopped.
Obi-Wan rubbed at his eyes, and got up. Ece was gone. Why had he stopped when he had the upper hand? But Obi-Wan's vision was now impaired from the tiny particles carried by the wind. He went to the well and drew up a bucket of water and washed the debris from his eyes. The water was cool and soothing on his face, and he took a long drink to replenish himself.
He looked around the compound, noticing that the stone walls were toppled, and the trees, bushes, and flower beds were all uprooted and destroyed. Only the ancient buildings were left mostly untouched. It would take a great deal of labor to repair this damage, but Obi-Wan knew the monks would relish the work. He had grown very fond of these Jedi, and he felt very much alone standing here without them.
He could not return to the caves. If Ece truly did not know where the monks were hiding, then Obi-Wan would do nothing to give them away. He was on his own. He would do his best to find a way to defeat Ece, but Obi-Wan could not fight the elements that Ece controlled. All he could do was to keep Ece occupied and away from the caves.
To prepare himself, Obi-Wan went in search of food. He made his way to the kitchen stores, taking several prepared meals and flasks of water as he nourished himself with some bread and cheese. When he stepped back outside, he squinted at the brightness of the day. When had the sun broken through the clouds?
He journeyed into the forest ringing the Temple grounds to stash his meager supplies away. If Ece chose to destroy the kitchens, at least Obi-Wan would have some food in reserve, and anything he could gather in the forest. As he headed back to the Temple, determined to draw Ece into another battle, and therefore away from the monks, Obi-Wan's eyes began to sting. He rubbed at them, and squinted from the pain. Perhaps he had not gotten all the debris out? Not wanting to risk encountering Ece with this impairment, Obi-Wan retreated to a shallow creek where he again washed his eyes. The water was soothing, but as he dried his face and looked over the landscape his vision blurred. What was happening?
Suddenly, Ece's words came back to him: "Lose your eyes for me."
Obi-Wan shook his head. Did Ece have the power to take his sight? His heart began to pound. If he was blinded, how could he fight against the Dark? How could he protect the monks? He sat at the creek's edge, his head in his hands. He was exhausted, hungry, and quickly losing his vision. Master Ogu was dead, the monks were in hiding, and the Temple was on the verge of destruction. What could he do?
I am all that stands between Ece and this world succumbing to Darkness, he thought.
Obi-Wan reached out to the Force, even as he knew that would reveal his presence to his enemy. The Force embraced him and affirmed him. This was his destiny. The book of the Sith had been revealed-hidden in this distant Temple for centuries, until it found an eager student in Ece Tukiya to unleash its powers. Obi-Wan accepted his role in the Dark's ascendancy. It was necessary for the Darkness to reveal itself in order to be controlled by the Light.
Obi-Wan regretted the devastation, and Mater Ogu's death, but absolution would follow. He would let the Force guide him, be his eyes as he continued to fight, and if necessary, sacrifice himself for the monks and the Light he vowed to protect.
Obi-Wan's world quickly closed in on him. By the time he reached the Temple grounds he could only see shapes and light. The prospect of completely losing his sight brought his thoughts back to his training at the Temple on Coruscant. There, he had trained with a blindfold, learning to duel and to repel blaster fire without the use of his eyes. He had not enjoyed the experience, but it had been necessary to show the younglings how the Force was an extension of self, even one's eyes. Now Obi-Wan relied on that training and his trust in the Force. Soon he would not be able to see at all, and the Force would be the only thing left to guide him.
He wanted to draw Ece into battle. Though Ece's use of the elements was an advantage, Obi-Wan's skill as a warrior would eventually allow him to out maneuver and outwit his former friend. A friend now lost to him forever.
A boom thundered in the distance, bringing Obi-Wan's clouded eyes up to the sky. He listened carefully. Seconds ticked by, then finally he heard an awful rumble and the ground began to shake. His heart pounded. The sounds were coming from a great distance, beyond the residential compound. He hoped he was wrong. He began to run.
To speed his journey, he reached out to the Force, letting it guide him around the trees and up the mountain side. The forest had grown silent once again, but a great wave of fear and pain washed over him. Something had happened to the monks in the caves. He was at the site in moments, standing meters below the entrance to the caves. He blinked and wiped at his eyes, trying to focus on the scene. The light was not good here with the heavy canopy above, but the difficulty was his failing vision. Again, he used the Force. It revealed that the caves had collapsed.
He climbed the rest of the way and began the difficult task of moving the rock piles. He could hear voices, and he called to them. After some time he had created a large enough opening to slip inside.
"Are you all right?" he asked. He could sense the monks, but not see them.
"Many are trapped," one monk said. "Brother Ece found us."
Obi-Wan had feared that eventuality. "Can you help me rescue the others?"
"Yes, Obi-Wan. I am uninjured, but I fear that many are dead."
Obi-Wan nodded. He had felt that also. Of the thirty-seven that had made it to the caves, now only nine distinct life forces could be felt.
"I am losing my vision. You will need to guide me," Obi-Wan said.
The monk put his hand on Obi-Wan's face. "You have suffered as well."
"I will be fine. Can you show me where the others are buried?"
"Yes, this way "
After several hours, the survivors were pulled from the rock debris. That Ece had left them alone this long was a strange blessing. He could have easily crushed the last of them, but he did not. Perhaps some part of the former, gentle monk still existed in the monster he had become.
In all, three monks were uninjured and able to tend to the others. The broken bones were set, and bleeding stopped, but any internal injuries were beyond their care.
Obi-Wan now needed another place to conceal the survivors. A place Ece would not know. The site of the Ceremony of Welcomes came to mind. Behind the great waterfall was the entrance to a deep cave. Only a few monks knew of its existence, since no one ventured to that particular waterfall except for the ceremony. And to Obi-Wan's knowledge, Ece had never joined the welcoming party.
He directed the monks to dim their presence within the Force, to the best of their ability, and led the group through the forest. His eyesight was now virtually gone. Except for the occasional glimpse of a shape, he now lived in darkness. Perhaps it was symbolic that Ece had blinded him, because Obi-Wan would not see the Dark. Now he had no choice.
At the waterfall, he directed the monks to walk along a narrow, mossy ledge that led them behind the falls. Its entrance was completely hidden by the tumbling waters and heavy vegetation. Obi-Wan stood at the pool's edge, feeling the spray of cold water on his face. It seemed so long ago when he had first admired Qui-Gon here. The man he had come to love. Obi-Wan did not need his eyes to remember. The sound and the feel of the water was enough for Qui-Gon to appear in his mind---so beautiful and so masculine, taking the full force of the falls on his shoulders.
How he missed Qui-Gon's touch. And hoped that one day, somehow they would be reunited.
The forest appeared as the Republic cruiser broke through the clouds on its descent. Capaah looked as peaceful and beautiful as ever, but Qui-Gon could feel a great disturbance in the Force.
He had been contacted just 42 hours before. The Jedi Council had received a distress call from the Temple of Ancients on Capaah. There had been no response to their replies. Something was wrong. Qui-Gon was one of the last people to visit the planet, and the only available Jedi in that star system. Could he return to Capaah immediately? He had not hesitated, and his unorthodox methods were once again invaluable in gaining him transport.
He leapt from the cruiser as the door opened, not waiting for the ramp to extend. The landing pad was unharmed, but the air seemed heavy. He would proceed quickly, but cautiously.
His first instinct was to go to the Temple. He headed in that direction with Force speed, but as he drew closer a great weight pressed on him. He slowed his approach, and stopped in the forest just beyond the Temple proper. He peered through the trees, stepping closer, little by little. He couldn't believe his eyes. Every living thing was destroyed. The beautiful gardens, sanctuaries, paths, and trees-all destroyed.
He could sense the Darkness now, an oppressive energy that hummed in the air. Had some dark power been unleashed? Where were the monks? And where was Obi-Wan? He closed his eyes, centering himself, and reached out for his lover, but instead felt his search blocked by a wall of anger and hatred. He pulled back, closing his mind. He had touched something infinitely Dark, and now it knew he was here.
He dimmed himself, and moved back into the forest. Someone from the enclave had to be alive. But where would they be? He tried the obvious places first-the residential compound, the creek, the fields. But no one was there. He thought back to his time at the Temple, to all the daily activities of the monks. This place had been so full of life, so bright in labor and communion with the Force, and now it was dead. It looked as though a giant had walked over the land, crushing everything and everyone in its path.
"Obi-Wan " His lover's name fell from his lips, and a ripple of grief washed through him.
He could not accept the possibility of Obi-Wan's death. If the young Jedi had passed into the Force, wouldn't Qui-Gon have felt it? He and Obi-Wan had maintained a whispering connection over the great distance that had separated them. Several times in meditation, Qui-Gon had felt Obi-Wan's presence. And on one night, they had made love. This bond was a gift, but right now that beautiful connection was closed to him.
He is alive, Qui-Gon thought with determination. He's alive and struggling to survive.
Qui-Gon searched his memories of his time on Capaah. Where would Obi-Wan go? Where could he hide from the Dark oppression that was destroying this world? But he did not know. He had explored very little of the terrain. And yet, an image of water kept coming to him. He had searched the creek bed to no avail, and he did not think that Obi-Wan was in or near the well on the Temple grounds. At last his thoughts settled on the waterfall-the one in the place where they had made their first connection. Yes, this felt right. In his heart he knew that if he went to the waterfall, he would find Obi-Wan.
He set out, navigating his way without use of the Force. His power of observation would serve him well today. It took nearly an hour to find the site of the Ceremony of Welcomes. He remembered that day well-the feeling of the heavy, snow-melted water sluicing over his body, followed by the warmth of Obi-Wan's eyes on him. Yes, Obi-Wan was here, but where?
He scanned the area, and noted that some of the vegetation was disturbed along one edge of the pool. The ledge was covered in moss, but in several spots the black rock was exposed, indicating that the moss layer had been damaged, trampled on. Someone had passed this way, and he hoped it was Obi-Wan.
Qui-Gon stepped onto the ledge, following it to the falls. His face and robe became wet from the splash of the cold, mountain waters. He pushed vines and brush aside and found a narrow opening behind the falls. He squeezed through and stood at the mouth of a cave, the waterfall now at his back. There was no visual evidence of anyone here, but his nose tickled with the scent of a wood burning fire.
He went further into the cave, to where it turned and began to snake its way back into the heart of the mountain. The smell of smoke was stronger here, drawing him deeper into the cavern, but still he did not come upon the fire. He reached for his glow rod to light his way, but halted at the sound of a hum of a lightsaber. He looked up in time to see the blue beam slicing the air in front of him, and jumped back, bumping up against the rock wall. He activated his own lightsaber, and stood at the defense. In seconds, his attacker came out of the darkness at him again, but this time Qui-Gon could see the silhouetted figure.
The young Jedi stopped short of taking another swing. He lowered his saber, breathing hard, and turning his head to the side. "Qui-Gon? Is that you?"
"Yes, the Council received the distress call---"
Qui-Gon's answer was cut off as Obi-Wan rushed to him. They took each other in their arms, lightsabers falling to the ground and deactivating.
"I can't believe you're here." Obi-Wan pressed his lips to Qui-Gon's, holding him tightly, trembling, and then suddenly pulled back.
The cave had plunged back into darkness when their lightsabers had deactivated, and so Qui-Gon reached for the glow rod on his belt and ignited it. Obi-Wan's eyes were cast down, but Qui-Gon could see that he had suffered greatly. He was not wearing his robe, and his Jedi uniform was soiled and torn, and several days growth of beard covered his face.
He took his lover's hand. "Tell me what happened. I saw the destruction at the Temple."
Obi-Wan squeezed his hand. "Ece betrayed us." The words were spoken softly, but determinedly, conveying the great sorrow Obi-Wan felt. "He found a book of the Sith and when I refused his advances he became angry and used its writings to destroy us."
"His advances?" Qui-Gon remembered Ece's jealousy toward them and the discomfort it had created. It unsettled him that Obi-Wan would not look at him now. He needed the connection they made in each other's eyes, and so he reached for Obi-Wan's face, lifting it by the chin. Obi-Wan slowly opened his eyes, looking up at him, and Qui-Gon gasped. "Did Ece do this?"
Obi-Wan turned away again. "Yes. He blinded me."
Qui-Gon gently touched Obi-Wan's face, examining it. His eyes were milky white, covered in a heavy layer of cataracts. "My Obi-Wan " He gathered his lover into his arms and held him tight. Obi-Wan's eyes, those expressive, beautiful eyes were now blank to him.
"It's all right, Qui-Gon. There is no pain and the monks help me. We have reduced our use of the Force to conceal ourselves from Ece."
"I think he knows I'm here."
"What?" Obi-Wan asked in surprise.
"When I surveyed the Temple grounds, I used the Force to search for you. I found a Dark presence instead, but he could not have tracked me here. We are safe."
"Only eight of us remain," Obi-Wan said. "Several need medical attention, and one died since moving to this location, but until Ece is stopped..."
Obi-Wan's words drifted off, and Qui-Gon knew his thoughts were clouded with all he had endured. To lose so many, in so short a time, was a great tragedy. Only eight remained out of the nearly forty monks who had called this Temple home.
"I have a ship waiting," Qui-Gon said. "Can you move the survivors to the landing platform?"
"Yes, we can get there."
"Good. Take them to the platform, and I'll deal with Ece."
Obi-Wan put his hand on Qui-Gon's arm. "You can't do it alone. He's able to control the elements-wind especially. I'm sure he caused that hail storm before you left."
"You're in no condition to fight."
"If you're saying that because of my eyes, the loss was only difficult at first. When we fight him, I will use the Force to compensate."
"No, I won't allow it. You will be responsible for getting the monks to the ship-"
Obi-Wan stood back. "As the Knight Protector of this Temple, it is my duty to protect the monks." His posture was strong and his voice resolute. "They have been attacked and I must defend them."
"You've done that, Obi-Wan. You saved all you could. But you are injured-" Qui-Gon's argument was cut short by an echoing, distant boom. "What was that?"
"It's Ece. He is trying to draw us out."
Qui-Gon looked over Obi-Wan's shoulders to the monks who had gathered behind him. Their faces were weary and their eyes spoke of great sorrow. They desperately needed a reprieve from this nightmare.
"Brother," Qui-Gon said to the monk who stood closest to him. "Can you manage getting the survivors to the landing platform?"
The monk nodded. "Yes, master Jedi."
"Good." Qui-Gon stepped to Obi-Wan, placing his hand over his lover's. "You and I will face Ece together."
Obi-Wan smiled. "Thank you, Qui-Gon."
With the monks safely underway to the ship, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan set out in the opposite direction. The rumbling, creaking sounds continued in the distance. If Ece had discovered Qui-Gon's presence on planet, the Jedi had to act quickly.
Qui-Gon led the way with Obi-Wan close at his heel. The well worn path was easy to traverse, and Qui-Gon kept his gait constant to make it easier for Obi-Wan to follow. Together they would fight this thing that Ece had become, and even if they died trying, they would find peace at each other's side.
The commotion of swirling leaves and branches brought them to the Temple grounds, and then to the library. They no longer concealed themselves, and each took a deep breath as he was filled with the other's presence in the Force-such a beautiful feeling to have on the verge of battle.
They stepped inside the library and Qui-Gon was shocked by the devastation. All the shelves were toppled, and many of the books burned-a senseless destruction of one of the most beautiful libraries in the galaxy. Even from the brief time he had spent with Ece in this space, Qui-Gon knew that the monk had loved this collection. Ece had spent almost every waking hour inside these walls, reading these books, and copying them word for word. Why would he allow the Dark to destroy what he loved?
The sound of books toppling over focused their attention on a point across the room. They drew their lightsabers in unison. A cloaked and hooded figure raised himself from the debris.
"Your blindness is beautiful, Obi-Wan," the voice said. It sounded old, but Qui-Gon recognized it. "Now do you see?"
Ece had been completely absorbed by the Dark. His stature was bold, not shy as it had been, and his words sinister. Had jealousy set him on this path?
"I see only the Light that I have always seen. Not your twisted, black world," Obi-Wan said.
"Sacrifice," Ece said smiling and stepping forward. "Sacrifice yourself, and I'll let the others live."
"We have no intention of letting you take any more lives," Qui-Gon said. He could feel electricity in the air, charged and seeming ready to envelop them.
"I am merely cleansing this Temple of all who will not kneel before me."
"You killed them because they would not bow to you?" Obi-Wan asked, fiercely. "They were your Jedi brethren."
Qui-Gon brushed Obi-Wan's mind to ease him. It was clear that there would be no reasoning with Ece. His words were heavy with the distortion of Dark power.
"Burn for me," Ece said, withdrawing a lightsaber from inside his robe, and touching its violet blade to the books at his feet. They lighted in flames. "Burn with the Jedi prophets."
Ece sliced the air with his blade, igniting it into tendrils of white bolts. The bolts crackled and reached out, touching everything and nothing at random. What they touched was seared with their heat, and more books were set aflame. So, Ece did intend to burn them all.
Amid the smoke, flames and electrical charges, Ece leapt forward, targeting Qui-Gon. He struck the first blows, his strength far greater than the Jedi master had expected. Their lightsabers connected fiercely, sending reverberations through Qui-Gon's arms.
Obi-Wan circled behind them. Aided by the Force and years of training, his blindness did not slow him down. He attacked from the side, but Ece repelled his advance. Together the Jedi worked to get the upper hand, fighting in their ancient dance with back flips and powerful strikes. Though Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had only sparred in exercise together once, this fight showed that their skills were complementary. They fell into a rhythm and enhanced each other's ability. Master and padawan pairs, who had practiced for years, rarely achieved this level of communion in battle.
Qui-Gon constantly re-assessed the situation, and noted that Ece seemed to be enjoying this fight. But curiously, Ece also seemed to be holding back on using the vast majority of his power over the elements. It was a poor strategy when the library slowly burned around them and the opportunity to control the Temple was close at hand.
The Dark hung oppressively in the air as the duel went on, but Qui-Gon sensed a definite shift in Ece's determination. It was as if Ece no longer cared to win this battle. His eyes were angry, but his attacks were increasingly ill-timed, and he seemed distracted to the point of being an observer in the fight and not a participant.
And then it happened, as though in slow motion-Ece lost his footing. The books under his feet, the torn and burned fragments of Light and knowledge, shifted under him. He fell back, his arms wide, opening himself to attack. Obi-Wan acted instantly, sensing what had happened as clearly as if he could see, and never doubting his purpose. He lunged forward, the blue blade of his lightsaber piercing Ece's chest.
Ece's eyes widened in shock and he dropped to the floor, landing on his side. He lay motionless a moment, and then reached out his hand. "Obi-Wan "
Obi-Wan stood over him, no doubt questioning Ece's motive, but then knelt down. Ece touched Obi-Wan's hand and smiled. "I see now," Ece said, lifting his head just enough to look between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. "I see the Light you share."
His head fell back, and he was silent. Almost instantly, the Dark energy that had weighted the air was lifted. Ece was dead.
Qui-Gon stepped forward, resting his hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder. "It's done."
Obi-Wan nodded, but then suddenly, gasped and put his hands to his face. "So bright "
Qui-Gon drew Obi-Wan to stand before him, pulling his lover's hands away from his face. "Your eyes," Qui-Gon said, marveling at how the cataracts were clearing.
Obi-Wan wiped at his eyes and squinted. Sunlight streamed in from the windows, a bright welcome to once darkened eyes. "I can see," he said, breathless. He looked into Qui-Gon's eyes and smiled. "You are so beautiful."
Qui-Gon smiled in return, and took Obi-Wan's face in his hands. "And you are beautiful, my Obi-Wan."
The simple act of looking into each other's eyes, in recognition and pleasure, was overwhelming. They came together in a kiss sweet with time, appreciation and awe. Their lips moved on each other's, wanting, needing and comforting. It was as if all the decisions they had made were laid back at their feet. They had come full circle back into each other's arms.
As their embrace ended, Obi-Wan turned to look at Ece once more. "I hope he has found peace."
Qui-Gon nodded. "He overcame the Darkness."
Obi-Wan looked to Qui-Gon, his eyes filled with questions. "Do you think so? It was as though he gave up the fight."
Qui-Gon bent down and covered Ece's dead face with a robe. "He chose to sacrifice himself to stop the Darkness."
"And Master Ogu sacrificed himself to get that message out," Obi-Wan said.
Qui-Gon stood and took Obi-Wan's hand. They were silent a moment, in memory, and then retreated from the library ruins into the bright day.
"Much has been destroyed," Obi-Wan said, looking over the grounds.
Qui-Gon stepped away to touch the remnant of a stone wall. So much labor went into this site and into the monk's meditations. "It would take a great deal of work to rebuild it."
"Do you think the Council will allow it?" Obi-Wan asked.
Qui-Gon knew a Jedi team would be dispatched to gather the dead and secure the Temple of the Ancients. Their assessment, combined with his and Obi-Wan's reports, would guide the Council in their decision.
"Even so," Obi-Wan said. "It wouldn't be the same."
"Nothing is ever the same, Obi-Wan."
"A cycle ago, I thought most of my life would be spent here."
"I will need to meditate on that with you." Obi-Wan took Qui-Gon's hand again.
Qui-Gon smiled. "We will take the monks back to Coruscant and see what the Force holds for our future."
They smiled at one another and started the long walk back to the ship, confident in their love and the path the Force would show them together.
~the end ~