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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Star Wars: Dark Ambition -- Chapter 1

Chapter 1:

“Concentrate.”

A young boy knelt on both his knees in the middle of a dark room. A single light shone from an unseen point overhead; it’s light clearly defining the few lines of definition he’d formed in his face and physique. A slight red appeared in his budding facial hair. It was a Padawan’s attempt to look more like his instructor, whose presence was made only apparent through his vocal cues that paced around the circular room.

“Try not to get swept away in your surroundings. Remember to ground your mind on your intent, and allow your feelings to probe the space around you.”

The blindfold over the boy’s eyes was damp with sweat. His furrowed brow displayed the signs of irritation and frustration that were permeating through the atmosphere. Puddles of his own perspiration gathered around him on the floor. The water traced the wooden sabres that surrounded him in an octagonal pattern.

“Obi-Wan,” the voice commanded, “Find the flow of the Force, and shape your will. Let it sweep around you.”

Obi-Wan’s shoulders relaxed. His breath slowed and mouth tensed. Moments passed with nothing happening. The invisible space between the two Jedi began to shift. Qui-Gon could sense the movement of the Force as it began to identify with Obi-Wan’s presence. Good, he thought, shape your energies.

Qui-Gon was hoping that Obi-wan was slipping into the current of the Force, but there was only one way to find out. With a flick of his wrist one of the practice sabres flung itself from the floor right past Obi-wan’s head into Qui-Gon’s palm. Qui-Gon knew that Obi-wan would be able to discover the direction of the attack based on the movement of the flying sabre. What this test was meant to teach was a more advanced attunement to the Force; to be able to detect specific movement in an attempt to better read one’s opponent.

Qui-Gon leapt from the shadows in a traditional one-handed back-slash, but changed his angle of attack with a well-timed foot pivot at the last moment. His long, auburn hair swept around his face as he spun, off-setting the color of his greying beard. He could already picture the striking point on Obi-Wan’s body; the section between his neck and his shoulder. Meaty enough to keep Obi-wan from taking too much damage from Qui-Gon’s powerful strike, but sensitive enough to make a point if he connected.

A loud crack shattered the quiet of the room. From the way the practice sabre vibrated in his hand, Qui-Gon knew Obi-Wan had succeeded. The boy had changed his stance from his kneeling position to a low-defensive guard. However, Obi-wan crossed his practice sabre over his back to block the point of impact; a variation Qui-Gon had not taught him.

“Impressive, but this test is not over yet!” Qui-Gon slashed his weapon towards Obi-Wan’s ear using the boy’s own weapon as a guiding rail. An effective lesson to teach the young Padawan about never letting his guard down. That is, if it had connected.

Obi-wan’s body moved with the flow of the attack. His neck stretched with his body, and he allowed the sabre to pass over him. Spinning on his palm, Obi-wan kicked at Qui-Gon’s lead leg in order to set him off-balance. Their shins collided and Obi-wan let out a cry of pain as Qui-Gon checked the attack. The Padawan then used this as a chance to redirect his momentum, and came from the other direction with a wild swipe of his sabre while still using his palm as a pivot point. Obi-Wan had always been more clever than strong, Qui-Gon thought to himself.

Their sabres collided with each other again, but this time Qui-Gon’s strength overmatched the boy’s. Obi-wan lost his grip on the weapon, causing it to spin across the ground to one side of the room. He began to search the edges of the room with his mind; reaching out with the Force to ascertain the location of his weapon before his Master had a chance to attack again.

There.

Obi-Wan could almost feel the hilt of his weapon in the palm of his hand as he heard it skipping across the floor, but a concentration-shattering blow to his shoulder kept that from becoming a reality. His body curled up in a reactive defense. The pain was slowing his body’s response time to his brain’s commands, and he detected the ripples in the Force that told him a kick was coming towards his head. With all the strength he could muster, Obi-Wan pushed his body forward and caught the leg in his good shoulder, while holding it in place with his arms. Beyond this point he had no plan, and Qui-Gon’s response made that apparent. The aging master pushed his weight forward and brought his captured knee to the ground onto Obi-Wan’s chest. A gust of air forced its way from the boy’s lungs, causing a painful wheeze to emanate from his mouth. Obi-Wan’s body went rigid, and both Jedi knew this fight was over.

“That’s enough,” Qui-Gon said has he grabbed the boy’s clenched fist and pulled him to his feet. The Padawan was still doubled over, but managed to straighten his torso out in an attempt to display some kind of strength in his defeat while removing his blindfold. Tears began to fill in his eyes, and he couldn’t bring himself to look the older Jedi in the face.

Qui-Gon moved closer to the young apprentice, slowly placing the practice sabre down on the ground as he moved. He knew Obi-Wan was proud, and this event would not be easily forgotten.

“Obi-Wan, understand these words,” Qui-Gon stood before the apprentice with a hand on his shoulder, “Victory can be gained even in defeat. Today’s lesson was not to best me in combat, it was to strengthen your attunement with the Force. Although your connection is strong, your Force control still need practice. However, I’m certain Master Yoda would have been pleased had he seen your performance today,” he tried to reassure him with a grin.

The words did nothing to remove the look of pain and disappointment in the boy’s expression, so Qui-Gon tried a different approach, “This is something you will have to work through yourself, young Kenobi, for the path of the Jedi is one that requires constant self-reflection.”

Obi-Wan moved free from the master’s grip and quickly walked through the rustic door that sealed the room from any outside interference. As he exited he bumped into a tall figure in traditional Jedi garb, whose hood covered the top parts of the master’s face. Obi-Wan didn’t need to guess as to who it was. The strong, dark features of Master Windu were easily recognizable.

Obi-wan attempted an apology but was too ashamed by his recent performance to face a saber-master as esteemed as Mace Windu. Mace watched as Obi-wan hurried himself down the hallway of the training wing of the Temple; the paleness of the boy’s complexion only being seen when he passed through one of the overhead lights that illuminated the poorly lit corridors. Qui-Gon’s wiry frame appeared behind Mace, as he watched the broken youth’s escape.

“He is still quite emotional, isn’t he, Qui-Gon?”

“I find his empathy to be one of his stronger attributes. It gives him a sensitivity to the Force that isn’t often seen with a Padawan of seventeen cycles.”

“And his swordsmanship? Is it progressing as Master Yoda hoped?”

“Obi-wan shows an incredible degree of improvisation in his form. I had assumed he’d been working with you to develop some of the more … ,” Qui-Gon stretched out his leg, remembering the spot where he had to check the boy’s kick, as well as the back-crossing block that surprised him so much, “ … interesting techniques.”

“No,” Mace quickly responded, “I’ve been busy teaching multiple opponent techniques to the Knights.”

“Ah,” Qui-Gon said, “a difficult set of exercises if memory serves.”

“If memory serves, you tended to excel in those teachings.”

“That was a long time ago, old friend.”

“Obi-Wan shouldn’t be too far from reaching that level himself. Has he managed to construct his lightsaber yet?”

“No,” Qui-Gon sighed, “His control of the Force isn’t delicate enough to piece everything together. His mind is having difficulty focusing on all of the intricate pieces and movements required.”

“He is slipping behind the other Padawans then. Do you think he’ll be ready for the trials in time? If not, perhaps Master Yoda can offer some help when he returns.”

“Hopefully, but not even the strongest Force users can predict when that will be.”

“Hopefully soon, we had an envoy from the Senate arrive yesterday wishing to speak with him present at the council,” Mace rubbed his eyes with his sword hand; the protruding knuckles and veins apparent from a lifetime spent studying swordplay.

“Politics never was your speciality, was it?” Qui-Gon remarked with a smile.

“No. Come, I’ll introduce you to their representative. I think you’ll find it just as unappealing as I do,” Mace let out a drawn out sigh, “Apparently this ambassador has a reputation for being pushy.”

--

Obi-Wan entered the small room that had been designated as his bedchamber. The old, square walls provided no aesthetic comfort in their coloring or texture, and were rumoured to have been built at the same time as the original temple. He rubbed his shoulder, which was turning from a bright red into a purple. Obi-Wan was no stranger to bruises, but this one left a deeper wound. The Jedi trials were starting soon, and he knew that he was near the last of his class.

His bed called to him; the soft mattress and cool sheets provided a welcomed image and hopeful feeling of comfort that his body desperately desired. However, his success would not come from comfort, he realized. Obi-Wan moved to the side of his bed where a worn and stained tunic was crumpled on the floor. As he reached down to pick it up he stopped himself and contemplated for a moment. Closing his eyes, young Kenobi stretched out with his mind and gripped the garment, slowly lifting it towards himself. Invisible fingers pulled the shirt out at its four corners and began rotating it so it would slip over his head. Obi-Wan could feel the material as it moved over his face, and he confidently smiled and said to himself, I’m doing it. Delicate Force maneuvers were his greatest failure, and he aimed to fix that, as the trials required a great deal of intricacy -- from what he’d heard.

As the shirt made its way towards his waistline it suddenly became a struggle to pull it fully over his torso. Confusion and disappointment swam through his mind, and he begrudgingly opened his eyes to see how he’d managed to fail this simple procedure. At once, the answer was clear. He had attempted to put his head where his left arm should have gone. The shirt hung awkwardly from his face, and with a drawn out breath of air he used his actual hands to remove the tunic and place it on himself properly. Finally, he bullishly Force pulled a satchel to his arm and made his way towards the training grounds.

--

Qui-Gon and Mace entered into a large circular room outlined by windows. The view from the room was meant to be calming, but many guests found the scene of trees surrounding the deepest chasm in the territory to be panicking. Part of this was intentional, as the Jedi weren’t keen on taking random visitors unless it was a matter of importance. Their temple was a place of solitude and focus, and outside influence wasn’t welcomed. This new visitor, however, seemed to be quite at peace as he stared out of the room into the deep black of Hgrolith’s Scar.

“Gentlemen,” said a soft voice from the turned back of the guest, “I’m so pleased we could finally meet, and do not worry … ” the man turned to greet the Jedi; his sharp features and studying eyes bouncing between the two masters, “ … I do not take the amount of time I have been idling here as an insult.” A friendly smile crept across his thin face. For an ambassador he wore surprisingly simple clothes. His dull, blue cloak was draped over what appeared to be common travel robes.

“It was not intentional,” replied Qui-Gon, knowing that Mace would not be as willing to play verbal games with someone as adept in politics as this man before them, “I was merely training a student, and it went a little longer than expected,” The two Jedi moved towards the center of the room where a circular bench was arranged. This was as far as many visitors ever made it into the temple, and Qui-Gon wasn’t planning on having that change with their new “ambassador.”

As Qui-Gon began to motion for their guest to have a seat, he was interrupted.

“Please, Master Jedi, sit with me,” the ambassador extended his hand and gestured for the men to sit before him in the circular center of the room. A puzzled, and almost humorous look passed between the two Jedi, and they reluctantly placed themselves down as a sign of good faith.

“Now, before I get started,” the ambassador started, “I want to make it perfectly clear that I have nothing but the utmost respect for your kind,” Mace sat with his arms crossed, suspiciously eying the interloper as he paced before them, “The ability to forsake all modern comforts and pleasures for what many consider to be a superstitious and outdated form of thinking, as well as combat, takes a great deal of discipline and strength. These are not my views, mind you, as I have studying the Jedi history a great deal over my years spent as a student of culture. It is necessary for my job, as I’m sure you can guess. Allow me to get to my point.”

Mace took in a breath of air and opened his mouth to start a reply, but Qui-Gon nudged him with a tiny Force push and a discerning look. The air that Mace had planned to use for words was leaked out through his nostrils, and he folded his hands in front of him in a neutral pose. Qui-Gon followed suit.

The ambassador continued, “I’m not sure if you are aware -- being so far from the civilized world -- but there have been mounting conflicts with some of the Free-Trade Syndicates along the outer rims of our Governing Council at the moment. Many of our planetary contingents are expressing outrage and discontent with the rumoured slave trafficking and questionable attainment methods of labor for the products and exports from these areas. In typical fashion, this does nothing to stop them from purchasing these items, but something must be done here shortly.”

Mace finally spoke up, “Ambassador, with all due respect, I don’t really see how this pertains to us, here.”

“Ah,” the soft voice of their visitor chimed in, “Forgive me, I am used to speaking to unintelligent Senators who have no clue as to the inner workings of their own system. The concern for you is what our Intelligence Council has been hearing rumours of for the last two cycles, but only recently obtained evidence of. I was really hoping to address the entire Jedi Council about this matter.”

Qui-Gon stood from his place on the bench causing the ambassador to look up at the tall, gaunt Master, “The rest of the Council is busy preparing for our trials, they --” again the ambassador interrupted.

“Ah yes! The trials of the Padawans! How delightful! I would request to watch them myself, but I am sure that I would not be allowed. Regardless, I shall share this information with you and all both of you Jedi Masters to ascertain for yourself the importance of what I have to offer. For, as I believe, you are the only hope for the outer rim planet of Tatooine,” a small holocube was pulled from the ambassador’s robes and placed on the table in the direct center of the room.

“Perhaps,” Master Windu spoke up, “You could give us some idea as to what you are referring to before we look at your ‘evidence.’”

“How rude of me, but of course, Master Windu. I bring you intel on what are referred to on other worlds as ‘Reapers, Dark Wizards, Harbingers, Star Killers,’” the ambassador could see that these names weren’t registering with the two Jedi in front of him, “Or as you call them …” a drastic change of tone and worry captured the older man’s tone, “ … Sith.”

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