Especially when Master Jinn said, “We’ve woken up Anakin, I think. We have to bring him out here.”
A pause, and Anakin knew Obi-Wan disagreed, and would’ve even said it, except they’d realized he was listening. Taking matters into his own hands, he threw a tunic on over his leggings and strode out, and Master Jinn made no attempt to hinder him. “What’s going on?” he demanded. “Is it about Padmé and Master Windu?”
“Yes, Anakin, it is,” said Master Jinn. “Don’t worry, nothing big or bad’s happened to them as far as we know, and I think we would sense it anyway, were it bad enough. But the two of us are considering asking the Jedi Council for permission to go to the Avvarbor System.”
“Don’t get excited,” Obi-Wan said. “They probably won’t grant it, at least not right away. And we might not take you with us.”
Those reminders did quell Anakin’s excitement a little bit. Still he said, “I hope you do go, though. Even if you go without me.” It would drive him crazy, being left here alone, but he could stand it, just to know they’d be doing that fight together.
“I’m glad of that,” said Master Jinn. “If you want, you can even come to the Council with us. Although I must warn you, Anakin, that if you do, you must not lose your temper at them. In fact, I think for this meeting, you might only speak if you’re spoken to. I know we don’t do that much anymore, but these will be delicate circumstances.”
“If I must,” said Anakin, and he tried not to sound too annoyed, especially because he did understand.
He thought Master Jinn could tell that he did, because he smiled, turned back to Obi-Wan, and said, “I will talk to Master Gallia first. She will know how many ears we have a chance with. She may even be willing to advocate for us.”
Anakin didn’t know about that, given some of the things he’d heard Ellé say about her the last time they’d talked. But he didn’t say anything then, as Obi-Wan replied, “Think you can do it in the morning? We could meet before lunch; I’ve nothing on my schedule after 1100.”
“I shall try. May I come with you back to your quarters?”
That was obviously them wanting to talk further away from him, and Anakin wasn’t sure how he felt about that. But Master Jinn had formed plans with him for the morning earlier in the day, which at least meant he would come back tonight. Sometimes when he and Obi-Wan went off he didn’t, and Anakin still hadn’t a clue what in the galaxy they could possibly be up to.
Meanwhile, he could be a little more grown up about this. Instead of just returning to bed and tossing and turning about, since he knew he wasn’t going to sleep like that, Anakin knelt to meditate. He stayed there in the common area, because he would still feel the lingering presence of both his Master and Obi-Wan in the Force there, and both of them helped him feel more at peace.
He tried to clear his mind as best he could, though that had never been an easy thing for him to do. Master Jinn had once observed that those who strong enough a feeling for the Living Force, which included him and his Padawan both, sometimes had a harder time. Anakin remembered one of the first techniques he’d taught him for dealing with it, trying to reach upward, away from all the distracting life and heat of Coruscant. Also one he’d learned from Obi-Wan, where he took a breath in and tried to hear nothing but the sound of the air rushing in and out.
It worked. Anakin felt his anxieties and impatience fall off of him, and soon he was feeling nothing but the Force and the general presence of living things around him. Later it would stun him how much of a relief that was, but at the moment, he wasn’t even fully aware of that. He was floating through so much space, warm and cold both, and though sometimes he didn’t like the cold, right now he understood why it was right for the cold to be there, and that was enough.
He reached deep into the Force, felt the power in it, remembered to let it take him, to not take it, though he thought maybe if he could hold it a little, just long enough to destroy the Sith, as he was supposed to do anyway…no, he reminded himself, he was not thinking about that, not right now. Tomorrow, maybe. Or whenever he was allowed to leave the Temple again. Just the Force tonight…
And yet, it was kind of scary, how overwhelmed he was, and he couldn’t not feel the effects of that. Especially because Anakin was filled with an awareness that this, well, this was big and old and unchanging, and all of that in ways that made him feel like most of everything around him was insignificant to it. He wasn’t even sure he wasn’t, even if he was the Chosen One. And his Master and Obi-Wan and Padmé and Master Windu and the Sith Lord who was so focused on the five of them…who they were and what they did and what happened to mattered nothing to the Force.
And that, Anakin knew when he at last came down, was not something he could not be unhappy about. After all, if nothing else, whether the five or them succeeded in defeating him or not could determine the fate of millions of people, possibly even everyone in the whole galaxy. Nothing should be allowed to just continue on indifferent to that, not even the Force. Besides, hadn’t he been created by these mystical things? Even if it had been at the bidding of the Sith, well, the one who had supposedly done that had been dead by the time he’d been born anyway, and it was still responsible for him.
He might have even been upset enough for Master Jinn to sense it, and he was anxious for a moment or two about that. But if he had, Anakin could sense no reaction for him.
This was a problem, though, that he had felt better during the meditation, but not at all after it. It was even a little shocking, how it had all rushed back to weigh him down again. But maybe he didn’t have to tell Master Jinn, at least not yet. At least not until they no longer had more important things to worry about.
He just needed to figure out a way to sleep, that was all. Maybe thinking about Padmé would help, but, well, that had gotten more complicated lately, in ways that were still confusing him a lot. There were thoughts he was starting to have about her when trying to sleep he didn’t want to have to deal with right now.
But as he lay down, his mind instead strayed to the other fellow Jedi besides his Master he had let into his mind. He remembered that deep serenity, not even due to an absence of feelings, but by a determination to stand above them, and how gentle and ready to help he’d been to aid and protect them. Strangely enough, the things he’d struggled to believe were really part of Obi-Wan’s mind he now had no trouble accepting, so much time after since he’d felt them there.
He thought of that man, off with his Master right now, as someone whom Anakin knew could help take care of even him. It was a comforting thought, to know there were such Jedi in the Temple, even ones who’d been grown up and taken and even lost a Padawan. (For a moment, Anakin felt a flash of grief for Tru, but he’d finally accepted he couldn’t do anything about any of that anymore.)
It was those thoughts which finally helped him drop off. As he did, he thought he even was aware of Obi-Wan in the Temple right now, giving his Master the same warmth he had given Anakin.
That, at least, did not come to pass. In the afternoon he and Xador met into another corner of the library, and he confirmed they could do it that night. “He’s not meeting anyone important. Just his mistress’ father, who pretty much handed his daughter over to him.”
So the trouble didn’t start until Mace actually reached the main entrance. They hadn’t figured out a way for Xador and Edny to sneak in before. They were currently sitting in a second-story caff shop nearby, where they could at least watch the entrance, and come quickly should Mace contact them. He honestly wasn’t sure he wouldn’t just leave them there.
Especially since they must have known he was coming. That became clear when he didn’t even get a chance to force his way through the doors, because they slid open, and out came at least thirty men, all wielding blasters.
Mace tried to move forward as he deflected their bolts, sending them ruthlessly into whatever man was nearest him. It wasn’t bringing down these people that was the problem; Big Hargo really was underestimating him there. But the sheer thick of them between him and the door made him worry that thing would shut before he could reach it. He could probably get through with his lightsaber, but that would take more time, and Big Hargo likely sending every man he could spare out here wouldn’t help. By the time he got in, his foes would have had too much time to prepare. He had to get through those doors before they closed.
So when he started to see them slide shut, he took a wild leap, knocking down everyone within arm’s length, and then nudging them with the Force to knock even more people down. He even managed to get two more of them on the ground with the heels of his feet as he flew, and two who probably otherwise would’ve made it in with him before the doors closed.
Three men were so close to the doors there’d been no hope of leaving them outside, and a fourth also got in with them, throwing himself onto Mace even as they mag-locked shut. The latch sounded like one it would take half a minute, at least, to open back up. His first foe was the easiest; he knocked him out with a tap to the right place on his head. The next two he ended up killing, hitting them with their own blaster bolts. The fourth, having seen so many of his comrades go down that way, instead raised his over his head and started charging. He didn’t look like he thought he had a chance, and Mace almost felt sorry for him as he moved in and knocked him perfectly into the door.
He’d hoped he’d be able to tell where Big Hargo was, but so far he could only sense he was around. All he could tell was the offices were empty, the probably contraband storage room had two very scared people in it, the unknown rooms had eight more in various stages of reaction to the commotion, and there were ten people in Big Hargo’s guestroom. Making the obvious guess of where his quarry was, he ran for the back. The doors had now been locked, probably remotely, but the walls were ordinary walls, easily cut through with his lightsaber.
Except that even as he did it, most of the people in the back were fleeing the building, and another group of people, much less afraid and much more aggressive, were coming in.
Edny had been so scared of Big Hargo, she had refused to even consider the obvious possibility of his being a coward. She was going to be in for a shock. Though when Mace concentrated on her and Xador, he sensed no immediate danger to them.
He was tempted to go back to the contraband room. The two people who had been in there had been so much more scared than everyone else, he didn’t think they’d been there to guard the room’s contents. If they were prisoners, possibly even trafficking victims, he could at least easily get them out of the building, though he wasn’t sure how much help they might need after that.
But he wasn’t sure that was what they were, and now the Force was speaking to him, telling him he now did need to catch Big Hargo. Much as he hated it, his only course of action was to go after him.
Except first, of course, he had to deal with all the large, aggressive, armed beings currently coming into the building with the sole intention of killing him. There still weren’t enough of them to succeed, but there were enough to delay him for too long.
He tried to at least get near the back entrance before they were on him, to minimize the amount of space he would have to fight his way through. But had barely passed through one of the rooms between the front entrance hall and the much smaller back entrance foyer when he found himself deflecting blaster fire at a range so close he was nearly colliding into the guns. That made their wielders easy targets, falling dead before him, their faces burned off by their own bolts.
When he tried to shove forward over the bodies, someone to his side managed to bump him sideways, and though he kept himself from moving too much he still collided into another guy who’d been trying to poke him with some cylinder with a hot-looking end. Mace quickly cracked the cylinder open-that was a surprisingly weak power cell-but he could quite get his balance back when there were so many damn bodies on the floor. He could only angle himself to knock into as many people as possible, sending them sprawling before him. Kicking another man trying to aim his blaster in the legs, he used the Force to propel himself up and over them. Two of them actually paused long enough to let out brief exclamations of awe.
The final men between him and the door were also the smallest of the group, and should’ve been easy to deal with. Except the one actually standing within the frame had something important on his person; Mace knew it as soon as he first saw him. He didn’t let himself think about that as he took care of the others, but in the doorframe, he had to stop and grab at the man, trying to protect himself with his lightsaber without unnecessarily killing another foe.
It left too much of him vulnerable, of course, and while he still instinctively moved out the way of almost every blow, one caught in the back just as his hand got into the guy’s pocket and closed around something too hot and jagged.
Most of the pain wasn’t even physical; the blow didn’t do any serious damage, and neither the heat for the edges of what he was clutching were all that sharp. But something harsh and horrible jolted through Mace. It wasn’t even just the Dark Side, although that was definitely there in it. There was also a sense of something that was just wrong, something that wasn’t supposed to occur in the universe.
It sent him staggering away, the vital object still in his hand, now all too visible. With his other he still wielded the lightsaber, but it was only through the grace of the Force that it caught all the bolts fired at him; he couldn’t consciously keep track of them at all. He heard two men laugh cruelly, and then another yell, “Don’t laugh, you idiots, don’t you know what the Jedi can do with that?!”
Mace wasn’t sure if they could do whatever the man thought they could do, but he wasn’t about to let these guards know that. As the shock wore off and he had himself fully back in control, he raised both his arms. The one with the lightsaber he kept in front of his body, in position to intercept and deflect any further blaster bolts. The one with the other object he held up above his head.
When he saw them all quail, he decided to take a quick advantage: “I will have to come back here,” he called over to them, “Unless I know where to quickly find your boss.”
Unfortunately, the words they yelled in response contradicted each other, as three different places Big Hargo might currently be were provided to him. They were all off in the same direction, at least initially, which at least gave him time to figure out which one to narrow in on.
Actually, one of them was one he was fairly certain was wrong, but sounded like a place worth looking into. When he sensed no more surveillance from the retreating guards, he commed his two current cohorts and gave as quick an explanation of the situation as he could. Twice he had to snap at Edny that there wasn’t time for her questions. Finally he had them off and headed towards the tiny plant store that was known for keeping odd hours. He himself, acting on gut instinct, turned and headed for the city’s public video library.
That was closed, of course, but the guard who had just suggested it to Mace had also mentioned the secret entrance in the back. It consisted of a large trap door that he had to squeeze himself through on his stomach. He emerged into a small room filled with boxes that were obviously what the door had been built for, with their size and shape.
Mace sat down on one of them and focused his mind. The first thing his mind zeroed in on was the newly acquired object, now carefully placed in his belt pouch, though even through the thick cloth he could feel a buzz coming off of it through the Force.
His first thought would’ve been it was a piece of a broken holocron; it kind of looked like it. But he was pretty sure if had ever been part of a working one, he’d know. Maybe someone had attempted to make one, and failed for some reason. Though none of that would explain how it had ended up in that guard’s possession.
The crazy through crossed his head that he needed Quinlan Vos. He wasn’t even sure where the galaxy the Kiffar Master was at the moment, and it was possible he might not even be able to get anything out of touching the object. But if he did, who knew what he could learn for them.
Big Hargo was in the building. That knowledge came to him as soon as he took his focus off the object. He could finally tell him apart from the contingent of aggressive-feeling people with him, including two that felt very strangely familiar to Mace, as if he had fought them somewhere before.
Still, it was few enough he could probably subdue them, and at least have a word with the man. Mace stalked out of the room, managing to cut through the wall without making any sound, and headed for them. He didn't try to cut through any more walls after that, though; he didn't want to damage a public library more than nesssary.
They started en masse to move away from him before they could’ve possibly heard anything. As he picked up speed, Mace tried to scan them harder through the Force. He hadn’t picked up any Force sensitivity on them initially, but with his mind and the Force around him both so full of darkness it was possible he could’ve missed something-
And then he knew exactly who those two men were, as the memory hit him, as hard as if it had been yesterday, of Echuu’s dead body before him, and two men covered in his blood. He’d been far enough away when his Padawan had fallen that it had been only prudent to leave his killers to opponents closer to them, and in the end they’d gotten out alive. There hadn’t been the resources to track all the Sith’s soldiers who had. Mace had never minded that; he had never wanted revenge. But he had wanted, when it came down to it, not to ever seen them again.
But now he easily circled around and got himself into the building’s main corridor moments before they ran into it. And there they both were. Mace saw their faces properly for the first time. They both looked human on first glance, though one of them had a nose that looked downright squashed. One more of Big Hargo’s guards also looked human, and the other three were Chagrians.
“You know, Arnie,” said one of his two old friends to the other, “I think we were supposed to make this guy’s acquaintance a few years back. Shall we now?”
“Not without us, you idiots!” one of the Chagrians barked, and they all charged him at once.
Two minutes later, when Mace sliced Arnie through, he honestly felt very little. He was the only one of them he ended up killing outright, though the third human and two of the Chagrians he left with probably too much cranial damage for them to recover fully, even if they did survive it.
The battle wasn’t a long one, but it took long enough Big Hargo went back the way he came, and once again Mace was in hot pursuit. He went into one of video rooms, grabbing the cases and throwing them down in his wake; Mace had to watch his step. But he was tiring out much faster than the Jedi Master was, he was without his bodyguards, and Mace was pretty sure he’d overtake him before any new ones got to him.
When he ducked out that first room's side doo, Mace even was able to check in with his two accomplices as he ran; the building had thick enough walls there was no way his quarry would hear him. They’d gotten to the plant store, where the owner had been closing up for the night, and hadn’t seen or heard anything suspicious. They had now retreated to a small bar nearby, and were waiting for him to go home.
Mace got into a second room just as Big Hargo shoved one of the shelves and sent it sprawing. There was a huge window behind it; he threw himself out. The cases were scattered so wildly on the floor Mace actually stepped on a couple of them.
By the time he followed him out, he had also devised a complete plan of what he would say or do when he caught his quarry. It would be better done not out in the open street, even at this time of night, so when he had more or less overtaken, Mace started by vaulted himself and landing right in front of him, lightsaber drawn. As he’d hoped, Big Hargo jumped back, and Mace stepped in further, trying to push him towards the closest alleyway entrance.
He pulled out a blaster, of course; Mace used the Force to knock it out of his hand before he had it fully drawn. Two more blasters were disposed of in a similar manner, before Hargo, having apparently not learned his lesson, finally went for the club that hadn’t been nearly as well hidden in his jacket as he’d thought. That he wrenched forward, and then flung back at him. The crime lord, now out of weapons, was forced to retreat further. Mace used the Force to pick up one of the blasters and use it to further maneuver him where he wanted him.
When it became clear to Hargo where they were going, he tried to make a break for it. Mace put himself in his way, moving gun and club behind him to keep him in place. “Well,” he sneered, “you too much of a coward to kill me on the big street?”
“I’m not killing you unless you make me. That’s up to you.” He gestured with his lightsaber.
Glowering with just a bit of the kind of menace that would have intimidated many a being, Big Hargo drew himself up as he strode backward into the alleyway. Mace followed him, and when the crime lord stopped halfway down the slanted alley, he allowed it. “I suppose you want to know why I set myself to kill any Jedi that invaded my home. Never mind that I shouldn’t have needed a reason for that. I always knew you people were dangerous to everyone in this galaxy, even before you proved that to me just now.”
He genuinely believed that. Mace didn’t care. “That’s not why you did it, though. Even if I couldn’t sense that, I know men like you don’t go after targets like us without at least something big to gain. Someone with power came to you, I would guess. Promised you help in becoming a much bigger guy than you are currently, perhaps?”
“Oh, he will kill you,” said the other man, dark smile on his face. He paused for a moment, obviously realizing what he’d given away.
It was so easy a shatterpoint Mace wasn’t even sure if he saw it through his ability to, or just through long experience. “Do you want to take the fall for him? That’s what you’re going to do for him, you know. I’m sure he’s told you plenty about how nobody can find out about him? Did you do background checks, try to see if you could find any records about him? There aren’t any, I can tell you that.
He’s like us, really. To him, you’re nothing but just another lowly unpowered creature, to be abandoned whenever it suits him to. And believe me, it will now suit him to, now that I’ve got you. Even if I let you go now, or you managed to get away from me, we’ve reached the point where inevitably word of my finding you will get back to him. You’ll be lucky if he doesn’t zero in your location and use the Force to slowly choke the life out of you. He can do that. He wouldn’t even need to face you. He can do it from so much as a building away.”
Then he fell quiet, and waited for Big Hargo to finish considering how much harder it would be for such a man to get close enough were he in custody, how he never real deserved any respect from him anyway, and how maybe he could even still turn this situation towards his own ends. His thoughts weren’t too hard to guess at, especially when he was screaming his various shades of outrage and fear through the Force, with spite growing ever stronger.
Finally, Big Hargo growled, “All right, fine. I’m going to laugh if you turn out to know all of this already, though. It was about half a year ago, I got a visit from a guy, some nondescript Corellian kid or something. He told me he had an offer from someone big, and gave me a kyber crystal. Well, it was more of a kyber sliver, but those still make you plenty in Colorpa. So I went to the guy he told me to go to, over in Hadrats, and he gave me another slip and told me to go to another guy, and that happened a couple more times, until I finally ended up in Alopi.
There I finally met my guy.” He now smirked. “I’m afraid I didn’t see him very well. He was all wrapped up in cloak and hood, nothing visible but part of his face. Pretty sure the red and black was all tattoos too, and the yellow eyes might have been natural-I didn’t recognize his species, though he had horns on his forehead-but I don’t think they were.”
It made sense he wouldn’t recognize a Zabrak. Most of the non-humans in the system were native to neighboring ones. Mace just said, “Never mind what he looked like, then. He made you an offer?” He applied just a little bit of mind pressure, a suggestion rather than a command.
“Kill any Jedi that landed on the main continent. I figured since they had to do that in Colorpa, I could manage that. A couple of months ago, the guy from Hadrats showed up, and he said his boss had a weird request. He wanted me to hack into the autopilot of this transport ship and send it to Coruscant. Didn’t say why.” More smirking. “I did it. Got it diverted, and they’re still wondering why. And they asked me not to interfere with a couple of signal towers, and to make sure nobody else did either. The one by the spaceport, and the one by the Red Gate. I stopped a couple of stupid kids from messing with the wiring of one of them.”
That was almost certainly all the man had to tell him. Now came the hardest part of the evening. First the main lie: “I now have enough evidence that I hand it over to the authorities here, you’ll never get out of heavy confinement once they catch you.” Now the truth he had to tone just right: “Lucky for you, I can’t be sure that doing so would result in your knowledge falling into the wrong hands. But I can’t have you yourself causing me trouble either.” He believed all of it, Mace could tell. “So I am going to offer you a choice.”
“What, die quickly or die slowly?” The taunt was weak, though.
“You can walk away right now. Then take a transport far, far away from Colorpa. Preferably one that takes you to the other continent. I don’t even much care what you do there.” That was stretching the truth, but it wasn’t really a lie. “The other? If you’d be willing to work with me, I might just be willing to take you somewhere where you could live a pretty sweet life.” That was the bigger stretch, the one he was taking a chance on.
Maybe the guy believed it, maybe he didn’t. But he just asked, “I go to Twandi, you won’t bother with me?”
“So long as, from this moment onward, no one in this part of the continent suffers or dies because of you. I hear otherwise, the deal is off.” He slowed his words and dropped his voice on that last part.
He could tell it worked just by the way Big Hargo shivered. Though he might think he was coming back in a year or so, but Mace knew enough of how the planet worked to be pretty sure he wouldn’t find it worth it. He’d learned a good deal just now, but he also had one solid accomplishment here in Colorpa to his credit: Edny was now safe.