The communications that came to them during the voyage didn’t seem that remarkable either. Though young Tru was shocked when the young rival, D’li Sert, accused the older one, Yusi Sert, of possibly being responsible for the hovercrash that had killed a Rian Mopi who would otherwise have probably been the next Duke. “That was over a year ago, wasn't it? Do you think it’s true?” he asked his Master.
“Impossible to tell right now,” Obi-Wan told him. “Not before we meet these people, at the very least.” Although he in fact was gathering a lot more information about everyone involved, far more than they imagined they were giving. The picture it was painting wasn’t one he was looking forward to being in.
When they weren’t reading the messages of the two men and their various relations(the family seemed pretty evenly split between whose side they were on), Obi-Wan had Tru studying the history of the planet. It had been colonized only a few thousand years ago. Technically there was a government that had control over the whole world, but in practice it was weak, and did little more than handle whatever interstellar matters simply could not be dealt with by the individual nations, which might have been the biggest problem everyone involved had. Of those twenty-one nations, Hallio, where the Duke had been an important person, was the third-biggest and second-wealthiest.
They were five hours out when Tru sighed, looked up from his readings, and said, “How many lies is this planet going to tell? Do we really have to pretend to believe all of them? If we’re supposed to act like the global government actually is going to play a part in this…”
“They will think they have,” said Obi-Wan. “Men who rise high in such an organization are good at deluding themselves about that. We won’t even necessarily have to do anything, especially if either, or, more likely, both of these Serts try to get a vouch from them and do the job for us.”
“But if they don’t, will you tell me to tell them direct lies?”
“If we have to.”
He was a little surprised by how shocked Tru looked at that. “You know,” he said, “when I was your age, I genuinely believed the ugliest missions were the ones where one had to break out the lightsaber and be violent, or at least threaten to. Which, remember, might also happen here; I’ve lost count of the number of times negotiations have turned aggressive. But in truth, things like this, where everyone is after power, and everyone is corrupt, and everyone thinks the universe of themselves? Sometimes the ugliest missions are the ones where your lightsaber stays strapped to your belt, Tru.”
When Tru sighed, and looked back down at his reading, though, he added, “It might not be as bad as it looks like at the moment, though. Very often I’ve come to a planet seriously worried about whether I can get things done without anyone trying to kill anyone else, and found that once they are sat down in a room and gotten to talk sensible, the negotiating sides find themselves not so far apart as they thought.”
“But that’s not going to work here,” said Tru. “Isn’t this a situation where the winner takes it all?”
“Not necessarily,” said Obi-Wan. “The law says so, yes, but informally we can see to it that even the cousin who doesn’t get the title doesn’t walk away empty-handed either.”
“Is that legal?” Tru demanded, his earlier shock returning.
It was not, but Obi-Wan had the feeling he shouldn’t tell his apprentice that outright. Instead he said, “Tru, you have to understand, we are here to do good in the galaxy. Or to serve the Force; I know a lot of Masters would tell you that, including my own, but for my own part, I have always seen that a secondary. Of course the ends do not necessarily justify the means, and even more importantly, whenever you take an action that some might view as dubious, you must think carefully about all the possible ends, because they might not be what you planned for. But you simply cannot assume the law is always right-that is a basic fact that at your age you ought to understand already, and nor can you assume that you may always follow it without worry.”
Tru was silent for some time, then, until Obi-Wan though he might not yet make further comment on it. But then he said, “I’ve had an image of you. I suppose I shouldn’t have had it, that is was a bad idea to make the assumptions I made…”
“Mistakes are what you learn from,” said Obi-Wan. “There is no need to be ashamed of them. And believe me, Padawan, I wish I could be what you thought me to be. When I was your age, I thought I would be.”
At that, Tru put his reading down, and moved over and pulled his Master into a hug. “I’m sorry for that, Master,” he said. Obi-Wan felt himself be moved, maybe even more so by the unexpectedness of it.
When he pulled away, he asked, even more sadly, “We don’t have much control over who we’re going to be, do we? I mean, we choose to be Jedi, kind of, but after that it’s all the will of the Force, isn’t it? And often the will of others whose actions we have to deal with. Like here, especially if that poor Duke was murdered. Except…I don’t think even most people who aren’t Jedi get to control their circumstances much, do they?”
“No, Padawan,” said Obi-Wan, and wondered if he should tell Tru how he himself had never thought that before, but how he knew him to be right, that while he had been teaching him an important truth, he had brought his Master’s attention to another important one, and one he wouldn’t forget. Not yet, he decided. Tru would understand all of that when he was older.
“D’li Sert is not in Bread right now,” Yagulski explained. “He received word two hours ago that his mother is very ill. He managed to get an agreement from Yusi Sert that he would not contact you until you all could sit down for a first discussion together. It is an agreement that he had to have in place, otherwise who knows what fulfilling his duties as a son might have cost him.” Plenty of sneering there, too. At least he hadn’t made any accusations, even veiled, of Yusi Sert poisoning his Aunt.
Which did not stop Obi-Wan from wondering. Of course the old lady might not even have anything wrong with her; it might have all been a fabrication. All too many things were possible.
The innkeeper was a Devaronian. There were few enough offworlders in Bread that Obi-Wan thought that fact to be significant; he might have been selected for his neutrality. But Yagulski knew him; he greeted him first with a fond, “Pazik!” Before Obi-Wan and Tru were introduced, they listened through the two of them exchange news about their parents, and learned that Yagulski’s lived in the neighboring city of Polli, where Ummi Pazik had lived for a few years before he had come to Bread and purchased Sidestay from its previous owner. “I’ve never seen any Jedi before,” he said to Obi-Wan, and he both sounded and felt genuinely fascinated.
Lastmeal was offered both in the main room downstairs or to be ordered there and then brought up to the rooms. Obi-Wan ordered them both bowls of the day’s soup, a combination of local vegetables, and instructed it to be brought up. They took their leave of Yagulski then, who spoke of possibly being the one to fetch them if D’li Sert returned the following day (Obi-Wan did not like hearing that new if), and Pazik himself led them to their room.
Much to Obi-Wan’s relief the room contained nothing unusual; it was modestly sized, just big enough to comfortably hold the two beds and sets of closets and tables, as well as a holoprojector, a tiny rug with a floral image, and a strange metal contraption that Pazik told them would make them a tasty and energizing breakfast the next day if they wanted it. He did think they kept the rooms colder than necessary, but suspected telling the innkeeper so would generate more fuss than was worth it.
They had napped just before landing, which left Obi-Wan awake and alert. Tru, on the other hand, looked at his bed like he might like to crawl into it without eating anything first; he slept a lot. He considered trying to keep his Padawan awake with katas or conversation, but he wanted to do some meditation, and the anticipation of the quick arrival of food might keep him awake anyway. There was a narrow strip of floor between one of the beds and the windows, and when Obi-Wan knelt down there, while his feet touched the bed and his knees nearly touched the wall, he fit, and he liked the way he could feel the setting sun on his face.
Eyes closed, he focused on that, on the energy the planet’s star was providing, the life it was giving to the soil and everything above it. It was something Qui-Gon had often tried to get him to appreciate about stars and their planets, but he had only begun to do so after he had been knighted and been on his own. He became absorbed in it now, though, in the Living Force he perhaps did not pay attention to as much as he ought, but he was determined that was one flaw he would not pass on to Tru. From the life of the soil and the things that grew out of it, he moved on, letting himself feel the presence of all the animals and other living beings around him, all the people, including all the ones crowded in the inn…
There was something wrong; there was darkness near them. Obi-Wan zeroed in on it; one of the people downstairs. Breaking his meditation he pulled himself up, called out “Tru,” to his Padawan, who had been on the bed with his eyes closed.
But when he sat up, Obi-Wan could tell exactly when he had sensed it too. “What’s down there?” he asked. “Can you tell?”
It had felt vaguely familiar. Obi-Wan focused on it again…and then he recognized it, and there was no Jedi training that could have stopped the hard wave of fear that hit him then. It can’t be…
But it was, and meanwhile he was fairly certain the inn had only one entrance, and there was no way they could get to it, and while it was possible the two of them were strong enough to fight past he whom Obi-Wan was sure had come there for them, he didn’t want to take that chance if he didn’t have to.
We ought to lead him away from here anyway, he thought, take him somewhere there’ll be no one for him to hurt besides us. “We need to get out of here,” he said. He looked out the window, and unfortunately the floors were high and the streets crowded, but they had no other option, so he flung them open. “Just think of yourself as doing the jumping exercises back in the Temple, and try not to land on anyone.”
Tru opened his mouth, and Obi-Wan feared a protest, when suddenly downstairs they heard a scream. “He isn’t waiting to kill people,” he said; that required a change of plan. “That means we can’t get out of here until we know we’re taking him with us. Come on, sabers out.”
Tru didn’t look any happier about that, but he didn’t protest, not when they heard another scream and the sound of things crashing. Sabers out they charged out into the hall and then down the stairs. Sure enough, there was Darth Maul, multiple corpses at his feet, others fleeing. Two red blades extended from his hand. Obi-Wan sensed the ugly excitement when he saw him; it felt like a slap to the face.
He turned his attention toward Obi-Wan and Tru, and Obi-Wan said softly to him, “It’s me he wants, not you. Not that he wouldn’t kill you if he could do it while still killing me, but if we made him choose between us…”
“No, Master!” Tru hissed fiercely. “I won’t leave you here to die. I don’t know if I could escape without you anyway.”
That second point was good enough a one; once his Master was dead, Tru would have to get to the spaceport and off the planet as fast as possible; he’d probably have to steal something. Plus sacrificing himself would leave the planet’s populace completely vulnerable to the Sith Lord, who might not go directly after Tru. That was why Obi-Wan said, “Very well, then. We take him together. Open yourself up to the Force like never before.”
That was all the instruction he had time for before Maul lost his patience and leapt at them.
From the start they were too much off balance. Obi-Wan leapt to the top of the staircase and Tru followed, and they tried to hold against the Sith, but his blades flew so fast it was all they could do to keep them at bay, never having a moment to think of anything else. Tru didn’t even know fully how to make use of their high ground advantage. He was completely tuned into the Force, at least, and through it he could anticipate and respond to the movements of his Master, but he was doing too little on his own.
It was only a matter of time before Darth Maul pushed them away from the top of the stairs and battled them down the corridor they had just come down. By then Obi-Wan was starting to seriously think the best either of them could hope for was to take this monster down with them. He was as relentless as any foe Obi-Wan had ever faced. Tru was starting to lose just a smidgen of speed with his lightsaber, to become just a touch unsteady as they stepped back, and he felt their opponent’s glee as he realized this.
But then downstairs, they heard yells and the sound of many boots running. “Where is he?!” It was the angry voice of the innkeeper. “I can hear those laser sword blades; he’s still here! Oh no, upstairs-how many people do we have up there?”
However many there were, Obi-Wan just hoped they remained cowering in their rooms, and none of them tried to step outside just now. The hapless city guards now running up the stairs and having no idea what they were in for were going to be bad enough.
There were a lot of them, and they all came up blasters firing. “Duck!” Obi-Wan yelled at Tru. “Lightsaber over your heard; get the bolts into the ceiling!” It was no use trying to get them to hit Maul; he was already somersaulting through the air and coming straight at the new arrivals. Obi-Wan felt his heart clench in grief for the three men at the front; though he tried to push them back and out of the way of Maul’s blades, two of them still fell dead hit by their own blasts, and the third was sliced through before he and Tru could catch up with the Sith Lord.
More than just those two had been hit by redirected blaster fire. Of those remaining, half of them fired again as the two Jedi again engaged their enemy. Maul’s lightsaber flew every which way to deflect the attack from both sides. But a single bolt somehow got through, and hit him below the shoulder.
It didn’t have that much effect on him; only a slight stumble, and he’d been wielding the lightsaber with his other arm. Still it gave Obi-Wan just a little hope. “Get out of here!” he yelled at the guards. “You’re going to get yourselves all killed!”
Most of them were quick enough to obey, but a handful continued to stay. At least it kept Maul distracted enough it allowed Obi-Wan to maneuver himself in and force his opponent to defend his injured side. It was Maul on the retreat now. If he could just get him back to the stairs, Obi-Wan thought, and then far enough down them. The men down there would still have their blasters out, and some of them would probably fire again. The distraction when he was trying to fight upward might just be enough.
Then another bolt got him, possibly the last one before the last of the guards fell to the ground in two pieces, hitting him in the leg. Obi-Wan forced himself to remain calm, while Tru was generating too much excitement. They might put an end to this creature right now. Qui-Gon and Master Windu wouldn’t have to put their Padawans anywhere near this kind of danger…
But with only the two of them to fight again, Maul suddenly seemed to recover completely, getting at them with his blade faster than they could respond. Before Obi-Wan knew it they were being pushed back away from the stairs again. Even if he was getting slower, so was Tru, and even more now, the earlier excitement and hope of their victory clearly hurting him as it was all dashed.
Down below Pazik was shouting at the guards, ordering them to go back up there. He heard the head of them respond, and it sounded like they were literally just below the floor. One last crazy idea occurred to him.
“Tru, make a hole in the floor,” he ordered. Tru obeyed without question, turning his lightsaber down and carving it out as Obi-Wan struggled to hold Maul off on his own, tried to keep him at bay for just the few minutes they needed. The hole was nearly finished when Maul got enough through his defenses for his blade to knick Obi-Wan’s shoulder.
It was his left shoulder; he still held and wielded his blade without so much as a flinch. But the pain was so terrible it was hard to think, and his good arm moved with less coordination; he nearly got hit much more fatally twice before Tru yelled in triumph; the hole was complete.
“We’re coming down there!” he yelled through it before jumping, grabbing Tru’s arm and pulling him with him. Thankfully the guards held their fire, and he landed smoothly on his feet below, even as Tru thumped more loudly beside him, ignoring the gasps of astonishment, and said, softly as he could while still being heard, “Shoot the minute you see his shadow.”
But there was no shadow up above, no sign of Maul coming after them. Half the guards aimed their blasters at the hole and the other half at the stairs, but he came down neither.
Instead, he heard someone say, “Sir, your apprentice.”
He looked over just in time to see Tru slide from where he had been on his knees, down to the floor completely. They he saw on the round exit wound on his back.
He was feeling it happening now even as he moved, flipping Tru’s body over even as he felt the life fast flying out of it. He met his Padawan’s eyes just in time to see the light leave them, as around them Tru faded into the Force, leaving behind only a sad smile on his face and a hand feebly pulled up to where Maul’s blade had ran him through. The other was still holding his lightsaber; pointed in such a position it would have shielded his chest had it been on; he must have deactivated it a moment too early, just before they'd gone through the hole. It had probably been a wild jab from Maul, hitting possibly more by luck than anything else.
Above them they could hear more noises, the sound of something crashing, but no sounds of distress from anyone. Obi-Wan forced himself to leave Tru’s corpse to run back upstairs, ignoring the shouts of those around him, and even the two city guards that followed him up, until all three stood there, staring at a newly carved hole in the ceiling. Darth Maul had flown away again.
He thought the two of them both felt guilty over it, though. It probably had a lot to do with the reason why they both showed up for the ceremony, standing pretty far away from each other. They had even agreed to split whatever fees needed to be paid so Pazik could have a whole and functioning inn once again without the Jedi Order getting any demands put upon their own money.
It was hard, watching the face of his Padawan be consumed by the fire. But he knew this wasn’t the hardest part. That was still to come, during this next week, when he would be flying home, and Tru wouldn’t be there with him. It would be when he gave his report to the Jedi Council, and it was a safe bet he would be called to talk to them in person, and he would have to explain how the choices he had made during the fight had caused Tru to get killed in a moment of carelessness. Then would be the worst of all, the beginning of his next mission, where, unless he got a new apprentice immediately, and he was pretty damn sure he wouldn’t, he would go out all alone.
If he was sent out on a next mission anytime soon, anyway. It was possible he wouldn’t be. If Darth Maul was now likely to go after any of the five of them sent out on their own, it was even possible none of them would be sent anywhere except for after him. Certainly less people would want him, or Qui-Gon, despite their good reputations.
He wasn’t looking forward to seeing Anakin again either. He knew he and Tru had been friends from the time they’d Initiates, and since he’d taken Tru as his Padawan the two of them had been making efforts to see each other even on those rare occasions he and Qui-Gon had both been in the Temple and hadn’t paid each other any visits. He was aware, too, that Anakin was far too judgmental for a Padawan his age, and that Qui-Gon was doing his best but seemed unable to fully change that, and that he would completely hold Obi-Wan responsible for Tru's death.
He was right to, of course.
The issues he had come to Muus to help resolve were far away from him as he watched his Padawan turn into ashes. Except that, when the fire had burned for about an hour, and the first of the people who had attended the ceremony, including both Pazik and a still crying Uppo Yagulski, had given him a last farewell and then departed, Yusi Sert sidled through the thinned group of watchers until he was next to him, and said, “I hope you understand why we can’t keep you here, Master Jedi. It’s not because we think any less of you and your skills.”
“I understand perfectly,” he said, and he certainly did. He even believed the man talking to him to be sincere.
“Good, then,” he said, “there is just one thing I want to know, though.”
“And what is that?”
“Well,” he said, “I know you haven’t been around D’li much during this mission, and he might not be talking to you at all now. But I also know he’s agreed to get another third party negotiating things, and why he wanted that one in particular…”
All the sadness and confusion with which he spoke were genuine, even as he said, “Do you think I should trust to his choice? To this friend of your old Master’s? Her title sounds very professional, but given this Arbitration Organization was only founded about two years ago…”
Obi-Wan found himself honestly thinking about it. Alveeta had been one of those people who Qui-Gon had simply always been friends with, where how he’d become friends with her had never been explained, at least not to Obi-Wan. He and Qui-Gon had watched her found her new organization and read her words, which hadn’t really attempted to hide that she was taking advantage of the Jedi now being spread so thin. But she had always struck him as a very intelligent person, and he knew she was not dishonest.
And then, when he forced his haze of grief away long enough to recall his meeting with D’li Sert from that afternoon, where he had informed Obi-Wan of his intentions, he found he did have an observation to make when it formed itself in his head. But before he shared it, he carefully opened himself further to the Force around the older cousin, and asked, “Are you afraid she will enter this inclined to believe his side of the story? Maybe even his accusation against you about the old Duke’s death?”
“Yes,” breathed Yusi, and the emotions Obi-Wan sensed from him gave him a clear picture.
“He genuinely believes the accusations he’s making, I’m afraid,” the Jedi said to him. “But they aren’t true, are they?”
“He does?” was Yusi’s response to that.
“He does,” he said, and hoped he could do some good here, by removing at least some of these two men’s suspicions of each other. “But I think it likely Alveeta won’t without some real evidence of it. If D’li is willing to hear me say anything at all before I leave, I’ll tell him I believe you did not kill the Duke, or anyone else. I think he’d believe me.” He genuinely did think that too.
“Thank you, then,” said the other man, although Obi-Wan didn’t sense much hope from him then.
He did get the chance, after Yusi Sert had left and the pyre was nearly burned down to ashes. D’li Sert came up to him to offer condolences, and he said, “Your cousin did not murder the Duke, or Rian Mopi. I am certain of that.”
“If you say so,” said the other man, but Obi-Wan sensed his words did have some weight with him. He had to hope it would be enough; he already knew he would be able to do no more here. “I am deeply sorry for the death of your young apprentice.” That was much less sincere, but Obi-Wan did not care about that. If anything, it made things easier for him.
Because now everyone leaving was going to want to say similar things to him, and he needed to be polite and not break in front of any of them. They would not think anything, at least, of him being the last to leave. They had probably seen his coldness today, and had no idea of why he needed to stay out here until he was safely alone, in the sights of no one he had to impress and on a planet where the enemy was not.
They would have been stunned, all of them, had they been there when finally, two hours later, Obi-Wan Kenobi collapsed to the ground, surrounded by the windblown ashes of his late Padawan learner, and howled out the grief that simply could not have been released any other way.