"General Kenobi!" The young assistant jumped to his feet and saluted Obi-Wan Kenobi as he entered the office.
"I need to see Andri--Councilor Delvee."
"You'd better hurry then."
Obi-Wan waited for the assistant to open the door to the inner office, but the assistant made no move to do such.
"May I go in to see her?"
"No, she's about to leave."
"And I can't see her?"
"Sure you can, if you hurry."
"You said that. Where would I hurry to?"
"The docking bay--she's about to take the 'Nursery' to Dantooine."
"Thank you," Obi-Wan tossed over his shoulder as he rushed out of the room.
He arrived without a second to spare.
Andriya had already herded the children aboard their ship and was about to board herself when she saw him. "Obi-Wan?"
"Andriya," he replied with a smile.
"Have you returned to help again?"
"Wonderful." She gestured for him to board and she followed him.
"Where is Councilor Delvee?"
"That's privileged information."
The visitor scowled.
"Patience, Jedi. Why do you need to see her?"
"I have an important message from her brother--he has guard duty today and asked me to deliver it for him--in person."
"I'm sorry, but Myndex Delvee is the only person authorized to be given Councilor Delvee's whereabouts."
"But it's for Myndex."
"No one other than Myndex will be told."
The visitor scowled again, turned on his heel and stalked out of the room. A short while later, Myndex Delvee reluctantly entered the office.
"Uh . . . hi," he said.
"Hello, Myndex. May I help you?
"Um . . . yeah. Is my sister here?"
"No, she's off-world."
"Where is she exactly?"
"Right now, she's probably at dinner."
"On Dantooine, of course."
"Thank you." Myndex exited as hesitantly as he'd entered.
The stranger grinned evilly at him. "Where is she?"
Dinner was over, but neither the children nor their chaperones made any move to get up from the table. The children were debating whether Wherkane could defeat Tigo in a lightsaber battle when Andriya gasped loudly. Wherkane was the only one to notice the gasp, but they all saw her get up from the table and run from the room.
The children were silent for a moment, all staring after their teacher. They collectively shrugged and turned back to their argument--debate. Sensing Andriya had not gone far and figuring the children would be fine for a few minutes, Obi-Wan Kenobi rose from the table and followed Andriya.
Andriya was only a meter away from the door, huddled on the floor with her back against the wall. She was staring straight up at the ceiling and held a lightsaber in each hand. Before Obi-Wan could ask her what was wrong, she addressed him. "What's been bothering you all day?"
"Nothing," he denied.
"I said, 'Failure.' It's what you've been trying to hide all day. And it has something to do with Anakin Skywalker. If you don't tell me now, I'll figure it out by the time we get home tomorrow."
Obi-Wan didn't want to tell her.
"And if you're planning on getting any sleep tonight, I'll know before morning."
"Don't you consider privacy?"
"I make exceptions."
That's an understatement, Obi-Wan thought sarcastically.
"Are you going to tell me or not?"
Obi-Wan shook his head.
"Shall I ask Anakin?"
"No. Stay away from him."
Andriya's eyes widened. "You . . . lost Anakin?"
Obi-Wan hung his head.
"I'm sorry. . . . But you know it's not entirely your fault."
"How could it not be?"
"The Dark Side can be very attractive to someone just learning. At first, it's faster and easier. They all get angry or scared."
"But they don't all turn to the Dark Side."
"He was scared and angry when you started."
Obi-Wan changed the subject. "What's wrong with you?"
Andriya held up the two lightsabers. "I've carried around two for a long time now."
"Yours and Roc Klephra's," Obi-Wan recalled.
Andriya nodded. "I should get another one when I get back."
"Whose? How do you know?"
Obi-Wan almost dropped to his knees to comfort her, but Andriya stood up.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Yeah. It's a Jedi's life--grit your teeth and get on with it. We need to get the kids to bed."
The small group reached the hallway with the quarters they were using before they were intercepted. Andriya and Obi-Wan sensed the dark presence behind them and slowed down.
"Kenobi!" called the person following them. The children, Andriya and Obi-Wan all turned to look. Andriya took two steps to the nearest door and punched in an access code.
"Get in, children," she murmured. They made no move. "In, now!" she shouted. Surprised, the six kids scurried into the room. The door slid shut behind them, and Andriya shorted all the circuitry with the Force. Not that it would really stop him if he really wanted to get the children--shorted circuitry always gives way to a lightsaber.
"Oh, don't worry, Councilor," Anakin Skywalker said, spitting out the last word laden with derision. "I'm not after the precious 'Jedi Nursery.' Not yet, anyway."
"And they'd have nothing to give you if you were," she told Anakin defiantly. "Run," she hissed to Obi-Wan. He did as she said and Anakin took up chase.
"Why are we running?"
"We have to get him away from those kids."
At least she has her priorities straight. "Where are we going?"
"The nearest planet."
"What? You expect to survive a dogfight with Anakin?"
"No, just a very short flight," Andriya panted, beginning to lose her breath. "Are you a better pilot or gunner?"
"I couldn't shoot Anakin."
"I've never fired a blaster in my life. If anyone will gun for us, I'd trust you first." They reached the ship bay.
"I don't want to hurt him."
"Thanks for your vote of confidence."
Anakin quickly gained on them once they were in the air. However, none of his shots hit their mark, and the two Jedi lured him down onto the volatile planet of Yestou.
He finally caught up with them in an empty hallway of the docking bay complex.
"Obi-Wan, you don't have your lightsaber!" Andriya exclaimed.
"Yes I do," he replied as he checked his belt. He didn't.
"What did you do with it?"
"It's in my room," he recalled. "The clip wasn't working and I didn't want the kids to get it."
"Can we get on with this?" Anakin asked. He drew his lightsaber.
Obi-Wan was at a loss. How could I forget my lightsaber?
"Who's first? Obi-Wan? Councilor Delvee?"
"No need to be formal," she replied lightly. "You may call me Andriya."
"Okay, Andriya, Obi-Wan, since you aren't armed, just hold still for a moment and it will all be over." He raised his lightsaber as if he really planned to strike them down.
"You underestimate us, Skywalker."
"You don't need to talk, Andriya. It's not going to stop me." He began the graceful arc of the lightsaber that would surely slice Andriya in half. At the latest possible second, an orange blade parried Anakin's blow.
"Oh, this is Roc's. Oh well."
"Fine, we'll do battle later. But first, please--"
"No, we fight first."
Instead of responding with words, Anakin responded with an attack. Andriya stepped back, using the Force to determine whether she had room for further retreat.
Obi-Wan followed at a safe distance, watching them, realizing that he hadn't been a spectator at this sport in a long time . . . and he didn't like it very much.
"Have it your way," Andriya called, tossing her lightsaber to Obi-Wan with one hand and continuing to block and parry with Roc's lightsaber in the other.
"You're welco--" Andriya interrupted herself with a scream as the walkway gave way underneath her.
Anakin turned around to face Obi-Wan. "Don't worry, Obi-Wan," Anakin said. "You really are a failure."
The insult surprised Obi-Wan long enough for Anakin to knock his lightsaber out of his hands and send it tumbling after Andriya.
"Easier than I thought," Anakin said with satisfaction. He raised his lightsaber and swung down toward Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan closed his eyes, awaiting the strike, but instead, he heard the clash of two lightsabers. He opened his eyes to find Andriya standing between them, using her lightsaber to block Anakin's attack. Anakin would soon overpower Andriya if she didn't do something. Something she did--she took one hand off her lightsaber and switched off Anakin's lightsaber. She turned off her own and pulled the lightsaber from Anakin's shocked hands.
"Easier than I thought. The crystal in Roc's lightsaber cracked," she explained, "so we're down to two lightsabers for the three of us." She glanced back and forth at Anakin and Obi-Wan, who appeared to be engaged in a staring contest. "I think I'll take these and go way over there so you two can talk."
Obi-Wan barely waited for her to retreat out of earshot before beginning the conversation. "Anakin, why are you using the Dark Side?"
"I'm not Anakin anymore. My name is Darth Vader, and I am a Dark Lord of the Sith."
"Fine. Darth Vader, why are you using the Dark Side?"
Vader considered his answer. The fact that it was easier and faster occurred to him, but that didn't sound like the justification Obi-Wan probably wanted. "Because it's more powerful than Light."
"No, it's not, it's just faster for now. What about your future?"
"What about it?"
"The Dark Side will consume you mentally and physically."
"I control the Force, not the other way around."
"I don't think so, Vader. You can control the Force, but it guides you as well. Using the Dark Side denies you the power of the Light and leads you down a path of destruction."
"The path I choose leads where I want it to."
"You can choose your path but you can't choose its destination."
"With the Force as my ally, I can choose anything I want."
"But the Force is not your ally, only the Dark Side. And the Dark Side is never anyone's true ally--especially not when they need it."
"It is my ally," Vader insisted, his anger rising.
"Anakin, you must control your anger."
"I'm not Anakin and I don't have to control anything but the Force!" he yelled. "Andriya!"
Andriya ran up behind Obi-Wan. "What now?"
"Give me my lightsaber," Vader commanded.
"Obi-Wan? You know him better than I do."
"If that's what he thinks he wants."
"And I'd like to confront Obi-Wan instead of you, Andriya."
"Fine with me. Obi-Wan?"
Obi-Wan held out his hand. Andriya gave him her lightsaber and tossed Anakin's back to him. As the battle began, Andriya headed for an area of the walkways obscured by shadows and turned off her Force.
Vader jumped slightly. He began a conversation which continued during short lapses in the battle. "What happened to her?"
"Why would you care?"
"Is she dead?"
"Does it matter?"
"Not really. It won't be long before all the Jedi are."
"What do you mean?"
"The Emperor has issued an extermination order on all Jedi."
"And what does the Senate say?"
"It doesn't matter, it's what the Emperor wants."
"Why would the Emperor want to destroy peace keepers?" Andriya called.
"I can think of one reason," Obi-Wan replied.
"Sith," they said in unison.
"Good guess, Jedi."
"Well, that explains a few things."
Obi-Wan retreated to the shadows.
"How's it going?" Andriya hissed.
Obi-Wan almost laughed to think that she'd asked. "Discouraging," he whispered, climbing up a ladder to a higher level of suspended walkways.
Darth Vader, as he called himself, was still standing on the first level, waiting for his former mentor to reappear from the shadows. When he didn't, Vader addressed Obi-Wan. "Are you going to come out or shall I go in after Andriya? We all know that you--"
"We don't all know," Obi-Wan interrupted from the upper level.
"I'm unarmed, Vader," she called from the shadows.
"That just makes it easier," Vader replied, heading in.
"That wasn't an invitation." Andriya's mind raced. If she turned on her Force-sense, he'd find her immediately, probably before she could summon enough energy to protect herself. She realized she was rubbing her left elbow, which had become a nervous habit ever since that training accident that had shattered her elbow and kept her out of the Clone Wars.
That's it! Andriya grabbed the nearest narrow, loose cylinder. Remaining as calm as possible, she waited for Vader to step in range. Her chance came quickly. She stepped into the swing, solidly connecting with Vader's fingers, and maybe breaking one or two of them.
He yelped in pain, dropping his lightsaber. Andriya turned on her Force-sense and summoned the lightsaber before Vader had even finished nursing his wound. She walked out of the shadows, looking up at Obi-Wan. "Toss me my lightsaber."
"Are you sure?"
"Very." The lightsaber handle came tumbling down, right into Andriya's outstretched hand (with a little help from the Force, Andriya wasn't very good at catching). "Vader," she said in a sing-song voice, baiting him. "Come on out and get your lightsaber."
Vader followed her down the walkway to a bridge extending over a pit of molten lava. Something made him uneasy about the pit, but Andriya tossed him the lightsaber and it was too late for misgivings.
Obi-Wan witnessed a surprisingly fierce lightsaber battle.
After a short while, Andriya glanced behind her and noticed Obi-Wan had moved to the end of the bridge. She retreated very quickly to the end of the bridge where Obi-Wan was waiting and handed him her lightsaber. "This isn't my battle."
"I can't do this," he said, attempting to return her the lightsaber.
She refused it. "No, Obi-Wan. You're the only one who can."
Before Obi-Wan could respond (and what kind of comeback could he have to that?), the time for discussion had passed as Vader approached. "Remember what you stand for--and what he stands for," Andriya whispered, stepping back.
During the ensuing fray, the two combatants cut out a section of guardrail, leaving them free to fall at any moment. Three times, Obi-Wan was forced to the unprotected edge, making it clear that Vader wanted this to be a fight to the death.
Live by the lightsaber, die by the lightsaber, Andriya thought as she looked on helplessly.
The battle continued until Vader neared the edge for the first time--and lost his balance. Obi-Wan dropped his lightsaber and dove for Vader's hand, catching him in time to keep him from falling.
"Anakin, hold on, we'll get you up."
"And back to the Light Side," Andriya added.
"I am Vader," he yelled in rage, wriggling free from Obi-Wan's grip.
"Anakin!" Obi-Wan called.
"No!" Vader yelled back.
The two words were all they had time to say before the molten lava swallowed Vader.
"We've got to help him," Obi-Wan yelled to Andriya without taking his eyes off the point where Vader had entered the lava.
Andriya looked away. "We can't help him, Obi-Wan. We tried." She walked down the narrow walkway, and picked up her lightsaber and Vader's, which had dropped from his hands as he lost his balance. She knelt next to Obi-Wan, who was still laying on his stomach on the walkway. "Obi-Wan, we need to leave."
"What about Anakin?"
"Anakin is dead."
"No, I can still--"
"Obi-Wan, Anakin was a Jedi Knight. He doesn't exist anymore. Darth Vader destroyed him, and he'll do the same to us if we don't leave."
"Obi-Wan, please, we have to go."
"How would you feel if it were Roc Klephra down there?" he asked, finally looking up at her with more sorrow in his eyes than she'd thought possible.
"Awful and in danger. But the Sith took Roc, too--in a different way. Obi-Wan, I beg of you, come with me now."
"I can't leave Anakin."
"If you don't leave him now, who will take care of the galaxy? That's for Jedi, not Sith. And we'll both die if we don't leave now."
Slowly, Obi-Wan got to his feet, still staring down at the lava. Andriya jumped to her feet, began to run and grabbed Obi-Wan's arm as she ran past him.
"Why are you running?"
"I have six children to protect with my life--and ten thousand Jedi to warn."
Obi-Wan remained silent during their return flight to Dantooine. He said nothing when they rescued the still-frightened children from their quarters. He went to bed without a word just after they took off from Dantooine.
The nightmares wouldn't end. First, Anakin fell into the searing liquid metal, and Obi-Wan could do nothing. Next, Anakin and Obi-Wan were battling on the walkway and Obi-Wan fell over the edge, plummeting until the next nightmare began. Andriya was fighting Anakin, and she fell. But she fell slowly, with plenty of time to stare accusingly at Obi-Wan. He called to her, he shouted to Anakin, he just yelled, as he was forced to watch Andriya fall to her certain death.
Obi-Wan awoke suddenly. His throat was raw and his face was stinging.
"I'm sorry," Andriya whispered. She was sitting on the edge of his bunk.
"For what?" Obi-Wan croaked hoarsely.
"Slapping me? Why?"
"You were scaring the children."
She closed her eyes as if it pained her to tell him. "You were screaming. . . . I've never heard anyone yell like that . . . but I think it was worse for you."
Obi-Wan just nodded slowly. Andriya looked away, staring off into space for a few silent moments before turning back to him. She took his hand and pulled him to a sitting position before wrapping her arms around his neck.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. He slowly placed his arms around her waist, partially returning her embrace, but mainly trying to keep her there to comfort him.
"I'm sorry this had to happen," she continued. "I'm sorry it had to happen to you, or to Anakin, and I'm sorry it had to happen at all."
"It didn't have to happen."
"Maybe not, but it did happen."
"This is all my fault."
"Sh. Just shut up for a little while and cry."
"I don't want to cry."
"Well I do," she whispered, an emotional catch in her voice. "This could be the end of the Jedi--my whole life. Obi-Wan, the Jedi are not just in danger--we're over. We all carry a death mark."
Obi-Wan tightened his hug. "Just shut up for a little while and cry. And stop thinking."
"No," she said, relaxing her embrace, but not pulling away. "We need to talk to the children."
"Can't it wait until we get back to Coruscant?"
Andriya shook her head. "We're not going back to Coruscant." She released him and pulled away, standing up.
"It's too dangerous."
"What are we going to do?"
"The way I see it, we have two options. We can join up with the Emperor, which is hardly an option, or go into hiding."
"And what about the kids?"
"We're taking them back to their families."
"Can they really just go back? After all this time with the Jedi?"
"Sure. The 'Jedi Nursery' is for kids who were taken to the Temple and abandoned before they failed the tests."
"And you can get them back to their families?"
"I have to try. But first, we have to talk to them." Andriya left the room. Obi-Wan hurriedly followed her, and found Andriya standing just outside the doorway she'd just passed through.
"Take off your lightsaber or hide it."
"Just do it." She handed him the two lightsabers she always carried--even though one of them wasn't working anymore--and Anakin's. Obi-Wan took them and placed them on his bunk with his own lightsaber and covered them with a blanket.
Together, they walked into the children's dark quarters. The lights turned on and Andriya clapped her hands. "Wake up children. We have something to tell you." Obi-Wan gave her a questioning look.
"I'm very sorry," Andriya continued. "I've been lying to you. I've gotten many people to lie with me, and it's all been for the sake of a study."
"What did you lie about?" Wherkane asked.
"There is no such thing as a Jedi. It's just something I made up. Obi-Wan isn't a Jedi, he's a scientist just like me. Your parents allowed us to use you for a short time and now we must return you to them."
"What did your study prove?" Tigo asked.
"Nothing. I was wrong. Forget about the 'Jedi Nursery,' it was nothing more than a failed experiment. I'm sorry for deceiving you." Andriya switched the lights off and ushered Obi-Wan out of the room.
"What did you just do?" he demanded once they were alone again.
"What I've been trained to do. Why should I leave these innocent children at the nonexistent mercy of the Emperor? I'd rather lie now than have the blood of six children on my head." She retrieved her lightsabers and hooked them onto her belt, covering them with the folds of her sand-colored skirt.
Obi-Wan was silent for a moment. "Do you think Anakin . . . ?"
Andriya knew exactly what he implied and looked away. "I know he killed Myndex. But we're Jedi--grit your teeth and get on with it."
Obi-Wan drifted into a disquieted sleep. The nightmares weren't as violent this time. The last one began with Andriya seated in a dark room. Obi-Wan could see her because she alone was illuminated by light from an invisible source.
"How could you do this?" she asked.
Obi-Wan didn't need to ask what she was talking about. "I didn't mean for it to happen."
"But it did. And there's no one else to blame, is there?"
"I know it's my fault. I tried--"
"But you failed. If you didn't succeed, does it mattered that you tried?"
"I . . . I--"
"And now you've practically signed my death warrant."
"I didn't know Anakin--"
"But you did. You knew he was dangerous and you trained him anyway."
"I had no idea he'd do this."
"You killed my brother."
"You killed my brother." Her voice echoed off the walls, assaulting Obi-Wan anew with each peal.
Over the clamor of her accusations, Obi-Wan heard Andriya whisper something to him.
The noise heightened and so did her whisper. "I don't mean this."
"What do you mean?"
As the picture of Andriya faded into blackness and her echo followed, the whisper still remained. "This is my nightmare, too."
"What is? Andriya?" She did not respond.
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