In the Arena
On the Sands
Blood is spilled
O'er shattered plans
~ old Golgathan verse
"What did he say?" the medic exclaimed, dropping the argument and darting to the injured man's side to check his vital signs.
"Something he shouldn't know about," Qui-Gon replied, a troubled frown creasing his brow.
"What?" Maryja asked distractedly, her attention focused more on the man in front of her then the one across the bed from her.
The Jedi shook his head, his lips pressed into a thin line. This was just another piece that didn't fit in the puzzle that was Ben Ken'ba. When was he going to have collected enough of them so that some sort of image began to emerge? Could he have picked up the phrase when their minds were linked or was this another indication of the Jedi training he could swear the younger man had?
Frustration sparked deep within Qui-Gon, and he took a breath, slowly exhaling it to release the negative emotion and to center his thoughts. Once the fighter was sufficiently healed, they were going to have a long talk, that much was certain.
"Are you certain you do not wish for us to send an aircar for you, Sar Gonn?"
"That will not be necessary, Majordomo Tenlan. As Champion Ken'ba was injured protecting me I feel I owe him the courtesy of remaining here until he has recovered. Please convey my best wishes to the Empress. If there is anything she wishes to discuss with me, I am sure it can be done over a secure channel or when I return."
The man bowed, obscuring his face for the moment. Qui-Gon had the distinct impression he was sneering, but the other man's expression was placid when he raised his head once again. "I shall do as you wish. Would you care for any of your belongings to be sent to you?"
Offering the servant a smile as patently false as the one he had been given, the Jedi considered the question for a moment. "It is kind of you to offer, but I feel that what I have with me is sufficient." He'd be damned if he was going to give the man tacit permission to snoop around his rooms - not that he probably hadn't done so already.
"As you wish, Sar Gonn." Another bow, another hidden grin. "I do hope that your stay with Champion Ken'ba will not be too taxing on you then. Good day."
The viewscreen dimmed to black and Qui-Gon allowed himself the luxury of rolling his eyes at it. "Damn toadying fool," he growled, shaking his head. There was one more call he had to make, and this one was going to be more challenging than dealing with a puffed up piece of space trash like Tenlan.
"There are no records of anyone by that name ever being trained here. If he had received Jedi training we would know." Mace Windu's voice was so calm, so certain, that Qui-Gon knew pursuing this line of questioning with the Council was futile. No matter what he said they would refuse to believe that a student of such high potential had slipped away from the Academy unnoticed.
"Mindful of the situation you should be Qui-Gon." A soft thump that echoed clearly over the link told the Jedi Master that Yoda had just rapped his walking stick against the floor of the Council chambers. "Uncertain the future is. Wary you must be."
"I always am, Master. There is more going on here than meets the eye and I believe there are customs being practiced here that the Senate will find repugnant if not totally illegal."
"We will await your full report on the matter. Until then be mindful, and may the Force be with you."
The link shut off and Qui-Gon stared at his communicator, mulling over possible courses of action and wondering just how much time he had before violence erupted again.
Following the routine he had fallen into over the past three days, Qui-Gon rose before the sun to make use of Ben's training facility before the other man woke. He had been quite impressed when Maryja had shown him the cavernous room and the various pieces of equipment it contained. Since then he had made good use of it, both as a way to maintain his training and to work out the frustrations that built from dealing with the fighter.
Stopping in the doorway, the Jedi frowned. The lights were on, illuminating the rapidly moving form before him in a harsh glow and reflecting back from the slim-bladed sword that whirled in deadly arcs around the younger man's head.
A lunge followed a lightning fast spin and merged into a Force-powered flip as Ben wove his way through the bright dust motes that swirled around him, leaving them tumbling wildly in his wake.
His eyes tracking the fighter's movements, Qui-Gon mentally critiqued the other man's form and technique. As he had noted before, some moves were purely of the Order's training while others had evolved into something more - a style of fighting that was effective, efficient, and deadly.
There. A brief opening that would have been fatal if Ben had been faced with a skilled opponent. It was plain to Qui-Gon that the younger man wasn't yet fully recovered from the Miriken sap poisoning; he only wondered if Ken'ba would acknowledge the situation as well.
"Is there something you need, Sar Jedi?" The caustic question was cut through with the fighter's labored breathing - deep inhalations that strove to bring oxygen to muscles on the verge of cramping.
"Just wondering if you wanted me to call your medic friend now or to wait until you collapse before contacting her." A glower was the only response Qui-Gon received so he tried another tactic. "You left an opening the size of a star cruiser on your left side during that last run through. Sooner or later someone is going to notice that you're favoring that side and take advantage of it."
Ben turned his attention fully to the other man at that. "Still getting used to the new knee." It was a weak excuse at best, even to his own ears. After leveling a long, measuring look at the Jedi Master, the fighter spun on his heel and crossed to a cabinet on one wall of the chamber. Hanging his sword on a pair of empty hooks, he withdrew a pair of blunted practice weapons.
"See if you can take advantage of it," he stated, the challenge vibrating in the air between them as he offered the older man his choice of the swords.
"You should be resting," Qui-Gon commented mildly, accepting one of the lightweight blades and testing the grip and balance.
"I have a match tomorrow." This was said as if it explained everything and to Ben, it did. A champion could not decline a legitimate challenge - all had to be accepted within a week of their issue. Tomorrow was seven days since the message been sent, therefore tomorrow was the date of the battle.
"Even more reason to rest."
"I can rest when it's over. If you don't want to spar, leave and let me work." "You're sure?" A quirk of an eyebrow accompanied the question.
In answer, Ben settled himself into an opening position, sword extended toward Qui-Gon in invitation.
It was possible a defeat here would make the younger man reconsider his decision to fight tomorrow. In light of this, the Jedi set his blade down on the exercise mat and quickly stripped off his tunic. Ken'ba was barechested and Qui-Gon had the definite impression that the other man would take advantage of any handhold he could get during the session, so it was in his best interest to limit them.
Ben's attention never left the older man, but he was still caught off guard by the swiftness of Qui-Gon's attack. A flurry of barely blocked strikes, then he found the rhythm of the fight. Ken'ba stopped giving ground and started his own offensive.
The two men disengaged, circling each other warily, their swords held at the ready for the next round. Sweat dripped down Ben's forehead and he shook his head violently before it could seep into his eyes and obscure his vision. The older man was good, he would give him that.
In a motion too fast to follow, the fighter resumed the battle, taking the offensive and using his greater speed and dexterity to counter his opponent's strength and skill.
Swords flickered out like dull gray lightning, blunted edges ringing as they came together. Droplets of sweat rained down from both men's bare torsos, causing dark patches to bloom on the surface of the exercise mat beneath them. Harsh breathing rumbled like distant thunder, a muted backdrop for the sharper exhalations that came with particularly difficult moves.
Another break, another slide around each other, another coming together. In an attempt to sweep the younger man from his feet, Qui-Gon tripped him while giving a shove with the Force. Instead of resisting the motion, Ben rolled with it, flipping backward, barely landing before re-engaging his opponent in a series of blows that almost ripped the sword from the Jedi's hands.
The dark durasteel blades clashed together again, locking grip to grip, leaving the men standing less than two handspans apart. Muscles shook with the strain as both combatants struggled for the leverage needed to send the other off balance.
"You aren't up for this fight with me. What do you think your next opponent is going to do to you?" Qui-Gon asked, glaring down into Ken'ba's slitted eyes.
"You haven't won yet and neither will he," Ben growled, returning the stare and giving an instinctive push with his mind.
It was the most natural thing in the world for Qui-Gon to intercept the mental attack, coiling his command of the Force around it, preparing to volley it back at the other man. What he didn't expect, however, was the merging of the two power fronts, the energy from each drawn into what he now recognized as the fledgling bond that existed between them.
Tighter then Koradrian binding chords, more tenacious then Iltherian spider webs, the net of the Force-driven bond wove closer around the two men. Its sustenance was drawn from their very souls, draining and replenishing the reaction needed for its vitality with equal parts of tenacity and ardor.
"Gods, no..." Ben whispered, fighting the pull of the link and actually managing to take a step back away from Qui-Gon. His sword fell to the padded mat, unnoticed, and a fine tremor ripped through the fighter's body as he strove to move and increase the distance between them once again.
Feeling control rapidly slipping through his fingers, Qui-Gon tossed his blade toward the far wall, not even noticing the muted clang as it impacted the stone with tremendous force. "No use fighting it." The Jedi's voice was raspy with desire and the raw power that was coursing along the invisible shackles that bound their minds together.
"Don't want it, don't want you." His gaze still riveted to the older man's deep blue eyes, Ben made one last attempt to turn away only to find himself pouncing on the larger man, the motion rolling them both to the mat as their mouths sought and devoured each other.
The silence was broken only by reluctant gasps for breath and the sharp sound of cloth tearing as leggings were ripped from all-too-ready bodies. Boots were impatiently kicked off, the other sword sent flying toward its now bent companion piece - rendering the immediate area safe from anything except natural attacks.
The two came together again, the Jedi howling out his pleasure from his hands and knees as a strong hand stimulated him beyond the point of endurance. Above him the fighter stopped battling the need within him, lost in the maddening oblivion of the union of body and mind.
"You aren't really going through with it tomorrow, are you?"
"I have to. I know you can't understand why, but I have to."
A sigh followed by the sound of movement and the opening and closing of a door.
"Damn fool..." Qui-Gon whispered to the now silent room. The Jedi closed his eyes and lay back on the canvas mat, trying to think of how to explain to the Council that he had bonded with a man they would view as a murderer.
In the ready room under the Arena, preparations continued as they had since times forgotten. Those waiting for their fights warmed up or honed their weapons. Those returning from their bouts tended their injuries and counted their winnings. Those who did not return bled their life out on the Sands, but were not mourned, except perhaps by their families and fans.
"Cratos." Ben looked at the shorter man long enough to note that today the information broker's hair was a lurid orange before he went back to checking the edge on his weapons.
"Haven't seen you around much this week, guess that Trade Representative's been keeping you busy." The fighter's blue-green eyes were icy cold when he looked up again, but Cratos stood his ground. "Word is the two of you had quite a time of it out at your place. Took out three guards too. Interesting thing isn't it? They bore quite a resemblance to the three who roughed up that pretty little thing was here last time you fought."
"I pay my debts, you know that." A needle sharp dagger slid home into a sheath, followed by a broader bladed knife that had a wicked looking serrated edge to it.
"Never said you didn't, Champion. Just wondering if I could get your side to it all... No? Ah well. Shouldn't have any trouble with the kid they have you up against tonight. Heard he's only doing it to impress his fiancée - tells you something about her, doesn't it?"
"Tells me she may never be a wife if her intended isn't careful."
Cratos chuckled at that. "A sense of humor shows itself. You know, I think that Trade Representative is a good influence on you, Ben. You need to keep him around a little longer!"
"Leave, Cratos, before I decide to warm up on you."
"Oh-ho, hit a nerve with that one did I?" The information broker grinned as he dodged backward, putting some distance between himself and the now plainly annoyed champion. "Be seeing you later, Ben. Good hunting tonight."
"I hope you weren't inconvenienced by your stay at my Champion's villa, Sar Gonn." The Empress, garbed in brilliant white velvet ornamented with gossamer webs of gold, took a delicate sip of her drink, then looked in Qui-Gon's direction.
"Not at all Your Grace. It was quite an educational experience." She smirked at that and the Jedi composed his expression into a knowing smile in response. The mission would soon be over; he simply had to maintain the charade for a few more days. Lurking in the back of his mind was the quandary over his unacknowledged bond-mate. He couldn't leave without the other man and he somehow doubted that Ben would accept his explanation easily or graciously.
It was definitely something to meditate on.
"I am pleased that you enjoyed your stay. Ben is a handful but with the proper motivation he can do the most outstanding things, wouldn't you say?"
"I am in full agreement with you there, Empress."
Further conversation was forestalled by the start of the next bout. Qui-Gon turned his attention to the Sands, knowing that the Champion was on his way out long before the announcement was made or the first cheer split the air.
The damn feeling was back. Even knowing where it came from didn't lessen the sensation and Ben struggled to keep from giving a reflexive shudder as the fire gnats crawled around his mind, tickling thoughts better left unexamined.
//WILL YOU STOP IT!// he shouted mentally, not sure if it would do any good, but pleased and surprised to feel the sensation lessen until it gradually faded away.
Well, that worked. Perhaps it would mean that the damned connection to the "Trade Representative" was also gone. Gods he hoped so.
Free from the pervasive intrusion of the other man's thoughts, Ben centered his attention on his opponent. A child. They send a spoiled child out here to die...
While the man opposite him probably was chronologically older, there was an aura of innocence and excitement around him - as if he treated the whole thing as a game.
I need to quit. That was laughable. The only way he was ever going to leave the Sands was by dying on them.
Another glance at the blond youth who had challenged him drew a grin in response. When the gesture wasn't returned, the other man faltered slightly before regaining his composure.
The pair saluted the Empress, then retreated to their starting positions, eyes locked together, bodies tensed for the signal to begin.
"This shall be quite entertaining." The Empress' attention was more on the Republic's representative then on the men below them. Waving her hand negligently, she signaled for the start of the match, only then glancing away from her guest.
This was no fight, this was a joke.
After quickly gaining the upper hand in the battle, Ben drove the taller man mercilessly across the floor of the Arena, stopping just short of drawing blood, but working to exhaust his opponent.
He should never have been cleared to make the challenge in the first place. Only fighters of a certain skill level were allowed to issue such a request and it was painfully obvious that this man was not of that caliber.
The Bitch at work again. Someone, somewhere, is going to profit from this, I just have no idea who. Ben easily dodged a roundhouse swing, then brought his blade up to trap his opponent's, stalling the action.
"Quit now, before it's too late," he advised the wide-eyed man who shook his head violently in response.
"Then you deserve what you get." Sliding his sword free, Ben commenced his offensive again, sweeping in on the other fighter from all sides, his moves lightning quick.
Numerous small cuts opened on the taller man's arms and legs, his movements slowing as pain and fatigue combined to work against him. Another moment of strained stillness as their weapons locked together once more, then the challenger was flying through the air to land heavily, plowing a wide furrow through the sand.
After a painful struggle to rise, he collapsed back against the ground, his chest heaving. "I yield." The words were whispered grimly as he let his sword drop from his hand.
Ben nodded at that. "Better to stay alive then to die for nothing more than her pleasure," he murmured, before turning to give the ritual gesture of respect to the Empress.
A startled gasp rose in unison from the throats of the crowd and Ben, catching a fleeting image of something moving toward him, spun. His sword sank home in his opponent's belly, ripping it open and spilling his intestines down the front of his blood-stained trousers.
"Just..." the older man gasped, trying futilely to press his guts inside his body where they belonged. "Wanted to say thank you for..." His eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed, a hand reaching toward the Champion as if in supplication or a plea for an explanation.
Stark silence reigned in the Arena then the sound of a single person clapping split the quiet. All eyes turned toward the royal box at that, and the Empress' amplified laughter filled the air. "Excellent, my Champion. A shocking ending to the battle, but one I find most amusing. I am well pleased."
At this the crowd erupted into wild cheers, anxious not to displease their ruler. Once the noise died down a bit, the Empress smiled benevolently. "Come before me and receive your reward, Ben Ken'ba."
His bleak gaze moved from the blood-soaked corpse before him, to the ecstatic faces of the crowd and finally, to the smug smile that adorned the Bitch's face. There was no need to look at the Jedi. The shock and revulsion pouring off the other man hit Ben with the force of ocean breakers, threatening to knock him from his feet.
"I think not," he replied steadily, meeting the Empress' cold eyes for a long moment before turning and striding from the Sands, hearing the cheers die off into appalled silence.
Ignoring the outfit the Empress' retainers had brought down for him to change into, Ben sank down on the low bench in the room. After fumbling a stim-stick between his lips, the fighter chewed it viciously; hoping the adrenaline would keep the tremors that were hounding him away for a little longer.
No more. Today had been the end. Always before he could deal with the life he led by reminding himself that those he killed on the Sands would just have gladly taken his life, but today... The memory of the shock and fear he had seen etched in his opponent's eyes before he collapsed rose up before him and Ben pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes, willing the vision away.
Hells, he'd never even learned the other man's name.
One way out. It may not have been the simplest, or the cleanest, but it was the only option left open. Pushing himself slowly to his feet, Ben sheathed his sword at his side and walked to the door, concentrating on the task ahead.
"I was just coming to look for you." There was no need to ask if the fighter was all right. The Force was wound as tightly around him as a shroud, blocking all mental and emotional connection along their bond.
"Afraid you weren't going to get any tonight?" Ben slowed his strides marginally, letting the Jedi fall in beside him as he stalked toward the Empress' private rooms.
"This isn't about that!" Qui-Gon snapped. Taking a calming breath, he reached out to grab a hold of the younger man's arm only to have it wrenched out of his grasp. "This is about you dealing with what happened out there - something you obviously aren't doing too well."
"I am dealing with it Sar Jedi, trust me on that. Soon it won't bother me in the least." Saying this, Ben brushed past the guards stationed outside the Empress' rooms - the same guards who blocked Qui-Gon's passage just as the fighter had planned.
"That attire is not suitable." Her lip curling in a sneer, the Empress appeared from behind a decorative screen that shielded her dressing area. "Change immediately."
The one word answer pulled the woman up short and her expression curdled into one of complete loathing. "Do not defy me, Ken'ba. You know what will come of it."
A flare of pain flared in the fighter's right temple and he smiled. "Yes I do. It's time, Elini. No more games. I'm not going back out there again, so do it. I don't care any longer."
"Insolent bastard!" she shrieked. Her hand flashed out, connecting with Ben's face, her pointed nails painting three parallel crimson lines across the flesh of his cheek - lines that began to lose their definition as blood spilled over their edges, tracking in right angles down Ben's jaw to drip to the white marble floor below.
"That's the best you can do?" The question came out with a laugh. "I'm through. Make good on your threat or live with that fact."
"Oh I shall make good on it - and I shall delight on watching you writhe in pain until your brain boils out your ears. Take a look around Ken'ba, my face will be the last thing you ever see!" Hatred contorting her face into a rictus of anger, the Empress stabbed at a button on one of her bracelets - and Ben's world went red.
What was going on in there?
The fighter had closed himself off so totally that Qui-Gon couldn't even get a hint of the events that were being played out - something that worried him immensely.
A sudden commotion beyond the door culminated with a high-pitched shriek from the Empress and the link flared into life, carrying pain with it. A quick inventory of the other man's feelings showed him to be...amused?
//By the Force, Ken'ba, what are you doing?//
//Dying.// The answer was stated calmly and with total clarity of purpose - then a tidal wave of pain swamped the connection, almost dragging the Jedi under with it.
That was it. Pushing the shared agony to the back of his skull, Qui-Gon approached the guards who stared at him with bored detachment.
"I am going to see the Empress right now," he commanded, pouring every bit of persuasion he possessed into the suggestion.
The pressure of the Force rolled over both guards, leaving them agreeable to anything Qui-Gon said and they stepped out of the way, allowing him access to the door.
What greeted him was a tableaux from some cheap horror vid. The Empress stood, watching in detached amusement as her Champion knelt on the floor, one hand pressed to his right temple. Blood oozed from his nostrils and his torn cheek, turning his face into a macabre mask.
Despite the agony that claimed the fighter, Qui-Gon could tell he was attempting to reach his tormentor - and that the Empress was not about to let that happen.
"This is none of your affair, leave now." It was the first time the Empress' fury had been directed at him, and the Jedi understood what made her staff cower from the tone.
"But it is my affair, Empress. This shall not continue." While he spoke, distracting the woman, Qui-Gon turned his attention to rooting out the cause of the problem.
There. A small device planted in the fighter's brain. Once he had discerned this, it was a simple matter for the Jedi to deactivate it with the Force. Ben jerked at the sudden absence of pain, his back heaving with his ragged breathing.
"How dare you intrude matters of state? I shall have your head for this!" The Empress jabbed at another button on her bracelet and the guards who had been stationed outside the door burst inside, blasters drawn.
A quartet of energy bolts arrowed in on the Jedi. Drawing and activating his lightsaber in the same motion, Qui-Gon deflected the blasts. Two struck home, sending the guards flying backward to connect with the wall behind them.
The remaining two men sought cover, firing randomly in an effort to keep the intruder off balance. Through it all, the Empress was screaming, demanding the death of both the men before her.
More troops had to be on the way, this had to be ended swiftly.
A nudge with the Force tripped the near guard out into the open just as he fired again. A shift in position to counter the angle and Qui-Gon sent the bolt back in the direction it originated from. It struck true, fracturing the blaster's power source. The explosion left little in the way of identifiable remains.
The last guard was... Dead on the floor, a dagger in his throat.
That threat neutralized, Qui-Gon turned back to the Empress, noting with relief that Ben had regained his feet and apparently his bearings as it was his knife that had taken out the final man.
The fighter's eyes narrowed as he looked at the four dead men. "You're next, Elini," he whispered, his voice filled with deadly intent. Cold malice filled his eyes as he stalked toward the young woman, his serrated-edged knife held at the ready.
//No!// Qui-Gon started toward the other man, intent on stopping him, but was held back by a solid feeling wall of the Force.
//Do not try to stop me, this is my last debt.// Having backed the Empress into a corner, Ben smiled down at her, his teeth flashing white against his blood-stained face. "Now, Elini, where to start? So many innocents hurt, so many good people killed. I regret that you can only die once." As he spoke, he tickled her chin with the point of the blade, imagining the pale skin splitting beneath the keen edge.
Qui-Gon cursed fervently. This wasn't the way. Ken'ba was on the edge, teetering between the Light and the Dark. Giving into his desire for revenge would turn him irrevocably and then... And then Qui-Gon would have to challenge him.
Fear had turned the Empress' eyes near black, and she kept pushing backward, trying to wedge herself tighter into the corner.
"Really, I would have expected more from you," Ben commented, increasing the pressure on the knife a fraction. A single drop of blood oozed from the puncture wound, rolling down the blade and pooling against the guard.
A soft whimper escaped the Empress' throat, and it was then the fighter knew he couldn't do it. Silently cursing himself for being a fool, he eased up on the pressure of the dagger, then smiled once again. There were other methods of revenge other than the obvious...
Ben sheathed his knife and cupped his enemy's chin in his hand, feeling another drop of her blood slide over his fingers as he did so. Leaning in, he whispered in the Empress' ear, his voice as soft and compelling as a lover's. When he was sure that she understood and would obey the suggestion planted deep within her, he straightened and released her.
She slid down into the corner, her face hidden in her hands, her shoulders shaking with silent sobs. Ben stared down at the woman for a time, then pulled off his championship rings and dropped them into her lap.
Silver, black, silver, black, silver. Overlapping circles representing the last two and a half years of his life - years spent in service to the woman before him.
The Force wall vanished and Qui-Gon stumbled forward as Ben turned and started toward him. "I would suggest we leave now, Sar Jedi. It won't be long before she recovers enough to send more guards after us."
"What..." the older man began, then let the question die off. There would be time for explanations later.
Luckily for the pair of fugitives, it had taken the Empress a good half hour to recall enough of what had happened to her and alert her guard.
After stealing a skimmer and engaging in a race at breakneck speeds through the skies of the capitol city, Ben and Qui-Gon found themselves hidden behind a stack of cargo containers, watching guards stop anyone who bore the remotest resemblance to the men they were searching for.
"This could prove difficult," the Jedi mused, picturing the layout of the spaceport and the position of the various craft near them.
Ben peered around the large box they crouched behind, then ducked back again. "See that small cruiser next to the Corellian freighter?" At Qui-Gon's nod, he continued. "I'll handle the diversion; that's the ship you want to take."
"What is this 'I'? You think you're going to have a longer life expectancy staying here then leaving?"
The fighter glanced down at the hand on his arm, then at the Jedi. "You need to get off the planet. She's not going to let you live having witnessed what you did. I'm immaterial at this point. You get back and tell your Senate, or Council, or whomever you have to. That will be enough for me."
"Damn fool..." Qui-Gon growled. "We're both leaving, do you understand me?"
"Whatever you say, Sar Jedi." Ben's tone was uncharacteristically agreeable, and he smiled - the first genuine expression of such Qui-Gon had ever seen from him. "Now get ready to run on my signal."
One last check of the area around them, then Ben shot over the top of the container, landing atop one of the guards and knocking him from his feet. The commotion drew the others and, once the path was clear, Qui-Gon sprinted toward the ship the younger man had indicated.
Come on, come on, get going... Using the bond that linked them, Ben tracked the Jedi's progress as he fought off the guards, leading them on a chase through massive stacks of cargo and luggage. //Get on the ship!// he ranted, elbowing one man in the face and ducking a blaster bolt fired by a uniformed woman.
//Not until you get here.// The stubborn comment made the fighter growl, distracting him. He caught a flicker of motion and started to roll, realizing all too clearly that the evasive maneuver was going to be too late.
The sword tracked cleanly toward Ben's neck, only to be severed by a blade of pure green fire before finding its mark.
"I told you to go to the ship!" the fighter yelled, skewering one of the few remaining guards as Qui-Gon provided cover for both of them from the blaster fire.
"After you, my young friend," the Jedi replied blandly. The last defender fell, and he gave the other man a push in the direction of the cruiser with the Force.
Cursing under his breath with each step he took, Ben moved, his eyes scanning the area around them for hidden opponents or obstacles. The hum of the older man's laser sword seemed very loud in his ears, drowning out all other sounds.
At the ramp to the ship, Qui-Gon pushed at the smaller man once again, sending him stumbling up the incline. In that moment of inattention, one of the few remaining guards took a shot, the bolt impacting solidly with the Jedi's right shoulder.
"Fuck!" Biting back a groan at the shared sensation, Ben spun and grabbed the larger man, dragging him up the last few steps to safety and sealing the hatch behind them.
The stench of charred flesh was heavy in the air, but Qui-Gon shook off any attempts on the other man's part to help support him as they ran for the cockpit, the Jedi having refused to head for the med center until they were well away from the planet.
Preflight took only moments - the ship having been chosen because it was being readied for take off. Ignoring the summons from the port controllers, Ben powered up the engines and took off, causing guards and civilians alike to scurry for cover.
The pastoral blue and white surface of Golgatha faded to a tiny dot behind them and Ben turned to his fellow escapee. "So? Where to?" he asked.
"Coruscant," was the Jedi's reply.
Hearing the strain in the other man's voice, the fighter nodded, pulling up the coordinates and feeding them into the nav system. The push of a final button and the craft made the shift into hyperspace, leaving Golgatha and the past behind them.
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