Obi-Wan ducked the cutting blow to his head. The steel blade of his opponents broad sword passed so close he could hear his song upon the air. A few centimetres closer and it would have sliced off the top of his skull. A worrying thought to many but Obi-Wan, with the ease of a trained warrior, he shrugged the fact away like an annoying insect. He countered firmly instead. Using the position his current enemy had forced him into, he spun in a low crouch and slammed the flat of his sword into the other man's unprepared leg. A part of his mind whispered he should have taken his advantage. Should have ended it then. Survival demanded it. But he shook that thought away too, as well as the spike of pain it drew. It would incapacitate him. He wouldn't go down that road. Never again.
His enemy fell back with a howl of pain and frustration, though it was soon drowned out by the baying of the crowd. Obi-Wan paid the despised sound no mind. After two solid months of numerous fights and challenges, he no longer even heard the crowd.
The man he fought now swung in to cut at him again, but Obi-Wan easily parried the clumsy blow and turned it aside. Both men had managed to mark the other. Each sported cuts and bruises as a testament to their struggle. But now the other man was getting tired… and careless. After three hours of battle he had probably never fought anybody this long. Obi-Wan twirled his blade in his hand feeling a strange rush of exhilaration as he did so. The sword might be a heavier, clumsier weapon, but it was the closest thing he'd had to holding a lightsaber in what felt like a lifetime. Maybe it had been a lifetime. Cut off from the Force and ground down day after day, surrounded by nothing but suffering, it was hard for Obi-Wan to imagine his old life. In such times he clung to the memory of his Master like a lifeline. One of two things that kept him going.
He gripped the hilt of his weapon. He hadn't realised how much he'd missed his lightsaber, yet another part of him that had been stripped away. He took the sword to himself now, dancing with it like it was an extension of himself. Fluid and graceful as water. He felt alive for the first time in months. His opponent could not match him. After three hours the other man was near collapse. Obi-Wan was barely breathing hard.
The glazed eyes of his opponent lifted to find his across the short distance between them. Obi-Wan saw the muscles bunch in thick shoulders as the man gathered his remaining strength for a final assault. And it would be his last. They both knew it. Obi-Wan gave him a brief nod of acknowledgement, which was returned. Unlike so many of the others he had faced, this man fought with honour. He was bound by the code of the sword. He was not another mindless cut throat. They had gained one another's respect and the man knew he had been outclassed. Still he would not go willingly. He would go down fighting.
Obi-Wan understood. He brought his blade up in a salute to a battle well fought and waited patiently for the surge to come. With a yell the other swordsman charged, levelling his sword
at Obi-Wan's heart. Obi-Wan planted his feet and readied his weapon. Just as the tip of his enemy's blade was about to pierce his heart, he swung, parrying and carrying his opponent's blade up and round, putting the committed man off balance. Quick as a cat Obi-Wan reversed the direction of his swing and brought the pommel of his sword down on his enemy's head as his momentum carried him past. The blow was swift and precise. The swordsman dropped to the dirt floor unconscious.
The familiar scream and baying for blood exploded around the room. Still ignorant to it, Obi-Wan crouched next to his fallen opponent and probed his skull with careful fingers. He held his breath for an eternal second before his search yielded no broken bones. Relief washed through him. The man would wake with a lump and a mighty headache but would suffer no long term effects. Obi-Wan straightened tiredly, suddenly aware of all his own stinging cuts and abrasions. Weariness flooded his limbs as the rush of battle fuelled adrenaline left him and sword dropped from his fingers. The sound of the arena's main stone doors grinding open brought him round in time to be met by the Cobra and his henchmen.
The bounty hunter flicked a long hand coldly and Obi-Wan followed with practiced obedience. To do otherwise only brought trouble that he didn't need. But it didn't stop him hating himself for having to bow to these people. For being so powerless. He felt the stare of the crowd as it followed him out and it crawled over his skin like a thousand insects. Obi-Wan suppressed a shudder. How much longer would he have to go on like this? How much more of it could he take? He seriously hoped that that was a question that would never have to be answered. Please find me soon, Master, he spoke the familiar prayer in his silent mind.
Without a word he moved into the torch lit antechamber and turned to where he knew Sonu would be waiting, settling into the adopted look that was a mix of quiet defiance and weary resignation.
And there he stood. Delighted grin and all. The credits he was earning just seemed to pour from behind his eyes. Obi-Wan fought the urge to pull away in revulsion as Sonu clapped him on the shoulder in mockery of companionship. The man's touch made his skin crawl.
"Well done, Obi-Wan," his captor praised, "as usual you pull in a record crowd and never fail to deliver! I truly now am the richest man in the sector. No one has made it this far in the Kralti Games with their skin in over twenty years, and I feel as if you just walked that last." The stocky man paused his gushing and gave Obi-Wan a keen appraising look. The cogs were suddenly turning in that mind and Obi-Wan did not like it one bit. He nevertheless lifted his chin and met that blunt gaze with calm assurance.
Sonu chuckled. "Hmmm," he then turned to the tall bounty hunter waiting in the shadows. "Take Obi-Wan back to the rest and then report back to me immediately. We need to discuss something." He then waved a strong hand in dismissal.
Discuss what? Obi-Wan wanted to know. He could tell it was something to do with him. He knew it. His wariness cranked up a notch. The notion of what Sonu could be scheming now played on his mind as he was dragged out of the room. He barely registered the journey. What could Sonu have to throw at him that was any worse than what he had already faced? Had already been through? For he had been through a lot. Seen too much. All without time to think or reflect. Without his Master, without the Force. His hand drifted to his neck in a by now familiar action. He had almost forgotten what it was like to touch the Force. Yet his body craved its return and the strength and peace it could give, while his heart craved his Master, to calm him and make sense of what was happening. What more could he face?
At last he was pushed through the doors. Home. Obi-Wan shook his head. Once the very sight and overpowering smell of the place would have turned his stomach. But now after to months he didn't even flinch any more. That part of himself had hardened irrevocably. Another thing to torment his waking thoughts. But all worries were pushed to the back of his mind as a small ball of energy suddenly flew at him from out of the masses of bodies. Kyan wrapped his arms possessively around his neck and hung there. "Ben."
Obi-Wan brought his arms up around the child and smiled his own greeting, hiding his weariness. "Hello there, Kyan."
"Aww. Isn't that just precious," a voice drawled from behind them. Obi-Wan half turned. He had almost forgotten that the Cobra was still there. Obi-Wan glowered at him over Kyan's arm. "Haven't you got to run back to Sonu now?" he ground out. But regretted it a moment later as the bounty hunter confirmed his latest fears.
"Yes I have," the Cobra said with a chilling smile. "But you shouldn't be so eager for me to get there. We'll only be discussing the manner of your demise."
Obi-Wan stiffened perceptibly and the bounty hunter laughed as he turned away and locked to the doors behind him. His last words remained heavy on the air, however, and Obi-Wan stood held by them for a moment longer. So he had been right. Sonu was cooking something up for him. Something the Cobra was obviously confident would be the death of him. His forehead creased as he started to pick his way back over to the bunk, tightening his arms around Kyan as he went.
"Where you been, Ben?" the boy's soft voice broke through his increasingly troubled thoughts. Obi-Wan was still sometimes taken aback to hear Basic words coming from the boy. He had learned fast.
"Nowhere important," he replied wearily.
"Never 'portant," Kyan groused over the oft used answer.
"Well it isn't," Obi-Wan countered firmly. "And don't stick your lip out like that or you'll stick like it one day."
"Won't," said Kyan stubbornly, jutting his bottom lip out even more.
"Oh yes you will!" Obi-Wan looked at him, the barest smile starting to creep onto his face. "Just as soon as the wind changes."
"No believe you."
"You don't, do you?" Obi-Wan's smile turned into a mischievous grin-the only warning Kyan got before he was upended on the bunk and Obi-Wan was seeking out his ticklish underarms. Kyan squealed with laughter and squirmed away. He rolled off the bunk and grabbed one of the wooden bowls from beneath the narrow cot.
"Got bowl!" he said triumphantly and raced away, beginning a familiar game. Obi-Wan laughed and pushed his cares into a place he could not yet feel them before starting after.
"It is time now," Sonu said as the Cobra watched him roll up from the plush couch. The bounty hunter had seen as soon as he entered his current employer's quarters, that Sonu had wasted no time in enjoying his new found wealth. The large rooms were now decked out with the finest furnishings that credits could buy. Thick carpet cushioned his feet and priceless ornaments graced the mantles. The Cobra had taken all of it in at a glance, noting everything, and remained unmoved by it. Wealth came and went, to covet it was foolish and made one weak.
"Time for what?" he asked.
Sonu seemed to ignore his question, turning to a decanter on a nearby table. Deep red liquid glinted inside the crystal glass. "Would you care for some wine?"
"No." The Cobra straightened his back, standing like a piece of iron in the soft surroundings. He despised all of this false pleasantry. He wanted to get to the point and then he could go about his business. Sonu seemed to get the message. Annoying as he was, he hadn't climbed to where he was by being stupid. The wine decanter was forgotten and Sonu finally got down to business.
"Our young, Jedi, all of these pitiful games have gone on for too long now. It is time for a change."
The Cobra frowned. "Change? What kind of 'change'?"
Sonu just looked at him. The Cobra was very adept at reading a whole variety of beings and he read that look in a heartbeat. He permitted himself a ripple of shock. He had to admit he had not seen this coming. Not yet anyway. "Are you sure you want to do that?" Kenobi's death did not phase him in the least, but he would have preferred that the young filth to have suffered some more first. Cobra's missing finger's ached with the ghost of old pain and he rubbed his hand absently. Oh yes, much more. "Do you want to lose your star attraction so early on? As I see it he's still as popular as ever."
Sonu shook his head in the manner of scolding a short-sighted child and Cobra bit down on hard anger as the condescension trickled into his voice. "No, my dear bounty hunter. That is why this job is better left to me. I can read our audience. Yes for now they are still interested, but not for much longer. The novelty of seeing the Jedi will begin to wane. He has passed the last few rounds with ease. No. I plan to make a change before we start to lose the audience. I'm going to do this. Make sure you have everything prepared for…" The stocky man made a cutting motion with his fingers.
Cobra stared. His anger shot up another notch. "I've told you before! I did not put myself at risk just for you to throw it all away on a whim!"
"Watch your tongue, Cobra, or I shall remove it myself." He didn't shout or even snap but the icy intent behind the words were unmistakeable. All pretence of pleasantry was gone. Now he faced the cold hard criminal beneath. A man even he did not want to trifle with unless the time was right. And it wasn't. Not here inside the monster's own lair. Cobra dropped his eyes smoothly. He knew how to play the game. "A apologise."
"Good, now," the glossy demeanour slipped back into place, "I need to start putting the word around. Everything needs to be prepared by tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow? Don't you want to play it out a bit longer?"
"No. Thirty hours is long enough in this game. Bring the Jedi to the central pit, nine hundred hours, sharp."
"As you wish," the Cobra bowed.
Sonu nodded, satisfied. Cobra turned and walked from the room, a smile playing across his own face. He was going to enjoy this.
Obi-Wan woke to a jab in the ribs. Already knowing well who was on the other end of such a summons, he turned over slowly to meet the Cobra's dark gaze.
"What do you want?" he grunted.
"You've got a banquet to attend."
Obi-Wan stared at him.
"Well, what do you think, you fool! Sonu wants you down in the pits. Now!"
That shook the last vestiges of sleep from Obi-Wan's brain with a snap. Bewildered he sat up, though carefully to avoid disturbing the small bundle sleeping close by. He had just fought yesterday. He should have at least a week before he was called upon again. Sonu was always careful to make sure his prize was fully rested between bouts.
Cobra seemed to read his confusion. "No soft holiday this time. You're wanted. Now get up."
Glaring and wanting nothing more than to knock the bounty hunter flat on his back, Obi-Wan rose to his feet. He turned to shake Kyan awake, to let the boy know where he was going, but the pole of an electro jabber blocked his arm before he could touch the boy. An electro jabber? They were heavily armed today. His weariness peaked.
"No time for soppy farewells today, Jedi. It's probably best you let the boy sleep. He'll have precious little rest after today. I don't think his Jedi protector will be coming back this time."
Obi-Wan stiffened. "Don't be so sure, bounty hunter," he ground out, despite the ripple of bad feeling that rippled through him.
"Rarely of anything, Jedi." The Cobra answered. "But in this I am. Your death awaits you down in the pits today and I'm going enjoy watching."
Obi-Wan fought down his rising apprehension. He sounded so damn sure. But he did not let the bounty hunter know he was being rattled. He lifted his chin in defiance. "We shall see."
The hunter gave a humourless smile. "Indeed we will." The electro jabber lifted. "Now let's move along while we're still young."
Reluctantly Obi-Wan turned away from Kyan, leaving the child sleeping peacefully. [i]I'll be back soon[/i], he sent the thought as hard as he could. It wouldn't do any good, but he couldn't help himself. The boy would panic when he found him gone, but he couldn't help that. He could only try to return as quickly as he could.
Silently he followed his bounty hunter escort from the room. Walking along the draughty corridors for the second time in s many days, Obi-Wan tried not to guess what Fate had in store for him this time. Cobra seemed especially pleased today. If Obi-Wan didn't know any better, he'd say there was a bounce in his step. What had he discussed with Cobra last night? Nothing good. Not for him. Obi-Wan moaned low in his heart. What could they possibly want from him now? What was all this endless struggle leading towards? He had a feeling he was moving one step closer to it today. He shrank from the idea. He didn't want to know. He didn't want to think. That wasn't very Jedi-like, but that was how his life had become. A constant dread of the future. And as the cold journey continued he knew he would be facing that future all too soon.
He was right. Lifting his eyes from where he had left them on the floor, Obi-Wan watched as the Cobra drew the small party to a halt outside a strange set of doors. Over the months Obi-Wan had come to recognise many of the doors to the many pits he had fought in. This learning he had been able to glean some insight into what sort of challenge he would be facing beyond the threshold. But these doors… Obi-Wan wracked his bleak memory. These doors he could safely say had never come before him. It did nothing to ease his fears. He had no idea what was waiting for him.
The doors ground open and he reassessed his thinking. There was always one constant in all of this. Sonu could always be counted upon. The familiar blocky form stood in the centre of the antechamber leading to the strange pit. Obi-Wan stepped forward and was hit instantly on the face by a wall of heat. The stone room was stifling. Hot enough to choke. Sonu turned as he entered. Sweat was pouring down the thick face but Sonu showed no other sign of the discomfort that he must have been in. his eyes glittered eagerly in the torchlight.. Obi-Wan got the impression that if he were anyone else he would be bouncing on his feet. Something was going to happen now. Something big. Obi-Wan's stomach coiled tighter in his stomach. And there was something else that made all this unsettling. It took him a moment to realise that there was no noise coming from beyond the antechamber. He could not hear a crowd and the silence was somehow more oppressive than ever the roar had been. Panic flurried threw him. Nothing was right. Was he going to die now. Had Sonu finally had enough of his latest plaything and was going to kill him once and for all/ a million questions went flying through Obi-Wan's head in a single, terrible moment.
Sonu chuckled. "You look worried, Obi-Wan. And you are right to be. Jedi or not, this chamber has been the end of the line for all those that have come here before you."
Obi-Wan closed his eyes and clenched his fists. So it was to be then. He had come to the end of the line. He had served whatever purpose Sonu had wanted and now only death was left for him. In his heart he tried to prepare himself, but peace was like a greasy rock face that he could not grasp and his stomach plunged every time he slipped. He actually flinched when he heard the sound of a vibroshiv being drawn slowly from its sheath. The bearer was enjoying the motion and his panic. He fought to get a better control on himself. He was a Jedi and he should be prepared to meet his fate and become one with the Force. But the Force's serene blanket had abandoned him, leaving him cold and exposed and very frightened. Someone stepped up beside him and Obi-Wan stopped breathing as a hand settled in his hair and slowly drew back his head exposing his vulnerable throat. Next he heard the Cobra's voice whispering in his ear. "I've been looking forward to this, Jedi scum. Die well."
Obi-Wan's heart was pounding painfully in his chest fighting to live even as the rest of him waited for his life to be ended. His breath came in short gasps. Sonu's voice penetrated the background. "Keep still and you won't feel a thing." The words were no comfort as he felt the Cobra's blade press against his neck. A last image of his Master danced before his lids and he wished with all his heart that Qui-Gon was here with him now. Then the blade was moving, cutting up and across in a swift practiced motion and then it was gone.
Obi-Wan collapsed to the floor.
For a timeless moment he was senseless. He was surprised that there was no pain. Just an overwhelming sense of weightlessness. It was like a great stone had been lifted from his shoulders leaving him floating on a sea of sensation, all colours and motion. He felt as if he could touch anything and feel its life and its meaning to be there. At the same time it felt as if he was being slowly wrapped in a secure and comforting blanket. A child coming home to its mother. If this was dying then this wasn't so bad, he thought dreamily.
But rather than getting further away from everything as he cast off his mortal bonds, Obi-Wan sensed that as the initial euphoria ebbed that the world around him was coming back into sharper focus. Heat against his skin. The sharp tang of sweat in his nostrils. He became aware that he was being carried.
"Didn't know that it would effect him like this…"
"You take too much risk, Sonu! He could do anything now! He could contact-"
"Silence! Just get him in there before he comes round. Then he'll have far too much to concentrate on!"
Concentrate? That was the last thing he wanted to do. He was going to the Force. It had come for him at last. But try as he might he felt as if the Force was moving further away and returning him to the world.
No! He pleaded. I don't want to go back there! Then all of a sudden he was falling, his senses jolting back as he landed hard.
Obi-Wan blinked. The world swirled before his eyes and he blinked again. Everything seemed strangely over bright and it hurt his brain but finally his vision cleared enough for him to see that he was lying flat on a dirt floor. Columns of flame shot up and licked around him in random bursts. The burning fire was hot against his skin. Had he fallen into hell then as punishment for his recent sins? Next there came a low rumbling like thunder that was painful to his suddenly sensitive ears. Blearily he turned to see two huge stone doors being hurriedly drawn in the walls about six feet above him. Sonu's gloating face was the last thing to disappear before they closed completely.
Sonu? But how could that be. He was dead. The knife… Obi-Wan's hand went to his throat. His hand came away with a trickle of blood, but that was all. No gushing flow. No gaping wound. He was alive and… his hand moved. The collar was gone! He passed his hand around his whole neck again and again in disbelief, but the answer remained the same. The collar that had choked him since before his arrival in this accursed place, was gone. Obi-Wan could hardly take it in. The relief was overwhelming. He felt as if he could suddenly breath, like his breath had been held for a lifetime. Oxygen filled his starved lungs, cleansing and steadying. His vision focused, highly defined and focused, colours vibrant. He felt alive!
His sixth sense expanded and reached out, moving beyond his standard five. He was now aware of the massive crowd sitting high above the walls and immediately recoiled as their blood lust and loathing beat down upon him. The hate almost was almost overwhelming and he struggled to get his unprepared shields back into place, protecting himself from all but the most basic surface thoughts. But the effect was still similar to one being long in the dark having a flash light shone into their eyes.
He stared up at the crowd as they sat there strangely silent and still. Waiting.
Waiting for what? The question brought Obi-Wan back down to earth with a bump. That was the question. Waiting for what? They had taken that collar off for a reason. And it had to be a good one. Gathering his spiralling wits, Obi-Wan brought his attention back to his immediate surroundings.
A flame shot out of the ground close by, making him jump. He hadn't imagined that then. Burning geysers were shooting up from the hard packed floor all around this massive chamber. He could sense the workings of a massive piping system beneath the ground. Gas that ignited in the selected areas and went burning into the air upon its directed path. That was a big risk to Obi-Wan's mind and he filed the information away.
Despite the small conflagrations, the extensive pit was dimly lit, but that was no problem to Obi-Wan now. He saw and noted everything. This pit was almost as big as the prison he lived in. Unbelievable in scale. Walls rose up three hundred meters away to his left and before him with the crowd tucked away above. He could not see where the room ended to his right nor see where the roof closed above his head. What he could see were strange objects littering the floor. Big transparisteel boxes as tall as he was, a section of massive piping dropped here and there. Chains hung down from the unseen roof, a few suspending yet more containers high in the air along with a handful of swaying platforms. The effect was rather like an abandoned archaic factory.
Obi-Wan flinched again as flames shot out of the ground next to him, closer now. He shifted to the side, still unnerved by the bated silence of the crowd. They were waiting for something and he still had no idea what or what he was supposed to be doing. There had been no pre-battle pep talk from Sonu this time. They had made sure he had been thrown in here before he realised what was happening and could act on it. With the Force he could have taken all of them and escaped. He could have reached out and-
The Cobra's words as he had heard them in his dreamlike state came back to him, 'he could contact…' He could reach out and contact another Jedi. Joy and disbelief flowed through him. Disbelief that he hadn't yet thought of that in the whirlwind of sensation he had been riding upon since getting the Force back and joy at knowing that he no longer had to be alone. The thought that he was so far from everything and there might be no one out there to hear him did not cross his mind. He trusted the Force in this instance like never before and it cast aside his doubt. He had been given this opportunity for a reason and he was going to use it. There had to be somebody out there to hear.
Gathering the Force to him he collected its power, feeling the small thrill as he did so, then he began to release it, sending it out, out beyond these walls of sadness and misery, out-
Suddenly the harsh screech of metal on metal shattered Obi-Wan's concentration, the Force fled from his grasp as he spun round. The noise had come from behind him, cutting through his ears and filling him with sudden dread. He had been so caught up as he was in his task that he had forgotten that his opponent was yet to appear. Since being returned to the Force his thoughts had just been jumping from one reality to the other. He had to get a hold of himself. Quickly.
Metal screeched again and Obi-Wan watched as a huge, gaping mouth was opened in the floor to his left. The stench of excrement and death belched upwards and Obi-Wan stepped back further as it turned his insides and clenched his heart. The Force surged around him as he was suddenly overcome by the greed and hunger of a massive life form heading his way, underground.
Obi-Wan riveted his eyes to the maw that had opened in the ground, half wanting to see the thing that was about to emerge, half wanting to turn and flee for his life. The smell of terror was getting more powerful and Obi-Wan knew he was about to have company very soon. It was all he could do to remain where he was and he reached out to the Force for strength just as the floor began to vibrate in rhythmic pulses beneath his feet. The audience must have felt it to because they began to murmur in eager anticipation. They knew as Obi-Wan did that they were feeling the ground shaking footsteps of the Jedi's next opponent.
"Oh, Force help me," Obi-Wan whispered as the vibrations got steadily stronger, sure and terrible. Like a womp rat caught in headlights Obi-Wan stood frozen with his eyes on the black pit, waiting for the monster that was about to breach.
But just as his breath was caught in his throat, the massive footfalls stopped and everything went deathly silent. Obi-Wan could here his own heart pounding in his chest. Still he watched the trap door, unable to turn his back. The Force screamed at him that the danger lay just beneath the floor and it would be his death if he didn't escape. But he couldn't escape. He was locked in here with no where to go.
Then came the movement. It was so small that it was almost anticlimactic. Just the barest flicker of something long and thin whipping up from the darkness. It disappeared for a second, only to whip back into view in the next. Again and again. For a full five minutes the flickering thing kept appearing and reappearing, increasing Obi-Wan's tension until he thought he would snap.
In the end he couldn't take it anymore. Cautiously he stepped forward, his boots making no sound upon the dirt floor, edging steadily forward until he was no more than a few feet from the massive trap door. The whip-like thing kept moving, sightlessly flickering before Obi-Wan's eyes. It was pinkish-black in colour, wetly shining in the dancing light of the flames, forked in shape. Obi-Wan barely had the time to identify the thing, before it suddenly disappeared altogether. Satisfaction radiated up from beneath.
Force! Obi-Wan stumbled backwards, realising what had happened a second too late. He was still at the pit side when a massive head exploded from the depths. It caught him hard and threw him backwards. Obi-Wan' breath was knocked from his body as he landed in a sprawling heap six meters away. Gasping, he lay still where he had fallen. Everything told him to stay where he was otherwise he was a dead man. Very slowly he turned onto his back, looking up into the grotesque face of the monster that had breached from the earth. Wicked eyes pierced the gloom, rotating this way and that above jaws that dominated most of the face. The pink-black tongue flickered out from between the razor teeth, searching for the taste of the one it had scented. Obi-Wan could barely breathe. He couldn't remember being more scared in his life.
Clawed feet scraped the floor as the beast began to drag itself out of its lair. Obi-Wan watched as it rose above him. Up and up until Obi-Wan didn't think it would stop. Finally the whole of it was standing above ground, ten meters tall and twenty long, a leviathan of muscle, horn and acid green scales supported on four thick legs. A long whip-like tail armed with barbs lashed the air as the thick head swivelled and the great forelegs came down upon either side of Obi-Wan's body.
A growl rumbled through the deep chest. Saliva dribbled down upon the unseen prey beneath it, burning where it touched. Those fangs were poisonous!
Obi-Wan suddenly decided he was not going to wait until he was spotted and devoured. He had to try and get out of here. The trap door was still open. Maybe he could find a way out through there. It was his only hope. Mind made up he cloaked himself with a touch of the Force and forced his frozen muscles to move. Inch by inch he crawled back along beneath the beast, creeping beneath its belly, trying desperately not to gag on its stench. Foot by pain staking foot he drew closer to his goal. He had never known a huge black hole look so inviting.
Finally he was beneath the tail. It lashed above him, barbs gleaming in the flames. Unexpectedly it lashed down, its owner getting frustrated with its elusive prey. Obi-Wan rolled aside just in time as the powerful appendage gouged the floor right where he had been lying. Shaken, Obi-Wan leaped up and made a last dash for his escape. He was almost there when the trapdoor snapped shut with a deafening clang.
The beast swung round at the sudden noise and its eyes came to rest upon the Jedi stood despairing at the locked escape route. Quick as a striking snake it lunged, jaws agape. The Force surged and Obi-Wan leaped aside, dodged and ran for his life. He just ran without plan or thought. He just had to get as much distance between him and that… thing. One of the huge boxes caught his frantic sight and the Force pulsed. Despite his panic Obi-Wan took the hint, he dived for the container. There was an opening in the side and he threw himself into it just as mighty jaws snapped closed behind him.
Inside the metal walls of the sheltering box, Obi-Wan dragged air into his lungs. His body was trembling from the shock and for a moment he couldn't steady it. What the hell was that! He knew now why Sonu had risked giving him the Force back. He'd have been dead already without it. And it remained to be seen how much longer. Sweat dripped off his face and he wiped it off with a trembling hand. What was he going to do?! He didn't even know what his goal was in all of this. Surely not to kill that thing?
The despairing thought skittered through his mind just as he heard Sonu's voice crackle through the air, amplified by some device.
"Ladies and gentle beings! Behold the Fire Dragon! Demon of old! Look good for the likes of this confrontation will never be seen again. Knight and Dragon brought together out from the legends of old. Who will be the victor?!"
The crowd howled and roared in response. Favour siding with the beast and the wish to see the Knight torn limb from limb.
Sonu's laugh grated against Obi-Wan's ears. "We shall see! We shall see! See if the Knight can make it past the Dragon with his hide. There is only one way out of that pit and it lies on the far side. A thousand meters to travel. Who will be the victor! Will the Jedi escape the hungry jaws of death or shall the Dragon gnaw on fresh bones tonight. All will be decided. Ladies and gentle beings I leave you to watch the spectacle of a life time! The Knight and the Fire Dragon!"
The roar was deafening, but even that was drowned out as a howl, near scream blasted out somewhere near Obi-Wan's hiding place. The Fire Dragon. Obi-Wan clapped his hand over his ears as the sound reverberated inside his box. The metal walls quivered. The noise from the crowd was enraging the monster and its hunger burned. Obi-Wan could feel it through the Force. It was starving. Angry and determined. It would hunt with chilling single-mindedness.
It was tasting the air, tracking Obi-Wan by the scent of his sweat. In no time at all a blunt snout was pushing up against the entrance to Obi-Wan's hiding place. The slick, probing tongue flickered in and Obi-Wan pressed himself away from it. Breath coming his short silent gasps. He knew it was no good. He could not hide his scent. The tongue retracted and there came a deep growl, signalling triumph on the beast's part. Obi-Wan held his breath and waited.
Bang! The box was hit with the force of a charging bantha. Teeth punctured through on either side of the metal walls like they were cardboard and began to crush slowly, lifting the box into the air with Obi-Wan inside. Then it dropped it, letting it smash to earth. Obi-Wan was jarred to the bones, bruised and battered. Dazedly he pushed himself to his feet. He looked up with dismay at the puncture holes around him. Big enough to fit two of his fingers inside. And was it him or were they growing larger? With a start he realised that the venom from the creature's fangs was beginning to burn the metal away. It bubbled and hissed and now Obi-Wan realised why the beast had come by its name. It didn't have to breath fire to burn.
He had to get out of here before this whole thing dissolved around him. Risking everything he peeked out of the box. The beast was nosing round the container looking to see if the tasty morsel had dropped out. For the briefest of instants it turned away and Obi-Wan seized the moment. He leaped out and fled. He had to make it to the other side and the promised exit.
The crowd roared at his reappearance and Obi-Wan felt rather than saw the Fire Dragon rear up in response. It abandoned the now empty box and swung around. The earth shook beneath Obi-Wan's feet as it gave chase. Obi-Wan raced ahead, dodging the obstacles in his way like a hunted hare. It was only a thousand meters. A thousand meters to life. If he could just out run the thing. He called upon the Force to enhance his speed. He was already almost half way.
But speed counted for nothing when his nemesis literally made up a quarter of the space. The sinuous tail lashed round. Focused on running like he was the Force warned Obi-Wan just a fraction too late and he was caught broadside. He was flung to the side like a rag doll then swung up on the back lash. Obi-Wan flew threw the air, helplessly tumbling back towards the gaping mouth of his hunter. The Dragon reared up prepared to catch him out of midair and bite him in two. Thinking fast even in freefall Obi-Wan reached out and grabbed one of the dangling chains with both hands. It yanked him to a halt and Obi-Wan felt his shoulder sockets pop under the strain. He screwed his eyes shut against the sudden shock to his already abused body. Quickly he let himself slide down to a wooden platform dangling beneath.
And came eye to eye with the dragon.
It snarled at him in fury, once more cheated out of its meal. It lunged forward, snapping at the platform. The wood splintered in its mouth as Obi-Wan jumped upward, using the Force to aid him as he climbed back up the chain hand and fist in an effort to get clear. Another ten meters up he paused to look and assess his situation. Baleful eyes stared up at him as the giant lizard planned its next move. As did he.
Tearing his eyes away from the beast Obi-Wan looked beyond it to where the promised exit lay. From up here he could just make it out. Six hundred meters away a man sized opening was cut into the rock wall. A light shone invitingly from inside a way out of the nightmare. He just had to get there.
Looking down again he assessed his chances. The beast's long body swept round in the direction that he wanted to go. Fine, he could use that. As long as he didn't end up in the mouth. But time to think was over as the dragon lost patience and reared up, poisoned teeth reaching and snapping. Obi-Wan gathered himself and swung out of the way. As the maw lunged past he let go of the chain and somersaulted out into midair. He landed square upon the beast's shoulders then raced down its body without wasting a second. The powerful tail lashed as he drew near but he was already leaping off using the Force to propel him forward. Landing catlike he ran on. Three hundred meters to go. The light from the doorway filled his vision.
The beast was in pursuit again. Pounding along behind him. A set of swift claws swiped by and forced Obi-Wan to the side. The tail swung round whipping at his feet. Obi-Wan leaped into the air. Nevertheless this time one of the monster's barbs grazed his lower leg. Obi-Wan gasped as the shallow wound began to burn like fire. He landed awkwardly and barely missed being gored by the monster's fore claw's.
Limping Obi-Wan threw himself behind the nearest piece of cover he could find, an overturned sheet of metal that would hide him for a few seconds. But only a few. The creature's eyesight was poor but its sense of smell incredible. Obi-Wan landed collapsed down behind the metal. His leg was on fire and he gritted against the pain, releasing as much as he could into the Force. Blood had begun to seep through the fabric of his trousers. He turned away from it. The creature was drawing nearer he only had a few moments. His mind raced.
Just then a glint of metal half buried caught Obi-Wan's eye. Sparing a glance his heart leaped as he recognised the hilt of a vibroshiv. Its blade was buried deep in the ground and Obi-Wan shifted over to tug it out of the floor. The weapon had rusted slightly but the tip was still sharp. Obi-Wan didn't know where it had come from, whether it had been left deliberately for a luck competitor or dropped there by a previous victim, but right now he didn't care. He clutched the hilt to him in a determined grip. It was a laughable weapon to the monster back there but right now Obi-Wan would take what ever he had got.
A scaled hand dropped over the metal sheet, slamming to the ground next to where Obi-Wan was sitting. Heart stopped in his chest Obi-Wan leaped up. Or would have done if the hem of his tunic had not been nailed to the ground by a razor sharp claw. Panic at being trapped tore through him and he tugged frantically at the cloth bringing his new found weapon round to hack at it. But the rusted edge refused to cut. The scaled leg retracted and dragged Obi-Wan out with it, lifting him into the air like a helpless piece of meat. Vibroshiv was useless but where that failed the razor sharp claws succeeded. The cloth supporting Obi-Wan's weight shredded and he tumbled back to earth, hitting the ground hard at the feet of his enemy. He tried to get up or roll aside but quick as he was, this time the beast was quicker and it pinned Obi-Wan beneath a brutally heavy hand. Obi-Wan choked and wheezed as he felt his ribcage creak. In the distance the crowd was screaming. "Kralti! Kralti!" The death chant.
The maw of the beast's gaping mouth descended.
No. Not now! Obi-Wan's mind screamed and the hand holding the vibroshiv acted on its own accord. Blindly he stabbed at the restraining claws, sinking the blade in as hard his leverage would allow.
The scream of pain and surprise that came from the Fire Dragon in that moment almost lifted the rafters. The hand crushing Obi-Wan to the floor tore away, leaving a trail of thick green blood. It howled again and before Obi-Wan could react or save himself, the wounded creature lashed out. Its other foreclaw struck, hitting Obi-Wan full on. The impact knocked him out cold and he wasn't aware of anything else until his body smashed into the nearest wall. Hell fire chewed up his arm from his right hand. Blinded by pain Obi-Wan landed.
He knew before he looked that his right hand was shattered. The vibroshiv was gone.
His vision hazed grey, and he fought against unconsciousness. Tears slid down his face from the sheer agony he was experiencing. He almost screamed as he tried to shift. Two of his ribs were also broken. The Force skittered from his tenuous grasp. But he knew if he fell he would never wake. He had to get back up. His thoughts hazed.
He had to be here when Qui-Gon found him. Qui-Gon. Gasping for breath he remembered his Master. His Master would get back up. And he could reach for him if only he could get out of this place. His Master was out there. He knew it. Raw determination trickled through Obi-Wan's broken body. He drew a breath, then another. The Force started to come bit more easily. Pain sliced him, threatening his concentration but he refused to let it win. With a titanic effort he released much of his pain to the Force then used its all encompassing power to support him. Still he knew this was going to hurt.
Biting his bottom lip, Obi-Wan cradled his ruined right hand to his chest. With the other he braced himself against the wall and began to Force himself upwards. Shear white agony was all he knew. He felt his ribs shift slightly and he didn't register the blood trickling down his chin as his teeth sank deep into his bottom lip. It seemed to take an eternity to get upright. But finally he was.
Swaying slightly, Obi-Wan pushed away from the wall. Staggering round he looked for his enemy's whereabouts with swirling vision. The monster was still crouched in the middle of the room nursing its wounded hand. Obi-Wan could sense its shock. He doubted anything had ever harmed it before. And he had paid dearly for being the first to do so. Turning his attention away he began to look for his destination. He could barely think straight. Blackness still taunted him on every movement, but he forced it to clear through shear force of will. He experienced a short thrill as he realised how close his goal was. The Fire Dragon had thrown him a long way. The door of his escape lay not fifty meters from where he stood.
Not far if he had been whole. But now…
A shift snapped his eyes round to the hunched beast in the center. Its eyes were searching again. Tongue tasting. Fury burned inside. And Obi-Wan suddenly knew without a doubt that he must get out. Now. Very carefully he began to edge along the wall, placing his feet so as not to make a sound. His eyes never left the creature once. It still hadn't discovered his whereabouts. Obi-Wan quickened his steps, using the Force heavily to drown out the worst of his crippling pain. He might just make it.
Thirty meters to go and he felt the creature's attention shift. It was getting closer to finding him. His mind screamed at him to just abandon all caution and run But he knew as soon as he made a sudden move while the beast was facing this way he would be found. It couldn't be allowed to find him. But time was running out. He would have to break cover soon. If only there was a way to distract the creature just for a few seconds.
Desperately Obi-Wan cast around until an idea struck him. With nothing else at his disposal he gathered the Force in and then released it in a small hard pulse. The remains of the box he had left behind in what seemed like hours ago suddenly gave a short sharp rattle. The dragon's head whipped round and Obi-Wan held his breath. A snarl grumbled through its body. But it didn't move. Biting his lip in concentration and tasting the bitter tang of blood Obi-Wan now focused his power on the beast's primitive mind. Implanting and image of himself standing next to the decoy box. He manipulated the creature's sensitive smell receptors as well. It was a complicated stunt and it was almost beyond him. Using all of his effort he bent his will upon the beast's mind. Go. Go over there, he pleaded. He only had to get it going the other way.
The snarl turned into a full growl as the dragon began to lumber towards the box. The smell of human and revenge thick in its nostrils. Its pace picked up.
It was now or never. Keeping his deception going for just a few more precious seconds. Obi-Wan began to run. He did not look back to see if the beast was still going towards the box. He released its mind at the last possible second and put all his concentration into sprinting as fast as his body would allow.
He was ten meters from the gap in the wall when the teeth of his nemisis closed around his leg. Obi-Wan felt his heart burst in his chest as the razor sharp points ripped into his flesh and lifted him from the ground. The Force fled his grasp as terror and new burning pain tore through him, robbing him of thought. All he knew was that he had failed and now he would die. Acidic poison began to burn into his leg.
But Obi-Wan had been so long without the Force now that his basic reflexes had been honed to get along without it. In a desperate bid to survive he kicked out with his free leg and struck the beast that held him hard in the eye. The only vulnerable part. The beast snorted in pain and the teeth loosened slightly, though they did not let go. But it gave Obi-Wan the breathing room that he needed. Shear adrenaline pumped through his body as he pulled the Force back to him, searching. He had but moments. Then he found it. A tug and his lost vibroshiv flew to his left hand.
Obi-Wan didn't hesitate. He swung up and drove the blade into the creature's eye.
The resulting shriek was terrible to hear. The jaws opened as the dragon reeled back. Obi-Wan dropped to the floor once more and lay dazed and gasping. He dared not look at the mess his left leg was in, the numbness told him enough. The creature thrashed and scraped its claws in the earth, then it surged back hunting for its enemy. Obi-Wan staggered onto his good leg, the other would barely hold his weight. He could not escape the beast. He was crippled completely now.
But only in body. His near brush with death had left his mind strangely clear. A burst of flame shot up between him and the monster and the information that he had filed away at the start of all of this came back to him in clear definition. It gave him his last chance. It was reckless and dangerous and might well result in his own death, but so be it. He had run out of options. Grim determination etched his face as the dragon came for him one last time. Obi-Wan seized the Force and grabbed hold of the pipes just beneath the earth where his enemy stood. Quickly he found the mechanism that ignited the gas and bent it inwards, then he turned and fled as fast as his limping would allow. The beast started after but it was too late for it now.
Obi-Wan was five meters from the open doorway when the explosion hit. Flames erupted from the ground burning and destroying, the sound was deafening. Obi-Wan felt the heat lick his back and desperately he called upon the Force one last time, throwing himself towards the waiting door as the shock wave of the explosion struck and accelerated his journey.
Pain tore through his exhausted and broken body as he blasted out pit on the crest of the inferno. But only one thing mattered to him now. Just before blackness claimed him Obi-Wan threw all his remaining power into one long and desperate cry.