by Alice J. Capen
"With you, take Obi-Wan." urged Yoda.
Qui-Gon was getting rather annoyed with Yoda. Qui-Gon felt that he wasn't ready for another padawan -- and felt that perhaps he shouldn't ever have another padawan. Not after the failure of his last one.
But Yoda was getting increasingly persistent. Yoda wasn't going to allow his favorite to forever blame himself for the fall of Xanatos, and he knew that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan would make a good team. Yoda, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon had often gone to places together either as training missions for Obi-Wan, or recreational. Obi-Wan liked Qui-Gon, and looked up to him.
But this mission was one that Qui-Gon felt was too dangerous for an eleven year old padawan, even if the subject of the mission was just a rumor.
"The boy will be safe, I doubt not." said Yoda, referring to the fact that two Jedi Masters were going on this mission: Qui-Gon himself and Plo Koon. Yoda will not be denied his wishes.
Qui-Gon sighed. "Oh right. We'll take him with us."
"Tell him to get ready, I will." and with a look of satisfaction, Yoda headed for Obi-Wan's friend Janell's room where he knew Obi-Wan to be.
Plo Koon, a Master who often fought along side Qui-Gon in battle, smiled sympathetically and said, "Yoda is right, you know."
Qui-Gon scowled at the floor and grunted.
"Yoda lost a few to the Dark side," said Koon, "and he didn't throw up his hands and give up. Those failures weren't his fault. Xanatos wasn't your fault. People who are ruled by the darkness in their souls are always blaming other people; or more cowardly still -- blame things or objects."
"I know." replied Qui-Gon. "I know deep in my heart that his fall wasn't really my fault. But I can't help but feel that I had done something wrong."
"Yes, that's typical. And people like Xanatos know that and take full advantage of it to do further harm."
Qui-Gon sighed and nodded his head.
They were silent now; waiting for the arrival of Obi-Wan. As Qui-Gon thought about Obi-Wan, a memory was triggered -- the memory of when Yoda chose Qui-Gon to be his padawan.
He was a two year old crumbcruncher playing in the Temple nursery. He had commandeered a toy from a fellow Jedi tot, but immediately after, a Master took the toy away from him and gave it back to the other. Qui-Gon sat down, or plopped down, on his behind and started pitching a crying fit.
Almost immediately, he saw Yoda stand in front of him, and with eyes wide-round, Yoda went "oooooaaaaaaaaooohhhhhh!!!" in a way that conveyed the question: 'So you think you're the center of the Universe, do you?' Along with that sound, was a kind of a chortling/clucking sound that he made at the back of his tongue, a lot like the sound a lizard might make. Its affect soothed Qui-Gon. His feeling of anguish seemed to melt away as he looked at Yoda through teary eyes. As Qui-Gon calmed down, he focused on Yoda's nose. He thought that Yoda's nose was cute, and he pushed it gently with his finger. Something clicked between them, and it was that moment that Yoda decided to choose him as his next padawan. He had been without a padawan at that time; his one prior to that was now a Jedi Knight.
Qui-Gon's thoughts turned to Praea and the last time he and Yoda were there. It was just a week before Qui-Gon was to take his final test to become a Knight, and he and Master Yoda were on Praea for a politically social visit. When they were introduced to the Duchess of Teakham, she responded to Yoda as if he were a little child. She picked him up under his arms and brought him eye level. "Oh he's so cute!!" Then she hugged him and kissed him on the nose.
"An old man am I!" exclaimed Yoda.
"Oh that doesn't matter! You're just so darling!" She placed him against her shoulder and gently patted his back as if she were trying to burp him.
Qui-Gon tried to hide his mirth, but when Yoda did, in fact, burp, Qui-Gon could not contain it any longer and laughed hard. Yoda looked at him with reproach and zapped him with gentle jolts of energy. Qui-Gon could not stop laughing though, and his laughter was interspersed with exclamations of "ouch".
The sound of Obi-Wan entering the room broke Qui-Gon's reminiscence, and he couldn't help but smile as he gazed at the bright-eyed padawan.
"Ready to go?" asked Qui-Gon to Obi-Wan.
They boarded the ship and took off toward the planet Praea.
Praea was home to an old medievalisk society of indigenous humanoids who were allowed to technically advance at their own pace, and not have outworld technologies and mores thrust upon them. And they mostly confined their periods of war and peace to themselves. They were not, however, unfriendly people, and they welcomed visitors, newcomers and tourists. They gave an especially warm welcome to the Jedi when they landed, for the problem for which they asked for Jedi had not been able to be solved by their own people, exorcists or psychics. And it was particularly troublesome.
It started out as just a strange tale going around in a town, and it was, for a while, easily dismissed by reasonable people, about a frightening body or image that would venture out from a crypt at night. Only a few people, at first, saw the image, and they were laughed at; accused of trying to create sensation, or were on some kind of hallucinogen. But as time went by, more and more people witnessed the macabre image, then finally, the vicar and the mayor saw it.
The reception for the Jedi was a large one. Even though the problem centered around a relatively small town, denizens from all over the region and beyond traveled to the town to see both the ghostly image and to see the Jedi. A barricade had to be set up to allow the Jedi to be escorted to the best inn where rooms were reserved for their visit. Most people were awed by the Jedi, but others did not see what the hubbub was about -- two men and a boy in plain, dark robes. They were expecting something a bit more flashy, such as armor or heraldic bearings or shields. Weren't these knights? These Jedi looked more like monks.
After the Jedi were shown their rooms, they were treated to a nice lunch on a terrace. The view from the terrace was beautiful. The buildings were of stone masonry or wattle and daub. Newer streets were smoothly paved, while older streets were cobble-stoned. Beyond the town was a paradise of scenic farms and forests
The Jedi wished to walk to the old cemetery where the haunted crypt was, after they ate.
It was Autumn on that part of the world, and the trees wore brilliant hues of gold, reds, browns and greens. The brook that ran through the village, then through a grove past the cemetery, sparkled in the warm sun like a path of diamonds.
When the group, led by the mayor, reached the cemetery, the vicar came out to greet them. With him was his pet tembi, a large friendly dog-like creature named Tulu. After introducing himself and Tulu to the Jedi, he led them past ornate head markers and statues of angels and strange creatures guarding the bones of the dead. A sprinkling of fallen, multicolored leaves adorned most. The group's trek ended at a natural cave that had been made into a crypt.
"This is where the hideous thing comes out of at night." said the vicar. "We looked in there for signs of occupancy by a ne'er-do-well or a hobo, but nothing was there except for the caskets. Nothing was out of place or out of the ordinary. This entrance is the only way in or out, and the lock has not been broken."
"May we see inside?" asked Qui-Gon.
"Certainly." The vicar chose a large key from the set he was carrying, and unlocked the heavy, iron-banded wooden door. Sunlight entered the crypt as the door was opened, and everything looked peaceful. Qui-Gon and Plo Koon stepped inside, with Obi-Wan following. There were four caskets, each atop its own dais made of stone steps. Several other stepped dais were built in the room, empty, reserved for family members. There was some kind of energy there. A quiet energy that felt like a presence had been there, and was now gone.
Plo Koon turned toward the vicar. "Does anyone else besides you have a key to this place?"
"The only other key is in the possession of the family that owns this crypt. But I really don't think that the creature we saw was any of them. It's just not mortal enough. It would be impossible."
The Jedi knew that what the vicar was saying was true. It did not feel like anybody -- alive -- was pulling a prank.
Qui-Gon asked, "Is there anything else we should see before tonight?"
The vicar shook his head. "The image always centers around this place. It always looks like it's coming out of this crypt."
The Jedi exited out of the crypt, and walked around it and its vicinity while the vicar closed and locked the crypt's door. None of the energies around and about seemed out of the ordinary, or at least, not what the locals would be afraid of.
That night, near the crypt, a rectangular table with chairs was set up. Mugs of hot chocolate were on the table as the three Jedi and a few town officials sat around it, waiting for the time that the image usually appeared. No light source was used except by that of the two small moons.
Obi-Wan was standing a little apart from the table, examining some of the artistic carvings of the statues. The elder Jedi kept an eye on him, making sure he didn't wander too far. They didn't have to worry about it though, because when the mayor started elaborating on the tale of the ghostly image, Obi-Wan and his curiosity headed back to the table, eager to hear the story. It was almost as fun as listening to the ghost stories around the camp fire during wilderness training missions. Obi-Wan loved wilderness training missions. The trip would involve junior padawans going to a chosen planet to learn about different terrain, and search and rescue, plants and animals, what could be used as food, and what is poison for most humanoids. The day would usually end around a campfire under the stars, roasting delicious treats while the elders told spooky stories -- especially fun when those stories were actual experiences.
As time went by, and the mayor's story progressed, peppered with embellishments from some other people around the table, Qui-Gon felt the atmosphere get heavy. It also felt as though a dark spirit had flown into the crypt like an invisible bolt of lighting. Qui-Gon looked at Plo Koon and knew that he felt the same thing. The sinister feeling must have been heavy enough for some of the regular folk to feel, because the mayor, who most likely recognized the feeling from his past experience, suddenly faltered with his talking, and with worried countenance, looked nervously toward the crypt. So had the vicar. Something seemed to press upon all the folk around the table and everyone became silent.
The insects stopped chirping.
Tulu, who had been sniffing around at the entrance of the crypt suddenly whined, then barked as she bounded for the safety and company of the people around the table.
A sense of excitement welled up in Obi-Wan as he stood behind Qui-Gon with one hand on the Master's shoulder, as Qui-Gon sat and watched the crypt, expectant.
A stronger sense of dread spread all around the natives.
Was something there? A face slowly formed in the darkness of the crypt's entryway. An ugly face. Ugly, not so much as a physical aspect, but more from the intense ugliness of the soul creating the visage. The cadaverous face was bloodless white. The mouth was gaping wide open as if trying to scream, but no sound came out. Eye sockets were pits of darkness. The expression was that of hideous fear. Malevolent fear shot out from that face and washed over the spectators like an ocean wave.
That tide of fear affected most of the people around the table, including the tembie. Some were gripping the table, hard, and trembling. Others felt sick, some were having trouble breathing. The only ones not affected by the fear were the Jedi, including Obi-Wan, who stared at it wide-eyed and breathed, "Wow!".
Qui-Gon stood up and slowly walked toward the cadaverous being. The ghoul met the challenge by floating out of the darkness of the entranceway toward Qui-Gon, its body becoming more complete and solid; its unmoving feet scraping through the grass. Plo Koon stood up and also walked toward the creature. Obi-Wan wasn't to be outdone in the courage department, especially in front of the natives, so he too walked toward the ghoul. Plo Koon pushed his robe's hood off his head.
When the ghoul saw Koon's face, it stopped its approach. The fear energy stopped shooting from it, and a strange sound, perhaps physical, perhaps mental came out of it. It sounded like surprise.
Plo Koon had a face that could stop a clock.
The cadaverous specter started to back up toward the crypt entrance. Koon became more aggressive in his strides as his eyes narrowed to dark slits, and his expression became fierce enough to have put a yellow streak down the back of a pro-wrestler. The specter wailed and was about to escape.
Qui-Gon could not suppress laughter as he threw a Force "net" around the ghostly cadaver. It failed to capture it however. The soul behind the image disappeared as if to another dimension, leaving the semi-physical body. Before Qui-Gon could reach it, the body collapsed into itself and melted into a foul greasy looking puddle at the entrance of the crypt. The smell was nauseating, and it made Qui-Gon take a few steps back before he was able to throw a Force blanket over it to dampen and disperse the stench.
"Well, that was thoroughly disgusting." said Qui-Gon amicably.
"Sorry." Said Koon jokingly.
Qui-Gon chuckled. "Not you. I'm used to you."
Obi-Wan carefully stepped over the mess and checked the door. It was still locked.
The folks around the table crept up to the crypt and investigated the puddle with disdain.
"Is that the end of it?" asked the mayor."
"I'm afraid not." said Plo Koon.
"Its spirit got away." said Qui-Gon. "It went back into the crypt."
"What was this?" asked another, pointing to the goo.
"I believe it's a physical manifestation created by the spirit. We need to get into the crypt." said Qui-Gon.
The vicar stepped up to the crypt door next to Obi-Wan. "It just so happens, I had the good sense today to keep the key handy." He unlocked the door, then, containing his fear, pushed the door open. Obi-Wan was the first to peek in, using his Force senses to see. Nothing untoward was there. Just the four caskets. Obi-Wan walked in with the two elder Jedi on his heels. Both Plo Koon and Qui-Gon immediately sensed that the spirit they had encountered had not belonged to any of the bodies laid here. There was an invisible opening to another dimension, and the spirit was using it. Perhaps the doorway was opened there long before the cave was used as a crypt?
Qui-Gon could feel a spot of concentrated energy on one of the dais that had a casket. It may be the doorway. He looked at Koon, who nodded back, indicating that he felt the same thing. Obi-Wan also felt it, and started to walk toward it with hands stretched out before him as if he were trying to feel the texture of it. Qui-Gon laid a hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder to keep him back.
"Hold it, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon wasn't going to let his charge go before him. Qui-Gon, in turn, was being protected by Plo Koon, who kept close. Qui-Gon stepped onto the bottom stone step, then stepped onto the second step.
Qui-Gon found himself falling through starry space.
Plo Koon jumped onto the same step in the effort to follow his friend. Obi-Wan saw both elder Jedi drop through what looked like solid physical stone. He quickly leapt onto the step hoping to follow his elders. During the quick instant that he dropped, he was just barely able to glance at the thunderstruck looks of the townspeople before their physical world disappeared, and he was dropping through space.
The mayor, vicar and others ran to the dais steps and a few of them gingerly touched the guilty step with a foot, but the step felt solid. One of them carefully stepped up, placing both feet on the step. Nothing happened. He started jumping on it, while another person stepped onto it. Nothing happened. The step was as solid stone.
"Does it work only for ghosts and Jedi?" asked one.
"How 'bout tembies?" asked another as they watched Tulu sniff around and on the steps, tail wagging. Nothing happened to her either.
Plo Koon had grabbed onto Qui-Gon as they fell. They heard Obi-Wan's voice and looked up to find Yoda's apprentice falling above them, reaching out in the effort to catch hold of one of the Masters. Both Koon and Qui-Gon reached up and grabbed Obi-Wan's hands, and they fell as a unit.
It was strange. For though it looked as if they were in deep space, there was a great amount of wind, as if they had fallen off the top of a building on Coruscant. Their cloaks and clothes, and Qui-Gon's hair whipped upward by the wind as they fell. The fact that they definitely had the feeling that they were falling down was also strange for space. There was no gravitational pull of a planet -- beneath their feet was endless starry space. They were also breathing.
Someone started to scream, but it wasn't coming from any of the Jedi. Still falling, they looked around for the source of the scream, until they realized that it was coming from that malevolent spirit they had encountered at the crypt. The spirit remained invisible, but it continued to scream in the effort to frighten the Jedi. But it didn't work. The Jedi weren't frightened at all; only perplexed. What frustrated the spirit further was the fact that the boy was having fun.
The ineffectual screaming eventually died off. It was effort wasted.
Something was changing around the Jedi. The stars disappeared and the black of space became pure white. The descent halted, not in a jarring way -- they suddenly just found themselves to be no longer falling. They were standing in a space of white nothingness. There was no hard floor beneath their feet, but they were standing nonetheless. The Jedi straightened their clothes.
"I know what's happening." said Qui-Gon. "That spirit is trying to scare us. It seems to exist for the purpose of creating fear."
"Why?" asked Obi-Wan
"That I don't know."
"Some souls live off of the fear of others." said Plo Koon. "They thrill in it."
As Plo Koon was speaking, a solid image of a skeletal demon appeared before them, holding a drawing in front of it. Its head was very blurred, almost to the point of being vaporous. Its talons curved around the edges of the picture. For each Jedi that viewed the picture, the picture was different, and each Jedi knew that by the thoughts conveyed among them. The picture depicted a scene that was supposed to disturb the viewer. But the Jedi gazed upon it and the demon before them with interest, and without the reaction the spirit hoped for.
The spirit gave up. The demon image was fading away, but Qui-Gon said, "Come back here." in an authoritative tone. Confused, the demon image came back.
"We're not finished looking at the pictures yet."
"Stars and damnation!" exclaimed the demon, " What must I do to cause you to fear me?!"
Plo Koon asked, "Why is it, that you want to frighten us?"
The demon looked at Plo Koon rather enviously and said, "If I looked like you, I could frighten anybody."
"Why, thank you!" said Koon as Qui-Gon laughed.
"We met in a dark alley." quipped Qui-Gon
"Why do you want to frighten people?" asked Plo Koon.
Qui-Gon sensed that no one had ever encountered the demon on this level before, and asked, "What, or who were you before?"
The spirit was uncertain about what to do. He had failed with those three with what had worked fine with others. Then surprised him further by following him and added insult to injury by ordering him back and grilling him. He hid his frustration by growling, then he abruptly disappeared.
The Jedi knew that the spirit was not coming back. They looked around at their space of white nothingness.
Plo Koon asked, "Do you think it's been a wasted effort on our part?"
Qui-Gon looked doubtful. "Well, I don't know if we accomplished anything. Take my hand Obi-Wan. Let's see if we can find our way out of here."
They found themselves floating, rather than walking, as they searched for a way out.
"Let's go that way." said Plo Koon , his finger pointing in the direction where he felt was the crypt. "I feel the presence of a door over there."
They floated toward where Plo Koon had pointed. As they traveled, the sound of muted voices met their ears. They came upon an almost imperceptible window of wavering energy. Plo Koon carefully stuck his arm through. As he did, the voices on the other side seemed to get excited. Koon pulled his arm back in. He looked at his companions and shrugged.
"We may as well go through. I can't sense what's on the other side, for some reason."
"Neither can I." said Qui-Gon, "But we may as well go through." Qui-Gon put his hand through, then his arm and shoulders as though he were climbing out a window. The voices he was hearing became recognizable as those belonging to the townspeople. The dimensional door felt strange to him. He felt as if he were going through a birth canal. Warm hands suddenly grabbed his arm and pulled.
Qui-Gon found himself being pulled out by the town leaders. It was, at first, disorienting to him because he had entered the dimensional door as if it were a window on a vertical wall, yet he came up out of a horizontal step. He still had a strong hold of Obi-Wan's hand and began pulling. The townspeople helped, and Obi-Wan was pulled out from the solid looking step. He blinked several times after he stood on his feet.
Qui-Gon waited for the appearance of Plo Koon. He thought he could reach down through the step, but his hand met with solid stone. He was worried that the door had closed until his friend's hand suddenly popped up from the stone. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan grabbed onto it and pulled. With the over-zealousness of the townsfolk trying to help, Plo Koon was thrown up into the air. His Jedi reflexes took over and he made a graceful somersault in the air before landing on his feet.
"That felt weird." said he.
"What happened?" asked the mayor, excitedly.
"We talked with that spirit," said Qui-Gon, "but we don't know if he's gone away permanently."
"The spirit was not willing to converse. He disappeared when we started asking him questions." said Koon.
I think the best we can do is close the door." suggested Qui-Gon.
The mayor screwed up his face and bounced the key on the palm of his hand. "But we already know that that doesn't work!"
"Not that door." Qui-Gon pointed to the stone step. "This door. This is a door to another dimension, and it might keep the ghost away if we close it. Close the door Obi-Wan."
"Huh? I? I've never closed a dimensional door." admitted Obi-Wan.
"After today, you'll have a new skill to add to your collection."
"How do I start?"
"Connect yourself mentally with the door."
Obi-Wan closed his eyes and concentrated. He could feel the spot of otherworldly energy through the Force senses. Plo Koon and Qui-Gon also closed their eyes to monitor the activity.
Qui-Gon softly murmured, "In your mind, picture the door closing using the Force."
To add clarity to his task, Obi-Wan placed his hand on the step. The step was cold and hard to his touch, but his Jedi senses felt the swirling energy beneath as if the stone were a thin barrier between this world and another. He pictured and willed in his mind the door getting smaller and smaller. The doorway obeyed. The door closed until it became a pinpoint dot which then Obi-Wan fused closed.
"Now put a Force lock on it, strong, so that no one could open it from the other side, or from this side either, unless it is opened by you."
Obi-Wan took the concept from his Force shield ability and forged a sturdy lock around the fused door, and left his signature on it. Judging by his past experiences with this strong talent, no one should be able to break it until he opens it.
Plo Koon nodded his approval, and Qui-Gon grunted in satisfaction.
"Good work Obi-Wan." said Qui-Gon.
Obi-Wan smiled in a subdued manner, careful not to appear improperly giddy in front of the townsfolk.
Then Qui-Gon said to the group, "This dimensional door is closed. That spirit should not bother you anymore, unless there is another door opened somewhere."
"What if, by chance he does come back again, what then?"
"First of all, don't be afraid of him. He feeds on fear. The more you react to him, the more he's going to act. He can't hurt you -- but he wants you to think he can." Qui-Gon smiled. "If you want to get his goat, make him a tourist attraction."
The next day was spent in honor of the Jedi. They were breakfasted, entertained and lunched with the best that region had to offer. And they were, of course, asked repeatedly to tell the tale of their adventure in "the other side". Apart from the description of what it was like, the Jedi felt that the events that took place weren't all that exciting, but people kept wanting to hear it over and over again. And the vicar, mayor and the others who had been in the crypt would tell with great drama about how they pulled the Jedi out of the stone.
When the Jedi arrived back on Coruscant, they gave their report as usual. Yoda did not ask further questions pertaining to Obi-Wan. This was one of the few times that the future revealed itself clearly. He bided his time.