Darkness found the city of Mos Espa hunkering down amongst the dunes for another night, like a great twisting snake. Tenement buildings gradually vanished into the shadows, lit only by bonfires and flickering make-shift lamps. Swoopbikes raced down the thoroughfare of Mos Espa Way, which had been full of people during the day. Labyrinthine alleys were scoured with blaster bolts or drenched in multi-hued blood. Walls crumbled as the wind blew sand through abandoned courtyards, each decaying, neither with any hope of ever being restored.
Mos Espa was dying.
As the wind swept in from the sands, Obi-wan led Anakin into the heart of darkness. Out on the fringe of the city, on the northern edge of Mos Espa Way, violence spilled out of every doorway. Yet Luke’s trail led here.
Waves of fury, fear and despair washed over Obi-wan, emanating from Anakin. How has he not fallen to the Dark Side?
he wondered. Still, he said nothing. Anakin had only reluctantly accepted Obi-wan’s help, the Force’s help, in finding his son. The look he had given his old master as they left the junk shop, though, had made it clear that Obi-wan should stay quiet.
So they wandered the sinuous Mos Espa Way, Obi-wan following the will of the Force, his sense of Luke’s force potential strong. Their path seemed erratic, as erratic as the wanderings of a scared young man looking for answers. Inexorably, though, the path led here, into the dying streets out near the sands.
As they passed what had once been Jabba the Hutt’s city house, a gang appeared out of the shadows of an alleyway up ahead. Obi-wan drew the hood of his cloak close, hoping to get past without any trouble. Two of them stepped out into the street, though, human faces tattooed to ressemble a Zabrak. Obi-wan felt a surge of anger at the sight – even after so many years, after losing so many friends, he still felt Qui-Gonn’s death keenly. He smothered the emotion, allowing the Force to guide his words.
“Hey Grek, look at the old timers.”
“What are you doing out? Isn’t it past your bed time?” They laughed at the feeble joke.
“We don’t want any trouble,” Obi-wan said in a level tone, allowing a hint of the Force to seep into his words.
“This is our street, old man. You want to walk our street, you pay your way.”
Obi-wan sighed. These men were going to take more persuasion than he had thought. And he needed to be fast – he could feel the mounting frustration bubbling up in Anakin behind him. He didn’t want his old padawan to do something rash.
Using an old trick Master Yoda had taught him as a concentration exercice, Obi-wan waved his hand at the same time as he spoke.
“We’re not worth your time.”
The two gang-members’ eyes went blank. Both of them repeated: “You’re not worth our time.”
“You want to let us go, now.”
“We want to let you go, now.”
They turned to leave. Obi-wan heaved a sigh of relief when a high-pitched rumble echoed in the street.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Why you turning away?”
A figure slid away from the shadows. Obi-wan suppressed a groan. A Hutt. It had to be a Hutt.
The newcomer’s words seemed to cut through the suggestions that Obi-wan had placed in the other two men’s minds. They turned back and Obi-wan could feel their anger blaze up, hot like a newborn star. This might get ugly.
Before he could attempt a more diplomatic route, though, Anakin darted forward. He moved much faster than even Obi-wan could have expected, grabbing a hold of the nearest gang member’s shoulder and spinning him around. One arm wrapped around the man’s neck, he ignited his lightsabre in the other, holding it a mere inch from the gang member’s face.
“Jedi!” One or two of the gang-members scampered straight away, but a few more – including the Hutt – stayed where they were, hands reaching for blasters, pipes and vibroblades.
“Don’t move or I’ll cut him a new breathing hole,” Anakin snarled. The gang-members allowed their hands to fall back to their sides.
This is not the Jedi way. Master Windu’s voice echoed in Obi-wan’s head. He grimaced. He had to do something before this got out of hand.
“Shut up! Now, we don’t want to hurt anyone. We’re looking for someone. A boy, about your age, light hair, dressed in a mechanic’s clothes.”
“We ain’t seen no stinking Jedi boy.”
“You think you can try your old Jedi mind tricks on us?” the Hutt whined. “No Jedi mind tricks work on a Hutt.”
“Anakin, we should go,” Obi-wan said. “This isn’t the way.”
Obi-wan had never known Anakin’s feelings to be straightforward. They had always been complex, as confused as the warren of Mos Espa streets where he had grown up. It had been one of the main problems when Anakin had been his padawan. Now, though, with the loss of his son, that problem seemed to have been increased a hundred-fold. To Obi-wan’s dismay, though, dark emotions seemed to be paramount. What if Anakin has already slipped too far?
If only he could sense Anakin’s presence in the Force… How could he hide himself so completely?
“I seen your boy,” one of the gang-members, a three eyed Gran, said out of the blue, returning Obi-wan to the here and now. “He came through here.”
Anakin looked to Obi-wan. Grimacing, the Jedi Master reached out with his senses. The Gran seemed to be telling the truth. He sensed fear and anger, but no deceit. He looked back at Anakin, nodding.
“Where did he go?”
The Gran pointed down a side street. “That way. I saw him head into an alley a little way down. Then he left with a streetwalker.”
A streetwalker? He looked at Anakin whose eyes blazed. “What are you talking about?”
“She was all dressed in leather,” the Gran leered. “With bright red hair.”
Obi-wan felt a lance of hot ice down his spine. No. No, it can’t be.
What if they were already too late? He stifled the sudden surge of fear, but he could not keep the urgency from his voice.
“Anakin, we need to go.”
Anakin sensed the urgency in his friend’s voice. He nodded. “Alright, we’re going to leave now. Any of you want to follow us, just remember who you’re facing. We can sense you coming before you even think about it. You got me?”
Those who remained nodded. Obi-wan doubted the threat would stop them for long. They’d fall back, regroup, then come after them. Pride demanded it. If only Anakin had let me handle things…
Still, if Obi-wan was right, they wouldn’t need much time. Force, let me be wrong.
Anakin let the gang-member go and he scurried off to join his friends. As Obi-wan had expected, they pulled back into the shadows. He could feel their eyes on them as they passed on down the street. A few minutes, maybe a little more.
“We’d better hurry,” Obi-wan said.
Anakin just nodded.
Quickening their pace, they reached the alleyway that the Gran had indicated. Obi-wan reached out with his senses. As he had feared, he felt the presence of the Dark Side. A Sith had been here. Recently. He reached out and grabbed Anakin’s shoulder.
“The Dark Side.”
Anakin’s eyes widened. He tore himself away from his former master and ran into the alleyway. Pulling back his cloak, Obi-wan followed him, hand hovering near his lightsabre in case he needed it.
When he saw his old friend crouched on the floor, a figure cradled in his arms, Obi-wan feared the worst. Taking a step forward, though, he saw a furry paw in the light from the streetlamps behind him. A Wookie?
“Chewbacca? What happened?” Anakin was asking.
Obi-wan took a few more steps forward. As he drew closer, he saw that there was little blood. The sight of the two cleanly severed stumps at the end of both arms and the cauterised lightsabre wounds that punctured the heart and lungs confirmed his fears. He reached out with his senses nevertheless, allowing the Force to guide him. Years of tracking Sith-trained operatives throughout worlds along the Solo Line had honed his ability to sense the Dark Side into a fine art. Whoever had been here was gone now. So was Luke.
Anakin seemed oblivious to the signs, though. Can’t he sense the presence of the Dark Side? Could he be so far gone?
“Anakin,” he whispered.
Anakin looked up at him, then followed his gaze to the Wookie’s chest. When he saw the wounds, his eyes widened.
“Chewbacca. Who did this to you?”
The Wookie groaned. At least so it seemed to Obi-wan until Anakin spoke.
“What did she look like?”
Of course, the streetwalker. Red hair. It had to be her. The Red Lady. The Emperor’s favored Hand. He was about to tell Anakin what he suspected when the Wookie spoke again. Anakin stiffened.
“What did she do to Luke?”
Obi-wan felt a surge of anger rise from his friend as the Wookie grunted and growled, struggling to tell Anakin what he had seen. The poor creature’s words trailed off into a wracking cough before he could finish, though. The cough faded into a dull choking sound as the Wookie’s lungs filled with blood. Before either man could do anything, the Wookie took a final, rattling breath and went still.
The two men remained still for a moment, the silence growing between them. Obi-wan couldn’t believe this had happened. This wasn’t what he had planned. He had been sure that he would be able to convince Anakin to come back, to help. Instead, he had allowed his friend’s son to be taken by a Sith. A Sith and the son of Skywalker. The Son of…
Like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky, he had it. Obi-wan’s blood ran cold. Master Yoda. The Prophecy. A Sith and the Son of Skywalker. By the Force, Master Yoda’s prophecy. The prophecy is coming true. Oh Anakin!
Anakin’s voice cut through his reverie. His old friend had stood up, laying Chewbacca’s body on the ground at his feet.
“Where will she take him?” he asked.
“Where?" Anakin cut him off.
"Coruscant, I would imagine." Obi-wan resigned himself.
Obi-wan could only nod.
Anakin thought about what Obi-wan had said for a few moments, then came to a decision.
"You're coming with me."
He started to push past his old friend. Obi-wan reached out a hand to grab him, to reason with him.
"Anakin, no I..."
Anakin swung round so fast that Obi-wan didn't even have time to react to the oncoming fist. He found himself on the ground all of a sudden, his chin throbbing, blood on his lips.
"You owe me, old man. This is all your fault. Now my boy is gone and..."
Grief flooded Obi-wan's senses, wave after wave. Anakin saw it reflected in his eyes and turned away, as if he could hide his feelings. Obi-wan sensed Anakin’s struggle – guilt and despair warring for control with anger and his need to save his son. Slowly, his love for his son won out, even over his anger at Obi-wan. His shoulders slumped.
"Please help me, Obi-wan. I can't do this without you. You're my only hope of getting to Palpatine before he turns my boy."
Again grief flooded through Obi-wan's mind, but this time it was all his own. I don't have a choice. May the Force forgive me Padme. I don't have a choice.