|An Ancient Lesson Part 3
By Healer Leona
The atmosphere in the arena was highly charged the excitement palpable as Qui-Gon entered the room.
Not surprisingly, all the seats in the stands were occupied. It seemed every Master and Knight had found their way to this event and sat taking among themselves.
Qui-Gon strode over to where the other contestants waited anxiously.
"Qui!" Mace shouted, noticing his friend's arrival. "Quite a turnout." he said, a goofy grin plastered to his face.
"Yeah, apparently trouble in the galaxy is at an all-time low." Qui-Gon answered noting the endless stream of Jedi that poured into the arena.
"This is great!" Mace exclaimed, unable to hide his excitement.
Qui-Gon glanced around at the other Padawan Learner's. They all seemed to share his friend's enthusiasm for the upcoming contest.
He offered Mace a strained smile and bobbed his head accordingly. His only thoughts were to leave the arena with his pride somewhat intact.
Across the room he saw Master Yoda enter the arena accompanied by Sin Tu, who immediately broke away, heading for the class instructor, Master Derek Nor.
Qui-Gon watched with interest as they conversed briefly. A wide grin crossed Master Nor's face as he nodded, shaking hands with Sin Tu.
Returning to Master Yoda, Sin Tu spotted Qui-Gon and gave a short nod of acknowledgement.
Two seats had been vacated in the front row for Master Yoda and his guest who rejoined him.
Wonder what that was all about, the young Jedi thought; Sin Tu's parting words coming back to him.
Master Nor walked to the center of the arena. The large room became silent.
"Honored Masters and Knights", he bowed to the audience, "ladies and gentlemen. I wish to thank you all for attending. I will explain the rules of this contest and then we shall begin."
Turning to the Padawan's he continued.
"Each pair will occupy a section of the arena designated in orange." pointing to the lines painted on the wooden floor. "Each round will be limited to one point five standard hours unless a kill point is made or a forfeiture is made out of bounds. If neither occurs before the time allowed the decision of victor will be made by the recorder droids. The victors will then be granted one-quarter hour of meditation before proceeding to the next round. At the end of the third round the winning apprentice will have one half hour of meditation before the last round at which time the name of the opposing Master will be announced."
Holding up a data pad Master Nor began reading off the names of the first pairing.
"Serdi Navala, Terilan Deen....El-Rin-Ko Dashika, Junt Hom....Jameela Hakim, Mace Windu....Qui-Gon Jinn, Tak Eknos..."
Tak Eknos, a male Orlothian smiled happily.
It was apparent to Qui-Gon the boy was very pleased with this draw. Even without the Force it was obvious the Orlothian presumed an easy victory. Let him, Qui-Gon thought, overconfidence could be used to his advantage.
As the rest of the names were announced, the eight pairs walked forward taking a position in an orange framed square.
A recorder droid buzzed to life in each section, hovering above the contestants.
Qui-Gon faced Tak Eknos; the boys bowed to each and ignited their lightsabers.
They stood poised in classic Jedi stance, their sabers held up, their breaths held, waiting for the other to make a move.
Tak lunged at Qui-Gon; his white blade stabbing at the taller's midsection. In an easy motion Qui-Gon side-stepped, swinging his blade around to knock his opponent's blade away. Their blades met again and again, sparking with each contact. Tak continually advanced on Qui-Gon, forcing him to retreat backwards as he fought.
Tak's plan became clear. If he kept him moving Tak hoped that Qui-Gon's legendary clumsiness would cause a miss-step that would ultimately result in his defeat.
Instead of allowing this thought to remain, Qui-Gon lost himself in the Force. With the added control learned in his recent lessons his mind became a clean, white calm.
He could see this present contest as though it was happening in slow motion. Muscles moved elegantly, smoothly on command as he blocked each onslaught from his opponent and began to change the rhythm. Now he was on the offensive. Moving forward he focused on the moment, oblivious of all else, even the cheer of victory from Mace across the room.
Tak's mind filled with doubt. He had thought this pairing a gift of the Force, an easy win. Now as Qui-Gon pushed him back he wasn't so sure.
Qui-Gon, his features void of emotion drove the boy back relentlessly until the orange line was but inches away.
In less then a heartbeat Qui-Gon reversed his lightsaber, the handle toward Tak Eknos. He lashed out, striking Tak firmly in the chest.
Tak flew backwards, his face in shock as he landed outside the orange line.
The recorder droid emitted a high-pitched beep. "Forfeit Tak Eknos, victor Qui-Gon Jinn", it announced in a mechanical voice.
Qui-Gon blinked, releasing the hold he had on the Force and the hold it had on him. His face registered the same surprise at this turn of events as Tak Eknos’... well almost.
Tak rose to his feet, his face blossoming in two shades of pink. They bowed to each other then to the audience who applauded as they retreated to the sidelines.
"Wow!" Mace ran to his side, "how'd you do that?"
"Do what?" Qui-Gon asked perplexed.
"I've never seen anyone move that fast." he was totally impressed.
"Huh?" Qui-Gon voiced not understanding. He looked at the other Padawan's who's first rounds were finished. They huddled together whispering among themselves, stealing furtive glances in his direction.
"And you were worried about being eliminated in the first round?" Mace clapped him on the back "whatever dances you learned maybe you can teach me a few steps."
Within minutes the number of contestants was reduced to eight and they were granted their fifteen minutes of meditative rest, which they all took advantage of.
The second pairing had Qui-Gon set against Junt Hom, an amphibious Kaper from the planet Cibiniti.
Though shorter (as most were) than Qui-Gon, Junt was extremely broad and muscular, easily making up for any lack of height.
As they began Qui-Gon could sense his opponent had no preconceived expectations of him, unlike Tak Elnos. Those had been washed away with his first victory.
Relying on the Force, both boys battled heatedly. Their lightsabers clashing over and over again, showering them in sparks. Junt Hom was amazingly strong and each blow Qui-Gon repelled sent discorded tremors down his arms. They slashed and parried staying within the center of their section. This was a battle that would be fought on sheer strength.
Junt knew he had the advantage of raw power, his species was known for their prowess and he knew this human would be no match. There was no need of high-flying acrobatics, he had superior strength.
Hammering away, Qui-Gon could feel the muscles in his arms weakening from the stress. He was aware of the passing of time and knew that if their time limit was reached the round would undoubtedly be in Junt's favor.
Taking a calculated risk he allowed his foot to slip causing him to lose his balance. His lightsaber fizzled out as he let it drop to the floor. This produced the intended response in his opponent he'd hoped for.
Startled by this action Junt hesitated a mere fraction of a second.
In that time Qui-Gon, using the Force, called his lightsaber to his hand and flung himself around landing a powerful blow to Junt Hom's neck who could only howl in pain.
Beeeeeep "Kill point. Victor Qui-Gon Jinn" the droid reported.
Qui-Gon looked toward the audience, at Yoda specifically. Everyone else around him was applauding loudly. Yoda merely tapped his gimer stick on the ground, only the twitching of his long ears showing movement.
To anyone unfamiliar with Master Yoda they would have thought him cold and uncaring but Qui-Gon had been his apprentice for six years and knew that the Dagoban Master's rare show of emotions were incredibly subtle.
The sight of the gnarled old stick rapping the floor filled the young Jedi's heart with such immense pride he thought it might burst. Careful to maintain control, Qui-Gon politely bowed to the crowd and returned to the sideline where a beaten Mace Windu met him.
"Mace, I'm sorry." he told his friend, sympathizing with his loss.
Mace shook it off with a bright smile, "Are you kidding. From what I saw out there I'd never stand a chance against you."
Qui-Gon blushed profusely. "Come on Mace, I just got lucky."
Mace' face darkened abruptly, his normally whimsical demeanor replaced with a frown.
"Force, Qui-Gon. If you really want to lose you just keep thinking that." he reproached sternly. "I've known you too long and all kidding aside, you've always been the one this came natural to. So there's been a few awkward moments" a smile crept back into his eyes, "ok, quite a few but I know you more than anyone has the ability."
Gesturing to Erin Del, the only other apprentice left, Mace began walking away saying, "Make quick work of this one Qui. You've got a Master to whup."
After the required meditation Erin Del suppressed his growing irritation with the boy that stood before him. Older than Qui-Gon by two years he long ago had hoped to be chosen as Padawan Learner by Master Yoda.
Though content as apprentice to Master Modoora Tablur, he was still resentful of all the imagined advantages that may have been his if only apprenticed to the prestigious Master Yoda. He believed all of Qui-Gon's accomplishments in the Order were in no small part due to his fortuitous accession to the position of Yoda's Padawan Learner, not his own skill.
Each time Qui-Gon's awkwardness had shown itself Erin felt secretly vindicated in the thoughts he harbored that he would have been a more worthy selection. He also believed himself to be the better swordsman and this would be the final proving ground for that fact.
The room was silent; all eyes on the last Padawan contenders.
As the recorder droid whirled to life two lightsabers ignited simultaneously, their hum the only sound penetrating the arena.
Erin Del quickly took on the offense, slashing and thrusting, attacking with confidence. Each time he encountered the green blade of his opponent's in measured defense. For every well-trained maneuver he used, Qui-Gon parried with a superior move of impeccable grace and impressive speed.
This was not the clumsy boy he had beaten many times in class. This opponent moved with all the dexterity of a seasoned warrior. Movements were fluid and precise, expending the least amount of energy needed to ward off the blows. Doubt seeped into Erin Del as he assailed with vigor, swinging his weapon forcefully only to be again countered, his mortal blow thwarted.
Reaching for the Force Erin could sense the absolute convergence of his adversary with the Force never felt before. It became apparent to him, not only the possibility of defeat but should his competitor take the offense he could do naught but lose. As if in immediate response to those thoughts he felt a change of momentum in Qui-Gon's strokes.
Their angles deepened, their speed increased.
Clash! Clash! Clash!
Erin defended himself wildly against the ferocity of the hits, as the green blade became a blur. As he watched the deciding blow, Erin saw only a mask of serenity on Qui-Gon's face.
In slow motion he saw Qui-Gon take a short step back, swinging down sharply, not at his opponent but at the weapon he held. Saw as the emerald saber connected powerfully with the shaft of his own, the force knocking it out of his hands. Saw as the human boy stepped forward, his lightsaber at first pausing in mid-air than reversing direction.
Gritting his teeth, not wanting to cry out at the inevitable blow, Erin steadied himself as the blade slammed into his waist, burning through his tunic.
Beeeep "Kill point. Victor Qui-Gon Jinn."
Performing the required honors, Qui-Gon bowed to opponent and audience amid thunderous applause and loud cheers.
Kneeling where he stood he linked with the Force in deep meditation. He did not want to lose the level of focus he had attained in that last round. The power of the Force moved around him. Its intensity, a cresting wave that washed through him, filled him with the light of the good side. Through the Living Force he could feel his connection to all living things.
With the Unifying Force as his guide he saw far ahead to countless possibilities of the future. There he saw much pain, loss and even death (though not his). It would be a difficult life, more often than not a lonely life but yet one of incomparable measure.
Such a revelation was it that here, now, at this moment he vowed to dedicate his life to the Jedi Order as a Guardian of Peace and Justice and do the will of the Force. In that vow he felt both peace and strength.
//Master?// he cast out over their bond.
//Understanding you feel... enlightenment.// it was a statement, not a question from Yoda.
//Yes, Master// Qui-Gon opened his mind fully to his Master, sharing with him all he had seen.
//A great Jedi will you be// Yoda sent with unmistakable love and pride.
//Thank you Master, for everything.// Qui-Gon could feel the small three-fingered hand gently stroking his head and as he pulled away could hear...
//You’re welcome my my son..//
Sensing his time was up and Master Nor getting ready to address the crowd, Qui-Gon opened his eyes and rose to his feet.
"We have the auspicious honor of having in attendance today the greatest swordsman of the last two centuries. He has graciously agreed to engage our Padawan Tournament winner in the final round."
Master Nor walked to the front row, made a sweeping gesture with his hand and announced...
"May I present Master Sin Tu."
Sin Tu stood while everyone around him applauded, nodding their heads in knowing recognition.
Across the way the Padawan Learners stood dumbfounded, their faces shocked and blank. It was only remembering their manners that a one or two of them began to clap randomly.
Though never stated, all of them assumed it would be a Jedi Master.
He should have also been surprised but somehow Qui-Gon wasn't. It all made sense now. He remembered his Master's introduction of Sin Tu and wasn't Yoda always saying how things may not be how we perceive them.
Again he was struck with wonder at Yoda. How could he ever have thought his Master was anything but compassionate and encouraging.
Qui-Gon watched as Sin Tu made his way to the center of the arena, revealing a beautifully inlaid handled lightsaber from the folds of his tunic.
"A gift of the Council over one hundred years ago." Sin Tu explained, knowing the Jedi penchant to glorify their chosen weapon.
"Presented by Yoda no doubt." Qui-Gon smiled, extended his hand. "I owe you both my sincerest thanks and apologies. Thanks for the invaluable time and lessons of a great Master. My apologies for misjudging you." he bowed accordingly.
Looking up, Qui-Gon flashed a mischievous smile, holding up his lightsaber to ready he added, "I won't misjudge you again."
"Oh, the cub grows claws." Sin Tu mocked surprise, reading Qui-Gon's challenge with a flush of eagerness.
Sin Tu thumbed his lightsaber on. A deep indigo blade, edged with a brilliant white flashed to life.
"You've found your kint-dou young Jedi, your center." Sin Tu stated plainly with a glint in his eye. "I've looked forward to this for weeks. Now let's see how you fare with an equal."
No droid buzzed overhead. There would be no time limit set for this round. This match would not end until a clear winner was determined or both contestants literally exhausted themselves.
Use of Force moves would be allowed but Qui-Gon refrained from them, willing instead to pit his new found skill against the elder swordsman.
They sparred around the room in synchronized fashion, their weapons striking and scraping continuously, flashing brightly. Relying on his inner self Qui-Gon paced his moves to reflect those made by his opponent as their duel became a well-choreographed dance.
Parry, move, parry, move, their lightsabers clashed with increasing swiftness. Arcs of emerald and indigo surrounded the pair as their movements became blurred. Sparks from the endless barrage of blows rained down on them giving the combatants an ethereal glow as they glided across the floor.
Minutes turned into an hour and then a second one passed as the contenders battled.
No one left the arena. They all watched in silent fascination, aware this was more than just a simple match.
Images of destinies tested swirled through the Force giving reminders to many a Jedi of their long forgotten trials and tribulations.
Sin Tu and Qui-Gon ignored it all; their entire consciousness focused on their physical struggle.
Slash, parry, turn, slash, parry. Their moves were made without thought, an immediate, inner response to the moves of the other. The skills of boy and man were evenly matched. Neither gave any ground to the other.
At this rate it was obvious to Qui-Gon they could very well fight until consumed by exhaustion. An inkling of an idea came to him.
As he struck high, his blade collided with Sin Tu's in counter move.
Only this time instead of meeting resistance, the indigo blade easily forced the green blade back on its builder.
In the time the stinging pain from his shoulder reached his brain, Qui-Gon stepped back and in a great surge of power swung forward.
Sin Tu saw his mistake the moment it was too late. He had underestimated the boy. Risking an injury in effort to win a battle was a tactic used by only the most courageous of warriors.
The match ended as Sin Tu's lightsaber was knocked away and Qui-Gon swept forward pressing his disengaged weapon against his opponent's chest, directly over the heart.
Loud cheers and whistles erupted on one side of the arena, while applause came from the other.
Turning off his lightsaber, Sin Tu bowed in respect to Qui-Gon as a horde of young Padawans converged on the pair.
Jumping, hooting, and hollering, all sense of decorum lost in the moment, they descended on the victor.
Clapping him on the back and roughly shaking his hand they congratulated Qui-Gon eagerly.
"I knew it, Qui, I knew you'd do it!" Mace beamed, hugging him tightly.
The Padawans quieted and moved aside as Master Yoda hobbled to the group.
Impassively, he glanced around at the excited young Jedi, stopping at his apprentice.
Qui-Gon contained the frenzied child in himself that wanted to burst forth as he waited for his Master to speak.
Finally, his long ears twitching absently that belied his sedate manner; a wide smile crossed Yoda's face.
Raising his gimer stick up, shaking it triumphantly, he said "Proud of you I am Padawan."
As soon as those words were spoken Qui-Gon, unable to hold back his excitement picked up his diminutive Master and began to spin around.
"Not a spaceship am I" Yoda croaked, "put me down you will or throw up on you I shall."