STAR WARS: JEDI APPRENTICE #5:
THE DEFENDERS OF THE DEAD

The bloody civil war on Melida/Daan had been raging for thirty years. It was a continuation of a conflict that had lasted for centuries. The two warring peoples, the Melida and the Daan, couldn't even agree on a name for their planet. The Melida called it Melida and the Daan called it Daan. In a compromise, the Galactic Senate used both names separated by a slash mark.

Every town and city on the planet was hotly contested, with territory taken and lost in a continuing series of battles. The capital city of Zehava was under siege much of the time, as the boundaries between Daan and Melida constantly shifted.

Obi-Wan knew that Jedi Master Yoda was depending on them for success in this mission. He had chosen carefully among the many Jedi Knights and their Padawans. This mission was dear to his heart. Weeks ago, one of his favorite pupils, the Jedi Knight Tahl, had come to Melida/Daan as a guardian of peace.

Tahl was renowned among the Jedi Knights for her diplomatic skills. The two sides had been close to a settlement when war broke out again. Tahl had been badly wounded and captured by the Melida. Yoda did not know if she was alive or dead.

Just days ago, Yoda had succeeded in getting a message through to his original contact, a Melida named Wehutti. Wehutti had agreed to smuggle Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon into the city and help them to work for Tahl's release.

The mission ahead was more difficult and dangerous than usual, Obi-Wan knew. This time, the Jedi had not been invited to settle a dispute. They were unwelcome. The last Jedi envoy had been captured, perhaps killed.

He glanced over at his Master. Qui-Gon's calm, steady gaze swept the landscape ahead. He betrayed no agitation or worry that Obi-Wan could see.

One of the many things Obi-Wan admired about Master Qui-Gon was his composure. He had wanted to become Qui-Gon's Padawan because Qui-Gon was well respected for his bravery, skill, and connection to the Force. Although they sometime had their differences, Obi-Wan had a deep respect for the Jedi Master.

"Do you see that canyon?" Qui-Gon asked, leaning forward and pointing. "If you can land between the walls, we can hide the starfighter there. We can use the underbrush to cover it. It's a tight fit."

"I can do it," Obi-Wan promised. Keeping his speed steady, he dipped down lower.

"Slow down," Qui-Gon warned.

"I can make it," Obi-Wan said, gritting his teeth. He had been one of the best pilots at the Jedi Temple. Why did Qui-Gon always have to correct him?

He zoomed into the small clearing with only a centimeter to spare. But at the last moment - too late - he saw that one of the cliffs had a small outcropping. A groaning sound filled the cockpit as the side of the ship scraped against it.

Obi-Wan set the craft down and powered down the engines. He did not want to look at Qui-Gon. But he knew that being a Jedi meant taking responsibility for every mistake. He met his Master's gaze squarely.

He was relieved to see amusement in Qui-Gon's eyes. "At least we didn't promise to return the starfighter without a scratch," he said.

Obi-Wan grinned in relief. They had borrowed the transport from Queen Veda on the planet of Gala, where they had successfully completed their last mission.

As they climbed down from the starfighter onto the rocky terrain of Melida/Daan, Qui-Gon paused. "There is a great disturbance in the Force on this world," he murmured. "Hatred rules this place." "Yes, I feel it," Obi-Wan said.

"We must be very careful here, Padawan. When so much volatile emotion is packed into a place, it is hard to keep your distance. Remember you are a Jedi. You are here to observe and to help where you can. Our mission is to return Tahl to the Temple."

"Yes, Master."

The underbrush was thick and leafy, and it was easy to drag large branches to cover the starfighter. It would not be visible from the air.

Shouldering their survival packs, the two Jedi headed toward the outskirts of Nede. They had been instructed to approach from the west, where Wehutti would meet them at a Melida-controlled gate.

It was a dusty hike through the hills and canyons. At last the towers and building of the walled city were before them.

"What should we do?" Obi-Wan asked. "We don't want to approach unless we're sure Wehutti is there."

Qui-Gon dug in his survival pack for a pair of electrobinoculars. He trained them on a guardhouse. "I've got worse news," he said. "I see a Daan flag. That means either the whole city is now controlled by the Daan, or the entrance is."

"And Wehutti is a Melida," Obi-Wan groaned. "So there's no way in."

Qui-Gon scuttled back to remove himself from sight. He slid the electrobinoculars back into his pack. "There is always a way, Padawan," he said. "Wehutti told us to approach from the west. If we follow the perimeter, we might find an unguarded area. Perhaps he's on the lookout. Once we're away from that guard tower, we can get closer."

Keeping to the cover of the shadow of the cliffs, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon made their painstaking way around the city's walls. When they were out of the guardhouse's sight, they moved closer. Qui-Gon's keen eyes swept every meter of the wall, searching for a break. Obi-Wan knew he was using the Force to test the way ahead, hoping to sense a break in the particle shield. Obi-Wan tried to do the same, but he could only feel glimmers of resistance.

"Wait," Qui-Gon said suddenly. He stopped and held up a hand. "Here. There's a break in the shield."

"There's another one of those black buildings," Obi-Wan pointed out. The long, low building sat next to the wall on the city side.

"I still don't know what they are, but I suggest we avoid them," Qui-Gon remarked. "We'll scale the wall near those trees."

"We'll need the Force," Obi-Wan said, eyeing the high wall.

"Yes. But a carbon rope would help, too," Qui-Gon said, smiling. He put his pack down, then leaned over to root through it. "We'll need yours, too, Padawan."

Obi-Wan stepped closer to Qui-Gon, swinging his pack off his shoulder to the ground. His boots suddenly hit something with a clang. He looked down and saw he had displaced some dirt on top of a metal plate. "Look, Master," he said. "I wonder what this - "

He didn't get a chance to finish. Energy bars suddenly rose from the ground, trapping them. Before they could move, the metal plate slid open, and they fell into an abyss below.