Tengri - Chapter Two

Qui-Gon didn't think much of Erachnis. What wasn't swamp was rotting trees, and the smell was atrocious. The guard that greeted them consisted of spiders -- seven foot, black specimens that clicked and chittered among themselves, not even bothering to speak the Galactic dialect. The minute they'd appeared outside the ship, Qui-Gon had watched Tengri pale.

Standing on the gantry dressed in a flowing gown of shimmering white something or other and a pair of matching sandals, she was ill-equipped for the terrain. There was nothing for that and no time to change; the gown would just have to see ruination.

"You, there--" He directed the closest insectoid. "I suggest you off-load the Princess's traveling cases and follow us."

A series of whistles and clicks met that request, in a tone that had bordering on a command. Apparently, the captain of the guard concurred, for Lieutenant Spider gingerly stepped aboard the Marauder, followed by two of his fellows. Each grabbed two trunks, balancing on their remaining four delicate, if gnarly, legs.

Taking Tengri's elbow, Qui-Gon guided her onto the swampy ground. "This way, Princess."

She shivered, but came willingly enough. Gesturing before them, the Jedi indicated their willingness to follow where the captain led -- first Tengri, and then himself with his hand never far from the hilt of his lightsaber. And so the procession went, through the swamp and into a dripping cavern that wound downward, ever downward. Thankfully, the swamp and its smell receded to be replaced by dirty brown, nondescript walls and a stale smell that Qui-Gon couldn't quite identify.

Hardly the palace of the prince, he reflected, his mood falling even farther the deeper they went. What, by all the gods, is Tengri supposed to be marrying? The King of the Hive?

As it turned out, Qui-Gon discovered that his speculation wasn't far wrong. The corridor ended abruptly, spreading into a cavernous chamber filled with stalactites and stalagmites, at the base of which milled about the royal retainers.

Every one a spider, Qui-Gon acknowledged.

"Princess Tengri," spoke a booming voice from a raised mud dais at the far end of the cavern. "I am Prince Vol. Welcome to my home. I look forward to the ceremony that will unite us as one."

The thing was enormous. Waving its mandibles at its bride-to-be, it made no effort to come off the dais and greet Tengri. For that, Qui-Gon was grateful. Such an action no doubt would have sent the young woman screaming from the chamber. As it was, she backed up until she butted up against Qui-Gon's chest, but appeared unaware of that fact as she was still trying to backpedal when he placed both hands atop her shoulders.

She leaped at the contact, but not away from him. Her breathing was harsh, almost hyperventilating, and she appeared unable to speak as the Prince skittered forward the last few feet and waved a leg -- perhaps in greeting -- toward her. It would have been comic, had the thought of leaving Tengri with this creature not been so horrible.

Calm, he sent through the Force, hoping she heard him.

"The Princess is very pleased to meet you," he called, "but tired from her journey. If she could but rest a few hours--"

"Of course," said the spider prince. "How remiss of me. Captain, please show the Princess and her escort to their rooms. I will see you for dinner."

For dinner, or at dinner? Qui-Gon wondered, noting the eager emotions tremoring the Force as the prince contemplated his new bride. What, exactly, do these things eat? He'd never met a spider whose diet didn't consist of massive doses of protein; the question was, what kind? In that light, Vol's comment about being united as one with his bride took on a potentially ominous tone.

Qui-Gon dared not release Tengri. Sliding an arm around her shoulders, he moved her recalcitrant feet forward, turned her about, and convinced her by sheer Jedi muscle to take one step after the other. Following the captain from the room, he heard Tengri whimper.

"Not here," he cautioned, leaning close to whisper into the shell of her ear. "Wait until we're alone to fall apart, please?"

Shivering, she slid her hand beneath his cloak and across his back to clutch at the waist of his tunic. Don't let go, that touch said, as though she was determined to hang onto the only other human being on the entire planet. The Force was thick with her panic, rolling over the empathic Jedi Master, cloying in its power and unavoidable if he was to serve her as she needed him to. Determined not to lose her to her fear, he tightened his grip on her, tucked her beneath his shoulder, and continued on.

"This is your room, Princess," intoned the captain, his voice making little bits of sandy earth vibrate off of the hive walls. One leg gestured at a wooden door. "And this is your escort's room." Across the hall and far too distant for Qui-Gon's liking.

Slipping past the Princess, the Jedi positioned himself between her and the guard, and pushed the door of her chamber open. No locks, he noted. Ushering her inside, he bowed slightly to the captain.

"Thank you, gentlemen." He waited, but the guard made no move to leave. "Is something wrong?"

"You're part is done," said the captain. "We guard her now."

"I'm sorry, but no. Until she marries the prince, she is my responsibility." Shrugging, he summoned one of his most charming, if false, grins. "Mother's orders. I'm sure you all know how mothers are?...." Then again, he thought, you probably all left your little egg sacks as quickly as possible upon hatching and left mother far behind, lest she eat you. Well, then, use your shiny black, poisonous imaginations, why don't you?

He wasn't budging, and they knew it. Clicking and whistling, they discussed it for a moment. Then, shrugging as only spiders can, the captain gathered his guard and departed the way they'd come, only to take up residence at the end of the corridor. The other way ended in a dead end -- Qui-Gon had already checked -- so their intention was clear: no Princess was getting past them without a fight.

Allowing himself a brief sigh of relief, Qui-Gon ignored his assigned room and slipped inside the Princess's chamber. She stood as far from the door as possible, staring at it as though terrified he'd have disappeared and Prince Vol himself would be descending upon her.

No words, the Jedi decided. She's too taut, too terrified for any words to work. And so, he merely took two steps toward her and opened his arms. Wide.

She met him halfway, throwing her arms around his waist and clinging like a child. Her teeth were chattering so loudly, he could hear them. Wrapping her up in the warm safety of his cloak, Qui-Gon knew that such reassuring motions were only temporary, at best. Negotiations had been completed and the interplanetary agreement had already been signed; she was required to marry the creature.

"Tell me that this is a bad dream, that we'll both wake up safe on the Marauder," she spoke into his chest.

Silence greeted that request. When Tengri spoke again, her voice held a bitterness Qui-Gon hadn't known the woman was capable of.

"Don't tell me: Jedi don't lie."

Best not to answer that, he decided. Her fear is moving into anger. Instead, aloud he said, "Dinner looks like it will be an ordeal. Do you want to rest?"

"Do you honestly think I can sleep there?" She gestured toward the bed, and he looked at it for the first time.

The huge round monstrosity looked like a spider's nest, complete with filament that looked ready to bury Tengri as much as embrace her. Unpeeling her arms from around his waist, Qui-Gon shushed her whimpers with a look and approached the material. Touching the gauzy filament, he discovered that it was sticky.

"What is this stuff?"

"It's called whill," she supplied. "It's a variation on what my brother wants to purchase from these creatures to build up Prascene. In its purest, strongest form, it's clear or white and very thin. You can build things out of it. Before it dries, a master builder can carve his architecture into whatever he wants -- starscrapers, intricate spun-web office buildings, resorts, public sculpture It's a builders' dream, for any size project. Once it dries and hardens, it will stand forever."

Qui-Gon glanced from the webbing to Tengri. "This is what your brother purchased with your life?"

Nodding, she gave him a bitter look and wrapped her arms around herself. "I thought the royal family employed the workers to produce this stuff. I never dreamed that they actually...."

He wandered back to her. "How, exactly, do they...produce it?"

Her look said, You can't be that stupid. "The same way any other spider weaves its web: the whill comes out of its butt."

She glowered defiantly up at him, as though daring him to say something about her vulgar delivery. As though she was casting about for someone -- anyone -- to blame for her current predicament. Her brother wasn't here, so any scapegoat would do. Qui-Gon didn't feel like volunteering.

"Tengri...." Gently, he took her hands in his. "It might not be as bad as you believe. They might release you from your commitment, or the prince might not want to marry you after all."

He could tell by her expression that she thought the chances of that happening were about equal with the chances that he'd carry her off to Coruscant and marry her himself.

He tried again. "At any rate, we have to meet them for dinner. If you can't sleep, why don't you get dressed?"

"I am dressed. If you think for one minute that I'm going to waste any more of my wardrobe or energy on that slimy bug, you're wrong. I will not marry him. I can't. In my place, would you?"

Qui-Gon had to shake his head.

"There is a vast difference between your cultures," admitted carefully.

"Then why should I suffer? The way I look at it, my brother deceived me. He never mentioned I'd be marrying an insect!"

Despite the problem at hand, Qui-Gon reflected that a personal disaster of such proportions was probably the only thing that would have ever succeeded in forcing Tengri to stand up for herself. Even if she was throwing mental daggers at her protector in the process... Well, Qui-Gon understood why she might fee that the situation deserved it, even if the Jedi did not. Fix this! her eyes flashed at him.

"Wait a little," he coaxed, folding her hands against his chest. "Let me feel out things here. Let's get the entire picture, so you can make an educated decision."

"You're going to insist I stay here, aren't you?" Her anger rose another notch. "You're talking patience and research, but at the end of the night you're going to insist that I do my duty and marry that thing!"

"I haven't the right to insist that you do anything, Princess. My job is to serve and protect you."

"Your job as a Jedi," she all but spat the words, "is to uphold peace and justice in the galaxy! Do you consider it just for a brother to betray a sister the way mine has betrayed me? Do you think I'm going to have a peaceful life living here?"

"Perhaps not." His fingers across her lips silenced her when she would have pressed home her point. "But Tengri, whatever you may believe of me right now, I am on your side. But we must be cautious and go carefully. They outnumber us, in case you hadn't noticed. It's far more preferable to discover a way that they will let you go, rather than ask me to fight our way out of here -- which is a distinct possibility if we upset this hive. Additionally, this isn't just about you. We must gather our facts so that upon returning to your brother -- the King -- we can present our case clearly and succinctly, so that there is no room for misunderstanding. A hasty withdrawal from Prince Vol would risk breaking the agreement. Such things can lead to messy battles, Princess. Your problem would not be solved; indeed, it would be compounded upon your people. Do you want them to suffer?"


"Then trust me. We will go to dinner, we will observe, and we will learn."

"I think I'm going to throw up."

"I suggest you do it here, Princess, and not in the dining chamber."

* * *

It wouldn't have mattered if she had thrown up in the dining room. The habits and manners of the other diners were so bizarre, such behavior would have gone entirely unnoticed. Neither Tengri or Qui-Gon could eat a thing at the banquet, which consisted of great grazing trenchers full of indigenous body parts and what Qui-Gon thought was regurgitated -- they called it tenderized -- raw flesh of some indigenous animals. He didn't know their names, and Tengri didn't ask. The Jedi longed for the smell of the swamp; such would have been far more pleasant than the stench of the dining chamber, which was putrid from long use.

Tengri sat quietly enough down table from the prince, having recovered enough of herself to stare at him throughout the meal. It didn't hurt, too, to keep Qui-Gon at her side. From time to time she stole glances at her Jedi, and the look in those eyes said, Have you learned enough yet?

There was no question in his mind but that she could not marry into this culture. No human woman could.

She did drink a little wine, but Qui-Gon warned her off of the water with nothing but a glance, prepared to use the Force to knock the whill-made goblet out of her hands if she defied him. As it turned out, there was no need for that. Raising an eyebrow as she raised the glass, she asked a silent question and set the goblet aside when he shook his head ever so slightly. Swamp water.

At the conclusion of the meal, when everyone else seated with them was picking their mandibles with their back leg, Prince Vol rose from his dais to begin a set of wearisome, headache- inspiring pronouncements in honor of the impending marriage. Tengri listened politely for an hour to the drivel he spouted about joining their two mighty societies... Listened, that is, until the spider prince reached down and wrapped a strand of her hair around his leg. Fire lit her hazel eyes, her fingers clenched around the goblet, and Qui-Gon was instantly behind her, willing her to let it go, to let him handle it....

A subtle hand gesture and use of the Force was all that was necessary to make Vol release her. The spider skittered back from the table as though he'd been struck, shaking his massive head in confusion as the Force interfered with his desire.

"The journey has been long and the meal pleasant," said Qui-Gon. "But now, the Princess needs to rest." He knew that his tone of voice left no room for refusal; indeed it was this side of an order.

"Of course, escort. Sleep and prepare, my little one. The marriage will take place early tomorrow morning."

She shivered at the pet name, for Vol made her sound like a tender morsel he was looking forward to devouring at breakfast.

"Thanks," she managed through ground teeth, letting Qui-Gon help her from her chair. "This evening has been... most interesting, Prince."

Taking her hand, Qui-Gon led her from the room. She trembled still, but something told the Jedi it was no longer from pain. Fear had moved into a vibrating outrage and a will to survive that had its focus light-years away, on a heartless, deceptive brother.

"Let's bring him here and feed him to the spiders and see how he likes it," she muttered, for Qui-Gon's ears only.

She preceded Qui-Gon into her rooms, turned on him almost before he had the door closed. "I can't do it, Qui-Gon. I just can't. I can't marry him, I can barely stand to look at him, and if he touches me again I'll cut off his leg."

"Then you shall not marry him."

Her eyes widened at his tone, as fierce and determined as her own. She looked as though she'd been expecting him to argue the matter further with her. Pressing a finger to his lips, he ordered them both to silence before taking her hand and moving as far away from the door as they could get.

"Please help me get out of here," she begged on a whisper.

There it was: Tengri had made her decision and had asked a Jedi Master to help her. According to the Code, he was now honor bound to do just that, by any means at his disposal.

"Your brother misinformed you and used you badly," Qui-Gon said. "You deserved a total disclosure of the facts; as you did not receive one, the agreement should be null and void. That, at least, is how the Senate should view it when we report to them."

"Pardon me for pointing this out, Jedi, but the Senate and Coruscant are lightyears away. If you think for one minute that I'm going to stay in this godforsaken swamp while you go off to Coruscant--"

He silenced her with a look that would have frozen the swamp. "I will not leave you behind. But Tengri, may I remind you that the walls here are very thin and may have ears? It is certain that they have eyes. Getting out of here, much less off-planet, is not going to be as easy as we would like. We cannot simply tell the prince that you have changed your mind. We must think of a way that he will let you go in peace."

Her eyes searched his. "You'll help me get out of this?"

"Yes, Princess." He touched her cheek. "Do you trust me?"

"What do you mean, do I trust you? Do I have a choice? You're the only one around here that I can trust."

"I have a plan that may work, but you must open your mind to me."

"That sounds a lot more agreeable than spending my life with Prince Vol. Just tell me what you want me to do."

* * *

If this doesn't work out, Qui-Gon thought, I'm going to have some serious explaining to do to Tengri's mother.

Pacing the room like a caged tiger, he eyed the slender woman lying unconscious on the floor. It had taken him three hours of constant concentration and manipulation of the Force to penetrate the shields of her frantic mind and talk her down to a total state of catatonia. But she was in it now, and would be for the next three hours. Plenty of time, he thought, to convince Prince Vol that she was dead, and get them both off-planet.

This far underground, Qui-Gon's sense of time was distorted, so that he had no idea whether it was still night or dawn. Did it really matter, though? Wasn't one time as good as another to try escaping the slimy mudhole?

Taking a deep breath in preparation for the performance he was about to give, Qui-Gon strode over to Tengri's lifeless form, lifted her in his arms as though she were nothing but a stack of Jedi robing, and marched to the door. Kicking it open, he shouted into the hall.

"Guards! Quickly!"

The group at the end of the corridor moved in a blur. Some took the short way, skittering up the sides of the walls and across the ceiling to jump down behind him. In seconds, he was surrounded, with each and every spider leaning so closely toward him to stare at Tengri with their huge, multifaceted eyes that he felt a sense of claustrophobia.

"The Princess has collapsed. Where are your healers?"

From the chittering that went on as he shoved through them, pushing onward down the hall to the gods knew where, Qui-Gon suspected that they hadn't any healers, never needed any. If someone lost a leg, well, that was just too bad. If someone crushed someone else with their mandible, well, that was just an easy meal. When they could reproduce at the rate they were capable of, what was a little loss for the hive? For all Qui-Gon knew, they cannibalized one another the same way the smaller spiders of the universe did.

For the first time, he realized that there was a strong possibility that, if Prince Vol thought his bride was dead, he might insist that she stayed -- for dinner -- among them.

Over my own dead body, Qui-Gon thought. Aloud, he snarled, "Will someone please help us?"

The captain of the guard eventually crowded in to begin leading the way. The chamber Qui-Gon found himself in looked more like a sacrificial sanctuary than any medical examination room he'd ever seen. Laying Tengri on the side of a table obviously built for the huge natives, Qui-Gon didn't dare relinquish his position beside her as Prince Vol came tottering in. With him was a pale grey spider, the aura of which Qui-Gon didn't care for.

"This is my personal physician," intoned the prince.

The examination was swift and cursory, and most primitive. Did she breathe? Did her heart beat? The obvious answer was no. She was dead. Solemnly, the grey thing shook its head.

"A most unfortunate circumstance." Vol bounced up and down on his long legs in agitation. "Prepare the body for transport back to Prascene, won't you?"

Raising a leg with a dagger-like claw on the end of it, the physician spider stabbed and tore down Tengri's thigh. Blood spurted from the assault, and the creatures' response was immediate. Qui-Gon needed no Galactic translator to inform him that the spiders were well aware that blood did not flow from a corpse's veins.

Qui-Gon leaped onto the table, lightsaber drawn. Even as he bent to throw Tengri's oblivious body over his shoulder, he cut off the physician's dagger-leg. Shrinking back, the creature screamed with pain, much as Tengri would have done, had she been conscious.

The physician's retreat only meant that the guard could close in and reach for the Jedi. Mandibles opened, legs grabbed and caught him. He slashed at them all, spinning and weaving, using the entire length and breadth of the table. When reinforcements managed to clamber up behind him, Qui-Gon knew himself out-numbered: it was time to leave.

Leaping down from the table, he pierced the head of a spider, shoved it off of the saber and onto Prince Vol who was still bellowing in the hallway. Body parts rained, with Qui-Gon hacking his way through the prince's personal guard, but he got through.

Running down the corridor, he was frantic to reach some place of safety, to see how serious Tengri's bleeding was and to stop it. Not only that; she was leaving a fresh trail for the ever-present hivemates to follow.

Which way is it, out of here? he wondered. Hampered by the dead weight of the woman he carried and a number of false turns, not to mention the fight he'd just finished, Qui-Gon sucked great lungfuls of air and tried to calm the burning in his throat.

Keep going, he told himself, sticking to the shadows and seeking a corridor that climbed upward, out of the hive and into the swamp. Must keep going.

Once he'd located the necessary corridor, he took the time to duck into a nearby alcove and check Tengri's leg. It still bled; some sort of bandage was needed to stop the flow. Using his lightsaber, he quickly cut through the gossamer gown she wore, cut off a length of material from the bottom and tied it neatly around her leg. Umphing her once more onto his shoulder, he held his lightsaber at the ready and advanced down the hall.

No one ever taught me how to run and fight while carrying someone, he reflected, shifting the Princess's weight slightly. Must recommend that to the Council.

Sticking to the shadows, he traveled ever upward and was grateful that word of the mayhem appeared not to have reached the upper levels.

Just get us out of the hive, he thought. We'll find someplace safe to hide in the swamp.

The journey seemed endless, but he was able to attain the surface in only a few minutes. Emerging from the cavern he'd entered only the day before, Qui-Gon blinked in the sunlight and was nearly beheaded by a spider leering on the mossy knoll over the cavern. Upthrusting with his saber, the Jedi severed both the creature's front legs. Screaming, it scuttled backward only to be replaced by one of its mates.

Slash and burn was the order of the day, and Qui-Gon realized he'd been far too confident in assuming that the battle would end once the swamp had been attained. There were far more troops on the planet's surface than in the hive, and the spiders appeared to have made friends of the reinforcements. He had to contend, not only with the large spiders, but with smaller ones as well. Ones dripping poison from their fangs and others coming at him with their claws clacking like crabs.

Minutes seemed like hours, and the hours went terribly slowly with the Jedi having to fight for every meter that brought him closer to his ship. His world microscoped to become nothing but a surreal landscape of scuttling, lurching, leering bugs -- legs and teeth, chitters and screams and endless pursuit. Calling on the Force, Qui-Gon grounded within it, let his vision soften, and fought by instinct. To do anything less would have been to court exhaustion and defeat.

Get in the water, came the whispered suggestion, ninety cycles out of the hive. No matter how many of them he killed, there were always more, and he was tiring. Not only that, but Tengri would start regaining consciousness soon. How was he to fight with a panic-stricken, half-conscious woman at his side who could neither stand or help him?

Get in the water, came the whispered insistence. Downing another spider, Qui-Gon all but fell into the river he'd been following for some time.

Clouds had rolled in long ago ago; the sky turned an ominous black. It may as well have been dusk, for all of the light that was available. Even more, he was using his Force senses to discern where the enemy was; in this light, it was impossible to depend upon his all-to-human sight.

Get in the water, came the command -- Force inspired, Qui-Gon hoped. With a final slash, he did what the voice suggested, shutting off the lightsaber before leaping in. Shoving Tengri off of him, he spun her about, underwater, before slipping an arm beneath her shoulder and carrying her behind him.

Left behind on the bank of the river, the spiders chittered and cussed him out. Chuckling softly, he breathed a momentary sigh of relief and enjoyed the slight respite. There would be more fighting, but apparently they were safe as long as they stuck to the water.

Wish I'd know this hours ago, he reflected into the Force, not bothering to reach for the past and wonder why he hadn't. Ever mindful of the present, Qui-Gon floated down the river and looked for the next stage of the game. It appeared a few minutes later in the form of a bridge. Floating beneath it, he grabbed for a girder and waited.

He hadn't long to wait before Tengri began thrashing in his arms, gulping in great breaths as she fought her way back to consciousness. Accidentally filling her mouth with the brackish swamp water, she spat it out, almost into his face.


Coughing and gagging, she turned away, treading water, and surveyed their domain. "Where -- where are we?"

"Under a bridge. I'm sorry you're wet. I'm trying to get us back to the ship."

She screamed when a spider dropped before her, suspended on its web. Grabbing an undergirder, the creature scuttled overhead and chittered to inform its companions that the quarry had been found. Wrapping her arms around Qui-Gon, she effectively prevented him from defending her. On an oath, he struggled to pull his lightsaber out of the water as the spider spun another thread and began a quick descent toward them.

First, his cloak got in the way; next, Tengri's hair, flowing free in the swamp, got tangled around his arms. Gritting his teeth, he gave scant thought to what he must do. Managing to lift the saber out of the water, he palmed the switch and slashed through Tengri's long hair before levitating in a front-flip and cutting the spider in half. The pieces landed with a plop beside Tengri, who was so frightened she couldn't breath, much less scream.

Splashing down, Qui-Gon folded in his long legs, found the bottom, and reached for the princess. The lightsaber in his hand illuminated her legs for a moment before shorting out, and he gave a mental curse, naming himself every kind of a fool for not having the foresight to shut off the weapon before the water did.

Yanking Tengri beneath the surface, he didn't care if she all but drowned as he forced her away from the bridge and further down the river. Adrenaline fed his urgency, as it must have been feeding her fear. But when they surfaced only a few meters later, she didn't fight him, didn't protest. In fact, she swam beside him quietly and followed his lead.

"Are you all right?" he asked after a few minutes.

"I was just trying to gather the words to thank you. Words seem so inappropriate for what you're doing for me--"

He shrugged, regardless she couldn't see it in the water. "It's what I've been trained to do, Princess."

She gave a wobbly smile. "I really wish you'd stop calling me that. I don't feel very much like a princess at the moment. More like a scared little girl."

"I promise you, Tengri, if we survive this, you'll not ever feel like a little girl again. Now, give me your hand. We don't want to be separated." He was breathing more harshly than she, but then he'd done more. A lot more.

Gaining the shore, they climbed up onto it, with Qui-Gon dragging her the last few feet until she could get her legs out of the mud and onto whatever passed for land. Covered in mud, with what was left of her hair dripping wet, she stared at Qui-Gon and realized that he didn't look much better.

"You can't run in that dress," he noted. "We need to get rid of it." Casting about for a rock, he found one with a sharp edge.

"Why don't you just use your lightsaber--"

"Because it's shorted out. They're not made to be used in water. It'll take a few minutes to recharge."

"Oh." Taking the rock from him, she hacked around her knees, finished by tearing the delicate material half up to her thighs. "Good enough?"

He eyed her legs in the half-light. Under other circumstances....

"Perfect," was all he said. Taking her hand, he smiled down at her. "Ready for more adventures?"

"Mis-adventures, you mean." She made a face, and he laughed. "Your teeth look muddy," she observed.

"So do yours." Setting a pace through the trees, he was careful not to go faster than she could manage.

Thankfully, the spiders seemed to have given up. Qui-Gon had no illusions that they'd gone for good, and he was proven right as they skulked through the bushes toward the Marauder.

"Oh, by the gods," Tengri breathed at his side, kneeling in the bushes beside him. "They're crawling all over the place. Now what do we do?"

"Old Jedi mind trick." Shifting his cloak on his shoulders, he smiled at her. "This is the last step to safety, prin--... Tengri. And it will be easier than it looks. Trust me?"

"Absolutely." And she meant it. "What do you want me to do?"

"Come in here." Opening the voluminous folds of his cloak, he ushered her inside. "Whatever happens, walk in step with me. Can you do that?"

"Are you a Jedi Knight? Of course I can do that."

Raising the hood of the cloak, Qui-Gon folded her arms before her, and his own over hers. Closing the cloak, he obscured her vision, but not his own.

Moving softly through the trees, he approached the ship, using their shadows and those of the spiders to cloak their approach. You don't see us, you can't see us, he chanted the mantra, manipulating the force and sending the insects into a mild state of hypnosis for the length of their journey.

Tengri was as good as her word. Never hindering him, she was as quiet as her to be as they approached the ship.