Obi-Wan sank onto one of the sofas and closed his eyes, but Ben could not be calm, and paced the room restlessly. Finally he could bear it no longer, and began, in careful Shendi to fox any hidden microphones, “Uncle Obi-Wan…”
The Jedi Master’s eyes flew open at the unfamiliar title. “Yes, Ben?”
“Something’s wrong with this place. Nasriel said there’s danger of some sort.”
“Oh? When did she say that?”
Ben laughed in spite of his fears. “When she left with that Oriental character, in the language a committee of the Padawans made up together for passing messages in class. It works really well.”
“I’ll have to raise that with Mareya when we get home. You’re right, there is something wrong. It’s like there’s a Force-filter around the palace: I can sense you fairly clearly, and a few shadows a long way away, one of which might be Nasriel – or then again might not. For the rest, we may as well be in a bombed-out wasteland as in a busy city. I wish I knew what Orien is really up to.”
Hopelessly, Ben muttered, “Well, we don’t” and snagged a book from a shelf set into the wall by the door. To his relief, although it was written in Saalisan, most of the story was told in a series of pictures. One image in particular caught his eye, and he tried vainly for a few minutes to figure out what it was supposed to represent, before suppressing a giggle as realization came to him.
“Hey, Master Obi-Wan, what does the picture on page ten look like to you?” He flung the book across the room. “Think of it as a Saalisan style ink-blot test.”
Obi-Wan glanced at the picture and tossed the book back. “I don’t have time for this. It’s an angry Barabel hitting a Saalisan boy.”
“Nope. Guess again.”
Obi-Wan decided that as the Force was so mysteriously blocked, there wasn’t much else to do, and that it would be good to wipe the smug grin off Ben’s face. “A mythological being, same action.” Ben walked over and whispered two words, and it was his Master’s turn to stifle a laugh. “No! Really?” He snatched up the book again. “Is that what Nasriel thinks we look like?”
Ben compared the picture to Obi-Wan. “If you were really, really angry, like the time you were yelling at Nas about her name – don’t worry, it’s all over the Padawan Halls by now, Ahsoka heard you – then, yeah, a little.”
“I do not! I’m confiscating this. Find something else to read.”
At that point, the door slid open and Nasriel stalked into the room like a princess, before dismissing the guard, closing the door, and sinking cross-legged onto the floor. “Hi. Uhhh. So tired.” She rubbed her hands vigorously over her face, and mumbled through her fingers, “I have to tell you, Master Obi-Wan, I don’t know how you and Master Jinn managed all those diplomatic missions without going totally off-the-wall barvy.”
Straight-faced, Obi-Wan said, “Well, for a start, I was never diplomatic to my sister. As I am sure she will have told Ben.”
Ben agreed. “Aunt Erirea never let up about how awful her brother was and how I ought to be nicer to my sisters to avoid ending up like Uncle Obi-Wan, and nearly dying or something on some foreign planet.”
“You didn’t tell me about the last bit of that. Dying?”
Nasriel picked up the book from the floor. “You found Natases’ Voyage! That’s my favorite art novel. What did you think of the picture on page ten?” she added slyly.
Obi-Wan glanced at Ben. “Interesting. Very… interesting. Do we really –”
“No! Skeg, no!” She paused to consider the question. “Well, Ben never does, and you only do when you’re in a really bad mood.”
“I’ll have to pay more careful attention to how often I lose my temper, then.” He added curiously, “Listen, that time I was shouting at you about your name…?”
Sliding the door open unexpectedly, a harassed-looking official of some sort said, “Kaliu? Kaliu, xan-mir nu oreth na-chaered alxixian. Weret nu erelyan?”
“Skeg. Uh, ilexno parekat alxixian.” Nasriel translated quickly for the two Humans, “We missed something, and he wants me to go sort it out. Shouldn’t be long, and we can leave as soon as these are done.” She left with the scurrying official.
After nearly an hour more of waiting, Ben muttered, “How long do papers take on this planet!” and made for the door, hoping to go find Nasriel, but found to his chagrin that there was no keypad on the inside of the door. “Oh, what do you think of that. Skeg!” Finding that his friend’s favorite curse word sounded good in this situation, he said it again and kicked the door. To his surprise, it slid open, and the guard who had escorted them to the room stood in the doorway.
“Norex yo alwen? I am meaning, how may I serve you?”
Ben’s native audacity conquered his fear. “You can tell me how to say ‘what do you think of all this?’ in Saalisan.”
The guard grinned, and Ben noticed that he wasn’t much older than Nasriel, maybe about eighteen. “I am happy to be telling you any word in Saalisan you wishes. This duty is of being very dull. That phrase you ask is translate as: ‘Noxan darvai xor ilexien wlek. Very simple.”
“Nochan dorvai kor ilix…” Ben tried. “No it isn’t!”
“Noxan darvai xor ilexien wlek.”
“Xor ilexien wlek?”
“You are being in comprehension of phrase. Is there other words you would know?”
“How do you say, ‘Can I come in?’”
The Saalisan frowned. “Is speaking person of being male or female? Is make different words.”
“Oh… me. Male.”
“Uhuh. Is translate as ‘Yo kamlex pyn orli?’ Actual means: ‘I enter in may?’ For to say may go out is ‘Yo riltrex voi orli?’ For a girl speaking, Yo is said Yu.”
Obi-Wan asked suddenly, “Could you cut down slightly on the wleks and riltrexes? Somebody’s coming.” Ben’s new friend quickly slipped out, whispering, “Out: voi” and closing the door behind him.
Half a minute passed in tense silence, and then the young guard’s voice said in an uncertain tone, “Kaliu?” and Nasriel’s replied weakly, “Sien? Sien, that’s not you. Skeg, no. You’re dead. I mean, no wlen w’sagen!”
“Xek, Kaliu. Yo’en l’saget. I’m alive. But maybe not for long.” The door slid open again, and Nasriel fell forward into the room, the boy guard Sien, shoved in behind her by other soldiers, stopping just inside the portal to help her up. When the girl was on her feet again, Obi-Wan saw, horrified, just what had been happening in the last hour: Nasriel had been savagely beaten. A deep graze had removed all the skin from one cheekbone, and rivulets of dark dried blood ran down from it, from her nose and split lip and one corner of her mouth. The back of her tunic and the flesh beneath had been torn to ribbons, every cut stained horribly with dark purple blood. Gashes around her upper arms showed where the tunic sleeves had been hacked roughly off, and rows of fresh, deliberate burn marks stood out clearly on the soft skin of her arms.
“Nasriel, what is going on?”
The answer came in a hoarse, painful shadow of the girl’s usual clear tones. “I don’t know anymore, Master, and what’s worse I don’t know when it’s going to stop happening.”