Leaving the Council Chamber two hours later, Obi-Wan almost collided with an unusually small H’Vong youngling who was practicing making himself invisible in the Force. The youngling bowed deeply and gabbled off a message: “Master Che has the honor to salute Master Kenobi by me, your humble servant, and begs leave to request your presence in the medcentre as soon as a convenient opportunity should – “
“Vokara wants to see me?”
“Yes, Master Kenobi.” The youngling vanished around a corner.
Vokara was waiting for him, outwardly calm, but the tips of her head-tails twitched distractedly. The gentle Twi’lek healer was patently distressed.
“Yes, I gathered that. What’s the matter?”
“She won’t let me put her in a healing trance. In fact, she said she refused to lose consciousness for as much as a nanosecond before she had spoken to you.”
Nasriel was sitting up in bed, her undamaged hand curved around her ribcage so tightly the fingertips were white.
The young Padawan was breathing shallowly, and did not seem to be aware of his presence, until she whispered in a dark, agonized voice, “It’s the only way to stay awake: add more pain. And more. And more. I was hoping you’d come soon, because I can’t do this much longer. Master Kenobi, will you please answer one question for me? Am I mad, or is something whispering in here?”
Not again. Please, not again.
“What’s it saying?”
“Die Jedi. Over and over.”
No, not that. Was this to become a plague on all the Jedi?
“I can’t hear it, but I believe you.”
Nasriel gasped out, “I’ve been trying to… absorb it. Keep it quiet. But it hurts so much…”
“Why?” He knew it was hard enough to stay sane while listening to that treacherous, whispering voice without trying to take it into your soul. “Why, Nasriel?”
“Master Kenobi. On the other side of that wall is a room full of younglings… I don’t want to scare them.”
“Fine. So long as that’s all it is. Vokara! Get all the younglings out of the room next door. Send them quite a long way away. Do it on my personal authority.”
After ten minutes waiting tensely, that felt more like ten years, the last shrill youngling voice faded into the distance. The only sound was the beeping of monitors – and Nasriel’s agonizing gasps for air.
“Now, Nasriel. They’re gone.”
A subtle change in the Force, and then the familiar, malicious voice. “Die Jedi die Jedi die Jedi.”
“Master Kenobi? You hear it?”
“Yes. It’s a holocron, Nasriel. The question now is, where is it?”
“Please, don’t make me think as well.”
“All right, I’ll do the thinking. It can’t be in your clothes, because you’re not wearing the ones you were found in. It can’t be in your hair because you don’t wear your hair in towers like Senator Amidala. It can’t be anywhere but on you or it would have been noticed hours ago. So. Where would you hide a black glass holocron? Could be nearly anywhere, they aren’t very big.”
“Camouflage is the art of concealing something among other things of similar appearance. Combat 101.”
“So where on a blue-skinned half-Saalisan… among other black, of course.”
Nasriel made a wry face. “What’s black on a Saalisan, Master?”
“A lightsaber wound.” It was so obvious. Why hadn’t he thought of that before?
Nasriel drew the coverlet off her slim arms, revealing the charred flesh of the wound. She bit her lip doubtfully.
“How will you find it, Master Kenobi?”
He didn’t answer directly. “Tell me when it hurts. Well, obviously because it’s a lightsaber wound it’ll hurt directly I touch it. I mean tell me when it hurts more.” And oh, how I hate having to do this to you, Nasriel, he didn’t add. There was nothing for it. Obi-Wan pressed his fingertips as lightly as he could against the raw burn, then shifted his hand and pressed again. After what seemed like hours, Nasriel, who had stayed perfectly still although her face was more white and drawn than he had imagined a being’s face could be, whispered, “Now. There. Ohh…”
Kenobi wrenched his hand back as if he’d been stung by a fire beetle, and looked closely. A tiny tip of sharp black glass was visible through the burnt skin. Oh dear. He cleared his throat uncertainly.
“Nasriel, getting this out…”
“Is going to hurt quite a lot. I was once a minor noble of Saalis, Master Kenobi, and what is more I am a Jedi. I can bear it.”
“Shall I get Vokara?”
“I would rather you did it. If you don’t mind.” Nasriel reached for a sheath at her belt and withdrew a dagger with a blade the length of her palm, wickedly sharp transparisteel with a jeweled hilt. A Saalisan princess’ ceremonial dagger.
“If you would.” The knife swiveled in her fingers as she offered him the handle. “Now.”
A minute later, Padawan Nasriel Threeb let out the breath she had been holding in a shuddering sigh, and looked quickly away from the three cornered cut seeping blood onto the blankets.
“Oh dear… Vokara will be angry. Can I see it?”
He rolled the holocron around in his hand. A nexus of pure evil, no bigger than the activation switch on a lightsaber. “No, I don’t think so.” He opened the door. “Vokara?”
“Obi-Wan, I do have other work.”
“Call Yoda. Now.”
The Grand Master came, stared at the holocron, asked Nasriel a hundred questions, most of which she couldn’t answer. Obi-Wan asked only one. “Master Yoda, what will we do with this?”
Yoda looked at him blankly. “At once you do not see? Destroy it we must.”
Obi-Wan dropped the holocron onto the floor and stamped on it with the heel of his boot, sending slivers of glittering broken glass jingling across the floor. “Like that, you mean?”
“One way of handling the matter, that is,” replied Yoda ironically.
Nasriel sighed. “Well, at least that’s over.”
“Over it is not, young Padawan, until reported to the council you have.”
“Oh, skeg. Must I?”
Kenobi remarked mildly, “That sounds rather like bad language, Nasriel.”
Nasriel was permitted to report to the Council via holomessage, considering her young age and recent injuries. Nevertheless, when she had finished her story, Master Plo Koon shouted, “That’s outrageous!” and Master Kenobi, sitting with Nasriel, snapped off the transmitter. “You don’t need to hear that! Can Vokara finally do her job now?”
“Yes. Thank you… for everything, Master Kenobi.”
“You’re welcome. See you when you wake up.”
When Nasriel “woke up,” Master Koon was still outraged, and Master Windu agreed. “It’s horrific that any being could think of cutting open a child’s body to plant a holocron. What if Kenobi hadn’t noticed? The girl would have been healed and nobody would have known a thing until we all started suffering visions like Kenobi did back at Zigoola, begging your pardon, Obi-Wan.”
“Granted. Excuse me.”
In the medcentre, Nasriel smiled wanly. “Hi.”
“Much, thank you. Do I look better?”
“Much. Now what?”
“Could you… tell me a story?”
“A story? What story?”
“The one about the Neimoidians and Naboo, please. But end where you land on Tatooine. I know the rest.”
“Oh, that story. All right.”
And the story began.