“I was thinking,” Nasriel said, “about what you said about philosophy last night, and I can’t really find anything wrong with your argument, Master. I still don’t agree with it, though.”
“You’re free to maintain your own opinion,” Obi-Wan said, palming open the training salle’s door. “We shall agree to respectfully disagree.” He walked into the room, where Anakin was taking on half a dozen training remotes. Obi-Wan jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Anakin, out. I don’t want you breathing down my Padawan’s neck while we train.”
“Aw, master!” Anakin whined. Obi-Wan crossed his arms, unimpressed. “Find some other place to train. And you’ll never become a master if you keep on whining like you’re six years old.”
“Bossy boots,” Anakin muttered grumpily as he complied.
“I may be, as you enjoy continuously pointing out, getting along in years, but I’m not deaf yet, and if you want me to whip your hide I’ll do so. But later. Now get going.” As soon as Anakin was gone, Obi-Wan picked up a training rapier, tested it for balance, checked to see that it was still straight, and tossed it to Nasriel. “Should I be merciful when I next spar with him?” he asked, whimsy coloring his voice with golden amusement.
Nasriel thought for a moment, then tossed her head. “No.”
“Very well then, I will give him the defeat he so richly deserves. Now, en garde.” Obi-Wan held the rapier in the neutral position, across his body, rather than the Soresu ready stance that he would normally hold. Nasriel regarded him for a moment, then made an experimental strike. Obi-Wan barely moved. He brought the blade up and turned it aside. “Attack like you mean it, young one. Do your worst.” Nasriel thrust in. Obi-Wan shifted stance slightly and the thrust went wide. Then the duel was on in earnest.
It ended with a sudden swift flick of Obi-Wan’s wrist, disarming Nasriel. “Your basics are good, but the style needs work,” Obi-Wan said thoughtfully. “I think it would be best to blend Makashi and Ataru in your case. You seem to favor Juyo slightly, but I don’t think that’s such a good thing. There is no mastering Juyo – it’s sloppy and emotionally heated, no art to it at all, and it masters you in the end. That’s why Master Windu created Vaapad – Vaapad is the only variant of form seven that actually offers mastery as an option. You have good instincts, Nasriel – let them come into play. Open up to the Force; let it guide you.”
“But I was…” Nasriel began, somewhat frustrated.
“You were listening to it, true,” Obi-Wan interrupted, “but you weren’t letting it guide your actions. Now. Again.” This time, as the practice duel progressed, Obi-Wan kept up a stream of advice. “Don’t hold the saber too loose or too tightly. It should be an extension of yourself. Guard up. Good! Don’t worry, this will all become second nature with time. Don’t be afraid to shift stance– keep your balance and stay centered and grounded. Evenly– don’t hesitate if you see an opening. Don’t downswing like that, put your back into it! Good grief, Anakin and his Djem So… Steady… steady…”
Nasriel attempted a flying kick. Her boot met Obi-Wan’s outstretched palm as her momentum was arrested with a swift application of the Force, then Obi-Wan caught her around the ankle and flipped her over, catching her lightly and setting her down gently. Nasriel gaped.
Obi-Wan laughed. “It’s just a trick, Nasriel. I started out studying Ataru, so naturally I know how to defend from it. Once more.” The third practice duel ended with a sudden victory for Nasriel. Feinting slightly, she passed the rapier under Obi-Wan’s defenses and scored a hit along his left side. Obi-Wan gasped with surprise more than anything else and batted the rapier aside. Master and Padawan looked up at the sound of clapping. Leaning against the wall was Master Cin Draillig, the Jedi Temple’s resident lightsaber instructor, head of security, and critic. The Jedi Master straightened up and walked over to where the two were standing in the center of the room. Obi-Wan brushed the unruly wisps of hair that had fallen down into his eyes back and bowed respectfully to the master.
Cin grinned at Nasriel. “Well done, young one. It’s been so long since someone has penetrated Master Kenobi’s defenses.” Obi-Wan made a self-deprecatory gesture with one hand.
“I’m not really…” he began. The battlemaster cut him off. “Oh yes, you are a true master of Soresu,” Cin said. “It’s like Windu with Vaapad– you’ve taken the style and made it your own, without changing it. It’s an expression of yourself, like any true swordmaster’s style is.”
Nasriel frowned, and looked to be thinking hard, but she remained silent until Cin Draillig had left the salle. Then she said, “You didn’t have to do that, Master. I’m used to losing; I’d rather lose honestly a thousand times than win once with a lie.”
“What,” asked Obi-Wan in bewilderment, “are you talking about?”
“You let me win!” spat Nasriel. “I can see past the end of my nose, Master. I’m not stupid.” Head high, stone-faced, she stalked out of the salle, but as soon as she was around the corner in the corridor and out of Obi-Wan’s sight, she broke into a run, heading to the library, to find Kijé.
“Nasriel, wait!” Obi-Wan exclaimed, chasing after the Padawan. “If I did that, then it wasn’t intentional. If winning makes you feel bad, then it doesn’t qualify. It wasn’t even a solid strike, for goodness sake! Nothing to get worked up about.” Then Obi-Wan lost her in the crowd. Where would she go? he thought, then second-guessed himself. No. Think more critically. Let her cool off, and address this tonight, but not immediately. Let it slip and then come back to it. With a sigh, dragging slightly, he walked back to the salle to find Anakin. He might as well keep on training.
“What’s your problem, Master?” Anakin gritted as they stood, gritting their teeth together, bound in a blade lock. Obi-Wan pushed him back, leaping away from a further attack.
“Anakin, I thought I made it clear– it’s my business, not yours.”
“I have every right to make it mine,” Anakin insisted. Obi-Wan dropped smoothly to one knee, blocking an overhead cut.
“If you did, I would send you packing.”
“You can try, old man!” Obi-Wan back-flipped as Anakin attacked again, the sole of his boot solidly hitting Anakin’s chest and pushing him off-balance. Obi-Wan came in with a blaze of speed, sending the training saber flying. Obi-Wan held Anakin at blade point.
Anakin glared up at him. “I want a rematch!”
Obi-Wan sighed. “Fine.” he said. “But since I win, I have the right to order you around at least once.” Anakin glared up at him distrustfully. “Stop invading my privacy, Anakin.”
With that, he let Anakin get up. Anakin threw an arm around his mentor’s shoulders. “Sorry,” he said. Quick as thought, Obi-Wan ducked as the blade came up, nearly scoring a kill point. They whirled apart, sabers flashing in the semi-dimmed light.
“I accept the apology,” Obi-Wan said, one corner of his mouth perking up in an amused smile.
Anakin glared. “That’s not fair, Master!”
“I think you just illustrated the point, Anakin, that you seem to think everything fair… at least, for you.”
“I must have the most treacherous master in the Order,” Anakin grumbled.
Obi-Wan raised an ironic eyebrow. “Would you have rather trained under Master Krell? He had no subtlety whatsoever. What a perfect match.” Obi-Wan gracefully side-stepped a cut, the evasion throwing Anakin off-balance once again. “On the other hand, I think I’ll keep my blunt, un-subtle student. That way I can keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn’t go on a killing spree like Krell.”
“How can you even think that of me, Master?” Anakin said, feigning hurt. Obi-Wan sighed. His sense of humor was obviously off-kilter today.
Somebody coughed politely from the doorway of the salle. “Master Kenobi? Is this a bad time?” A tall male Human Padawan stepped forward, brushing his long dark hair nervously back from his face. “I’m Kijé Yenseh, sir. I – uh – think I have something that belongs to you.”
“Come in!” shrugged Anakin before Obi-Wan could respond. “I was leaving anyway.” He strode casually out of the room, tossing his saber carelessly on the ground. Kijé limped stiffly a few steps further onto the floor, and Obi-Wan saw with amusement, but no real surprise, that the boy was holding a rather sulky Nasriel by the collar.
Very softly, Kijé murmured to his fellow Padawan, “You have to stop doing this, Witch. You’ve got the best Master in the Temple and you don’t even notice. Next time you come to me complaining, so help me, I’ll have Ulex give you the whipping you deserve, beat some sense into that thick head. Now apologize, you zaichik, you.”
“I’m sorry I got mad at you, Master,” began Nasriel reluctantly, “and I’m sorry I didn’t trust you to know what’s best. Will you forgive me?”
“There’s nothing to forgive, alir’yana,” replied Obi-Wan. “Just know that you won fairly, and I was not going easy on you. All right?”
Nasriel gave him a gleaming smile and tossed a training saber across the salle. “En garde, Master Obi-Wan?”
“En garde. Not going easy this time either.” And the duel was on. Despite her best efforts, Nasriel was disarmed within minutes, and stood rubbing her burned fingers. “Once more.” Obi-Wan meant this to be a real lesson. “Pick up your weapon. Don’t give me an opening to do that again, you should have learned from last time.” A few minutes later, he asked heatedly, “What did I tell you about not using Vaapad?”
Nasriel repeated the movement. “This? This is Juyo. Oh, that’s bad too. If I did this…” the blade snapped around sharply, “is it better?”
“Kijé,” called Obi-Wan, “was it you who taught her that? No, Nasriel, that’s worse. If we were really fighting instead of you hitting the air, that would be mou kei. We’ve talked about that already.”
Kijé didn’t move, as if trying to hide his disability from the Jedi Master, although the artificial limb was glaringly obvious in the Force. “Yes, sir, that was me. I apologize. I know it’s not an excuse, but that was the way it was taught to me.” He turned to leave. “If I have your leave to depart, I have work to do. Madame Jocasta Nu wants me to catalogue the locations of the tibanna mines at Bespin.” He shuddered. “There are nearly a thousand of them.”
“Keep moving. Up! Weight on the balls of your feet. Good! Sidestep… And reverse.” Obi-Wan mentally noted the fact that he needed to work on Nasriel’s stance… perhaps the third Makashi drill would help that? in order for her to be able to move lightly and steadily, without loosing balance, in any direction at any moment. Or maybe… Dance lessons?
He moved back a half pace, bringing the saber evenly up to block. Nasriel doubled over, panting. Obi-Wan handed her a water bottle.
Nasriel took a long drink, then glared at him. “You’re not kriffing possible,” she huffed. “Where do you get all that stamina? You’re not even breathing hard.”
Obi-Wan shrugged. “Partly genetic inheritance, and partially relentless physical training. Shendi are known for above-average natural endurance. And by the time I was seventeen, I could match Master Jinn in stamina, and outmatch him in speed, even if I had practically no downright strength yet. Go figure.” Obi-Wan put the training sabers away. “Do you know how to dance, Nasriel?”
Nasriel stared at him like he was crazy. “You can’t be serious.” she said.
Obi-Wan laughed. “I am.”
“Well, I can dance…” Nasriel trailed off dubiously.
Obi-Wan smiled. “Good. Shall we? Once you’re rested enough, of course.”
“Not fair,” objected Nasriel. “Rest isn’t going to cut it. You’re Human, you don’t care what the weather is. I’m telling you it has been overcast or raining for days and there’s no sunlight and I’m starving. Oh, what the nine hells. I’m a Jedi Padawan, Master, not a Nal Hutta Twi’lek whore. I don’t dance. I fight. Don’t be silly.”
Obi-Wan tried to unravel what Nasriel had said, but had to concede defeat. “Explain that again, very slowly, in Basic this time.”
“I’m part-Saalisan,” began Nasriel, “which means I need sunlight as well as food for energy. It has been raining the last few days and I am exhausted. The second bit I thought was simple.”
“That was the part I needed explained, not being overly familiar with Nal Hutta.”
“Oh. I need to adjust my terminology here, don’t I? I forgot who I was talking to.”
“Obi-Wan Kenobi. Now try again.”
Carefully avoiding looking at him, Nasriel mumbled, “Some planets… um… have weird… ” A dark blue blush began to creep up her face. “Unusual courtship rituals. Some of these have…” she sounded like she was quoting from a textbook, but was no less embarrassed for that. “Have become forms of performing art. I was at Nal H with Master Sala,” she explained finally. “It was dire.”
Obi-Wan shook his head violently. “No, no, no! I mean dance, as in folk dancing, a waltz, or ballet, even, not that… sort of thing. Good grief. And if Master Tachi heard you, she’d have my head. She loves dancing. She also, I think, enjoys embarrassing me… I don’t like to dance in public unless it’s absolutely necessary. We’ll have to remedy that… Folk dance is an asset for a Jedi. At some political and social functions, it’s expected. It’s not intended for showmanship, but as a fine art…” Obi-Wan trailed off and sighed. “Come on. Let’s get Kijé and go out to Dex’s. We might get him to cheer up.”
At that moment his comlink beeped. “Who’s this? I didn’t think there were any callsigns in the Temple I didn’t recognize. Oh, very well,” accepting the call. “Kenobi.”
“It’s Kijé Yenseh, Master Kenobi. I’m sorry to disturb you, but the witch has left her comm in her room again. Is she there?”
“It’s for you. Yenseh.” Nasriel took the comlink gingerly. “Yo, Kij. What gives?”
“The sun’s out,” replied Kijé. “Want to come for a drive? Uptown, to… this isn’t your comm… to v’leren ol noradth. Okay?”
“Plaza of Blood,” translated Nasriel for Obi-Wan’s benefit. “Actually, Kij, we were going to… drelesh taqar Quarter, and Master Obi-Wan wanted you to come.”
The shock in Kijé’s voice was almost tangible. “Master Kenobi was planning to go to drelesh taqar? Oh. That’s where the – uh – the Bothawui Contact is, right?”
“He’s listening, Kij. And yeah. Get your butt down here.”
Skimming through the skylanes in a speeder a few minutes later, Kijé kept suggesting shortcuts, which Obi-Wan objected to on the grounds of total illogicality. After passing one of these rejected shortcuts, Kijé pointed to a narrow alleyway to the left. “That’s the exit to the one I told you to take straight after we left the Temple. It would have cut about seven minutes off.”
“No,” Nasriel corrected from the backseat. “Eight. Remember the time I ran it with Nebs? He timed it.” She wasn’t terribly emphatic, however, as she was having a wonderful time soaking up the pale sunlight streaming through the clouds. “Is it just me, or is today too marvellous for words? Left here if we’re going to Dex’s, Master.”
“You kids know this city too marvellously for words. Listen, if I go left now, I’ll end up at the Senate.”
“Left,” repeated Kijé firmly. “We both know the way anywhere on Coruscant. Both the quickest way, and the best way to go unseen. Oh, no, not that turning, the one ten floors down.” Although Obi-Wan patiently pointed out that it would not make an iota of difference how high they took the turning, he tipped the speeder into a screaming dive toward the tunnel entrance Kijé recommended anyway and steered into the gaping black mouth of the shortcut. Inside it was quite completely dark, the only light provided by the controls of other speeders whizzing past them. Kijé reached out hastily and turned off their speeder’s headlights, without offering an explanation.
“Don’t want to disturb the firebeetles,” he murmured laconically when they were back out in the sunlight. “Rules for that cut: lights out, no talking. Nobody knows what’ll happen if they get irritated.”
Obi-Wan slammed on the brakes and tried to breathe evenly. “Firebeetles have been eradicated from everywhere but Ba-Taanab,” he managed to croak through a suddenly parched throat.
Kijé shrugged. “Not from here. We don’t mind – I’ve driven through here a hundred times with no problems. Of course,” he chuckled, “there was the one time I was with Sima in an open-top speeder: one of the little beasts fell right onto her lap – ”
“Kij!” hissed Nasriel urgently, “Shut up! He’s got this thing about firebeetles, a phobia, really bad.”
“Oh. Sorry, Master Kenobi. But that cut has been known for nearly ten years, and nobody complains. And it does cut nearly half an hour off the journey time to this quarter.”
“I wish Anakin knew the streets this well,” Obi-Wan murmured. “The last time we were in a chase, he got us completely turned around and then made a fifty-level drop onto another speeder. Nearly gave me a heart attack. Someday he’ll get either himself, or me, killed.”
“I hope he doesn’t get you killed,” Nasriel said.
Obi-Wan laughed. “I have no intention of dying any time soon, Nasriel. As far as I’m concerned, the galaxy in general will have to continue to put up with me for at least another three decades.” Obi-Wan made the turn into the CoCoTown district, parked the speeder at a platform, and leaped out. “We can walk from here.”
“That’s old news, Master Kenobi,” retorted Kijé. “Gossip of the Halls for the last year. With all due respect, Master Skywalker is a rank amateur in navigating the city streets. You see, from the Senate to the Outlander, the fastest route is Spiral, then backstreets through Gundark Cut to the Ridge. According to the speeder’s navcom when we checked it afterwards, he took Holiday and then the Colfinni Cut. The shortest is still Snake Alley, though. We can go that way on the way home. Mostly it’s only street traders and crooks who know the names of all the shortcuts. And are you that scared of my directions that you would rather walk than fly?”
“Padawan Yenseh,” said Obi-Wan earnestly, “I would always rather walk than fly. Please don’t ever take my Padawan – or me – through that shortcut again. Do you know the way from here, Nasriel?”
Nasriel looked around carefully. “Yes. That’s where you crashed the speeder bike back in the spring, and that’s the Spiral, so… this way.”
“I did not crash it! It was blown up by a terrorist bomb. If it weren’t for your total lack of concern, I would have thought you to have set the bomb.”
“Don’t ever say that again, Master. Flash bombs and smoke and surprising loud noises are one thing, damaging you or anybody else is another entirely.”
“And another thing: why are there firebeetles on Coruscant?”
“Accident.” Kijé had fallen back into laconicism. “Somebody dropped some on the way through, trick for an enemy. Damn bugs multiplied and stayed around.”
Obi-Wan led the two Padawans into the Diner and toward his usual table. “No teasing about my driving habits. It’s not my fault that half the drivers of Coruscant are complete idiots.”
“And the other half are hot-shot spacers who may be good but don’t care a whit for traffic laws,” Kijé added.
“Master Yoda doesn’t always give a whit for traffic laws, Kijé,” smiled Nasriel. “And yes, Master, I know that this is one of those cases when the adults blush and order us to do-as-I-say-don’t-do-as-I-do. So the kids attend to the rules.”