Obi-Wan was waiting, as he had said he would, at the door of the spaceport gatehouse, staring unfocusedly into the distance. Waving one hand in front of his face, Nasriel was amused to see his eyes automatically follow the movement twice or thrice before he blinked and said sternly, “Nasriel, stop that.”
“Yes, Master,” she panted, brushing at some specks of mud that had inexplicably gotten on her tunic. “But you oughtn’t to meditate in the street like that. Well,” in response to an impatient gesture, ” we found Res, only he says he’d rather tell you where K’tarr is straight than risk Ben and me getting mixed up.” They set off back to the Nine Riders, Obi-Wan striding swiftly through the mire and Nasriel trotting along like a dutiful Padawan, two paces back and one to the left.
A few minutes into the journey, the Master stopped to ask considerately, “Am I going too fast for you?”
“No, as a matter of fact you’re much easier to keep up with than Jiron,” said Nasriel with a wry smile.
“Thank you – I think,” Obi-Wan replied dubiously.
But the heavy, brass-bossed door of the Riders was closed, and the bolts driven home, although it was still so early that the sunlight slanting across the road was still white, and had not faded to the fiery golden-red of sunset. Of the wooden shutters on the many high windows, not one remained open; all were closed and barred.
Obi-Wan glanced questioningly from house to Padawan, and back again. I sense a disturbance in the Force.
“So do I, Master,” Nasriel said sincerely. “So do I.”
Reseda Che waited until Nasriel was out of sight before he turned to Ben, and in his face was something the boy could not define, but still found disturbing. Then, seizing Ben by the hand, he led him up the stairs, along a wide, airy gallery with six arched windows all flung open over the street, and out through another door onto a balcony above a dirty little cobbled yard. He looked at the Padawan, hard, and his veiled dark eyes suddenly laughed, without letting his mouth join in.
“Ben Kenobi, there’s but little I can tell you. We will have to take… a field trip. Not long, not far. I’ll let your uncle know; lend me your comm?”
When Ben reluctantly handed over his comlink, Che received it with a graceful nod, and deftly typed the callsign from the screen into the keypad. Nine clicks: the three digit code for Jedi, and the six digit personal number, then he raised the comm and spoke. “Hello, Kenobi. It’s Reseda Che. Listen, I’ve got Ben here, I want to take him for a walk, show him some stuff… not far… all right, see you back at the Riders… Thanks.” He smiled at Ben. “All serene. Let’s go. Follow me.” And he vaulted over the low parapet of the balcony, landing perfectly balanced, crouching in the courtyard.
Taking a deep breath, Ben leapt down after him and followed him out of the yard through a low archway. In the crowded, nasty, dirty street beyond, Reseda, dressed as he was in discreet civilian black, was almost swallowed up in the mass of beings, and Ben had to hustle to keep up, often resorting to rudely shoving past people. At last, he was scurrying alongside the tall Twi’lek – who dug his heels into the mud and turned back the way he had come.
“What is it?” pleaded Ben.
Reseda was calmly ignoring him, squatting down in the street to talk earnestly with a draggled beggar woman, a creature so ragged and ingrained with dirt as to be of indeterminate age. Ben heard the chink of credcoins, but then Reseda was back on his feet, and with a respectful gesture of farewell to the beggar, hurried Ben away down the street. At the corner he turned to the boy.
“It’s an old Sentinel superstition,” he explained seriously. “Never pass a beggar without giving, for you never know when it’ll be you in need.”
Ben nodded in grave understanding and continued up the street after Reseda.
Nasriel hammered at the door of the Nine Riders cantina, scraping all the skin off her knuckles but hardly caring.
“Stop.” Obi-Wan held up his comlink. “I’ll call Ben.” A few instants’ delay, a humming sound in the distance, and a frown from the Master. “I can hear that. Why doesn’t he answer it?”
“If something -” Nasriel swallowed her increasing anxiety. Jedi did not worry. “If something’s really wrong, perhaps one of the neighbors will know. May I ask next door?”
“Good idea,” acknowledged Obi-Wan. “You may.”
Next door there lived somebody who owned a singularly large and vicious akk, and who, moreover, was not at home. Nasriel went to the house on the other side, where a nervous young woman cracked open her front door, leaving the chain across the doorway fastened, and shooing her two little children farther into the house.
“My – my husband’s not home, I can’t…”
“I just need to ask you a question,” sighed Nasriel. “Did you see two people, a Twi’lek man and a red-haired Human boy, leaving the Nine Riders this afternoon?”
“No, I saw nobody, nobody at all,” the woman assured Nasriel almost before she was finished speaking. “And the Riders is dead – whose ghost are you looking for? It has been closed, locked, shut up, for years.” The door slammed to, and a key rattled in the lock.
“But Ben’s comlink was ringing inside,” said Nasriel to the closed front door.
“And so,” Obi-Wan replied, “inside we must go. This,” he added, using the Force to ease back the bolts of the Riders’ door, “does not qualify as frivolling.”
Undamaged, the door swung silently open, and the two Jedi ventured into the dark. Most of the building corroborated the neighbor’s story, being thickly carpeted with soft grey dust, silent, dim, and bare. Only the steep wooden stairs, and one room leading off them, a long gallery, were swept and cleaned. Obi-Wan called Ben’s comlink again, and Nasriel went ahead to find it. She returned to the gallery with the comm in her hand and a white face.
“Is there another way out of this room?”
“No.” Nasriel pointed back to the door she had just come through. “There’s only a balcony back there, and a dead-end courtyard.”
“No courtyard is dead-end,” snapped Obi-Wan, and Nasriel mentally conceded that after twenty years of traveling the Galaxy, he of all people ought to know. And it turned out that he was right. Naturally.
Ducking through the yard archway into the street beyond, Nasriel breathed a sigh of relief. Although the ground was rot-wet underfoot, the air heavy and stinking with smoke and other smells, and much of the light blocked by overhanging balconies and awnings, still, to a Sentinel – current or former – a crowded street was a comfortable as a lake of water was to a Mon Calamari. Suddenly Nasriel stopped, searching in her belt pouch for coins.
Obi-Wan had halted a little farther up the street. “Nasriel, come along.”
“Just a minute, please, Master!” Nasriel pressed the coins into the hand of the woman who sat begging in a doorway. Never pass a beggar without giving, Jiron had always insisted. On a whim, the Padawan asked, “Madame, have you seen my friend pass this way, less than an hour ago? He is a tall Twi’lek…”
“Green?” came the surprising answer. Nasriel nearly toppled backward into the mud. “Dressed in black? He was never here. But the boy with him, serious boy, Human, red hair like a sundown, nothing was said about him. You’re right, young one, it was nearly an hour ago.”
“Nasriel!” Now Obi-Wan sounded positively cross.
“Just a minute, Master! Madame, did you happen to notice what way the boy went? It’s terribly important.”
“Green lekku and sunset hair are hard not to notice. They turned left at the end of the street. Good luck to you.”
Thanking the woman, Nasriel bowed politely, eliciting a hoarse chuckle, and then hastened after her Master.
“Now that you’ve quite finished wasting time,” he began icily.
“Stopped for directions,” Nasriel said. “Left at the corner.”
“And how much did that cost?”
“A few manners,” said the Padawan with dignity, “cost nothing. I gave the lady ten credits.”