I’ll try to stop in the middle of the battle this time instead of just before, shall I? Might be hard. This is what I’m listening to as I write: not conducive to stopping battles in media res!
Among the precisely disciplined, carefully moving shadows in the tunnel, Obi-Wan caught Nasriel by the collar and dragged her, none too gently, to the ground. Two clones moved forward to where the tunnel broadened out into the cave. His left arm was over her, his hand pressing her head to the ground.
“Nasriel. They’re going to toss a grenade in there, which will destroy some of the crystals. You will feel it and it will hurt.”
Apparently the enemy in the cave weren’t sure what to make of them, for an eerie and absolute stillness prevailed for almost two seconds before another clone – not Sterling, Nasriel thought – flung something small and rounded into the cave with a neat overarm motion, calling softly over his shoulder, “Fire in.”
“Master,” whispered Nasriel, “may I hold your hand?” The instant the words were out of her mouth she regretted them. What a silly, cowardly, youngling thing to say! But Obi-Wan shifted position, and his hand found hers in the darkness, warm and callused and instantly comforting.
The next moment, the explosion rocked the cave, a momentary blaze of suffocating heat and brilliant light, and something like a very strong wind blowing down the tunnel for a fraction of a second. However, Nasriel barely noticed the actually rather significant physical effects of a high-caliber thermic detonator. So close to the Force, so entwined in soul with all her surroundings, it was impossible for her to avoid the stabbing pain as so many clear, harmonic channels of the living Force were irrevocably destroyed. Well… so this was war. After a few seconds the clamor and terror and agony faded back to a dull murmur, and Nasriel shivered, and staggered to her feet.
Obi-Wan rose more slowly, laying one hand lightly against the wall of the tunnel to steady himself. Much of the radiance had bleached out of the shimmer that surrounded him in the Force, and his face was pale.
Stepping back, toward the cavern the clones were now creeping methodically into to survey the damage, Nasriel asked awkwardly, “Are you all right, Master?”
The vaguest ghost of a smile touched the very corners of Obi-Wan’s mouth as he replied, “I’ll be fine in just a moment. But I’m afraid I won’t be able to do that again. Next time you’ll be on your own.”
“Did you… absorb some of the impact… for me?” Now she recalled; it had not been all pure pain, something had muffled it, screened her from the very worst. “Thank you, Master.” But it had still hurt abominably, as if every sliver of every ruined crystal had been blasted across the cavern to embed itself in her. And next time would be worse. A petulant youngling’s whine raised itself in Nasriel’s mind. It wasn’t fair… why couldn’t he protect her again? Hastily, she crushed the voice. It was she who was being unfair: hadn’t she seen what that protection cost him? A Jedi always suffers much and says little, Master Jinn had once told Kijé, when the latter had been about seven years old and badly stung by a poisonous insect in the Room of the Thousand Fountains. Very well, she would bear whatever came without complaining.
Activating Kijé’s violet lightsaber, Nasriel sallied forth into the ruin of the cave. Smashed and twisted battle droids carpeted the ground, but their fellows would continue to stand and fight until they were felled by a well-placed blaster bolt – or by any of the permitted and possible lightsaber kill strokes. Not since two days before leaving the Temple had Nasriel had enough space to properly revel in the acrobatics of Ataru Form, and now she made the most of it.
In the back of her mostly-occupied consciousness, she was aware of the beautiful blue lightsaber that belonged to her Master, blurringly fast, deflecting a shot here and bisecting a battle droid there, all with a graceful economy of motion that spoke eloquently of a true Soresu Master’s hand at work. Evidently the 5th Clone Battalion had worked with Jedi before, for none of them was being especially careful to avoid shooting them, perhaps assuming – correctly – that they were both quite capable of looking after themselves under such conditions.
Eventually, none of the battle droids remained in working order. Nasriel stalked about slashing at the more intact specimens anyway, just to be on the safe side, and because the more used to this new blade she could become, the better. At least, that was the explanation she offered Obi-Wan when he abandoned talking strategy with the clone major to come and find out what in the name of… what was she doing, Padawan?
Motioning two clones over to him, Zuqof rapped, “Set charges, check for side tunnels, and stay to watch. Clear?”
“Yessir.” Both snapped hastily to attention.
“Right. The rest of you, move out. Coming, General?”
And then they were back to stealthily creeping along narrow, damp tunnel that grew ever tighter for nearly twenty meters before steadying. By then only Nasriel could stand upright, gliding along comfortably in the darkness, following Obi-Wan and Zuqof and aware of the clones behind her working hard at being practically silent in very trying surroundings. On the whole, she judged, they were doing quite well – for clones.
All at once the way flung itself open into a vast cavern, the floor glittering with crystals, four meters below the tunnel mouth, the ceiling in places lofty as the roof in the Senate Hall, in others humble as that of the Council Chamber. The general effect, produced mostly by ice-bright, needle-sharp stalactites and curious natural screens of columns, was that of walking, with eyes open, into the mouth of some enormous, carnivorous beast. A beast whose interior the Separatists apparently found especially appealing as a storage bay for battle droids.
The clone who had been appointed grenadier drew another detonator from his pack. Nasriel fingered her lucky charm, wishing there was some other way – surely there was!
“I agree there must be,” Obi-Wan’s voice, eerily disembodied in the blackness, sounded tired. “Unfortunately we don’t know what it is. All we know is that it’s bearable – it must be: we don’t have a choice. I’ll help you if you can try to help me.”
“You got a deal, Master. Bargon, lorda!” she added smartly.
“Nasriel! Do not speak Huttese!”
The clone flung his grenade. “Fire in.”
All became pain anew.