If this proves to be schmaltz, blame Thomas Bergersen. The guy’s a genius, but wow, does that music ever mess with your head. If it proves to be seriously hard-core, still blame Thomas Bergersen. Ditto if purple.
Nasriel clenched her teeth to keep from screaming as three detonators exploded in different parts of the cave, destroying countless clusters of delicate Force-sensitive crystals, casting her into a whirling maelstrom of agony. Obi-Wan’s grip on her hand was crushing – dear gods, and she thought she had it rough? He was stronger in the Living Force, more closely entwined with the environment of these caves. Forcing her own pain into a tight ball of fire, a little less distracting, a little out of the way, she reached out to find Obi-Wan in the world of the Force, hidden from the clones around them but terrifyingly real to a Jedi.
Slipping with a curious effortlessness behind his mental shields, Nasriel found herself figuratively tumbled head over heels and plunged into a more intense, more exquisitely excruciating anguish than she had ever believed possible. Which was to say, she knew it was possible, had seen it inflicted on others, but hoped against hope nonetheless that she was wrong. She wasn’t. But she had promised, and as a Jedi could not go back on her word, to at least try to take some of the suffering to herself.
Stretching out to channel pain inwards… that was the hardest thing she had ever done, for pain is always glad to spread itself, and poured willingly into her, mixing fuel with the fire that her own connection to the Force had become. Without meaning to, she gasped with the sheer unbridled power of it, but immediately bit down on her tongue to silence herself. Although her mouth filled at once with metal-tasting, salty blood, it wasn’t a mistake, rather a single point of attachment to the solid, visible world where everything was still mostly all right. Using the physical pain as an anchor for herself, Nasriel could cope with her own metaphysical distress, which seemed to lessen as she ignored it, and concentrate on taking as much of her Master’s burden as she could.
It lasted longer this time, longer and more intense, but, like all things, came at last to an end.
Obi-Wan released her hand and drew a deep, controlled breath. “Thank you. You did well. Are you all right?”
“Yeah.” Rubbing her bone-crushed fingers, Nasriel added slyly, “For the most part. You’ve got pretty strong hands, Master.”
“Sorry. Well. Let’s go.”
Go was a case of the two Jedi, under covering fire from the clones, jumping lightly down to the cavern floor and standing to deflect enemy fire and create a tiny clear area into which the rest of the team could fast-rope, sliding down a light cable unfurled from a pack, and joining in with rapid fire directly their boots were on the ground.
With one peremptory flick of his head, Obi-Wan ordered Nasriel over to the marginally safer half of their tenuous perimeter. She responded with an amiable grimace – you don’t have to baby me, Master! – and an exceptionally showy Djem So flourish of her borrowed lightsaber in catching two blaster bolts barely half a second apart. Exactly one minute after the blue and violet blades sprang forth together into the gloom of the cavern, all eighteen clones were ready for action.
It was slow, weary, heartbreaking work clearing the caverns: moving forward a pace only brought one within ‘saber reach of another dozen or so battle droids, and when they lay wrecked on the ground, one trod ahead on their metal corpses, one pace, and started all over again. There were hair-raising moments of being only just missed or only just grazed by a stray blaster bolt, of tripping over a still-upraised skeletal arm of durasteel and saving oneself from a fall just in time – but on the whole it was exhausting drudgery, not much like real lightsaber combat at all.
Nasriel almost cried when Obi-Wan had to demolish one of the delicate natural screens across the cavern, ruthlessly shattering the lacy stonework over the floor with no regard for its soaring beauty, beauty like a symphony locked underground. This was a new side to Master Kenobi, heartless and cold, a real soldier. New Republic Army General Kenobi. A soldier she didn’t like much at all. Even in the heat of battle, he noticed her bewilderment. And didn’t meet her eyes for nearly ten minutes afterwards, deliberately looking away every time their winding, unpredictable paths over the battlefield crossed.
So Nasriel fought on alone, every swing and spin of her friend’s lightsaber like a silent declaration that she would fight this war because she had to, as a Jedi, but she didn’t have to like it, and she sure as nine hells didn’t have to let it change her. I am – two droids – a Jedi. I will not – slash – abandon my compassion just to win a fierfekker war! – three droids and deflect a bolt before it hit Zuqof.
Stumbling into another lace-worked alcove off to the side of the cavern, Nasriel sucked in a surprised gasp. Huddled in a corner, bleeding pure fear into the Force and red blood into the ground, a Twi’lek boy not much older than herself rubbed grimy hands over his eyes and scrabbled blindly in the faint light of Nasriel’s lightsaber to toss the blaster pistol on the floor beside him over to her.
“It’s all right,” Nasriel said softly. “I won’t hurt you.”
“M-master Jedi, I’m unarmed, please don’t -” Before the boy could add the necessary kill me, another light momentarily added itself to the violet glow in the alcove, and his face showed a mere glimpse of confusion and pain before closing over and becoming entirely expressionless, staring up at her with starry, unseeing eyes. It was only a second later that she heard the soft bew of a blaster and turned to face back into the larger cavern, to see Obi-Wan toss away the blaster he had evidently snatched up from one of the fallen battle droids.
For a moment Nasriel could not speak, but then the words tumbled over each other in haste to be said. “You killed – how could – why did – oh, Master Obi-Wan!”
“Would you rather I’d let him kill you?” Crossing the intervening space between them in long strides, he nudged the boy’s corpse aside with the toe of his boot to show Nasriel the other pistol, the one the young Separatist had been holding with his finger on the trigger.
Nasriel bent to pick it up, deliberately keeping her face blank as she tilted it to display the energy cell chamber. It was empty.
“I’m not saying I knew he hadn’t got a charge, Master. I’m just pointing out that you didn’t know whether he did or not either.” And you killed a kid – who had surrendered! – just because he happened to be holding a dead blaster.
Curiously, it was the unspoken accusation that he answered. “Jedi Master does not equate to infallible. From my point of view I had an instant to decide what to do. This is war. Whether that boy meant to kill you at that time or not, you were on opposite sides and he would have killed you sooner or later if I had spared him. Much as I hate that it has to be the case, there is no room for pity in this situation.”
“Can you ignore your principles so easily as that? Wasn’t it Master Seva who said it is better to suffer defeat in honorable company than to gain victory at the cost of honor?”
“Chakora Seva was a contemplative who never had to fight for his life or try to defend a Padawan. Do not quote at me.”
“So just because we’re fighting we can ignore right from wrong? The Jedi have a reputation to uphold, and if we destroy our integrity, we will not be able to rebuild that when it’s all over. The Order has lasted thousands of years, but if word gets around that even Council Members are willing to lie and use dirty tricks to win a two-bit war, everything we are fighting for will crumble to dust. Even if the war is won, it won’t have been worth it. If it’s lost you will have thrown away the reputation of the entire Order for nothing.” Nasriel could hear her voice rising, shrill and angry, but she couldn’t stop. “It just isn’t worth it. We’ve become the Senate’s pawns. It sounds so high and grand talking about ‘ideals’ and ‘ethics’, Master, but if you plan to ignore them, shut up.”
“You are walking dangerously close to the edge, Padawan. I strongly suggest you stop talking now and remember that I am your last chance.” He sounded so cold and detached. He didn’t care what she thought – even if she was right.
“Then I quit.” Deactivating Kijé’s lightsaber, she thrust it at him. “Take it. I don’t want it anymore. If you’re the only hope I have of becoming a Knight, I’ll ask to be assigned to the AgriCorps. Who are you anyway, and what have you done with Obi-Wan Kenobi?”