Erin assures me it has to get worse before it gets better. Here’s hoping. Lord, in Your mercy: hear our prayer.
P.S. This is the last chapter I needed for Camp NaNoWriMo! Celebrating with champagne and chocolate – well, at least the chocolate part’s true. But it may be the last Breaking Point for a little while, and it’s also rather short. Sorry.
EDIT: Had to shift soi-disant Part 12 into this chapter so I can fit the important part into Part 13. Superstition.
Obi-Wan’s eyes closed for a moment. “The Council didn’t ask for this war, Nasriel. It was thrust down our throats so hard we nearly choked. But we can’t not fight. I don’t have a choice, and I am duty bound to do all that is in my power to stop the Separatists taking Halm.”
“But you killed him!”
Setting his hands lightly on Nasriel’s shoulders, Obi-Wan asked quietly, “If you had been in my place and I in yours, what, exactly, would you have done?”
“Shot him,” Nasriel responded at once. “…Oh. But you’re… important, Master, you can’t be spared. If it was you, the risk of killing an unarmed man would be reasonable. But it wasn’t. Padawans are a credit a dozen and I’m no Great Negotiator. I’m nothing. I don’t matter!”
“You do. You do. Listen to me. I’ve lived a lot longer than you – well, twenty years longer anyway. I have never, ever, met anybody who didn’t matter. Anakin wouldn’t have mattered if we hadn’t had to land on Tatooine, but now we all see he’s the Chosen One. I would be nothing without Qui-Gon. There is no way of knowing what you will become, and it is my job to make sure you live long enough to find out. When you killed Nuvo Vindi, he was unarmed. Why was that not wrong?”
“Because it was too dangerous to let him live. That boy…”
“Was passionate about what he was fighting for. Passion is as sharp a weapon in the right hands as a vibroblade, Padawan. He would have killed you without thinking twice. In a war, you know, nothing is right. All that remains to us is to choose the least wrong course of action.”
Nasriel nodded, chastened. “Yes, Master. I’m sorry. I was wrong to -”
Sharply, he cut her off. “You were right. You tried to do the right thing, and I’m proud of you for that. But in this case the right thing would have been worse than foolish. Never lose your faith, Nasriel. Someday this will end and we will be able to leave the grey area behind us. Someday.”
An ironical cough from the cavern interrupted them. “Excuse me for breaking up this tender moment, but if it’s quite all right with you, General, we have a war to fight.” Raising his voice, Zuqof shouted, “Okay, moving out! Two of you to stay behind: set, check, and watch.”
“What’s set?” Nasriel asked curiously, anxious to learn anything that would let her help bring someday nearer.
“We’re rigging the entrances to each cavern with explosives. When we finish clearing the cave system, we’ll blow them so nobody can get in until the end of the war. Then you Jedi can open it up again if you want to. Everything’s being set to a central control, so that when we get the go-ahead from my boss and your boss, we can set them all off at once. You want to help?” He thrust a handful of comm relays set on slender steel pitons at her. “Use your Jedi skills or whatever to get back up to the tunnel and set one of these in the wall at the bend. Comlinks don’t work so well underground, you might have noticed. This way we can tell the guys we leave behind to get their butts out of there before they get sealed in. Go on, now.”
Nasriel couldn’t resist showing off just a little, performing a neat back-flip from standing beside the Major to crouched in the mouth of the tunnel high above, grinning at his confusion.
Although Zuqof’s eyebrows were raised in astonishment, he sounded cool enough as he directed her on where to place the relays. When they were set, he tested them from his own comlink and nodded in satisfaction.
“Fine. Let’s keep going – unless you think it would be better to rest a few minutes, General Kenobi?”
The veiled insult did not go unnoticed, Nasriel felt sure, but then, Obi-Wan was a diplomat by specialty, and turned it quietly back on the clone officer.
“You know your capabilities and your men best, Major. If you can all carry on, by all means let us continue.”
The great cavern did not stop abruptly, but tapered away into the darkness of a passageway where the scatter of crystals was sparser. Before they left, though, Nasriel insisted on burying the body of the fallen Separatist child-soldier under a cairn of rubble smashed in the fighting. Though Obi-Wan frowned, he didn’t try to stop her, and eventually sent two clone troopers to help. The task consumed only a few minutes, then Nasriel rejoined Obi-Wan.
“Thanks, Master.” He pressed her shoulder in silent approval, and they carried on into the darkening tunnel.
In the blackness it was difficult to gauge distance, so Nasriel had to estimate. The guesswork had run to almost a kilometer before Obi-Wan, walking ahead, put out one arm to stop her. Halting abruptly, the Padawan took only moments to see how very rapidly the tunnel seemed to broaden ahead, and hear the muted shifting of wet gravel under stealthy feet. However, the way did not truly widen, but divided, two choices opening before them, and the battle droids advancing softly in both directions only seconds away from opening fire.
It was a horrible place for a battle.
“Go left,” Obi-Wan ordered tautly. “Soresu.”
Nasriel hissed an incredulous gasp in through her teeth. “Master, I’ve never had to defend an opening this big! I can’t do it!”
“You have to now and you will.” He added over his shoulder as his blue lightsaber hummed into life, “Two clones, covering fire to the left fork. Stay behind Nasriel. Rest stay back until ordered.”
Form 3, called the Resilience Form for a reason, had never been Nasriel’s strong point, being mostly a stand-ground defensive style she was too small to use properly over any area larger than an ordinary double doorway. And the cave branch was much bigger than a doorway, nearly three meters wide and three high at the peak of its arch. Nevertheless, she stuck to it valiantly as commanded, for a few minutes anyway, before quietly adding in a few of the Shien and – not expressly allowed – Vaapad style, Dark’s Edge, flourishes she loved and was more effective with, hoping Obi-Wan wouldn’t notice.
Senator Organa had once noted, and managed to leak word through T’Seely into the Padawan community, that far from earnest concentration on the job at hand, Obi-Wan almost seemed to enjoy Soresu defense, the more desperate the better. Nothing wrong with that, an irritated voice in the back of Nasriel’s mind grumbled, but he’s go twenty years and ten inches and more than ten kilograms on you. For him it’s easy. Crushing the thought, she tried to take out two droids with the deflections of their own shots. She managed one. Captain Sterling, standing behind her to aim over her shoulder, supremely confident in her Jedi skills, took out the other.
For some minutes they were simply defending, establishing ground and shooting out as many droids as possible. Then life got… interesting. For one thing, the supply of droids in the left branch appeared to be thinning. Nasriel risked one second’s distraction to glance over to Obi-Wan for orders, but as he was a little busy at the time, decided to take initiative.
One pace forward, keep going as she had been all along. Switch to Soresu entirely to free one hand, point two clones to back Obi-Wan up, and summon five to follow her. For some reason her silent orders were obeyed without demur. Gradually, Nasriel worked her way along the tunnel, breathing a faint sigh of relief as it narrowed to a manageable size, and occasionally swiping a battle droid unwise enough to come within range. Kijé’s violet lightsaber sang hotly in the darkness, as if the crippled Padawan was there beside her, rejoicing with her in the beauty of the economic form and the shrill light etching a detailed pattern on the blackness of the underworld of Halm.
But Kijé wasn’t there, of course. He was in the peaceful light medcenter of the Temple, shivering from the roots of his long dark hair to the end of his artificial leg, in the grip of the deadly Tandari fever. As was Ben. Nasriel brushed off Obi-Wan’s brief contact and forged ahead, banishing all thoughts of Kijé – and indeed anything else but the mission – from her mind utterly.
At last the passage broadened again, very suddenly, into a faint golden electric light in a small cave at its end.
The clones made short work of the remaining battle droids, and Nasriel looked away, gulping back the bile rising in her throat, as they dispatched the living enemy with very little more care. A close examination revealed no other accesses than the one they had used, so it was safe to merely seal off the entrance rather than leaving a guard. Retreating back to the main tunnel, the other clones enthusiastically joined in sniping battle droids in the right fork, while Nasriel and Sterling silently set the charges to blow the left side when it was time.