For Erin. To make up for upsetting her earlier and refusing reassurance when requested.
Also – a little something slipped in for Zach, who wanted to know how mature a certain Jedi Knight really was. Now you know, Zach, grow up.
Before Mi could reply, could give the necessary clue to the mystery, the kitchen door behind Obi-Wan swung creakily on its hinges. Somebody gasped in astonishment, and then came a hysterical cry of joy.
Three seconds later, Nasriel was sitting in his lap, arms tightly around his neck, face buried in his shoulder. Under the fine black cloth of a borrowed dress, Nasriel’s slim back was shaking with laughter or sobs or both.
“You came – you came! I’m so.. silly, I’m crying, but I’m so terribly happy!”
Rubbing her back, stroking her hair, holding his regained Padawan as if he would never let her go, Obi-Wan murmured soothingly, “Shh. It’s all right. It’s all right to cry. You’ve been through so much, but it’s over now. Shh. I’m here.” He glanced up to see Mi’s satisfied grin. “You knew. Didn’t you? You knew I was going through hell thinking she was dead.”
“This is your – ah – niece, then?” the woman enquired innocently.
“Niece,” snorted Obi-Wan. “You know she’s my Padawan.” He bent his head to whisper in Nasriel’s ear, whisper through the silky black hair. “Oh, Nasriel. It’s all right. You’re safe. It’s all right. I don’t know how you’re alive, but I’m grateful.”
“It was – 1313,” gasped Nasriel between sobs. “He used a – tranquilizer instead of the potassium – chloride, and he’d heard me tell you – Malastare, so he – programmed an escape pod for that and – sent me here in it. He wrote a note to explain to me – what he did.”
“I called Kijé. Like you asked. Sorry.”
“Who’s Kijé?” asked Mi suspiciously. “Brother? Fiancé? What?”
“Uh…” Nasriel stumbled for a moment before replying hesitantly, “Friend. Master, we can call him back to explain in the morning, from the blue store. He’ll understand.”
“Tomorrow? Why not tonight? I’d be glad to call tonight, I have to talk to Bant.”
Mi was washing up bowls in a basin of water before the fire. “This is the Black City, Obi-Wan. No running water. No electricity. No leaving until first light – these streets aren’t safe in the dark. You’ll call from the store. What’s the time?”
“Almost midnight,” Obi-Wan reported. “Nasriel, you’d better get some sleep, especially if you’re still trying to wear off the tranquilizers. Come to that, I’d better get some sleep. Mi… I don’t suppose you’ve got space somewhere?”
Walking quickly to the street-door, Mi flung out the dirty dishwater over the stones, and locked the door, lowering a heavy beam across the two brackets to secure it.
“There are two beds in the third room – if it’s not contrary to your Temple ideas to share a room.”
Nasriel frowned in frank confusion. “What does it matter? That’s fine, Mi. Thanks. C’mon, Master. This house is crazy until you’re used to it. Actually… even then it’s pretty crazy.”
In the ‘third room’ – a reference, Obi-Wan soon realized, to its position along the narrow corridor on the second floor – Nasriel’s cloak and outer tunic were folded neatly over the foot of one iron bed frame, and the other was merely made up, so tightly as to conform almost to military standards. She nodded him toward it.
“Yours. These are better than the bunks on the Robin, not that that’s saying much.” Stripping off the black dress, she slipped between the worn-thin sheets of the other bed dressed in a still perfectly decent white shift, and rolled over to face the wall, apparently in an attempt to sleep.
Obi-Wan was not having a bar of it. “Nasriel, we need to talk. That boy, Tamro Jados – Jiron’s his father, isn’t he?”
Nasriel drew up the blankets so that only the top of her head showed on the pillow, and replied, barely audible, in the affirmative.
“So who is Ferli? Better, what was Ferli? Is that how the Sentinels behave out of sight of the Temple?” When she did not reply at once, Obi-Wan shook his head. Too harsh. He had received her back from death, he should be overjoyed, not making angry inquiries into a dead man’s private affairs. But then… it was Yoda who said it first. Privacy there is not where a Jedi is involved. Of no importance are her feelings. But that was Padmé he was talking about, not Nasriel.
“Ferli is Jiron’s widow,” Nasriel informed him, still invisible. “He married her because to get a job outside the Black City she had to have a husband to vouch for her. Mi wasn’t sure, so she checked back with Master Altis and he approved, and Master Gorixo approved. It was a business arrangement, it was all right. In the course of… sealing the deal, ‘something went wrong’, that’s how ‘Roni put it, and that’s Tamro. He only met him once. Jiron didn’t harbor any emotional attachment to Ferli and Tamro at all, Master. All right?”
“I’m sorry. It’s none of my business. But thank you for telling me.” Tumbling fully dressed into bed, he made to switch off the light with the Force, realizing too late that the only light was the candle Nasriel had brought up with her. She padded over to the table and pinched out the wick before returning to her bed.
When Obi-Wan woke, the pale grey predawn light filtering through the blinds on the small window was just barely adequate to see by. Nasriel was shaking him with a rapidly decreasing gentleness.
“Get up. We have to go. The gates close at dawn, Master!” She was already dressed, in her ordinary Jedi clothes, and alert enough to have been up for hours, although careful consultation of a chrono informed Obi-Wan that it was only just after five in the morning.
In the kitchen, Mi and Carys were up and busy, Carys washing her face and twisting dark brown Twi’lek ribbons over her lekku, Mi trying to get the fire back from its embers. She glanced across for a split-second as obi-Wan and Nasriel came in.
“‘Morning. You’ve no time to eat before you go, you’ll have to get something in the North City. Tea’s still hot, Nasriel, have some if you like.” Straightening, she spoke rapidly, trying not to waste a second. “Obi-Wan. You’re looking for Chu’unthor. By now they should be at Lahsbane, the first world trailing of Leritor. Master Altis should be able to tell you who most recently carried Air – I left it behind when I came here. You know him – no comms, no holo, dark-ages – so he’ll hardly expect you. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help. Nasriel? If you see Suli remind him it’s been nearly a Standard year.” She scurried to the window and twitched the curtain aside to look out. “Chaul’thu trmanni, it’s nearly dawn. You have to go now.” Nasriel pulled on a coat to cover her too-distinctive clothes, and the two Jedi and Carys set off.
Hurrying down the alley from Sunrise House, they joined a stream of beings moving along the tortuous narrow streets that snaked unpredictably across the Black City. Carys jostled hastily through the crowd, and it was not long before she disappeared in the crush of beings.
Nasriel laughed at Obi-Wan’s concerned expression. “Not a problem, Master. I know the way back to the North. You’d better take my hand so we don’t get separated.”
Rapidly, Obi-Wan learned that the Black City was much – much – less organized, civilized, or considerate even than the seediest underbelly of Coruscant, and that elbowing people aside, far from being rude, was normal and expected. Nasriel’s familiarity with the dark, canyon-like streets, the high cliffs of houses rising vertiginously at either hand, and her quick replies to the curses aimed at her amused him, but made him wonder how often she had come to this hive of scum and villainy in the past, to know it so well.
“T’Narxai b’nedik no, dai-schen Halir!” she screamed down one alley, the epithet raising from the fair-haired man who was its target merely a laughing hail.
“V nu v, chen’Sriel, sita harexto-serl! Nuxan fessen hanobel, chen! V darvai nuxan emmi?”
“Yuxan chenray-varetki, Halir! Kynanze gehdyii!” she had just time to reply indignantly, before the tide of moving beings hurried them on.
“Ten, nataz, hamlin!” came the jeering rejoinder.
“And who was that?” Obi-Wan asked a few corners later.
“A guy. He’s Saalis-Shendi, can’t you tell by his face? Anyway. That’s the gate just ahead.”
The narrow postern-way in the massive gate slammed shut seconds after they had slipped through into the North City, as the rim of the sun broke the horizon out of sight and flung pearly light over the Quadropolis. Carys was already waiting at the door of the blue-fronted jewelry store.
“You took your time. Come on, I can get a signal to Coruscant now, but I don’t know how long it’ll last. Comm’s in the back room.”