The Trial of the Flesh

"Physical pain is not merely the body's reaction to an outside force; it is a mirror of the mind's reaction to emotional attachments. And no, I'm not going to tell you which you will be tested on."

--Jedi Master B'thaka Cvevin, to his Padawan

His lightsabre hummed with a readiness that he barely felt. He had been taught long ago to push the battlelust to the back of his mind and replace it with the calm, even focus befitting of a swordsman, because passion led not, as most Masters would have him believe, to the dark side, but to mistakes. He knew he could not afford mistakes, not now, not with his Trials thrust so suddenly upon him.

The long salle had observation platforms built at either end. Cin Drallig stood in one, looking down at his Padawan with an unreadable expression. In the other were the council members who would be judging his skill. The final being in the room, Master Kit Fisto, faced him on the floor, green lightsaber still hanging innocently from his service belt.

He waits for the first move. Fine.

Ciaràn leapt forward as though released from a spring, the tensions in his arms that he hadn't even noticed before suddenly snapping straight, bringing his blade up and around in a neat, efficient arc toward the Nautolan's left shoulder. He expected to meet a blade (and when he did he would readjust the angle of his feint to come in toward the unprotected leg, and then around again to the right side), but instead, Master Fisto simply slid out of the blade's path with a fluid motion that brought him around to Ciaràn's back. The lightsabre still was not drawn as Ciaràn spun to face him again.

Now the silver double-blade made a quick sweep downward at the booted feet which Master Fisto jumped to avoid, and Ciaràn spun the 'sabre to catch him across the chest, but the Nautolan retaliated with a Force push that, although it had been directed at the blade, was strong enough to knock Ciaràn off his feet; he kept a death grip on the hilt of his weapon, because if he let it fall the duel would be over in less time than it took to retrieve it.

He landed in a crouch, and looked up to study Master Fisto from across the room. The Nautolan was standing and staring back as passively as he had before the first attack had been made. Ciaràn breathed deeply, every nerve tingling as he waited, this time. Patience had never been his style; he preferred to strike hard and fast, to be the first one off the line, for his blade to be the first one to sing through the air, because that singular sound invigorated him more than anything else.

But were Trials not meant to be tests, more so than displays of skill?

I understand; I will wait.

He bowed his head, eyes closed so that he might rely on his other senses; sight could betray him, trick him into reacting to a deceiving feint. He focused instead on the steady rhythm of Master Fisto's footfalls as he began to circle to the younger Jedi, the feel of the unblinking eyes on his exposed back.

"Are you afraid, Padawan?"

Ciaràn remained silent. He would not fall to the tactic of Dun Möch. Taunts, jeers, the insinuation that he still lacked in some vital skill, they were all distractions, and he forced himself to focus on the here and now, on the duel, so that he would not be caught off guard.

"You are afraid." It was not a question this time. "You fear that we could take something from you - what? Clearly not your life; you trust too deeply for that, and it's obvious that you do not fear battle. So what, then?"

Nothing, Ciaràn thought silently. He certainly was not going to spring the trap and answer the Nautolan out of anger; that would only be what he anticipated. Let him finish, and then catch him with something unexpected.

"Perhaps the weapon of which you are so proud?"

No. Take my lightsabre and I would continue to fight with bare fists and teräs käsi.

"Your friends, maybe, who face greater danger than you every day?"

An image rose up unbidden of Obi-Wan and Master Jinn fighting a shadowy, robed figure through a series of catwalks, and Obi-Wan was suddenly kicked aside and falling and Master Jinn was frozen at the point of a blood red lightsabre--

He clenched his jaw. Even if they die there, they die honourably.

The Nautolan was closer now, within striking distance if he desired to lash out. "Or is it your Master, his disappointment in you?"

And this time the image was of Master Drallig, green blade clashing with blue and casting eerie shadows on the white walls of the training salle, and he's falling back, overwhelmed by the sheer power of Shien, and where is he; why isn't he there to defend his Master?

...Perhaps already fallen…

A pair of brown boots suddenly filled his field of vision, and Ciaràn finally heard the snap-hiss of a lightsabre igniting. He wanted to rise at the sound, to leap, to strike now-- but he forced himself to remain crouched, to wait while the green blade was leveled beside his neck. There was no heat, but all the same his nerves prickled as though expecting a burn. Barely breathing, he raised his eyes up to meet Master Fisto's unblinking gaze.

"No," the Nautolan said softly. "I think yours is a different kind of fear."

The streets of Coruscant are always busy, but in the particular alley where he stands there is no movement, only echoing footsteps as she runs without a backwards glance. His chest is heaving from chasing her for so long, and he stops because now the trail is gone, her Force-presence too clouded to distinguish from the murky shadows around him. In that moment, he is afraid that she will find the darkness she thinks she's looking for (because she is not a bad person; she is still a fellow Jedi, a friend, and she shouldn't be able to fall so easily). But more so he is afraid that she'll be gone too long this time (because he will see her again, that's what he's convincing himself of as he stands there and tries to find some glimmer of her in the Force), and that she'll have changed; that she may not remember him.

He's afraid to lose her, he realizes.

Even though he already has.

The green blade pulled back a hands width, just enough for Ciaràn to get his own silver one between it and his body as he leapt up again; though Master Fisto certainly had the advantage as far as leverage, Ciaràn was the one determined not to fail, and that gave him all the edge he needed. Pushing all thoughts of Kate and Obi-Wan and Trials and the weight of judgement to follow from his mind, he focused instead upon the strength lent him by the Force.

Emerald and white-hot-steel clashed together in a flurry too fast for his eyes to follow; his ears rang with the hiss of each strike, and for one gut wrenching moment the penetrating smell of ozone threatened to overwhelm him as the two weapons were crossed before the combatants' faces--

And then the Nautolan's lightsabre winked out, and Ciaràn, whose weight had all been directed into that final offensive, stumbled forward as the Jedi Master stepped fluidly to the side. Only his years of conditioning allowed him to turn his fall into a flip, though he still landed hard and awkwardly flat-footed.

He turned to find that Master Fisto was already halfway across the room. On some level, it bothered him that the Nautolan did not seem in the least bit affected by the exertion of the duel, though he was breathing hard and fighting to control his anger at the constant evasion.

This is not what I prepared for!

"Well done, Padawan," Master Fisto said solemnly. "Well fought." He had reached the starting line, and turned to give Ciaràn the customary honorific bow. When he rose, the Zabrak caught the briefest glimpse of a smile upon the Nautolan's lips. "Allow me to be the first to wish you luck on your Trial of Skill."

Luck-- So this was not--?

Master Fisto was leaving the ring.

Master Drallig was walking towards him.