The training salle that served Jedi Battlemaster Cin Drallig as a classroom smelled of sweat from bodies worked to their limits, more so than ever, it seemed, when Asha Scarsi stood there with a group of her yearmates after a grueling martial arts lesson. She wiped sweat from her forehead with the back of her right hand, dislodging brown curls. Her hips ached from falls, and she knew she'd have more of the same in previously unheard-of muscle groups tomorrow.
Battlemaster Drallig walked smoothly to the front of the class, hands loose at his sides, followed by his imposing apprentice, the Zabrak Ciarán Surin. Drallig had asked Asha to bring her flute with her to class, she remembered as the fifteen-odd tired Padawans in line with her straightened up under Drallig's ice-blue gaze. But she had never needed it—just repeated the holds and throws, over and over, singly or with a partner until she was slicked with her own and a few other Padawans' sweat, just like everyone else.
It was nice, in a way, to be treated precisely the same as everyone else. Since she had discovered that nearly all of her Force powers manifested as analogues of musicians' skills, she had had a very different curriculum from the other Jedi. She regularly left the Temple, even as a youngling, to learn and perform at the Coruscant Opera House. She didn't share many combat classes with the Temple population proper, and usually she was glad of that—she wasn't good at combat. There were no notes equivalent to punches or lightsaber strikes, nothing about fighting that she felt she could latch on to, intellectually—not like she could so easily connect beings' emotions with music.
The blisters on her hands from hours of practicing with varied instruments had pointedly not helped her with physical attacks. Drallig had needed to help her and her partner with holds so often that she had begun to feel like a fifth arm on a Pho Ph'eahian—silly and useless.
She shook these self-deprecating thoughts off as best she could as Master Drallig began to speak.
He said, "There are two things that I want you to take from this lesson. The first is that although as Jedi we have an aptitude for and are given some of the best martial arts training in the galaxy, we are also in a way coddled. We are used to opponents who stand in front of us and ceremonially take off their cloaks and activate lightsabers. We can forget that ninety-nine percent of the opponents who will come at us will do so with blasters, or knives, or found weapons like pipes. We need to defend ourselves against such things as well, preferably without causing the grievous harm a lightsaber can inflict. Yes, we may need to harm someone—but an arm lock can do that as effectively as cutting off an arm.
"Second, what all the throws we'll learn have in common is that they use an opponent's momentum against them." He gestured for Ciarán to approach him, and they nodded at one another from a few paces away. "If he punches at me—" Ciarán pulled back one arm in an exaggerated gesture and punched for Drallig's sternum, and Drallig spun him to the ground with a quicker, more forceful version of the throw the class had just learned. Both crouched there as Drallig continued, "I can get him to do whatever I want from here." He released the apprentice and both stood up, Master helping Padawan. "Of course, this only works on humanoids, and only on most of them. Later we'll practice other techniques that don't assume so much about an attacker's anatomy.
Any joint that bends one way can be broken another."
The last couple of sentences of his lecture and his formal dismissal of the class were a blur to Asha as Ciaràn caught her eye and mouthed words to corroborate a message sent through the Force: stay here after class. The sense of the message was not backed by the driving melody she associated with Ciaràn, but with Master Drallig's stately drumbeat; it was an order from above, then.
Asha had never understood why Master Drallig was nicknamed "the Troll." It wasn't because of his body—he was a lean human with an almost gaunt, open face, and a tenor voice with an accent that marked him as high-class Coruscanti. But her friendship with Ciaràn—which she felt was set somewhat aside in class when he became Master Drallig's assistant and she became a klutz—had taught her the reason. Master Drallig's adherence to discipline was as unbreakable as the stones mythical trolls were associated with. He didn't show lay Padawans just how tough and skilled he was, but he showed Jedi Masters, and he showed Ciaràn, and the daily routines Ciaràn described made Asha and whomever else Ciaràn happened to tell about it wince. (Well, it made Asha wince, and Obi-Wan fumble for something to say that would make him sound tough too, and it would make Kate look rather ridiculously impressed--)
Asha did not particularly want to spend any more time than she had to with the Troll until she didn't feel so beat up already.
Her attempt to hum his music occupied the awkward time in which she crossed the room to the flute case she had carefully placed by the wall and stood there while the other Padawans filed out.
With half-hazard words and gestures Drallig indicated that Asha should sit on a cushion just near the wall on the opposite side of the room as he dug around in a storage crate for something. Ciaràn looked slightly confused, but that was as good as a mask for him as he serenely stretched as if in preparation for a fight. Asha had a sudden sinking feeling that she was going to be asked to fight him. Sinking, as in into the ice-water slush-seas supposedly residing under the glaciers of Hoth. Drallig was either looking around for padding for her, or for a blindfold (and perhaps a ysalamiri) to give to Ciaràn to make the whole thing a bit more even.
Drallig turned around with the silver sphere of a remote in his calloused hand.
Oh. So he was going to shoot one of them.
Asha had just a moment to think about how she'd rather be anywhere, including in class listening to Master K'tan drone on about math-infused Givin philosophy, instead of here before Drallig set the remote on the ground and nodded at Ciaràn before himself backing off of the padded floor.
The remote activated with a whirr and rose into the air. Low-powered blasterbolts flared out from it in quick succession, and Ciaràn's lightsaber snapped to life in his hand. He deflected all the bolts, moving around the remote with an enviable grace and concentration.
The firing continued as Drallig stepped onto the mats again and activated his blue lightsaber.
He said, "Asha, I want you to play something."
Then he attacked Ciaràn.
For a moment the Zabrak had to pay attention to both the remote and the Jedi Master suddenly slashing at him. Then he Force pushed the remote into the box, where it quieted either from programming or the impact.
The dance began in earnest. Asha had rarely seen duelists so in sync with one another—each strike merited one block and counter, none of the uncertainty or unnecessary movements that she saw among the more inexperienced Padawans. The battlemaster and his Padawan were economical about their movements, and loose and wary as cats.
But just a few hums of the lightsabers brought Asha back to herself, and she lifted the flute to her lips. What to play? There must be a reason Drallig had wanted her to. Not just to teach Ciaràn not to be distracted by the music…yes and no—to use her Force persuasion. A small glow of happiness (as close to revenge as a Jedi got, she supposed) filled her as she realized Drallig was going to use her power against Ciaràn. One of her most recently acquired songs would fit—it burbled out at first, fast and clear as a flute could be, then, slowed down, like water from a fast river mellowing into a delta. This song held the death of a way of life, held, worse, resignation—a man's love has left him and will not return, or something like that, she didn't need to know the story behind the song to know the exquisite sadness in the wake of every note. She forgot the trapped sweat drying between her clothing and her skin. She forgot her surroundings as she played—the world became the russet wall her eyes were unseeingly focused on, and it became the music that pulled her fingers and her breath along as if it was playing her, and it became what she supposed other Jedi felt when they used mind tricks.
She didn't resurface until Ciaràn's boots stamped loudly in front of her and she had to shift her mouth or else not look at him possibly falling on her—
But he stepped aside far ahead of time, and she looked up to see him slightly bent over on the edge of the padded floor, eyes shards of burnished gold. The Battlemaster walked toward him with even steps, lightsaber held loosely in a basic guard. "What's wrong, Padawan? I think this is the first time I've seen you retreat since…"
Ciaràn blinked, a mental shake, and straightened up, saber ready. "Sorry master. I…"
Ciaràn blinked again.
"You felt sad, you proud barve. You felt like I was going to hit you and you weren't going to be able to get up. And that's weird for you."
Ciaràn struck at Drallig, but it was a feint—his saber arced and hit Drallig's anyway, driving both terminal curves nearly to the ground. "Asha", Master Drallig said in the midst of this, "Play me something heartening for Ciaràn."
It took her a moment to think of something 'heartening' that wasn't the Republic anthem, but then she remembered one of the marches from Dha Wherda Verda and launched into it. It would have been infinitely better with a brace of strings, she thought, and maybe a lute-pipe—but a flute was what she had.
More battling. More feet scuffling and stamping, and she paid them little attention, focusing instead on the notes and the all-important flow of air, as important to her as to any martial artist.
This time, after a flurry of movement and loud hums, Asha heard a grunt and Drallig called a halt to the match and the music. She looked up to see Drallig crouching near a corner, silver lightsaber-tip at his throat and one sleeve blackened and smoking. With the dark smoke wafting away to nothingness in front of his pale, lightwashed cheek, for a moment he looked devilish. Then Ciaràn smiled and held out a hand, and Drallig returned the pleasant smile and let himself be pulled upright.
Asha looked up, then stood, flute in hand, as Drallig and Ciaràn approached her across the padded floor. The theme of The Shadow King still dimly traced through her head. Drallig gave an enthusiastic, thin-lipped smile. "Thank you, Asha." For a moment he spoke words for Ciaràn, too quietly for her to hear them.
Then the battlemaster looked from one Padawan to another, uniting them both. "The first song disheartened my Padawan enough for him to almost give up on fighting—this when I wasn't doing too well myself. The second—I was overpowered. All because of Asha's music—and I don't think we are the sort of people to be affected by a song alone. I was barely paying attention to the music, but I felt its influence. You have a great power, Asha. I brought you here today partly because I didn't believe there could be such a thing, such a variant on battle meditation. But it worked very well."
He spoke simply to both of them, then dismissed them both from the classroom. Asha put away her flute carefully.
"You have a gift," Drallig said to her in passing. "Don't undervalue it."
A warm glow of pride grew within Asha as she walked back to her quarters with her flute case in her hand. She wanted to rest and have tea and stave off aches. But her earlier, unphysical pain of being not-so-talented at martial arts had slackened from Drallig's unexpected compliment, and so the afternoon did not seem so cold as it might have.
She sat with Ciaràn in the mess hall the next day at lunch, or at least they both sat with Obi-Wan. But Obi-Wan had not returned from getting his meal of hawkbat eggs and nerfmeat soup, and Ciaràn unexpectedly fixed Asha with an attentive gaze she had to blink away from.
"I didn't just fight well, yesterday when you played music for Master Drallig. I had expected to be angry that he beat me, and I wasn't. You made me calm down, not get vengeful."
There was more to say, it seemed, and Asha thought of how Ciaràn had changed since Kate had left, become more snappish. But then Obi-Wan returned to the table and Ciaràn slipped away to their world of banter.
The little glow from yesterday returned, quiet but stronger than before. She had made a difference.