There was a book called ‘The Art of War and Battle.” It was a large, lavishly illustrated book of images and discussions about paintings and depictions of warfare throughout the history of the galaxy. What I enjoyed reading the most however, were the quotes from many famous and not so famous people. Some were warriors, some were innocent bystanders and some were instigators. It was one of the books my mother had brought with her after she married my father. It was one of my favourites for reasons I could never explain.
I had spent hours pouring through the pages, studying the often garish and horrific images presented to me there. I read the quotes over and over again, thinking about the people who had uttered these statements and wondering, if they could have turned back the clock and changed the way things had happened if they would have done so.
One quote in particular always stuck with me.
“To watch a battle, a brawl or a fight between two foes is to watch an unchoreographed dance. At first glance, the movements are all chaos and madness, faster than the eye can follow but step in closer and you see each foot fall is precious, each sweep of the hand and blade exacting. For those in the fray everything happens in time slowed down. One second elongates, each moment captured by the desire to prolong one's life before it can be claimed by one’s foe. For those who stand at the sides of the field and watch, it is sheer madness, a blur to the eyes, an insult on the ears and a wound to the soul that can never be repaired. Only when one enters the battle does one understand what an extraordinary thing it is, only after one is able to walk away from the same battle does one understand what a gift life is.”
The cantina exploded into motion in the single blink of an eye. The door to the upper offices opened and Lianna came out. She was not dressed as a dancer any more. She was clothed in a slick one piece jump suit, and she held a small brown satchel in her left hand, in her right she held a blaster pistol. She had been expecting trouble the moment she walked through the door and from the backward glance she gave the door there had been people following her down the stairs as well. She shut the door fast and blasted the lock. The look on her face was one of determination not fear, not worry, just a look of ‘get the job done.’
Navaari looked at me. “She may dance, but she is not a dancer. She is a predator.”
I looked back at him and said nothing. I had no answers. I had only the words of the Emperor in my ears telling me to watch out for her, telling me that she was precious to him, asking me to take care of her. If this was a test, it was an unfair one. She looked to me as though she could take on an entire army and win. I, on the other hand, did not feel remotely prepared for such a thing.
“Observe.” Navaari said and he pointed to the two who had been standing across from the man in black. They had drawn their weapons and had gone into a battle stance, ready to aim and shoot. I followed Navaari's finger and saw that the man dressed in black had not moved much at all, still leaned against the wall and watched. He was, to the casual observer, not a threat but a disinterested bystander. The two by the door had drawn their weapons also but kept them down, hidden. I looked back at the man in black. There was something compelling about him, something familiar. I could not see his face or anything about him that would give me a clue as to why I would feel this way, but there was a ripple about him that told me this was not the first time we had met, that he was in touch with the Force but he was hiding it.
The two across from him had nervous trigger fingers and they fired the first blaster shots at Lianna who ducked and avoided them easily all the while making her way towards the doorway, the only visible way out. Her shots, aimed at taking the two of them out were accurate and deadly. She had been very well trained. She did not once stop moving and as the cantina around her erupted into utter chaos with people either screaming and trying to get under something or yelling and trying to join in. She appeared to me to waltz gracefully through it all.
It is inevitable that when anyone starts some sort of a fight in a cantina, especially a low end dive like this one, people will join in. The motto anything for a good fight seems to be the life blood of places like this. Better than the latest Holo-stories.
As she made her way from the doorway behind the bar to the front entrance she was engaged by several burly men who thought they’d like a piece of the action. I watched in a stunned sort of awe at her speed and certainty as she took them out one by one. She had been well trained in martial arts and she moved with such elegance that I felt a pang of envy. She had made it almost two thirds of the way through the room when out of the corner of my eye I saw the man in black finally move. He walked slowly with a languid grace. He paid absolutely no attention to anything else that was going on around him, not the flying bottles and drinks, not the flailing bodies and fists. He closed in on Lianna and she did not appear to notice him at all, too many other things were taking up her attention.
The two guardsmen at the front door had drawn their weapons and were aiming at her but she saw them and fired first. One she hit, one she missed and had to duck to escape his shot. As she began to stand back up so someone fell into her knocking her forward and the bag she had held in her land went flying under the tables and slid not very far away from where Navaari and I were standing. I went to move for it but Navaari moved fast and stepped in front of me. He grasped my arm with a hand that griped like a vice.
“Do not move.” He hissed. “Wait, I will tell you when the time is right. On this you must trust me.”
I nodded and took a deep breath. It seemed to me that we two were an island in a sea of absolute madness. I got control of my breathing and slowed it right down. Become the stillness do not seek it out. Navaari watched me as I found my center. I felt his smile and approval. He let go of my arm and handed me my culling staff.
I let the Force surround me. I stretched out with it to where the satchel Lianna had been carrying had landed and I touched it with my mind. Slowly I let its form and shape, its weight become crystal clear to me and with this weirding power I had known since I was born, I began to force move the bag towards me. I let it drag low along the ground and the process was slow but I did not want to attract any attention to it. A bag moving itself across the floor was bound to raise a few eyebrows. When it was within reach I caught the strap of it with the end of my culling staff and pulled it to me. Navaari stood in front of me hiding me from the rest of the room while I slipped my cloak off to shrug the satchel across the other shoulder, when I had my cloak back on he nodded.
“You are of the Schai’tai’kha. My people speak of such things but I have not seen it until today.” He whispered. “Be ready, the time for action will be swift and soon. Let me lead and when I say, you must leave. No matter what you must get out of this building and trust me to do my job.”
I nodded. He stepped aside so that I could see Lianna had fallen on the ground but had rolled to a crouch and was fighting the remaining guardsman from the doorway. She still had not seen the man in black who had made his way to stand close behind her, in a position of power. He was drawing a weapon from behind his back.
I wanted to yell out a warning but Navaari clamped a gloved hand over my mouth. He let me go but waved his forefinger back and forth.
“Follow me. Do as I do.” He said and I did. He walked away from our corner, away from the main fight towards the far end of the room, as though he wanted to get away from the fight that was slowly advancing forward. I watched as he took from underneath his cloak a tiny object. He showed it to me, lying in the palm of his hand. A flat wheel with sharp pointed dags made from bone. It looked like a multi pointed star. He took a second to size up his target and then with astounding accuracy and minimal movement, he flicked it across the room where it landed with a sharp crack directly into the forehead of the Guardsman who had been about to shoot once again at Lianna. Both she and the man in black looked about them to see where it had come from but they did not, for reasons I couldn’t understand, see or notice us.
“No one sees what they do not expect.” Navaari said by way of explanation, seeing my puzzled expression and he was suddenly on the move again. I followed like a clumsy shadow and tried to keep an eye on Lianna who was now fighting three people at once. The man in black was still stalking her and would have her in a few moments if she did not see him seen. How could he be so invisible to her and yet not to us? I wondered why he simply did not just shoot her. We moved towards him in a manner that was beguiling and misleading. I was at a loss for words. I had known that the Dantassi were among the best hunters in the galaxy but I had never seen, aside from Za’ar, one in action before. Navaari was as good as he had said he was. He moved with an ease through the fighting chaos that was beautiful. He tracked the man in black until we were very close to him but still he did not sense a threat from either of us. There was too much going on around him and he only had eyes for his target. I wondered how he could not notice us, still as statues amidst the utter chaos that surrounded him.
“There will only be one moment, Tjällh. Be swift as snow across ice. Be deadly as the cold.” He said.
The moment, when it came, was like a flower opening to the sun. It was as if time had slowed right down and everything moved as though through water. Lianna finally subdued the last of the bar brawlers who had decided she looked like fair game and had stopped moving for a second. She caught her breath and was about to look for her satchel when the man in black slowly, carefully raised his blaster and pointed it at her chest. Their eyes met for a split second and she moved to dodge the shot but before he could squeeze the trigger I launched myself at him and swung hard against the back of his legs with the blunt side of my culling staff. He buckled backwards under the blow and the shot went high, hitting the ceiling. I sensed the attention of the brawlers around us suddenly turn on me and then felt rather than saw Navaari go into action. He was so fast his movements were blurred. I had only one target to worry about. The man in black had dropped his blaster as he had gone down but when he rolled over to get to his feet he reached around to his back and drew out a long blade then turned to face me.
His eyes were as blue as the sky and they looked at me with such intensity it was unnerving. Somewhere deep in the back of my mind I knew those eyes. We circled each other for a second then he moved. He was fast, but it was a move I knew and I countered it easily. I deflected his advances with the culling staff and managed to get in several hard blows before he found a way to block the staff and we began to fight in earnest. I don’t know how long we went at it. It seemed like forever and there was a moment when I felt as though I had slipped backwards in time. I knew his moves and he seemed to sense mine. When he managed to knock me on my ass and kick my weapon away from me I felt a shiver of fear. He lunged at me and we rolled on the floor amidst the broken glass, the blood and the mess of furniture. He managed to straddle me and had the knife at my throat, his free hand trying to pull away mine that was protecting my neck. With my other hand I reached up and from my hair I pulled the bone needle. I didn’t even think about it I just plunged it as hard as I could into one of his hands. He yelled in pain, dropped his blade in surprise. I kicked around and twisted my body, throwing him off me. I was on my feet before he was. The bone needle had punched clear through his hand. I glanced at the bloody hair needle in my hand. I kicked the fallen knife as far away from him as I could and backed up to where my culling staff lay. He moved suddenly and unexpectedly, picking up a fallen blaster and he pirouetted around to get off one shot, before Navaari could get to Lianna and pull her down. It caught her square between the shoulder blades. She screamed and arched backwards as the blast hit her and then fell to the ground. I had slipped the bone needle in my satchel and held my culling staff in both hands. I moved faster than I thought I ever could and flew at him, smashing the staff against the side of his knee. He went down in agony. I knelt on his chest with one knee and ripped off his mask.
In that moment he could have killed me if he had wished, so great was my surprise. In his ice blue eyes that I had once loved there was not an ounce of recognition. He did not know who I was. He had not seen past the face paint and clothes yet. My heart ached seeing him again and without thinking about the consequences I whispered his name out loud. His eyes suddenly widened as he realised that I was not a stranger. It took a few seconds more and he placed the face beneath the paint. A thousand questions flashed across his face and he opened his mouth to say something. Then he realised that we were on opposite ends of a fight and that I was not paying attention.
What he would have done if he had gotten free I don’t know, he had been as shocked at seeing me as I had been seeing him. I did not think about it, I was faster than he was and unhurt. Before he could say my name or act I cat’s pawed his jaw as hard as I could and knocked him out. I would have, could have killed him without even knowing who it was. I did not want to think about it. I knelt on the ground, reached out and touched his face, staring at him for what seemed to me to be forever. If Navaari had not made his way to me and physically yanked me to my feet I probably would still be sitting there.
“We leave now” he hissed. “Do not look back, the one you protect is safe and I am right behind you.”
I did as he said. No hesitation and I did not look back. I could not look back. It would break my heart to do so. What was Jyrki doing here? Why was he after Lianna? None of this could be a coincidence. Had the Emperor foreseen this happening? There were too many questions, too many uncertainties with no answers. I made my way through the still chaotic, fighting crowd and slipped out the door to the outside. The cold air bit into my lungs with a sting that made my eyes water and the back of my throat ache. I sensed rather than saw Navaari behind me and I moved quickly to my ship with him following. He had Lianna slung over his shoulder. I opened the door with the vocal pass command and without waiting to see if he made it on board ran to the cockpit and began the start up sequence that was already on emergency warm up.
We began lift off when the comm traffic started telling me I could not take off that I was unauthorized to do so. I grabbed my headset and babbled some frantic garbage about having a medical emergency and I was taking off with or without permission.
Their answer was very rude and made me laugh, but they let me go anyway. I guessed they had other things to worry about. I saw by the con panel light that the ramp was up and the door closed. I desperately wanted to check and see if he and Lianna were okay but someone had to fly the ship. I shrugged off my cloak and the two satchels, sat in my chair and got to work.