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01.15.2012 , 01:59 AM | #4
Meet me there at midnight.

That was what Nema had said. Well, she was 'there', it was midnight, and Nema was nowhere to be seen. The training grounds were empty, save for Zahira. The air was cool and soothing, a light breeze caressing her cheek as if it could feel the young girl's anxiety and wanted to send it soaring into the twilight. All else was silent. Yet, for all the lack of activity, the night was not wanting of life.

Zahira could feel them all. Small, glowing grains of luminescence in the desert of the dark. It was like feeling heartbeats in your chest that were not your own. Animals were little more than barely imperceptible flutters but each of her fellow Jedi added their individual pulse to her own. Nema was in there somewhere.

"If only she was here." Zahira groaned, trying her utmost to prevent her impatience from turning into ingratitude. Nema didn't have to do this. To help her train. To help a fellow competitor. It wasn’t as if she doubted Nema’s intentions or even her capacity for generosity but Zahira had to admit to herself that if the positions were reversed, she was not sure she would be as charitable.

The thought made her uneasy. The idea that she would place herself over another was anathema to everything she had ever learned. All she knew was that, more than anything, she wanted to be a Jedi. Not just a student but a genuine Jedi. But why?

She certainly didn’t have the answer. It was never a question that Zahira ever bothered to contemplate and she wasn’t going to bother at the moment. “No distractions,” she chided. “Focus on the now.”

Zahira sat down in the middle of the training grounds, cushioned by the soft grass, assuming a basic lotus position and resting each of her feet on their adjacent thigh. Mindful to keep her spine straightened, she closed her eyes and began to breathe deeply. Her mind threatened to rebel, to lead her astray with superfluous thoughts and tangents.

She thought of the Void. Her mind was a type of sea, just as the Void was. Her thoughts, like sediment or mud. When active, the sea churned up the depths and muddied the waters. When calm, those particles drifted to the bottom, settling and fading away. With each new breath, the waters of her mind were calming. Eventually, peace washed over her and she was adrift. Through the darkness of her trance, she could see someone. It was her. Her sight had somehow escaped her eyes, fleeing her body altogether. She was both spectator and participant.

Zahira knew, in the furthest part of her mind, that she was actually sitting. Resting like a stone in the middle of the training grounds. Yet, here she was before her eyes, standing at the ready. It was clearer than usual. Zahira could see herself. She wore the same brown robes that she was wearing now but was armed. A training saber was grasped tightly in her hands, held high before her like a torch. She was facing down an opponent, muscles tense and resolve strong. Beyond, from the dark, it emerged. The Ghost. Zahira could tell that it was the same spectral being from her last vision. Without reason, she simply knew.

Its assault started immediately. Raising its own shadowy blade up high, the Ghost darted in and swung a sweeping blow towards Zahira’s neck. She did not move. It never connected. Somehow, the attack paused before it could reach her body, as if Zahira had blocked it even though she stood still as a statue. The Ghost’s blade had clashed with an invisible force that Zahira could not see. Not to be deterred, it tried once more, cutting low at Zahira’s thighs. Again, the Ghost was repelled by whatever shield was protecting the girl.

The Ghost drew back, pulling its weapon back and then stabbing towards the girl’s stomach. For each attempt, the Ghost could not break through to strike its foe. The stabbing motion gave way to a rising slash. The Ghost’s blade rose up, clashing with the unseen wall that protected Zahira. There was a burst of light and the Ghost fell back, somehow defeated even though she had never lifted a finger. She could still see herself, standing tall, as the Ghost faded back into the gloom.

“Hey!” a voice cried out in her ear. Her eyes snapped open and she groggily was drawn back to the training grounds. Her eyesight cleared and she could see the voice’s source. Nema Traylent stood right beside her, dressed in simple training garb. She stared quizzically at Zahira. “Oh, you’re awake.”

“I am now.” Zahira offered, rising to her feet and offering her fellow Initiate a curt bow. She had not noticed the switch from meditation to dream, if there really was one at all. Coming back to her senses felt jarring. Looking over Nema, she noticed that her new teacher was holding two training sabers in her hands. Nema walked away from her, leaving a few yards between them, before tossing one of the sabers at her. It tumbled through the air, colliding awkwardly with Zahira, who scrambled to catch it.

“Well, wake up more.” Nema said, smirking at the other girl’s uncoordinated display. “We’ve got work to do.”

“Right.” Zahira nodded, switching her training saber on and feeling its weight in her hand. It was barely noticeable at all. The soft yellow glow of its energy basked over her and although it was contained by a small metal caging, it felt remarkably like a normal lightsaber.

Zahira had only used a real lightsaber once or twice but it hadn’t felt much different than a training saber. Some of the more conservative of her teachers could often be heard complaining that it was not the same thing, often muttering something about “gyroscopic effect” and even some of her fellow students had been known to complain that they didn’t have “the real thing” but she couldn’t notice any major difference between her training saber and a normal lightsaber. The treated durasteel cage around its blade was lighter than a feather, yet stronger than most other metals. The means to create it were known only to the Jedi, even if the galaxy were filled with remarkably similar analogues. She gave it a quick flourish, cutting the air before her.

“Before we begin,” Zahira started, looking at Nema, who was also getting a quick feel of her weapon. “I want to thank you for this. Your kindness is quite remarkable.”

“Don’t mention it.” Nema replied. “So is my modesty.”

Zahira tilted her head at this before commenting. “I’m not sure that a Jedi should-”

“Relax, bookworm.” Nema said, dismissing Zahira with a casual wave of her hand. “I’m joking. You know what a joke is, right?”

“Well, yes, of course I know what I joke is. It’s something said or done to evoke laughter or amusement.”

Nema gave a sigh. ”You get that definition from one of your books, bookworm? Ugh. Nevermind. Now that I have your attention, we might as well begin. This will be a simple sparring session. Contact is allowed, alright? Don’t worry about me. We want to treat this like we want to treat the tournament so don’t hold back. Now, let me see your opening stance.”

Immediately, Zahira snapped her feet together, standing poised. She brought her training saber down before her, its tip pointed towards the grass. Nema observed her for a moment. “Niman?” she questioned.

For some reason, Zahira felt self-conscious. As if her fellow initiate was pointing out a mistake already. “Yes.” she confirmed. “Kind of silly, right?”

“Not at all.” Nema stated. “Being well balanced isn’t ‘silly’. Jedi face all sorts of challenges on missions. Focusing too much on one thing makes it hard to react to anything else. Sure, you don't have a specific focus but when you’re a Jedi, you’ll be well prepared for most challenges.”

When you’re a Jedi? Had Nema actually said that? Zahira couldn’t help but smile. All this time spent doubting herself and Nema spoke as if it was a certainty that they’d both become Jedi. Her confidence was amazing. However, as Zahira smiled, Nema spoke. “Don’t grin too much.” she warned, misreading Zahira’s gesture. “I said ‘well prepared’, not unbeatable. Like I said, other people might have an edge on you. People like…me.”

She gave her saber a flourish and assumed her own opening stance. Her saber rest in her right hand, her thumb pointing down the length of the blade. It was elegant, masterful. “Lightsaber combat is my focus, you see.” Nema explained with a small hint of pride.

“Well, I guess that I am fortunate to have your instruction. You’ll have plenty to teach me, right?” Zahira chimed sanguinely, drawing on some of Nema’s confidence to prepare herself for their match. “Are you ready?”

“When you are.” came the reply.

Zahira paused, taking a quick breath. She did her utmost to focus solely on Nema. The wind seemed to settle. All sound seemed to cut out. There was only the two Initiates. The archivist and the warrior. The teacher and the student. Zahira darted forward, her saber her at the ready. It took only a few quick steps to close the distance toward Nema. Deftly lunging headlong towards her, Zahira drew her blade back and stabbed right at Nema's sternum. Nema stood in place. Zahira's attack was graceful and strong, her form well balanced.

Yet, for all of this, Nema did little more than engage in a casual semi-circular parry, bringing her own training saber up and engaging Zahira's in a bind. There was a flash of light and a burst of sound as their blades connected. Zahira felt her nimble advance shift into a clumsy stumble as Nema forced her blade aside. She felt the shocking crack of Nema's blade against the back of her neck as she staggered past her and tumbled to the ground.

Hazily turning to look at Nema, Zahira was amazed. Her fellow Initiate stood tall, her saber in hand. To the casual onlooker, it would not be extreme to say that Nema was born with her saber in hand. Zahira rose slowly, propping herself up with her traning saber. Nema lowered her weapon and grinned.

"Why did I win?" she asked, a playful light to her eyes. Zahira felt a flash of annoyance grip her heart like a fist. Had Nema only agreed to do this in order to please her own ego? To prey on a weaker enemy for base gratification? No. That wasn't right, was it? Zahira winced as she spoke up.

"You're better than me." she stated.

Nema shook her head. Her grin had dropped almost immediately. "Even if that were completely true, that isn't why I won that exchange. Think again."

She did. Running over the brief match in her mind, Zahira focused on Nema's simple parry. "It was your form. Makashi. It is superior in lightsaber combat. You were able to take me off balance."

"Wrong again." Nema scolded sagaciously. "I'm going to tell you a secret: lightsaber forms mean nothing. Combat isn't some big dejarik game where certain pieces only move a certain way. Everything I said back there before we started? Meant to prove this point: It doesn't matter. The only reason that I won was because I couldn't lose."

Zahira scoffed. "What does that even mean? Because you couldn't lose? Of course you couldn't! Not against me. You're a little full of yourself, you know that?!"

Nema raised a finger, silencing Zahira. "And you're a little judgemental, bookworm. Not just of me either but of yourself. As long as you keep thinking that you can't beat me, I'll keep winning. I didn't win because I was better or because Makashi has an advantage over Niman or anything like that. You lost because you thought you would. Now, get up and we're going to keep doing this until that changes."

And they did. Match after match. Round after round. Zahira would engage, Nema would reply. No matter what she did, Zahira could not best the other girl. For each advance, a riposte. For each thrust, a response. For every action, a feint. Again and again, Zahira was beaten effortlessly. No matter how hard she tried to picture herself victorious over her opponent, how much she willed Nema to falter. It was only by their twelfth exchange that Zahira finally felt something. A small ripple in the back of her mind. A quiet nudge. You know you can do this., it told her. You know.

"We can continue tomorrow, if you like." Nema offered kindly. "There's no need to kick yourself in the rear over this, y'know? Some things just take longer for certain people. Nothing to be ashamed of."

"Again." Zahira ordered.

Falling back into her opening stance, she held her position as Nema rushed in to close the gap. She shot her sword arm out, slashing at Zahira's...neck.

Recognition gripped her mind. She did know that she could do this. She had seen these motions only minutes ago, played out in the depths of her mind like a holorecording of what was to come. Zahira launched her saber upwards, blocking the strike before immediately dropping her blade down toward her thigh. Nema followed up her attack by drawing back and cutting low. Pushing back against the other saber, Zahira dropped her blade, letting it fall to the ground. Nema did not pause, she spun and cut at Zahira's belly. She ducked, dropping to the ground and letting the blade pass only inches above her.

This was it. Nema switched her grip, slashing upwards. Zahira stepped aside, the blade passing right before her face. As it arced upwards, she shot out an elbow right to her fellow Initiate's chest, knocking her down and launching the training saber out of her hand. It clattered to the ground next to her, its low powered energy singeing the grass.

"How did you do that?" Nema Traylant coughed from the ground. Her eyes were wide with shock.

Zahira thought back to the sea of her mind. She thought of the Ghost. Of her standing before it, safe from each of its attacks. She smiled naughtily, like a child caught in the act. "Isn't it obvious?" she remarked. "I can't lose."

Privately, a seductive and exhilarating notion crossed her mind, if only for a moment: The Force is my ally.
'Jeos Dinas'-Ebon Hawk
Manager, The Ebon Hawk Bounty Board
"Perception Problem."