Dang it, Ani thought, doing her one hundred and fifth flip in the air. Couldn’t keep my mouth shut, could I? As usual, I make the littlest mistakes, which result in the biggest consequences. Why I haven’t ever patched them up, I have no idea. Dumb, dumb me. Wish I hadn’t been chosen, no wait, don’t wish that. At least now I have a chance to become a Jedi Knight, whereas I didn’t have a chance before. She was doing flips for her master, who ordered her to do one hundred and thirty of them. The reason: She had spoken to Master Unduli in the presence of her master, despite having been told to remain silent unless spoken too. Did that mean she shouldn’t have told them dinner was ready? If she had a death wish, she would ask that out loud. Panting hard, she set out on her one hundred and sixth flip. Near her, her master barked, “Keep them up, Padawan. Don’t let your focus down. Come on! I’ve seen banthas do more flips in less time than what you’re doing right now!”
“I’m…trying, Master,” Ani panted, now on her one hundred and tenth flip. Her legs felt so shaky right now. Her dark gray practice clothing was drenched in sweat by now. She’d need a new set soon.
“Well, you’re going to have to do a lot better if you want to be as good as the Masters here in the Temple. No trying, do or do not. Don’t forget Master Yoda’s lessons, or I’ll make you sit through more of his lectures! I can’t believe you actually won second place in the Annual Lightsaber Tournament! You certainly don’t do things very well, or very thoroughly that I can see. Well, I’m just going to have to make sure everything sticks with a little bit of…persuasion.” Ani shuddered when she heard that word combined with that tone of voice. There was nothing she hated more in the galaxy than Master Pollo’s form of persuasion, which could range from physical persuasion (beatings) to mental persuasion (Force suggestions). None of them appealed to her. Soon, she was done.
“Alright, Padawan, you’re done now.” Ani complied by sitting on the floor, meditation position, waiting for her next orders. “Now, we spar.” Drawing out her orange lightsaber, Kaiya bowed to her padawan, who drew out her deep blue lightsabers with a barely audible sigh, stood up and bowed back.
Soon, they were doing katas and attack combinations well past Ani’s age group, not that she didn’t know that, but to argue would be futile, not to mention that it would also hurt, a lot. She parried and wove herself between lightsaber strokes, like she was taught, and using her flexible body as a weapon in of itself. When she got sliced in the leg by Kaiya’s lightsaber, she just closed her mind to the pain. She was numb to it. It didn’t matter whether or not she survived or not. She didn’t care. She was sick of caring. If her master didn’t push her past her limit, the Clone Wars would, and either way she’d be dead. Soon, she let the lightsaber get knocked out of her grasp and force-pushed to the floor. Her head smacked it so hard, she saw stars and the lights flicker in and out of focus. Kaiya stormed over to her, still holding her lit lightsaber.
“I thought,” Kaiya flicked the settings on low and her lightsaber came flashing down, as hard and bright as her master’s eyes, “I told you,” it raked through her upper arm, all the way down the right thigh and bottom leg, “to be on your guard all the time?”
“Yes Master. Sure. Whatever,” Ani said dully, refusing to be aware of the pain. All she could do was berate herself for the rest of their session for not being good enough, nor being conscientious of the pain, for Master Pollo.
“Now,” Kaiya raked her lightsaber back up the right leg, “let that serve as a lesson to you: You’re not good enough and you’ll never be good enough. Now, stand up. You will practice more while I go back to our quarters, planning for our next mission.”
“Yes, Master,” Ani repeated like a robot. Once her master had gone out of the room and went down the hall to their rooms, she escaped to the vine-covered area in the Room of a Thousand Fountains. She knew she would be safe there, for a little while at least.
As she lay inside her sanctuary, using the Force to heal herself, she heard voices coming towards her. Her eyes widened, and she quickly moved back, not yet fully healed, to become one with the shadows. A moment later, the entrance parted, for two beings to silently glide on through and to close up the entrance. It was dark, except for the tiny slivers of moonlight shining through the cracks in the leaves and twigs and branches. She looked closer. One of the beings was Barriss Offee, she knew, but she could not tell at first who the other being was. As she looked closer, she wrinkled her brow in puzzlement. It was Master Luminara Unduli, but what was she doing here?
“Come on out, Ani, we know you’re there,” Barriss said, grinning. Ani shyly peeked out from her corner, not completely healed of her injuries. Both women stared.
“I’m not hurt that bad!” Ani said, narrowing her eyes.
I’m not hurt that bad.
“Then what do you call all those injuries on your leg and arms?” Luminara asked
wryly. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw a particularly deep wound in
the youngling’s right leg.
“It’s nothing,” Ani tried to reassure them. In response, Luminara and Barriss went on either side of her, lifted her up, and started to carry her out of the alcove. “No, please don’t take me out!” the youngling exclaimed, trying to twist out of both women’s iron-like grip. “If my master sees you at the door with me, she’ll rip me apart! The same thing will happen if I go to the healers! Let me stay here for just a little while; I swear I won’t be a bother to you.” The two women paused, glanced at each other, and went back inside the alcove, making sure that the entrance was fully covered and blocked from any outside intrusion. Then they turned their attention fully to the problem that was at hand: helping to calm down the girl and find out who or what had caused all those injuries.
“What happened to you, Ani,” Barriss asked, doing a double-take as she examined the burns with a healer’s eye.
“N-nothing, Barriss,” Ani responded, trying to sneak out. Again, her plans were thwarted when Barriss caught her with the Force. Ani looked like she was trying not to panic.
“Luminara, please hold Ani while I figure out what needs healing,” Barriss directed, not taking ‘no’ for an answer. Sighing, Luminara pulled the small girl across her lap in order to secure her grip above and under the shoulder blades, and felt her skin tingle with contact. Ani fit right inside her arms as easily as if she belonged there, and as if knowing it she immediately relaxed. At the back of her mind, the Jedi Master felt threads of a bond she did not want begin to form. Trying to put up her shields, she found that it only served for the bond to form faster, so she put them down, only to hear a very faint voice in the back of her head.
/My fault; it’s all my fault, as usual./
/No it isn’t young one./ She felt the youngling tense in her arms.
“Done!” Barriss exclaimed. “Alright, you can go back to your quarters, Ani.” Ani twisted herself out of Luminara’s tight grip and stood. Luminara looked at her concerned. “Padawan, if you take another beating like that, you may not survive.”
“It doesn’t matter, Master Unduli,” the girl said dully. “This is what I deserved. It doesn’t hurt if you don’t focus on the pain, and if you keep getting beat up like this, you eventually become numb to the pain, and it doesn’t matter anymore whether or not you live or die. I deserved it. If I die, who cares? I’ll probably deserve that too.”
“Ani – “ Barriss began, a crease forming between her eyebrows.
“No, Barriss, I – I can’t!” Anger coursed through her; in an attempt to control it, she spotted a little bit of glass lying on the ground. Using the Force, she called it to her hand and stuck it in her arm. Blood shot out and started to drip out of the wound. “There,” she said, leaving the piece of glass stuck in her arm, “that should do.”
“Ani,” Luminara exclaimed, grabbing her shoulders, “look at what you did! You just stuck a piece of glass in your arm, and you say it doesn’t hurt?!”
“It doesn’t,” Ani shrugged as Barriss pulled it out and used the Force to heal it. “It helps me concentrate in order to keep the anger at bay.”
“Do you do this a lot?” Barriss asked, careful to not sound accusatory.
“Yeah.” Barriss and Luminara looked at each other, shocked.
“Does your master know?”
“Do you care, Master Unduli?” All of a sudden, it dawned on Luminara.
“Is it your master who beats you up?”
“No.” The answer came way too quick for Luminara’s liking.
“Master Unduli – “
“She does, doesn’t she?” When she saw the youngling start to shake with fear, she softened her voice. “Doesn’t she?”
“Yes,” Ani whispered softly, so softly that they had to strain their ears to hear it. She gulped. Without thinking, Luminara turned the girl around, took her way too thin shoulders and gently hugged her. Barriss watched it with a secret smile: her former master was connecting to the girl, warming up to her. This was going better than she had hoped for. Her brow furrowed again. Now the hard part would be severing the relationship between Ani and her current master.
It wasn’t that they didn’t have cause; it was presenting the evidence – what there was of it – to the Council. If she knew Kaiya Pollo well, she wouldn’t give up her Padawan for anything. They would have to catch Pollo in the act when she would beat up her Padawan, but how? A plan suddenly formed in her brain. After discussing it with Luminara and Ani, who agreed, they set around to perfecting it, so hopefully their plan to catch Knight Pollo in the act would turn out for the good of all.
Would it, though? Barriss certainly hoped so, but in her experience, something nearly always went wrong. She still hoped that this would be a piece of cake.
Unfortunately, it would not be so.