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Duel Something In The Way

little trouble
Character


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PROSPERITY | TEMPLE TRAINING GROUNDS | SPARRING ARENA
Long is the way and hard,
that out of Hell leads up to light.

ALL I KNOW IS TO DESTROY

The Bryn’adûl had been as merciless and monstrous as all the news outlets had proclaimed. Nobody had lied. She’d felt their blood, almost drowned in it, almost had her back broken by one of the megalith ones protecting the great Titan. And she’d come away with a head. It scared her as much as it exhilarated her, but it mostly fuelled her purpose. Reminding her how much darkness there was to extinguish across the galaxy. How terrible people could be.

In contrast, Muunilist had been a very raw and human experience. She’d felt the stabs of fear and pain from the soldiers that had chased her and Bernard done. They were mindless pawns of The Emperor, serving for a purpose that was only to subject the galaxy beneath a suffocating shadow –– but they’d cried. Bled. Screamed.

Just as she had.

Reminders of that brought restlessness to her bed that twisted her, knotting up the sheets around her legs every night. Flashing memories counteracting the necessity she’d hardened as her rationale. The stress blocked her conscience from letting her fall into the blackness behind her eyes, and blink blissfully out.

There were other memories, too though –– that were confounding in a different way:
After seeing Bernard wield his saber on Muunilinst, she was knitted with curiosity and intrigue. Did he still know how to use it after losing his connection through The Force? For a Jedi, their lightsword was like an extension of themselves –– was that still the case? Did the Kyber still thrum and maintain the intimacy a warrior needed with their weapon? She had to know.

Where better to put that thing to use than Prosperity’s sparring arena? It was not as threatening as the battlefield, and this sort of exercise was a form of meditation for her. A destresser as she processed through all the pain sustained from Nar Kreeta right into the Braxant Run.

All white and carved out with a gentle slope that merged into the walls, the circular room was designed to force two (or more) contestants to focus on one another. There were no distracting colours or obstacles to draw attention away from the fight. No environmental advantages to be had –– only the hunters and the prey.

That was until someone decided to interfere with the settings and introduce such distractions. The entire composition of the room was isolated from the rest of Prosperity’s atmosphere. Pressure could be raised, gravity could be eliminated, the walls could superheat, beams could drop and rise..but for now, the room was pristine.

“So how’d you lose it?” Ishida asked, her tone so casual it was as if she were asking Bernard of Arca Bernard of Arca his favourite colour. Her expression remained listless, not even looking up from the re-stringing the extended hilt of her blade. It was longer than average, mimicking the composition of her more familiar Katana –– the weapon her father had rigorously trained her with. It’s balance, weight, all just made sense.

Methodically, she wound a red ribbon around the grip. Strand over strand, over strand, over strand.

"Your connection to The Force." She clarified, as if it weren't obvious enough, but kept her grey eyes trained on the interaction between her fingers and the ribbon, so as not to bore into Bernard’s and put him even more on the spot.

Finally, she tested the tightness of her wrap, balancing it in her hand, flexing her fingers against the grip and turned to look at him on the sidelines, before pointing with her chin to the centre of the arena.


 
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Go wash the hand that still betrays thy guilt;
Before the spirit’s gaze what stain can hide?

-----
Erase

Uneasiness rolled through Bernard. He fidgeted with the crystal emitter of his lightsabre, gloved hands rubbing against the preternaturally cold metal. Even through reinforced leather, it felt like ice against his skin. His palm had gone numb, streaks of bitter fire flaring at its edges where sensation still persisted. He didn't mind it now. It was grounding. Kept his mind in the present. The thoughts that boiled up and threatened to rob him of his clarity calmed and faded away when he brought his attention to the cold.

The days leading up to this duel he'd hoped some unforeseen circumstance would interfere and break it off. When the time came and he was summoned to the arena, he'd felt as though he walked towards the gallows, a deep pit in his stomach. It wasn't that the idea of sparring terrified him, but the thought of facing another Jedi simply didn't sit right with him, not anymore. Not since Lanik.

After Kuat, their first encounter, it had become difficult to face other Jedi in combat. He'd felt restraint slip, grown too heavy-handed in his attacks. Victories became empty and losses devastating. Every fight seemed to replay the events of Kuat in one way or another. Then, after Ragoon V, he'd sworn off meeting another Jedi in combat altogether. Any spare time he didn't spend meditating or completing Marshal work was spent sparring with training droids. Something about their empty, metallic gazes when their sabres clashed had been liberating.

But now he stood across from a living opponent again. For the first time in nearly five years. He looked to the other side of the arena. Ishida's flowing white hair was much like the silver of Lanik's as she worked on the wrapping of her blade's hilt. He thought he'd seen a glimpse of him on Muunilinst, silver strands disappearing behind a rack of carpets. A trick of the mind, nothing more. Lanik was dead. If anyone could be sure of that it was he.

The cold metal came to be the focal point of his thoughts again.

“So how’d you lose it?” Ishida's voice was flat, the room's unique architecture robbing it of any echo.

Bernard steeled his gaze. In all the build-up to the current moment, the possibility of that question hadn't crossed his mind.

"Your connection to The Force."

He nodded to himself and gave a soft exhale of air. Of course, she would want to know about that. Loss was by no means unknown to Jedi. Battlefields were replete with danger. Most Jedi didn't escape them unscathed, usually coming away with blaster burns, shrapnel wounds, blade cuts, or, in extreme cases, the loss of a whole limb. Bernard had seen his fair share of injury, too, but in losing his connection to the Force he'd become somewhat of a rarity among the Jedi.

He considered the question for a few moments, uncertain where to begin. If he were honest with himself, he'd become unworthy of wielding the Force the first time he'd lain eyes on Lanik and drawn his blade to kill. Yet, the Force had stayed with him through that, even when he'd finally done what he'd promised to do on Kuat. For some reason, he'd only become deaf to the Force much later, at the academy. Perhaps it was best to start there, then.

"Have you heard about what happened on Korriban? About the Academy there, I mean," he said.

His grip around the lightsabre's metal tensed as impressions from the day resurfaced. The leather of his gloves creaked quietly. He saw their eyes again, filled with fear, heard the echoes of desperate pleas haunt his memory. The crackling of fire seemed to fill the room, and auburn hair flashed in his mind's eye.

He let out a long breath and closed his eyes. His palm still burned with that bitter fire. The cold kept him grounded.

 
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little trouble
Character

"Have you heard about what happened on Korriban? About the Academy there, I mean,"

“Of course I have.” Ishida snorted.

Without further fanfare, she stepped from the sidelines into the outer ring of the designated arena. The stillness of the room was eerie at firs. The low pitter-patter of her advancing footsteps, no matter how evenly paced and measured, seemed decibels above normal. That was until she drew in a deep, resonating breath –– centering her blade with her spine. Parallel with one another. Vertical. Both essential to survival. Both required strict posturing. She held this pose for a few seconds, giving Bernard the space to follow suit with whatever ritualistic preparations he saw fit.

When he was ready, she activated the blade. Immediately, her presence was split with a glowing white humm. Symmetry in its finest form.
Except for the subtle quiver that coursed through her left knuckles. To counter this, she tightened her grip.

Ozone filled her lungs, and she gave a small, tight nod that indicated her preparedness.

The next move was startlingly swift, but gentle. A tap of her pearlescent plasma sword in his direction. If his blade was activated, they’d meet in a tap of cromraderie. Otherwise, it was the equivalent to a bow before she stepped back once more, and took a few testing steps to the side. Watching him, his eyes, his focus. Where his reactions were to the subtlest of her adjustments.

“That was the incident that started the enclave's scrutiny of The New Jedi Order, wasn’t it?”

Ideally, she would not be the one to strike first. So many times her father had drilled his advice into her. He’d been careful to give her instruction that prolonged her existence –– long enough to make a name for herself, and then sustain the Ashina bloodline. But the underlying themes of his pedagogies were to understand and expose her opponent. Always.

The same outcome could be met in understanding how another reacted and defended.

So, she poked forward with a testing swipe at his shins and an aggressive stomp toward his personal space.

“What’s that got to do with your severance?”
 
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“Of course I have.”

Ishida's footsteps drew his mind back to the present. She stepped into the ring and tossed to him the expectation that he follow. It wrapped around his limbs but didn't compel him forward. The pull was away, tangled with the obligation to honour the challenge. It bound him in place. The sudden heaviness settled deep into his bones, and he watched as his opponent neared the centre of the arena. Was he ready to face a Jedi again?

He relaxed the tension in his right hand, letting the sabre settle loosely between his fingers. The tangle in his muscles waned enough, and he moved. Step by step, heavy footfalls carried him to a place opposite the other Padawan. His movements were mechanical, forced. His gaze didn't leave the floor until the snap-hiss of a lightsabre brought a bright glow to the edge of his perception.

With sabre and sword raised skyward, Ishida stood across from him. It wasn't until now that the reality began to settle in his mind. His legs stopped feeling like they stood on clouds, and his back gained back its strength.

His thumb switched the activation lever on his lightsabre in accord. It was quick and mostly painless. The faintest jolt accompanied the extension of the blade, and travelled up the length of his arm into his shoulder. His jaw clenched as it continued up the top of his spine, where it spread like electricity through the back of his head. This time he didn't lose anything at least.

Routine motions took it from there. He raised to his full height and set his off-hand behind his back, pulling his feet together. The lightsabre came up in front of him in a parallel to his spine, held mere inches from his face. His eyes locked on the blade. Burnt air filled his nostrils as he inhaled deeply. The blade's low hum seemed to reverberate through his entire body. For a moment, only he and the blade existed.

And he pulled it away, a quick flourish to the side accompanied by a fanning out of his feet. One settled before the other as he bladed his body, holding his sabre far away, point trained on his opponent. The opening stance of the duelist's style, Makashi.

He acknowledged the sword's greeting. His blade met hers briefly, clashing with the tell-tale crackle of their powerfields.

“That was the incident that started the enclave's scrutiny of The New Jedi Order, wasn’t it?”

Bernard's brows furrowed as he stared down his opponent, projecting the steeled appearance of a hardened warrior. His body had regained structure. It recalled this stance, it knew what was expected of him, even if his mind reeled in its attempts to follow suit.

Korriban had been a disaster for the New Jedi Order. From a purely operational perspective, they'd succeeded in their goal to strike a blow against the Sith. The Academy on Korriban had been largely destroyed, the Empire's hold on their sacred jewel was weakened to the point of breaking, and the Galactic Alliance had celebrated its first independent victory in the Sith Wars. But it exposed flaws and imperfections within the order that ran deep. The years spent battling Sith had left the Jedi's thoughts tainted, too preoccupied with war. Bernard still recalled the hollowness that followed the destruction of the Jedi's ideals that occurred that day.

His body reacted before he'd consciously registered the slash at his legs. The bade came dangerously close to his forward leg, but he pulled it back in time. The motion was too exaggerated. His heel bumped into the calf of his back leg, and he was forced into a wider stance than he liked.

“What’s that got to do with your severance?” She asked.

The distance between them had grown slightly. This was advantageous to him, even if that advantage was cancelled by his shoddy footwork.

But that was an easy fix.

His leg shot forwards as he extended his body to reciprocate the probing of defences with a textbook jab aimed at the central torso. The expansion of his stance sent a satisfaction through him that felt almost like a stretch right after waking.

"That's where it happened. Where I lost the Force."

 
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little trouble
Character
She moved to block her stomach, a backward hold meeting his precision on an angle.

His blade lanced off hers, beautiful blue sliding against stark white with a smoothness that felt like a far cry from hostile. She didn’t withdraw, instead she held it, giving a reciprocal buoyancy to the lock and shook her head.

"That's where it happened. Where I lost the Force."

“You’re holding back.” Ishida accused –– the statement flexible enough to apply to his swordsmanship and his story.

Forcefully, she arced the blade outward and away from her –– as of stirring a cauldron –– and drew it back to hover behind her back, the secondary blade of hers snapping to her hand from it’s containment slung over her shoulder. Now, she wielded both her weapons. The Ashina-steel Katana in a reverse grip in her left hand, and the lightsaber in her right.

“Don’t.”
 
Their blades clashed with an elegance that told of countless hours spent perfecting a shared craft. The low humming that had filled the room was broken by the magnetic scraping of contaiment fields. Plasma flared brightly at the point of contact.

“You’re holding back.”

Bernard's head cocked slightly to the side. Was he that easily read?

The clash was finally released when Ishida redirected his blade away. He stepped backwards to put some distance between them again and observed as her second blade snapped into her hand. Steel swords weren't uncommon among Jedi, or Sith, though most preferred the traditional lightsabre, or a variation of it. Most of his experience fighting conventional weapons came from comparatively untrained opponents on the streets of Coruscant who only used vibroblades. Twin-blade styles were also no novelty, at least in theory. He'd studied the Jedi manuals that detailed the techniques used by the ancient Jar'kai warriors of Atrisia, on whose styles the modern Jedi variant was based. The path of the Guardian had demanded it. He'd long strayed from it, but the knowledge came in useful still.

"Don't."

It was easier said than done. The last time he'd held a sabre across from a Jedi he'd nearly turned on the very people who had taken him in with open arms, blinded by hatred and grief. Moments like that didn't leave without a trace, not when he knew the abyss that would claim a being that let go of control.

"It's not as simple as that," he replied, matching her ambiguity with a pregnant pause. "Inside the library, where I was sent to neutralize dangerous knowledge," the words made it sound clinical, almost clean, when he knew the truth was anything but, "it happened there."

He took two quick steps forward, swiping at her from the side. The strike came light and quick. He followed it up with a brief series of sequences that would have been playful in their execution under different circumstances but served now to keep his mind occupied. It was a far cry from the all-out Ishida demanded.

Quick jabs followed light swipes that had just enough force behind them to make contact, only to be withdrawn for an attack from a new angle. There was no time to think in between the strikes. It was a concentrated effort to overwhelm a defender with a flurry of attacks. A death by a thousand cuts, was it performed seriously.

"It was sudden," he continued explaining as he attacked, "one moment I heard the Force's song," a cut from the left, "the next I was deaf to it." He stepped sideways and swept the blade horizontally, "it wasn't one of the Sith who did it," from the right, then from below, "the only one who could have had no reason to, and I suspect lacked the ability," and then a jab right for the heart, "No, it happened when I drew this blade," his tone stayed measured throughout.

 
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little trouble
Character
There was a delay to his reaction, a pause that felt precious and delicate. So much so, that she didn’t move. Didn’t lunge forward to catch him off-guard out of respect for the chance the hesitation might erupt into something spoiled.

Gratefully, it was he that spoke first. Her listening coupled with observation, and she saw the faintest indicators of movement milliseconds before they actualized.

The assault wasn’t full-frontal, instead, angled at her side. Another test, she reckoned and brought the blade in her left hand around to catch and deflect. Parry, deflect, bat, crash, humming and cracking in the rhythmic exchange of strikes that tested for speed and reflexes.

To an extent, Bernard faded from existence. Taking a backseat to the weapon that shouted danger every time it closed in. It helped to focus on the things that immediately invaded her personal space when it came to close-range exercises. And in the brilliant white of the room, with little else available to distract, it was all the more easy to enter almost a trance-like state to interact with the vibrant blue blade.

Her deflections and ripostes contained a certain level of grace to them. As much as her father had appreciated drawing parallels and comparisons to steel, there was no hardness to the way she moved. On the contrary, she was as fluid as the brook that ran through Ashina estate’s courtyard. Tiny feet shuffling, planting, lifting, stepping with measured movements that made this look –– from a distance –– more akin to a dance than a duel.

Descriptors of the Force varied, she noticed, from person to person. Some described it as a vast ocean, with different currents and tides. Others merely observed mass, some light and just dark. To hear it described as a song was unique, and she supposed in that interval of his consideration just before his next strike that notes and beats had a likeness to the tides or currents of an ocean.

Bernard of Arca Bernard of Arca ’s mouth was emptying out words of explanation, a story to complement the flow of the duel, and she uncharacteristically shattered from her trance to see what his face was saying. While Ishida often elected not to speak, she didn’t completely avoid communication altogether. Constantly training to fight taught a deep level of understanding to the subtleties of human expression and body language. His body was focused on their fight, but those pupiless eyes seemed full of terrible confession.

For the most part, her deflections were a mix of avoidance techniques, or frontal deflections. She made an internal note not to use the Force (for attacks) and keep this as skill-based as possible.

His incoming left attack, she avoided entirely, tightly twisting to avoid the cut. Horizontal met her saber, levied across her chest. Another twist to avoid the initial intrusion of the right strike, and her arm raised to catch the follow-through with her saber. A backward hop saved her from being bisected from the ground-up.
Dual blades crossed in an X over her chest, catching the attack made for her vital organ before it could make purchase.

“But you still use it.” Ishida observed, blue and white hissing against one another, casting their light across her pale skin in an almost haunting intermingle. Quickly, she forced herself forward –– maintaining the lock on the blades –– before thrusting him backward and kicking out with her foot toward his abdomen.

At the same time, she released the X, drawing both blades back behind her as she tightened her surface area to be more missile-like with her charge. With both weapons tucked narrowly to her, she hoped to roll with the trajectory she’d forced him back to, and angled herself to plant her foot for liftoff into an aerial kick that’d bring her heel down somewhere on the upper half of his body.
 
When it came to bladework, it seemed to Bernard, the two were evenly matched. Ishida parried or dodged each blow expertly, never once failing to execute on a well-timed guarding response to any of his plasma-burned questions.

Even if, to an outsider, it seemed like a one-sided assault, beneath the surface of the elegant lightsabre dance played a much more subtle game of manoeuvering and advantage. The angling, the footwork, the way the blades deflected off each other during their brief moments of contact, each action and interaction had a winner or a loser. Place your weight the wrong way, and your next strike fell too short. Don't strike your opponent's blade high enough, and they might recover to retaliate sooner than you anticipated.

The advantages, on average, were small fractions, but they compounded. As more of these micro-battles were won and lost, more momentum built for one side or the other. The most skilled practitioners of Makashi learned to master these smallest of contests with unparalleled precision, able to press even the most brittle advantage into an avalanche of reversal that left audiences and opponents alike stupefied as they turned the tables on a seemingly impossible situation.

Bernard, however, had not yet achieved that level of mastery, much less maintained the modest expertise he had managed to develop in the form. This led to an awkwardly executed series of offensive moves, which possessed an added layer of sloppiness because he thought it wise to multi-task and prattle as he relied mostly on rusty muscle memory to do the work. Clash after clash went in favour of Ishida. By the end of it, he hadn't even noticed how many times he'd slipped up in his execution, nor did he realize the edge his opponent now held over him through flawless adherence to form.

Until his blade caught on hers. Not the most critical mistake to most who made it, but he'd overcommitted to the strike. Now this position gave her full control over his weapon. She held a split-second opportunity to do with it what she wished. And she did.

“But you still use it,” the observation concealed a question, he thought.

A question she didn't let him consider for long. Blades still locked, Ishida pushed forward. From one moment to the next their momentum inverted, and he fell on the defensive.

He stumbled backward, feet almost tangling up to make him trip from the sudden reversal, while she pressed her advantage. She led him several steps, then shoved her blades into his, which bent him backward where he stood, and followed it up with a more unorthodox element, a kick right into his now-exposed lower torso.

The blow struck hard, forcing a sharp exhale. Pain shot through his body as he was forced to take a step back to balance out the sudden backward force, off-hand shooting out from behind his back for needed balance. On the smooth surface of the duelling ring, the kick had pushed him few steps away from Ishida. That one hadn't come to mind when his subconscious had considered possible avenues of retaliation, though in hindsight it became more obvious. His position now could have been worse, also. He ended up in a wide and narrow stance that made it hard to push him over from the front, but left him vulnerable to sideways attacks.

Ishida Ashina Ishida Ashina didn't let up. She was already charging at him when he recovered, low and with her blades trailing after her.

The pain and surprise of the duel's first hit had been enough to rattle him awake, at least half-way. He watched her moves intently and when she ducked lower on one step, he braced himself for defence. Forward leg sliding out to the side, he didn't have time to bring up his lightsabre, but it seemed he didn't need to. Ishida lifted into the air in one leap and spun, one leg extended on her way down towards him. In the moments of her fall, he shifted his weight forward to brace for the kick, but he also leaned forward, and narrowly to one side so her leg had a higher chance to come down on the shoulder on his off-hand side.

His follow-up move was simple. If she mixed it up from pure blade work, he'd add in an unorthodox element of his own. Her leg came down hard, with the weight of her behind it, but he'd braced against the brunt of it. The impact widened his stance and drew a grunt, but he held. Then, without missing a beat, he wrapped his free arm around her calf, taking hold of the fabric of her trousers, to rob her of mobility which he'd leverage with an efficient swing of his lightsabre to level it with her neck.
 
little trouble
Character
The grip on her leg was a surprising and unexpected feat of his ability to react without The Force’s guiding intuition. She shouldn’t have categorized him so pathetically. Even if he was just a mortal. But she was already moving, momentum both her ally and her enemy. Her commitment to the attack was sealed.

Bernard of Arca Bernard of Arca 's defensive hold was reactive, strong, but it wasn’t all his strength. She could still follow through with the attack, just adjust its intended outcomes. She’d hoped to connect with enough strength to stagger him backward, if not completely kick him over. But he’d intercepted it and pushed back as if she’d slammed into a wall.

Ozone flooded her nose, and all she could see was the brilliant blue. Her senses were going wild with alerts of danger, flaring and bristling as the superheated plasma phased near her skin.

Desperately, she moved her right hand to loop around his neck, and keep herself pulled up with a crunch to her abdomen. The blade seared at the outer layers of her shirt. Gripping at his neck, she grunted to lift just a bit so her hip would connect with his ear and disorient him enough to loosen. Her left hand, with the Katana, moved up to protect herself.

As if it were nothing, she thumbed the activation on her katana’s hilt. The steel appeared unchanged, but a current pulsed through that manifested its identity when it intercepted Bernard’s blade.

All it took was a single glancing move to showcase its true nature: Ashina steel. Sharp, strong, and enough to temporarily overpower the charges of a Kyber Crystal, rendering the sword ineffective.
 
Fingers clawed at the back of his neck until they found purchase. Bernard's back straightened and tension ran along his spine. A grimace crept onto his face as he did his best to stay upright, to support both of their weights without collapsing to the ground. Not to protect any advantageous position, though. He meant to prevent a flailing katana from accidentally skewering someone.

For a split-second, it occurred to him that this was similar to how Lanik must have felt during their encounter, supporting the weight of both Bernard and himself, the Jedi had stood firm throughout their full exchange of blows. A cold shiver shot down his spine, rattling him more alert. He inhaled sharply, but before he could act Ishida executed a plan of her own.

A grunt choked away in his throat when she suddenly pulled herself up by his neck. The sudden shift in weight threw off their balance. He slid his foot back to accommodate, putting further distance between both of his feet. As the leg moved up on his shoulder, he held onto the fabric. It bunched up near her knee as it passed his shoulder, but she kept going, and soon his arm extended behind him at an incredibly uncomfortable angle. The muscles that ran from his chest to his upper arm felt drawn so taut that they might tear.

Then her hip rammed into the side of his head, jerking it, and the upper half of his body, sideways. Their intricate balance fell further into jeopardy as Bernard struggled to compensate for their new centre of gravity.

He barely noticed his blade strike steel. For a moment a stiff force met his swing. It seemed as though the blade would be stopped dead in its tracks, but his swing continued as all resistance disappeared a moment later. From the corner of his vision, he could make out what had occurred. Ripped plasma threaded through the air where her sword had met the sabre, blue beam appearing as though the steel had cut it in half. Thin strands of plasma bent along the steel edge, connecting both halves for a heartbeat before all blue scattered as though blown away by the wind.

His hand immediately let go of the hilt, which disappeared somewhere behind Ishida. Where to didn't matter in that moment, the blade would be useless. The effects of cortosis weren't unfamiliar to him. Unarmed his chances for victory plummeted. At least under normal circumstances, but theirs didn't quite resemble normal. If anything, a free hand made the next part easier.

It was clear to Bernard that he wouldn't be able to save the precarious balance that supported them for long. His feet stood far enough apart to maintain balance against anything disturbing it from the front, but Ishida's attack pushed him to the side. That was a fatal blow to their equilibrium.

He let go of the fabric around Ishida's leg, instead hooking the arm around her thigh. His free hand shot towards her wrist in an attempt to seize her sword arm, to pull it as far behind his back as he could. The reinforced leather glove had begun to freeze over. Delicate ice sheets cracked as his fingers curled. He meant both to steady her sword away from them and to draw Ishida as close as possible.

His expression was indifferent, but his eyes whispered murder.

Without warning, Bernard swivelled on his feet by ninety degrees and drew them together to rise to his full height. Then he let himself fall, Ishida Ashina Ishida Ashina first.
 
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little trouble
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Swearing not to use The Force had been a silent promise. A personal parameter that nobody else was privy to. The unsaid words felt sticky in her mouth, or like an anchor at the back of her throat. Unnecessarily holding her back.

If she broke her self-promise, she’d only be a failure in her own eyes. But if she failed here, she’d be a failure in both of theirs. And that was unacceptable.

The lesser of two evils was the obvious choice, and she negotiated quickly that she should never relegate her prowess for the comfort of another. That wasn’t realistic. No other enemy would lay down their arms voluntarily, and be so wrought with empathy that they mitigate their impact.

Impact-wise, she was gravity’s greatest benefactor. His hand freed and grappled with her wrist and she hurk’d in response, being tugged against him and kept in place. Simultaneously, an inhuamane chill seeped from his skin to hers and deepened the wincing reaction. Which meant she couldn’t finish her move. She wormed and struggled, flexing her hands which were occupied still with dual hilts. She released both, more focused on liberating herself from this grip. But the fall he manufactured was quick and her back cracked against the ground with a winded-oof. Air rushed from her lungs and she blinked several times against the crushing sensation on her mass while little dots sparkled in her peripherals.

With a frustrated noise, she wiggled and planted the foot he didn’t have control of against the ground, between his legs, and thrust herself up as hard as she could, angling her hips to force against him and push him off. She might have been able to do it with all the strength that lived within her, without tapping into the supernatural, but she was mad now. In conjunction with her manual struggle, a bubble of Force energy permeated from her core to blow Bernard of Arca Bernard of Arca back and away.
 
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They crashed into the ground at the same time as Ishida's weapons clattered to the floor. The impact sent a dull pain through his chest, but he heard his opponent get the wind knocked out of her. A part of him flared with the smallest edge of empathy. Getting knocked directly onto your back was painful enough. Add the weight of a much taller Arkanian Jedi crashing down into you on top of that? Bernard didn't want to be in Ishida's position.

He wanted to let go of her leg and wrist, to push himself off of her and make sure the fall hadn't caused any major harm, but she seized the initiative to act before him. With a frustrated sigh and just one leg, she began to lift him up, twisting to throw him off her. Inch by inch they rose from the floor. Bernard tried to adjust to make it easier on her, letting go of her leg and wrist, but found himself momentarily admiring her will to keep fighting. That distraction would cost him. His mouth opened to speak, but before any words left him, something shoved him back, into the air.

It felt as though a speeder had suddenly slammed into him, or some massive racket had materialized out of thin air between him and Ishida to strike him like a hutt ball. At least that's how he felt as he soared through the air in a wide parabolic arc, his body turning in the air so when he crested the zenith of his flight he was going towards the ground back-first. Air rushed past him. In between the confusion, the weightlessness of the fall struck him as almost serene for a heartbeat or two.

Then reality crashed back in and he slammed into the ground. His back hit the floor first with a crack, followed by his head and limbs. He fell with enough force to bounce and skid along the white marble, turning sideways as he came to a halt.

A lengthy groan drew the air out of his lungs as he kept his eyes shut. Tensing the muscles of his face posed a brief relief from the aching pain that was spreading through his body and pooling at the back of his head and along his spine like tingling electricity. He turned slowly to plant one hand on the floor in front of his chest, pushing himself onto an elbow.

When he opened his eyes again he saw everything in multiples. Slow blinking didn't make it go away either. The world consisted only of the swaying mass of white and a buzzing that drowned out all other senses.

"What was that ... for," the words came out slow and drawn out.

 
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little trouble
Character
While Bernard sailed, Ishida scrambled in the opposite direction and lurched to her two-feet and stood again. She used the precious seconds of liberation to draw in deep breaths and restore air back to her lungs. Her hand pressed against her stomach and she straightened, drawing her mouth into a thin line.

She fully expected him to get up quicker, to run back at her and pick up his lightsaber along the way. Stretching out both her hands, her fallen assets were recalled back to her palms and she waited for his return, fixing her footwork.

The follow-up never came.

Disappointed, her shoulders fell and she drew her feet back in to a more neutral standing position, less poised for riposte.

He was still on the ground, struggling to get back to his knees even. Biting down on the inside of her lip, the Padawan’s listless expression deepened into a contemplative frown.

"What was that ... for,

“I––” she started.

No response was immediately available. At least, not one she would admit. The words built up at the base of her throat, growing and throbbing until they pooled into her chest and made it tricky to breathe again. She knew exactly what it was for: To protect herself from shame. She’d done it because she was afraid to lose, to let anyone other than her be the victor in a contest of skill. But she’d squandered the duel of skill by contaminating it with her power –– who was to say what might have happened if she’d just focused on rolling him off her naturally?

Her brows furrowed, and she disengaged her lightsaber, re-clipped it to her belt and stalked toward him. Her Katana hovering inches from the ground while she strut. She paused only to pick his fallen hilt up on the way. When she was standing over him, she held his lightsaber out for him to take; her expression unyieldingly stone-like.

“To get you off me. I have the means. Why would I not use it?”
 
He turned, noting first the lack of a blade hovering by his neck.

Ishida stood above him with his sabre. She held it out for him to take, her own blade pointing idly at the ground by her side. He wondered for a moment why she hadn't taken the opportunity to claim victory but figured she was probably more honourable than he would've been. It fit her style.

“To get you off me. I have the means. Why would I not use it?”

"Point taken," he gestured toward the lightsabre, "that mean we're calling it a draw?" A smug grin crept into a corner of his mouth.

The expression backfired almost immediately when his movements sent a fresh wave of pain through his side, eliciting a groan, and his face twisted into a grimace. Eyes shut tight and nose wrinkled, he voiced a series of ows as he propped himself up on his hands.

"Okay, yeah, I know when I'm beat," he forced the words out, pushing himself on his knees with a grunt.

He knelt quietly for a moment, taking the time to contemplate the fight.

The first time he'd met another Jedi in a duel of blades in years, and he'd thrown away his lightsabre and lost. Not unexpected, the outcome, given the apprehension he'd felt leading up to their bout, but the defeat still stung. Or perhaps it was the splitting headache, he wasn't entirely sure.

Then again, it wasn't like he'd stood much of a chance from the get-go, even disregarding the terror the repercussions from Lanik's murder carried. While he was deaf to the Force's song he'd always be at a disadvantage in a contest against a Jedi. No measure of skill made up for space magic, he'd become painfully aware of that over the last year. Too many run-ins with Sith ended up more painful than they needed to be, and too many opportunities to save lives slipped through his grasp because he hadn't been able to call on the energy field for protection. All because he'd let himself be blinded by a thoughtless pursuit of revenge. He knew any Jedi would tell him it wasn't the case, but those lives weighed on him. Had he been stronger, maybe he could have done more.

Maybe.

Letting out a deep breath, he took the lightsabre and nodded towards Ishida's sword.

"The cortosis blade, that move's an old one, but still clever. I should've seen that coming."

 
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little trouble
Character
Bernard of Arca Bernard of Arca ’s negotiations aired between both of them, but only one side participated. She remained silent through his soliloquy and remained content to observe. She thought he might be more hurt, or berate her more, or..something, but he seemed rather level about the whole affair. Never once calling her a cheater.

She let out a small exhale of relief, and relaxed her composure once he admitted defeat.

“It’s not cortosis.” Ishida corrected, laying the katana horizontal across her palms and letting the blade glint in the sparring room’s generous lighting. “It’s Ashina steel.”

Bouying its weight, she offered it out for him to take if he so wished.

“My family pioneered its invention. Similar to Cortosis, but the tempering process is significantly longer which makes it sharper and..well. Your lightsaber might be out for a little while longer than you might expect.”

A small smile etched its way across her mouth.

“That trick was one of my dad’s favourites.” And he was always so proud when she remembered, or managed to turn it against him. Part of her always sort of wondered if she was supposed to use it against her brother one day, given his exile and her father’s general distaste for his chosen path with The Jedi.

"He used to train me exclusively with this steel."
 
Though his back and legs protested, he stood up, resting his hands briefly on his thighs for support. Most of the dizziness had faded, he no longer saw three Ishidas standing in front of him, but the tingling ache throughout his back stayed. Nothing some time with the healers wouldn't fix. The thought of meeting them again already filled him with apprehension. The fuss they'd raise after he'd missed the last few appointments with the healing crystals.

He looked up when she corrected him, finally drawing to his full height against protesting bone and muscle.

The blade appeared pristine, acting as a catalyst for the beaming white around them. It spoke plainly of craftsmanship that went beyond the ordinary. A moment of consideration went into how old it could be, but Ishida's explanation took precedence over idle wonderings.

He accepted the blade, clipping his own sabre to his belt, and held it with a certain reverence reserved for fragile artefacts. Though it was a combat-ready sword, its blade was made of cortosis, which had received somewhat of a bad reputation for its brittleness. Whether the tempering process made any difference was beyond him. The effects of various metallurgical processes on the sturdiness of metals like cortosis fell outside his expertise. He didn't want to accidentally drop it only to find a chip or a subtle crack along its spine. Or worse, watch it break.

His hands wrapped tight around the steel. Where it sat on the glove of his right hand, a thin sheen of cold crept over the silver, outward from underneath the leather. Fine plumes of vapour enveloped his fingers, dissipating as they rose, and his palm had begun to soak up melting ice. The hand trembled ever so slightly, even through the firm hold around the sword.

He flipped the sword over, noting its weight, and gave it another once-over. A small switch near its hilt drew his curiosity, but he relegated that consideration for later.

The lightsabre comment made him glad he wasn't confronted with that detail while trying to charge back into action. Something told him running at an armed opponent without a functional weapon of your own seemed like a bad idea. Then again, he recalled stranger manoeuvres pulled in the understreets of Coruscant.

When he noticed the smile on her face his brows furrowed slightly. It struck him that this was the first time he'd seen her express any form of joy without the involvement of some kind of harm coming to servants of the dark side. The crack of a more tempered emotion in the iron shell of her demeanour made her seem a lot more ... human. He let go of tension in his shoulders he hadn't been aware of before.

"Seems he did well by you," he gave a slight smile, and presented the blade back to her, though not before cleaning off the condensation with his sleeve.

"Lovely blade."

Ishida Ashina Ishida Ashina
 
little trouble
Character
Of course it was lovely. It was more than that, it was legendary. For all the faults her family might have had –– particularly the paternal side –– their genius was remarkable.

She only offered a small, content hmmm in response to his implication of her father's impressedness. He as a cruel man, focused only on victory and success. Hasty to hurt, and unrelenting with his standards. Ishida'd only been born after her brother had been exiled. Without his son around the estate, he was left without an heir. That's all she was, created to prolong the most remarkable parts about the senior Ashina. Girlhood had evaded her, traded instead for constant training so she might be worthy –– so she might be better than Inosuke had been.

Blinking back to the present, the distant look that had glossed over her eyes evaporated and eyed his careful cleaning of the blade.

Taking it back, she glanced at the spot he'd cleared off and tapped it once with her finger.

"This is curious, how is your skin so cold through your gloves?"

She didn't fully realize it, but she'd felt the biting ice earlier when he'd gripped her wrist. In the heat of the moment, she'd thought nothing of it –– too focused on liberating herself. Casually, she sheathed the sword once more in the holster strapped to her chest and around her back. It was like a steel spine.

Bernard of Arca Bernard of Arca
 
For a moment he wondered what the nature of her reminiscence was. She talked well of her father, but appearances could be deceiving. Especially among historied family lines.

Before he could inquire further she turned her attention to him, or more specifically his hands.

"It's not the skin that's cold, just the gloves," he raised both hands, wriggling his fingers to show off the protective gloves. While the back was made of smooth, black leather, the palm and insides of the fingers were lined with grey-coloured nylon that concealed small plates. "Heating elements. Keep the frostbite away. My lightsabre," he unclipped it, holding it up between them, "saps heat from everything around it. Long enough exposure and it'll freeze theoretically anything, including any and all hands holding it."

Then it was his turn for a smile to edge its way onto his face.

"Wish I had these gloves back home. Would've saved me a lot of trouble."

Ishida Ashina Ishida Ashina
 
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"I don't know if it was the lightsabre, actually. It triggered whatever causal chain led me to lose the Force, but, theoretically, it could have been any number of things," he glanced down at the hilt.

The golden inlays and edges glittered in the light, brought out more intensely by the midnight black that covered most of the hilt.

"And, to be honest, I've grown fond of that cold. Whichever one of my ancestors built it made sure we'd always carry a piece of home with us in that way. I like to think that's why it drains all heat around it."

And it became his turn to lose himself to the distracted wandering of remembrance.

"It's also the weapon my brother used before me, and my father before him. An old family heirloom," he was more distant when he spoke, his voice more subdued.

Ishida Ashina Ishida Ashina
 
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