Thal leaped back from the clash before Johram could turn his surprise into a victory.
Damn. I’ve been played for a fool.
He had to reassess the situation. Johram could be bluffing, but he had effectively dismantled Thal’s attack — an attack specifically designed to reach around the Weequay’s seemingly-clumsy defenses.
Now the man came at Thal with a full-force, focused attack. It took everything Thal had to build a circle of defense against the onslaught.
“You are weak, Thal Lirin. And you will fall before my strength.”
One more parry… there!
Thal dove away from the next attack, rather than allow himself to be pinned to the wall. Rolling to a stand, he then leaped over Johram’s head as he swung in with the next attack.
Bolting down the hallway, Thal sought terrain that would be more supportive of his fighting style. Or at least more restrictive of Johram’s.
“You cannot run from me, Thal Lirin!”
A wave of kinetic energy threw Thal from his feet and he fell to the floor, skidding down the hall.
Pushing himself to his hands and knees, Thal was about to launch back into the fight when he noticed Zyn Par, lurking in the shadows of the corner.
Of course… I have friends now.
They just needed the right opportunity.
Thal reached for Zyn with the Force, trying to impress upon him their plan.
Stay hidden. Wait for my signal.
It was difficult, Thal had never been skilled at using the emotional telepathy of the Force. It was too much art and impressionism. But he hoped this would be clear enough.
“Are you still sitting there, Thal Lirin? I did not realize how weak you truly are.”
Weakness. Strength. Dichotomy.
Shien, Form V. The thought came unbidden to Thal. Memories form his lessens in the temples. Counter with Form III, Soresu.
But Thal had already tried that.
“Do you even understand why you’re fighting?” Thal said. “Or how you’re fighting?”
“Are you stalling, Thal Lirin?”
Yes, he thought.
They met in the center of the hall with another flurry of strikes and parries. The narrow fighting space meant Thal could focus all his efforts on defending against Johram’s frontal assault. He had thought that that would be an advantage, less concern about the Weequay suddenly flanking him with another tactical shift. Instead, however, it simply meant that the large alien could direct his attacks at Thal with a greater intensity.
He was losing ground, and losing the duel.
“Now would be a good time, Zyn!” he called.
Johram’s eyes flicked from side to side as he searched for whoever Thal was talking to.
Thal took the momentary distraction and launched a series of strikes designed to push his opponent back. None of them had a chance of killing his foe, but they were intimidating, and so the Weequay lost ground as he tried parrying each one.
Thal stole a glance back at the corner.
The Kel Dor was gone.
He had to think of something else, then. Seeing as his ally had failed him.
Launching himself backward, Thal drew his blaster. It was a foolish gamble. Blasters against lightsabers usually ended in disaster for the shooter. Especially when there was only one blaster.
But Thal had a crazy hope.
Two shots at Johram as the armored Weequay approached yielded two deflected bolts.
And a hesitation.
Thal smiled. So I was right. He’s a duelist. Unskilled in mobile blaster deflection.
This could still end well.
Wielding one-handed now, Thal switched form again to a more fluid defensive form. Unfortunately, most of his repertoire relied on the stability of a two-handed grip, and he was unskilled in the more elegant, precision-based forms that were favored by a single hand.
But he was a Sentinel of the Jedi Order. He would make use of what he had to deal with the problem before him.
The Weequay’s assaults were especially powerful now. The man’s large size mixed with his strong, two-handed grip meant that Thal had to focus all his effort to block at just the right point of the blade and angle of contact or else Johram would force the blades down into his head.
Hilt-to-point, Thal recited silently. Hilt-to-point.
The hallway was no longer an advantage. It had never been an advantage in the first place. It was a disaster all around.
It was time to move.
Diving away, Thal backed into the cafeteria, loosing another stream of blaster bolts in Johram’s direction.
Once again, the shots caused the Weequay to hesitate each time he moved to deflect.
Excellent. But now what do I do with this trick?
It was an excellent stalling tactic. But how could he turn it to his advantage?
In the cafeteria, Thal gained the high ground as Johram reached the entrance.
“Clever. You think that I know nothing of positioning, Thal Lirin? I am not so foolish as to assault you while you stand in a place of dominance.”
The Weequay threw out his hand and sent out a wave of kinetic energy, launching tables and chairs into the air and each other on their way toward Thal.
Quickly scrambling to the ground and beneath the table, Thal took shelter from the debris.
Damn. Thought that would help.
It did help to shed greater light on Johram’s mastery of the Force. Apparently his telekinesis was still crude, focusing on brute strength rather than precision control.
I shouldn’t be surprised. That’s been his theme all evening.
If all Johram could muster was direct attacks, then Thal should be able to find a way around the Weequay’s defenses. He had merely been surprised before, underestimating the man’s training. Now that he had seen the extent of it in action, he would not make the same mistake again.
Slicing through the table above him, Thal stood among the wreckage.
“Are you familiar with the Seven Forms of Lightsaber combat, Johram?”
The Weequay tilted his head, both amused and confused.
“The Jedi Order has faced many foes in its long history. And it has adapted many different styles of fighting to better approach the situations that present themselves to us. Over time, seven different forms — versatile and diverse — came to be accepted as the Seven Standard Forms. Do you know them?”
Johram grunted and charged forward.
Thal holstered his blaster, and then leaped over the Weequay, blocking the man’s half-hearted attempt at an attack as he passed.
“For example,” Thal said. “Your own technique appears to be a bastardization of both Shii-Cho and Djem So — Form I and Form V. The broad sweeps are characteristic of the earliest forms of lightsaber combat, but upon further examination, it seems you lack anything beyond that initial concept.”
Thal blocked Johram’s next attacks, and then stepped aside to put some distance between himself and he Weequay as he continued his speech.
“Instead, you rely much more heavily on the principles of Djem So. Overbearing strength. Powerful, focused strikes. Although, you clearly lack the otherwise ubiquitous skills of fluid blaster bolt deflection, as well as many of the finer subtleties of lightsaber combat. Let me guess, you’ve been stuck underground practicing with your other acolytes, blade-to-blade with maybe a few melees thrown in for good measure, for your entire training. Months, years, whatever. You’re sheltered. Am I right?”
“Silence, Thal Lirin. Silence and die!”
Thal blocked the attack directly this time, refusing to back down.
“I haven’t finished my lesson yet,” he said. Then he gave a Force-powered kick to shove the big Weequay back a few steps.
Johram was clearly shocked.
“Shii-Cho and Djem So are merely two of the forms,” he said. “There are five more.”
Switching to a one-handed grip, Thal snaked his blade through Johram’s defenses, causing him to parry awkwardly in an attempt to stop the blade from finding its destination.
“Makashi, Form II,” said Thal. “Developed specifically to be the supreme dueling style. The ultimate single combat against another lightsaber.”
Thal finished the attack and fell back gracefully to put some distance between himself and Johram.
“Unfortunately,” he said. “It is one that I have little practice in.”
The Weequay’s assault was tremendous. The frustration and rage that had built up in him at the powerlessness he felt before Makashi’s fluid strikes was familiar to Thal, and Thal would have liked to continue using the form. But he only knew a handful of rote strike patterns. It could keep them busy for a handful of exchanges, but after that he would grow predictable.
And being predictable in any kind of duel meant death.
“This is Soresu,” Thal said as he fell back before the Weequay’s onslought, throwing up a barrier of parries against the attacks as he did so. “Form III. Developed to counter the rise in blaster technology. Master’s of this form are untouchable in combat. It is the ultimate defensive form.”
As they neared the wall, Thal launched himself in the air, laying down a series of attacks against Johram’s nearly-exposed head and shoulders as he did so.
But he did not stop when he landed this time. Instead, he simply leaped into the air again, continuing to rain down blows on the Weequay.
“Ataru,” he said. “Form IV. Aggressive. Acrobatic. Powerful. The hunter’s style.”
Thal flew away from the duel, landing near the entrance of the cafeteria, where he knelt beside the table to catch his breath. The Force was flowing slowly through him now, having been focused through the dam that was the Ataru style. He could feel the infinite reserves on he other side, but it would take time for it to pass through the heavy barrier he had put up before it.
“Ataru is also one of the forms that draws the most upon the Force,” Thal said. “It’s chief strength lies in its mobility, and its practitioners are taught early on to rely just as much upon the Force as upon their own martial skill.”
He smiled and laughed.
“Sadly, my reservoirs are not enough to keep up with such a strategy.”
Johram’s face was a stormcloud of fury. He marched toward Thal, raising his blade for an executioner’s blow.
“So now you will die, Thal Lirin. Because you cannot help showing off.”
Thal ignited his lightsaber and easily blocked the attack.
“I’m not finished,” he said.
They exchanged a blows in sporadic bursts. Gauging each others weariness.
“Niman is the sixth form,” Thal said. “Ultimately the last of the developed forms. It is a balanced technique that blends elements from Shii-Cho, Soresu, Ataru, and Djem So to build a versatile set of tools for the duelist to draw upon. A true master of Niman is ready for anything — as I am — while a novice is simply undeveloped.”
Johram tried for another attack, focusing all his weight into a potentially overpowering attack. But it was no use, Thal understood the Weequay’s tactics — as well as the limits of his skill. A brief parry to disrupt the attack, and then a step to the side to allow the big man’s weight to carry him out of Thal’s reach.
“Juyo is the final form, and it is the only one that I am completely unacquainted with. From what I have heard, it is a powerful, aggressive form. It draws heavily upon the Force, like Ataru, but it focuses more on emotion and focused strikes. It’s a bit more grounded. Difficult to describe, I suppose, without visual examples. The important thing to remember is that it’s the most deadly of all the forms when used well — dangerous to both the duelist and his foe.”
“Are you quite finished?”
Thal raised his blade into a ready stance. It had been a long time since he had been in a lightsaber duel. Even longer since he had studied the Seven Forms. This next step would be difficult, and deadly if he failed. But if it worked… well, if it worked, the duel would be over.
“I still have one more thing to say, Johram.”
The Weequay looked exasperated, but ready. He clearly wasn’t about to let Thal’s incessant speaking cause him to drop his guard. And that was fine. Thal was going to do that for him.
“You see, I told you that you’ve been using some of the basic principles of Shii-Cho. But you’re missing the core principle, the highest mark of a true practitioner of Form I. Can you think of what it is?”
“I don’t care,” the Weequay said, as he tried another faulty attack.
Thal blocked it an returned to his ready stance.
“It’s very important. In fact, you might say that it’s one of the core ideals of a Jedi’s approach to conflict. Because of this, many see Shii-Cho — the most basic and simplest of lightsaber forms — to be the ultimate realization of the Jedi Code.”
“I don’t care.”
Another attack; another block.
“Do you really not know?” Thal said, smiling fanatically.
“I. Don’t. Care!”
Another attack, but this block was different. Thal had been waiting for a strike like this. Stopping the blade near the pommel, he slid his blade down the length of his opponent’s and severed both blade and wrist in one swift circle.
Johram howled and fell to his knees, clutching the stump.
“Neutralization without elimination,” Thal said, completing his thought. “A truly elegant solution.”