Guardian of the Galaxy
The Darkness and the Light
In the outer regions of the Nova Empire, the suns' light could not reach the unrelenting blackness of the ever present oblivion, nor anything that lay within its perilous grasp and the viewport of my ship, planets, moons and stars passed by in a flash of motion until eventually all there was left before and around me was emptiness, cold and a feeling of loneliness that I as a Togruta could not bear to acknowledge if anything to avoid going crazy within the harrowing depths of my own fragile mind.
I stared at the vessel's navi-comp for what must have been hours, days or even weeks, unblinking, unable to sleep and terrified that if I did doze off, the mysterious agent of whoever had tasked me with this mission to edges of the galaxy would reappear in my nightmares and haunt me with his shrill and terrible voice.
"Eyes open, Ahsoka… Always keep… eyes… open…"
The wariness in my own tone doesn't surprise me as much as it perhaps should, but through heavy eyes I can see first-hand in my own reflection that evading the warmth of the bunk behind me is slowly, painfully taking its toll on both my body and my mind… I can't do this anymore… I need to… to rest…
My legs wobble and ache under the strain of standing up, the cracks and creaks of my stiff bones echo off the very walls in the silence and in doing so I find myself pressing my hands lightly against my sound and touch sensitive montrals for reprieve, a luxury I begin to fear I may not have for very much longer.
Removing the heavy armour from my boots and shoulders was the beginning of the ordeal. The clank of the metal against the flood made my head throb once more and ring for several awful seconds until I was finally able to unclench my teeth and get to work on the rest of my clothing, leaving me with only the wrappings around my chest and the leggings I didn't want to even attempt to take off in fear I would only trip on them and end up falling out of consciousness on the hard, cold floor.
Sitting on the edge of the bedding to try and steady myself for a moment has little effect, but the effort of lifting and swinging my legs onto the softness of the mattress is enough to snap me back to some kind of reality at least for a long second, before I pull the welcome warmth of the blanked over my body and curl up as best I can against whatever dreams I may or may not have to live through before the morning comes…
Within the confines of my subconscious, I begin to see the outlines of villages and the silhouettes of people, animals and machines alike as they move through broken streets and ruined wooden shelters surrounded by tall trees and a familiar red and white coloured grass.
I begin to hear voices then, mechanical shrieks and murmurs from the skinny, walking robots that lead rows of chained people through the destruction. Droids of the Trade Federation, I realise, while the people they escort reveal themselves to be those of my own, Togruta, being horded and marched through the broken lands of my own home planet… Shili…
Blaster fire echoes in the distance, the sight and sound of lightsabers, green, yellow and blue enter my vision from an unseen side and begin slicing through the surprised machines like a hot knife cuts through butter. Shouts and cheers erupt from the on watching Togruta as they too join the fight, breaking away from their restraints and grapping spears tipped with merciless steel to destroy and dismantle their oppressors with the help of the Jedi pair who encourage and thank them openly for their support.
Before long, the droids are decimated and defeated leaving none but the innocent and the righteous standing tall and it is then that I see the faces of the Jedi, as well as those they protect. I see myself standing with a smile, with Anakin at my side looking down at me proudly as another mission ends in success and my people, no, my family and tribe are set free and saved by one of their own and the Hero Without Fear.
Even as I sleep, I can feel the oncoming rush of tears welling up as they begin running down my cheeks. My heart begins to beat faster too, adding to the pressure that has already built up in my chest as guilt, regret and sorrow plague my very soul and threaten to overwhelm me if I dare continue this vision any longer… if only I had a choice in the matter.
As Anakin pats my shoulder and nods toward an approaching Togruta couple, my anxiety bursts like a long abandoned dam. There, before my very eyes stand my mother and father both beaming with pride as they embrace their daughter and tell her how much they have missed her since the Jedi Master Plo Koon took her away from them so many moons ago.
They tell me that they are proud that I carry on the Tano name and that of my culture as I place a hand atop the middle tooth of the headdress I earned after my rite of passage. 'Mighty Huntress', my father speaks in Togruti and all of a sudden the pain and anguish is washed away as I realise the significance of the title and that of the people who have bestowed it upon me.
In reality I realise, I will never see them again like I am seeing them now in my dreams, but I can still do them proud in serving a cause I know with all my heart they would approve of. I must continue to fight because that is what I am doomed to do for the rest of my life, but I will not fight for myself, I will fight for the weak and the helpless, I will fight for my new family on Krylor and give them back the lives that they have lost and deserve more than anyone else in the galaxy. I will fight for Aryn, for our group and anyone else willing to stand against war and its aftermath so long as there is still something left to live for, and then, when the day comes that I can lay down my blade and fight no more, I will know I have made my family and my master truly proud to call me their daughter, their Padawan and their friend, for a thousand saved souls is worth the sacrifice… of the one soul that is cursed to forever roam. Lost on a sea of shadows and uncertainty…
The deafening sound of the ship's arrival alarm made me half jump out of my skin. My eyes snapped open as I lifted myself up to a sitting position and took in long, broken breaths in an attempt to steady myself and bring my focus back to reality after the vivid dream-like visions I had experienced in the depths of the much needed slumber.
A quick look at the chrono on the wall revealed I had fallen out of consciousness for a whole two and a half days while my vessel flew through space on the automated pilot. The realisation of the time I had been out was startling, but even as the surprise sunk into my mind; I couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief as my body felt more fresh and alive than it had for the entire length of time I had been in this new galaxy.
Straightening and stretching my legs out over the bunk, I test my feet on the cold floor before adding my entire weight to them in order to make sure the new sense of energetic enthusiasm wasn't yet another illusion conjured up in my head and again, I am left feeling fully relieved.
With a small smile I make my way back into the cockpit and take a seat before the controls both to turn the now annoying alarm off and try to get an exact readout on my bearings before throwing myself into the task of landing the ship on the planet before me and beginning the mission that will decide not only my future, but that of Krylor as well.
The black orb of the unknown world spins slowly in front of me, its skies marked with flashes of red lightning and thick; dark clouds which spill something that I struggle to call rain down upon the planet's lifeless surface where nothing but silence seems to exist.
The galactic map on the navi comp reveals my location to be well outside normal space, on the edges of the Nova Empire where nothing is supposed to be and no one is supposed to thread. This far outside of the knowing pull of life that lies behind me in the centre of the galaxy, I feel the sudden emptiness of solitude once again crawling its way into the only slightly sated anxiety that sits upon my heart, threatening to strike should I make a wrong move and slow me down before I can even get started, but I steel myself against that thought; not while there's still a job to do…
"There is no emotion… there is peace…"
My ship breaks through the long-forgotten planet's atmosphere with a series of shakes and whines through ravaging turbulence. From above, the black expanse of the surface is even more personified, revealing seas that look to consist of oil rather than water, while darkened wastelands make clear the fact that nothing but the smallest hints of life thrive in the eternal night. Good, I think silently to myself, means there won't be anyone to stand in my way or make this any more difficult than it has to be.
A bright red circle on my navi-comp begins to blink and beep, bringing my attention back to the brightened screen as the abandoned Nova facility comes into scanner range as quickly as my craft enters the final stages of its landing procedure, gliding through the seemingly never ending storm, while droplets of blackened rain water bounce off the view screen and slide backwards into the skies beyond.
Flashes of memory come and go with every meter my ship descends. The constantly falling rain reminding me of one of the few times I had visited the birthplace of the clone army on Kamino with my master, or to visit the Jedi Master stationed there to overlook the development and training of the Republic's infinite legion of troops, a fellow Togruta and a friend in Shaak Ti.
Even for all of the calm and serenity she seemed to exude in copious amounts, I never quite understood Master Ti as well as I would have liked to. She had always been friendly and supportive of me whenever we did meet face to face, but her mind was always so guarded, I sometimes wondered if she too would cry herself to sleep when no one was around to hear or see.
As Togruta, our very nature calls us into the wild to run, to hunt and to survive. In our language, in Togruti, our names hold significance because they tell their own story about who the person is and who they are destined to be. Names are important in that way, we remember them, we shape them and we discover their meaning as much as we discover ourselves before they're taken away from us by an evil we dare not speak of.
In some ways, I think of myself in much the same way as I remember Master Ti. We were Jedi once, but war and conflict tore our spirits apart. She too had been trapped inside a steel cage and forced to watch over a source of destruction and death, but she would never be allowed to run with them even as I was, to feel the thrill of battle in ways I shouldn't have and to embrace our inborn nature like our people were free to do.
Closing my eyes against the bleak sight before me, I begin to wonder what Shaak Ti would think of me now. Would she be angry or disappointed in me for leaving the Jedi Order? Would she understand why I did it? Why I had to do it? What would she say if she knew I'd turned to a life of crime for the greater good of an entire planet? Somehow, I doubt that last one would sit well with her, or any Jedi for that matter, even if the cause was just and my reasons true.
Had our roles been reversed, had Shili been in danger like Krylor was, would the Jedi, the Republic, have intervened to save my people like I wanted to save the Krylorians from certain famine or decay? In my mind, the answer rings clear but in my heart, I feel I know the terrible truth despite not wanting to and that proves to be the most terrifying thing of all. That a world can be abandoned to starve while others flourish and pay no heed. That is not the galaxy I once fought to save and neither will it be for this new frontier. I fight because that is what I am good at, I fight because I can fight, I fight… because no one else will.
"Eyes open, walk with the shadows…"
The ships landing gear touches down on the planet's surface with an audible thud before the boarding ramp descends and the sound of the falling, heavy rain surrounds and echoes though my montrals like hail off a glass window.
Throwing on my boots, battledress and shoulder armour, as well a worn winter parka Aryn had given me, I make my way to the back of the ship with the rest of my equipment and mask tucked safely away in my satchel as I steel myself to face the elements outside and the mission that stands before me.
Surprisingly, the air outside the ship was warm and heavy despite the storm like conditions. The ground beneath my feet was warm too, burning in fact, to the point that my boots begin to heat up as fast as the rest of my body under the parka's thick fabric, leaving me sweating and breathing profusely for air with each step I take toward the towering fence that closes the facility within from outsiders and acts as the first obstacle of what I am sure are to be many more that await me deeper into the compound's depths.
Fatigue settles over me before I have the chance to fight it, each step carries the weight of a small moon and every breath intake seems to take an age between inhaling and exhaling to the point my eyes begin to dim and my vision becomes clouded.
The rocks I step on crack and shatter under my light weight, their black husks spilling out a powder that stinks of fire and ash. For not the complex in front of me, I would begin to wonder if this planet was one massive orb of molten rock, ever burning and smouldering as it reforms itself countless times over the course of hours or days.
The cloud over my thoughts thickens some, collapsing itself around better judgment and driving me forward into nothing. No… I need to turn back…
Be it my own will or the will of the Force that drives me, I find myself turned to face my ship once again as a desperate effort to return to the controlled, cool environment of its inner sanctum carries my weighted legs when strength alone cannot.
Thrusters flair to life before I can reach the boarding ramp, the sound of the rocks beneath the landing gear cracking and sending a storm of dust into the air startles me back to reality as all at once the ship and my hope of respite rise into the sky and disappear into the rain-soaked clouds without so much as a warning or explanation of departure. Of course, they would be watching. They would not allow me to turn back.
Cursing the unknown name of dark one from Xandar, I reach into my satchel and pull out and on the mask Aryn had had made for me to conceal my appearance as a Togruta as well as act as a valuable mission tool.
A sigh escapes my lips as I welcome the clarity of cool, filtered air and a host of options at which I can choose how I perceive the world around me simply by scrolling through the visor options and selecting anything that will continue to help me make it further than the few blind paces I had only been able to achieve on my previous excursion.
It still takes a lot longer than it should have to reach the base of the tall boundary fence, the sheer weight of the heat and building fatigue slowing my paces to almost a crawl before I came to a stop before the obstacle and take a moment to gather my strength for what I already knew will be a difficult Force augmented leap from my current position to the one on the other side of the rust-skinned, steel giant.
A quick scan of the fence and the area beyond reveals little in the ways of security systems. No trip-mines, laser wires or surveillance cameras show up on my visor's interface, but given how old this place looks, I know better than to take any chances before reaching my ultimate objective, hopefully without having to deal with any wailing alarms or worse still, this galaxy's ruthless version of a heavily armed and armoured defender droid.
Focusing my energies in and around my legs, I begin to fall into the power of the Force to propel me up into the air before pushing that same energy back to the ground on the other side to cushion my landing and ensure my leap is as quick and silent as the fall of a feather on a light, evening breeze.
My eyes snap open just as my feet leave the ground and I throw myself into a forward, mid-air roll at the apex of my jump. To a regular onlooker's eyes, my actions would have passed in a mere blink but through my own sight, time and space seemed to slow to the point each particle of dust in the air was as clear to me as the massive building before me, passing by and crashing into my form as I ended my acrobatic flip and aimed the full extent of the Force's power down toward the ground for me to land on, crouched, with one hand outstretched and my head facing the ground as the flow of time returned to normal and the full extent of my exertions made its presence known.
Steadying myself and standing up straight with a stretch of my arms, I allow the Force to once again surround and fill me with its energy in an effort to stave off the weariness that hangs on my shoulders like a heavy boulder on a strained metal chain.
Before long, my heated legs carry me to the towering entrance to the facility's main building and the wall mounted control panel which takes longer than I would like to power up so that I can activate the door's locks and open the way inside.
A small slicer spike, a gift from Anakin in our early days as Master and Padawan, proves to work just as well on the technology here as it would have done back in my home galaxy. That one thought makes me smile, he would have been proud to see I was just as sufficient with the tool now as I had been when he'd taught me to use it years earlier, and maybe even more so knowing I decided to disobey the dark one's orders to use the key card to make my way into the abandoned base, or the map provided, for the Force would be my guide.
The door creaks and groans loudly as metal scrapes against metal. Gears off in the near distance grind and turn too, creating a symphony of industrial mechanisms I had come to know quite well from my time in the Jedi Order and the many Separatist strongholds and factories I'd invaded, captured or destroyed while fighting in the never ending Clone Wars.
Lights flickered in and out of existence on the ceiling above as power gradually returned to give life to the many machines, computers and conveyer belts that littered the floor before my eyes. It seemed that this place was nothing more than another production site, a place where weapons, artillery or other military equipment was built and packaged to be shipped off to some battlefield or base far away from its well hidden source.
Clever I think quietly to myself, No one would suspect Nova of having a place like this so far away from their core planets. Nothing to see, nothing to attack. The perfect risk free operation…
The premise of the idea, of the execution of Nava's plans was impressive, something both the Republic and Separatists would appreciate had one of their own come up with it, but unlike either side contending the Clone Wars and at this level, Nova were being so secret, so careful, that they were willing to leave the facility to hide away on the furthest reaches of their known space to keep it out of reach of the Kree, something that made them different… something that made them dangerous.
The still scanning interface of my mask draws my attention to the visor's intel with a series of beeps and flashes of data as all at once the plant's security systems flare to life alongside anything else still able to draw on the newly restored flow of electricity. No cameras to speak of, but a host of normally invisible laser trip-wires appear in their hundreds as thin red beams on the screen before me, throwing up yet another obstacle course for me to run through, though unlike the tall fence, at least inside the building, the air was a lot cooler and my limbs not as heavy from the weight of the super-heated air out in the wastelands left behind me.
Cautiously and with a keen eye for anything out of the ordinary, I begin to make my way into the bowls of the massive building. High above me, golden star shaped fighter craft sit on small landing pads connected to the plain, grey walls with ladders and cargo lifts connecting one to another as they rise into three organised rows, one on top of the other and circled the room in a ring of unused air superiority.
Much like the heights of the walls, the ground floor didn't fail to disappoint when offering a host of war machines. From gargantuan artillery vehicles, to a battalion's worth of threaded tanks half hidden under the camouflaged sheets they would have at one time used out in the field but now only served to slow the amount of dust that could gather atop their thick armoured shells.
Aside from the organised and abandoned weaponry, the only other items on the floor to speak of were a number of cranes, some still clinging on to missiles or boxes, and stacked crates in corners or lined up in front of or between the tanks and mobile units. The only thing to connect everything were the beams sprouting out from the security modules mounted inside the walls, and on those, my eyes and mind focused on fully, knowing that even if the wailing alarms here would not attract any kind of attention, the signal emitters that were easily seen dotted throughout the ceiling and connected to the roof would surly let the Nova Corps know of an intruder snooping around in one of their now known forbidden zones.
Steadily, my slow stride turns into a jog, to a run, until finally I come within mere inches of the first of the hundreds of laser trip-wires and leap over it into roll. Another two go over me before I'm forced to twist, flip and spin through a web of red lasers while simultaneously landing in a handstand and slowing my front faced fall so my body arches over the invisible line, making a grunt escape from between the clenched teeth of my snarling lips as pressure is placed on my still healing ribs.
Standing like a crab droid, I can't help but let out a little laugh at how silly I must look, would look, to anyone who could see me in this position. The joyful giggle does add to the slight sting irradiating from my sternum, but I don't pay it mush attention as I push my hands off the floor finally to stand upright once more and brush myself off in preparation for the next set of beams, a smile, though small, though fragile, continuing to linger all the while.
It didn't take much longer for me to reach the far side of the building where a single hanger sized door sat tightly sealed. My slicer spike made short work of it, but I wasn't prepared to see what lay on the other side when the massive sliding slabs of metal finally finished their scraping journeys to the opposite wall and disappeared inside the furrows which hid them until closed once again.
A cargo elevator, thirty meters in length and twenty meters wide struggled to life with a loud, mechanical groan. Behind it, a cavernous tunnel, built to accommodate the beastly machine and anything else that might had once sat upon it, descended into the depths and a darkness so bleak, even my keen natural gift of sight combined with my visor's specially designed sensors, couldn't even begin pierce the blackened wall to see what awaited beneath in an unknown I would soon need to know.
Reaching out with the Force, I couldn't pick up on any signs of danger or life in the dark below, but even as I boarded the elevator and activated the terminal at its side to make it move, I couldn't help but feel a sudden sense that someone, or something, was watching me.
The descent took more than an hour to complete, though it probably wouldn't have taken as long if I hadn't had to change elevator twice along the way and slice into the last one in order to restore and reroute power from the generators located high overhead which were even now still struggling to keep the electricity flow steady after years of lying dormant.
Darkness gave way to a chilling cold the deeper into the depths I descended, vapour poured free from my lungs with each breath I took and all at once the scene had shifted dramatically from the intense heat above and outside to the icy freeze of the hidden world below.
Silence ruled eternal here, a fact that became painfully clear the moment my feet left the halted elevator and took their first steps into a dome shaped chamber as large as a Trade Federation command ship, which in its centre, held a cube shaped structure so small and out of place, it looked almost too obvious to be obvious.
The vast expanse of this place was only just illuminated by small, blue lights which dotted the curving ceiling. Beside them, deactivated gun turrets equipped with laser guided target acquisition gear hung lifeless in their thousands, as yet untouched by the restored power, though for how long I dared not to question.
The chamber was clear of any security measures thus far, again no cameras, no tripwires and no droids stood ready to slow me as I carefully made my way into the core of the room to stand in front of the cube and examine it for any sign that it, as I suspected, was the target I had been searching for since touching down on this Force forsaken backwater excuse for a planet.
Placing a hand on the smooth, cool surface of the structure, I closed my eyes and attempted to reach out with the Force in an effort to detect what, if anything lay inside the perfectly constructed container. A yelp of surprise caused by a sudden sound from within halted me however, as my eyes snapped open to the sight before them and I bore witness to the inner shell of the cube as it begun to shatter into tiny pieces, all of which disappeared, to reveal a clear view of a single, empty pedestal in the very centre of a glass room.
Annoyance creases my features as I slip off my mask and breathe a frustrated sigh while adding a frown at the realisation that this may not have been the place or object I was really supposed to find.
Long minutes pass by as I stare at the inside of the cube as if in a failing endeavour to learn what could or should have been placed atop the pedestal within. A strange scent hangs in the air, but I do my utmost to ignore it as my senses extend outward to see and feel everything and anything in and around this dome which would give me a better understanding as to what this place was and what it was supposed to hold that would drive someone to hire a band of thieves in order to track down and take it before someone else could.
Cursing myself for not gathering more information from the dark one on Xandar only adds to my frustration and building anger. I feel like screaming, like extending and increasing my power again to pull this place down around me and destroy it if only to find the item quicker.
The chill in the room grows colder, the scent more potent, but again, I ignore both as my mind begins to spin in a hurricane of frustration and hatred the likes of which I had never before experienced in my entire life as a Jedi.
By the time the sense of danger breaks through the settled clouds over my mind it's too late, the gas, the strange security measure which had begun venting into the camber from the moment I'd placed my hand on the cube had already taken a hold of my senses to the point the Force had mixed with its effects to create a dark and dangerous cocktail of illusion and emotion so strong and resistant, it blinds me to reality and sends me stumbling into a vision I would not even realise was conjured and false until it was too late to fight it.
Shadows danced and floated in the darkness. Hands, born out of the black mist grabbed a hold of my arms and legs, and breathing, so deep and tortuous in its inhale, so evil and ominous in its exhale, filled my montrals until my lekku threatened to curl up against the horrible the sound even as it closes in on me, even as stood before me.
"The Force is strong with you, young Ahsoka… But you are not a Jedi yet…"
Its voice is harsh and booming, like a ballad of dark promises that could only lead to pain, suffering and death if followed too far at its side.
All at once, I want to slam my eyes shut so I don't have to look up into those cold, black eyes. To have to witness the tall, monstrous figure of a man, no a machine, as it stands before me bathed in the dark side and activates its deadly, crimson lightsaber with the intent to only do me harm before striking the final blow.
"Let me go! Let me go!"
My screams are panicked and quick to the point I don't attempt to try and hide the fear in them. Struggling against the hands that hold me is just as futile, their grips tightening on my limbs with every move I make and the sound of the terrible breathing increasing with every step the shadow takes toward me, blade firmly in hand, readying to strike me down.
Its black visage came within inches of my own, its darkened, red eyes locking with my blue gaze as its rage, its anger, its fear and its hate came crashing down on me simply by being this close, simply by being in its… his presence.
Gritting my teeth, I try to force my head back and away from his piercing glare without avail. Beads of sweat roll down my forehead to coat my face and half blind my eyes when combining with the gathering storm of tears, and in that moment, I am not as strong as I wanted to build myself up to be, I am not the emotionless warrior of the light who didn't care about herself and only fought for the good of others, no, realisation dawned in the blinding light of a rising sun and as I stared blankly into its rays, for the first time since I left the Jedi Temple and my Master atop its steps, I was but a lost child and I was afraid.
"Fear ill suits you, my former apprentice…"
His voice alone forces me to face him, its sudden shift from mechanical and struggled, to clear, soft and so familiarly teasing that I almost snap myself out of the illusion then and there. If only I had been able to.
Just as suddenly as it appeared, the figure's lightsaber sizzles and hums into a clear, blue blade from the dark side crimson it had once been. The mask, once so threatening and neutrally hard, faded into a black cloud along with the rest of its black armour to reveal tanned Jedi robes and a face I never thought I would ever see again in even the wildest depths of my haunted dreams.
Shock pulls consciousness out of my weakened grasp before I have the chance to fight it. The arms that had gripped onto me weakened too, eventually dropping me to the cold, hard ground where I lay flat on my back, unable to move, unable to breath; unable to comprehend what was real and what was being forced into my sight by the gas as it continued to mix with the power and influence of the Force in ways I know its creators could never have known it would.
As slowly as my eyes began to dim, so too did he once again come to stand over me, to kneel down and cup my cheek with his gloved, mechanical hand in a gesture I would not understand. Was he trying to comfort me? Was he going to kill me? The darkness took me before either question could form on the tip of my tongue, yet still I manage to speak one word before the unwelcome slumber claimed me. One word, to answer his own.
Staring up into clouded blue eyes, my own shined brightly within them with a dangerous mix of hope, joy, doubt and eventually realisation as I spoke his name, knew his name, more than I even knew my own in that moment in time when I so yearned to hang on to for as long as I could in an effort to hang onto him, as well as myself.
"Sleep tight, Snips…"
His voice echoes in my thoughts….
…And finally, the tears begin to fall.
Authors Notes: Thanks for reading guys.
At the beginning of this chapter, I wanted to really show how Ahsoka feels about herself and her life since ending up in this new galaxy and being left to continue to fight despite leaving one war behind. This story will really be about her finding a purpose that doesn't involve her laying down her life in order to save so many others, but allows her to still do that while feeling she has so much more to live for and strive towards before she does lay her sword down one last time.
I hope you all enjoyed this chapter and thank you once again to everyone who has read, reviewed, followed and favourited the story so far. Your support means so much to me and I hope I can repay you all by writing a story you all will like to continue reading.
But yeah, that's about it from me. Thank you all once again for reading and I will catch you guys next time. Cheers!