Welcome to the second of my six Clone Wars novellas! All of which take their plots from episodes of my favorite western TV series. Can anyone guess this one?
Last time, it was Obi-Wan who had the spotlight; now it's Ahsoka's
Note: While this story follows my previous novella, "The Crucible," its not crucial to have read that one first. I only allude to the events later on. ;)
She couldn't remember ever being more nervous.
Standing in the cool interior of the starship, the young Torgruta knew the shivers traveling down her spine weren't only because of the skimpy red outfit she'd chosen to wear that day.
In just a few minutes, she would meet her new Jedi Master and make the transition from Initiate to Padawan.
It's about time! She thought. Who's ever heard of a fourteen-year-old Initiate?
She was older than the usual starting age, she knew, but that simply meant she was more experienced, more capable.
More ready to learn than ever before.
Still, she felt incredibly young, almost unworthy to be a Padawan at her age. She didn't know of anyone around her age fighting in the Clone Wars.
An eternity seemed to pass as the ship made its landing on Christophsis, settling gently onto the war-torn city landscape.
Don't be nervous… Don't be—
Who was she kidding? She was terrified. Hundreds of possible scenarios flooded her psyche, overloading her brain. Would her new Master like her? Would he be hard on her, easy on her? Would he be too lenient or too harsh?
Would he even want her? Would he reject her?
Did he even know she was coming? Would he be happy about this new arrangement, or just see her as a burden?
After all, he hadn't chosen her—Master Yoda had chosen her for him.
Someone better have told him I'm coming.
I'm coming, Master.
Another shiver wracked her thin frame, excitement and anxiety dancing across her orange skin.
Then, the door opened.
Shading her eyes against the bright sun, she bounded down the ramp a little faster than necessary.
This is the moment. This is it!
The moment every young Jedi dreamed of, hoped for, yearned for.
She hadn't even finished walking up to the two Jedi Masters standing before her when the taller of the two crossed his arms, gazing at her with annoyed curiosity.
"And who are you?"
Was this her Master? Master Skywalker? He looked… younger than his holonet pictures. During more peaceful times, she would have pegged him as only a Senior Padawan, not a full Jedi Knight.
But this was war, and as Master Yoda had told her, "A little more unorthodox these days, things are."
"I'm Ahsoka…" She introduced with more hesitation than she would have liked. "Master Yoda sent me."
Master Skywalker didn't appear impressed in the slightest. Not with her or with the sly smirk his companion was giving him.
Instead, he simply glared down at her expectantly, as if she was a mere messenger who was getting in the way of his hero work.
So… a burden it is, then…
"This is insane. We just finished a battle here and they expect us to pack up and move to another one just like that?" With the sharp snap of his fingers, Anakin drove his point into the ground.
Yet, Master Obi-Wan appeared to be unmoved.
"I'm sorry it upsets you so, Anakin, but who am I to argue with the Jedi Council?"
"But Master," he pressed, a bit of a whine lacing his tone, "you're on the Council!"
Ahsoka shot her grandmaster a sympathetic look as he continued, "That's beside the point."
"It's exactly the point!" Anakin exclaimed, throwing his arms into the air. "You're on the Council, you should be able to tell them we need a break."
"We're fine, Anakin. Besides, we're not heading into another battle. Not with the Separatists, at least."
Ahsoka stood her ground as her Master crossed his arms, trying not to back away. She wasn't scared of Skyguy when he got into these aggravated moods, she just… liked to keep her distance. After all, she knew her Master well. Two years with the man had given her plenty of time to learn his habits, and she knew for a fact that he grew rather reckless when he lost his temper.
One day, I'm not going to be here to remind you to calm down, Skyguy. And neither is Master Obi-Wan.
As a waft of lingering smoke drifted past her face, stinging her eyes and nose before it disappeared into the air, she wondered if Anakin's anger would dissipate in the same way.
Instead, Anakin fixed his old Master with a hard stare. "Yeah? Then what kind of battle is it?"
"It might not even be a battle," Obi-Wan tried to explain. "Look, the Council received a call for help from Otumni and we're commanding the closest battalion. Like it or not, we're the most logical option."
Her Master sighed. "Fine, I get that. But our troops are tired, you're tired, Ahsoka's tired—I'm tired!"
"I'm not tired!" She blurted, inserting herself into the conversation. "I'm ready for anything, Master. Just tell me where to point my lightsaber."
Her spunk was rewarded with a smile from Anakin. "Sure, Snips. Hey, what was your final count?"
An air of pride settled over her and she straightened. "Fifty-seven."
"Not bad. Not bad." Anakin nodded thoughtfully. "But that means I still beat you by five."
"How you two have time to count destroyed droids in the heat of battle is beyond me," Obi-Wan commented dryly. "Let's not forget: this is war, not a game."
"Sure," Anakin replied. "But how does that saying go again? Something about you gotta laugh or you'll cry?"
With a stroke of his beard, her grandmaster nodded. "True. Well, in that case, you had better start laughing."
"Because I would hate for you to cry when I tell you my final count of seventy-one."
Ahsoka had to stifle a laugh when her Master's jaw went slack.
Wow… Take that, Skyguy!
With a smirk, Obi-Wan retreated back to their base, which was little more than a circle of gunships and scattered equipment, leaving one last instruction for the duo:
"When you finish tidying up your section of the battlefield, you can join me and Cody at the comm-hub for a briefing on our next mission."
"Guess you lost this round, Master," Ahsoka commented when Obi-Wan was out of earshot. "Hey, maybe next time, right?"
He muttered something she couldn't quite make out, but that was all right. It probably wasn't something for young ears, anyway.
"I can't believe it. How did he… And he tells me war isn't a game." He muttered something else in a language she couldn't understand and she made a mental note to look up the word later.
"Just laugh, Skyguy," she said, patting him on the arm, "or else you'll cry. Right?"
"Haha. Happy now?"
She shrugged. "It's a start. Come on, let's hurry with the clean-up. We don't want to keep Master Obi-Wan waiting too long."
"Oh, Force forbid."
With a skip in her step, she trailed behind her Master, being careful not to trip over the fizzing remains of dismembered battle droids.
"Do you really think we won't be able to handle this new mission, Master?" She asked after a few moments of silent work.
"I don't know," he said, exhaustion bleeding into his voice. "I'm just concerned about our troops. The 501st took on heavy casualties this time around. I don't want to lose any more of our boys."
"Maybe we should talk to Captain Rex? Find out what he thinks?"
"He's a soldier to the end, Ahsoka. He'll go wherever we lead him." He sighed. "And I don't want to lead him into another massacre."
"But… we won this round, right?"
"Yeah, sure. But at what cost?"
Struck dumb, Ahsoka watched her Master dragged himself to the next clean-up zone, where Fives was helping Kix with yet another wounded soldier.
It wasn't often that she stopped to think about everything they sacrificed during these battles, she was too busy focusing on all the innocent citizens they were saving.
Why did her Master have to be so confusing? One moment, he was playing the I-can-destroy-more-droids-than-you game, and the next he was going on about how much they were losing to this war.
The worst part was that Ahsoka couldn't remember a galaxy without war. Her entire apprenticeship had so far taken place during the Clone Wars, and most days she didn't give it a second thought.
It's just how things are…
But sometimes…every-so-often…she wondered what her apprenticeship would be like if she had been a Padawan during peacetime.
What was it like for Skyguy? What was it like for Master Obi-Wan? She often found she had an easier time picturing her own Master as a Padawan than Master Obi-Wan. Sometimes, Anakin still acted like a Padawan, especially when he was around Obi-Wan.
Tucking away such unhelpful thoughts, Ahsoka jogged over to Rex, who was just finishing with his own clean-up zone.
"Hey, Commander," he greeted, smiling down at her. "Almost finished over there?"
"Yeah. I think Skyguy is just giving the area one last sweep."
He wants to make sure we don't leave any fallen brothers behind.
The captain nodded solemnly, and for a brief moment, she feared she had accidentally spoken her private thoughts.
"So, um…" Why was she hesitating? "Did you hear about our new mission yet?"
Please, say yes! Say yes!
To her dismay, Rex shook his head.
"A call for help from Otumni," she went on, hoping to land the blow quickly and get it over with. "We're the closest battalion."
"Effective immediately, I'm guessing?"
She nodded. "Master Obi-Wan and Commander Cody are prepping to brief everyone."
Rex furrowed his brows. "How many troops are really needed for a mission like that?"
"I'm not sure… But I'm worried about Anakin. He doesn't think we can hop from one mission to another without some sort of a break. Do you think that's a legitimate concern? Or do you think it's just Anakin being… well… Skyguy?"
"It all depends on the mission. I've got a lot of faith placed in our boys, but I doubt they'd fair well in a new battle. Not after one like this… not without rest."
Her mouth felt suddenly dry. Was the Council leading them into another massacre?
No. They would never. Not intentionally, at least.
"What are your thoughts on it, Commander?"
For a moment, she didn't know. No one ever really asked her how she felt about these things. They simply briefed her on the plan and the part she would play in it.
"I…" she shrugged. "I think thrusting the 501st and the 212th into another battle is...foolish, but not impossible. And who knows? Maybe there won't even be a battle. Not every cry for help is a call to war."
A warm chuckle filled the air around them. "They outta give you a seat on that council."
The unfamiliar heat of a blush crept up around her neck and into her cheeks.
Imagine me on the Jedi Council!
To her, the idea was beyond absurd, but the way Rex had said it made it sound like the most natural proposition in the galaxy.
"Yeah, right," she replied with a laugh. "The odds of me ever getting a seat are the same as Skyguy's: zero."
"Honestly? I think you have a higher chance than even he does." Winking, he lowered his voice. "Just don't tell the general I said that."
"My lips are sealed."
"Good. Now, let's go see what Cody and General Kenobi have planned for us, shall we?"
"Lead the way, captain."
With a light skip in her step, Ahsoka trailed alongside Rex, trying to stay optimistic about their situation, just like Master Obi-Wan had taught her. But it grew increasingly harder to do so as they passed by Kix's make-shift medical station, which was overflowing with wounded—possibly dying—clone troopers.
"Yeah, sure. But at what cost?"
Her Master's words echoed throughout her mind, sinking her spirits lower and lower as she walked on.
Come on, Ahsoka! She scolded. Lace it all with optimism! Just a hint of optimism…
A moan floated past her ears on the wind. Keeping her gaze fixed on the camp of ships ahead was the best way to keep her thoughts away from the private writhing in agony by her knees.
At what cost…?
Why does there always have to be such a heavy cost?