Author's Note: Hello everyone! Before we get started, I wanted to comment that this is a sequel. It follows another fic called Said the Joker to the Thief. This fic will probably not make much sense without having read that. It takes place post Revenge of the Sith, and focuses on some of the supporting cast of The Clone Wars series. What Any of it is Worth expands on the events of Said the Joker, and picks up immediately where Said the Joker left off (not including its epilogue). Otherwise, enjoy!
What Any of it is Worth
"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."
'All Along the Watchtower'- Bob Dylan
Chapter 1. The Form of Perseverance
Around her, jade colored brightness flew, in arcs and twists, the blade humming the familiar tune to which she moved. Eyes closed, energy whirling around her, but also through her, binding, the separation between herself and the rest of the galaxy diminished, her self submerged into the pattern of the dance and into the Force that bound her to all other things.
A foot moved here. A hand moved there. Perfect, practiced steps from countless repetitions. The blade moved forward, a stab. It swept upward, a slash. The light from its arc reflected against her face and lit the grass underfoot, eerie, cool, flickering. She moved low, the tips of the vegetation seared from the passing of the blade. She pivoted, balanced delicately for a moment on one foot, then lowered the other for a more solid stance. The ground was still somewhat soft from an earlier drizzle. Damp earth moved around bare toes as she positioned herself.
A final motion. A long thrust forward, legs bent, head low, chin down, invisible enemy stabbed through the heart.
She opened sky blue eyes, and found she had an audience.
Ilum did not exist.
It was not unlike Kamino in that sense. No starchart marked it. Few had ever heard of it, its existence kept secret from all but a special few. Reaching the planet was not easy. Travel on the surface of the world was cold and treacherous. The oceans were only floes of ice, the land covered in glaciers of blue and white, sparkling enough in the sunlight to blind any person who dared to look upon them directly.
Ahsoka squinted across the cliff, to see only a sea of white-blue behind her. Beneath heavy layers of snowsuit and parka, she was sweating with the effort of scaling the slopes to reach this vantage point. Bitter wind blew down from the higher mountains, sending flakes of snow swirling lazily around her. Her cheeks were turning dark brown with cold, her white markings revealing a shade almost matching the glaciers where they were uncovered by thermal fabric and insulating faux furs.
She lifted her hands, placed them on either side of the goggles over her eyes, and lifted them, setting the visor onto her forehead. The brightness increased, the sharpness of the light and refracting snow growing sharper. Her squint sharpened. But she wanted to see this with her own eyes, with nothing in the way. She looked up the cliff face before her, the pale wall of it rising until it seemed to cut the sky with a spiky edge.
Nestled between two sloping cliffs lay the ruin. Once, she knew, it had been beautiful. Ice spires that would have shone silver and blue amid the frost, crystalline colors, representative of the precious crystals that lay within. The structure that led into the Crystal Cave of Ilum served as a waystation and welcome place for Jedi seeking hearts for their lightsabers. Now it was toppled, the spires broken, the windows shattered or slumped. Archways were collapsed on themselves. The front gate was crushed close. All was scattered with snow.
Crunching footsteps. Rex approached, holding a scanner, his head bent intently, "I'm picking up some lifesigns in the area."
A pause, and she there was a frown visible on his face amid his own cold weather wrappings and goggles. His lips were tinged with blue. He brushed fine ice crystals off the surface of the scanner's monitor with a thickly gloved hand. "Not too close. We should be careful though. Whatever they are, they're big."
She peered around his arm to look at the readings. "Probably gorgodons. I'd rather not have to fight big hungry monsters on our way back to the ship, if we can avoid it."
Rex made a disgusted sound, then looked up from the scanner, taking in the sight of the ruined temple before them. "Better gorgodons than Imperials. Looks like the entrance is pretty well blocked off."
"You think it was done from orbit?" Ahsoka moved her goggles back over her face, blinking hard at the dryness. Her eyes stung for a moment, then watered. She tilted her head back to look at the cloudless blue sky, then pulled her hood closer around her face, the fur rippling around it in the wind.
Rex looked around, then shook his head. "More likely natural. No blast patterns on anything nearby." He raised a hand, pointed at the cliffs surrounding their position. "Nothing blown off or scorched. At least not anything visible. If this was Imperial work, it was long enough back for the snow to take it all over. I'd say incomplete reconstruction, then a bad storm. Look how it's fallen in on itself. Did the Imperials' work for them though. That's no way in. Not anymore."
Ahsoka traced the ruin with her eyes, then closed them, trying not to feel defeated. Even if Ilum was Imperial free, the main source of crystals she knew of was damaged beyond accessibility. At least the front entrance was. They would have to spend more time on Ilum than she liked. It was necessary. "We'll need to do some surveying. Do some deep scans from the Drake. Ilum is a big planet, with a strong Force pull. There's got to be more than one cave with crystals."
She didn't think there was desperation in her voice, but perhaps a bit of disappointment snuck through. Rex reached out, took her glove encased hand in his and squeezed a little. The sensation of his hand in hers was muffled by all the heavy layers surrounding their fingers, but the gesture was still appreciated and understood. She smiled a little at him, and he smiled back. Rex was no Force-sensitive, but he was getting entirely too good at reading her moods. She resisted the urge to laugh, which in turn caused her to resist the urge to kiss him fondly. They were both entirely too cold and heavily insulated to enjoy such silliness. Instead, she squeezed back as best she could through their padded hands, then shivered.
"Maybe we should head back," Rex suggested, looking down again at his scanner. "Another long climb. Then some caf. Hot caf."
She squeezed his hand again in agreement. As Rex moved back towards their hiking equipment, kicking up clouds of soft snow, Ahsoka cast one long, last look at the remains of the Crystal Cave of Ilum.
In a few years, she would have Padawans.
A final motion. A long thrust forward, legs bent, head low, chin down, invisible enemy stabbed through the heart.
She opened sky blue eyes, and found she had an audience.
Ahsoka straightened herself, tension easing through her limbs as she relaxed. A flick of a switch, and her lightsaber was extinguished, leaving them in the near darkness beside the garden. With no moons, nights on Alderaan were dark, and the brightness shining through the windows of their home was a little bit away. She smiled a little, fastened the lightsaber hilt to her waist, then put her hands on her hips. "Didn't Nura tell you to get ready for bed?"
Maera looked up at her from where she was sitting politely on the ground, legs tucked under her neatly. Her hands clasped her knees lightly. She ducked her head slightly at the admonishment, but did not seem particularly put off from being out in the garden so late. The little girl said, with a solemnity not quite fitting to her age, "That was a Shien kata, wasn't it?"
Maera was always too serious. Ahsoka wished there was an easier way for her as she stepped closer and knelt on the ground across from her, the pair facing each other. They'd found Maera half starved, terrified and alone. She'd managed to bite Fives in the arm and kick Rex in the face before they'd gotten her calmed down enough to realize they weren't Imperials or there to hurt her. The dark pink Twi'lek girl had since decided to be the older sister of any newcomers, being one of the eldest of the children they'd rescued and since brought to the relative safety of Alderaan. She was driven to succeed, and also to survive.
"It was," Ahsoka told her, waiting to see what more this was about.
Maera's fingers moved thoughtlessly on her knees, bunching the material of her skirt into her grasp. She noticed what she was doing and abruptly released the fabric, forcing her hands to stillness. When she spoke, the words were shy. "Can I see your lightsaber, Master Ahsoka?"
Ahsoka smiled, detached her lightaber from its' fastening, then released it. It floated in the air, hovering between her outstretched palms, rotating idly as Ahsoka moved her hands to steady it.
"Is it hard to make?" Maera asked, watching the floating weapon very intently.
Ahsoka flicked her fingers, and the lazy spin of the hilt became more directed. There was a click as portions detached, pieces of the saber hovering slightly apart, each detachment cast in a soft viridian glow from within. Finally, through the inner chamber of the hilt, a delicately shaped emerald emerged, a grass green crystal, pulsing faintly with its own fire. Green light lit the rest of the pieces, cast a green glow into their faces. One of Maera's hands raised, as though she would touch it. She caught herself, flinching, hand hovering midair, fingers extended.
Gently, Ahsoka let the pieces drift towards her. The girl grew wide-eyed, breath catching, then reverently accepted it, the separated sections floating just above her hands. Ahsoka pointed to each piece in turn. "Hilt. Pommel cap." She tapped them, Maera biting her lip in concentration, not wanting to drop anything. Ahsoka tried not to laugh. The lightsaber had been through far worse down the years than a nine year old accidentally dropping it onto wet grass. "Power cell, running on diatium. Inert power insulator, to keep me from getting fried when I pick it up," she said lightly, and Maera gave a small, nervous giggle at the attempt at a joke, then refocused herself. "Emitter matrix. Blade emitter, for the plasma." Ahsoka gestured outward, where the blade would be when the saber was lit. "Focusing lens."
Then, she lifted a hand, held it above the lightsaber, and drew the crystal upward slightly. Its facets glittered. She finished by saying, "Crystal. And no, it's not particularly hard to make. That's the beauty of it. Wouldn't be very practical to use if it was complicated and broke down all the time."
Maera laughed, a little more genuinely this time, and Ahsoka moved her hands, guiding the pieces back together. Slowly, the crystal sank back into the center of the hilt, the light dimming until it glowed only through seams, then was gone as it sealed. The hilt dropped into Ahsoka's waiting palm, and she grasped it with familiarity.
She waited. Maera ran her hands over her knees again. She was building up to something, her nerves apparent. Then she burst out, "Are we the last of the Jedi?"
A pause. Ahsoka looked at the girl, her face frightened and curious at the answer. She tried to think of the best way to reply.
Maera continued, and Ahsoka felt a cold curl of sorrow at her words. "It's called genocide, isn't it? I was studying in the history textbook, and that's what the word was." Her head lowered, and Maera fidgeted with the hem of her skirt again. "We never hurt anybody."
Ahsoka bent her head as well, shutting her eyes tightly for a moment as she groped for a response. Too much information, and she'd terrify the child. But she would not lie. This was the world Maera was born into, and she deserved the truth. She was going to have to talk with Echo and Nura about what the kids were learning. If Maera was already picking up on this, Rithron and Roo-Roo would not be far behind. This was too complicated for a simple answer, but she was not ready to explain the complexities of the Dark Side and the Sith and their continuing war with the Jedi to someone so young.
Carefully, feeling for words, she began, "Yes, that's the term for it. And no, we're not the last." Not quite, at least. She tried to make an encouraging smile, but wasn't sure of its effectiveness when Maera continued to look distressed. The girl radiated apprehension. It cut too close to her own worries. They struggled so hard to save so little, and the children were woefully behind in their studies. They'd be so much more advanced if they had Temple training. She simply was not Master Yoda, and she could not be everywhere at once. Problems and responsibilities rushed at them all in a constant stream. It was like stemming a flood with her bare hands. "We've rescued a few more families. And there's Master Yoda and Master Kenobi. And even if we were the last," she said, holding out the hilt of the lightsaber, "the Force does not discriminate. The Sith cannot get everyone, forever." She tried to sound more upbeat, and lifted the lightsaber, igniting it to illuminate them inside an emerald glow. "There's always hope for a return."
Maera was looking at the lightsaber, her head rising slowly to take in the length of plasma. More than anything else, it was that slender bright blade that represented the Jedi, their ideals. On her knees, her hands became fists. "I want to be a Jedi," she said simply, a bubble of love floating to the surface. Her face was screwed up into an expression of determination. Then it tightened up more, and she began to struggle with tears and a spike of fear. "I don't want everyone to die."
It took a moment for Ahsoka to decipher her meaning, and she glanced up the soft slope of the hill leading to the house, where the rest of the children were preparing for sleep. "That's not going to happen, Maera." Ahsoka flicked the lightsaber back off, and she reached out and put a hand on top of Maera's berry pink one. "We're fighting to keep everyone safe."
She nodded a couple times, faintly, sniffled once, then contained herself. Maera was too tough for her age, and Ahsoka felt a stab of pain that it was so.
"Will I be a Padawan?"
That, at least, was an easy question to answer. "If that's what you want."
Then, more shyly, with an eye on the hilt in Ahsoka's hands, "Will I have a lightsaber too?"
Ahsoka began to smile again. "You can't be a Jedi without a lightsaber. But it's a big responsibility. Think you're ready for it?"
Maera blinked a couple times, then managed to summon a smile in return. "No, but I will be." She looked at the space Ahsoka had used for practice, now empty, then back to Ahsoka with a look of determination. "Can I learn the Shien kata?" she asked, hopefully.
Ahsoka tilted her head, the long lengths of her lekku swinging slightly above the ground. Maera wouldn't sleep being wound up and stressed. A bit of a workout might do her good. It reminded her of better days, brighter days. She'd mention it to Rex later. He'd laugh, and then understand when she could not find amusement in it anymore, such memories now so badly tarnished. "Alright," she agreed, and Maera's face lit, and she scrambled to her feet as Ahsoka stood more sedately, taking a couple steps back to give them room. She fastened her lightsaber to her side. It felt good to feel its weight there, where it belonged, not tucked and hidden away.
"What do you know, about Shien?" Ahsoka asked her.
When Maera straightened up, taking a solid stance with her hands behind her back, she suppressed a smile. She was standing at attention, much the way Waxer did when he explained things. It always amazed her how much the little ones picked up from their teachers. "Shien is the form of Perseverance. It's how you hit blaster bolts back. It's best used when outnumbered. " Maera then paused, her lekku twitching a couple times thoughtfully as she considered what she had said. A slow smile spread over her face. "I want to learn Shien," she then added.
Ahsoka nodded once, standing straight and still and tall. Then she moved slowly into the first stance, front leg forward, lightly, back leg resting solidly on the soft ground, Maera echoing the movements of her feet and the placement of her empty hands.
And so they began the process of perseverance.
Rest of the author's notes! First, obviously, I do not own Star Wars. Sad, but true.
There are a variety of OC's in this fic. They are mainly restricted to minor supporting roles, and most of them are the children mentioned in this chapter. I will try to point them out at the end of each chapter to avoid confusion. Maera is an OC. The only one of the children that is not is Roo-Roo Page, the Gungan girl from the Holocron Heist episode of The Clone Wars.
As mentioned in the first author's notes, this fic is focusing on some of the supporting cast. Said the Joker centered around Ahsoka, Rex, Echo and Fives. Cody and Ventress will be joining them in the spotlight for this fic (though Ventress won't be showing up until around the second half).
I am using both the movies and The Clone Wars as my canon base. I borrow periodically from the EU as it suits the story, but I am limited in my knowledge of it. I've made a lot of use of the Wookiepedia. If it's not specifically referenced in the story, it's probably not included in this timeline, either because it wasn't useful or I haven't heard of it.
Beware random flashbacks and jumps in time!
All that said, I hope you enjoy!