The Tano Trials - Chapter 1: Exploration

AKA Crouching Skywalker, Hidden Tano

It was the year 11ABY. He had just recently founded his Jedi Praxeum and quickly found out that he had just given up the chance to visit his sister's family at any time in order to teach kids that didn't just act their age, but had telekinesis to boot! In short, he got frazzled very quickly from his young charges' inconsiderate treatment of him, and that was why he was out here, hunting the stress out of his body. Or at least, that was what he was SUPPOSED to be doing: his current situation didn't exactly help.

Luke sighed in exasperation as he turned his X-Wing around, the massive starscape around him slowly passing his view, millions of points of light in the blackness that was his world. His X-Wing, battered and experienced—almost as much as himself—held more than memories: the little astromech that had come to mean so much to him continued to accompany the Jedi on even the most idle missions.

He had managed to chase that Bounty Hunter here, but then the opponent had taken out his Hyperspace Drive and immediately jumped back to inhabited space. He wasn't even sure he was in the same galaxy. No hyperdrive in unknown space meant almost certain death with such a small ship. Only if his signal was picked up did he have a chance, and it was too weak to reach any system he was familiar with.

"Well R2," he said, "I think this is it. What a sad way to go."

R2's whistle came as a surprise. "What did you say?" Luke asked, "There's a nearby planet with life? Sounds like a good place to stop, if you would please plot us a course to that planet so we can make repairs."

R2 beeped happily and turned the X-Wing at a 45-degree angle to the left.

Luke squinted at the planet as it appeared, shockingly close and lush with plant life, impressed, "Wow, it's quite a green planet…are you sure this is an unexplored sector?"

R2 grumbled in outrage that Luke would doubt him.

"Right, right, sorry R2," he said, "I was just saying."

Gliding into the atmosphere, Luke held his breath as the hull heated up. But for once, the landing went off without a hitch on a small, clear rise ringed by thick trees and vines. He sighed as the pneumatic cockpit hissed open. "This is gonna be fun," he murmured.

After an indeterminable time leaning against his ship, Luke started to sense the entire forest getting jittery. Narrowing his eyes, he let his feelings drift in order to discover the source. Instead, it seemed that everything within his range exuded some portion of the emotion except for a single patch directly in front of him.

"Someone's watching?" he asked himself in concern, covering his mouth with a hand, "If it's a sentient species I should try to contact it."

He straightened up, jumped out of the cockpit and walked slowly towards the tree line, a hand near his light saber, when a figure appeared in front of him out of nowhere.

It was taller than he was, and clearly female, wearing a form fitting, brown shirt and pants that covered the entire body. In addition, the figure had a brown hood that completely concealed her overly large head. Luke's skin prickled as he stared at her and she stared back.

There was something…predatory about the stance, leaning forward on her toes, the arms held at the ready without a thought. Through the gloves he could see the fingers curled into claws.

What presence, he thought, I think it's the Force I'm sensing, but it's like it's sleeping. Not concealed, not even weak…just difficult to get a hold on. He swallowed and said, "Do you speak Basic?"

The figure laughed quietly, ironically, before it relaxed in an instant. The feet fell back into an ordinary stance, and the arms were put down at her sides, the fingers straightening out.

"Do you?" The voice was mellow, flowing. It washed over him in a way he had never felt before. Or perhaps he had…when he first met Leia had been something similar.

"That's a relief," he said, not quite believing it himself, "then we don't have to fight."

"Yes," she said sardonically, "It is true you don't need to have your ass handed to you." But then she twitched, as if something told her that she shouldn't have said that.

He blinked.

"I have a request, good sir," the cowled woman continued with the same deeply sardonic—but now polite—voice, "could you step out of the light so I may see your face?"

"Why?" he asked without thinking.

She stared at him for a moment, as if listening, before saying, "Because your connection to the Force is so strong that I know only one person that you could be…I want to determine whether or not you are that person."

Luke's eyes widened, she not only called the Force by its' proper name, but as well as told me that she knew exactly how strong I was! Whoever she is, she's scary. As he stepped to the side, he glanced down to the ground in order not to trip. He was certainly not expecting to see a flash of russet at the base of his strange visitor's pants. There was also an odd bulge at her waist he hadn't seen before.

The woman took in a harsh, shuddering breath and said, "Skywalker."

"How do you know my name?" Luke said, the beginnings of fear starting to appear.

"You will understand in a moment," she said as her hand settled by the bulge as subtly as if she hadn't put any thought into the motion, "You're too young to be him, but I must make sure: would you mind having a duel with me, Jedi?"

Luke was breathing harshly himself now, having all his secrets exposed by a stranger within moments unnerved him. He slowly gripped his light-saber's hilt and said, "I'd be open to that."

"But first," she said with friendly smile in her voice, "you should calm yourself. You'll do terribly if you aren't looking at this situation analytically."

"What do you—," he began to say before the woman revealed the source of the bulge….

A light-saber.

In a flash of instinct, Luke whipped out his own and activated the blade before the blow landed, but the speed and strength behind her upward strike was incredible: he hadn't even seen the blade trace a trail, it had simply lit up and then landed the blow in the single instant it took him to activate his own light-saber. He stared at his opponent's deeper, forest green blade as it hummed against his own, lime-green one.

The only thing he could see in the brown, hooded face behind the blade was a pair of intensely blue eyes, piercing him with their gaze. He shivered at the immense amount of unknown emotions within their depths, all tempered with serenity to the point that he felt peace in his own heart as well.

They separated and leapt away from each other at the same time. His opponent relaxed into a different light-saber stance, with the blade actually pointing behind her in her right hand. "Good instincts," she said, nodding to him and someone else he couldn't sense. It disturbed him how she always seemed to be talking to two people instead of one. Then she continued, "You are almost never caught off-guard, I see. Next I would like to test your offense: please, attack me."

Flushed slightly at her tone, but still reeling from the effects of the eye contact, Luke willingly charged at her. However, no matter how many times he struck, he couldn't get past her guard. Damn she's good! He thought, How did a Jedi—or Sith, or whatever—this good get lost in an area this remote?

"My turn," the woman said, and suddenly he was hard-pressed to keep up with her blows. He had to rely on the tiny twists of the wrist in order to get there on time, but eventually she still looped her light-saber around his own and rested the point barely an inch from his throat. "You aren't going to use Force Speed?" she asked curiously, "You shouldn't underestimate me."

Luke could have smacked himself. Of COURSE that was why he was being outclassed: he hadn't sensed her using the Force to enhance her own speed, so he had instinctively let his own Force Speed drop away in the hopes of a fair fight. With a shrug, he corrected that mistake. Although he still couldn't see her face, he could sense her approval.

What followed was, as he would realize later, the perfect training session. Every move he used was blocked perfectly, each strike against him required his utmost focus to be neutralized, each time he felt that a pattern was emerging, the opponent threw in something entirely new. He was still outclassed, but not by so much as to humiliate him.

He paused for a breath and saw that she paused as well, the tip of her light saber quietly humming behind her head.

Almost without realizing it, he was grinning. "You're out of breath too, huh?" he asked.

"Somewhat, yes, but I have also gathered what I need to know."

Luke's eyebrow almost exceeded his hairline as she continued, "I had to make sure you were truly with the light side of the Force."

He watched with bated breath as a russet-colored hand appeared from the sleeve and pulled back her hood. He saw red skin with white patterns, great horns, and three lekku that were white with blue stripes.

"You're…a Togruta." Luke said in surprise

She grinned widely, flashing large canines, and nodded, an expression that Luke had never expected to see on the face of a swordsman with such skill. "What tipped you off?" she said wryly, "My 'markings', lekks or montrals?"

"W-why aren't you on Shili?" he asked.

"I haven't been there for over 4 decades," she said with a sidelong look at his face and a small smile, "many lifetimes ago."

Luke was ready to ask more, but the Togrutan raised a hand and said, "My story is too long to tell here: we should retire to my homestead, where I can answer all of your questions." There it was again, the sense that she wasn't just talking to him.

"Then you ARE a Jedi, and not a Sith?"

She looked outraged at the suggestion, her eyes once again become intense, cerulean orbs, as she replied, "Of COURSE I'm a Jedi! I could never see myself going to the Dark Side…not after all I've seen of what it does to people." She caught herself, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "Sorry," she said quietly.

"Okay…," Luke shook himself to clear his head, "Please excuse my impertinence," Why am I being so polite? He thought before continuing, "but none of the Jedi I knew were so free with their emotions. How can I be sure you are what you say? You could be the Light Side's version of Dark Jedi, for example."

The Togrutan raised an eyebrow, "I'm not so sure what you're trying to say: wouldn't that be a Jedi? Or are you saying I could be like a race allied to that belief, but not having the full powers? The Khil, or my own race?"

"Well," Luke said, "yeah."

She grinned again, "Nope, despite what you may hope, I am a Jedi. Trained, Apprenticed and Knighted just like you."

"Well, I don't want to leave my ship behind…."

"Then we'll bring it," she said simply, and stretched a hand to the X-Wing. It rose from the ground with only the slightest hesitation and started to follow her as tamely as a pet when she approached the trees. Luke huffed slightly at how easily she rendered all his hedging useless.

R2-D2 gave a startled whoop at the shifting metal beneath him, and the Togrutan dropped it in surprise. "I recognize that beeping," she said with a wealth of anticipation in her voice, "Is that an Astromech I hear?" and R2 fired his Free-Space Rockets to stabilize the drop. It rolled towards her and started to whistle angrily, both to Luke's alarm, and the Togrutan's appreciation.

"Artooey," she whispered, "it's you?"

R2 gave a startled whistle, then after a moment charged her with a metallic wail and rested his dome against her side as she kneeled in order to get closer. She started laughing as Luke looked on in shock. "I can't believe it," she said with tears in her eyes that represented both relief and a slight bit of pain, "It's really you, Artooey!" She wrapped her arms around the little droid's chassis, rested a cheek against its' dome, and then turned to the incredulous Luke, saying, "You're Luke, aren't you?"

"H-How…,"

She looked at the sky as she held R2 close and said, "I guess that's one answer I can give now…my name is Ahsoka Tano, and I know your name because you were the only thing Obi-Wan would talk about in his last transmissions to me." Somehow, the strange double-talk had disappeared and Luke sensed that Ahsoka was finally speaking from her heart of hearts. But that didn't matter at the moment.

"You knew Old Ben?" he said in shock, "How do you…WHY do you know all this?"

"I already said," she said with a slightly wicked, teasing smile, "I'll tell you when we get to my house." She stood up, letting R2 go, lifted the X-Wing again and started walking to the trees. "While we travel," she said, still grinning slightly at her fortune, "you must only step where I step; never touch anything that I haven't touched, and keep your voice to a bare minimum: EVERYTHING is deadly here."

And she slipped into the forest, followed by Luke, R2-D2 and the X-Wing.

The plants glared at them in brilliant reds, purples, yellows, oranges and greens as they bounded from giant root to giant root. There were no rocks to prove a safe zone, but Luke got the distinct feeling that what few rocks WERE here were just as dangerous.

They had jumped from a particularly vast trunk to a blanket of green, spongy material when Luke first dared to comment, "This doesn't look as dangerous as you say,"

Ahsoka quickly turned, "Don't step anywhere…," she began, but as Luke's shoe had immediately begun to steam, he had returned it to Ahsoka's own footprint.

"What was that?" he asked, the hairs on his neck prickling.

"Acid Moss," Ahsoka said wryly, "It developed the acid in order to eradicate anything that might block its' sunlight. There are, of course, patches that fail to produce the acid, but step anywhere else and you'll lose a foot."

Luke shuddered, "Now I see what you are getting at."

Ahsoka smiled, "you did, however, last a lot longer than my students."

"STUDENTS?" Luke said incredulously, "But…but I thought I was the only one training new younglings?"

Ahsoka laughed quietly, but hard, "Are—are you pouting?" she said through her fit of giggles.

"No, I," Luke tried to explain, but Ahsoka shushed him, "We have a stalker," she explained, "right over…there."

Luke hadn't seen anything, so he had to ask, "Sorry…where?"

Ahsoka sighed sadly, "Even though you are trained in the ways of the Jedi, you do not trust the Force to guide you? Are you so bitter, Luke?"

"I suppose so," Luke said in surprise.

"Then relax, close your eyes, and don't tense up no matter what you feel."

As it was very similar to the simple meditation Old Ben had taught him, Luke found it easy to do so. However, he almost lost his concentration at the incredible feeling that greeted him.

"Yes," he heard Ahsoka sigh, "You see that the planet is alive with more than Flora and Fauna." Indeed, the very atmosphere and soil carried a vivid life to it that made the visible forms pale in comparison. However, he could also sense certain…clots…of energy that either stayed still or moved with a purpose.

One in particular seemed quite large, and was shifting slightly to his left and front. He opened his eyes slowly, as if out of a deep sleep. "That felt…incredible." He said sincerely.

"I felt the same way when I first arrived," Ahsoka said, "And if you give it time, you will eventually even be able to sense the Aing Tii colors."

"The what?" he asked.

Ahsoka chuckled once again. She really was the most humorous Jedi he had known…though to be honest he had only actually known two. And the second had seemed insane in his humor for a while. "Yet another thing I can tell you when we arrive," she commented.

R2, from his place on Ahsoka's back, whistled a little tune of warning. "Yes, Artooey," Ahsoka said idly, "I know there's a beast here. We call it the 'Irecat' and as long as we're confident it won't attack."

Seeing that Luke was curious, she turned to him and said, "it senses the emotions of prey items with exceptional precision and only attacks those items that show debilitating emotions like fear or grief. This entire planet, in scientific terms, is teeming with midichlorians."

"Midiwhat?" he asked, embarrassed.

"Are you sure you trained?" Ahsoka asked, "ObiWan would surely have told you of Midichlorians…especially since it's an effective way of finding force sensitives."

Luke flushed, "Actually, he only taught me the basics. Master Yoda was the one who taught me how to manipulate the Force."

"Ah yes, Master Yoda always was the kind to ensure the spiritual knowledge before the scientific. And they both probably wanted you capable as fast as possible." She turned to him with narrowed eyes, "I'm afraid your training has left gaps in your knowledge. That, and I've learned a lot more about the Force besides while in exile."

"Hey," Luke said indignantly, "I am capable of using a lightsaber."

"But you're only capable of using the sixth and first forms," Ahsoka said quietly.

"Er, there're forms?"

Ahsoka covered her eyes and groaned, "Yes, there are forms. You only know the Niman and Shii-Cho. Or at least you didn't change forms whenever I changed forms. I specialize in the Shien and Ataru, and there are a total of seven major forms. I know most of them."

"So," Luke said in an effort to regain control of the situation, "Could you tell me more about this Irecat? Or the Acid Moss? Why are they even capable of doing these things?"

"All right," Ahsoka replied as she stopped walking, "I can give you a little more info to appease you until our arrival. The Acid Moss produces Acid in direct proportion to the amount of shade that covers it. No shade equals no acid, because there are no longer plants blocking it from its' life source. That's why you were safe on the patch you landed on.

"The Irecat senses emotion through something completely different from body language or pheromones like creatures from other planets do. Instead, it senses the flow of midichlorians within them. Midichlorians, by the way, are the microbacteria that allow species to manipulate the Force."

She smiled, "this is where the Irecat gets its' Godlike knowledge of the opponent: it simply knows from the pattern of the Force whether a target can survive its' attack. It's almost like the Irecat can see the future of any battle that it might get involved in. Unfortunately, that means that its' midichlorian sense becomes more accurate with enemies that are stronger with the Force."

Luke shivered and Ahsoka once again chuckled. She looked to the trees and brushed a finger against a small, blue fruit. "This planet has evolved with midichlorians at its' center. Everything is designed to take advantage of the Force's presence…and it all starts with this little fruit."

Luke stared at it in surprise. Just that little thing? He thought, what wonders are on this planet, even beyond Ahsoka?

After another couple of minutes, the first rock Luke had seen on this planet appeared. It was nestled among small trees and contained a large hole in the front that Ahsoka entered, waving him to follow.

Immediately, he was ambushed by a flurry of little wings. "Ack!" he said as he waved away the little beasts. They squawked angrily at him, flashing little teeth, until Ahsoka whistled.

"Calm down, you guys," Ahsoka said, "It's a friend." In reaction, the wings resolved into two small, four limbed beasts that chattered in agitation. With a nod and a smile, Ahsoka allowed them to settle on her shoulders. She raised a hand and the giant rock clogging the inner entrance rolled aside as easily as a normal door.

A/N: And so Luke descends into the unknown and the strangely familiar. What affects will the rediscovery of one of the Jedi's strongest have on the universe at large? Is it ready for her? Does it have a choice? Next time on The Tano Trials: Luke learns some incredible things about his past that he couldn't have known before.