Disclaimer: I don't own Star Wars, etc.
SAINTS & SOLDIERS
3 Days After the Rise of the Empire…
A silent tear rolled down Ahsoka Tano's cheek. She didn't move to wipe it away as it settled on her chin for a moment before falling to the durasteel floor and landing at her feet. Ever since she had been a small child, she had been taught that the Jedi didn't allow their emotions to rule them. She had been told that it was forbidden for Jedi to form attachments. She had been led to believe that Jedi didn't cry. But now, at the very end, she was crying… and she wasn't ashamed. For three long years, she had known nothing but war. For three long years, she had been fighting to protect the Republic and everything it stood for. Now, it was all gone.
Just two weeks earlier she had been so happy. She had held her head high; overjoyed to have her old mentor standing at her side as she was at last granted her knighthood. He had looked so proud during the ceremony, and she had gratefully basked in his feelings of warmth and encouragement. Sadly, that happiness was not to last. Soon after, her world had crumbled around her. With the execution of Order 66, the Jedi had been all but eradicated. All of her friends, her family… they had been deliberately and viciously slaughtered. Her very way of life had been lost. Rather, it had been stolen from her.
They had been betrayed by the Supreme Chancellor, and her loyal clone troopers had turned on her without giving it a second thought. But there was one betrayal that still hurt more than any other: that of her fallen master. At first, she had refused to believe the truth. She had defended him… had said that his descent to the dark side was impossible. She knew him. She knew that he could never lead a march on the Temple that he had called his home, or do something as evil as murder younglings. She had denied it vehemently, until Master Kenobi had told her of Mustafar. Shortly thereafter, she had learned of his relationship with Senator Amidala, and the birth of his twin son and daughter. Tragically, the queen turned politician had died following childbirth. And as much as Ahsoka had come to hate her former master for everything that he had done, she couldn't quite bring herself to condemn the poor woman from Naboo for keeping her secret.
Taking a deep, shaky breath, she silently gazed out at the shimmering stars just beyond the isolated asteroid of Polis Massa. How she envied them. How she wished she could be one of those stars; swallowed up by the vastness of space, without pain or remorse.
Struggling to pull her mind from her roving thoughts, she slightly faltered when she heard the sound of approaching footsteps. She could sense Master Obi–Wan's hesitance as he drew nearer, but he never broke his stride until he was almost beside her. Still, she didn't wipe the tears from her face. She didn't bother with attempting to hide her true feelings, for she knew that it was not in her power to do so…
Once he reached her place in the room, Obi–Wan joined her at the viewport overlooking the asteroid's central docking bay and peered out at the same stars that had so captivated her. If he noticed her tears, he made no indication.
"I am preparing to depart for Tatooine," he eventually said, his voice slightly cracking. Surprised by the uncharacteristic display of emotion, Ahsoka couldn't help but steal a glance in his direction. He uncomfortably cleared his throat before speaking again. "Tell me, have you come to a decision yet?"
"Yes, I…" Ahsoka trailed off. "I will be leaving soon, as well."
Obi–Wan curiously furrowed a brow. "You will be taking Master Yoda's advice, then?"
"I would be foolish not to, master," Ahsoka replied while she continued to stare straight ahead. "The galaxy just became a very dangerous place for a Jedi. I don't like it, but I have no choice… I must go into exile."
"As we all must," Obi–Wan said with a frown. "I don't like it any more than you do, but there is no other way. The new Empire must not learn of our survival."
"What will you do now, master?" Ahsoka asked, hoping to find some answers to her own questions.
"I will watch over young Luke," Obi–Wan solemnly replied. "I will keep him safe. As he grows older, his sensitivity to the Force could make him an easier target for Sidious. He must be protected, so that he does not share the same fate as his father."
"His father…" Ahsoka muttered in disdain. "He lied to us for so long. Do you believe we ever really knew him at all?"
"Oh yes, we knew him very well," Obi–Wan stated, a fond smile finding its way onto his lips. However, it vanished just as quickly as it appeared. "You mustn't confuse what he was with what he became. The dark side twists those it consumes until nothing of what they once were remains. He was a good man… and a good friend."
Hanging her head in resignation, Ahsoka released a labored sigh as she swiftly changed the subject. "This is all happening so fast. Will I ever see you or Master Yoda again?"
"Until the Empire is confident that the Jedi no longer pose a threat, I'm afraid that keeping in touch would prove far too dangerous," Obi–Wan replied, his frown deepening. "However, I will know where to find you. When and if it is possible, I will make contact… but I fear that for now, this is goodbye."
Respectfully bowing in farewell, Ahsoka offered the best smile she could muster while fresh tears stung her eyes. Obi–Wan returned the gesture with a bow of his own before looking out at the stars one last time.
"May the Force be with you…"
And with that, he was gone.
2 Years After the Rise of the Empire…
A faint smile of pleasure found its way onto Ahsoka Tano's lips while she stood on the veranda of her modest cottage, and admired the rural scenery just beyond its steps. The small, inconspicuous abode had served as her home for two years now. It staggered her that so much time had already gone by since her departure from Coruscant, and the end of the life that she had once known. For two long years, she had been living in quiet solitude; passing the hours of the day by drifting off and daydreaming about what could have been… how different things could have turned out.
Presently, however, she was lost in another kind of dream. Gazing out at the turu–grass scrublands that surrounded her remote cottage, she imagined that she was not alone. Watching the tall overgrowth of vegetation, its red and white coloration not dissimilar from that of her own skin, she could envision a crowd of Togruta dancers waltzing in the warm sunlight as it swayed back and forth in the gentle afternoon breeze. Sadly, her smile faded a moment later. The fantasies only lasted so long. She would eventually return to reality, and remember that she was indeed alone… and in all likelihood, probably would be until death claimed her. In the beginning, seclusion had not been easy. The transition had been a difficult one, and she had considered seeking out Master Yoda and Obi–Wan on numerous occasions during the first year of her stay. But she knew that she still had a duty to fulfill. She was still a Jedi, and she would do what had been asked of her by her masters. She would not fail them.
Releasing a heavy sigh, Ahsoka shut her eyes and attempted to clear her mind. The sudden tension in her shoulders somewhat lessened, and she lifted her eyelids a few seconds later to peer back out at the scrublands. No longer could she see the dancers. Once again, she saw only shrubs, grass and the trees; beautiful as they were. Reluctantly, she turned away from the lush countryside and made her way around the cottage to find her landspeeder. She had been putting off her trip for long enough…
When a decision had to be made as to where she would reside after leaving Polis Massa to go into exile, her home–planet of Shili had been the natural choice. Ahsoka had been tempted to track down her biological parents upon her return, but even then she had understood that reconnecting with her mother and father would only have jeopardized their safety. As a Jedi, she was still among the Empire's most wanted fugitives, and they would stop at nothing to catch her if they ever learned of her presence on the otherwise negligible world. Whispers and rumors had already spread about Darth Sidious' infamous second in command scouring the galaxy for Jedi survivors. He had already become the thing of nightmares… a cold and ruthless executioner, feared by average folk and Imperial officials alike. Who or whatever this dark hunter was, she knew that he must have succeeded Count Dooku as the Emperor's apprentice shortly after the fall of the Republic. How Sidious had found a replacement so fast, she couldn't be sure.
Focusing on the task at hand, Ahsoka instinctively brushed her palm against the hilt of her lightsaber before pulling her hood up. Other than her cottage, the market square in the center of Shili's capital city was the only sign of civilization that she had seen since her arrival. Nearly a two hour commute from her isolated dwelling, she had postponed her monthly visit to the metropolis so many times that she was now in desperate need of supplies. Because of the Empire and its aforementioned campaign against what few Jedi remained within the galaxy, she dreaded showing her face in public; even with her discreet appearance.
As a native of the backwater planet, she did have the advantage of blending in with the majority of its inhabitants. Of course, this fact did little to alleviate her concerns. Not to mention, the capital was the busiest location on all of Shili, and was comprised of a more diverse variety of species and races than would be found elsewhere. She had only elected to live so close to the city because she knew that its outskirts were generally overlooked and ignored by society. She had realized that one could easily live there without being noticed. And so far, she had yet to draw any unwanted attention to herself… she only hoped that her luck would last, and she would not make a mistake or arouse suspicion.
Taking a quick survey of the bustling market, Ahsoka cautiously left her speeder behind and started toward the many vendors and peddlers eager to make a profit.
She wouldn't be long.
5 Years After the Rise of the Empire…
Resting her forehead against the tiled wall of her upright shower, Ahsoka Tano wearily rubbed her temple as a cascade of hot water rained down upon her naked skin. The soothing liquid relaxed her taut muscles as it flowed over her shoulder blades and trickled down her back. Lowering her hand from her brow, a small, humorless laugh escaped her lips. Here she was on her 21st birthday, alone and miserable. It was a strange thing, to grow from an adolescent to a young woman all while living a life of seclusion; hiding from a legion of Imperial agents, mercenaries and bounty hunters looking to collect a handsome reward for bringing in a wanted enemy of the state.
Tears mixed with water as she took a deep breath and struggled to rein in her emotions. The anger and hatred that she had initially felt after the purges had given way to sorrow long ago… just as the resentment that she had felt toward her former master had turned into an almost overwhelming grief. But she refused to let this grief consume her. She wouldn't allow the pain of her past to rule her as it had before. She had resolved not to wallow in bitterness or self–pity.
With a bit of reluctance, she shut the water to her shower off and reached for the plush towel hanging from the wall just outside its doors. Her stomach was beginning to growl, and she still had to decide on what to prepare for supper. She quickly dried herself off before slipping into her silken bathrobe and starting out of the fresher. However, she froze an instant later. Something was out of place... she could feel it. Pausing in the threshold, she snatched the hilt of her lightsaber up from the surface of the sink counter, and instinctively pressed her thumb to its activation switch. She refrained from igniting its emerald blade, but kept herself poised and ready to strike as she cautiously stepped into the cramped sitting area of her cottage.
It was an odd sensation. Vague, yet familiar. It was close. Too close, perhaps. Like a glowing beacon of light, she could sense the distinct presence in the Force as it grew stronger. Her pulse somewhat slowed when she felt its warmth reach out and touch her mind; not sinister or hostile, but strangely comforting. That was when she abruptly spun around to face the far corner of the room, and spotted a lone figure standing with its hands clasped beneath its robes. Her heart nearly leapt out of her chest when she saw a face that she had not laid eyes on since going into exile…
Ahsoka couldn't contain a shocked gasp. "Master?"
"Do forgive me for showing myself in," Obi–Wan Kenobi said, a hint of mild amusement in his voice. "I thought it best not to dawdle outside for too long."
The recently arrived Jedi Master was caught off guard when the young Togruta dispensed of all formalities and flung herself into his arms. Ahsoka couldn't help herself. No words could explain the pure elation and relief that washed over her as she clung to him. Fearing that she would soon awaken from some cruel dream, she tightened her hold on his cloak lest he disappear. Once his initial surprise had subsided, Obi–Wan awkwardly returned the hug before breaking their embrace.
"Wha… what are you doing here?" Ahsoka eventually managed to choke out.
The years had been kind to Master Kenobi. Other than a few extra gray hairs in his beard, and the faintest etching of wrinkles in the corners of his eyes, he looked just as Ahsoka had always remembered him. He smiled in gratitude as she handed him a steaming mug of caf before taking her seat across the table. It had been a long time since she had shared a meal, or had an actual conversation with anyone. It felt good to have some company again. It was even better that after spending so many years in total isolation, her company would turn out to be none other than Master Obi–Wan himself. She only wished that he could stay longer than a few hours, but she had not been able to convince him to prolong his trip to Shili. Their time together was already running short.
Of course, seeing the elder Jedi again was just as painful as it was joyful. It reopened old wounds… memories of her former life, and how things could never be the same. The decimation of the Order, and the march on the sacred Temple that had once been her home. So much death and destruction. They were all scars that had still yet to fully heal, and she doubted they ever truly would. But above all else, seeing him again reminded her of the one who had broken her heart more than any other: her fallen master, Anakin Skywalker. She had never forgotten Obi–Wan's account of the events that had unfolded on Mustafar. It was there that her master, twisted and forever changed by the dark side of the Force, had met his demise.
In a way, she felt partly responsible for his turn. As his padawan, she should have seen it. She should have known that he was succumbing to the temptation of the dark side. Thinking back, she couldn't help but remember a time when he had still been called 'The Hero With No Fear'. During the war, she had been captured after a failed mission had left her in the hands of the enemy. She had been their prisoner for nearly two days; relentlessly beaten and tortured by separatist interrogators. Finally, after what had felt like an eternity, Anakin had managed to track her down. What happened next had frightened even her…
She had never seen him so angry. Upon finder her bruised and battered, he had slipped into a rage that she hadn't thought him capable of; his once graceful and elegant movements becoming brutal and unreserved as he hacked and cut down every last one of her captors. Even those who cowered at his feet and begged for mercy had not been spared. She had never spoken a word of it to him or anybody else after returning to Coruscant, but the image had always haunted her.
"Is it true, master?" Ahsoka broke the silence at last, garnering a puzzled look from her visitor. "Can you not be saved once the dark side has taken you? Is there no hope of redemption?"
Understanding what was bothering her, Obi–Wan offered a sympathetic nod. "It is said that once the dark side takes its hold on you, it does not let go. I'm afraid Anakin was already too far gone by the time we discovered what was happening."
Ahsoka released a wistful sigh. "I miss him…"
"You are not the only one," Obi–Wan replied, pensively stroking his bearded chin. "But we must remain mindful of the here and now, Ahsoka. It is important that we do not dwell on the past, but live in the present."
"I know, master," Ahsoka conceded with a frown. Sighing a second time, she pushed the not too distant memories from her mind and decided to broach another topic that had long been troubling her. "Master, I've heard whispers… about a Jedi assassin. You've heard of him?"
Obi–Wan slightly shifted in his chair. "Yes, I believe you are referring to the Emperor's right–hand. His name is Darth Vader."
"The rumors are true, then? But I don't understand," Ahsoka said, her tone quiet and subdued. "Where did he come from? How did the Emperor find a new apprentice so soon? And one that is already powerful enough to defeat a Jedi…"
"There is an explanation," Obi–Wan replied before uncomfortably clearing his throat and slowly rising from his seat. Ahsoka could easily detect his indecision as he averted his gaze, as if looking her in the eye had suddenly become too difficult. "This Lord Vader… he himself was a Jedi Knight until he was seduced by the dark side, and joined the Sith."
"A Jedi?" Ahsoka repeated in disbelief.
Obi–Wan hesitated before continuing. "Not only a Jedi, but one that we were both acquainted with."
"Who?" Ahsoka asked, sliding her chair back and rising to her feet to meet her master's gaze. "Tell me, who is it?"
"When Palpatine took Anakin as his apprentice, he was given a new identity along with his new position," Obi–Wan said as his eyes met her imploring stare. "This may be difficult to accept, but… Darth Vader was once Anakin Skywalker."
"No!" Ahsoka exclaimed, recoiling in shock and horror. "No, that can't be! He's dead! You told me he was dead!"
"I don't know how Vader survived our encounter on Mustafar," Obi–Wan somberly replied. "The Emperor must have arrived in time to salvage what remained of him. I believed him to be too far gone for saving, but obviously I made a gross error in judgment."
Suddenly feeling weak in the knees, Ahsoka sank back into her chair and rested her elbows on the surface of the table; holding her head in her hands while she attempted to process what she had just heard. Anakin… alive? But how? She closed her eyes as a shaky breath escaped her lips.
"What do you mean what remained of him?" she asked after taking a moment to compose herself.
"It would be best if I spared you the details," Obi–Wan said, a pained expression crossing his face before vanishing an instant later. "But the fact remains, Vader is alive and extremely dangerous. He will stop at nothing to ensure that every last living Jedi is found. That is why you must be extra careful."
The Jedi Master's warning didn't even reach Ahsoka's ears. Her entire body had already gone numb with the startling revelation…
7 Years After the Rise of the Empire…
Ahsoka awoke to the familiar sound of purring. Moaning, she rolled onto her side and did her best to tune out the bothersome noise in hopes of getting a few more hours of sleep. She couldn't contain a slight smirk of amusement when she felt something soft and furry nuzzling her chin. Cracking an eye open, she sighed in resignation and glanced down at the small voorpak inching its way toward her pillow. It cooed in excitement when it saw that it had succeeded in stirring her from her slumber. Realizing that she would never get back to sleep now that her impatient housemate had taken it upon itself to rouse her, she merely sat up with a sigh; lazily arching her back and stretching her arms over her head.
Tossing the sheets to her bed aside, she swung her legs over its edge and gave the energetic critter a gentle pat before slipping into her robe and starting out of the room. The little voorpak bounced across the mattress, and chased after her as she made her way into the cottage's kitchenette. The stiffness in her joints and muscles soon disappeared, and she quickly set about boiling a fresh pot of green tea. Hopping up onto the footstool just beside her, the voorpak curiously warbled and chirped while it peeked around her leg to get a better look.
Stifling a yawn, Ahsoka looked down at her new pet. It had been nearly a week since she had made the journey to Corvala for her monthly supply run. It was in Shili's capital city that she had found and rescued the mistreated animal from a local merchant… a native Togruta man that she did not wish to cross paths with again. The poor voorpak had been abused and half–starved when she stumbled upon it. Unable to simply turn her back and allow it to continue suffering, she had paid a hefty price to free it from its cruel keeper. As an exotic import, its liberation had not been cheap.
For the first few days, it had been understandably timid and skittish; keeping its distance, and refusing to let her anywhere near it. However, it didn't take it long to learn that she was not a threat, but a friend. Her early morning awakenings had become a routine of sorts ever since it had decided to trust her. Now, she could hardly leave its sight without it hunting her down to make sure she didn't wander off too far. But its presence was most welcome. The fact that she actually had something to interact with helped immensely to ease the everyday stress and loneliness that came with a life of exile.
She smiled as she made her way into the sitting area, and took a seat while she waited for her tea to come to a boil. She could hear the pitter–patter of eight tiny feet following close behind, and the voorpak joined her a second later; perching on her lap and tucking its legs beneath its round body to conserve heat. It purred in contentment as she lightly stroked its smooth fur.
As it often did, even in the early morning hours, Ahsoka found her mind drifting to the past. She had come to terms with the fact that Darth Vader had survived his confrontation with Master Obi–Wan on the hellish world of Mustafar, while Anakin Skywalker had not. Every new story that reached Shili only confirmed what she had so desperately tried to deny. Stories about his murderous escapades, and the misery that he had spread throughout the galaxy while serving under the Empire. She had accepted long ago that Vader and her old mentor were two entirely different people… she became more certain of it with each passing day. Her former master was not capable of committing such horrible atrocities. He had been a hero, not this villain that now inhabited the demonic black armor.
The sound of boiling water eventually stirred Ahsoka from her thoughts. The lively voorpak jumped down out of her lap as she stood and started back toward the kitchenette. Once again, she was dwelling on things that could not be changed. It was a nasty habit that she had still yet to kick, try as she did. But it was a new day… and like all the rest, she would try to make the best of it.
10 Years After the Rise of the Empire…
It had only taken a few minutes for the heavy downpour to drench Ahsoka from head to toe. Making her way through Corvala's market square, she pulled her cloak tighter around her shoulders as a bitter gust of wind swept through the plaza. Due to the unseasonably cold weather, the capital city was virtually deserted; no longer teeming with shoppers, but eerily calm and quiet. Other than a handful of committed patrons and less than half of its usual vendors, she was alone… something that she had grown quite accustomed to over the years.
Ahsoka, too, would have preferred to forgo her monthly visit to the city and stay bundled up in her nice, warm cottage. She would have gladly done just that, if not for the fact that she had already expended the last of her supplies earlier in the day. If she wished to eat sometime in the near future, she had no choice but to brave the elements and make the two hour trip to Shili's capital. But now that she had finally arrived, she didn't intend to stay long. Like always, her plan was to quickly get what she needed and return to her remote home lying just beyond the metropolis' borders without delay. Wandering about in public always left her feeling so… exposed. It wasn't a feeling that she much cared for. The sooner she returned to the safety and comfort of her cottage, the better.
It was strange, the silence that now replaced the zealous trumpet of local peddlers hoping to attract potential buyers with their guarantees of high quality goods and hard to find merchandise. Instead of the typical sea of moving bodies that would normally be found in the market, and the constant sound of booming voices, only the steady pitter–patter of the afternoon rain hitting the ground could be heard.
However, it wasn't long before a familiar voice seemed to penetrate the very air around her, and she froze mid–stride. The instant the man's distinct accent reached her ears, Ahsoka felt her heart skip a beat and her chest tightened; her pulse pounding in her ears as a sense of panic and dread overtook her. Fear rose in the pit of her stomach as she slowly turned to a hooded figure standing off in the distance to steal a glimpse. Bartering with a native trader, the owner of the voice had his back turned to her as the pair continued to haggle out a price. Slipping behind a large, decorative stone pillar to hide her presence, Ahsoka listened until they had closed their deal and the figure moved to depart. Taking a deep breath, she did her best to calm her nerves before furtively stepping out from behind her place of hiding to follow… she had to find out what this man was doing on Shili, and more importantly, whom exactly he was working for. As a former padawan and Jedi Knight, she had been well versed in the fine art of stealth and secrecy. Now, she realized, more than ever, those skills would prove invaluable.
She had only been trailing the cloaked man for a few moments when he unexpectedly turned and disappeared down a nearby alleyway. Glancing over her shoulder to make sure that she herself was not being followed, she made her way toward the narrow threshold; remaining cautious and vigilant as she stepped into the shadows. She paused once she discovered that the alley was empty. That was when she heard the click of a blaster just behind her. She froze for a second time as her pursuit came to an abrupt end.
"Who are you?" a gruff, recognizable voice spoke up. "Why are you following me?"
Ahsoka inwardly cursed herself for being so careless. It was foolish on her part, she knew, to have underestimated her quarry. She had blindly and hastily rushed into trouble, and now her rash actions had cost her the element of surprise. Closing her eyes, she allowed the Force to wash over her and attempted to clear her mind while the approaching sound of boots scuffing across the surface of the ground grew louder. Within seconds, she could feel the man standing behind her; pistol in hand, and ready to fire.
"Why are you following me, girl?" he repeated, impatiently. "I'll ask one more time… what do you want?"
Without warning, Ahsoka leapt forward and planted a foot off of the wall directly in front of her. Vaulting overhead, she reached into her cloak and drew her vibroblade midair; opting not to utilize the concealed lightsaber that still dangled at her hip, as not to attract any unwanted attention. In one fell swoop she flipped, landed behind the unsuspecting gunman, and pinned him against the wall. Knocking his blaster from his hand before he could fire a single shot, she pressed the sharpened edge of her dagger to his throat as the weapon flew out of his grasp and clattered to the ground at their feet. Peering into his eyes, she saw fear and shock, mixed with an unmistakable look of defiance. But it was his face itself that captured her focus more than anything… it was a face that she knew well. It was a face that she could never forget.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded, applying more pressure to the blade as she firmly held it to his neck.
"Shopping," was the man's blunt response. "Same as everyone else…"
Ahsoka's jaw clenched. "Who sent you?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," he coolly retorted, glaring at her from beneath his soaked hood. "Now, would you mind taking that thing away from my neck?"
"Did you really think I wouldn't notice an Imperial spy roaming the streets?" Ahsoka shot back, refusing to lower the dagger. "You should consider yourself fortunate I have let you live this long. Why are you here?"
The man intently studied her before replying. "You're a Jedi."
Ahsoka's chest tightened the instant the words left his lips. "Who are you?"
"I don't see that it's any business of yours, but the name's Switch," the man retorted. "And I've spent enough time in the company of Jedi to know exactly what you are… I've also learned enough to know that you won't kill me in cold blood, so why don't you just put that thing down?"
"You may be right about what I am, but you're wrong if you think I won't kill you where you stand," Ahsoka replied, still not backing away or easing her hold on her audacious hostage. "It's not murder if your life is in danger, and we both know you'll report me to the Empire if I let you go. What would you do if our roles were reversed?"
"I'm no spy," the man growled in return.
"No? Then tell me, what are you doing on Shili?" Ahsoka questioned.
"The same thing as you, I imagine," the man answered, releasing a resigned sigh as the tension in his posture somewhat faded. "Hiding. Doing my damnedest to keep out of trouble and stay alive."
"And why should I believe you?" Ahsoka retorted, still not convinced.
"Have you ever wondered what happens to a clone once we've outlived our usefulness?" he asked with a scowl. "Well, let's just say that the Empire doesn't have the best retirement plan for me and my brothers… I, for one, didn't intend to sit around and wait for that day to come."
Ahsoka still didn't budge. She had fought alongside soldiers just like the man standing before her for most of the war. She had shared foxholes and rations with them, and had considered many of them to be not only equals, but friends. They had saved her life on countless occasions, and she theirs… but she had already learned exactly what they were capable of with the execution of Order 66. Her so–called friends had turned on her and torn away the life that she had once known, and everybody in it that had ever meant anything to her. The fact that this particular clone claimed to be a deserted did little to deter her. Every clone shared the same face, and lacked the same humanity. They were not to be trusted.
"I know better than to believe a clone," she spat in contempt. "You're all the same. You're all murderers."
With those words, something akin to guilt or shame replaced the man's defiant expression. "Being what I am, I've spent most of my life following orders and living to serve someone else. Eating what I was told to eat, sleeping when I was told to sleep… and not once did I ever complain. It was my duty, plain and simple. I was made to be a soldier, and I was a damn good one. Then I got the order to terminate my Jedi general because he was a traitor."
"So you blindly followed orders and killed him," Ahsoka finished for him, nearly drawing blood as she tightened her grip on the hilt of her vibroblade and applied even more pressure to his throat.
"I did what was expected of me," he admitted. "There's no use denying it. The general didn't even see it coming… had his back to me when I pulled the trigger. It was the first and only order I ever regretted following, and it's something I've had to live with ever since."
"At least you lived to regret it," Ahsoka angrily retorted. "Too bad the same can't be said about the innocent Jedi you executed."
"None of us are innocent," the man replied, leaning into her dagger as if daring her to make a move. "But maybe I do deserve to die. So, what are you waiting for? Finish it…"
A part of Ahsoka wanted nothing more than to oblige the man standing before her. The urge to plunge the sharpened tip of her vibroblade into his windpipe was so great that her hand trembled in anticipation, and the feeling frightened her.
"That's the problem with you clones… maybe you can duplicate a body and a brain in some lab on Kamino, but you can't create a soul."
With those parting words, Ahsoka released the man and slowly but surely backed away. Maybe she was making a mistake. Possibly a fatal mistake. But that didn't matter, because he was right about one thing: she couldn't kill him in cold blood. She had changed in many ways over the years, but she wasn't a murderer. She would never sink to that level. Perhaps this single act of mercy would seal her fate; for if he truly was an Imperial spy, she would most likely be dead by morning.
If that was the case, then so be it… better to die a Jedi than betray herself and live as anything less.
12 Years After the Rise of the Empire…
Ahsoka Tano had come to relish the time she spent piddling about in her garden. The season to grow her own fruits and vegetables was fast approaching, and already the flowers were beginning to bloom and fill the air with their sweet aroma. Digging her fingers into the freshly tilled ground at her knees, she scooped up a handful of soil and planted several seeds; covering the hole and smoothing the dirt out with her palm before leaning forward and breathing in the pleasant scent one last time. Having long ago grown accustomed to her daily routines, any break from the monotony of living out a life in exile was a most welcome one. And she considered working in her garden to be just that: a break. A chance to forget everything except the trees, the air, the rolling hills… appreciating the splendor of nature, just as it was meant to be.
Grateful for the temporary distraction, she lingered where she was until she caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye. Smiling, she rose to her feet and turned to her energetic voorpak as it playfully scampered through the waist high turu–grass a short distance away. She couldn't contain a quiet chuckle when it pounced on a small, winged insect, but failed to catch it. It was odd, she mused, how she had never thought it necessary to give her rambunctious pet a proper name in all the years they had been together. Maybe it had to do with the fact that she considered names and titles to be of little importance, or that she would prefer to think of it as a free creature rather than something to be owned… or perhaps, it was simply her way of keeping it at arm's–length. As much as she hated to admit it, she knew that the latter was the more likely reason. And who could blame her? Even though the Jedi Code had forbade it, she had allowed herself to form attachments and care for others in the past; only to have them torn away in the blink of an eye.
Ahsoka was pulled from her meandering thoughts a moment later when she felt a sudden jolt; not physically, but through her highly attuned connection with the Force. It was warning her. Pivoting on her heels, she swiftly spun around and reached beneath the folds of her thick robes. Her instincts taking over, she clutched the hilt of her deactivated lightsaber and quickly scanned the vicinity for intruders. A sigh of relief escaped her lips when she saw no apparent threat, and the sensation of impending danger gradually abated. However, she didn't dare let her guard down until it had vanished completely, and even then she couldn't quite shake the feeling that something was wrong. There appeared to be nothing amiss or out of place, but still…
That was when her voorpak, seemingly frightened by some unknown disturbance, abruptly and unexpectedly fled the area. Startled herself, Ahsoka released her weapon and called out after it, but to no avail. Her reaction was too late. It had already disappeared into the trees by the time she found her voice, and she was left with no choice but to go after it before the approaching darkness could hamper her search. Peering up at the sky, she could see that the sun was just beginning to set behind the high mountain peaks and there would soon be no light left to help guide her way.
Not wishing to venture too far into the woods, for many nocturnal predators emerged to do their hunting in the dead of night, she gave chase without wasting another moment.
She had been combing the forest for close to an hour, and still Ahsoka had found no trace of her tiny voorpak. Already, the sun had been replaced by the moon and a shimmering sea of stars; the dim glow offering some light, but not nearly enough to illuminate the thicket of shrubs and bushes, and towering tree canopies that almost seemed to engulf her as she silently trudged along. Time was running short. The fact that if she failed to track her pet down before too much longer it would very likely be caught and devoured by something lurking in the shadows made her quicken her pace, and she resolutely pressed on.
That was when she felt it return… the same feeling of danger, even more powerful than before, caused her to freeze and reach for the hilt of her lightsaber a second time. Listening intently, she was further unnerved to find that the woods had suddenly fallen silent, and only the continuous sound of her heartbeat could be heard over the soft, whispering wind. At least, she felt as if she could hear her heart; pounding in her chest and ears as her pulse raced in anticipation. Gone was the usual murmur of insects chirping and the rustling of various critters as they prowled the forest to find prey. Even the breeze gradually dwindled until it had ceased altogether.
Slowly unclipping her lightsaber from her belt, Ahsoka brushed her thumb against the switch that would ignite its blade. It was a blade that she had not used or laid eyes on since the Jedi Order had perished. She had refrained from employing the device even in the safety of her own cottage, but now, something told her that she would see it again.
Springing into action, she nimbly dove behind the nearest tree when she heard a twig snap; followed by the unmistakable clomping of heavy footfall. Ducking out of view, she didn't have to see the source of the noise… she could sense it. More accurately, she could sense them. Taking a deep, calming breath, the realization that she wouldn't be able to hide immediately sank in. There were far too many for that. So, rather than making a futile attempt to escape, her only option would be to march out and meet them face to face.
Preparing for the inevitable, Ahsoka waited another moment before stepping out from behind the tree. No longer using it for cover, she found herself exposed to what she guessed to be over a dozen Imperial stormtroopers; all of which came to a halt and trained their blaster rifles on her the instant she revealed herself. Just as she moved to take the offensive, the soldiers, much to her bewilderment, lowered their weapons as if they had no intention of attacking. Tightly gripping her still deactivated lightsaber, she remained where she was and cautiously studied them. Her confusion was replaced by shock and horror when, after several seconds, they obediently stepped aside and allowed their commanding officer passage.
Her blood ran cold when she saw the ominous figure making its approach. Donning a suit of pristine black armor and standing more than a head taller than its subordinates, it was a truly terrifying sight to behold. Its visage was concealed beneath a menacing mask topped with an immaculate, dome–shaped helmet, but Ahsoka recognized the distinct Force signature as soon as she felt it. Sadly, what had once shone like a brilliant beacon of light had been twisted and forever changed by the dark side. Its presence still burned stronger and brighter than any other she had ever encountered, but now, instead of providing her with comfort as it had so often done during the days of her youth, it chilled her to the bone.
She wasn't sure how the Empire had located her, but it made little difference… her whereabouts had been discovered, and she had nowhere to run. Peering into the imposing figure's expressionless mask, she watched as the Sith stopped and carefully scrutinized her. Her days of hiding and looking over her shoulder were over. Darth Vader, the most feared and despised being in the galaxy, had finally found her.
His thoughts were veiled and his emotions unreadable, but Ahsoka already knew his intentions: he meant to kill her. Letting her hands drop to her sides, her gaze never strayed from the beast who had murdered her old mentor. But as much as she hated him and desired to strike him down where he stood, she knew that she had already lost this battle. Not only was she hopelessly outnumbered, but she wasn't foolish enough to believe that she could defeat him. Even more than that, she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of giving into her anger. And so, without so much as a word, she closed her eyes, lowered herself into a sitting position, and calmly placed her lightsaber on the ground in front of her. She would not fight.
Resting her palms on her knees, she sensed a brief flash of surprise in Vader, but it was gone an instant later. It took every ounce of her willpower not to flinch when she felt him purposefully stride in her direction. Within seconds, he was looming over her; close enough that she need only extend a hand and she could touch him. His eerie, mechanical breathing mixed with the steady hum of his lightsaber as it burst to life and hovered mere inches away from her neck, but Ahsoka refused to shy away. She slightly tensed as the heat of his blade drew closer and singed her skin, yet he still made no motion to finish her off. More and more, she sank deeper and deeper into the Force.
"I forgive you…" she said at last.
Ahsoka didn't lift her eyelids until the simultaneous click of numerous blaster rifles preparing to fire stirred her from her meditative state. His cape billowing behind him, Vader was already passing through his gathered stormtroopers and retreating into the forest by the time she spotted him.
Darth Vader had slain many Jedi. He had massacred and butchered the innocent; had slaughtered not only men, but women and children. He had destroyed entire worlds, and left others in ruin.
Once again shutting her eyes, the last thing Ahsoka Tano ever saw was the back of a cruel, pitiless tyrant as he left his minions to do his bidding. The last thing she ever heard was the ringing of blasters as they opened fire. The last thought that ever crossed her mind was how Darth Vader was nothing like Anakin Skywalker…
Vader was a coward.