:: Episode I, Chapter I | AHSOKA ::
|| 10 Anno Domino : 9 BBY ||
Ahsoka dreamt of Mortis.
After leaving the Order, after coming back only to face the Fall… Ahsoka had spent a year keeping herself rigidly closed off from the Force.
After the events of Thabeska, after Raada… After finally, desperately, opening herself up again and allowing the Force to welcome her home, Ahsoka had realized that she was not meant to be disconnect or to live in isolation. Her people were a tribal species, her heart was one tied inexorably to those around her, and her duty, as nothing more or less than a person who was able to take a stand, was to help those who were not as fortunately situated as she could be.
She’d become Fulcrum after Thabeska.
And now, she dreamt of Mortis.
She felt the fear of it all as if a very present terror.
The ache of Forceburn from channeling the sheer amount of atmospheric residue that welled up in the core of Mortis like the inverse of a Dark Star, like generative balance to the all-consuming hunger of the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy.
The weight of her shame in impotence against the Son, her weakness against his poison.
The Daughter had said it wasn’t his fault, that it had simply been eons too long of imbalance for him to remain sensible. It’s not selfishness, she’d explained, it’s sensation—investment instead of detachment, leading to compassion turned to fear turned to fury turned to hate… She’d said that destruction was not always evil, that sometimes things needed to break before they could be truly rebuilt.
Or maybe she didn’t say any of that.
Maybe Ahsoka’s own mind had made it up to try to make sense of the trauma.
In the dream, it feels very present in the cutting glare of its immediacy.
And yet, it also feels too echo-y and distant to be real.
But in the way of dreams, such dissonance is negligible.
And thus, it goes ignored.
Under the sway of the Son’s venomous thrall, Ahsoka’s dreaming mind flits into the Void, the odd world between worlds that sits outside of Space and Time.
She spies glimpses of the temple Gates that open doors unto the breach.
Ahsoka strolls through dark places… through the dead halls of Moraband and Malachor, through the fires of Mustafar.
She blinks and finds herself at the heart of Ashas Ree, at the joining of the Light and the Dark where the Jedi had tried to paint over a legacy of Dark.
An icy breath amid the nostalgic snows of Illum.
A mouthful of dust on Jedha.
The creak of old bones and older books on Ossus.
The hymns of Tython and Bogano and Zeffo.
The echoes of far older songs, remnants and radiation from the First Making…
Ahsoka drifts and dreams and doesn’t think to wonder.
When she wakes, it’s always breathing hard and fighting phantoms. But she’s used to it by now, and with almost 10 years since she’d finally been permitted to step up from being an initiate to become a padawan, she had the training and practice to keep herself controlled.
She can bet her Force signature flares something awful for a heartbeat— not enough to attract the eyes of the Emperor’s Inquisitors, but certainly enough to have once made Obi-Wan arch a dubious and concerned eyebrow in her direction.
Ahsoka doesn’t let herself think about Obi-Wan.
She hasn’t felt him in the Force since before the Fall, before Order 66 broke the world.
It’s nice to think he might not be dead, but she doesn’t want to search the Force for remnants of him in case she stumbles blindly into feeling the echoes of his death.
She’s opened herself up to the Force a lot in the last few years, allowed her power to flow free and fold over itself as it matured—compounding over the years into something stronger than she’d ever believed she would be able to harness.
It’s been a blessing to her efforts as Fulcrum.
It’s been a torment as her newfound and ever-growing power tunes the core of her being directly into the heart of the hurt.
Instead of lingering, instead of searching, Ahsoka wakes up hard and lets herself feel—but just enough to let it go. She jerks awake and then pulls herself to sitting, meditating to let the dream’s vestiges run their course—focusing herself on the new day and her present mission.
It’s another day of scouting relatively unknown systems, looking for a potential hidey hole in which to build a Rebel base.
The Bashtu System was mapped out ages before the Fall, when the then-Republic was looking for a secure-data site. It was dismissed in favor of Scarif and then promptly forgotten.
It’s got an established Hyperlane though, one that Ahsoka has worked carefully to erase from all Republic records and Empire databases. As of three weeks ago, she should be the only one in the whole galaxy with a steady vector on this little corner of Mid Rim Wild Space.
She’s 99% certain that one of Bashtu’s moons, one called Nenawat, will be the best place for her new base, but she’s still got the trio of moons at the far end of the system to investigate.
One, Groh, she’s pretty sure holds a forgotten Jedi Temple.
And Badal almost certainly holds a just-as-forgotten Sith Temple, by the vibe she’s feeling in the tremors of the Force. Both temples are putting out waves of uncorralled energy.
It’s enough to disrupt all sorts of data streams (hence why Bastu was dismissed in favor of Scarif for the site of data back-up repository), but because both temples are present, one of the Light and one of the Dark, their energies mostly cancel each other out—enough to prevent Bashtu from drawing any radar attention, while still providing cover to disguise the energy signatures when a whole bunch of new sentients and tech-systems move in.
Really, she’s only here to check out the third moon of the triad.
It’s name apparently means ‘bravery’ in some long abandoned slant of language. It’d be a poetic place to cache a Rebel base if it proves to be suitable.
The thing is, sometimes people name moons and planets after symbols and whimsies… And sometimes the names are warnings for what you need to venture there.
Tura seems like a decent enough place, at first—and even second— glance.
A bit jungle-y for Ahsoka’s tastes, but not swampy or gross.
The only real problem is the lack of hanger-space. It would take a lot of doing to make even the closest to half-clear patches of jungle into something that could hide a working base.
Nenawat’s dry stone cliffs with their deep hewn, windswept overhangs definitely suit her mission’s purposes far better.
And yet, Ahsoka keeps exploring.
Perhaps it’s because it’s been so long since she took a day to just bask in the wonder of the Universe and poke about its nooks and crannies like a youngling again, but this is the most relaxed she’s been since she first settled into the bone-deep understanding of what her place was meant to be in this Rebellion.
She feels at peace here, calm.
It takes her far too long to recognize that it’s more than just the calm of letting herself have a few hours to delight in exploration and let her mind slide into semi-meditation.
She’s already halfway down a set of stairs she doesn’t consciously remember finding before she registers the stone beneath her feet. She’s already nearly at her unknown destination before it registers that she has a destination— let alone that she’s going in the right direction.
The Force is a mysterious secret of reality, and Ahsoka has opened herself up to accepting unexpected guidance. She has enough experience, and Faith in herself, to know what gentle nudges to trust and what leading influences to question.
The room she finds at the end of her unexpected quest is very Temple-esque.
It’s a large space, open and airy and weighted with History. There’s a shaft of sunlight streaming in through a skylight, the path of the beam working its way across the floor along an intentional pattern of light and dark tiles— following a wild, river-like ribbon of gold towards a large stone slab that is probably an alter.
There’s a relief carved into the tabletop, a depiction of a scene Ahsoka has seen other images and copies of before: a Martyr, stood between the opposing armies, being speared by the weapons of both sides and bleeding out as they desperately plead to end the fighting.
The Martyr is sometimes a boy sometimes a girl, sometimes both situated back to back. They’re always young, always too young. Even when Ahsoka had been a Temple initiate, she’d felt the Martyr in this ancient scene seemed to be little more than a child.
That sentiment had only gained deeper roots as Ahsoka herself had gotten older.
She never reached a point where she felt she was definitively older than the Martyr, but with each year she felt less and less able to imagine taking on such a burden with the certainty of death looming as large as the uncertainty of making it matter.
Even as Fulcrum, as a potential martyr in her own right, she can barely imagine facing the pressure of the Fate of the Universe all coming down to her for any reason.
Ahsoka has the Rebels to carry Fate forward. It’s never been down to her to do anything so critical that someone else couldn’t eventually be subbed in if she went down.
Her role in things was not at all like Anakin’s…
After Mortis, Ahsoka had worried that the Martyr from the epigraphs was her master.
Obi-Wan had too— though he’d had more cause than she’d ever realized to think so. The Council had believed Anakin was the Chosen One, destined to bring true balance to the Force.
In some ways, they’d been right.
And wasn’t that the very worst of it?
Anakin Skywalker had died to save the Republic, and the people he’d loved. He’d done countless unspeakable things in pursuit of what had started as a noble goal.
And… while the Force ached with what blood had been shed… Somehow, Anakin had brought about a new potential for balance. The pendulum was still swung far over to the Dark Side, but Ahsoka could sense a sort of hope building in its momentum that she hadn’t sensed even when the Force was overwhelmed with the corrupted weight of the Light.
Anakin had died to save what he held dear.
He’d sinned against creation, but he’d cleansed the rot from the Light’s core and in his awful wake Ahsoka could feel a brand new goodness growing.
It gives her enough hope every day to keep going despite her weary soul.
It’s long past too late for Anakin.
Vader has nothing left in him of the human he had been. He has nothing left at all.
So much like the Martyr…
Ahsoka blinked back into the moment as her fingers brushed the altar’s surface, her mind fuzzy as she got caught up in fighting the fog of a meditative healing-trance she didn’t quite understand how or why she was suddenly slipping into.
She doesn’t mean to touch it.
She doesn’t mean to brush her hand across the heart of the figure bleeding gold as he strained to reach for something beyond the plane of the depiction’s rendering.
She doesn’t mean to lean her weight into the contact as the sunlight swept over the scene and caused the gilt beneath her fingertips to warm like spilling blood.
The figure on this altar looks so much like Anakin, like he’d been shot amid another hectic evac and was reaching towards her as he bled out while falling to his doom…
Ahsoka hears the sobbing long before she feels it.
In her confusion it takes her long moments to realize that the ache she felt clawing at her lungs and throat even connected to the echoes of the wails that she could hear.
When she realizes it’s all coming from her, she lets herself fully feel it.
She embraces the grief because she knows all too well what happened when it got pushed aside into the hidden corners of a soul. She excises it from herself, allows herself to own the feeling, and just as consciously allows herself to let it go.
She couldn’t say how long she stays there.
Or how she winds up curled atop the altar’s tabled plane.
And she certainly couldn’t say how she gets a light sheet draped over her, tucked in around her shoulders like a loved one had tenderly attempted to keep her comfortable.
Ahsoka can say, fully owning the admission, that she does not react well to her compounding layers of confusion…
She bolts upright, flings herself off the table, and draws her lightsabers—dropping into an aggressive fighting stance with deadly ease as she seeks a target for her fear and fury.
The room she’s in is not the room she’d left.
Not the open space of the altar in the temple.
It’s confined and close, lit by artificial means— glaring bright white against the daze of her sun-spotted retinas. She’s breathing heavy, panting through her mouth as her delicate nose is overwhelmed by the scents of sanitizer and antiseptic, of epoxy and plastoid and plexy...
Her breath whistles through her clenched teeth with such force that she almost doesn’t hear the movement behind her.
She swings towards it wildly— to be met by a green lightsaber and a startled, too-familiar face, as a voice that shreds her heartstrings says, “Woah there, Snips. Take it easy. You’re safe.”
Ahsoka’s only distantly aware that her voice sounds strained to the point of hysteric.
Just like she’s distantly aware— embarrassed even —that she’s watching all her training and experience fly right out the viewport, her mind observing the event like a third party as her spirit and her body go their separate ways in some sort of near-death experience.
“Safe? You want me to believe I’m safe, you of all people?”
A flash of too-well-pretended hurt crosses the shade of Anakin’s expression.
“Of course, Ahsoka, you’re always safe with me,” he promises— sounding absurdly like he means it. “No matter what happened on Mortis or Zygerria or anywhere, I fight to protect. You know I do. You reminded me of that when I found that I was doubting myself. I’m sorry I didn’t do more to help you after the bombing, Ahsoka— you can’t possibly know how sorry I am. I will never let anything like that happen to you again, to you or anyone we care about.”
He looks and sounds so stupidly sincere.
His signature in the Force is such a bright flare of rightness and goodness and strength that Ahsoka begins to doubt her mind entirely. But a trick like this isn’t Vader’s style. He’s all straightforward and brutal efficiency now, the dregs of Anakin’s old artistic flare funneled into a cold reputation that makes whole swathes of foes capitulate the moment he appears.
Vader isn’t doing this to her.
But Sidious might be.
That slimy old geezer has always been one for the long con, the slow torture of the mind until it gives into the pressure of decay. Sidious lets people, communities, whole star systems, even entire galactic republics all destroy themselves from pressure on the weaknesses within.
“Where is your Master,” Ahsoka demands of the shade, using her full strength to push him away from her. She levels a saber at Anakin to keep him at bay and directs her attention outward to shout, “Where are you, you skeevy old bastard?”
Sidious will kill her.
She’s not strong enough to beat him, and if he’s here, he didn’t come alone.
But Ahsoka is damn well gonna give him a fight if he means to take her down.
She’s lived this long on very little but some honeyed whisperings of hope and the rage-cured rot-gut elixir of unadulterated spite. She can go a little longer on such high-octane fuel.
The shade of Anakin sounds… he sounds like Anakin, worried and uncertain and concerned and full of so much blatant care that he can hardly breathe.
“How did you…? How are you doing this?”
Ahsoka frowns, twitches her attention back to him— keeping threads of her awareness out for Sidious’s inky, insipid slime. Anakin’s expression is a wash of shock. He’s pinned against the wall, wrist bent at an unnatural angle (but not quite crushing enough to snap the struts of the mechno-arm beneath his glove, though the servos are screaming as they fight to keep hold of his lightsaber). His feet are a few inches off the floor.
And he’s looking around the room like he can see the tendrils of her force awareness lashing out for Sidious. Maybe this construct of him can… She’d never tried to hide herself when she’d been caught in a tight corner like this…
Usually, when a corner like this came up, hiding was already obsolete.
Ahsoka and the shade of Anakin stare at each other for a long moment of nothingness.
“If you’re looking for my Master,” Anakin coughs awkwardly, “Obi-Wan’s probably on the bridge with Admiral Yularen. Maybe we could go talk to him together? And maybe you could tell me about how you got to be so grown up and powerful in just the year we haven’t seen you?”
Ahsoka half deflates at that, confused to the point of not even being able to lash out.
“Yeah, I can hardly believe it either, but it’s already been nearly a full standard cycle since you left the Order,” Anakin says, still forcing a semblance of cheer into his tone.
Suspicious, but too confused to pin down a reasonable response, Ahsoka adjusts her grip on her sabers and grinds her teeth—bearing her fangs just a but more aggressively.
Anakin looks down with a self-deprecating chuckle.
“You know, when you disappeared, I wasn’t expecting you to vanish so thoroughly,” he mentions. “You got so much better at that so quickly, I shouldn’t be surprised with how much you’ve grown in a year. You’re a better teacher to you than I’ve ever been.”
Ahsoka’s eyes narrow, but Anakin’s not looking at her.
“I could hardly feel the training bond, some days I couldn’t even really tell that you were still alive… So, when I felt you scream down it, when you called for help because you were in trouble, I was incensed. I’m not proud of how useless I was in finding you. That was all Rex and Obi-Wan. I was basically just a gibbering mess of a human compass.”
Again the mention of Obi-Wan, and now of Rex… Like this shade of Anakin simply knows they’re alive, like he’s seen them lately…
Ahsoka can’t pretend to bear it. She just caves to the hurt and the hope and the desperate, disbelieving want for what she’s lost.
Lightsabers drooping, Ahsoka sways dramatically.
Her control over the Force wavers.
Anakin breaks free and rushes over to catch her before she falls without even sheathing his saber. The blade retracts as he just drops it. Like it’s nothing.
Like it’s nothing compared to her.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Anakin croons. “You’re okay. We found you unconscious, but you don’t have any injuries. Kix checked you over twice before he’d even let Obi-Wan in the room.”
Ahsoka doesn’t have any tears left. She feels bereft, somehow, like her whole soul cried itself out in that strange temple on Tura. But there’s a sort of calm in being so entirely empty.
A vessel of the Force and Fate.
“We don’t know what happened to you, Ahsoka,” Anakin sighs, helping her to sit up on the bed she’d flung herself out of when she’d woken up. He doesn’t let her go, even when she’s perfectly stable. Instead he sits down beside her, asking, “What did happen, Snips? Why were you so far out in the middle of nowhere?”
Ahsoka almost gives into his soft tone.
But then she stiffens.
She pushes away from him. Staggers backward toward the door, backing away— hunched like a scared dog instead of a fierce Togruti predator.
“No… You just want to know where the Rebels…”
“Rebels? The Separatists had you?”
There’s the edge she’s been expecting all along, the anger and the need to push… Sidious’s shade is a perfect copy of Anakin, even his every fault… If it were really him, Ahsoka might relent to his mothering, well-meant interrogations— might give up the secrets she’s charged herself with taking to her lonely grave.
To him, and only him… She might’ve been convinced to spill.
Ahsoka calls her lightsabers back to her hands and throws herself out the door, careening down the hallway beyond it totally blind.
It’s empty as she staggers, on muscle memory alone, towards the aft fighter hanger— the hall lights low like the Resolute is on it’s simulated night cycle. She’s going at breakneck speed as Anakin’s shouts chase her more effectively than the rest of him— though she has no doubt he’ll be right behind her the moment she dares to slow down.
She’s so focused on evading the figure behind her, on ducking down below the notice of the bright flare of Force that’s at her back, she doesn’t see the figure in front of her until she’s already slammed straight into it. Into him.
“Easy there, Commander… I didn’t know you were awake already.”
Captain Rex, of the 501st.
But she can’t process her shock before there’s a hand reaching for her shoulder.
It’s godsdamn Jesse… of the kriffing 332nd… Ahsoka hadn’t cut him down on the Tribunal, and she’d counted that as much a win, as anything that horrid day could ever be considered better than it could be worse, but if Jesse is here and alive and maybe Ahsoka has really cracked because Jesse is dead she buried him, left his helmet staged with honors…
But if Jesse’s here…
Jesse’s here, and Rex is on the ground and vulnerable.
Ahsoka bears her teeth, all feral predator— sabers fallen from her quaking fingers and forgotten in the rush of panic-fear-confusion-NO.
She launches at him, hands going for his throat.
She thinks she screams at Rex to run.
Thinks that maybe she sees his back disappear down the hall at a sprint.
Thinks it strongly enough that when he’s gone the fight drains out of her and she all but flops into an empty puddle.
Jesse chokes loudly for a long moment as she feels her world collapsing around her all over again. Whatever this is… she’s done with it.
She’s done with all of it.
“Go ahead,” she whispers, staring at his knees. “Do it. If you can hear me— if you even care anymore— it’s not your fault and I forgive you.”
She waits, eyes falling closed as she hears his plastoid armor shift. As the sound of his blasters getting drawn booms through her montrals.
But then the sound of the blasters skittering down the hall echoes and her eyes snap open. Jesse’s crouched down in front of her, eyes big and round and obviously worried.
His hands are raised with his palms flat and up and open.
“What’s all this now, Commander? It’s gonna be fine, Sir, we’ll see to that,” Jesse promises with all the confidence of good man with an army of brothers at his back. “I think Captain Rex went to find Kix, but can you tell me what’s happening? Are you seeing things or do you really not recognize us?”
He sounds… pained.
But not because she nearly strangled him.
Because he’s hurting on behalf of her.
“Jesse? You…” she wants, so badly, to leap into his arms and cry, but the hollow ache inside her wails that it’s not real (that it’s not fair) and instead she does what little she can to maybe help release his memory:
“It’s okay. Jesse. You don’t have to fight it. I know you’ll make it quick. You can go ahead and kill me. If it ever comes to matter to you, I promise, I forgive you.”
His hand is on her shoulder.
“Uh, begging your pardon, Sir, but uh, respectfully, that’s not an order I can follow,” he tells her softly. “See, I really don’t want to be killing you now, Sir, and I’m sure the Cap would have my head for it. Let alone the General. So, how about we just sit here for a little, huh?”
Ahsoka’s eyes go blurry, but she can’t tell if it’s with tears or just exhaustion.
“Tell the others, won’t you? That I’m sorry and I forgive them all for everything…”
She doesn’t hear the words of his reply, but she does hear the warmth of their soft rumble as her whole awareness fades into a comforting blackness.
The last thing she hears is the shade of Anakin shouting her name.