“It’s actually not all destroyed,” Master Jinn assured them. “Remember, much of the Temple stretches down to the lower levels.”
“But it looks so...” Mirk Oggslayer started, but he couldn’t seem to find the words to go on.
“How it looks is not important,” replied Master Jinn. “You should know by now not to be deceived by appearances, Initiate.”
“I don’t think it’s that any of us are deceived, Master,” said Padmé. “It’s just that...”
“Ah, but you are, in your hearts. Your heads are not deceived, no, but your hearts deceive themselves. You must learn to listen to the truer parts of your heart, and then you will know better than this.”
Anakin tried to listen to that part of his heart, but he couldn’t find it. When he looked at Padmé, who was staring at the middle of the ship and not looking out of the windows anymore, he didn’t think she could find it either.
Oné, on the other hand, had her face pressed to the window, obviously looking for Master Yoda. Next to Anakin, Octus pointed his thumb at her and said, “Getting a little silly, isn’t she?”
“Don’t talk that way,” Padmé scolded. “It’s cruel.”
“It’s not that bad,” Octus protested.
“It’s bad enough,” she insisted, “because you’re not thinking before you speak. Think about how long her Master’s been in that coma, and think about how that must make her feel. And then to talk about her like that?”
But Anakin wasn’t sure Oné had even heard Octus anyway, and now she cried out and Padmé looked out the window again and said, “Master Yoda’s here. He’s just outside. There are bunch of other Council members with him, I think.”
Anakin had noted by now that you could always tell when a bunch of Jedi Masters were around. It felt different. Everyone in the shuttle was now trying to get themselves to their feet and be the first ones out.
“Let Oné out first,” Padmé tried to suggest as her Padawan gathered Master Yaddle into her arms and tried to push her way to the front of the crowd, but the others mostly weren’t listening. She and Anakin themselves weren’t close enough to the front of the shuttle to get out quickly, but they weren’t in any hurry. To get out meant to have to look at the ruins of their home without anything blocking the way.
Master Windu, on the other hand, was already gone; none of them dared get in his way. Master Jinn probably could have done the same, but instead he stayed back, talking quietly to Padawan Kenobi as the two of them surveyed the Initiates. Anakin watched their eyes travel over him, but they didn’t stop on him; they weren’t paying attention to him right now.
Oné was starting to get really tense, and Anakin was just getting worried she might start shoving and kicking to get her Master outside when a voice known well to each and every one there said, “Come in, I must. See Padawan Madierre, I must.”
In front of Oné somehow an empty space was formed. Anakin could see it clearly from where Padmé now picked him up to make more room on the ship floor. Getting to it was no trouble to Master Yoda; a light somersault up to the ship’s ceiling and he landed in front of she who looked like she was going to start crying with joy. Surely that was against the Code, to feel that much over this.
But if it was, Master Yoda was being nice about it. When Oné, with difficulty, squatted down in the limited space and tenderly placed her fallen Master in front of him, he reached up to touch her bowed head. “Done very well, you have, Padawan Madierre. Very well.”
The passengers were now finally starting to really empty out; Anakin heard Padmé breath out her relief when she was able to put him back down, and they flowed with the crowd. One color of steel beneath their feet descended to another color of steel, and they once again breathed the air of Coruscant, which still smelt a little smoky.
Master Ki-Adi-Mundi was there with a couple of other people Anakin didn’t recognize, and he and Master Windu were in intense conversation. Padmé was holding his hand, and she wouldn’t stop watching them, though Anakin didn’t see the point when they couldn’t hear them. It was a little annoying, because the others were spreading out, stretching their legs after days of being cooped up together, and he wanted to walk, or run, or maybe even do a kata, anything but just stand still there. He tugged at Padmé’s arm. “Come on, Padmé,” he said, “let’s go to the edge of the platform and look down to see where we are.”
She was reluctant; her eyes were fixed on Master Windu. Even if she did have some weird hope he’d take her as a Padawan, this didn’t make sense; he probably wasn’t going to notice her right now, any more than Master Jinn had noticed Anakin. “Come on!” he said again.
But just then the two Masters finished talking, and Master Windu yelled out, “Everyone!” They all stopped and looked at him as avidly as Padmé. “Master Mundi is here to escort you to your new quarters, where you’ll be sleeping for the time being. Initiate Naberrie?” Padmé nearly hurtled herself in their direction, forgetting to let go of Anakin so he was dragged along. “You are by some way the oldest surviving Initiate left after the attack, which means you will have to take on a new kind of responsibility. Much of time you will be left in charge of the dormitory, and you will have to keep everyone in order and report back to us if there are any serious problems. Everyone, from now on, Initiate Padmé Naberrie is in charge of you, and you are to do as she says, does everyone understand?”
Padmé was lighting up like one of those crystals back on Ilum, and Anakin, too, had to grin. This was perfect; he and Padmé would be together for some time yet clearly, and then someone was sure to choose her and start training her.
But as they lined up, Master Windu spoke again to Padmé, “Come a little ahead with me alone,” and even though Anakin had been wishing Padmé would let go of him only a few minutes ago, now he didn’t like how quickly she dropped his hand and hurried off to his side. He wanted to bolt after them, to find out what they were talking about, as from the side of Master Mundi he watched them walk a few meters ahead of the group. “What’s he saying to her?” he finally worked up the nerve to demand of the Cerean.
“Just giving her furthers instructions and advice,” said Master Mundi, and that might have been mostly true, but towards the end of their conversation, Anakin saw Padmé hand fly up to her mouth, as if he’d told her something alarming. Then she fell away from him, and was soon walking with them again.
“What did he tell you?” Anakin whispered.
“I might you later,” she whispered back. It was a jolt for Anakin to realize he didn't entirely believe her. That had never happened between him and Padmé before.
She could still hear Master Windu, “I hope you understand, Initiate Naberrie, that this is not over, but is only beginning. One of the attacker’s ships crashed against the Temple’s side. We found its computer, and not all the databanks were passed retrieval. They contain records of other strikes, other plans, maybe even other minions, beyond those who were killed here at the Temple. They may even build an entire army.”
An entire army! One of the more alarming open secrets within the Jedi Order, the one nobody talked about but the older ones probably went to pains to conceal from the general public, was that the number of Jedi had been decreasing. Fewer parents were willing to give up their children than in earlier ages, when the Order had been held in higher esteem, and Padmé thought there had been more Jedi killed each year than there had been in the immediately preceding centuries. And they had never been the kind of organization that was meant to fight against an army. There were probably only a few hundred of them currently alive after the events of the last few days.
A single attack by a sufficiently large force could probably wipe us all out. Padmé shivered as she thought about it, her hand straying to her new lightsaber, which was a reassurance on her hip, an object shaped by her own fingers, a crystal at its heart that belonged there, within her reach. And yet she supposed it was not right, the surge of violence she felt when she thought about hundreds of soldiers charging into the Initiate’s new quarters, her their first defense. And she knew for sure it wasn’t, what she felt when she looked at Anakin in particular, sleeping innocently below her, and thought about what she might do to protect him, even above the others.
Her mind was about as far from a peaceful state as it was possible to be when she heard the footsteps outside, and while she knew quickly enough it was another Jedi, not an enemy, still her mind was having trouble staying unclouded, and each little sound of boots on the floor jarred her nerves anew. Still she was used to hiding her inner turmoils. She was confident she was the picture of serenity as she rose to greet the young Twi’lek Padawan, whom she believed to be called Aayla Secura, when she came in.
"My name is Aayla Secura," she confirmed. “I’ll be helping you with the Younglings over the next few days while my Master is doing some things he has to do on his own.” Padmé knew she was apprenticed to Master Vos, who took very lengthy and very dangerous missions. She believed her hadn’t been in the Temple during the battle, but might have even come back to fight in it.
Even in the past(had it really been such a short time ago, the time that was now a completely different era?), this had hardly been unknown, for a younger Padawan learner to visit the Initiates dormitory and supervise them while their Master probably did something too dangerous to involve them. What those Masters might be up to would be the topic of excited speculation for days after the Padawan would leave. And there were a lot of dangerous things to be done now, no doubt, so this all made sense. It was also a great relief.
Before Padmé could respond Xiaan Amersu, Aayla’s fellow Twi’lek, spotted her and came bounding up. She nearly leapt on top of her she hugged her from behind, squealing her name and something else in Twi’leki.
“You should speak Standard in front of Initiate Naberrie,” said Aayla gently, but her smile was very wide. “But I am very glad to see you alive and well.”
“It was terrible, Aayla,” sighed Xiaan as she flipped herself right over Aayla in her excitement, doing a pretty good modified version of the Leth Kata as she landed on her feet. “We had to fly so long, and Mirk, Mirk Oggslayer, you know, I flew with him, said the ship was going to run out of fuel, but it didn’t, and I think he must have just been trying to scare us.” Actually, he hadn’t been; there’d been a leak and at one point there had been a real possibility of getting stranded, but Padmé didn’t say anything about that.
Even if Aayla said crossly, “That was wrong of him, to try that. This has been difficult enough for you and for everyone else without anyone telling false tales.”
“Well Octus didn’t believe him,” said Xiaan, then her tone become more hushed as she said, “Though he said we had to flee because a Sith Lord broke in and tried to kill Master Yaddle.”
That the younger Twi’lek clearly did believe, as she looked expectantly between them. Padmé caught Aayla’s eye, and was certain too that the Padawan knew at least part of the truth. But she said nothing, so neither did Padmé.
The words of that dark Zabrak creature came back to her: “I will have my revenge on all five of you.” She had no doubt he meant it, that he had memorized all five of their faces. She suppressed a shudder. He had seemed so strong and powerful. If he found her again, could it ever be at a time when she would be able to defend herself against him?
When Xiaan realized no one was going to tell her if there really had been a Sith Lord, or if he had tried to kill Master Yaddle, she continued on: “Did you know we saw two planets? Though the second one wasn’t a nice one at all. I didn’t see much of it anyway.”
Padmé’s curiosity rose then, and though it had to war with the ugly memories of her own experience, even though much of what had happened out on the surface of Polsing had blurred together for her after she’d woken up in the sickbed. Aayla was even more curious, saying eagerly, “Is it true the first one was Ilum, that you got to look at the crystals? Master Vos says he’s going to take me there to get a crystal, but of course he can’t right now.”
“That’s too bad,” said Xiaan. “Everyone should see that place as soon as possible.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Padmé, as she remembered something Master Windu had told her: “It works better if you’re ready for it.”
Xiaan threw her a dirty look, her lekku twitching almost with petulance. But Aayla nodded her agreement; Master Vos has probably told her something like that too. Not for the first time Padmé was aware how much more like the Padawans she wanted to join she was than the Initiates she was still grouped among.
Then she said, “I’m going to go for a walk with Initiate Naberrie. It’ll only be a short one, and then I’ll come see you again, okay?”
“Okay,” said Xiaan, though she didn’t sound entirely happy about it.
They walked together into the next room, where a quick glance around left them fairly confident all the Initiates on the bunks here were asleep. “Any news?” Padmé asked her companion.
“Master Windu instructed me to tell you one thing,” said Aayla. “That is that he will likely be among those Jedi who will go out to search for the Sith, or at least more information on them and their possible army. He leaves probably in a couple of weeks, and thinks he will likely be out a month. He will be very interested, however, in seeing how the Initiates are coming along when he gets back.”
Padmé understood. Even when his padawan newly dead, he was seriously considering taking her as a replacement, as least when he himself was emotionally ready for one-from what she’d seen of him, he’d be ready long before she was thirteen. But a Master like Mace Windu she had to prove herself worthy of.
Anakin, she found herself thinking, would insist she was worthy of him already. She remembered his words, all of them running through his head, about how brave and strong and just generally amazing she had been, and it made her aware she had done pretty well, everything considered.
It made her think she could do it. That even if Master Windu was hard to impress, she was capable.
Unless she displeased him somehow, and he deemed her unworthy to be anyone’s Padawan. Then she might get sent off before she was thirteen, the way Obi-Wan had been.
Or he might be killed. In which case Anakin was probably right in that there were multiple Masters who would be interested in training her, even if they all would probably let him decide whether he wanted her first before approaching, so she’d probably end up with one of them. But even with her own future thus not at stake, Padmé felt her heart crying loud in protest, that Master Windu couldn’t be killed, not like that, not when they needed him, not when he was so great and magnificent and would be such a terrible loss to the galaxy.
Still Padmé was doing roll call, starting with Xiaan and going on all the way to Yupi Z’zar, finishing up just as a little figure toddled in, followed by Padawan Secura, but it was not Master Yaddle. Anakin had never thought he could be disappointed to see Master Yoda, but now he blurted out, “Is Master Yaddle not coming?”
“Coming, she is,” said Master Yoda. “But not yet. Patience.” He hadn’t been going that fast, but now he went slower, taking time to look over each of them as he passed. He stopped before Grands Niso, who was still suffering occasional tiredness after his ordeal on Polsing, and asked him how he was. On hearing he was tired, he chuckled slightly and said, “Go to bed earlier, you should, then. Fall asleep right now, you will not, hmmmm?”
“Of course not, Master Yoda,” Grands assured him.
Finally he took to the center of the room, and said, “An important announcement, I have to make. Know, you all do, that we have lost many lives in the attack?”
“Yes, Master Yoda,” said Padmé, who had finally stopped pacing, though she was still standing up.
“So need more Initiates, we do. So decided, the Council did, to accept some new Initiates which we would not normally. Coming in with Master Yaddle, three of them are. Their names are Ellé Okrest, Jia’mosa Grt, and Donnie Briggs. Strong as you, they are not. More time to master katas and the Force, they will need than you. But Jedi, they are capable of being, and kind and patience with them, you all must be.”
“How many will be coming?” Padmé asked.
“An exact number, we do not yet have. Up to possibly nine. Five for certain. Maybe more in the next few months.”
Anakin had been thinking mainly that it would be annoying to have classmates that would take longer than the rest of them to learn things, but he then found himself thinking instead that five was a very small number of new Initiates even when compared with how many of them had died after fleeing Coruscant, let alone how many padawans and Knights and Masters had also been killed. Nine wasn’t as bad considering just the Initiates, but still way too small considering how many lives had been lost in total. The Jedi Order was going to have to look harder.
The murmur hadn’t died down before Master Yaddle came in, though it did then. Anakin took in the trio of new Initiates with her, two girls and a boy. One of the girls was even smaller than she was, and the other two only slightly taller.
Everyone was looking at them, of course, which seemed to make the taller girl shrink into herself a little bit as Yoda moved away and let the four of them take his place right in front of the crowd, though the other two looked boldly back. Anakin promptly liked them more.
Yaddle introduced them: Jia’mosa Grt was the boy, Ellé Okrest the taller girl, and Donnie Briggs the shorter girl. Then she told them to tell the group what planets they were from, and Anakin had never heard of the planets Jia’mosa and Donnie were from, he knew how excited Padmé had to get when Ellé answered, “I am from Naboo.”
“Wow, like Initiate Naberrie here!” exclaimed Tru Veld.
“Really? You’re from Naboo too?” Ellé moved as if was thinking about running forward, before remembering herself and stopping.
Anakin could see Padmé exchanging looks with Master Yaddle, his friend asking permission. With it granted, she walked up to Ellé, and then knelt down just enough for them to be at eye level. She introduced herself, and asked Ellé where on Naboo she was from. “Theed,” the girl said. “The capital.”
That made her bite her lip. She probably wanted to ask more. In fact, Anakin thought he might be seeing a lot more of Ellé; Padmé would make a big friend here. But this wasn’t the right time to have this kind of conversation, so she just said. “I am very pleased to meet you. Welcome to the Temple.”
Sure enough, while the lesson ended up being pretty ordinary, simple enough that the five newcomers would’ve had to be really, really weak to not be able to catch up, at the end, when everyone else went up to Master Yaddle to ask her how she was, though she’d seemed just fine during the lesson, if not moving around too much, Padmé went over to Ellé. “Would you like to have lastmeal with me and my friend, Anakin? I’ve never been to Theed; I’d like to hear more about it. It’s okay with you, isn’t it, Ani?”
Well, it had to be; it would have been very mean to tell the new girl you didn’t want to eat with her. So Anakin just nodded. But he wondered what it would be like if Ellé kept eating with them. He sometimes thought the times he was happiest were when it was just him and Padmé around and no one else. Would that all change too now?
Then again, he reminded himself, she probably was going to become a Padawan soon, so it would probably change anyway. Except he didn’t want to think about her going away like that.
The trip to the Refectory took longer than it used to, and required them to go up a number of stairs. There might have been a lift they could have used, but Anakin and Padmé typically liked the walk. Except Anakin didn’t like it today; Ellé was there, and he didn’t mind her, but it meant he and Padmé weren’t alone, and it gave him too much time to think about sad topics, like more about Padmé leaving, and about their friends who had died, and he knew things were still pretty dangerous too.
But of course Padmé noticed, and when they were nearly there she moved to kind of place her arm around him, and said, “It’s all right, Ani. Tomorrow morning if you get up early enough I’ll get up early too, and we can practice katas together.” That made him feel better, though he did find himself thinking that was going to be another change, that he and Padmé might not just sit and talk anymore, because she would always be working on something. She’d been like that since they’d come back.
He should’ve expected at lastmeal he wouldn’t be included in much of the conversation. Of course all Padmé and Ellé were going to talk about was Naboo. At least it was something he was actually pretty interested in hearing about. Padmé had told him about a lot of it already, of course, but she didn’t remember it as well as she used to, and she had never been to Theed, though she had told him once her parents had seriously been considering moving there when the Jedi had come for her. Ellé talked about big white buildings and broad, bright roads, and how the rich people dressed in Theed, and how she had once seen the planet’s King from a high window. Poor girl, she thought the part about the King was much more impressive than it actually was, but Anakin and Padmé both knew better.
He did get to join the conversation towards the end of the meal, when they started talking about their own lives again. Ellé had already heard much of the story of how the Temple had recently been attacked and they’d all had to flee, but she was really interested in hearing about them searching for their crystals on Ilum, and how Anakin had been able to find his crystal when he had quieted his mind down. On hearing that Anakin was now carrying the crystal around in his belt pouch she wanted to see it, so he took it out and showed it to her. He was getting kind of used to it now; for a while after they’d gotten back to the Temple he’d sometimes taken it out just to look at it, but he hadn’t done that in the last couple of days. It was kind of wonderful to see it again, and see how awed Ellé was by it.
So that was nice, but as it always was now, it was a little less nice when Padmé started talking about Master Windu. In fact, it was even worse, because Anakin only learned when Padmé told Ellé that she had seen him only a couple of days ago, when she had been running an errand for Master Koth(who apparently was a very good friend of Master Windu, to the point they had entered the Concordance of Fealty, though Padmé actually didn’t know what that was), and he had stopped her and spent over half an hour asking her questions, mostly general ones about how the Initiates were all doing, Padmé said to Ellé, but also a couple about her, if she was doing the katas he’d talked to her about(and when had he been talking to her about katas?!), how was she helping to manage to Initiates, did she remember what he had told her about controlling her feelings?
After hearing about all that, Anakin was completely focused on asking Padmé hadn’t told him about all that already as soon as they were alone, and so had trouble paying attention to the rest of what the two girls talked about. But the end of the meal took longer because while he and Padmé still finished at the same time, Ellé took a couple more minutes, and of course Padmé would never get up and leave her there, and because he wanted to stay with her Anakin sat there too, feeling ridiculous because he had nothing to do but watched Ellé take her last bites. But at last she finished, and they returned their trays, and then Anakin worried she might stay with them all the way back to the dormitories or possibly even the entire night, but fortunately some of the other younger Initiates were also getting up, and they called over to Ellé to come join them, and she said goodbye and went away.
For a moment Anakin wondered if he should ask her when they were in the hallways. Before the attack, they would never have done that. But now that they were all more crowded together, there was a good chance they wouldn’t have the privacy for it back in the dormitory. So first he asked her if she could sense anything in hearing range, because she was still better at that than he was, and then when she said she couldn’t, he asked it as they walked.
He actually wasn’t as loud about as he wanted to be because of where they were, but even so she looked a little surprised by how aggressively he talked about it. Had one of the Masters heard they might have even scolded him for it. It didn’t make him happy, either, that she had trouble answering. The first thing she said was, “I don’t know, I...” and there was a pause before she came up with, “There wasn’t a moment to. We don’t have much time alone together anymore, and when we did we had too many other things to talk about.”
“So it wasn’t that you didn’t want to tell me?” Anakin challenged, because he somehow felt it was.
“No!” she protested, and it wasn’t that he didn’t believe her, mostly, but still he felt some doubt. At least he did believe her more completely when she added, “Anakin, if I ever *really* think Master Windu or any other Master is about to take me as a Padawan, I promise you, I’ll do everything I can to tell you as fast as possible.”
“You do have to get used to the idea, though,” she continued as they turned a corner and got into a lift together. “Remember, Ani, even if I’m not taken as a Padawan, we’ll still be separated when I turn thirteen, or when Padawan Kenobi is knighted and Master Jinn is ready to take you. I know you wish we could continue seeing each other every day forever. I wish it too. But it just can’t happen.”
“I know,” he said, but inside he felt himself still protest it. That even if he’d known for his entire life that your fellow Initiates couldn’t stay with you, that sooner or later they had to leave and fulfill their destiny, still there was something wrong with this.
But he did feel better when she said, “We don’t have to never see each other again, though, at least if I do get taken. We can try to meet up when I’m in the Temple. Once we’d both be Padawans, of course, we probably won’t see each other very often because we’ll both be away from the Temple a lot, but there will still be times, especially if we do end up with Masters Windu and Jinn, because they're good friends. At least as long as...” She drifted off.
They weren’t going to get killed. Anakin decided that right then and there. She especially wasn’t going to get killed, because even if she had to go away from him, she did not have to get killed, and she shouldn’t get killed, and he wouldn’t accept that ever happening. He’d always stop it somehow. He just needed to figure out how.
But he knew if he told her that she’d go talking about how he might not be able to stop it, so instead he said, “Well, at least you’re not really thinking you’re not going to get chosen now,” he said. “Because that would be stupid, because now even if Master Windu doesn’t, someone else will.”
“Yes,” said Padmé softly, and he felt yanked about two ways at once by the relief in her voice; it was good she no longer feared, but bad she had to be relieved.
“Good,” he said, and she looked at him in surprise, which made him feel a little bad, but never mind, he could just tell her: “Of course I want you to get your Master. No matter how bad it’ll be for me, of course I want you to get what you’ve wanted all your life. I just wish...” And then they both said nothing, because there wasn’t anything more to say.