“They sent her off on her first mission earlier than I would’ve liked,” she said. “She was only walking normally for a couple of weeks when an assignment came up involving a group of immigrants, including several Dugs, on Denon, and she was sent with three other Jedi to help defuse tensions. I am pleased to say she and they did a very good job. They were there for about three months, and I won’t bore you with all the details, at least not today, but when they were done, not only where the immigrants and their neighbors getting along, but one of the immigrants had even gotten engaged to a local. Last I heard of that part of the planet and its inhabitants, they had become a much more integrated society, and a more prosperous one at that.
She managed to visit me afterwards, something she made an effort to do whenever she was in the Temple, although I’m afraid it became harder in the later years, especially after she took Trace as her Padawan Learner. And you may not believe it, Initiate, but the woman who met with me in the Water Garden, which had always been a favorite garden for both of us, was not at all the girl I’d said goodbye to when she’d joined the others to depart for Denon. She looked older, for one thing, but that was the least of it. I could sense the weight of experience she had gained, the new wisdom and confidence that came from her working on her own.
She talked differently too, and especially to me. Before, even just after her knighting, she was always deferential, and most of the time, when she expressed a thought of opinion, you could hear the pause, always allowing me to override her if I so wished. There was none of that anymore. She spoke assertively, especially one matters concerning the mission she had just been on, and even told me when she thought there was an area of the Archives that need to have more information added to it, which she would never have dared before.” Master Nu let out a dry chuckle then, one which made Anakin wonder if she’d been that happy to hear her former apprentice say such a thing to her then.
Still, he said, “But that’s good, right? I mean, it meant she could go on missions and do things on her own like she needed to.”
“Yes, Initiate,” she said. “Indeed, most of what I saw and heard from her that day was exactly what I had been hoping for. But of all the lessons she taught me while I was training her, because as you no doubt have been told, the Padawan is supposed to teach the Master as much as the Master teaches the Padawan, a surprisingly final one came to me that day. You see, Initiate, before that day I had always thought that even if there had been things she had taught to me, all that I taught to her was still what she would know all her life, and remain forever words for her to live by. But she had rejected some of it, formed her own opinions, some of which were even directly contradictory to mine. She did at least one thing I never would’ve done when I was on such missions, and it worked very well for her.”
“What did she-?” Anakin started to ask, but just then there was a knock on the classroom door, and they heard Master Yoda’s voice outside, calling, “Initiate Skywalker? Master Nu? Looking for you both, I have been. Speaker to Initiate Skywalker now, I will, alone. Later you must come-know where, already do you?”
“I do, and I think our story is over for today,” said Master Nu, getting to her feet, and any protest Anakin would have made he didn’t have time for; Masters were amazing at moving really quickly when they didn’t want you asking them something, or just wanted to get away real fast, and she was gone before he could fully get up after her.
Not that he could’ve really paid attention to her anyway. He had never known Master Yoda to meet with any Initiate alone. Did he want Anakin as his Padawan, maybe because of the prophecy?
“Come,” Master Yoda said, and beckoned, and together they walked out of the classroom he and Master Nu had been in, and out into the hall, the same way he and Master Jinn had that morning he’d last visited.
When the old Master didn’t say anything more, Anakin didn’t feel like waiting for whenever he felt like speaking. Although his, “What is it?” was louder and more impatient than he’d meant it to be. When Master Yoda stopped and stared at him with that “behave like that, you must?” look, he half-expected his shins to be whacked.
But the old Master only said, “Know much, you do, about your mother?”
“Only what I’ve read and been told,” he said. “Though that’s a lot now, at least about her history.”
“Know you, how she is now?”
“No,” he said. “Not really. Why, is something wrong?” His anxiety rose when Master Yoda didn’t answer right away.
But then he said, “Wrong? No, not wrong. Not right, not yet, but not wrong.” That sounded a bit like a riddle, which Anakin was used to from Master Yoda.
“You’re not going to tell me more than that, are you?”
“Today, no. Tomorrow…maybe. On you, all will depend.”
“On me?” Anakin asked, confused. “Why not her? What if she has a big change or something?”
“Big, her changes are not. Slow and long they are. And you, change more, and faster, you must.”
“Am I doing something wrong?” asked Anakin. If that was what this was about, he wished he’d just said it to him.
“No, nothing wrong. Careful, you must be, you and Master Jinn both, but no, nothing wrong, not yet.”
They took a few more steps, and then Anakin asked, “Is it going to be different for me, because of the prophecy?”
“Know all about that, you do, then?” Master Yoda asked, since certainly no one official had told Anakin, but he didn’t sound surprised.
“Yeah,” he said. “Unless I’ve heard wrong. But the story is that I’m supposed to destroy the Sith.”
“A prophecy that about you, may be. Or misread, may be. Know, we can not. And even if we knew it to be true, worry about it, you should not. Enough to worry about, you will have. If meant to be, things are, then happen, they will.”
That made sense, and they fell silent then, until they came to the dormitories. It turned out Ellé had been waiting for Anakin, and when they came in, she came forward, obviously intending to run up and hug him, only to stop when she saw Master Yoda. Anakin promptly walked forward and hugged her.
“An announcement, I have for you all,” said Master Yoda, and his voice carried, so Anakin was sure they could hear him in the other rooms too, even before the other Initiates starting flowing in. “It has been decided that new kinds of short trips, you will all take, within the Temple.”
“You mean we’re going to see places like the Archives?” someone asked.
“The Archives, the gardens, other places,” said Master Yoda. “Exactly where, we have not yet decided.”
“Can we go to the Water Garden?” asked Anakin, remembering what Master Nu had said about it.
“The Water Garden, a likely choice will be,” said Master Yoda, but he was scrutinizing Anakin very carefully as he said it, which made him think he probably wouldn’t like his reason for wanting to go there. “First trip, maybe. And now it is time to eat.”
So he ended up escorting them himself that night, and spent most of the rest of the time there talking with the other Initiates; Anakin didn’t get the chance to talk to him again. Instead, he saw with Ellé and Tru and some others and repeated Master Nu’s new story. He found himself leaving out that they’d met in the Water Garden.
He wondered if he would repeat the two suggested trip locations to the small coterie of top Masters he went on his way to meet with in the nearly completed new Council chamber. Qui-Gon, he was sure, would be put in favor of either place by hearing about this, while Master Windu might then turn against them both. It might be better to keep it to himself.
But while that subject was to be discussed, it was only one of a handful of less important items on their agenda to come after they’d dealt with the actual reason for their meeting.
He’d lingered with the Initiates longer than he thought. Not only was it fully dark when he got to the top of the tower-the only one now, and not planned to be as tall as the original central spire, but the view wasn’t that much different from what it had been-but he was the last to arrive. Dooku, Qui-Gon, and Master Windu were talking together in a corner. Masters Gallia and Rancisis were both asking Master Nu questions. And Master Tholme was getting some meditation in, kneeled by the window, eyes opened, but not really looking at what was in front of him.
He waited a minute, letting Master Nu finish talking, before tapping his cane against the floor, and the others too fell silent, and Tholme rose to his feet. There were no seats in the chamber yet, the old ones having taken too much damage in the attack and their replacements not yet acquired, but when he sat on the floor, the others came into a circle and did so too.
“Here, I have called the seven of you,” he said, “because certain voices, for this subject, I wanted, before the rest of the Council hears it tomorrow. Know what has happened, Master Nu has not, so, Masters Windu, Tholme?”
Master Windu started the story, “The two of us and my Padawan Learner were on a mission to Cirrios, on the Outer Rim. It was dual-purpose. We were officially there to aid in a treaty that would end a war that had gone on for nearly two decades, but there had also been assassination attempts on several figures on both sides that they wanted us to stop. They turned out to be by a separate set of entities than the Sith, the typical kind of figures who would rather the war go on than they make peace with their longtime enemies, and there is no reason right now to believe they and their acts were in any way connected to them. We found them out four days after our arrival, and their being caught, and including one high-ranked official who had already been hindering talks openly, ultimately resulted in things speeding up. Four weeks later, when the attack happened, we were rapidly closing in on the final treaty, which despite the delay the attack caused has now been signed; that took another two weeks, which kept us from coming back here until yesterday.”
Tholme continued, “It was thus about three weeks ago we were having a typical day of negotiations, at our normal building, which in width is comparable to the Senate building on its bottom floor, with sixteen higher floors built pyramid-style. There were extensive gardens around as well, with greenhouses and other buildings. At about 1730 by the capitol’s local time, with the sun nearly set, that there was a report of an intruder on the grounds. At that point in time the three of us were with most of the top officials on the twelfth floor. Master Windu and Padawan Naberrie stayed with them while I went to investigate. We were especially alarmed because the intruder was spotted nowhere near any of the gates, and we are still unsure how he got in without being seen. He had been spotted by a local minding a nearby greenhouse. When I went to interview the man I found him dead, unmistakably killed by a lightsaber. At this point I contacted Master Windu to tell him this.”
“When I, Master Jinn, and Padawan Kenobi were on Polsing with the Initiates,” said Master Windu, “the three of us, my future Padawan, and another Initiate were attacked by a Zabrak Sith Lord, who announced an intention to take revenge on the five of us specifically before fleeing. So immediately we were all concerned it might be this Sith, and he might be trying to make good on his promise. Master Tholme continued to track him…”
“He wasn’t making any serious attempt to cover up his tracks,” said Tholme, which was not the way Yoda would have seen it, but Tholme was sometimes too good a tracker to realize not everybody could match him in hiding their tracks. “But he was going very fast. We think he studied the building very closely beforehand, especially since the owner has since discovered the module where he stored the blueprints was hacked into. So he knew what features and decorations on the outside walls were easiest for him to climb. I believe that he mistakenly thought the negotiations were happening on the tenth floor, for which we were very lucky. That was the floor he broke into, and killed two people before pinning a third and demanding to know where Master Windu and Padawan Naberrie were. Out of fear of being killed, that person told him we were on the twelfth floor.
But by then he couldn’t go back out; the building was equipped with guard devices that, when the right alarm was raised, which it was when he broke in, would trigger the launch of hover droids to surround the place, while summoning sentient guards as well, and already there were too many outside for even a Jedi or Sith to easily fight his way through. He chose instead to try to get to us through a series of stepladders that were part of an emergency evacuation system and ran between the basement and the roof.”
“I’m afraid he killed a number of civilians who were trying to evacuate,” said Master Windu. “Padawan Naberrie and I found this out when we went looking for him on the building’s heat-scan monitoring. Naturally we went to stop him. Since we believed him after the two of us specifically, we managed to be present when he emerged on our floor. He was indeed the same Zabrak Sith Lord. We lured him out of the building and onto the bigger hover droids. The planetary authorities, thankfully, went along with our plans, and allowed us to battle him until we were over a deserted, bombed out area, and Master Tholme was able to join us, at which point they were able to surround him to the point where he could not win. Unfortunately in the process my Padawan was injured, but she held up very well, and just before the surrounding we were able to evacuate her to a nearby medical facility. The Healers expect another week or so should see her fully recovered.”
“Even more unfortunately,” said Master Tholme, “while he was kept from killing his targets, he was able to escape again, killing quite a few more people in the process. And we still know relatively little about him, except that he has developed a fixation on one group of five of us.”
“There are always two Sith,” noted Master Nu, sparing Yoda the need to. “A Master, and an Apprentice. Such an irrational focus would make me think this Zabrak more likely the latter, and of course Shmi described the newly anointed Sith Master she parted ways with as human.”
“Do you think it would possible to capture him, then?” asked Master Gallia. “Try to get the information on who and where his Master is out of him?”
Yoda shook his head. “Possible to get such information, it is not. Give it, he never will.” It was an innocent question, asked by one of the more knowledgeable Masters of the Order, which only emphasized how little they knew about these dark beings they had for a thousand years been spared the menace of.
“Are you sure?” asked Master Nu. “I know the Apprentice is always planning to eventually kill the Master, later if not sooner. If we could figure out a way to hurry that process and then kill the Apprentice before he can take on one of his own…”
“A good idea,” said Master Dooku, “but can anyone think of a plan to do this?”
That, thought Yoda, at the very least would take many days of thinking on. “A difficult trick, that would be to play,” he said. “Keep it in mind, we could, but rely on doing it, we cannot. Know, we do not, whether this Apprentice even has any intention of killing his Master within the next few years.”
“It’s not a rogue Zabrak Sith Apprentice that worries me,” said Master Rancisis. “It is what you also say, Master Nu, that another common habit among the Sith, when they make their move, is to attempt to insinuate themselves in with the strongest ruling power available, and become the one pulling at the cords from behind the scenes if they can. And when it has been years, now, since we knew they were back, and they have almost certainly been planning this for much longer, the Master may be within Supreme Chancellor Valorum’s circle already, and it will be difficult to try to find him or her there without offending at least the Chancellor and probably the Senate at well.”
“There are ways we can still try,” suggested Tholme. “Perhaps we might try to send someone in undercover without telling anybody. They’d have to make sure they were never found out, of course.”
“That is a dangerous course indeed,” said Master Gallia. “We ought to be certain we have no better choice before we do that.”
“And who would we send?” asked Qui-Gon. “Do you think your old Padawan is up to the task, Master Tholme?”
“I do, in fact,” said Tholme. “We can go over multiple candidates, but he is one knight I would absolutely trust to get the job done. There would be a problem in that he has an apprentice of his own now, but if we think the need is so great we would risk this in the first place… and of course we may do this years from now, after she might be knighted anyway.”
“Make these suggestions tomorrow, we will,” said Yoda. “But deal with this Zabrak Sith, we also must.”
“He’ll keep on coming after us, I’m sure,” said Qui-Gon. “And I suppose I should say this now: I was planning tomorrow on submitting that my Padawan take the Trials. I am aware that due to his being taken as an apprentice so late, it has continually be recommended he wait at least a couple more years, but circumstances have changed since then, and I believe what he has been through along with the rest of us alone would make him ready earlier than anticipated.”
This wasn’t really that surprising; Qui-Gon had already been dropping hints to Yoda about it, and even encouraging him to offer opinions of where Obi-Wan Kenobi currently stood. So it was with much thought given into it already, when he said, “Support this, I may, though talk to him first, I would like.”
“I’ll bring him with me,” said Qui-Gon. “The Council can ask him whatever they want.”
“And if they approve, and he passes and is knighted,” said Master Nu, “that means you will take Initiate Skywalker as your next Padawan.”
“You have been meeting with the boy, have you not, Jocasta?” said Dooku. “Do you have any reservations as to him?”
“None, really,” said Master Nu. “Except of course that once he is no longer in the Initiates' Dormitory, but accompanying you out of the Temple and on missions, we will have to worry about his safety as well, and when he still only eight, am I right?”
“I would not worry too much about any Padawan Learner of Master Qui-Gon’s,” said Master Gallia with a smile. “You will not let much harm come to him, will you, Master?”
“I shall endeavor not too, certainly,” replied Qui-Gon with a smile. “Obviously this Sith may think the two of us an easier target than myself and Obi-Wan has been-and that would explain why he went after you and your Padawan rather than us, Master Windu-but sooner or later Initiate Skywalker must become a Padawan and take this risk. With proper preparation, we can make this risk minimal.”
“I suppose,” said Master Dooku, “you will object to any proposal of setting a trap for the Sith Lord with the boy as bait, even if he is in fact destined to destroy the Sith.”
“At his current age, certainly, Master,” said Qui-Gon. “When he is older, and if he is amenable to the possibility, I may reconsider, and that he has some fate against the Sith, I have no doubt.”
“Rush into such a plan,” said Yoda, “we need not.”
“I hope not,” growled Master Windu, who sounded like he was worried about all the damage the Sith would do while they waited. But surely even he could see that young Skywalker simply would not be ready for such a thing for at least a few years, he had his own Padawan's safety to worry about as well when she was still only twelve, and it was not a loud protest.
“For now," Yoda summed up, "On our guard, we will be, and the five of us threatened especially will be. Speak all this to the Council tomorrow, we will?” The others agreed, and Yoda did not think the rest of the Council would disagree the next day either.
Still, he feared, it would be sooner rather than later, and Anakin Skywalker would be young yet, when he faced the Sith, and even if he was prophesized to destroy them, he did not believe he would do so that quickly.
He listened. There were footsteps and voices just outside the dormitory.
Ellé stepped away, Anakin slid out of the bunk, and on tiptoe they snuck out into the main room, where no one slept. They were standing there when the door slid open. It was Knight Kolg, a young knight who'd been helping out recently, and with him were two new boys and two new girls. Three of them were obviously from the Creche, but one of the boys was dressed in a weird outfit of purple that made Anakin thing he had only just arrived at the Temple.
“Initiates Skywalker, Okrest,” Knight Kolg spoke quietly. “These are four new Initiates. Their names are Minne Dobar, Bark Vlose, Re-tea Sull-up-ewi, and Noa Antilles.” Each nodded as their name was spoken. Bark was the one in purple. He appeared to be of a near-Human species; he looked human except for grey skin. Re-Tea’s species Anakin didn’t recognize. The other two were human.
The other five kids were all now looking at him as if expecting him to talk. Well, he was older than all of them, so maybe he should. “Welcome to the Initiates Dormitory,” he said. “We’ve been here since…” then he wondered if he should mention the Sith attack, because they probably had bad memories of it, the way the last set of Crechelings that had come to them did, “…a number of months ago, and it’s a nice place, once you get used to it being so crowded. I think the oldest Initiate left now is still Sticky Seirr, and he’ll be willing to talk to you and tell you everything, unless the knight who’s probably going to become his Master comes in and takes him away this morning. Ask the group of Crechelings that came in just before you. Everyone’s asleep right now, but I’m sure they’ll wake up soon. Unless you were planning to wake them up?” he asked Knight Kolg.
“No,” she said, “not yet. First we’re going to talk to the four of you,” she addressed the new Initiates there. “I’ll explain more about what you are to do now. You two,” she nodded to Anakin and Ellé, "can make contributions if there’s anything you think of that you think that’s important and I forget. I expect…”
But then he suddenly trailed off and looked over, and then saw that Octus had woken up, and come and joined them. He specifically had been paying attention to him, Anakin knew, like she was maybe considering taking him as a Padawan at some point, and he looked pretty excited to see him.
“Morning, Octus,” Anakin said to him. “We have some new Initiates from the Creche.” Octus looked startled to notice them, which Anakin doubted pleased Knight Kolg that much. But he was nice enough as they were introduced to him, and very happy when Master Kolg then said to him, “Once everyone is introduced I will be escorting you all this morning, and after that the two of us will talk alone.”
The others all woke up over the next half hour, and as the room started to get crowded Anakin found himself separated away from Knight Kolg and the new arrivals, and instead next to Tru. He managed to keep an eye on Ellé, though, who stayed with the new Initiates even after the eight that had joined them earlier one by one gathered. “How long will it be before there are no Initiates left who remember the old Dormitory and fleeing it and flying to Ilum and Polsing?” he wondered to him.
“That’ll be sad,” Tru agreed. “I think the Masters would tell us to let the thought go, though. And maybe they’re right. We’ll all still be us, except if any of us get killed…” He drifted off, for a moment they were both too aware of the high probability some of them would get killed, and not very many years from that moment.
“I’ll remember, though,” said Anakin. “I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Someday, when I’m a Master with a Padawan of my own, I’ll tell them the story at least once. If I shouldn’t fuss over it too much I won’t, but I’ll do that.”
“Me too,” said Tru. “Maybe if we live to be really old we can ask each other if we remember the time?”
“That would mean we win against the Sith,” commented Anakin, and once again the two of them were besieged by scary thoughts, the idea that they might not, that they might all instead be killed. There was the Prophecy that Anakin himself would stop that, of course, but as Master Yoda had said, they could be wrong about that, and Tru didn't even bring it up. Fear was of the Dark Side, they had been told, but sometimes it seemed really hard to avoid. It was only in the most recent months that Anakin was started to pay attention to how afraid he was. He hoped Master Jinn had good advice for being less afraid.
By the time they all went out to breakfast, Master Kolg leading the way with Octus nearly clinging to his robes, he had thought about it enough to say to Tru, “We aren’t supposed to think that way either, are we? I think I remember Master Nu even saying to me once, ‘your focus determines your reality.’ She said that to my mother too; she told me that. We have to just keep on struggling against these Sith and hope eventually we win. I think?”
“I don’t know,” said Tru. “But maybe we’ll know when we’re older.”