A Costly Victory
Adriaan cut down the last lingering super battle droid. Between the efficiency of the clones and the might of the Jedi, the handful of unimaginative droids were forced to quit. The battle was over.
There was still no sign of the Apprentices. They had never shown up as she thought they would have. She hadn't even a clue to their disappearance. All the evidence was pointing to their deaths.
Yet I can't believe that they are dead. I cannot! It was all my fault, making them get on that ship and just abandoning them, pawning them off to the clones like that. I should have stayed. I should have kept them close by, at least until the fighting was over, so that there would be no danger of them getting blasted into oblivion. I will not believe that they are dead. I will not.
And when they show up, man will I have a few things to say to them! She smiled in spite of herself.
She turned around, surveying the field. Sizzling droid parts and the mangled bodies of Geonosians, Jedi, and clones mingled. Smoking rubble was everywhere. Dirt, sweat and blood covered the faces of the victors. Adriaan drew her arm across her brow wearily. As she glanced down at her sleeve, she could plainly see specks of dried blood and red dirt streaked across the black cloth.
She paused by the remains of a spider droid. Across its burning, twisted form, the body of a young Jedi Knight lay battered and broken, a cloudy film dulling his once warm, friendly brown eyes.
Adriaan's bloodstained hands clenched. This was victory?
A noise from behind made her turn around. Nadma Okiwa was standing quietly to one side, her luminous, almost moon-colored eyes looking even paler against a face ashen with grief. Looking over Nadma's shoulder, Adriaan felt her heart stop at what she saw.
Behind her, nine dirty, scorched, disheveled, tired, smelly Padawans sat on the ground, staring at her with mixed looks of guilt, sulkiness, or just plain weariness. Adriaan felt a sharp stab of half-pity and relief course through her. The lectures, the angry things she had meant to say to them fled from her mind as she looked at their pitiful figures. Most of them did not look like they were capable of such impudence. With the exception of Aedan, Kien, Terry and Na'thin ––– whom she secretly liked to refer to as the leaders of all idiocy ––– their faces reflected the horror and hideous silence around them.
"Some of the younger ones were trying to capture a Separatist vehicle," Nadma said softly. "The older ones were watching over the others, hiding behind a heap of rubble."
Adriaan looked at him for a moment, surprised to hear her speak. The Arkanian Jedi was quiet by nature, and rarely spoke to anyone. Though she had been on the same ship with Okiwa for a few days, she could not recall her ever saying anything. Slim, soft, and possessing an elvish grace, her benign, pale blue eyes matched her personality well; silent, wise, and watchful.
"Masters," the Apprentice of Jade Yil began. "We're sorry we –––"
"Stop!" Adriaan said abruptly. "All will be told in the presence of the Council." Her gaze caught the stubborn grin on the leaders of all idiocy's faces. "ALL," she repeated, taking care to put emphasis on the word.
Their grins disappeared. The rest all slumped, looking dejecting.
Adriaan sighed. It was hard to be an Apprentice. She knew so well. She had had the hardest time of them all. She had been too stubborn, too ambitious.
And I did not have a real Master.
Never mind. That was something she did not allow herself to think of.
Even so, she would have done the same thing if she had been in their position. But that didn't make their actions any less wrong. "Get up," she said, at a loss to say anything else.
Suddenly a noise overhead made them all look up. An LA-AT was approaching at a high velocity towards them. It circled twice, then descended smoothly a few meters away. The doors swung open, allowing the passengers to disembark.
The Senator, Padmé, was the first one to get off. Her white tunic was smeared with dirt, and it had been torn by the savage claws of the Nexu so that shreds of the cloth dangled in tatters. But her eyes were still alight and her face still had the energetic flush Adriaan had witnessed in the Senator on the battlefield. She had always had a partiality towards the young representative of Naboo ––– the warm brown eyes, smooth, attractive face, clean looks and compassionate nature had always been a cause for frank admiration in Adriaan. The garish, meretricious ways of the other political figures did not fit her standards for good politicians. This human female in her early twenties seemed to be the very model of a true representative of the people.
Obi-Wan followed next, shuffling slowly, as if in acute pain. A thick spattering of blood marked the side of his tunic. He was half-supported by his Apprentice, but even Anakin had managed to take a hit. Adriaan winced at the wound ––– his right arm had been completely hacked off, and it was obvious that a lightsaber had done the job. Glancing at the younger Apprentices, Adriaan noticed that Jordin had paled considerably at the sight of the brown stump that had once been a strong, muscular arm.
Adriaan strode forward purposefully, hands outstretched to help the wounded. She had to resist the temptation of asking what had happened. Her rule with those who had gotten hurt, or who had just come home from a mission, had always been to administer to their immediate needs first, and ask questions later.
She took Anakin's unsupported side and helped him down. Master Tachi was issuing crisp orders to the clones. "We'll need stretchers and medical kits," she said. "Search the battlefield for any survivors."
The clones saluted smartly and marched off to fulfill their duties.
Adriaan turned to Obi-Wan and his Apprentice. "Sit down," she said. "Don't move. We'll get you guys some food and medical treatment and get you out of here as fast as possible."
Obi-Wan looked too tired to argue, but Anakin seemed to recover from the first shock of losing a limb, for he began to lash out angrily at her. "Who are you to order us around?" he sputtered. "I am older and a lot stronger than you. Just because you're a Jedi Knight doesn't mean –––"
Adriaan gazed at him calmly. All of this wasn't new. He had always resented her, and becoming a Knight before him hadn't helped to cool matters between them. Besides, she was used to being insulted. As a student, she had often been made fun of, but it had never bothered her. She knew what she was, and no one was going to change her opinion of herself. "I'm not going to fight you, Skywalker," she said. "I am not your enemy. I have done nothing to deserve your contempt. Let me help you."
He scowled at her. She didn't back down. If it was to come to a fight, she would be ready to take the challenge. Someone had to teach him his place, and she wouldn't mind being the one to do it.
Padmé's voice drifted over to them. "Ani, you need to rest," she said gently. "She's only trying to help."
"I don't need help," Anakin said stubbornly.
Right now, Adriaan thought it would be funny to find out what he would do if she used Padmé's nickname of endearment, "Ani" But after seeing the anger in his face, she decided against it. Better not even try.
Siri was staring at him with an odd expression on her face. "I find your tone interesting," she said. "Would I be too bold if I suggested that your actions seem to imply that you are jealous, Anakin?"
He made no reply, but his silence seemed to answer for him. Adriaan should not have been knighted first.
The tense silence was finally broken when Yoda stepped down form the ship's hold and slowly hobbled forward to greet them.
Both Siri and Adriaan bowed, but he did not acknowledge their presence at first. Instead, his quiet gray-blue eyes swept over the battlefield, sadness clearly etched on his wrinkled old face. Adriaan suddenly realized with a pang that Yoda had known most of the fallen Jedi from when they had been babies. She could still remember the days when she had been eye to eye with the seemingly insignificant Master.
Yet he was definitely more than he seemed ––– everyone knew better than to call Yoda weak and undersized. Underneath his calm, wise nature, all the Jedi could sense a powerful connection to the Living Force emanating from him. It made it impossible for one to not feel the Force flowing through him in the presence of the great Master Yoda. His power of the Force was like contagion, strengthening everyone near him.
Yoda shook his head sorrowfully and turned his full attention to those of the living. His luminous, unfathomable eyes slowly gazed at each of the faces in turn, rooting out their secret thoughts and fears, until he came to rest on Adriaan.
She quickly inclined her head, showing respect for his sorrow. She, too, knew what it was like to lose someone she had known from babyhood, to never see them again. When she had lost her friend, she remembered that she had wanted to be left alone ––– she did not like people to stare at her as if she were some new and interesting species. So she did not meet Yoda's gaze, but waited with a bowed head.
"The battle, over it is," he said to her. "Yet, more battles to be fought, is there. Count Dooku, escaped he has. Stop him, I could not."
"You fought Dooku?" Adriaan asked. Now it all made sense. Anakin's wound. Obi-Wan's brooding silence. Even Yoda seemed to bend more over his gimer stick. She had guessed in her lonely musings that the mysterious attraction of the dark side that she had felt in Dooku only forced her to conclude that he was a Sith Lord. It wasn't impossible ––– she had seen it happen before, a Jedi, twisted by his own ambitions, arrogance, and pride, believing the ways of the Jedi would not serve his purposes ––– it was easier to be a strong fighter by using anger as a source of energy ––– and so become a convert to the dark side. That was what must have happened to Dooku. Many Jedi before the formation of the Republic had been disillusioned like that, and many of them made excellent little sith lords. Even in a time like this, when the Sith were little more than myths crouching in the shadows, Adriaan had been tempted to do the same thing.
"You defeated Dooku, but he decided to play womp weasel and managed to run off and hide in some dark hole," Adriaan guessed.
She looked to Amidala, who nodded gravely.
Four clones were now marching toward them, bearing medical stretchers for both Obi-Wan and Anakin. They were led by by Mace Windu, whose intense eyes traveled over all those present and finally caught sight of the wretched Padawans squatting in the dirt.
He stood for a moment, contemplating them as they wilted underneath his powerful, dark gaze. Once again, Adriaan felt sympathetic for their position, which was far from being good. She knew what it was like to endure the agonizing scrutiny of Mace Windu, who had never been known to fail once in humbling even the most overconfident, arrogant Apprentice. She truly felt sorry for them, even though they probably deserved to feel unnerved.
Mace Windu exchanged a look with the other Masters, who nodded grimly. "Well done," he said to the Jedi. He turned to the Padawans again, whose anxious faces awaited their judgement.
"Master ell Talaan," he rapped out.
Adriaan stepped forward. "Yes?"
"Take Master Kenobi and his Apprentice and make sure they get on the fastest ship back to Coruscant and take them directly to the infirmary at the Temple. Senator Amidala, you may accompany her. She will make sure you make it safely back to your quarters at the Senatorial Complex. Ell Talaan, these younglings will also be in your charge. At the Temple, they will remain in their quarters until the Council decides how we had best proceed with their punishment. Understood?"
Adriaan bowed her head. "Yah, Master. Gotcha."
So much for good grammar. She knew that phrases like "yah" "gotcha" "hey" and "sweet, baby" got on Mace Windu's nerves, but that was the whole fun of it. Those stiff Masters looked like they needed to loosen up and smile more often. But so far, her casual way of addressing them had only deepened the frowns.
Except for a slight look of annoyance on his face, Mace seemed not to notice. "Master Tachi," he continued. "You will come with me. I have a very important assignment for you to complete."
Siri nodded and followed his retreating figure without a backward glance.
Adriaan took a deep breath. Even though she was a Jedi Master now, she always felt relieved when Mace Windu finished elaborating tasks for her and vanished from her sight. She had never felt entirely comfortable in the presence of other Masters, for she felt that she was being watched.
Padmé looked at her worriedly. Anakin glowered even more at the prospect of being under the command of the upstart Adriaan ell Talaan for a few tormenting days in a crowded ship in hyperspace. Obi-Wan simply looked resigned to his fate. The Apprentices stared at her half-fearfully, waiting.
Adriaan suddenly straightened, her eyes alight as she stood taller. She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin with a queen-like grace. "It's time to go home," she said.