Tara moved in front of Willow, drawing her lightsaber and ignited it with one hand, while gently pushing Willow away from her with the other.
"Get going, Willow," she said. "I'll hold them off."
"But Master..." Willow started before seeing Tara's head turn and shot her a glare that didn't invite an argument. Seeing the look, Willow broke out into a run as fast as she could. She knew that she could use the Force to move quicker, but she couldn't concentrate. Her mind was still stuck on Tara, and how she was leaving her behind to deal with who knows what.
All she could do was keep running...and hope that Tara would be alright.
The two STAPs came in at opposite angles, forcing Tara to divide her attention. The vehicles were fast and maneuverable, but didn't pack as much firepower as the AAT that was rapidly coming down on her. Fortunately, it had not leveled it's blaster cannon at her. But she knew that the moment it did, she was a goner.
Which meant that she had to even the odds a little.
One of the STAPs was closing in now, its blaster cannons firing at her. Tara dodged the blast, snap rolling on the ground and bringing her lightsaber up to block the follow up attack. Unfortunately, the roll left her unable to deflect the blast straight back at her attacker, hitting a nearby tree and burning a hole through the bark.
The other STAP had taken advantage of her momentary distraction to fire at her. The blast missed, but came dangerously close to hitting her. Getting to her feet, Tara took notice of the incoming vehicle, stretched out through the Force, and threw the blade at the vehicle.
The blade impacted against the vehicle's midsection, causing an explosion that sent the droid pilot flying off the vehicle a second after the green blade had bisected it. The two chunks crashed into the ground.
Tara caught her lightsaber as it returned to her hand and spun around just in time to see the other STAP closing in on her. It was too late to do anything, so she leapt towards the oncoming vehicle. At the apex of her jump, she extended her leg and delivered a swift kick to the side of the droid's head, knocking it from the controls.
Tara landed on the ground as the STAP came to a stop several feet away. She passed a glance at the droid, but it had not moved from where it had fallen. She was about to move towards it to finish it off when a sudden explosion caught her attention. She turned around and noticed the tank was on approach, its turret turning in her direction.
Tara made a run to the STAP and leapt onto it. She had to take a few moments to orient herself and get into a position from which she could easily control the vehicle. As she attempted to do so, she realized that there was nothing easy about it. With the bulk of their armed forces made up entirely of droids, the Trade Federation made no need to make its vehicles user friendly.
Still, she managed to find a way to operate the vehicle and, putting aside the momentary pain she felt as her body adjusted to her new position, angled the STAP away the oncoming AAT.
Willow put her back to a tree, pausing for a few moments to rest. She hadn't felt that she was being pursued, but in as an emotional state as she was, she couldn't be absolutely sure about that.
All she knew was that she was safe. As for Tara...
She closed her eyes and opened herself to the Force, trying to feel Tara's presence. She tried to calm herself, using the meditation techniques that she had been taught, and found that she was only partially successful in the attempt. She could pick up feelings, but couldn't assign a face to them.
She felt the loneliness of someone...someone who felt like she had been abandoned. The calm presence of two others coming from...underground? And the unbridled fear of a third being in their midst.
And she felt...
"By the Force!"
Her eyes snapped open.
She ran back the way she had come.
BAS-163 had no emotional programming, but if it did, it would almost feel a sense of respect and admiration for the way the female Jedi had handled herself in combat. Of course, she was now on the run. She dispatched the two support vehicles with ease, but knew that she could not deal with the firepower and armor of the AAT.
A command came into BAS-163's main processor from the Droid Control Computer.
"Capture attempt unsuccessful. Eliminate with whatever force deemed necessary."
BAS-163 aimed the turret of the AAT several meters ahead of the Jedi's current flight path, lowering its metal thumb over the cannon's trigger.
Tara was thankful that she had been thrown from the STAP. She didn't think that her body could be in any more pain than she had been when she had been forced to accommodate the position she had to make in order to fly the craft.
Her thoughts had lasted all of two seconds before she had collided with the ground.
Thankfully she wasn't seriously hurt, but she knew that she couldn't get up and move quickly enough to avoid the tank's retaliatory attack. She got up to her knees and accepted her fate, knowing that she was leaving Willow alone with no support, no means to find Qui-Gon or Obi-Wan and with no means to get off of the planet.
"I'm sorry, Willow," she thought. "I've failed you."
She felt the tears welling in her eyes, but she was surprised to realize that the tears were not for herself, but for Willow. Over the past ten years, they had gotten to know one another rather well. She may have been rather young for a Jedi Master, but she had been able to hold her own against assassins, crime lords and bounty hunters of all sizes, shapes and designs.
So why did the thought of leaving Willow alone in the universe frighten her? And why did she feel the way she did about it?
She never was able to figure it out.
And now she never would.
BAS-163 was curious.
It wasn't programmed to be curious, and it knew it. But it could not shake the feeling of surprise that it held for the behavior of the female Jedi. Perhaps she had been injured during the fall. Perhaps she had some last minute attack planned. But it did not matter now. She was apparently allowing herself to be captured.
The tank came to a dead stop. The hatch leading from the turret opened and BAS-163 raised itself up through it, reaching for the blaster rifle on its shoulder mounted holster.
"In the name of Viceroy Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation, I hereby place you under arrest," it said. "Surrender your weapon."
As the Jedi moved to unclip her weapon, BAS-163's auditory sensors registered a new sound. He could not place its origin, but that was inconsequential. Whatever it was could do little to interfere with the situation at hand.
It took a few moments for BAS-163 to register that the sound was fast approaching, a second longer to realize that it did not belong to the natural environment.
The droid turned its head to look at the source of the approaching sound.
It was a lightsaber.
Tara watched in surprise as the lightsaber streaked out from seemingly nowhere to slice the head off the battle droid, sending it and its now headless body clattering inside the vehicle from whence it came. It spun back on its axis to land straight into the hand of...
"Willow!" Tara groaned.
The red haired Padawan came running out from further into the forest, heading straight for the tank, which had begun to orient itself towards the incoming figure.
"Hold on, Tara!" she shouted, leaping into the air and landing on the barrel of the tank.
"No!" Tara grunted, straining to get to her feet. "Get out of here!"
"I'm not going to leave you here!" she shouted as she crawled along the length of the barrel, not an easy task as it was now moving in a so far fruitless attempt to shake off its passenger. Willow reached the end of the barrel and leapt behind the tank out of sight of Tara.
Tara couldn't see what was going on, and concentrating on the pain she was feeling, she was unable to tell what was going on inside the tank. But she did hear the sound of blaster fire, followed by the unmistakable hum of a lightsaber.
And perhaps, what frightened Tara the most, a shrill and abrupt shriek that was unmistakably Willow's.
Tara struggled to remain awake, but gradually felt the pain overwhelm her senses, and she blacked into unconsciousness.
Nute Gunray was not having a good day. The idea of blockading Naboo had seemed a bad idea to many, but he knew better to displease Lord Sidious, so he had agreed to do so. After all, he knew that the Republic Senate would not allow such an action to continue for long, and knew that they would do whatever could be done to bring an end to the situation as bloodlessly as could be possible.
But he didn't know that it would be Jedi who would come to do the negotiating. And he never would have suspected that Lord Sidious would order their execution and the invasion of Naboo.
At least he managed to gain some satisfaction by learning that a small detachment of the army had located two of the Jedi as he prepared to board the Lapiz Cutter to occupied Theed. But his distress had once again surfaced as the Sheathipede-class shuttle prepared to land near the Royal Palace. Contact had been lost with the detachment and with the bulk of the army at the time making their way to Theed, no assets could be spared to investigate.
As the shuttle touched down, Gunray stood up and straightened his robes and three crowed tiara miter and made his way to the hatch, Rune Haako following a respectful distance behind him. Making his way down the ramp, he was greeted by a Command Droid who announced that the Queen and her entourage had been captured.
Gunray turned to Haako and allowed a smile to cross his features. Despite all that had happened, their task had been completed.
And now nothing stood in their way.