The trip down to the surface of Naboo had not gone as well as Tara would have liked. She had been surrounded on all sides by battle droids that, even inert, had an air of authority around them and a presence that unnerved her. There were other droids and vehicles in the craft, making it nearly impossible to find a place where she and Willow could hide without being discovered.
She felt Willow's hand tightly gripping hers, and gently squeezed back to show that everything was alright. Or at least as alright as things could be being surrounded by instruments of death and being taken down to a fertile paradise that was about to become a warzone.
She shook her head at that thought. The Naboo were a peaceful people, with very little in the way of a standing army.
No. It wouldn't be a warzone.
It would be a slaughter.
Onboard another landing craft, Qui-Gon sat cross legged on the ground near an out of the way corner that he suspected would remain uninhabited by droids. The few droids needed to pilot the craft were no doubt in the ship's bridge receiving their orders, which would no doubt remain undisturbed until the invasion forces touched ground.
That thought filled him with dread for a moment, but he quietly pushed it aside. It would not do well to have his mind thinking about how a simple negotiation had gone so wrong. Best to keep his mind on the present, and find a way to contact Coruscant.
He felt a distinct ripple of fear in the Force then. He knew that it was not coming from himself, as he was managing to keep himself under control. He knew that Obi-Wan was not prone to such feelings, not even when things had been at their most desperate. Master Maclay was often reclusive and shy, but could apply herself when the situation warranted it.
Qui-Gon let a small smile spread on his face. It did not surprise him that Willow had been frightened by the events of the past few hours. Ever since that incident many years ago when she had found her way out of the Temple and made her way into the undercity. Of course, Tara had covered up the incident, saying that she had been part of the plan to bring that Black Sun Vigo to justice, but Qui-Gon could easily sense the lie. Whether or not the Council had as well, he could never tell. But the fact that the two had not been punished had made it clear that, whether or not they did, it was important to keep the two of them together. Tara was an accomplished Jedi, who had been a Master for some time now. Willow was among the brightest Youngling at the Temple, although her lightsaber combat skill were far below average. But she had the potential to be a powerful Jedi regardless, her Force abilities rivaling those of Padawans twice her age.
He thought back briefly to that day, and realized now, just as he did then, that the two were destined to play a part in the grand scheme of things, as dictated by the Living Force. What role that would be, he could not then, and still could not now, determine.
But such thoughts would have to be put aside for now. The role of the Jedi that was dictated by the Unifying Force would have to wait. The Living Force demanded quick action regarding the current crisis.
The fleet of landing craft had touched down on the surface of Naboo mere moments ago, discharging their collective charge of battle tanks, troop transports and scout craft. Droid starfighters flew overhead, the howling of their engines breaking through the peace of the midmorning air.
It was a sight that made Tara sick. But at the same time, she could not bring herself to turn away.
A slight tug at the hem of her robe brought her attention behind her.
"Master, we should get to cover," she heard Willow say from behind her. "We don't want them to find us."
Tara nodded, and moved down from behind the fallen tree long from which she had been lying against only moments earlier. Making her way down to Willow's side, she gave her Padawan a thoughtful look.
"They won't find us, Willow," she said, not really saying it with the confidence she should be feeling in this situation. But she knew that to break down in front of Willow would not do her any good. She had been frightened out of her wits by the incident onboard the Trade Federation ship, and needed all the encouragement she could get.
The two walked in the forest for some time, neither of them saying anything aloud. But Tara could feel Willow's fear in the Force, and she had one hand on the hilt of her lightsaber ever since they had touched down.
"Better say something to make her feel better," Tara thought. "It might help get her mind off things."
Turning down to face Willow, she said, "You did well."
Willow looked up and gazed into Tara's eyes. "Really?"
"Really," Tara confirmed with a slight nod to her head. "It's not every Jedi who can take out a couple of battle droids."
Willow's head, which had been looking at Tara's with hope, suddenly decanted to the ground. "I'm sorry. I know I should have been of more help than that. I mean, if I had practiced more often. Master Drallig always did say I had a lot to learn about lightsaber combat.
"Fortunately, that's only one of the few things you need improvement with, Padawan," Tara replied with a smirk.
And she meant it, too. In the ten years she had known Willow, the child she had met had grown in the Force, having become adept at several basic Force abilities, and demonstrating the potential to become more. The only thing that kept her back was an unwillingness to use her talents unless it was really necessary. While she was adept at the Force, her true talents lay with computers. In one rather well known instance, she had completely rewritten the library access computer to make it more streamlined, and had unfortunately lost a great deal of information in the process. Fortunately, the information was easily retrieved from the backup files in the archives.
"I'm glad that you think so, Master," Willow said, and was about to continue when she felt Tara's arm on her shoulder.
"Please, Willow," she said, her voice taking on the quality of a prisoner about to make his last request before being executed. "We've known each other for almost ten years now. Call me Tara."
Willow was reluctant to do so, and even more so by the sudden change in the attitude of her Master. She felt through the Force that she was feeling a great need, though what that need was she wasn't able to tell. She sighed internally. Her Master had always been a private person, speaking very rarely of her life before they had met, and even less so about her life before she became a Jedi. But they had opened up during the ten years that they had been Master and Apprentice, even to the point of forming an emotional bond.
For her part, Tara was also confused about what was going on. She had always tried to maintain an emotional distance between her feelings for Willow and her mandate to the Jedi, but recently it had become even more difficult. She thought the feelings she had experienced that night ten years earlier were just a fleeting thought for a civilian. Of course, that was before she had figured out that she was a Jedi Youngling, which threw a fusioncutter into the whole situation.
The two turned to look at each other, Willow gazing into those ocean blue eyes, Tara into the eyes as green as the forest around them. They both put their arms around each other's waists, slowly at first, but then more firmly.
It felt like an eternity before either of them said anything. What had happened onboard the Trade Federation ship was not an accident. Of that they could both be absolutely sure. But what did this mean? And how could they be able to handle it given their current situation? And how would the Council react when they found out?
Their silent, and thankfully unwatched display of barely contained passion was broken as they heard the snapping of twigs, the fall of trees...
...and the hum of approaching vehicle repulsorlifts.
Willow broke contact with Tara to look at the source of the approaching sounds and noticed, to her horror, that a AAT battle tank, along with several scout skimmers approaching from behind them. A quick glance at the area behind them showed an alarming amount of the same approaching in single fire formation.
Willow swallowed and turned to look at Tara. "I hate to be like Obi-Wan, but..."
"I know, Willow," Tara said, allowing her feelings of dread to surface for the first time. "I have a bad feeling about this, too."
Inside the turret of the AAT, BAS-163 kept a vigilant eye on the terrain, watching as the STAPs moved into . The area through which the force would need to traverse to get to Theed was rather treacherous, but with the Multi Troop Transports taking the lead in the more hazardous areas, the path had become somewhat clearer, though no less difficult to circumnavigate. In areas where the local foliage was less plentiful, the more maneuverable artillery would pass. Small forces had already been dispatched to New Centrif, Vis, Parrlay and Spinnaker to secure the resources there and to ensure that no one at either of those towns were able to contact anyone who may be able to assist.
A sudden heat signature caught BAS-163's attention. Bringing the barrel of the cannon slightly to the east, he saw two human figures running in the opposite direction. Their attire matched the profiles loaded into the battle droids shortly after planet fall by ground commander OOM-9 of the Jedi who had been onboard the Profiteer a short time ago.
BAS-163 sent a message to the Droid Control Computer onboard the Control Ship, requesting instructions. The query was dispatched in an instant, the reply coming back a bare microsecond later.
"Tank THX-1138 and STAP units 683 and 392 diverted from main attack group to deal with Jedi. Capture if possible. Eliminate if necessary."
The tank accelerated, joined by two STAPs as the rest of the army continued on to Theed.