"The death toll is rising by the day ever since the arrival of a new Imperial general. A week ago, Tarkintown was razed to the ground. The capital has been completely cut off from the rest of the planet. Executions of so called rebel sympathizers have been broadcast daily, with Imperial Propaganda streamed around the clock. You must come back to Lothal and give yourselves up. I don't think my people can take much more of this."
Everybody stared at the holo-projector in silence as the transmission ended.
Ryder's words had been filled with sorrow and the expressions on the former Governors face filled in the rest. In the month since their escape from the Star Destroyer Sovereign, most of the Ghost's crew hadn't given much thought to Lothal. Even Ezra had assumed that their disappearance from the planet would somehow lessen the Empires crackdown. Evidently, that was far from the truth.
"We have to help them." Ezra said, eyes wide with concern.
"I don't think that's possible right now." Commander Sato replied grimly. "I've already dedicated our forces to the assault above Nar Shaddaa."
"And besides that, it's clear that the Empire has done all this to draw us out. We'd be playing into their hands." Hera added.
"I don't care!" The young Jedi glared around the room, looking desperately for an ally, though none came to his assistance. "You heard Ryder! People are dying!"
"Ezra." Sabines soft voice drew her friends immediate attention. "Even if we went back to Lothal, we couldn't break the Empires hold on the planet. It would be a waste of time and resources, which are better spent on assisting General Kota. Sometimes... sometimes you have to sacrifice something to make a difference."
"Like we did with Zeb?" Ezra's voice had dropped to a near whisper, but the venom in his tone carried the words to everyone's ears. "The only difference that made was breaking Kanan down!"
"I'll go with you." Ahsoka had been silent throughout the entire briefing, as well as the distress call, so her sudden interruption broke through Ezras anger. She raised her hand, a gesture that delayed any protests. "The two of us should be able to slip under the radar fairly easily, and as Jedi, we'll be able to access the city much easier than if a squad went. We won't be able to completely liberate the planet, but maybe we can make a difference."
"But you're needed for the operation." Commander Sato said.
"If what I know about General Kota is accurate, my absence won't be a problem." A soft smile graced the Tortugas lips.
"I don't like this." Hera frowned, before letting out a long sigh. "But if Kanan has taught me anything, its that you can't tell a Jedi no and expect them to listen."
"Very well then. We do not have time to continue debating on this issue." Commander Sato shook his head. "We'll drop you off in the Lothal system, then jump to Nar Shaddaa."
"No need. The upgrades on the Phantom were completed this morning, so they can just take that." Hera supplied, offering Ezra a grave look. "You'd better go see Kanan before you go."
"Right." Ezra nodded, immediately heading out of the room.
Minister Tua's heart was slamming in her chest as she entered what was once her own office.
The female dignitary stopped in her tracks at the doorway, eyes widening in both shock and fear as an eerie, mechanically enhanced breathing filled her ears. Although the armored male was seated with his back towards her, the Minister knew exactly who it was. To the cyborgs right stood the Grand Inquisitor with his unnerving amber eyes and near constant smirk, while to the left was Agent Kallus, standing at attention and serious as always.
"L-Lord Vader." Tua managed, forcing as much respect as she could into her terrified tone. "I was not expecting-"
"Your ignorant expectations are exactly why I am here, Minister Tua." Vader's back remained to her, his breathing chilling the female to the bone. "You have allowed a group of insurgents to plant the seed of hope among the population of Lothal."
"I assure you, Lord Vader, that I have done everything I can to keep the population under control." With each word, Tua felt herself growing smaller and smaller under the gazes of the Inquisitor of ISB Agent. "You must understand, that the rebels have been frustratingly tenacious and resourceful."
"Do not attempt to lecture me on what I must understand." Vader stood slowly, moving around to stand in front of the table that had previously provided a barrier between them. Tua looked up at the hulking males expressionless mask, her pulse increasing rapidly with each step taken. "I am not interested in your excuses."
"Since Lord Vaders arrival, he has swiftly brought the people back into check." The Grand Inquisitor spoke up, his eyes boring deep into Tua's soul. "The rebel cell that once plagued Lothal will soon return and when it does, we will eliminate them."
"They aren't here?" Tua's eyebrows raised in surprise. "I thought that they were in Tarkintown when it was set ablaze?"
"Another incorrect assumption, on your part." Kallus replied, falling silent once more immediately after speaking.
"But..." Tua's mind raced. "Those people... they were innocent!"
"Innocent is a point of view, Minister." Vader stared down at her.
"You slaughtered loyal citizens of the Empire." Tua stumbled backwards as the realization set in, eyes darting between the men. "Y-you killed our own people..."
Tua felt an invisible grip close around her throat, restricting her breathing. Within seconds she was gagging, clawing at her neck but finding nothing to pull away as the grips intensity increased. A minute later, her warm corpse fell to the floor heavily as all signs of life left the loyal Imperial. Vader regarded the body for a moment before turning to face his enforcers, his cloak floating outwards with the movement.
"Contact Governor Pryce and inform her that her presence is required." The Sith said to Kallus. The agent nodded curtly, stepping over Tua's body to carry out his orders. Once he was gone, Vaders gaze shifted to the Grand Inquisitor. "There has been a shift in the Force. They are coming."
"I will prepare for their arrival." The Inquisitor said, bowing his head respectfully.
"Which Inquisitors did you send to handle Master Kota's attack on the Nar Shaddaa Facility?" Vader questioned, halting the Inquisitors retreat.
"The Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister." The Inquisitor titled his head slightly, eyes narrowing questioningly. "Is that sufficient, my lord?"
"We shall see." Vader breathed, shifting his gaze to the window and releasing the Inquisitor to carry out his mission.
Silence fell as Vader shifted to stand before the window, gazing out to the city thoughtfully.
Ezra stood before the door to Kanan's quarters, hand half balled into a fist and hovering half a meter from it. His hesitation lasted several moments before he finally knocked, once, twice, a third time. He waited about a minute before repeating the action. When the door wasn't answered, the young Jedi closed his eyes, reaching out to the Force as he'd been practicing. Without Kanan around, he'd turned to Ahsoka for guidance, something that the Tortuga responded positively to. In fact, her lessons had proven far easier to swallow than his masters, but Ezra constantly reminded himself that Ahsoka had more experience than Kanan. His eyes opened after the Force confirmed to him that Kanan was within the room and Ezra sighed.
"Kanan?" He said, loudly enough that he knew the Jedi would be able to hear. "It's Ezra. I need to talk to you."
"I'm going back to Lothal. Ahsoka's coming with me." Ezra found himself growing less hopeful that there'd be an answer with each word he spoke. "Hera, Sabine and Chopper are going to help with the assault on a Tie Fighter Facility above Nar Shadda. I guess I don't really have to tell you that, since you'll be there as long as you stay in there."
Again, nothing. Ezra reached out once more, this time beyond just confirming if Kanan was in the room. Gently, he prodded Kanans presence in the Force before retreating instantly, feeling nothing but sadness and self loathing. Taking a step backwards, Ezra steadied himself with a deep breath.
"Look, I just came to say goodbye. There's no way of saying if we'll make it back off Lothal, but I have to help them." Frustration exploded in Ezras chest at the lack of a reply and he slammed his fist on the door twice. "Open up! Nobodies seen you in three weeks! We're all worried about you and I don't know if I'm going to see you again!" When Kanan didn't respond, Ezra felt the fight go out of him, dropping to his knees in front of the door and resting his forehead on the cool surface. "Please Kanan."
There was nothing for a few seconds, but then there were footsteps. They grew closer until Ezra could feel Kanan's presence just on the other side of the door. Standing up, the young man waited for the door to open but it didn't happen. Closing his eyes, he felt Kanan reach out for him and he met his master halfway, their signatures intertwining briefly. This time, there was only warmth from the connection, instead of the coldness that came from the negative emotions Kanan had been feeling. A smile spread across Ezra's face as he opened his eyes, ears perking up as he heard footsteps retreat from the door as the connection ended.
Without wasting another second, Ezra raced towards the hanger. He reached it quickly, finding Hera, Sabine and Chopper waiting for him. Ahsoka was on board the Phantom, performing pre-flight checks.
"Hey guys." Ezra greeted, eyes widening as Sabine lurched forward to hug him briefly before stepping away and acting like it had never happened. "Oh."
"Be careful." Hera cautioned him, also giving him a brief embrace. "Did Kanan...?"
"He didn't come out, but he wished me luck." Ezra said, smiling at the confusion on the Twi'leks face. "Its a Jedi thing."
"Right." Hera said, clearly still not understanding.
"You better come back." Sabine said, punching Ezra lightly on the shoulder.
"You too." Ezra replied, returning the gesture. "We'd better get going though. You guys need to get to Nar Shaddaa."
Stepping past his friends, Ezra entered the Phantom. Settling into a chair as Ahsoka initiated the take off, Ezra waved to the other members of the Ghost crew as the doors closed. The Phantom left Phoenix Homes hanger, speeding away from the ship before blasting into Hyperspace on the route to Lothal.
The Rogue Shadow
Captain Juno Eclipse, decorated pilot of the Imperial Navy.
Scratch that. Captain Juno Eclipse, custodian of a homicidal droid and an edgy teenager with a lightsaber.
Their fighter had been in hyperspace for several hours and ever since they'd entered, the young man who demanded he call her 'Starkiller' had been sitting on the floor, eyes closed. His droid had disappeared into another room. Upon a quick glance, most people would think he was meditating, but if you looked closer, it was obvious that whatever the young man was doing, it wasn't peaceful. Every few seconds he twitched, his facial expressions contorting regularly and his fists clenching tighter than was probably healthy. Juno would feel sorry for him, if she knew anything about the Inquisitor.
At least, she assumed he was an Inquisitor. Every Imperial had heard the rumors about the order of Jedi hunting assassins under the direct command of Emperor Palpatine himself. For years, she recalled that people had been fearful of the Inquisitors above everything else, at least until the whispers of Lord Vader had begun to spread. She'd never seen one of the Inquisitors, but she certainly hadn't expected a lean, unarmored teen who looked like he'd never seen a Sun in his life. Lord Vader on the other hand, had met all of her expectations. Armored. Intimidating. Completely in command of any room he entered.
Juno's train of thought was broken when Starkillers eyes snapped open and he locked gazes with her. His eyes were plain enough, but behind them was an intensity and pain that should have been far beyond his years.
"I could feel you gawking." Starkiller snapped, standing up and dusting himself off.
"I wasn't 'gawking'." Juno frowned, eyeing the young man as he dropped into a martial arts pose. "What is that?"
"Teras Kasi." The male replied shortly, performing a series of swift movements.
"I've never heard of that fighting form." Juno said, undeterred by her charges hostile attitude.
"That's not my problem." Starkiller stated, not missing a beat as his movements increased in speed.
"Is it some kind of Jedi martial art?" The question caused Starkiller to shift ever so slightly, making it obvious the question had touched a nerve.
"It wasn't created by Jedi, it was created to kill them." The young man halted his movements, casting a glare in her direction. "You have too many questions."
"Are you always this belligerent?" Juno asked, hanging one leg over the other.
"Excuse me?" Starkiller dropped his stance completely, looking at her as if she was either incredibly rude or incredibly stupid.
"You refused to give me your real name, which I can understand. You're an agent of Lord Vader, probably an Inquisitor." Juno felt emboldened by the surprise that flashed in Starkillers eyes at her words. "But we are going to be working together for a long time, assuming you don't get us killed on this mission. In order for us to work efficiently as a unit, we'll need to get to know each other. At the very least, I need to know what you can do and vice versa so that we can cover each others backs."
"You and I won't be working together in the field." The young man said dismissively, dropping into the co-pilots chair.
"This is exactly what I mean. You just assume I'm here to be your pilot and nothing else." Juno spat, growing increasingly irritated.
"Fine." Starkiller rolled his eyes as if he was dealing with an annoying child. "What can you do, Captain?"
"I'm a dec-" Juno began, but was cut off as the young man raised his hand.
"Let me make this undeniably clear." He narrowed his eyes. "No matter what you think, you're here to be my pilot and nothing else. I don't need a friend. All I need from you, is to get me from point A to point B, and be there when I need extraction. And just so you know, I'm not an Inquisitor."
With that, he turned away from her and glared out the viewport. Absorbing the young mans reply gradually, Juno shook her head slowly before busying herself with examining the information that Lord Vader had provided her on the operation they were about to undertake. As she flipped through the files, she shot a glance at Starkiller who was still glaring into the blue maze of hyperspace, before her eyes went back to the screen of her datapad, where the image of a severe middle aged man was presented. In her mind, a question formed. Their target was clearly a Jedi. So if Starkiller wasn't an Inquisitor, then what was he?