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The Chronicles of the Force

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Once, long ago, ancient beings known as the Jedi had claimed that once when one walks the dark path, forever will they be consumed by it.

To tap into the power of the dark side is to indulge in raw emotions such as aggression, fear, anger, hatred, and passion. The Sith were well-known practitioners of the dark side and were the mortal enemies of the Jedi, who served the will of the Force and thus the light side. The power of the dark side was not greater than that of the light side, although it was comparatively quicker and easier to reach for individuals who yielded to their emotions, such as it did with the man once known as Anakin Skywalker, who was emotionally attached to his mother and his wife and fell to the temptation of achieving immortality through the dark side in his inability to let go despite the inevitable change of death due to not receiving proper guidance and help. The power of the dark side is channel by Force-sensitives who twisted their gifted ability to use the Force to acquire power for themselves, in return for allowing the dark side to override their character and consume their soul.

The Jedi wrongfully believed that once one touched emotions they are doomed to fall. It was a lesson that were taught to many students for generations to come, yet there were many Jedi and Sith who had tracked balance on both sides and managed to succeed just as there were many who had fallen.

Unfortunately, the figure known as Darth Vader was indeed a tragedy of wrongful mistreatment and judgment, having allowed the Sith to manipulate him and is a slave, lost his father figure, lost the closest person who was a brother to him, losing his wife and children.

At the beginning of the Empire, some Force Users attempted to take Darth Vader's place as the emperor's right-hand man, and he'd killed them all.

This is another reason everyone is terrified of him. Most officers in the Galactic Empire hates him, but they are too afraid of him to do anything about it. And they had reason to be. He frequently went to the front of battle lines and was the target of multiple assassination attempts. All the assassins who went after him? Dead. Soldiers who stood their ground against him on the front lines? They died too.

He would kill anybody who got in his way or got far enough on his bad side, and there was nothing any of the officers in the empire could do about it. The only man he feared was his master Darth Sidious. Not coincidentally, Darth Sidious was more feared than even this man, just being told the Emperor wanted to meet you often meant you were a dead man.

Secretly, he had held anger and sadness for what he'd done for the last many years, but he was still mourning and growing in the power of the dark side, he hadn't reflected on it.

Were they still alive, the Jedi Council would have never understood what had happened to the Galaxy and what had happened to one of their most skilled Padawan and the most powerful Knight in the Order that even combat Masters and was victorious in battle, and the monster that he had become.

He helped the collapse of the Galactic Republic, the institution he was sworn to serve and uphold and had fought for as part of the Grand Army of the Republic. He had assisted Palpatine in purging the Jedi Order, which had secured his freedom from slavery and obscurity, and had trained him into a weapon that was known across the Galaxy as a beacon of light and freedom.

He had the belief that he had murdered his wife and children, a belief reinforced by Palpatine for years. He had attempted to kill his own Master, and a man he once said was formally like a father to him, resulting in his arms and legs being cut off at the end of the battle. He was left to ultimately 'more machine than man', a pale shadow of his former self, requiring his suit in order to survive. He had only the Emperor left as his last remaining link to the man that he was, and therefore served the Emperor even though he hated him for making him what he is.

When he was a pitiful Jedi, he'd feared losing the people closest to him, whether it was by distance or death. He did end up losing pretty much everyone close to him, namely the man who found him, his mother, his Padawan, then lastly his wife. The Jedi are traitors, they could have been more supportive and helped him when he was in distress instead of telling him to detach himself from the living and everyone else around him, but they would never do that under any condition because of their precious Code which had ultimately cost the Galaxy the guardians of peacekeepers.

Darth Vader hates many beings. He hates his mother for having him leave her behind so he could have gone with his life while unknowingly leaving her for dead. He hates Qui-Gon Jinn for abandoning him and just having to die. He hates Ahsoka Tano for his painful reminder of the good Skywalker had done, and her professed love and devotion to him, refusing to leave him a second time effectively just making it harder for Vader to use the dark side against her. He hates Padmé Amidala for loving him so much and dying for it as a consequence. He hates Obi-Wan Kenobi for stealing his dear away from him, along with his children for over 2 decades. He hates Owen and Beru Lars for taking one of his children and raising him on a miserable planet when he could have lived a better life with him on Coruscant.

Out of all those people, however, there were two more people who he had hated with every fiber of his being.

Vader utterly despises the Emperor and did for a very long time. After Padmé died and the Emperor blamed the Empire for her death, this ignited a spark of hatred for his master that would stay with him forever, Vader blamed the Empire for Padmé's death and his injuries too. The Emperor had dug Anakin a pit and he'd just fallen into it. The reason Vader didn't act on his hatred was that it would not benefit him in any way, he was a killing machine, who was trained to slaughter the Jedi, and all foes of the Empire. There simply was no reason for Vader to kill Darth Sidious, because he was all that Vader had left, and this hatred for Sidious manifested itself into something useful, a weapon.

Yet, despite how much he hates the Emperor, he hated himself even worse; he hates himself for his failures. Because Vader destroyed everything that mattered to him. He betrayed the Jedi Order to save his wife, only to end up killing her and their child in a fit of rage. He dreamed of liberating all the slaves, only to end up enslaving the galaxy. He thought himself to be the Chosen One, only to end up a tool of the Sith. In the end, the power that his hatred granted him was the sole consolation for everything he had done and lost. And power is a poor substitute for everything he had robbed from himself.

Vader remembers the vision that had come to him when he'd left Coruscant for Endor, the vision of his meeting with Luke at his fortress on Vjun. In that vision, Luke had joined him, and the Emperor had arrived with fire and death. Vader realized it didn't matter whether the vision had been a nightmare, premonition, psychic warning, or delusion because it was a revelation of an event that could never transpire.

' There is nowhere Luke and I could go. Nowhere we could hide.'

Powerless to disobey his Master, Vader proceeds to his shuttle.

The largest Imperial structure on the Sanctuary Moon is the energy shield generator, a four-sided pyramidal tower that supported a wide focus dish that projected a deflector shield around the orbital Death Star. Near this generator stood an elevated landing platform, which was illuminated by brilliant floodlights. A large area of natural forest had been cleared to accommodate both the generator and the platform, something that had not gone over well with the indigenous Ewok population.

A four-legged All Terrain Armored Transport walks along the edge of the forest and lurches toward the landing platform as Vader's shuttle touch down. After Vader disembarks, he went to a gantry to greet the AT-AT. The AT-AT's hatch slid up to reveal an Imperial Commander, three stormtroopers, and Luke Skywalker, whose wrists are secure by binders.

Luke surrendered to the soldiers. He is dressed in a form-fitting black uniform, and Vader wonders if this might in any way suggest that Luke already surrendered to the dark side as well.

'No,' he thought. 'Not yet.'

The soldiers present Luke's lightsaber to Vader, who glances at Luke's gloved right hand. A new light-

'saber, he thought, and a new hand. 'Just as in my vision of Bast Castle.'

Victory, too he senses. Mastery. But lace with something else…what was it? He can't see it, quite. Always in motion, the future; difficult to see. Its apparitions tantalize him, swirling specters, always changing. Smoky as his future, thunderous with conquest and destruction.

Very close, now. Almost here.

He purrs in the pit of his throat, like a wild cat smelling game on the air.

Almost here.

The Imperial walker docks at the opposite end of the deck, and opened its doors. A phalanx of stormtroopers marches out in tight circular formation. They lock-steps toward Vader.

He turns around to face the oncoming troopers, his breathing even, his black robes hanging still in the windless morning. The stormtroopers stop when they reach him, and at a word from their captain, parted to reveal a bound prisoner in their midst. It is Luke Skywalker.

The young Jedi gazes at Vader with complete calm, with many layers of vision.

The stormtrooper captain spoke to Lord Vader. "This is the Rebel that surrendered to us. Although he denies it, I believe there may be more of them, and I request permission to conduct a wider search of the area." He extended his hand to the Dark Lord; in it, he held Luke's lightsaber. "He was armed only with this."

Vader looks at the lightsaber a moment, then slowly takes it from the captain's hand. "Good commander, Leave us. Conduct your search, and bring his companions to me."

The officer and his troops withdrew back to the walker.

Luke and Vader are left standing along facing each other, in the emerald tranquillity of the ageless forest. The mist is beginning to burn off. Long day ahead.

"The Emperor has been expecting you."

"I know…Father." It is momentous act for Luke—to address his father, as his father. But he'd done it, now, and kept himself under control, and the moment was past. It was done. He feels stronger for it. He felt potent.

"So, you have finally accepted the truth," Vader gloats.

"I have accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father."

"That name no longer has meaning for me." It was a name long ago. A different life, a different universe. Could he truly once have been that man?

"It is the name of your true self," Luke's gaze bore steadily down on the cloak figure. "You have only forgotten. I know there is good in you. The Emperor hasn't driven it fully away." He molds with his voice, tried to form the potential reality with the strength of his belief. "That's why you could not destroy me. That's why you won't take me to your Emperor now."

Vader seems almost to smile through his mask at his son's use of Jedi voice manipulation. He looks down at the lightsaber the captain had given him—Luke's lightsaber. So the boy is truly a Jedi now. A man grown. He holds the lightsaber up. "You have constructed another."

"This one is mine," Luke says quietly. "I no longer use yours."

Vader ignites the blade, examines its humming brilliant light, like an admiring craftsman. "Your skills are complete. Indeed, you are as powerful as the Emperor has foreseen."

They stand there for a moment, the lightsaber between them. Sparks doves in and out of the cutting edge: photons pushes to the brink by the energy pulsing between these two warriors.

"Come with me, Father."

Luke tries to convince Vader that there was still good in him. He pleads with his father to come with him, away from the forest moon and the Emperor.

"Obi-Wan once thought as you do. You don't know the power of the dark side!" Vader's voice rises, though for some reason he had felt an ache in his heart at the mentioning of his old Master as he remembers what occurred on that horrible planet. "I must obey my Master."

"I will not turn," Luke vows, "and you'll be forced to kill me."

'I've done worse things,' Vader thought. He said, "If that is your destiny-"

"Search your feelings, Father, you can't do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate." Luke interrupts in a vain pleading tone that Vader should have found pathetic but it was obvious he was swallowing onto his emotions tightly as he had stared at his father, trying to see if there is still the man who he had found out once been called The Hero With No Fear.

'If only I could,' Vader thought. 'If only I could.' He said, "It is too late for me, Son." Summoning two stormtroopers to lead Luke to the waiting shuttle, he added, "The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force. He is your Master now."

Wearing an expression of sad resolve, Luke said, "Then my father is truly dead."

As Luke is escorted to the shuttle, Vader thought, 'I must obey my Master. Even if it means the death of my son...'

' And even if it means the death of me.'

Vader delivers Luke to the tower atop the Death Star, where the Emperor - without rising from his throne - used the Force to release Luke from his binders. After Palpatine orders his red-armored Royal Guards to leave the throne room, Vader presented Luke's new lightsaber for inspection. The Emperor is confident that Luke would join him as his father had.

Unimpress by the Emperor, Luke refuses to be converted to the dark side. However, his confidence is badly shaken when the Emperor confesses that it was he who had allowed the Rebel Alliance to learn the location of the Death Star and its shield generator and that the Empire is completely prepared to deal with the imminent attack from the Rebel fleet.

As Luke looks through the throne room's tall windows to see the arrival of the Rebel ships, Vader senses his son's increasing anxiety. The space battle progresses, and it is obvious that the Rebel ships are greatly outnumbered by Imperial fighters. While the Emperor remains seated upon his throne, he taunts Luke, urging him to take back his lightsaber and give in to his anger. Again, Luke refuses.

But then the Emperor reveals that the Death Star's superlaser is operational, and issues a command for the gunners to fire at will. An intense beam shot out from the Death Star toward a large Rebel cruiser, which exploded in a blinding flash.

Luke's face is contorted, reflecting his spirit. Vader watches him carefully, as did the Emperor. The lightsaber begins to shake in its resting place. The young Jedi's hand was trembling, his lips pulled back in a grimace, his teeth grinding.

The Emperor smiles. "Good. I can feel your anger. I am defenseless—take your weapon. Strike me down with all of your hatred, and your journey toward the dark side will be complete." He laughs, and laughs.

Luke is able to resist no longer. The lightsaber rattled violently on the throne a moment, then flew into his hand, impelled by the Force. He ignited it a moment later and swung it with his full weight downward toward the Emperor's skull.

In that instant, Vader's blade flashes into view, parrying Luke's attack an inch above the Emperor's head. Sparks flies like forging steel, bathing Palpatine's grinning face in a hellish glare.

Luke jumps back, and turns, lightsaber upraise, to face his father. Vader extends his own blade, poise to do battle.

The Emperor sighs with pleasure and sat on his throne, facing the combatants—the sole audience to this dire, aggrieved contest as when he had ordered Anakin Skywalker to kill Count Dooku.

'I was the victor then,' Vader thought as he uses his lightsaber to drive Luke away from the Emperor. 'And the Force is with me now!'

Slowly, Luke and Vader circle. Lightsaber high above his head, Luke readies his attack from classic first-position; the Dark Lord holds a lateral stance, in classic answer. Without announcement, Luke brought his blade straight down—then, when Vader moves to parry, Luke feints and cut low. Vader counterparries, let the impact direct his sword toward Luke's throat…but Luke meets the riposte and steps back. The first blows, trade without injury. Again, they circle.

Vader is impressed with Luke's speed. Please, even. It is a pity, almost, he can't let the boy kill the Emperor yet. Luke isn't ready for that, emotionally. There is still a chance Luke will return to his friends if he destroyed the Emperor now. He needs more extensive tutelage, first—training by both Vader and Palpatine—before he'd be ready to assume his place at Vader's right hand, ruling the galaxy.

So Vader has to shepherds the boy through periods like this, stop him from doing damage in the wrong places—or in the right places prematurely.

Before Vader can gather his thoughts much further, though, Luke attacks again—much more aggressively. He advances in a flurry of lunges, each met with a loud crack of Vader's phosphorescent saber. The Dark Lord retreats a step at every slash, swiveling once to bring his cutting beam up viciously—but Luke batted it away, pushing Vader back yet again. The Lord of the Sith momentarily lost his footing on the stairs and tumbled to his knees.

Luke stands above him, at the top of the staircase, heady with his own power. It is in his hands, now, he knows it is: he can take Vader. Take his blade, take his life. Take his place at the Emperor's side. Yes, even that. Luke didn't bury the thought, this time; he glories in it. He engorges himself with its juices, felt its power tingle his cheeks. It makes him feverish, this thought, with lust so overpowering as to totally obliterate all other considerations.

He has the power; the choice is his.

And then another thought emerges, slowly compulsive as an ardent lover: he can destroy the Emperor, too. Destroy them both, and rule the galaxy. Avenge and conquer.

It is a profound moment for Luke. Dizzying. Yet he did not swoon. Nor did he recoil.

He takes one step forward.

For the first time, the thought enters Vader's consciousness that his son might best him. He is astounded by the strength Luke have acquired since their last duel, in the Cloud City—not to mention the boy's timing, which is honed to a thought's breadth. This is an unexpected circumstance. Unexpected and unwelcome. Vader feels humiliation crawling in on the tail of his first reaction, which is surprise, and his second, which is fear. And then the edge of the humiliation curls up, to reveal bald anger. And now he wants revenge.

These things are mirrored, each facet, by the young Jedi who now towers above him. The Emperor, watching joyously, saw this, and goad Luke on to revel in his Darkness. "Use your aggressive feelings, boy! Yes! Let the hate flow through you! Become one with it, let it nourish you!"

Luke falters a moment—then realized what is happening. He is suddenly confused again. What did he want? What should he do? His brief exultation, his microsecond of dark clarity—gone, now, in a wash of indecision, veiled enigma. Cold awakening from a passionate flirtation.

He takes a step back, lowers his sword, relaxes, and tries to drive the hatred from his being.

In that instant, Vader attacks. He lunges half up the stairs, forcing Luke to reverse defensively. He bound the boy's blade with his own, but Luke disengages and leaped to the safety of an overhead gantry. Vader jumps over the railing to the floor beneath the platform on which Luke stood.

"I will not fight you, Father," Luke states.

"You are unwise to lower your defenses," Vader warns. His anger is layered, now—he did not want to win if the boy was not battling to the fullest. But if winning meant he had to kill the boy who wouldn't fight…then he could do that, too. Only he wanted Luke to be aware of those consequences. He wanted Luke to know this was no longer just a game. This is darkness.

'I can't let Luke defeat me,' Vader thought. 'I won't let the Emperor have him!'

Luke hears something else, though. "Your thoughts betray you, Father. I feel the good in you…the conflict. You could not bring yourself to kill me before—and you won't destroy me now." Twice before, in fact—to Luke's recollection—Vader could have killed him, but didn't. In the dogfight over the first Death Star, and later in the lightsaber duel on Bespin. He thought of Leia, briefly now, too—of how Vader had had her in his clutches once, had even tortured her…but didn't kill her. He winces to think of her agony, but quickly pushed that from his mind. The point is clear to him, now, though so often so murky: there is still good in his father.

This accusation really makes Vader angry. He can tolerate much from the insolent child, but this is insufferable. He must teach this boy a lesson he would never forget, or die learning. "Once again, you underestimate the power of the dark side… if you will not fight you will meet your destiny."

Vader throws his scintillating blade—it slices through the supports holding up the gantry on which Luke is perch, then swept around and flew back into Vader's hand. Luke tumbles to the ground, then rolls down another level, under the tilting platform. In the shadow of the darkened overhang, he is out of sight. Vader paces the area like a cat, seeking the boy; but he won't enter the shadows of the overhang.

"You cannot hide forever, Luke."

"You'll have to come in and get me," replies the disembody voice.

"I will not give you the advantage that easily." Vader feels his intentions increasingly ambiguous in this conflict; the purity of his evil was being compromised. The boy was clever indeed—Vader knew he must move with extreme caution now.

"I wish no advantage, father. I will not fight you. Here…take my weapon." Luke knows full well this might be his end, but so be it. He would not use darkness to fight darkness. Perhaps it would be left to another, after all, Leia to be precise, to carry on the struggle, without him. Perhaps they would know a way he didn't know; perhaps she could find a path. For now, though, he could see only two paths, and one is into darkness; and one is not.

Luke puts his lightsaber on the ground, and rolls it along the floor toward Vader. It stops halfway between them, in the middle of the low overhead area. The Dark Lord reaches out his hand—Luke's lightsaber jumps into it. He hooks it to his belt and, with grave uncertainty, enters the shadowy overhang.

He is picking up additional feelings from Luke, now, new crosscurrents of doubt. Remorse, regret, abandonment. Shades of pain. But somehow now directly related to Vader. To others, to…Endor. Ah, that was it—the Sanctuary Moon where his friends would soon die. Luke would learn soon enough: friendship was different on the dark side. A different thing altogether.

"Give yourself to the dark side, Luke," he entreats. "It is the only way you can save your friends. Yes, your thoughts betray you, son. Your feelings for them are strong, especially for—"

Vader stops. He senses something.

Luke withdraws further into shadow. He tried to hide, but there is no way to hide what was in his mind—she is in pain. Her agony cries to him now, and his spirit cries with her. He tries to shut it out, to shut it up, but the cry was loud, and he couldn't stifle it, couldn't leave it alone, had to cradle it openly, to give it solace.

Vader's consciousness invaded that private place.

"No!" screams Luke.

Vader is incredulous. "Sister? Sister!" he bellows. "Your feelings have now betrayed her, too…Twins!" he roars triumphantly. "Obi-Wan was wise to hide her, but now his failure is complete." His smile is clear to Luke, through the mask, through the shadows, through all the realms of darkness. "If you will not turn to the dark side, perhaps she will."

This, then, is Luke's breaking point. For his sister is everyone's last unflagging hope. If Vader turns his twisted, misguided cravings on her…

"Never!" he screams. His lightsaber flows off Vader's belt into his own hand, igniting as it came to him.

He rushes to his father with a frenzy he never is aware he has. Nor have Vader, at least not by his son. The gladiators battles fiercely, sparks flying from the clash of their radiant weapons, but it is soon evident that the advantage was all Luke's. And he is pressing it. They lock swords, body to body. When Luke pushes Vader back to break the clinch, the Dark Lord hit his head on an overhanging beam in the crampy space. He stumbles backward even farther, out of the low-hanging area. Luke pursues him relentlessly.

Blow upon blow, Luke forces Vader to retreat—back, onto the bridge that crosses the vast, seemingly bottomless shaft to the power core. Each stroke of Luke's saber pummels Vader, like accusations, like screams, like shards of hate.

And as much as Vader wish he could just call upon the young man's fears and error in giving into emotions, he is incapable of doing so. How? He'd killed many Jedi after the rise of the Empire yet why can't he just cut down this one too?

The Dark Lord is driven to his knees. He raises his crimson lightsaber to block yet another onslaught—and Luke slashed Vader's right hand off at the wrist.

The hand, along with bits of metal, wires, and electronic devices, clatters uselessly away while Vader's lightsaber tumbles over the edge of the span, into the endless shaft below, without a trace.

Luke stares at his father's twitching, severed, mechanical hand—and then at his own black-gloved artificial part—and realizes suddenly just how much he'd become like his father. Like the man he hated.

Trembling, he stands above Vader, the point of his glowing saber at the Dark Lord's throat. He wants to destroy this thing of Darkness, this thing that was once his father, this thing that was…him.

'Luke, no.'

The Emperor's evil cackle echoes behind him as Luke drown into darkness, Vader hopes that message reached him through the force as his son aimed his emerald blade towards his chest. He heard Sidious's dark laugh and saw him walking down towards him and his son, "Good!" Sidious cackles. "Your hate has made you powerful! Now fulfill your destiny, take your father's place at my side!" Vader reads Luke's emotions like they are a book. He can see the boy was trying to force the anger and furious emotions out, clearly trying to not end the life of his father.

Suddenly, the Emperor begins descending the stairs to the two Skywalkers - one defeated, and the other standing with his lightsaber ignited, highly conflicted. For some time, Vader had wondered what would have happened had he not turned and betrayed Master Windu all those years ago, and allowed Windu to kill him, or finished him off himself. He may have been already a Jedi Master and haven't become such a monster and one of the most feared men in the galaxy.

Vader once been a man too. It was those times when have been given the option of making a choice and not the Emperor attack dog. That same man who many depended on - a time when he was happier, hadn't been one of oppression and served for a greater good instead of serving to kill for a tyrannical monster. Now, he is the second most feared man in the galaxy. But no one knows who is truly behind that mask.

Sidious has taken everything that defined him yet the boy seems to be so determined in saving Anakin Skywalker. Vader felt emotions burning in him that he hadn't felt for a long time. Luke stares at his robotic arm then stared at Vader's lost limb which had wires and saw they were linked.

'So this is how it ends,' Vader thinks.

But then Luke deactivates his lightsaber and said, "Never!" Flinging the weapon aside, he declares, "I'll never turn to the dark side. You've failed, Your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me."

The Emperor scowls. With immeasurable displeasure, he declares, "So be it... Jedi. If you will not be turned, you will be destroyed."

Still lying against the bridge railing beside the elevator shaft, Vader watches the Emperor extend his gnarl fingers and unleash blinding bolts of blue lightning from his fingertips. The lightning strikes Luke, who tries to deflect the crackling bands of energy but is so overwhelmed that his body crumples to the floor.

Luke is nearly unconscious beneath the continuing assault of the Emperor's lightning. Tormented beyond reason, betaken of a weakness that drained his very essence, he hoped for nothing more than to submit to the nothingness toward which he was drifting.

The Emperor smiles down at the enfeebled young Jedi, as Vader struggles to his feet beside his master.

"Young fool!" Palpatine rasps at Luke. "Only now at the end, do you understand. Your puerile skills are no match for the power of the dark side." More lightning and Luke collapses from the wailing he is laying on. "You have paid a price for your lack of vision. Now, young Skywalker, you will pay the price in full. You will die!"

He laughs maniacally; and although it would not have seemed possible to Luke, the outpouring of bolts from the Emperor's fingers actually increased in intensity. The sound screams through the room, the murderous brightness of the flashes is overwhelming.

Luke's body slows, wilt, finally crumples under the hideous barrage. He stops moving altogether. At last, he appears totally lifeless. The Emperor hisses maliciously.

At that instant, Vader springs up and grabs the Emperor from behind, pinning Palpatine's upper arms to his torso. Weaker than he have ever been, Vader have lain still these last few minutes, focusing his every fiber of being on this one, concentrated act—the only action possible; his last, if he fail. Ignoring the pain, ignoring his shame and his weaknesses, ignoring the bone-crushing noise in his head, he focuses solely and sightlessly on his will—he will defeat the evil embody in the Emperor.

Palpatine struggles in the grip of Vader's unfeeling embrace, his hands still shooting bolts of malign energy out in all directions. In his wild flailing, the lightning ripped across the room, tearing into Vader. The Dark Lord fell again, electric currents crackling down his helmet, over his cape, into his heart.

Vader stumbles with his load to the middle of the bridge over the black chasm leading to the power core. He holds the wailing despot high over his head, and with a final spasm of strength, hurls him into the abyss.

Palpatine's body, still spewing bolts of light, spins out of control, into the void, bouncing back and forth off the sides of the shaft as it fell. It disappears at last; but then, a few seconds later, a distant explosion can be heard, far down at the core. A rush of air billows out the shaft, into the throne room.

The wind whips at Lord Vader's cape, as he staggers and collapses toward the hole, trying to follow his master to the end. Luke crawls to his father's side, though, and pulls the Dark Lord away from the edge of the chasm, to safety.

Both of them lay on the floor, entwined in each other, too weak to move, too moved to speak.

For the first time, the Death Star rocks. The collision with the exploding Destroyer was only the beginning, leading to various systems breakdowns, which led to reactor meltdowns, which led to personnel panic, abandonment of posts, further malfunctions, and general chaos.

Smoke is everywhere, substantial rumblings come from all directions at once, people are running and shouting. Electrical fires, steam explosions, cabin depressurizations, disruption of chain-of-command. Add to this, the continue bombardments by Rebel cruisers—smelling fear in the enemy—merely heightens the sense of hysteria that is already pervasive.

For the Emperor is dead. The central, powerful evil that had been the cohesive force to the Empire was gone; and when the dark side is this diffused, this nondirected—this is simply where it led.



Damp fear.

In the midst of this uproar, Luke has manage to make it, somehow, to the main docking bay—where he is trying to carry the hulking deadweight of his father's weakening body toward an Imperial shuttle. Halfway there, his strength finally give out, though; and he collapses under the strain.

Slowly he rises again. Like an automaton, he hoists his father's body over his shoulder and stumbles toward one of the last remaining shuttles.

Luke rests his father on the ground, trying to collect strength one last time, as explosions grew louder all around them. Sparks hisses in the rafters; one of the walls buckled, and smoke pours through a gaping fissure. The floor trembles.

Vader motions Luke closer to him. "Luke, help me take this mask off."

Luke shakes his head. "You'll die."

The Dark Lord's voice is weary. "Nothing can stop that now. Just once let me face you without it. Let me look on you with my own eyes."

Luke is afraid. Afraid to see his father as he really is. Afraid to see what person could have become so dark—the same person who'd fathered Luke, and his sister. Afraid to know the Anakin Skywalker who lived inside Darth Vader.

Vader, too, is afraid—to let his son see him, to remove this armored mask that had been between them so long. The black, armored mask that had been his only means of existing for over twenty years. It had been his voice, and his breath, and his invisibility—his shield against all human contact. But now he would remove it; for he would see his son before he died.

Together, they lift the heavy helmet from Vader's head—inside the mask portion, a complicated breathing apparatus had to be disentangled, a speaking modulator and view-screen detach from the power unit in the back. But when the mask is finally off and set aside, Luke gazes on his father's face.

It is the sad, benign face of someone who is suppose to be middle-aged yet disfigure and old. Bald, beardless, with a mighty scar running from the top of his head to the back of the scalp, he has unfocused, deep-set, dark blue eyes, and his skin is pasty white, for it has not seen the sun in two decades. The old man smiles weakly; tears glaze his eyes, now.

It is a face full of meanings, that Luke will forever recall. Regret, he saw most plainly. And shame. Memories can be seen flashing across it… memories of rich times. And horrors. And love, too.

It is a face that hadn't touch the world in a lifetime. In Luke's lifetime. He sees the wizened nostrils twitch, as they tested a first, tentative smell. He sees the head tilt imperceptibly to listen—for the first time without electronic auditory amplification. Luke feels a pang of remorse that the only sounds now to be heard were those of explosions, the only smells, the pungent sting of electrical fires. Still, it is a touch. Palpable, unfiltered.

He sees the old eyes focus on him. Tears burns Luke's cheeks, fall on his father's lips. His father smiles at the taste.

It is a face that had not seen itself in twenty years.

Vader sees his son crying, and knows it must have been at the horror of the face the boy behold.

It intensifies, momentarily, Vader's own sense of anguish—to his crimes, now, he adds guilt at the imagined repugnance of his appearance. But then this brings him to the mind of the way he used to look—striking, and grand, with a wry tilt to his brow that hinted of invincibility and took in all of life with a wink. Yes, that was how he'd looked once.

And this memory brought a wave of other memories with it. Memories of brotherhood, and home. His dear wife. The freedom of deep space. Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan, his friend…and how that friendship had turned. Turned, he knows not how—but got injected, nonetheless, with some uncaring virulence that festered, until…hold. These are memories he wants none of, not now. Memories of molten lava, crawling up his back…no.

This boy pulled him from that pit—here, now, with this act. This boy is good.

The boy is good, and the boy come from him—so there must have been good in him, too. He smiles up again at his son, and for the first time, loved him. And for the first time in many long years, loves himself again, as well.

Suddenly he smells something—flared his nostrils, sniffed once more. Wildflowers, that is what it is. Just blooming; it must be spring.

And there is thunder—he cocks his head, strains his ears. Yes, spring thunder, for a spring rain. To make the flowers bloom.

Yes, there…he feels a raindrop on his lips. He licks the delicate droplet…but wait, it isn't sweetwater, it was salty, it was…a teardrop.

He focuses on Luke once again, and sees his son is crying. Yes that is it, he is tasting his boy's grief—because he looks so horrible; because he is so horrible.

But he wants to make it all right for Luke, he wants Luke to know he wasn't really ugly like this, not deep inside, not all together. With a little self-deprecatory smile, he shakes his head at Luke, explaining away the unsightly beast his son seen. "Luminous beings are we, Luke—not this crude matter."

Luke shakes his head, too—to tell his father it was all right, to dismiss the old man's shame, to tell him nothing mattered now. And everything—but he couldn't talk.

Vader speaks again, even weaker—almost inaudible. "Go, my son. Leave me."

At that, Luke finds his voice. "No. You're coming with me. I'll not leave you here. I've got to save you."

"You already have, Luke," he whispers. He wishes, briefly, he is able to meet Yoda, to thank the old Jedi for the training he'd given Luke…but perhaps he'd be with Yoda soon, now, in the ethereal oneness of the Force. And with Obi-Wan.

"Father, I won't leave you," Luke protests. Explosions jars the docking bay in earnest, crumbling one entire wall, splitting the ceiling. A jet of blue flame shot from a gas nozzle nearby. Just beneath it the floor begins to melt.

Vader pulls Luke very close and speaks into his ear. "Luke, you were right…and you were right about me…Tell your sister…you were right."

With that, he closes his eyes, and Darth Vader—Anakin Skywalker—dies.

A tremendous explosion fills the back of the bay with fire, knocking Luke flat to the ground. Slowly, he rises again; and like an automaton, stumbles toward one of the last remaining shuttles.

Closing his eyes as he slumps back against the shuttle ramp, Anakin Skywalker have every reason to believe that he is finally about to embrace perpetual darkness, about to embrace the hell that he deserves to be in.

Not for the first time, he is wrong.

Initially, there is darkness for Anakin Skywalker, a boundless shadowy realm, like a universe without stars. But then, from somewhere at the edge of his awareness, he perceives a distant, shimmering light, then heard a voice say, "Anakin."

The voice is familiar.

Although Anakin no longer had a body or a mouth with which to speak, he somehow answers, "Obi-Wan? Master, I'm so sorry. So very, very-"

"Anakin, listen carefully," Obi-Wan interrupts, and Anakin is aware that the distant light is either growing brighter or closer or perhaps both. "You are in the netherworld of the Force, but if you ever wish to revisit corporeal space, then I still have one thing left to teach you. A way to become one with the Force. If you choose this path to immortality, then you must listen now, before your consciousness fades."

Knowing he is beyond redemption, Anakin says, "But, Master... why me?"

"Because you ended the horror, Anakin," Obi-Wan replies. "Because you fulfilled the prophecy."

The light was very bright now.

Anakin's first thought is that he might be able to see his children again. He says, "Thank you, Master."

Anakin's essence passes in the Force. With the help of his old master and Yoda, he managed to learn eternal life to live in the afterlife. He is grateful that the two allowed him to see his son and the Rebellion's celebration. For far too long, the entire galaxy, as well as Anakin, have been entrapped to Sidious, but now they are all free. And it was all because of Luke Skywalker.

Anakin watches his son's future and saw what he has done and he is so proud of him. He has proven to lead the Jedi to their true path for generations to come. Eventually, his daughter and Han Solo have gotten married and had a few children together, and lived the rest of their lives together. Luke also got married to a beautiful girl who was once the Emperor's firsthand and yet he has managed to free her from the dark side and like his daughter and smuggler live the life they deserve together.

Well, this isn't their full lives as they are probably in their late 30s by now, but so far, as long as Anakin is able to see his children's futures, they are living decent lives. Hopefully, it would remain that way. A thought runs through him; a longing at living that life with them but he knows that possibility have long since been gone the moment he joined Sidious.

Anakin thinks about how many people he'd reunited with. The Jedi Council, many who had admitted the Order was flawed, and spotted the arrogance of their ways. Even so, many of the Jedi who did became one with the Force feels like Anakin is unredeemable; murdered countless Jedi, both during and after the Great Jedi Purge, supported a ruthless dictator in establishing a totalitarian regime, one that replaced the Galactic Republic which was just as corrupt, murdered an unarmed prisoner, betrayed his sworn allegiance to the Jedi Order and to the Republic, killed military officers that displeased him rather than demoting or imprisoning them, tortured his own daughter for information concerning the Rebel Alliance, stood by and watched without comment or protest as the Death Star destroyed an entire planet, and thus became an accessory to murder, served as the personal executioner and enforcer of the tyrannical Emperor, murdered the legitimate leadership of an opposing government in slaughtering the leaders of the Confederacy of Independent Systems, even attempted to kill his own wife, pregnant at the time with unborn twins, as well as his former Master, on Mustafar.

It tends to make Anakin feel excluded and leaves him to look at the portal and to stare out at his grandchildren who hopefully won't make the same mistake as he did; the children of Han Solo who he would never be able to meet; twins Jaina and Jacen, and a younger son Anakin. Truthfully, Anakin was and still is surprised as much as he is touched by the fact that Leia, the girl he tortured was willing to name her own child after him.

He satched as Luke picked up his child, Ben Obi-Wan Skywalker, and tucked him in for the night, making happiness to form on his lips as well as sadness as he realizes that could have been him with Padmé, Luke, and Leia. Ahsoka is there too and she was chuckling at Luke and Mara being the victim of Ben grabbing a milk bottle and squeezing it so tightly his father's face was splashed and he grimly wipes himself him off. At least, he hasn't killed her on Malachor.

Anakin closes his eyes as he thinks back to Malachor and had to resist the urge to clench and unclench his fists. At last, his former student is receiving a happy ending.

He knows that he would never meet his grandchildren, his daughter would always loathe him eternally, his son is never going to meet him and know the man who he was and likely remember him in his last moments.

Anakin did have a rough childhood. He was a slave with no hope of the life he wanted: The life of a Jedi. His first father figure Qui-Gon Jinn was killed within just a few days of meeting him. He had to abandon his mother for Jedi training and was taught to just leave his selfishness behind, even though it was the only thing that drove him to be Jedi. His mentor Obi-Wan, though a brother to him in every way, could not still understand him for what he was.

Then he met Padmé, someone who was his connection to a world outside of the Jedi world he was trapped in. She was the only person who led him to believe there was something worth living for. But, when he tried to see his mother, with the potential of rejoining his family, she dies in his arms. And worse, he had foreseen it in his dreams but was unable to do anything about it. The pain overcomes him and he slowly gives in to the dark side.

By giving into Palpatine's manipulations, he had believed his friends and family turned against him, but Luke cleared that fog when he had helped him overcome Sidious and to destroy the Empire.

Anakin knew there was no way to reverse his atrocities and he shall hold that regret as a consequence for eternity, even after Luke and Leia become one with the Force.

As he looks up, Anakin is surprise when a white light blinds his vision.

Chapter Text


Anakin Skywalker kneels in the darkness of the Chancellor's office.

He is looking at a hand. The hand has brown skin. The hand holds a lightsaber. The hand has a char oval of tissue where it should have been attached to an arm.

"What have I done?"

Is it his voice? It must have been. Because it is his question.

"What have I done?"

Another hand, a warm and human hand, lays itself softly on his shoulder.

"You're following your destiny, Anakin," said a familiar gentle voice. "The Jedi are traitors. You saved the Republic from their treachery. You can see that, can't you?"

"You were right," Anakin hears himself saying. "Why didn't I know?"

"You couldn't have. They cloaked themselves in deception, my boy. Because they feared your power, they could never trust you."

Anakin stares at the hand, but he no longer sees it.

"Obi-Wan—Obi-Wan trusts me..."

"Not enough to tell you of their plot."

Treason echoes in his memory.

...this is not an assignment for the record...

That warm and human hand gives his shoulder a warm and human squeeze. "I do not fear your power, Anakin, I embrace it. You are the greatest of the Jedi. You can be the greatest of the Sith. I believe that, Anakin. I believe in you. I trust you. I trust you. I trust you."

Anakin looks from the dead hand on the ledge to the living one on his shoulder, then up to the face of the man who stands above him, and what he saw there chokes him like an invisible fist crushing his throat.

The hand on his shoulder is human.

The face... isn't.

The eyes were a cold and feral yellow, and they gleam like those of a predator lurking beyond a fringe of firelight; the bone around those feral eyes is swollen and melt and flow like durasteel spill from a fusion smelter, and the flesh that blanketed it had gone corpse-gray and coarse as rotten synthplast.

Stun with horror, stun with revulsion, Anakin can only stare at the creature. At the shadow.

Looking into the face of the darkness, he sees his future.

"Now come inside," the darkness said.

After a moment, he did.

Anakin stands just within the office. Motionless.

Palpatine examines the damage to his face in a broad expanse of wall mirror. Anakin can't tell if his expression might be revulsion, or if this were merely the new shape of his features. Palpatine lifts one tentative hand to the misshapen horror that he now saw in the mirror, then simply shrugs.

"And so the mask becomes the man," he sighs with a hint of philosophical melancholy. "I shall miss the face of Palpatine, I think; but for our purpose, the face of Sidious will serve. Yes, it will serve."

He gestures, and a hidden compartment opened in the office's ceiling above his desk. A voluminous robe of heavy black-on-black brocade floats downward from it; Anakin feels the current in the Force that carried the robe to Palpatine's hand.

He remembers playing a Force game with a shuura fruit, sitting across a long table from Padmé in the retreat by the lake on Naboo. He remembers telling her how grumpy Obi-Wan would be to see him use the Force so casually.

Palpatine seems to catch his thought; he gave a yellow sidelong glance as the robe settled onto his shoulders.

"You must learn to cast off the petty restraints that the Jedi have tried to place upon your power," he said. "Anakin, it's time. I need you to help me restore order to the galaxy."

Anakin didn't respond.

Sidious said, his voice sending a chill down his spine, "Join me. Pledge yourself to the Sith. Become my apprentice."

A wave of tingling starts at the base of Anakin's skull and spread over his whole body in a slow-motion shockwave.

"I—I can't."

"Of course you can."

Anakin shakes his head and found that the rest of him threatens to begin shaking as well. "I—came to save your life, sir. Not to betray my friends—"

Sidious snorts. "What friends?"

Anakin could find no answer.

"And do you think that task is finished, my boy?" Sidious seats himself on the corner of the desk, hands fold in his lap, the way he always had when offering Anakin fatherly advice; the misshapen mask of his face made the familiarity of his posture into something horrible. "Do you think that killing one traitor will end treason? Do you think the Jedi will ever stop until I am dead?"

Anakin stares at his hands. The left one is shaking. He hides it behind him.

"It's them or me, Anakin. Or perhaps I should put it more plainly: It's them or Padmé."

Anakin makes his right hand—his black-glove hand of durasteel and electrodrivers—into a fist.

"It's just—it's not... easy, that's all. I have—I've been a Jedi for so long—" Anakin begins to sputter slightly, remembering all of Obi-Wan's teachings and can't help but feel like he is doing something wrongly by joining this man.

Sidious offers an appalling smile. "There is a place within you, my boy, a place as briskly clean as ice on a mountaintop, cool and remote. Find that high place, and look down within yourself; breathe that clean, icy air as you regard your guilt and shame. Do not deny them; observe them. Take your horror in your hands and look at it. Examine it as a phenomenon. Smell it. Taste it. Come to know it as only you can, for it is yours, and it is precious."

As the shadow beside him speaks, its words become true. From a remote, frozen distance that was at the same time more extravagantly, hotly intimate than he could have ever dream, Anakin handles his emotions. He dissects them. He reassembles them and pulls them apart again. He still feel them—if anything, they burned hotter than before—but they no longer had the power to cloud his mind.

"You have found it, my boy: I can feel you there. That cold distance—that mountaintop within yourself—that is the first key to the power of the Sith."

Anakin opens his eyes and turns his gaze fully upon the grotesque features of Darth Sidious.

He doesn't even blink.

As he looked upon that mask of corruption, the revulsion he feels is real, and it is powerful, and it is—


Anakin lifts his hand of durasteel and electrodrivers and cups it, staring into its palm as though he holds the fear that had haunted his dreams for his whole life, and it was no larger than the piece of shuura he'd once stolen from Padmé's plate.

On the mountain peak within himself, he weights Padmé's life against the Jedi Order.

It was no contest.

He said, "Yes."

"Yes to what, my boy?"

"Yes, I want your knowledge."

"Good. Good!"

"I want your power. I want the power to stop death."

"That power only my Master truly achieved, but together we will find it. The Force is strong with you, my boy. You can do anything."

"The Jedi betrayed you," Anakin said. "The Jedi betrayed both of us."

"As you say. Are you ready?"

"I am," he said, and meant it. "I give myself to you. I pledge myself to the ways of the Sith. Take me as your apprentice. Teach me. Lead me. Be my Master."

Sidious raises the hood of his robe and drapes it to shadow the ruin of his face.

"Kneel before me, Anakin Skywalker."

Anakin drops to one knee. He lowers his head.

"It is your will to join your destiny forever with the Order of the Sith Lords?"

There is no hesitation. "Yes."

Darth Sidious lays a pale hand on Anakin's brow. "Then it is done. You are now one with the Order of the Dark Lords of the Sith. From this day forward, the truth of you, my apprentice, now and forevermore, will be Darth..."

A pause; a questioning in the Force—

An answer, dark as the gap between galaxies—

He heard Sidious say it: his new name.


A pair of syllables that means him. 'Vader,' he said to himself. Vader.

"Thank you, my Master."

"Every single Jedi, including your friend Obi-Wan Kenobi have been revealed as enemies of the Republic now. You understand that, don't you?"

"Yes, my Master."

"The Jedi are relentless. If they are not destroyed to the last being, there will be civil war without end. To sterilize the Jedi Temple will be your first task. Do what must be done, Lord Vader."

"I always have, my Master."

"Do not hesitate. Show no mercy. Leave no living creature behind. Only then will you be strong enough with the dark side to save Padmé."

"What of the other Jedi?"

"Leave them to me. After you have finished at the Temple, your second task will be the Separatist leadership, in their 'secret bunker' on Mustafar. When you have killed them all, the Sith will rule the galaxy once more, and we shall have peace. Forever. Rise, Darth Vader."

The Sith Lord who once had been a Jedi hero called Anakin Skywalker stands, drawing himself up to his full height, but he looked not outward upon his new Master, nor upon the planet-city beyond, nor out into the galaxy that they would soon rule. He instead turns his gaze inward: he unlocks the furnace gate within his heart and steps forth to regard with new eyes the cold freezing dread of the dead-star dragon that had haunted his life.

'I am Darth Vader,' he said within himself.

The dragon tries again to whisper of failure, and weakness, and inevitable death, but with one hand the Sith Lord caught it, crushes away its voice; it tried to rise then, to coil and rear and strike, but the Sith Lord laid his other hand upon it and broke its power with a single effortless twist.

'I am Darth Vader,' he repeats as he ground the dragon's corpse to dust beneath his mental heel, as he watches the dragon's dust and ashes scatter before the blast from his furnace heart, and you—

You are nothing at all.

He become, finally, what they all call him.

The Hero With No Fear.

'No one can stop me. Windu is dead. Yoda is off-planet as is Obi-Wan. Victory is in my grasp. The chance to save her from certain death.'

The 501st troopers are transported to Coruscant in several Venator-class Star Destroyers that stayed over the city throughout the operation.

With thousands of men at his back, Darth Vader storms up to the Jedi Temple.

Those-those vile nightmares! They must come to a stop, and while Anakin Skywalker is weak, Darth Vader has no such restrains by the Jedi Council!

Those outdated ways that they dare to spat down his throat! He had gone to that so-called Grandmaster of the Order who is supposedly wise, Yoda, but the old fool refused to provide any guidance!

The Jedi Order is already obsolete and damaged beyond repair by now! They are arrogant, rigid, and view anyone who had different opinions with condemnation and suspicion! They refuse to evolve or change and followed rules that were thousands of years old and has nothing in common with the current society!

If Vader has to choose between Padmé and the Jedi, he would choose Padmé without a shadow of a doubt!

Gate Master Jurokk sprints through the empty vault hallway, clattering echoes of his footsteps making him sound like a platoon. The main doors of the Temple were slowly swinging inward in answer to the code key punched into the outside lock pad. The Gate Master had seen him on the monitor. Anakin Skywalker. Alone.

The huge doors creaks inward; as soon as they were wide enough for the Gate Master to pass, he slips through.

Anakin stands in the night outside, shoulders hunch, head down against the rain.

"Anakin!" he gasps, running up to the young man. "Anakin, what happened? Where are the Masters?"

Anakin looks at him as though he isn't sure who the Gate Master is. "Where is Shaak Ti?"

"In the meditation chambers—we felt something happen in the Force, something awful. She's searching the Force in deep meditation, trying to get some feel for what's going on..." His words trails away. Anakin didn't seem to be listening. "Something has happened, hasn't it?"

Jurokk looks past him now. The night beyond the Temple is full of clones. Battalions of them. Brigades. Thousands.

"Anakin," he says slowly, "what's going on? Something's happened. Something horrible. How bad is it—?"

The last thing Jurokk feels is the emitter of a lightsaber against the soft flesh beneath his jaw; the last thing he hears as blue plasma chews upward through his head and bursts from the top of his skull and burns away his life, is Anakin Skywalker's melancholy reply.

"You have no idea..."

After entering the temple, Vader then demanded that one Jedi draw a lightsaber and become one with the Force, claiming that the Order's plot to overthrow Chancellor Palpatine had failed, to the Jedi's confusion. Vader killed the Jedi, then proceeded to stalk through the halls. He eliminated any Jedi he encountered while destroying any Marksman-H combat remotes he met that were guarding the Jedi Temple.

As the troopers dispersed throughout the Temple's vaulted halls at Clone Commander CC-1119's direction, Vader took a small group of clones to capture the communication center via the Jedi Archives. There, a Jedi Knight named Sha Koon, weary from researching and tracking a Sith the Jedi suspected of manipulating the war, awoke to smoke and a battle raging in the Temple. Though surprised at clones in the halls surrounding the Archive, she felt their intent through the Force and blindly fled deep into the Temple.

No concern to Vader. Someone such as her never gives up a fight and he would likely come across Koon soon.

Upon approaching the library, one of the clone units reported in. It informed Vader they were on their way to regroup with him. Vader then engaged two Jedi who created a Force barrier around each other, ensuring Vader could not kill them as they attacked him. However, Vader held them off long enough that the clone unit arrived, killing them. Vader then ordered the commander to take his troops and destroy their ships to ensure none escaped. Vader entered the Temple's library with another contingent of clones and told Jocasta Nu to grant him access to the communication room under the Supreme Chancellor's orders. When she ignited her lightsaber to confront the Sith, citing that only the Jedi Council could authorize access, Vader used the Force to impale her with his own saber, killing her. After the clones had confirmed that all escaping ships had been destroyed, Vader posted clones at all exits to ensure that no Jedi could leave or enter to aid the Temple forces. Vader rooted out any remaining Jedi that were hidden in the library while the troops placed themselves.

Sha Koon sensed Nu's death through the Force. In tandem, she also identified Skywalker as the perpetrator of this massacre and realized that he had turned from the light to become a Sith Lord. This heightened her will to survive, which she did by utilizing the same passageways Rayce did to escape, having learned of them from him earlier.

The clones charged into the Temple foyer to meet with heavy resistance from Jedi and Temple Security Force personnel, eventually clearing the High Council Chamber of resistance. They were then ordered to pacify the library and defend holobook shelves from Jedi that were trying to destroy them until a content download could be performed to capture the confidential Jedi information and Sith secrets. After that information was taken, the clones fought to acquire a Holocron detailing Sith and Jedi knowledge from the Archives, delivering the device to an awaiting Low Altitude Assault Transport for carriage away from the battle.

On Vader's front, a Zabrak Jedi activated a ray shield defense system and hid in a shield-protected room during the carnage. Once Vader had disabled the shields and killed the alien, he and a group of clones were ambushed by a band of Jedi Snipers in a hall. At a clone's suggestion, Vader toppled a large statue to crush the warriors and used a chunk to break his way into a study hall, where his party eliminated several Jedi students and a number of Jedi brutes.

When Jedi interceptors were launched in an attempt to cut down the clone force, Vader commandeered an anti-aircraft gun to shoot them down, making his way to the communication center at the summit of the High Council Tower once he had finished off the last ship. He altered and broadcast a beacon ordering all Jedi to return to the Jedi Temple on the High Council's authority because the war was over, leading any who heeded the call to their death at the hands of the clones.

Meanwhile, the Jedi Battlemaster Cin Drallig managed to penetrate upper-level defenses, and Vader elected to deal with him, ordering nearby clone assassins to guard the beacon with their lives.

Before tracking down Drallig, Vader made his way through the First Knowledge Quarter to one of the many briefing rooms, where Drallig's former apprentice, Serra Keto, confronted Vader and engaged him in a duel. Jumping on a balcony that overlooked a training veranda in the Tower of First Knowledge, she cut into a pillar, but Vader toppled it, using it to crush her.

As the remaining Jedi Masters realized that the Temple was lost, they began to send Knights and Padawans out through the Temple Precinct. Vader made his way to the base of the Temple, where he found Drallig guarding a group of fleeing youngling he had been instructing in lightsaber combat in the Room of a Thousand Fountains. After murdering two of Drallig's trainees, Bene and Whie Malreaux, the Sith entered a duel with Drallig alongside his remaining Padawan. After some time dueling, Drallig ordered the Padawan to retreat, beginning to duel Vader personally. Vader mortally wounded Drallig by slashing the Battlemaster from shoulder to torso. The squad of clones accompanying Vader then blasted at the other Padawans that Drallig was protecting, killing most of them. A Zabrak Jedi had also been assigned to protect a group of younglings. He was caught by Vader and, after a brief duel, was struck down.

As the clones continued the attack, Darth Vader discovered Shaak Ti within her chambers. After dueling and disorienting the Sith Lord, she managed to lead a band of Padawans and their Masters out of the Temple and later secured a small number of her charges passage through the Undercity of Coruscant. Arligan Zey, the leader of the clone army's Special Operations Brigade, had gone to the Temple upon hearing of the death of General Grievous—a Jedi hunter and Supreme Commander of the Separatist Droid Army—on Utapau, only to be caught in the battle within the halls of his sanctuary. He made it out of the Temple and found his way back to his offices in Arca Barracks, where his aide, an Advanced Recon Commando Captain nicknamed "Maze," helped him flee the planet. Among the other survivors were Jedi Kazdan Paratus, who ran away in fear; Jax Pavan, a Jedi Knight; and the last Curator of Records.

They were of no concern to the newly annotated Sith. Those traitors would be caught later.

Meanwhile, the 501st Legion secured all four Jedi Council chambers and fought the Temple Security Force in the main hall. Darth Vader then returned from his duel with Cin Drallig and collected a Holocron from the corpse of a Jedi he had killed alongside his troops. As they focused the brunt of their attack on the hall, three Jedi Masters, who had taken somewhat of a military command over the remaining Jedi, led the last of the Jedi into the main hall in a final attempt to repel the 501st. The Jedi came out in a sudden charge against the clones, but despite their assault, the three were eventually killed along with their allies by the insurgents.

Vader ascended the High Council Tower to search the Council Chamber for more survivors, and it was there that he found an entire Clan of younglings. A young boy, Sors Bandeam, approached Vader from where the other Younglings, including Shia Letap and Jeswi Ele, had hidden themselves. Bandeam, not realizing that Skywalker was now Vader and had defected to the Sith, asked him what the Jedi were going to do, and in answer, Vader executed the entire Clan.

As the fighting began to die down, Darth Sidious arrived at the Temple to check on Vader's progress. Vader knelt before his Master and was congratulated by the Dark Lord. Sidious ordered Vader to travel to Mustafar to eliminate the leaders of the Confederacy of Independent Systems, a faction opposing the Republic that had seceded three years prior, assembled there by Sidious for talks to end the conflict.

As the fires burned through the night, the citizens of Galactic City watched in shock as the symbol of the Jedi was engulfed in flames. A Senatorial body called the Senate Emergency Response declared martial law on Coruscant, locked down the Temple Precinct, and closed the surrounding skylanes, redirecting all traffic away from the district. Coruscant Rescue Ops were forbidden from extinguishing the fires cremating the Temple, and any ship attempting to approach the Temple was assumed to be doing so with treasonous intent. The Coruscant Security Force joined the clones in tracking down fleeing Jedi, and CSF officers assisted when the 501st engaged a group of Jedi trying to escape the Temple via the Shinarcan Bridge Extension.

Padmé stumbles down the landing ramp into Anakin's arms. Her eyes are raw and numb; once inside the ship, her emotional control finally shattered and she sobbed the whole way there, crying from relentless mind-shredding dread, and so her lips are swollen and her whole body shake and she is just so grateful, so incredibly grateful, that again she is flooded with fresh tears: grateful that he is alive, grateful that he come bounding across the landing deck to meet her, that he is still strong and beautiful, that his arms still are warm around her and his lips are soft against her hair.

"Anakin, my Anakin..." She shivers against his chest. "I've been so frightened..."


"Shh. Shh, it's all right." He strokes her hair until her trembling began to fade, then he cups her chin and gently raises her face to look into his eyes. "You never need to worry about me. Didn't you understand? No one can hurt me. No one will ever hurt either of us."

"It wasn't that, my love, it was—oh, Anakin, he said such terrible things about you!"

He smiles down at her. "About me? Who would want to say bad things about me?" He forced himself to chuckle, even though he had hated everything that happened. "Who would dare?"

"Obi-Wan." She smears tears from her cheeks. "He said— he told me you turned to the dark side, that you murdered Jedi... even younglings..."

Just having gotten the words out made her feel better; now all she has to do was rest in his arms while he hold her and hugs her and promises her he will never do anything like any of that, and she starts half a smile aim up toward his eyes—

But instead of the light of love in his eyes, she see only reflections of lava.

He don't say, 'I could never turn to the dark side.'

He don't say, 'Murder younglings? Me? That's just crazy.'

He says, "Obi-Wan's alive?"

His voice drops an octave, and gone colder than the chills that are spreading from the base of her spine.

"Y-yes—he, he said he was looking for you..."

"Did you tell him where I am?" Anakin asks, and although a part... a big part of him actually didn't want to kill Kenobi, he had known that he was the only individual holding him back from accomplishing the power Palpatine spoke of.

"No, Anakin! He wants to kill you. I didn't tell him anything—I wouldn't!" Padmé cries.

Vader forces himself to grit out, "Too bad."

"Anakin, what—" she tries to speak.

Anakin sneers, though he wasn't angry with his wife nor Obi-Wan in truth, "He's a traitor, Padme. He's an enemy of the state. He has to die."

"Stop it," she said. "Stop talking like that... you're frightening me!"

"You're not the one who needs to be afraid."

"It's like—it's like—" Tears brims again. "I don't even know who you are anymore..."

"I'm the man who loves you," he says, but he says it through clenched teeth. "I'm the man who would do anything to protect you. Everything I have done, I have done for you."

"Anakin..." Horror squeezes her voice down to a whisper: small, and fragile, and very young. "...what have you done?"

And she prays that he won't actually answer.

"What I have done is bring peace to the Republic."

"The Republic is dead," she whispers. "You killed it. You and Palpatine."

"It needed to die."

New tears start, but they don't matter; she'll never have enough tears for this. "Anakin, can't we just...go? Please. Let's leave. Together. Today. Now. Before you—before something happens—"

"Nothing will happen. Nothing can happen. Let Palpatine call himself Emperor. Let him. He can do the dirty work, all the messy, brutal oppression it'll take to unite the galaxy forever— unite it against him. He'll make himself into the most hated man in history. And when the time is right, we'll throw him down—"

"Anakin, stop—"

Anakin wants nothing more but to accept. He doesn't enjoy killing the younglings and destroy the Order that he had once called his home long ago. That's why he was crying on the Control Center previously on this said planet, why he hates himself from that point on. He almost immediately began to feel remorse for the things he'd done, but by the same token he felt that the atrocities he'd already committed had already set him on the path he is taking.

Further complicating things is the fact that he is carrying around a ton of psychological trauma from the war he'd been fighting and growing up a slave. He is no stranger to the sight of children dying. Many people who have survived that kind of horror learn to disengage from their actions and essentially act on autopilot. Combine that with the no doubt overwhelming feelings of power brought on by deliberately drawing on the dark side…

"Don't you see? We'll be heroes. The whole galaxy will love us, and we will rule. Together." Anakin continues, but the former Jedi isn't certain if he was attempting to convince himself or her.

"Please stop—Anakin, please, stop, I can't stand it..." she pleads.

He isn't listening to her. He isn't looking at her. He is looking past her shoulder.

Feral joy burns from his eyes, and his face is no longer human.


From behind her, calmly precise, with that clipped Coruscanti accent: "Padmé. Move away from him."

"Obi-Wan?" She whirls, and he is on the landing ramp, still and sad. "No!"

"You," growls a voice that should have been her love's. "You brought him here..."

She turns back, and now he was looking at her. His eyes are full of flames, those lovely orbs no more and replace by a demon; a devil from the Force's hell itself.


"Padmé, move away." There is an urgency in Obi-Wan's voice that sound closer to fear than Padmé had ever heard from him. "He's not who you think he is. He will harm you."

Anakin's lips peels off his teeth. "I would thank you for this if it were a gift of love."

Trembling, shaking her head, she began to back away. "No, Anakin—no..."

"Palpatine was right. Sometimes it is the closest who cannot see. I loved you too much, Padmé." Vader hisses, glaring at the woman he would have brought every planet down to the ground to keep her safe. She'd betrayed him! She shall pay for her deception! Both of them shall!

He makes a fist, and she couldn't breathe.

"I loved you too much to see you! To see what you are!"

A veil of red descends on the world. She claws at her throat, but there is nothing there her hands can touch.

"Let her go, Anakin."

His answer is a predator's snarl, over the body of its prey. "You will not take her from me!"

She wants to scream, to beg, to howl, No, Anakin, I'm sorry! I'm sorry... I love you..., but her lock throat strangled the truth inside her head, and the world-veil of red smoked toward black.

"Let her go!" Obi-Wan cries desperately, unable to believe his eyes. How could sweet Anakin Skywalker become this monster?


The ground falls away beneath her, and then a white flash of impact blasts her into the night.

Anakin drops his lightsaber, clawing at the edge of the cliff with his mechanical hand, but his grip is too powerful for the lava bank and it crumbles, and he slid down onto the black sand. His severed legs and his severed arm rolls into the lava below him and burns to ash in sudden bursts of scarlet flame.

The same color, Obi-Wan observes distantly, as a Sith blade. Anakin scrabbles at the soft black sand but struggling only made him slip farther. The sand itself is hot enough that dig ging his durasteel fingers into it burned off his glove, and his robes began to smolder.

Obi-Wan picks up Anakin's lightsaber. He lifts his own as well, weighing them in his hands. Anakin had based his design upon Obi-Wan's. So similar they were. So differently they had been used. "Obi-Wan... ?"

He looks down. Flame licks the fringes of Anakin's robe, and his long hair blackens and is beginning to char.

"You were the chosen one! It was said you would destroy the Sith, not join them. It was you who would bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness. You were my brother, Anakin," said Obi-Wan Kenobi. "I loved you, but I could not save you."

A flash of metal through the sky, and Obi-Wan feels the darkness closing in around them both. He knows that ship: the Chancellor's shuttle. Now, he supposes, the Emperor's shuttle. Yoda had failed. He might have died. He might have left Obi-Wan alone: the last Jedi.

Below his feet, Darth Vader burst into flame. "I hate you," he screams at the top of his lungs he has left at the Jedi Master.

Obi-Wan looks down. It would be a mercy to kill him. He is not feeling merciful.

He is feeling calm, and clear, and he knows that to climb down to that black beach might cost him more time than he has. Another Sith Lord approaches.

In the end, there is only one choice. It is a choice he had made many years before, when he had passed his trials of Jedi Knighthood, and sworn himself to the Jedi forever. In the end, he is still Obi-Wan Kenobi, and he is still a Jedi, and he will not murder a helpless man.

The door to detention cell 3187 slid up into the ceiling and Darth Vader ducked through the doorway, followed by two black-uniformed Imperial soldiers. Inside the cell, Princess Leia sat on a bare metal bed that projected from the wall. Looming over the prisoner, Vader said, "And now, Your Highness, we will discuss the location of your hidden Rebel Base."

There is an electric hum from behind Vader, then a spherical black interrogator droid hovers slowly into the cell. The droid's midsection is ringed by a repulsorlift system, and its exterior was festooned with devices that included an electroshock assembly, sonic torture device, chemical syringe, and lie determinator.

Leia's eyes went wide at the sight of the droid, and Vader can practically taste her terror. She said, "Keep it away from me!"

Vader seizes his prisoner, pinning her arms to her sides while the interrogator droid moves in closer.

There is a brief hiss from the droid's injector arm then Leia cries out and fell backward, slumping against the cell wall with a thud. "You can't..." she said. "You c..."

"Your Highness," Vader said in his most soothing tone. "Listen to my voice."

Leia's eyes rolls in their sockets, unable to focus on anything. She stammers, "V-voice..."

"That's right. Listen... I am your friend."

"Wha... friend?" Leia said, then winces. "No..."

"Yes!" Vader insists, watching her plunge deeper into a hypnotic state. "You trust me, you can confide in me. All your secrets are safe with me."

"Mmmm?" Leia licks her lips. "Safe?"

"That's right, safe. You are safe here. You're among friends. You can trust me. I am a member of the Rebel Alliance, like you."

A look of relief swept over Leia's face as she mutters, "Rebel?"

"What did you do with the Death Star plans? Where are they? The Rebels need to know! Help us, Leia!"

"No," she moans, closing her eyes. "Can't!"

"It's your duty," Vader urges. "Your duty to our Alliance. Your obligation to Alderaan and to your father. It's your duty to tell us where those tapes are!"

"Father?" Leia said, her eyes still shut.

"Yes," Vader said. "Your father commands you to tell us!"

"Father... wouldn't."

Growing impatient, Vader uses his own psychic powers to make Leia believe she is in excruciating pain, but after several minutes, he ends the interrogation. He senses that her inborn willpower is not only formidable but must have been augmented with certain physical and mental disciplines. She would not be broken easily.

Admiral Motti enters the quiet conference room, his face streaks by the linear lights lining the walls. His gaze went to the spot where Governor Tarkin stood before the curved viewscreen, and he bowed slightly. Despite the evidence of the small green gem of a world entered in the screen, he formally announces, "We have entered the Alderaan system. We await your order."

The door signals and Tarkin makes a falsely gentle gesture to the admiral. "Wait a moment yet, Motti."

The door slid aside and Leia Organa entered, flank by two armed guards, follow by Darth Vader.

"I am—," Tarkin begin.

"I know who you are," she spat, "Governor Tarkin. I should have expected to find you holding Vader's leash. I thought I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board."

Vader stiffens behind her. This girl is proving to be quite of annoyance. No one holds Vader back.

It is then Vader came to a realization, Tarkin views Vader as merely a high-ranking soldier. Tarkin being Grand Moff is a Governor of a large region of the galaxy. They have different views of things. Anakin Skywalker in the Clone Wars was a great general who listened to his soldiers and was open to ideas on the battlefield. He didn't lose that becoming Vader. He'll also listen to his stormtrooper captains.

"Charming to the last," Tarkin declares in a fashion which suggests he is anything but charming. "You don't know how hard I found it to sign the order for your termination." His expression changes to one of mock sorrow. "Of course, had you cooperated in our investigation, things might be otherwise. Lord Vader has informed me that your resistance to our traditional methods of inquiry—"

"Torture, you mean," she counters a trifle shakily.

"Let us not bandy semantics," Tarkin smiles.

"I'm surprised you had the courage to take the responsibility for issuing the order on yourself."

Tarkin sighs reluctantly. "I am a dedicated man, and the pleasures I reserved for myself are few. One of them is that before your execution I should like you to be my guest at a small ceremony. It will certify this battle station's operational status while at the same time ushering in a new era of Imperial technical supremacy. This station is the final link in the new-forged Imperial chain which will bind a million systems of the Galactic Empire together once and for all. Your petty Alliance will no longer be of any concern to us. After today's demonstration no one will dare to opposite Imperial decree, not even the Senate."

Organa looks at him with contempt. "Force will not keep the Empire together. Force has never kept anything together for very long. The more you tighten your grip, the more systems will slip through your fingers. You're a foolish man, Governor. Foolish men often choke to death on their own delusions."

Tarkin smiles a death's-head smile, his face a parchment skull's. "It will be interesting to see what manner of passing Lord Vader has in mind for you. I am certain it will be worthy of your—and of him. But before you leave us, we must demonstrate the power of this station once and for all, in a conclusive fashion. In a way, you have determined the choice of subject for this demonstration. Since you have proven reluctant to supply us with the location of the rebel stronghold, I have deemed it appropriate to select as an alternate subject your home planet of Alderaan."

"No! You can't! Alderaan is a peaceful world, with no standing armies. You can't…"

Tarkin's eyes gleams. "You would prefer another target? A military target, perhaps? We're agreeable grow tired of such games. For the last time, where is the main rebel base?"

A voice announces over a hidden speaker that they had approaches within antigrav range of Alderaan—approximately six planetary diameters. That is enough to accomplish what all of Vader's infernal devices had failed to.

"Dantooine," she whispers, staring at the deck, all pretense at defiance gone now. "They're on Dantooine."

Tarkin let out a slow sigh of satisfaction, then turns to the black figure nearby. "There, you see, Lord Vader? She can be reasonable. One needs only frame the question properly to elicit the desired response." He directs his attention to the other officers. "After concluding our little test here we shall make haste to move on to Dantooine. You may proceed with the operation, gentlemen."

It took several seconds for Tarkin's words, so casually uttered, to penetrate. "What!" Organa finally gasps.

"Dantooine," Tarkin explains, examining his fingers, "is too far from the centers of Imperial population to serve as the subject of an effective demonstration. You will understand that for reports of our power to spread rapidly through the Empire we require an obstreperous world more centrally located. Have no fear, though. We will deal with your rebel friends on Dantooine as soon as possible."

"But you said…" Organa starts to protest.

"The only words which have meaning are the last ones spoken," Tarkin declares cuttingly. "We will proceed with the destruction of Alderaan as planned. Then you will enjoy watching with us as we obliterate the Dantooine center of this stupid and futile rebellion."

He gestures to the two soldiers flanking her. "escort her to the principal observation level and," he smiles evilly, "make certain she is provided with an unobstructed view."

There are billions of people on Alderaan, including Bail Organa, and they were all about to die. As the battle station's superlaser powers up, Vader fesls the Princess quivering with fear.

Vader stares at the motley array of stars displayed on the conference-room map while Tarkin and Admiral Motti confers nearby. Interestingly, the first use of the most powerful destructive machine ever constructed had seemingly had no influence at all on that map, which in itself represented only a tiny fraction of this section of one modest-sized galaxy.

It would take a micro breakdown of a portion of this map to reveal a slight reduction in spatial mass, caused by the disappearance of Alderaan. Alderaan, with its many cities, farms, factories, and towns—and traitors, Vader reminds himself.

Despite his advances and intricate technological methods of annihilation, the actions of mankind remained unnoticeable to an uncaring, unimaginably vast universe. If Vader's grandest plans ever came to pass, all that would change.

He is well aware that despite all their intelligence and drive, the vastness and wonder were lost on the two men who continues to chatter monkeylike behind him. Tarkin and Motti are talented and ambitious, but they saw things only on the scale of human pettiness. It is a pity, Vader thought, that they did not possess the scope to match their abilities.

Still, neither man is a Dark Lord. As such, little more could be expected of them. These two were useful now, and dangerous, but someday they, like Alderaan, would have to be swept aside. For now he could not afford to ignore them. And while he would have preferred the company of equals, he has to admit reluctantly that at this point, he has no equals.

Ben senses something directly ahead and slows cautiously. It had a most familiar feel to it, a half-remembered metal odor he could not quite place.

Then the figure steps out in front of him, blocking his entry to the hangar not five meters away. The outline and size of the figure completes the momentary puzzle. It is the maturity of the mind he had sensed that had temporarily confused him. His hand moves naturally to the hilt of his deactivated saber.

Obi-Wan Kenobi, wearing a dirty-brown desert robe with a large cloak, had bypassed numerous stormtroopers and sophisticated security sensors by the time Vader sighted him, entering the dimly illuminated, gray-walled access tunnel that led back to Docking Bay 327. Vader stands in plain sight, holding his red-bladed lightsaber at the ready, blocking Obi-Wan's path to the captured freighter.

'He looks so old,' Vader thought but knew better than to assume that the white-bearded Obi-Wan had weakened with age. As Vader moves slowly toward the hooded interloper, Obi-Wan activates his own blue-bladed lightsaber, assuming the pose of warrior-ready, a movement accomplished with the ease and elegance of a dancer.

"I've been waiting for you, Obi-Wan," Vader said, edging closer to the elderly Jedi. "We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete."

Obi-Wan's offensive stance didn't lessen, knowing that he has to buy time. His former apprentice is more powerful than the last time they dueled, and if he isn't careful, Vader can kill him before the crew reaches the ship and that means all of the Rebels would be in Vader's hands. And Luke...

"No, I have to give the crew and Luke time to escape.' Ben thought. 'Even if it results in my demise.'

"When I left you," Vader continues, breaching through the old man's thoughts, "I was but the learner; now I am the master."

"Only a master of evil, Darth," Obi-Wan said.

Although Vader had not expected Obi-Wan to address him by the obsolete name of Anakin Skywalker, it is most unusual for anyone to call him by his Sith Lord title alone.

"I have been waiting a long time for this, Obi-wan," Darth Vader intones solemnly, repeating his words from earlier. "Your death shall come and you shall pay for leaving me and betraying me." Kenobi senses satisfaction beneath the hideous mask. "The presence I sensed earlier could only have been you."

Kenobi regards the great form blocking his retreat and nods slowly. He gives the impression of being more curious than impressed. "You still have much to learn."

"You were once my teacher," Vader admits, "and I learned much from you. But the time of learning has long passed, and I am the master now."

The logic that had constituted the missing link in his brilliant pupil remained as absent as before. There would be no reasoning here, Kenobi knew. Why didn't he finished what he should have done when he had bested him last and assure Vader was dead? It would have saved millions of innocent lives.

Anakin Skywalker is dead, Vader is merely his shell.

Rather roughly, Vader imitates the movement. Several minutes followed without motion as the two men remained staring at each other as if waiting for some proper, as yet unspoken signal.

Kenobi blink once, shook his head and tried to clear his eyes, which had begun to water slightly. Sweat beads upon his forehead and his eyelids fluttered again.

"Your powers are weak," Vader notes emotionlessly. "Old man, you should never have come back. It will make your endless peaceful than you might have wished."

"You sense only a part of the force, Darth," Kenobi murmurs with the assurance of one to whom death is merely another sensation, like sleeping or making love or touching a candle. "As always, you perceive its reality as little as a utensil perceives the taste of food. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."

"Then I shall show you the true meaning of the Force," Vader declares, using the Force and levitating several objects towards Kenobi.

Kenobi cuts at the metal crate, slicing it in half as another came to him, but this was a fuel barrel. The Jedi Master is caught off-guard as a minor explosion forces him into the wall until the Sith Lord emerged from the flames, delivering an upward arc that damaged the ceiling followed by many blows that Kenobi blocks.

Executing a move of incredible swiftness for one so old, Kenobi lunges at the massive shape. Vader blocks the stab with equal speed, riposting with a counter slash that Kenobi barely parries. Another parry and Kenobi counters again, using this opportunity to move around the towering Dark Lord.

They continue to trade blows, with the old man now backing toward the hangar. Once, his saber and Vader's locks, the interaction of the two energy fields producing a violent sparking and flashing. A low buzzing sound rose from the straining power units as each saber sought to override the other.

Vader brings his saber over and down with such fury. Kenobi somehow manages to deflect the sweeping blow, at once parrying and turning a complete circle.

Obi-Wan moves fast, lunging at Vader with his weapon, but the Dark Lord blocks the attack with ease.

There is a loud electric crackle as their lightsabers makes contact. Undeterred, Obi-Wan makes a swift series of strikes, but each is parry by Vader.

"Your powers are weak, old man," Vader said.

"You can't win, Darth," Obi-Wan said, making Vader wonder if perhaps Obi-Wan was taunting him by refusing to address him properly. With incredible self-assurance, Obi-Wan adds, "As stated before, if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."

"You should not have come back," Vader replies bitterly. "There is no escape," Vader declares as they engaged another blade lock. The Dark Lord begins to send blows after blows against Kenobi, one that dangerously hit too close to home, near his face.

Kenobi dodges another slash, but Vader punches the Jedi Master three times. Vader then lands another slash against Kenobi but it is blocked by the Jedi Master, then he sends a backhand strike onto Kenobi's face. Using this as an opening, the Sith Lord outstretches his hand and Force Pushes him into the wall, dazing him.

Kenobi watches as Vader throws his lightsaber in his direction, missing his head in just a meter. Approaching him, Vader tightens his fist, causing his lightsaber to slice across the wall and provoking Kenobi into ducking.

Vader brings the lightsaber back into his hand and slices at the panel that closes the door, likely to prevent him from evacuating.

Kenobi picks up his lightsaber with the Force and reactivates his lightsaber, blocking the upward slash over his head, their blades humming.

Their lightsabers clashes again and again, and their duel carried on until they are just outside Docking Bay 327. As they moves toward the door that led directly into the hangar that contained the capture freighter, Vader hears the approaching footsteps of stormtroopers running toward his position. Vader's blade crosses with his opponent's when Obi-Wan threw a glance into the hangar. Vader keeps his eyes rivets on the Jedi.

'You won't get away from me this time!'

"You still have your skill, but your power fades. Prepare to meet the force, old man."

Kenobi gauges the shrinking distance between the oncoming troops and himself, then turned a pitying gaze on Vader. "This is a fight you cannot win, Darth. Your power has matured since I taught you, but I too have grown much since our parting. If my blade finds its mark, you will cease to exist. But if you cut me down, I will only become more powerful. Heed my words."

"Your philosophies no longer confuse me, old man," Vader growls tempestuously. "I am the master now."

Shortly afterward, from the corner of his eyes in a visor, Vader notices the boy in farm clothes type of robes running forward to them. What intrigues him is the power he can feel from the boy.

"Ben?" The boy inquires, running over to the scene.

Breaking another lock, Vader begins to hack away at the exhausted Obi-Wan Kenobi, sending series of slashes and hacks that Kenobi is barely able to block but it wasn't long before he is force onto the ground as Vader approaches, poise to send a final strike that would end this battle.

Kenobi outstretches his hand and Force Pushed Vader back, but it barely even made him flinch as his cape billows into the empty air. The Dark Lord of the Sith glares at him, breathing out of the respirator that this man entrapped him into.

Vader didn't strike as voices echoed into both of their heads.



Kenobi looks over and saw them nearing the ship, sending a brief glance at Han Solo and giving him a slight nod. Unexpectedly, Obi-Wan raises his lightsaber before him and closed his eyes. His expression was serene.

Vader could hardly believe it. He's surrendering!

"Now, you will die!" Vader declares menacingly.

Without mercy, Vader swings hard with his lightsaber, slicing through Obi-Wan's form. He fully expects to hear the satisfying sound of Obi-Wan's rained body collapsing upon the polished floor, and so he is astonish to see only the Jedi's robe and lightsaber at his feet.

The wind that shrieks through the reactor shaft entirely absorbs the sounds of the clashing lightsabers.

The boy moves agilely across the gantry and took refuge beneath a huge instrument panel to evade his pursuing foe. But Vader is there in an instant, his lightsaber thrashing down like a pulsating guillotine blade, cutting the instrument complex loose. The complex begins to fall but was abruptly caught by the wind and blown upward.

An instant of distraction is all Vader needed. As the instrument panel floats away, the boy involuntarily glanced at it. At that second, the Dark Lord's lightsaber came slashing down across the boy's hand, cutting it, and sending the youth's lightsaber flying.

The pain is excruciating. The boy smells the terrible odor of his own seared flesh and squeezed his forearm beneath his armpit to try to stop the agony. He steps backward along the gantry until he reaches its extreme end, stalk all the while by the black-garbed apparition.

Abruptly, ominously, the wind subsides. And the boy apparently realizes he had nowhere else to go.

"There is no escape," Vader taunts like the Angel Of Darkness as his wounded opponent edged farther away to cling to a sensor array at the end of the gantry. "Don't make me destroy you," he adds, increasing the volume of his voice so he could be heard over the high winds. "Luke, you do not yet realize your importance. You have only begun to discover your power. Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy."

Luke refuses to give in to Vader's taunts. "I will never join you!"

"If you only knew the power of the dark side," Vader continues. "Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father."

The mention of his father arouses the boy's anger. "He told me enough!" he yells, clenching his teeth as he stares at the monster. "He told me you killed him."

"No," Vader replies calmly. "I am your father."

Stun, Luke stares with disbelief at the black-clad warrior and then pulls away at this revelation. The two warriors stand staring at one another, father and son.

Darth Vader did not know how Luke would react. He could not imagine that the young man would be more shocked than Vader had been when the Emperor had informed him that Luke was Anakin Skywalker's son.

"No," Luke whimpers, refusing to believe what he had just heard. "No. That's not true! That's impossible!"

With a finality tone, Vader said, "Search your feelings. You know it to be true."

"No!" Luke shouts. "NO!"

The wind howls, and Vader's black cape flaps wildly at his back. "Luke. You can destroy the Emperor. He has foreseen this. It is your destiny." He reaches out to Luke, beckoning him to leave the gantry and come to his side. "Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son."

Still clinging to the sensor array, Luke glances down the shaft.

"Come with me," Vader urges. "It is the only way."

Unexpectedly, Luke opens his arms, releasing the array and allowing himself to plummet into the deep shaft. Vader leans out over the edge of the gantry to see his son's rapidly receding form tumble into an open exhaust pipe in the shaft's wall with a emotion that he hasn't felt for a long time... a long sense of longing.

The Sith Lord is certain Luke is still alive. 'If he had died, I would have sensed it.'

As he walks into the abyss of darkness, Anakin Skywalker or at least a different form of Vader - some would call him, continues to stare at the portals, the Master of the Light and Darkness is walking through all of his transgressions, his emotions burying him down. Despite those of the Force Ghosts who feel genuine empathy for the man who has turned away from the dark side, Vader can never truly find peace with his actions.

Right now though, there is nothing but confusion within the former Sith. He had thought he had all the knowledge in the universe about the Cosmic Force and the Living Force, yet when he had became one with the Force, he can see that is further from the truth.

Naturally, his former Master told him about the Worlds Between Worlds. The World Between Worlds is not confined to just the Temple on Lothal but that an artificial gate can be created around a sufficiently strong force Nexus given the right design and the timing patience to create it, meaning that not only could there be multiple more doors out there in the galaxy but that someone could create their own door to enter the World Between Worlds.

They can even create a strong force Nexus their self buy nearly wiping out a world like Momin do to Mustafar. So this opens up access to the world beyond worlds to any sufficiently dedicated or smart Sith Lord out there.

The problem with the Worlds between Worlds is if used incorrectly, it could create time paradoxes, and anyone who uses them is dangerous, even if they have moral intentions. Much to his shock and slight annoyance when Obi-Wan told him, the Chain Worlds Theorem, visualized in the Jedi sacred texts and written by an unattributed figure, described the World Between Worlds.

The World Between Worlds was accessible from the ancient painting of the Mortis gods that decorated the exterior of the Lothal Jedi Temple. According to Dume, who explained to him sometime after he became one with the Force, Loth-wolves were intrinsically ties to the realm and could traverse through it in a manner similar to hyperspace travel. Sith follower Minister Veris Hydan of the Galactic Empire believed that gaining access to the World Between Worlds would give one control of the universe.

But... this is not that. This is something more. The portals are of memories that continue to repeat, and he did little more but close his eyes as he couldn't bare seeing these painful memories. Soon, he is forced to grasp his head as he approaches the final, main portal that shows nothing as an overwhelming tingling ran through his head, and he feels himself being wrapped around by invisible tentacles.

Before he could even fight off the invisible menace, he is dragged in.



Before all became flashes of colors and former Jedi Knight and Sith Lord, Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader's senses begins altering in under seconds around him as unconsciousness fill his being.

Chapter Text


When his senses return to him, he feels momentarily bewildered at the hundreds-no thousands of presences ringing through the galaxy. The light side wields a strong hold, but under the light, there is thunderous darkness as well, threatening to swallow the presence whole.

He is lying on his back in the middle of an empty wasteland but there was so much information storming at him. He could feel the heat on his bare skin. He takes a deep breath, and unlike other times in his spirit form, this time he actually felt how the air engulfs his lungs in almost a soothing manner and it felt unimaginable! Unfortunately, feeling in the afterlife is rare, but that was made up by the peace that came with it.

Slowly, the former Sith Lord sits up and marvels at his fresh hand and feet instead of the ghostly image he had grown accustomed to. He looks up as the sun reflects off his face, causing him to reach out and cover his eyes as the unexpected sight blinded him. It is odd as there is almost nothing to feel in the afterlife.

He spot the dense swamps, rolling grass plains, seas, and verdant hills. The Gallo Mountains, which bisects the largest continent and divides the great grass plains of the north from the Lianorm Swamp and bayous in the south. South of the Lianorm Swamp is the great, sea-like Lake Paonga, are at the bottom lay the Gungan city of Otoh Gunga. Its natural beauty is all too familiar to him.

Anakin walks to a nearby lake and stares down, seeing he is wearing armor familiar but is beyond damaged, looking seconds away from falling off but he still keeps himself up. He sees his cerulean eyes that he haven't seen for decades staring back at him. Once it have been youthful optimistic now replaced with fatigued eyes.

Placing the pieces together, Anakin notices a creature that confirms his suspicions. The head boasts two forward-curving horns. The long, furry tail tail is flaglike in shape, and doubtlessly can be used to communicate amongst individuals over long distances.

"A Gualama?" Anakin mutters. There is only one planet where human monarchs keep a gualama herd - this royal herd exists for the exclusive use of the Queen or King and his/her close servants. These gualamas were often ridden by these particular humans on twirrling expeditions, accompanied by trained twirrls. White and dappled varieties of gualamas existed.

Though, according to his deceased wife, they are also versions of them living in the wild. The wild Gualama is a species of herbivorous animal found on the grasslands of the planet of... Naboo?

The wild creature halts, stares at him for a moment and grunting before walking off.

Why, in the name of the Force, is he on Naboo? Is it because the Force wishes to finally punish him by sending him to her homeworld? The thought of her death might forever be engraved in his thoughts and no amount of time will ever heal that wound in his heart. There is the pain in his heart, a hole that may never be fulfill. This is the planet where his lover died, thanks to the manipulations of Darth Sidious, and most of all, his own arrogance and not seeing what she might have wanted because of his greed for power.

Tears blind his eyes as he remembers that poor woman who's only mistake is to marrying someone such as him. What did she do to deserve her demise? All she did was fought for democracy in a corrupt Republic and so Palpatine had manipulated him to the point where he nearly kills her!

And then Obi-Wan! The man who had loved him! Anger flashes within himself; when Obi-Wan first met Anakin, he didn't think much of him due to how young he was despite having seen how high his midi-chlorian count was! Whereas the Jedi Council was against Anakin's training due to his age and internal conflict, Obi-Wan's reason for opposing it was mainly because he was secretly jealous of him! After Qui-Gon was killed, Obi-Wan took Anakin in as his apprentice to fulfill his mentor's dying wish! He often clashed with Anakin for his frequent disobedience, as well as his impulsive and prideful attitude! However, Obi-Wan secretly always defended Anakin at every turn and always found a way to make Anakin's mistakes his own! He was also the first to insist that Anakin be made a Jedi Knight! In the first year of the Clone Wars, Obi-Wan came to secretly suspect that Anakin and Padmé were having an affair! He was only partly correct, as it was unknown to him that the two were in fact married! He never revealed his suspicions to the Jedi Council, proving just how loyal he truly was to Anakin! When Obi-Wan discovered that Padmé was pregnant, he quickly figured out that Anakin was the father of her unborn child, unknown to him at the time Padmé was in fact pregnant with twins! When Anakin turned to the dark side and became Darth Vader, Obi-Wan was heartbroken and only resolved to fight Vader because Yoda ordered him to do it! During their duel on Mustafar, Obi-Wan kept trying to find a trace of his former apprentice in the monster he had become, but it was in vain and he eventually accepted that Anakin was apparently gone! After Obi-Wan dismembered Vader and won the duel, he could not bring himself to murder his defenseless enemy in cold blood, and remorsefully left Vader to be consumed by the flames of Mustafar!

The truth is Obi-Wan didn't really see Anakin and Vader as the same person, in his mind Anakin Skywalker the one who he looked upon and loved like a brother died on that fateful day on Mustafar and all that remained in the flesh that was once his best friend and young and loyal Padawan was the twisted and evil Sith Lord Darth Vader, and in a way he was right, Anakin and Vader were truly completely different personalities who didn't want anything to do with one another. Any doubts Anakin had about his former Master have long since been resolved. Obi-Wan loved him since the beginning of his training.

Anakin continues his walk on the beautiful planet, wishing to approach one thing in the false hope he is able to put thoughts of Padmé at peace.

Padmé mausoleum was the final resting place of Padmé after her death. Padmé's corpse, in spite of Naboo custom requiring cremation of the deceased, was contained within a rectangular sarcophagus decorated with the stylized emblem of Naboo, and a soft-colored stained-glass window showed the image of the deceased. On either side of the sarcophagus, a stone pot filled with red flowers stood on a column.

Sometime after the duel on Cloud City, Vader visited Naboo in his quest for revenge against those who hid the existence of Luke and was ambushed by the Amidalans before reaching the tomb. Before he could enter, however, Vader was stopped by Sabé, Eirtaé, Rabé, Saché, and Dormé, and the other former handmaidens, who refused to let him enter into the grave so he would not desecrate it.

However, Vader would not be denied. As he entered the tomb, he became flooded with memories of Padmé. Eventually, ZED-6-7 performed a scan, finding a med implant that had a traceable stamp that led them to Polis Massa. Sabé would also leave the tomb, telling her forces to continue to pursue Vader. By the Force, why did he intend to kill the woman who was willing to die for Padmé? He would tell them the truth, though they would hate his existence. They are people who he will protect to no end.

Thoughts of Luke continue to invade him. The boy who convinced him to see reality and to turn away from the path of the dark! Luke Skywalker is ultimately a better man than he'll ever be, thanks to Obi-Wan no doubt.

He would also apologize to Leia, even though she might spat on him, even though she would hate him.

He is use to people rejecting him; his mother rejected him staying behind, his former Master rejected telling him the truth about his deception, his former Padawan rejected him when offered to rejoin the Jedi Order, the Jedi Council rejecting to grant him the rank of Master, the Korun Master of the Order rejecting him when he was going to arrest Sidious, his wife rejecting him when he had offered her all of the power in the universe, his former Master rejecting in seeing his side, his then-current Master rejecting in teaching him the way to save his wife from death, his former Padawan rejecting him on Malachor, and-and the most painful of them all; even more than his wife rejecting him...

In the former version of Vader's point of view, Luke rejecting him and becoming suicidal. He'd messed his son-his dear inexperienced son up mentally and physically. And yet, Luke had managed to redeem him from the abyss of darkness and bringing the light out of him, the light that inevitably saved the galaxy. The Force's final will of him so all of those victims of the Empire be avenged.

It is then he feels it. Through the Force, he could sense the Jedi moving through the galaxy as if he had never struck them down many years ago with his trusted legion. He could also feel the dark side, and he could sense his old Master.

Darth Sidious.

Is it possible that his former Master survived his betrayal on the second Death Star? Anakin wouldn't put it past the old man. After all, he was able to clone his former apprentice, Galen Marek; the Emperor had miscalculated Vader, he had entrusted his secret allies to keep a watch over his former Master so when he had attempted his old tricks once Vader struck down, he would have been able to halt it from occurring. Most of his agents are loyal to Vader and had detested the Emperor and was willing to watch him plunged his crimson lightsaber into his back while he would destroy others who were loyal to his former Master for any excuse and also wouldn't share his plans to overthrow Sidious publicly for those of the Empire who was strictly loyal to Sidious to be informed.

But Anakin has reached the conclusion fairly quickly, there is something off about this whole incident; and that is proven by the fact that he had sensed a presence, a presence he hasn't felt since... since...


With all of these questions and dilemmas going through his head, Anakin did the only thing he could do; he falls onto his knees and begins to delve deep into meditation, calling off neither side of the Force but the Force itself.

"Am I'm in the afterlife?"

The Force rings with denial, surprising Anakin. He had believed that he was in the afterlife along with his brother and the rest of the Jedi. But how can he sense the Jedi that died and never learned to become one with the Force?

"Am I'm alive?"

The Force rings with acknowledgment, again surprising Anakin. Ho-how? He had died on the second Death Star unless-

"Have I time traveled?"

The Force rings, again, with acknowledgment, much to his shock. So, the Force has chosen to take him back in time?

He didn't know precisely what to feel, except surprise that is. Relief perhaps? Solemness?

All of the people who he had watched perished before and after his fall to the dark side presences flashes right through his senses, though of course, they are much younger! They didn't have to encounter the traumatic realities of war, death, and brutality!

All of those who died before can survive and live either better or worse lives. Slight joy boil up inside of him; his-his mother, Padmé, Cordé, Teckla, and many of his loyal former men in the 501st.

But there is still a problem for him that presents itself... his younger self. Although Anakin would prefer to stay as the name, Anakin, he cannot allow the Jedi or Palpatine to discover the truth and enclose his identity to their Order or the Republic. So the name of Darth/Lord Vader will do for now and for as long as he is in this time. His symbolism will be known as Darth Vader, despite how the Jedi and the Sith would attempt to track down his backstory and how or why he came here now.

From here on out, Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker are different people in all but blood and soul.

Now his thoughts went to other matters...

The exact symbolic meaning of the Death Star is ambiguous, though it is certainly a symbol of evil. On one hand, the Death Star is a virtually blasphemous instance of the worship of technology over nature. The station is the size of a moon, an artificial world with enough firepower to obliterate a real planet with one shot. When Motti makes the mistake of calling the station "the ultimate power in the universe" in Vader's presence, however, Vader swiftly corrects him, first by reminding him that his "technological terror" is nothing compared to the Force, and then by force-choking the man into submission. On the other hand, Vader himself is something of a "technological terror," and the Emperor, the ultimate voice of the dark side of the Force, is quite fond of his Death Stars, so the opposition is not complete. In the end, the Death Star represents the innate fragility of even the most potent technology. Just as the Ewoks are unexpectedly able to defeat the Emperor's legion, so are the Death Stars destroyed by unsuspected forces technology could never prepare for. Both of the Death Stars were destined to be destroyed; they were technologies nightmares waiting to happen. Were the Empire under Vader's control, they would have never been constructed.

Now, Vader has traveled through time, having bend the Force to his will, but also listening to its commands like a Jedi and not attempting to control it completely as the Sith do, he can decide how things play out in this time line.

Anakin Skywalker shall be more controlling of his emotions; he wouldn't be a failure of a normal Jedi in the Jedi Council's viewpoints while Sidious attempts to corrupt him. He shall have a Master who is not too blinded by the Code, cringing slightly since he offers completely no offense intended to Obi-Wan.

Vader's thoughts immediately went to Obi-Wan, his older brother who he can spare burdens. While it had taken a while, they have talked it out and place aside their differences and their bond only grew ever the strongest. Death is certainly not an option which means he has to break Kenobi of the Jedi Code. It is only right. Kenobi did help him become one with the Force and to break him away from the arrogance of the Jedi Order would only be right. Ultimately, Vader can't ever kill the fool.

Then there is the Jedi Council. Despite his misgivings, Vader can't find it within himself to completely forgive the Jedi Order that treated him like the garbage, that faked Obi-Wan's death without hesitation, that expelled Ahsoka from the Order and was more than willing to allow her be executed, that stood by and did nothing while the Republic's corruption ran deeper. In spite of this, he doesn't wish their collapse, just a new ascension.

It is then Vader hears it, and he feels bile rising; it was battalions of battle droids marching down upon the city of Theed, and although their actions are unseen from his eyes due to him being in the field, he already knows what is occurring. The Trade Federation shall take over the planet. Due to glitches in the battle droid's programming, particularly in threat recognition, a number of unarmed citizens will be mistakenly gunned down. Although Vader couldn't, much to his sorrow, prevent all catastrophes by those incompetent droids, he could at least assure his future wife would survive since the last thing he needs is for her to die in some cruel twist and there shall be more survivors. He can ensure some of those who had witnessed horrible things wouldn't suffer for it in year's times.

There were always visions in his mind about what his life could have been, had he chosen Padmé and the light over Sidious and the life of darkness in his time as Dark Lord. He would have been with Luke and Leia, been able to meet his grandchildren in the flesh, and not be the monster he is.

The light side and the dark side of the Force circulates around him like a maelstrom, unmistakable darkness, coldness, passion, yet there is a light as well, mercy, harmony, fairness, and affection, and a beast all swaddle up in one solitary semblance within the midstream of his being. Minus his grievances with his actions, he has achieved balance in his universe and he shall do so again in this one with the Chosen One of this universe. Both sides of the Force have been at war with each other for far too long. Regardless should the Jedi will survey him as a threat to their Order and the Sith attempts to cleanse him of the galaxy, Vader shall see to it that the Force is balanced at the end. He shall travel across the galaxy, searching for the knowledge of ancient Jedi and Sith that both Orders attempt to hide away or is forgotten in history.

The Jedi wields the belief that the Force in balance is purely light - no darkness at all. They believe it is the Sith and other dark side users who twist the otherwise natural light side of the Force to create the dark side, which they believe follows their will instead of them following the Will of the Force. The relationship of darkness to light is not Manichaean - where both sides are equally strong and necessary for existence they claim. The dark side does not need to exist for pure harmony, they claim.

However, for years, or for perhaps over many decades, the Force was waiting for its wielder to complete the challenge of balancing both the light and dark and to bring real balance to the universe. Many like Revan, Darth Traya, and Jolee Bindo nearly completed among the living yet in the end they had failed as they had never truly understood the great mysteries or completed their original goals. Who knows how long the Sith or - unintentionally - the Jedi unbalanced the Force?

The Force has been searching for one for many years, and it appears that they have its entity; a different version of the Chosen One yet in his prime once more. Someone who can morph this version of the Chosen One someone far more powerful and fulfill in traversing the Jedi Order into a new direction all the while amending the mistakes he'd once made.

The Force is out of balance, and Vader shall see to it that this is revised, that the light side and the dark side are balanced, and that the two sides of the Force's conflict be put at an end. This pointless battle between the light and darkness has been going on for thousands of years, harming the innocents, and now it is time for Vader to truly bring balance to the Force and the galaxy. Unquestionably, Luke and Leia will in the other timeline but this is a timeline not yet traversed, resting in his hands.

Luke came close to achieving true balance yet he is a Jedi to no end, someone who unfortunately may never understand the great mystery. Eventually, someone may or someone may not and the Jedi Order may collapse once more. Despite Luke almost achieving balance, by the time he may be successful, he would be extremely old or dead. It adds salt to his battered heart and part of him wishes that he was transformed back into his son's time where he could help him, but the Force does not will for that to happen, and he shall respect the ways of the Force in spite of his disagreements with its choices or what he wishes to happen.

He is nobody's Master nor student now. He only serves the Force; the light side and dark side both. He is not a Jedi nor Sith; perhaps some shall refer to him as a Gray Jedi? Well, that hypothesis isn't altogether inaccurate since he serves shades of Gray.

Closing his eyes in deep meditation, it is time for the galaxy to be shift in a new direction, time for balance to be accomplished at long last. Vader opens himself up to the Force and allows his presence to be known across the galaxy; the light side and the dark side vibrating through the galaxy. He is the Master of the Force, the Force's source, the Force's embodiment, and the Force's vessel.

Eventually, in many years coming, Vader shall see to it that Anakin Skywalker shall be as well.

The Force itself willingly proclaims Darth Vader's arrival to the galaxy.

Obi-Wan Kenobi sits hunch over the controls of the bongo, familiarizing himself with their functions as Jar Jar Binks, position next to him, rambles on and on about nothing. Qui-Gon sits in the shadows behind them, silent and watchful.

"Dis is nutsen!" Jar Jar moans as the bongo motors steadily away from the shimmering lighted bubbles of Otoh Gunga and deeper into the waters of Naboo.

The bongo is an ungainly little underwater craft that consisted mostly of an electrical power plant, guidance system, and passenger seating. It looks somewhat like a species of squid, having flat, swept-back fins and aft tentacles that rotate to propel the craft. Three bubble-canopied passenger compartments are arrange symmetrically, one on each wing and the third forward on the nose.

The Jedi and the Gungan occupy the nose compartment, where Obi-Wan had assumed command of the controls, and Jar Jar had been instructed to start directing them through the core. It seems that there were underwater passageways all through the planet, and if you were able to locate the right one, you could cut travel time considerably.

'Or in the alternative,' Obi-Wan thinks darkly, 'you could cut your own throat.'

"We doomed," Jar Jar mutters plaintively. His flat-billed face lifts away from the directional guidance system toward the Jedi, his long ears swaying like ridiculous flaps. "Heydey ho? Where we goen, Cap'n Quiggon?"

"You're the navigator," Qui-Gon observes.

Jar Jar shakes his head. "Me? Yous dreaming. Don't know nutten 'bout dis, me."

Qui-Gon places a hand on the Gungan's shoulder. "Just relax, my friend. The Force will guide us."

"Da Force? What tis da Force?" Jar Jar did not look impressed. "Maxibig thing, dis Force, yous betcha. Gonna save me, yous, all us, huh?"

Obi-Wan closes his eyes in dismay. This is a disaster waiting to happen. But it is Qui-Gon's disaster to manage. It is not his place to interfere. Qui-Gon had made the decision to bring Jar Jar Binks along, after all. Not because he was a skilled navigator or had displayed even the slightest evidence of talent in any other regard, but because he is another project that Qui-Gon, with his persistent disregard for the dictates of the Council, had determined had value and could be reclaimed.

It is a preoccupation that both mystifies and frustrates Obi-Wan. His mentor is perhaps the greatest Jedi alive, a commanding presence at Council, a strong and brave warrior who refuses to be intimidated by even the most daunting challenge, and a good and kind man. Maybe it is the latter that does get him into so much trouble. He repeatedly defies the Council in matters that Obi-Wan thought barely worthy of championing. He possesses of his own peculiar vision of a Jedi's purpose, of the nature of his service, and of the causes, he should undertake, and he follows that vision with unwavering single-mindedness.

Obi-Wan is young and impatient, headstrong, and not yet at one with the Force in the way that Qui-Gon is, but he understands better, he thought, the dangers of overreaching, of taking on too many tasks. Qui-Gon will dare anything when he finds a challenge that interests him, even if he risks himself in the undertaking.

So it is here. Jar Jar Binks is a risk of the greatest magnitude, and there is no reason to think that embracing such a risk would reap even the smallest reward.

The Gungan mutters some more, all the while casting about through the viewport as if seeking a road sign that would allow him to at least pretend he knew what he was doing. Obi-Wan grits his teeth. Stay out of it, he told himself sternly. Stay out of it.

"Here, take over," he snaps at Jar Jar.

He moves out of his seat to kneel close to Qui-Gon. "Master," he said, unable to help himself, "why do you keep dragging these pathetic life-forms along with us when they are of so little use?"

Qui-Gon Jinn smiles faintly. "He seems that way now perhaps, but you must look deeper, Obi-Wan."

"I've looked deep enough, and there is nothing to see!" Obi-Wan flushes with irritation. "He is an unneeded distraction!"

"Maybe for the moment. But that may change with time." Obi-Wan starts to say some more, but the Jedi Master cuts him short. "Listen to me, my young Padawan. There are secrets hidden in the Force that are not easily discovered. The Force is vast and pervasive, and all living things are a part of it. It is not always apparent what their purpose is, however. Sometimes that purpose must be sensed first in order that it may be revealed later."

Obi-Wan's young face clouded. "Some secrets are best left concealed, Master." He shakes his head. "Besides, why must you always be the one to do the uncovering? You know how the Council feels about these... detours. Perhaps, just once, the uncovering should be left to someone else."

Qui-Gon looks suddenly sad. "No, Obi-Wan. Secrets must be exposed when found. Detours must be taken when encountered. And if you are the one who stands at the crossroads or the place of concealment, you must never leave it to another to act in your place."

The last of the lights from Otoh Gunga disappears in a wash of murkiness, and the waters closes around them in a dark cloud. Jar Jar Binks is taking the craft ahead at a slow, steady speed, no longer muttering or squirming, his hands fix on the controls. He flips on the lights as darkness closes in, and the broad yellow beams reveal vast stretches of multicolored coral weaving and twisting away through the black.

"I respect your judgment in this, Master," Obi-Wan said finally. "But it doesn't stop me from worrying."

Like all of the Jedi Knights, Obi-Wan Kenobi had been identified and claimed early in his life from his birth parents. He no longer remembers anything of them now; the Jedi Knights had become his family. Of those, he is closest to Qui-Gon, his mentor for more than a dozen years, who had become his most trusted friend.

Qui-Gon understands his attachment and shares it. Obi-Wan is the son he would never have. He is the future he would leave behind when he died. His hopes for Obi-Wan are enormous, but he did not always share his student's beliefs.

"Be patient with me, Obi-Wan," he replies softly. "A little faith sometimes goes a long way."

The bongo navigates a coral tunnel, the bridge work revealed in deep fissures of crimson and mauve in the glow of the little craft's lights. All about, brightly colored fish swam in schools through the craggy rock.

"Are the Gungans and the Naboo at war with each other?" Qui-Gon asks Jar Jar thoughtfully.

The Gungan shakes his head. "No war. Naboo and Gungans don't fight. Long time ago, mebbe. Now, Naboo keep outta swamp, Gungans keep outta plains. Dey don't even see each other."

"But they don't like each other?" the Jedi Master presses.

Jar Jar snorts. "Da Naboo gOtta. big heads, alla time think dey so much better den da Gungans! Big nuttens!"

Obi-Wan bends over Jar Jar Binks, his eyes direct out the viewport. "Why were you banished, Jar Jar?" he asks.

The Gungan makes a series of small smacking sounds with his bill lips. "Tis kinda long story, but keeping dis short, me... oh, oh, ahhh... kinda clumsy."

"You were banished because you're clumsy?" Obi-Wan exclaims in disbelief.

The bongo turns down through an open stretch of water between two huge coral shelves. Neither the Jedi nor the Gungan sees the dark shape that detaches itself from the larger outcropping and begins to track them.

Jar Jar squirms. "Me cause mebbe one or two little bitty axaudents. Boom da gasser, crash der Bosses' heyblibber. Den dey '-! banish me." '!

Obi-Wan is not entirely sure what Jar Jar is telling him. But before he could ask for clarification, there is a loud thump as something struck the bongo, causing it to lurch sharply to one side. A huge crustacean with multiple legs and massive jaws rings with teeth hooks them with its long tongue and is drawing them steadily toward its widespread maw.

"Opee sea killer!" Jar Jar cries in dismay. "We doomed!"

"Full speed ahead, Jar Jar!" Qui-Gon orders quickly, watching the jaws open behind them.

But instead of pushing the throttles forward, Jar Jar panics and jams them into reverse, causing the little ship to fly directly into the mouth of their attacker. The bongo slams into the back of the monster's throat with a heavy thump that sent the Jedi reeling over the seats and into the walls. Rows of jags teeth begins to close about them as the lights on the control panel flicker uncertainly.

"Oh, oh," Jar Jar Binks says.

Obi-Wan leaps quickly back into the copilot's seat. "Here, give me the controls!"

He seizes the throttles and steering apparatus and shoves everything into forward, full speed ahead. To his surprise, the opee sea killer's mouth opens with a spasmodic jerk, and they shot through its teeth as if from a laser cannon.

"We free! We free!" Jar Jar is jumping about in his seat, ecstatic over their good fortune.

But a quick glance back reveals that they were lucky for a different reason than they thought. The opee sea killer is caught in the jaws of a creature so huge that it dwarfed even the beast it is eating. A long, eel-like hunter with claw forelegs, rear fins, and a wicked pair of jaws was crunching the sea killer into tiny bits and swallowing it down eagerly.

"Sando aqua monster, oh, oh!" Jar Jar Binks moans, burying his face in his hands.

Obi-Wan increases power, trying to put more distance between themselves and this newest threat. The sando aqua monster disappears behind them, but the lights of the bongo are flickering ominously. The little craft dives deeper, penetrating the planet's core. Suddenly something explode inside a control panel behind them, showering the cabin with sparks. Seams split overhead, and water begins leaking through the bongo's outer skin.

"Master," Obi-Wan said as the power-drive whine took a sudden dive, "we're losing power."

Qui-Gon is working over the trouble control panel, head lower. "Stay calm. We're not in trouble yet."

"Not yet!" Jar Jar had lost all pretense of calm and is flailing about in his seat. "Monstairs out dere! Leakin in here. We sinkin with no power! Yous nuts! When yous think we in trubble?"

With that, the lights inside the bongo went completely black. Jar Jar Binks had his answer.

Inside the troubled bongo, Obi-Wan fights to keep control as the little craft begins to drift aimlessly.

Abruptly, the whine of the power drive comes alive and the aft drive fins begins to turn. "Power's back," Obi-Wan breathes gratefully.

The lights on the control panels blink on, flicker, and steadies. The exterior directional lights follow, momentarily blinding them as they reflect off rock walls and jagged outcroppings. Then Jar Jar screams. A new monster is sitting right in front of them, all spines and scales and teeth, crooked clawed forelegs raise defensively.

"Colo claw fish!" the Gungan shrieks. "Yous Jedi do something! Where da Force now, you think?"

"Relax," Qui-Gon Jinn says softly, placing his hand on Jar Jar's twitching shoulder. The Gungan jerks and promptly faint.

"You overdid it," Obi-Wan observes, wheeling the bongo about and jetting away through the darkness. Even without looking, he knows the colo claw fish is in pursuit. They are inside a tunnel that probably serves as the creature's lair. They are lucky to have caught it by surprise. He angles the bongo toward the cave entrance and a series of overhangs that might provide them with a little protection on their way out. Something slams into the bongo, hold it fast momentarily, then released it. Obi-Wan increases power to the drive fins.

"Come on, come on!" he breathes softly.

They shot out of the cave directly into the jaws of the waiting sando aqua monster. The creature jerks back at the unexpected invasion, giving Obi-Wan just an instant to bank their craft hard to the right. The jaws of the aqua monster are still open as they speeds between teeth the size of buildings.

Jar Jar's eyes flickers open. He catches sight of the teeth and promptly faint again.

Out through a gap in the sando aqua monster's fangs they speeds, the bongo shaking with the thrust of its power drive. But the colo claw fish, still in pursuit, did not veer aside quickly enough and flies right into the larger hunter's maw. The jaws comes down, engulfing it.

Obi-Wan increases power to the drive fins as bits of the colo claw fish reemerges briefly through the sando aqua monster's grinding teeth, only to be suck quickly from sight again.

"Let's hope that's all the snack he requires," the Jedi observes with a quick glance back.

Apparently, it is, because it did not come after them. It take a while to revive Jar Jar and a good deal longer to complete their voyage through the core, but with the Gungan's somewhat questionable help, they finally emerge from the darkness of the deeper waters toward a blaze of sunlight. The bongo pops to the surface of an azure body of water, green hills and trees rising about them, clouds and blue sky overhead. Obi-Wan steers the little craft to the nearest shore, shuts down the engines, and releases the nose hatch. Qui-Gon rises and looks around.

"We safe now," Jar Jar observes with a grateful sigh, leaning back in his seat. "Tis okeday, hey?"

"That remains to be seen," the Jedi Master said. "Let's be off."

He climbs from the bongo onto the shore and starts away. Obi-Wan glances meaningfully at Jar Jar and follows.

The Gungan stares doubtfully after the departing Jedi. "Me comen, me comen," he mutters, and hurries after.

Suddenly, Obi-Wan comes to a stop and clutches the right side of his head. Qui-Gon feels it in under a second after his protege as well and clutches his head. A balanced if not conflicted presence, constraining both light and dark, echoes through the Force. This presence caught them completely off-guard.

"What is that?" The Jedi Padawan inquires, uncertain who this individual is that send a waver through the Force.

His Master is quiet for the next moment, running his finger through his beard for a moment, unmistakably in deep thought and attempting to reach out with the Force to track down who caused this waver through the Force.

"I don't know, but I have my suspicions. Let's proceed carefully." the Maverick Jedi Master replies, not able to come to a proper conclusion but several theories is continously flashing through his head.

The Jedi Grand Temple, also known as the Jedi Temple, is the home of the Jedi Order—an order of Force-sensitive peacekeepers united in their adherence to the Jedi Code and the light side of the Force. In addition to its role as the central hub of all Jedi activities throughout the galaxy, the Temple functions as a monastery for Jedi Knights and Jedi Masters as well as a school for the training of Padawans and initiates. As the headquarters of the Order, the Temple is the location of several key areas such as the Holocron Vault, which houses the Order's closely guarded secrets; the Jedi Archives, the largest repository of information; and the Jedi Council Chamber, where the ruling Jedi High Council convened to ponder galactic events and determine the will of the Force.

Constructed by the Four Masters millennia before, the Temple was rebuilt and expanded several times over the centuries.

The Coruscant Temple's origins date back to when, at the beginning of the Great Hyperspace War, the Galactic Republic granted the Jedi land on Coruscant over the sacred spire, which contained a Force nexus. A holy place for the local Coruscanti, the Republic hoped by granting the Order land they would build a massive fortress like those they had established on Ossus, Falang Minor, and Haashimut. However, the Order did not wish to entangle themselves with the politics of the capital or become a symbol of war and opted to build only a small meditative enclave. It wasn't until the Old Sith Wars saw the devastation of Ossus and the Great Jedi Library located there that the Order decided to re-establish its academy at the sacred spire. At the behest of the Order's wisest thinkers, the Four Masters began the painstaking task of building the Temple Ziggurat. Growing steadily for the next thousand years the Temple incorporated various pieces of historical works and architecture from their past, including tiles and stained-glass mosaics from the lost complex on Ossus.

Following the construction of the four Jedi Council spires, the Jedi High Council moved from their temporary meeting place and permanently relocated to the High Council Chamber at the top of the northwestern tower. As the Order became more and more tightly linked to the Republic they protected, the Order closed some of its satellite facilities and began moving all artifacts from Exis Station to the Temple's Archives. After the failed Jedi Conclave at Katarr, the Temple was abandoned as the remaining Jedi Knights went into hiding as Darth Nihilus and Darth Sion began the First Jedi Purge. Abandoned for only a brief period, the Jedi reorganized and returned to the Temple following the defeat of both the Sith Lords.

They survived and thrived as always, encountering small complications but growing ever stronger and powerful for over thousands of years.

For once in thousands of years, the Force immediately waves over them, the light side and the dark side surrounding them. Younglings who are in their classes, clutching their heads at feeling the enduring power of the dark side of the Force. Knights and Masters lean against the walls or wearily clutches their beds if they were in the quarters, a few even startling out of bed by the presence itself.

Short story short, the Temple is for once in thousands of years of peace in a panicking state, uncertain of what is going to happen or what to do next as someone extremely powerful with the Force made itself known to all Force Sensitives across the galaxy, catching them completely off-guard.

As Master Windu and Master Yoda enters the Council Chambers and sit down in their seats, the rest of the Jedi Masters soon joins them, their troubling states indicating they have felt this great presence too.

"This presence is strong with the Force. There is so much evil, darkness, corruption, coldness, yet there is a light as well, mercy, justice, harmony, fairness, and affection." Yarael Poof chooses to speak first.

At most, the Jedi dealt with a grayish aspect of the Order. Namely Dark Jedi or Jedi who went rogue to pursue different aspects of the Force. Those of such as Xanatos, but never did they felt such a great presence, almost as if the Force itself abandoned them for a second to succumb to a being.

"We don't know if they should be considered an adversary to this Order," Kit Fisto replies, his humorous state, for once, being replaced with a uncertain expression that borderlines on caution. That is extremely rare since he has always been known to have a sense of humor. "To touch both sides without succumbing to the dark side... has never occurred before except in the Prodigal Knight."

"There is no resisting the dark side," Evan Piell states bluntly. "The Prodigal Knight has ultimately let this Order of itself past down by breaking his vows and touching the dark side as much as he has. This one might have as well."

"My only conclusion... by my senses... is that this is the doing of a Sith Lord." Plo Koon spoke up, cocking his head to the right.

"Threatened, the Republic is, if the Sith are involved," Yoda observes in his soft, gravelly voice.

The others began to mutter anew among themselves. Nothing else was said, waiting them out. They had believed the Sith destroyed. They had believed them consumed by their own lust for power.

Mace Windu leans back heavily, his strong brow furrowing. "This is difficult to accept, Plo Koon. I do not understand how the Sith could have returned without us knowing."

"Hard to see, the dark side is," Yoda said with a small snort. "Discover who this individual is, we must."

"Perhaps he will reveal himself to the Jedi," Ki-Adi-Mundi suggests, still grimly uncertain.

"Nevertheless, we should interrogate them," Oppo Rancisis declares, frowning as he stares at his fellow Masters. "Perhaps meditation is required."

The Jedi Masters close their eyes, hoping to find a proper location that manages to single-handedly shake the entire Jedi Temple to the core without a direct attack.

"Not hiding their presence they are," Yaddle proclaims, keeping her eyes close. "Naboo they are on."

"Naboo? Isn't that where Master Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi went to deal with the issue involving the Trade Federation?" Saesee Tiin declares gravely.

Two of their own are in substantial danger at the moment. Even unfortunate, but the Queen of Naboo they are delegated to assist are also in greater danger.

"Yes," Mace Windu confirms. "The Queen may likely be his target. We would have to hope to the Force that either Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan stop this figure before they get to the Queen or the Queen manages to escape."

"I can't sense any signs of manipulation in this presence though," Kit Fisto makes another observation, placing a hand on his chin. "They have managed to throw most of the skilled Jedi Masters, Knights, and Padawans in this Temple off-balance. But I am unable to sense any hostile intentions against this Order."

Master Windu agrees. "All I can feel is violence yet peace." The Korun Master places his hand in front of his mouth. "But the dark side can blind the Jedi."

"This figure does pose a threat to the Order by merely touching the dark side, we should recommend bringing them in our Jedi Prism. Touching the dark side is dangerous!" Saesee Tiin declares.

Windu frowns at that thought. The Prism is a secret Jedi-run prison facility whose existence was only known to the Jedi Council and had been constructed during the Second Great Schism. It is usually a place used to house those who are unstable and poses a threat to the Jedi Order and the Galactic Republic.

"I'm still having a difficult time of considering this individual as a Sith," Ki-Adi-Mundi admits. "The Sith have been extinct for a thousand years. Why would they re-emerge now? Even someone this strong with the Force cannot be a Sith."

"We will have to see," Evan Piell says. "No matter, they touch and likely know the dark side. They are extremely powerful in the Force."

"Couldn't we assemble a team of Jedi to deal with this potential threat?" Ki-Adi-Mundi suggests timidly, unquestionably still certain that this presence is not the doing of the Sith.

"A Strike Team won't make it in time if this individual does indeed threatens the life of the Queen," Windu counters, placing his hand on his chin thoughtfully. "Unfortunately, we would have to trust in the Force that this figure wouldn't harm the Queen."

And all they could do is hope to the Force.

Returned from Ralltiir, Darth Maul sits cross-legged on the floor in the LiMerge Building while Darth Sidious debrief him. Having just terminated an irritating communication with the Neimoidians, Sidious is in no mood for games.

"The way you make it sound, my apprentice, it seems almost an indignity that none survived to spread the word of your massacre."

"Your orders were that none should, Master."

"Yes," Sidious says, continuing to circle him. "And not one of them proved a challenge?"

"No, Master."

"Not Sinya?"

"I decapitated the Twi'lek."

"Not Mighella?"

"My blade halved the Nightsister after she tried to defeat me with summoned Force-lightning."

Sidious pauses for a moment. "Not even Garyn?"


Sidious detects a note of hesitation. "No, what, Darth Maul?"

"I drowned him."

Touching his chin, Sidious stands where the Zabrak could see him. "Well, someone had to have dealt the wound you suffered to your left hand. Unless, of course, you gave it to yourself."

Maul clenches the black-gloved hand. "There is no pain where strength lies."

"I didn't inquire if the wound hurt. I asked who was responsible."

"Garyn," Maul said quietly.

Sidious feign surprise. "So he was something of a challenge. Being slightly Force-sensitive."

"He was nothing compared with the power of the dark side."

Sidious studies him. "Did you tell him as much, my apprentice? Answer honestly."

"He came to the conclusion."

"He identified you as a Sith. Did he assume, then, that you were a Sith Lord?"

Maul stares at the floor. "I—"

"You revealed that you answer to a Master. Am I correct?"

Maul forces himself to respond. "Yes, Master."

"And perhaps you went so far as to say something about the revenge of the Sith."

"I did, Master."

Sidious approaches him, his face contorted in anger. "And if by some marvel Garyn had managed to escape, or even defeat the one-being army that is Darth Maul, what repercussions might we be facing, apprentice?"

"I beg your forgiveness, Master."

"Perhaps you're not worthy of the Infiltrator, after all. The moment you allowed yourself to become distracted, the Black Sun leader cut open your hand."

Maul remains silent.

"I hope you thanked him before you killed him," Sidious went on, "because he taught you a valuable lesson. When you face someone strong in the Force you must remain focused—even when you're convinced that your opponent is incapacitated. Then is not the time to bask in the glory of your victory or draw out the moment. You must deliver a killing strike and be done with it. Reserve your self-praise for after the fact, or you will suffer more than a hand wound."

"I will remember, Master."

The silence attenuate. "I want you to leave Coruscant for the time being."

Maul looks up in alarm.

"Take the Infiltrator and your combat droids and return to your former home. There, train and meditate until I recall you."

"My lord, I beg—"

Sidious holds up his hands. "Enough! You executed the mission well, and I am pleased. Now learn from your mistake."

Maul rises slowly, bows his head once, and heads for the hangar.

Watching him leave, Sidious examines the nature of his unease.

Might he, in a similar situation, have given in to an urge to gloat and reveal his true identity?

Had he done so before killing Veruna? Had he felt compelled to come out from behind his mask? To be honest?

Or was Maul's revelation to Garyn nothing more than a symptom of the dark side's growing impatience, and its demand for full disclosure?

"Black Sun is in utter disorder," Palpatine told Hego Damask as they strolls among the sightseers that crowded Monument Plaza. Hundreds are cluster around the summit of Umate, which jutted from the center of the bowl-shaped park, and mixed-being groups of others were trailing tour guides toward the old Senate agora or the Galactic Museum. "Prince Xixor and Sise Fromm will inherit the dregs."

"Again, the Zabrak proves his value," the Muun declares calcutingly. "You trained him well."

"Perhaps not well enough," Palpatine said after a moment. "While I was questioning him about a wound he received, he confessed to having divulged his identity to Alexi Garyn."

Angling his masked face away from Palpatine, the Muun said, "Garyn is dead. What does it matter now?"

The Muun's flippant tone put Palpatine further on edge, but his composure held.

"This may be the last time I'm permitted to appear in public without armed escort," he said in a casual way. "When Queen Amidala informed me of Veruna's unexpected death, she mentioned that her new chief of security —a man named Panaka—will be taking unprecedented steps to ensure the safety of all Naboo diplomats. The Queen, for example, is to be surrounded by a clutch of handmaidens, all of whom resemble her to some extent."

"And you're be to chaperoned at all times?" the Muun asks. "That won't do."

"I'll convince Panaka otherwise."

They stopped to watch a group of younglings at play under one of the plaza's banners. Damask indicates a nearby bench, but Palpatine's disquiet wouldn't allow him to sit.

"Did the Queen express any concern about the presence of so many Trade Federation freighters?"

Palpatine shakes his head. "The fleet is holding at the edge of the system, awaiting word from me to jump to Naboo. As angry as Gunray is about the taxation legislation, I had to convince him that Naboo is significant enough to ensure galactic interest in the blockade. I assured him that Amidala will not allow her people to suffer, and that before a month has elapsed she will sign a treaty that will make Naboo and Naboo's plasma property of the Trade Federation."

The transpirator conceals Damask's smile, but it is clear that he liked what he heard. "While Valorum dithers, Senator Palpatine garners the sympathy of the electorate." He tracks Palpatine. "Is it not a measure of our success that we can award worlds as if they were mere business contracts?"

A group of well-dressed Twi'leks saunter by, gaping at Palpatine in recognition. That he should openly fraternize with a Muun is an indication of the power and influence of both beings.

It was Damask who had stressed the importance of their being seen together in public; and so, in the weeks since the Muun had arrived on Coruscant, they had dined on several occasions at the Manarai and other exclusive restaurants, and had attended recitals at both the Coruscant and Galaxies operas. Most recently they had been present at an elite gathering in 500 Republica, hosted by Senator Orn Free Taa, at which Damask had overheard the Rutian Twi'lek discussing plans to nominate Palpatine for the chancellorship. Next on their busy agenda was a political rally scheduled to take place on Coruscant's Perlemian Orbital Facility, where potential candidates for the office of Supreme Chancellor would have a chance to mingle with corporation executives, lobbyists, campaigners, and even some Jedi Masters.

"A blockade followed by an actual invasion isn't likely to win the Trade Federation any new allies," Damask is saying. "But if nothing else we'll be able to assess the performance of Gunray's droid army and make adjustments as necessary."

"Through their own carelessness, the Neimoidians managed to compromise their secret foundries on Eos and Alaris Prime," Palpatine said, letting some of his exasperation show.

Damask eye him. "For the moment, they have what they need. The acquisition of Naboo will demonstrate the failings of diplomacy, and prompt a sense of militancy among the Jedi." Keeping his gaze fixed on Palpatine, he adds, "In preparation for the coming war, we will relocate Baktoid Armor to Geonosis. Even then, however, we can't equip our allies with sufficient weapons to secure a quick victory. A drawn-out conflict will ensure a galaxy pounded to a pulp and eager to embrace us."

Palpatine finally sits down. "We still need to raise an army for the Jedi to command. But one that answers ultimately to the Supreme Chancellor."

"A grown army could be designed to do just that," Damask said.

Palpatine considers it. "It sounds too simple. Jedi are not easily taken by surprise. Honed for warfare, they will be even more difficult to ensnare."

"At the end of a long war, perhaps? With victory in sight?"

"To achieve that, both sides would have to be managed." Palpatine blows out his breath. "Even if a surprise attack could be launched, not every Jedi would be in the field."

"Only those suitable for combat would need concern us."

Palpatine breaks a long silence. "The Kaminoan cloners failed you once."

Damask acknowledges the statement with a nod. "Because I gave them a Yinchorri template. They told me then that your species might be easier to replicate."

"You'll contact them again?"

"This army must not be traced to us. But there is someone I might be able to persuade to place the initial order."

Palpatine waits, but Damask has nothing to add. The fact that he had said as much about the matter as he intended to say brought Palpatine full-circle to consternation. Abruptly, he stands and paces away from the bench.

"Instruct the Neimoidians to launch the blockade," Damask said to his back. "It's important that events be set in motion before the orbital facility congress." When Palpatine doesn't respond, he stands and follows him.

"What's troubling you, Sidious? Perhaps you feel that you've become nothing more than a messenger."

Palpatine whirls on him. "Yes, at times. But I know my place, and am content with it."

"What, then, has whipped you to a froth?"

"The Neimoidians," Palpatine said with sudden conviction. "In addition to Gunray, I have been dealing with three others: Haako, Daultay, and Monchar."

"I know Monchar slightly," Damask said. "He maintains a suite in the Kaldani Spires."

"He was absent when I last spoke with Gunray."

Suspicion blooms in the Muun's eyes, and he hisses, "Where were they, then?"

"Aboard their flagship. Gunray claimed that Monchar had taken ill as a result of rich food."

"But you know better."

Palpatine nods. "The sniveling toady knows about the blockade. I suspect that he's on the loose, and out for profit."

Damask's eyes flash yellow. "This is what happens when beings are promoted beyond their level of competence!"

Palpatine tense in anger.

"Not you," Damask said quickly. "Gunray and his ilk! The Force harrows and penalizes us for consorting with those too ignorant to appreciate and execute our designs!"

Palpatine takes comfort in the fact that even Damask had his limits. "I failed to heed your words about sudden reversals."

Damask frowns at him, then relax. "I ignore my own advice. The blockade must wait."

"I will recall Maul," Palpatine said, but he isn't finish with this conversation. A great disturbance of the Force has made itself known. He stares over at the Muun calculatingly before he continues. "You sense a new presence that just announced its presence to those across the galaxy?"

"Indeed," the Muun grins sadistically, clasping both hands together imperiously as he closes his eyes in what could have been mistaken for meditation, adding onto the Senator's foul mood. "This... Sith has intentions in correlating himself with the Queen of Naboo."

"We have a traitor in the Order of Bane and our ways?" Sidious asks with a calm front that is clearly requiring much force, that being proven by his clenched jaw and gritted teeth and his eyes becoming golden. "His task should be executing Kenobi and Jinn and eliminating her."

"My friend," Damask chuckles, "treachery is the way of the Sith. I can sense this being is not a traditionist of the old Sith way. No, they seek their own motivations and goals."

He revels in the Jedi's emotions that are obviously disconcerting in their Temple. The Jedi are uncertain of which action should be initiated with this new culmination. Thanks to the Jedi's own arrogance, the Sith has not only managed to infiltrate crucial ranks in the Senate but across the galaxy. From the Inner Rim to the Deep Core, to the unknown regions, there are Sith from ancient times.

He would give credit where credit is due, undeniably, this Sith is bold. The Jedi simultaneously wiped them all out to the point of extinction, but as always, the Sith rise from the shadows, generations after generations, befriending the Jedi, communicating with them, aligning themselves with them. But all this time, they were only growing powerful and stronger, learning from the flaws of the Sith of old and starting anew. Those fools are too domineering to see who is in front of them.

Yet, from within the shadows, it appears a Sith who has been trained by his Master to balance both the light and darkness has suddenly introduced himself to the Jedi, catching the Jedi promptly off-guard and sending a great disturbance. Descendants of Darth Vectivus and Kel'eth are no doubt as the light side Sith vanished from the face of the galaxy...

until... apparently now.

Yes, Damask muses, this will be an interesting turn of events.

Chapter Text

Nute Gunray stands in silence at the center of the palace throne room in the Naboo capital city of Theed and listens patiently as Governor Sio Bibble protests the Trade Federation's presence. Rune Haako stands at his side. Both wear their Federation robes of office and inscrutable expressions. Two dozen battle droids hold the Naboo occupants of the room at gunpoint. The city fell shortly after sunrise. There has been little resistance; the Naboo are a peaceful people. The Trade Federation invasion come as a surprise, and the droid army is inside the gates of the city before any substantial defense could be mounted. What few weapons have been confiscated and the Naboo removed to detention camps. Battle droids are combing the city even now to put an end to any lingering resistance.

Gunray resists a smile. Apparently, the Queen believes right up to the end that negotiations would prevail and the Senate would provide the people of Naboo with protection.

"It is bad enough, Viceroy, that you dare to disrupt transmissions between the Queen and Senator Palpatine while he is attempting to argue our cause before the Republic Senate, bad enough that you pretend that this blockade is a lawful action, but landing an entire army on our planet and occupying our cities is too outrageous for words."

Sio Bibble is a tall, balding man with a sharply pointed beard and an even sharper tongue. He holds the floor just at the moment, but Gunray is getting tired of listening to him. He glances at the other captives. Captain Panaka, the Queen's head of security, and four of the Queen's personal guards stand to one side, stripped of their weapons and helpless. Panaka is stone-faced and hard-eyed as he watches the Neimoidians. He is a big, powerfully built man with a dark, smooth face and quick eyes. The Neimoidian did not like the way those eyes are fixed on him.

The Queen sits upon her throne, surrounded by her handmaidens. She is serene and aloof, detached from everything as if what is taking place did not affect her, could not touch her in any way. She wears black, her white-painted face in sharp contrast to the black-feathered headdress that wraps and frames it. A gold chain lays across her regal brow and the red beauty mark split her lower lip.

She is consider beautiful, Gunray been told, but he has no sense of human beauty and by Neimoidian standards, she is simply colorless and small-featured.

What interests him is her youth. She is barely out of girlhood, certainly not a full-grown woman, and yet the people of Naboo had chosen her as their Queen. This isn't one of those monarchies where blood determined the right of rule and dynasties prevailed. The Naboo chooses the wisest among them as their ruler by popular acclaim, and Queen Amidala governs at the sufferance of her people. Why they would choose someone so young and naive is a mystery to him. From his point of view, it certainly hadn't served them well in this instance.

Governor Sio Bibble's voice echoes through the cavernous chamber, rising to the high, vaulted ceiling, bouncing off the smooth, sunlit walls. Theed is an opulent, prosperous city and the throne room reflects its history of success.

"Viceroy, I ask you point-blank." Sio Bibble is concluding his oration. "How do you intend to explain this invasion to the Senate?"

The Neimoidian's flat, reptilian countenance manages a small flicker of humor. "The Naboo and the Trade Federation will forge a treaty that will legitimize our occupation of Theed. I have been assured that such a treaty, once produced, will be quickly ratified by the Senate."

"A treaty?" the governor exclaims in astonishment. "In the face of this completely unlawful action?"

Amidala rises from her throne and steps forward, surrounded by her cloaked and hooded handmaidens. Her eyes are sharp with anger. "I will not cooperate."

Nute Gunray exchanges a glance with Rune Haako. "Now, now, Your Highness," he purrs. "Don't be too hasty with your pronouncements. You are not going to like what we have in store for your people. In time, their suffering will persuade you to see our point of view."

He turns away. "Enough talk." He beckons. "Commander?" Battle droid OOM-9 steps forward, narrow metal snout lowering slightly in response. "Process them," the viceroy orders.

OOM-9 signals for one of his sergeants to take over, metallic voice directing that the prisoners be taken to Camp Four. The battle droids herd the Queen, her handmaidens, Governor Bibble, Captain Panaka, and the Naboo guards from the room.

Nute Gunray's slit reddish-orange eyes follow them out, then shifts back to Haako and the room. He feels a deep sense of satisfaction take hold. Everything is going exactly as it should.

The sergeant and a dozen battle droids move the prisoners along the polish stone halls of the Theed palace and outside to where a series of terraced steps led downward through statuary and buttress work to a broad plaza. The plaza is filled with Federation tanks and battle droids and is empty of Naboo citizens. The tanks are squat, shovel-nosed vehicles with their main cannon mounted on a turret above and behind the cockpit and smaller blasters set low and to either side. They have the look of foraging beetles as they edge about the plaza's perimeter.

Beyond, the buildings of Theed stretch away toward the horizon, a vast sprawl of high stone walls, gilded domes, peak towers, and sculptured archways. Sunlight bathes the gleaning edifices, their architecture in counterpoint to the lush greenness of the planet. The rush of waterfalls and a bubble of fountains form a soft, distant backdrop to the strange silence created by the absence of the populace.

The prisoners are taken across the plaza past the Trade Federation machines of war. No one spoke. Even Governor Bibble has gone silent, his gray-bearded head lower in dark contemplation.

They depart the plaza and turn down a broad avenue that leads to the outskirts of the city and the newly constructed Trade Federation detention camps. STAPs hum overhead, shadows flitting off the walls of the buildings, metal shells gleaming as they dart away.

The droids just turn their prisoners down a quiet byway when their sergeant, who is leading the procession, brings them to an abrupt halt.

The handmaidens look. The guards look. The fake and real queen looks. Almost, out of nowhere, a hooded figure emerges, a black hood raise over their head which conceals his appearance, a strange mask covering the lower part of his face. Their armor seems uncomfortable and damaged but it doesn't appear to be holding them back, but it doesn't appear to successfully restrain the person who wears it, cerulean eyes staring intently.

"I'm afraid the Queen and her entire Entourage is coming with me," his voice booms, chills suddenly filling the hanger and causing the organics within the room to shiver almost naturally though there is a slight hiss in his voice.

The droid sergeant suddenly seems to remember where he was and what he is doing. He gestures to his soldiers. "Clear him away!"

Four of the battle droids move to obey. They just shift their weapons into firing position when the strange Jedi activates their lightsaber; a crimson one, and cut them into pieces in under half a second. As the shatter droids collapse, what they presume as the Jedi moves quickly to dispatch the others. Laser bolts are blocked, weapons are knocked aside, and the remaining droids are reduced to scrap metal.

The sergeant turns to flee, but the Jedi outstretches his hand, grasping the droid in mid-air before clenching his fist and the droid crushes up into little pieces.

Swiftly, the Naboo soldiers move to recover the fallen weapons, keeping a cautionary view on the exceptional being. He is intimidating, his physical form larger than all of them, a strange dark glory enough to make one shiver.

The looming tower that is the Jedi approaches, deactivating his lightsaber and clipping it onto his belt.

"It is an honor to meet you, your royal highness," he states in greeting. He always had a close acquaintanceship with the handmaidens and treated most of them like the 501st, most notably this one. He cringes slightly at his voice still sounding like it did on the second Death Star, like a snake hiss wheeze, sounding weaker and makes him feel less intimidating than those times.

For under a second, his eyes linger on Padmé in anguish before staring away, reminding himself she is no longer his angel and that he lost her in his pride. He mustn't unintentionally alert them yet that he knows who the real Queen is.

"The honor is all mine..." the fake queen begins.

"Vader. My name is Darth Vader, but my preference is simply Vader." He declares, keeping his senses up so if the Jedi choose to attack him, he would be ready to counter. "For the moment, we should move quickly to a less populated area to speak in privacy, your Highness."

The group moves to the nearby abandoned courtyard, and Vader catches Padmé eyeing him with caution. She likely wishes she can speak up to question him but she knows the risks of blowing her cover so Sabé will have to for her.

"Your skills are quite impressive. Did the Republic send you, Master Jedi? Are you the Jedi Ambassador that came here to negotiate with the Trade Federation?" Captain Panaka inquires, staring him over as if attempting to make his own interpretation of his own but failing much like many others.

"No," Vader replies. "I have no affiliation with the Republic nor the Jedi Order. My reasoning and motives are for my own. But for now, we must relocate you back to your Republic."

"How do we know you are not a threat?" Panaka inquires, eyes lingering on him suspiciously.

"Because I have saved the Queen and her entire entourage, and the more time you waste here with interrogating me, Captain, the more innocents die," Vader proclaims. "Or you could just remain behind here and I can escort them to Coruscant." There is an extra weight to his words.

Panaka offers no response so Vader takes the initiative.

"Captain, keep the Queen safe and wait until I return. Something must be done." Vader commands.

And with that, Vader is off. The entourage waits patiently for what felt like hours as a worried feeling fills their guts. Despite being armed, there are more battle droids in this palace that will be able to overwhelm them in sheer numbers.

Footsteps are suddenly heard, and they all aim their guns in the direction, believing the battle droids have already come to wipe them out. Surprisingly, two men stand directly in their way, both wearing loose robes over belted tunics, the taller with his hair worn long, the shorter with his cut to a thin braided pigtail. Their arms hang loosely at their sides, but they did not have the look of men who are unprepared.

For a moment, each group stares at the other in silence. Then the narrow face of a Gungan peeks out from behind the two robed figures, eyes wide and frightened.

Qui-Gon Jinn steps forward. "Are you Queen Amidala of the Naboo?" he asks the young woman in the feathered headdress.

The Queen hesitates. "Who are you?"

"Ambassadors from the Supreme Chancellor." The Jedi Master inclines his head slightly. "We seek an audience with you, Your Highness."

"The Queen and her entire entourage are with me," a voice spoke up, surprising all in the scene as one didn't have to be Force Sensitive to notice the tension suddenly forming in the atmosphere as they turn to see their mysterious ally. There is a strange something on his holster now that is clouded by his cloak, something that is unseeable. "Don't stand in my way, Jedi."

"Ambassadors, this is Darth Vader," the fake Queen greets the former Sith Lord, indicating her hand to Vader.

Qui-Gon narrows his eyes at the former Sith while Kenobi fixates him with a glare. Most notably, their hands are edging down towards their lightsabers, preparing to defend themselves.

"Why should we entrust you with the Queen and her entourage... my Lord?" Obi-Wan inquires, wanting to see if he can spite who they believe is a Sith.

"Spare me the titles," he responds, "to you, I am obviously Sith, but if I so wish, your lives would be claimed and the Queen would have signed the treaty or been dead. I maintain no aggression to the Jedi as long as you linger out of my way," Vader announces, walking carelessly and rudely past the Jedi Master and Padawan, showing both Force Users that their presence did not concern him. "Now, are you going to attack me, Jedi, or shall we evacuate before more battle droids arrive? Manifestly, I am not an ally to the Trade Federation. You are supposed to be peacekeepers. Assuredly, you wouldn't attack one for sharing different beliefs."

"Your kind have been killing the Jedi for thousands of years before they were purged!" Obi-Wan shouts angrily.

"My kind, Jedi, but am I to blame for things my ancestors do. Must a child be blamed for the crimes of a parent?" Vader counters.

They offer no response to that, for as much as they distaste it, they know he is correct. Still, unquestionably, this Sith would be the one behind this. He may act as a rescuer to the Queen to receive the position of power, but there is no proof of that. If the Jedi does indeed pull an arrest, the Senate will dismiss the case since the lack of evidence and the Naboo will not be exactly pleased with someone be falsely accused. Additionally, his aura is beyond powerful so they may not only lose but their lives would be claimed.

"Sith commit crimes. Like murder, or manufacturing fraudulent wars to consolidate power. Committing crimes and conquering people is part of your charter as an organization, and the Dark Side is defined as using the Force to perform acts of unnecessary cruelty for personal gain or spite." Qui-Gon counters, scowling at his back. "Such an organization will not change over thousands of years."

"Do not assume you know everything, Jedi," Vader responds brusquely, the Force itself adding extra magnetism to his words. "While other Siths maintain their own aspirations, I for one possess intentions to save this broken galaxy. Now unless you intend to continue soaking in my presence, we should depart."

Surprise comes across Qui-Gon's face as he can sense the truth in his words. While light side Sith occurred in ancient times, they apparently disappeared during the Cold Wars, all of them being purged. Is it possible a few manage to escape and continue their legacy?

It is simply impossible for the Jedi and Sith to coexist, if the Jedi allow the Sith to still be evil, they are being evil by allowing evil to survive. The Sith will just attempt to destroy the Jedi in the end. The Republic can maintain its security from the Sith with its own military to ensure they don't betray them in the process.

"We should work this out later," Qui-Gon finally yields, furrowing his brows as he stares at Vader and then Obi-Wan, planting his hand on the Jedi Padawan's shoulder to prevent conflict and provoking further argument.

"Your negotiations seem to have failed, Ambassador," Sio Bibble observes with a snort, obviously oblivious to the tension in the air but wishing to break it.

"The negotiations never took place." Qui-Gon keeps his eyes direct toward the Queen. Her painted face shows nothing. "Your Highness," he continues, "we must make contact with the Republic."

"We can't," Panaka volunteers, stepping forward. "They've knocked out all our communications."

An alarm is being given from somewhere close, and there is the sound of running. Qui-Gon glances toward the street where the battle droids lay.

"Do you possess indispensable transports, Captain?" Vader questions.

The Naboo captain nods, quick to see what the former Sith intends to do. "In the main hangar. This way."

He leads the little group to the end of the alleyway, where they cross to other passageways and backstreets, encountering no one. They move quickly and silently through the growing sound of alarms and the wicked buzz of STAPs. To their credit, the Naboo did not resist Vader's leadership nor dare to question his appearance. With Panaka and his men newly armed, the Naboo Queen and her companions had a sense of being in control of their own destiny once more and seemed more than ready to take a chance on their rescuers. For some reason, a substantial being such as Darth Vader leading them is more of a comforting thought since none would rather have him opposing them given that coldness that surrounds him. The battle droids possess fewer odds than they did mere hours ago.

It did not take them long to reach their destination. A series of connected buildings dominate one end of a broad causeway, each one dome and cavernous, the central structures ward by arch entrances and low, flat-walled outbuildings. Battle droids are station everywhere, weapons hold at the ready, but Captain Panaka is able to find an unguarded approach down a narrow corridor between adjoining buildings.

At a side door to the main hangar, Panaka brings the group to a halt. After a quick glance over his shoulder for droids, he unlocks and nudges open the hangar door. With Qui-Gon Jinn press close, he peers inside. A handful of Naboo ships are group at the center of the hangar, sleek gleaming transports, their noses point toward a wide opening in the far wall. Battle droids guard each positions themselves across the entire floor of the hangar to cut off any unseen approach.

Panaka points to a long, low ship on the far side of the hangar with swept-back wings and powerful Headon-5 engines. "The Queen's personal transport," he whispers to the Jedi Master.

Qui-Gon nods. A J-type 327 Nubian. In the distance, the alarms continue to sound their steady wail.

"That one will do," he says.

Panaka scans the hangar interior. "The battle droids. There are too many of them."

The Jedi eases back from the door. "That won't be a problem." He faces the Queen. "Your Highness. Under the circumstances, I suggest you come to Coruscant with us."

Vader prompts to remain silent and instead stands beside the fake Queen and her handmaidens. They were willing to protect him when he was younger and he is now willing to should they be spotted and a stray bullet comes for them. The handmaidens lives are more important to him than the guards, and the Jedi can defend themselves. Only Padmé would be the one who he would view as more important than the handmaidens.

The young woman shakes her head, the feathers on her headdress rustling softly. Her white-painted face is calm and her gaze steady. "Thank you, Ambassador, but my place is here with my people."

"I don't think so," Qui-Gon responds, locking eyes. "The Trade Federation has other plans. They will kill you if you stay."

Sio Bibble pushes to the Queen's side. "They wouldn't dare!"

"They need her to sign a treaty to make this invasion of theirs legal!" Captain Panaka points out. "They can't afford to kill her!"

"Just like they could not afford to imprison or kill millions of innocent natives on this planet," Vader speaks up at last. "Don't underestimate the Trade Federation. This is an assassination."

The Queen looks from face to face, the barest flicker of uncertainty showing in her eyes.

"The situation here is not what it seems," Qui-Gon presses. "There is something else going on, Your Highness. There is no logic to the Federation's actions. My instincts tell me they will destroy you."

A shadow of real alarm crosses Sio Bibble's face as the Jedi Master finishes. His strong features melt slightly. "Your Highness," he says slowly. "Perhaps you should reconsider. Our only hope is for the Senate to take our side in this matter. Senator Palpatine will need your help."

No one sees Vader clenching his hands up into fists at the last part.

Captain Panaka is having none of it. "Getting past their blockade is impossible, Your Highness-even if we were to get off the planet! An escape attempt is too dangerous-"

Vader corrects, "Nothing is impossible with the Force."

"Your Highness, I will stay here and do what I can," Sio Bibble declares, shaking his head at Panaka. "They will have to retain the Council of Governors in order to maintain some semblance of order. But you must leave-"

Queen Amidala brings up her hand sharply to silence the debate. Turning from her governor and head of security and the Jedi as well, she looks suddenly to her handmaidens, who are pressed close to her. "Either choice presents great risk to all of us..." she says softly, looking from face to face.

Perplexed, Qui-Gon watches the exchange. What is the Queen seeking?

The handmaidens glances at one another, faces barely visible within the confines of red and gold hooded robes. All are silent.

Finally, one speaks.

"We are brave, Your Highness," Padmé says firmly.

Through the Force, Vader could sense Sabé's satisfaction at being able to be in charge of Padmé. The handmaidens always quipped with one another. What is worse is that they always bantered and pranked Skywalker. Combined, they are worse, Padmé and Sabé, especially.

Alarms continue to sound. "If you are to leave, Your Highness, it must be now," Qui-Gon urges.

Fake Queen Amidala straightens and nods. "So be it. I will plead our case before the Senate." She glances at Sio Bibble. "Be careful, Governor."

She takes the governor's hand briefly, then beckons to three of her handmaidens. Those not chosen begin to cry softly. Fake Amidala embraces them and whispers words of encouragement. Captain Panaka selects two of the four guards to stay behind with Sio Bibble.

Vader knows the feelings between Yané and Saché's romantic affection shall begin to swell on this occupation. After her service as a handmaiden ended, when Padmé steps down from being queen, Yané bought a large house where she intended to take in children who had been displaced by the Occupation. Mariek Panaka had cousins living near the house, whom she volunteered to help Yané with getting the house furnished before she moved in. Saché, with whom she had a very close, romantic relationship, would also live in the house with her. Sometime after Padmé began work as a Republic senator, Yané began to foster a set of twins. Additionally, when Padmé stepped down, Saché ran for a seat in the Planetary Legislative Assembly and won. She moved into the house that Yané bought and worked closely with Sio Bibble, who was a friend and mentor to her. She also stayed in touch with Padmé and the other handmaidens. Sometime after Padmé became a Senator, Saché invited her and all of the handmaidens to a dinner party she hosted in the southwest hall in the Naboo royal palace. Only Yané was unable to attend, as she was home taking care of the twins.

Vader didn't have the heart to destroy that relationship. If they do not remain behind on Naboo, their feelings shall not swell. In reality, most of the people in this room deserve happier endings... all except him of course as he had destroyed that honor in having a good life. Child murderer. Butcher of the galaxy. All the titles everyone described him in his time as Dark Lord.

Vader tears out a datapad and hands it over to Sabé. "I had managed to hacked into their key points, their locations, and their plots with Naboo's database."

"How did you do that?" A handmaiden asks, eyes raise in curiosity. The one who asks is Rabé.

"Their intelligence is overly flawed at best. For example, B1 battle droids are less intelligent because they doesn't need to be smart, nor were they designed to be. As a matter of fact, they are originally designed to be coordinated by a Droid Control Ship which would coordinate and direct their strategy, fire patterns, and overall tactical movement." He replies, tipping his head at Qui-Gon Jinn.

The Jedi Master nods, almost as if they are communicating without any means of talking.

The Jedi and the former Sith moves through the side door and into the hangar, leading the way for Jar Jar and the Naboo.

"Stay close," Qui-Gon admonishes softly over his shoulder.

Captain Panaka moves next to him, face intense. "We need a pilot for the vessel." He points to where a group of Naboo is being hold captive in a corner of the hangar by a squad of battle droids. The insignia on their uniforms indicates a mix of guards, mechanics, and pilots. "There."

"I'll take care of it," Obi-Wan declares, and veers toward the Naboo captives.

'And he said I was reckless! Humph! Where does the idiot believe I get it from?!' Vader couldn't help but rage skittishly in his inner thoughts, remembering all of the times the same man reprimanded him whenever he went headfirst into battle without hesitation.

Without a word, Vader's outward response is a mere tilt of his head, offering no argument with Obi-Wan in perpetuating his plan, though the old man didn't see it. He has an assignment to do and would not quip to his former Master in the other timeline. Besides, he has no plans to form any friendship of any sort with Obi-Wan or Qui-Gon; he would protect them if he must but wish to maintain a distant relationship with them. Their bond must always remain reserved in order for their protection.

Vader, Qui-Gon, and the rest continue on, striding boldly across the hangar floor, moving directly toward the Queen's vessel, ignoring the battle droids who move to intercept them.

Qui-Gon takes note of the fact that the boarding ramp to the transport is lower. More battle droids are closing on them, curious without yet being alarmed. "Don't stop for anything," he warns the Queen, and he reaches beneath his cloak for the lightsaber.

They are barely twenty meters from the Queen's transport when the nearest of the battle droids challenges them, guns drawn but not aim threateningly.

One b1 battle droid commander approaches the former Sith, a squadron of battle droids behind their commander. Vader knows that the droids are meant to be disposable, that they are useless tools just like General Grievous, but still, their outdated designs irritate him. At least General Grievous was a respective warlord before the Jedi was able to analyze him, able to kill mere Masters during the beginning of the war, able to lead battalions of droids. He knows that Dooku and Sidious had to damage Grievous further in order for Grievous not to single-handedly end the war in a week.

Otherwise, Ahsoka and many others would have died at the beginning of her involvement with him during the war.

"Where are you going and who authorized you taking these prisoners?" it asks in its blank, metallic voice.

There is no indication that Vader would move.

There is no indication that Vader would proceed on an onslaught.

He didn't stiffen, he didn't give any reaction of any type that conveys wariness that most warriors would before attacking. Even the handmaidens or guards who trained endlessly couldn't see anything; they were trained to see blasters being pulled from miles away but not this. Even the Queen who is experienced enough in spotting with sharp eyes could not see this instantaneous attack. Not even the Jedi Master who stands beside him saw him.

A red plasma sprouts from his hand. They didn't even realize he had his blasted cylinder lightsaber hilt in his gloved hand.

This is a mere waste of time. And due to his time as a veteran, he knows this would only result in combat.

The droid's head is ejected from its humanoid shoulders in under a second and detaches on the ground. The other droids soon face the wrath of the living brute and are dispatch instantaneously. Vader is far more powerful than these insignificant battle droids and the ineptitude of the Trade Federation only adds more to his triumph.

Qui-Gon follows suit, activating his lightsaber as well, and begins dispatching the droids that Vader is utterly disregarding.

More of the battle droids rush to stop the former Sith and Jedi, who stood alone against them as their charges boarded the Nubian vessel. Captain Panaka and the Naboo guards form a protective screen for the Queen and her handmaidens as they hurry up the ramp. Jar Jar Binks clambers after, holding on to his head with his long arms. Laser bolts lance through the hangar from all directions, and new alarms blare wildly.

On the far side of the hangar, Obi-Wan Kenobi launches himself at the battle droids holding the Naboo pilots hostage, cutting into them with ferocious determination. Qui-Gon watches his progress, long hair flying out as he withstood yet another rush from the battle droids attempting to reclaim the Queen's transport, blocking their laser bolts as he fought to hold the boarding ramp. Obi-Wan is running toward him now, a handful of the Naboo in tow. Explosions rise all around them, deadly laser fire burning into metal and flesh. Several of the Naboo went down, but the battle droids are unable to slow the Jedi.

Given who they assume as Sith cutting the battle droids in different forms similar to a Jedi or Sith warlord, it is fairly easy for them to keep watch over the Naboo and to deflect the ever few shots that are sent their directions.

Vader outstretches his hand and tightens it up into a fist, bringing a battalion before him and quickly dispatching them in what the bystanders would see as a red beam.

Qui-Gon backs quickly up the loading ramp and into the transport's dimly lit interior.

In a single rhythm of his saber, Vader runs his crimson lightsaber through four battle droids before flicking his hand and crates flew at a platoon, crushing them immediately. He cares little for how much damage is done to the hanger; this is war, a couple of millions of dollars is insignificant next to how many Naboolians' lives were claimed. None is able to evade him.

Kenobi Force Pushes five droids against the wall, them destroying upon impact. Positioning himself into an Ataru form, Obi-Wan lunges towards a batch of the battle droids, hacking away at them endlessly. Admittedly, it is an odd scene for Vader since he is used to his brother utilizing the Soresu form, even after all of these years. Ataru never suits him best. He would have to make a mental note to assure he transit his form at a later date.

Vader is a juggernaut, cutting through battalions rapidly, his lightsaber driven by startling calm but barbarian movements. Whereas Anakin Skywalker would have been eager and arrogant and outright cocky, Vader had witness underestimating odds beforehand; the Phoenix Cell escaping him and the Devastation of Kashyyyk being evidence of that.

The Headon-5 engines are firing even before the Jedi Master reach the main cabin and flung himself into a chair. Laser fire hammers at the sides of the sleek craft, but it is already beginning to move forward. The pilot sits hunches forward over the controls, his weathered face intense, a sheen of sweat beading his forehead, hands steady on the controls.

"Hold on," he commands.

Reinforcements are storming down to the hangers, and Vader continues to mow down the battle droids in the hanger, a demonstration of a brute all together.

The Jedi Padawan races onboard, seeing their Sith ally can handle this, deactivating his lightsaber.

Shortly, two battle droids remain, firing at Vader and prompting him to raise his hand, throwing the blaster bolts to the side. A singular flick of his lightsaber disengages the left battle droid, and as the last battle droid fires, he simply deactivates his lightsaber, plants his lightsaber on his belt, and outstretch his hand, removes his leather, and blue tentacles of lightning suddenly retract from his left hand. The droid suddenly yelp in what is undoubtedly machinery's agony as Vader's blue tentacles of lightning pierces through the battle droid. The droid begins to disintegrate and is black charrs in under seconds.

Through the Force, he can sense shock from the passengers on the Nubian, and admittedly, he too is taken aback. He had known being one with the Force had granted him much power; the power that has been stripped from him when he'd lost to Obi-Wan on Mustafar. As a result of having artificial arms, Vader would never be able to conjure Sith lightning-nor be invulnerable to it and other such abilities. The second school, or focus, the Body, encompasses those abilities that draw from the living Force. They emanate from one own cell and affect the physical structures of others. For this reason, any cyborg limb or enhancement will hinder one ability to conjure the effects of the Body.

Vader was physically incapable of using it due to the lack of organic limbs. Moreover, he had taught such abilities to Galen by Sith Holocrons. Those lessons most likely rub off of him. Theoretically, the Force itself has welcomed its protege the attributes due to being one who truly touched different and unique sides of the Force. Vader isn't conclusive of that sentiment but it is the preeminent theory he could come up with at that moment.

Elegantly fixing his cape which has fallen out of place and over his chest piece, Vader hides his arms inwards and steps on board, the ramp closing behind him, the cloak concealing his hilt. He immediately catches the deadpanned faces of Kenobi and Jinn. He'd forgotten how limited the Jedi trained their students in the way of the Force as they believe going so far as even studying the dark leads down the path of the dark side.


Vader smirks, wishing he could see his brother's face from the great beyond, but for now, Obi-Wan of this time will suffice. Well, Obi-Wan always said he is exasperating.

If Vader does say so himself, he honestly is.

"I have touched the light side and the dark side, Jedi. Your Council refuses to allow for one to touch the dark side and shuns it, resulting in them failing themselves. The nerve of your Council claiming they know the true meaning of the Force astonishes me." Vader thunders composedly, actually hoping for a meeting with the Jedi Council. Their arrogance holds no bounds. The only one who shall be spare so far of his berating wrath at least at the moment is Qui-Gon Jinn. "Now step aside. We have other resolutions to be trivial with. And when you do contact your Jedi Council, tell them I shall grant an audience on the condition that I am not to be restrained."

"You-" Obi-Wan opens his mouth to argue but stop himself, "is willing to answer questions of the Jedi Council willingly?"

"Correct," Vader responds, grinning at the surprised expression across both Jedi's faces. "It's time for any misunderstandings to be amended. Knowing your Council, they wish to arrest me."

Obi-Wan scowls at his apprentice from another time. "The dark side is a poison. It will corrupt all of its wielders."

"Says you, cryptic Jedi," Vader replies, rolling his eyes. He'd always teased his brother by calling him beyond cryptic back in the afterlife. It is a hobby after all.

"I am hardly cryptic," Obi-Wan replies grimly.

Vader hums.

The Nubian shot through the hangar doors, ripping past battle droids and laser fire, lifting away from the city of Theed into the blue, sunlit sky. The planet of Naboo is left behind in seconds, the ship rising into the darkness of space, arcing toward a suddenly visible cluster of Trade Federation battleships blocking its way.

"Ric Olic," the other announces with a quick glance up at the Jedi. "Thanks for helping out back there."

Qui-Gon nods. "Better save your thanks until we deal with what's up here."

The pilot gives him a rakish grin. "Copy that. What do we do about these big boys? Our communications are still jammed."

"We're past the point of talking. Just keep the ship on course." Qui-Gon turns to Obi-Wan. "Make sure everyone is settled safely in place." His eyes move to where Jar Jar Binks is already up and poking about.

The younger Jedi moves quickly to take the Gungan in hand, propelling him forcibly through the main cabin door and into the entryway beyond. Ignoring Jar Jar's protests, he glances about somewhere to stash the bothersome creature. Catching sight of a low, cramping sentry with the words Astromech droids letters above, he releases the retaining latch and shoves the Gungan inside.

"Stay here," he directs with a meaningful look. "And keep out of trouble."

Jar Jar Binks watches the door close behind him, then glances around. A line of five R2 astromech droids stands against one wall, short, dome-topped, all-purpose mechanics painted different colors, their lights off, their engines quiet. Five identical units, each stout body positioned between two sturdy restraint arms, they give no indication of being aware of him. The Gungan ambles along in front of them, waiting to be noticed.

'Maybe they weren't activated,' he thinks. 'Maybe they aren't even alive.'

"Heydey ho, yous," he tries, hands gesturing. "Tis a long trip somewheres, hey?"

No response. Jar Jar taps the closest R2 unit, a bright red droid, on the head. The tap makes a hollow sound, and the head pops up a notch from the cylindrical body.

"Whoa!" Jar Jar says, surprise.

He glances around, wondering why the Jedi had put him down here when everyone else is up there.

'Nothing much to do down here,' he thought disconsolately. 'Nothing much happening.'

Curious, he grips the red droid's head and lifts gently. "Dis opens?" he whispers. He lifts some more. Something caught. He yanks hard. "Dis... ooops!"

The head lifts right out of its seating. Springs and wires pop out in a tangled mess. Jar Jar quickly jams the red droid's head back into place, easing his three-fingered hands away cautiously.

"Oh, oh, oh," Jar Jar murmurs, glancing about to make sure no one had seen, hugging himself worriedly.

He moves down the line of droids, still looking for something to occupy his time. He didn't want to be in this room, but he doesn't think he should try to leave, either. The younger Jedi, the one who had stuck him in here, didn't like him much as it is. The Jedi would like him a whole lot less if he caught Jar Jar sneaking out of this room.

Explosions sounded close by the transport. Cannon fire. The ship rocks in response to a series of near misses. Jar Jar looks about wildly, suddenly not liking where he was at all. Then the running lights begin to flicker, and the transport shook violently. Jar Jar moans and crouches down in a corner. More explosions sound, and the craft is buffeted from side to side.

"We doomed," the frightened Gungan mutters. "Tis bad'. business, dis."

Abruptly the ship begins to spin as if caught in a whirlpool. Jar Jar cries out, fastening his arms about a strut to keep from being thrown against the walls. The lights in the compartment all came on, and the droids are abruptly activated. One by one, they begin to whir and beep. Release from their restraints, they roll out of their racks toward an airlock at one end of the compartment-all but the red R2, who rolls directly into a wall and fell over, more parts tumbling out.

The R2 unit painted blue pauses as it motor by its red counterpart, then charges past Jar Jar, giving out a loud screech that caused the Gungan to jerk away in fright.

One after another, the four R2 units enter the airlock lift and are sucked up toward the top of the ship.

Left behind in the storage compartment with the droid he had unwittingly sabotage, Jar Jar Binks moans in despair.

Vader knows that none of the R2 units would secede past his R2. R2 is very loyal and courageous, and though he is not designed for combat, he is not afraid to fight when the situation demanded it. When forced into combat, R2 held his own by using his wide variety of mechanical features to serve as weapons, such as using oil to blind his opponents or make them slip, shocking them with his shock prod, tying them up in a cable, or simply bashing into them.

Despite tempted to help the crew, he had known they must crash on Tatooine. His younger self must be trained in the ways of the Jedi, but differently; by Jinn, not Kenobi.

He makes a mental note that he will assist them shortly when he feels there is enough damage to this ship.

Besides, a childish part of Vader wants to see how his younger self talking as he could only remember blabbering away at his angel.

Obi-Wan Kenobi re-enters the transport's cockpit when explosions begin to buffet the ship. He can see a huge Trade Federation battleship looming ahead through the viewport, cannons firing. The Queen's transport is rock so violently by the blasts that it is thrown from its trajectory. Ric Olie's glove hands are lock onto the steering grips, fighting to bring the slender craft back into line.

Vader approaches the cockpit, his composer in a calm state, almost as calm as the Jedi. Qui-Gon is admittedly surprised at how calm he is, due to the Sith being the ones who usually acted on their arrogance and impatience in recent history.

"We should abort, sir!" the pilot shouts at Vader, who is braced at his side, eyes fixed on the battleship. "Our deflector shields can't withstand much more of this!"

"Remain on course," the former Sith orders calmly.

Jinn nods at Vader, getting his idea, before he glances down at the controls. "Do you have a cloaking device?"

"This is not a warship!" Captain Panaka snaps, looking angry and betrayed. "We have no weapons, Ambassador! We're a nonviolent people, which is why the Trade Federation was brave enough to attack us in the first place!"

A series of explosions jars the Nubian, and the lights on the control panel flickers weakly. An alarm sounds, shrill and angry. The transport shudders, its power drive stalling momentarily in a high-pitched whine.

"No weapons," Qui-Gon Jinn breathes. Obi-Wan is next to him, feeling the weight of the other's gaze as it shifts to find him, steady and unwavering. One hand settles on Ric Olie's shoulder.

"The Trade Federation utilizes Pulser tracking for its armaments. Rotate the ship. It will make it laborious for them to get an interpretation on us." Vader adds exactly what's on Qui-Gon's mind though in a much different speech pattern. It is obvious he is experienced in these types of life-threatening situations.

The pilot nods, flips a series of levers, and puts the Nubian into a slow spin. Ahead, the battleship fills the viewport, then lost focus. The Queen's transport accelerates, racing toward the enemy craft, whipping past towers and gunports, bays and stabilizers, speeding down an alleyway of jagged metal protrusions and cannon fire. A laser bolt hammers into them, causing sparks and smoke to explode from one panel, sending the ship reeling. For a brief moment, they are tumbling out of control. Then Ric Olie pulls back hard on the controls, and the hull of the battleship recedes.

"Something's wrong," the pilot announces quietly, fighting the steering, feeling the ship shudder beneath. "Shields are down!"

They continue to spin, to hug the cavernous shell of the Trade Federation battleship, so close that the larger guns were rendered useless and only the smaller could chance to fire at them. But without shields, even a glancing hit could be disastrous.

"Sending out the repair crew!" Olie shouts and flips a lever.

On the viewscreen, an airlock snap open, and one by one a series of astromech droids pops out of the hatch and onto the transport's hull. The transport straightens and levels out, and the spinning stopped. The droids motor swiftly across the hull, seeking out the damage as Ric Olie hugs the battleship's shadow in an effort to protect them.

But now there is a new threat. Unable to bring the weapons of their warship to bear in an effective manner, the Trade Federation command dispatches a squad of starfighters. Small, sleek, robot attack ships, consists of twin compartments attached to a rounded, swept-back head. As they roar out of the battleship bays, their compartments open into long slits that expose their laser guns. Down the length of the mother ship they tore, seeking out the Queen's transport. Fast and maneuverable, they have no trouble working close to the battleship's hull. In seconds, they are on top of the transport, weapons firing. Ric Olie struggles to find cover and gain speed. Two of the R2 units are blown away, one on a direct hit, the second when its hold on the transport hull is shattered.

On the viewscreen, the blue R2 unit can be seen working furiously to connect a series of wires exposed by a damaged hull plate. Laser fire lances all around it, but it continues its effort without stopping. The fourth droid, working close by, disappears in a cloud of shattered metal and brilliant fire.

Now only the blue unit remains, still busy amid the onslaught of Trade Federation starfighters. Behind him, Vader stares out the starport that is racked with explosions, closing his eyes and reaching into battle meditation.

Battle meditation is the ability to use the Force to coordinate allies and even entire fleets of ships, allowing them to perform at maximum efficiency, acting as a single entity with the ability to counter every enemy move quickly and effectively. Though ideal for meditating large-scale conflicts, battle meditation is also effective when employed for the benefit of one's comrades in small skirmishes, attacks, and duels. It can also be appropriate to simultaneously demoralize the opponents, reducing their combat effectiveness. Battle meditation is used to influence armies and fleets to win battles and even wars.

While he was Emperor, Palpatine actually used a persistent form of battle meditation that stretched the galaxy. His forces were so effective because he was giving them all enhanced abilities. However, when he died at Endor, his forces fell apart and reverted to ensign level abilities because they had lost their contact with Sidious.

He boosts the morale of the pilot, those who were fighting back, the handmaidens, Padmé, and even the Jedi. More droids ships are being blasted out of the sky or obliterated on the spot. The ones who are doing it aren't even certain how they receive a sudden boost in morality, but they didn't question it.

Something changes on the cockpit display, and Ric Olie gives a shout of approval. "The shields are up! That little droid did it!" He jams the thrusters all the way forward, and the transport rocketed away from both the battleship and the starfighters, leaving the Trade Federation blockade and the planet of Naboo behind.

The lone R2 unit turns and motors back into the airlock and disappears from view.

At those words, Vader opens his eyes and allows the meditation that he had influenced over all on board to cease and allows them to handle the rest.

Obi-Wan approaches his Master, disturb. "Master, I suddenly felt the Sith's Force Presence against my own."

"I have reason to believe he used Battle Meditation." Qui-Gon answers. He had used the ability himself before, but Vader's own is much more powerful than his. "A dutiful ability for certain."

When they were well away from any Trade Federation presence, Ric Olie makes a thorough check of the controls, assessing their damage, trying to determine what was needed. Obi-Wan sits next to him in the copilot's seat, lending help. Qui-Gon and Captain Panaka stand behind them, awaiting their report. The Queen and the rest of the Naboo had been secured in other chambers.

Ric Olie shakes his head doubtfully. "We can't go far. The hyperdrive is leaking."

Qui-Gon Jinn nods. "We'll have to land somewhere to make repairs to the ship. What's out there?"

Ric Olie punches in a star chart, and they hunch over the monitor, studying it.

"Here, Master," Obi-Wan said, his sharp eyes picking out the only choice that made any sense. "Tatooine. It's small, poor, and out of the way. It attracts little attention. The Trade Federation has no presence there."

"How can you be sure?" Captain Panaka asks quickly.

Qui-Gon glances at him. "It's controlled by the Hutts."

Panaka started in alarm. "The Hutts?"

"It's risky," Obi-Wan agrees, "but there's no reasonable alternative."

Captain Panaka is not convinced. "You can't take Her Royal Highness there! The Hutts are gangsters and slavers! If they discovered who she was-"

"It would be no different than if we landed on a planet in a system controlled by the Trade Federation," Qui-Gon interrupts, "except the Hutts aren't looking for the Queen, which gives us an advantage."

The Queen's head of security starts to say something more, then thought better of it. He takes a deep breath instead, frustration etched on his smooth, dark face, and turns away.

Qui-Gon Jinn taps Ric Olic on the shoulder. "Set course for Tatooine."

Panaka glares at Jinn for a moment before turning and storming off, undoubtedly to inform the Queen of these revelations.

Jinn sighs before following closely behind.

Aboard the Queen's transport, the Jedi stood with Captain Panaka and the remaining R2 unit as the captain gave his report to the Queen on the events surrounding their escape through the Trade Federation blockade. Sabé sits surrounded by her three handmaidens, white face framed by the black headdress, dark eyes steady, listening as the captain concluded.

"We are lucky to have this one in our service, Your Highness." Panaka glances down at the blue-domed astromech droid. "It is an extremely well put together little droid. Without a doubt, it saved the ship back there, not to mention our lives."

Sabé nods, eyes shifting to the droid. "It is to be commended. What is its number?"

The little blue droid, lights blinking on and off as it processes the conversation, give a series of small beeps and tweets. Captain Panaka reaches down and scrapes a large smudge off the droid's metal shell, then straightens.

"Artoo-Detoo, Your Highness."

Sabé leans forward, and a slender white hand comes out to touch the droid's domed casing. She had always love droids. "Thank you, Artoo-Detoo. You have proven both loyal and brave." She glances over her shoulder. "Padmé."

One of her handmaidens, the real Queen, comes forward. Qui-Gon Jinn, listening to the exchange with half an ear as he considers the problems that lay ahead on Tatooine, notices it is the young woman who had supported the Queen's decision to escape from Naboo. He frowns. Except, it hadn't been exactly like that...

"See to the cleaning up of this little droid." The fake Queen is speaking to the girl, a smirk on her lips. Qui-Gon sense there is a connection between the Queen and her handmaiden. "It deserves our gratitude." She turns back to Panaka. "Please continue with your report, Captain."

Panaka glances uncomfortably at the Jedi Knights. "Your Highness, we are heading for a remote planet called Tatooine." He pauses, unwilling to speak further on the matter.

"It is a system far beyond the reach of the Trade Federation." Qui-Gon steps into the gap smoothly. "Once there, we will be able to make needed repairs to the ship, then to travel on to Coruscant and complete our journey."

"Your Highness," Captain Panaka said quickly, regaining his thoughts on the matter. "Tatooine is very dangerous. It's controlled by the Hutts. The Hutts are gangsters and slavers. I do not agree with the Jedi on their decision to land there."

The Queen looks at Qui-Gon. The Jedi did not waver. "You must trust my judgment, Your Highness."

"Must I?" Sabé asks quietly. She shifts her gaze to her handmaidens, ending with Padmé. The girl has not moved from the Queen's side but seems to remember suddenly she had been given a task to complete. She nods briefly to the Queen and moved to take R2-D2 in hand. Sabé looks back at Qui-Gon Jinn. "We are in your hands," she advises, and the matter is settled.

As the humans disembark, Sabé couldn't help but wonder who Vader is. She had read much into the history of the Jedi and he is immensely aggressive for a Jedi.

She stares at Padawan-what was his name again? Right! Right! Obi-Wan Kenobi!

"Padawan," the fake Queen calls out, provoking Kenobi in stopping and approaching the middle of the Queen's Chambers. "What do you think of Darth Vader?"

"I view him as a potential threat that should be watched closely." Kenobi declares, his voice cool.

"I see," the Queen replies somewhat darkly, at odds rather if she should heed the Padawan's warning or if she should trust the mysterious individual. She had read much into the Jedi in ancient history and knew that they had once had an enemy that threatens the Order to near extinction on multiple occasions.

"Thank you for your moment of time, Padawan Kenobi." she dismisses after a minute.

Nodding, the Jedi Padawan walks out, leaving Sabé to frown and place her hand on her chin in deep thought. While certainly quiet and careless of anyone else, Vader saved their lives, and apparently managed to acquire control of half of the Trade Federation's battlefronts.

She sighs slightly before turning to one of her handmaidens. She knows that it is not right to cast her own judgment onto him before hearing him out. He had placed his life at risk back on Naboo so they could be able to escape and continues to serve the people of the Naboo loyally.

"Summon Vader..."

In a remote conference room on the Trade Federation's flagship, Nute Gunray and Rune Haako sit side by side at a long table, staring nervously at a hologram of Darth Sidious positioned at the table's head. The hologram shimmers with the movements of the Sith Lord's dark cloak, a patchwork of small nuances that the Neimoidians found themselves unable to read.

The Sith Lord had not been summoned. The Neimoidians would have been happy if he had chosen not to communicate with them at all this day. But in keeping with the way he always seemed to sense when things were not going right, he had appeared on his own. Demanding a report on the progress of the invasion, he had settled back to listen to Nute Gunray's narrative and had said nothing since.

"We control all the cities in the northern and western part of the Naboo territory," the viceroy is relating, "and we are searching for any other settlements where resistance-"

"Yes, yes," Darth Sidious interrupts suddenly, his soft voice vaguely impatient. "You've done well. Now, then. Destroy all their high-ranking officials. Do so quietly, but be thorough." He paused. "What of Queen Amidala? Has she signed the treaty?"

Nute Gunray takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "She has disappeared, my lord. There was an escape-"

"An escape?" The Sith Lord spoke the words in a low hiss.

"One Naboo cruiser got past the blockade-"

"How did she escape, Viceroy?"

Nute Gunray looks at Rune Haako for help, but his counterpart is paralyzed with fear. "The Jedi, my lord. They found their way to her, overpowered her guards..."

Darth Sidious stirs within his robes like a big cat, shadows glimmering within the confine of his concealing hood. "Viceroy, find her! I want that treaty signed!"

"My lord, we have been unable to locate the ship she escaped on," the Neimoidian admits, wishing he could sink into the floor right then and there.


"Once it got by us, we tried to give pursuit, but it managed to elude us! Now it's out of our range-"

A wave of one robed arm cut him short. "Not for a Sith, it isn't," the other whispers.

Something shimmers in the background of the hologram, and a figure emerges from the darkness behind Darth Sidious. Nute Gunray froze. It is a second Sith Lord. But whereas Darth Sidious was a vague and shadowy presence, this new Sith is truly terrifying to look upon. His face is a mask of jagged red and black patterns, the design etched into his skin, and his skull is hairless and studded with a crown of short, hook horns. Gleaming yellow eyes fixate on the Neimoidians, breaking past their defenses, stripping them bare, and dismissing them as insignificant and foolish.

"Viceroy," Darth Sidious speaks softly in the sudden silence, "this is my apprentice, Lord Maul. He will find your lost ship."

Nute Gunray inclines his head slightly in acknowledgment, averting his eyes from the frightening presence. "Yes, my lord."

The hologram shimmers and disappears, leaving the conference room empty of sound. The Neimoidians sit without moving, without even looking at each other, reptilian eyes fix, on the space the hologram had occupied.

"This is getting out of hand," Nute Gunray ventures finally, his voice high and tight, thinking that their plans for sabotaging the trade-routes tax did not contemplate risking their lives in the process.

Rune Haako manages a quick nod. "We should not have made this bargain. What will happen when the Jedi become aware that we are doing business with these Sith Lords?"

Nute Gunray, his hands clasped tightly before him, did not care to venture an answer.

Chapter Text

Darth Vader stares out the viewport, thinking about what to do. He is trapped in the past... with the woman who he could have killed, the man who died too early for him... someone who helped him become one with the Force... and the women who he wouldn't have hesitated to eliminate during his time as the Emperor's Enforcer.

He knows, as of now, Sidious is superior. His rise to power was much earlier than Geonosis. Palpatine have for some time been making the rules of the senate very complicated, such that the body was paralyzed by its own bureaucracy. This have to be done subtly. This was the rope with which he'd hang Valorum's career. Then he have to wait for a suitably-naive queen to come along. Once the rules that would stymie any action against them were in place and a suitably pliable queen was in charge, he coerced the Trade Federation into blockading the Naboo system, which was a questionably legal maneuver; blockades historically have been acts of war. The queen, being young and naive, went to the senate hoping to resolve the attack then and there, only to be met with frustration. From there, it was easy to convince her to call for a vote of no confidence, ousting chancellor Valorum and installing Palpatine.

But that wasn't enough to make him Emperor. He needed a crisis. And since the Trade Federation had already fired shots, he is on the dawning of having his apprentice, Count Dooku, seduce or coerce several guilds and systems into supporting a breakaway movement.

The Gungan Jar Jar Binks was then a godsend for Palpatine as he was a straight up gullible clown. He was aiming for emergency powers and Palpatine was on a bender. Every time he didn't have enough power, it was Jar Jar Binks who stood up for him.

But the key here is an instigating incident. The Trade Federation fires the first shots of the Clone War. Without the Invasion of Naboo, the Clone Wars would have taken much longer to kick off, if it were even possible.

The invasion of Naboo, as well as the advice of Qui-gon, convinced Amidala to get help from the Senate through their representative, Palpatine.

Palpatine used this opportunity to tell Amidala on how weak and corrupt the Senate has become, and how Valorum is like a puppet. He convinces her to make a vote of no confidence towards Valorum.

He hopes everyone would finally agree on Valorum's weakness, after someone bravely speaks out; Padmé had noble intentions and was naive to the politics so she did not hesitate to motion that in the Senate. Valorum would then be removed and a new Chancellor needed to be elected.

Being the representative of the troubled Naboo gave Palpatine an advantage.

This was a huge risk to Palpatine because while he was confident on the results, it was not 100% sure. Valorum could be removed but someone else could be elected.

Thinking about it this way. If Palpatine, the public persona of the Sith Lord Darth Sidious, was the Senator of Alderaan/Chandrila/Corellia/Kashyyk/Kuat, then this invasion would involve the Invasion of Alderaan/Chandrila/Corellia/Kashyyk/Kuat.

"Lord Vader, the Queen wishes a word with you," a handmaiden who Vader for the love of the Force doesn't know the name of declares.

"Oh, your weapon please," another asks, outstretching her hand to him.

He knows there are handmaidens who are on this ship that Vader doesn't know like Sabé, Rabé, and Eirtaé. That is due to not forming as close a connection with them as he did with others during the original timeline or having never interact with them before.

Somewhat begrudgingly, the former Sith Lord hands his lightsaber towards the handmaiden.

Vader knew this was coming; likely Padmé is behind this. He can understand though. Vader know this have been coming; likely Padmé is behind this. He can understand though. His present is quite a fearsome one to behold.

Vader impassively stares at Sabé as she stands next to Eirtaé and Rabé who offers him gentle smiles. They are polite handmaidens if memories serve him correctly. Most of them are always like that except Dané and Fé of course.

He can feel their eyes on him. He can sense them attempting to probe their mysterious visitor. The security guards are working fanatically so figuratively he was the only male in here.

There is also Saché and Yané connected through a Hologram on a nearby desk, undoubtedly a safety measure, to ensure that if he is a threat that those of the Naboo can be informed and they rally up against him.

Unlike his younger self, he wouldn't be shuffling awkwardly. Sabé and the others use to tease him about him growing outright awkward and nervous in the presence of women. It eventually passes since his time as Dark Lord but that childish part of him wants nothing more but to budge nervously, a notion quickly silenced.

"So I would like to know more about you, Lord Vader. Where did you come from?" Sabé queries.

"Why do you need to know?" Vader retorts.

The mask slips away slightly.

"Just for protection. My apologies if I offend you in any way."

She is not asking for only Padmé but for everyone in the room.

"I have no idea what's going on. I am emotionally exhausted thanks to saving and babysitting two Jedi. The same Jedi Master and Padawan are likely going to report me to their Council due to my power I am radiating through the Force. One of them believes I am a threat. I got a Gungan who is annoying the hell out of me. I got delusional security guards and governors who believe that the Trade Federation is nothing but a fraud when they got thousands of droids marching on the surface of Naboo as we speak. I am certainly suicidal by getting in this freighter which was getting shot down. I am probably going to have a death mark on me by the Gunrays." Vader replies sharply, sarcasm obvious in his tone.

Frustration, entertainment, and uncertainty ring through the Force. The handmaidens stare at each other, mentally asking Padmé should they trust the ambassadors of the Supreme Chancellor or the hooded, mysterious man, whose description is unknown. Is he even human?

Vader spot Padmé observing him over; he know Sabé ordered her to clean up Artoo but she can be easily misinterpreted as Rabé or Eirtaé due to similarities or just some random handmaidens. This brings a forgotten memory where he mixed up the handmaidens in the former timeline.

"Um, the Queen means can you provide some background. We know the Jedi are the ambassadors for the Senate but the Jedi nearly attacked you." Rabé speaks first, though it didn't sound like she believes that he is a threat. She always is welcoming; in fact, if memory serves him right, she was the second handmaiden who acquainted him in the former timeline, first being Sabé since they had to work together quite frequently when it came to Padmé's protection.

"I was a Sith," Vader replies, crossing his arms across his chest.

"Oh," Sabé says as if she suddenly realize something about him before her face become calm, her eyebrows raising. "What's a Sith?"

Vader admittedly have to pause for a moment to describe the Order he served for two decades since he never give a proper description to a human before. Even most of the underlings who serve him under the time of the Empire didn't appear to know what he was talking about with the Force.

"Virgin bright, dark and fearsome, increasingly powerful, incredibly ancient, once mighty, many lesser, long dead, hal, fearsome, green, embattled, unwitting, fairer, uneasy, ancient, decrepit, demonic, thin, devastating, purest, illegal, lesser, hasty, legendary, evil."

Sabé's eyes flash in concern. "We are letting an evil man on board?"

"An evil man who shall assist you," Vader retorts, not afraid to admit what he has been and what he is. He will not go into detail but he has long ago come to the realization that he is evil and no amount of time will change that. He has ruined the galaxy. "Last time I check, the Jedi have no intentions to help you."

"Good and evil clash since the beginning of the galaxy," Sabé replies, repeating old saying from books she probably hear from no doubt.

"Good thing you are not actually a Jedi at that rate," Vader responds nonchalantly. "The last thing I need to deal with is more Jedi glaring at me."

Sabé's eyes become cold as daggers Anakin Skywalker would have smirked at one point. "Why should we trust you if you're evil?"

"Because I'm telling you this," Vader replies without much concern. "A true Sith wouldn't have told you this much. Alas I'm not a true Sith not anymore nor will I ever be again after witnessing what that path leads me down. No you shall not receive nothing else.

Sabé scowls. "Can we at least get some evidence you are on our side?"

"Not yet," Vader replies.

"What do you mean not yet?" Sabé presses, staring at him as if he suddenly grows a second head.

"Because you are not telling me things either," Vader replies dismissedly, noticing them shifting slightly in anxiousness as his eyes connect on the form of Padmé.

"We are going to a waste of a planet. The least I could do is protect one of you if you're captured." Vader replies pointedly, knowing that the timeline can change entirely and that could mean landing close to one of the Tusken villages. "The most evidence you shall receive now is that I'm not killing you yet nor bringing you befor the Trade Federation."

Rabé crosses her arms across her chest, "How do we know they will not track us down by information presented by you?"

"You don't," Vader replies, "but perhaps information presented to you next will answer that particular question." His head snaps towards Padmé. He cannot maintain the truth less she will be in danger. Sidious played the cards and now it's Vader turn. "For the safety of the Queen, we must be careful and cautious of this Hutt populated world... it would be a shame if the Queen of Naboo is damaged..."

Vader smirks as Padmé's surprised expression comes across her face. She is the first to figure out he knows who she is. Likewise, Sabé figures out next.

"You... you know," Sabé speaks, putting the pieces together fairly quickly as well.

"Yes... decoy."

A shock silence filling the chambers for a moment. Vader knows that they are beginning to consider their options and what to do as fear and rage begin to direct at him. He can see what's coming-

Not even asking how he know their chief handmaiden's name, believing that he is a threat to the operation, they all tore out their blasters, yet Vader anticipates this; he raises his right robotic hand and their guns propel into the ceiling, raising his eyebrows in their direction.

"I-I would surrender to you but don't hurt them," Padmé pleads in a firm voice but there is a sense of insufficiency in her tone, not wanting to see her friends die.

"Command them not to attack me again and they will remain safely unscathed," Vader states, watching each handmaiden through the Force, knowing they have tricks due to their training and can catch him off guard as it did when he visited Naboo after Cloud City.

Padmé nods at the handmaidens who back down, each giving Vader a glare or a distrusting look.

"It's obvious you are not a friend to the Republic," Padmé now growls frustrated. "Are you a spy for the Trade Federation? Are you going to kill us all?"

"No," Vader replies. "The Trade Federation is beneath me."

The handmaidens recover, shrugging themselves off as they glare at Vader, undercurrents of fear vibrating through the Force, fear for their home planet.

"How did you know?" Eirtaé asks, a tremble in her body.

"Your Auras are evident to me," Vader replies, narrowing his eyes at the handmaidens as they give him a perplexed look. "The Force is a powerful ally; it tells me your names as easily as you are able to speak. The only reason why the Jedi haven't found out is because their senses are dulled by rivals out of view. Additionally, I observed on Naboo how Padmé was giving decoy a commanding look in the eye that I have seen for many years. Handmaidens and monarchs are not authorized to speak in such a manner unless she would have been thoroughly punished."

That is the truth albeit twisted. The Force does grant their users the name of the people they speak to, a trait that usually does leave other people uncomfortable.

Padmé facepalms. She should have known and should have had another handmaiden tell Sabé to go to Naboo. In permitting it, she have freely exposed herself to the last man she wanted not to be find out.

"What do you want as compensation then to keep your mouth shut?" Rabé asks grimly, crossing her arms across her chest.

"What makes you think that I want money, handmaiden?" Vader asks, receiving a frown in response. "Especially if I could have gotten money from the Trade Federation if I arranged for you to be captured or killed."

"Then what else do you want?!" Eirtaé shouts, grasping her hair nervously. "Do you want Naboo as a planet for you to rule?! What is it?!"

Vader grins. "I am willing to help you so you free your world. In reality, you need me to free Naboo or get you off this planet and I need you to keep those Jedi at bay. Any attempts to leave me behind will result in failure so that option is not a possibility."

Even when Sabé have the Queen mask on her face, her look screams "Oh perfect." Padmé looks seconds away from tearing her hair out.

Vader notices each of the ladies feeling a bad feeling crawling up their guts. "I just have a few... necessities that would be required. And you each have just willingly accepted it." Vader replies, amusement clipping his tone. "But I will not back out of my deal. I will help you liberate Naboo and save your people."

"So you are willing to waste earning lots of money from either the Republic and from the Trade Federation for saving the people of Naboo?" Surprise flickers across the face of Padmé. Why isn't he turning them in when he could easily kill all on board and drag them back on Naboo? If he was a spy, wouldn't they have granted him a ship to chase after them?

"Yes," Vader responds sharply. "I'm not heartless, after all. If I was, most of you would have been dead the second you drawn your weapons on me." He scrutinizes the handmaidens. "Money is just a sham. It comes and goes."

"What do you want in return?" Yané demands through the Hologram she is connected to, though her tone is less fierce than the others. She just can't be a rough-spoken person. It is against everything she is.

"That's not for me to tell," Vader replies in what they can recognize as amusement, causing the handmaidens to frown furiously. He could sense he is grating on their nerves, and in all honesty, this moment is just... hilarious.

The handmaidens scowls, hating how they are being left in the dark and are fiercely overprotective of Padmé. Perhaps the most notable of handmaidens are these specific ones. An unidentified queen, who reigned long before the Invasion of Naboo, began the custom for Naboo monarchs to have an entourage of handmaidens to ensure their safety. The handmaidens unveil a striking resemblance to their mistress. They are highly trained in order to act as bodyguards, decoys, and confidantes to the queen, roles devised by Captain Panaka.

"Fine," Padmé relinquishes bluntly. "If I agree with you helping Naboo, I want an explanation of how you know who I am and we are going to have words about this. I have enough of your trickery." It is that classic Padmé's voice which Vader have longed for for two decades.

"As you wish, your highness," Vader acknowledges with a bow.

"Drop the pleasantries," Padmé snaps.

"As you wish, your highness."

There is nothing more fun but to troll the Queen and her handmaidens as a time traveler.

"You're a hypocrite," she spat darkly, hoping she could offend his ego.

Vader smiles from ear to ear smugly, sensing her thoughts, "No, this is more alive then I have been for decades. Besides, what are your chances? They only shall become involved if the Sith is involved to perpetuate their amateurish and incompetent power over the galaxy, meaning they will only get involved because I am involved and go against everything their Code claims to behold. They did the same to Revan and those who joined him in the Mandalorian Wars thousands of years ago." Vader responds, crafting his hands behind his back.

For the first time, Padmé is shocked silent yet concerning thoughts overwhelm her senses. The handmaidens share similar thoughts. What if Vader is correct? Who will free Naboo if not the Jedi? What would happen to Naboo, their home, if the Jedi Council choose not to help them?

"Now, if you will cease communication, I will help you..." Vader declares before suddenly a power comes crashing down upon them, causing each of them to groan at the intense attack on their thoughts, distorted. What have Vader done?! "Not to worry. It will be painful but your presences will be shielded by the Jedi who I advise you do not trust so easily. The cloud will only lift when you reveal the truth to the others on board."

His lightsaber hilt flies from the handmaiden who collected it beforehand and land into his hand.

The ladies combine what they know about this individual. He is obviously male, athletic, and has a hatred for the Republic and dislikes the Jedi Order. He is also probably more skilled than every single person onboard combined so ultimately he could kill them all even with the Jedi on their side.

Vader walks out, the doors shutting behind him. In his defense of exposing the truth, Vader would have likely had exposed his knowledge sooner so it would have been for nothing. At the very least, Vader is in control of the situation and has far more experience.

Back in the room, Padmé is obviously conflicted, the other handmaidens immediately talking about what they can do to assure Vader's don't spread to the public, each idea getting rejected instantly as they just witnessed parts of Darth Vader's power.

The Trade Federation has been increasing in size, in part due to their trading in the Outer Rim territories, which are in a Free Trade Zone. The Senate decided to implement a tax on trade, which, of course, the Trade Federation objects to. They're looking for a solution, and are trying to get different planets to sign a petition to end the tax. Naboo doesn't want to sign it, among others. If the Trade Federation does get him as an ally, Naboo would be kriffed up to beyond the point of oblivion, and corruption would be only greater in the galaxy.

The best thing she could do is follow his commands with her trusted handmaidens friends. It is obvious he knows them all because he has addressed them by their names without them even introducing themselves. He must have heard about them before or ran into them in the past - they had used to walk and train around in the fields of Naboo and ran into boys who were lonely and depressed and who were view as outcasts. They had also run into turbulent ones as well who had similarities to Vader due to undoubtedly having a rough background.

It is obvious her handmaidens are propping their memories about what type of child Darth Vader may have been and come up with zero results. None of them are able to come up with proper results, but surely he is from Naboo or is he? How could he tell Padmé and Sabé, two young ladies who could be mistaken as twins, apart?!

Why is he adamant in protecting them instead of receiving money either way?

Regardless, she wants to learn more about Darth Vader.

Admittedly, Obi-Wan didn't want to be on this Naboo ship for long. The light side and the dark side surrounding their new ally deeply disturb him and Master Yoda had advised each of the students since birth that one cannot return from the dark side. The Sith are selfish and are dangerous; Vader would kill them all at under a moment's notice.

As he walks out, he notices one of the Queen's handmaiden cleaning the Artoo unit and didn't know why but decides to initiate a conversation.

"Um, hi," he greets politely.

"Hello," she replies, staring up at him for a moment before returning to her duty and rubbing her rag on the dirty droid interior.

Obi-Wan stares down at the girl for what feels like hours, beginning to zoom out.

"Never seen a girl cleaning?" She tantalizes, smirking up at him and snapping him out of his thoughts.

"It's not that. It's just Darth Vader. I don't trust him. The Queen shouldn't have allowed him on board." Obi-Wan replies, staring at the corridor where he senses Vader ruefully resides to emphasize his point.

The girl frowns, almost as if imitated to bring the subject up, "He did save us on Naboo. I propose I understand why you might not trust him, yet the Queen obviously believes he should be given a chance." The girl hesitates for a moment, eyes lingering elsewhere before she calms.

Obi-Wan squirms restlessly. "I still don't like it. I just want to be as far away from him as possible."

She frowns before grabbing his hand and walking to the back. She has a firm grip over his hand which must mean she had wanted to show him something.

Kenobi and the girl enters the Queen Chambers, and much to his anxiousness, it is a room full of girls. Besides Siri and Brent, he didn't like to spark a conversation with women, most lesser, being in a room alone with them. And he sees staff clutched in their grips.

"Okay, Kenobi, this is Handmaiden Sabé, Rabé, and Eirtaé," she introduces, pointing at each one.

"Padmé, we are practicing with our double-bladed staffs," Sabé declares, attempting to not look at Kenobi, her cheeks slightly reddening. She is just naturally a flirt.

"Perhaps Kenobi could join?" Padmé offers.

"Sure, always want to kick a Jedi to his rump," the woman declares, throwing a double-bladed staff to Kenobi.

He instinctively catches the staff in a clumsy movement.

"Now wait a minute! I never agree to this!" He exclaims, suddenly regretting his choice of following the young lady. He has never been good at using a double-bladed form in his time as a learner.

Sabé didn't even give him a chance to end this battle. She swipes at him. Holding the double-bladed staff in what he assumes as a pathetic posing, Obi-Wan blocks the blow, staggering some. Rotating his staff in a clumsy move, Obi-Wan counters another blow before his opponent manages to catch him in the side. The girl from earlier is smirking and the others are watching in interest.

"Ow!" He cries. Force, it's been barely five seconds and he is already being badly beaten. Precisely why he had never accepted the double-bladed style.

Suddenly, his opponent manages to fake a downer blow before Kenobi is hit in the arm, causing him to grunt slightly and swipe at her midsection before his staff is intercepted.

Annoyed, he had begun making cocky movements, swiping up and down at his opponent and catching his opponent in the thigh, but this proven to be a mistake as he is suddenly jabbed in the stomach, and his legs give out from underneath him and his back appear to be non-operative.

"Ever heard it's not nice to hit a girl?"

To say Obi-Wan is surprised is an extreme understatement but when he was knocked to his back by a kriffing handmaiden's staff is beyond embarrassing. Him! A trained Padawan! If Yoda was here...

The handmaidens giggle simultaneously. They were so.. fragmentary... so not serious. He had thought they were stern and believe themselves obliged to follow orders but how they acting now is far from said expectations.

Most notably, the handmaidens weren't wearing their makeup and it was true; they all are younger than they appeared with it on.

"Wow, what do you know? A Jedi Padawan being bested by a teenager?" The one who Obi-Wan recalls named Rabé taunts smugly.

"Oh shut up," Obi-Wan growls, humiliation brushing off the Jedi Padawan.

"I think someone is a little embarrassed," the other handmaiden who he remembers called Eirtaé states teasingly, crossing her arms across her chest.

"Want to do actual physical training next?" Padmé states more than inquires, receiving immediate acceptance of acknowledgments by her fellow handmaidens.

And thus, Obi-Wan Kenobi knew this would be a very long day.

Given that the shuttle is damaged, Vader is aware that it would take four days at most for them to arrive on Tatooine. Thankfully, the hyperdrive isn't broken, it is damaged. It had sufficient technobabble here to get them to a nearby system before, yet Vader felt a slight feeling of anxiousness at being on the ship where events change.

Despite being given a second chance, Vader long since came to the realization that events can be changed; some shall live and others shall die rather by his hand or not. There are problematic issues in time travel such examples potentially being Anakin Skywalker losing in the Pod Race and Kenobi and Jinn dying at the same time.

Kriff, he mentally sighs. Why does it have to be him?

Vader sneers at Panaka; he had kept his personal feelings towards Panaka clear which is very difficult due to Panaka betraying them. Sometime later after the Clone Wars had broken out, he learned of the marriage between Amidala and Skywalker. Panaka informed Palpatine, who used this information to his advantage when turning Anakin to the dark side. The ramifications of Panaka's choice would eventually lead to the Imperialization of the galaxy, a change that would work to his advantage. As Palpatine installed himself as Galactic Emperor, Panaka remained extremely loyal to him. The only reason he didn't annihilate Panaka when he had discovered the truth is the same reason why he didn't Tarkin: He had Palpatine's protection.

This time, there is no protection for him, and it is only a matter of time before all of Palpatine's followers shall be bend to his will or destroyed. They have to be for the safety of the entire galaxy.

He didn't relish in killing flesh blood but is willing for the galaxy to be saved at long last.

"Hey, Vader," I have a question," Qui-Gon spoke. "How did you know mine and my Padawan's name on Naboo?"

Vader mentally curses. That is a mistake on his part but he can amend it with a half-truth. "I know of each of the Jedi," he declares. "Guard, lead me to private quarters where I shall not be summoned until our arrival," Vader demands to a female security guard who, by the Force of him, he can't remember the name of.

The security guard stares at the former Sith with a sharp scowl though Vader could have been blind and would have sensed the fear surrounding her.

"Yes, Darth Vader." Come her begrudgingly reply.

"I require tools of my own to fix my damaged armor," he declares.

"Of course," she replies roughly.

Vader can sense her slight greed. She too has witnessed his skill and wishes to use him as a weapon so likely the guards propose this to the Queen who agreed and ordered for his requirements to be fulfilled. Slight manipulation but he can't blame them at all.

Although he had no intentions to fully concealed his face as he had done in the time of the Empire, Vader wants to improve his lower mask. He had rather be hooded in this time instead of viewed as a machine. He had missed the pleasantries of being hooded in black instead of the machine in black.

Once led to empty quarters in the back, Vader enters, sensing the guard who accompanies him leave as the door closes, allowing him to approach the mirror. His cloak and cape are attached to his damaged armor.

Placing those thoughts behind him, Vader walks up to the security cameras and disables them with the Force, not wishing for his appearance to be learned by anyone. Additionally, he wishes to remain himself, eating and meditating without interruption less the situation requires it.

He also has a wrench and other tool supplies where he could make it comfortable and still not pushing against his skin. To prevent being costly, the suit needs to be removed and repair completely with upgraded technology.

Darth Vader's armor better known as a serial number: E-3778Q-1 was designed to maintain and protect the young Sith apprentice's charred body while exuding an air of intimidation and control. His suit followed an ancient Sith tradition, in which the warriors of the dark side of the Force would adorn themselves in heavy armor. The suit's construction incorporated Sith alchemy to augment Vader's severely diminished physical strength and vitality.

The suit provided a suite of life-support systems and gave Vader relatively free movement without having to use a hoverchair. It was damaged or broken several times during its use, necessitating upgrades and repairs. The suit was finally irreparably broken when Vader absorbed Palpatine's powerful Force lightning in his face aboard the second Death Star to save his son from certain death. After Vader's death, Luke ceremonially cremated his father along with the armor on the forest moon of Endor.

The armor encased Vader completely, creating a seal to protect his charred skin and lungs. It was also uncomfortable to wear. Vader slowly learned to live with the isolation and anonymity that the suit imposed on him. Vader had to change his lightsaber style to compensate for the weight, bulk, and inflexibility of his armor. The electronics of the suit were sensitive to electrical discharges, though Vader added a limited amount of insulation to the suit after discovering this. To escape the armor's claustrophobic nature, Vader had several pressurized meditation chambers built where he could remove his mask and suit and still survive. Vader longed to be less dependent on his armor and tried at times to function without it, but he labored in vain.

Despite the weaknesses imparted by the suit, it also provided a number of strengths. These included greatly enhanced durability and stamina, numerous sensory enhancements, and protection from extremely inhospitable environments and biological weaponry.

Since Vader has no need for the suit, he is inspired by it. Darth Vader wore the armor for over two decades, until his redemption and death. He initially hated the armor, but after living with it for five years, he embraced how it isolated him from the rest of the galaxy, allowing him to concentrate on becoming a pure instrument of the dark side.

Even though he was in constant pain with the suit being uncomfortable and purposefully so since Palpatine never wanted Vader to reach his full potential.

Considering Anakin Skywalker would grow to wear the robes he is now wearing, the armor and mask shall protect his identity from Skywalker, along with tapping into the dark side to blind his presence.

Vader wrenches the bolt in his armored leg, loosening up its containment of him along with his arm, realizing with a scowl that his armor has limited him far too long. He then stares down at his broken mask, eyes narrowing as he morphs designs in his head, thinking the benefits of both thoroughly. Two designs; one where he repairs the mask completely similar to his time as the Dark Lord and abandons the robes he is currently wearing while rebuilding the armor into similar armor but much better and have it be exactly like the 2.0 armor the Emperor had planned for him to wear in due time, and another design where he wears these robes along with his armor, but still masking himself completely. He have to force himself to speak deeply, pathetically attempting to mask the wheeze to appear just as frighteningly and imitating. Ultimately, the second design is the better choice, though the first one can be a potential idea later.

So the second design is created.

For once, ever since he'd traveled through time, he disregards the armor and commences with extracting features to his armor, mentally formulating a plan.

At the very least, the new now repaired suit provides him a much more of a comfortable suit, the chest piece of shrapnels of ancient Sith and Jedi in place of where his control panels had been given he has the choice to improve the suit he once wears due to the form of Anakin Skywalker also having its cons, the alternation required for far more mobility and to protect his vital lungs all the while allowing him to twist his body and contort without opportunity of him being hindered or uncomfortable in midst of the battle. Better be safe than sorry, especially since his body is no longer of those consisting of a cyborg but a human who is capable of being killed in spite of all of his power.

Vader grips the lower part of his mask which is now rebuilt, sticking his tongue out slightly as he grabs a screwdriver and begins twisting the damaged bolt, placing on the mask and attempting to speak only for it to come out as a squeak, making the child-like Anakin within him to nearly scream in frustration but the maturity of Vader who overran Skywalker opts to remain calm, all the whilst wishing he has access to Sarrassian iron. As he twists the bolt once again, he places it on, speaking, it coming out as it did like his time throughout the era of the Empire which means it will no longer be a requirement to call off the dark side due to his damaged mask that came with him once he came back in time after the Emperor fried the blasted respirator now receiving a complete rebuild.

Placing the mask to the side, Vader grabs the cloak that once belonged to his Jedi counterpart before grabbing a nearby paint brush and darkening the cloak until he is satisfied and that it no longer featured the one the Jedi wear, less the Jedi would begin noting the similarities, especially on Coruscant, and questions will be asked. The cloak wraps around his form, concealing his armor nearly entirely along with the cape that goes down his back which will be helpful throughout the remainder of the future and the aftermath.

He pulls his hands out of the leather gloves, staring down at his bared hands for a second before clenching them up into fists, still having to remember that the man he once was is dead and replaced by a newer and improved Darth Vader. He was use to the sounds of being trapped in the suit, and without it... it just felt cold. Once, the gauntlet's value as a symbol was of little use to the three-eyed mutant, but its potential for use as a weapon was considered to be incalculable. It was his belief that the glove was actually a mystical relic that gave its wearer the ability to telekinetically attack others from a distance. Perhaps he still can but in a fresh atmosphere. All he has to do is loosen them up and improve them so he can exploit his other abilities without limitations. The last thing he needs in battle is for his Force Powers that he has accomplished and still accomplishing proving to be unworthy in the midst of confrontation.

He disregards the collar and chooses to keep the belt the same as it did serve its uses. Once, the belt-mounted function box housed the respiratory sensor matrix responsible for controlling Vader's breathing, but it will no longer house that role and position.

Now that the armor is rebuilt and connected to each other much like his former armor, Vader sits down on the bunk, pouring both the light and dark side in the armor with the Force, taking in dark amusement of the Jedi and especially the Sith to sense someone who goes against all of their teachings is now striding the galaxy. Once the process is finished, the former Dark Lord calls off the Force to see if the process is successful, not disappointed. He did it with his armor during the beginning of the Empire, but that has been a time of great loss and anger whereas he has a better grip of his emotions now.

Eventually, Vader wears the newly constructed armor with a rare smile at the mirror before raising his hood over his head, an impressive demonstration of his work if he does say so himself. Now that he is capable of being suitless, he has the luxury of removing the armor instead of forcing himself to wear it, viewed by everyone as a cold monster in black, being unable to sleep or eat or enjoy the luxuries of a normal human. Even as a Sith Lord, he, unfortunately, had been required to eat with tubes and such, but now those days are over with a new era now awaiting the former Sith Lord and for the galaxy.

He uses the Force to call over his lightsaber and activate it, the crimson blade shooting out and reflecting off of his upper form before taking a quick swing before another and five others, unable to resist smirking in jest at nothing belonging of his armor falling off of of it. He deactivates the lightsaber and plants it on his right belt.

A tempting thought did cross his mind to cut his hair and even his eyebrows and peel his skin, but Vader resists the urge, not willing to allow himself to be painted as a monster. He will not self-harm himself and cause any further pain, excluding pain he harbors emotionally, on his body. Perhaps when he trains himself once more, he will acquire more scars but this is a new era for the galaxy's once ruled Sith Lord and he won't allow his power to be decreased less his chances to overthrow Sidious will decrease massively until the point where he would have to rely on others.

Truthfully, the veteran side of Vader wanted to test it out on the battlefield. The opportunity may be allowed soon. No matter how Vader may be able to pull the strings from within the Senate after getting as much as he is able, undoubtedly, the war of Naboo shall occur. And along with the Naboo, Vader would be the first to apply in order to save the people and bring peace. It would never amend his mistakes but at least he would be able to prove he is not going to waste this second chance.

If only his son is with him, if only his son is able to see him in the flesh like this, if only he could show him who he truly is; however, he never will be able to, even if he can speak with him through the Force. He proposes that is a consequence of his actions and harm across the galaxy. He will perhaps never see his son in the flesh ever again. That's what pressing too much in the dark side can do; it can take away everything you have.

He removes his hood and now repair mask and runs his hand through his hair before discarding his garments and then removing his lightsaber from his belt and laying it down next to him. Now exposed, Vader begins meditating in both the light side and the dark side, ensuring the door is lock completely so no guard, handmaiden, Jedi, or for Force's sake, Padmé doesn't walk in. The last thing he needs is for his younger self to grow up and people to note the similarities between the two.

The pieces in his armor not used are scattered across the ground so he can perhaps create a backup armor on a later date. The smallest pieces can be useful in the near future.

Vader allows himself to be succumbed by the Force, to feel every single being across the galaxy, to feel both chaos on Naboo and the peace on Corellia, to call off the waterfalls and the remaining peace in the galaxy.

Peace is what he needs now for what is to come next.

Chapter Text

He hates Tatooine.

He, or rather, Anakin Skywalker, grew up a slave here, his mother died here, he wanted nothing to do with this sandy dustball, the hellish planet in the galaxy.

When his brother told him that he had hidden Luke on Tatooine for over two decades in one of their talks in the afterlife, he could hardly believe it. But rethinking it over later, he recognized the brilliancy of the plan, the reason Obi-Wan took Luke back to Tatooine because Vader would never risk going to Tatooine because he might reawaken Anakin. In fact, Tatooine was probably the one place that Obi-Wan could be perfectly sure that Vader would never visit again.

Vader would never return to Tatooine, and the old man knew this. Yet, he did indeed return here shortly after the battle of Yavin when he was tracking down his son to search for his identity.

Oh, why do the Force have to be so damn cruel at times? Whenever he makes a declaration of something, fate always nips him in the back.

Fortunately, Vader never tracked down Obi-Wan and Luke on Tatooine; if he did, Luke would have been morphed into a greater weapon, a tool for an Empire, and a twisted being who would have been beyond redemption. He had owed Obi-Wan the biggest gratitude he can earn for morphing Luke into a person so kind and with a warm heart that would never lose faith.

Without Luke, and inadvertently without Obi-Wan, he would have still been that tool who would have followed the Emperor's commands without question, a person full of denial, and just a mere weapon.

Vader didn't miss Qui-Gon sending his protege to uncouple the hyperdrive and Captain Panaka to advise the Queen of their landing. He settles on going into the spaceport alone as he left the cockpit to find other clothing and came upon Jar Jar Binks, the Queen's handmaiden Padmé, and the little R2 unit.

The Jedi Master slow, considering the possibility that going into the city alone would make him more noticeable. "Jar Jar," he said finally. "Get ready. You're going with me. The droid as well."

He continues on without looking back. The Gungan stares after him in disbelief, then in horror. By the time he regains his wits, the Jedi is out of view. Wailing in dismay, he chases after him and comes upon Obi-Wan in the main cabin hoisting the hyperdrive out of the bowels of the ship.

"Obi-One, sire!" he gasps, throwing himself to his knees in front of the younger Jedi. "Pleeese, me no go wit Quiggon!"

Obi-Wan is inclined to agree but knows better than to say so. "Sorry, but Qui-Gon is right. This is a multinational spaceport, a trading center. You'll make him appear less obvious by going along." His brow furrows as he turns back to the hyperdrive. "I hope," he mutters to himself.

Jar Jar climbs to his feet and trudges disconsolately towards R2-D2, his mouth set in a grimace of forbearance. The astromech droid beeps in sympathy, then makes a series of encouraging clicks.

Qui-Gon reappears, dressed now as a farmer in tunic, leggings, and a poncho. He walks past them to where Obi-Wan is studying the hyperdrive. "What have you found?"

Obi-Wan's young face clouds. "The generator is shot. We'll need a new one."

"I thought as much." The Jedi Master kneels next to his protege. "Well, we can't risk a communication with Coruscant this far out on the edge of the galaxy. It might be intercepted and our position revealed. We'll have to get by on our own." He lowers his voice to a near whisper. "Don't let anyone send a transmission while I'm gone. Be wary, Obi-Wan. I sense a disturbance in the Force."

Obi-Wan's eyes lift to find his. "I feel it also, Master. I will be careful." He eyes Vader momentarily, noting his upgraded armor, height, and balanced weight.

He proposes the Sith hadn't had the requirements to loosen up his armor for quite some time. The ship did belong to a Queen after all so them possessing tools is extremely likely.

In truth, Vader appears to be a veteran and someone who is experienced in battle. Of a Sith Warlord. Of Jedi killers of past history. Truth be told, Vader could turn brute in all but a minute, but unlike the history lessons about the Sith of Old, the dark side is heavily under control instead of untamed as claimed by the Jedi. Surprising.

In fact, his light side within him that he now feels almost overwhelms Kenobi and Jinn's presence alone. For a brief moment, Kenobi ponders if he could defeat them if he uses the light. In their history lessons, Sith operating the light is utterly impossible because they are too prideful, and at the mere thought of the light, the Sith grows weak.

Not this one, however.

He remembers confronting Xanatos. The dark side surrounded him greatly to the point where he was close to a Sith than any other Dark Jedi before. It was one of the most challenging fights in his life, and throughout the battle, he was losing control and became an untamed monster and threat who had to be defeated. Though Darth Vader is an entirely different individual; there is a great amount of control over him. Aside from the power he allures from the Force, Vader appears not to be that much of a threat. He wonders if he will be easy to defeat if he is a threat.

"Don't even think about it, Jedi. I don't have to use the dark side to do combat with you. Do not force my hand." Vader spoke absent-mindedly, cutting through the Jedi Padawan's thoughts and silencing him. He loves the fool but he is not above roughing Obi-Wan's younger self up.

"But that presents great danger if he proves to turn against us," Obi-Wan continues, as if the former Dark Lord of the Sith isn't standing there.

"He's standing right here, Jedi," Vader quips, surprising the Jedi Master and Padawan. "And he wouldn't turn on you."

Both Jedi raise their eyebrows. So who is possibly a Sith has a sense of humor?

Unlike most of his Sith ancestors, he appears to use the light side as a beacon. Qui-Gon knows the Council is wrong about a great many things. He feels they allow the Jedi Order to become a sort of chancellor's police, rather than concentrating on knowing the Force. Yes, they are wise to refuse to rule - but unwise to simply accept the status quo. Short-sighted, to lose touch with the living Force by spending so much of their time and energy on enforcing laws that could as easily be left to civilian authorities. Immoral, to refuse to act against evils such as slavery. Yet, is it possible they are wrong about the Sith being all evil and the dark side not being controllable?

According to the Jedi teachings embedded in each of them, the Sith have no self-control. Their inclinations to use the dark side has no bounds which are why the dark Jedi has all been claimed and is now in a Republic's prison, their judgment having been cast by the Council.

Many Masters would have never agreed to work with a Sith and would attempt to behead Vader to bring "peace" and "balance" to the galaxy, but despite this merit, enforce by the beliefs of the Council and despite them countlessly forcing his buttons, Vader didn't yet kill nor threaten any of them.

Unbeknownst to them, Vader begins to form his own plan; he has no plans to allow Obi-Wan and Anakin to be as distant as in the original timeline. He remembers his Padawanhood when he had always felt the pain from Obi-Wan in his quarters, no doubt silently weeping for the death of his Master and how Qui-Gon can train him better.

Obi-Wan and Anakin always deviated until they became brothers by the Force, never being able to amend their past and truly understand one another. Their Force Bond always maintained reservation with one being a strict loyalist of the Jedi Order while the other continued to go rogue and would have perhaps become a younger and far more powerful version of Qui-Gon Jinn, a fate that the Jedi unquestionably wanted to avoid.

Even now, even with the younger version of his brother, he can open up the Force Bond but that will allow him to see all of the things Vader did and what happens to him. Vader is not willing to allow his brother who can still be sway from the Jedi Order after seeing its flaws to suffer from those memories. Besides, he might tell the Jedi Council and Vader's plans will be forfeit.

Obi-Wan did see through the flaws of the Council after the Order had fallen. It was Obi-Wan's pride and belief that he was good a teacher as Yoda that steered his student and friend Anakin to the dark side as he grew a lust for power thanks to the Emperor. Obi-Wan felt his arrogance got Anakin to become something else, something warped and evil. He was ashamed of this failure and wanted to do right with Luke only to die before he could teach him more about the Jedi. As Obi-Wan, he was powerful yet flawed, and as Old Ben, he wisely matured upon realization of these flaws.

If he can somehow convince the younger version of Obi-Wan to realize the flaws, form an attachment between Anakin and Obi-Wan, they wouldn't have to face the burdens of suffering. Perhaps Kenobi seeing what Anakin and his mother had gone through would leave more of an understanding between the two and their bond might be stronger as it was when other Anakin and Obi-Wan were one with the Force...

If not by the Force somehow stronger.

"Recommend you bring your Padawan with you," Vader declares, as he continues to stare at the desert but it is clear he is speaking to the Maverick Jedi Master. "If this unknown threat is out there, it would be wise for you to remain together."

Qui-Gon furrows his eyebrows, inquiring, borderline suspicious. "Not your apprentice who have intentions to kill us and for you to bring the Queen to Gunray?"

"I prefer remaining to myself... at least for now. Apprentices are too dangerous, for they can usurp you and betray you in under a second. The problem with the Sith is that they use manipulation which is why I don't consider myself among their Order. The Force comes from the life force, and the Dark Side is creative, chaotic, and beautiful, like life itself. The Dark Side is not evil. It is merely power, and power is only evil when wielded by evil hands. If not controlled, it can be your downfall. I have witnessed this myself." Vader responds crisply.

The two Jedi exchange shock looks that Vader is willing to admit the flaws of the Sith Order and the dark side. Dark side wielders usually attempt to conquer all that is light, but Vader is a different man; he accepts both the light and the darkness, acknowledges both sides exist, and instead of attempting to destroy one or the other like the Jedi or Sith, he becomes a completely mysterious man.

Vader adds, "Fortunately, I have seen through its twisted way and turned away from embracing the dark side entirely."

"Impossible," Obi-Wan replies precipitously, staring at him with intense eyes. "Once one walks down the tainted path, one cannot return from the dark side."

"Of course the Jedi would manipulate their students in believing that those who touch the darkness cannot return." Vader pauses for a moment, staring at the desert calculatingly.

Obi-Wan sputters, "The Jedi do not manipulate their students!"

"Need I remind you of Darth Revan who is view as the Prodigal Knight in your Order? Despite the countless temptations of the dark, Revan still resisted and became one of the Jedi's greatest saviors. Well, he didn't have a choice because of the hypocrisy of the Council choosing to wipe his memories."

"Revan is not a hero nor a role model," Obi-Wan counters. "He was someone who is rightfully shunned upon by the Jedi Order, breaking multiple rules of the Code and continuously touched the dark side. Additionally, he gave into his attachments, knowing what they could do to him."

"And you don't?" Vader asks, prompting a raised eyebrow from the younger of the Jedi. "Oh come on, Kenobi, I sense the son bond you wish you could have with Jinn. Any attempts to deny it would be fruitless." Obi-Wan is shock silent but Vader continues, choosing to abandon the previous subject. "This mysterious foe is after the Queen. I shall see to it that he fails. For now, you should remain together. If this Sith walks into the city, two Jedi may be necessary."

Qui-Gon arches his eyebrows. "You appear to be determined that this is a Sith without any proof. It is odd that a second Sith just happens to emerge on the same day you do."

"Oh come on, Jedi," Vader responds, wanting to bang his head repeatedly into a wall, "it is incontrovertible this is the work of the Sith. Your arrogant Council may not accept that the Sith has managed to slip past their eyes but they have been moving around for thousands of years, their strength and power never deteriorating. I am well aware of these feeble dark Jedi your Order has been combating for decades since the Sith of old, but trust me, Jedi, they are merely a prelude for what's coming."

Not for the first time, Qui-Gon Jinn is at odds with himself. How could the Sith's tainted presence of the dark side managed to avoided their eyes for many decades? He had known the Republic is growing ever more corrupt, and the Jedi Order is ever relying on politics, but in reality, they should have sensed the Sith in the Republic Senate.

Qui-Gon is conflicted about what to proceed to do next. Undoubtedly, the Council would label Vader as a liar, believe they would sense it, and openly accuse him of being someone who is attempting to overthrow the Jedi Order.

However, Obi-Wan might be the one to tell the Jedi Council about Vader's information. He has dedicated himself to the Jedi Code and the Jedi Council. He is trapped in the flawed Jedi ways.

"Obviously," Vader presses on, "if I was to betray you, it would have been now since this planet is considered outside of the Republic. I can kill every single guard and handmaiden and bring the Queen to Coruscant or murder her, along with you two. However, I am not devoted to killing you."

Qui-Gon knows he is correct. On Naboo, there is a slight chance that they could have been able to escape, but on a planet such as Tatooine, there is little to no chance of escaping for them.

"I'm willing to go with you, Master," Obi-Wan replies, shooting a momentary glare at Vader for a second. He too knows Vader is correct, despite never admitting it.

Qui-Gon rises, gathers up Jar Jar, surprisingly listens to Vader and brings Obi-Wan along, and the R2 unit, and heads down the loading ramp to the planet's floor. An empty carpet of sand stretches away in all directions, broken only by massive rock formations and the distant skyline of Mos Espa. The suns that gives the planet life beat down with such ferocity that it seems as if they are determined to steal that life back again. Heat rise off the sand in a shimmering wave, and the air is so dry it sucked the moisture from their throat and nose passages.

Jar Jar glances skyward, eyestalks craning, billed amphibious face wrinkling in dismay. "Dis sun gonna do murder ta da skin of ills Gungan," he mutters.

At a signal from Qui-Gon, they begin to walk-or, in the case of the R2 unit, to roll. A strange caravan of animals and riders, carts, and sleds appears against the distant skyline like a shadowy mirage, all misshapen and threatening to evaporate in the blink of an eye. Jar Jar mutters some more, but no one was paying attention.

They didn't get far when a shout brought them around. Two figures are running toward them from the transport. As they near, Qui-Gon is able to make out Captain Panaka and a girl dressed in rough peasant's garb. He stops and waits until they caught up, a frown creasing his leonine features.

Panaka is sweating. "Her Highness commands you to take her handmaiden with you. She wishes for Padmé to give her own report of what you might-"

"No more commands from Her Highness today, Captain," Qui-Gon interrupts quickly, shaking his head in refusal. "Mos Espa is not going to be a pleasant place for-"

"The Queen wishes it," Panaka interrupts him right back, his face angry and set. "She is emphatic. She wishes to know more about this planet."

The girl takes a step forward. Her dark eyes find Qui-Gon's. "I've been trained in self-defense. I speak a number of languages. I am not afraid. I can take care of myself."

Captain Panaka sighs, looking over his shoulder toward the ship. "Don't make me go back and tell her you refuse."

Qui-Gon hesitates, preparing to do exactly that. Then he looks at Padmé again, sees strength in her eyes, and changes his mind. She might be useful. Traveling with a girl, they might suggest a family in transit and present a less aggressive look.

He nods. "I don't have time to argue the matter, Captain. I still think this is a bad idea, but she may come." He gives Padmé a look of warning. "Stay close to me and my student."

"I'm afraid the Queen is not finished with her demands. She wishes to learn more about Lord Vader so she is sending another to see what his true motives are." The captain declares.

They all are shocked, except the handmaiden, as another young lady walks down the ramp. Her attire is similar to the other handmaiden.

Vader's annoyance rises as the handmaiden, Eirtaé, wearing black undergarments approaches him and stands behind him. A brief look of concern is on Kenobi and Jinn's faces because should he decide to betray them, Vader would kill the handmaiden. Padmé is equally as worried but didn't show it as much as it would be a warning sign to retreat if Vader doesn't return.

"And what have I done to earn suspicion from the Queen?" Vader questions, feeling the childish urge to groan but swallowing that urge quickly.

Panaka shrugs. "Have no idea. She just feels the need to assure you are on our side."

The smug little grin from Padmé causes him to curse mentally. Even at a young age, she is as demanding and doesn't crave to anybody as much as she is when she was older. Even during her pregnancy, there is no frightening Padmé Naberrie Amidala.

Vader slightly sags his shoulders. As much as he likes the handmaiden, she is only to be of annoyance in combating Maul. Now, he would not only have to protect himself but her as well.

Vader knows he mustn't leave yet, to ensure the fake Queen doesn't send a reply to the trap of Maul. It is immensely palpable that the handmaidens are not going to answer the call as they always said they could see through traps, but they did tease each other and Anakin Skywalker a lot.

It can merely be bluffing on the girls' parts. This is likely and possible, but hey, he has to make sure.

Qui-Gon nods slightly, starts away again, the others trailing. Captain Panaka stands watching with undisguised relief as the strange little procession of Jedi Master, Padawan, handmaiden, Gungan, and astromech droid moves off into the sweltering landscape toward Mos Espa.

It is not yet mid-afternoon by the time the members of the little company under Qui-Gon Jinn's command reaches Mos Espa and make their way toward the spaceport's center. Mos Espa is large and sprawling and have the look of a gnarled serpent hunkered down in the sand to escape the heat. The buildings are dome and thick-wall and curved to protect against the sun, and the stalls and shops are fronted by awnings and verandas that provided a measure of shade to their vendors. Streets are broad and packed with beings of every shape and size, most from off-planet. Some ride the desert-seasoned eopies. Domesticated banthas, massive and horned, and lumbering dew backs hauled carts, sleds, and wagons that ran on wheels and mechanical tracks by turn, a mishmash of commerce trafficking between Tatooine's smaller ports and the planets of star systems beyond.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan keep a close watch for trouble. There are Rodians and Dugs and others whose purpose is always suspect. Most of those they passed pay them no notice. One or two turn to glance at Jar Jar, but dismisses the Gungan almost out of hand once they get a good look at him. As a group, they blend in nicely. There are so many combinations of creatures of every species that the appearance of one more meant almost nothing.

"Tatooine is home to Jabba the Hutt, who controls the bulk of the trafficking in illegal goods, piracy, and slavery that generates most of the planet's wealth," Qui-Gon is explaining to Padmé. He had been on Tatooine before, though it had been some years ago. "Jabba controls the spaceports and settlements, all of the populated areas. The desert belongs to the Jawas, who scavenge whatever they can find to sell or trade, and to the Tuskens, who live a nomadic life and feel free to steal from everyone."

The Jedi keeps his voice low and conversational. The girl walks silently at his elbow, her sharp eyes taking in everything. Speeders nose by them, and droids of every size toil in the service of desert-garbed aliens.

"There are a number of farms as well, outlying operations that take advantage of the climate-moisture farms, for the most part, operated by off-worlders not a part of the indigenous tribes and scavengers, not connected directly to the Hutts." His eyes sweep the street ahead. "This is a rough and dangerous place. Most avoid it. Its few spaceports have become havens for those who do not wish to be found."

Padmé glances up at him, saying. "Like us."

A pair of domesticated banthas rumbles down the broad avenue, hairy bulks clearing a path for a sled train of quarry blocks and metal struts, horned heads nodding sleepily, padded feet stirring sand and dust in thick clouds with each lumbering step. Their driver dozes atop the foremost sled in the train, small and insignificant in their shadow.

Jar Jar Binks stays as close as he can manage to the Jedi and the girl, his eyes darting left and right, head swiveling as if it might twist right off his shoulders. Nothing he sees is familiar or welcome. Hard looks follows after him. Sharp eyes measures him for things he will just as soon not think about. Stares are at best challenging and at worst unfriendly. He does not like this place. He wishes he are almost anywhere else.

"Tis very bad, dis." He swallows against the dryness in his throat that is caused by more than the heat. "Nutten good 'bout ills place!" He takes a careless step and found himself ankle-deep in a foul-smelling ooze. "Oh, oh. Tis icky!"

R2-D2 rolls cheerfully along at his side, beeping and chirping in a futile effort at reassuring the Gungan that all was well.

They travel the main street of the spaceport to its far end and turn down a side street that led to a small plaza ring with salvage dealers and junk shops. Qui-Gon glances at the mounds of engine parts, control panels, and communication chips recovered from starships and speeders.

"We'll try one of these smaller dealers first," he advises, nodding toward one in which a vast pile of old transports and parts was heaped within an attached compound.

They walk through the shop's low entry and are greeted by a pudgy blue creature who flew into their faces like a crazed probe, tiny wings buzzing so fast they could barely be seen. "Hi chubba da nago?" it snaps in a frizzy, guttural voice, demanding to know their business.

'A Toydarian,' Qui-Gon thinks. He knows enough to recognize one, but not much else. "I need parts for a J-type 327 Nubian," he advises the other.

The Toydarian fairly beams with delight, his reticular snout curling over his toothy mouth and making odd smacking noises. "Ah, yes! Nubian! We have lots of that." The sharp, bulbous eyes flick from one face to the other, ending with the Gungan. "What's this?"

Jar Jar shrinks behind Qui-Gon fearfully. "Never mind that." The Jedi brushes the Toydarian's question aside. "Call you help us or not?"

"Can you pay me or not-that's the question!" The skinny blue arms cross defiantly over the rounded torso as the Toydarian regards them with disdain. "What kinda junk you after, farmer?"

"My droid has a readout of what I need," Qui-Gon advises the other with a glance down at the R2 unit.

Still hanging midair in front of Qui-Gon's nose, the Toydarian glances over one shoulder. "Peedunkel! Naba dee unko!"

A small, disheveled boy races in from the salvage yard, coming to an uncertain stop in front of them. His clothes are rag and thick with grime, and he has the look of someone about to be given a beating. He flinches as the Toydarian wheels back and lifts a hand in admonishment.

Obi-Wan can't help but tense up, feeling an immediate connection to the boy. He appears oddly familiar. If Qui-Gon notices this too, he didn't voice it.

"What took you so long?"

"Mel tass cho-pas kee," the boy responds quickly, blue eyes taking in the newcomers with a quick glance. "I was cleaning out the bin like you-"

"Chut-chut!" The Toydarian throws up his hands angrily. "Never mind the bin! Watch the store! I've got some selling to do!" He flits back around to face his customers. "So, let me take you out back. You'll soon find what you need."

He darts toward the salvage yard, beckoning Qui-Gon eagerly. The Jedi follows, with R2-D2 trundling after. Jar Jar moves to a shelf and picks up an odd-looking bit of metal, intrigued by its shape, wondering what it is.

"Don't touch anything," Qui-Gon calls over his shoulder, his tone of voice sharp.

Jar Jar put the item down and made a face at Qui-Gon's departing back, sticking out his long tongue in defiance. When the Jedi is out of sight, he picks up the part again.

Anakin Skywalker could not take his eyes off the girl. He notices her the moment he enter Watto's shop, even before Watto says anything, and he haven't been able to stop looking at her since. He barely hears what Watto said to him about watching the shop. He barely notices the strange-looking creature that had come in with her and was poking around in the shelves and bins. Even after she notices he is staring at her, he could not help himself.

He moves now to an open space on the counter, hoists himself up, and sits watching her while pretending to clean a transmitter cell. She is looking back at him now, embarrassment turning to curiosity. She is small and slender with long, braided brown hair, brown eyes, and a face he finew so beautiful that he had nothing to which he could compare it. She is dress in rough peasant's clothing, but she seems very self-possessed.

There is also a man not far from behind her, staring around in awe. His robes are extremely strange and the way his hair is fashioned. There is also a strange braid on his hair.

She gives him an amused smile, and he feels himself melting in confusion and wonder. He takes a deep breath. "Are you an angel?" he asks quietly.

The girl stares. "What?"

"An angel." Anakin straightens a bit. "They live on the moons of Iego, I think. They are the most beautiful creatures in the universe. They are good and kind, and so pretty they make even the most hardened space pirates cry like small children."

She gives him a confused look. "I've never heard of angels," she replies.

"You must be one of them," Anakin insists. "Maybe you just don't know it."

"You're a funny little boy." The amused smile returns. "How do you know so much?"

Anakin smiles back and shrugs. "I listen to all the traders and pilots who come through here." He glances toward the salvage yard. "I'm a pilot, you know. Someday, I'm going to fly away from this place."

The girl wanders to one end of the counter, looks away, then back again. "Have you been here long?"

"Since I was very little-three, I think. My mom and I were sold to Gardulla the Hutt, but she lost us to Watto, betting on the pod races. Watto's a lot better master, I think."

The man stares at him in shock. "You're a slave?"

The way he said it makes Anakin feel ashamed and angry. He glares at him defiantly. "I am a person!"

"I'm sorry," he apologizes quickly, looking upset and shameful, bowing his head slightly since he didn't mean to hurt his feelings. "I don't fully understand, I guess. This is a strange world to us travelers."

He studies the girl intently for a moment, thinking of other things, wanting to tell her of them. "You are a strange girl to me," he says instead.

"Same for you." He eyes the other man dubiously. "My name is Anakin Skywalker."

She chuckles. "Padmé Naberrie."

"Obi-Wan Kenobi."

The strange creature she comes in with wanders back to the front of the shop and bent over a stout little droid body with a bulbous nose. Reaching up curiously, it pushes at the nose with one finger. Instantly armatures pop out from every direction, metal limbs swinging into place. The droid's motors whiz and whirr, and it jerks to life and begins moving forward. Padmé's odd companion goes after it with a moan of dismay, grabbing on in an effort to slow it down, but the droid continues marching through the shop, knocking over everything it came in contact with.

"Hit the nose!" Anakin calls out, unable to keep himself from laughing.

The creature did as it is told, pounding the droid's nose wildly. The droid stops at once, the arms and legs retract, the motors shut down, and the droid goes still. Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Padmé are laughing now, and their laughter increases as they see the look on the unfortunate creature's long-billed face.

Anakin looks at Padmé and the girl and older man at him. Their laughter dies away.

In the salvage yard, Watto is studying the screen of a portable memory bank he held in one hand, tracing through his inventory record. Qui-Gon, arms folded into his farmer's poncho, stood waiting patiently, the R2 unit at his side.

"Ah, here it is. A T-14 hyperdrive generator!" The Toydarian's wings beat wildly as he hovers before the Jedi, his gnarl finger jabbing at the viewscreen. "You're in luck. I'm the only one hereabouts who has one. But you might as well buy a new ship. It would be cheaper. Speaking of which, how're you going to pay for all this, farmer?"

Qui-Gon considers. "I have twenty thousand Republic dataries to put toward-"

"Republic credits?" Watto explodes in disgust. "Republic credits are no good out here! I need something better than that, something of value..."

The Jedi Master shakes his head. "I don't have anything else." One hand comes up, passing casually in front of the Toydarian's face. "But credits will do fine."

"No, they won't!" Watto snaps, buzzing angrily.

Qui-Gon frowns, then passes his hand in front of the pudgy blue alien again, bringing the full force of his Jedi suggestive power to bear.

"Credits will do fine," he repeats.

Watto sneers. "No, they won't!" he repeats. "What do you think you're doing, waving your hand around like that? You think you're some kinda Jedi? Hah! I'm a Toydarian! Mind tricks don't work on me-only money! No money, no parts, no deal! And no one else has a T-14 hyperdrive generator, I can promise you that!"

Chagrin, Qui-Gon wheels back for the shop, the R2 unit following at his heels. The Toydarian shouts after them to come back when they have something worthwhile to trade, still scolding the Jedi Master for trying to foist Republic credits on him. Qui-Gon re-enters the shop just as Jar Jar pulls a part from a large stack and sent the entire arrangement tumbling to the floor. His efforts at correcting the problem brought a second display crashing down as well.

The boy, his Padawan, and the Queen's handmaiden are deep in discussion, paying no attention to the Gungan.

"We're leaving," Qui-Gon announces to the girl and the younger man, moving toward the shop's entry, the R2 unit trundling along behind.

Jar Jar is quick to follow, anxious to escape his latest mess. Padmé gives the boy a warm smile. "I'm glad I met you, Anakin," she said, turning after them.

"As am I," Obi-Wan agrees, unable to believe that there is a growing fondness for the young boy and the sympathy he feels for him. He has never met a slave before.

"I'm glad I met you, too," he calls after them, a reluctance evident in his voice.

Watto flies in from the salvage yard, shaking his head in disgust. "Oudanders! They think because we live so far from everything, we know nothing!"

Anakin is still staring longingly after Obi-Wan and Padmé, his gaze fixed on the empty doorway. "They seemed nice enough to me."

Watto snorts and flies into his face. "Clean up this mess, then you can go home!"

Anakin brightens, gives a small cheer, and goes quickly to work.

Qui-Gon leads his companions back through the lime plaza of salvage shops toward the main avenue. At a place where two buildings are divided to form a shadowed niche, the Jedi Master moves everyone from view and brought out his comlink from beneath his poncho. Padmé and the R2 unit stand waiting patiently, but Jar Jar prowls the space as if trapped, eyes fixed nervously on the busy street.

When Captain Panaka responds to the comlink's pulse, Qui-Gon quickly fills him in on the situation. "Are you sure there isn't anything of value left on board?" he concludes.

There is a pause at the other end. "A few containers of supplies, the Queen's wardrobe, some jewelry. Not enough for you to barter with. Not in the amounts you're talking about, Ambassador."

"All right," Qui-Gon responds with a frown. "Another solution will present itself. I'll check back."

"Is anything going our way?" Obi-Wan mutters bitterly.

Qui-Gon ignores his Padawan and tucks the comlink beneath his poncho and signals to the others. He is moving toward the street again when Jar Jar grabs his arm.

"Noah gain, sire," the Gungan pleads. "Da beings hereabouts crazy nuts. We goen be robbed and crunched!"

"Not likely," Qui-Gon replies with a sigh, freeing himself. "We have nothing of value. That's our problem."

They start back down the street, Qui-Gon trying to think what to do next. Padmé and R2-D2 stay close as they make their way through the crowds, but Jar Jar begins to lag behind, distracted by all the strange sights and smells. They are passing an outdoor cafe, its tables occupied by a rough-looking bunch of aliens, among them a Dug who is holding forth on the merits of Podracing. Jar Jar hurries to catch up to his companions, but then catches sight of a string of frogs hanging from a wire in front of a nearby stall. The Gungan slows, his mouth watering. He has not eaten in some time. He glances around to see if anyone is looking, then unfurls his long tongue and snaps up one of the frogs. The frog disappears into Jar Jar's mouth in the blink of an eye.

Unfortunately, the frog is still securely tied to the wire. Jar Jar stands there, the wire hanging out of his mouth, unable to move.

The vendor in charge of the stall rushes out. "Hey, that will be seven truguts!"

Jar Jar glances frantically down the street for his companions, but they are already out of sight. In desperation, he let go of the frog. The frog pops out of his mouth as if catapults, winging away at the end of the taut wire. It ricochets this way and that, breaking free at last to land directly in the Dug's soup, splashing gooey liquid all over him.

The gangly Dug leaps to his feet in fury, catching sight of the hapless Jar Jar as he tried to move away from the frog vendor. Springing across the table on all fours, he is on top of the Gungan in an instant, grabbing him by the throat.

"Chubba! You!" the Dug snarls through its corded snout. Feelers and mandibles writhe. "Is this yours?"

The Dug shoves the frog in the Gungan's face threateningly. Jar Jar can not get any words out, gasping for breath, fighting to break free. His eyes rolls wildly as he looked for help that wasn't there. Other creatures push forward to surround him, Rodians among them. The Dug throws Jar Jar to the ground, shouting at him, hovering over him in a crouch. Desperately, the Gungan tries to scramble to safety.

"No, no," he moans plaintively as he sought an avenue of escape. "Why me always da one?"

"Because you're afraid," a voice answers calmly.

Anakin Skywalker pushes his way through the crowd, coming up to stand next to the Dug. The boy seems unafraid of the creature, undeterred by the hard-eyed crowd, his bearing self assure. He gives the Dug an appraising look. "Chess ko, Sebulba," he said. "Careful. This one's very well connected."

Sebulba turns to face the boy, cruel face twisting with disdain as he catches sight of the newcomer. "Tooney rana dunko, shag?" he snaps, demanding to know what the boy meant.

Anakin shrugs. "Connected-as in Hutt." The blue eyes fix the Dug and see a hint of fear in the other's face. "Big-time connected, this one, Sebulba. I'd hate to see you diced before we had a chance to race again."

The Dug spits in fury. "Neek me chawa! Next time we race, wermo, it will be the end of you!" He gestures violently. "Uto notu wo shag! If you weren't a slave, I'd squash you here and now!"

With a final glare at the cringing Jar Jar, Sebulba wheels away, taking his companions with him, back to their tables and their food and drink. Anakin stares after the Dug. "Yeah, it'd be a pity if you had to pay for me," he says softly.

He is helping Jar Jar back to his feet when Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Padmé, and R2-D2, having finally missed the Gungan, reappear hurriedly through the crowd.

"Hi!" he greets cheerfully, happy to see Padmé again so soon. "Your buddy here was about to be turned into orange goo. He picked a fight with a Dug. An especially dangerous Dug."

"Nossir, nossir!" the chagrin Gungan insists, brushing off dust and sand. "Me hate crunchen. Tis da last thing me want!"

Qui-Gon gives Jar Jar a careful once-over, glances around at the crowd, and takes the Gungan by the arm. "Nevertheless, the boy saved you from a beating. You have a penchant for finding trouble, Jar Jar." He gives Anakin a short nod. "Thank you, my young friend."

Padmé gives Anakin a warm smile as well, and the boy feels himself blush with pride.

"Me doen nutten!" Jar Jar insists, still trying to defend himself, hands gesturing for emphasis.

"You were afraid," the boy tells him, looking up at the long-billed face solemnly. "Fear attracts the fearful. Sebulba was trying to overcome his fear by squashing you." He cocks his head at the Gungan. "You can help yourself by being less afraid."

"And that works for you?" Padmé inquires skeptically, giving him a wry look.

Anakin smiles and shrugs. "Well... up to a point."

Anxious to spend as much time as possible with the girl and the younger man, he persuades the group to follow him a short distance down the street to a fruit stand, a ramshackle affair formed by a makeshift ragged awning stretched over a framework of bent poles. Boxes of brightly colored fruit are arranged on a rack tilted toward the street for viewing. A weather old lady, gray-haired and stoop, her simple clothing patch and worn, rose from a stool to greet them on their approach.

"How are you feeling today, Jira?" Anakin asks her, giving her a quick hug.

The old lady smiles. "The heat's never been kind to me, you know, Annie."

"Guess what?" the boy replies quickly, beaming. "I've found that cooling unit I've been searching for. It's pretty beat up, but I'll have it fixed up for you in no time, I promise. That should help."

Jira reaches out to brush his pink cheek with her wrinkled hand, her smile broadening. "You're a fine boy, Annie."

Anakin shrugs off the compliment and began scanning the fruit display. "I'll take five pallies, Jira." He glances at Padmé eagerly. "You'll like these. "

He reaches into his pocket for the truguts he had been saving, but when he brought them out to pay Jira, he drops one. The farmer, standing next to him, bent to retrieve it. As he did, his poncho opens just far enough that the boy caught sight of the lightsaber hanging from the belt about his waist.

The boy's eyes went wide, but he masks his surprise by focusing on the coins. He only had four, he found. "Whoops, I thought I had more," he said briskly, not looking up. "Make that four pallies, Jira. I'm not that hungry anyway."

The old woman gives Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Padmé, and Jar Jar their pallies and takes the coins from Anakin. A gust of wind whips down the street, rattling the framework of poles and causing the awning to billow. A second gust sends dust swirling in all directions.

Jira rubs her arms with her gnarled hands. "Gracious, my bones are aching. There's a storm coming, Annie. You'd better get home quick."

The wind gusts in a series of sharp blasts that sent sand and loose debris flying. Anakin glances at the sky, then at Qui-Gon. "Do you have shelter?" he asks.

The Jedi Master nods. "We'll head back to our ship. Thank you again, my young friend, for-"

"Is your ship far?" the boy interrupts hurriedly. All around them, shopkeepers and vendors are closing and shuttering windows and doors, carrying goods and wares inside, wrapping coverings over displays and boxes.

"It's on the city's outskirts," Obi-Wan answers, turning away from the stinging gusts of sand.

Anakin takes his hand quickly, tugging on it. "You'll never reach the outskirts in time. Sandstorms are very, very dangerous. Come with me. You can wait it out at my home. It's not far. My mom won't mind. Hurry!"

With the wind howling all about them and the air clouds with sand, Anakin Skywalker shouts good-bye to Jira and leads his newly adopted charges down the street in a rush.

On the outskirts of Mos Espa, Vader stands near the nose of the Nubian as the wind gathers force, whipping at his black cape, tearing across the broad expanse of the Tatooine desert. His impassive eyes look off into the distance where Mos Espa is beginning to disappear behind a curtain of sand.

'Sand storms. A rare trait about this dustball that suffices besides pod racing.' He thought. As a child, he was always fascinated by the sand storms due to it being close to warm weather, but the weather here is nothing compared to Naboo. To listen to Naboo's rain is always comforting for him. When Anakin went to Naboo, the only trait that terrified him was lightning.

He turns as Captain Panaka comes down the ramp of the transport to join him. Why did a small part of him expect one of the handmaidens, likely to question him how he knows their names?

"This storm's going to slow them down, but the Jedi are resourceful," Vader admits without turning to face him. Partly thanks to this man, who betrayed Padmé in the shadows, he was trapped in two decades of slavery to Sidious along with being responsible for the death of his nephew.

Panaka nods. "It looks pretty bad. We'd better seal up the ship before it gets any worse." There is a beep from the soldier's comlink. Panaka retrieves the communicator from his belt. "Yes?"

Ric Olie's voice rises from the speaker. "We're receiving a message from home. The Queen is intrigued by Lord Vader's opinion of this."

Panaka stares at Vader. "We'll be right there," the captain advises.

They goes up the ramp quickly, sealing it behind them. The transmission had been received in the Queen's chambers. At Ric Olie's direction, they find the fake Queen and her handmaidens Eirtaé and Rabé viewing a hologram of Sio Bibble that is shimmering weakly at one end of the room, the governor's voice breaking up in transmission.

Vader places both hands on his belt, staring at the transmission with cerulean eyes underneath the hood. He knows Sabé doesn't trust him nor do the others, but Padmé would have wanted his insight, given he is a strategist and can read through their disguise.

"...cut off all our food supplies until you return... death toll rising, catastrophic... must bow to their wishes, Your Highness..." Sio Bibble's image and voice fades and returned, garbles still. "Please, I beg of you, tell us what to do! If you can hear me, Your Highness, you must contact me..."

The transmission flickers and disappears. The governor's voice faded into silence. Sabé sits staring at the empty space it left behind, her smooth face troubled. Her hands work quietly in her lap, betraying a nervousness she cannot quite manage to hide.

"What do you think?" Panaka asks, placing his hand on his chin.

Her gaze shifts to Vader. The former Sith shakes his head. "This is a trap. Convey no response, Your Highness. Convey no transmission."

"Are you certain?" Panaka asks.

"Don't underestimate the Force," Vader answers cryptically. "Additionally, the Trade Federation would have intercepted all transmissions. It would only be logical that they would transmit a number of faked transmissions that purport to be from Bibble. There is a dark entity behind this."

"Ally of yours?" Rabé can't resist asking bluntly, receiving raised eyebrows.

"No," he replies, a small bit of levity filling him, "as you can see, handmaiden, we are trapped on this planet far from the Republic unlike Naboo. If my intention is to betray you, it would be now, but I grasps no such intentions to the Queen. My presence is required elsewhere."

The fake Queen stares at him uncertainty for a moment, then nods in acquiescence. Vader leaves her chambers without further comment, his black cape trailing behind him dramatically, and the door hisses shut behind him.

Panaka follows him shortly after to fulfill his own duty as he is undoubtedly growing irritated the longer they are on this planet.

"Well, of course, it's a trap," Rabé says explosively. "Does he think we're idiots?"

"Rabé! Hush!" Eirtaé nearly shouts. "That man can be a threat! He is not a regular Jedi! He manages to read past us and it appears he didn't tell Jinn nor Kenobi yet! He even knows our names and can tell which one are we with our makeup on!"

Sabé's face is starting to itch under the makeup. This is the longest she'd ever worn it. At the palace, they used the blend Yané mixed up, but the stuff that had been stored on the royal ship is a generic brand, and Sabé doesn't like it as much. It is a ridiculous thing to be concern about, she knows, but it is also her face, and so she couldn't help it. Being the Queen is starting to get to her.

Also, the starship might have a royal classification, but it has a military-style head, and that makes going to the bathroom a logistical nightmare.

She just wants to go outside and feel the fresh air, even if it is sandy and hot. Panaka forbidden it, and then there had been a sandstorm, anyway; even Sabé isn't that desperate. She did not enjoy being the person everyone looks to. Even though Rabé and Eirtaé know who she is, they still have to treat her like the Queen whenever anyone is around, and the distance is off-putting.

This is what it is like for Padmé all the time, Sabé realizes. No matter how close to her the other handmaidens get, as soon as the face went on, the walls went up, and Padmé has to trust that when the walls came down again, everyone would still like her. This distance that Sabé couldn't shake any more than she could get her face to stop itching.

"Do you think we should have told him what the message really says?" Sabé asks.

"No," Eirtaé replies. "I'm certain he can already tell, and in any case, it's none of his business. He is dangerous! We can only be thankful he didn't tell Jinn and Kenobi yet. It's foolish to attempt to leave him in the dark further when it would just be pointless. We are entrapped in his finger at this point. Vader knows more than most of the guards on this ship does."

They sit in the silence of their own thoughts for a moment, each conjuring up different fears about what is happening on the planet they had left behind. They know they been intended for processing, and that probably meant some sort of relocation camp. The speed at which the camps have been set up meant they weren't likely to be very comfortable, and droids aren't exactly known for their consideration of human frailties.

At least the weather is warm.

"That's great," Rabé responds sarcastically. "I will prepare a party if my limbs are still connected after this."

"I'm glad Yané and Saché's okay," Eirtaé reassures. "When I heard the word, I almost laughed, I was so relieved."

"I know what you mean," Sabé replies.

"And if Saché knew Bibble was sending the message, then that means they know we're all right, too," Rabé sighs. "Comparatively speaking anyway."

"Panaka said we should have the part by the end of the day tomorrow, or we're never going to get it," Sabé told them. "Master Qui-Gon is going to some sort of cultural event tomorrow morning. He was vague on the details, but he seemed to think he'd be able to take care of everything."

"The Jedi are fine, but I like it better when we're manipulating people," Rabé replies.

"Agreed," Sabé acknowledges. "When Padmé gets back, we'll see what we can do about that."

"While Jinn and Kenobi can be manipulated, Vader simply cannot be manipulated no matter of our disguise. He will see through us all. If he is indeed in association with the Trade Federation, this whole operation is ruined." Rabé replies, lip curl slightly, though it is obvious the usual rough-spoken handmaiden is uncertain about what can be done.

"What do you propose we do?" Eirtaé asks. "Pull out our blasters and try to shoot him only be disarmed once again. He can slaughter each of the security guards and us. You just saw the armor he is wearing; it's battle-torn! Vader claim the Jedi will not get involve with freeing the planet and if he is right that means we will never see our home again. If Padmé can get him involve..." she trails off, knowing they would understand her drift.

Rabé glowers at her, saying, "I highly doubt Padmé will wish for a war on her planet."

Eirtaé scowls slightly. "Well, we might not have any choice! My family is on Naboo! They could be near death! What about Yané and Saché?! They can already be dead!"

Rabé bends her head down slightly, reaching her hand for her friend's hand and squeezing it softly. "Look, I understand your worry for our home planet, Eirtaé, and I'm frightened too, but Vader can be out for his own ambition. I am not cold-hearted. I have seen men who is like Vader in my criminal past. Most people like him don't hesitate to abandoned anyone for their own goals. I am hoping that I am wrong, but Vader could have already leak Padmé to the Trade Federation. And I have already watched enough friends being killed."

Eirtaé sighs, feeling regret for snapping at her fellow handmaiden. "Look, I understand your fears, but I rather at least attempt to befriend him since he is too dangerous to morph as our enemy."

Sabé sighs softly, agreeing with Eirtaé on that part despite understanding Rabé with her arguments. Undoubtedly, all of Vader's rivals and enemies in the past have been cut down. He has battle-torn armor, a literature warlord in every type of form, and not to mention, his muscle mass. Little to no one probably ever escaped him before. They are in his dept regardless if they want to be or not.

"You best get your attire on and get going, Eirtaé. Padmé wouldn't be pleased if Vader manages to escape your view. She wants him to be analyzed. He is stealthy."

Even when Sabé wears the Queen's face, she knows that she has to make her own decision as she still is an individual and not just a mere shadow contrary to many's beliefs. She has learned she doesn't need Padmé's guidance at all times.

Sabé watches as her friend nods and departs. Maybe she can befriend Vader one way or the other when it comes back. Rabé is correct about Vader and that he poses a threat, but it appears he knows everything about them so they have to hope their fears are unconfirmed.

"I don't know why don't Padmé allow two of us to go," Rabé said to her friend, "Vader can easily kill Eirtaé. I should go with them."

Sabé frowns uncertainly. "It would be too suspicious."

"For what? Vader already knows who Padmé is!" For the first time since being here since this mission, in fact, Rabé shouts and gives her friend a look of exasperation.

Sabé contemplates going against the orders of Padmé. "Go."

"What?" Rabé inquires, shocked as Sabé rarely defies the orders of Padmé in front of her at the very least. "You are willing to go against Padmé's orders?!"

"Padmé isn't cruel. Besides, we both know she can't remain mad at me for long." Sabé chuckles.

Standing outside in the windy weather, the former Sith feels divergent in emotions. Part of him wishes to stay on the ship out of the memories that may come but he cannot put himself over his father figure. His own personal grievances with the planet have mostly been planted to rest but there is a small side of him that still has painful memories. Nevertheless, fates just so happen to be ostensibly chosen here.

Vader approaches the garage and gets on the four-seater. So Padmé was right that time when they'd talked about Naboo ships? Each ship of the Naboo does have speeders of all types.

Not too surprisingly, Eirtaé joins him shortly, falling in line from behind the former Sith Lord with a hood raised over her head, a grim expression across her face.

But a determination to fulfill her Queen's orders that she may always possess would stride her forward. Despite the shaky start with Padmé, they are now friends, and she would put her life at risk for her friends and the Naboo.

What is surprising is Rabé joining him in similar clothing. Padmé told him Sabé occasionally disobeyed her orders but it became a teasing thing between the two women years later. They are good friends even now and Padmé never is able to remain angry or annoyed at the handmaiden for long as she is the closest thing to her sister, even closer than Sola.

Vader powers up the engines and begins driving off.

Mentally adding Sabé to his list for someone who shall be a survivor when this is over along with Rabé, Eirtaé, Yané, and Saché, Vader continues to drive down.

He sighs in exasperation as he feels he is getting overwhelmed.

One thing is for certain...

He really needs a datapad right now.

Chapter Text

The sandstorm rages through the streets of Mos Espa in a blinding, choking whirlwind that tore at clothes and exposed skin with relentless force. Anakin holds Padmé's hand so as not to lose her, the farmer, the amphibious creature, and the R2 unit trailing behind, fighting to reach his home in the city's slave quarters while there is still time. Other residents and visitors struggles past, engage in a similar pursuit, heads lower, faces cover, bodies bend over as if weight by age. Somewhere in the distance, an eopie bawls in fright. The light turns an odd yellowish gray, obscure by sand and grit, and the buildings of the city disappear in a deep, impenetrable haze.

Even as he fight his way through the storm, Anakin's thoughts are directed elsewhere. He is thinking of Padmé, of having the chance to take her home to meet his mother, of being able to show her his projects, of holding her hand some more. It sends a flush through him that is both warm and kind of scary. It makes him feel good about himself. He is thinking of the farmer, too- if that's what he is, which Anakin is pretty sure he isn't. He carries a lightsaber, and only Jedi carries lightsabers. It is almost too much to hope for, that a real Jedi might be going to his home, to visit him. But Anakin's instincts tell him he is not mistaken, and that something mysterious and exciting has brought this little group to him.

He is thinking, finally, of his dreams and his hopes for himself and his mother, thinking that maybe something wonderful would come out of this unexpected encounter, something that would change his life forever.

They reach the slave quarters, a jumbles collection of hovels stack one on top of the other so that they, resembles anthills, each complex linked by common walls and switchback' stairways, the plaza fronting them almost empty as the sandstorm chases everyone under cover. Anakin leads his charges through the gritty gloom to his front door and pushes his way inside.

"Mom! Mom! I'm home!" he calls excitedly.

Adobe walls, whitewash and scrub, glimmers softly in a mix of storm-clouded sunlight admitted through small, arched windows and a diffuse electric glow from ceiling fixtures. They stand in the main room, a smallish space dominated by a table and chairs. A kitchen occupied one wall and a workspace another. Openings leads to smaller nooks and sleeping rooms. Outside, the wind howls past the doors and windows, shaving a fresh layer of skin from the exterior of the walls.

Jar Jar Binks looks around with a mix of curiosity and relief. "Tis cozy," he murmurs.

Anakin's mother enters from a work area off to one side, brushing her hands on her dress. She is a forty-year-old woman, her long brown hair tied back from her worn face, her clothing rough and simple. She has been pretty once, and Anakin will say she is pretty still, but time and the demands of her life are catching up with her. Her smile is warm and youthful as she greets her son, but it fades quickly as she catches sight of the people behind him.

"Oh, my!" she exclaims softly, glancing uncertainty from face to face. "Annie, what's this?"

Anakin beams. "These are my friends, Mom." He smiles at Padmé and Obi-Wan. "This is Padmé Naberrie and Obi-Wan Kenobi. And this is-" He stops. "Gee, I guess I don't know any of your names," he admitted.

Qui-Gon steps forward. "I'm Qui-Gon Jinn, and this is Jar Jar Binks." He indicates the Gungan, who made a sort of fluttering gesture with his hands.

The R2 unit makes a small beep.

"And our droid, Artoo - Detoo," Padme finishes.

"I'm building a droid," Anakin announces quickly, anxious to show Padmé and Obi-Wan his project. "You wanna see?"

"Anakin!" His mother's voice stops him in his track. Resolve tightens her features. "Anakin, why are they here?"

He looks at her, confuse. "There's a sandstorm, Mom. Listen."

She glances at the door, then out the windows. The wind howls past, a river of sand and grit.

"Your son was kind enough to offer us shelter," Qui-Gon explains. "We met at the shop where he works."

"Come on!" Anakin insists, grabbing Padmé and Obi-Wan's hands once more. "Let me show you my droid."

He leads Padmé and Obi-Wan toward his bedroom, already beginning a detailed explanation of what he was doing. They follow without arguing, listening attentively. R2-D2 goes with them, beeping in response to the boy's words.

Jar Jar stays where he is, still looking around, appearing to want someone to tell him what to do. Qui-Gon stands facing the boy's mother in awkward silence. Grains of sand beat against the thick glass of the windows with a rapid pocking sound.

"I'm Shmi Skywalker," she says, holding out her hand. "Anakin and I are pleased to have you as our guests."

Qui-Gon already appraises the situation and determines what is needed. He reaches under his poncho and pulls five small capsules from a pouch in his belt. "I know this is unexpected. Take these. There's enough food for a meal."

She accepts the capsules. "Thank you." Her eyes lift and lower again. "Thank you very much. I'm sorry if I was abrupt. I'll never get used to Anakin's surprises, I guess."

"He's a very special boy," Qui-Gon offers.

Shmi's eyes lift again, and the look she gives him suggests they share an important secret.

"Yes," she said softly, "I know."

In his bedroom, Anakin is showing Padmé and Obi-Wan C-3PO. The droid lays on his workbench, deactivated at the moment because the boy is in the process of fabricating his metal skin. He completes the internal wiring, but it's torso, arms, and legs are still bare of any covering. One eye is out of its head as well, lying nearby where he left it after tightening down the visual refractor the night before.

Padmé bends over his shoulder, studying the droid carefully.

"Isn't he great?" Anakin asks eagerly, anxious for their reaction. "He's not finished yet, but he will be soon."

"He's impressivs," the man answers, genuinely impressed.

The boy flushes with pride. "You really like him? He's a protocol droid... to help Mom. Watch!"

He activates C-3PO with a flip of its power switch, and the droid sits up at once. Anakin rushes around hurriedly, searching, then snatches up the missing eye from his workbench and snaps it into its proper socket.

C-3PO looks at them. "How do you do? I am a protocol droid trained in and adept at cyborg relatives... customs and humans..."

"Ooops," Anakin says quickly. "He's a little confused."

He snatches up a long-handled tool with an electronic designator and fitted it carefully to a port in C-3PO's head, then ratchets the handle several turns, studying the setting as he did so. When he has it where he wants, he pushes a button on the handle. C-3PO jerks several times in response. When Anakin removes the designator, the droid stands up from the workbench and faces them.

"How do you do? I am See - Threepio, human-cyborg relations. How may I serve you?"

Anakin shrugs. "I just named him the other day, but I forgot to enter the code in his memory banks so he could tell you himself."

Padme grins at Anakin, delighted. "He's perfect!"

R2-D2 sidles up to them and emits a sharp flurry of beeps and whistles.

C-3PO glances down curiously. "I beg your pardon... what do you mean, I'm naked?"

R2-D2 beeps some more.

"Goodness! How embarrassing!" C-3PO glances quickly over his skeletal limbs. "My parts are showing? My goodness!"

Anakin purses his lips. "Sort of. But don't worry, I'll fix that soon enough." He eases the droid back toward the workbench, glancing over his shoulder at Padmé. "When the storm is over, you can see my racer. I'm building a Podracer. But Watto doesn't know about it. It's a secret."

Padmé smiles. "That's okay. I'm very good at keeping secrets. "

The storm continues throughout the remainder of the day, engulfing Mos Espa, sand blown in from the desert piling up against the shuttered buildings, forming ramps against doorways and walls, clouding the air, and shutting out the light. Shmi Skywalker uses the food capsules Qui-Gon given her to prepare dinner for them. As she works on their meal and while Padmé and Obi-Wan are occupy with Anakin in the other room, Qui-Gon just decides to meditate.

They sit down to eat Shmi's dinner a short while after, the storm still howling without, an eerie backdrop of sound against the silence within. Qui-Gon and Padmé occupy the ends of the table, while Anakin, Obi-Wan, Jar Jar, and Shmi sit at their sides. Anakin, in the way of small boys, begins talking about life as a slave, in no way embarrassed to be doing so, thinking of it only as a fact of his life and anxious to share himself with his new friends. Shmi, more protective of her son's station, is making an effort to help their guests appreciate the severity of their situation.

"All slaves have transmitters placed inside their bodies," Shmi is explaining.

"I've been working on a scanner to try to locate them, but so far no luck," Anakin explains solemnly.

Shmi smiles. "Any attempt at escape..."

"...and they blow you up!" the boy finishes. "Poof!"

Jar Jar is slurping contentedly at his soup, listening with half an ear as he devours the very tasty broth. He overdid it on hearing this, however, making such a loud noise that he stopped conversation altogether. All eyes turn on him momentarily. He lowers his head in embarrassment and pretends not to see.

Padmé looks back at Shmi, shock and somewhat angry to see Vader is correct. Hopefully, this innocent child and his mother don't suffer the same fate as their mysterious ally. "I can't believe slavery is still permitted in the galaxy. The Republic's anti-slavery laws should-"

"The Republic doesn't exist out here," Shmi interrupts quickly, her voice hard. "We must survive on our own."

There is an awkward silence as Padmé looks away, like on the ship, not knowing what else to say.

"Have you ever seen a Podrace?" Anakin asks, trying to ease her discomfort.

Padmé shakes her head no. She glances at Shmi, noting the sudden concern on the woman's lined face. Jar Jar launches his tongue at a morsel of food nestled deep in a serving bowl at the far end of the table, deftly plucking it out, drawing it in, swallowing it, and smacking his lips in satisfaction. A disapproving look from Qui-Gon quickly silences him.

"They have Podracing on Malastare," the Jedi Master observes. "Very fast, very dangerous."

Anakin grins. "I'm the only human who can do it!" A sharp glance from his mother wipes the grin from his face. "Mom, what? I'm not bragging. It's true! Watto says he's never heard of a human doing it."

Qui-Gon studies him carefully. "You must have Jedi reflexes if you race Pods."

Anakin smiles broadly at the compliment. Jar Jar's tongue snakes toward the serving bowl in an effort to snare another morsel, but this time Qui-Gon's waiting hand moves swiftly, and in a heartbeat, he secures the Gungan's tongue between his thumb and forefinger. Jar Jar freezes, his mouth open, his tongue hold fast, his eyes wide.

"Don't do that again," Qui-Gon advises, an edge to his soft voice.

Jar Jar tries to say something, but it comes out as an unintelligible mumble. Qui-Gon releases the Gungan's tongue, and it snaps back into place. Jar Jar massages his billed mouth ruefully.

Anakin's young face lifts to the older man's, and his voice is hesitant. "I... I was wondering something."

Qui-Gon nods for him to continue.

The boy clears his throat, screwing up his courage. "You two are Jedi Knights, aren't you?"

There is a long moment of silence as the older man and the boy stares at each other.

"What makes you think that?" Qui-Gon asks finally.

Anakin swallows. "I saw your lightsaber. Only Jedi Knights carry that kind of weapon."

Obi-Wan continues to stare at him, noting the slight nod from Qui-Gon, then leaned back slowly in his chair and smiles. "Perhaps we killed a Jedi and stole it from him."

Anakin shakes his head quickly. "I don't think so. No one can kill a Jedi."

Qui-Gon's smile fades and there is a hint of sadness in his dark eyes as he remembers her. "I wish that were so..."

"I had a dream I was a Jedi," the boy says quickly, anxious to talk about it now. "I came back here and freed all the slaves. I dreamed it just the other night when I was out in the desert." He pauses, his young face expectant. "Have you come to free us?"

Qui-Gon Jinn shakes his head. "No, I'm afraid not..." He trails off, hesitating.

"I think you have," the boy insists, defiance in his eyes. "Why else would you be here?"

Shmi is about to say something, to chastise her son for his impudence perhaps, but Qui-Gon spoke first, leaning forward conspiratorially. "I can see there's no fooling you, Anakin. But you mustn't let anyone know about us. We're on our way to Coruscant, the central system in the Republic, on a very important mission. It must be kept secret."

Obi-Wan stares at his Master in shock. This mission is meant to be secretive and his Master is telling a mere boy!

Anakin's eyes widen. "Coruscant? Wow! How did you end up out here in the Outer Rim?"

"Our ship was damaged," Obi-Wan answers him. "We're stranded here until we can repair it."

"I can help!" the boy announces quickly, anxious to be of service to them. "I can fix anything!"

Qui-Gon smiles at his enthusiasm. "I believe you can, but our first task, as you know from our visit to Watto's shop, is to acquire the parts we need."

"Wit nutten ta trade," Jar Jar points out sourly.

Padmé is looking at Qui-Gon speculatively. "These junk dealers must have a weakness of some kind."

"Gambling," Shmi says to the Jedi. She rises and begins clearing the table of dishes. "Everything in Mos Espa revolves around betting on those awful Podraces."

Qui-Gon rises, walks to the window, and stares out through the thick, diffuse glass at the clouds of windblown sand.

"Podracing," he muses. "Greed can be a powerful ally if it's used properly."

Anakin leaps to his feet. "I've built a racer!" he declares triumphantly. His boy's face shone with pride. "It's the fastest ever! There's a big race day after tomorrow, on Boonta Eve. You could enter my Pod! It's all but finished-"

"Anakin, settle down!" his mother scolds sharply, cutting him short. Her eyes are bright with concern. "Watto won't let you race!"

"Watto doesn't have to know the racer is mine!" the boy replies quickly, his mind working through the problem. He turns back to Qui-Gon. "You could make him think it was yours! You could get him to let me pilot it for you!"

The Jedi Master catches the look in Shmi's eyes. He meets her gaze, silently acknowledges her consternation, and waits patiently for her response.

"I don't want you to race, Annie," his mother says quietly. She shakes her head to emphasize her words, weariness, and concern reflect in her eyes. "It's awful. I die every time Watto makes you do it. Every time."

Anakin bites his lip. "But, Mom, I love it!" He gestures at Qui-Gon. "And they need my help. They're in trouble. The prize money would more than pay for the parts they need."

Jar Jar Binks nods in support. "We in kinda bad goo."

Qui-Gon walks over to Anakin and looked down at him. "Your mother is right. Let's drop the matter." He holds the boy's gaze for a moment, then turns back to his mother. "Do you know of anyone friendly to the Republic who might be able to help us?" Shmi stands silent and unmoving as she thought the matter through. She shakes her head no.

"We have to help them, Mom," Anakin insists, knowing he is right about this, that he is meant to help the Jedi and his companions. "Remember what you said? You said the biggest problem in the universe is that no one helps anyone."

Shmi sighs. "Anakin, don't-"

"But you said it, Mom." The boy refuses to back down, his eyes locked on hers. Shmi Skywalker makes no response this time, her brow furrowed, her body still.

"I'm sure Qui-Gon doesn't want to put your son in danger," Padmé interjects suddenly, uncomfortable with the confrontation they had brought about between mother and son, trying to ease the tension.

"We will find another way..." Shmi looks over at the girl and shakes her head slowly. "No, Annie's right. There is no other way. I may not like it, but he can help you." She pauses. "Maybe he was meant to help you." She says it as if coming to a conclusion that had eludes her until now as if discovering a truth that, while painful, is obvious.

Anakin's face lit up. "Is that a yes?" He claps his hands in glee. "That is a yes!"

Qui-Gon didn't miss the smirk send Anakin's way by his student. Well, well, well, it appears Obi-Wan is growing fond of their young friend.

Night blankets the vast cityscape of Coruscant, cloaking the endless horizon of gleaming spires in deep velvet layers. Lights blazes from windows, bright pinpricks against the black. As far as the eye could see, as far as a being could travel the city's buildings jutted from the planet's surface in needles of steel alloy and reflective glass. Long ago, the city consumed the planet with its bulk, and now there is only the city, the center of the galaxy, the heartbeat of the Republic's rule.

A rule that some are intending to end once and for all. A rule that some despise.

Darth Sidious stands high on a balcony overlooking Coruscant, his concealing black robes making him appear as if he is a creature produce by the night. He stands facing the city, his eyes direct at its lights, at the faint movement of its air traffic, disinterest in his apprentice, Darth Maul, who waits to one side.

His thoughts are of the Sith and of the history of their order.

The Sith have come into being almost over twenty thousand years ago. They are a cult given over to the dark side of the Force, embracing fully the concept that power denied was power wasted. A rogue Jedi Knight founded the Sith, a singular dissident in an order of harmonious followers, a rebel who understood from the beginning that the real power of the Force lay not in the light, but in the dark. Failing to gain approval for his beliefs from the Council, he broken from the order, departing with his knowledge and his skills, swearing in secret that he could bring down those who dismissed him.

He was alone at first, but others from the Jedi Order who believed as he did and who followed him in his study of the dark side soon came over. Others were recruited, and soon the ranks of the Sith swelled to than fifty in number. Disdaining the concepts of cooperation and consensus, relying on the belief that acquisition of power in any form lends strength and yields control, the Sith began to build their cult in opposition to the Jedi. Theirs was not an order created to serve; theirs was an order created to dominate.

Their war with the Jedi was vengeful and furious and ultimately doomed. The rogue Jedi who founded the Sith Order was its nominal leader, but his ambition excluded any sharing of power. His disciples began to conspire against him and each other almost from the beginning so that the war they instigated was as much with each other as with the Jedi.

In the end, the Sith destroyed themselves. They destroyed their leader first, then each other. What few survived the initial bloodbath were quickly dispatched by watchful Jedi. In a matter of only weeks, all of them died.

All but one.

Darth Maul shifts impatiently. The younger Sith has not yet learned his Master's patience; that would come with time and training. It is patience that saved the Sith Order in the end. It is patience that would give them their victory now over the Jedi.

The Sith who survived when all of his fellows had died understood that. He adopted patience as a virtue when the others had forsaken it. He adopted cunning, stealth, and subterfuge as the foundation of his way-old Jedi virtues the others had disdained. He stood aside while the Sith tore at each other like kriks and were destroyed. When the carnage was complete, he went into hiding, biding his time, waiting for his chance.

When it was believed all of the Sith were destroyed, he emerged from his concealment. At first, he worked alone, but he was growing old and he was the last of his kind. Eventually, he went out in search of an apprentice. Finding one, he trained him to be a Master in his turn, then to find his own apprentice, and so to carry on their work. But there would only be two at anyone time. There would be no repetition of the mistakes of the old order, no struggle between Siths warring for power within the cult. Their common enemy was the Jedi, not each other. It was for their war with the Jedi they must save themselves. The Sith who reinvented the order called himself Darth Bane. A thousand years had passed since the Sith were believed destroyed, and the time they had waited for had come at last.

"Tatooine is sparsely populated." His student's rough voice breaks into his thoughts, and Darth Sidious lifts his eyes to the hologram. "The Hutts rule. The Republic has no presence. If the trace was correct, Master, I will find them quickly and without hindrance." The golden eyes glimmer with excitement and anticipation in the strange mosaic of Darth Maul's face as he waits impatiently for a response.

Darth Sidious is pleased.

"Move against the Jedi first," he advises softly. "You will then have no difficulty taking the Queen back to Naboo, where she will sign the treaty. Do not concern yourself with this mysterious enemy."

Darth Maul exhales sharply. Satisfaction permeates his voice. "At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last, we will have our revenge."

"You have been well trained, my young apprentice," Darth Sidious soothes. "The Jedi will be no match for you. It is too late for them to stop us now. Everything is going as planned. The Republic will soon be in my control."

In the silence that follows, the Sith Lord can feel a dark heat rise inside his and consume him with a furious pleasure.

In the home of Anakin Skywalker, Qui-Gon Jinn stands silently at the doorway of the boy's bedroom and watches him sleep. His apprentice sleeps on the sofa. His mother and the handmaiden occupy the other bedroom, and Jar Jar Binks is curled up on the kitchen floor in a fetal position, snoring loudly. But Qui-Gon can not sleep. It is this boy - this boy! There is something about him.

The Jedi Master watches the soft rise and fall of his chest as he lay locked in slumber, unaware of Qui-Gon's presence. The boy is special, he told Shmi Skywalker, and she agreed. She knows it, too.

She senses it as he did.

Anakin Skywalker is different.

Qui-Gon lifts his gaze to a darkened window. The storm subsides, the wind abates. It is quiet without, the night soft and welcoming in its peace. The Jedi Master thought for a moment about his own life. He knows what they said about him. He is willful, even reckless in his choices. He is strong, but he dissipates his strength on causes that do not merit his attention. But rules are not created solely to govern behavior. Rules are created to provide a road map to understanding the Force.

Is it so wrong for him to bend those rules when his conscience whispers to him that he must? The Jedi folds his arms over his broad chest. The Force is a complex and difficult concept. The Force is rooted in the balance of all things, and every movement within its flow risks an upsetting of that balance. A Jedi sought to keep the balance in place, to move in concert to its pace and will. But the Force exists on more than one plane, and achieving mastery of its multiple passages was a lifetime's work. Or more.

He knows his own weakness. He is too close to the life Force when he should be more attentive to the unifying Force. He finds himself reaching out to the creatures of the present, to those living in the here and now. He has less regard for the past or the future, to the creatures that had or would occupy those times and spaces. It is the life force that bound him, that gave him heart and mind and spirit. So it is he who empathizes with Anakin Skywalker in ways that other Jedi would discourage, finding in this boy a promise he can not ignore. Obi-Wan probably sees the boy and Jar Jar in the same light - useless burdens, pointless projects, unnecessary distractions. Obi-Wan is grounded in the need to focus on the larger picture, on the unifying Force. He lacks Qui-Gon's intuitive nature. He lacks his teacher's compassion for and interest in all living things. He does not see the same things Qui-Gon saw.

Qui-Gon sighs. This is not a criticism, only an observation. Who is to say that either of them was the better for how they interpret the demands of the Force? But it places them at odds sometimes, and more often than not it is Obi-Wan's position the Council supports, not Qui-Gon's. It will be that way again, he knows. Many times. But this will not deter him from doing what he believes he must. He would know the truth about Anakin Skywalker. He would discover his place in the Force, both living and unifying. He would learn who this boy was meant to be. Minutes later, he is stretched out on the floor, asleep.

Vader drives the speeder, cautiously staring back at Eirtaé and Rabé to ensure that his rival and the one who had killed his-his father in another time doesn't just magically appear from the desert and claim the life of the handmaidens.

Finally, they come across a village. Vader raises his hand, sensing dangerous presences from within, and calling off the power of the Force. He has learned to tamed beasts from within his time as Darth Vader.

Expectedly, the Tuskens Raiders emerges, and although they didn't hesitate to pull out their blasters; in a similar thing to what he has to Boba Fett after he was about to terminate the Wookie on Cloud City, Vader places his hands on their shoulders, breaking his concentration for a moment.

That is all that was needed, that singular moment of concentration being broken.

"Blast!" Vader snarls in annoyance, drawing and activating his crimson lightsaber as the Tusken Raiders dashes forward. He releases his holds and they begin to open fire, alerting the other Tuskens from within and causing them to lunge forward to assist their comrades.

Vader's saber runs right through the first rounds of Tuskens. He knows in matters of speaking that he, Eirtaé, and Rabé are the interlopers and that this is partly their fault, but he cares little.

And why does this blasted moment partnership with Rabé and Eirtaé reminds him so much of Vendaxa, just with different handmaidens?

The former Dark Lord approaches the Tusken Camp with Eirtaé and Rabé, and they aim their guns at the females who begin to lift up the blasters of their fallen mates and fire, but are swiftly purged by Vader's lightsaber and the handmaidens' blaster fire.

He would never forgive the Tuskens for what they have done. These animals tore up families; they must all die, and although Vader doesn't relish in butchering children, they would only grow up to become cold warriors who care for the deaths of thousands on this planet. The Tuskens are evil; they all must die for the safety of many others.

Guards are standing poise, but Darth Vader simply moves his hand grasping his lightsaber, and cut off the head of the Guard on the right, and the other Guard is about to attack but he already has been seized with the Force. Vader crushes his windpipe without hesitation.

Much to their horror, Rabé and Eirtaé spot prisoners and begin cutting their chains. They were not only children among them but adults; bruised, battered, and undoubtedly tortured.

Suddenly, a Tusken in dark undergarments approaches, staff raise in challenge.

Vader nods slightly, accepting the unspoken challenge as the Tusken dashes forward, the staff slamming into him but it is easily blocked.

When her blaster is knocked out of her hand by a Tusken, Rabé kicks his knees out, slamming the Tusken before grabbing her blaster and firing a straight hole into his head.

Vader parries each of the blows by the Chieftain before impaling his lightsaber through the Tusken's abdomen and he raises the Tusken above him. He freezes as Vader pulls his blade up, eviscerating the Tusken who's bloody body collapses on the ground.

Vader deactivates his lightsaber and clips it on his belt, not making any animadversion nor lamenting his actions at all. These Tuskens have been lacerating people for thousands of years; so many people were dismantled from their families, tortured, and unlike him, presumably never been able to see their parents, siblings, or children ever again, not even in their irrevocable days. They tore up families and ruin lives.

Granted, he too did those things, but he has long ago accepted he is a beast.

Without a word to the natives, Vader walks out, leaving the handmaidens to free them from their chains with their handmaiden training. Although they had thought they had known already so much about the galaxy, is it true the Republic doesn't care for all these innocent beings who are suffering? Both feel like barfing at the scars and wounds across the many innocent men, women, and children.

Rabé kneels down and notices a child who could be little more than five staring down. She grabs her cheek and sees the lifeless eyes of the innocent child, but by the way, she blinks, it is clear she's still alive, just extremely weak and her eyes are beyond damaged.

They free the rest of them from their chains or help them up and allow them off into the nights. They undoubtedly frighten beyond belief since they just want to return to their homes, hoping their families haven't abandoned them.

The former Sith Lord didn't protest nor spoken an offer of any type despite the handmaidens trying to convince the natives otherwise and even going so far as to offer to help them back to town, him scowling at that admission. His younger self would have been like the handmaidens, have been insistent to save everyone or at least as many as he can, but Vader has long since stripped his mentality of that quixotic attitude. Throughout his life, he has lost many good people to attempt to save one or two people. If he learnt anything during his time as the Dark Lord, he had learned that saving one life or making one good decision does not always lead to a great outcome. He has lost too many people to count to care what happens to them because of their foolish decisions. Saving one person does not account for the loss of lives of many others.

To be blunt, he cares little about these people. If Eirtaé and Rabé attempt to lead them back, he would employ a mini dark side ability mind probe where they would be placed into a deep sleep until the morning. He won't allow them to walk into their suicide to save these people. Yes, he feels compassion for these people, but compare to the handmaidens who were like bigger sisters to him, they are invaluable.

And even with many of the people who were in the camp gone, Eirtaé and Rabé cannot believe one cannot acknowledge another for so long, not even as he forms a campfire and sat down on the log. They did occasionally gave each other looks.

Otherwise, the three have refused to engage in conversation.

At least...

Until now.

"So we would like to know about you in a personal manner," Rabé chooses to speak. "Why are you working with us for the risk of losing thousands of credits from the Trade Federation?"

The two teenagers can swear there is a little more than a sigh from the masked man's throat, eyes now fixated on them. "I have already inform you of this. Nute Gunray and the entire Trade Federation is pathetic. They are fundamentally children who didn't receive their favorite piece of candy and is now throwing a tantrum."

Eirtaé scowls. "And what are your motives then? In the library, according to Padmé and Sabé, in the little information there is, the Sith were described as evil and emotionless beasts."

"Those are half-truths. There have been Sith who lean to the light side and Jedi who lean to the dark in ancient history. In the Gravid's Purge and Cold Wars, this was especially big as there were different associations among the Jedi Order and Sith Empire. Jedi can be dark as much as Sith can be light, and of course, there are those such as I who walk the middle ground. Don't allow the Jedi to manipulate you as they had committed immoral atrocities in the past." Vader retorts, narrowing his eyes.

"According to them, they were limitations in the lessons about the Sith," Rabé admits, shrugging her shoulders. "I never was interested in the library that much. However, Sabé did tell me about their past and their actions." She gives him a dark look. "Naboo was said to be purged by the Sith multiple times. It is said that they are no redeeming qualities about the Sith."

"Undoubtedly due to the Jedi. They claimed everything Sith-related to either destroy it or to entrap in a Vault. The Jedi, while good intention are hardly even worthy of being called wise peacekeepers because all they do is force their naive points down children. Their ill knowledge of the Force shall eventually be their downfall." Vader declares bluntly, eyes flashing angrily. Despite him regretting his actions, the Jedi are at blame for major things in the war and their arrogance; not to mention, undoubtedly, they are plotting to destroy him or tame him.

He would only defend himself if the Jedi do choose to clash with him. He resents possibly having to claim a few of their lives, but he would do what he must. He rarely has time for the Jedi's games this time. The Force is supporting him as a vessel, not the Jedi. They have already failed this galaxy once. Their condescension would only cause a repeat of history if Vader does not take this carefully.

"What will they do to you?" Rabé asks.

"No doubt attempt to maim me. The Jedi has lost their way from their original goal for over many decades. They only seek to fulfill their own ambitions." Vader replies, frowning in deep disappointment. Even after everything they have done to him like not allowing him to save his mother and abandoning Ahsoka, he doesn't want their Order to collapse; just destroyed and reborn with the students being free to embrace their attachments instead of being emotionless beasts.

"What would you do if they attacked you as you claim?" Eirtaé inquires, intrigue.

"I would self defend myself. The Jedi are not absolute, and due to their belief in destroying the dark side, they are destined to collapse." Vader informs her. "I am not above killing their members."

For a few seconds, only the campfire was the sound heard.

"Were you a Jedi?"

It was seemingly an innocent question yet a question not expected and it startled him. Vader didn't know why but he didn't wish to deceive her. Perhaps because she is one who is comparable to Padmé's compassion.

Eirtaé... she is compassionate and she was the friend of Anakin Skywalker in the former timeline, and she had also known of his and Padmé's relationship. During his time on Naboo off the war, Eirtaé tried to play games with him to take his thoughts off the war, going as far as to prank Padmé and her fellow handmaidens with him. In spite of this, he didn't want to form a friendship with the handmaiden. Similarly, Vader couldn't find himself retorting with a rude remark. She is just asking a simple question and hasn't done anything to offend him. While Vader trusts Sabé more out of all the handmaidens, Eirtaé and Rabé are still genuinely good people.


"If so, then how could you have married a wife?" Rabé queries, eyes staring at the back of his hooded head suspiciously. "Isn't embracing attachments against their codes or whatnot?"

"Precisely, which is why I had left the Jedi Order in an unconventional manner," Vader confirms. Well, not exactly left the Jedi Order but it is a half-truth that hits closer to home. "They considered me as one of the greatest duelists in the Order and labeled my Force Abilities as impressive as the Jedi from ancient history. After some time, I couldn't endure their enigmatic ways no longer so I left this galaxy and preserve my life in an unknown galaxy until recently."

"So I guess our Queen's suspicions should be designated mistaken, given you haven't killed us nor appear intrigued in granting our deaths," Eirtaé admits.

"I don't kill people unless they attack me."

'Not anymore.'

"Padmé nor none of your fellows deserve death in my books as I sense you are all genuinely good people so you live. Self-defense is also a constituent as I am certain you know, comprising as the Queen's handmaidens and plausibly annihilating people before."

Both decide not to press the matter as the wind washes over them. It is not like they are going to get any more information anyway and they are exhausted due to the day's travel, not to mention dehydrated. Their lips becoming dry or crusty is a clear issue that needs to be resolved.

"There are drinks in the camp," Vader informs, sensing their complications through the Force.

Both nod and head to the back to try the water moisture. Both gags and grimaces but forces themselves to finish their drinking of the salty water.

Once they returns, both handmaidens are already playing a mini-game of some sort: saying something about Sabé cheating in their last game, growing tired and falling asleep.

The former Sith sighs before hoisting up the blonde handmaiden, walking into the camp, and places it her on what totally shouldn't be called a cot before doing the same to the other, realizing how uncomfortable it must be for them to lay on. For a moment, he thinks about little Leia... him staring at her teenager form in such a peaceful slumber... and even as a child... him comforting her... soothing her if she have a bad dream... if only he didn't turn to that man...

Blast their resemblances to Padmé and Leia!

Why in faith do the Force have to remind him of Leia? Is it punishment for allowing her homeworld to be destroyed by Tarkin?

He stares down at the sleeping two teenagers for a while - or at least it feels that way for him - who soon begin shivering and he can't resist the urge to plant his cape on their forms and push the strand of hair away from the sleeping Eirtaé's right brow and pulling up his cape on Rabé's side to assure she is also comfortable.

'I wish I had this chance with Luke and Leia,' Vader thinks solemnly, but it brings him little pleasure to have a moment to be a father, despite them not being his daughters.

With a final stare at the peacefully sleeping teenagers, Vader walks out of the camp, falls on his knees, and begins to delve deep into meditation.

The new day dawns bright and clar, Tatooine's twin suns blazing down out of a clear blue sky. The sandstorm has moved on to other regions, sweeping the landscape clean of everything but the mountains and rocky outcroppings of the desert and the buildings of Mos Espa. Anakin is up and dress before his guests stir awake, eager to get to the shop and advise Watto of his plan for the upcoming Podrace. Qui-Gon warns him not to be too eager in making his suggestion to the Toydarian, but to stay calm and let Qui-Gon handle the bargaining. But Anakin is so excited he could have barely heard what the other was saying.

The Jedi Master knows it will be up to him to employ whatever mix of cunning and diplomacy is required to achieve their ends. Greed is the operative word in dealing with Watto, of course, the key that will open any door the Toydarian kept locked. They walk from the slave quarters through the city to Watto's shop, Anakin leading the way, Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Padmé close at his heels, Jar Jar and R2-D2 bringing up the rear. The city is awake and bustling early, the shopkeepers and merchants shoveling and sweeping away drifts of sand, reassembling stalls and awnings, and righting carts and damaged fences. Eopies and rontos perform heavy labor where sleds and droids lack sufficient muscle. Wagons are already hauling fresh supplies and merchandise from warehouses and storage bins, and the receiving bays of the spaceport are back to welcoming ships from off-planet.

Qui-Gon lets Anakin go on ahead to the shop as they draw near, in order to give the boy a chance to approach Watto on the subject of the Podraces first. With the others in tow, the Jedi Master moves to a food stall across the way, persuades a vendor to part with a handful of gooey dweezels, and bides his time. When the dweezels are consumed, he moves his group across the plaza to the front of Watto's shop. Jar Jar, already unsettled anew by all the activity, takes up a position on a crate near the shop entry, his back to the wall, his eyes darting this way and that in anticipation of something awful befalling him. R2-D2 moves over beside him, beeping softly, trying to reassure him that everything was okay.

Qui-Gon tells Padmé to keep a wary eye on the Gungan. He doesn't want Jar Jar getting into any more trouble. He is starting into the shop when the girl puts a hand on his arm.

"Are you sure about this?" she asks, doubt mirrored clearly in her brown eyes. "Trusting our fate to a boy we hardly know?" She wrinkles her smooth brow. "The Queen would not approve."

Qui-Gon meets her gaze squarely. "The Queen does not need to know."

Her eyes blaze defiantly. "Well, I don't approve."

He gives her a questioning look, then turns away wordlessly.

Inside the salvage shop, he finds Watto and Anakin engage in a heated discussion, the Toydarian hovering centimeters from the boy's face, blue wings a blur of motion, snout curls inward as he gestures sharply and purposely with both hands.

"Patta go bolla!" he shouts in Huttese, chubby body jerking with the force of his words.

The boy blinks but holds his ground. "No batta!"

"Peedunkel!" Watto flits backward and forward, up and down, everything moving at once.

"Banyo, banyo!" Anakin shouts.

Qui-Gon moves out of the shadowed entry and into the light where they can see him clearly. Watto turns away from Anakin at once, toothy mouth working, and flies into Qui-Gon's face in a frenzy of ill-conceal excitement.

"The boy tells me you want to sponsor him in the race tomorrow!" The words explode out of him. "You can't afford parts! How can you afford to enter him in the race? Not on Republic credits, I think!"

He breaks into raucous laughter, but Qui-Gon does not miss the hint of curiosity that gleams in his slit eyes.

"My ship will be the entry fee," the Jedi advises bluntly.

He reaches beneath his poncho and brings out a tiny holoprojector. Clicking on the power source, he projects a hologram of the Queen's transport into the air in front of Watto. The Toydarian flits closer, studying the projection carefully.

"Not bad. Not bad." The wrinkle blue proboscis bobs. "A Nubian."

"It's in good order, except for the parts we need." Qui-Gon gives him another moment, then flick off the holoprojector and tucks it back beneath his poncho.

"But what would the boy ride?" Watto demands irritably. "He smashed up my Pod in the last race. It will take too long to fix it for the Boonta."

Qui-Gon glances at Anakin, who is clearly embarrassed. "Aw, it wasn't my fault, really. Sebulba flashed me with his port vents. I actually saved the Podracer... mostly."

Watto laughs harshly. "That he did! The boy is good, no doubts there!" He shakes his head. "But still..."

"I have acquired a Pod in a game of chance," Qui-Gon interrupts smoothly, drawing the other's attention back to him. "The fastest ever built."

He does not look at Anakin, but he imagines the expression on the boy's face.

"I hope you didn't kill anyone I know for it!" Watto snaps. He burst into a new round of laughter before bringing himself under control again. "So, you supply the Podracer and the entry fee; I supply the boy. We split the winnings fifty-fifty; I think."

"Fifty-fifty!" Obi-Wan exclaims, eyes going wide. "We could build our own pod racer at that point."

"Yes, but who's going to drive it?" Watto mocks. "You?"

"You bet I can. I drove speeders before. We don't have to listen to this."

Qui-Gon places his hand on his shoulder before staring back up, brushing the suggestion aside. "Fifty-fifty? If it's going to be fifty-fifty, I suggest you front the cost of the entry. If we win, you keep all the winnings, minus the cost of the parts I need. If we lose, you keep my ship."

Watto is clearly caught by surprise. He thinks the matter through, hand rubbing at his snout, wings beating the air with a buzzing sound. The offer is too good, and he is suspicious. Out of the corner of his eye, Qui-Gon sees Anakin glance over at him nervously.

"Either way, you win," Qui-Gon points out softly.

Watto pounds his fist into his open palm. "Deal!" He turns to the boy, chuckling. "Your friend makes a foolish bargain, boy! Better teach him what you know about how to deal for goods!"

He is still laughing as Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan leave the shop.

The Jedi Master and Padawan collect Padmé, Jar Jar, and R2-D2, and left word for Anakin to join them as soon as Watto will free him up to work on the Podracer. Since Watto is more interested in the upcoming race than in managing the shop, he dismisses the boy at once with instructions to make certain the racer he will be driving is a worthy contender and not some piece of space junk that will cause everyone to laugh at the Toydarian for his foolish decision to enter it in the first place.

As a result, Anakin is home almost before Qui-Gon and the others, eagerly leading them to where his project is concealed in the slave quarter boneyards. The Podracer is shaped like a narrow half-cylinder with a rudder-skid attach to its flat bottom, a cockpit carve into its curved-top, and steering arms attached at its sides. Sleek Radon - Ulzer fighter engines with scoop-air stabilizers tow the Pod at the end of Steel ton cables. The effect is something like seeing a doop bug attached to a pair of banthas.

Working together, the company activates the antigrav lifts and guided the Pod and its enormous engines into the courtyard in the back of Anakin's home. With Padmé, Jar Jar, and R2-D2 lending assistance and encouragement, the boy immediately went to work prepping the Pod for the upcoming race.

While Anakin and his helpers are thus engaged, Qui-Gon mounts the back porch of the Skywalker home, glances around to make certain he is alone with Obi-Wan.

"If all goes well, we will have our hyperdrive generator by tomorrow afternoon and be on our way," he concludes.

Obi-Wan's silence is telling. "What if this plan fails, Master? We could be stuck here for a long time."

Qui-Gon Jinn looks out over the squalor of the slave quarters and the roofs of the buildings of Mos Espa beyond, the sun's bright glare overhead. "A ship without a power supply will not get us anywhere. We have no choice."

Obi-Wan nods grimly and walks out.

"And there is something about this boy," he whispers to himself, leaving the thought unfinished.

Shmi Skywalker appears through the back door and moved over to join him. Together they stand watching the activity in the courtyard below.

"You should be proud of your son," Qui-Gon says after a moment. "He gives without any thought of reward."

Shmi nods, a smile flitting over her worn face. "He knows nothing of greed. Only of dreams. He has..."

"Special powers."

The woman glances at him warily. "Yes."

"He can see things before they happen," the Jedi Master continues. "That's why he appears to have such quick reflexes. It is a Jedi trait."

Her eyes are fixed on him, and he does not miss the glimmer of hope that shone there. "He deserves better than a slave's life," she said quietly.

Obi-Wan can hardly believe he feels horribly for the woman and her son. For perhaps the first time in... well ever, Obi-Wan wonders: How many people across the galaxy are suffering, wishing that they can grant a better life for their kins?

Qui-Gon keeps his gaze direct out at the courtyard. "The Force is unusually strong with him, that much is clear. Who was his father?"

There is a long pause, long enough for the Jedi Master to realize he asked a question she is not prepared to answer. He gives her time and space to deal with the matter, not pressing her, not making it seem as if it were necessary she answer at all.

"There is no father," she says finally. She shakes her head slowly. "I carried him, I gave birth to him. I raised him. I can't tell you any more than that."

Obi-Wan, like all of his fellow Jedi, did have a father. But to avoid the complications with attachments, the Jedi Council strides to acquire infants. Still, there are times when Obi-Wan secretly wishes to meet his parents or whatever siblings he may have, but that was when he was younger.

She touches his arm, drawing his eyes to meet hers. "Can you help him?"

Qui-Gon is silent for a long time, thinking. He feels an attachment to Anakin Skywalker he can not explain. In the back of his mind, he senses he is meant to do something for this boy, that it was necessary he tries, but all Jedi are identified within the first six months of birth and given over to their training. It is true for him, for Obi-Wan, for everyone he knew or had heard about. There are no exceptions.

Can you help him? He did not know how that was possible.

"I don't know," he tells her, keeping his voice gentle, but firm. "I didn't come here to free slaves. Had he been born in the Republic, we would have identified him early, and he might have become a Jedi. He has the way. I'm not sure what I can do for him." She nods in resignation, but her face reveals, beneath the mask of her acceptance, a glimmer of hope.

As Anakin tightens the wiring on the thruster relays to the left engine, a group of his friends appears. The older boys are Kitster and Seek, the older girl is Amee, the younger girl was Melee, and the Rodian is Waldo. Anakin breaks off his efforts to complete the wiring long enough to introduce them to Padmé, Jar Jar, and R2-D2.

"Wow, a real astromech droid!" Kitster exclaims, whistling softly. "How'd you get so lucky?"

Anakin shrugs. "That isn't the half of it," he declared, puffing up a bit. "I'm entered in the Boonta tomorrow."

Kitster makes a face and pushes back his mop of dark hair. "What? With this?"

"That piece of junk has never even been off the ground," Wald says, nudging Amee. "This is such a joke, Annie."

"You've been working on that thing for years," Amee observes, her small, delicate features twisting in disapproval. She shook her blond head.

"It's never going to run." Melee adds.

Obi-Wan can't believe he feels remorse for the boy and approaches as Anakin starts to say something in defense of himself, then decided against it. Better to let them think whatever they want for now. He will show them.

"Hey," Obi-Wan reprimands them before they could taunt Anakin further. "Unless you are all here to help Anakin, leave him be."

"Come on, let's go play ball," Seek suggests, already turning away, a hint of boredom in his voice as he glares up at the Jedi. "Keep it up, Annie, and you're gonna be bug squash."

Obi-Wan scowls slightly. "At least he is entering the race. Not seeing any of you willing to try."

Seek, Wald, Melee, and Amee hurry off, laughing back at him, though there is a hint of fear in their tone and on their faces after what the Jedi just said. But Kitster is his best friend and knows better than to doubt Anakin when he said he was going to do something. So Kitster stays behind, ignoring the others. "What do they know?" he asks quietly.

Anakin gives him a grin of appreciation. Then he notices Jar Jar fiddling with the left engine's energy binder plate, the power source that locks the engines together and kept them in sync, and the grin disappears.

"Hey! Jar Jar!" he shouts in warning. "Stay away from those energy binders!"

The Gungan, bend close to the protruding plate, looked up guiltily. "Who, me?"

Anakin puts his hands on his hips. "If your hand gets caught in the beam, it will go numb for hours."

Jar Jar screws up his face, then puts his hands behind his back and stuck his bill face back down by the plate. Almost instantly an electric current arced from the plate to his mouth, causing him to yelp and jump back in shocked surprise. Both hands clamps over his mouth as he stood staring at the boy in disbelief.

"Ist numm! Ist numm!" Jar Jar mumbles, his long tongue hanging loosely. "My tongue is fat. Dats my bigo oucho." Anakin shook his head and went back to work on the wiring.

Kitster moves close to him, watching silently, his dark face intense. "You don't even know if this thing will run, Annie," he observes with a frown, though there is a notable concern in his voice.

Anakin didn't look up. "It will."

Qui-Gon Jinn appears at his shoulder. "I think it's about time we found out." He handed the boy a small, bulky cylinder. "Use this power pack. I picked it up earlier in the day. Watto has less need for it than you." One corner of his mouth twitches in a mix of embarrassment and amusement.

Anakin knows the value of a power pack. How the Jedi manages to secure one from under Watto's nose, he has no idea and no interest in finding out. "Yes, sir!" he beams.

He jumps into the cockpit, fits the power pack into its sleeve in the control panel, and sets the activator to the ON position. Then he pulls on his old, dented racing helmet and gloves. As he did so, Jar Jar, who is fiddling around at the back of one of the engines, manages to get his hand caught in the afterburner. The Gungan begin leaping up and down in terror, his mouth still numb from the shock he received from the energy binders, his bill flapping to no discernible purpose. Padmé catches sight of him at the last minute-his arms windmilling frantically-and yank him free an instant before the engines ignite.

Flame explodes from the afterburners, and a huge roar rose from the Radon - Ulzers, building steadily in pitch until Anakin eases off on the thrusters, then settling back into a throaty rumble. Cheers rise from the spectators, and Anakin waves his hand in response.

"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon probes. "Return to the ship. There is something about that boy that I need to check. Also, we need to ensure the Queen doesn't do anything reckless.''

He nods. "Yes, Master."

On the porch of their home, Shmi Skywalker watches wordlessly, her eyes distant and sad.

Chapter Text


If anyone would say Darth Maul is capable of feeling fear some time ago, he would have cackled in their face before impaling his lightsaber through the fool from face to the chin and probably even slaughtered the fool's family and friends. He believed he no longer felt fear - no longer capable of - not even in the presence of his own Master.

On Orisis, he learned the skills of an assassin. However, Sidious ordered him to forgo any use of the Force, save for his heightened senses and to improve in terms of lightsaber combat.

The young Zabrak, upon being introduced to the students, challenged the tall Abyssin Dalok to prove himself and defeated him with such ferocity that he bit him on the nose. He defeated many in his time yet now the presence is closing in on him.

When he was younger, the boy constantly feared for his life, but he learned that he must turn his fear into anger, therefore using it many times and growing ever more powerful.

All he has to do is destroy a mere Jedi Master who would expire shortly and an arrogant Padawan and one part of his mission would be completed then he shall retreat until this traitor to the ways of the Sith diverges from the Queen and capture the Queen and bring her to Coruscant.

That has been the plan; the plan that Darth Sidious formulated; now, he could sense the presence closing upon him greater than before; he senses pressure surrounding his chest, whoever this being is presence in the dark side as strong as his own Master. Dread feels him as he realizes that the plan is failing and that means as a result he will fail his Master if this figure is indeed as powerful as the Force is radiating around him.

The modified Naboo speeder accelerates to him, and, not even forming a confronting stance, the figure extracts himself from the vehicle, looking ever the more intimidating with the Twin Suns at his back. Ruthless and cold as ice, for the first time for a long time, making the Sith Apprentice shiver. Power and domination close around him.

The Zabrak Assassin glares, angry at the power of this mockery obtaining this immense power but also interest in seeing if he can bring him before his Master, for him to drain his power and to give it to them so they can obtain unlimited power or to convince him to join them. He observes the figure, completely clouded in black, staring up at his enemies with his golden eyes. The battle-worn armor reminds him all too much of Darth Revan's ancient lost armor and the mask that is similar to Darth Malgus.

A small smirk emerges on his lips at the two women noticeably stiffening at the presence he furnishes into the Force. In due time, all of the Jedi would have similar reactions and he would crush them underneath his boot.

The two women pull their blasters from their belts, seeing with their training that he is a threat, and begin to fire as they approach, causing the Zabrak to raise his hand and propel the blaster fire to other directions before seizing them and blasting the women away.

Sprawled across the ground, the blonde woman begins coughing repeatedly and the dark-haired woman rubs at her wounds while the mockery stares on, hands interlocked behind his back, remaining deceptively calm.

Like a prey hunting for a hunter, the Zabrak snarls, grasping the hilt of his lightsaber before activating the crimson lightsaber, twirling his lightsaber across the sandy ground, and attempting to intimidate this traitor, seeing that despite his Master's warning, a confrontation is inevitable.

The shadow huffs - or makes a noise that sounds like it. "Fool, you are hardly even worthy of being called a Sith. You are not a Sith. You are just a tool."

The Zabrak points his upper lightsaber horizontally at the figure, a cold fury intensifying within him. "Your allies are defeated," he says calmly.

The dark shadow chuckles. "Hardly defeated. You are a weapon long past its time, were you to ally with me some time ago, I would have welcomed your strength, but we shall do battle here, and the victor shall prove their worth to be the greatest among us. Show me you are truly worthy of being called Sith..." the figure draws, grasping the hilt of his lightsaber and activating it. "Perhaps that's why your mother abandoned you."

The Zabrak lunges, utilizing more momentum than ever before. He dares to mock him and cut a core deep within him that reminds him of his mother! He shall die! Yes, the Zabrak shall see that this shadow suffers the most pain he has ever seen and see to it that he feels every wound! He would first take his corpse to Mustafar where he would char his remaining body parts for days! He would then even travel to Dathomir and command for them to devour this shadow's remaining!

The shadow's lightsaber comes up as he waits patiently. It only further incenses the Zabrak that he isn't willing to oppose him as a challenge.

And the clash begins.

The Zabrak's agility on inhuman legs and flashing blades seems to push the dark figure away. But only at the beginning. With dawning amazement and horror, he realizes that the being is deflecting all of his strikes… with only one blade! He feels his rage deepen and calls upon the dark side even more. Speed increasing still, he blurs away from the figure, then streaks back even faster, hoping to take it by surprise and pierce it through the torso.

Each of his blows is countered with a casualness that surprises him. What's more, his own strikes appear to be far more powerful. From his time as training, the Zabrak can see that the mysterious foe is battering each of his strikes aside before making his own attack. He is trained in all seven forms yet his foe is requiring merely one form to defeat him! It made him angry but the shadow didn't break his source for combat! When the Zabrak attempts to jump over him and dashes at him, the shadow merely turns like a talented dancer, masterfully parries the assault by the Zabrak, and continues to attack!

The Zabrak finds himself back on defense, parrying each assault with a noticeable strain in his muscles, gritting his teeth as the force of the shadow's blows descends down upon him. The shadow jabs him in the shoulder and manages to break through his assault, striking him in the torso with his fist, causing him to grunt and his lightsaber to be fly several feet away.

The shadow plants his knee on his abdomen, preventing him from moving. "Sloppy," the shadow declares with some sort of amusement. "Others can fight better. How anyone like you could be viewed as an Assassin by your Master is beyond me."

The Zabrak catches him in the face and kicks him off of his form, using the Force in calling his double-bladed lightsaber horizontally to his grip and activating it, breathing heavily as he glares at this adversary. This mockery of everything he was taught. Working with Jedi! Associating with inadequate individuals who only bury themselves away with wealth without obtaining any real power!

"It appears that your mastery of the Dark Side is not as complete as you wished," the scornful voice taunts. "Shame. A learned disciple might have corroborated a formidable bludgeon to be implemented as I have striven."

The shadow swings his lightsaber around the Zabrak in under a second, and he can sense the light and the darkness in every swipe that sends a waver through the Force surrounding him before pulling back and raising his hand before propelling sand off the ground and sending the storm he has constructed with the Force into the Assassin's direction, provoking the Zabrak into raising his double-bladed lightsaber and blocks the assault, gritting his teeth as the strain of his muscles begins to become evident before he raises his hand and blasts the sand back at the user.

The Zabrak, beyond irritated, sends the wind of sand away, striking his way to the fog and hacking at where his opponent is... or was. As the wind clears up, he can't see his rival anywhere...

Only to dodge a swipe seconds earlier from decapitating his head from his shoulders! The Zabrak kicks him back, parrying five assaults, and Force Blasts him away, rotating his blade before welcoming him to attack with one motion of his hand. The shadow walks over calmly, slashing at the Zabrak who parries each of the strikes. The Zabrak aims for a downer strike, attempting to catch him off-balance in the knee. His strike is promptly blocked without much effort.

The blonde woman stands first and raises her blaster at the back of the Sith Assassin and begins to fire, causing the Zabrak to break off from their locked blades and rotating his double-bladed lightsaber behind him to deflect a few of the blaster shots and raise her in the air, bringing her slowly to him, but before he could commence with something that would threaten the handmaiden's safety, the shadow outstretches his hand and Force Pushes the Zabrak slightly back, staggering the Zabrak but causing him to release her. It is evident that was done on purpose and only an mini attack that would force him to release her.

The shadow shakes his head at her with an aura full of disapproval, a single motion in telling her don't involve herself with this. Both know non Force Sensitives or those who aren't trained in the ways of the Force are extremely valuable compared to experienced Force Users. Ysalamirs are the only way to negate Force abilities and they are rare to track, imprisoned by the Jedi decades ago in the Deep Core and exterminated by his Sith Master in another time. Having long admired the tenacity of the ysalamiri, the Jedi Order named a form of lightsaber combat, Makashi, after the creature.

So now it is utterly impossible for Force Users to be bested by non Force Users.

The shadow returns his attention to him, aiming his lightsaber at him. "Unfortunately, assassin, you have yet to realize both Orders are pathways to misery. The Order of Bane and the Order of Jedi is tortuous; one Order cannot control their emotions while the other is immensely detached. Both Orders must collapse for balance to be restored once and for all. And I shall see to it."

The Zabrak glares at him, golden eyes flashing as he lunges at the shadow, hacking away endlessly that could have killed any other inexperienced individual. The Zabrak spurts forward, and the shadow tears forward to meet him, the former attempting to send flurries over flurries in a pathetic attempt to destroy him. The shadow merely rammers him aside in all to the calm of a gesture that adds to his anger as he skids across the ground, sending his lightsaber across the ground.

The Zabrak gets into a pouncing position before he feels it once again. Within his advisory, the light and dark synchronize. They merge, the boundaries between them breaking down until it becomes nearly impossible to tell one from the other. Like the twin suns above, he is the center point of the Force in its ecumenicity. Existing within the same echelon as other mortal beings, and yet at the same time reaching a level that they could not, should not encompass.

The Zabrak dodges the slash that could have ended his life and reaches out and grabs his lightsaber with the Force, causing the shadow to glide slightly as it activates and spun towards its creator horizontally. Had he had been a second late, he would have been cleaved clean and vertically into two.

The Zabrak catches his lightsaber with a menacing grin, spinning it in his hand for a moment in an attempt at intimidation, not able to resist the urge to speak for the first time. "What's the matter, traitor of the Sith? Exhausted."

"Attempting to stall while you are losing this battle. You are inconsequential, pretender." the shadow ridicules darkly, hammering his blow aside before catching another blow just as they lock blades. "Easily negligible. Undomesticated. Pity how once you would have been serviceable to me. I have once fought an elder Former Jedi and he is incomparably more powerful than you."

The Zabrak pulls back and twirls his lightsaber expeditiously towards the shadow who briskly repels his assaults, the shadow intercepting his lightsaber with his own.

"Your lightsaber movements are beyond sloppy. It is disparaging to the Sith title itself." the shadow taunts, sensing the Zabrak's arrogance is slowly materializing. "You think yourself special, boy. You're just a child with no experience of the galaxy."

"I'm a Sith!" The Zabrak rages, golden eyes flashing, finally losing the little patience he has. He wants to wipe out the smirk that must be on his foe's face, wants to decapitate his head repeatedly and deformed his body all over, and wants to show his Master how strong he is.

The shadow chuckles. "You are truly a pathetic waste of Force Sensitivity in all realities."

Although a small part of him is bemused at what the shadow meant by all realities, the Zabrak feels himself in the dark side of the Force reaching the climax, the dark side itself roaring inside of his being. Executing a move of phenomenal instantaneity, the Zabrak lunges at the massive shape. The shadow repulses the stab with equal speed, riposting with a counter slash that the Zabrak barely parries. Another parry and Maul counters again, using this opportunity to move around the towering Dark Lord.

They continue to trade blows, with the Sith now backing toward the shuttle. Once his saber and the shadow's lock, the interaction of the two energy fields precipitating a violent sparking and coruscating. A low buzzing sound rises from the overrefinement power units as each saber solicits to override the other.

Baring his fangs into a dangerous grin, the Zabrak pushes forward, attempting to intimidate him. "You believe the Jedi would accept your presence, even after assisting one of their own and Naboo? They would only seek to apprehend you and question you because of the dark side of the Force surrounding you. They wiped out an entire institution of purebloods because of their history. Surrender and my Master would show you true unchallenged power."

"The Jedi Council may attempt to," the shadow reveals, thrusting the Zabrak back with equal vehemence, "but I am imperturbable. No matter their methods they may attempt to use against me, they would only dwindle. You however have done mental damage to my brother, forcing him into self-isolation. You killed his father figure, his lover, and even attempted to kill his little brother. You're nothing but an animal. Your Master is just as such."

The shadow raises his hand, lightning extending through his fingertips and crashing full friction into the Zabrak. It is a common torture method that his Master used to use on him, one of his weaknesses in the galaxy. The Zabrak collapses in agony as the lightning courses through his body, deactivating his lightsaber.

The shadow ends his assault. "Show me the animal you truly are. Show me that you are worthy of being called Sith." He taunts, before extending more lightning at him with his lightning, the anger intensifying within the Zabrak. "Good. Good. Lash out, boy. Strike me down if you are truly the master of the dark side."

With the power of the dark side of the Force, the Zabrak raises his hands and brings the shadow down to his knees; unbeknownst to him, a similar move another pulled to his rival in a fortress that nearly caused her to sink into the dark side. The Zabrak shows no hesitation and launches himself into the air, his twin-bladed lightsaber whirling as it lands with a hiss against the shadow, who somersaults in the air, landing perfectly, cape spiraling behind him as the sand blows around himself, admittedly creating a dramatic effect. The Zabrak winces, but charges again, he whips his saber around his head and body, hitting the shadow from both sides so quickly there seems no delay in between.

The shadow moves to cleanse him in two, but the Zabrak is able to counter his assault. The two relentlessly hack away at each other, strikes nearly hitting too close to home multiple times for both. The Zabrak would never know this, but the shadow is swift to acknowledge that the Zabrak is indeed remarkable and talented with a lightsaber and that this would not be a fight he could win with no effort. The shadow is a former Sith Lord, however, and his admiration for his foe cannot be confused with fear.

The shadow lunges, his crimson lightsaber moving with a frantic pace but with deadly precision, he blocks the Zabrak's every strike, and when possible, would give his own, thrusting into the open space between the Zabrak's blades, only for his saber to be caught and pushes aside at the last second.

The Zabrak lunges back, eager to engage again, but with a different strategy, he clearly could not defeat the shadow with speed and force alone.

"You have commendable experience I must admit, but that will not win you this fight." the Zabrak snipes, breathing heavily as he squares down his foe once more.

"You have not seen my full power yet, and I can assure you, it is far beyond your own pathetic method," the shadow responds, his crimson lightsaber angle downwards in a challenge motion, the tip burning the sand.

"We shall see," the Zabrak growls.

Again, he launches himself at the shadow, this time his lightsaber catching part of the shadow's cape, tearing it off. The shadow is quick to respond, launching a flurry of attacks, each but the last being parried by the Zabrak, with it catching his hilt, causing one of the blades to deactivate in an instant. The Zabrak switches up his lightsaber style yet again, but this time he is clearly at a disadvantage, he may not have been able to defeat the shadow with both of his blades, but now he has put himself fully in the shadow's court.

"If you are truthful in claiming you are not harnessing your full power against me, then do it!" the Zabrak bellows, beyond irritated as the shadow backs himself up or moves on the defense.

"So be it," the shadow acknowledges.

The Master of the Force versus the apprentice of the most powerful Sith Lord in the entire galaxy.

Master of Djem So, the shadow swipes furiously at him before he brings his lightsaber down on the Zabrak from above, from the sides, and then from underneath, each strike bringing with it immense power and speed, the Zabrak's blocks are barely keeping the shadow's lightsaber away. The Zabrak snarls and lets out a Force Push with his free hand, but it is met with the shadow's own; and the Force energy he let out, dissipates into nothing. The shadow brings his lightsaber down once more, and when the Zabrak parries, bring it back up with blazing speed, the shadow's continue entourage didn't stop.

Their battle carries down the hills for what feel like hours, what probably have been, the Twin Suns above them, but there is no mercy in either strike as they continue to hack away at each other with blows that would kill anyone else less experience but both are powerful in their own right.

To none that would witness this battle, this shadow, and this Zabrak is two blurs of movements, crimson lightsabers crashing rapidly. The Zabrak notices his opponent is slightly weaker with defensive than offensive, striking at him rapidly to ensure that his opponent doesn't gain an advantage. His opponent regains the advantage of attacking by moving around him.

They finally lock blades, both knowing that the next move by either side would determine how this battle would end.

The Zabrak slowly comes to the realization that he is outmatched. Eventually, the shadow cuts through the Zabrak's lightsaber, deactivating it completely.

"Erk-" He jerks to a stop almost afterward, his momentum entirely ceasing. His eyes roll wildly as he witnesses himself rising slowly off the ground. His throat! A Force choke! He had heard nothing of the use of this power when he had researched his enemies in the past.

The victor stares at the one who he had just defeated, and with a slight tilt of his head, cracking sounds begin to come from the Zabrak's ribs, his desperate attempts to force the only one foe whoever defeated him away being mere futile efforts.

"RRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" His force enhance cry pushes away his executioner just enough to stop the Force Choke.

The two women clutch their heads in agony, yet his victor isn't swayed enough to distort him but it did make him drop his concentration of the Force-or perhaps he had simply released him.

Now liberated from the constricting hold that is like everything he felt before in his torture sessions with his Master that only increases his power to immense proportions, the Zabrak squirms to stand, but the shadow outstretches his hand and blasts lightning at the Zabrak, who throws himself to the side and grabs his lightsaber.

He dashes forward, and the shadow sends lightning at the Zabrak, who blocks the intense power, struggling to keep his hand on his lightsaber, gritting his teeth in pain.

"This, Darth Maul, is power," the shadow declares.

The Zabrak had collected many lightsabers and claimed many lives both Force Sensitives and non Force Sensitives, assassinated many Jedi, and thought he would've more but it appears that his fate is to die here. He would not allow himself to fall prey to this being.

Darth Maul sneers, vowing to have his vengeance on this being, boarding the shuttle and begins flying away.

He would have his vengeance.

Padmé is wide awake, and she feels terrible about it. Qui-Gon and Jar Jar, both self-professed early risers, volunteered to sleep on the floor in the main room of Shmi Skywalker's house. Shmi had taken her son into his small room and given up her bed for Padmé. It is the most hospitality that Shmi can offer, but the bed is so hard and the desert night so dry that Padmé couldn't sleep.

After an hour of trying not to toss and turn, she gets up to get a glass of water. She steps carefully around the snoring Gungan on the kitchen floor. By the time she cleans her cup and puts it away, her eyes had adjusted to the dark enough that she could see the outline of Master Qui-Gon, sleeping on his side in the doorway of the house, as though he would protect them from anything that tried to come in.

On the other side of the kitchen, light leaks from under a closed door.

Padmé hears soft sounds coming from the other side and wonders if Anakin got up to tinker with something. He really ought to be in bed, so Padmé opens the door to check on him.

"Do you need something?" It is Shmi Skywalker, not her son, bent over the table with the parts of several different devices spread out in front of her. She is working on some kind of screen.

"I didn't mean to interrupt," Padmé apologizes immediately. "I thought Anakin might have gotten up because he was nervous."

Shmi laughs quietly.

"No, my son sleeps like a rock the night before a race," she admits. "It's me who stays up all night worrying about him. What's keeping you awake?"

Padmé hesitates. She already embarrassed herself in front of her host when the topic of slavery had come up, but that is no excuse to stop being honest.

"I am used to a different bed," she replies diplomatically. "It is taking me a while to settle."

"You are welcome to sit up with me if you like," Shmi offers. "I'm just trying to fix this screen so I can use it at the race tomorrow."

"I'd like that," Padmé says.

They didn't talk very much after that. Padmé watches as Shmi's clever fingers reassemble the screen, each piece falling into place so easily that Shmi might have been doing magic. It is soothing in the way that watching an artist is, and Padmé realizes that this is merely art of a different kind. Eventually, she feels calm enough to try sleeping again, and bid Shmi good night.

Conflicted thoughts override her senses; how can Vader be right? Force, no wonder he detests the Republic; who knows how many people he'd encountered that is in similar predicaments, if not worse, to these people.

Vader nor these people grew up in a comforting home, able to live their carefree days in peace and not having to worry like herself (excluding the fact that the Trade Federation raided their planet and ruining that peace), no they'd to grow up in a place surrounded by violence and having to rely on their tools and devices to survive because they had nothing else.

She feels genuine empathy for Vader, Anakin, and Shmi, but there is more sympathy for Vader than the other two which is surprising, considering how he'd exposed her identity. Anakin and Shmi have each other; they have friends, but what about Vader? Who knows what had happened to his own mother and father? They probably died in his arms, and that is how he became someone who is reserve and secretive to the point where all of his friends either betrayed him or perished too.

Does Vader even know what friendship means, or is it too late to talk reality in him?

Rabé did tell her once about one of the reasons why she became a criminal is because of how her father died and her mother is a drug addict and she had felt like stealing things would have been the right path. Rabé is not a horrible person, she knows; in fact, she had saved her once from a near tragedy, just like Padmé had saved her when she had a broken ankle during heavy handmaiden training.

But what if she had cast judgment on Vader too hastily by not hearing his side of the story and truly attempting to understand?

What if Vader did horrible things because he too is a victim? What if he hopes to redeem himself just because he had wanted to amend his mistakes? Vader is a Sith after all so he had likely destroyed many people and only ran and never looked back when the consequences caught up with him afterward. There's been criminals and murderers, albeit rare, who had put a bullet to their head or abandoned their lifestyles to hide away in self-pity.

A slow realization comes to Padmé; if her suspicions about Vader are correct, he would never harm her handmaiden and he is not an enemy of the Naboo. She might have unintentionally bullied a victim.

She would have to inquire Eirtaé about his attitude when they all simultaneously return to the Nubian. She knows she had made an error in her judgment but hopefully, Vader would forgive her and will still assist the Naboo. He has been rather helpful so far.

Part of her worries about her parents and sister, but her thoughts went to other pressing issues; what if the Jedi ain't the ones who would emancipate Naboo? What if she has to rely on Darth Vader? When the time comes, she wonders if he would help them free Naboo or choose to betray them all and side with the Trade Federation. As much as she detests war, she is willing to take drastic actions at this point.

As she pulls the blankets over her, Padmé's mind spin. She knows for quite some time the galaxy is a complicated place, but seeing it, smelling it, living it make her understand how foolish and privileged she have been. She has her own problems right now, and they are massive—much bigger than herself. She can't afford to be distracted by a planet that isn't even her own. And yet, her heart aches for this good woman and for her selfless son, and she knows that it always will.

Midnight approaches. Anakin Skywalker, unable to sleep, slips out of his bed and gone down into the backyard to complete a final check of the racer, of its controls, its wiring, its relays, its power source-everything he can think of. Now he stands staring at it, trying to determine what he might have missed, what he might have overlooked. He can afford no mistakes. He must make certain he has done all that he can.

So that he would win tomorrow's race.

Because he must.

He must.

He watches R2-D2 scuttle around the racer, applying paint in broad strokes to its polished metal body, aided by a light projecting from a receptacle mount over his visual sensors and a steady stream of advice from C- 3PO. The boy activated the latter earlier on the advice of Padmé. Many hands make light work, she had intoned solemnly, then grinned. C-3PO wasn't much with his hands, but his vocoder was certainly tireless. In any case, R2-D2 seems to like having him around, exchanging beeps and chirps with his protocol counterpart as he scuttled about the racer. The little astromech droid works tirelessly, cheerfully, and willingly. Nothing perturbs him. Anakin envies him. Droids are either well put together or they weren't. Unlike humans, they didn't respond to weariness or disappointment, or fear...

He chases the thought away quickly and looks up at the starry sky. After a moment, he sits down, his back against a crate of old parts, his goggles and racing helmet at his side. Idly, he fingers the japor carving in his pocket, the one he is working on for Padmé. His thoughts drift. He can't explain it exactly, but he knows that tomorrow would change his life. That strange ability to see what others did not, which sometimes give him insights into what would happen, told him so. His future is coming up on him in a rush, he senses it is closing fast, giving him no time to consider, ascending with the certainty of a sunrise.

What will it bring him? The question teases at the edges of his consciousness, refusing to show itself. Change, but in what form? Qui-Gon and his companions are the bringers of that change, but he did not think even the Jedi Knight knows for certain what the end result would be.

Maybe the freedom he dreamt constantly about for himself and his mother, he thought hopefully. Maybe an escape to a new life for both of them. Anything is possible if he wins the Boonta. Anything at all.

That thought is still foremost in his clutter, weary mind when his eyes close and he falls asleep.

Many would view this as him actually losing, but little do one who would ever find out about this battle know, Vader could have easily killed him. However, it is not his destiny to defeat him. At least Darth Sidious would give him unimaginable torture for his incompetence.

Truthfully, he finds the display pitiful, and, for the first time since he had time travel, he wishes he is able to laugh at Darth Sidious's face. This is who Darth Sidious would rely his training on. Always wished to encounter the first apprentice of his former Master but he'd always narrowly evade encounters with him, which is, in all honesty, the only reason why Darth Maul survived as long as he did on Malachor.

At least Count Dooku is honorable. Dooku was a Jedi Master and, prior to the Clone Wars at least, the best duelist of the Jedi Order — the only one who took lightsaber-on-lightsaber combat seriously, much to his own chagrin. His mastery of the Force was humbling to the Jedi who defeated Maul and comparable to that of Master Yoda, and he was at least somewhat versed in the arts of Sith Sorcery which Maul's master had otherwise neglected to teach him. Even on the Invisible Hand, he had given him some trouble and the man perished with some honor and that is precisely why Vader had concealed Dooku's lair and Holocrons out of the secret esteem he had for the man.

Maul is sequentially an amateurish Sith with an inadequate grasp of the Force and a reliance on pure physicality; even his younger self who was bested by Dooku on Geonosis would have probably been able to beat him and that's saying much as that is the weakest he ever was before he had eventually reached his prime.

For a second, he had pondered how Dooku and Maul's battle will go and come to a realization. It just wouldn't be a competition. Even with that flashing, spinning, double-bladed lightsaber, Dooku's superior swordsmanship would win out. He would defend and evade Maul's attacks with trivial ease, quickly recognize an opportunity to cut through the double-bladed weapon, disabling it, and then follow up with a decisive attack that would put Maul out of commission. Dooku would swiftly recognize that Maul had a blind spot for Force-based attacks and would incapacitate him with telekinesis, either projecting Maul himself against a hard surface or pelting him with debris in order to distract him.

The problem with Nightbrothers is they easily grow into uncontrollable brutes and it eventually costs them their lives as it did with Savage Opress. Dooku made a veracious choice in choosing a Nightsister as his apprentice since she was able to conquer some of the worse battles in the entirety of the Clone Wars.

He remembers on Malachor when Maul had a clear opportunity to do combat with Vader, yet the fool betrayed and bequeathed his former Jedi student to deal with him while escaping because he is a coward. The fool had left his former Padawan to confront him herself and blinded Jarrus by catching them off-guard.

Whereas Dooku could have retreated from him and Kenobi on the Invisible Hand and run like a coward, he had still not evacuated. He was willing to die and stay loyal to his beliefs. Dooku is a warrior that is worthy of respect and deserving of his reputation even of the present time. Maul is just, in every sense of the word, a clown.

Whereas Anakin Skywalker would have relished into battle, attacking everything in sight and lashing out, Vader is far more controlled and far more powerful, learning from two decades of experience that will never go unlearned. The only feature he is attempting to do similar to his younger self is ameliorated his communication skills which is why he's speaking with the younger version of his wife and her handmaidens as talking with Jedi still left a sour taste in his mouth.

"Are you undamaged?" the foreign man inquires, not even turning to them, addressing them as if they were the soldiers and admirals serving him under his time of the Dark Lord.

The two women nod.

"Good," Vader answers the unspoken acknowledgment to his question.

"The Queen will be intrigued with this development." the blonde handmaiden speaks as she approaches. "Are you alright?"

"We should return to the shuttle," Vader commands dryly, noticing his blasted cape on the ground. Damn the kriffing Zabrak cut part of his cape. While Vader is hardly fashionable, he considers all that he wears part of himself and he can't help but scowl in annoyance at the vandalized cape.

The handmaidens simultaneously nod, undoubtedly not wanting to stay on this sandy planet forever. After all, their Queen did give Eirtaé commands to spy on Vader, and that she is not to leave his side under no means necessary. Rabé was just a backup. For now, Vader is not revealing the truth to the Jedi nor is making any bargains; in fact, he appears to be here for a mission of his own. Eirtaé would have to fill in her report to Padmé later about how he had saved their lives and his intentions appear to be genuine so far.

Vader doesn't blame them for wishing to leave this dustball of a planet. If it was up to him, he would just run away to Naboo and mediate up to his final days, excluding the fact that there is a Sith Lord in the Senate. But unfortunately, due to a sadistic bastard in the Senate, to formulate plans to stop Sidious without the entire galaxy believing he is a threat, and to ensure at least some of the survivors on the list of Vader at least survives this time.

Oh, why does life have to be so damn complicated?

Vader lifts up his cape and reattaches it around his cloak, assuring it fits perfectly as he stares up at the fleeing ship.

They get on the speeder with Vader and he begins blasting off, the former Sith ignoring the shuttle that ascends in the air moments later and blasts off to hyperspace.

"Are you certain not arresting him is the wiser choice?" Rabé asks, a scowl forming on her lips.

"It is not my destiny to stop him. It is the destiny of someone else. The Force will it." And Vader has a suspecting feeling he knows who that someone is.

The women are evidently confused but they both know that Jedi have their prophecies and that they are each mysterious. Once one believes they know everything about Jedi, the Jedi continuously has the element of surprise that changes that viewpoint.

Not too surprisingly, they are back at the Nubian. They extract from the speeder and they notice rebuilds are still proceeding, but they ignore the engineers as they walk by, not too stunningly meeting Captain Panaka at the top.

Panaka frowns at Rabé disapprovingly. "Didn't the Queen order for only one handmaiden to watch Vader?"

"Panaka," Rabé replies, shrugging off the comment with an ounce of hilarity in her tone. "We have confronted a creature. He was wielding the Jedi's laser sword."

Vader feels the urge to facepalm. He is well acquainted with the fact that the handmaidens have limited knowledge of the Jedi and Sith so he can't judge them too harshly or too bluntly. Yet, the amount of time he witnessed people, and even the kriffing Jedi, and even sometimes the Sith, referring to a lightsaber as a bloody laser sword...

Rabé continues as she now eyes Vader with an impassive look. "The Queen would probably want an explanation of this." She is not certain if she's talking more to Panaka or Vader.

As if on cue, Sabé emerges. Prominently, she didn't have on her Queen disguise. Well, rationally speaking, no one will wear a long dress with this boiling sandball, nor he highly doubts Padmé would allow her handmaidens to be tortured. Additionally, according to Padmé, the disproportionate makeup causes breakouts or begins to grow itchy. If he remembers correctly, in a different time long ago, Padmé told him there was a time where Saché had allergies with one of her makeup which prompted lots of quandaries.

"Hey, you know I know how to knit," Sabé offers, eyeing the cape that is catalyzed; not too damaged but still torn. "I can rectify your cape."

"Who says I need any of your help?" Vader disputes neutrally, raising his eyebrows in genuine exoticism. So far, he has been distancing himself from them on purpose. He failed everyone in his life and had nearly failed his son. Certainly, he teased them, but that doesn't mean he wants friendships of any source with them.

He remembers choking Sabé in endeavoring to inveigle her to talk and reveal who she is. Fortunately, he released and spared the life of the handmaiden, but still, he is furious at himself for nearly annihilating her. Perhaps it was their friendship or her friendship with Padmé, but Vader spared her even after she pressed buttons.

"Listen," Rabé retaliates forcefully, staring hard at his back, "I know you probably have trust issues after your friends betrayed you," extra emphasis, "but you can make friends who wouldn't judge you for your appearance. We of the Naboo are very custom in maintaining respect. While Naboo is problematic with a few rude people, most try to maintain peace and friendship. True friends do not betray one another."

Eyes fall over hers for a moment, and he can see the handmaiden's defiance as she stares at him pointedly. No wonder Padmé and Rabé are also good friends, not as close as Padmé and Sabé or Padmé and Dormé, but still close. Rabé, unlike Motti and Ozzel, is indeed bold but not stupid. If this was the time of the Empire, her neck would have been snapped immediately, but she would have gone out with pride instead of fear. Even in his time as Dark Lord, he would have venerated that.

However, he is no longer Dark Lord of the Sith, he is... well he isn't Jedi Anakin Skywalker, having given up that name when he time traveled to the past...

He could be Jedi Darth Vader.

'Okay that is just a preternatural title,' Vader can't help but think. 'Then again, me time traveling is an unearthly predicament.'

"Very well," Vader concedes with a scowl, part of him unable to believe that he is doing this as he detaches his cape from his back and allowing the handmaidens to grab his cape with genuine carefulness, unequivocally to help Sabé to bring it to their chambers.

For some reason, without the cape, Vader feels less intimidating, feels bare, and he loathes it to no end. He can't help but curse Darth Maul. That Zabrak is beyond powerful; it's no wonder he had survived as long as he did in the other timeline.

"Don't think I'm doing this because I consider you all as my friends. No one is my friend, understand?"

The handmaidens roll their eyes.

Why our of all the people on the ship he happens to recapitulate to communicate with the blasted handmaidens who probably viewed him as an overgrown child in the other timeline?

"I will be in my chambers uninterrupted," Vader declares, putting extra emphasis on the last word, calling off the dark side to send chills down their spines and knowing that they have the message of what would happen - the better word being what may happen.

He can sense Obi-Wan is on board yet the man appears to be here for his own ambitions. He senses the Maverick Jedi sent him here to check his younger self midi-chlorians count yet he chooses not to address Obi-Wan, sensing how he strives to be secretive about their little discovery and endeavoring to conceal the truth from him so he doesn't groom Anakin Skywalker to the dark.

He begins contemplating about the Maverick Jedi Master. Vergences, or nexus-points, were places where the Force appeared to, or was felt to, flow freely and strongly. Usually, they were centered on geographical areas. The location on Coruscant where the Jedi built their Temple, as well as the Jedi temples on Lothal, Ilum, and Devaron are vergences in the Force. Another is located in the swamp on Dagobah where Yoda lived, and Luke later trained. These vergences are not confined by the laws of time and space, and could pop up for an instant, or last for millennia, or even appear inside a person. Qui-Gon breaks with the Council on many traditions, and apparently was a stronger believer in the more mystical aspects of the "living Force" than some other Jedi Masters. Being roguish like himself when he was a Jedi within the Order allows Qui-Gon to take these kinds of things on faith, rather than a more hard-evidence type of individual like Mace Windu.

With cool and smooth agility, Vader turns his back on them and storm off towards his temporary quarters, requiring a much-needed meditation.

Anakin Skywalker dream that night, and in his dream, he is of a different, but indeterminate age. He is young still, though not so young as now, but old, too. He is cut from stone, and his thoughts are emblazoned with a vision so frightening he could not bring himself to consider it fully, only to leave it just out of reach, simmering over a fire of ambition and hope. He is in a different place and time, in a world he did not recognize, in a landscape he has never seen. It is vague and shadowy in his dream, all flat and rugged at once, changing with the swiftness of a mirage born out of Tatooine's desert flats.

The dream shimmers, and voices reach out to him, soft and distant. He turns toward them, away from a wave of dark movement that suddenly appears before him, away from the sleep that gives his dream life.

"I hope you're about finished," he hears Padmé say.

But Padmé is at the head of the dark wave of his dream, and the wave is an army, marching toward him...

And then a man clouded in black armor, robes, and a cape, marching in the similar residence, a cylinder hilt on his belt that is similar to Qui-Gon sir... surrounded by flames?

R2-D2 whistles and beeps, and C-3PO chimes in with hasty assurances, saying everything is done, all is in readiness, and he stirs again.

A hand touches his cheek, brushing it softly, and the dream fades and is gone. Anakin blinks awake, rubbing at his eyes, yawning, and turning over on his side. He is no longer stretched out by the parts crate where he had fallen asleep the night before but is back in his own bed.

The hand lifts away from his cheek, and Anakin stares up at Padmé, at a face he finds an angel it brings a tightness to his throat. Yet he stares at her in confusion, for she had been the central figure in his dream, different from now, older, sadder... and something more.

"You were in my dream," he admits, swallowing hard to get the words out. "You were leading a huge army into battle."

The girl stares at him in wonder, then smiles. "I hope not. I hate fighting." Her voice is merry and light, dismissive in a way that bothers him. "And?" She asks, having an instinct due to seeing that look in Yané's eyes when she uses to committing pranks on herself and the handmaidens, and when caught, Padmé always is able to get her to talk.

Anakin is catch off-guard, knowing she has that mother instinct within her. She would make a perfect mother. "There is also this strange man clouded in black and flames," he replies, uncertain how to describe them.

Padmé frowns. "Your mother wants you to get up now. We have to leave soon."

Anakin climbs to his feet, fully awake. He walks to the back door and stood looking out at the anthill complex of the slave quarters, at the bustle of slaves going about their daily work, at the clear, bright early morning sky that promised good weather for the Boonta Eve race. The Podracer hangs level before him on its antigrav lifts, freshly painted and gleaming in the new day's sunlight. R2-D2 bustle about with a brush and can of paint, completing the final detailing of the craft. C-3PO, still missing most of his outer skin, his working parts clearly visible, followed along, pointing out missed patches, giving unsolicited opinions and bits of advice.

Still, in the back of his mind, he wonders who is the man in his dream? He never seen him before but he seems particularly familiar. His figure awes the boy, and it feels strangely familiar.

The sharp wheeze of an eopie brings him around to find Kitster riding toward them on the first of two of the beasts he commandeered to help haul the Podracer to the arena. Kitster's dark face is aglow with expectation, and he waves eagerly at Anakin as he approaches.

Anakin waves back, shouting, "Hook 'em up, Kitster!" He turns back to Padmé. "Where's Qui-Gon?"

The girl gestures. "He left with Jar Jar for the arena. They've gone to find Watto."

Anakin sprints to his bedroom to wash and dress.

Qui-Gon Jinn strolls through the main hangar of the Mos Espa Podracer arena, glancing at the activity about him with seemingly casual interest. The hangar is a cavernous building that houses Podracers and equipment year-round and served as a staging area for vehicles and crews on race days. A handful of racers are already in place on the service pads, dozens of aliens who had found their way to Tatooine from every corner of the galaxy crawling all over the Pods and engines as pit bosses and pilots shouts instructions. The clash and shriek of metal on metal echoes in an earsplitting din through the hangar's vast chamber, forcing conversations to be held at something approaching a shout.

Jar Jar hugs one shoulder of the Jedi Master while Watto buzzes close by the other. The former is his normal fretful, nervous self, eyes rolling on their stalks, head twisting this way and that with such frantic concern it seems certain it must soon twist-off altogether. Watto flies with blatant disregard for everything but his own conversation, which rambles on and on, covering the same points endlessly-

"So it must be understood clearly that our bargain is sealed, outlander," he repeats for at least the third time in the last ten minutes. His blue-snout head bobs with emphasis. "I'll want to see your spaceship the moment the race is over."

He makes no bones about the fact that he believed that gaining lawful possession of the Naboo transport was only a matter of time. He did not once since Qui-Gon had found him at the betting booths suggested that things might work out otherwise.

The Jedi Master demure with a shrug. "Patience, my blue friend. You'll have your winnings before the suns set, and my companions and I will be far away from here."

"Not if your ship belongs to me, I think!" Watto snorts and gives a satisfied laugh. Just as quickly, his sharp eyes fix on the Jedi. "I warn you, no funny business!"

Qui-Gon resists a smirk. 'Well, we might have to use Vader if this goes wrong. The Force cannot be wrong however.'

Qui-Gon keeps walking, his gaze directs elsewhere, carefully baiting the hook he have set for the Toydarian. "You don't think Anakin will win?"

Watto flies around in front of him and brought them all to a stop. Wings beating furiously, he motions to a bright orange racer park close at hand, its engines modify so that when the energy binders are activated and the engines joined, they formed a distinctive X-shape. Sitting to one side of the racer is the Dug who attacked Jar Jar two days earlier, Sebulba, his wicked eyes fix on them, his slender limbs drawl up in a vaguely menacing gesture. A pair of lithesome Twi'leks work diligently massaging the Dug's neck and shoulders. The Twi'leks are humanoid aliens from the planet Ryloth; they have pointed teeth, smooth blue skin, and twin tentacles that drape gracefully from their hairless heads down their silken backs. Their red eyes lift to Qui-Gon momentarily, interest flickering in their depths, then returns quickly to their master.

Watto snorts. "Don't get me wrong," he announces, shaking his head in an odd cocking motion. "I have great faith in the boy. He's a credit to your species." His snaggletooth mouth tightens. "But Sebulba there is going to win, I think."

Qui-Gon pretends to study the Dug carefully. "Why?"

"Because he always wins!" The Toydarian breaks into a fit of laughter, consumed by his own cleverness. "I'm betting heavily on Sebulba!"

"I'll take that bet," Qui-Gon says at once.

Watto stops laughing instantly, jerking away as if scalded by hot oil. "What?" He shakes his head in astonishment. "What do you mean?"

Qui-Gon advances a step, backing the Toydarian away. "I'll wager my new racing Pod against..." He trails off thoughtfully, letting Watto hang. "Against, say, the boy and his mother."

Watto is aghast. "A Pod for slaves! I don't think so!" The blue wings are a blur as he flitted this way and that, head cocked. "Well, perhaps. Just one. The mother, maybe. The boy isn't for sale."

Qui-Gon frowns. "The boy is small. He can't be worth much."

Watto shakes his head decisively.

"For the fastest Pod ever built?"

Watto shakes his head again.

"Both, or no bet."

They are standing near the front entrance of the hangar, and the noise of the crew work had lessened. Beyond, the arena stands rose against the desert sky, a vast, curve complex complete with boxes for the Hutts, a race announcer's booth, course monitoring equipment, and food stands. Already the stands are beginning to fill, the population of Mos Espa turning out in full force for the event, shops, and stalls close, the city on holiday. Bright streamers and banners fly, and approaching racers flames with the reflection of sunlight and polish.

Qui-Gon catches sight of Anakin appearing through the crowds, riding an eopie with Padmé up behind him, towing one of the massive Radon-Ulzer engines. His friend Kitster follows on a second eopie, towing the other engine. The eopies are gangly, long-snouted pack animals with tough, leathery skin and short fur particularly well-suited to resisting the Tatooine desert heat. R2-D2 and C-3PO trail the little procession with the Pod and Shmi. The Jedi Master deliberately turns to watch their approach, drawing Watto's gaze after his own. The Toydarian's eyes glitter at the sight of the boy and the racer.

His Padawan is fumbling at the other side of the shop, shooting uneasiness glances at the boy every-so-often, believing no one sees him and looking away. He can sense his Padawan's displeasure at putting such a kind little boy at risk.

He is interrupted by his musing when the slaver looks back at Qui-Gon and gives an anxious snort. "No Pod's worth two slaves... not by a long shot! One slave or nothing!"

Qui-Gon folds his arms over his chest. "The boy, then." Watto huffs and shakes his head.

He jerks with the tension, his deliberation is generating inside his pudgy blue body. "No, no... " Then abruptly he reaches inside his pocket and produces a small cube, which he tosses from one hand to the other as if it is too hot to hold. "We'll let fate decide. Blue, it's the boy. Red, it's the mother."

Watto cast the cube to the hangar floor. As he did, Qui-Gon makes a small, surreptitious gesture with one hand, calling on his Jedi power to produce a small inflection in the Force.

The cube bounces, rolls, settles, blue side facing up. Watto throws up his hands angrily, his eyes turning narrow and sharp.

"You won the toss, outlander!" he sneers in dismissal. "But you won't win the race, so it makes little difference, I think."

"We'll see," Qui-Gon replies calmly.

Anakin and the others reach them, entering the hangar with the Pod and engines. Watto wheels away from Qui-Gon in a huff, pausing long enough to snap irritably at the boy.

"Better stop your friend's betting," he declares with an angry snort, "or I'll end up owning him, too!"

One of the eopies sniffs expectantly at him, and he swears at the beast in Huttese with such ferocity that it backs away. His wings beating madly, Watto gives Qui-Gon a withering glance and flies off into the hangar shadows.

"What did he mean by that?" Anakin asks as he slows the eopie beside Qui-Gon, glancing after the retreating Toydarian.

Qui-Gon shrugs. "I'll tell you later."

Kitster pulls to a stop beside Anakin, his face alight with excitement as he looks around. "This is so wizard! I'm sure you'll do it this time, Annie!"

Padmé's gaze shifts from one to the other. "Do what?" she asks suspiciously.

Kitster beams. "Finish the race, of course!"

The girl pales. Her eyes burn into Anakin. "You've never even won in a race?" she demands incredulously.

The boy blushes. "Well... not exactly." His mouth tightens with determination.

"Not even finished?!" She asks in horror.

"But Kitster's right. I will this time."

Qui-Gon takes the eopie's reins in his hand and pats the boy's leg. "Of course, you will," he agrees.

Padmé Naberrie just stares at him wordlessly, staring at the Jedi Master as if he had just grown a double head. Her people are in danger! And they are relying on someone who never even won a race to get them a kriffing starfighter part?! Oh, they would definitely be having words later!

Chapter Text


In the center of Mos Espa, the crowds are beginning to thin as the population gravitates in increasing numbers toward the pod racer arena at the edge of the spaceport. Most of the shops and stalls are already close, and the rest are in the process of doing so. Owners and vendors are completing sales and glancing anxiously in the direction of the traffic's steady flow.

Over a hundred thousand beings fill the Podracer arena by midmorning, jamming into the grandstand seats, crowding onto the broad viewing platforms, filling the available space. The arena becomes a vast sea of color and movement and sound in the emptiness of the surrounding desert. Flags and banners bearing the insignia of the racers and their sponsors wave over the assemblage, signifying favorites and creating impromptu cheering sections. Bands play in support of some racers and isolate horns and drums beat in wild appreciation for all. Vendors walk the aisles, carrying food and drink from canopied stands below to sell to the crowd. Everywhere, excitement and anticipation are building.

Then a roar erupts as the racers begin to emerge from the main hangar on the far side of the start line. One by one the Podracers hove into view, some towed by eopies, some by hand, some by repulsor sled, all part of a long procession of pilots, pit crews, and hangers-on. Standard-bearers, each carrying a flag that identified the pilot and sponsor, marches along, forming a colorful line in front of the assembly of Podracers. Overhead, the twin suns of Tatooine shone down with a bright, hungry glare.

As the racers move onto the track in front of the arena stands, a flurry of movement in the royal box signals the arrival of Jabba the Hutt and Gardulla, his female friend. Slithering into the cool interior of the box, the two Hutts oozes their way along with the flooring to their designated places amid the bright silks that draped the rough stone. Jabba comes foremost, proceeding directly to the arched overlook where he could be seen by the people of Mos Espa. Lifting his pudgy arm in greeting, he basks in the crowd's appreciative roar. Gardulla mutter her approval, nodding her neckless head on the end of a thick, shapeless body, slitted eyes glittering. A coterie of humans and aliens files in behind the two Rutts, guests of Mos Espa's rulers on race day, a coveted designation. A line of slave girls of varying species came last, chain together, there for the amusement of those who had chosen freely to attend. Below, the Podracer pilots form a line facing the royal box and on command bows deeply in recognition of and to pay homage to their benefactor.

"Chowbaso!" Jabba rumbles, his deep voice echoing through the sound enhancers and out across the flats. "Tam ka chee Boonta rulee ya, kee maid ahdrudda du wundee! Welcome!" The crowd roars some more, arms and flags waving madly. Horns sound as Jabba begins his introduction of the racers. "Kubba tee. Sebulba tuta Pixelito!" The Dug, standing immediately next to Anakin, rise on his back legs and waves to the stands. A band plays wildly in support, and Sebulba's fans and anxious bettors depending on the odds that favors the Dug cheers and shouts in response. One by one, Jabba recognizes the Podracer pilots. Gasgano. Boles Roor. Ben Quadinaros. Aldar Beedd. Ody Mandrell. Xelbree. Mars Guo. Clegg Holdfast. Bozzie Baranta. Wan Sandage. Anakin listens to the names, shifting anxiously, eager to begin. A glance over his shoulder revealed Kitster at work attaching the Radon-Ulzers to his Pod with the Steelton cables, checking the fastenings with sharp tugs.

"... Mawhonic tuta Hok," Jabba booms. "Teemto Pagalies tuta Moonus Mandel. Anakin Skywalker tuta Tatooine..."

Applause burst from the crowd, though it is not as enthusiastic as it was for Sebulba or Gasgano or several of the others. Anakin waves in response, eyes traveling over the thousands gather, his mind already out in the flats.

When he turns to walk to his racer, his mother is standing in front of him. Her worn face is calm and determined as she bends down to give him a hug and a kiss. Her eyes are steady as she backs him off, her hands gripping his shoulders, and she can not quite mask the worry reflected there.

"Be safe, Annie," she tells him.

He nods, swallowing. "I will, Mom. I promise."

She smiles, warm and reassuring, and moves away. Anakin continues on, watching Kitster and Jar Jar unhitch the eopies so that Kitster could lead them away. R2-D2 rolls up to Anakin and beeps with approval and reassurance. C-3PO solemnly warns against the dangers of driving too fast and wished his master well. All is ready.

Jar Jar pats the boy on the back, his bill face a mask of worry and consternation. "Tis very loony, Annie. May da Guds be kind, me friend."

Out of the corner of his eye, Anakin saw Sebulba wander over from his own racer and begin examining the boy's. Hitching along on his spindly legs, he works his way around the Radon-Ulzers with undisguising interest. Stopping finally at the left engine, he reaches up suddenly and banges hard on a stabilizer, glancing around quickly to see if anyone notices.

Padmé appears and bends down to kiss Anakin's cheek. Her dark eyes are intense. "You carry all our hopes," she says quietly.

Anakin's lower lip juts out. "I won't let you down."

She gives him a long stare, then moves away. As she did so, Sebulba sidles up to him, his wizen, whiskery face angling close.

"You won't walk away from this one, slave scum," he wheezes softly, grinning. "You're bantha poodoo."

Anakin stands his ground, giving the Dug a stony look. "Don't count on it, slime face."

Qui-Gon is approaching, and Sebulba backs away toward his own racer, malevolence mirror in his flat stare. Horns blare, and a new roar rises from the crowd. Jabba the Hutt oozes to the lip of the royal box, his thick arms lifting.

"Kaa bazza kundee da tam hdrudda!" he growls. "Let the challenge begin!"

The roar of the crowd begins to build even further. Qui-Gon helps Anakin climb into his Pod. The boy settles himself in place in the seat, securing his straps, fitting his old, battered racing helmet over his head, and bringing down his goggles.

"Are you all set, Annie?" the Jedi Master asks calmly. The boy nods, eyes intense, steady. Qui-Gon holds his gaze. "Remember, concentrate on the moment. Feel, don't think. Trust your instincts."

He puts a hand on the boy's shoulder and smiles. "May the Force be with you, Annie."

Then he backs away, and Anakin Skywalker is alone.

Qui-Gon moves quickly through the crowd to the viewing platform where Shmi, Padmé, and Jar Jar waits. He glances back only once at Anakin and found the boy calmly fitting his goggles in place. The Jedi Master nods to himself. The boy will do all right. He mounts the viewing platform with Jar Jar and the women just as it begins to lift into position for the race. Shmi gives him a worrying, questioning look.

"He's fine," Qui-Gon assures her, touching her shoulder. Padme shakes her head doubtfully.

"You Jedi are far too reckless," she says quietly. "The Queen-"

"The Queen trusts my judgment, young handmaiden," Qui-Gon interrupts smoothly, directing his words only to her. "Perhaps you should, too."

She glares at him. "You assume too much."

The viewing platform lock into place, and all eyes turn toward the racers. Energy binders are engage, powerful electromagnetic currents arcing between oaxial plates, locking the twin engines of each Podracer together as a single unit. Now the engines themselves begin to turn over, their booming coughs and rumbles mingling with and then overwhelming the roar of the crowd. Flag bearers and pit crews move hastily aside, clearing the start line beneath the arch that marked the beginning and end of the race. Overhead, a red light holds the racers in place. Anticipating the green, the pilots guns their engines, the massive casings shaking with the force of the power they generate, the cables that binds them to the Pods, and their drivers straining to break free.

A silhouette above her emerge, and Padmé did a double-take in alert at someone hovering over her, blaster aimed but not in eyesight to bystanders. On this planet, one must be on alert at all times and she isn't above defending herself even as a maid.

Only to see their mysterious ally. "Oh, it's you."

"Indeed. I cannot miss this podrace which is the only somewhat redeeming characteristic of this sand-ball of a planet." Vader responds icily, sitting down right above her.

She twirls the blaster with her hand and slaps it into her secret holster before she leans into Vader's ear, whispering something inaudible, but a slight shake of his head indicates Vader accepting whatever she'd said. Qui-Gon scrutinizes his eyes at the two for this unusual behavior but their ally nor the handmaiden is even acknowledging his presence nor acting suspiciously, at least not as one like Vader can.

Yet, Qui-Gon knows that there is something that Vader knows that he nor his Padawan knows. Ostensibly, the handmaiden knows this and isn't telling them. Likely, inquiring the other handmaidens would be less than successful as well since the secretive behavior. Admittedly, Qui-Gon wonders why they appear to trust a Sith over the Jedi, but that may be due to the fact that Vader, ever since he had arrived, has always been correct and appears to know things before they occur.

Standing next to Qui-Gon, Jar Jar Binks covers his eyes in dismay. "Me no watch. Dis gonna be messy!"

Though he can not bring himself to say so, the Jedi Master is incline to agree.

'Steady, Anakin Skywalker,' he thinks to himself. 'Concentrate.'

"Silence," Vader silent the Gungan harshly, beyond frustrated at the Gungan let alone this entire planet. His humor is immensely immature that it becomes annoying rather than humorous and makes Vader just want to Force choke the Gungan, and he hasn't wanted to do such a thing for quite some time since he became one with the Force.

The Gungan immediately hushes; apparently not foolish enough to protest stupidly against someone as intimidating as Vader.

Padmé smirks slightly nervously, not exactly wanting to anger someone in a bad mood, "Oh, you rather not listen to a Gungan all day, Vader?"

Vader emits a low growl, tilting his head towards the Queen of Naboo curtly. "I would rather kiss a Wookie than listen to one such as him. Don't know why we mustn't keep him intact and leave him on board."

Padmé scowls now. "Vader, as annoying as he may be, he is still an individual."

"So you say."

Then the light over the starting line flashes bright green, and the race is underway.

When the starting light turns green, Anakin Skywalker jam the twin thruster bars to the extreme forward position, sending maximum power to the Radon-Ulzers. The big rocket engines buck, roar like a caged beast, and promptly dies.

The boy freezes. All around him, racers shot from the start in a cacophony of sound and a flashing of bright metal. Sand fountains in the wake of their passing, clouding the air in a whirlwind of grit. In seconds, the boy is alone, save for Ben Quadinaros's Quadra-Pod, which sits stall at the starting line in the mirror image of his own.

Anakin's mind races desperately. He'd fed in too much fuel from a dead start. The rework engines couldn't handle all that power at once if the racer wasn't already moving. He yanks back on the thruster bars, returning them to the neutral position. Ratcheting back the switches to the feeder dump, he clears the fules, then seals them anew. Taking a deep breath, he presses the ignition buttons. The starters crank over and caught, and the big Radon-Ulzers roars to life with a booming cough. He fed in fuel more cautiously this time, impatience flooding through him, then slid the thruster bars forward smoothly. The engines shot ahead, dragging the Pod and the boy after them, exploding out of the start.

Anakin gives chase with single-minded determination, not bothering with anything but the dots in the distance that marked the location of the other racers. He tears across the flats, the whine of the Pod's engines growing steadily sharper, the land beneath fading to a wash of heat and light. The course is flat and open in the beginning, and he pushes the thruster bars forward some more. He is accelerating so quickly that everything about him turned swiftly to a sun-drenched blur.

Ahead, the first set of rock formations rises up against the horizon. Anakin can see the other Podracers now, bright metal shapes whipping across the flats, engines throwing off fire and smoke. He closes on them quickly, the Radon - Ulzers screaming. In an open stretch, he knows, there are no other engines that could match them.

A flush of white-hot excitement burns through him as he catches the trailing Podracers.

He hauls back on the thruster bars as he comes up on them, giving himself space to maneuver. He goes by two as if they are standing still, angling his way left and then right, threading the needle of space they had left between them. When he is clear, he fed power to the engines anew, and the g-force slams him back against his padded seat. He catch multilimbed Gasgano next. Easing up to the Troiken's snub-nosed Podracer, he gets ready to pass. Arch Canyon looms ahead, and he wants to be clear of the others when he navigated through the ravine. Maneuvering cautiously, he prepared to overtake on the right. But Gasgano sees him, and quickly moves to cut him off. Anakin waits, then angles left for another try. Again, Gasgano cut him off. Back and forth they slides above the desert floor like a krayt dragon chasing a womp rat.

A cliff drop off a low mesa appears as a rag line on the horizon. Anakin slows, giving Gasgano the impression he is preparing for a drop shift. The wiry pilot, glancing back quickly to make certain where the boy is, hold his position until he reaches the mesa edge, then take the drop first. The moment he did so, Anakin jams the thruster bars all the way forward, and his racer accelerates with such speed that it rockets right over the top of Gasgano before the other can do anything to prevent it.

The dark crease of the canyon looms ahead, and Anakin threads the eye of its needle opening with a seamstress's skill, racing into the cool shadows beyond. The Radon - Ulzers humms anxiously, the energy binders keeping them in sync, the Steelton cables drawing on the racing Pod with just the right amount of give through the wicking turns. Anakin works the thruster bars with small, precise movements, envisioning the course in his mind-each twist, each deviation, each rise and drop. Everything is clear and certain to him. Everything is reveal.

He shots through the canyon and back out onto the open flats. Ahead, beyond a dozen others, Mawhonic and Sebulba fights for the lead. The Dug's distinctive X-shaped engines lifts and rises, maneuvering for position. But Mawhonic's slender racer is slowly gliding away.

Then Sebulba accelerates and swings violently left, careening toward the other pilot. Mawhonic reacts instinctively, swinging left as well-and directly into a massive rock formation. Mawhonic disappears in a huge ball of flame and black smoke.

Next it is Xelbree challenging, trying to sneak past Sebulba from above, much as Anakin has done with Gasgano. But the Dug senses his presence and rise to block his passage. Xelbree slides left, drawing alongside, holding fast. Sebulba seems to lose ground, to give way slightly. But when Xelbree is next to him, the Dug triggers a side vent in his left exhaust. Fire spews laterally into Xelbree's engine, cutting apart the metal housing as if it is make of flimsiplast. Xelbree tries frantically to move away, but he is too slow. Fuel catch and ignites. The damage engine explodes, and the remaining engine and its Pod fly off into a cliff face and shatters.

Without slowing, Sebulba speeds away from the wreckage, alone at the head of the pack.

In the arena stands and from viewing platforms scatter throughout the course, the crowd watches the progress of the race on handhold view screens as pictures of the racers are transmitting from droid observation holocams. From a monitoring tower, a two-headed announcer who banters incessantly with himself reports on the leaders. Qui-Gon studies a screen with Padmé, Shmi, and Obi-Wan, but there is neither mention nor sight of Anakin. The announcer's twin voices rise and fall in measured cadence, filling the air with their inflection, building in pitch to stir the already frenzied crowd.

Qui-Gon stares out into the flats, searching for movement. On his right, Jar Jar bickers with a skinny, sour-faced alien named Fanta, trying to peer over his shoulder, besieging him with questions, trying to make friends in the mistaken belief that because they looked vaguely alike, the Poldt will reciprocate his overtures. It isn't working out. Fanta wants nothing to do with Jar Jar and keep his back turn to the Gungan, deliberately hiding the screen from view. Jar Jar is growing impatient.

Qui-Gon shifts his gaze. In the crew pits, R2-D2, C-3PO, and Kitster waits in solitary isolation.

In a private box somewhat in back of and lower than Jabba's, Watto laughs and jokes with his friends. The Toydarian flits this way and that, catching glimpses of the race on various viewscreens, rubbing his hands together anxiously. He catches sight of Qui-Gon and gestures rudely, his meaning clear.

Below, at the start line, Ben Quadinaros still struggles to ignite the engines of his Quadra-Pod.

Qui-Gon closes his eyes and blocks everything away, sounds and movements alike, becoming one with the Force, disappearing into its flow, searching for Anakin. He stays lost within himself as the roar of the crowd lifts anew, and the sound of rocket engines rises out of the distance. At the edge of the horizon, a clump of dark specks hove into view.

On the starting line, Ben Quadinaros finally manages to start the engines of his racer, all four bulbous monsters roaring to life, vibrating wildly within their casings. Engines and Pod lurch as Quadinaros locks in the thrusters. But in the next instant the energy binders collapses under the strain, the connecting cables snapa, and the engines shot off in four separate directions, exploding against stone walls, rock formations, and low dune banks. The crowd gasps in shock, shielding eyes and covering ears as the Pod and Ben Quadinaros collapse to the racetrack in a useless heap.

Almost simultaneously Sebulba's racer screams past the arena, shooting under the finish arch, and rocketing off on the start of the second lap. Two other racers follow, their engines roaring loudly as they whip past, their colorful metal bodies agleam in the midday suns.

There is no sign of Anakin.

Qui-Gon keeps his eyes close, searching within his consciousness. Beside him, Shmi and Padmé exchange worrying glances while Obi-Wan bites his lip almost drawing blood, not believing the strange feeling of concern he feels over the boy. There aren't emotions of any kind from the Sith through the Force, slightly angering Obi-Wan which in turns surprises the young Jedi. Jar Jar still hangs on Fanta, pounding him on the back now in excitement as the other grimace and tries to move away.

Three more racers tear past, the sound of their engines dying into silence as they fade from view. A fourth, Ody Mandrell, turns into the pits, the engines of his Pod shaking and smoking as he screeches to a stop. Pit droids rush to service the racer, swarming over the engines. Ody stands up in the cockpit, a big, squat, reptilian Er'Kit, arms gesturing. But when the engines ignites a new, DUM-4, a pit droid, is standing at the left intake, and the engine sucks it inside, chews it up, and spit it out the exhaust in a mangling heap.

The crowd goes back to their viewscreens, intent on the race.

Then R2-D2, standing with Kitster and C-3PO at the edge of their station, gives an exciting beep.

Obi-Wan's eyes snap open. "Here he comes!" he exclaims quickly.

Anakin Skywalker explodes out of the midday glare, the big Radon-Ulzers howling in fury.

Amid the cheers and shouts of his companions and the crowd, Qui-Gon Jinn just smiles. Anakin begins to overtake the pack. Even Padmé can swear there is a smirk on Vader's hooded face despite the man wearing a mask by his posture.

At the beginning of the second lap, Anakin is in sixth place. As the race progresses, he is slowly disappearing into the workings of his racer, becoming one with its engines, feeling the strain and tug on each rivet and screw. Wind whips by him in a screaming rush, locking him away in its white noise. There is only himself and the machine, all speed and response. It is the way racing affects him, melding his body with the Pod and engines until he is a part of both. Moment by moment, the symbiosis deepens, joining them, giving him insights and understandings that transcends his senses and knowledge, projecting him past the present and into a place others can not reach.

Approaching Arch Canyon, he bores down on the leaders, young face intense. Skimming the flats, he whips past Aldar Beedo and side slips Clegg Holdfast. To one side, a fast-closing Ody Mandrell banks too hard over a sandy rise and catch his engine in the sand. Ody's racer cartwheels in a spectacular twisting of engines and Pod and explodes apart.

Anakin is only four racers back from Sebulba and can see the Dug's craft clearly in the distance.

Everything happens quickly after that.

The racers whip tough Arch Canyon and out the other side in a ragged line, with Anakin narrowing the gap between himself and the others. Tusken Raiders, hiding in the rocks of the cliffs that forms the corner of Tusken Turn, gets lucky and hit Teemto Pagalies. Teemto's racer simply explodes and is gone. Anakin flies through the vaporized wreckage in pursuit of the others. He passes Elan Mak and Habba Kee in a rush. Ahead, Mars Guo is closing on Sebulba, wary of the Dug, keeping down and away, trying to sneak past. Anakin draws nearer to both, leapfrogging sand dunes in a long depression, easing slowly up on Mars Guo.

Suddenly Sebulba reaches out of his Pod's cockpit and releases a ragged bit of metal directly into Mars Guo's left engine intake. Metal clashes violently against metal, and the damaged engine begins to spew smoke and fire. Mars tries to hold the machine steady, but the failing engine bucked and lost power, causing the Pod to veer sharply into Anakin. The racers collide in a shriek of metal, and a leading edge of Mars Guo's vertical stabilizer snags the Steelton line to Anakin's left engine and releases the binding.

Instantly Anakin's Pod begins to swing violently at the end of its single remaining line, whipsawing back and forth. The Radon-Ulzers continues to act in concert, locked together by the energy binders, but the racer is out of control. Anakin works the stabilizer pedals with his feet, fighting to hold the Pod steady as it swing like a pendulum. The unhook line snaps viciously in the wake of the engine's exhaust, threatening to tangle or snag on an outcropping and drag the racer down. Anakin gropes along the floor of his cockpit, searching for the magnetic retriever. When he finds it, he flicks on the power button and extended the retriever out to the left side, trying to make contact with the loose line. The effort forces him to pull back on the thruster bars to cut power, and he fall behind Sebulba once more. Elan Mak, Habba Kee, and now Obitoki as well sweeps by him, giving chase to the Dug.

Anakin glances frantically over his shoulder. The bulk of the pack was closing on him once more.

After a dozen tries, he finally focuses his concentration sufficiently to snag the loose engine line with the retriever and maneuver it back to its hook. Sweat and grit coat his face, and his jacket sleeve is rip. Casting down the retriever, he jams the thruster bars forward once more. Stabilized at the ends of the Steelton lines, the Pod holds steady now as the Radon-Ulzers bucks, and the racer accelerates after the leaders.

Anakin catches Elan Mak first and slides around him easily. He is closing on Habba Kee when Obitoki tries to pass Sebulba.

The Dug waits until his rival pulls alongside, then uses the same tactic he employed against Xelbree. Opening a small side vent in the left exhaust, he sends a gush of fire into the housing of Obitoki's right engine. Fuel in the lines catches fire and explodes, and Obitoki's racer dives nose first into the desert, sending a wide spray of grit everywhere.

Habba Kee flies into it just ahead of Anakin, low and tight to the ground. Momentarily blinded, he swerves the wrong way and caught a piece of one of Obitoki's engines where it juts from the sand. Engines and Pod tangles and crashes in wild explosion. Anakin follows Habba Kee into the smoke and grit, blinded as well. A piece of steaming metal flies at him out of the haze, careening off his right engine housing and barely missing his head. But the boy is seeing with more than his eyes, sensing with his mind, calm and steady within himself. He can feel the danger waiting, and he works the thruster bars smoothly, sliding past the wreckage.

Then he is in the clear again and bearing down on Sebulba.

He catch the Dug as they scream past the arena and under the finish arch for the start of the third and final lap.

In his mind, Anakin can see Qui-Gon and Jar Jar watching him; Kitster, standing in the crew pits, his friend cheering wildly, and R2-D2 and C-3PO, the former beeping, the latter nattering back at him in response; Padmé, her beautiful face frame with worry; and his mother, her eyes fill with terror; Obi-Wan, emotions unclear but worry in his eyes. He can see them all, as if he are standing among them, standing outside himself, watching the race...

He blocks their faces away, banishes the images from his thoughts, and focuses everything on Sebulba.

They are speeding out of Arch Canyon when Sebulba decides to put an end to Anakin once and for all. The Dug knows where all the droid observation cams are situated. He knows the angles of placement and how to avoid giving himself away. Swinging his racer close to Anakin's, he open the side vent on his exhaust and tries to scorch the boy's engine housing as he done with Xelbree and Obitoki. But Anakin fall victim to that particular trick once before and is looking for it this time. He shifts just above the cutting flame and out of reach. When Sebulba tries to follow, Anakin drops down again - but too far, momentarily losing control. His racer veers from the course right into a line of warning signs, sending them flying in all directions. Desperate to recover, he lifts the nose of his craft skyward, jams his thruster bars forward, and accelerates. The Radon-Ulzers booms, his racer give a frightening lurch, and he leapfrogs right over Sebulba to take the lead.

Down through the first set of caves and past Tusken Turn the racers tear, Anakin leading, Sebulba right on his tail. At speeds too great for maintaining proper control, the antagonists banks and angles as if safety are of no importance at all.

And finally burst into the clear once more.

Again, Sebulba tries to regain the lead, pushing for an opening. Anakin holds him off, but then one of the horizontal stabilizers on the left engine begins to shudder violently. A momentary vision of Sebulba hammering on his stabilizer just before the start of the race flashes through Anakin's mind. He eases off on the thruster bars, jettisoned the stabilizer, and switches to an auxiliary mount. In the process, he is force to give way. Sebulba races past him to take command of the lead once more.

Time and space are running out on Anakin Skywalker. He shoves the thruster bars forward and went after the Dug. Sebulba sees him coming and fishtail his Pod back and forth in front of the boy to keep him from passing. Over the causeway they speed, jockeying for position. Anakin tries everything he knows, but Sebulba is a seasoning veteran and is able to counter each attempt. Metta Drop flies past as the racers roar out of the dune hills and onto the final stretch of flats.

Finally, Anakin shifts left, then right. But this time when Sebulba moves to block him, Anakin fakes a third shift, drawing the Dug left again. The instant Sebulba begin his blocking move, Anakin jerks his racer hard to the right and noses in beside the Dug.

Down the flat, open final stretch of the course the Podracers tears, side by side, the arena stands and warding statuary beginning to take shape ahead. Sebulba screams in frustration and deliberately swerves his Pod into Anakin's. Incense by the boy's swine persistence, he slams into him, once, twice. But on the third strike, their steering rods catches, locking them together. Anakin fight with his controls, trying to break free, but the Pods are hook fast. Sebulba laughs, jamming his racer against the boy's in an effort to force him into the ground. Anakin whips the thruster bars forward and back, trying to disengage from the tangle. The Radon-Ulzers strains with the effort, and the steering rods groans and bends.

Finally, Anakin's rod breaks completely, snapping off both the armature and the main horizontal stabilizer. The boy's Pod jerk and spins at the ends of the Steelton cables, shimmying with such force that Anakin would have been thrown from the Pod if he is not strap down.

But it is much worse for Sebulba. When Anakin's steering arm snaps, the Dug's Pod shot forward as if catapult, collapsing the towlines, sending the engines screaming out of control. One engine slams into a piece of the ancient statuary and disintegrated in flames. Then the second goes, ramming into the sand and exploding in a massive fireball. The towing cables break free, and the Dug's Pod is send skidding through the flaming wreckage of the engines, twisting and bumping violently along the desert floor to a smoking stop. Sebulba extricates himself in a shrieking fit, throwing pieces of his ruined Pod in all directions only to discover that his pants are on fire.

Anakin Skywalker flies overhead, the exhausts from the big Radon-Ulzers sending sand and grit into the Dug's face in a stinging spray. Hanging on to maintain control as he crossed the finish line, he became, at nine years of age, the youngest winner ever of the Boonta Eve race.

From within the crowd, unbeknownst to most, Vader smiles. He is just that good, even as a child. Well, he does have the tendency to brag.

As the viewing platform, he occupies with Shmi, Padmé, Obi-Wan, and Jar Jar slowly lowers, Qui-Gon watches the crowd surge toward Anakin's racer. The boy brings the Pod to a skidding halt in the center of the raceway, shut down the Radon-Ulzers, and climbed out. Kitster already reaches him and is hugging him tightly, and R2-D2 and C-3PO are scuttling around them both. When the crowd converges moments later, they hoist Anakin aloft and carry him away, chanting and shouting his name.

Qui-Gon exchanges a warm smile with Shmi, nodding his approval of the boy's performance. Anakin Skywalker is special indeed.

The viewing platform settles in place smoothly, and its occupants off-load onto the raceway in a rush. Allowing his companions to join the celebration, the Jedi Master turns back toward the stands. Ascending the stairways swiftly, he reaches Watto's private box in minutes. A knot of aliens depart just in front of him, laughing and joking in several languages, counting fistfuls of currency and credits. Watto is staring out at the chanting crowd, hovering at the edge of the viewport, a dejected look on his wrinkled blue face.

The moment he catches sight of Qui-Gon, his dejection transforms, and he flies at the Jedi Master in undisguised fury.

"You! You swindled me!" He bounces in the air in front of Qui-Gon, shaking with rage. "You knew the boy was going to win! Somehow you knew it! I lost everything!"

Qui-Gon smiles benignly. "Whenever you gamble, my friend, eventually you'll lose. Today wasn't your day." The smile drops away. "Bring the hyperdrive parts to the main hangar right away. I'll come by your shop later so you can release the boy."

The Toydarian shoves his snout against Qui-Gon's nose. "You can't have him! It wasn't a fair bet!"

Qui-Gon looks him up and down with a chilly stare. "Would you like to discuss it with the Hutts? I'm sure they would be happy to settle the matter."

Watto jerks as if stung, his beady eyes fill with hate. "No, no! I want no more of your tricks." He gestures emphatically. "Take the boy! Be gone!"

He wheels away and fly out of the box, body hunched beneath madly beating wings. Qui-Gon watches him depart, then starts down the stairs for the racetrack, his mind already turning to other things.

Within an hour, the arena empties, the racers stores or hauls away for repairs, and the main hangar left almost deserts. A few pit droids are still engaging in salvaging pieces of wreckage from the race, coming and going in steady pursuit of their work. Anakin alone of the Pod pilots remains, checking over his damaged racer. He is dirty and ragged, his hair spiky, and his face streaks with sweat and grime. His jacket is torn in several places, and there is blood on his clothing where he slashed his arm on a jagged piece of metal during the battle with Sebulba.

Qui-Gon watches him thoughtfully, standing to one side with Padme and Shmi as the boy, Jar Jar, R2-D2, and C-3PO moves busily over the Pod and engines. Can it be? He has been wondering for what must have been the hundredth time, pondering the way the boy handles a Podracer, the maturity he exhibits, and the instincts he possesses. is it possible?

He shelves his questions for another time. It would be up to the Council to decide. Abruptly, he leaves the woman, walking over to the boy and kneeling beside him.

"You're a bit worse for wear, Annie," he says softly, placing his hands on the boy's shoulders and looking him in the eyes, "but you did well." Smiling reassuringly, he wipes a patch of dirt off the boy's face. "There, good as new."

He ruffles the boy's unruly hair and helps bind his injured arm. Shmi and Padmé join them and moves in to give Anakin fresh hugs and kisses, checking him over carefully, touching his cheeks and forehead.

"Ah, gee... enough of this," the boy mumbles in embarrassment.

His mother smiles, shaking her head. "It's so wonderful, Annie-what you've done here. Do you know? You've brought hope to those who have none. I'm so very proud of you."

"We owe you everything," Padmé adds quickly, giving him an intense, warm look. She is thankful Sabé, Rabé, Eirtaé, Saché, and Yané isn't here. They would have certainly teased her mercilessly for how she has been treating the boy. She mentally groans in horror. Wait until they find out...

Anakin blushes scarlet. "Just feeling this good is worth anything," he declares, smiling back.

Qui-Gon walks over to where the hyperdrive parts were loaded on an antigrav repulsors led harnesses to a pair of eopies. Watto made the delivery as promised, though not without considerable grumbling and a barrage of thinly veiled threats. Qui-Gon checks the container straps, glances out into the midday heat, and walks back to the others.

"Padmé, Jar Jar, let's go," he orders abruptly. "We've got to get these parts back to the ship."

The group moves over to the eopies, laughing and talking. Padmé hugs and kisses Anakin again, then climbs onto one of the eopies behind Qui-Gon, taking hold of his waist. Jar Jar swing onto the second animal and promptly slid off the other side, collapsing in a heap. R2-D2 beeps encouragingly as the Gungan tries again, this time managing to keep his seat. Goodbyes and thank-yous are exchanged, but it is an awkward moment for Anakin. He looks as if he wants to say something to Padmé, moving up beside her momentarily, staring up at her expectantly. But all he can manage is a sad, confused look.

Slowly, the eopies begins to move off, Anakin and his mother standing with C-3PO, waving after.

"I'll return the eopies by midday," Qui-Gon promises, calling over his shoulder.

Padmé did not look back at all. She never wants to come back to this planet nor has any plans to.

Qui-Gon Jinn and company rode out of Mos Espa into the Tatooine desert, R2-D2 leading the way, rolling along in front of the eopies and sled at a steady pace. The suns are rising quickly to a midday position in the sky, and the heat rose off the sand in waves. But the journey back to the Queen's transport is accomplished swiftly and without incident.

"I was getting worried," Obi-Wan announces without preamble as he dismounts from his eopie.

Qui-Gon dismount, then helps Padmé down. "Start getting this hyperdrive generator installed," he orders. "I'm going back. I have some unfinished business."

"Business?" his protege echoes, arching one eyebrow.

"I won't be long."

Obi-Wan studies him a moment, then sighs. "Why do I sense we've picked up another stray?"

Qui-Gon takes his arm and moves him away from the others. "It's the boy who's responsible for getting us these parts." He pauses. "The boy whose blood sample you ran the midi-chlorian test on last night."

Obi-Wan gives him a hard, steady look, then turns away. Though, by the Force, Qui-Gon can swear there are undercurrents of a slight smile. So it is true, he obverse, Obi-Wan likes the boy.

Anakin walks home with his mother and C-3PO, still wrap in the euphoria of his victory, but wrestling as well with his sadness over the departure of Padmé. He hadn't thought about what would happen to her if he won the Boonta Eve, that it will mean Qui-Gon will secure the hyperdrive generator he needs to make their transport functional. So when she bend to kiss and hug him good-bye, it is the first time he given the matter any serious thought since her arrival. He is stun, caught in a mix of emotions, and all of a sudden he wants to tell her to stay. But he can't bring himself to speak the words, knowing how foolish they would sound, realizing she couldn't do so in any case.

So he stands there like a droid without its vocoder, watching her ride away behind Qui-Gon, thinking it might well be the last time he would ever see her, and wondering how he was going to live with himself if it was.

Unable to sit still once he walks his mother to their home, he places C-3PO back in his bedroom, deactivates him, and goes out again. Qui-Gon tells him he is relieve of any work today at Watto's, so he pretty much could do what he wants until the Jedi return. He gives no thought to what would happen then, wandering down toward Mos Espa Way, waving as his name is shouted out from every quarter on his journey, basking in the glow of his success. He still can't quite believe it, and yet it felt as if he had always known he would win this race. Kitster appears, then Amee and Wald, and soon he was surrounded by a dozen others.

He is just approaching the connector to Mos Espa Way when a Rodian youngster, bigger than himself, blocks his way. Anakin cheated, the Rodian sneers. He couldn't have won the Boonta Eve any other way. No slave could win anything. Anakin is on top of him so fast the bigger being barely had time to put up his arms in defense before he was on the ground.

Anakin is hitting him as hard and fast as he can, not thinking about anything but how angry he is, not even aware that the source of his anger has nothing to do with his victim.

Then Qui-Gon, returning by now with the eopies, is looming over him. He pulls Anakin away, separating the two fighters, and demands to know what this is all about. Somewhat sheepishly, but still angry, Anakin tells him. Qui-Gon studies him carefully, disappointment registering on his broad features. He fixes the young Rodian with his gaze and asked him if he still believed Anakin cheated. The youngster, glowering at Anakin, says he did.

Qui-Gon put his hand on Anakin's shoulder and steers him away from the crowd, not saying anything until they were out of hearing.

"You know, Annie," he says then, his deep voice thoughtful, "fighting didn't change his opinion. The opinions of others, whether you agree with them or not, are something you have to learn to tolerate."

He walks the boy back toward his home, counseling him quietly about the way life worked, hand resting on his shoulder in a way that makes Anakin feel comfort. As they near the boy's home, the Jedi reaches beneath his poncho and produces a leather pouch fill with credits.

"These are yours," he announces. "I sold the Pod." He purses his lips. "To a particularly surly and rather insistent Dug."

Anakin accepts the bag, grinning broadly, the fight and its cause forgotten.

He ran up the steps to his door and burst through, Qui-Gon following silently. "Mom, Mom!" he cries out as she appears to greet him. "Guess what! Qui-Gon sold the Pod! Look at all the money we have!"

He produces the leather pouch and dropped it into her hands, enjoying the startled look on her face. "Oh, my goodness!" she breathes softly, staring down at the bulging pouch. "Annie, that's wonderful!"

Her eyes lift quickly to meet Qui-Gon's. The Jedi steps forward, holding her gaze.

"Annie has been freed," he says.

The boy's eyes go wide. "What?"

Qui-Gon glances down at him. "You are no longer a slave."

Shmi Skywalker stares at the Jedi in disbelief, her worn face rigid, her eyes mirroring her shock and disbelief.

"Mom? Did you hear that, Mom?" Anakin let out a whoop and jumps as high as he can manage. It isn't possible! But he knows it is true, knew that it really is!

He manages to collect himself. "Was that part of the prize, or what?" he asks, grinning.

Qui-Gon grins back. "Let's just say Watto learned an important lesson about gambling."

Shmi Skywalker is shaking her head, still stun by the news, still working it through. But the sight of Anakin's face make everything come clear for her in an instant. She reaches out to him and presses him to her.

"Now you can make your dreams come true, Annie," she whispers, her face radiant as she touches his cheek. "You're free."

She releases him and turns to Qui-Gon, her eyes bright and expectant. "Will you take him with you? Is he to become a Jedi?" Anakin beams at the suggestion, wheeling quickly on Qui-Gon, waiting for his answer.

The Jedi Master hesitates. "Our meeting was not a coincidence. Nothing happens by accident. You are strong with the Force, Annie, but you may not be accepted by the Council."

Anakin hears what he wants to hear, blocking away everything else, seeing the possibilities that had fueled his hopes and dreams for so long come alive in a single moment.

"A Jedi!" he gasps. "You mean I get to go with you in your starship and everything!"

The thought strikes him like a thunderbolt, wrapping him in such expectancy that it is all he could do to listen to what the Jedi Master says next.

Qui-Gon kneels before the boy, his face somber. "Anakin, training to be a Jedi will not be easy. It will be a challenge. And if you succeed, it will be a hard life."

Anakin shakes his head quickly. "But it's what I want! It's what I've always dreamed about!" He looks quickly to his mother. "Can I go, Mom?"

But Qui-Gon draws him back with a touch. "This path has been placed before you, Annie. The choice to take it must be yours alone."

The man and the boy stare at each other. A mix of emotions roils through Anakin, threatening to sweep him away, but at their forefront is the happiness he feels at finding the thing he wanted most in all the world within reach-to be a Jedi, to journey down the space lanes of the galaxy. He glances quickly at his mother, at her worn, accepting face, seeing in her eyes that in this, as in all things, she wants what is best for him.

His gaze returns to Qui-Gon. "I want to go," he said.

"Then pack your things," the Jedi Master advises. "We don't have much time."

"Yippee!" the boy shouts, jumping up and down, anxious already to be on his way. He rushes to his mother and hugs her as hard as he can manage, then breaks away for his bedroom.

He is almost to the doorway when he realizes he forgot something. A chill sweeps through him as he wheels back to Qui-Gon. "What about Mom?" he asks hurriedly, eyes darting from one to the other. "Is she free, too? You're coming, aren't you, Mom?"

Qui-Gon and his mother exchange a worrying glance, and he knows the answer before the Jedi speaks the words. "I tried to free your mother, Annie, but Watto wouldn't have it. Slaves give status and lend prestige to their owners here on Tatooine."

The boy feels his chest and throat tighten. "But the money from selling..."

Qui-Gon shakes his head. "It's not nearly enough."

There is a hushed silence, and then Shmi Skywalker came to her son and sita down in a chair next to him, taking both of his hands in hers and drawing him close. Her eyes are steady as she looks into his.

"Annie, my place is here," she says quietly. "My future is here. It is time for you to let go... to let go of me. I cannot go with you."

The boy swallows hard. "I want to stay with you, then. I don't want things to change."

She give him an encouraging smile, her brow knitting. "You can't stop change any more than you can stop the suns from setting. Listen to your feelings, Annie. You know what's right."

Anakin Skywalker takes a long, slow breath and drops his gaze, his head lowering. Everything is coming apart inside, all the happiness melting away, all the expectancy fading. But then he feels his mother's hands tighten over his own, and in her touch he find the strength he needs to do what he knows he must.

Nevertheless, his eyes are brimming as he lifts his gaze once more. "I'm going to miss you so much, Mom," he whispers.

His mother nods. "I love you, Annie." She releases his hands. "Now, hurry."

Anakin gives her a quick, hard hug, and raced from the room, tears streaking his face.

Once within his own room, Anakin stand staring about in sudden bewilderment. He is leaving, and he does not know when he will be coming back. He has never been anywhere but here, never knowing anyone but the people of Mos Espa and those who come to trade with them. He dreamed about other worlds and other lives, about becoming a pilot of a mainline ship, and about becoming a Jedi. But the impact of what it actually meant to be standing at the threshold of an embarkation to the life he had so often wished for was overwhelming.

He find himself thinking of the old spacer, telling him that he wouldn't be surprised at all if Anakin Skywalker become something more than a slave. He had wanted that more than anything, had hoped with all his heart for it to happen.

But he never, ever consider the possibility he would have to leave his mother behind.

He wipes the tears from his eyes, fighting back new ones, hearing his mother's and Qui-Gon's voices from the other room.

"Thank you," his mother is saying softly.

"I will watch after him. You have my word." The Jedi's deep voice is warm and reassuring. "Will you be all right?"

Anakin couldn't hear her reply. But then she says, "He was in my life for such a short time..." She trails off, distracted. Anakin forces himself to quit listening, and he began pulling clothes out and stuffing them into a backpack. He didn't have much, and it didn't take him long. He looks about for anything of importance he might have missed, and his eyes settled on C-3PO, sitting motionless on the workbench. He walks over to the protocol droid and switched him on. C-3PO cocks his head and looks at the boy blankly.

"Well, Threepio, I'm leaving," Anakin says solemnly. "I'm free. I'm going away, in a starship..."

He didn't know what else to say. The droid cocks his head. "Well, Master Anakin, you are my maker, and-I, sh you well. Although I'd like it better if I were a little less naked."

The boy sighs and nods. "I'm sorry I wasn't able to finish you, Threepio-to give you coverings and all. I'm going to miss working on you. You've been a great pal. I'll make sure Mom doesn't sell you or anything. Bye!"

He snatches up his backpack and rushes from the room, hearing C-3PO call after him plaintively, "Sell me?"

He says good-bye to his mother, braver now, more determined, and walks out the door with Qui-Gon, his course of action settled. He gets barely a dozen meters from his home when Kitster, who trails them back from the fight, comes rushing up to him.

"Where are you going, Annie?" his friend asks doubtfully.

Anakin takes a deep breath. "I've been freed, Kitster. I'm going away with Qui-Gon. On a spaceship."

Kitster's eyes go wide, and his mouth opens in a silent exclamation. Anakin fishes in his pockets and comes out with a handful of credits, which he shoves at his friend. "Here. These are for you."

Kitster's dark face looks down at the credits, then back up at Anakin. "Do you have to go, Annie? Do you have to? Can't you stay? Annie, you're a hero!"

Anakin swallows hard. "I..." He glances past Kitster to his mother, still standing in the doorway looking after him, then down to where Qui-Gon is waiting. He shakes his head. "I can't."

Kitster nods. "Well."

"Well," Anakin repeats, looking at him.

"Thanks for everything, Annie," the other boy said. There are tears in his eyes as he accepts the credits. "You're my best friend."

Anakin bits his lip. "I won't forget."

He hugs Kitster impulsively, then broke away and raced toward Qui-Gon. But before he reaches him, he glances back one more time at his mother. Seeing her standing in the doorway brought him about. He stands there momentarily, undecided, conflicting emotions tearing at him. Then his already shaky resolve collapses altogether, and he races back to her. By the time he reaches her, he is crying freely.

"I can't do it, Mom," he whispers, clinging to her. "I just can't!"

He is shaking, wrack with sobs, disintegrating inside so quickly that all he could think about is holding on to her. Shmi let him do so for a moment, comforting him with her warmth, then back him away.

She kneels before him, her worn face solemn. "Annie, remember when you climbed that dune in order to chase the banthas away so they wouldn't be shot? You were only five. Remember how you-collapsed several times in the heat, exhausted, thinking you couldn't do it, that it was too hard?"

Anakin nods, his face streak with tears.

Shmi holds his gaze. "This is one of those times when you have to do something you don't think you can do. But I know how strong you are, Annie. I know you can do this."

The boy swallows his tears, thinking she is wrong, he is not strong at all, but knowing, too, she had decided he must go, even if he found it hard, even if he resisted.

"Will I ever see you again?" he asks in desperation, giving voice to the worst of his fears.

"What does your heart tell you?" she asks quietly.

Anakin shakes his head doubtfully. "I don't know. Yes, I guess."

His mother nods. "Then it will happen, Annie."

Anakin takes a deep breath to steady himself. He stops crying now, and he wipes the dampness of his tears from his face.

"I will become a Jedi," he declares in a small voice. "And I will come back and free you, Mom. I promise."

"No matter where you are, my love will be with you," Shmi tells him, her kind face bend close to his. "Now be brave, and don't look back."

"I love you, Mom," Anakin says

She hugs him one final time, then turns him around so he is facing away from her. "Don't look back, Annie," she whispers.

She gives him a small push, and he strides determinedly away, shouldering his pack, keeping his eyes fixed on a point well past where Qui-Gon stands waiting. He walks toward that point without slowing, marching right past the Jedi Master, fighting back the tears that threatened to come yet again. It takes only a few minutes, and his mother and his home are behind him.

From the perspective of the natives who are pacing through the streets of Tatooine, everything was less than normal, given that two occurrences never thought will happen; Sebulba finally lost in the race, and a former slave gone by the name of Anakin Skywalker is the first human who won in a race in the history of podracing.

This would be forever remembered in Tatooine's history, perhaps long after the boy is in his twilight years or dead. This will more likely than not motivate other humans to involve themselves in podracing. Anakin Skywalker's name will be remembered in legends, told in bedtime tales to children.

Hooded and clouded all too familiar to his march on the Temple and on Mustafar except with armor, Vader marches through the streets of Tatooine, maintaining a stern expression across his face. He managed to slip away from the group.

His mother died last time due to the inefficiency of the Jedi and that begins his plummet down to the dark side. The death of Shmi at the hands of the Tusken Raiders was a major catalyst in his fall to the dark side. He'd slaughtered an entire Tusken village including women and children. Anakin came to blame the Jedi Order for causing his mother's death.

Her death is a logical precursor for Palpatine to exploit Anakin's disillusionment with the Jedi and fall to the dark side.

Vader would hardly consider himself a humble man publicly, but his intimidating form is enough to warn he is not someone to be messed with. Not that is necessary, they are celebrating the victory with the podrace.

As Vader takes a turn to the left, he sees it; Shmi Skywalker, still standing and staring out where the younger version of her son just went.

Anger briefly flashes within him. He loathes that attachment rule of the Jedi with vicious anger. Despite being one with the Force, it's apparently not enough for him to control his emotions at seeing his mother cry.

Vader approaches. Ideas formulate in his head. He can free her after Naboo, but that will only bear further hardship. Additionally, the timeline is changing so he wouldn't be surprised if his mother probably dies earlier.

But freeing her now also comes with a consequence; Cliegg Lars. Cliegg's father was a kind Human male moisture farmer on Tatooine, but the young Cliegg rebelled against the elder Lars and left Tatooine for the Core World of Ator. He married a young woman named Aika, and they had a son, Owen. Aika died during Owen's youth, and a devastated Cliegg returned to Tatooine with his son, made amends with his father, and took over the family farm. Shmi healed that depression for a time but if Vader takes her away, that means the Lars would never have their moments of happiness.

Conflict, all too familiar to him on the second Death Star, burns up within inside of him.

In the end, Vader knows what he has to do. Anakin needs his mother's influence at all costs in order to be a better person. She raised Anakin in a loving manner, contradictory to everything the Jedi preach to their students. In spite of their arrogance, Vader recognizes the Jedi do have a point; attachments can lead to the dark side but the Jedi doesn't teach their students to control attachments properly.

Vader scowls as he turns away. He would have to arrange a little visit to Watto's shop.

Chapter Text

Memories insult Vader.

Of the time where he worked endlessly and tirelessly for days by Watto, receiving beatings and going on day's ends without food or water, and whatever they could scavenge up was fed to him by his mother.

It angers him.

It is unjustifiable Anakin Skywalker couldn't receive a fair nine years in his life, but Force, his mother! She has been a slave for so many years, suffering betrayals, receiving endless torture among end, and for once, the dark side within him is urging him to release his tirade on not only the slavers on this planet but others as well.

But self-control cut through his thoughts, reminding him that he would be placing his mother in danger. There is also a thin line that warns him the time would come for him to do battle against slavery.

During the pod race, he avoided her presence entirely both with his eyes and through the Force because the presence of his mother is even more powerful than his wife. At least his wife survived long enough to conceive Luke and Leia, but his mother received no such pleasantries, for her name might not even be remembered by Luke or Leia, disappearing in the shades of sand.

He deliberately slows his steps, knowing that it would take hours before his mother is commanded to return to the shop whilst also knowing Jinn and Kenobi wouldn't order for him to be left behind because who they presume is their ancient enemy is traveling before them and the Jedi Council likely has questions.

For a simple-minded Toydarian like Watto, his shop is a fairly complex building. It stands out from many of the other stores and market booths that infests Mos Espa, which partially accounted for the greedy shopkeeper's success.

But the shop itself isn't what's dwelling on his mind. Instead, his eyes are direct at Shmi Skywalker whose tears are going down her eyes. She misses him-or rather, his younger self, her Force Aura radiating pain and sadness. Vader grimaces at her appearance; has she always been malnourished like that?

Vader visited her grave once in his time as Dark Lord. Yet now here she is, alive, but is struggling with the loss of her son. She is an innocent woman, someone who didn't deserve to endure as much suffering as she has. First thing's first, he has to ensure she is removed from this dustball to start a new and safer life, one full of happiness.

Now Vader could be the one who frees her. Unlike the Jedi, he doesn't care about the moral high ground, for he has absorbed the galaxy not working that way. Where is the mortality in allowing corruption to seed its way into the Republic? Where is the mortality into signing a damn treaty where slavery is practically granted lawful?

For anyone else, freeing her will be a costly endeavor, particularly given Watto knows a good deal when he sees one and can arbitrarily ask for more, knowing why they'd want her.

But also, the Jedi are not supporters of attachment. Keeping Anakin's mother near him would feed his attachment to her. He would want to see her, even more than he did. That would be unbecoming for a young Jedi in training in their eyes, as they're usually taken away earlier in life before they've built those bonds so strongly.

She walks over to the other part of the shop and begins to work once more, wincing as she drops one of the parts to one of many Watto's inventions and knowing she would have to pay for it later.

At that thought, his eyes begin to turn orange-gold, and his fists clench. Watto will never lay a hand over his mother ever again.

Watto glances over at Shmi and then follows her gaze to Vader. "Ah! A customer, welcome welcome!"

Vader walks forward and meets the Toydarian halfway. "Are you selling at the moment? I am looking for a slave who can fend to my every need."

"What kind of slave?" Watto asks, rubbing his hands together calculatingly.

"Someone who is great with mechanics, someone who will follow my orders, and someone who I can bend to my desire. That slave from earlier... is interesting," Vader says, pretending to think as he places his hand on his chin. In his time as Dark Lord, he became an extraordinary actor by placing on countless acts of imitation. "Allow me to see her."

Watto sneers and turns to the counter. "Shmi! Get over here!"

The woman walks over, shoulder sag but with somewhat of a determined look, ever the fighter. "Does she fit the one who you are looking for?" Watto asks.

Vader forces himself to touch her, grasping hold of her chin and staring her over, attempting to not sob on her shoulder as he remembers those visions. Why do they have to commence with physical contact? Seeing her solely is killing him inside but touching her is like a living nightmare.

"Eccentric," Vader speaks, pushing her cheek upward once more and pretending to examine her. "How much are we talking?"

Despite Vader being capable and part of him is tempted to just kill Watto, free his mother, and ransack the shop, he knows that is not a wise idea with her being concerned as that may install the slave mortality within him.

Talking over 20 minutes over a price, and Vader still isn't even focusing immensely on the slaver. He can sense Shmi's defeat, her struggle, her sadness, and her conflict. It makes him angry at how afraid of him she is. Hopefully, back on the ship, she would be able to communicate properly.

Watto attempts to bargain more for Shmi when Vader allows himself to snap. Time for potential peace negotiations is over.

He draws on the dark side, washing the shop over with chillness and sensing the tremor up the spine of the slaver. And both have a feeling Vader is behind it.

Time for aggressive negotiations.

If Watto does not emancipate his mother, Vader shall extirpate him from the spot and liberate her.

"No," Vader replies precipitously. "Here's how it's going to go; you have immolated that chance to receive money in your cheap endeavors to scam me off. Free her and I will spare you instead of shipping your corpse to the Hutts. Your shop would be destroyed shortly. This shop is a failure, and you offer no use to my companions or me."

Watto wants to argue when he feels something tight pressing down against his neck, cutting off all oxygen from escaping his lungs. The invisible hand tightens to the point where one more push and he would be reduced to a carcass.

Upon seeing that Watto appears reluctant in granting his wish, he decides to demonstrate his power; crashing lightning into the Toydarian, remembering when he caressed her in her final days and not willing to allow such a reality to play out again as the screams of the Toydarian echoes through the shop and those who are outside, stridently walking faster in not wishing to cross him or continuing their work without investigating.

"Listen you bug, you will give her to me or you will die," Vader threatens shrewdly, staring at the now fried Toydarian whose skin is now nearly crimson.

"Fine! Fine! Take her and leave!"

The slave transmitter being handed over to him almost immediately makes him want nothing more but to crush it and scrap it as he had long ago made a mental promise that he kept even in his time as Darth Vader; he would never become a slaver. A promise he broke once before in morphing a son of two powerful Jedi into a weapon but he has seen through the errors of his actions.

Truthfully, Vader wants to test the power of the Force Lightning Palpatine toyed with Vader switching from a Master showing appreciation and then torturing him, crushing him with the power itself a few times but now wielding the power and using it against another, horrible as it is, feels good.

"Come," Vader commands to the woman darkly, orange-gold eyes staring at the slaver underneath the hood. The only planet in the entire galaxy that can make him struggle with the dark side is this planet of course.

Shmi, seeing that she didn't have much, follow behind her new slaver.

After they get a mile away, he checks to see if they are all alone, and once this is confirmed, he clicks the button and she is released, crushing the device immediately beyond repair.

"You are free, Shmi Skywalker," Vader declares, revealing his cylinder hilt to her. "I came with Qui-Gon Jinn."

She is shocked silence before allowing her thoughts to process more than ever before. Her... free? At long last? Is this some type of sick joke? A cruel joke where she would be ship off to someone even worse than Watto or abused by him?

At the age of six, Shmi and her parents embarked on a space voyage to the Outer Rim Territories, where they were captured by pirates and sold into slavery.

Shmi had a difficult childhood, taken from one system to another by several masters while serving as a house servant. Upon reaching adulthood, she was dropped from house servant status and forced into cleaning work. While some of these masters were cruel, others were kind—notably, Pi-Lippa, who taught Shmi valuable technical Pi-Lippa had planned to free Shmi, she'd died before she could, and Shmi instead became the property of one of Pi-Lippa's relatives, who did not want to free her.

Vader deactivates her slave chip and crushes the slave device, assuring her fears that this is a cruel joke to be false, and ultimately creating a new destiny for the young woman. Shortly after Shmi's death, he remembers Sabé telling him that she tried and failed to save her and she apologized, but at the time, Anakin Skywalker was in turmoil so he just simply nodded and didn't acknowledge anyone for days until Padmé forced him to eat.

By the Force, she had to throw her arms around him, making every instinct in himself go stiff as he could only stare at her frame as memories flash through his vision.

Under the pale light of a full moon, Anakin Skywalker pulls the speeder bike to the ridge of a high dune and peered across the desert wastes of Tatooine. Not too far below him, he saw an encampment spread about a small oasis, and he knows at once, even before spotting a figure, that it was a Tusken camp. He could sense his mother down there, could feel her pain.

He creeps closer, studying the straw and skin huts for any anomalies that might clue him into their respective purposes. One especially sturdy hut at the edge of the oasis caught and held his attention: It seems less tended than the others, yet more solidly constructed. As he comes around a bit more, he grows even more intrigued, noting that only one hut is guarded, by a pair of Tuskens flanking the entrance.

"Oh, Mom," Anakin whispers.

Silent as a shadow, the Padawan slips through the encampment, moving hut to hut, flat against walls and belly-crawling across open spaces, working his way gradually toward the hut he felt held his mother. He comes against its side at last, and puts his hands against the soft skin wall, feeling the emotions and pain of the person within. A quick glance around the front shows him the two Tusken guards, sitting a short distance in front of the door.

Anakin draws and ignites his lightsaber, then crouches low, shielding the glow as much as he could. He slides the energy blade through the wall and easily cut the material away, then, without even pausing to see if any Tuskens were inside, he crawled through.

"Mom," he breathes again, and his legs weakens beneath him. The room is lit by dozens of candles, and by a shaft of pale moonlight, streaming through a hole in the roof, illuminating the figure of Shmi, tied facing against a rack to the side of the tent. Her arms were outstretched, bound at bloodied wrists, and her face, when she turned to the side, showed the weeks of beatings.

Anakin quickly cut her free and gently lowers her from the perch, into his arms, and then down to the floor.

"Mom... Mom... Mom," he whispers softly. Anakin knows that she is alive, though she did not immediately respond and come down so pitifully limp. He can feel her in the Force, though she is a thin, thin sensation.

He cradles her head and kept repeating her name softly, and finally, Shmi's eyelids flutter open as much as she could manage through the swelling and the dried blood.

"Annie?" she whispers back. He can feel her wheezing as she tried to speak, and knows that many of her ribs had been crushed. "Annie? Is it you?"

Gradually her eyes begin to focus upon him, and he could see a thin smile of recognition coming to her battered face.

"I'm here, Mom," he tells her. "You're safe now. Hang on. I'm going to get you out of here."

"Annie? Annie?" Shmi replies, and she tilts her head, the way she often had when Anakin was a boy, seeming quite amused by him. "You look so handsome."

"Save your strength, Mom," he says, trying to calm her. "We've got to get away from here."

"My son," Shmi goes on, and she seems to be in a different place than Anakin, a safer place. "My grown-up son. I knew you'd come back to me. I knew it all along."

Anakin tries again to tell her to lie still and save her strength, but the words simply won't come out of his mouth. "I'm so proud of you, Annie. So proud. I missed you so much."

"I missed you, too, Mom, but we can talk later ..."

"Now I am complete," Shmi announces then, and she looks straight up, past Anakin, past the hole in the ceiling, to the shining moon, it seems.

Somewhere deep inside, Anakin understands. "Just stay with me, Mom," he pleads, and he has to work very hard to keep the desperation out of his voice. "I'm going to make you well again. Everything's... going to be fine."

"I love..." Shmi starts to say, but then she goes very still, and Anakin sees the light leave her eyes.

Anakin can hardly draw his breath. Wide-eyed with disbelief, he lifts Shmi to his breast and rocks her there for a long time. She can't be gone! She just can't!

He pulls her back again, staring into her eyes, silently pleading with her to answer him. But there is no light there, no flicker of life. He hugs her close, rocking her.

Then he lays her back on the floor and gently closes her eyes. Anakin don't know what to do. He sits motionless, staring at his dead mother, then looks up, his blue eyes blazing with hatred and rage. He replayed all of the recent events of his life in his head, wondering what he might have done differently, done better, to keep Shmi alive. He should never have left her here in the first place, he realizes, should never have let Qui-Gon take him away from Tatooine without bringing his mother along, as well. She said she is proud of him, but how could he deserve her pride if he can not even save her?

He wants Shmi to be proud of him, wants to tell his mom all about the things that had come into his life, his Jedi training, all the good work he did, and most of all, about Padmé. Oh, how he wants his mom to get to know Padmé! She will love her. How could she not? And Padmé would have loved her.

Now, what is he going to do?

The minutes slip past and Anakin just sits there, immobilized by his confusion, by a budding rage, and the most profound sense of emptiness he had ever known. Only when the pale light begins to grow around him, making the low-burning candles seem even thinner. Did he even remember where he is?

He looks about, wondering how he might get his mother's body out of there—for he certainly wasn't going to leave it to the Tusken Raiders. He could hardly move, though. There seems a profound pointlessness to it all, a series of motions without meaning.

At that time, the only meaning, the only purpose, that Anakin can fathom is that of the rage building within him, an anger at losing someone he did not wish to give up.

Some small part of him warns him not to give in to that anger, warns him that such emotions are of the luring call to the dark side.

Then he looks at Shmi lying there, so still, seeming at peace but cover with the clear evidence of all the pain that been inflicted upon her poor body these last days.

The Jedi Padawan climbs to his feet and took up his lightsaber, then boldly strode through the door.

The two Tusken guards give a yelp and lift their staves, rushing for him, but the blue-glowing blade ignites, and in a flash of killing light, Anakin takes them down, left and right.

The rage is not sated.

Vader's eyes slowly fall onto her frame. Except unlike last time, she isn't on the verge of death, she isn't bloody, she isn't tortured and beaten and raped. She is still alive. Alive, not well, not completely after years of endurance and struggling to survive.

But for once since he has come back here, Vader feels like he actually accomplished something.

Yet, as much as he despises coming back, he would have to... for Kitster once the occupation on Naboo ends. That boy deserves a better life.

Qui-Gon Jinn takes the boy out of Mos Espa swiftly, hurrying through the crowded streets to the less populated outskirts. Apparently, there has been a recent development, and the Queen is weary.

Once out in the desert, in the open, he picks up the pace. The Queen's transport comes into view, a dark shape just ahead, a haven of safety. He hears Anakin call out to him, the boy working hard to keep up, but beginning to fall behind.

Finally, they emerge at the ship corridor and Qui-Gon smiles at Anakin with false ease, dismissing him to the couch, before approaching his student.

Obi-Wan's aura radiates confusion and shock. Undoubtedly, he expected Vader to murdered all on board or to turn against them here, but while the man to have it out in his fury at the Jedi, he apparently does have morals.

The Queen's handmaiden assign to watch Vader come out and begins explaining the story.

"So Vader haven't betrayed us?" Obi-Wan muses, planting his hand on his chin, given no response by the handmaiden nor by his Master.

According to the Queen's handmaiden who tells them of the tale of Vader fighting a Zabrak with twin crimson blades, giving quite a description of the Zabrak. She also told them that both hold themselves well but Vader managed to defeat himself without much of a challenge. It is stunning that Vader didn't choose the opportunity to betray the handmaiden when they were left alone in the desert and could put up a little challenge to someone such as himself.

According to the Jedi Council, there could only be two among the Sith Order. Yet, if that is true, why is this being who definitely had the potential to become Vader's apprentice is now out of posing danger to Vader, thanks to the man himself.

Why would Vader order for his apprentice to attack and poise himself as a hero when there was a clear opportunity for him to betray them?

That isn't a wise action to do.

But a realization hit him, the realization that surprises him to the core like a lightsaber to the gut.

This Zabrak the woman claim isn't Vader's apprentice. There is another Sith out there, and this certainly isn't the Master, given how easily he was defeated.

Night layover the planet of Naboo, but the silence of Theed exceeded even that normally experienced by those anticipating sleep. In the ornately appointed throne room that had once been the sole province of Queen Amidala, a strange collection of creatures gathers to witness the sentencing of Governor Sio Bibble. Trade Federation Viceroy Nute Gunray convened the assembled, which consists of Rune Haako and several other Neimoidians, the governor and a handful of officials in the Queen's service, and a vast array of battle droids armed with blasters to keep the Naboo prisoners in line.

The Neimoidian is seated in a mechno-chair, a robotic walker that bore him from one part of the room to another, metal legs moving in response to a simple touch of his fingers. It carries him to Sio Bibble and the Naboo officials now, joint armatures working in careful precision, allowing him to remain relaxed and comfortable as he takes note of the fear in the eyes of the officials backing Bibble.

The governor is having none of it, however. Steadfast even now, he faces Gunray with anger and determination, his white head level, his eyes challenging. The Neimoidian glares at him; Sio Bibble is becoming a source of irritation.

"When are you going to give up this pointless strike?" he snaps at the governor, leaning forward slightly to emphasize his displeasure.

"I will give up the strike, Viceroy, when the Queen-"

"Your Queen is lost; your people are starving!"

Bibble stiffens. "The Naboo will not be intimidated, not even at the cost of innocent lives-"

"Perhaps you should worry more about yourself, Governor!" Gunray cut him off sharply. "The odds are good that you are going to die much sooner than your people!" He is shaking with rage, and all at once, his patience is exhausted. "Enough of this!" he explodes. "Take him away!"

The battle droids move quickly, surrounding Sio Bibble, separating him from his colleagues.

"This invasion will gain you nothing!" the governor calls back over his shoulder as he is dragged out. "We are a democracy! The people have decided Viceroy! They will not live in tyranny..."

The rest of what he says is lost as he disappears through the doorway into the hall beyond. The Naboo officials file out after him, silent and dejected.

The Neimoidian stares after them momentarily then turns his attention to OOM-9 as the commander of his battle droids approaches, metal face blank, voice devoid of inflection.

"My troops are in position to begin searching the swamps for the rumored underwater villages," OOM-9 reports. "They will not stay hidden for long."

Nute Gunray nods and dismisses him with a wave of his hand. He thinks nothing of these savages who occupied the swamps. They will be crushed in short order. For all intents and purposes, the planet is in his control.

He leans back in the mechano-chair, a measure of calmness returning. All that remains are for the Sith Lords to bring him the Queen. Certainly, they should have little difficulty in accomplishing that.

Nevertheless, he knows he won't be happy until this business was over.

Aboard the Queen's transport, Anakin Skywalker sits shivering in a corner of the central chamber, trying to decide what he should do to get warm. Everyone else is asleep, and he had been asleep as well, but only for a short time, troubled by his dreams. He comes awake to the silence and could not make himself move, paralyzed by more than simply the cold.

Jar Jar sleeps to one side, stretches out in a chair, head back, snoring loudly. Nothing keeps the Gungan from sleeping. Or eating, for that matter. The boy smiles briefly. R2-D2 rests close by, upright and mostly silent, his lights blinking softly.

Anakin stares into the darkness, willing himself to move, to overcome his inertia. But his dreams haunt him still. He finds himself thinking of his mother and home, and everything closed down inside. He misses her so much! He thought it will get better once he is away from the town, but it don't. Everything reminds him of her, and if he tries to close his eyes against those memories, he finds her face waiting for him, suspended in the darkness of his thoughts, anxious and worn.

Tears come to his eyes, unbidden. Maybe he made a mistake by coming. Maybe he should go home. Except he couldn't now. Maybe not ever again.

A slim figure enters the room, and Anakin watches the light of a viewscreen illuminate Padmé's soft face. Standing as if carved from stone, she clicks on a recording and stood watching the replay of Sio Bibble's plea to Queen Amidala to come home, to save her people from starvation, to help them in their time of need. She watches it all the way through, then shuts it off again and stands staring at nothing, her head bend.

What is she doing?

Suddenly she seems to sense him watching, and turns quickly toward where he crouches. Her beautiful face seems tired and careworn as she approaches and kneels beside him. He stiffens, trying desperately to stop from crying, but he can't hide either the tears or his shivering and leaves to huddle before her, reveal.

"Are you all right, Annie?" she asks him softly.

"It's very cold," he manages to whisper.

She smiles and removes her heavy over jacket, wrapping it around his shoulders and tucking it about him. "You're from a warm planet, Annie. Ships are sometimes cold."

Anakin nods, pulling the jacket tighter. He brushes at his eyes, saying. "You seem sad."

If she sees the irony in his observation, she does not say so. "The Queen is worried. Her people are suffering, dying. She must convince the Senate to intervene, or else..." She trails off, unwilling to speak the words. "I'm not sure what will happen," she finishes, her voice distant, her eyes sliding away from his to fix on something else.

"I'm not sure what's going to happen to me, either," he admits worriedly. "I don't know if I'll ever see-" He stops, his throat tightening, the words fading away into silence. He takes a deep breath, furrows his brow, and reaches into his pocket.

"Here," he says, "I made this for you. So you'd remember me. I carved it out of a japor snippet. Take it. It will bring you good fortune."

He hands her an intricately carved wooden pendant. She studies it a moment, face lower in shadow, then slips it around her neck.

"It's beautiful. But I don't need this to remember you." Her face lifts to his with a smile before she looks down at the pendant, fingering it thoughtfully. "Many things will change when we reach Coruscant, Annie. My caring for you will not be one of them."

The boy nods, swallowing. "I know. And I won't stop caring for you, either. Only, I miss-"

His voice breaks and the tears spring into his eyes once more.

Obi-Wan emerges and he frowns at the scene, wondering what is it like to have a mother, why is the boy extremely upset. And why in the kriff does he continue feeling sympathy for the boy?

"You miss your mother," the girl finishes quietly.

Anakin nods, wiping at his face, unable to speak a word as Padmé Naberrie draws him against her and holds him close.

That is until the sound of a speeder approach, and Obi-Wan turns to stares out only to see their Sith ally approaching the Nubian with a speeder.

But he is not alone.

A woman who Obi-Wan soon recognizes is not far behind him. It is Shmi Skywalker, wearing tattered clothes as she always did, and he inhales sharply as he approaches Vader. Why would Vader out of all people just happen to have a slave at his back if he didn't crave to bend her for his own uses?

"What did you do to her?" Obi-Wan asks sharply and confrontationally.

"Free her," Vader declares coolly. "Unlike you Jedi who has a tendency to abandon people in need, I do not follow such beliefs. Now step aside, Jedi."

Obi-Wan sneers, sensing the truth in his words despite not believing them, before stepping aside and clears the path for the former Sith and the young woman, eyeing Vader and part of him couldn't help but wonder if he is judging Vader too harshly, but why would he be with a slave if he does not intend to use her for his own acts?

Anakin stares up at the looming figure as he walks onboard and is shocked into silence. It is... him! The man from his vision! How?! What?!

But then his eyes fall upon someone beside him and he clears his eyes as he stares at his mother. She is there in the fresh. At first, he'd believed it was just a delusion, but he knows it is not, the thought about the man erasing from his thoughts as joy fills his heart.

She also had his unfinished droid in her grasp along with other materials of his in a bag.


He rushes forward and wraps his arms around her, and the woman returns the embrace. Padmé smiles. His former Master from another timeline attempts to hide it but he sees a glint of a grin.

And even the handmaidens down the previous halls smile at the cuteness and affection between mother and son.

In order to leave the residence of his younger self and his mother that he'd wished was him, the former Sith walks down the hall and enters quarters, staring out at nothing in particular.

The reason why he finds himself alone. His mother will be alright. She is on board. And memories of that night continuously insult him.

Anakin hears a voice, imploring him to restrain himself, to deny the rage. He don't recognize it, though, for he is too full of pain and anger. He spots a Tusken woman to the side, in front of another of the tents, carrying a pail of dirty water, and sees a Tusken child in the shadows of another nearby hut, staring at him with an incredulous expression.

Then he is moving, though he is hardly aware of his actions. His blade flashes and he runs on. The Tusken woman screams and is impaled.

Now all the camp seems in motion, Tuskens rushing out of every hut, many with weapons in hand. But Anakin is into the dance of death then, into the energy of the Force. He leaps far and long, clearing one hut and coming down before another, his blade flashing even before he lands, even before the two Tuskens recognize that he jumps between them.

A third comes at him, thrusting forth a spear, but Anakin lifts an empty hand and sets up a wall of Force energy as solid as stone. Then he shoves out with that hand, and the Tusken spearman flies away, fully thirty meters, smashing through the wall of yet another hut.

Anakin is off and running, off and leaping, his blade spinning left and right in a blur, every stab taking a Tusken down, writhing to the ground, every slash putting a piece of a Tusken on the ground.

Soon none are standing against him, all trying to flee, but Anakin would have none of that. He saw one group rush into a hut and reached out across the way, to a large boulder in the distance. It flew to his call, soaring across the sand, smashing one fleeing Tusken down and flying on.

Anakin drops it on the hut full of Tuskens, crushing them all.

And then he is running, his strides enhanced by the Force, overcoming the fleeing creatures, slaughtering them, every one.

He didn't feel empty any longer. He feel a surge of energy and strength beyond anything he has ever known, feels full of the Force, full of power, full of life.

And then it is over, suddenly, it seems, and Anakin stand among the ruins of the encampment, dozens and dozens of dead Tusken Raiders all about him, and only a single hut still standing.

He put his lightsaber away and walks back to that hut, where he gently and reverently scoops his mother's body into his arms.

Vader remains quiet as he stiffens before his body movements soften. Tears threaten to fall; even after all this time, he believes wiping out the Tuskens is still justifiable.

Having found his mother after years and having her die like that would be enough to push most people over the edge. Adding to that fact that he has great power just waiting to be unleashed makes it worse.

By the Force, he can forgive the Jedi despite what they have to do to him by not allowing him to save his mother or casting out Ahsoka; he can forgive Obi-Wan for what mutilating him and raising his child to be a weapon; he can forgive Organa for raising his daughter to hate him and also raising her as a weapon.

But he cannot forgive the Tuskens for torturing and killing his mother. Perhaps the grievance itself will never pass him. Would anyone ever be able to forgive the murderers of their guardian or their parents?

Vader blinks once and then twice. Why did he think it is wise to allow her to hug him?! Why is he horrible at feelings and unable to stop being emotional when she is involved?! The thing is Vader would never be able to stop feeling attachments! He naturally cares for everyone in his life because of his former lifestyle!

Attempting to sway his thought elsewhere, Vader is uncertain how the meeting between him and the Jedi Council is going to occur. The Jedi Council is emotionless, training their students to not feel attachments, and how attachments lead to the dark side so they probably would view him as a threat for learning different sides of the Force and believing his fate is sealed.

What the Jedi fail to understand is that they are people. They have hopes and dreams and fears and wants and needs. They have emotions because they are sentient and human(oid). However, Jedi have magical space powers that are extremely dangerous and claim that they learned that with great power comes great responsibility. They claim that they know that emotions can get the better of them and when emotions run high, people can do some crazy things they shouldn't do.

So ever the flawed Order they are, the Jedi claim they learn to control their emotions. They learn ways to do what needs to be done without letting fear or anger or sadness get in the way of what needs to be done.

But how is this possible with someone such as him or Anakin Skywalker? While controlling emotions is beneficial, they are still overly flawed and incomplete about how attachments lead to the dark side. With someone such as Anakin Skywalker, controlling attachments is utterly and simply impossible.

"So there you are?"

Vader reaches out with his senses and detects the presence of his old Master and brother behind him. He didn't offer a response, for it is a rhetorical question.

"So why did you free the boy's mother and remain ally with us?" The Jedi Padawan asks, approaching beside him and raising his eyebrows in confusion. "Why do you call upon the light if you are Sith?"

"Haven't we talk about this before, Padawan?" Vader demands, beyond irritated at Obi-Wan's attitude. He feels like tearing his hair out and become as bald as he has been for over two decades. "I am not truly a Sith."

"Well, you have to be something," Obi-Wan grounds out. "You wield a crimson lightsaber, calls off the dark side, and obviously possess attachments so you have to be a Sith."

Deciding that it would be best to answer his question, Vader answers. "Don't delude yourself with who I am. Individuals can be misled. Perhaps I am a Gray Jedi."

"Gray Jedi does not exist. There are two sides, the light or the darkness. You cannot follow one with the other. It is not possible." Obi-Wan responds bluntly, crossing his arms across his chest.

"Well, the light and dark sides have been clashing for many millennia. While it comes with trial and struggle, particularly on the dark side, it is possible to achieve with proper training and guidance. Your Order shuns the dark side and ignores it entirely, seeking to wipe out the users of it throughout the galaxy." Vader retorts, fixating him with a glare momentarily before staring elsewhere.

"We are not slavers," Kenobi counters defensively.

"I never said you were. I merely implied it. I know what you have all done to those who wield the dark side and the light. You judged them as judge, jury, and executioner and either labels them to death in extreme cases or ostracize and excommunicate them. The Jedi are not evil but are overly flawed and some are borderline corrupt, seeking to fulfill their own ambitions and wanting to apprehend anyone who doesn't follow their beliefs. You wiped out an entire bloodline thousands of years ago that became known as the Sith Holocaust."

"An entire bloodline of Sith."

"So children should be wiped out for something that is not their fault?" He cringes. Well, that is something he did during his raid on the Jedi Temple, but he harbors remorse and sadness. The Jedi is thriving, at least in their view, and doesn't appear to regret their actions.

"I never-" he begins to exclaim in defense of his Order, "say that." He calms somewhat, realizing he is luring himself into Vader's trap in manners of speaking.

"Like it or not, Kenobi, blood is on your ancestors' hands. Blood of children and millions of innocents. While your intentions are pure, your Order is mostly ill at concluding with the correct choice when it comes to certain conflicts or dilemmas which usually lead to sacrifice. You justify by claiming it is the will of the Force." Vader retorts, unmoving.

Obi-Wan stops speaking for a second, dwelling on who he still believes is a Sith's words.

"Shmi Skywalker brings you terrible pain," Obi-Wan says, Vader remains static but he can see the clenching of his fist. "I can sense the anger, remorse, pain, and fury at me by you for even mentioning her name or her presence on board. She means something to you-"

"That is no concern of yours," Vader snaps in a cold forced collected tone, for the first time, losing his patience.

"Vader, are you the boy's father?"

That nearly catches him off guard but Vader catches himself. "No, but again that is of no concern to you, Kenobi. Just because the boy and I are linked doesn't mean we share a kindred connection."

"If you wish not to answer me that question, answer me this. You harbor personal resentment for the Jedi. Why?"

It is a question that Vader don't expect his Master from the other timeline to come up with. Obi-Wan always was cryptic and still is.

"For many years, I was a slave. I lost my mother, lost close friends of mine, all because your Jedi either enact erroneous choices or didn't incorporate themselves until it was too late. Indisputably, there are laws in the Republic, but the Republic doesn't exist everywhere. Your Order wields the sabers that are capable of self-defence whoever have Force abilities, yet they did absolutely nothing. To them, we are just pathetic lifeforms." He growls.

Obi-Wan can't believe there is some merit in his words, biting his lip. "That is untrue. We do care. But the Republic has a treaty-"

"A treaty that intentionally legalizes slavery in order for peace to be brought to your Republic?" Vader raises his eyebrows. "This is why I dislike the Jedi and the Republic. All they do is sit in their fancy chairs in their Temple or at their fancy couches or beds at their wealthy homes that are full of wealth, believing they know everything when in reality they know nothing. The Jedi Order has been sinking deep in the dark side for thousands of years and they don't even realize it. The same can be applied for the Republic."

"You are twisting my words!"

"Like your Order has been twisting the words of the Je'daii and Gray Jedi in ancient times?" Vader queries, arching a right eyebrow at Obi-Wan, though although the Jedi is on the back-burner, he continues to release a tirade. "If your Republic had maintained a military, learning of the consequences of lack of inability from what occurred in the Jedi Civil War, Naboo would have never been taken by the Trade Federation. It wouldn't have been a possibility. It is laughable that the Republic is able to survive this long."

Obi-Wan scowls. "The Republic doesn't stand for corruption, Vader. Such a military is not necessary after thousands of years of not facing such a threat. Though I'm afraid you would become one against our Order. We encountered no corruption though your intentions are... unquestionable."

"No corruption. If that was the case, Jedi, the attack on Naboo would never be happening. I am sympathetic with the Trade Federation because all they ask is for some benefits to being shared in the outer rim. The Galactic Senate had actually imposed taxes on trade routes to various star systems in the Outer Rim to curb the growth of the Trade Federation which was getting too big. The Trade Federation, furious, wanted to strike back, put a blockade around this planet. Because your Republic can't admit to their faults, the Trade Federation wishes to test their recently developed Droid Army. Millions of innocents across the galaxy are suffering because of your Republic. This is precisely why I don't trust the Senate. If I was the Queen, I would have disassociated myself with the Republic long ago. Your Republic did this. It is their responsibility to assure the safety of their people, but as always, the Republic and Jedi make decisions all too late. There were multiple warning signs of this invasion for months if not years and you could have avoided it. Just like the Mandalorian Wars." Vader replies sharply.

A shock silence passes through for a moment. The Mandalorian Wars is said to be one of the darkest eras in Republic history. Because of the ineffectiveness of the Jedi Council and the utter incompetence of the Republic, the Mandalorians nearly won.

Obi-Wan quickly finds himself. "With no enemies that stand against the Jedi Order and the Republic, the Republic doesn't need an army - all it needed was a basic defense force which member states could provide themselves... After the last war with the Sith, the Republic disbanded their military as they did not see a need for it," Obi-Wan replies coldly. "When the Galactic Republic was formed, it was born out of the aftermath of a conflict that left everyone else who could want to oppose them completely ruined. The Sith were gone. The Hutts don't care. The Zygerrians don't care. The Mandalorians had their homeworld glassed. Pacifism is required."

Vader chuckles humorlessly and mockingly. "Pure pacifism is failing the Republic. While I would admit it is a great benefit to perform pacifism to sort out negotiations, there should be a brute force to combat such darkness should one attack with brute force. Once your Republic dies, you would see my point as to why complete pacifism is never going to work."

"Oh and do you follow pacifism?" the Jedi Padawan presses.

"Yes, but I follow different manners of pacifism if you will. I follow conditional pacifism. I am against war and violence in principle, but I accept that there may be circumstances when war will be less horrible than the alternative. Those who oppose pacifism say that because the galaxy is not perfect, war is not always wrong. I have a duty to protect any citizen I come across from, and that citizens have a duty to carry out certain tasks in a Just War. It doesn't matter that pacifists are motivated by respect for human life and a love of peace which I do commend. The pacifists' refusal to participate in war does not make them noble idealists, but people who are failing to carry out an important moral obligation." Vader retorts.

"I see... I must thank you for answering at least a few questions. You may not be an enemy to Naboo but you would do right to remember your boundaries. The Jedi will not hesitate to stop you." Obi-Wan declares coldheartedly, sighing upon realizing he has no reply before he turns to leave.

"Oh come on, Obi-Wan," Vader calls out. Obi-Wan stops in his tracks, surprised since Vader hadn't called him by his first name since they met. "You aren't that good at concealing your feelings. I can sense the love and son bond you wish you can develop with Jinn. Following the code standards, you are a horrible Jedi, but as a good person, you're top at."

"Attachments are dangerous."

"When not controlled, yes, but a Padawan and Master must form a connection. It is impossible for one not to feel. Just accept your attachments, for you will never be able to severe them."

Vader remains standing across the room at the wall, and Obi-Wan stares at his back with conflict now in his eyes. As much as he won't admit it, Vader is right. So right it is startling. There are so many times where Obi-Wan wish he could've become closer to his Master like several of his classmates but the rules and the codes have been taught to them endlessly and they were warned of attachments, and there is the fact he would be booted out by the Council if he gives into such feelings so he trains himself to not dwell on them.

They wouldn't be at Coruscant for a day, given the pilots are cautious of flying this shuttle, given that it just been repaired, however, no one offered no argument as they want to proceed with freeing the Naboo and the last thing they need is this shuttle to be dismantled in the midst of space and drowning in space.

Anakin and Shmi are talking about the interesting fact that they are actually leaving Tatooine and possibly never returning again.

Obi-Wan has been with Qui-Gon, planning to report to the Council, pondering how they could explain Vader is not a threat, despite him knowing and utilizing the dark side.

So Vader, in all honesty, wants to do something. He can attempt meditation but he finds himself not wishing to stay in the quarters. He is energized. His mental wounds have disappeared once they departed from the atmosphere of Tatooine and he is laying to peace the fact that he is seeing his mother and that she isn't battered and tortured, at least not as horribly as she was under the Tuskens.

To be blunt, he is bored. During the era of the Empire, Vader had multiple tasks to do with hunting down Jedi or traitors to the Empire.

Those tasks would mostly come from the Emperor. Sometimes he had to work alone, sometimes in small groups, sometimes he commanded fleets and armies... Palpatine often tested him by pitting him against other Imperials, Vader tried to clandestinely work for his own interests, but Palpatine mostly foresaw this. Vader acted according to Palpatine's plans even if he didn't know that. Vader did have some time for himself; for example to build his castle on Mustafar, and this is what he used to better understand the Dark Side of the Force.

He practiced with battle droids of various levels of ability and speed, even upgrading to 2 at once, but pursuing Luke was the only real entertainment he had for the first time in many years. He also practiced healing his scarred tissue, keeping time outside of a stasis unit as long as he could hold it.

He had various meetings with Imperials as well as Criminal organizations, discussing troop movements or shipping orders. He was also tasked with specific missions deemed more important by the Emperor, such as the destruction of a rebel shipyard, leading the attack, and even going into his own ship for some dogfights for the fun of it...though Vader would never admit it.

Yet, that time has long passed.

Vader paces the hallways before deciding to approach the Queen's Chambers, deciding to check on his wife from another time, and open the door. He sees Eirtaé and Sabé clashing with Padmé and Rabé watching with interest, knowing clearly who will be the victor in this mini-battle.


Sabé pushes Eirtaé back with staff, making her, in all honesty, make pathetic swipes with the double-bladed staff. He is aware that Eirtaé does better with a blaster but she had never been able to fight with staff or physical combat as good as her fellow handmaidens.

Sabé, not too surprisingly, forces Eirtaé onto her knees after several seconds, putting her in a submissive position. Padmé is the only one who could best Sabé to be realistic due to her Queen training going beyond expertise. Even Skywalker had complications facing her in their sparring.

"Beat you again," Sabé quips.

"I will get you one day," Eirtaé declares with a proud smirk, showing that she isn't taking her defeat too hard.

"You said that last year," Sabé quips, smirking in jest.

Eirtaé playfully scowls. "Oh, I'll get you soon. You'll see, Sabé."

"Yeah. Yeah."

"Wait," Padmé says, noticing the creak in the door and approaching before opening it, revealing him.

The handmaidens tense imperceptibly before softening, upon seeing it is Vader. Padmé, Sabé, Rabé, and Eirtaé smirks in welcoming.

Vader curses slightly. He knows they would have caught him, even if he ran down the hall because him merely walking can be marching and they will follow his footsteps until they found him. Now, if he has been extra careful, they may have never caught him, but now he is in an extremely embarrassing circumstance. He cannot dwell on mere what ifs when this is reality.

"Hello there," Padmé greets, giggling.

For the first time in a long while, he feels awkward at being caught instead of coldly dismissing the matter as entirely as he would have done to those fools in his time under the Empire, but case and being, each person in here is far from incompetent nor are they beneath him. In fact, in matters of authority, they rank higher than him.

"Oh, um, I-," Vader begins to speak a subterfuge and justification due to the situation. Why in the Force does she always manage to make him falter?

"You were spying because you are bored," Padmé counters. "Admit it."

Vader straightens slightly. "Who's to say I am fatigued? Perhaps I overheard your sparring match and am intrigued to how your handmaidens' spar."

They note that their ally tends to drop into speech patterns whenever he grows defensive.

Padmé rolls her eyes, the smirk on her lips never fading. "Yeah, and I'm a Trandoshan's kin."

Vader enters past Padmé, the teenager closing the door before approaching next to Sabé.

"Here's your cape," Sabé says, tossing it towards Vader who catches it and sees it is indeed knit up perfectly as he clips it to his cloak. "A simple thank you would be nice."

"Thanks," he mutters before altering the subject. "I hope you each know that improvement can be meliorated," Vader says as if he is still a teacher.

"We were taught to be skilled," Eirtaé counters. "We do not require anymore teachings."

"You each are strong but prideful and somewhat arrogant," he replies, uncrossing his arms while earning scowls for the prideful and arrogant. "I can best you all at once though you have the potential to be as strong as Jedi."

Vader turns and walks out when one speaks.

"Oh, is that so?" Rabé inquires challengingly, a smirk replacing her earlier scowl. "You may be skill with a lightsaber but not a staff, Vader." The 17-year-old remembers Kenobi's sparring with Sabé and the humiliation of the Jedi, but that was merely fun; but now they just wish to teach Vader a lesson.

Vader chuckles somewhat, surprising even himself in some terms, deciding to be a teacher once more before throwing his lightsaber to the bed's pillow. "Humor me. Do remember I am not Kenobi."

"Both of you are Jedi," Sabé counters. "So you must be equals given what he knows you must know."

"Do not assume I am a Jedi, handmaiden," he replies. "Okay, I shall arrange a negotiation, if you each get one hit on me with your staffs and show me you are not egocentric, I will amend my comments."

Padmé stares at her handmaidens, and they each nod. Not like they have anything to do anyway.

"If we win," Padmé declares, "you will have to reveal to us how you know our names. And we will tell if you are lying so please make life easier and prepare for an explanation."

Vader grins, despite his identity being at risk. "You each have a deal though I ensure you it would be a long while before either of you learn how I acquire my knowledge in simple terms."

"Give the smug bastard a staff," Padmé orders with a smirk, grabbing a staff of her own from the corner and twirling it in her hand.

Rabé tosses a staff to his direction that he catches without a struggle, gripping the handle until he is comfortable. Sabé, Rabé, and Eirtaé also get in fighting salutes, much to the amusement of Vader.

"Attempting to defeat me simultaneously? Unethical." Vader chides somewhat coyly, walking back to the middle of the room while they are circling him in all directions.

"You said you can defeat all of us at once. Free for all, overzealous one." Sabé declares with a challenging scowl though one full of smugness. "Let's see."

Eirtaé, ever the most overbearing, dashes forward first. Vader twirls his body, countering the blow she sends in his direction in blinding speed one can argue they never seen it come up. In a millisecond, Vader sends a strike in her direction which catches her in the hip and they interlock blades.

At that moment, Sabé attacks from behind to assist her fellow handmaiden, and Vader knocks Eirtaé away before flipping around and meeting her staff. Sabé feels like she is being run over by ten thousand S-130 Shelter speeders as the offensive blow itself staggers her.

Rabé advances at Vader at the same time as Padmé. Sabé is knocked to the side before the two lock blades.

He pulls away and catches Eirtaé in the shun and sends a quick strike at her shoulder before sending a harsh blow that throws her to a nearby wall, dazing her but not injuring her permanently, her groaning upon impact and clutching her ringing head.

Vader harshly swipes his blade to Padmé's leg, however, she manages to parry the strike. He knocks her away into the wall, dazing her but she does not allow herself to surrender.

The former Sith blocks Rabé's assaults before he knocks her her staff out of her hand. He finishes her with a lunge to her knee which causes her to collapse with a groan.

Sabé attempts to jump at him from behind, in which he blocks before he swipes with a downward arc to parry the strikes from Sabé's weapon. She begins to hack away at him, noting he does more better as an offensive individual than defense and not willing to allow him to regain the advantage. Despite her attempting to land a pincer, Vader catches her in the thigh, pushes against her, and slams her across the wall. Before she is able to get up, Vader sends a final strike to her chin which knocks her permanently sprawled onto the floor, but he reaches out with the Force to assure she is unharmed, relieve the blow hasn't damaged her horribly because her with bruises will not exactly be a good sight for her to be in on Coruscant and the Jedi might use this as an excuse to stop him which means the Republic and the Jedi Order will be after him and he would have no allies.

Padmé frowns but chooses to be more careful than her friends. She grabs Eirtaé's staff and charge him in which he parries until he is laying against the wall, staring at Padmé before feigning a downer strike, making her grin in believing she won, but she is surprised when his staff comes up once more, knocking her right staff out of her hand before catching her in the thigh. This causes her to fall on the ground but she didn't give up that easily; she is holding up her sword against the wall, preventing him from finishing the battle.

She knows this would be futile, however, as Vader's staff twirls her staff away, he pushes his knee against her stomach for a moment before releasing her.

Due to the spar being free for all, Vader had the chance to use his physical martial combat, but instead, he used only his weapon and fought fairly while they give it their all.

"You are strong," Sabé admits between breaths, struggling to stand up. "Who taught you to fight with staffs of Naboo? They are not easy to grip."

"My wife and older sisters taught me."

The irony of that statement.

The Queen and the other handmaidens stand up as well with similar difficulty.

"Interesting handmaidens indeed. I have combat Jedi before and they lost in a shorter time," Vader praises them. He chooses to divert the subject. "Enough combat, I can bestow you all impressive tricks that you have never seen before."

"For what?" Eirtaé asks.

"For gratification," Vader replies. "We are all stultified. Time for some entertainment."

"Are you suppose to be a Jedi?" Sabé inquires, furrowing her left eyebrow and wrinkling up her face. "In ancient history, it is said that Force Users cannot use their ability off the battlefield."

"I am not a traditionalist," he replies. "Even I have a way to gladden my own satisfaction."

"Even so, there are holograms to how Jedi fight or use the Force everywhere these days," Rabé declares, rolling her eyes with a roguish smirk. "You probably can't show us anything new."

"Grab your blasters, ladies." They did, intrigue to seeing what Vader would do. Perhaps he would pull them out of their hands. "Get in front of me and shoot me."

"What?!" They all cry concurrently, pondering if Vader is suicidal.

Vader sighs and rolls his right eye. Do they really think he would kill himself?

"I am far from suicidal, handmaidens, Queen. Just shoot me. I have it all under control."

Slowly, hesitantly, the handmaidens and real Queen did as he commands and raises their guns and fire. He reacts instantly, the former Dark Lord quickly raising his hand, effortlessly diverging them so they explode against the wall in a harmless spray of flying white shards. They stop firing and stare at Vader in awe, never seeing anything like it. The fact that he is still alive or not in critical condition is remarkable and something that should be noted on a later date but, but he just blocked rounds of blaster bolts with his bare hand!

"Woah!" Rabé hollers, describing the mood in the room.

"How did... you do that?" Padmé inquires speechlessly, making a mental note never to doubt Vader again. Perhaps the Jedi but not Vader.

The others in the room have similar thoughts.

A startling squeal of astonishment escapes Eirtaé. "That is awesome!" she exclaims, giving him a look fringing on awe.

"That is so cool!" Sabé exclaims, her voice cracking slightly. She is embarrassed and corrects herself, placing on her handmaiden's expression while not looking sheepish.

"Yané and Saché will never believe it when we tell them," Eirtaé remarks, her mouth open in admiration. "You will have to show them this after the occupation ends!"

"Again!" Rabé exclaims, leaping up eagerly. There is rarely a time where the calm teenager would lose her calm composer but witnessing his power intrigues the handmaiden and she craves to see more of what he can do.

Vader nods, giving them permission to fire once again, and they do, expecting him to pull off the same ability as last time; but instead of extracting the same ability as last time, a purple plasma emerges from his hand, and it rolls up into a shield, shielding himself from the blaster bolts before Vader pulls the shield in, along with the blaster bolts, the short blue plasma eventually vaporizing all together and curling up in his hand. It creates a mini-explosion and transmits a shock wave through the Force, but he ensures that it doesn't harm the ladies as such an ability could greatly harm opponents.

They stop firing, unable to believe what they just saw as they stare at the former Dark Lord with admiration. Again, he remains impassive, his hand outstretched.

"How?!" Eirtaé shouts in awe.

"Want to see me suspend blaster bolts in mid-air with my bare hand?"

The girls jump up simultaneously. Yep, definitely children.


Chapter Text

Chapter 11

Coruscant hasn't changed even in the past even under the presumed shining star of the leadership under the Galactic Republic. How delusional the galaxy is. There are greedy politicians and senators who only seek power for themselves, going so low as to sleep their way to the top and outright buying supporters in order for them to rule as long as they wish without consequence. They can avoid the law due to the power they establish.

In all reality, the Republic is not that much different from the Empire, even before Sidious's rise.

It is just much worse under the life of the Empire, there wasn't a dramatic shift in day-to-day life, perhaps not so for government officials, but the common person couldn't care less. The clone trooper and Coruscant patrols changed to stormtroopers, the rules were stricter, the press largely censored, and the streets still as unsafe as ever. Coruscant was still Coruscant but under Imperial rule. Of course, many saw the reformation of the government as detrimental to the cohesiveness of the various planets previously under Republic rule, but resistance was often seen as futile. Now, if one wishes to ask what happened to the Outer Rim, that's an entirely different story. Every wealthy Republic world transitioned into the Age of the Empire generally unscathed, mainly those within the Inner Rim and Core Worlds, but the vast, unexplored Outer Rim came under unusually tight Imperial rule.

Now, everything is different. Coruscant, while still led by corruption, is not as corrupted as it was during the Empire. The major key is that Palpatine is not Emperor yet which Vader takes no small amount of pleasure in knowing. The old fool better enjoyed it in the other timeline, for he will not rise as easily as it did originally. Vader would annihilate that Empire if it is the last thing he ever does.

The capital city expands over the centuries, building by building until it wrapped the entire planet. Forests, mountains, bodies of water, and natural formations are cover over. The atmosphere filters through oxygen regulators and purified by scrubbers, and water is gathered and stored in massive artificial aquifers. Native animals, birds, plants, and fish can be found in museums or the climate-controlled indoor preserves.

Vader's eyes twitch over, sensing the presence of his old Master on the planet, the one who was going to kill his son roaming freely and about, a dependable individual to many who have been manipulated as much as he has been. He can feel himself slightly losing control of his emotions due to having to resist charging off the ship and chopping off Sidious's head.

The Queen's transport slows now, edging its way out of the traffic lane, onto a landing dock that floats near a cluster of huge buildings. Vader can see Anakin's peers down doubtfully. They are several hundred stories up, hundreds and hundreds of meters in the air. He can see his younger self tear his gaze away, swallowing hard.

The ship docks with a soft bump on the landing platform, its antigrav clamps locking in place. The Queen is waiting in the main corridor with her retinue of handmaidens, Darth Vader, guards, and Captain Panaka. She nods at Qui-Gon, indicating that he should lead the way. Giving Padmé a quick smile, Anakin follows close on the heels of the Jedi Master as he moves to the hatchway.

The hatch slides open, the loading ramp lowers, and the Jedi, Anakin Skywalker, Shmi Skywalker, and Jar Jar Binks exits into the sunlight of Coruscant. The boy spends the first few minutes concentrating on not being overwhelmed, which becomes even more difficult once he is outside the ship. He keeps his eyes on the rampway and Qui-Gon, not allowing himself to look around at first for fear he might walk right off into space.

Two men clothed in robes of office of the Republic Senate stand at the end of the ramp, flank by a contingent of Republic guards. The Jedi approaches the pair and bows formally in greeting. Anakin, Shmi, and Jar Jar are quick to do the same, though only Anakin knows who they were bowing to and why.

Now Queen Amidala appears, dressed in her black and gold robes with the feathered headpiece lending height and flow to her movements as she descends the ramp. Her handmaidens surround her, wrapped in their cloaks of crimson, faces barely visible in the shadows of their drawn hoods. Captain Panaka and his complement of Naboo guards to escort them.

Seconds later, Darth Vader joins the Queen and the handmaidens, assuming a position beside the Queen. His intimidating presence alone sends chills to the spines of each except to Anakin Skywalker, the handmaidens, and the Queen. Quite the contrary, the boy's face remains a steely cool of calm and the handmaidens and Queen's lips appear to curl up into smiles. Even the Jedi can't help but feel a slight shiver as Darth Vader proves to be capable of making quite an entrance.

Unbeknownst to all, Senator Palpatine stares up at the man who is standing calmly beside the Queen, and the secret Sith's eyes widen in surprise. There is so much darkness that is enough to challenge his own but a light that is enough to match Master Yoda. How is this possible? How can one be extremely attuned to the dark side yet also deeply attuned to the light side?

It is impossible to delve deep into the dark side without falling to its alluring power. This mockery-this rival who had betrayed the Sith ways causes him to feel the temptations to lash out. Yet, he knows he cannot. There are two Jedi here alongside dozens of witnesses, and besides the way interests him. His anger is only hold back by a thin line of curiosity.

Sabé stops before the two men who wait, eyes shifting to the man with a kindly face and anxious eyes. Senator Palpatine, the Queen's emissary to the Republic Senate, bows in welcome, hands clasped in the folds of his blue-green robes.

"It is a great relief to see you alive and well, Your Majesty," he offers with a smile, straightening once more while resisting to turn his eyes on the armored man beside her. "May I present Supreme Chancellor Valorum who speaks on our behalf."

Valorum is a tall, silver-haired man of indeterminate age, neither young nor old in appearance, but something of each, his bearing and voice strong, but his face and startling blue eyes tired and worried.

Vader scans him up and down. To think, this is the first time he is meeting Chancellor Valorum in person, but he knows that he died shortly before the execution of Order 66 and after assisting Master Yoda with some information about Sifo Dyas.

Chancellor Valorum was a much more prominent figure and a possible threat to Palpatine's plans. He figured something was wrong with the new Chancellor and reached out to other senators such as Mon Mothma and Bail Organa, who would later become the leaders of the Rebellion.

Valorum had to remain hidden. It had become dangerous for him to appear in public because he could have been assassinated, as he was tainted in the eyes of too many. This way, many politicians broke the connection with him, therefore not being able to listen to his ideas.

Former Chancellor Valorum spent the last years writing his autobiography and closely watching politics on Coruscant. With a different perspective from many others, he was able to intuit in which direction Palpatine's plans were going.

Valorum correctly anticipated that Palpatine wasn't going to give up any of the emergency powers that he was given during the Clone Wars. He started meeting in secret with his trusted friends, Mothma and Bail, and little by little-told them about his ideas and warnings.

Palpatine, too, was aware that his predecessor was plotting against him. Even if he had already destroyed his career and reputation, eventually, he did to him what he did to all those who dared to get in his way: he eliminated Valorum. The former Chancellor had just taken a ship to the Outer Rim, when it exploded, from a carefully placed bomb, undoubtedly.

In his youth, he have read much into the past chancellors, including Valorum, although he had never met the man in person. The man's intentions are good, he can sense, but ultimately, Vader knows that he wouldn't be able to prevent his younger version of his wife from calling the vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum's leadership. He will give Palpatine this grim victory and allow him to become chancellor. He has to save the galaxy than concern himself with either corrupted or incompetent politicians' debates when the outcomes would be exactly the same if not worse. He cannot mess with this timeline completely.

"Welcome, Your Highness," he says, a faint smile working its way onto his stern features. "It is an honor to finally meet you in person. I must relay to you how distressed everyone is over the current situation on Naboo. I have called for a special session of the Senate so that you may present your request for relief."

Sabé holds his gaze without moving even a fraction of a centimeter, tall and regal in her robes of office, white-painted face as still and cool as ice. "I am grateful for your concern, Chancellor," she says quietly.

"If I may ask, who are you?" Valorum inquires to the tall man at her and her handmaidens' side.

"Chancellor, this is Darth Vader," Sabé introduces, finally a slight unfeigned smirk coming on her lips as she remembers their playing but she schools her expression before anyone can see it.

Vader sees it as her expression fall flat. She undoubtedly devises a soft spot and perhaps further understanding on the ship, however, now is not the time to act like the teenager she is. Instead the Queen she is perfect at her imitating.

"He has saved us before your Ambassadors arrived. He has been quite a use to me and my handmaidens." Sabé continues, giving him a knowing look.

Sidious's eyes rests on him.

And Vader feels his body beginning to tremble, the face of his slaver proving to still be as killable as he was on the second Death Star.

With a cool, cold stare, Darth Vader stares over at the assembly, eyes lingering on Palpatine for the longest. He is so valuable, standing right before him, and for a second, he rather lives with the tainted presence of Darth Plagueis in this galaxy than this man.

If one can look closely, one would see the venomous golden glint in the man's eyes, burning with flames as much as the flames on Mustafar. A flame of anger. Of pure and cold rage. And it was all aimed at Senator Palpatine.

Vader long ago accepted that he can't be happy. It becomes a bit tricky when there is no one you hate more than yourself. He was also in constant agony from his body essentially being one open wound. The suit dulls the pain a bit but it is still hugely uncomfortable. Vader doesn't care about friendships anymore, all he believes in is fear and results. It's why he respected Tarkin as much as he did, due to sharing a similar mindset.

And even if he is out of the suit that once imprisoned him and improved it, Vader still adapts his mindset. He accepts it is complicated for someone like him to genuinely not fallen into awkward situations.

As for Palpatine, Anakin has a great admiration for him. Palpatine has been stroking his Ego since he first arrived on Coruscant, and consistently sewing seeds of doubt and resentment toward the Jedi Council in particular. And him, the ever incompetent and stupid child he is, willingly fallen for his trap, became the very thing he swore to destroy and lost himself in uncontrolled power. He shall admit that it is not the Council's fault for that, but his own.

Months before his almost inevitable fall to the Dark Side, his faith in Palpatine is exceedingly greater than his faith in the Jedi Council, and his fear of losing Padmé is his primary motivation. When Palpatine reveals himself as the Sith Lord, there is really no question that Anakin is going to stick with him. He has this last gasp of trying to do what he thinks he should do by reporting him to the Council, but he already knows that he can't and won't allow the Council to kill him. When it comes time to choose, kill Windu or allow him to kill Palpatine, he knows he doesn't have a choice. He was so foolish and trap by the belief that Palpatine and the dark side are his paths to the power he so desperately needed.

As for the Jedi overthrowing the Republic, technically that is 100% true. Palpatine was legally elected, and legally given supreme war powers. While it may have been the right thing to do, the Jedi are in fact attempting to overthrow and technically assassinate the legally elected chancellor of the Republic, Anakin has a stronger allegiance to Palpatine and the 'Republic' than he does to the Jedi by this point.

He can see the insidious glare in the senator's eyes behind that calm facade, and Vader observes his eyes challengingly, a scowl crossing his lips as the dark side itself encloses around its Chosen One of another timeline. Vader running his crimson lightsaber clean through Palpatine's abdomen or decapitating his head from his shoulders continues to fill his thoughts.

Blinking out of his hallucinations, he activates his lightsaber and lunges forward, decapitating Palpatine's head from his shoulders and cleansing the galaxy of his presence while the Queen, handmaidens, Jedi, and others stare on with horror while his younger self's face remains strangely passive but shocked, having witnessed death before and not shocked at the method of execution but shocked at what he did. Uncaring, he stares down at Palpatine, the senator's surprised eyes staring back at him forever, head illuminated by the crimson glow of Vader's lightsaber.

He shakes his head slightly and sees the man still standing there, a caring smirk to others, but to him, it is a shit-eating grin that eggs on his ego. N-no, not yet. Not when he is viewed as a hero by most of the people here, or when this man has much power and influence as of now.

Oh, how much he hates this man! He hates him indefinitely! He would love to cut his body into pieces and assure he goes through the pain many others and he had suffered! This man has no redeeming qualities of any sort! All he cares about is the power and himself!

It is almost hilarious how one man can bring out the darker emotions within him, even after his experience of becoming one with the Force.

He squeezes his eyes shut, attempting not to do what his darker instinct is telling him. He is freed to do whatever he wishes given he is in his prime once more. He can reach out to his former Master's throat and crush his windpipe, feeling his hands desperate for either suffocating him to death or kill him with his lightsaber which would be pleasurable.

He stares at his hands that are trembling before staring back at Sidious. He can kill his former Master. He can end it all right there or can he? He has total freedom to choose what to do right now but he cannot choose. He isn't controlled as he has been for over two decades, he is going to do it... then his eyes fall on Padmé, Sabé, and her handmaidens, knowing that his former Master is valuable before him, but should he lash out, perhaps it would not go as his hallucinations have foreseen, perhaps he would unintentionally greatly injured or kill Padmé and her handmaidens which he wants to avoid at all cost since Mustafar taught him the risk of acting arrogantly and without proper thought. It is beyond compelling to just slay him and save his family and friends from the former timeline from this very man who would kill them each without power. He can kill Sidious, rise to power, and become an Emperor albeit a much better one. This thought laughs at him like a broken clown, until he pushes it back into a black corner of his brain.

Averting his eyes away from the senator so that hallucination doesn't become a reality, Vader stares over at the supreme chancellor, waiting for what is coming next - or perhaps something did happen as Valorum's hand is outstretched to him.

He closes his eyes and balances himself in the light side, allowing the harmony and wisdom he had adapted as one with the Force to enclose his darkening emotions. He wouldn't allow Palpatine to win over him again. The Sith nor the Jedi don't control him any longer. Despite how much he hates the man, he would stay himself. There would be another time to defeat Sidious; for now, he must place on an act that he doesn't know anyone here.

Still, he would love to torture him in all ways possible, he would love to strip his callings to the Force as Sidious did to broken Jedi who succumbed after weeks of endless tortures, to put him in a cell and allow for the torture chambers to plasma him with endless abyss of lightning and hear the painful but ever so satisfying screams of Darth Sidious.

This is the same man who turned him against his friends little as they may be, persuaded him to betray and slaughtered those who were inspired by him and look up to him, corrupted him to the point where he choked his pregnant wife, attack the man who he once had as the closest thing to a brother and kill him during their second showdown, had him fight his own children without a mind's thought, and was willing to kill Luke on the second Death Star. He will love to squash all of Sidious plans and ambitions, will love to plunge his lightsaber through his heart, ending him from forming a future threat, that being obvious by his twitching fists behind the robes, and the near tremble inwards of his body.

Passionately, Darth Vader hates Darth Sidious completely and utterly.

As much as he would relish in his death, Vader would rather observe his reactions from the distance as he manipulates the things the secret Sith manipulated in the original timeline, see his entire plan be decimated and destroyed as his precious Empire was by Vader and the Rebellion in the first timeline. With his precious Empire destroyed, Vader would only receive more pleasure with his death.

"Please to meet you, Vader," Valorum greets with a kind smile, oblivious to the conflict within the man in front of him.

The handmaidens, fake, and real Queen exchange worrying looks with side-glances, hoping Vader, for once, would subvert their expectations. They know that Vader even maintains his distance from the Jedi, going as far as coldly dismissing them as if they are his servants. He just cannot make friends easily and could easily become uncomfortable. However, they cannot judge him, given he has been through a lot clearer since his secretive attitude and the pain they notice when he was around Shmi Skywalker and the slavers on Tatooine. When all is said and done, they may have also been like that if they had similar childhoods.

Mentally recovering from his pondering, Vader uncrosses his arms, wrapping the cloak around his and the Zabrak's lightsaber, and takes the man's hand and shakes it with his left hand, not commenting in response but sneering slightly. Greetings are not a preference for him when he was the Sith Lord in the Empire.

And it still isn't now.

Even in his time as Anakin Skywalker, he always felt uncomfortable about such greetings. Perhaps he always just dislikes greetings altogether, especially when other issues are present.

After his greeting with the Chancellor, Vader conceal his arms inwards with his cloak.

Out of the corner of his eye, Anakin recognizes Padmé staring out at him from beneath her concealing hood. When he turns toward her, she gives him a wink, and he feels himself blush.

Palpatine moves to the Queen's side and is indicating to an air shuttle that is awaiting them. "There is a question of procedure, but I feel confident we can overcome it," he is saying, attempting not to glare at Darth Vader, guiding her along the rampway, her handmaidens, the armored man, Captain Panaka, and the Naboo guards in tow.

Anakin starts to follow, Jar Jar at his side, then stops as he sees that the Jedi are still standing with Supreme Chancellor Valorum. Anakin glances back questioningly at Qui-Gon, not certain where he is supposed to go. The Queen and her retinue slow in response, and Amidala motions for Anakin, Shmi, and the Gungan to join them. Anakin looks again at Qui-Gon, who nods wordlessly.

Most notably, the strange armored man, for some reason, is what catches his attention as he continues to walk. It's almost as if he is staring at him without staring at him at all. Anakin still can't believe the presence he gets off of the man... and the fact that he was in his dream.

Unknowingly to the boy, Vader senses Skywalker's eyes lock onto the back of his hooded head. He can sense the boy is thinking about something, but even at the age of a youngster, his younger self is complicated to read, even by a different version of the Chosen One. As he gets older, it is evident that Skywalker is going to grow far more powerful and stronger. Perhaps even far more powerful than Vader.

Moving into the air shuttle with the Queen, Anakin, Shmi, and Jar Jar sit quietly in place in the very back seat. Senator Palpatine glances over his shoulder at them from the front, a look of skepticism crossing his face before he turns away again.

"First time being on Coruscant too, " Vader hears Anakin asking him gently. The young boy is just curious and it did leave him with a pang of hurt in his chest. He have been that innocent at one point before he became the man who he is today.

"No, I have been here before," he admits. "Though it was a long time ago."

To be truthful, he didn't know how long he have been one with the Force but it have been a long time. Perhaps hundreds of years. Perhaps thousands. It certainly was long enough to conceive of him, Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan's talks and rebuild the bond between him and his old Master. Time never ends in the Netherworld of the Force.

Vader detects the Sith Shrine from under the Jedi Temple. Sidious is a genius after all. He will use his weapons for his own needs especially after they aided Sith from a bygone era.

Still, he cannot help but wonder why won't the Jedi do something about that Shrine; it is dangerous and can corrupt some of their younglings and poorly trained Knights as he have been corrupted by the Sith.

What is the Jedi of this era thinking? They have yet to test the dark side or experiment with it yet they want to build a Temple on top of this and allows themselves to be valuable to the dark side. Granted experiencing with the dark side is beneficial but they are going about it completely the wrong way.

"Me not feelen too good 'bout being here, Annie," the Gungan whispers doubtfully.

And Vader momentarily is thankful at the interruption of the Gungan.

Anakin nods and tightens his mouth determinedly.

They fly only a short distance to another cluster of buildings and another loading dock, this one clearly meant for shuttlecraft. There, they disembark and are escorted by Palpatine to his quarters, a portion of which had been made ready for the Queen and her entourage. Anakin, Shmi, and Jar Jar are given a room and a chance to clean up and be left alone. After a time, they are collected by one of the handmaidens-not Padmé, Anakin notes with disappointment-and escorts to a waiting room situate outside what appears to be Palpatine's office.

"Wait here," the handmaiden instructs and disappears back down the hallway.

The doors to the senator's office are open, and the boy and the Gungan can see inside clearly. The Queen is present, dressed now in a gown of purple velvet, which is wrapped about her slim form in layers, the sleeves long and full, hanging gracefully from her slender arms. A fan-shaped crown with ornate beadwork and tassels rests upon her head. She is sitting in a chair, listening as Palpatine spoke to her. Her handmaidens stand to one side, crimson robes and hoods are drawn close to them. Anakin does not think either is Padmé. He wonders if he should try to find her instead of waiting here, but he did not know where to look nor would his mother allow him to go on a scavenger hunt.

The conversation within seems decidedly one-sided, Senator Palpatine gesturing animatedly as he stalks the room, the Queen as still as stone with the strange armored man standing behind the Queen. Anakin wishes he can hear what is being said. He glances at Jar Jar, and he can tell from the Gungan's restless eyes he is thinking the same thing.

When Captain Panaka walks past them and enters the room beyond, screening them from view for just a moment, Anakin rises impulsively. Motioning for Jar Jar to stay where he is, putting a finger to his lips in warning, he moves to one side of the doorway, pressing close. Through the crack between the open door and the jamb, he can just make out the voices of Palpatine and the Queen, muffled and indistinct.

"Anakin! What have I told you about eavesdropping?!" His mother reprimands, ever the stern mother she is.

"Oh mom, I just want to listen to this," the boy complains, not listening to his mother's scolding as he looks inside.

Inside, Palpatine stops moving and is standing before the Queen, shaking his head. Though Darth Vader is standing between the two handmaidens.

Unbeknownst to all, there are raging emotions within Darth Vader and Darth Sidious, both finding it difficult not to just engage in battle right there with one another.

"The Republic is not what it once was. The Senate is full of greedy, squabbling delegates who are only looking out for themselves and their home systems. There is no interest in the common good-no civility, only politics." He sighs wearily, inwardly glaring at Vader with daggers. "It's disgusting. I must be frank, Your Majesty. There is little chance the Senate will act on the invasion."

Amidala is silent a moment. "Chancellor Valorum seems to think there is hope."

"If I may say so, Your Majesty," the senator replies, his voice kind, but sad, inside gagging at having to place on an act to this pathetic Queen, especially the crimson eyes of Darth Vader, "the chancellor has little real power. He is mired in baseless accusations of corruption. A manufactured scandal surrounds him. The bureaucrats are in charge now."

The Queen rises, standing tall and fixed before him. "What options do we have, Senator?"

Palpatine seems to think on the matter for a moment, having to hide his hands inwards, less each occupant in the room would have spotted the electricity at his hands. Oh, how Sidious would love to lunge forward to Vader and cut his head off, behead the Queen and her handmaidens, destroy that pathetic slave and insignificant Gungan, and take the boy whose power is strong with the Force.

"Our best choice would be to push for the election of a stronger supreme chancellor-one who could take control of the bureaucrats, enforce the laws, and give us justice." He brushes back his thick hair, worrying his forehead with steepled fingers, knowing that he has to put on an act. "You could call for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum."

Amidala did not seem convinced. "Valorum has been our strongest supporter. Is there no other way?"

Mentally, Vader takes one step forward, sensing his former Master's thoughts, keeping his hands behind his back but is prepared to form a barrier around him, the Queen, and her handmaidens.

Palpatine stands before her. "Our only other choice would be to submit the matter to the courts-"

Sidious growls mentally as he senses Vader's prepared resistance, sneering at him through the Force, daring him, challenging to him before a vision insults him; a vision where he propels his lightsaber to Amidala and his handmaidens but the lightsaber stops short of beheading Amidala, being levitated in the air.

"There is no time for that," the Queen interrupts quickly, a hint of anger in her voice. "The courts take even longer to decide things than the Senate." She shifts purposefully, an edge sharpening her words further. "Our people are dying-more and more each day. We must do something quickly. We must stop the Trade Federation before this gets any worse."

Pulling away from the vision at the same time as Vader, Palpatine gives Amidala a stern look. "To be realistic about the matter, Your Highness, I believe we are going to have to accept Trade Federation control as an accomplished fact-for the time being, at least."

The Queen shakes her head slowly, thinking back to Vader's claims earlier. "That is something I cannot do, Senator."

They face each other in the silence that follows, eyes lock, and Anakin Skywalker, hiding behind the door, finds himself wondering suddenly what had become of Qui-Gon Jinn.

Unlike other buildings in the vast sprawl of Coruscant, the Jedi Temple stands alone. A colossal pyramid with multiple spires rising skyward from its flat top, it sits apart from everything at the end of a broad promenade linking it with bulkier, sharper-edged towers in which solitude and mediation are less likely to be found. Within the Temple are housed the Jedi and their students, the whole of the Order engages in contemplation and study of the Force, in the codification of its dictates and mastery of its disciplines, and in training to serve the greater good it embodies.

The Jedi Council room dominates a central portion of the complex. The Council itself is in session, its doors closed, its proceedings hidden from the eyes and ears of all but fourteen people. Twelve of them - some human, some nonhuman - comprise the Council, a diverse and seasoned group who had gravitated to the order from both ends of the galaxy. The final two Jedi, who are guests of the Council this afternoon, are Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The seats of the twelve Council members form a circle facing inward to where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan stand, the former relating the events of the past few weeks, the latter a step behind his Master, listening attentively. The room is circular and domed, supported by graceful pillars spaced between broad windows open to the city and the light. The shape of the room and the Council seating reflects the Jedi belief in the equality of and interconnection between all things. In the world of the Jedi, the balance of life within the Force is the pathway to understanding and peace.

Qui-Gon studies the faces of his listeners as he speaks, each of them familiar to him. Most are Jedi Masters like himself, among them Yoda and Mace Windu, seniors in rank among those seated. They are more compliant in the ways of the Jedi Order than he has ever been or will probably ever be.

He stands apart in the mosaic circle that forms a speaker's platform for those who address the Council, his tall, broad form and deep voice commanding the attention of those gathered, his blue eyes fixing them each in turn, constantly searching for a reaction to his words. They watch him carefully- stately Ki-Adi-Mundi, young and beautiful Adi Gallia, slender Depa Billaba, crest and marble-faced Even Piell, and all the others, each different and unique in appearance, each with something vital to offer as a representative of the Council.

Qui-Gon brings his eyes back to Mace Windu and Yoda, the ones he must convince, the ones most respected and powerful of those who sit in judgment.

Speaking of Vader noticeably causes the Council to tense up as they believe Vader is a threat that must be tamed. Some had brought up stripping him of the Force, an idea which is quickly shot down by Qui-Gon who states that Vader wouldn't hesitate of dispatching the Jedi. Others had wanted him imprisoned in their Citadel, the place where they imprison Jedi who had lost their way, that idea, too, is shot down as Vader is not a Jedi and that means it could end with the Jedi being viewed as terrorists due to him assisting with a constitution. Ultimately, the Council can't come to a conclusion as to what to do what who most of them believe is a Sith walking on this planet now.

"So allow me to get this correctly, you left the Queen with whom might be a Sith?" Master Windu interrupts explosively and incredulously, the same incredulousness many others within this Council - and among the ranks of the Order - share.

At any other time, Qui-Gon probably would have smirked at Master Windu's incredulous, but now is not the time for quips.

"According to the handmaiden's report with the Queen, Vader fought a Zabrak with a double-bladed lightsaber," Qui-Gon counters dynamically. "Vader had multiple chances to betrayed us and yet he refused. I don't believe he is a threat nor a Sith."

In truth, Qui-Gon has grown a soft spot for Vader. He guesses that is traveling on a planet that must be difficult for natives to survive and not to mention he is a man who by honor can do that to a person.

"The dark side surrounds him," Mundi argues. "A clear indication that he is potentially manipulating the Queen. Why is he not in restraints?"

"Is it the Jedi way for you to restrain an ally?" Qui-Gon snaps back, eyes fixated on Ki-Adi-Mundi. In his opinion, Masters like Mundi are the problem with the Jedi Order. "He is an ally to the Queen; she will not allow for him to be taken in custody by the Jedi Council too lightly."

"The Queen does not decide what the Council does who we view as a potential threat to this Order," Windu counters, clasping both hands together, a flicker of irritation flashing in his eyes. "This Zabrak who he engaged could be his apprentice and he could be manipulating the Queen along with her handmaidens to make it appear he is not our enemy."

"Your logic is lost to me, Master Windu," Qui-Gon replies intensely. "The Queen was before him multiple times and he could have apprehended her or eliminate her. We were trapped on Tatooine and he could have killed us easily, but even now, we stand before you. Do not allow your delusions and misinterpretations to blind you from reality, Master of the Order."

"He could be grooming you or your student, Qui-Gon, especially your pupil," Eeth Koth scowls. "Your student is valuable to the dark side at this rate like any other Jedi his age."

Obi-Wan finds that statement mildly insulting. He will never turn to the dark side. He vows to be a perfect Jedi, inspired by the Masters within the Temple and wishing to one day sit among them.

Before Qui-Gon could have open his mouth to argue and rebuke a response, Plo Koon decides to do his best to rid the tension inside of the Council Chambers.

"I wish to hear from him before I can make my own judgment of him," Plo Koon declares, not exactly craving a verbal war in the Council Chambers. He knows the many times his oldest friend has been correct and knows not to doubt him. The last time he did... well that taught the Jedi Master a lesson.

"I agree," Kit Fisto adds, ever the non-biased Jedi Master he is.

"Very well," Windu sighs somewhat.

"Wait, Masters, before you confront Vader, with your permission," the Jedi replies, gaze steady, "I have encountered a vergence in the Force."

A flicker of doubt crosses the expression of Master Kcaj's face. "But the Sith stand on this planet. That should be our main issue currently."

Yoda's eyes widen slightly before Kcaj or any other Master could have offered any further protest. "A vergence, you say?"

"Located around a person?" Mace Windu asks quickly.

Qui-Gon nods. "A boy. His cells have the highest concentration of midi-chlorians I have ever seen in a life-form." He pauses. "It is possible he was conceived by midi-chlorians."

There is a shock silence this time. Qui-Gon Jinn is suggesting the impossible, that the boy was conceived not by human contact, but by the essence of all life, by the connectors to the Force itself, the midi-chlorians. Comprising collective consciousness and intelligence, the midi-chlorians forms are the link between everything living and the Force. But that troubles the Jedi Council. There was a prophecy, so old its origins had long since been lost, that a Chosen One would appear, imbued with an abundance of midichlorians, a being strong with the Force and destined to alter it forever.

It is Mace Windu who gives voice to the Council's thoughts. "You refer to the prophecy," he replies quietly, "of the one who will bring balance to the Force. You believe it is this boy."

Qui-Gon hesitates. "I don't presume-"

"But you do!" Yoda snaps challengingly. "Revealed, your opinion is, Qui-Gon!"

The Jedi Master takes a deep breath. "I request the boy be tested."

Again, there is silence as the members of the Council exchange glances, communicating without words.

Eyes shift back to Qui-Gon. "To be trained as a Jedi, you request for him?" Yoda asks softly.

"Finding him was the will of the Force." Qui-Gon presses ahead recklessly. "I have no doubt about it. There is too much happening here for it to be anything else."

Mace Windu holds up one hand, bringing the debate to a close. "Bring him before us, then."

Yoda nods somberly, eyes closing. "Tested, he will be."

Qui-Gon can see that the Council wishes to speak with Vader first and follow up with a slight sigh, "Masters, Vader had been willing to come here and answer the questions of this Council. He will not attempt to evade this meeting on the condition that he is not to be restrained."

"There is a risk he would attack," Mundi argues.

"Why would he come here if he wishes to attack over hundreds of the Jedi in this Temple? That would be suicidal. One cannot best all hundreds of Jedi solely. Why wouldn't he just kill my Master and me on Tatooine if he is a threat? He had multiple chances to betray us but he has remained loyal." Much to the surprise of everyone, including his own master, in the Chambers, it is Obi-Wan Kenobi who speaks in protest. The same Obi-Wan is extremely by the book and believes in the beliefs of the Jedi Council.

Coleman Kcaj narrows his eyes. "Padawan, does he have some influence over you?"

"No," Obi-Wan replies, eyes lingering on the Jedi Master. "I can sense the light within him is controlled. Should we attack the Queen too for allowing him on board?"

Silence follows after that along with the icy glare sent his way by Kcaj. Qui-Gon feels a smirk curling up, perhaps his influence is rubbing off of his student more than he thought. At first, he believed teaching Obi-Wan to become his own type of person would be utterly impossible which is one reason why he was quick to originally reject him but now he can see how wrong he was in judging the boy so quickly.

"Agree to this, we shall," Yoda speaks up, much to the surprise of everyone in the Council Chambers as they had thought the Grandmaster who has his teachings embedded in all of them about the dark side and the Force entirely would not agree to this. "Restrain, he will not be."

Qui-Gon is genuinely surprised that he managed to convince the Council to focus their attention on Anakin instead of Vader. Doubtlessly, they believe that who they assume as a Sith craves to abduct the boy with as much power as the former slave has.

If Vader trains Anakin, he would train him in the ways of the dark side, and the Council fears someone such as the vergence learning the Sith ways would pose an extremely dangerous threat to their Order.

Or perhaps the Grandmaster of the Order can sense what he has within Vader.

If anyone asks Vader what he thinks of politics, he won't be conclusive on how to answer that question. Fascism isn't an economic system. Politically, though, he was definitely a nationalist autocrat, so fascism seems likely. During the time of the Empire, no one ever saw much of the empire's economic system involving him. There were corporate entities, but the government had broad authority to seize resources and means of production. Vader is someone uninterested in the economic minutiae.

The most general understanding is that the Empire allowed individual planets to govern themselves mostly, and run their economy as they see fit, until the Empire decides they need strategic resources, then the imperial bureaucracy and military can swoop in and take control of overproduction. Overall, the Empire is stated capitalistic, not entirely different from the Republic.

When it comes to Vader himself, he desired control and order, and a free-market economy is more chaotic, so he would definitely be in favor of a total command economy. However, he was simply a military leader, the fist of Palpatine if you will, and has no say about the economy.

Long story short, part of Vader wished he had followed Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan to the Jedi Temple, even if they are currently giving a progress report about him no doubt.

Not having the respect to stay behind the man like he is still his servant, Vader stands behind Padmé. She would never treat him like a servant and he would probably sooner decapitate the man's head from his shoulders.

There is no wonder why Teckla and the aides had a closer connection to Padmé despite their reservations altogether. When the handmaidens and aides were inquired by how they could have a closer connection than other Senators during his days as Anakin Skywalker, they just gave the response that "Padmé is not like other Senators."

When finally, he inquired Padmé about why she treated her handmaidens and aides like equals, she simply responds: "Anakin, I may be a Senator and a former Queen but I'm not above befriending people." So there are manners of respect and friendships on both sides.

For now, Vader can't help but feel small currents of irritation. He is going to be beside Padmé in the Senate meeting, and even during the era of the Empire, he just absolutely hates politics! It is so blasting and confusing and yet it feels like he waltzes himself into a blasted Senate meeting by his former Sith Master and his former wife.

"It is time to be going, Your Majesty," Senator Palpatine advises, moving to gather up a pile of data cards from his desk, ignoring the scowl he can sense send his way by Vader.

Queen Amidala rises, and Vader can sense Anakin hurries back to his seat beside Jar Jar, giving the Gungan another warning glance for good measure. Jar Jar looks hurt.

"Me not gonna tell dem," he protests.

A moment later Palpatine ushers the Queen and her handmaidens from his office and into the antechamber where the boy, the woman, and the Gungan sit waiting. The senator goes by them without a glance and is out the door immediately.

Queen Amidala slows just a fraction as she passes Anakin.

"Why don't you come with us," the handmaiden Rabé says without looking at him, her voice a whisper, mirth in her voice. "This time you won't have to listen from behind a door."

Anakin and Jar Jar exchange a startle, chagrin look, then rise with Shmi and follow after.

While the others wait throughout, Queen Amidala, accompany by her handmaidens, retreats to her chambers long enough to change into yet another ensemble, this one clearly meant to emphasize her status as leader of the Naboo. She emerges wearing a broad-shouldered cloak of crimson velvet trim with gold lace a crown of woven cloth horns and tassels with a center plate of hammered gold. The gown and headdress lend both size and majesty, and she walks past a wandering Anakin, Shmi, and Jar Jar as if to come down out of the clouds to mix with mortals, all cool grace and extraordinary beauty, aloof and untouchable.

Eirtaé and Rabé, the handmaidens who accompanied her earlier, are present again, and they trail the Queen in a silent glide, wrapped in their crimson hooded robes. Again Anakin looks for Padmé and does not find her. Darth Vader is walking behind them.

"Looking for your little girlfriend, Ani?" His mom teases.

He can hear the two handmaidens giggling at the quip made by the older woman and immediately turns a dark crimson for a reason that he doesn't understand.

"Mom!" He admonishes silently.

"Please lead the way," Amidala requests of Palpatine, beckoning Darth Vader, the boy, the Gungan, the slender woman, and Captain Panaka to accompany them.

They walk from Palpatine's quarters down a series of corridors that connect to other chambers and, eventually, to other buildings. The halls are empty of almost everyone, save for a scattering of Republic guards, and the company proceeds unchallenged. Anakin glances around in awe at the tall ceilings and high windows, at the forest of buildings visible without, imagining what it would be like to live in a place like Coruscant.

When they reach the Senate chamber, he causes them to wonder anew.

The chamber has the look of an arena, circular and massive, with doors opening off exterior ramp ways at various levels above the main floor. At the center of the chamber a tall, slender column supports the Supreme Chancellor's platform, a broad, semi-enclosed area that allows Valorum, who is already present, to sit or stand as he chose in the company of his vice-chair and staff. All around the smooth interior walls of the arena, Senate boxes jut from hangar bays off entry doors, some fixed in place while their senators confer with staff and visitors, others floating just off their moorings. When a senator requests permission to speak and is recognized by the chair, his box will float to the center of the arena, close to the Supreme Chancellor's podium, where it remained until the speech was concluded.

Anakin picks up on all this in a matter of seconds, trailing the Queen and Palpatine to the entry doors opening onto the Naboo Senate box, which sits waiting at its docking. Banners and curtains hang from the rounded ceiling in brilliant streamers, and indirect lighting glows softly from every corner, brightening the rotunda's cavernous interior. Droids bustle along the exterior rampways, carrying messages from one delegation to the next, the movement of their metal bodies giving the chamber the look of a complex piece of machinery.

As for Vader, this feels like those times where he has to sit in these useless Senate meetings with his former Master. There are thousands being enslaved and killed, and they are actually debating this. Why not just send a blasted strike team and end the occupation? Or why not form their patrol forces and dispatch them to Naboo? There are so many bloody options.

"If the Federation moves to defer the motion, Your Majesty," Senator Palpatine is saying to the Queen, his head bend close, his voice low and insistent, "I beg of you to ask for a resolution to end this session and call for the election of a new supreme chancellor."

Amidala did not look at him, continuing to advance toward the Naboo box. "I wish I had your confidence in this proposal, Senator," she replies quickly.

"You must force a new election for supreme chancellor," Palpatine presses. "I promise you there are many who will support us. It is our best chance." He glances toward the podium and Valorum. "Our only chance."

A murmur rises from the assembled as they catch sight of Amidala standing at the entry to the Naboo box, robes of office flowing out behind her, head erect, face calm. If she hears the change in the tenor of the level of conversation around her, she gives no sign. Her eyes shift momentarily to Palpatine.

"You truly believe Chancellor Valorum will not bring our motion to a vote?" she asks quietly.

Palpatine shakes his head, his high brow furrowing. "He is distracted. He is afraid. He will be of no help."

Vader sneers at him, feeling the urge, even after all of these years, to obliterate his neck. His victory is adding salt to the wound, but he knows that it is impossible to prevent it; at the end, when Vader or the Anakin Skywalker of this time obliterate his throat, it would be worthy.

Rabé hands a small metal viewscreen to Anakin and Jar Jar and wants to give one to Shmi but she politely turns it down and the handmaiden motions for them to wait where they were. Stepping into the Senate box with Palpatine, Amidala is joined by her handmaidens and Panaka. Anakin is disappointed at not being included, but grateful when he discovers that the viewscreen Rabé provides allows him to see and hear what is happening in the Naboo box.

"She's going to ask the Senate for help, Jar Jar," he whispers, leaning over excitedly. "What do you think?"

The Gungan wrinkles up his billed mouth and shakes his floppy-eared head. "Me think dis bombad, Annie. Too many peoples to be agreeing on da one thing."

The Naboo box detaches from its docking and floats a short distance toward the supreme chancellor's podium, waiting for permission to advance all the way. Palpatine, Vader, Amidala, and the rest of the occupants are seated now, facing forward.

Valorum nods his short-cropped white head in the direction of Palpatine. "The chair recognizes the Senator from the sovereign system of Naboo."

The Naboo box glides to the center of the arena, and Palpatine rises to his feet, taking in the assemblage with a slow sweeping gaze that draws all eyes toward him.

"Supreme Chancellor, delegates of the Senate," his voice booms, quieting the chamber. "A tragedy has occurred on my homeworld of Naboo. We have become caught up in a dispute, one of which you are all well aware. It began with a taxation of trade routes and has evolved into an oppressive and lawless occupation of a peaceful world. The Trade Federation bears responsibility for this injustice and must be made to answer..."

A second box is rushing forward by now, this one bearing the markings of the Trade Federation and occupied by the Federation's senator, Lott Dod, and a handful of trade barons in attendance.

"This is outrageous!" the Trade Federation senator thunders, gesturing toward the podium and Valorum. A lean, wizened Neimoidian, looms out of the low-railed box like a willowy tree. "I object to Senator Palpatine's ridiculous assertions and ask that he be silenced at once!"

Valorum's white head swivels briefly in Lott Dod's direction and one hand lifts. "The chair does not recognize the senator from the Trade Federation at this time." The Supreme Chancellor's voice is soft but steady. "Return to your station."

Lott Dod looks as if he might say something more, but then he lowers himself back into his seat as his box slowly retreats.

"To state our allegations in full," Palpatine continues, "I present Queen Amidala, the recently elected ruler of the Naboo, to speak on our behalf."

He steps aside, and Amidala rises to a light scattering of applause. Moving to the front of the box, she faces Valorum. "Honorable representatives of the Republic, distinguished delegates, and Supreme Chancellor Valorum. I come to you under the gravest of circumstances. In repudiation and violation of the laws of the Republic, the Naboo have been invaded and subjugated by force by droid armies of the Trade Federation-"

Lott Dod is on his feet again, voice raised angrily. "I object! This is nonsense! Where is the proof?" He did not wait for recognition as he turned to the chamber at large. "I recommend a commission be sent to Naboo to ascertain the truth of these allegations."

Valorum shakes his head. "Overruled."

Lott Dod sighs heavily and throws up his hands as if with that single word his life becomes hopeless. "Your Honor, you cannot allow us to be condemned without granting our request for an impartial observation. It is against all the rules of the procedure! "

He scans the chamber for help, and there is a murmur of agreement from the delegates. A third box glides forward to join those of Naboo and the Trade Federation. The chair recognizes Aks Moe, the Senator from the planet of Malastare.

Stocky and slow-moving, his three eyestalks waving gently, Aks Moe put the thick, heavy pads of his hands on his hips. "The senator from Malastare concurs with the honorable delegate from the Trade Federation." His voice is thick and gnarly. "A commission, once requested, must be appointed, where there is a dispute of the sort we have encountered here. It is the law."

Valorum hesitates. "The point is..."

He trails off uncertainly, leaves the sentence unfinished, and turns to confer with his vice-chair, identifying on the printed register as Mas Amedda. Amedda is of a species Anakin never encountered before, human in form, but with a head swollen by a pillow of cushioning tissue narrowing into a pair of tentacles that droops over either shoulder and feelers that juts from above the forehead. Together with their aides, the chair and vice-chair engage in a hurried discussion. Anakin, Shmi, and Jar Jar exchange worried glances as Palpatine's voice reaches them through the handheld viewscreen's tiny speaker.

"Enter the bureaucrats, the true rulers of the Republic, and on the payroll of the Trade Federation, I might add," he whispers to the Queen. Anakin sees their heads bending close. Palpatine's tone is heavy. "This is where Chancellor Valorum's strength will disappear."

Valorum moves back to the podium, a worn look on his face. "The point is conceded. Section 523A takes precedence here." He nods in the direction of the Naboo box. "Queen Amidala of the Naboo, will you defer your motion in order to allow a Senate commission to explore the validity of your accusations?"

Anakin can see the Queen stiffen in surprise, and when she speaks, her voice is edge with anger and determination. "I will not defer," she declares, eyes lock on Valorum. "I have come before you to resolve this attack on Naboo sovereignty now. I was not elected Queen to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in committee. If the chancellor is not capable of action, I suggest new leadership is needed." She pauses. "I move for a vote of no confidence in the Supreme Chancellor."

Voices rise immediately in response, some in support, some in protest. Senators and spectators alike come to their feet, loud mutterings quickly building to shouts that echo through the cavernous chamber. Valorum stands speechless at the podium, stunned and disbelieving. He stares at Amidala, his face etched in sudden shock as the impact of her words registers. Amidala faces him boldly, waiting.

There is no sympathy nor pity for the man but a deep understanding for the Chancellor; he knows that Valorum is horribly being manipulated by Sidious. Sidious draws Valorum into a corner and, either way, Valorum will be walking into his executioner. There is no way no one will trust him after apparently not doing anything on this invasion.

Vader is not above giving it to Palpatine that his plan is impressively crafted and that the man is a genius. He manipulated one of the strongest people in the galaxy, Padmé. He manipulated this entire band of Senators. He manipulated everyone he had ever known, including an intelligent Jedi such as Dooku.

Mas Amedda moves in front of Valorum, taking charge of the podium. "Order!" he bellows, his strange head swelling. "We shall have order!"

The assembly quiets then, and the delegates reseat themselves, responding to Amedda's command. Anakin notes that the Trade Federation box maneuvers into position close beside the Naboo box. Lott Dod exchanges a quick glance with Palpatine, but neither speaks.

A new box floats to the center of the chamber, and the vice-chair recognizes Edcel Bar Gan, the Senator from Roona. "Roona seconds the motion for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorus," Bar Gan intones in a sibilant. voice.

Mas Amedda did not look pleased. "The motion has been seconded."

He turns now to Valorum, speaking quickly to him, keeping his voice low and his words hidden behind his hand. Valorum looks at him uncomprehendingly, eyes distant and lost.

"There must be no delays," Aks Moe of Malastare declares in a loud voice, drawing Mas Amedda's attention back to him. "The motion is on the floor and must be voted on at once."

Lott Dod is back on his feet. "I move the motion be sent to the procedures committee for further study-"

The Republic Senate erupts anew, chanting loudly, "Vote now! Vote now!" Mas Amedda is deep in discussion with Supreme Chancellor Valorum, hands on his shoulders as if to bring him back from wherever he'd gone by sheer force of determination.

"You see, Your Majesty, the tide is with us," Anakin and Vader hear Palpatine announce quietly to the Queen. The boy's eyes drop to the viewscreen while Vader glares at Palpatine, his golden-orange eyes piercing through him. "Valorum will be voted out, I assure you, and they will elect a new chancellor, a strong chancellor, one who will not let our tragedy be ignored..."

Mas Amedda is back at the podium, addressing the chamber. "The supreme chancellor requests a recess."

Shouts rise from the delegates, echoing across the chamber in waves as Valorum stares at Senator Palpatine and Queen Amidala, and even from where he stands watching now at the entry doors to the Naboo box, Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader can discern the look of betrayal registers on the Supreme Chancellor's anguished face.

Less than an hour later, Anakin bursts through the open doors of the Queen's antechamber in search of Padmé and finds himself face-to-face with Vader instead. The man appears to be standing there, as if he is guarding the Queen from any threat.

Anakin isn't certain what to make of Darth Vader. Something about the man is so wizard. He feels a strange amount of safety in his presence, no matter of how everyone tenses up at Vader's mere arrival.

So when he bumps into the man, Anakin again feels slightly awkward, saying with a childhood innocence. "Mr. Vader."

"Skywalker, why are you not with your mother?" Vader questions, though nothing about his tone sounds reprimanding.

"The Jedi Council summoned my presence," Anakin replies before jumping up and down eagerly. "Can't you believe it, Mr. Vader?! I'm going to be a Jedi!

"Are you?" Vader questions rhetorically, and Anakin, for some strange reason feels as if the older man is amused, though his gaze does suggest otherwise.

"I came here to see Padmé," Anakin says, his expression softening upon Vader's stern gaze, "I want to tell her how I'm going to become a Jedi and that I want to say goodbye."

Vader plants his hand on his shoulder, replying. "I would see that she receives your message, Skywalker. It is only right."

Anakin smiles. "Thank you!" The urge in his stomach to leap towards Vader and wrap his arms around him is too much to resist, wrapping his arms around his legs before sprinting himself out.

Behind him, Vader stiffens. Didn't he just allow a younger version of himself, someone who he considers a different person to himself, to embrace him?

'How could the galaxy have been turned upside down like this?'

Light and darkness dance about upon Coruscant unlike he has ever felt before. Many Force Wielders can feel the power that is echoing through the planet and the power alone is causing each of them to be on edge as they are watching each corner, their calls of the Force blinded by the presence alone.

From within the shadows, Darth Plagueis grins, delving deep into the dark side at the alluring power that is now stalking above at the faces of the Jedi, almost as if he is taunting them in a way that he wishes he can do himself.

The moment he sensed Vader on Coruscant, he couldn't believe how alluring his power is on the planet let alone up close, sensing his apprentice's momentary alarm at Vader's arrival and his shock which amuses the Muun Sith Lord to no end.

There is another specimen that interests, that boy who is traveling with the Queen, Darth Vader, and the Entourage. If that boy receives training from either Jedi or Sith, he would become the most powerful being in the galaxy, become even more powerful than the Jedi Revan and Darth Malgus, become even more powerful than Vitiate.

Right now, though, Plagueis's interests revolve around the essence of Vader.

Darth Plagueis hopes to rule the universe for all eternity. He mastered manipulation of midichlorians so he could live forever. He openly talked about abolishing the rule of two due to him discovering the potential to live forever making it unnecessary. The power of Vitiate fuels through the essence of Vader, but ultimately, he calls off the light side, unlike the ancient Sith Emperor, however, the potential alone is powerful enough. He is well aware that Sidious is growing stronger than him in terms of the Force and lightsaber combat, but his apprentice still has much to learn about the Force itself.

To be frank, Vader is quite a bemusing being. His alignment is unknown; is he a Jedi or a Sith?

Unlike the Jedi, he doesn't make an immediate assumption that he is a Sith in spite of how much he calls off the dark side and how the dark side is roaring inside of his being. This Darth Vader could be blinding his alignment to the Force itself, certainly having the potential to do such a thing as he sends quite a shockwave through the Force upon his arrival.

Through the Force, he can sense that Vader doesn't hold the Jedi in a bright light, viewing them as fools, arrogant, and incompetent. He would freely admit that Vader is correct, given that he and his apprentice is able to seed their way through their very eyes along with many of their ancestors.

He can sense Vader craving his apprentice's death, loathing his apprentice with a great amount of rage, despising the Sith Lord to no end, harboring personal hatred and anger for reasons that escape as if holding a personal grudge against him. Plagueis knows Vader likely senses Palpatine's Sith Allegiance, given the dark side within him obtaining great amounts of anger, all targeting Chancellor Palpatine - or Darth Sidious.

This is odd since he can sense that Vader doesn't view him with the same hatred and anger. On the contrary, there is a certain amount of respect by his being at the thought of him.

He can also sense the strange sort of protectiveness Vader had for Kenobi and Jinn, but most particularly the former. Is it possible Vader is attempting to seduce Kenobi to be his apprentice? Kenobi is powerful after all, at least for a Padawan, but why would Vader be interest in him out of all the Jedi to seduce to his side when he could have easily dispatched the two Jedi, take the boy who is far more powerful than the Padawan, and still fulfill the task for the Queen in order to justify himself as self-defense and making himself invincible so the Jedi can't pull off any tactic against him?

Bringing up the Queen, he can also sense that Vader is overprotective of the Queen and her handmaidens, willing to protect them. But why? Unless he is manipulating her, but he highly doubts it as there is no gain from Vader's side of this.

This Vader is far more of a complicated task to behold, and it is fascinating.

There is also a protectiveness over the boy but it is much more personal than his connection with Kenobi. He can sense the Force connection around the boy and Vader, and the two as a duo would be able to clash against near-impossible odds.

If this can work to his benefit, there could perhaps be a newer galaxy formulated by Darth Vader. Never before has there been one surrounded by the light and dark - there have been close calls in both Jedi and Sith's history - but one always leans down to one or the other.

However, this Vader is different.

He reaches out into the Force, seeing Vader publicly, non-intimidated by the hundreds of Jedi in the Temple. In his foresight, he can see that Vader conveys no emotion akin to fear nor intimidation which is admittedly surprising since one would expect small intimidation being exposed to the Council and being surrounded by those who purged the Sith over thousands of years ago and imprisoned those who touched the dark side of the Force.

Plagueis killed Jedi before but never before had he walked before the Council in his disguise as Darth Plagueis or stood publicly on the planet, for the Council may very well just destroy him as they had done to his ancestors but Vader has no such reservation, practically spitting in the Jedi's faces.

However, this isn't an emotion of Vader - there is no anger, annoyance, fear, anger, hate, suffering nor intimidation. Alas, in spite of Vader possessing the potential to destroy the majority of the Jedi Order, Plagueis can sense that Vader doesn't crave to do this, unlike their ancient ancestors. It is almost as if he is a Jedi.

Who is Vader - or perhaps the better question is - what is Vader?

Chapter Text


On the outskirts of Coruscant, inside of the dark building, at the ledge, Vader stares at the dawning horizon. He comes here to meditate until he can sense the Jedi's wishes to speak with him, not having intentions to walk among their ancient home in the chance that he would be attacked by the Jedi among the Temple. He knows the Jedi are watching him if not by eyes then by the Force, ensuring that hangers, where he could leave this planet, is intercepted by the Jedi.

Vader almost have to snort at that; as if they could defeat him, another version of the Chosen One. Of course the unsuspecting fools among that Order and upon that Council doesn't know that.

Right now though, he is in what was later known as the Inquisitorius Headquarters during the Imperial Era that as of now is the LiMerge Power building. The skyscraper is located in The Works, an industrial district located on this planet. The base of the building is composed of three large fins that met at the mid-section of the structure and from one of which extended a smaller secondary structure that, during the Clone Wars, was connected to the main building by several derelict walkways. A large, central, cylindrical pillar with a coned head protruded from the mid-section. Also in the mid-section is a secret hangar with multiple hatches that opened upwards, enabling ships as large as a Punworcca 116-class interstellar sloop to enter and exit. Upon entering the hangar, the ceremonial chamber is to the left, which was donned with statues. The exterior of the tower is in a neglectful state by the time of the Clone Wars, with areas of the structure being worn down and damaged.

By the early days of the Galactic Empire, the tower had a large central chamber, a conference room, and a leisure area. During this time, the exterior had been upgraded and repaired. The secondary structure was transformed into a landing platform, and the multiple walkways were replaced by a singular pathway. In the leisure area, the Inquisitors could drink alcoholic beverages and sit down at one of the tables. The leisure area had several corridors, including one that led to a walkway outside the building to a small degraded platform.

Following the opening battle of the Clone Wars and a lightsaber duel against the Jedi, Count Dooku traveled in his personal solar sailer to the tower in The Works district on Coruscant to meet with his Sith Master, which served as a secret retreat and storage for Sith artifacts.

Once Dooku had arrived at the tower's hangar, he was greeted by his Sith Master, Darth Sidious, and informed him that the war between the Galactic Republic and the Confederacy had begun. Sidious was pleased with the news, as he had achieved another milestone in his plan to destroy the Jedi Order and rule the galaxy, and stated that everything was going according to plan.

The Grand Republic Medical Facility was temporarily shut down to increase security after a mission to Level 1325 to capture rogue clone trooper CT-5555 after he allegedly attacked Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, secretly Sidious. During the lockdown, Sidious transported his collection of Sith artifacts from the abandoned tower to the medical facility, due to concerns that the Jedi may discover the tower.

He remembers Obi-Wan telling him of Yoda's experience - at least what the Grandmaster told the Council in their report. Following the mission to Oba Diah, Yoda had embarked on a mission to Moraband in order to uncover the secrets of preserving one's consciousness after death and attempt to uncover the identity of the Sith Lord who had been manipulating the Jedi and had created the clone army for them.

The quest led Yoda to Moraband, the ancient homeworld of the Sith. Apparitions of Sith Warriors conjured by the Force Priestesses alerted Sidious and Dooku of Yoda's presence on Moraband, and Dooku was informed by his super tactical droid, Commander Kraken, that his master was ordering him to Coruscant and meet with him. After Dooku arrived from his flagship, Sidious greeted Dooku and led him to the tower's ceremonial chamber which was lined with statues positioned in a circle with a sacrificial altar basin at its center. Sidious then began a ritual, using Dooku's blood and Force-bond to connect with his former Jedi Master, Yoda, while also using Force lightning and chanting Balc, a Sith language.

By utilizing the ritual, Sidious was able to exploit the Force-bond to reach through ripples through the Force to create Force Illusions on Moraband, hoping to break Yoda's will and tear the Jedi Order from within. In the following illusions, Yoda saw himself back on Coruscant in the Works onboard a LAAT/i gunship with Anakin Skywalker, his clone captain, and a squad of clone troopers who were tasked with a mission to the tower after detecting a rogue shuttle that infiltrated Coruscant's security grid, believing that Dooku was on board. Initially confused, Yoda nevertheless ordered the mission to continue. Yoda believed that they were on the verge of discovering the mystery of the Sith, and that the Sith must not be able to escape, executing them if necessary.

After the LAAT/i landed in the hangar of the abandoned tower, Yoda, Skywalker, Rex, and the clones discovered Sidious and Dooku in the ceremonial chamber. Dooku attacked the group with Force lightning, killing Rex and the clone troopers. Skywalker engaged Dooku in a lightsaber duel and was able to kill the Sith Lord, but not before Yoda exclaimed to Skywalker not to. Regardless, Yoda chased Darth Sidious to the outside of the tower, with Skywalker arriving outside shortly after. After dueling with Sidious, Skywalker was defeated and rendered unconscious.

Sidious continued fighting Yoda, attempting to break Yoda's will by forcing him to choose between saving Skywalker, or learning Sidious's true identity and stopping all he would do. Yoda chose the former, allowing himself to be struck by Force lightning but saving Skywalker. Sidious ended the ritual and thus eliminating the spiritual plane they were on, having failed to break Yoda's will. Defeated, Sidious stated that they would need more time to defeat the Jedi, while Yoda gained a new perspective about the Force that the Sith would not be able to foresee.

After the rise of the Galactic Empire and the destruction of the Jedi Order, Darth Sidious, now the Galactic Emperor of the newly transformed Galactic Empire, founded the Inquisitorius, a dark side organization tasked with eliminating any remaining Jedi. After the leader of the Inquisitorius, the Grand Inquisitor, briefly dueled Sidious's new Sith apprentice, Darth Vader, Sidious acquainted them and informed Vader of the Inquisitorius, which were located in the tower, dubbed the Inquisitorius Headquarters.

The tower had been refurbished with a new landing platform, a large chamber, a conference room, and was guarded by the Emperor's Royal Guard. There, as the Inquisitors trained with each other in the main chamber, Lord Vader was given command of the Inquisitorius and was given the task of training them. After some time training with the inquisitors, Vader and the Grand Inquisitor conversed in a conference room, reviewing a list of possible Jedi survivors. They were tasked with tracking down Chief Librarian Jocasta Nu, who was considered by Sidious to be a high priority target.

Years after Order 66, in the aftermath of a mission to hunt down former Jedi Master Eeth Koth, Darth Vader and his team of Inquisitors consisting of Fifth Brother, a Palliduvan Inquisitor, and a Twi'lek Inquisitor, arrived in their Zeta-class shuttle and touched down on the tower's landing platform. They were greeted by the Grand Inquisitor, along with two Kallidahin servants, who were given Koth's captured newborn. Vader and the Grand Inquisitor then headed to the conference room, and began conversing on Jedi survivors of the purge as they looked at a list of survivors, as well as the status of Project Harvester.

During the time after their arrival from the planet they had killed Koth on, several of the Inquisitors, including Eighth Brother, Seventh Sister, the Grand Inquisitor, the Inquisitors who accompanied Vader to eliminate Koth, and the Second Sister were present at the tower's leisure room, where the Palliduvan and Twi'lek Inquisitors were at a table drinking Dust Juice and talking about recent experiences, although Vader confronted the two and ignited his lightsaber.

With Vader standing before them, the two Inquisitors were stunned and the other Inquisitors were confused to reach for his lightsaber. As Vader brought down his lightsaber on the female Inquisitor, it was blocked by the Twi'lek and after a brief scuffle, the two Inquisitors escaped through a corridor that led to an outside walkway and platform that had not been renovated as it was in a deteriorated state, and fled to the city, although Vader eventually managed to kill them. After the chase, Sidious believed that the Inquisitorius should be moved off-world, and Vader asked his master Sidious to give him the planet Mustafar, the location of Vader's greatest defeat, but would become the location of his personal castle, to which Sidious agreed.

Eventually, the Inquisitors were given a new headquarters on the water moon Nur.

It was a mention of this location by the reformed Vos that clued Tholme in to the true nature of the building, which in turn led to an investigation of the structure, carried out by Commander Valiant, Captain Dyne, and Jedi Master Mace Windu. Their search for Darth Sidious led through the building and into the downlevel tunnels, which they realized connected not only to areas of the Senate District, but also to the lower levels of 500 Republica. Getting to know this, the Jedi became certain that Darth Sidious was in fact a member of Palpatine's inner circle. Due to the large amounts of footprints disguising Sidious' footprints, as well as a Separatist attack on the planet, Valiant and Dyne were the only ones remaining to investigate, as Mace Windu had to break off from the investigation due to the recent events. Dyne and Valiant eventually deduced only one organic lifeform within the area they lost Sidious' tracks at via basic holoradio channels; the military channels having been blocked out, and then entered an elevator to locate Sidious. However, they were killed in an ambush by Geonosians before entering the area Sidious was suspected of being at, although Dyne managed to live long enough to get a glimpse of Sidious when he inspected the damage, realizing that Sidious was in fact Palpatine himself.

Admittedly, walking around the base of the Sith Archives fascinates him. There are lightsabers, armor, Holocrons, ancient Sith weapons, and ancient Sith text all open for the taking. Even in his time as Dark Lord, he asked his Master if he could come here to learn from his knowledge, but Palpatine abundantly denied out of risk Vader learning things that the old man craved to keep secret from him, and he was only assigned here to train those pathetic beings that are hardly worth it being called Force Sensitives.

One day, perhaps he would come in possession of them, but for now, he shall ignore their calls.

Still, he couldn't help but feel the call to the dark side when he decided to come here. That is due to the ancient religions that belong to the Sith, due to the tempting knowledge of who had been his ancestors as much as the Jedi brethren had also been once his. He has a Sith and Jedi lineage.

The dark side within did stagger him, at least for a moment, but the Master of the Light and Darkness would never go down one path or another so he had silenced the calls, taming them but he knows there is no destroying them as much as the Jedi believe.

They exist for a number of reasons, the dark side itself was created by the Force because it is a part of it. As annoying and as alluring the calls can be, one must tap into it for them to truly understand the Force as an entirety.

"How simple you make it. Light and if there is one without the other."

As much as flawed as the Son on Mortis was in delving deep into the dark side, the One was correct. In order for the light to exist, there must be darkness. In order for darkness to exist, there must be light. Without one or the other, in the end, both the light and the dark side are nothing at all, having no purpose without one another.

Despite the responsibility and risks with both Orders fearing him since his intentions are inconclusive, Vader is prepared to accept each of the oppositions and challenges as he has nothing else to live for at this point.

He managed to raid the entire Jedi Temple and dealt with the secret disciples of his former Sith Master before so those who oppose him would not be able to pose a challenge against him despite being younger and possibly far more powerful.

He is laying low as events plays out. He has been since he has arrived to Coruscant, only going to the former version of his wife to the Senate Building to assure she is safe from those loyal to the Trade Federation such as Lott Dod.

"You can cease your attempts to hide from me. I have already detected your presence."

From behind the former Sith Lord, the makings of a being begins to animate, a crimson mist consisting of red and black beams disappearing as limbs of the creature apparently begin to connect, forming into a tall and thin humanoid with elongated bald head, wearing a dark cloak and a mechanical breathing apparatus that is similar to himself but contrast and less damaged, towering over the now 23-year-old Darth Vader. Had Vader not witnessed or experienced worse, he may have been sickened and disgusted at how this creature just emerged from behind him.

"Greetings, Darth Vader."

Inside of the Jedi Council Chambers, Anakin Skywalker faces the Jedi Council, standing in the same place Qui-Gon Jinn stood some hours earlier. He was nervous at first, brought into the chamber by Qui-Gon, then left alone with the twelve members of the Council. Standing in the mosaic circle and ringed by the silent assemblage, awestruck and uncertain of what is expected of him, he feels vulnerable and exposed. The eyes of the Jedi are distant as they view him, but he senses they are looking not past him, but inside.

They begin to question him then, without preliminary introductions or explanations, without expending any effort at all to make him feel comfortable or welcome. He knows some of them by name, for Qui-Gon had described a few, and he is quick to put faces to names. They question him at great length, testing memory and knowledge, seeking insights at which he can only guess. They know of his existence as a slave. They know of his background on Tatooine, of his mother and his friends, of his Podracing, of Watto, of everything factual and past, of the order of his life.

Now Mace Windu is looking at a screen the boy can not see, and Anakin is giving names to images that flashes across its liquid surface. Images appear in Anakin's mind with such speed he is reminded of the strange blur of desert and mountains whipping past his cockpit during a Podrace.

"A bantha. A hyperdrive. A proton blaster." The images whiz through his mind as he named them off. "A Republic cruiser. A Rodian cup. A Hutt speeder."

The screen goes blank, and Mace looks up, at the boy.

"Good, good, young one," the wizened alien called Yoda praises. The sleepy eyes fix on him, the intent behind their lids. "How feel you?"

"Cold, sir," Anakin confesses.

"Afraid, are you?"

The boy shakes his head. "No, sir."

"Afraid to give up your life?" the dark one call Mace Windu asks, leaning forward slightly.

"I don't think so," he answers, then hesitates. Something don't feel right.

Yoda blinks and his long ears cocks forward. "See-through you, we can," he said quietly.

"Be mindful of your feelings," Mace Windu scolds.

The old one call Ki-Adi-Mundi strokes his beard. "Your thoughts dwell on your mother."

Anakin swallows, "We have never been on this planet before. I'm-" he didn't know how to describe it since to put it bluntly this feels like slavers choosing which slave they want in the slave markets and it feels like they are testing him to see if he is a perfect slave that serves their purposes.

Yoda's sleepy eyes fix on him. "Everything. To the dark side, fear leads. To anger and to hate. To suffering."

"I am not afraid!" the boy snaps irritably, anxious to leave this discussion and move on.

Yoda does not seem to hear him. "The deepest commitment, a Jedi must have. The most serious mind. Much fear in you, I sense, young one."

Anakin takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. When he spoke, his voice was calm again. "I am not afraid."

Yoda studies him a moment. "Then continue, we will," he replies softly, and the examination resumes.

From across the city, a conversation is beginning to spar between secret Sith Lord and a Jedi Master. Unlike the other Jedi however, this Jedi is particularly different, doubting the Jedi Order each passing day.

"I trust that the food is better than the view," Jedi Master Dooku remarks without humor as he joins Palpatine at a window-side table in Mok's Cheap Eats the following day. A small establishment catering to factory personnel, it overlooks the heart of The Works.

"The Senate is studying plans to develop housing projects in the flatlands."

Dooku frowns in revulsion. "Why not simply build over a radioactive waste dump?"

"Where there are credits to be made, the lives of ordinary citizens are of little consequence."

Dooku cocks an eyebrow. "I hope you'll put a stop to it."

"I'd prefer The Works to remain unchanged for a time."

Dooku waves off a waiter and regards Palpatine with interest. "So, a blockade prevents you from going to Naboo, and what happens but Naboo comes to you. Quite a piece of magic."

Palpatine shoots him a thin smile. "Yes, my Queen has arrived."

"Your Queen," Dooku says, tugging at his short beard. "And from all I hear you may soon be her Supreme Chancellor."

Palpatine shrugs off the remark, then adopts a more serious look.

"That is, however, part of the reason behind my asking you to meet me here."

"Worried that you won't receive Jedi backing if you're seen with me in the usual places?"

"Nothing of the sort. But if I am elected, and if you and I are going to begin to work together, it behooves us to give all appearances of being on opposite sides."

Dooku folds his arms and stares. "Work together in what capacity?"

"That remains to be seen. But our common goal would be to return the Republic to what it once was by tearing it down."

Dooku didn't say anything for a long moment, and when he speaks it is as if he are assembling his thoughts on the fly. "With perhaps your homeworld as the spark that touches off a conflagration? Clearly the crisis has benefited you politically, and that fact alone has certain beings wondering." He scans Palpatine's face. "Under normal circumstances, the Council wouldn't have subverted the authority of the Senate by honoring Valorum's request to send Jedi to Naboo. But for Yoda, Mace Windu, and the rest, Valorum is a known quantity, whereas Senators Antilles and Teem and you have yet to disclose your true agendas. Take you, for instance. Most are aware that you are a career politician, and that you've managed thus far to avoid imbroglios. But what does anyone know about you beyond your voting record, or the fact that you reside in Five Hundred Republica? We all think that there's much more to you than meets the eye, as it were; something about you that has yet to be uncovered."

Instead of speaking directly to Dooku's point, Palpatine says, "I was as surprised as anyone to learn that Master Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan Kenobi were sent to Naboo."

"Surprised, of course. But pleased?"

"Naboo is my homeworld. I want to see the crisis resolved as quickly as possible."

"Do you?"

Palpatine holds his look. "I begin to wonder what may have prompted your confrontational mood. But for the sake of argument, let us say that I feel no shame in taking full advantage of the crisis. Would that cause you to distance yourself from me?"

Dooku smiles with his eyes, but not in mirth. "On the contrary, as you say.

Since I'm interested in learning more about the possibility of an alliance."

Palpatine adopts a hooded look. "You're resolved to leave the Order?"

"Even more than when we last spoke."

"Because of the Council's decision to intervene at Naboo?"

"I can forgive them for that. The blockade has to be broken. But something else has occurred." Dooku chooses his next words carefully. "Excluding this mysterious ally, Qui-Gon returned from Tatooine with a former slave boy. According to the boy's mother, the boy had no father."

"A clone?" Palpatine asks uncertainly.

"Not a clone," Dooku replies. "Perhaps conceived by the Force. As Qui-Gon believes."

Palpatine's head snapped back. "You don't sit on the Council. How do you know this?"

"I have my ways."

"Does this have something to do with the prophecy you spoke of?"

"Everything. Qui-Gon believes that the boy—Anakin is his name—stands at the center of a vergence in the Force, and believes further that his finding him was the will of the Force. Blood tests were apparently performed, and the boy's concentration of midi-chlorians is unprecedented."

"Do you believe that he is the prophesied one?"

"The Chosen One," Dooku amends. "No. But Qui-Gon accepts it as fact, and the Council is willing to have him tested."

"What is known about this Anakin?"

"Very little, except for the fact that he was born into slavery nine years ago and was, until recently, along with his mother, the property of Gardulla the Hutt, then a Toydarian junk dealer," Dooku smirks. "Also that he won the Boonta Eve Classic Podrace."

Palpatine stops listening.

'Nine years old… Conceived by the Force… Is it possible…'

His thoughts rewound at frantic speed: to the landing platform on which he and Valorum had welcomed Amidala and her group. Actually not Amidala, but one of her look-alikes. But the sandy-haired boy, this Anakin, swathed in filthy clothing, had been there, along with a Gungan and the two Jedi. Anakin spent the night in a tiny room in his apartment suite.

'And I sensed nothing about him.'

"Qui-Gon is rash," Dooku is saying. "Despite his fixation with the living Force, he demonstrates his own contradictions by being a true believer in the prophecy—a foretelling more in line with the unifying Force."

"Nine years old," Palpatine says when he could. "Surely too old to be trained."

"If the Council shows any sense."

"And what will become of the boy then?"

Dooku's shoulders heave. "Though no longer a slave, he will probably be sent to rejoin his mother on Tatooine."

"I understand your disillusionment," Palpatine replies.

Dooku shakes his head. "I haven't told you all of it. As if the announcement of having found the Chosen One wasn't enough, Qui-Gon discovered that the Trade Federation may have had the help of powerful allies in planning and executing the blockade of Naboo."

Palpatine sits straighter in his chair. "What allies?"

"On Tatooine, this Darth Vader dueled with an assassin who is well trained in the Jedi arts. My former student told the Council that he is convinced Darth Vader is not a Sith nor is a threat to the Jedi Order." The Jedi Master appears to be genuinely intrigued, intrigue in meeting Darth Vader himself.

This causes Sidious to scowl inwardly. He may have to dispose of Dooku should he align with Darth Vader.

To think, at a younger age in the hope to save Padmé, he was so foolish to turn to Palpatine after hearing the tragedy of the man that undoubtedly is now standing in front of him.

Many vivid images of meeting Darth Plagueis and asking him of the knowledge he possessed was something he wished would happened in reality, and part of him in his younger days couldn't help but ponder what would being in the presence of such a being would be like, but as he is scanning the Master of his former Sith Master, he can feel a power that matches his own though of course much darker though that darkness is controlled.

Vader remembers Sidious describing to him how he killed Plagueis, and truthfully, he finds the display of how he disposed of Plagueis beyond pathetic. The fact that Palpatine killed Plagueis when he was weakened and in a drunken state shows that in reality, Palpatine is just a weak and ignorant individual who thinks himself so powerful when he knows nothing of battle and can't fight one head-on without treachery.

Sidious tried to kill Plagueis, him first unleashing Sith Lightning on the sleeping Plagueis. Plagueis's eyes snapped open, and he simply gazed at Sidious. No counterattack. Sidious was preparing himself for a counterattack, but the manner in which it went down suggests that Plagueis simply gathered his midichlorians because he truly believed that he was immortal. So he thought he would never die. And he failed to even put up a Force shield.

Even awake he would still do this, because of his belief, and die.

However, if he countersattacks, it's a tossup; the first thing Sidious would feel is his midichlorians dying, because that was Plagueis's trademark move. So any drawn-out combat would leave Sidious increasingly tired and ultimately dead as his connection to the Force weakens and dies.

Sidious has a better hand with a lightsaber, but it does not mean Plagueis is a pushover. Darth Tenebrous, an excellent fighter himself, pronounced Plagueis as a master. He could hold his ground against Sidious.

The one undeniable advantage Sidious has is his power with Telekinesis, though after the first few moments he would feel his power weakening as his midichlorians are killed.

Plagueis died more because of his hubris than his ability, and chances are that his hubris would always present an opportunity to kill him when he was defenseless… but, no, in a straight fight Plagueis would kill Sidious regardless, which is why he was killed in his vulnerable state.

Frankly, the greatness of Sidious was more in his brain and patience than his powers. He was so dangerous mostly because the Jedi of the time were no longer real warriors, and Sidious could virtually control what any other dark side user was able to do because he'd killed the last one with more knowledge than him.

In the old Republic era, Sidious would have been unable to hack it - Force Lightning, an ability which Sidious relies upon heavily and is careful not to teach to any who could threaten him, was utilized by any Sith Inquisitor… Well, in the galaxy, including young acolytes who would die before becoming Sith at all. The Emperor's Wrath, a powerful Sith of the old Republic time, was able to not only deflect lightning from a Sith master but survive direct blasts from it and kill his opponent. Darth Nox, a top Dark Council Inquisitor, was able to bind the ghosts of legendary Sith and Jedi and masterfully channel their power through his own body. The hero of Tython, a Jedi hero of the time, blocked force lightning from the sith emperor himself, a Sith so powerful that he killed Darth Revan, the Jedi Exile, and Darth Marr, all three of whom were likely more powerful than Sidious.

In short, Sidious is nothing special at all given the potential of the Force and only rise to power by being born in a really, really weak era. He would have been fried mercilessly or killed if the Jedi were still warriors and peacekeepers combined instead of the pure peacekeepers they are today.

"It is a pleasure to meet your acquaintance, Darth Vader, my name is Darth Plagueis," the Muun declares, approaching beside the hooded man, a smirk undoubtedly on his lips as he bows in either a sarcastic or genuine - Vader can't tell - greeting to the hooded man.

Outwardly, Vader remains calm but inwardly the Muun can sense him tensing noticeably for at least a second. Doubtlessly, Vader sensed his presence even in one of the refugees of the dark side that can dull one's sensitivity to the Force.

"Why are you here?" Vader replies, observing the Dark Lord of the Sith's aura and being met by such impressive darkness. "You are bold to approach me when the Jedi are keeping me at a high radar."

Plagueis chuckles. "Those foolish Jedi can't detect me through the Force. They haven't been able to detect the past Sith for many years. I have been walking in front of them in the guise of Darth Plagueis and they still aren't able to figure out that I'm a Sith Lord. Their senses are blinded to the Force itself."

"I detected you on Coruscant, having seen through the dark side itself as many Jedi should have, but instead of attempting to learn it or test it, they blind themselves to it," Vader replies before slowly turning to face him. "I am shocked that you aren't angry with me besting your apprentice's pet."

Plagueis chuckles. "He is merely a weapon, someone who is barely considered Sith material, who's potential I will never know why my apprentice would waste his training on. You however are a different manner. I had sense you through the Force. Your power is substantial. It has managed to throw the entire Jedi Temple off guard and it even astounded me when I detected it. Infuriated with your presence, my apprentice and his pet may be, but you have not hampered my plans."

"You are not my opponent, Plagueis," Vader admits. "Your apprentice is."

"Oh," the dark side rings in satisfaction. "May I ask why you appear to hold a personal grudge against my apprentice?"

"Your apprentice is unmistakably a traitor and a fool," he replies, "his own ambitions would only damage your goals. He is a threat that you should observe closely, Darth Plagueis."

Plagueis smirks. "I do not trust my apprentice blindly, Vader, however I do trust him and his motivations to align with my own in abolishing the pathetic rule of two that have damaged the Sith of old."

"Are you even positive this is possible? Your points have merits but your apprentice may not as view the Sith should be taken this direction." Vader responds.

" I am a scientist, Darth Vader, I have experienced many things and I believe this is a possible goal that could cause a new generation of the Sith to be far stronger and more powerful than the Sith of old."

Vader stops speaking for a moment before a thought crosses his mind.

"It was you, wasn't it? You were the one who created him?"

The Sith Muun pauses as well, appearing to be musing over Vader's words, before he replies, his eyes brightening in realization.

"Correct. He was meant to be the Chosen One of the Sith but the midi-chlorians betrayed me and I suspected he was destroyed. I hadn't expected this betrayal." Plagueis replies, anger evident in his tone. "I had my suspicions when his presence was announced on this planet but you have confirmed it. I now see the destruction of the Sith, however, I have decided to approach you, seeing the Jedi has taken him to their Temple."

Vader, for the first time, appears to backpedal and stops speaking, cerulean eyes widening as he finally learns the truth of... of how...

"The Grand Experiment..."

Plagueis confirms, "Yes. Utilizing Sith alchemy and the dark side of the Force, I intended to create the living embodiment of the Force. In order to do so, I tried to influence the midi-chlorians in his attempt to create life. But when my efforts bore no success, and instead wiped out my other experiments, I deemed the project a failure."

"Yet here you are," Vader replies sharply, eyeing the Muun Sith Lord not with his eyes but through the Force, his back still turned to the individual behind him. ⁰

"I believed it is possible to enhance one's natural born number of midichlorians but also force them to do what I want them to do. So my main goal is primely eternal life and limitless power. Through the years, through use of the Force, and my attempts at influence midichlorians I have learned many things. That boy's power is thrilling and has the potential to overwhelm one as myself and even you, Darth Vader, and take the Force down a new direction." The Muun Sith replies, placing both hands behind his back.

"Enough words of the boy. Why do you approach me now? What do you wish of me other than my death if you're not here for that?" Vader responds, genuinely curious. Should the two engage in a fight, Vader knows it would be immensely close and be a battle to the death.

"Your potential is nearly as high as the boy. I cannot come to the conclusion of this but I can sense we seek the same, Darth Vader. We can rule the galaxy and be viewed as heroes all the while allowing that Order of stupid fools and idiots to collapse both by the public and by their beliefs. You can lead entire armies!" Plagueis replies strongly, golden eyes passionately brightening, a cackle making itself known, and chills immediately filling the chambers, chills that may have made his younger self shiver - and even now he feels a momentarily shiver in the deepest of his spine but he doesn't allow it to show.

A stronger part than expected part of Vader craves this exact thing, sensing the truth in the words of the Muun Sith Lord and that he is seeking to abolish the rule of two. He craves leading armies of soldiers and mowing down rivals and threats, to start a new Order anew not a Sith nor a Jedi Order but a Order that isn't of any. Perhaps it is the individual within him that wouldn't be a tool.

Darth Vader comprehends over the option that others would have considered a once in a lifetime, thinking about the difference between Darth Sidious and Darth Plagueis, both who has their similarities in seeking to overthrow the Republic but also wishing different ambitions. The former is nothing but a master of manipulation, extremely powerful, arguably the most powerful Sith in the galaxy, but blinded to the flaws of the old Sith. The latter, on the other hand, is an individual of action, someone who is well and whole-heartedly knows the risk of manipulation, and prefers to build projects, admitting the flaws of the old Sith and wishing to abolish those flaws.

Aligning with the Muun Sith Lord is an interesting offer, however, under no circumstances would he ever work with the man who ruined his life even if he agree to this offer. He would kill him sooner instead of ever allowing such a man to roam the galaxy and spread his influence.

"And you willing to work alongside with me even though I touch the light side as much as I embrace the dark?" Vader inquires, arching one eyebrow at the Muun with a slight head tilt.

Plagueis's mood didn't dampened surprisingly, "Not when I sense the light side give you strength as much as the dark side give you power. Balance will only be attainable with the death of the Jedi, the Sith of old, not the light nor dark. I am willing to allow the light to continue throughout the galaxy, but only through your teachings and your visibility. You have seen what I have experienced, Darth Vader, that the Jedi and Sith of old must be destroyed for a new age to begin. The light side is not the Jedi as much as the dark side is not the Sith. You will be free to do what you wish and I will not oppose it as long as it doesn't harm our Empire of course."

For the first time in a long time, Darth Vader is shocked and silent. Each word the Muun is speaking is truthful. He can sense it through the Force. He is willing to allow the light to plague the galaxy along with the dark, willing to allow Vader to teach others in both sides of the Force, though there is a slight twist from Vader's original plan since in return the Muun wishes to make the galaxy stronger and rule indefinitely with no one being able to oppose them.

In a way, joining with Plagueis would save the galaxy but cause a new though albeit perhaps a better Empire to rise. Truth be spoken, he would need allies to stop Palpatine, and perhaps Palpatine's own Sith Master can be an ally in which Vader can return the favor since there would be repercussions of Palpatine's death. Not to mention, Vader would need allies of both sides, meaning both Jedi and Sith.

"I will consider your offer..."

Vader frowns. Yet, there is one minor obstacle to why he just doesn't form an alliance with the Muun.

"But I have a warning, Darth Plagueis..."

Jar Jar Binks of the Gungans and Queen Amidala of the Naboo stand together at a window that run floor to ceiling in the Queen's chambers, looking out at the gleaming spires of Coruscant. An odd pairing at best, the Queen regal and composed, the Gungan awkward and jittery, they keep the company in silence and watched the sunset color the sky a brilliant gold that reflects here and there off the flat metal and glass surfaces of the city in sudden, blinding explosions of light.

They return from the Republic Senate some hours ago, Jar Jar, Anakin, Shmi, the Queen, and her handmaidens. They came back principally because there seemed to be nothing else they could do to change the course of events regarding the future of Naboo. Senator Palpatine stayed behind to politick with his colleagues over the selection of a new supreme chancellor, and Captain Panaka remained with him, asked by the Queen to bring her news when there was any to offer. None has been forthcoming as yet. Now Anakin was gone as well, taken by Qui-Gon to the Jedi Temple where he is to meet with the Council, and no one had seen Padmé in some time.

So Jar Jar rattles around in Palpatine's quarters rather like a stray kaadu until Amidala have taken pity on him and invited him to sit with her. She has gone into seclusion on her return, changing out of her Senate robes into a less imposing gold-trimmed black gown that emphasizes how slender and small she really was. She wears an inverted, crescent-shaped crown with a beaded gold medallion arc down over her smooth forehead, but even so, she stand several centimeters shorter than the Gungan.

She is clearly in pain, her eyes so sad and distant that it make Jar Jar want to comfort her. If it was Annie or Padmé, he might have reached over and pat her on the head, but he is not about to try that with the Queen. There are no guards, but her handmaidens, Eirtaé and Rabé, cloaked in their crimson hooded robes and forever watchful, stand in waiting near the door, and he is certain there are guards somewhere close as well. He is careless of many things, oblivious to others, and in general given over to enjoying life in a haphazard way, but he is no fool.

Finally, though, he can ignore the situation no longer. He shuffles his feet and clears his throat, drawing the Queen's attention. She turns, her white-painted face with red dots on each cheek and a red slash in the center of her lower lip doll-like and expressionless.

"Me wonder sometimes why da Guds invent pain," he offers sympathetically.

Amidala's cool gaze is steady and clear. "To motivate us, I imagine."

"Yous think yous people gonna die?" he asks, working his billed mouth around the bitter words as if he could taste them.

The Queen considers the question and shakes her head slowly. "I don't know, Jar Jar."

"Gungans gonna get pasted, too, eh?"

"I hope not."

Jar Jar straightens, and a fierce pride brightens his eyes. "Gungans no die without a fight. We warriors! We gotta grand army!"

"An army?" she repeats, a hint of surprise in her soft voice.

"A grand army! Lotta Gungans. Dey comes from all over. Dat why no swamp beings give us trubble. Too many Gungans. Gotta big energy shields, too. Nutten gets through. Gotta energy balls, fly outta slings and splat electricity and goo. Bombad stuff. Gungans no ever give up to maccaneks or anyone!"

He pauses, shrugging uncomfortably. "Dat why Naboo no like us, mebbe."

She is studying him closely now, her detach gaze replacing by something more intense as if she is turning an unexpecting thought over in her mind. She is preparing to speak to that thought, he believed, when Senator Palpatine and Captain Panaka stride through the doorway in a rush.

"Your Highness," Captain Panaka greets, barely able to contain his excitement as both men bows quickly and straightens. "Senator Palpatine has been nominated to succeed Valorum as supreme chancellor!"

Palpatine's smile is contained and deferential, and his voice carefully modulated as he spoke. "A surpnse, to be sure, but a welcome one. I promise, Your Majesty if I am elected, I will restore democracy to the Republic. I will put an end to the corruption that has plagued the Senate. The Trade Federation will lose its influence over the bureaucrats, and our people will be freed from the tyranny of this unlawful and onerous invasion-"

"Who else has been nominated?" Amidala asks abruptly, cutting him short.

"Bail Antilles of Alderaan and Aks Moe of Malastare," Panaka tells her, avoiding Palpatine's eyes.

The senator is quick to recover from the unexpected interruption of his speech. "Your Majesty, I feel confident that our situation will generate strong support for us when the voting takes place tomorrow." He pauses meaningfully. "I will be chancellor, I promise you."

The Queen did not look impressed. She moves past Jar Jar to the window and stares out at the lights of the city as they brightens with the fading of the sunset. "I fear by the time you have taken control of the bureaucrats, Senator, there will be nothing left of our cities, our people, or our way of life to salvage."

Palpatine looks taken aback. "I understand your concern, Your Majesty. Unfortunately, the Federation has seized possession of our planet. It will be nearly impossible to immediately dislodge them."

"Perhaps." Amidala turns from the window to face him, her eyes are bright with anger and determination. "With the Senate in transition, there is nothing more I can do here." She walks to where he stand with Panaka. "Senator, this is your arena. I must return now to mine. I have decided to go back to Naboo. My place is with my people."

"Go back!" Palpatine is aghast, his pale face stricken. Panaka looks quickly from one to the other. "But, Your Majesty, be realistic! You will be in great danger! They will force you to sign the treaty!"

The Queen is calm and composed. "I will sign no treaty. My fate will be no different from that of my people." She turns to Panaka. "Captain!"

Panaka snaps to attention. "Yes, Your Highness?"

"Ready my ship."

Palpatine steps forward quickly to intercept her. "Please, Your Majesty. Stay here, where it is safe."

Amidala's voice is edge with iron. "No place is safe, if the Senate doesn't condemn this invasion. It is clear to me now that the Republic no longer functions." Her eyes lock on his. "If you win the election, Senator, I know you will do everything possible to stop the Federation. I pray you will find a way to restore sanity and compassion to the Republic. If this Republic will not help me, I know one person that shall."

She moves past him in a smooth, gliding motion and was out the door, her handmaidens and Panaka at her heels. Jar Jar Binks follow, shuffling after as unobtrusively as he could manage, glancing just once at Palpatine in passing.

He is surprised to catch the barest glimpse of a smile on the senator's shrewd face.

In the Temple of the Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker stand before the Council of twelve. Cluster together at the center of the speaker's platform, they face the circle of chairs in which the members of the Council are seating, and awaits their decision on the boy. Outside, the light is pale and wan as twilight replaces sunset, and night begins its slow descent across the city.

"Finished, we are, with our examination of the boy," Yoda advises in his guttural, whispery voice. His eyes are lidded and sleepy, his pointed ears pricked forward. "Correct, you were, Qui-Gon."

Mace Windu nods his concurrence, his dark, smooth face expressionless in the dim light. "His cells contain a very high concentration of midi-chlorians." There is an emphasis on the word very as he spoke.

"The Force is strong in him," Ki-Adi-Mundi agrees.

Qui-Gon feels a rush of satisfaction on hearing the words, a vindication of his insistence on freeing the boy from his life on Tatooine and bringing him here. "He is to be trained, then," he declares in triumph.

There is an uncomfortable silence as the Council members looked from one to the other.

"No," Mace Windu denies quietly. "He will not be trained."

"No?" the Jedi Master repeats in disbelief, shocked almost speechless. He tries hard to ignore the I-told-you-so look on Obi-Wan's young face.

Mace Windu nods, dark eyes steady. "He is too old. There is already too much anger in him. There is also the Sith whose power is nearly as strong as him. He is linked to this Darth Vader."

Qui-Gon is incensed, but he holds himself in check. This decision made no sense. It could not be allowed to stand. "He is the chosen one," he insists vehemently. "You must see it!"

Yoda cocks his round head contemplatively. "Clouded, this boy's future is. Masked by his youth."

Qui-Gon searches the faces of the other members of the Jedi Council, but finds no help, not even in his oldest friends among them. He straightens and nods his acceptance of their decision. "Very well. I will train him then. I take Anakin Skywalker as my Padawan apprentice."

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Obi-Wan stiffen in shock. He sees, as well, the sudden flicker of hope that crosses Anakin's face. He did not respond to either, keeping his gaze direct toward the Council.

"An apprentice, you already have, Qui-Gon," Yoda points out sharply. "Impossible, to take on a second."

"We forbid it," Mace Windu advises darkly.

"Obi-Wan is ready," Qui-Gon declares.

"I am!" his protege agrees heatedly, trying unsuccessfully to mask his surprise and disappointment in his mentor's unexpected decision. "I am ready to face the trials!"

Yoda's sleepy eyes shift. "Ready so early, are you? What know you of ready?"

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan exchange quick, hard looks, and the measure of their newfound antagonism is palpable. The breach in their relationship is widening so quickly it can no longer be mapped.

Qui-Gon takes a deep breath and turns back to the Council. "Obi-Wan is headstrong, and he has much to learn still about the living Force, but he is capable. There is little more he will learn from me."

Yoda shakes his wizened face. "Our own counsel we will keep on who is ready, Qui-Gon. More to learn, he has."

"Now is not the time for this," Mace Windu states with finality. "The Senate will vote tomorrow for a new supreme chancellor. Queen Amidala returns home, we are advised, which will put pressure on the Federation and could widen the confrontation. Those responsible will be quick to act on these new events."

"Drawn out of hiding, her attackers will be," Yoda whispers.

"Events are moving too fast for distractions such as this," Ki-Adi-Mundi adds.

Mace Windu takes a quick look at the others sitting on the Council, then turns once more to Qui-Gon. "Go with the Queen to Naboo. That is the clue we need to unravel this mystery."

Yoda's nod is slow and brooked no argument. "Decided later, young Skywalker's fate will be."

Qui-Gon takes a deep breath, filled with frustration and disappointment at the unexpecting turn of events. Anakin will not be trained, even though he just offers to take the boy as his Padawan. Worse, he offends Obi-Wan, not intentionally perhaps, but deeply nevertheless. The rift is not permanent, but it will take time for the younger man's pride to heal-time they could not afford.

He bows his acquiescence to the Council. "I brought Anakin here; he must stay in my charge. He has nowhere else to go."

Mace Windu nods. "He is your ward, Qui-Gon. We do not dispute that."

"But train him not!" Yoda admonishes sharply. "Take him with you, but train him not!"

The words stung, the force behind them unmistakable. Qui-Gon flinches inwardly but says nothing.

"Protect the Queen," Mace Windu adds. "But do not intercede if it comes to war until we have the Senate's approval. We have concerning issues with the Sith and we must act quickly."

Vader is a warrior at heart, a warrior who the Queen may have exploited ideas to help her planet. If the Jedi attempt to neutralize him, they may face another sacking of Coruscant because he can sense through the Force that Darth Vader is a one-man army.

There is a long silence as the members of the Council regards Qui-Gon Jinn gravely. He stand there, trying to think of something more to say, some other argument to offer. Outside, the last of the twilight fades into darkness, and the lights of the city begins to blink on like watchful eyes.

"May the Force be with you," Yoda decides finally, signaling to the Jedi Master that the audience was over. "More concerns have we. The Sith walks among us."

His words ring through the Temple, echoing off the walls, down the corridors, and even on top of the Jedi Temple in each of its spires. The Masters and Knights feel their hands reaching down for their lightsabers in caution, suspecting to prepare to fight a rival who must be terminated for peace. The Padawans feel themselves trembling nervously and staring at the Temple's entrance where the Jedi's enemy would be walking up.

Down, at the entrance of the Jedi Temple, Darth Vader reaches the first stair, recalling when he had marched here so many years ago, in a different time. The only difference is that he is now clouded in armor and there are not thousands of men at his back, preparing to slaughter the Jedi. This time, Vader is left alone with only his lightsaber, but the thing is that Vader can defend himself without hesitation. He could dispatch all of the Jedi if he craves to and is ready to defend himself. Casualties would come if a battle comes, but he will not allow the Jedi to execute him as they have done with the pureblood Sith Lord.

Part of him relishes in that; part of him hopes the Jedi would attack him, giving him a reason to defend himself in the eyes of the public. Certainly, he wouldn't slaughter children but there are a few named Jedi who proven to be nuisances in his later life. Despite this slight addiction, Vader will not bait the Jedi. He snorts, to think he has been one with the Force for years and there is still a veteran and a huge Dark Lord of the Sith's side of him.

Given that the Jedi was destroyed and purged four times altogether by the Sith who is among his lineage, they may be less than welcoming to his presence and herd their Order after him. However, Vader shall be prepared; he would take arms and combat the entirety of the Jedi Order in order to self-defense himself. On the waning hours of the Clone Wars, Windu and three others attempted to arrest or assassinate the Chancellor for being a Sith Lord, and despite him despising that manipulator to no end, he is ready to defend himself should they attempt the same to him.

Vader's emotions are undomesticated. The last time he has been in this place was when he had led the attack against the Jedi Temple, slaughtering the innocent Jedi that was safe in the Temple. It was when he'd lead the 501st Legion into this palace. When he had started the Jedi Purge. When he had led Operation Knightfall...

Yet now, Vader feels foreboding and slight pain coming from them since his power was experienced and sending shockwaves. However, the Jedi around him did not catch Vader's sight; instead, it is how the Temple was still intact and beautiful, not carrying the burden of long-dead Jedi and the echoes of his lightsaber among many others slaying them and the blaster fire by the clones.

The Jedi Temple wasn't destroyed after his assault on the Temple at least not permanently; it was just... different, it echoed full of the dead who'd died to their trusted companions and him. Sidious was gleeful at the echoes, accepting them and nearly mocking them, but Darth Vader felt like a fool for trusting the Sith Emperor easily and not thinking through his actions.

It is a question that always lingered within his mind even after his brainset ameliorated shortly after his turn to the dark side: Why would a Sith who threatened the same woman who he loves so much would want to save her?

Thoughts of Padmé quickly evaporated. Five years after the Raid on the Jedi Temple, the Temple had been rebuilt into the Imperial Palace, the place where the Emperor would spend the majority of his time. The only thing left of the temple was the exterior, the courtyard outside large enough to house Victory or Venator class ships. This thing was massive and was thought to be one of the largest buildings on the entire ecumenopolis that was Coruscant.

The interior had everything that even remotely resembled the old Jedi Order taken away, the ornery that had decorated large parts of the temple taken down and the walls left bare save for Imperial flags and banners, a common theme throughout the Empire.

The central spire, at one time the meeting place of the Jedi Council, in the future was the Emperor's main hub. It was from here that he would conduct the day-to-day business of running the Empire as well as receive important people summoned by the Emperor and granted an audience.

The four other spires were left as they were to serve the Empire, each displaying holographic maps of different areas of the galaxy for the Emperor to monitor issues plaguing the Empire.

Vader loathes the ancient Temple because it is another reminder of his deepest regrets of ever joining that man and allowed him to turn into the Emperor while the Sith Lord had nothing at the end; the little of his acquiescences was gone, his mother was dead, and Vader thought he had killed his wife and children in strangling her on Mustafar.

Originally, Vader wanted to seize his power, assume control, and destroy anyone who had gotten in his way and find his former Master to destroy him, however, the Darth Vader he was before... in the suit, was dead, and a new Darth Vader has taken his place. He'll accept both sides and not allow a foundation of corruption and foolishness to make impacts on his choices and directions.

Not too surprisingly, there are two Temple Guards are standing in front of him, obviously ready if he attacks, and their weapons at arms' length. Vader finds this unnecessary force pathetic for two reasons; as if they could fight him even alone, and the fact that they are utilizing unnecessary force.

Vader didn't acknowledge them and simply walks in. He can sense all in the Temple, including them, have already made their own judgment of him so he rather not converse with them, for it will only end in hostilities. He knows the Jedi can't legally do anything against him because he has the Queen of Naboo's protection.

Many of the people who are walking these halls were the ones who Vader or the clones slaughtered, each of them being under the control of Palpatine. However, Vader can't help but feel that their destruction was partly the Jedi Council's fault for their arrogance and ignorance in not seeing Palpatine was gaining too much power. It isn't what they did to him but what they allowed themselves to become; emotionless warriors trapped by codes and rules, losing sight of their original goal.

Long ago, the Temple was home to him, almost being a source of comfort and giving him hope for a brighter horizon. Yet, Vader now feels like he'd never belonged here, that his destiny was shaped elsewhere. Even if it was calmer and full of life instead of the bloodshed that came with the Clone Wars, the former Sith Lord still feels like his destiny is not morphed here. The Jedi Council had contributed to his fall, which causes slight harsh feelings between him and the Jedi. Though, in the end, Vader knows he is the only person to blame for his actions; he was the one who chosen to fall.

Vader wonders if the Jedi ever stop and think about the possibility of their children falling into the violent nature of the dark side without even attempting to understand it.

Shame, he muses. The galaxy relies on these beings who only involve themselves if the dark side of the Force dares to make itself known in the hope to destroy it as if it is a poison that cannot be controlled.

These cold peacekeepers claim to love the Republic, but it is against their code to love. Jedi isn't allowed to love. Thinking about it, how can the Jedi claim to keep the peace, claim they are compassionate without any love in their hearts?

They are utter hypocrites. He knows that in his time as Anakin Skywalker, but he was too invested in their Code to leave like his former Padawan, someone who is stronger than him in terms of free will.

But now, he is free from their codes and protocols; free from the chains of the Jedi and Sith, and a greater person than he was before.

Thoughts of words long ago echo in his head, 'Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them, do not. Miss them, do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.'

Part of Vader can't help but scowl at those words that the Grandmaster of the Jedi Order dares to call advice. How can someone suspect saying such things to a fearful young man who just doesn't want to lose a loved one and tell him to let go? How can he claim that he is the wise Master among the Order when he tells someone who's evidently struggling with the dark side to just let go when there have been multiple chances where his younger self struggled and was beyond paranoid.

Even Padmé is used to those feelings. Same for Sabé, Rabé, Eirtaé, Yané, Saché. The Queen of Naboo and her handmaidens are better people than he'll ever hope to be. In most of these thoughts, the same is for most of the Jedi within the Temple.

As much as Vader preserves ambitions to bash the Jedi Council and code, berating them and their ways in every way possible, he will not. That disgusting manipulator made him want to obliterate his neck and yet if he does the arrogant members of the Jedi will assume he's the enemy.

As he marches through the halls of the Jedi Temple, he sees the doors of the Council Chambers nearing, immediately remembering when he had walked in here during Operational Knightfall. When he had killed all of those younglings...

Force, they've trusted him and he had slaughtered them all without hesitation! Perhaps he should have died on Mustafar! He had been threatened with things that should have been his death long ago! No, the Jedi nor the Sith can kill him! Not even the Force itself can kill him! Vader just cannot die!

He catches the sight of the Jedi Padawans and Knights eyeing at him oddly, tension evident in many of the older ones, the Masters sending him disapproving or confusing scowls.

Younglings stare up nervously at Vader and give him space, afraid to engage with an individual such as his magnitude as all of the Sith has been purged from the face of the galaxy by their ancient brothers and sisters. But here one is, walking down the corridors of the Jedi Temple to hopefully be neutralized by the Jedi Council who would cast their own judgment and be able to stop this being.

Teachers who are still inside of the Temple stop lecturing their classes as more Jedi of all ages come out to see the ancient presence for themselves, to see who was the one who had single-handedly caught the Jedi Order off-guard, only to see a man who is wearing a hood that conceals his face and his lightsaber-still clip to his belt. They suspect a Sith walking, lightsaber activated and slaughtering through all to make his way to the Council. They suspect one adorning the robes of the Sith due to their history lessons, charging up to them and persuading who would run. Some of those who have more of an imagination even suspect for an army standing behind him with either blasters or lightsabers consisting of crimsons and mowing down Jedi.

Instead, this man is alone, boldly striding through the Jedi Temple without an ounce of fear, despite over hundreds no thousands of Jedi residing within the Jedi Temple, lightsabers on their belts. Is this Sith immensely that powerful to slaughter them all single-handedly or is he outright just stupid to oppose the Jedi?

The babies within the Temple, ones who are strong with the Force and taken have a mixture of emotions; some are sobbing at the overwhelming darkness, and others are cooing at the light.

The Jedi begins reaching deep into the Force to see who he is, only to come back with someone who perfectly co-exists in the Force, alignment still unknown, even inside of their ancient home.

The darkness within him is controlled and the light within him surprisingly is swelling around his being. Never before all of the Jedi in the Temple had heard about their enemies using the light in their ancient religion except a few that had been purged from the known galaxy. The archives within the Jedi Temple have claimed they had known about the Sith, known that they were butchers and murderers who care about nothing but their own ambition and the luring calls of the dark side.

Sith knowledge is forbidden by the Jedi. The Sith are monsters and that is why each of the Sith Holocrons collected by the Jedi has been destroyed entirely and the few that remained are deep in their Vault within the Jedi Temple and accessible to only Jedi Council Masters. If a Padawan is to question the Anti-Sith teachings, they would find themselves undergoing re-education endlessly until they have fallen into line and sees the way many of their fellow Jedi do.

Even despite all of this, there are many of those who are interested in learning more about the Sith and the dark side, something that is frown upon by the members of the Jedi Council and the other Masters within the Temple. Still, those curious Knights and Padawans attempt to make a signature of who many believe is their ancient enemy, only to meet with the Force itself swelling around his being, causing them to rethink all they have been taught about the dark side and part of them wonder if there is a way where they can learn this balance.

The tainted presence of what many had felt caused Padawans and even Knights and Masters unasked questions to be asked. What is this? How does the Sith touch the light? Why shouldn't they attack the Sith? Are they more? What would happen to this Sith? No one would ask the questions they have for him.

Bold younglings share glimpses at each other about Vader and begin whispering among themselves in fear while the younger and fearful ones begin to crowd themselves behind their Master's robes, feeling protected by their mentors and teachers. None dares to follow him though. A few Masters ensure they return to classes while the others stare intensely at his back and front, assuring Vader doesn't get any ideas but he still refuses to acknowledge them as he turns down another corridor.

Honestly, it makes him more amused than anything. Vader can defeat all of the Jedi because a large proportion of this is Jedi who he slew himself during the raid on the Jedi Temple or after Order 66; he knows that, but right now, he has plans to save Naboo from the forces of the Trade Federation and conceive of methods to stop his former Sith Master once and for all.

Not to mention, he has years of training and battle at his back, knowing every lightsaber form. The only ones he would have to be careful of are Master Windu and Master Yoda.

He doesn't have time for these people thinking they know everything when they had failed the galaxy before. Attempts to destroy the darkness within him would be fatigue.

The Temple Guards stands in front of him at the Council Chambers, not aiming their lightsabers threateningly, but watching him closely. There is no catching the glares and untrusted looks by the Jedi who had walked by. Vader didn't respond to them. He rose above pitiful bantering and insults. All he did is cross his arms across his chest and scowls, unimpressed... he isn't abide to listen to their mistreatment of him anymore.

To believe, he once listened to this Council, the same Council who had allowed their arrogance to blind them from reality, especially later in the war. But he can see how flawed the Jedi is before the war. Part of Vader wonders why he is willing to go before the Council who may attempt to arrest him for who they believe his status is, but he is full of boldness; he will not coward behind a transmission of any type or avoid his confrontation with the Jedi Council when it is bound to occur anyway.

Unbeknownst to the Jedi, he begins reaching out with the Force, hearing the sounds of walking through the Temple, hearing the sounds of Jedi's reactions allowing him in the Temple, hearing the sounds of thousands of years teachings, the walls themselves presenting the Jedi's fallen brethren.

And finally, he manages to reach the conversation within the Council Chambers.

Sometimes, the man himself doesn't know why he meditates frequently.

Passion can be any emotion, from anger, to hate, to love, to want, to your own ambitions, and your own furthering of your goals.

Darth Bane, the Sith Lord who implemented the Rule of Two, drew inwardly on not only his own pain, or his own rage, but from a sort of inner fire, or drive to be better than others. To become the most powerful. One may see that it is expressed as anger to the others, or hatred for those individuals. Whoever one see that they are using their emotions in general.

Darth Vader, when he fought, focused the Force inward and fought as a cold, calculating machine. Using the Force to bolster his strength and focus. Revan was a conduit for both the dark and the light and had the energy flow within him. Even while imprisoned, he still focused on the aspects of the Force, and how it is an energy. Emotions are a source of energy that Sith can harness, whereas the Jedi focus on control over their emotions, because of the overwhelming nature that emotion brings to reason.

When a Sith meditates, they are focusing their emotions. Bringing them to a boil, gathering them to be able to unleash them, or harness them to enhance themselves. The Sith gathers the Force just like a Jedi does. It is just a different aspect of the Force.

This is a new form of meditation; he calls off both the light and darkness. Right now, he wishes he had his meditation chambers as he doesn't trust the Jedi. He won't be surprised if they impale him in the back - or attempt to.

"The Council will see you now," one of the Temple Guards declares just as the boy, his Master from another time, and the Jedi Master walks out, cutting his thoughts short and causing him to stand up, him locking eyes with Jinn who has a hard edge to his countenance, Kenobi whose outrage at his Master evident, and Skywalker whose evidently depressed. He tilts his head in the boy's direction as the former slave stares up at him, sending calming energies to him through the Force that causes the boy to crack a smile. They must have been urgent to confront him before he had been able to escape.

Vader walks in front of the Jedi Council, flank by two Temple Guards. He is not in binders, but he certainly feels like he is. He knows the Jedi Council cannot hold him because utterly he has committed no crime or he would be in shambles which is why he is not cuffed. This still reminds him of another time-another place where his former Padawan is standing trial before the Council and them cruelly expelling her for the Republic and a biased court.

The thing is unlike the Order had thought his former apprentice did, he has broken no law. The original Sith bill was crafted to outlaw the Sith Order, and the approval of the legislation resulted in the Galactic Republic's banning of the Sith religion, its teachings, and all affiliated organizations from the galaxy is gone at this point because the Sith has been... purged for a millennium so that sentiment falls to flat. There is also little evidence of him being a Sith and anyone can acquire a crimson lightsaber on the black market from ancient Sith history.

Besides, would the Republic even care about his presence? He had rescued key people in a world that is suffering instead of siding with the Trade Federation and capturing them or allowing them to die.

Standing in front of the Council, Vader stares at them with bold cerulean eyes, looks they return as they scan Darth Vader, expecting to find someone who bore the Sith armor that many Sith infamously wore, but instead, he is wearing strange armor, the light and darkness surrounding him.

He is not intimidated by their outright attempted oppression of him. Undoubtedly, they believe they can tame him if either side begins a confrontation.

The Council stares up at who most if not all of them believe is the enemy of the Jedi, their piercing stares boring into him, and this immediately places Vader's senses on high alert. He would analyze closely and assure they do not attempt to eliminate him, keeping his foresight on Master Windu and Master Yoda, the highest treats.

He glares at the Temple Guards, and Master Windu nods, dismissing the Temple Guards as part of the deal.

It is time for the Jedi to learn a lesson, not a lesson physically but verbally.

"Let's have a talk, Jedi."

One can faintly hear a pen drop.

Chapter Text


"You have failed me immensely, Maul!" Darth Sidious hisses as another torrent of electricity blasts into his apprentice, crashing fully into him and forcing the Zabrak to scream in agony that echoes through the chambers, adding to the Dark Lord's pleasure.

"Please Master!" Darth Maul exclaims as the lightning courses through his body, his body sensitive due to the endless tortures he has endured endlessly and mercilessly since his arrival on Coruscant.

Sidious is beyond furious at his apprentice's failure, feeling such as if he wasted his training with this animal who failed in not only separating the Jedi and disposing of them but also defying his orders and doing combat with the traitor of the Sith that he now knows goes by the name of Darth Vader. The Queen should be in the hands of the Trade Federation! He has built the Zabrak into being a hunter, including elements of stealth, but he has failed him in not evading Vader and sneaking to the transport of the Queen.

Sidious reduced to roping his failure of an apprentice by entrapping him in a chamber and allows turrets of lightning to crash brutally and completely into his body, frying him completely. Once he was done, the Sith Lord arranged for his special droid assassins to stretch his body to the point where bone started to show, leaving the Zabrak bloody and in much agony. After, he assured his apprentice receive endless beatings that would teach him the price of failure. After, he placed him in a bacta tank, allowing him to recover from his injuries, but also programming a technique that would allow pain to course through his nervous system.

This would only increase his hate and anger for everyone, including the Jedi and Darth Vader which would only increase his motivation to the dark side, causing him to release his fury against Kenobi and Jinn, not daring to confront Vader again after what happened on Tatooine and the price of insubordination.

After the battle of Naboo where the Queen will be dealt with, he would have to ensure the disposal of his Sith Apprentice, for the animal has risked their plans greatly and confirmed the return of the Sith, given Vader collected the Zabrak's lightsaber and there is a high possibility that he will turn it into the Jedi Council - seeing that he is allying with Jedi now, meaning the Jedi would investigate into the return of the Sith and that means their plans would have a chance of being forfeited. Sidious only proclaimed Maul as an assassin is because to mask the secret of having an official Sith Apprentice because Sidious' has his own Master, though, for quite some time, he has thought about arranging a transformation in the leader of the Sith.

Now, Sidious can see that Maul is a brute and an animal, worthless of the title of Sith Lord, that being proven at failing even such a pity task in capturing a mere Queen who has no real guards that can stand a chance against a true Sith Lord and kill that foolish Jedi Master and arrogant young Padawan. His apprentice had the capability of evading this Darth Vader, could have used his security droids to distract the traitor while he could have killed the Jedi in spite of how they would fail and be cut down by Vader. But no, he chooses to be foolish despite the shockwave Vader sent through the Force and chooses to oppose him like an idiot instead of thinking strategically.

"Weak, pitiful," Sidious growls as he ends his electricity torture on the Zabrak, pacing the failure of a student with a deep scowl across his cold and cruel lips. "I have wasted my potential on you, Maul. Until you prove yourself to be worthy, you shall be stripped of the title of the Sith Apprentice and Assassin as you have disgraced the Sith name and disregarded my orders. Your body shall be rebuild again and you shall go to Naboo. I will spare you and not claim your head, Assassin. Fail me again and I assure you the consequences will be dire."

Darth Sidious, the most powerful Sith in millennia, have a brutally low tolerance for failure. Maul's tutelage under Sidious is brutal and often painful. It is cold and unforgiving, wrathful, each failure ending in consequence.

The battered Zabrak's body is recovered as he is taken to a medical bay to be rebuild. Sidious shall see to his rebuilding is slow and painful, filling him with agony and greater rage. It would motivate him not to fail him again and to exploit that rage against Kenobi and Jinn.

Now he has other issues concerning Darth Vader...

If looks can kill, Vader is certain he would be vaporized into pieces by the piercing stares of the Jedi. He can sense the urges greater than ever to lash out and strike him down or to imprisoned him thus why he is keeping his awareness up at all times. He is in the home of the Jedi, his Force Presence hammering through their hold, and undoubtedly, they wish to destroy the darkness attach to him.

They believe him a Sith, and Vader is annoyed at the negative emotions illuminated by the Jedi Council. There is no changing their judgment and what they think of him. He knows this because these hypocrites are the same ones who expelled his Padawan unjustly for a corrupted Republic two decades and two years later ago in his time. Given that they are not yet completely blinded by the war, they appear to be lighter, but Vader can see through the deception; the dark side is slowly rising from underneath their Temple and within the Senate.

The Jedi Council of this period would always have a negative taste in his mouth. Cases like Ahsoka Tano and Barriss Offee occurred because the Council is too corrupt and arrogant, and while the corruption hasn't spiraled yet to the point it did in the Clone Wars, Vader would not hesitate to call them out for the faults of the past.

Vader is his kindest around Padmé and her handmaidens, strictly professional around Kenobi and Jinn, but he just abominates the Jedi Order besides a given few to no end. This is a variation of the same Council that has failed the galaxy, became warriors and soldiers, and believes themselves above the galaxy. They would receive no respect or gratitude from him.

Because to most of the galaxy, Dooku was simply a Jedi that went rogue, which made it simpler for Sidious to spread rumors that the Jedi had been the ones to actually start the war. That the Jedi had done it in order to gain control over the Republic.

Their secretive way of doing things also did not help. Many people in the galaxy spread the idea that the Jedi took children from their homes when in fact the children were taken because they were mistreated or the families themselves gave them away because they had no way to offer them a better future which is a truth and a lie. While they are those civilians who are too ashamed to admit what they had done sold this false idea that the Jedi had simply come and taken their children away, Vader knows there are also good parents who wanted their raise their children but gotten them taken away by the Jedi Order.

They knew that big, galaxy-shaking things were happening, but they let themselves continue to operate business-as-usual style, for the most part. Send some Jedi out as generals, do a cursory investigation into this whole "Sith" thing, but otherwise nothing major. There's never a sense of all-hands-on-deck existential crisis, they just acted like the war was what Jedi were being assigned to these days instead of their usual roles via actings as mediators, scholars, meditating under waterfalls, or whatever.

The biggest part of that is their refusal to weigh in on the political situation. They spotted Palpatine amassing power well before he actually moved against them, but they didn't do anything about it because of the idea that Jedi do not directly meddle in the affairs of the Senate. While that's not an unreasonable stance to take; the Order didn't want to become the de facto rulers of the Republic, they took it too far.

Ultimately, they failed to recognize that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. They labored under rules they'd written for themselves for the good of everyone, and continued to obey those rules even when doing so became harmful. How different would things have gone if the Order opposed Palpatine's political power mongering? Not even with direct action - just making a public declaration that they were concerned about his actions and felt that his extensive emergency powers were inappropriate? The Jedi had a lot of political capital, even if they refused to wield it. Would the Republic have been so gung-ho about crowning him Emperor if the Jedi were public about their misgivings?

Vader is about to release their flaws on them. Kriff their ego.

The Jedi Order's ultimate failure was in being too strict to a code that worshiped something that wasn't strict. The Jedi were unwilling to look past their own beliefs, beliefs they had arbitrarily created, to expand upon themselves and improve both as students of the Force and as protectors of the peace. This is why Jedi who frequently broke the rules and thought beyond the box the Jedi placed around themselves, like Qui-Gon Jinn and Luke Skywalker, was incredibly important. They look beyond what they were told, said "I don't think this is quite right", and found alternate solutions that worked better than what any 'normal' Jedi would have tried.

Their belief that attachments are tools of the Dark Side is incredibly untrue and incredibly harmful. It was Obi-Wan's attachment to Qui-Gon that gave him the strength to overcome Maul. It was Luke's attachment and belief that his father still had good that allowed him to come back from the Dark and become a true Jedi. The simple rigidness the Jedi Order has is its final failing.

In the end, as much as the Jedi are moral, they are beyond hypocritical. They claim there is no emotion, no ignorance, no passion, no chaos, no death; but how ironic that each Jedi were emotional and caring about the Republic and their precious Jedi Order, their ignorance blinding them to the identity of Palpatine, they seek a passion to destroy the Sith, no chaos yet chaos is echoing through the galaxy, and no death yet how many people are dying on Naboo and other planets ignored by the Jedi Order and the Republic?

He can see the Jedi stretch out in a defensive position, prepared to defend themselves under any moment's notice which irks him to no end despite remaining in their seats.

Vader has enough of them pointlessly probing him, attempting to discover who he is. Through the Force, he can sense they already have cast their own judgment on him. "Shall we cut to the chase, Jedi? You believe me a Sith and I sense there is no changing your minds."

"What is your name?" Master Mundi finally asks in the tense atmosphere, breaking the ice silence in the Council Chambers.


"Are you a Jedi or Sith?" Master Windu adds, wanting to get to the question of interest and earning a sharp look of - is that displeasure - from Master Yoda.

An angry snarl escapes Vader, unable to believe the Jedi Council is this horrendous to assume he is one or another. "You don't need to concern yourselves with who I am, where I have come from, or what I wish to do. What happened was the will of the Force."

"The will of the Force?" Mace asks skeptically before continuing to speak with a firm tone. "That is just an excuse. We would be justified to have you permanently confined should we believe if you are a Sith. Furthermore, we find it curious you just so happen to appear and transfer a shockwave through the Force the same day the occupation of Naboo began."

Much to everyone's surprise, Vader let out a loud snicker as he shakes his head, eyes flashing blue in what must be humor underneath the hood. He knows it is a childish gesture and should be beyond embarrassed but the Council's stupidity is beyond hideous to the point where it is laughable.

"We hardly find this case amusing," Eeth Koth says, eyes lingering on who many in the Temple believe is their ancient enemy, demonstrating such disrespect.

Vader rolls his eyes, not at all impressed by any of the Jedi among the Council before he speaks heatedly. He is prepared to release his verbal wrath completely on this whole Council of hypocrites who have failed the galaxy before.

"It is comprehensible that I am not siding against you, Jedi. I had possessed no such intention in killing your fellow Jedi when I had many chances to do just that and have gone far to save them from an uncontrolled animal. Additionally, I don't answer to this Council so don't you dare begin making commands of me, Jedi. Attacking the permanent Guard of the Queen of Naboo and hoping to constrain me is not a wise idea." It sounds like he is taunting them and that irks them - the fact that he is immune to them since he is freely able to go against the ways of the Order, to have one planet leader and the Republic at his side. "To have fallen so far and learned nothing, that is your failing. You still are failing yourselves and the galaxy, bringing total harm against those who you swear to protect, Jedi. You each dare to say you know knowledge when you know nothing and have been openly challenging the will of the Force."

Through the Force, he can sense the Jedi attempting to find out who he is, what he is, and why does he harbor personal repugnance and abhorrence at the Order. Each of their results comes up empty.

Even Master Yoda attempting to probe him of his identity is proving to be a failure. He is a complete contradiction to all of their teachings, to all of who they thought any Sith is - but in spite of this, he is obviously not a Jedi. While he has his Force Aura under control and in check like a Jedi which admittedly stuns the Grandmaster of the Jedi Order for the first time in many years since he expects a brute who charges in and wishes to kill all who crosses his path, he grasps the dark side as deeply as the Sith, calling off the dark side as deeply as the moton lava flames on Burnin Konn, an insidious root deeply implanted inside of him unlike the Grandmaster have ever felt before but it is under control without struggle astonishingly.

"I have been in many battles," Vader continues. "I can assure you that your organization would collapse. Most of those Knights and Masters can hardly even fight a bounty hunter."

"It is not the Jedi way to engage in conflict," Luminara counters as neutrally as she can. "We are keepers of the peace, not warriors."

Vader's eyes lock on Master Windu, smirking underneath his mask, prepared to drop a bombshell. "Your Master of the Order is a warrior. I can sense the stain of warriors on him. He prefers a challenge instead of things being handed to him. As well as your incredible combat abilities, he also possesses a rare gift. He has a unique form of Force perception which allows him to see the shatterpoint in situations, beings, and circumstances. These shatterpoints reveal points upon which other things were reliant. Shatterpoints could form links between beings, creatures, planets, or other vessels, and if destroyed or utilized, these shatterpoints could hold the key to averting disaster, sealing fate, winning battles, and fulfilling the very will of the Force itself. In addition to being a legendary warrior and remarkably Force-sensitive, your Master of the Order possesses extensive knowledge of Jedi history and philosophy. You call yourselves nonwarriors but that statement can effortlessly fall flat, considering the Master of this Order has every trait to be one."

The Council is stunned that he knows that Master Windu is powerful in the Force and Vaapad, most of all the man himself, his mouth being opened slightly as he stares at Vader, causing a deep pleasure to burn up within Vader who remembers this particular Jedi Master dislike him. The... individual can sense the stench on the Korun Master.

Vader huffs. Now rethinking back to his time in the Jedi Order, being viewed as an outcast and being bullied and taunted by his fellow classmates for his past and merely his age, enduring their countless lectures about his problems when they were the ones creating the problems in his life, reprimanding him whenever he snapped at those who mistreated him.

A realization comes into thought; why did he stay in the Jedi Order in the previous timeline? Perhaps because of Obi-Wan, not imagine his life without the idiot, the same idiot who took on him due to his Master's final words.

"You wouldn't admit it when you are wrong. I must admit I am grateful I have been trained by another or else I would have to rely on this Council of hypocrites. One of your biggest mistake is taking the flip side of the Sith's mistake. Both belief in altruism as a moral code. The Sith simply turns it around and demands self-sacrifice from everyone else. Because they use aggression and other uncontrollable emotions to augment their power, rather than acting in their own self-interest, they in fact lose themselves. The Jedi make the same mistake, but take it in the opposite direction. You dedicate yourselves to selfless service while denying yourselves, your own desires and needs, including ones of friendship and love. Both reject, or lose, their selves, instead of seeking self-knowledge which would help you tune into the Force without falling to the dark side. I believe that such a force user, who find such self-knowledge and an understanding of rational selfishness, combined with the empathy of understanding other people's self-interest, would be a more powerful, or at least more effective, Force user."

Yoda who have been sitting quietly in his seat had been watching Vader closely through the force. What he is sensing is disturbing him tremendously as what he could sense thwarted everything that he'd ever been trained. Both the light and the dark side of the Force surrounds the individual but there is no conflict between the two warring sides. Everything that he'd ever learned about the force told him that the light and dark sides could not coexist, most who touched the darkness succumbed to it, but this Darth Vader appears to defy all those teachings that are spread through the Order.

"What game are you playing? Are you behind this?" Master Windu demands forcibly, giving who he believes is a Sith the sharpest of a glare, knowing that Vader is correct as much as he loathes to admit it. "Are you playing the Queen for a fool and suspecting the Order wouldn't react to your presence?"

Vader can't resist the urge to snort underneath his hood, replying. "Don't be ridiculous, Jedi, many times did opportunities present themselves for me to capture and bring her to Naboo to sign the treaty of the Trade Federation. There are many other Orders out in the galaxy, Jedi, besides yours that bring peace to the galaxy though these other Orders are deep in hiding at risk of their lives being forfeited by the Jedi." Shock registers on the faces of the Jedi. "Yes, Jedi, although most have been driven into exile or are in their twilight years, there are other albeit dying Orders beyond the galaxy who teach far more than you can imagine."

He halts and begins to think about examples from his own timeline. The Jedi are certainly not evil, as some seem to think and although some of their actions and tenets are questionable, they are certainly nowhere near the Sith. Only in the Imperial Age, Palpatine was responsible for the murder of billions of innocents, simply as a means to enforce his will on the galaxy.

On his way to the top, Palpatine engineered a galaxy-wide conflict with an unknown death toll and once his pawns were no longer of use to him, he destroyed them all. It is ridiculous to compare the Jedi and the Sith in that sense. If the Jedi are hypocrites and child-stealers, the Sith are tyrants and mass murderers on a galactic scale.

The problem with the Jedi is that they grew complacent in their power, and then arrogant. Their philosophy, however, has sound foundations even if it seems odd and inhuman to some.

Their idea to forego human emotion is utterly odd until you consider that the Force can be wielded as a weapon, as the Sith are quick to demonstrate. This means that effectively, as a Jedi, one is walking around with a gun in their hands at all times in all cases.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Jedi forbid intimate relationships. Consider how easy it would be to lose control and commit a crime of passion or even lash out in anger during a family quarrel and end up killing a loved one?

Having said those few examples, the Jedi walked right into Sidious's trap. He had studied his enemy well and knew exactly how to subvert them, use their own arrogance against them and, finally, destroy them.

It's time Vader brings not the future but the mistakes the Jedi have already made could be bright in the brighter light. They have made so many mistakes for the past thousands of years, arguably since the era of Revan where the corruption and ineffectiveness that fills their ranks of the time swell out of control. It is despicable how much the Jedi lie and deceive, and claim to be "the guardians of peace and justice." They haven't made any progress since Atris and the Exile over 5000 years ago.

"Above all the Jedi that have in their code "There is no fear, there's only knowledge" you fear the dark side. You completely avoid it. And thus you know very little about the dark side itself. In turn that makes you vulnerable to the dark side. That's why you begin losing their ability to foresee events in years' time. The dark side feeds on the very events that were happening and also the emotional state of people. And the planet where you have set up their temple is the galactic center of corruption. So you are surrounded by the dark side from all sides. If the Jedi hadn't neglected their knowledge of the Dark Side, and actually had tried to understand it even if they didn't use it, they would have least sensed something as soon as things began to be set in place to take them out. As it was you willingly blinded yourself to such a degree you can't even sense a Sith that has been right in front of you for years."

He pauses.

"Let's take an example, Jedi, why I believe your code completely makes no sense. Have you ever been extremely angry as to imagine killing someone? Well, a Force user can cover the distance of thought to deed in an instant. In fact, thinking about it is all they have to do to make it happen. You said so yourself many times that a "Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind." A Force user is, in effect, a living weapon. And that is why Force-sensitive children were separated from their parents, to be trained in a safe environment where they would pose no danger to themselves and others. Latent Force powers could be even more dangerous in the hands of children, where they might be triggered unwittingly and cause great harm. Did this have unwanted side effects? Did it traumatize children? Quite so, but there was a reasoning behind this and it was not as crazy as it sounds once you consider the implications of ordinary people with a form of superpower."

Admittedly, that staggers the Council as that is true. There have been times where younglings would lash out and the consequences being far direr. The youngling would grow to resent him or herself in spite of endless Jedi training that teaches harmony, echoed by the fact that they have killed an individual at a young inexperienced, and uncontrolled age, the remembrance of their horrible deeds going with them for their entire life.

"We have heard this before. These are biased views! But we train them!" Eeth Koth snaps. "We don't exploit them to the galaxy early!"

"You speak of exploit as if they are weapons and tools for you to utilize," Vader retorts coldly, sensing the Jedi Masters' dislike of him.

"You had saved the Queen of Naboo," Kit Fisto decides to change the subject, for a rare time, frowning which is unnormal, given his frequent cherry disposition if memory serves the former Sith correctly. "The Council finds this odd."

"Odd because I am presumed as a Sith and I managed to waver your Order?" Vader declares in what they say would be authoritative; obviously, this Sith is used to giving orders and them being carried out thoroughly. "This is precisely why I despise the Jedi Order to no end. You believe yourselves the figureheads of the galaxy; you believe you can cleanse the darkness from all who use it; you fail to recognize that there are others who seek different sides of the Force. Evidently, even if I did call myself Sith, I am obviously not an enemy to the Jedi. I had a chance to kill two members of the Jedi Order and were given the opportunity to force the Queen to sign the treaty of the Trade Federation so don't sit in those fancy chairs, presuming you know everything about me when my appearance is ambiguous."

Most of the members of the Jedi Council glares at him, but Vader didn't care. What he finds alluring and laughable is that thousands of generations are also glaring at him for his words, for all of their knowledge for many decades have just been spat on by him. Many past Jedi who have yet to learn the living Force may be walking around in this Temple as if it is still their time. And each of them was flawed and beyond corrupt in their own way.

"We of the Jedi believe the dark side is dangerous," Plo Koon, speaking for the first time, scowls behind his mask as he scans this mysterious being. "Many of our ancestors have been corrupted to the dark side and have created galaxy-long conflicts. The darkness must be cleansed from the face of the galaxy in order for balance to be restored."

"The Jedi philosophy as it exists during the Old Republic and as it exists now is an embodiment of an ideal which every individual member cannot hope to adhere to perfectly, and in their rigidity, the Jedi fail their students. Without experiencing the contrast, as many who experience this might say, and experiencing the dark side in order to understand it and comprehend why it must be avoided, what you end up with are students who are trained in dogma, only ever knowing the light. These are individuals for whom knowledge itself is seen as a threat, for fear that simple learning could result in dissatisfaction with the Jedi, as one can see this same Council and their descendants withholds the archives from you. Not exactly convincing, is it? If a philosophy needs to hide things from its adherents to maintain their loyalty, then, it's inherently flawed.

But it goes beyond that. These same brainwashed youths eventually become Masters, having dedicated their entire lives to the Order. With so much of their life in service to the Jedi, they become even more invested in maintaining the perception that the Order is all right and proper, and they have not been involved in the perpetuation of a flawed system. This is the sort of corruption and hand-waving each of you can see in ancient history with the Masters, who are so terrified of having been the cause of the death of the Order that, in the end, they abandon its tenets entirely in the name of self-preservation, and in the ultimate end even turn on one, trying to blame one for the fall of the Order and keep the guilt away from themselves. Because if they were guilty the Jedi were guilty, and if the Jedi were guilty the Jedi Civil War would have been their fault, and the Jedi would have done much, much more harm than good to this galaxy. That is a reality that you, Jedi of the Order, cannot accept, and this goes back to the failure of their teachings-brainwashing, blind dogma, and a black-and-white worldview. They are taught not to question, and thus when they finally reach an age where they must they reach what are, to them, either unacceptable or baffling conclusions."

"Enough of this; we believe it is right that we know who you are. You are obviously not a Jedi. That means you are a Sith." Ki-Adi-Mundi replies, his voice on thin ice, prepare to defend the Order even if it means he has to lose his life in the process.

"Sophisticated," Vader replies, crossing both hands behind his back.

"We need a better answer than that," the Cerean presses sharply.

Vader sneers underneath his mask, having a personal anger for the Cerean Jedi as he is precisely one major flaw of this Order. Many of the Galactic Marines - rightfully - and himself have a personal grudge against this Cerean Jedi Master, but let's forget about that. Forget about how he flat-out refuses to believe that Count Dooku could be a murderer. Forget about how he definitely voted against Ahsoka Tano in her trial. And forget about how he generally struts around, believing that he is capable of making smart decisions when in reality Mundi is another being problematic with the old Jedi Order. He's argumentatively the worst on the Council and because of his arrogance in not believing reality when the face and cases are right in front of him. Not even one has to be Force Sensitive to see the things Mundi has seen. Windu and Kenobi jump on this quickly, but Mundi is the mandi who brought it up. The resulting conversation leads to Yoda going to Kashyyyk, which means that he is not present when Anakin finds out that Palpatine is a Sith. If Yoda had been on Coruscant and Anakin had been able to confide in him instead of Windu? Everything would have shaken out very differently. It was not to be, however. What about the droid attack on the Wookiees indeed, and what about getting shot in the back on Mygeeto? This Cerean bastard has had it coming since day one, with his smug attitude and smug voice that makes him precisely like a member of the smug Tarkin family. Anakin may have been the shatter point through which the Jedi almost crumbled into dust, but Ki-Adi Mundi threw the rock into the cockpit further than Windu ever did.

Vader sighs in irritation, but the noise he makes comes out as if he is far more exhausted.

"Jedi, I walk both paths. At one point in my long and tiresome life, I walked down the path of the light, though it never suited me best because my life was never full of peace. Once, I have walked down the path of the dark side for many years," which causes members to tense up more - if that is even possible, "but I have returned from the darkness because I realize the errors of my ways."

This didn't exactly please the Jedi Council; some of the Members' hands are inching towards their lightsabers while others like Koon and Fisto watch on and observes. Their motivation in lashing out is powerful, and he can sense them at impatience of ticking time bombs.

"Don't even think about it, Jedi," Vader warns, detecting the threat, "I am here on the terms that I will not attack any of you nor will you attack me, but I also would self-defend myself. If you try to kill me, the possibility of me claiming some of your members' lives are high. In addition, I can't envision the Queen of Naboo, others who survived, and the Galactic Republic would be exactly pleased should you attempt a coup against me, Jedi."

The Masters give him the hardest of glares, knowing that he is right and knowing that they cannot detain him as he has not yet knowingly killed Jedi among their Order like many of the Dark Jedi do.

"Impossible what you say is," Yoda finally speaks, pointing at him with his cane as if he is a student receiving a lecture. "Once you walk down the dark path, forever it will dominate your destiny."

Unimpressed, Vader crosses his arms across his chest, wishing the green toad can see through the arrogance of the Order.

"Really, Grandmaster of the Order?" He refutes hotly, scoffing and arcing his right eyebrow. "As one so attuned to the living Force and having 900 years of training behind his back, I expect you would have seen through your own nativity of yourselves and this Order. Revan, Bastila Shan, and many others have fallen and turned away from the dark side. You believe you know everything about the Jedi and Sith, but unlike you, who all shun the dark side and refuse to read into the arts, I do. You're all so wrapped up in yourselves that you can't see past your own condescension. You preach that only the Sith deal in absolutes, but you each view things in black and white without spotting the bigger picture with the lot of you. Spare me your preachings; I have my own ambitions and goals. I don't listen to this Council who are beyond wrong about the Force and entrap in their own ways to follow a modern stand-view. Spare your lectures for those younglings who you have claimed from their parents, not on me."

The Jedi Council's eyes become razor-sharp. Vader is pointing out their flaws without hesitation and the things they have done in the past, but what is surprising to some that Vader has verbally cut down Grandmaster Yoda with cold logic.

"Now let's talk about your view on fear, shall we, Jedi?"

"Fear is the path to the dark side," Master Windu replies, giving him a pointed stare.

"Fear is the path to the dark side," Vader repeats, admitting to the fact which stuns the Council. "But fear is a normal sentient trait installed with every sentients. It involves a universal biochemical response as well as a high individual emotional response. Fear alerts us to the presence of danger or the threat of harm, whether that danger is physical or psychological. Without fear within sentients, virtually more than half of the galaxy would be dead."

The Jedi Council cannot find any retort to that statement.

"Let's discuss the anger part of your code. Anger is a natural, though sometimes unwanted or irrational, emotion that everybody experiences from time to time. Anger experts describe the emotion as a primary, natural emotion which has evolved as a way of surviving and protecting yourself from what is considered a wrong-doing."

Again, silence.

"Hate is also a normal emotion. As an emotion, hatred can be short-lived or long-lasting. It can be of low intensity or high intensity. In some cases, hatred can be a learned response from external influences, such as from being abused, mislead, or manipulated, but at the same time, it can be tamed. Thus your description of the dark side falls flat."

Another silence.

"Suffering can make us more resilient, better able to endure hardships. Just as a muscle, in order to build up, must endure some pain, so our emotions must endure pain in order to strengthen. One of the most significant benefits of suffering is that it breeds deep respect for reality, for what is."

Another silence and Vader smirks. He just tore their beliefs about the dark side completely apart. The Jedi Council in the history of the Jedi rarely found themselves stammering and unable to offer a proper response.

"Only a Sith deals with absolutes," Ki-Adi-Mundi retorts pointedly, deciding to use that instead of admitting the merits. They are far too stuck up to admit the truth.

Vader sighs. "Have we already discussed this, Jedi? Allow me to tell you a truth, that saying only a Sith deal with absolutes is an absolute itself. The thing is, Jedi, that if such a statement was true, you would have all been Sith. It is heavily hypocritical to criticize one and assuming it is not a fact. This shows how the Jedi and Sith in some ways have become very similar, without you taking notice for many years. This is why people are losing faith in your Order each passing day."

Another silence passes, but now Vader waits for their responses, crossing his arms across his chest, waiting for them to respond, pretending to be expected, though they didn't offer no reply so Vader grows fatigued.

"Allow me to give a few examples in your Order's past of your compliancy," Vader replies coldly, not at all amused at the beliefs of the Jedi Council. For a moment, he wanted to slam each Master in the Council Chambers down, to make them realize their arrogance.

"The Jedi for thousands of years are the guardians of the Republic and the Sith were their enemy ergo the Sith were usually enemies of the Republic but that doesn't mean that it is illegal to be a Sith. I'm not defending the actions of the Sith, but I'm saying that this Order should also stand trial if they are going to attempt to act on people who hadn't shown any evidence of the Sith. Remember, the Jedi have done horrible things in the past. During the Great Hyperspace War, the newly formed Sith Empire had waged a military campaign against the Galactic Republic and the Jedi Order in hopes of wiping both of them out. Despite putting up a good fight, the Sith Empire was ultimately defeated and collapsed after the war's end. Supreme Chancellor Pultimo however, was unsatisfied with the results and noticed that there were still surviving remnants of the Sith Empire. The Sith were no longer a threat as their empire lied in ruins and the small fragments had planned no further conflict with the Republic nor the Jedi, but the Chancellor was not willing to let them live and as a result, he deployed the Republic military to Korriban, Ziots, and other Sith Worlds where they systematically slaughtered the remnants of the Sith Empire and the Sith civilization. Without hesitation, the Republic forces went in and slaughtered all of the remaining Sith forces. Many Sith warriors had done suicide attacks to stall off the Republic forces but they only delayed the inevitable as the Republic won, Sith civilization lied in ruins, and the last of the Sith Empire had dissolved as well. Following the Sith Holocaust, the Sith were now too weak to be considered a threat by Pultimo and he was satisfied. All of the Sith worlds were eventually absorbed and annexed into the Galactic Republic and helped grow the galactic government. The wiping out of the pureblood Sith was wrong in every sense. Even though others had threatened the Republic, following Sith pureblood shouldn't have been murdered in such a way and either just stand trial or been left alone."

"It was a necessity that we bring peace to the galaxy," Oppo Rancisis replies with a scowl.

"Our ancestors had to bring an end to the threat of the Republic," Coleman Kcaj replies.

"At the cost of millions of lives, Jedi," Vader replies. "Your ancestors allowed the manslaughter of people and children, Jedi, on the orders of a corrupted Chancellor who seems to have his own ambitions. Some of those who your ancient Order slaughtered weren't Force-sensitive or didn't have a slim connection to the Force."

As much as they wouldn't admit it, he is correct.

"And what about the Padawan Massacre? The Jedi Masters of the planet Taris' Jedi Tower killed their Padawans at a false Knighting ceremony that became known as the Padawan Massacre. The Masters were all members of the Jedi Covenant, a secret faction within the Jedi Order dedicated to keeping watch for and preventing the return of the Sith, and the five comprised the Covenant's First WatchCircle. During the Padawans' final trial, a blind traverse of Taris' hazardous rogue moon, the Masters had shared traumatic and violent Force visions depicting not only their deaths but the destruction of the Jedi Order and the Galactic Republic. Believing that one of their Padawans would be the one to bring about this doom, the Masters made plans to slay them all in a preemptive strike. After the Padawans completed their test and returned to Taris, the Masters scheduled a banquet and a Knighting ceremony—after the banquet, the group retired to the Masters' chambers, supposedly for the Padawans to discover which of them would be Knighted. There, the inquiries of Padawan Shad Jelavan, who felt that something was amiss, forced the Masters to strike quicker than they anticipated. Four of the five Padawans were slain, but the fifth, Zayne Carrick, was able to escape because he arrived late. Framed for the murders, the fugitive Carrick eventually learned the truth of the Padawan Massacre and set out to clear his name. Now one of the most wanted men in the Republic, Carrick investigated the murders, discovering more and more about the Jedi Covenant and its secret operations. Along the way, he encountered the five members of the WatchCircle, and events were put in motion that led to the Masters meeting their ultimate fate. Raana Tey was killed on Taris in the midst of a Mandalorian invasion of the planet—an offensive that was prompted by the Padawan Massacre—and the Feeorin Master Feln was slain by his own tribesmen on his homeworld of Odryn after a violent encounter with Carrick. Their deaths led the Khil seer Xamar to confess the Covenant's secret activities to the Jedi High Council and clear Carrick's name. Both Xamar and the Miraluka Q'Anilia died soon afterward, however, during an insurrection against the Council led by the failed Padawan Haazen. After Haazen was defeated, Lucien Draay, the only survivor of the First WatchCircle, dropped out of sight, and Carrick refused an offer to rejoin the Jedi Order in favor of entering into business with his "accomplice," Marn Hierogryph. So tell me, Masters, would we wipe out innocent people because of either a vision or for their beliefs?" He concludes.

"The problem with the Jedi Order is not that you individually sight power or influence - that being proven by the two incidents I allocated, but that you did otherwise barbaric things in the name of preventing people from forming attachments. As you pass judgment on me, I am here to pass judgment on you all. You kidnap children to keep your precious Order going and have been for thousands of years. You don't call it that and will be offended if one called it that, but you certainly do something similar. If you find a child with authentic Force potential on some planet, you wouldn't leave without them. You will use whatever tactic - negotiation, coercion, bribery, mind-tricks to get them the child. You call yourselves the keepers of the peace, I call you arrogant fools who are incapable of listening to the Force around you. The Jedi are powerful politically, and powerful people have many ways of getting what they want, and they wanted Force-sensitive children. You need Force-sensitive children. To put it bluntly, Jedi, if the Republic needed a law to make all Force-sensitive children their property, you would have allowed such a law, since the Republic allowed slavery, I doubts if they would argue about a few dozen kids a year being taken by the Jedi. Then you make a cutthroat learning environment where you continuously classified students into successes or failures and at the end of the youngling training Jedi Masters could pass them over either to become Jedi or be stripped of the Force."

"We don't make these choices lightly. Our code, for what you believe is our faults, has served the Jedi for thousands of years." Evan Piell argues, small arms crossed across his chest, his eyes glaring over who they presume as the Sith.

"Don't even attempt to deny it, Jedi. If a Jedi just so happens to conceive a baby, you take them, casting judgment on the parent, and train the baby. It is a cycle constant and repeated." Vader finishes that particular argument, the Force channeling around him.

"The parents know the risk and they choose to give into their attachments," Luminara Unduli argues, narrowing her eyes. "They have been bred to severe their attachments and control them. There are consequences."

Suddenly, the room around them goes cold, and they can sense Vader is at fault for this. Luminara is the perfect example of how the Jedi had lost their way along with Windu and Mundi. She does everything in line with her beliefs and acts immaculately in the role, but is blind to the damage it causes. Her ideals - inconsistent with the reality around her - are more important than the people she is allegedly there to help. Because of her, her Padawan converted to the dark side.

"Incompetent Jedi, it's not feasible to do what you just claimed which nurtures another problem I have with your Order that I will address momentarily," Vader replies, shocking the Council as he glares at Luminara Unduli, verbally cutting her down. "You are under no condition to speak of attachment to me when you know little, Luminara Unduli."

There is a tense silence for a moment until Vader breaks the ice, his voice somehow appearing much darker, drawing more of the dark side around his being in order to add extra weight to what he's about to say next.

"That boy... I know he is the Chosen One," he receives instantaneous shock looks from the Council as he converts his attention away from the Mirialan Jedi Master, "listen here, Jedi, I care little for your prophecies or what happens to the Jedi or Sith; both are dying breeds of Orders that have failed themselves long ago, but here's a warning; if you don't train him, I will, and unless you want a powerful being who clashes against the beliefs of your Order, you better alter your judgment of him."

He is not deceiving them nor giving a pity threat. Anakin Skywalker would not remain a mere slave on the planet of Tatooine or an orphan on this planet where Palpatine can get his slippery fingers on him. Unquestionably, he would have to change the forming plan to stop Palpatine which might be slightly more difficult with Anakin Skywalker as an apprentice since he wants Kenobi and Skywalker to form a bond, but he is ready to see events out in different ways. Perhaps Qui-Gon would join him as well. Both know Anakin Skywalker is the Chosen One and both have fair amounts of respect for each other. He wouldn't be judge for his emotions and his faults would become talents.

"He is too old for Jedi training," Windu counters angrily, leaning forward in his seat, "and we don't have to allow you to leave if we believe you are a threat to the public and to this Order. It is the Jedi Order's duty to keep the Republic protected from those who touch the violent natures of the dark side."

Vader glares at the Korun Master, his eyes flashing darkly, allowing the darkness that surrounded him on Mustafar to surround him once more.

"You said so yourself, Master of the Order, it is not the Jedi way to attack a defenseless person," Vader taunts. Oh, how the galaxy relies on this feeble group or organization that calls themselves Jedi is beyond him. "The Jedi are supposedly the "Keepers of Peace" but most importantly, you are supposed to be neutral regardless if one clashes with your Order. The reality is much different though, the Jedi are tyrants, you must bow to the Republic and Jedi or be hunted down, you must act and believe what they tell you or be hunted down. The Jedi Order and the Sith are relatively the same. Some Jedi realized this and reclused themselves from the Order or followed their own Jedi way." Vader's voice is still sharp as stone. "While you all have good intentions, and I understand you fear the dark side given it what has happened to your brethren centuries ago, you believe yourselves without mistakes. Again, try to hold me and I will defend myself. Don't force my hand, Jedi."

The Council stirs at that, looking at one another. Some believe they should make an arrest, however, they have no charge to make to the Senate so naturally, that falls flat. Others believe they should charge him right then and there because certainly, one such as him can't stand against 12 of the most powerful members in the Order. Three or four, much to their disturbance, finds themselves agreeing with him.

"Harbor personal anger to our Order, you do," Yoda notes pointedly, staring at him with sharp eyes that can cut through daggers. "Explain this, you should."

Vader scowls. He respected Master Yoda in death, but unlike with Kenobi, he was unable to ever forget/forgive how Master Yoda coldly dismissed his claims about his struggles and conflicts, telling him to let go of his attachments when he knew very well it was virtually and completely impossible. Master Yoda was as arrogant as the rest of the Order though he didn't show it as much as Master Windu.

Granted, Anakin was definitely more openly arrogant, always complaining that he is not getting what he deserves, openly defying the Council, taunting his enemies, trying to take Obi-Wan when he had the high ground, and many more examples. So his place in the most prideful Jedi is obviously deserved. Vader has outgrown this trait, became far more of a controlled wall, and matured, though there is still that arrogant side of him but it doesn't reveal itself much.

Yoda on the other hand is more subtly arrogant, he believes so strongly that he is righteous and good that he ignores the outcry from the general populace when they blame the Jedi for the elongation of the war. He takes pride in his humbleness blind to his own arrogance, as shown when he says that arrogance is something a lot of Jedi are guilty of in response to Mace's comment about Anakin being too arrogant.

It may have taken time for him to forgive Kenobi, but at least the man has come to him in his time of darkness, comforting him and not revealing his marriage to the Order that would have led to his banishment. Two decades of anger and abandonment issues could not be unlearned but eventually, time passed and Vader allowed himself to forgive Obi-Wan, forming the bond that has always been there, perhaps even in the Jedi Master's death.

He can arrange for Kenobi to be swayed from the Order because he knows he saw the reality of the foolishness in the Order during his solidarity on Tatooine and mentoring and training Luke to be a better person than Anakin would ever be when the time came so there is a greater opportunity to influence him from the hypocrisy of the Order earlier, but Yoda's fate is something Vader can't resolve because he is one of the prime reasons why the Order of old collapsed. In order to bring a stronger system, Vader is determined not to allow the Jedi Order to intervene, the green toad included. That is up to interpretation to give him time to see if this is the same hypocrite who gave him abhorrent advice and sent someone so close to dispatch him against both of their wills, planting two brothers through the Force into positions neither wanted to be in. However, a thought reminds him, that Yoda is dead, this one may walk down a diverging path.

"I harbor anger to your Order because you each have failed the galaxy. Your resolve has become gullible. The Jedi when they began was able to gather their strength, operating their relationships for support, and bring one who breaks the law to justice. One would expect you would be able to adapt, but you lack change. This is one reason why the Sith are proving victorious even after their disappearance for 1000 years. They don't hide who they are and accept the living and nonliving for what they are. Emotions that you frown at are natural and the Sith knows this. Asking people to repudiate their emotions is asking those to repudiate what makes us alive. While emotions naturally do blind our judgment, these emotions give us power and bring about a deeper connection to the Force."

"What you are speaking of is proposing we," Coleman Kcaj begins to say, "allow our emotions to blind us like the Sith do."

Vader scoffs, losing the patience he had when he walked in the room.

"I'm futile of discussing this when they are no persuading you of your arrogance and flaws. It is evident we are of different beliefs. I can ensure you, Jedi, that I am not a threat to your Order unless you morph me into being one." Vader replies, earning scowls by most of the members within the Council Chambers but they didn't intimidate him. He has fought some of the Masters in this room himself.

"The dark side surrounds you," Oppo Rancisis insists firmly. "We must remove it as all implements dark."

"Remove it?" Vader taunts, grasping his leather hand up into a fist, allowing the dark side to flow through the chambers. "You forget, Master Jedi, I am not among your Order."

The chills in the room increase, almost as if the former Sith is sucking the air full of hisses and wheezes.

"No," Windu retorts angrily. "But as explained before, it is in our mandate to neutralize those who potentially can act against the laws of the Republic. If there is evidence of you posing a threat, we can legally apprehend you and bring you in to face justice. As you are not a Jedi, you are able to be prosecuted like everybody else."

"I dare you to attempt to arrest me. Warning, Jedi, it would only result in a humiliating defeat. You Jedi haven't fought in battles for thousands of years. I have encountered many, growing stronger and far more powerful with each kill. My dueling abilities are beyond yours, I am confident. Since I feel horrible for where this Council and Order of imbeciles' paths are leading, I shall tell you what I distaste about your Order. The nerve of you all claiming you know about what attachments can do."

"Attachments lead to the dark side," Ki-Adi-Mundi says, a frown on his lips that shows Vader he is less than pleased with the bashing of the Code that he finds to be his life.

"There is no emotion only peace: we're not saying that people don't have emotions, of course, they do. The universe does not care one bit how badly you don't want the sun to rise, it'll rise the next day all the same. This is about letting go of things you can't change and learning to accept them the way they are. Once you let go of your feelings, stuff you cannot alter stops controlling you. There is no ignorance; There is only knowledge: A Jedi seeks to understand, not control. There are principles, both natural principles like the laws of physics, and Metaphysical principles such as how the Force works, that exist whether or not one is aware of them. One cannot change them, and they exist whether or not one understands them. There is no passion; there is serenity: Passion isn't real, it's something humans experience. One shouldn't let their passion blind them. There is no death; there is the Force: The Force is this mysterious energy field guiding all life, and the Jedi seek to understand what it is and how to best be in line with it. We're not out for our own gain, we don't try to change the impossible, we leave it up to the will of the Force. The Jedi code is all about accepting things the way they are. We can't hope to control reality. You can't make fire cold, you can't make water run upwards, you can't make the world obey you, and life isn't so great when you try." Yarael Poof asserts, rubbing his right hand over his chin in deep thought.

Although Vader can't remember of him during his time as Anakin Skywalker never interacting with the man, he finds himself slightly respecting Yarael Poof, which is saying much since most of these Council Members contributed to the downfall of the Jedi Order.

"Admittedly, there are some merits to that assessment such as the passion part especially, Jedi, but the others I find is disturbing. There is a major flaw in your code. 'There is no Emotion; there is Peace.' That. That is the core of your stupidity. The entire Jedi defense against this recognized route toward corruption is to embrace an outright lie in the very first rule of their dogma: "there is no emotion". Now all of you would argue, rightly, that this was not intended as a statement of fact but rather as a goal to strive for. That is true as far it goes. But it is still an act of denial. It is based on striving to deny a core facet of almost all sapient races: they are emotional beings, no matter how much they try not to be. The result of this denial approach was that the entire Jedi defense against emotional corruption rested on trying to forbid emotional attachments in others and trying to purge them from oneself. Both of those are doomed to fail in too many cases. As the question rightly points out, attachments will be formed by some no matter how anathema. And no matter how people may attempt to purge their emotional nature, they will frequently fail. Result: one less Jedi and one more Dark Jedi or Sith nearly every time it occurs. Worse still, by denying emotion, trying to suppress it, forbid it, contain it, and avoid it, you are actively making your students even more vulnerable to this source of potential corruption. Denial, avoidance, suppression - these teach one how to try to avoid a trap, perhaps. But you also close off any opportunity to teach one how to escape that trap if they should end up confronting it anyway. The Jedi should not have been teaching emotional suppression and avoidance. You should be teaching emotional maturity instead of how bad they are.

Riddle me this, Jedi, which of these two Padawans would be better equipped to handle an emotional trauma without lashing out violently in a sudden embrace of the Dark Side on seeing their beloved Master brutally murdered. A Padawan who becomes emotionally attached to his Master but has been raised to suppress strong emotions and avoid all emotional ties, and so has no experience of past guidance on how to deal with powerful emotional impulses. A Padawan who similarly becomes attached to a Master who taught them that emotional ties were inevitable, but who also taught them how to see them in a more mature context, accepting from the beginning the fact that bad things do happen, but that honoring loved ones, in life and in death, is more about upholding their faith in you and their hopes for you than about lashing out in revenge when bad things befall them. The first example has a high chance of leading to a fall. The second has a much lower chance. Maturity and acceptance of truth are always a better course than denial and suppression of unwelcome realities. What the Jedi should have been doing was allowing emotional attachments to form as they would, taking note of them but not interfering, all while helping their Padawans to learn mature ways to deal with powerful emotions. Then as the first part of the Trials, each prospective Knight should have been secretly and deliberately exposed to a very serious but feigned emotional crisis. This would either establish that the Jedi had matured enough to face the rest of the Trials and perhaps advance to Knighthood, or that they had not and needed more time to mature under the supervision of a Master until ready for another Trial. Preparation is always better than mere avoidance. The Jedi are fools never to recognize this. And in the end, you shall pay the ultimate price for it. Despite all of your flaws, your attachment rules among many others are ultimately why I despise this Order. I should amend this in a few years."

Part of him couldn't help a smirk as the words shake the Council to the core. They are even more shocked that they are merriment in his words. This is the same Council who had cast judgment on himself, Dooku, Ventress, Ahsoka, and many others.

"Are you... threatening us?" Coleman Kcaj asks in a cold clipped tone, eyes narrow.

"Warning you," Vader replies, as if correcting a student, "of course none of you will take my warning into consideration and view me as a threat and my warning as means of intimidation so don't bother to drain yourselves into a debate. The Galaxy would be absolutely unrecognizable without the Jedi. People in this galaxy who don't like the Jedi are usually people who never really met one, encountered one in a very specific context where it appears like the Jedi is doing something malicious, or they met another force user who did something wrong and just assume it is a Jedi." He is not biased nor above admitting the Jedi maintain the safety of the galaxy but they have failed the galaxy.

"We are under every authority that we will be obliged to detain you if we believe you are a threat to the Order and especially the Republic." Master Windu replies coldly.

"And risk public outlash should the Queen choose to call religious persecution on my behalf against the Jedi Order. I am adamant the Queen would agree with the one who save them before the Chancellor's own ambassadors arrive." Vader replies categorically, grinning underneath his mask at these hypocrites.

"Survive, the Jedi Order can," Yoda replies, though there is a faint uncertainty in his voice.

"Grandmaster, many people in the Outer Rim absolutely loathes the Jedi and the Republic. You are only adding flames to the fire the further you continue to act with ineffectuality and make rash decisions." Vader replies in a clipped tone. "I have come here on terms that you would not attempt to kill me but I have already been threatened by your Order multiple times. At this point, in court, the courts would only see it statutory that the Jedi Order is as worse as the slavers on Nar Shaddaa."

Yoda nor the other Masters offer no reply to that, the former bowing his head down in deep thought while the Masters either glare at him or loathe their defeat in silence, knowing that their Order would face endless confrontations and encounters should they attack someone who has been helpful to a monarch for so long.

What makes matters worse for the Masters is that legally they cannot stop him. He has the protection of the Queen of Naboo and she can legally bring up charges against the Jedi Council let alone the Jedi Order should they attempt to stop him which can cause their Order's view being viewed negatively. What's more is that if they allow him to leave they are allowing a powerful threat and potential Sith Lord to openly be alongside the Republic, be aside from the Queen of Naboo, and be viewed as more of a savior instead of as a Jedi.

Vader pulls out a lightsaber hilt, ignoring them tensing as he brings out the ancient weapon, ready to ignite their lightsaber at moment's notice, but that proves to be a fear unwarranted as Vader propels the lightsaber towards Master Windu; Darth Maul's lightsaber hilt.

Instinctively, the Master of the Order catches it, grasping the cylinder hilt with an uncertain stare, rotating the hilt in his hand and examining it with wide eyes, never seeing such a design before placing it inside of his robes.

"That is the weapon that belongs to the Sith Assassin," Vader answers the wordless question, crossing his arms across his chest as his eyes linger on the Jedi Council Members, who are beyond confused. "Undoubtedly, the Sith would have killed your ambassadors had I not involved myself. I have done your work for you. The Sith have returned but it ain't me you should concern yourself with," Vader continues, turning and beginning to walk out, cape billowing behind him in his walk as he approaches the doors to the Council Chambers. "When you all learn to grow up and act like adults, we shall have another meeting, but for now, my presence is required at the ship."

Unconcerned with the Jedi's presence, Vader turns and begins walking out of the room, a calm and cool stare now across his expression. They each only feared his presence because of his power and the danger he could pose to them, treating him differently as if he is garbage, and adding onto his insecurities. He cannot find it in himself to treat them with any respect verbally. He respects some of their skills but that is it. when Anakin needed the Jedi the most, they weren't there for him. Another strong figure stepped in at the best—and worst—time to fully take control of Anakin's well-being, giving him all the things he could have wanted in his lifetime. While he blames himself and accepts the reality that he is the one mostly at blame, the Jedi Council contributed to ruining his life.

Some Council Members stand, drawing their lightsabers but not activating them, whereas others remain in their seats. Slowly, he turns to face them, outstretching his hands and blasting each of the Council Members into their seats, the wind flying from his hand sending those who remain seated further back. Windu's eyes went wide and even Master Yoda struggle in blocking such power. Some members claw their seats in the hope to put up resistance but resistance has proven soon to be futile as they too are forced back. The Jedi attempts to block this power but the being proves to be far stronger in the ways of the Force.

Through the Temple, the Force crashes down upon them, making each inside the Temple clutch their heads and collapse onto their knees - the dark side and even the light side itself crashing fully on them. Never would many Jedi in the Temple would think the power they draw on would cause them to feel so many clashes and shockwaves by said power.

It almost appears the Sith is going to push their chairs outside of the window when, suddenly, everything calm; he didn't pull through with forcing them out of the window. Now, the Jedi Masters are slump in their seats, breathing heavily at this power that many of them just encountered that rival even the likes of Master Yoda in the Force. Never before in ancient history, a Sith couldn't have combated each member of the Jedi Council with the Force and managed to be successful. Certainly, they were those who attempted to, but they were swiftly outnumbered in terms of the Force by those members of the Jedi Council.

This Darth Vader is a different being entirely in terms of the Force. He can manipulate the living and nonliving in better terms than most of the Jedi could do in a lifetime. He can bring the Jedi down to their knees and make it appear that they are kneeling before him in quite a humiliating position.

Still, in front of them, the cause of what just occurred opens the turbolift calmly, back turn to them as if nothing just happen - as if he hadn't just assaulted the entirety of the Jedi Council.

Master Windu calls out. "We are not finished."

Without even turning to face him, Vader speaks curtly, though there is a small smirk on his lips at his display. He has allowed the power that he felt on Mortis to course through him again and used it against the Jedi Council. In the previous timeline, he was stronger after that experience and far more powerful in the Force, attuning himself to the point where the Separatists Generals and Admirals were fearing to even be placed against Anakin Skywalker.

"Yes, I'm afraid we are. I have broken no law, and me wielding the weapon of your ancient enemy is ludicrous should you attempt to charge me with such evidence. I am protected by the Queen. I have spent time with her handmaidens and they can vouch for me if I've indeed committed a crime or appear manipulative as they are trained to resist such things by their mentors. Grandmaster, Master of the Order, I must admit; I am disappointed, your Council acts irrationally and like a bunch of bands of children. Hopefully, this error is corrected. Good day, Masters."

And the dark figure is gone.

Chapter Text

Darth Plagueis has hardly been bemused before as much as he is now. Ever since he killed his Master, he has his hand in his cards, establishing a new Order surrounded by warriors of the dark side and abolishing the rule of two that limits the Sith and their potential.

Darth Vader did warn him to be cautious of those close to him, but who should he be vigilant of?

Immediately, Plagueis begins contemplating his options after he and Vader parted ways, calling off the dark side of the Force completely to search for answers.

Darth Plagueis is a very powerful Sith, but still inferior to his more ancient predecessors - like Marka Ragnos and Exar Kun. He is an extremely powerful combatant. He utilizes a wide range of offensive techniques, including Force Lightning, telepathy, telekinesis, Force Scream, Force Wave, as well as Force Convection - amongst others. He also channeled the Dark Side to amplify his speed and reflexes, to the point that he was able to fight off an entire army alongside his apprentice, Darth Sidious.

Plagueis is also extremely knowledgeable about the Force. He understands even its most esoteric aspects; he even sought to challenge the Force itself and tilt the balance towards the Dark Side. In a few months of intensive meditation with his apprentice, the Sith managed to overpower the will of the Force into darkness. Such is Plagueis's power - he fought the Force itself…..and won through sheer willpower.

However, despite all this, Plagueis is still somewhat inferior to the more powerful ancient Sith. The ancient Sith Lords like Naga Sadow, Exar Kun, and Lord Vitiate could perform feats of power that put even those of Plagueis to shame. For starters, Sadow could rip the core out of a star by focusing his power through Sith crystals. Exar Kun drained the life force of thousands of Massassi warriors and survived a combined attack from the entire Jedi Order. Vitiate wiped out all life on a planet twice to fuel a ritual that would ensure his own immortality.

Yet in the end, he comes down to a few acknowledgments.

Is it possible the Jedi have managed to connect a link between him and the Sith? He wouldn't put it above him slipping up as he and his apprentice have been in hiding for the past many years.

It isn't long before he dismisses the idea since that mental suggestion has many problems and holes. Wouldn't they already be set in arresting or killing him if they have discovered his Sith connection as they did to all Sith in ancient history? He begins considering other options and alternatives.

Darth Vader could be warning him and fighting him for dominance of being Master of the Sith, seeking to acquire his power and continuing what many of the Sith have continued in the shadows for thousands of years except in the open and publicly - which will be uncomplicated due to gaining the support of one monarch in this timeline already - and be manipulating the Republic in the eyes of the Jedi and the Jedi Order would have little choice in the matter.

He dismisses that idea as quickly as the last as if should Vader wish to do combat with him, wouldn't they have engaged one another into a fight at the secret warehouse instead of leaving without confrontation? It would have been a clean opportunity for Vader to gain control or confront him even now.

Then that leaves only one other option, an option that Plagueis once wouldn't have thought possible, but have more merriments than the others.

It feels like a stab in his cold and dark heart, but Plagueis isn't blind to the Force.

Shmi Skywalker will admit that she is not used to being free but there is also a knowing factor that she has been freed for less than a day. Perhaps through time she would grow used to those traits of the known galaxy. She is now undergoing surgeries in order for diseases to be tracked on her by being on Tatooine for years so they wish to cure her. When she worriedly asked about her son, the handmaiden assured her that the Jedi is with her son.

The same black hair doctor from earlier walks in with a smile, a datapad clasp in her hands. "We have detected your slave chip with our scanners. Our medical droids would be prepared for your surgery shortly. The risks of eating and drinking when you have been instructed not to do so are higher than you might imagine so we would have to check on you. It's a good idea to eat healthy, nutrient-rich foods in the days before surgery. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables as much as possible. Avoid processed foods and red meats, since they can be difficult for your body to break down and may increase inflammation. It is important to avoid all food and drink at least eight hours prior to having anesthesia, as the alternative may be aspiration pneumonia or other serious complications after surgery if said instructions are not followed."

Shmi nods, not knowing what some of those words mean but this is the woman who has offered to check after her. "I'm ready but I just need some time."

"Of course, Ms. Skywalker," the doctor replies, not sounding annoyed nor irritated at all as she walks out. Quite the contrary, she sounds genuinely concerned for her wellbeing and Shmi gets the impression that she is one who takes her job extremely seriously.

She has been sternly advised not to stand up from the bed but part of her is slightly worried at having to be in a hospital she has never been in before and now she has to trust them to check over her.

"Ma'am you have a visitor," an assistance droid declares, walking in, being accompanied by a young woman. It is just not any young woman. It is Padmé. She hasn't seen the girl since they have departed from Tatooine mainly because she confused her with the other girls in her outfits. The girl is wearing black pants and a white shirt.

"Hello, Shmi," Padmé greets with a kind smile, walking up and grasping her shoulder tightly before switching her grip to grasp the older woman's hand. "I wanted to check on you before your surgery."

"Padmé, where's Anakin? Is he a Jedi?" Shmi asks.

"Shmi, it's been only one day," Padmé chuckles, "I don't know much about the Jedi but highly doubt he would become a Jedi that fast."

"Oh," Shmi responds, cracking a smile. "I guess I'm just worried."

"I won't allow anything to happen to your son," Padmé promises, genuinely meaning it as she forms a soft spot for the innocent little boy that called her an angel.

"I have always... wanted this life for him... if I am free and am on the same planet as the Jedi can I see him?" Shmi asks Padmé, glassy eyes staring hopefully

Padmé clenches her hands up into fists. As much as she wants to say yes, she knows that the Jedi are cold and emotionless, detaching their young ones from their families, and if they accept Anakin into their ranks, he may be morphed into that type of direction too, meaning Shmi wouldn't even be able to contact him.

"The Jedi are strict in not allowing their disciples to form attachments," Padmé tells her, closing her eyes, undoubtedly wishing that she didn't have to squash the woman's world since all she has known for the past nine years is raising her sweet son.

Shmi's heart slightly shatters at that admission. She has raised him for the past nine years, giving him what little food and drink she could have earned similar to what he has done to her, taking care of each other and surviving in a tough and depressing home with the trend of slavery at their back.

She nods solemnly. "It's a better life than slavery for such an innocent child like himself. If I have to give up myself for him to have a better life, I will."

Padmé smiles. "You are a good mother, Shmi, and I will see to it by the Queen that you are brought to my homeworld for a better life."

Shmi nods, smiling, her eyes and lips pained at the fact that she would not be able to see her son again but thankful she would finally live a better life than slavery. Padmé Naberrie has to be the kindest person she has ever met.

The Jedi and the boy, having been made aware of Amidala's imminent departure for Naboo, goes directly to the landing platform where the Queen's transport is anchored to await her arrival. The shuttle ride over is marked by a strained silence between the Jedi and discomfort in the boy he can not dispel. He looks down at his feet most of the time, wishing he could think of a way to stop Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan from being angry at each other.

When they disembark from the shuttle at the landing platform, R2-D2 is already bustling about. The little droid beeps at Anakin cheerfully, then wanders over to the edge of the rampway to look down at the traffic. In doing so, he leans out too far and tumbles over. Anakin gasps, but a second later the astromech droid reappears, boosted back onto the rampway by his onboard jets. On hearing R2-D2's ensuing flurry of chirps and whistles, the boy smiles in spite of himself.

At the head of the loading ramp, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi are engaged in a heated discussion. Wind whips down the canyons of the city's towering buildings, hiding their words from the boy. Carefully, he edges closer so that he could listen in.

"It is not disrespect, Master!" Obi-Wan says vehemently. "It is the truth!"

"From your point of view, perhaps." Qui-Gon's face is hard and tight with authority.

The younger Jedi's voice drops a notch. "Master, I like the boy, but however, there is a risk that Vader has his influence on him. I believe he is the boy's father as their Force Presences are linked, but regardless if he's not the boy is dangerous. They all sense it. Why can't you?"

"His fate is uncertain, but he is not dangerous," Qui-Gon corrects sharply. "The Council will decide Anakin's future. That should be enough for you." He turns away dismissively. "Now get on board."

Obi-Wan wheels away and stalks up the ramp into the ship. R2-D2 follows, still whistling happily. Qui-Gon turns to Anakin, and the boy walks up to him.

"Master Qui-Gon sir," he says uncomfortably, riddled with doubt and guilt over what is happening, "I don't want to be a problem."

Qui-Gon places a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "You won't be, Annie." He glances toward the ship, then kneels before the boy. "I'm not allowed to train you, so I want you to watch me instead and be mindful of what you see. Always remember, your focus determines your reality." He pauses, eyes lock on Anakin. "Stay close to me, and you will be safe."

The boy nods his understanding. "Can I ask you something?"

The Jedi Master nods. "What are midi-chlorians?"

Wind whips at Qui-Gon's long hair, blowing strands of it across his strong face. "Midi-chlorians are microscopic life-forms that reside within the cells of all living things and communicate with the Force."

"They live inside of me?" the boy asks.

"In your cells," Qui-Gon pauses. "We are symbionts with the midi-chlorians."


"Symbionts. Life forms living together for mutual advantage. Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. Our midi-chlorians continually speak to us, Annie, telling us the will of the Force."

"They do?"

Qui-Gon cocks one eyebrow. "When you learn to quiet your mind, you will hear them speaking to you."

Anakin thinks about it a moment, then frowns. "I don't understand."

Qui-Gon smiles, and his eyes are warm and secretive. "With time and training, Annie, you will."

A pair of shuttles eases up to the loading dock, and Queen Amidala, her handmaidens, Captain Panaka, and an escort of officers and guards disembarks. Last off the second shuttle is Jar Jar Binks. Amidala is wearing a purple velvet travel cloak that drapes her body in soft folds and a gold-rimmed cowl that frames her smooth white face like a cameo portrait.

Qui-Gon rises and stands waiting beside Anakin as the Queen and her handmaidens approach.

"Your Highness," Qui-Gon greets with a deferential inclination of his head. "It will be our pleasure to continue to serve and protect you."

Amidala nods. "I welcome your help. Senator Palpatine fears the Federation means to destroy me."

"I promise you, we will not let that happen," the Jedi Master advises solemnly.

"Where is Vader?" She inquires, raising her left eyebrow in curiosity as the last time she saw him is when they arrived on Coruscant.

"Speaking with the Jedi Council," Qui-Gon informs her, signing somewhat between resignation and exasperation.

"I wish to speak with him," Amidala replies without elaboration, clasping both hands behind her back.

"Your majesty," Obi-Wan Kenobi's eyes go wide, "while he is not an enemy of Naboo, the Council is correct to presume he is still a risk to the Order and the Republic. A Sith Lord accompanying us would only complicate matters."

"I do not believe such a thing, Jedi," Amidala corrects coolly with such authority that is enough to make even Master Windu slightly intimidated. "My handmaidens have informed me that he had been essentially less than threatening. In spite of how different he may be, I trust him with becoming our ally. Additionally, I am displeased with the Jedi and the Senate's inefficacy. Darth Vader is our best chance."

Obi-Wan's mouth clamp close at that, eyeing Master Jinn for assistance but the older Jedi remains quiet, appearing to stare without staring at all. Truth be told, he cannot argue with the logic of the Queen since Vader has the testimony of the Queen's handmaidens themselves at his back who he stares at, checking for any wounds but the handmaidens stare at him with a cool face before he sighs and accept defeat.

Part of him fears that Vader corrupts the handmaidens and the Queen and poisoned their view on the Order since, to put it bluntly, the handmaidens didn't act this cold to him several days back.

He reaches out into the Force, probing their aura and finding their auras light. What he finds worse is that their view of the Jedi Order that they possessed several days before has been poisoned simply because the Jedi are reluctant to assist their home planet. He can additionally sense the Queen's vexation for the Jedi Order as well. Should he speak with them again, it would undoubtedly end heatedly.

Not to mention, Vader undoubtedly is far more powerful and stronger than both Master and the Knight.

"Captain, see that we do not lift off until Vader returns," fake Amidala orders, the words of Kenobi going on death ears. She trusts the Jedi but she would have more reassurances with someone like Vader who is experienced in battle and can push back the Trade Federation.

"Yes, my lady," Panaka replies, commanding to the pilots under no condition that they lift off.

The real Queen turns and with her handmaidens follows Panaka and the Naboo guards and officers into the transport. They went on board the ship, to Queen Chambers, deciding to use this time to learn more about Vader alongside Sabé. Eirtaé gives the progress report about Vader on their whole time to Tatooine, about their encounter with the tuskens, up to the battle with a mysterious dark entity.

"So, Vader actually says the Jedi Council would attempt to destroy him and he is not above slaughtering Jedi?" Padmé asks Eirtaé with a cool demeanor as she wonders what is happening to their dark - can they really call him a friend - as they speak. She started forming a liking for the anonymous man before their arrival in Coruscant so she hopes he is alright, but it's Vader. He would be fine... hopefully.

Should they return to Coruscant, they rather not exactly witness on the Holonet Vader slaughtering the Jedi within the Jedi Temple nor a recorder revealing the Jedi executing Vader and him dying with his beliefs whilst one of Naboo's hope diminishes. Both are horrible outcomes, but given Vader's beliefs, one may happen as the Jedi in ancient history combat the forces of evilness.

However, Vader isn't evil, just heavily misinterpreted. Controversially, Darth Vader isn't as cold as the Republic and they have witnessed the harshness of the Jedi Order itself in their jest of doing nothing but sending two Jedi; one who is obviously inexperienced while the other is aged instead of sending their best. They trusted Kenobi at least slightly but they now doubt him as they doubt the rest of the Jedi. It comes to a speedy realization that they have a better chance with Vader than they do with the rest of the Jedi.

Padmé would consider Vader, even as intimidating as he is, as someone who is a dark knight of Naboo, someone who she would trust even more than the Jedi. In spite of Vader being an absolute warlord like in the legends and is capable of switching attitudes, Vader is not a brute like the warlords are described as. He does not lust for blood but he is someone who is willing to take life given he didn't bat an eyelash on murdering an entire Tusken Camp with her handmaidens. He is calm and unpredictable and that is the terrifying part about him because Vader can do something next that completely goes against their expectations.

"Yes," Eirtaé confirms, straightening under the sharp stare of her Queen though in her eyes is evident anger that her Queen and her fellow handmaidens share. Despite them being close behind the mask of Queen Amidala, this is now handmaiden and Queen speaking. "I don't believe this would end well for either party should Darth Vader and the Jedi Council lock blades."

"Yeah, you should have seen him, Padmé, he fought against a Zabrak... oops!" Rabé slips up, placing a hand on her mouth and receiving a sharp glare from Sabé and Eirtaé for totally unintentionally snitching on each of them.

Padmé catches on and sighs in annoyance before she turns to face Sabé, saying with exasperation as she glares at her closest handmaiden. She knows she cannot stay angry with her, for Sabé is as close as Sola, even closer maybe, but her tendency to annoy her at times can grow infuriating. Then again, she annoys Sabé more so it goes both ways.

"When I say have one handmaiden, I mean it. Not two. Not three. Not five. One!" Padmé reprimands, staring at the taller woman, not bothering to hide her irritation.

"Hey, it was more Rabé's idea," Sabé argues with a smirk, looking far more relieved without having to wear the disguise. "Besides consider this vengeance for pushing me in that cold lake not that long ago."

Padmé is about to offer a sharp response to her older sister figure when they hear the sounds of all too familiar marching makes itself known on the shuttle, a quick clang before all become silent, the hanger ramp closing.

Rabé flips a nearby lever within the Queen's chambers which have security cameras, playing back the footage and showing Darth Vader who enters the shuttle, cape attach and hood and mask clouding his expression as always.

The last time they seen him is on the landing platform shortly after they learned Darth Vader is capable of having fun though they have a feeling that it won't happen again. He told them hilarious stories about his travels as well as dark ones to Rabé who prefers that type of genre. It ended with them falling asleep on top of Darth Vader with him eventually doing the same; Rabé was at his legs, Padmé and Sabé on his armored stomach, and Eirtaé at his right arm. They also remember Darth Vader appearing to be humiliated and barging out after they woke for breakfast which is something they probably would giggle at for days since the very said quiet intimidating Darth Vader just apparently is incapable of being rude for so long. The thought of the man blushing behind his mask while falling asleep next to them is beyond hysterical.

"Looks like Vader is back. My confidence for us retaking Naboo suddenly boosted. Hope we can see that cocky smirk wiping off Gunray's lips." Eirtaé declares, earning a nod from Rabé but a sharp frown by Sabé. Both wish the same things too as they just want to return home, but Sabé, ever the cautious one, does trust Vader a lot more but she still believes he is just one man that they can't waste all their resources in. Hopefully, the man wouldn't lose his life along with countless others as they each know some and probably even themselves wouldn't ever go home. Though their names would remain as heroes in history.

"Not that much confidence in Kenobi and Jinn?" Sabé asks, curling her eyebrows at her fellow handmaidens. Despite their involvement not being as big as Vader, they still portrayed a minor role and assisted in their protection upon Naboo, Jinn even calling the right call with the boy back on Tatooine. She may agree with her fellow handmaidens about Darth Vader's strength and ruthlessness in battle, but she has problems trusting one who doesn't reveal his or her identity.

"I trust the Jedi with wishing to preserve our protection and having good intentions to protect her Highness, but my trust in Vader is maximum. He managed to beat us all at once; trained handmaidens, and given the demonstration of Vader and of Kenobi when he sparred..." Eirtaé replies, earning grins from her friends as they know that demonstration eventually ended, but they only managed to scratch the surface at seeing what Vader can do in combat and whatever personality Vader has behind his mask.

Padmé has a personality behind the mask she wears and she breaks character at times but Vader is complicated and problematic, having no character, and is completely an impassive and unmoving individual; but he is quite a character for certain. The most they got within seeing whoever Darth Vader may have been when they sparred with him but even so they didn't even discover more about whoever he is. Constantly, Vader just remains with a sharp calm that leaves intentions unknown and leaves whatever he will do next beyond terrifying.

"...suffice to say Darth Vader has to be more powerful than Kenobi and Jinn if not the entirety of the Jedi Order. Whereas you and Padmé have preferred reading novels, Sabé, I read many books, one consisting of major descriptions of warlords dated back to the Jedi Civil War, and having one on our side means Nute Gunray is going to encounter complications. Besides, rather have him on our side which he appears to be so far despite his opportunities to betray us than against us and on the side of the Trade Federation. If that happened, well... highly doubt Jinn and Kenobi could have stopped him and Naboo would be beyond recognition so let's be glad someone like him is on our side and not jinxing it. Army or not, we would be dead if Vader was our enemy."

Padmé snorts. On that, she definitely agrees with every proclamation of her friend. Still, she needs to speak with him, hoping that he wouldn't kill her but at a very young age, she has faced life and death already for the past week so she is prepared to die. However, something tells her Vader would never hurt her.

"Well, if there was a battle, given he is present, Vader won," Eirtaé murmurs to her fellow handmaidens. Besides, how else is Vader walking among the ship now if he and the Order are supposedly loathing each other to no end? Though instead of the terror they suspect to feel to the destruction of the Jedi Order, there is a strange sense of relief that Vader is returning and is still alive.

"That worries me," Sabé replies, finding herself not caring so much about the potential destruction of the Jedi as much as she should and feeling slightly horrible for it, but they don't appear to care much about her home planet.

Outside of the quarters of the Queen, Anakin Skywalker regards the mysterious man. He is the one who saved his mother, and he can tell the Jedi is afraid of him. At least to some degree.

"Mr. Vader," Anakin says. "I want to say thank you for saving my mother."

Vader lowers down to his knees, replying. "Your mother is not property nor is anyone who can breathe. You both are people who deserve to live your lives without anyone to tell you how to do so."

How he could be so rough spoken to the Jedi but so... kind to Anakin is bemusing.

Unbeknownst to the boy, Vader's thoughts become solemn at realizing that his mother's strength have been underestimated and so does her usefulness. A Queen in-disguise, a Jedi Knight, a heroic droid, and a hapless Gungan fled to a desert planet under the light of twin suns in search of a way to repair their starship, where they happened upon a slave boy with a great and terrible destiny. Befriending these strangers, he took them to his home and gave them shelter from a storm, where they met the boy's mother. She, too, was a slave, and had come from nothing, and had no great destiny to fulfil beyond the breaking of her heart in order to see her boy find his place in a galaxy that would never know her name. A kindly farmer fell in love with her and freed her from her chains, and she knew happiness for a time; but still there remained a deep and empty hole in her heart as she looked to the sky and thought of the great deeds her son – who must have grown to be so strong and wise and kind – would be doing as he walked among the stars. While she was happy with her new life and loved her newfound family, she hoped that, one day, she would feel the warmth of her son's hand in hers again – even if she had to wait until her last breath left her body under the setting suns.

"Watto would have never given her up," Anakin replies, his eyes sad. "Mr. Vader..."

"Call me, Vader. No Mr." Vader corrects before adding with dry humor. "The title makes me sound old."

"Mr- Vader, are you a Jedi?" Anakin inquires before adding with an observant look in his eyes. "Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan appears to fear you. I-I can feel it."

"I'm just a simple man who is trying to condone past wrongs," Vader answers without answering at all. He could not reveal the truth to his younger self, at least not yet as it would place him in unnecessary wrongs.

"I-I have never been away from her for so long," Anakin stammers.

Vader's eyes widen. "Come, Skywalker, let me teach you what I have learned when I am stressed."

Both moves into the back quarters. This may cause a bit of a bond to form between the two but he would not allow himself to carry these worries.

Moments later the sleek transport lifts off, leaving the surface of Coruscant behind for Naboo. Now, they have to return to Naboo and bring the fight to the Trade Federation personally in spite of how many countless lives would be lost. To be honest, it would be a miracle if they survive the day's end, but Vader shall assure most of these people would survive.

Right now, he is focusing on his younger self, falling onto both knees and begins calling off of the Force, saying absently: "Join me."

Anakin joins him in a similar position, and Vader begins to call off the Force within himself and within Anakin Skywalker.

"Feel the Force around you. Do not dwell. Allow your emotions freely to be released. You need not concern yourself with being judged, for there is only you."

Aboard the Queen's transport, coming out of hyperspace and approaching the Naboo star system, Qui-Gon Jinn pauses on his way to a meeting with the Queen to study Anakin Skywalker.

The boy stands at the pilot's console next to Ric Olie. The Naboo pilot is bent forward over the controls, pointing each one out in turn and explaining its function. Anakin is absorbing the information with astonishing quickness, brow furrowed, eyes intense, concentration total.

"And that one?" The boy points.

"The forward stabilizer." Ric Olie glances up at him expectantly, waiting.

"And those control the pitch?" Anakin indicates a bank of levers by the pilot's right hand.

Ric Olie's weather face breaks into a grin. "You catch on pretty quick."

'As quick as anyone he had ever encountered,' Qui-Gon Jinn thinks. That is the reason Anakin is so special. It gives evidence of his high midi-chlorian count. It suggests anew that he is the Chosen One.

The Jedi Master sighs. Why can the Council not accept that this is so? Why are they so afraid of taking a chance on the boy, when the signs are so clear?

Qui-Gon finds himself frustrated all over again. He understands their thinking. It is bad that Anakin is so old, but not fatal to his chances. What troubles them is not his age, but the conflict they sense within him. Anakin is wrestling with his parentage, with his separation from his mother, his friends, and his home. Especially his mother. He is old enough to appreciate what might happen, and the result is uncertainty that works within him like a caged animal seeking to break free. The Jedi Council knows that it could not tame that uncertainty from without, that it could be mastered only from within. They believe Anakin Skywalker too old for this, his thinking and his beliefs too settled to be safely reshaped. He is vulnerable to his inner conflict, and the dark side would be quick to take advantage of this.

Qui-Gon shakes his head, staring over at the boy from the back of the cockpit. Yes, there are risks in accepting him as an apprentice, but few things of worth are accomplished in life without risk. The Jedi Order is founded on strict adherence to established procedures in the raising and educating of young Jedi, but there are exceptions to all things, even this. That the Jedi Council is refusing even to consider that this is an instance in which an exception should be made is intolerable.

Still, he must keep faith, he knows. He must believe. The decision not to train Anakin would be reconsidered on their return and reversed. If the Council did not embrace the boy's training as a Jedi voluntarily, then it would be up to Qui-Gon to find a way to make it do so.

His thoughts go to Vader who for the past two days has barricaded himself in chambers he occupied, likely meditating as he and Obi-Wan frequently sense the dark side surrounding the ship rather than the light than the coexisting presence that is Darth Vader. Additionally, him attempting to detect whoever Vader may be behind the mask and hood results in constant failures, and he knows that the presumed Sith Lord deactivated the cameras to the chambers several days back.

He turns away then and walks from the cabin to the passageways beyond and descends one level to the Queen's chambers. The others she calls together for this meeting are already present when he arrived. Obi-Wan gives him a brief, neutral nod of recognition, standing next to a glowering Captain Panaka. Jar Jar Binks hugs the wall to one side, apparently trying to disappear into it. Amidala sits on her shipboard throne on a raised dais sat against one wall, two of her handmaidens, Rabé and Eirtaé, flanking her. Her white-painted face is composed and her gaze cool as it meets his own, but there is fire in the words she speaks next.

What the Jedi Master did not see is Darth Vader walking behind them, staring intently at the scene, arms crossed across his chest.

"When we land on Naboo," she advises the Jedi Master after he bows and takes up a position next to Panaka, "it is my intention to act on this invasion at once. My people have suffered enough." She should have done this in the first place. Now, she can see how patience is not always the correct action.

Panaka can barely contain himself, his dark face tight with anger. "When we land, Your Highness, the Trade Federation will arrest you and force you to sign their treaty!"

Qui-Gon nods thoughtfully, curious as to the Queen's thinking. "I agree. I'm not sure what you hope to accomplish by this."

Amidala might have been carved from stone. "The Naboo are going to take back what is ours."

"There are only fourteen of us!" Panaka snaps, unable to keep silent. "Your Highness," he adds belatedly. "We have no army!"

Her eyes shift to Qui-Gon. "The Jedi cannot fight a war for you, Your Highness," he advises. "We can only protect you."

Vader scoffs, not able to take this hypocrisy any longer. "I'm not surprised. You Jedi have a tendency to abandon the people of your Republic."

The room turns to face him, slight smirks coming on the lips of the handmaidens and the Queen. Qui-Gon finds himself worrying about that, sensing the resentment Vader holds at the Jedi have since then spiral, but there are still no ill intentions to the Jedi Order. He can sense something has happened between the Queen and the handmaidens that appear to make them trust the mysterious being greater than before along with growing hatred to the Order. He probes the Force to see if the dark being manipulates them to the point where they don't trust the Jedi, shock to see the Force ringing a negative.

Qui-Gon stands straight, crossing his arms across his chest as he stares at the armored man. "It's not that we don't want to help, Vader, it is just not in our mandate to fight a war."

"If the Trade Federation was sacking Coruscant, you would have all helped without hesitation," Vader replies pointedly, cutting off the Jedi Master's protests and sending him into deep thought, walking closer which slightly worries him. "You Jedi have the livelihood to attempt to be pure pacifists and allow countless lives to be lost, doing nothing to those in the Outer Rim and even those in the Lower City of the planet you reside on."

Qui-Gon opens his mouth to respond to that but then closes it again, knowing deep down that Vader is right. If it was Coruscant, the Jedi would have found it critical to assure the attack is ended in order to protect the Republic. Naboo is not a core world like Coruscant has been for over 25,000 years.

"What do you suggest we do?" It is Obi-Wan who asks the question, his nose raised slightly as he stares at Vader.

"I suggest the Queen deploy a few guards down and dispatch the droids. Not at the palace in order to make it less complicated for us to break through the attack." Vader replies, staring at the Padawan briefly before turning to the Queen.

"That is not a possibility!" Panaka interjects. "We need all hands on deck!"

"Correct me if I'm wrong but there are many guards on the ship," Vader replies coldly, inhospitable cerulean eyes lingering on the Captain's gaze, causing his spine to twitch inwardly, "unless your guards are pure incompetent, you should be able to send little less than a platoon."

"A platoon?!" Panaka shouts, pointing at him with his index finger. "We have limited numbers as it is!"

"I'm afraid I will have to agree with my guard, Lord Vader," the Queen replies, though it is evident that she is conflicted about this.

"Deploy less than five soldiers," the former Sith Lord replies, "they are capable of picking off several droids. It is likely the droids have droid snipers that you can utilize as well and we can acquire more armory."

"That would only waste lives," Panaka replies through gritted teeth.

"Traversing in the city, lightsabers and blasters blazing would too," Vader replies flatly. "Either way lives will be claimed. Following my plan, there could be more survivors."

The Queen sighs. "In spite of my reservation at this not working, but since you have been helpful so far and correct in judgment every step of the way, Lord Vader, I will allow it."

Panaka looks like he is about to argue at that but decides to take his defeat in stride, other than staring at Darth Vader with absolute hatred at the corner of his eyes.

The Queen let her gaze drift from them to settle on Jar Jar. The Gungan is studying his toes. "Jar Jar Binks!" she calls.

Jar Jar, clearly caught off guard, stiffens. "Me, Your Highness?"

"Yes," Amidala of the Naboo affirms, a mischievous glint in her eyes. "I need your help."

Deep in the Naboo swamps, at the edge of the lake that bores downward to the Gungan capital city of Otoh Gunga, the fugitives from the Queen's transport are grouped at the water's edge, waiting for the return of Jar Jar Binks. Amidala and her handmaidens, the Jedi Knights, Captain Panaka, Anakin, R2-D2, Ric Olie, and several other pilots, and a handful of Naboo guards cluster uneasily in the misty silence. It is safe to say that even now no one but the Queen knows exactly what it is she is attempting to do. All she has been willing to reveal to those in a position to inquire was that she wishes to make contact with the Gungan people and Jar Jar would be her emissary. She insisted on landing in the swamp, even after both Panaka and the Jedi advised against it.

A single battleship orbits the planet, all that remains of the Trade Federation blockade. Housed within is the control station responsible for directing the droid army that occupied Naboo. When Panaka wonders aloud at the absence of the other battleships, Qui-Gon points out rather dryly that you don't need a blockade once you control the port.

"The Jedi don't wish to lead an army and fight a war," Padmé says with barely controlled rage to Vader silently.

"Like I said before, your highness, they are beyond complacent," he replies, somewhat bitter about the indifference of the entire issue since he never liked when she was angry in his time as Skywalker. "I am not held back by such reservations."

Anakin, standing apart from the others with R2-D2, studies the group surreptitiously. Jar Jar has been gone a long time, and everyone but the Queen is growing restless. She stands wrapped in her soft robes, silent and implacable in the midst of her handmaidens. Padmé, Eirtaé, and Rabé changed from their crimson hooded cloaks into more functional trousers, tunics, boots, and long-waisted overcoats, and there are blasters strapped to their waists. The boy has never seen Padmé like this, and he finds himself wondering how good a fighter she is. Darth Vader is not far from them, presence as foreboding as always.

As if realizing he is thinking of her, Padmé breaks away from the others and comes over to him, though most notably he can swear there are little smirks sent at their direction by the handmaidens and even by the Queen.

"How are you, Annie?" she asks quietly, her kind eyes locking on his.

He shrugs. "Okay. I've missed you."

"It's good to see you again. I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to talk with you before, but I've been very busy."

They haven't spoken more than a few words to each other since leaving Tatooine, and Anakin hasn't even seen Padmé since their departure from Coruscant. It bothers him, but he keeps it to himself.

"I didn't-I-" he stutters, looking down at his boots. "They decided not to make me a Jedi."

He recounts the story for her, detailing the events surrounding his appearance before the Jedi Council. Padmé listens intently, then touches his cheek with her cool fingers but anger is in her eyes. "They can change their minds, Annie. Don't give up hope."

She bends close then. "I have something to tell you. The Queen has made a painful, difficult decision-a decision that will change everything for the Naboo. We are a peaceful people, and we do not believe in war. But sometimes there is no choice. Either you adapt or you die. The Queen understands this. She has decided to take an aggressive posture with the Trade Federation army. The Naboo are going to fight to regain their freedom."

"Will there be a battle?" he asks quickly, trying unsuccessfully to hide his excitement.

She nods. "I'm afraid so."

"Will you be involved?" he presses.

She smiles sadly. "Annie, I don't have a choice."

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan stand together some distance away. The Jedi still aren't speaking to each other, or only barely so. Their words on the journey out from Coruscant have been reserved almost exclusively for others. The hard feelings cause by Qui-Gon's bid to train Anakin did not soften. The boy tried to talk to Obi-Wan once aboard the Queen's ship, just to say he was sorry this happened, but the younger Jedi brushed him off.

Now, though, Obi-Wan is beginning to feel uncomfortable with the situation. He has been close with Qui-Gon for too long to let a momentary disagreement put an end to many-odd years of friendship. Qui-Gon is like a father to him, the only father he knows. He is angry that the Jedi Master would dismiss him so abruptly in favor of the boy, but he realizes, too, the depth of Qui-Gon's passion when he believes in something. Training this boy to be a Jedi is a cause Qui-Gon championed as he championed no other in Obi-Wan's memory. He did not do so to slight his protégé. He did so because he believes in the boy's destiny.

Obi-Wan understands. Who can say? Perhaps this time Qui-Gon is right. Perhaps Anakin Skywalker's training was a cause worth fighting for.

Obi-Wan least expects Darth Vader to storm up.

"Kenobi, follow me," he announces curtly, cerulean eyes flashing as if he is daring him to argue. At this point he is willing to drag Kenobi to the other side where they would have their privacy and where Vader can see what Obi-Wan is upset about, additionally learning key information about Qui-Gon Jinn which he accepts he would never understand as much as Obi-Wan Kenobi, due to Qui-Gon Jinn rarely having time to train him.

Obi-Wan is about to argue but silent himself when he sees the daring in his eyes and he follows without hesitation, much to his amazement as he still didn't know exactly what to feel about Vader. Besides, he has a feeling denying Vader will not exactly end well for him regardless if he wants to do so or not. The Jedi Padawan is far weaker than Darth Vader, him apparently favoring the Form, Djem So and Juyo, both forms far more aggressive that would overwhelm his Ataru and he has years of experience at his back.

Once they are far away from the others, Vader turns on him, asking. "Now I am not a Jedi nor would ever be an ally to the Jedi but I am not blind. What is the matter, Jedi?"

"He just abandoned me," Obi-Wan spoke, surprised that he is speaking his problems with a Sith, but he just feels the strange urge to get all of this off his chest to Vader. "I have been his student for the longest but he's acting like the child is more important. I know Anakin was a slave and I really like him, but why does he act like I'm not relevant?"

Vader narrows his eyes at Obi-Wan, reading him slowly and noticing the pain on the now Jedi Padawan's face. He wants to understand why Obi-Wan blamed himself for Qui-Gon for so many years in his former timeline but what if the problem was not Obi-Wan? What if it was Qui-Gon?

He assumed Obi-Wan was acting like a child, throwing a temper tantrum, given his age and how rebellious he was when he was without his 46-year-old mentality along with experience in different sides of the Force. When he was a Jedi Knight and even as a Jedi Padawan, he was naive, wishing his Master's approval and attention, and he assumed it was merely a phase that would pass.

How wrong he is.

"Your Master didn't put you aside on purpose, Kenobi. He just is getting catch up in the revelation with the boy's potential that it just takes up all of his attention. Furthermore, your two's relationship is like that of a father and son, and sometimes the relationships between parents and children get a little strained as the children become adults or a new pack enters. There are plenty of parents and children who don't have that, but some do. So your relationship may be slightly strained already, but you are not a horrible person for feeling these emotions." Vader replies, planting his hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder, not believing how horrible he feels for his Master in the other timeline.

After a few seconds, Vader storms over to Qui-Gon Jinn, his cape billowing behind him as he grabs the Jedi Master's shoulder and practically begins dragging him away without much effort. The handmaidens and guards stare at the former Sith and Jedi Master with shock until he comes to a stop a private distance away.

"Explain," Vader demands, receiving a raised eyebrow of confusion.

"Explain what?" Qui-Gon asks, oblivious.

Vader would have sighed if he was not angry with the Maverick Jedi but he simply points at the Jedi Padawan who is staring at them with shock. Is Vader going to actually stand up for him? Why since Obi-Wan been treating him like a cautious ally since the beginning of this mission?

"About what's going on with you and your Padawan," Vader states curtly.

"The boy is important for the future..." Qui-Gon replies, trailing off, astonished that the man is defending the man, considering the tension between him and his Padawan since mere days ago. He's also attempting to conceal the truth about Skywalker as they are at great risk with him being discovered by this being.

"So you replace your student, Jinn?" Vader demands, planting his hands on his hips. "I am well aware of the boy being the Chosen One but you are going to lose your student if you act like this." There is no misplacing the shock on his face but Vader isn't merciful. "That man loves you and looks up to you; he's worked hard to become your student, and one thing I don't like is when a teacher abandons their student."

"Obi-Wan is ready to face the trials," Qui-Gon counters, crossing his arms across his chest, repeating his words in the Council Chambers. "He can learn no more from me. I focus on the boy more because he needs my attention more, Obi-Wan is grown up and ready for knighthood. I know how important it is to train Anakin because he is the chosen one. I need to make them understand that Anakin will become a great Jedi Knight. He was more occupied with just getting him in training so he could bring balance to the force, the thought of him turning to the dark side most likely never occurred to him.

"Just because you ran into a boy who has the potential to become far more powerful than your protégé does not mean you replace your first student," Vader can't resist the urge to snarl, beginning to wonder if his father figure requires a lesson as well. "Skywalker is not a liability but you are disregarding one person, an individual you have worked with for years, for another who you barely know. Your telescoping vision also causes you to unconsciously verbally backhand your apprentice a couple of times. Even though it's not on purpose, the neglect to watch your tongue and not behave as though you don't care about your student who assisted you through many trials and struggles. What either makes it worse or better is the fact that your student is the humble, level-headed individual that he is, assuming you have ultimately placed your priorities in the right place. So he forces himself to believe he's wrong and to believe that Skywalker is top priority. Mostly, the worst damage you inadvertently caused was to start off Kenobi and the boy off on maladroit terms. It isn't smart to toss aside your old protégé in front of the Council and treat your new apprentice as if he is nothing to you."

Qui-Gon's eyes widen. Admittedly, he hasn't thought about that. He figures, Obi-Wan, being the loyal and by-the-book type of Jedi he is, would control his emotions as the Council preached for him to do for years. What if Obi-Wan resents Anakin for stealing Qui-Gon's attention and leaving him out? The more he thinks about it, the more the realization starts to form. Obi-Wan is jealous and he is hurt.

"Listen here, Jinn, you are going to speak with your student or so help me I will drag you into the back room and give you a near-live demonstration of what I have done to that droid days ago in the Naboo's hanger."

There is rarely a time where Qui-Gon Jinn admits he is frightened, given which type of Master he had. But that intimidating glare by Vader is truly enough to make the Jedi Master shiver. The man is unquestionably angry with him because of how coldly he had dismissed Obi-Wan; that much is clear, but why? Why does his Padawan appear to mean so much to Vader?

Vader, sensing the fear boiling up in the Jedi, turns to Obi-Wan. He guesses overprotective little brother has his habits. Old habits die hard after all.

"Kenobi, get over here," Vader commands tersely, the Padawan not moving an inch. "So help me, if you don't come over here right now, I will drag you here like a child and I won't stand for disobedience as I have inconvenient methods." Knowing that Vader is far stronger than him, the Padawan hastily follows his orders, approaching his Master and the former Sith, and the two men stare at each other, the Master staring at him with a solemn stare but the Padawan is just glaring at him with pain and sadness. "Now talk."

"I've been thinking lately," Qui-Gon announces, keeping his voice low, his eyes direct toward the others. "We are treading on dangerous ground. If the Queen intends to fight a war, we cannot become involved. Not even in her efforts to persuade the Gungans to join with the Naboo against the Federation, if that is what she intends by coming here. The Jedi have no authority to take sides."

"But we do have authority to protect the Queen," Obi-Wan points out.

Qui-Gon's eyes shift to find his. "It is a fine line we walk, then."

"Not that type of conversation," Vader snaps furiously, feeling the urge to lift these two idiots up and levitate them right here and shake them until they actually talk about amending their problems. "About your Master and Student relationship."

"Our relationship?" Obi-Wan repeats incredulously with raised eyebrows before continuing. "I fail to see how that is of any business it is of yours."

Vader scowls. "It is my business when your negative emotions are conspicuous through the Force and even the passengers on the ship notice it."

Obi-Wan bites down on his lip bitterly as he eyes his Master. "I don't want to talk about it."

He is about to walk off, but Vader has enough; he seizes the Jedi Padawan with the Force and pulls him in impulsive speed. He will not allow Obi-Wan, the man who helped him become one with the Force, to blame himself all of his life and become a depressed old man in the desert. He gave the old man a warning and the fool continues to attempt to deny this because he wants to be a perfect Jedi and attempting to denounce his hurt and jealousy.

Obi-Wan, attempting to break free, place up barriers, however, the former Sith has a firm hold until he brings him in front of the Maverick Jedi Master. The Padawan now stands in front of his Master, and upon him attempting to resist, his legs suddenly give out not painfully but they are not operating correctly with him right now, his arms soon tangle behind their back undoubtedly so he would not be able to break free.

"You two will talk unless you want me to fix it." Vader threatens, crossing his arms across his chest. "You two want me to drag you onto the ship and force you two to talk which would not be as peaceful as I am attempting to make it now, Jedi, it is wise you talk now." Force, why do these two have to act like children? They are both adults too.

Obi-Wan sighs before speaking. It's not like he is able to crane his neck away with Vader paralyzing his body movements with the Force in some power that he hasn't either mastered yet or doesn't know of, considering whoever Vader's Master must be is likely someone outside of the Jedi Order, an ex Jedi who wanted to explore different sides of the Force, or a Sith which is becoming unlikely more and more than Vader is around.

"Master, I behaved badly on Coruscant, and I am embarrassed. I meant no disrespect to you. I do not wish to be difficult in the matter of the boy." the young man replies, sounding defeated at not being able to resist this conversation that he dreaded to have since he knows it was coming regardless of Vader's intervention.

"Nor have you been," the older Jedi replies, a faint smile appearing. "You have been honest with me. Honesty is never wrong. I did not lie when I told the Council you were ready. You are. I have taught you all I can. You will be a great Jedi, my young Padawan. You will make me proud."

As quickly as that the breach that opend between them is closed. Instead of attempting to stretch the bond further to the point where one or the other falls to the dark side and pin each other as enemies, Vader actually makes them amend their relationships and connections.

"Good, if you two have another argument, we are doing this again," Vader continues, not having to use the Force to add extra weight to his words as he stares at the Master and Padawan with an icy glare that is enough to make a Korun run before he releases Obi-Wan, untangling him and allowing him to sit on the ground, him having to stretch in order for feeling to return to his body.

And that is how the duo of Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi just got defeated but reborn at the same time.

Vader is the type of individual who would follow whatever he says he would do. Since he came, they thought he was bluff a few times, but he is a dead serious individual that is not to be taken lightly. He does not spat empty promises. Much like Qui-Gon's own Master during their duo and partnership all those years ago which brought up good memories from long ago, Vader is deadly and effective, but it has been years since Qui-Gon saw his former Master.

Regardless, both agree with both their stares and through the Force in every sense of the word, coming to a subconscious compromise that they rather not see another one of Vader's... unmerciful aggressive negotiations.

Darth Maul clenches up his right fist as he stares down at one of his wounds that remained. Most of his wounds have been tendered to but the pain he felt is still there by his Master along with the wound of abandonment and his title being dissolved by the same man.

All of his anger is direct at Darth Vader. He vows to kill the man on the battlefield once he kills the two Jedi and fights to the man's very end. Maul would not allow himself to be placed in such a feeble position once more as he was on Tatooine. His anger and rage for Vader are beyond imaginable due to being his first failure for the first time in many years. It is due to the man that his potential is being called into question by his Master.

Suddenly, the Force itself wraps around him, along with a familiar presence that provokes the Zabrak in staring around slightly frantically.

"Tell me, Darth Maul, why do you serve Darth Sidious?" A voice - a voice all too recognizable to him - that he last heard on Tatooine demands, provoking him to turn around and seeing the hooded form of Darth Vader, reaching down and grasping the hilt of his lightsaber, prepared to impale him through the sternum as this man alone is the cause of all the pain aching through his body and the torture he received for a week.

"Boy, you cannot defeat me even should you attempt to," Darth Vader growls, sensing his intentions through the Force. "You are a mere instrument, a tool that maintains no purpose in the galaxy."

Maul's hand trembles. "And yet you serve the Jedi. You call me an individual with no purpose but you are the one who works alongside their pitiful Order."

"The Jedi do not control me. Additionally, I am aligned with the Queen of Naboo, not the Jedi. Were it not for this insignificant invasion on this planet, I wouldn't have made my presence known to the galaxy, but upon sensing your Master having something to do with it, it presented an opportunity for me to overthrow him that I have chosen to take. Darth Sidious will be run to the ground."

Maul is stunned. Vader knows the identity of his Master, likely aware of the identity he hides behind, and there is a probable chance that he knows his plans.

"You are betraying our ways. You use the light side as much as the Jedi do. You are a threat to our future plans." Maul snarls, pondering for a brief second if Vader spots the lightsaber angeled at his torso.

"I use the light because it proves a purpose-"

"A purpose?!" Maul interrupts with a scoff. "The light is always weaker than the dark."

"Weaker," It is Vader's turn to scoff. "Humor me, animal. Do the dark side heal you during times of feasibility? Do the dark side gives you clarity in battle when you are attacking without control of your forms? Do the dark side presents courage to your soldiers in battle? Do the dark side allow bits of peace and harmony in your life?"

Now Vader is pacing the Zabrak, and he can sense his growing irritation and dark amusement.

"The dark side does not require those powers," Maul retorts furiously, activating his crimson blade and impaling him clean and through, only for his lightsaber to go through him, not affecting him in the slightest.

On the contrary, Vader chuckles. "You honestly believe I would show myself in the flesh and permit you such a clean opportunity, insignificant child."

Stunningly, the setting around them alters an entirely into a different setting and place. The place is temperate and verdant, with a comfortable atmosphere despite its challenging ecosystem and perpetually bathe in a red mist, its terrain is one of the contrasts, ranging from the murky swamps to the harsh, barren rocks.

Suddenly, there is masked mechanical breathing that causes Maul to freeze in place in near terror as he turns to see an individual clouded in a suit and mask. Wires are connected to the figure, the breathing rapid almost mockingly, and what he swears as a life support system is connected to the figure's suit. Most evidently, there is an all too familiar crimson lightsaber humming at his side, poised to strike.

And what Maul recognizes as Nightsisters assume positions, energy bows grasp in each of their hands before they open fire at the figure who parries each shot without taking even one step back. It is child play as each of the Nightsisters is falling to their reflected bolts before the being finally moves.

The monster moves with a lazy precision, blocking each shot with merely his lightsaber grasp in his right hand, the surroundings soon becoming a bloodbath swiftly.

Decapitating the last Nightsister's head from her shoulders, the figure moves into a camp, striding right past him as if he doesn't exist. The monster approaches a woman who stares up at him, beyond startled and fearful, spiking an inner rage in Darth Maul for a reason that escapes him as the monster raises his hand, and the woman is lifted off of the ground, grasping her throat desperately, pain evident in her eyes.

"Show me, Maul," the figure thunders, staring at the woman still. "Show me you can save her. Show me you can save the woman who suffered unimaginable agony by Mother Talzin in order for you to live a free life. Show me that the dark side of the Force is powerful enough to save her."

It is the first time Darth Maul has ever seen his mother though there were flashes and images in Sidious's teachings of him as his Master taken pleasure in tormenting his apprentice.


It mocks before it elevates the woman higher, her gasps falling on death's ears before he nods slightly, and the woman's neck snaps, her collapsing onto the ground, the scene replaying in his mind constantly. The mask's mechanical breathing appears to be taunting him, adding salt to the wound.

"You have failed, you animal. That is why your Master stripped you of your title, is it not. You are nothing but a failure to everyone around you; your Master... your clans... your mother..."

The Zabrak wants to do something, to heal the individual of a forgotten past. He is helpless, and so with a rallying cry, he lunges towards the being, lightsaber swinging horizontally though the figure remains impassive until he was seconds away from decapitating him into two, dodging each of his strikes before he catches his hands into a tight grasp, deactivating the lightsaber and pressing down tightly, kicking the Zabrak in the abdomen, kicking the wind out of him, and slamming him to the ground before the Zabrak is levitated to the air and throws him in front of his limp mother.

"You said so yourself that the light side is not required. Go on, beast, save her with the power of the dark side. Kill me."

The Zabrak knows he doesn't have the power to save her, despite his deeply immense power in the dark side.


The scene changes.

And Maul is free again, staring into the crimson eyes of Darth Vader, much intensity and power evident in his eyes.

"The dark side cannot save, beast. It can only intensify the power that is trimming within us. While it has its uses, the foolishness in you and your Master's beliefs is beyond preposterous. A true Sith does not hide. A true Sith does not create absolute delusions. You and your Master are an utter and complete humiliation to not only the Order of Bane but to the Sith's original designation, what defines them, and goal."

And the being evaporates, the tension hanging in the air suddenly disappearing, though the pressure and the oxygen that he felt being in that machine that must be must have once been Darth Vader at one point. Darth Vader must have once fight with his rage and anguish to fuel his resolve, enabling him to dispatch his enemies without compassion or remorse. He can tell where Darth Vader was involved the situation was always the same: he was the predator, and one was the prey.

Darth Maul is the apprentice of Darth Sidious, and under his tutelage, he becomes one of the most powerful Sith Lords of the time. He is extremely proficient in the seventh form of lightsaber combat 'Juyo'; this is considered one of the most aggressive forms, using one's hate to power one's strikes. Maul is exceptional with it and is one of the best duelists in the history of the Sith. He manages to dispatch multiple Jedi in the shadows and avoid many others, hunting like prey for years, assassinating without leaving a trace.

Darth Vader however doesn't require being in the shadows for the end result would be the same. He would win. No one can bring someone such as him down easily.

Maul, deep down, knows under no circumstances, no matter the predicament Vader is in, he would never be able to conquer someone such as Darth Vader.

Chapter Text

If someone told Sabé that, one day, she would meet with the Gungan Leader, Boss Nass himself, she would have never believed them in a million years. As far as Sabé knows, she lacks tactics in negotiation given she never done things such as this before!

And yet she is going to be the one who will meet with the Gungan Leader that probably holds as much as bad blood to the Naboo as much as his predecessors, hoping to Naboo's heavens Padmé nor she won't say the wrong words that would seal not only their fates but Naboo's. In spite of maintaining mainly a stern face, she and people close to her know who she is behind the mask and decoy of Queen Amidala. A teenager girl who is currently learning more about her education.

Deliberately, Sabé slows her steps, wishing to keep Darth Vader behind her at all times. She feel safer in his presence, given Vader must have encountered greater foes, given the power he demonstrated on the Naboo skiff.

Emotionally, right now, she is unsure how to feel about the man. Sabé has been on the ship, watching Vader addressing Captain Panaka and she knows from experience Darth Vader unquestionably hates Captain Panaka, though this confuses each of the young women. What did their captain friend and his guards ever do to Vader that makes him hold them in a darker light?

Then again, Vader is a paradoxically, bemusing being that can never be observed. Just when one thinks they know everything about him, he pulls out another card that just throws one off-guard. Although she never met him and only saw him on holo recorders when the Republic speak of the Jedi Order, she is reminded of the Grandmaster of the Jedi Order but of course much darker and a warrior at heart, unlike the Grandmaster who preaches peace and negotiation whereas Vader jumps in battle without any shred of hesitation but shares a similar wisdom and calmness but his willing to go into battle is impressive. His attitude changes swiftly; he can go from a kind individual who sprouts wisdom to someone who is rough-spoken to an absolute warrior in a mere second, but she gets a distinct impression that he will never harm them, Padmé most of all for some reason, though that can be due to her title... but Sabé gets an distinct impression it's something more.

Truth be told, her view to the Galactic Republic and Jedi Order, along with the rest of her fellow handmaidens and even her Queen, poisoned even more since Darth Vader's claims have been confirmed that they wouldn't lift a finger in helping their people.

How can one be peacekeepers in times of war?

It is times like these where she wishes she never agreed to being a decoy to Queen Amidala, but if she never became one, she would have never met Padmé nor the others so perhaps it's just her nerves speaking mentally.

The group traverses the swamp for some time, first skirting the lake, then plunging deep into a forest of massive trees and tall grasses, following a water-screened pathway that connected a series of knolls. Somewhere in the distance, Trade Federation STAPs buzzes and whine as a search for the transport fugitives commenced in earnest. Jar Jar glances about apprehensively as he picks his way through the mire, but did not slow. Vader remains impassive, his eyes direct towards the fake and real Queen.

Finally, they emerge in a clearing of marshy grasses and stands of trees with roots tangled so thickly they form what appears to be an impassable hedge.

Binks stops, sniffs the air speculatively, and nods. "Dissen it."

He lifts his head and makes a strange chittering noise through his billed mouth, the sound echoing eerily in the silence. The group waits, eyes searching the misty gloom.

Call it bias but Sabé is beginning to honestly get annoyed with that Gungan and his antics.

Suddenly Captain Tarpals and a scouting party of Gungans riding kaadu emerge from the haze, electropoles, and energy spears hold at the ready.

"Heydey ho, Cap'n Tarpals," Binks greets cheerfully.

"Binks!" the Gungan leader exclaims in disbelief. "Notta gain!"

Binks shrugs nonchalantly. "We come ta see da Boss!"

Tarpals rolls his eyes. "Ouch time, Binks. Ouch time for alla yous, mebbe."

Herding them together, Gungans on kaadu providing a perimeter escort on all sides, Tarpals lead them deeper into the swamp. The canopy form by the limbs of the trees become so thick that the sky and the sun almost disappears. Bits and pieces of statuary begin to surface, crumbling stone facades and plinths sinking in the mire. Vines snake their way across the broken remains, dropping down from limbs that twist and wound together in vast wooden nets.

Pushing through a high stand of saw grass, they arrive in a clearing filled with Gungan refugees-men, women, and children of all ages and descriptions, huddled together on a broad, dry rise, many with their possessions gather around them. Tarpals lead the company past the refugees to where the ruins of what had once been a grand temple are being slowly reclaimed by the swamp. Platforms and stairs ate all that remained intact, the columns and ceilings having long ago collapsed and broken apart. The massive heads and limbs of stone statues poke out of the mire, fingers clutching weapons and eyes staring sightlessly into space.

At the far end of the ruins, Boss Nass appears, lumbering out of shadows with several more of the Gungan council to stand atop a stone head partially submerged in the water. Amidala and her retinue approaches within hailing distance over a network of causeways and islands.

"Jar Jar Binks, whadda yous doen back?" Boss Nass rumbles angrily. "Yous suppose ta take dese outlanders and no come back! Yous pay good dis time!" The fleshy head swivel. "Who yous bring here ta da Gungan sacred place?"

Sabé, for some reason, feels something on her right shoulder, making her stare down with her left eye, finding nothing there, before she stares at Darth Vader who tilts his head, and she knows immediately he is the cause of what she is feeling. How can he touch her without physically touching her? Perhaps just a Force thing those Force Sensitives rambles about.

She can hear the man's voice in her head, authoritatively but with layers of calm and compassion that she hasn't heard from him before.

'I will protect you.'

How is this possible when the mysterious man isn't even speaking? Why does he care about her when she's just a handmaiden? Mentally promise never to doubt the Force again, biting her lip before nodding, Sabé steps forward at once towards Boss Nass, white face lifting but speaking nervously, feeling slightly reassured with Vader being prepared to protect her should the Gungan choose to attack.

"I am Amidala, Queen of the Naboo."

"Naboo!" Boss Nass thunders. "No like da Naboo! Yous bring da maccaneks! Dey bust up our homes! Dey drive us all out!" A heavy arm lifts, pointing at the Queen. "Yous all bombad! Yous all die, mebbe!"

Vader stiffens as the handmaiden as he, along with Skywalker, notices suddenly that they are completely surrounded by Gungans, some on kaadu, some on foot, all with electropoles, energy spears, and some sort of throwing device. Captain Panaka and the Naboo guards are looking around nervously, hands straying toward their blasters. The Jedi flanks the Queen and her handmaidens, but their arms hang loosely at their sides.

"We wish to form an alliance with you," Sabé tries again, despite part of her childish instincts screaming at her to run, though this is swiftly silenced. In her sacrifice of becoming a handmaiden, she has trained and became experienced quickly with the many attempts on Padmé's life by bounty hunters.

"We no form nutten wit da Naboo!" Boss Nass roars angrily.

Abruptly, Padmé detaches herself from the others and steps in front of the Queen.

And suddenly, the familiar presence of Darth Vader that had placed a shield over them several days back evaporates from over the Queen and handmaidens, them each feeling this but it didn't disturb them.

"You did well, Sabé. But I will have to do this myself," she says quietly and turns to face Boss Nass.

"Who dis?" the head Gungan snaps.

Vader can't help but grins slightly at the slight exasperation from the handmaiden's aura, annoyance ringing off her and evident in her eyes. He knows she would support Padmé through almost anything but she is overprotective and can grow exasperated at Padmé's disobeying tendencies, doubtlessly disliking this plan.

Standing next to Anakin, R2-D2 beeps softly in recognition. The little droid figures it out first.

'Unsurprisingly,' Vader states mentally, knowing that his old friend has shown much intelligence to the point where he played a major role in destroying the first and second Death Star.

Padme straightens. "I am Queen Amidala," she announces in a loud, clear voice. "Sabé serves from time to time as my decoy, my loyal bodyguard. I am sorry for my deception, but given the circumstances, I am sure you can understand." She turns to the Jedi, her eyes shifting momentarily to find Anakin. "Gentlemen, I apologize for misleading you."

Her eyes return quickly to Boss Nass, who is frowning suspiciously, clearly not understanding any of what is happening. "Although our people do not always agree, Your Honor," she continues, her voice softening, "we have always lived in peace. Until now. The Trade Federation, with its tanks and its 'maccaneks,' has destroyed all that we have worked so hard to build. The Gungans are in hiding, and the Naboo have been imprisoned in camps. If we do not act quickly, all that we value will be lost forever."

She stretches out her hands. "I ask you to help us, Your Honor." She pauses. "No, I beg you to help us." She drops abruptly to one knee in front of the astonished leader of the Gungans. There is an audible gasp of surprise from the Naboo. "We are your humble servants, Your Honor," Padmé says so that all can hear. "Our fate is in your hands. Please help us."

She motions, and one by one, her handmaidens, Panaka, and the Naboo pilots and guards drop to their knees beside her. Somewhat begrudgingly, Vader drops to his knee stiffly and tightly, much to the secret levity of the Queen and the handmaidens as they could hear a slight grunt of annoyance. Anakin and the Jedi are the last to join them. Out of the corner of his eye, Anakin sees Jar Jar standing virtually alone in their midst, staring around in wonderment and shock.

For a moment, no one says anything. Then a slow, deep rumble of laughter rises out of the throat of Boss Nass. "Ho, ho, ho! Me like dis! Dis good! Yous no think yous greater den da Gungans!"

The head Gungan comes forward, reaching out with one hand. "Yous stand, Queen Amidoll. Yous talk wit me, okay? Mebbe we gonna be friends after all!"

The former Sith is the first to stand and he storms off to the back of the crowd, the guards and other handmaidens separating, less they will find themselves be knocked aside since to be blunt it is something he would do.

Vader will not be treated like a humble servant by these primitive Gungans.

The senior Sith Lord appears in a shimmer of robes and shadows as his protégé and the Neimoidians walk slowly down the corridor leading from the throne room back to the plaza.

"We have sent out patrols," Nute Gunray says, concluding his report to the ominous figure in the projection. "We have already located their starship in the swamp. It won't be long until we have them in hand, my lord."

Darth Sidious is silent. For a moment Nute Gunray is afraid he hasn't been heard. "This is an unexpected move for the Queen," the Sith Lord declares, at last, his voice so low it could barely be heard. "It is too aggressive. Lord Maul, be mindful."

"Yes, Master," the other Sith growls softly, yellow eyes gleaming.

The Sith Lord relishes the hatred he can sense from his apprentice.

"Be patient," Darth Sidious purrs, head lower in cowl shadows, hands fold into black robes. "Let them make the first move."

In silence, Darth Maul and the Neimoidians continue on as the hologram slowly fades away.

Boss Nass is as mercurial as he is large, and his change of attitude toward the Naboo is dramatic. Once he decide that the Queen did not consider herself his superior, that she is in fact quite sincere in her plea for Gungan's help, he is quick to come around. The fact that his dislike of the battle droids is every bit as strong as hers didn't hurt matters, of course. Perhaps he has been hasty in his belief that the "maccaneks" wouldn't find the Gungans in the swamps. Otoh Gunga been attacked at daybreak two days earlier and its inhabitants driven from their homes. Boss Nass is not about to sit still for that. If a plan can be put together to drive the invaders out, the Gungan army will do its part to help.

He takes Amidala and her companions out of the swamp to the edge of the grass plains that ran south to the Naboo capital city of Theed. Any attack will be mounted from here, and the Queen come to the Gungans with a very specific plan of attack in mind.

The first step in that plan involves sending Captain Panaka on a reconnaissance of the city.

As they stand looking out from the misty confines of the swamp toward the open grasslands, waiting for Panaka's return, Boss Nass trundles up to Jar Jar.

The armored man stands in the background, Boss Nass notes. He is darker in armory than the Jedi and something about being in his presence is complicated to behold. There is something about him that intimidates the Gungan, enough to nearly make air leave his lungs for a brief moment.

"Yous doen grand, Jar Jar Binks!" he rumbles, wrapping a meaty arm around the slender Gungan's shoulders, attempting not to stare at the armored man. "Yous bring da Naboo and da Gungan together! Tis very brave thing."

Jar Jar shuffles his feet and looks embarrassed. "Ah, yous no go sayendat. Tis nutten."

"No, yous grand warrior!" Boss Nass declares, squeezing the air out of his compatriot with a massive hug.

"No, no, no," the other persists bashfully.

"So," Boss Nass concludes brightly, "we make yous bombad general in da Gungan army!"

"What?" Jar Jar exclaims in dismay. "General? Me? No, no, no!" he gasps, and his eyes roll up, his tongue falls out, and he faints dead away.

Padmé is in conference with the Jedi and the Gungan generals, to whose number Jar Jar Binks just been added, so Anakin, at loose ends, wanders over to keep company with the Gungan sentries who are keeping a lookout for Panaka. The Gungans patrols the swamp perimeter on kaadu and keep watching through macro binoculars from treetops and the remains of ancient statuary, making certain Federation scouting parties didn't come up on them unexpectedly.

She can tell Vader is not pleased with the presence of the Gungans nor fond of trusting them, that being given he is not interacting with any of them and is instead standing at her back, arms hang at his side.

Anakin stands at the base of a temple column, still trying to come to terms with Padmé's revelation. Everyone has been surprised, of course, but no one more than he. He isn't sure how he feels about her now, knowing she wasn't just a girl, but a Queen. He wants to talk to her, but there isn't any opportunity for that here. He supposes that things won't be the same after this, but he wishes they can. He likes her as much now as he did before, and to tell the truth, he don't care if she is a Queen or not.

He glances over at the girl and the Jedi and thinks how different things are here than they had been on Tatooine. Nothing worked out the way he hoped for any of them, and it remains to be be see if this is a good idea to come with them is a good idea after all.

The Gungan lookout standing atop a piece of statuary above him grunts. "Dey comen," he calls down, peering out into the grasslands through his macro binoculars.

Anakin gives a yell in response and races over to Padmé, the Jedi, and the Gungan generals.

"They're back!" he shouts.

Everyone turns to watch a squad of four speeders skim over the flats and pull to a stop in the concealing shadow of the swamp. Captain Panaka and several dozen Naboo soldiers, officers, and starfighter pilots jump down. Panaka makes his way directly to the Queen.

Behind the Queen, Darth Vader stands, imposing and large as always, proving to be intimidating whenever he is silent more than whenever he is vocalizing. Anakin is grateful that someone so-so wizard is going to be at Padmé's flank and appears to be willing to protect her at all times but there is still that coldness that radiates around him yet there is something mysterious about him. Not an angel of course like Padmé but more-or-less what is called a spacer.

"I think we got through without being detected, Your Highness," he advises quickly, brushing the dust from his clothing.

"What is the situation?" she asks as the others crowd close to them.

Panaka shakes his head. "Most of our people are in the detention camps. A few hundred officers and guards have formed an underground movement to resist the invasion. I've brought as many of the leaders as I could find."

"Good." Padmé replies, nodding appreciatively toward Boss Nass. "The Gungans have a larger army than we imagined."

"Very, very bombad!" the Gungan chief rumbles.

Panaka exhales wearily. "You'll need it. The Federation army is much larger than we thought, too. And stronger." He gives the Queen a considerate look. "In my opinion, this isn't a battle we can win, Your Highness."

Standing at the edge of the circle, Jar Jar Binks looks down at Anakin and rolls his eyes despairingly.

"Don't underestimate our chances, captain," Vader's cool voice vibrates behind them. "Superior numbers they may have but their arrogance and lacks of intelligence is a flaw, one we can exploit."

Padmé, too, is undeterred. "I don't intend to win it, Captain. The battle is a diversion. We need the Gungans to draw the droid army away from Theed, so we can infiltrate the palace and capture the Neimoidian viceroy. The Trade Federation cannot function without its head. Neimoidians don't think for themselves. Without the viceroy to command them, they will cease to be a threat."

She waits for them to consider her plan, eyes fixing automatically on Qui-Gon Jinn, asking. "What do you think, Master Jedi?"

"It is a well-conceived plan," Qui-Gon acknowledges. "It appears to be your best possible move, Your Highness, although there is a great risk. Even with the droid army in the field, the viceroy will be well guarded. And many of the Gungans may be killed."

"That is the price of war, Jedi," Vader interjects, "unless you are prepared to lead the army, Jedi, than you should exclude yourself out of it, for there is going to be casualties due to you seeking to remain moral peacekeepers," Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan briefly glares at Vader before deflating as Vader speaks again, his attention now on Padmé. "It's a envisage plan for your age, your highness, but it is flawed. Like Jinn states, it will cause the death of many, but if they will be able to distract the droids long enough..." He purposely trails off, sensing she will get his jest.

"Then we will be able to deactivate the army..." Padmé finishes for him. It's a horrible outcome regardless of the death of many but preferable to the alternative.

Boss Nass snorts derisively. "They bombad guns no get through our shields! We ready to fight!"

Jar Jar gives Anakin another eye roll, a sentiment Vader shares, but this time Boss Nass sees Jar Jar do so and give his new general a hard warning look.

Padmé is thinking. "We could reduce the Gungan casualties by securing the main hangar and sending our pilots to knock out their orbiting control ship. Without the control ship to signal them, the droid army can't function at all."

Everyone nods in agreement. "But if the viceroy should escape, Your Highness," Obi-Wan points out darkly, "he will return with another droid army, and you'll be no better off than you are now. Whatever else happens, you must capture him."

"Indeed, we must," Padme agrees. "Everything depends on it. Cut off the head, and the serpent dies. Without the viceroy, the Trade Federation collapses."

Vader tilts his head at that. It's a smart plan for certain, though his old Master is correct. The Trade Federation is full of pitiful incompetence that doesn't know when to lay down their power until the galaxy comes crashing down upon them, the Clone Wars being evidence of that. He finds it pathetic really. When they are cornered, he sees them for who they truly are, sniveling cowards who most likely can't stand a challenge against even a Jedi Youngling.

Vader notes as they move on to other matters then, beginning a detailed discussion of battle tactics and command responsibilities which he chooses not to involve himself in since if it is up to him, they will just charge the palace, lightsaber and guns blazing. Anakin stands listening for a moment, then eases his way close to Qui-Gon and tugs on his sleeve.

"What about me?" he asks quietly.

The Jedi Master puts a hand on the boy's head and smiles. "You stay close to me, Annie, do as I say, and you'll be safe."

Keeping safe isn't quite what the boy had in mind, but he let the matter drop, satisfy that as long as he is close to Qui-Gon, he won't be far from the action.

The Trade Federation didn't stand a chance.

Shaking his head at their naivety, Vader walks over to Anakin Skywalker, who's eyes are fixated on Qui-Gon, the older man's eyes sympathetic.

"Anakin, I know you are sad about leaving your mother behind for the first time, but a Jedi's life is sacrifice, and while I don't follow the code to the letter, and view it as more of a guideline, the basic principles are the same regardless. You have to learn to let go sometimes."

"I can't," Anakin replies, "I can't be something who I am not, Qui-Gon."

Vader frowns when Qui-Gon meets his eyes, a hardened glint flashing across his eyes. "While I understand your stance, Jinn, Skywalker deserve to know what type of life he was walking into, and he especially deserved to knew that the life of a Jedi is about having to let go of his mother. He's already formed an attachment to his mother, a deep one, one that got him through his early life as a slave. Discovering that he would be helpless to help her after the fact, asking him to give her up, he never would have been able to fully do that, Jinn. If she perishes while he have the strength to save her, it would have destroyed him. It would lead him straight to the dark side. Take a good long look at him Qui-Gon, stretch out your senses and feel. He loves and cares to readily and to freely to be a proper Jedi. It would just clash with who he is as a individual and leave him unbalanced and unstable."

Anakin stares between the two men before Qui-Gon nods slightly. "I do care for him and would take your advisement under deep consideration when I begin training him."

Vader nods, sensing the truth within the Maverick Jedi's words, before he replies, "Good. Do so."

Qui-Gon nods before walking away. Vader remembers why he adored the Maverick Jedi so much. He is able to admit his mistakes and the shortcoming in the Jedi instead of being another emotionless tool.

"I-I thought being a Jedi would be easier. I just can't lose my mother."

Vader feels empathy for his younger self, for he once have been in that position, replying flatly. "I will make a personal promise to you, Anakin Skywalker, you will never lose your mother permanently no matter of the Jedi's distaste of your attachments."

Anakin trembles. "Can-can you become my Master? You would be better in my opinion."

"I cannot," Vader replies adamantly, surprised by the pang of guilt he feels. By the pain in his younger self's eyes, Vader feels like a hypocrite even more, a further horrible person, but he knows Sidious would only target him more when he's younger. He would eventually sway him away when he's older. "Contrary to your beliefs, Anakin," he is slightly stunned by using his first name only, "I have my own life to live and there are rivals who would hurt you to get to me."

Vader pauses, knowing that Anakin would need a lesson that he learned later on unfortunately.

"Anakin... the Jedi Code doesn't give all the answers. I want you to do me a favor."


He moves to kneel down in front of him. "Don't be the Jedi the Order would want you to be. Be better. Be someone who is not blinded by codes."

With a eager, determined stare, Anakin replies, "I will, by Gardulla the Hutt, will be the Jedi you see in me."

Vader smiles, hoping to the Force that he doesn't destroy this version of himself's innocence. He heavily doubts it which did leave him with remorse, but hopefully, at the end, this Anakin Skywalker have a happier ending and climax. He would see to it that this boy be the Force User who he wants to be, no matter of others such as Sidious and the Jedi may attempt to stop him.

"Wow," Padmé says from behind him somewhat soberly, "who knows you are good with children?"

Vader tips his head as he stands back up, saying with conviction. "The boy required such words in his time of conflict. He would not be hurt in such a matter."

"So you are willing to save us?" Padmé asks sadly. "Why?"

"Because you asked me," Vader replies pointedly, "unless you wish Naboo to be left barred to the mercy of the Trade Federation."

"Hopefully, Palpatine would change this ineffectiveness that has corrupted the Republic," Padmé speaks in deep mourning, though there is an evident change in the belief she once had for the Republic.

Like in the original timeline, Padmé is at odds with the Republic though Palpatine persuaded her that he would change the Republic and make it stronger and better. Much like he did with him, Palpatine manipulated the truth from Padmé, for that is all that sniveling bastard is. A manipulator who deserves what's coming to him and deserves to be in the seven hells of the Force.

Vader knows this would change Padmé's faith in the Republic from the original timeline indefinitely should he speak next. Loathe as he admits to doing it in practically manipulating her, he would carry through since she would probably be one of his strongest allies in stopping Sidious.

"Please, your highness, don't full yourself with delusions and hallucinations. He is another bureaucrat to seize control." Vader replies in a not so forced bored and casual tone.

That causes her to stare sharply at Vader. Senator Palpatine was born on their homeworld and helped them before so they find that sentence mildly insulting. Additionally, this is the first day for the man and he should be given a chance.

"Senator Palpatine is not a bur-" Padmé begins to offer as an argument to defend a native of her home planet.

"So far he has failed to convince me," Vader replies, scowling underneath his mask, his leathered hand tightening up into a fist, disliking how Padmé is still a firm supporter of Palpatine at this rate which he will have to break in years time. "Look around you, Queen, handmaidens, do you see the Republic here? Do you see any assistance from the Jedi? No. There are guards who are hardly worth it of being called soldiers and can't pose a real challenge against those battle droids who have been programmed to kill. There are Gungans who is leading the charge; sentinel and innocent beings who are going to perish in this upcoming battle. So far, all I am seeing is people who never even marched into battle before have to lose their lives due to corruption and ineffectiveness. I highly doubt a newly appointed Chancellor would do better than his predecessors."

"But-" Padmé begins, attempting to offer an argument for the Republic.

"Gunray is behind it, but the Republic is also accountable for the countless deaths that have occured on the planet," he continues bitingly, interrupting the woman, "imagine how many families are stripped from each other; children. If the Republic and Jedi want to prove they care about any wellbeing of the natives on this planet, they would have dispatched several Jedi onto this planet and this planet would have already been saved. The Senator appears to have forgotten about the wellbeing of his planet." There is no mocking nor taunting in his tone, but pure disgust.

Padmé finally breaks down, clutching her forehead with her nails, replying. "Oh Vader, why do they want to abandon Naboo?! I did all I could yet they are willing to abandon us like this!"

Vader shakes his head as he brushes Padmé in a soothing caress, "They are not your friends. They would never be your friend."

"I trusted the Jedi," Padmé replies softly. "Yet they are doing little."

"I am your only hope," Vader replies adamantly, holding onto both of her shoulders. "This is why I distaste the Jedi and could never in good conscious view them as my allies. There may be casualties but they fail to care for the common good, becoming deeply attuned in the politics of the Republic."

"My last hope have just shattered," Padmé whispers. "Who could help me?"

"I would, Padmé, I promise," Vader replies tenderly.

"Why would you want to help us and not the Trade Federation? Why fight for us when we are limited in numbers? Why serve the Jedi" Padmé asks, breaking the silence.

Vader knows that the handmaiden has a point. If it was anyone else who is among the Sith Order, most would have sided with the Trade Federation in the hope to gain wealth and more power in the galaxy which can easily be his taking given that he has won the support of one monarch. Besides, he knows who the real Queen is and can gain sufficient profit from the Trade Federation, but even so, he still hasn't betrayed them. Either he's an extremely good actor or an unfathomable party outside of the Jedi Order.

"The Trade Federation is full of pitiful lifeforms that hardly even knows the definition of fighting. I respect you each for being able to hold a blaster and fight in decent martial arts skill, but a fool such as Gunray would probably shoot himself unintentionally if given the opportunity to wield a blaster. Strategically, you each are losing numbers but morally and brains you each are higher than the Trade Federation will ever be. I also don't serve the Jedi. I serve the people of Naboo and the Queen. Do your best at attempting not to represent or believe in the ways of others beside yourselves. Furthermore, I despise Gunray in believing money is the situation to everything." Vader replies, rubbing the back of her forehead.

Padmé sniffles. "I-I wanted to help the Republic more someday, but-but how could I serve a Senate? Truly serve one with all hopes and delusions being corrupted?"

Vader shakes his head, replying. "This is what they have become. Come, let us leave. It is time for us to save Naboo."

Padmé stands up, standing straighter, "I'm ready."

"Good. Lead, Queen Amidala, lead and we shall save Naboo."

By midday, with the sun overhead in a cloudless sky and the wind die away to nothing, the grasslands lying south of Theed between the Naboo capital city and the Gungan swamp lay empty and still. Heat rises off the grasslands in a soft shimmer, and it is so quiet that from a hundred meters away the chirp of birds and the buzz of insects can be hear as if they are settled close by.

Then the Trade Federation army's bubble-nosed transports and armor-wrapped tanks roar onto the rolling meadows, skimming the tall grasses in gleaming waves of bright metal.

It is quiet in the swamps as well, the perpetual twilight hushed and expectant beneath the vast canopy of limbs and vines, the surface of the mire as smooth and unbroken as glass, the reeds and rushes motionless in the windless air. Here and there a water bug jumps soundlessly from place to place, stirring puddles to life in the wake of its passing, bending blades of grass like springboards. Birds swoops and banks in bright flashes of color, darting from limb to limb. Small animals creep from cover to drink and feed, eyes bright, noses twitching, senses alert.

All know that won't be for long. There is about to be a full-blown war that shall claim lives, the hell of going into war.

Anakin Skywalker hunkers down in the shadows of a building directly across from the main hangar of the Naboo Starfleet in the city of Theed. It is quiet here as well, the bulk of the battle droids dispatched to the field to deal with the Gungan army, the remainder scatters throughout the city in patrols and on perimeter watch. Nevertheless, tanks crowd the plaza fronting the hangar complex, and a strong contingent of battle droids wards the Naboo fleet. Seizing control of the starfighters is not going to be easy.

Anakin glances over at those with him. Padmé, dressed as a handmaiden, crouches with Eirtaé beside the Jedi, waiting for Captain Panaka's command to get into position on the other side of the square. Sabé, the decoy Queen, and her handmaidens wore a battle dress, loose-fitting and durable, with blasters strapped to their sides. R2-D2 blinks silently from behind them in the company of twenty-odd Naboo officers, guards, and pilots, all armed and ready. It seems to the boy like a pathetically small number of fighters to carry the day, but it is all they have.

At least Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are talking again. They begin doing so on the journey in from the swamps, a few words here, a few there, exchanging comments guardedly, testing the waters. Anakin listens carefully, more attuned to the nuances of their conversation than others could be, hearing in the inflection of their voices more than simply the words spoken. After a time, when the words heal enough of the breach that they feel comfortable again, there are smiles, brief and almost sad, but clear in their purpose. The Jedi are old friends and their relationship that of father and son. They did not want to toss it all away over a single disagreement. Anakin is thankful for that-especially since the disagreement in question was over him.

Vader disappears soon after his conversation with the Queen and Anakin wonders where the man is at.

Padmé speaks to him as well, joining him for a few moments as they approaches the city through the forests east, her smile banishing all his doubts and fears in a moment's time.

"I'm sorry I couldn't tell you sooner," she says, apologizing for hiding her identity. "I know it was a surprise."

"It's okay," he says, shrugging bravely.

"I guess knowing I'm a Queen makes you feel differently about me, doesn't it?" she asks.

"I guess, but that's okay. Just so you still like me. Because I still like you." He looks over at her hopefully.

"Of course, Ani. Telling you who I really am doesn't mean my feelings for you have changed. I was the same person before, whether you knew the truth about me or not."

He thinks about it a moment. "I suppose." He brightens. "So I guess my feelings for you shouldn't be any different now either."

She moves away, smiling broadly back at him, and just at that moment, he feels ten meters tall.

So now he is at peace with himself about the Jedi and Padmé but is beset with new concerns. What if something happened to them during the fight ahead? What if they are hurt or even... He cannot bring himself to finish the thought. Nothing bad will happen to them, that is all. He won't let it. He glances at them, kneeling in silence at the edge of the plaza, and promises himself he will keep them safe no matter what. That will be his job. His mouth tightens with determination as he makes his pledge.

"Once we get inside, Annie, you find a safe place to hide until this is over," Qui-Gon advises suddenly, bending close, almost as if he could read the boy's mind.

"Sure," Anakin promises.

"And stay there," the Jedi Master adds firmly.

Across the way, Panaka and his contingent of fighters are in position now, placing the tanks and battle droids in a crossfire with Padmé's group. Padmé produces a small glow rod and flashes a coded signal to Panaka across the square.

All around Anakin, weapons slides free of holsters and fastenings, and safeties are released.

Then Panaka's fighters opens up on the battle droids, blasters shattering their metal bodies in a hail of laser fire. Other droids wheels about in response and began exchanging fire, drawn toward the source of the conflict and away from Padmé's group. Qui-Gon comes to his feet.

"Stay close," Qui-Gon whispers to him sternly, knowing how defiant he is.

A moment later, the boy is running with the Jedi, Padmé, Eirtaé, R2-D2, and their Naboo contingent of soldiers and pilots toward the open door of the hangar.

Anakin Skywalker rushes through the open doors of the main hangar after the Jedi and Padme, with R2-D2 and the rest of the Naboo freedom fighters on their heels. Battle droids turn to confront them, but lightsabers and blasters cut apart the foremost before the others even know what is happening. The droids rallies in response, summoning help from without, but Panaka and his men have those in the plaza already occupied, and for a moment the Jedi and the Naboo are in control.

Mindful of Qui-Gon's admonition, Anakin ducks beneath the fuselage of the closest starfighter, laser bolts searing the air around him in a brilliant burst of fire.

"Get to your ships!" Padmé shouts at her pilots, leading the contingent of Naboo soldiers under her command in pursuit of the retreating battle droids.

Ducking and crouching, she fires her blaster with quick, precise moves, bringing down droid after droid, her charges finding their targets with unerring accuracy. The Jedi fight just ahead of her, blocking droid laser fire with their lightsabers, striking down those unfortunate enough to cross their path. But it is Padmé on whom Anakin's eyes re-rivetes, for not only had he never seen this side of her, he hasn't even known it existed. She moves with the skill and training of a seasoned fighter, no longer seeming in any way a young girl, becoming instead a deadly combatant.

He thinks suddenly of his dream of Padmé leading an army in another time and place, and suddenly the dream didn't seem so impossible.

Pilots from the attacking force and R2 units free from storage in the hangar lockers move quickly to board the Naboo fighters, scattering swiftly through the hail of blaster fire. Clambering aboard their starships, pilots in the cockpits, R2 units in their sockets, they switch on their control panels and ignite their engines. A roar of power fills the massive hangar, drowning out the sound of laser fire, building to an ear-shattering crescendo. One by one, the fighters begin to levitate and shift into position for takeoff.

A Naboo pilot rushes past Anakin and climbs into the fighter he is crouching behind. "Better get out of here, kid!" she calls down from the cockpit. "Find yourself a new hiding place! You're about to lose this one!"

Anakin darts away in a low crouch, droid blaster fire crisscrossing the air above him, centering on the departing ships. The fighter he abandoned begins to lift off, wheeling toward the open hangar doors. Other ships are already speeding away into the blue, engines booming.

As the Jedi and the Naboo fighters continue to push the droid hangar watch steadily back, Anakin searches hastily for a new hiding place. Then he hears R2- D2 whistle at him from another fighter close at hand, the little droid already ensconced in his socket, domed head rotating, control lights flashing. The boy races across the hangar floor littered with the shattered bodies of battle droids, laser fire whizzing all about him, and jumps into the cockpit with a gasp of relief.

Peering out from the safety of his bolt-hole, he watches the last pair of Naboo fighters rocket out of the hangar. The first get free, but the second is hit by tank fire and knock sideways so that it pinwheels into the ground and explodes in a ball of flame. Anakin winces and crouches lower.

Now Panaka, Sabé, and the Naboo soldiers who been engaged in combat outside the hangar burst through the doors as well, firing as they come. Caught in a crossfire, the remaining battle droids are quickly overwhelmed and destroyed. There is a hurried conference between the Jedi, Padmé, and Panaka, and then the entire Naboo fighting force begins to move toward an exit in the hangar that take them directly past Anakin's hiding place.

"Where is Vader?" Panaka asks the question everyone is wondering. While the outside of the palace is what must be a bloody war, the Captain and most of the guards doubts Vader's capabilities and his allegiances for that matter.

"He's somewhere," Padmé states, truthfully not knowing where their dark ally is.

"We shouldn't have trusted him," Mariek replies. "Vader could be rallying up the forces of the Trade Federation as we speak and this could have all been a ploy to lure the Queen."

"I highly doubt Vader would do that," Padmé disagrees, for some reason growing frustrated at how much misconception Vader is receiving by everyone; first the Jedi and now her guards. "Vader vocalized his repugnance with the Trade Federation prior to the battle."

"Many opportunities had presented itself for Vader to betray us," Sabé, under the guise of Senator Amidala, speaks up in agreement, giving both guards and the others a stern look, playing her role to the latter but sharing her Queen's frustration along with the other handmaidens for reasons that escape them all. "Vader could be providing a necessary distraction. This would make our task easier because there are over hundreds of battle droids in the palace which would make the task easy."

"Your Highness," Panaka protests, staring at Padmé out of the corner of his eyes, seeing that they don't need to play a ploy anymore. "You are putting too much of your trust in Vader. He is just one man who we shouldn't put our trust in completely."

Obi-Wan plants a hand on his chin, running a finger over his mouth before biting his lip. "We would have been able to sense his allegiances shifting if he have such intentions to betray us." He can't believe that he is speaking up for whom he believes wouldn't betray them but still has immense potential to become a threat to the Jedi Order. "Betraying us on Naboo which is not far from Coruscant wouldn't be a wise choice."

Qui-Gon's lips curl up into a teasing smile. "Has my apprentice formed a soft spot for Vader?"

Obi-Wan feels the urge to slam his head repeatedly into the nearby wall as he has just been openly thrown under the speeder, knowing that his own master, nor the Council or even the Naboo wouldn't believe he hadn't in spite of his denials.

"Thanks, Master," Obi-Wan bites out nearly in a whisper in response, sarcasm evident in his voice and a betrayal in his eyes. "You have been a great help."

The hooded form of Darth Vader walks down. A part of him will always admit it is a guilty pleasure in walking in a concealing form. That is what he missed about being Anakin Skywalker, being hooded and cloaked instead of being covered in a suit. Yes, the suit did cause many trembles in fear and did protect him far more, but this new suit, along with this cloak and cape and hood did leave him just as a dismaying sight to behold, even before he fixed it those days traveling to Tatooine days ago.

Four battle droids are propelled in all directions, two thrown into opposite walls and crushed simultaneously. The other droid shoots at where it detects the threat but immediately the blaster aims up at its head, firing. The last droid's blaster is pulled out of its hand, follow by it propelling into the ceiling before shattering in pieces.

He emerges from behind the door. Not always does he relish in tearing out his lightsaber and cutting rivals down. He takes a deep amount of satisfaction in exploiting the Force against rivals, leaving them without answers before their swift execution with merely the Force and the Force alone.

Vader is well aware that that wouldn't be for long. This battle claimed a lot of lives in the original timeline it is a miracle each of his wife's handmaidens survived especially given this is their first battle, though they did play a part in some of the greatest companions during the Clone Wars due to their intelligence and Naboo being loyal to the Republic during the first timeline.

He walks slowly to the intelligence room, allowing the Force to cloud his presence just as he speaks past another droid battalion without so much as crouching. He sees two droids and quickly dispatches them with the Force, one of the droids nudging against the button and opening the door before Vader balls up both droids into pieces and allowing them to crash onto the ground.

Inside, unsurprisingly, five battle droids are standing, blasters immediately snapping up when Vader simply raises his hand, and immediately they are crushed into obliteration before they could have warned the others about his presence inside of the palace. Not that Vader is afraid should he be discovered. Perhaps at last these fools can propose a challenge.

He seizes both limp bodies from earlier with the Force and walks in, hiding them in a small department in order for his presence to remain safely anonymous, along with the others before approaching the door and activating the shields.

Through the Force, Vader senses the fight has just begun. One Gungan after another perishing instantly and simultaneously.

At one point in his time as Skywalker it would have disturbed and unsettled him, but Vader has encountered countless wars at this point. They choose to go into battle. Their lives cannot be saved.

He walks up to the computer terminal, sliding a small chip in a compartment and grinning as the Droid Control Ship pulls up along with the models of battle droids of all masses that are currently occupying about on the planet, either fighting the Naboo or patrolling the halls of the palace, oblivious to what is to come or opting to be reinforcements Vader doesn't know to be honest.

Vader notices a deactivated silver and red of what he recognizes as an R4 unit from his experience, tapping it on its dome and actuvating the droid. Undoubtedly, the Trade Federation deactivated the droid when they raid the planet in the hope to install his sensors and gain more information in the future.

The droid powers up seconds later, rotating around and beeping constantly before noticing someone who he never seen before.

"Droid," Vader addresses as the droid calm down. "Are your sensors and moters undamaged?"

The droid beep in confusion.

"My name is Vader." Several more beeps, and Vader smiles gently. "R4-F4. Well, R4-F4, I require instantaneous assistance."

The droid beeps, full of enthusiasm, doubtlessly not liking being deactivated by the Trade Federation and wishing vengeance. To be truthful, Vader isn't surprised they didn't blast the R4 droid; those fools are undeserving an army and would wish to gain whatever intelligence instead of seizing their opportunity to disable.

"A Droid Control Ship is controlling the Droid Army. I have the intel to hack into their intelligence." Vader commands.

The R4 unit beeps in affirmative before he approaches the small hole in the palace's system and sticking his small slicer into the dome, pulling into the chip involving the Federation's intelligence.

Vader clicks a few buttons on the keys, watching as the illuminating figure of the Droid Control Ship emerges. To think the Ship is meant to instill fear but Vader finds it pathetic. Eh, Vader seen bigger.

"Hack into the Hyperspace communication devices and transmit them all into this device," Vader commands, crossing his arms across his chest, not wanting a risk they would be able to evacuate.

He smiles as the Hyperspace communication device comes up, all being conveyed to the device before them. One can jam the entire spectrum of wireless communication channels, rendering most wireless communication devices useless. Schematics of the sphere appear on the screen.

"Good. Now extract full command from droid modules from Droid Control Ship to me." Vader replies, not trusting for reality to play out the same as last time. Sidious may have ordered an upgrade to his original plan and this means his younger self destroying the Control Ship can be fruitless now.

The droid did as a command, pulling into the droid sensors for a moment and Vader watches as photos of the Droid Army and the Droid Control Ship pulls up before he walks over to the other terminal and grabs the datastick before pocketing it.

"Good," Vader condones, patting the droid's head with a slight grin. The droid isn't R2-D2 but he is as competent as his old friend. "It will be unwise for you to be detected nor remain activated especially with your knowledge and intelligence or be caught. I will see to it that the Queen returns to you after the battle but you may remain here."

The droid beeps excitedly while Vader grins underneath his mask. There is a reason why he always liked these models' droids no matter which number they are.

"No, you can't come with me. You will be in danger." Vader denies immediately, receiving instant protest of the droid standing his ground and he sighs, beginning to ramble about much as Kenobi did during his antics in his time as Skywalker if memory serves him correctly before he mutters. "First the Queen and her blasted handmaidens." Another sigh before he decides to allow the droid to come along. "Very well."

After all, thanks to the droid, he is now in complete control of this army.

That is what Darth Vader has always been best at, be in the position of power and control instead of being someone at the back burner. Control is the way of the Sith; the Emperor controlled him while giving him a gift after Mustafar: to accept this gift of misfortune which would make him stronger with the dark side, or to die. But this time he is his own Master and controlling this timeline is his intention, similar to how Sidious controlled the last timeline.

For now, much like Sidious was in control of the entire clone and droid army, Darth Vader is in control of the whole droid army.

At this rate, he can deactivate the droid's army; anyone else, especially a Jedi, would have, but the truth in the matter is that Vader is not anyone else. He prefers a challenge instead of the cowardly way out, and he intends to see the battle between Naboo and the Trade Federation, seeing who the Force will choose this time who would win.

The Force controls this battle much like the Force controls everything.

He approaches the door and deactivates the shield, the droid trailing behind and being as silent as one such as it can be, the former Sith staring down both corridors, hearing the faint marching and clanking from what he knows is battle droids. Down the left hallway, he spots battalions of battle droids marching forward, blasters grasped in each humanoid's hands, enough to come off as an intimidating sight to behold.

He begins to walk forward calmly, eyes closed, a strange serenity he hasn't felt since he became one with the Force coursing through his body, lightsaber flying to his hand but not activating.

He can sense the crimson kyber crystal itching for battle, itching to be used after days of not being exploited since the fight with the Tusken Raiders and Maul, itching to be shot at and use to reflect. In spite of not showing it much nor being detected through the Force by other Force Sensitives, primely the Jedi, unlike many Sith of the past, Vader and his kyber crystal share a bond of respect, their destinies linked much like a Force Bond between Master and Apprentice, the crystal obtaining much of Vader's aura that will still echo off of the lightsaber long after his demise. The crystal, despite disliking the lessening of Vader no longer slaying everyone who crosses his path, still admires and calls to him as one call of a Master, knowing that Vader is his Master and it will follow his Lord's every command and decision in spite of its disagreement but it still lusts to be in the midst of battle.

Unlike many other Sith, Vader refused to bleed his crystal without forming a bond with it because of the fact that the Sith can't bond with kyber naturally as Jedi can. There are too many risks with not forming a bond with the weapons you utilize and it can only lead to one's downfall. The Sith have to bend it into submission but Vader never trusted himself in doing that.

Vader's dwellings come to an end by the sound of their blasters' clicks and hum towards him and they begin spreading out, demanding for him to surrender. Incompetent droids don't realize it is already too late.

As things always do before a direct battle, a plan formulates in Vader's head. First, give the battle droids and that fool, Gunray, a lesson about crossing his path a second time. Second, assure the battle that is about to begin play out as the Force deems it.

A little voice inside of the former Sith's head urges him to go to the Throne Room and slaughter the fool a second time for all the time he threatens his closest allies. Certainly, Padmé would be safe as will all placed in harm's way by the Neimoidian and his ally, but Vader knows he will receive a second chance one day of his own ambition as a fool such as Gunray opposes a challenge to his future plans and the situation will eventually call for it.

Darth Vader's lightsaber hisses to life, and with a single mist, he charges forward to the OOM droid in front of the charge with a strong and powerful arc.

"We need to get moving," Qui-Gon declares before walking to the doors across the hanger, his Padawan flanking him, along with the guards and handmaidens.

"Hey, where are you going?" the boy asks, popping his head out of the cockpit as they passed.

"Annie, you stay there!" Qui-Gon orders, motioning him back down. His long hair is wild and his face intense. "Stay right where you are!"

The boy ignores him, standing up instead. "No, I want to go with you, Obi-Wan, and Padmé!"

"Stay in that cockpit!" Qui-Gon snaps in a tone of voice that brooks no argument.

Anakin freeze, undecided, as the contingent hurries past him toward the exit door, weapons at the ready. He did not want to be left behind. He have no intention of letting Qui-Gon and Padmé go on without him, especially since he can do nothing to help them if he is stuck here in this empty hangar.

He is still wrestling with the matter when the entire group slowed in front of the exit do! A dark-cloaked figure steps through the opening to confront them. Anakin's breath catch in his throat. He steps out of the shadows like a large sand panther, his red and black tattooed face a terrifying mask, his yellow eyes bright with anticipation and rage.

Blocking the way out, he stands waiting for the Jedi and their charges, a long-handled lightsaber held before him. Captain Panaka and his fighters back away at once. Then, on command from Qui-Gon, Padmé and her handmaidens give ground as well, though less quickly and with more obvious reluctance.

Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi stand alone in the Sith Lord's path. Together, they remove their capes and ignites their lightsabers. Their homed antagonist strips away his cloak as well, then lifts the long-handled lightsaber he bore as if offering it for inspection. Gleaming blade fire juts from both ends of the handle, revealing a deadly, dual-blade weapon. A smile crosses the bearer's feral face as he swings the weapon before him in an idle, casual gesture, beckoning the Jedi ahead.

Spreading out to either side, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan slowly advance to meet him, both knowing they never confronted a Sith Lord before and that they will have to be extremely cautious all the while wishing Vader was here for the first and perhaps the last time in their lives. Undoubtedly their dark ally would have defeated this being but they cannot dwell on him as of the moment when they are the ones who have to encounter this threat.

Anakin Skywalker makes a promise to himself that he will protect Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Padmé Naberrie from harm, that he will see to it somehow that nothing bad happens to them. He knows when he made the promise how hard it is going to be to keep. Somewhere in the back of his mind where he will admit such things privately, he knows how foolish it is even to make such a commitment. But he is young and brave at heart, and he lived his life pretty much on his own terms because to live it any other way would have broken him long ago. It hasn't been easy doing so, especially as a slave. He survived mostly because he had been able to find small victories in difficult situations and because he always believed that one day he would find a way to overcome the circumstances of his birth.

His belief in himself has been rewarded. His life have been changed forever by his victory just days earlier in the Boonta Eve Podrace on Tatooine.

It is not so strange then that he should decide he could somehow affect the lives of a Jedi Master, Padawan, and a Naboo Queen as well, even if he did not know precisely how. He is not afraid to accept such responsibility. He is not daunted by the challenge his decision presented.

But now his resolve is put to the test.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan close in on the Sith Lord in a clash of lightsabers that produced the shriek of diamond-edged saw blades cutting through metal. Wheeling across the center of the hangar, the combatants lunges and parries, attack and counterattack carried out in a fierce, no-holds-barred, no-quarter-given struggle. The Sith Lord is supple and quick, and he works his way between the Jedi with confidence and ease, whipping his two-ended lightsaber back and forth between them, more than holding his own against their efforts to bring him down. He is skilled, Anakin sees-more skilled, perhaps, than the men he faces. And he is confident in a disturbing way. He will not be overcome easily.

However, the power he feels from this being... is alluring, almost attracting him to the power.

But Padmé and the Naboo faces a more dangerous situation still. At the far end of the hangar, from off the plaza, a cluster of three destroyer droids wheeled through the doorway and begin to unfold, assuming battle stance. R2-D2 see them first and beeps a warning to the boy. Blinking away at his deep hallucinations, Anakin tear his gaze away from the Jedi and the Sith Lord. The destroyer droids transforms and are already moving forward, laser guns firing into the Naboo. Several soldiers goes down, and Sabé is stung by a glancing blow that knocks her backward into the arms of Panaka. Padmé and her companions resists determinedly, but already they are falling back to find cover.

"We've got to help, Artoo," the boy declares, standing up in the cockpit with the intention of doing something, anything, casting about futilely for a weapon.

But R2-D2 is way ahead of him. The little droid plugs himself into the starfighter's computer system, lights blinking across his control panel as he triggers the big engines. Everything roar to life at once, startling Anakin, who falls back in the pilot's seat in surprise.

Slowly, the ship begins to levitate, wheeling out of its mooring space.

"Threat: detected."

The droid's head ejects from its body and the humanoid's headless body collapses before further commands are given by the sergeant. Six of the droids under its commands are cut down swiftly seconds later.

Droids fires at the cause of it.

Pillars are raised, large pictures of ancient monarchs and others of the past, and statutes collapse about the platoons, crushing most of them with the objects themselves.

Each of the blaster shots flying at him is proven pointless as Vader did not require his lightsaber, instead of using his power of the Force or outright martial arts, even with his lightsaber activated by his side.

Darth Vader deflects each of the shots with merely the Force, their blaster bolts flying at him, realizing how much he misses this as he throws bolts aside. He misses charging head front into battle and calling off of the Force. In spite of the deaths in marching into Rebels, it has always just felt right in being in the midst of battle. Perhaps another guilty pleasure.

Vader decapitates the B2 droid's lower abdomen, watching each of them fall with slice after slice, impaling, decapitation, and obliterating most of them with the Force itself whilst maintaining a close eye to see if the battle is occurring yet and to assure the Force doesn't play a cruel game with each inside of the palace.

As he turns right, Vader swiftly dispatches a B1 with a head strike, cut the arm off of another and impaling his lightsaber through its chest before he lifts a b2 battle droid with the Force, using the Force to convert its focus from him to its fellow droids, shooting some of them down before it is promptly and ruthlessly shot down by its squadmates.

Seeing that the droid no longer serves its uses, Vader throws the destroyed b2 battle droid behind him into the wall, hearing it shattered which causes him to smile slightly.

Continuing on, the battle droids find themselves being outmatched by the efficiency of Vader's ferocity, parrying each of the blaster shots, growing quickly tired of this display of what can hardly be call a battle.

Down and down, squadrons of battle droids goes, each either by the impressive saber sword which is a mixer of Makashi, Soresu, and Djem So, or by his mastery of the light and dark.

Vader's might claims many droid victims that day, and the man still isn't done, raising his hand to hold blaster bolts into the air before returning them back towards the battle droids, who falls, soon blocking more shots from the accelerating quantities of battle droids reinforcements.

Droids fire.

Vader deflects, lightsaber cutting through their humanoids body parts.

Droidekas attempts to shoot him, raising their shields in the intention to mow him down with their shields being activated and protecting.

The former Sith delves deep into the Force and exploits it against them, either blasting the droidekas into a wall or into the air, decimating them ultimately most with their shields still activated, it buzzing out before demilitarizing completely and thoroughly.

It is like that each time.

Platoons of droids are firing at his location, provoking Vader to lunge at the droids, deflecting shots back towards the droids before landing in the middle with a high Force Wave that destroys each of them.

One other battle droid shoots at Vader's flank, causing him to arc his lightsaber, deflecting the shots before raising his hand, pulling the droid to him, and chopping the droid's head off.

Two remaining ones fire at him, him simply deactivating his lightsaber, and only dodge the shots with a smirk before raising both of the droids in the air and bringing them in front of him, causing the droids that were shooting at him to fire on their comrades again before crushing them and throwing them to the side much like he did earlier.

Near the palace's window, droids and droidekas are in front of him; Vader propels the blaster bolts to the side before outstretching his hand and Force Blasting the droids and droidekas out of the window, shattering the window instantly but there is no way that such a fall from several stories above wouldn't demolish them the second they land.

Down the corridor where the droids just stand, Vader turns, raises his hand, and propels Force Energy at the droids which disintegrate them instantly.

Three hallways away, Vader is not surprised to encounter endless numbers of droidekas; as he begins deflecting the blaster bolts with his lightsaber, Vader feels his adrenaline and power rising to the point where it reaches its climax, red lightning retracting out of his hands. It slams into the droids and droidekas, and ultimately, it pierces through the shields, hurling them to the wall and obliterating them all around before releasing their scattered pieces across the ground.

Five hallways away with cutting down mini resistance, and Vader realizing how tremendous the palace truly is, he senses the presence of Nute Gunray and Rune Haako down the hallway and deliberately refuses to go into the room. He has faith that the timeline would play out precisely the same with Padmé, Sabé, and the rest of the troops apprehending Gunray.

The Force itself is apprehensive, deciding the faith between Jedi and Sith which is more of the importance. The timeline itself is altering, meaning that it is likely that the antagonist of the battle is to come to the victor. But as always, the Force has a backup plan, a plan within its Master of the Force itself. The only others who can rival the Master of the Force are the Master of the Light Side of the Force and the Master of the Dark Side of the Force.

Vader deactivates his lightsaber and plants it on his belt, tempted to rush into the room but knowing he had made the job easier for Padmé, the handmaidens, and guards so he will remain here.

Reinforcements shall return to aid the Federation and Vader knows this so he vows to keep his senses up, staring at the droid that somehow managed to remain alongside him even through the most gruesome battle it probably never witnessed again.

"Lock the doors."

The droid beeps an affirmative, locking the doors, in which Vader lowers his senses only slightly.

Falling onto both knees and closing his eyes in deep meditation, Vader reaches out into the Force to check on his younger self's aura, sensing he is alive and mainly well than Qui-Gon aura, sensing that he is still alive but in the fray of battle with Darth Maul, than Obi-Wan's, seeing he's in a similar predicament as his Master, than Padmé, seeing she is leading her guards with the masterful wielding of a blaster.

Although those are the three most important people in the palace to him, he did not retreat from the Force as he decides to check on some others. He didn't know why; perhaps because while they mean little to him as much as others, he cannot bear to lose them as well or for them to be cut down by that brute who he could have easily dispose of on Tatooine; perhaps he doesn't want them to die because of how much they meant to his wife from the other timeline and this time; or perhaps because they maintain a strict loyalty to his wife from another time even long after her untimely death.

Whatever the reason is, he reaches out with the Force, connecting his aura to Padmé's handmaidens, sensing Sabé is still alive leading the people at her back into battle, then Rabé following behind Eirtaé and shooting battle droids down, then Yané and Saché standing side-by-side, all the while their emotions betraying their expressions of fear and rage at their friends falling around them under the midst of the battle droids blaster power.

Now, he retreats from their Force Auras, knowing that they are safe for now at the very least.

That animal that now is attacking the Jedi would kill them all if given the chance, and Vader intends to avoid this at all cost, though he knows it is not his destiny nor the will of the Force that he intervenes with the battle between Darth Maul at least yet.

Multiple people Vader cares about are in the midst of a battlefront as of now. The Jedi, ever the indifferent and detach people they are, would never understand, but even after two decades, he will never be the Jedi the Code deems for their pupils to be. He simply cannot.

The Force begins to ring around his surroundings, and Vader pays close attention to it.

The light side and the dark side clashing.

The Force itself is eager to see if this battle would result like last time or if it would alter, for Vader is not the only one to unbalance this dimension. Time travel can transform the galaxy as a whole, causing one event that could change the future. The future is always in motion.

Whatever happens next would impact not only the entire galaxy but the duelist themselves.

Chapter Text


Plagueis gives the Sun Guards the night off, and the only other intelligence in the sprawling apartment is the droid 11-4D, their servant for the occasion, pouring wine into expensive glassware as they remove their cloaks.

"Sullustan," Plagueis says, holding the glass up to the light and swirling its claret contents. "More than half a century old."

"A toast, then," Sidious replies. "To the culmination of decades of brilliant planning and execution."

"And to the new meaning we will tomorrow impart to the Rule of Two."

They drain their glasses, and 11-4D immediately refills them.

"Only you could have brought this to fruition, Darth Plagueis," Sidious says, settling into a chair. "I will endeavor to live up your expectations and fulfill my responsibility."

Plagueis takes the compliment in stride, neither haughty nor embarrassed.

"With my guidance and your charisma, we will soon be in a position to initiate the final act of the Grand Plan." Making himself more comfortable on the couch, he signals for 11-4D to open a second bottle of the vintage.

"Have you given thought to what you will say tomorrow?"

"I have prepared some remarks," Sidious says. "Shall I spoil the surprise?"

"Why not."

Sidious takes a moment to compose himself. "To begin, I thought I would say, that, while we in the Senate have managed to keep the Republic intact for a thousand years, we would never have been able to do so without the assistance of a few beings, largely invisible to the public eye, whose accomplishments now need to be brought into the light of day."

Plagueis smiles. "I'm pleased. Go on."

Speaking in a low monotone, Sidious says, "Hego Damask is one of those beings. It was Hego Damask who was responsible for overseeing development of the Republic Reserve Administration and for providing financial support for the Resettlement Acts that enabled beings to blaze new hyperspace routes to the outlying systems and colonize distant worlds."

"That will come as a revelation to some."

"In a similar fashion, it was Hego Damask who transformed the Trade Federation—"

"No, no," Plagueis interrupts. "Now is not the time to mention the Trade Federation."

"I thought—"

"I don't see any problem with calling attention to the arrangements I facilitated between the Republic and the Corporate Alliance and the Techno Union. But we must take care to avoid areas of controversy."

"Of course," Sidious says as if chastised. "I was speaking off the top of my head."

"Try a different approach."

So Sidious do.

And as the night wears on, he continues to amend and improvise, touching on Damask's childhood on Mygeeto and on the elder Damask's contributions to the InterGalactic Banking Clan during his term as co-chair. Wineglass in hand, Sidious paces the richly carpeted floor, often vacillating between confidence and misgiving. More than once, Plagueis voices satisfaction with everything he heard, but he urged Sidious to save his energy for the morning.

By then, though, Sidious is too wound up to heed the advice and keep reworking the order of the remarks and the emphasis he gave to certain points.

The droid brings out a third, then a fourth bottle of the Sullustan wine.

Pleasantly intoxicated, Plagueis, who wants nothing more than to revel in the sweet taste of victory, is beginning to find his collaborator's performance exhausting, and wants nothing more than to close his eyes and drift into imaginings of his march into the Senate Rotunda; the looks of surprise, astonishment, and trepidation on the faces of the gathered Senators; his long-anticipated emergence from the shadows; his ascension to galactic power…

Unfortunately, Sidious won't let him.

"That's enough for now," Plagueis tries one final time. "You should probably return home and get at least a few hours' rest before—"

"Just one more time—from the beginning."

"The beginning?"

"Lord Plagueis, you said you wouldn't rest until our win was a matter of fact."

"So it is, and so I shall, Darth Sidious."

"Then let us celebrate that, as well." Sidious beckons to 11-4D. "Fill our glasses, droid."

With dreamy weariness beginning to get the better of him, it is all Plagueis could do to lift the glass to his nose. No sooner do he set the drink down than it tips over, saturating the tablecloth. His eyelids begin to flicker and close, and his breathing slows. In twenty years of never having had to contend with Plagueis in a state of sleep, the transpirator clicks repeatedly in adjustment, almost as if in panic.

A few meters distant, Sidious comes to a halt, gazing at Plagueis for a long moment, as though making up his mind about something. Then, blowing out his breath, he sets his own glass down and reaches for the cloak he drapes over a chair. Swirling it around himself, he starts for the door, only to stop shortly before he reaches it. Turning and stretching out with the Force, he glances around the room, as one might fix a memory in the mind. Briefly, his gaze fall on the droid, its glowing photoreceptors whirring to regard him in evident curiosity.

A look of sinister purpose contorts Sidious's face.

Again, his eyes dart around the room, and the dark side whispers: 'Your election assured, the Sun Guards absent, Plagueis unsuspecting and asleep…'

And he moves in a blur.

Crackling from his fingertips, a web of blue lightning ground itself on the Muun's breathing device. Plagueis's eyes snap open, the Force gathering in him like a storm, but he stops short of defending himself. This being who survived assassinations and killed countless opponents merely gazes at Sidious, until it strikes him that Plagueis is challenging him!

Confident that he cannot be killed, and in denial that he is slowly suffocating, he might be simply experimenting with himself, actually courting death to put it in its place. Momentarily taken aback, Sidious stands absolutely still. Is Plagueis so self-deluded as to believe that he achieves immortality?

The question lingers for only a moment, then Sidious unleashes another tangle of lightning, drawing more deeply on the dark side than he ever had.

"Let's go over the second part of the speech, shall we," he says, smoothing his tousled cloak. "You useless old fool."

With a snarl, he throws the cloak back behind his shoulders and leans toward Plagueis, planting his palms on the low table that is now puddled with spilled wine.

"It was Hego Damask as Darth Plagueis who came to Naboo, determined to suck the planet dry of plasma and set the Trade Federation up as its overseers. It was Hego Damask as Plagueis who then set his sights on a seemingly confused young man and, with meticulous skill, manipulated him into committing patricide, matricide, fratricide. Darth Plagueis who took him as an apprentice, sharing some of his knowledge but withholding his most powerful secrets, denying the apprentice his wishes as a means of controlling him, instilling in him a sense of murderous rage, and turning him to the dark side." Sidious stands to his full height, glaring.

"It was Plagueis who criticized the early efforts of his apprentice, and who once choked him in a demonstration of his superiority.

"Plagueis, who denigrated him in private for hiring an inept assassin to carry out the murder of Senator Kim—and yet who allowed himself to be tricked by the Gran and nearly killed by mercenaries.

"Plagueis, who turned away from the Grand Plan to focus entirely on himself, in an egotistical quest for immortality.

"Plagueis who had the temerity to criticize his apprentice for having inculcated too much pride in the assassin he had trained.

"Plagueis who attempted to turn his equally powerful apprentice into a messenger and mere intermediary.

"And Plagueis who watched in secret while his apprentice tasked their true intermediary to reveal the reborn Sith to the galaxy."

Sidious pauses, then, in derision, adds, "Plagueis the Wise, who in his time truly was, except at the end, trusting that the Rule of Two had been superseded, and failed to realize that he would not be excused from it. Plagueis the Wise, who forged the most powerful Sith Lord the galaxy has ever known, and yet who forgot to leave a place for himself; whose pride never allowed him to question that he would no longer be needed."

Still struggling for breath, Plagueis manages to stand, but only to collapse back onto the couch, knocking a statue from its perch. Sidious moves in, his hands upraise to deliver another bolt, his expression arctic enough to chill the room. A Force storm gathers over the couch, spreading out in concentric rings, to wash over Sidious and hurl objects to all corners. In the center of it, Plagueis's form becomes anamorphic, then resumes shape as the storm begins to wane.

Sidious's eyes bear into the Muun's.

"How often you said that the old order of Bane had ended with the death of your Master. An apprentice no longer needs to be stronger, you told me, merely more clever. The era of keeping score, suspicion, and betrayal was over. Strength is not in the flesh but in the Force."

He laughs. "You lost the game on the very first day you chose to train me to rule by your side—or better still, under your thumb. Teacher, yes, and for that I will be eternally grateful. But Master—never."

Sidious peers at Plagueis through the Force. "Oh, yes, by all means gather your midi-chlorians, Plagueis." He holds his thumb and forefinger close together. "Try to keep yourself alive while I choke the life out of you."

Plagueis gulp for air and lifts an arm toward him.

"There's the rub, you see," Sidious declares in a philosophical tone. "All the ones you experimented on, killed, and brought back to life… They were little more than toys. Now, though, you get to experience it from their side, and look what you discover: in a body that is being denied air, in which even the Force is failing, your own midi-chlorians can't accomplish what you're asking of them."

Hatred stains Sidious's eyes.

"I could save you, of course. Return you from the brink, as you did Venamis. I could retask your body to repair the damage already done to your lungs, your hearts, your aged brain. But I'll do no such thing. The idea here is not to drag you back at the last moment, but to bring you to death's door and shove you through to the other side." Sidious sighs. "A tragedy, really, for one so wise. One who could oversee the lives and deaths of all beings, except himself."

The Muun's eyes begin to bulge; his pale flesh, to turn cyanotic.

"You may be wondering: when did he begin to change? The truth is that I haven't changed. As we have clouded the minds of the Jedi, I clouded yours. Never once did I have any intention of sharing power with you. I needed to learn from you; no more, no less. To learn all of your secrets, which I trusted you would eventually reveal. But what made you think that I would need you after that? Vanity, perhaps; your sense of self-importance. You've been nothing more than a pawn in a game played by a genuine Master.

"The Sith'ari."

A cruel laugh escapes him.

"Reflect back on even the past few years—assuming you have the capacity. Yinchorr, Dorvalla, Eriadu, Maul, the Neimoidians, Naboo, an army of clones, the fallen Jedi Dooku … You think these were your ideas, when in fact they were mine, cleverly suggested to you so that you could feed them back to me. You were far too trusting, Plagueis. No true Sith can ever really care about another. This has always been known. There is no way but my way."

Sidious's eyes narrow. "Are you still with me, Plagueis? Yes, I detect that you are—though barely.

"A few final words, then.

"I could have let you die in the Fobosi district, but I couldn't allow that to happen when there was still so much I didn't know; so many powers that remained just outside my reach. And as it happened, I acted wisely in rescuing you. Otherwise, how could I be standing here and you dying? I actually thought you would die on Sojourn—and you would have if the Hutt hadn't tipped you off to Veruna's scheme.

"And yet that also turned out for the best, for even after all you taught me, I might not have been able to take the final steps to the chancellorship without your help in manipulating the Senate and bringing into play your various and sundry allies. If it's any consolation, I'm being honest when I say that I could not have succeeded without you. But now that we've won the race, I've no need for a co-chancellor. Your presence, much less your unnecessary counsel, would only confuse matters. I have Maul to do what the risk of discovery might not allow me to do, while I execute the rest of the Grand Plan: growing an army, fomenting rebellion and fabricating intergalactic war, corralling the Jedi, and catching them unawares...

"Rest easy in your grave, Plagueis. In the end, I will be proclaimed Emperor. The Sith will have had their revenge, and I will rule the galaxy. I know about your plans to replace me with Vader, that mockery of the teachings. You Plagueis have missed the return of the old Sith. Not to worry, your protégé would gain a swift death."

His Master coughs. "You're a fool, Sidious. I never intend to replace you with Vader. Th-th... I was interested in him leading our arm-armies so we can have a invincible Empire with him as our warrior and you and I as the figureheads. This wo-would have avoided a war among our ranks, but that time and past is gone. Prepare, Sidious, y-you have inadvertently began a war that is among us. Your foolishness will only lead to your ultimate destruction, Sidious."

Before Palpatine could inquire him, Plagueis slid to the floor and rolls facedown. Death rattles his lungs and he dies.

His former Sith Master remains motionless and lifeless.

OneOne-FourDee starts to approach, but Sidious motions for it to stop.

"We're going to have to find you a new home and a new body, droid."

OneOne-FourDee looks once at the Muun, then at Sidious. "Yes, Master Palpatine."

Yet, Sidious notes, there is something odd about this whole incident.

Now is not the time to ponder. It is time to deal with Darth Vader and he has a perfect plan that would be remembered in history but also put an end to someone who poses a challenge to him in the future along with the Queen of Naboo.

Qui-Gon Jinn is one of the ablest swordsmen in the Jedi order. That in part is due to the Master he have, being deeply skilled in lighteaber combat and accord in terms of the Force. Qui-Gon fought in conflicts all across the galaxy in the span of his life and against odds so great that many others would not have stood a chance. He survived battles that test his skill and resolve in every conceivable way.

But on this day, he meets his match. The Sith Lord he battles with Obi-Wan is more than his equal in weapons training, and he have the advantage of being younger and stronger. Qui-Gon is nearing sixty; his youth is behind him and his strength is beginning to diminish. His edge now, to the extent that he had one, come from his long experience and intuitive grasp of how an adversary might employ a lightsaber against him.

Obi-Wan brings youth and stamina to the combat, but he fight in only a few contests and is not battle-hardened. Together, they are able to hold their own against the Sith Lord, but their efforts at attack, at assuming the offensive against this dangerous adversary, are woefully inadequate.

Darth Maul is a warrior in his prime, never to be any better, his powers at their apex. In addition, he is driven by his messianic hatred for and disdain of the Jedi Knights, the enemies of the Sith for millennia. He has worked and trained all his life for this moment, for a chance to meet a Jedi Knight in combat. It is an added bonus that he was able to engage two. He have no fear for himself, no doubt that he would win. He is focused in a way that Qui-Gon recognized at once-a Jedi's focus, mindful of the present, locked in on what was needed in the here and now. Qui-Gon sees it in his mad eyes and in the set of his red and black tattooed features. The Sith Lord is a living example of what the Jedi Master is always telling Obi-Wan about how best to hear the will of the Force.

The three combatants fight their way across the hangar floor, lightsabers flashing, bringing to bear every skill they have acquired over the years. The Jedi Knights try continually to press the attack, and indeed, the Sith Assassin is moving away from the Naboo and the starfighters and back toward the hangar's far wall. But Qui-Gon recognizes that while it might seem as if the Jedi are driving him before them, it is the Sith Assassin who is controlling the struggle. Wheeling and spinning, leaping and somersaulting with astonishing ease, their enemy was taking them with him, drawing them on to a place of his own choosing. His agility and dexterity allow him to keep them both at bay, constantly attacking while at the same time effectively blunting their counterattacks, relentlessly searching for an opening in their defense.

Qui-Gon presses hard in the beginning, sensing how dangerous this man is, wanting to put an end to the combat quickly. Long hair flying out behind him, he attacks with ferocity and determination. Obi-Wan comes with him, following his lead. They fight together before, and they know each other's moves. Qui-Gon trained Obi-Wan, and while the younger Jedi is not yet his equal, he believes that one day Obi-Wan will be better than he ever will be.

So they challenges the Sith Assassin quickly, and just as quickly discovered that their best efforts are not good enough to achieve an early resolution. They settles into a pattern then, working as a team against their enemy, waiting for an opening. But the Sith Lord Assassin too smart to give them one, and so the battle goes on.

They fight their way out of the main hangar through an entry that led into a power station. Catwalks and overhangs crisscrossed a pit in which a tandem of generators that serves the starship complex was housed. The room is cavernous and filled with the noise of heavy machinery. Ambient light filters away in clouds of steam and layers of shadows. The Jedi and the Sith Assassin battles onto one of the catwalks suspended above the generators, and the metal frame rang with the thudding of their boots and the clash of their lightsabers.

Alone in the power station, hidden from the rest of Theed and its occupants, they intensify their struggle.

The Sith Assassin leaps from the bridge on which they fought to the one above, strange face shining with the heat of the battle and his own peculiar joy. The Jedi follows, one coming up in front of him, one behind, so that they have him pinned between them. Down the length of the catwalk they fight, lightsabers flashing, sparks flying from the metal railing of the walk as they smash against it.

Then Darth Maul catches Obi-Wan off balance and with a powerful kick knocks the Jedi completely over the railing. Taking advantage of the Sith Lord's assault on Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon forces Darth Maul over the railing as well. Down the Sith Lord tumbles, landing hard on a catwalk several levels below Obi-Wan. The force of the fall or perhaps the unexpectedness of it leaves him visibly stunned, and Qui-Gon leaps down after him, sensing a chance to put an end to things. But the Sith Assassin struggles back to his feet quickly and races away, taking the battle in a new direction.


By the time Obi-Wan recovers, Qui-Gon is in pursuit of Darth Maul, following him down the catwalk toward a small door at the far end of the power station. The Jedi Master goes swiftly, legs and arms pumping, lightsaber flashing. He is worn and battered by now, close to exhaustion, but the Sith Lord is on the defensive at last, and he did not want to give him a chance to regroup.


"Qui-Gon!" Obi-Wan calls after him, trying to catch up, but the Jedi Master did not slow.


One after the other, the three antagonists pass through the small door into a corridor beyond. They are moving quickly in their frenzied chase and were into the corridor before they realized what it was. Lasers ricochet off buffer struts, pulsing in long bursts of crisscrossing brilliance that segmented the corridor at five points. The lasers just begin to kick in when the Sith Assassin and the Jedi Master and Padawan rush through the entry. Darth Maul, in the lead, gets farthest down the corridor and finds himself trapped between walls four and five. Qui-Gon, in close pursuit, is catch only one wall away. Obi-Wan, who is farthest away in the chase, did not get past even the first wall.

Shocked into immobility by the buzz and flash of the lasers, the antagonists froze where they are, casting about for an escape, finding none. Qui-Gon takes a quick measure of their location. They are in the service corridor for the melting pit, the disposal unit of the power station's residue. The service corridor is armed with lasers against unauthorized intrusion. There will be a shutoff switch somewhere at both ends of the passage, but it is too late to look for it now.

The Jedi stare down the laser-riddled corridor at the Sith Lord, who gives them a wicked grin. Don't worry, they could read in his dark countenance, you won't have long to wait for me.

Qui-Gon exchanges a meaningful glance with Obi-Wan then drops into a guarded crouch to meditate and wait.

Obi-Wan Kenobi prowls the front end of the service corridor to the melting pit like a caged animal. He is furious at himself for getting trapped so far from Qui-Gon and furious with Qui-Gon for letting this happen by rushing ahead instead of waiting for him. But he was worried, too. He admits it to himself, privately, if only just. They should have won this battle long ago. Against any other opponent, they would have. But the Sith Lord is battle-trained and seasoned well beyond anyone they had ever encountered before. He matches them blow for blow, and they aren't any closer to winning this fight now than they had been in the beginning.


Obi-Wan stares down the length of the corridor, measuring the distance he would have to travel to reach Qui-Gon and his antagonist when the lasers pauses. He catches a glimpse of them deactivating while rushing to catch up with Qui-Gon, then reactivating again in a matter of seconds. He will have to be quick. Very quick. He did not want the Master facing this tattooed madman alone.

Down the way, pin between two walls of laser beams, Qui-Gon Jinn kneels in meditation, facing toward the Sith Lord and the melting pit, his head lowered over his lightsaber. He is gathering himself for a final assault, bringing himself in tune with the Force. Obi-Wan does not like the weariness he sees in the slump of the older man's shoulders, in the bow of his back. He is the best swordsman Obi-Wan ever seen before, but he is growing old.

Beyond, the Sith Lord work at binding up his wounds, a series of burns and slashes mark by char tears in his dark clothing. He is backed to the edge of the chamber beyond, keeping a close watch on Jinn, his red and black face intense, his yellow eyes glinting in the half-light. His lightsaber rest on the floor before him. He sees Kenobi staring and smile in open derision.

At that instant, the laser beams warding the service corridor go off.

Obi-Wan sprints ahead, launching himself down the narrow passageway, lightsaber raised. Qui-Gon is on his feet as well, his own weapon flashing. He catapults through the opening that leads into the melting pit and closes with the Sith Lord, forcing him back, out of the passageway completely. Obi-Wan puts on a new burst of speed, howling out at the antagonists ahead as if by the sound of his voice he can bring them back to him.

Then he hears the buzz of the capacitors kicking in once more, cycling to reactivate the lasers. He throws himself ahead, still too far from the corridor's end. He clears all the gates but the last, and the lasers crisscross before him in a deadly wall, bringing him to an abrupt stop just short of where he needs to be.

Lightsaber clutch in both hands, he stands watching helplessly as Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul battle on the narrow ledge that encircled the melting pit. A stream of electrons is all that separated him from the combatants, but it might as well be a wall of permacrete three meters thick. Desperately he cast about for a triggering device that might shut the system down, but he had no better luck here than he have at the other end. He can only watch and wait and pray that Qui-Gon caan hold on.

At that moment, Darth Vader delves deep into the Force than he ever did during time travel, the Force now ringing around the palace. The moment of truth.

"Obi-Wan... I can save him..." an authoritatively all too familiar voice states through his thoughts.

Even though the Jedi Padawan didn't know how the man is able to do it without the slightest of a bond form between them and is beyond confuse at first, he soon realizes what he means.

Immediately, the young Jedi replies. 'No-no, I would never use the dark side. It is forbidden.'

Qui-Gon finds a fresh reserve of strength during his meditation, and now he was attacking with a ferocity that seemed to have the Sith Lord stymied. With quick, hard strokes of his lightsaber, he bores into his adversary, deliberately engaging in close-quarters combat, refusing to let the other bring his double-bladed weapon to bear. He drives Darth Maul backward about the rim of the overhang, keeping the Sith Lord constantly on the defensive, pressing in on him steadily. Qui-Gon Jinn might no longer be young, but he is still powerful. Darth Maul's rag face takes on a frenzied look, and the glitter of his strange eyes brightens with uncertainty.

'Good, Master,' Obi-Wan thinks, urging him on voicelessly, anticipating Qui-Gon's sword strokes as if they are his own, ignoring the naggy presence of Darth Vader alongside him.

Then Darth Maul back-flips across the melting pit, giving himself some space in which to recover, gaining just enough time to assume a new battle stance. Qui-Gon is on him in an instant, covering the distance separating them in a rush, hammering into the Sith Lord anew. But he is beginning to weary now from carrying the battle alone. His strokes are not as vigorous as before, his face bathe with sweat and taut with fatigue.

"Your Master will die."

'N-no. You won't get what you want from me.'

Slowly, Darth Maul begins to edge his way back into the fight, becoming the aggressor once more, pushing Qui-Gon back slightly but regaining the attack.

'Hurry!' Obi-Wan hisses soundlessly, willing the lasers to pause and the gates to come down.

"You will foolishly allow him to die."


Stroke for stroke, Qui-Gon and Darth Maul battle about the rim of the melting pit, lock in combat that seems endless and forever and can be won by neither.

Obi-Wan sees it before it even comes, his eyes zooming out of the battle, almost as if it is leaving his reality for a different one, the endless blade locks ending. Then the Sith Lord parries a downstroke, whirls swiftly to the right, and with his back to the Jedi Master, makes a blind, reverse lung. Too late, Qui-Gon recognizes the danger. The lightsaber of the Sith Lord's lightsaber catches him directly in the midsection, its brilliant length burning through clothing and flesh and bone. Obi-Wan thinks he hears the Jedi Master scream, then realizes it was himself, calling his friend's name in despair. Qui-Gon makes no sound as the blade enters him, stiffening with the impact, then taking a small step back as it was withdrawn. He stands motionless for an instant, fighting against the shock of the killing blow. Then his eyes clouds, his arms lower, and a great weariness settles over his proud features. He drops to his knees, and his lightsaber clatters to the stone floor. He slumps forward and motionless, sprawling across the floor in such a position where Obi-Wan has never seen before.


"Your Master will not defeat him, but you can."

Obi-Wan Kenobi is at odds with himself, squeezing his eyes shut, resisting and ignoring the call as he senses the blades still clashing. He can find his own way to save his Master.

Opening his eyes, he can see his Master is still slashing against the Zabrak, the Jedi Padawan stiffening. He blinks slightly, and he sees his Master losing his energy as he looks closely as the Zabrak parries the downstroke and Qui-Gon performs similar movements from last time.

Obi-Wan calls upon the Force slightly, 'W-would he die... without me accepting assistance from Vader?'

There is no reply to that comment, and he delves deep into the Force. He has his answer. Without drawing on the full nature of the Force, they would lose. The light side of the Force always guided the Jedi for thousands of years, but his Master will die to this-this animal without his assistance. Him, a mere Jedi Padawan, cannot win against a trained Sith Assassin.

The Jedi within him warns him not to accept the dark side, not to allow his personal feelings to cloud his judgment.

But there is the part that is the son to Qui-Gon Jinn, the part that doesn't want to watch his father figure die before his very eyes; while they may have their differences, they still are as close as father and son. They would never admit this, for attachment is not the Jedi way.

Although part of him screaming at the warning of Master Yoda's wisdom, Obi-Wan cannot allow this to happen. He cannot allow this enemy to win. He can't allow the closest person he has as a father to be killed.

Another life have been claimed among these walls, adding onto Obi-Wan's failure. Remorse fill him, adding onto his dark emotions of wishing to save them. On top of this battle, Obi-Wan knows there have to be a way, have to be a way to defeat this Sith without falling to the dark side.

Yet as he study the Sith's movements compared to his own, Obi-Wan knows that there is little chance. Un-unless he accepts Vader's offer.

'Help me.'

He lowers his shields some, and Obi-Wan hopes that will be enough as he would rather not give Vader full control of his actions and deeds, otherwise his mind will be damaged.

A faint reminder that strikes too close to home strikes him like a ship crashing on a planet; if he uses the dark side, he would forever be dominated by it. To fall to the dark side and to return is impossible, but didn't Vader return from the darkness, seeing that he calls off the light frequently since he has arrived and didn't kill him and his Master upon meeting them like many other Jedi.

"Do not allow yourself to lose your Master and yourself. If he kills him, you would struggle anyway, due to your attachment. His fall alone may sooner send you down a path of descent. At the very least, you saving him will have a lesser chance that you will not fall to the dark side."

As much as Obi-Wan hates to admit it, Vader is right about all of it. The Padawan and Master attachment are strong, and there have been times in history when a Master or Padawan falls to the dark side when they lose their partner, which means there is a greater chance that he will fall either way, given the connection between him and his Master.

He lowers his shields more, allowing the dark energy to fuel him but there is the light as well and a strange sort of peace combating the darkness. Suddenly, he feels at peace but feels far stronger, feeling a great amount of power swelling within him.

Somehow, he don't know how nor he never may be able, but Obi-Wan Kenobi outstretches a hand and disable the shield that blocks him from reaching and assisting his Master, the controls destroying beyond repairs which admittedly interests the young Jedi.

"Now Kenobi!"

The voice in his head reminds him not to slow or ponder, followed by a nag in his head that takes him back to the battle which apparently has fallen under slow motion.

Death is nearing his Master.

A yell comes from his lip that alerts both Jedi Master and Sith Assassin, equally startling both of them, "No!"

In his lunge forward towards Darth Maul, his lightsaber hisses to life wildly as the stun Zabrak barely is able to rotate his lightsaber around just in time to parry the assault as the two clash blades, saving his Master by a mere second, but there is still the risk that the Jedi Master will perish in the upcoming battle.

Obi-Wan wants to avoid this at all costs.

This blow alone forces him to switch the grip he has over his lightsaber, the Zabrak barrelling to the front of them in order to get a better grip of his lightsaber, twirling the lightsaber in his grip. Abandoning any pretense of observing even the slightest caution, he barrels into Darth Maul with such fury that he almost knocks both of them off the railing and into the abyss of the power generator. He strikes at the Sith Lord with his lightsaber as if his own safety meant nothing, lost in a red haze of rage and frustration, consumed by his grief and fear for Qui-Gon and his attempt resulting in failure to prevent his father figure's fall.

Before Qui-Gon can react and lock blades with Darth Maul in the hope to help his Padawan which would unknowingly lead to an untimely death, Obi-Wan pushes his exhausted and worn out Jedi Master into the wall, causing him to collapse onto the ground, unconscious just as the Zabrak is mere seconds away from sending another killing strike.

Horror crosses his expression as the Jedi Padawan stares down at the Maverick Jedi Master who hits his head hard, the memory insulting the Padawan repeatedly. What's worse is that Obi-Wan knows that memory will always vibrate inside of his thoughts.

Rather if it is compassion or some sort of twisted manipulation, Vader assures in a soft-spoken tone, "But he is alive and will be able to live yet another day."

The Jedi Padawan is regretful of maiming his father figure, but as much as he loathes to admit it, Vader is again right. At least he would survive and live to fight another day, at least he won't lose the closest man to his father figure.

"Preserve your mind on the present, Padawan," Vader's soft voice states, almost sounding like Grandmaster Yoda himself and the other Masters in the Temple.

Obi-Wan dodges to the right, making it apparent he is going down the right way, but in the last moment, he arcs his lightsaber up in the hope to stab his heart. The Zabrak corrects his swing accordingly, his attack nearly making the Jedi Padawan flip around, evading to the left swiftly countering the assault. Dodging under an assault, the Jedi Padawan lunges forward, attacking swiftly and hacking away at the Zabrak, each of his blows being easily parried and blocked.

Lightsabers scraps and grate against each other, and the chamber echoes with their fury. Lunging and twisting, Darth Maul regains the offensive and counterattacks, using both ends of his lightsaber in an effort to cut Obi-Wan's legs out from under him. Obi-Wan jumps back, barely managing to avoid this before he parries another assault, noticing out of the corner of his eyes the reactor shaft beneath.

Maul presses against the Jedi Padawan, staring down at him with a mocking sneer. An impossible strain for Obi-Wan to break free from, but Obi-Wan stares back defiantly, before chopping underneath, swinging at the Zabrak, each of his blows being deflected without effort. Obi-Wan senses his body weakening, and his fear of what it will mean if he, too, is to fall, begin to grow.

'Never!' he swears furiously.

Qui-Gon's words come back to him. 'Don't center on your fears. Concentrate on the here and now. He struggles to do so, to contain the emotions warring within and bearing him down. Be mindful of the living Force, my young Padawan. Be strong.'

Sensing his opportunity slipping away from him and his strength waning, Obi-Wan mounts a final assault. He rushes the Sith Lord with a series of side blows design to bring the two-bladed lightsaber horizontal. Then he feints an attack to his enemy's left and brings his own lightsaber over and down, though the blow is blocked.

Crying out in fury, he cut triumphantly at the Sith Lord's horned head, a killing blow. And misses completely.

Darth Maul, anticipating the maneuver, steps smoothly away. He counterattacks swiftly, striking at Obi-Wan with enough force that he knocks the young Jedi sideways and off-balance. Quickly he strikes him again, harder still, and this time Obi-Wan lost his balance, but surprisingly, just as it appears he is about to fall to the shaft below, the Jedi begins ascending up on the other side, breathing heavily, and he feels himself releasing his lightsaber by the pressure on his muscles.

"He's too strong," Obi-Wan murmurs as the Zabrak closes in on him and he feels himself backing up as the blows batter him back. Soon, the Zabrak would either cleave him in two or impale his lightsaber through his torso because this Assassin is obvious to experience and train.

'You are fatigued."

Obi-Wan nods slightly as he staggers some, backing away from the Zabrak's blows, feeling his energy dwindling rapidly, eyes of Obi-Wan Kenobi switching between their normal brown to a sickly crimson. Breathing heavily and bringing his saber backward out of the lock, Obi-Wan unleashes a swift barrage of strikes at the Assassin in an attempt to drain him of his energy. The Zabrak meet each saber strike with one of his own, slowly but surely gaining the upper hand.

"Your inexperienced light side is not enough to defeat him. You have to trust me. I will save your Master."

The Force rings truth around Vader's words. Cold logic strokes the Jedi; if Vader wants him to become an apprentice of darkness, would he have seized the chance to manipulate him earlier? Vader might be the only person who can help him. He given him half control, not allowing him to draw on the dark side that is within him... that is within every Jedi.

He has been trained as a Jedi, has been trained to resist the dark side, to never draw on it. The Sith teachings are banned for a reason. But what if he needs the darkness to stop this monster and save his Master? A little voice questions him in the back of his head.

Finally, Obi-Wan lowers his shields further, and he can feel someone else taking full control, feels the power of the dark side - the power he has been avoiding for years channeling all into one. Obi-Wan is at peace as memories insult him that are quickly silenced before he could comprehend them. All that he feels is someone else pressing against his darker emotions.

Maul sees the crimson glint in his eyes alas, no longer transforming but remaining that precise color, but he cannot reflect on it for long as the Jedi Padawan begins swiping furiously at him mercilessly.

The violent side of the Force begins to fuel through Kenobi; it feels good, reassuring. It nags at him like never before, immediately seizing control instead of attempting to lure him as it had done many times to his fellow Jedi. In spite of the Sith being extinct, the dark side itself never vanished from the Jedi for over thousands of years.

Darth Maul aims for his stomach and is seconds away from impaling him in the torso. Just as it appears that he would have been cut down, the Jedi Padawan is gone, disappearing. The Zabrak sees the Padawan floating behind him, lightsaber still aims upwards at him while endless beads of sweat course down his face.

He grins sadistically at the Padawan; there has been Masters and Knights who did combat with him before, each fallen to his lightsaber and meeting the power of the dark side. Yet, this Jedi is proving to be a greater of a challenge than supposedly the most experienced in his Order, but then again, that can be partly due to Darth Vader's stench ringing around Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The two begin to hack away at each other for many minutes, spark waves ringing through the Force. He loses none of his iron will, and quickly withdraws his saber and attacks again, this time from the sides. The Jedi Padawan ducks underneath Darth Maul before he is able to cleave his head from his shoulders, the intensity of the lightsaber making him grimace, breaking off from the assault and slicing at his knee, causing Maul to counter the assault.

Blurs of cerulean and crimson vibrate through the chamber, them hacking relentlessly at each other. The Zabrak is forcing him back, and the Jedi Padawan is barely able to parry each of his assaults. Obi-Wan lifts up the lightsaber, but Maul jerks up his handle against his chin stunning him.

Just as the lightsaber is about to descend onto him, and because he is dazed, Obi-Wan can only raise his left hand. A crimson barrier surrounds the Jedi Padawan surprisingly, blocking the fatal blow before blasting the stunned Zabrak away slightly, watching as he slid away, double-bladed lightsaber poised in front of his chest and sneering lips.

Lightsaber still moist as he clutches his side, Obi-Wan lunges forward, aware that he has to be careful less Maul will run him through with his lightsaber.

Maul saw the skill in Vader in their last battle on Tatooine and his impressive prowess with a lightsaber. And now his essence is running through the younger of the Jedi surprisingly quickly, but his strength could not be underestimated. Maul has to be swift with his strikes because every time he proved too slow, Vader who is guiding Kenobi would catch his blade and overpower him.

Maul's weight shifts almost imperceptibly and Obi-Wan turns the weight of his full attention on the man. The Zabrak takes a single step forward and stops, eyes tight. He is looking for an opening.

The two lock blades repeatedly, anger obvious as the power crystals bend within their lightsaber, but eventually, Maul gains the upper hand, deactivating both lightsabers and slams the hilt into the spine and paralyzing him temporarily.

Regaining his concentration, Obi-Wan clutches his lightsaber just as he dodges under a fatal blow before darting forward, swinging his lightsaber at the Zabrak, deflecting each of his blows with similar mastery before they lock blades, having no opening. He is not the impulsive boy the Zabrak have once fought. The mere child who he was besting minutes ago is now replaced by a monster, someone who is bloodthirsty, seeking his blood, his crimson eyes bearing into the Zabrak.

Maul tightens his grip on his saber and rushes forward, streaking across the floor like a blur. He comes with his lightsaber ready for what looked like a thrust, only to twist his wrist at the last second and bring it down towards his opponent's knees, causing him to grunt at the pressure. Obi-Wan steps back and blocks the blow, their sabers hissing and spitting energy and sparks as they collide briefly before the two men separate, observing each other again before he swipes at the downer blade with such force that he severs the other's weapon.

Their respite is brief, and then Obi-Wan is pressing the attack, two hands on his blade coming down in an overhead blow. The Zabrak smirks, shifting his stance to meet him head-on and doing so successfully.

Steps quick, Obi-Wan makes space between them and raises his hand, Force Energy flickering into existence and arcing from his fingers like vipers ready to strike.

Maul brings his saber up and into their path, enforcing the blade with his very will. The energy crackles between them for several long seconds, making the shadows near the shaft dance madly, but then it is gone and the Padawan's hand comes down weakly.

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan returns his saber's point to the floor as it have been at the beginning, his imposing form unwavering as he raises his lightsaber in front of his face. He launches forward along with the Zabrak, them locking sabers right in front of the shaft constantly before the Zabrak forces him back into the wall, dazing him and nearly knocking him unconscious.

Obi-Wan stands weakly, only for the Zabrak to be right in front of him, lightsaber activated, as the Zabrak begins punching him in the face before clenching his hand up into a fist and slamming him against the wall before throwing him across the room into another wall.

He groans, his head ringing madly, hair disheveled and going down his beyond bruised face.

"Remember what your teachers taught you, reach out to the Force, use your surroundings and objects. Look closely."

Although certainly cryptic, it strangely sounds like Jedi teachings that have been bred into many of the members. He delves deep into his surroundings with the Force, finding nothing that could be helpful and noticing the Zabrak is beginning to pace like a mad animal, obviously ready to pounce at moment's notice.

With ragged breathing, Obi-Wan forces himself up, staring around his surroundings before his crimson eyes linger over at Qui-Gon's lightsaber near its unconscious owner and seizes the hilt with the Force, activating the crystal green lightsaber and holding them in front of him as an X, the two blades that are a mixture of green and blue reflecting off his face, showing Jedi Padawan Obi-Wan and a new version of Obi-Wan that is far stronger and more powerful than his Jedi counterpart.

There is no conflict within the Jedi-Dark Jedi. Obi-Wan Kenobi has touched the dark side fully in one day whereas it taken Maul years to master such anger.

Obi-Wan and Maul dance down the room, cerulean and crimson clashing furiously.

To Maul's astonishment, the Padawan is against him in mere moments, striking his lightsabers in upwards arc to catch him off guard, attacking furiously and mercilessly. The Zabrak backs up, rotating his single-bladed lightsaber to block every single hack sent at his way by the Jedi Padawan before their blades interlock.

With a scream of pure fury, Obi-Wan breaks out of the saber lock and advances on the Zabrak, swinging his and his Master's blade in deadly explicit arcs, each blow being blocked with extreme difficulty.

The Zabrak blast a round of Force Energy towards the Jedi Padawan which he promptly dodges, swinging again with relentless hacks and arcs, in which the Zabrak counterattacks, now no longer testing his intrigue and seeking to kill. One of his strikes catches him in the hand wielding the blue lightsaber and destroying it, the strike making contact at his hand and causing Padawan Obi-Wan who isn't used to this intense agony within his hand to scream in agony as the intense pain in his muscles begins to overwhelm him. He feels the urge to drop his lightsaber just to clutch his wound but he simply brings up his lightsaber to angle at the Zabrak.

He attempts to charge him, to not show any pain even as his scarred hand didn't exactly support him at the moment, but the Zabrak simply just parries each assault, swinging around the Jedi Padawan, redirecting his blade to reveal his legs.

He realizes his mistake. He attempts to step back, to sidestep, and whilst he save himself from amputation, Obi-Wan is still granted a reward for his cockiness.

The Zabrak's crimson blade cut through Obi-Wan Jedi robe with stunning ease, slicing a nasty wound into his right thigh and tearing the fabric off his robe, causing blood to form as he finally collapses onto the ground.

Darth Maul grins a sickly grin at the Jedi Padawan. He offered a great amount of resistance yet his power is no match for the true power of the dark side.

He supports challenges and is willing to grant the Jedi a respectful kill...

Obi-Wan coughs up, feeling the urge to just throw up at the aching unmerciful pain that is vibrating through his body, taking all that he has to stand back up, emerald lightsaber posing to protect his upper body.

"It's painful but your pain can be used as a weapon. He's growing cocky and arrogant. Use it against him."

Simply, although with much pain from his Jedi counterpart, the powerful version of Obi-Wan grimaces slightly and places the battered and bloody hand behind his back alone with forcing himself to move and marches up without hesitation, almost as if he is outwardly enjoying the pain brought on by the assault, closing his eyes as the blood continues to pour from the blow to his thigh.

The scar...

It somehow appears to brighten as if it is intensifying in power.

Clutching his thigh, he charges this rival furiously, Maul deflecting all of the blows as his opponent's aura grows ever the more powerful, removing his hand and allowing the blood to pour. He is stunned, yet somewhat gratified by this sudden outburst of anger from the Jedi Padawan. He would make a fine apprentice for...

Pain! Agonizing white fury javelins through him in an instant. And suddenly, several of his horns are on the floor, and a large gash is across his head. This makes him ever the angrier as he glares at the Jedi Padawan, lunging at him with his damaged lightsaber swinging almost without weakness in his defense, driving him back and stumbling him before Obi-Wan strikes at the floor and the debris that slams into the Zabrak's eyes, forcing him to jump away, landing on his feet roughly.

Utilizing this, Obi-Wan lunges forward, deadly hacking away at him and forcing him to block the attack in the last minute, recalling his training with the handmaidens as Maul pulls a similar tactic to Sabé in faking a downer blow but he manages to dodge this time and counters the upper blow, unlike before.

The Jedi Padawan kicks him away, forcing the Sith Assassin to skid across the ground, breathing heavily and repeatedly as he glares at Darth Maul, the lightsaber in his hand suddenly weighing heavier than he remembers.

Obi-Wan slices at his throat, in which the Zabrak parries with effort.

Obi-Wan manages to slip through his defenses, the lightsaber striking Maul's shin, leaving a gaping hole in that particular area. Maul stumbles backward in surprise before his fury takes over. He brings his blade downwards, attempting to incapacitate the Jedi. The sheer amount of force in the strike would have killed anyone, but Obi-Wan ripples around the side of him, evading the blow, and bring the emerald lightsaber across Maul's arms, severing his hands from his body, hands erupting with intense blood as seconds later as the result of the blow going lower, slicing his left ankle and decapitating the skin along with impaling the Zabrak in the abdomen.

The shock of the blow, as well as the pain, forces Maul to his knees before Obi-Wan. Above him, the stone-emotionless face Jedi stares on as the crimson lightsaber flies in the air, and he catches it, activating the crimson lightsaber, holding both in manners of detainment.

Finally, Obi-Wan feels the dark side within him retreating as he stares down at his foe, the darkness evaporating slowly at first before it leaves him entirely in control of his body, though in his faint outlines, there is a crimson still within his eyes that fade a second later one wouldn't have been able to see it.

Obi-Wan Kenobi returns.

In the eyes of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the man is shocked to see Darth Maul, once standing tall and asserting his dominance over both of them, is now at his knees, at the mercy of the Jedi. To think, this is the Jedi's first sight of their ancient enemy in thousands of years, excluding Vader, but he highly doubts even in the state he just was in, he will have been able to best Vader who's aura alone shaken the entire galaxy. Someone like that would require the entire Jedi Order to defeat them. Perhaps that isn't even enough.

About to make an arrest, he points both lightsabers at the Zabrak's throat at what would happen if he attempts to resist, try any tricks, or attempt to run. Through the Force, he can sense the Zabrak's rage and anger for him, amber eyes flashing, seeking vengeance against the individual who have bested him in the first and only time for many years.

"I will not force you in deciding what decision you make," the voice of Vader vibrates in his head. "But it is time you put an end to this madness. You must dispose of him."

"It is not the Jedi way," Obi-Wan growls, rage flashing across his expression as it appears he is trying to convince himself more than the man who is speaking to him with the Force. He is not willing to allow Vader to pull off such trickery as he did when he convinced him to call upon his guidance through the Force.


Surprisingly, the man is standing beside him, causing the Jedi Padawan to feel the urge to move it at his throat and cleave Vader into two. However, he can sense by the Force that this isn't real.

The Zabrak begins getting up, but Obi-Wan instantly pushes him to his knees with the Force, and the Zabrak, too exhausted, drained, and render defenseless from the battle, is incapable of countering with the Force so he is brought down fairly easy, a sneer on his lips as he stares up at the Jedi, the two lightsabers reflecting off of his face.

"But would he show the same self-control to your Master were he in your position? It is possible to claim a life and resist the darkness. One life touches many others in both good and bad, Kenobi. A good decision does not avert an evil outcome. Because of mercy, the Jedi have been purged by their ancient enemy multiple times."

"The Jedi Council would deal with him in correct accordance with Jedi tradition," Obi-Wan corrects in a calm chilling tone, glaring at what he knows is the Force Projection of Vader but keeping his lightsaber direct at the Zabrak's neck. Projection is an advanced Force power that allows a user to create a short-lived duplicate of him- or herself or an external object that was visually distinguishable from the real item through the Force that can be transmitted across vast distances. He have heard of such an ability before but it is forbidden due to the Jedi fearing the treachery that it involves will lead to the dark side.

"Truth but what if he's able to escape from the Jedi's cell? We both know he is the apprentice which means his Master would come for him and break him out. Your Master's life will be threatened. Moreover, more Jedi will die. Obtaining the moral high ground is good in definite cases; this however is not one of them. You have life and death within your grasps. Surely, you have felt the intentions of this being."

"He is not your apprentice?" Obi-Wan asks, raising his eyebrows. He knows treachery is the way of the Sith which means if he claims his life, he would probably form a bond with Vader that will drive him to the dark side and to do unimaginable things.

Vader huffs, exhaling a sharp response and his eyes hardening into one would call glass. "Any individual that is trained by me would be more powerful than this pathetic bug. Additionally, I do not betray any of my acolytes; I have learned to be a master and mentor. This... animal has no restrains. This is accurately why I refuse to align myself with Jedi and Sith; both orders maintain codes that restrain you from making decisions of your own that you know deep down is right." His sharp tone becomes smoother. "The choice is yours to make. I will not strike you down as other Sith do in recent history when they fail to lure Jedi because you believe taking him in is the conventional choice."

"You finally are willing to admit to being a Sith?"

"No, but your mind will not be altered of this; this is what I know. Your narrow-minded ways of the Force would hopefully be improved one day. You would be a magnificent Jedi; in some ways what a Jedi should be, but what you decide here would not change who you are. This light and dark have results. Sparing does not cause a light outcome."

Obi-Wan pauses for a moment, unwanting thoughts filling his mind. What if Vader is right? What if-what if killing him would be the right choice?

"In allowing him to live would be granting a death warrant for your Jedi. Your Jedi will interrogate him in every way but would get nothing, and by the time they fail, he would be out of his cell and killing your fellow Jedi. Of course be a Jedi, Kenobi. Allow your fellow Jedi who you claim is your brothers and sisters to die. It would be only your fault in the end." Vader mocks acidly, evidently caring little about his Jedi Order.

And Obi-Wan trembles, conflict immediately burning inside of him, knowing that whatever outcome this is would lead to permanent scars on him both permanently and mentally. However, this animal would threaten his fellow Jedi and he is meant to serve them, protect them, and assure the Jedi are not endangered.

They are the people who accepted him at a young age even when they were seconds away from sending him to be a mere farmer. This causes a hidden rage, for the first time in a long time, to build up in him... at the Jedi? But Master Yoda always said not to focus on mere what-ifs and that that the future is always in motion.

That destiny was avoided for him and he did indeed become a Jedi in spite of slimly averting a different path.

"Would... he really threaten all of my fellow Jedi?"

"Yes. His master would give him orders and he would follow without protest; your kind would be purged from the galaxy, he would eventually become Emperor and he would torment others because that is what he can do. And your Jedi's descendants who survive his Master's wrath on the first purge would accuse you, loathing you for not putting an end to this beast."

And as much as the Jedi Padawan doesn't want to believe it, he can feel the Force itself supporting Vader in his words. Is that what he's supposed to do? Follow the living Force?

"You are capable of making your own choices. Remember, a good decision does not avert an evil outcome. You are human. The choice is yours."

Obi-Wan blinks slightly, knowing that every word is true. He has always been loyal to the Jedi Council, follow their codes. Ever since a young age, he exhibits a dry sense of humor and sarcastic wit, with a rebellious nature, and have to deal with much emotional anxiety. Despite Obi-Wan's honor and good morals, Qui-Gon believes he rarely does the right thing, due to him blindly following rules and orders.

Obi-Wan stares back at the Zabrak, emerald and crimson lightsabers still by his throat, unmoving, flames burning in his eyes.

A swift Sai Cha next, and the Zabrak's head rolls down the reactor shaft to the abyss below.

And his eyes widen as he falls back, sweat beginning to rain down his face, intense heavy breathing following shortly after.

He releases the grip of the crimson lightsaber, allowing it to descend to the abyss below along with the Zabrak's head before clutching his head with both hands, aware of his Master's cylinder hilt resting in his hands before deactivating the lightsaber and allowing a scream to form on his lips before dropping his Master's lightsaber, it deactivating as it crashes onto the ground.

"What-what have I done?"

Vader felt that same horror a long time ago when he became Darth Vader. Now a similar terror is flashing across the face of the younger man of his brother who helped him become one with the Force. By the Force, what is wrong with him? He promised to become a greater person and help this dimension but now he is going to repay someone who helped him after sacrificing himself to the Emperor in spite of all of his deeds with a trauma.

However, the expeditious animal would have gone on to lead the greatest campaign outside of the Clone Wars and massacred endless camps and people in the hope to lure out Obi-Wan. Now, their lives can be spared due to Obi-Wan carrying out his death instead of believing he is dead.

The Zabrak would have also intervened with Vader's future plan so he killed two Tuskens with one stone, ridding the galaxy of the Zabrak while also assuring when the time comes a lesser individual wouldn't be able to intervene with him seizing power for a better cause.

"You have done the right thing. He was too dangerous to be left alive." Vader replies, grimacing how he sounds like Sidious, feeling a bitter taste in his mouth.

Vader opens up the bond slightly, allowing compassion and serenity to flow into the Jedi's aura at his heavy breathing, his conflicted emotions leaving him into a valuable state where he can fall to the dark side. Won't that be a good thing? A treachery voice echoes inside of his head. To allow him to touch whatever emotions, allow him to break and feel nothing but worthlessness, and than he gets involve, work on redoing all that the Jedi forced down his throat that ultimately led to his untimely demise.

Thoughts of Siri Tachi and Duchess Satine, two people who Vader placed aside for a long time, of how the Jedi and inadvertently Obi-Wan allowed the latter to die in a distinct future to the same animal that now lays before them, dead, flies through his head. At that rate, Obi-Wan will be freely be allowed to touch the dark and the light without consequence.

No. Despite how Palpatine would have used this as a chance to manipulate the Jedi Padawan, Vader is not Palpatine; he will not convert his former Master from another time to the dark side because he cares for his brother and he doesn't want him to become a machine in all but appearance like Vader once was for two decades. He wishes to break him away from the Council but not break his personal vows and who he is to the completion. He will allow him to make his own decisions.

"Easy for you to say. He was an unarmed prisoner. I shouldn't have done that. It is not the Jedi way."

Vader snorts. "And allow your Master to die? Allow that animal to slay your Master without mercy, along with the rest of your fellow Jedi."

Before the Jedi can offer a response, Vader allows himself to disappear, smirking at what must be an angry snarl of Sidious right now with the death of his pet and his failure in killing at least one Jedi. He allows himself to breathe a sigh of relief as it appears that the Force didn't want to allow Qui-Gon to perish a second time.

While Obi-Wan feels horrified right now, Vader knows that he wouldn't be hunted by Qui-Gon's death. The dark side within him managed to save Qui-Gon, and Vader exploited it in order for any obstacles to be destroyed. It has always been Obi-Wan's destiny to encounter Maul, rise above his inner demons, and defeat him. And while the dark side does taint Obi-Wan, it is a better outcome than the original timeline.

Vader doesn't trust events to play out the exact same as they did in the original timeline so he craved on his former Master's deep fears and bring them to light deeper than the former Sith ever thought possible with his former Master due to the same man often warning him of the dangers of using the dark side in another timeline.

At the very least, his younger self wouldn't have to deal with being around self-loathing, sensing the failure and nightmares that plagued Obi-Wan's nights constantly, sensing his loss for his Master.

He calls on the dark side to see if his Master is corrupted by the choice, but while Obi-Wan is conflicted about his choice, he hasn't fallen. Of course, the Jedi won't know this, but he has just fallen to the dark similar to his apprentice of another time and returned simply due to the love and attachment he has for his Master that he has buried deep upon surrendering his life to the Jedi.

This would leave trauma for sure for possibly the rest of Obi-Wan's life, but it is better than the alternative.

After seconds of hesitation, Obi-Wan rushes immediately to Qui-Gon. Kneeling at the Jedi Master's side, he lifts his head and shoulders and cradles him gently in his arms.

"Master!" he breathes in a whisper.

"Obi-Wan, what happened?" Qui-Gon asks, eyes confuse as the enormous tingling in his head make it hard for him to remember.

In some ways, Obi-Wan is relieved that his Master does not remember the deepest sin his Padawan made, the Padawan who he worked for for hours, bred endless teachings and knowledge of the Jedi into him, falling to the dark side even briefly.

"The Sith-he was about to kill you, Master. I Force Pushed you into the wall and fought him." Obi-Wan responds, eyes flashing with conflict as he turns to stare at the body, sweat still coursing down his head.

Qui-Gon sees the regret on his Padawan's face and arcs his eyebrows. He knows in an ancient history lesson that once a Jedi kills the Sith, they would feel a slight struggle with the dark side, but he senses his Padawan winning over those inner demons, silencing them. A true Jedi to no end. Yet there is a dark hole deep within him.

"It's alright, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon reassures, knowing they could get nothing out of the body but at least they can confirm the mysterious warrior is the Sith. "You have done what you believe is right. Come, we should go see if the Queen is successful in her mission."

Calmly, Obi-Wan helps his Master up, handing him the lightsaber which he takes and clip to his belt.

Obi-Wan didn't respond and instead follow him out of the reactor shaft, grabbing the broken pieces of his lightsaber and his crystal with the Force and pocketing them, eyes falling over the Sith Apprentice as they walk out. Why did he listen to Vader?

Obi-Wan's eyes flash with regret and remorse. The Masters warned him countless times about the dangers of touching the dark side, but he have just drawn on the dark side to save Qui-Gon, meaning he have turned his back on the code and the Order that he promised to stay loyal to.

Today, Obi-Wan Kenobi betrayed all that he swore to.

Chapter Text


The Force fuels around the palace though many will not sense it due to not being either Jedi or Sith or a Force Wielder. That is the consequence of being in the presence of Darth Vader; being in front of the now man himself can still leave that effect as much as it was able to do when he was more machine than man.

In spite of everyone's beliefs about how Vader is fighting under the Republic, the former Sith does not crave that intention. He would never fight for such an unprincipled Republic that would eventually become a tyrannical Empire that maintains no compassion and under the boot of a madman.

No, he is not fighting for the Republic who is led by corruption and many power-hungry Senators. Instead, he is fighting for the noble people on Naboo which is a strange sensation, though part of him hopes to pay back after wronging them in another timeline and demanding the death of one of their favorite Queens in a dark time.

Each Gungan and guard here goes into battle, knowing full well of the risk of their deaths so he cannot find it within himself to feel horrible for them. The only section of this battle that leaves him somewhat upset is that children is perishing in the battle and having their life be threaten. It sickens him immensely and reminds Vader of long-lost memories of the Clone Wars where he would witness countless children rush into battle and lose their lives because of the higher-ups of the Republic incapable of maintaining a fair balance of control and leadership between the Inner Rim and Outer Rim.

Vader draws back a fist, levitating five droids into the air before crushing them. Swiftly, he dispatches the other battle droids, hacking away at them albeit choosing to leave the hallways full of battle droids where he knows his wife of another time would be walking down shortly.

Underneath his hood, the face of Anakin Skywalker is impassive and cold as Vader's face always has been except a few times give or take when he sensed Kenobi on the first Death Star and at the time he craved the death of his former Jedi Master, but this is just a fatiguing battle that only draws not even a section of his power. One thing he would admit about being under the service of the Empire is that whenever he engaged in battle there was always a chance where the Rebel Alliance would have been able to pull through a victory, and while none of the Rebels were able to outmatch Vader in terms of leading military, some of those dangerous Rebels did take down fair amounts of stormtroopers. At least the Rebels posed a challenge after each battle.

With simple amounts of flurries, platoons after platoons of battle droids collapse onto the ground.

He must ensure Sabé is able to reach the Throne Room as the timeline is changing massively and there is a slim chance that the guards and handmaidens alongside the fake Queen can fail which means he must be at the Throne Room at the time.

After his lightsaber pierces through the final Super Battle Droid, Vader deactivates his lightsaber, clips it to his belt, reaching out with his senses for his wife from another time, detecting her presence near, her fierce front maintaining even in the face of life and death.

The thing is, in spite of all the risks, Padmé Naberrie must confront Nute Gunray to put a climax to this battle.

Whomever the Force decides to win is thinning on the line.

Padmé Naberrie along with her handmaidens and Captain Panaka and his soldiers follow the passageways that lead out of the main hangar through the city and back to the palace. It is a running battle fought building by building, corridor by corridor, against the battle droids who been left behind to garrison Theed. They encounter the droids both singly and in entire squads, and there is nothing for it each time but to fight their way clear without becoming entangled in a full-fledged engagement.

As a consequence, they avoid a direct route in favor of one less likely to necessitate contact with the droids. At first, they have no choice but to make straight for the palace, fleeing the battle in the main hangar, hoping that speed and surprise would carry them through. When that fails, Panaka begins to take a more cautious approach. They use underground tunnels, hidden passageways, and connecting skywalks that avoided the patrols scouring the streets and plazas. When they are discovered, they fight their way clear as quickly as possible and go to the ground, all the while continuing steadily on.

In the end, they reach the palace much more quickly than Padmé has dared to hope, entering from a skywalk bridging to a watchtower, then making their way along the palace halls toward the throne room.

They are in the midst of this endeavor when an entire patrol of battle droids round a corner of the passage ahead of them and opens fire. Padmé and her followers presses back into the alcoves and doorways of the hall, firing their own weapons in response, searching for a way out. More battle droids are appearing, and alarms are sounding throughout the palace.

"Captain!" Padmé shouts at Panaka above the din of weapons fire. "We don't have time for this!"

Panaka's sweat-streak face glances about hurriedly. "Let's try outside!" he shouts back.

Turning his blaster on a tall window, he blows out the frame and transparisteel. While her handmaidens and the bulk of the Naboo soldiers provide covering fire, the Queen and Panaka, together with half a dozen guards, breaks from cover and climb swiftly out the shattered window.

But now Padmé and her defenders find themselves trap on a broad ledge six stories above a thundering waterfall and catchment that feed into a series of connecting ponds dotting the palace grounds. Press against the stone wall, the Queen cast about furiously for an escape route. Panaka shouts at his men to use their ascension guns, motioning toward a ledge four stories farther up on the building. The Naboo pulls the grapple-line units from their belts, fit them to the barrels of their blasters, point them skyward, and fire. Slender cables uncoils like striking snakes, the steel-clawed ends embedding themselves in the stone.

Swiftly Padmé and the other Naboo activates the ascension mechanism and tows up the wall.

From behind, in the hallway where her handmaidens and the rest of the Naboo soldiers still hold the battle droids at bay, the firing grew more intense. Padmé ignores the sounds, forcing herself to continue ahead.

When they are on the ledge above, they cast away the cables, and Panaka uses his blaster on a window to open a way back into the building. Transparisteel and permacrete shards lay everywhere as they climb through once more, finding themselves in yet another hallway. They are close to the throne room now; it lay only another story up and several corridors back. Padmé feels fierce exultation. She will have the Neimoidian Viceroy as her prisoner yet!

But the thought is no sooner completed than a pair of destroyer droids wheels around one end of the hallway, swiftly transforming into battle mode. Mere seconds later, a second pair appear at the other end, weapons hold at the ready.

In a hollow, mechanical monotone, the foremost of the droids orders them to throw down their weapons.

Padmé hesitates. There is no possibility for an escape unless they goes back out the window, and if they did that, they will be trapped on the ledge and rendered helpless. They can try to fight their way free, but while they stand a reasonable chance against battle droids, they are seriously overmatched by their more powerful cousins.

In the wake of this chilling assessment, an inspired thought occurs to her, a solution that might give them the victory they sought in spite of their situation. She straightens, holds out her arms in surrender, and tosses aside her blaster.

"Throw down your weapons," she orders Captain Panaka and his soldiers. "They win this round."

Panaka blanches. "But, Your Majesty, we can't-"

"Captain," Padmé interrupts, her eyes locking with his. "I said to throw down your weapons."

Panaka gives her a look that suggests he clearly thinks she had lost her mind. Then he drops his blaster to the floor and motions for his men to do the same.

The destroyer droids step forward to take them prisoner. But before they reach the Naboo, Padmé is able to complete a quick transmission on her comlink, along with spotting a silhouette of a certain hooded figure that she knows well.

"Have faith, Captain," she urges a bewildered Panaka, her voice cool and collected as she slips the comlink out of sight again.

Anakin Skywalker, meanwhile, is caught up in the midst of a dogfight between Naboo and Federation starfighters. Still struggling to get off autopilot, he avoids engagement with the enemy mostly because his craft is flying in an erratic, evasive manner that take it out of combat range every time it get too close for comfort. Fighters are exploding all around him, some so close he can see the pieces as they flew past his canopy.

"Whoo, boy, this is tense!" he breathes as he tries switch after switch on the control panel, the fighter dipping and yawing in response to his unwelcome interference with its operation. But he is learning the control panel, too, his trial-and-error exploration yielding knowledge of what various switches, buttons, and levers did. The downside to all this is that the firing triggers to the laser guns had locked, and try as he might, he can not find a way to break them free.

He glances up from his search at a loud beep from R2-D2 to find a pair of Federation fighters approaching him head-on.

"Artoo, Artoo, get us off-!"

The astromech droid override the rest of what he is going to say with a series of frantic whistles.

"I've got control?" Anakin exclaims in shock.

He seizes the steering, flips on the power feeds, and jams the thruster bars left. To his surprise and everlasting gratitude, the fighter banks sharply in response, and they shot past the fighters and ride into a new swarm of combatants.

"Yes! I've got control!" Anakin is ecstatic. "You did it, Artoo!"

The astromech droid beeped at him through the intercom, a short, abrupt exchange.

Anakin's eyebrows shot up as he read the display. "Go back to Naboo? Forget it! Qui-Gon told me to stay in this cockpit, and that's what I'm gonna do! Now, hang on!"

His enthusiasm overrides his good sense, and he whips his fighter toward the center of the battle. All of his flying instincts kicks in, and he is back in the Podraces on Tatooine, a part of his ship, lock in on the intoxicating challenge of winning. Forgotten is his promise to look after Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Padmé; they are too far away for him to think about them now. All that matters is that he find his way into space, taken command of a starfighter, and be given a chance to live his dream.

An enemy fighter drifts into his sights ahead, warning. "Sit tight, Artoo. I'm gonna blast this guy."

He brings his ship into firing position behind the Trade Federation craft, remembering belatedly that the triggers to his laser guns are locked. Frantically, he searches for the release.

"Which one, Artoo?" he shouts into his helmet. "How do I fire this thing?"

R2-D2 beeps wildly.

"Which one? This one?"

He punches the button the astromech droid indicates, but instead of releasing the firing mechanism, it accelerates the fighter right past the enemy ship.

"Whoa!" Anakin gasps in dismay, noting with a grand of salt that now the Trade Federation fighter is on his tail, maneuvering into firing position against him, forcing him to yank hard on the steering, shooting past the massive Federation battleship, screaming out into the void in a series of evasive actions.

"That wasn't the release!" the boy screams into his intercom. "That was the overdrive!"

R2-D2 whistle a sheepish reply. The enemy fighter is behind them again and closing. Anakin banks his ship hard to the right and brings it back toward the blockade and the swarming fighters. Wrenching the stabilizers in opposite directions, he begins to spin his fighter like a top.

R2-D2 shrieks in despair.

"I know we're in trouble!" Anakin shrieks back. "Just hang on! The way out of this mess is the way we got into it!"

He streaks toward the control station, taking the enemy fighter with him. Laser blasts rip past him, barely missing. He wait for a second longer, until he is so close to the battleship that the emblem of the Trade Federation paint on the bridgework looms like a wall, then engages the reverse thrusters and banks right again.

His fighter nearly stalls, dropping away like a stone for a heart-wrenching moment before stabilizing. The enemy fighter, on the other hand, have no time to respond to the maneuver and rockets past him into the side of the battleship, exploding in a shower of fire and metal parts.

Reengaging the forward thrusters, Anakin wheels the ship about, searching for new enemies. Through his canopy, he sees a handful of Naboo starfighters engages in attacking the Trade Federation flagship.

Ric Olie's voice comes over the intercom. "Bravo Three! Go for the central bridge!"

"Copy, Bravo Leader," come the reply.

A squad of four fighters plummets toward the battleship, lasers firing, but the big ship's deflector shields turn the attack aside effortlessly. Two of the fighters are hit by cannon fire and explode into ash. The remaining two break off the attack.

"Their shields are too strong!" one of the surviving pilots shouts angrily. "We'll never get through!"

Anakin, in the meantime, is under attack once more. Another Federation fighter finds him and is giving chase. The boy jams the thruster bars forward and speeds down the hull of the flagship, twisting and turning through its channels and around its tangle of protrusions, laser fire ricocheting past in a constant stream.

"I know this isn't Podracing!" Anakin snaps at R2-D2, as the astromech droid beeps reprovingly at him. But in his heart, it feels as if it is. A fierce glee rushes through him as he whips the Naboo fighter along the length of the battleship. The speed and the quickness of the battle feed into him in a rush of adrenaline. He would not have been anywhere else for the world!

But this time his luck run out. As he nears the ship's tail, a laser blast strikes his fighter a solid blow, knocking it into a stomach-lurching spin. R2-D2 screams anew, and Anakin fight desperately to regain control.

"Great gobs of bantha poodoo!" the boy hisses, fighting to stabilize his stricken craft.

He is hurtling directly toward the hull, and he pulls back on the thruster bars, cutting power and drifting into a long slide. He regains control too late to turn back and points the ship toward a giant opening at the battleship's center. Cannon fire whips all about him as the droids controlling the flagship's guns try to bring him down, but he is past them in a microsecond, rocketing into the battleship's cavernous main hangar. Reverse thrusters on full power, dodging transports, tanks, fighters, and stacks of supplies, he struggles to keep his fighter airborne as he looks for a place to land.

R2-D2 is beeping wildly. "I'm trying to stop!" Anakin shouts in reply. "Whoa! Whoa! I'm trying!"

The Naboo fighter strikes the decking and bounces, reverse thrusters powering up in an effort to brake the craft. A bulkhead looms ahead, blocking the way. Anakin brings the fighter down on the decking with a bone-jarring thud and holds it there, skidding down the rampway in a screech of metal. The fighter slows and do a half-turn and comes to an unsteady halt. The power drive stalls and then fails completely.

R2-D2 whistle in relief.

"All right, all right!" Anakin gasps, nodding to himself. "We're down. Let's get the engines started again and get out of here!"

He ducks down to adjust the feeders to the fuel lines, checking the control panel indicators worriedly. "Lights are all red, Artoo. Everything's overheated."

He is working on the coolants when R2-D2 beep suddenly in warning. The boy pops his head over the edge of the cockpit and looks out into the hangar.

"Oh, oh," he mutters softly.

Dozens of battle droids are approaching across the hangar floor, weapons raised menacingly. Their only escape route is blocked.

Nute Gunray stands with Rune Haako and four members of the Trade Federation Occupation Council as Captain Panaka, one of the Queen's handmaidens, and the six Naboo soldiers who fought to protect them are marched into the Theed palace throne room by a squad of ten battle droids. The viceroy recognizes Panaka at once, but he is unclear as to the identity of the handmaiden who accompanies him. He is looking for the Queen, and while this handmaiden bears a certain resemblance to her...

He catches himself in surprise. It is the Queen, without her makeup and ornate robes, stripped of her symbols of office. She looks even younger than she did in ceremonial garb, but her eyes and that cool gaze are unmistakable.

He glances at Rune Haako and sees the same confusion mirrored in his associate's face.

"Your Highness," he greets as she is lead up to him.

"Viceroy," she replies, confirming his conclusion as to her identity.

That settled, he swiftly assumes the pose of a captor confronting his captive. "Your little insurrection is at an end, Your Highness. The rabble army you sent against us south of the city has been crushed. The Jedi are being dealt with elsewhere. And you are my captive."

"Am I?" she asks quietly.

The way she speaks the words is unnerving. There is something challenging in the way she says them as if she is daring him to disagree. Even Panaka turns to look at her.

"Yes, you are." He presses ahead, wondering suddenly if he misses something. His face lift. "It is time for you to put an end to the pointless debate you instigated in the Republic Senate. Sign the treaty now."

There is a commotion outside the doorway leading into the throne room, the sound of blasters and the shattering of metal, and all at once Queen Amidala is standing in the gateway beyond, a clutch of battle droids collapse on the floor and a handful of Naboo soldiers warding their Queen against the appearance of more.

"Viceroy!" she calls out to him, already beginning to move away. "Your occupation here has ended!"

For a moment Nute Gunray is stunned he can not make himself move. A second Queen? But this is the real one, dressed in her robes of office, wearing her white face paint, speaking to him in that imperious voice he comes to recognize so well.

He wheels toward the battle droids holding Panaka and the false Queen at bay. "You six! After her!" He gestures in the direction of the disappearing Amidala. "Bring her to me! The real one, this time - not some decoy!"

The droids he indicates rush from the room in pursuit of the Queen and her guards, leaving the Neimoidians and the four remaining droids with their Naboo captives.

Gunray wheels on the handmaiden. "Your Queen will not get away with this!" he snaps, enrage at being deceived.

The handmaiden seems to lose all her bravado, turning away from him with her head lowered in defeat, moving slowly toward the Queen's throne and slumping dejectedly into it. Nute Gunray dismisses her almost at once, turning his attention to the other Naboo, anxious to have them taken away to the camps.

But in the next instant, the handmaiden is back on her feet, any sign of dejection or weariness banishes, a blaster in either hand, pull from a hidden compartment in the arm of the throne. Tossing one of the blasters to Captain Panaka, she begins firing the second into the depleted squad of battle droids. The droids are catch completely by surprise, their attention fixes on the Naboo guards, and the handmaiden and Panaka dispatch them in a flurry of shots that leave the throne room ringing with the sound of weapons fire.

Suddenly, a crimson beam is flying at the droids inside of the throne room, and for a moment, Gunray thought it is that the ambiguous hooded figure who is the Sith, here to amend his mistake.

"Now you will all die," Nute Gunray declares victoriously. "And your Queen would be forced to sign the treaty."

He suspects a look of horror, fear, and anguish as there is no way a mere Queen and bunch of guards would be able to best a Sith Lord. Instead, a smug smirk is on the woman's face.

The reason why is quickly confirmed as it becomes a shock silent, the lightsaber immediately dispatching several droids, cutting furiously through metal after metal before returning to a figure in the shadows, the lightsaber whooshing off with a snap-hiss. In the shadows, there is a silhouette of the form, lightsaber hilt grasps tightly in a shadow's grip, ostensibly disappearing though it is crystal clear that the shadow is still there.

"Like the Queen said," Darth Vader announces, crushing the two droids standing guards, "your occupation here has ended. Your forces have been overwhelmed, and you are impossibly outnumbered."

"This changes nothing!" Gunray growls.

Shouting instructions to the Naboo, the handmaiden - if that's who she really is because by now Nute Gunray is beginning to think otherwise - moves to the throne room doors, triggering the locks. The doors swing shut, the bolts engage, and the girl smashes the locking mechanism with the butt of her weapon.

She turns then to the Neimoidians, who are huddled together in confusion at the center of the room, eyes darting this way and that in a futile search for help. All the battle droids lay shatter on the floor, and the Naboo seizes their blasters.

The handmaiden walks up to Gunray.

"Let's start again, Viceroy," she says coolly.

"Your Highness," he replies, tight-lipped, realizing the truth too late.

She nods. "This is the end of your occupation."

He stands his ground. "Don't be absurd. There are too few of you. It won't be long before hundreds of destroyer droids break in here to rescue us."

Even before he finishes, there is the sound of heavy wheels in the anteway, then of metal bodies unfolding. The Viceroy permits himself a satisfied smile. "You see, Your Highness? Rescue is already at hand."

Darth Vader comes further in the light, and surprisingly, droidekas are hovering behind and beside him, and Gunray didn't know how he didn't see that earlier, and although they appear to still be activated and operating, something is permitting them from firing at the occupants in the room and to free their Viceroy.

The former Dark Lord crushes them simultaneously before he throws them in front of the shock Nute Gunray, defeat slowly overhauling the Viceroy as the realization kicks in that the Queen and her entourage won this battle.

"Your reinforcements have been disabled, Viceroy," the figure taunts. He seizes him with his gloved hand, not killing him but intimidating him and restraining him. "You have lost. You will agree to the bargains of the Queen. You will confess your crimes to the Senate or," he leans in, whispering to the point where others in the room can barely register what he's saying, "I will kill you. Am I understood?"

For the first time, Nute Gunray is genuinely terrified. Jedi are conjectured to be apparently peacekeepers and ones who would defend all life instead of threatening or claiming them. The way of the Jedi is supposedly the way of wisdom and patience, backed by swift and decisive action when necessary. Yet, now, he is seeing one who is the opposite of everything that had been claimed by those across the galaxy. And if he is a Sith, why would he be helping the Naboo? Darth Sidious had reasoned that the Sith is on the side of the Trade Federation, but unless he had been betrayed; that means this is one who must be one who is rebelling from the Jedi and Sith.

He didn't have long to dwell as the Queen's impassive face is in his sight next, her stern face not lessening, not even slightly.

The Queen's hard look didn't cease. "We will negotiate a new treaty, Viceroy. And you will sign it."

And suddenly, a new treaty sounds smarter.

When Anakin Skywalker gets a look at the number of battle droids surrounding his starfighter, he ducks back out of sight again at once. If it have been at all possible, he would have vanished into the ship's fuselage and willed them both right through the hangar floor to a safer haven.

"This is not good," he tells himself softly.

Sweat beads on his forehead as he tries to decide what to do. He is just a boy, but he has experience with being in tight places and a cool head when it comes to dealing with trouble.

'Find a way out of this!' he admonishes himself.

A quick glance at the main and sublevel control panels reveals that all the indicator lights are still red. No help there.

"Artoo," he whispers. "The systems are still overheated. Can you do something?"

Footsteps approach and a metallic droid voice demands, "Where is your pilot?"

R2-D2 beeps bravely in reply.

"You are the pilot?"

The astromech droid whistles affirmatively.

There is a confused pause.

"Show me your identification," the battle droid commands, reverting to rate.

Anakin hears the sound of switches clicking and circuits kicking in. R2-D2 is still trying to save them. Good old Artoo. The astromech droid beeps softly at Anakin, and the boy sees the systems lights change abruptly from red to green.

"Yes, Artoo!" he hisses in relief. "We're up and running!"

He throws the ignition switches, and the fighter's engines roar to life. Swiftly, he leaps from hiding and takes his place in the pilot's seat, hands reaching for the steering.

The droid commander sees him now and brings up its weapon. "Leave the cockpit immediately or we will disable your craft!"

"Not if I can help it!" the boy throws back, reaching for the deflectors. "Shields up!"

Hauling back on the steering, he released the antigrav lifts. The starfighter rise from the hangar floor, throwing off the droid commander, sending him sprawling in a crumpled heap. The droids under his command begin firing their blasters, the laser beams ricocheting off the fighter's deflectors, angling away in a tangle of bright streamers.

R2-D2 beep wildly.

"The gun locks are off!" Anakin exclaims with a joyful shout. "Now we'll show them!"

He punches in the firing buttons and holds them down, rotating the fighter clockwise above the hangar floor. Laser beams rocket in a pinwheel pattern, scything into the unprotected battle droids, disabling them before they can even think to flee. Anakin is howling with glee, caught up in the exhilaration of finding himself back in control. Lasers firing, he sweeps the hangar floor clean of droids, watching those still distant rush for cover, watching ships and supplies fly apart as the deadly beams cut through them.

Then something moves at the end of a long corridor, no more than a shadow, and deep inside, his instincts kick into high gear, shrieking at him in a frenzy of need. He doesn't know if what he is seeing is a weapon or a machine or something else, and it doesn't matter. He is back in the Podraces, locked in battle with Sebulba, and he can see what no one else can, what is hidden from all others. He reacts without thinking, responding to a voice that spoke to him alone, that whispers always of the future while warding him in the present.

Acting of its own accord, faster than thought, his hand leaves the laser firing buttons and throws a double-hinged switch to the right. Instantly, a pair of torpedoes speed down the corridor in the direction of the shadow. The torpedoes whip past the battle droids, supply stacks, transports, and everything else, and disappears through a broad vent.

The boy groans. "Darn! Missed everything!"

Giving the matter no further thought, he swings the fighter about swiftly and throws the thruster bars forward. The power drive kicks in with a ferocious roar, and the starfighter shot across the hangar deck, scattered droids in every direction, and catapults back out into space, cannon fire from the battleship chasing after it in a stream of deadly white fire.

"Whoa, this is way better than Podracing!" Anakin Skywalker shouts at R2-D2, grinning broadly as he zigzagges his Naboo fighter back and forth to throw the gunners off.

The astromech droid is beeping and chirping as if he fries all his circuits, but the boy refuses to listen, rolling and banking the starfighter wildly, angling back toward Naboo and away from the control station.

Then a shocking voice comes over the intercom from another of the fighters. "Bravo Leader, what's happening to the control ship?"

In the next instant, a flash of pulsing light sweeps past him. He glances over his shoulder and sees the battleship he escaped wracked by a series of explosions. Huge chunks tear away from the core, hurtling into space.

"It's blowing up from the inside!" the voice on the intercom exclaims.

"Wasn't us, Bravo Two," Ric Olie replies quickly. "We never hit it."

The battleship continues to break apart, the explosions tearing through it, shattering it, engulfing it, and finally consuming it all together in a brilliant ball of light.

Debris flies past the canopy of Anakin's fighter, and the light of the explosions faded to black.

"Look!" Bravo Two breaks the sudden silence anew. "That's one of ours! Gutta the main hold! Must've been him!"

Anakin cringes. He hopes he might get back to the planet unseen, avoid having to explain to Qui-Gon what he is doing up here. There is no chance of that now.

R2-D2 beeps reprovingly at him. "I know, I know," he mutters wearily, and wonders just how much trouble he has gotten himself into this time.

Blaster shots hammer into the door of the throne room in the palace at Theed. Captain Panaka and the Naboo soldiers spread out to either side in a defensive stance, preparing a crossfire for the droids. Nute Gunray wants to move out of range, but the Queen is still facing him, her blaster level at his midsection, and he did not care to risk provoking her into hasty action. So he stands there with the others of the Trade Council, frozen in place.

Then abruptly, everything goes still. All sound of weapons fire and droid movement beyond the batter throne room doors ceases.

Captain Panaka looks at the Queen, his dark face uncertain. "What's going on?" he asks worriedly.

Amidala, her weapon point at Nute Gunray, shakes her head. "Try communications. Activate the viewscreens."

Her head of security moves quickly to do so. All eyes are on him as he slowly brings the outer screens into focus.

It is then they each notice Darth Vader is holding something in his hands. It is not his lightsaber - for that is connected to his belt - but rather a small controller wielded in his hands before he drops the controller and smashes it.

"What did you do?" Captain Panaka inquires.

"Why, Captain, I have acquired full control of the Trade Federation's army before the battle," Vader replies, synthesizer full of amusement and smugness.

"You acquired it before the battle?!" Panaka shot up. "Why didn't you deactivate the droid army?! We could have saved more lives!"

"Simply because I prefer a challenge," Vader replies nonchalantly. "Furthermore, the brute the Jedi fought would have slayed you all. At this rate, you each should be gratified as you were distracted and so was the beast. He would have mowed you down to the last guard and handmaiden." Truthfully, Vader doesn't know if that is the truth, but it is certainly a great possibility.

Padmé shakes her head with a sigh. "Captain," Padmé states sternly but softly, successfully calming him down.

The glare sends Vader's way by the captain and most of the guards followed by - the now restrained Gunray who is vowing vengeance for how he is treated with such insubordination. Vader is not intimidated. Many of Sidious's inquisitors let alone admirals and the Jedi seconds before their deaths have far more menacing glares.

"You will pay for this. You should have stayed out of the equation. I will hunt you down along with Amidala. Both of your heads will be on my desk."

"You can try," Vader mocks. "You will fail."

In a Theed room in silence, Obi-Wan meditates to himself in silence, eyes clenched close as he trembles, recalling the violent natures of the dark side, the power that he felt, how he forsook all of his teachings. He will be exiled from the Jedi Order, have to be stopped before he eventually lashes out again, would fall and succumb to the dark side. He would be disgraced

Somehow, however, his thoughts are interrupted and constantly go to the former slave, Anakin Skywalker. Even without knowing exactly what he was doing, Anakin Skywalker flown a starfighter into the teeth of the Federation defense, penetrated their shields, landed in the belly of the Neimoidian flagship, torpedoes the ship's reactor, and set off a chain reaction of explosions that destroyed the control station. It is the destruction of the central transmitter that had caused the droid army to freeze in place, their communications effectively short-circuited. Anakin claims not to have attacked with any sort of plan in mind or fired his starfighter's torpedoes with any expectation of hitting the reactor, but after hearing the boy's tale and questioning him thoroughly, Obi-Wan believes Anakin is guided by something more than the thinking of ordinary men. That extraordinarily high midi-chlorian count gave the boy a connection to the Force that even Jedi Masters on the order of Yoda might never achieve. Qui-Gon, he knows now, is right. Anakin Skywalker is the Chosen One.

Unbeknownst to him, this is the making of a bond; the Force begins swirling around the Jedi Knight, connecting his essence to Anakin and forging a bond between them. It goes incredibly fast one would not be able to sense it, not even the Jedi Padawan himself.

Flashes of him engaging the dark warrior with all of his worse fears, hate, rage, and suffering. Flashes of him claiming the monster's power and exploiting it against others. Flashes of him clutching a crimson lightsaber and slaying innocent people. Flashes of him harboring dark robes and being a form lost in the power of the dark side with golden and crimson eyes. All brought to the light of his mind.

Obi-Wan collapses near the nearby wall and begins to sob, hoping that no one would hear him and come in to investigate, only to find a Jedi Padawan giving into his feelings instead of releasing his feelings to the Force.

It would just make him further a disgrace in the eyes of the Council.

In the other room, Qui-Gon Jinn stands, wondering what the Jedi Council would do next. If they do not accept Anakin among their ranks, he would have to leave the Order, leave his Padawan, so he can train the future of the Force. Right now, though, the Council is making a final assessment based on what transpired since their last session with the boy.

The door opens, and Yoda appears. He enters the room In a slow shuffle, leaning on his walking stick, his wizened face sleepy-eyed and contemplative.

"Master Yoda," Qui-Gon greets, keeping his hands wrap by his sleeve bowing deferentially.

The Jedi Master nods, advising solemnly. "Decided about the boy, the Council is, Qui-Gon."

"He is to be trained?"

The big ears cocks forward, and the lids to those sleepy eyes widen. "So impatient, you are. So sure of what has been decided?"

He bites his tongue and keeps his silence, waiting dutifully on the other for one of the rarest moments.

Yoda studies him carefully. "A great warrior and mentor, you are, Qui-Gon," he gargles softly, his strange voice sad. "But so much more you can be. More slowly, you must proceed, Qui-Gon."

Qui-Gon stands his ground. "I merely am by the assumption that I understand what the rest of the Jedi do not about the boy."

But Yoda shakes his head. "Be not so quick to judge. Not everything, is understanding. Not all at once, is it revealed. Years, it takes, to become one with the Force."

He moves over to a place where the fading light shine in through a window, soft and golden.

Yoda's gaze is distant when he speaks. "Decided, the Council has," he repeats. "Trained, the boy shall be."

The Jedi Master feels a surge of relief and joy flood through him, and a grateful smile escapes him.

Yoda sees the smile. "Pleased, you are? So certain this is right?" The wrinkled face tightens. "Clouded, this boy's future remains, Qui-Gon. A mistake to train him, it is."

"But the Council-"

"Yes, decided." The sleepy eyes lift. "Disagree with that decision, I must."

There is a long silence as the two faces each other. Qui-Gon did not know what to say. Clearly, the Council have decided against the advice of Yoda. That in itself is unusual. That the Jedi Master chose to make a point of it here emphasizes the extent of his concerns about Anakin Skywalker.

Qui-Gon speaks carefully. "I will take this boy as my Padawan, Master. I will train him in the best way I can. He is powerful in terms of the Force. I have little doubt there is no denying he is the Chosen One."

Qui-Gon understands the importance of attachments, which makes him unpopular among the rest of the Jedi Order. However, Qui-Gon is right about the value of love, and his approach would make him an ideal master for Anakin.

Yoda studies him a moment, then nods. "Your promise, then, remembers well, Master Jedi," he says softly. "Sufficient, it is, if you do."

Qui-Gon bows in acknowledgment, genuinely relieved that the Council would heed his warnings. "I will remember."

Qui-Gon stares at Yoda who nods.

Time to prepare for the celebration.

"You controlled the entire Droid Army and you didn't even stop them?!" Padmé shouts, an exasperated expression across her face. "Vader, I'm not certain if I should outrage with you or laugh at the absurdity you have just committed!"

"In technicality, Skywalker is to be praised for the deactivation of the Droid Army as they originated from the Droid Control Ship. As far as they know, he is the one who stopped the entire army. Many will admire him. He would be talked about in history books. Children would wish to be like him. He should receive the honor." Vader replies, crossing his arms across his chest all the while feeling deep tints of amusement at what his wife is feeling as of now.

"You are willing to deny fame for someone else..." Yané states in shock.

"He is the one who piloted men and women into battle," Vader replies. "Whereas I played a vital role in the defeat of the Federation, Skywalker was the deciding factor."

Padmé nods slightly.

"To address your statement from earlier, Queen, I have neglected to mention that if Nute Gunray discovered me deactivating his army, he would have likely evacuated. At this rate, I stimulated onto his arrogant and incompetent ego, and also ameliorated your awareness and the battle in your veins, improving your instincts drastically." Vader responds, smirking at their surprise through the Force.

"...You were testing us," Saché says in realization.

"You each are incredibly skilled in terms of marksmanship, but talent without training is nothing," Vader replies, answering without answering at all, folding both gloved hands over one another behind his cape.

She pinches the bridge of her nose before asking with irritation, "Can you at least answer with a proper explanation?"

"You challenged my views and I decided to show you what it's like to be in the midst of a battle. This is the definition of being a warrior, to lead men and women into battle and mowing down any enemy that crosses your path while learning each time. Experience outranks everything. Now, you will be able to exploit your potential in future battles that are to come. Your instincts have been sharpened to the point where you may be able to combat and defeat Jedi with your bare hands. Unquestionably, you have witnessed the death of friends and people you know, but now you will be able to perceive your senses as well as the Jedi." Vader's eyes alter gazes from Saché to Sabé. "Tell me, Sabé, what was it like to be in command of the battle?"

Sabé closes her eyes, replying leisurely, remembering as much as she can from the battle. "Noise, confusion, smoke, adrenaline, reflexes - and training - all come together with an intensity that is difficult to describe to anyone who has not experienced this. Missing from the mix, until it is over, is reflection. It's scary too. You constantly are nervous that everyone and everything around you wants to kill you. Your hearing is either so sensitive that a second hand on a watch sounds like lightning, or so muffled that everything sounds like you are under water. You wonder what everyone back home is doing, you wonder if you will see them again."

"In that, you have learned what I have intended to teach you. Y