First of all, Happy May the Fourth!
Thank you Ladyivy19064 for being my 2000th follower and Camp1500 for being my 800th reviewer :)
Thanks once more to Divine-Faithborn for soldiering on with this story. It is greatly appreciated, especially with this having been an incredibly busy period for you in your work life.
Thank you for enjoying my story so much, I truly appreciate all the readers taking their time out to read my work. It's rather intimidating and exhilarating at the same time.
Bear with me as life is being rather annoying for me for the last few months, I won't bore you with the details as they're just depressing, but I will say that seeing how many of you are reading my work each day does wonders for my morale. Although I will say that being able to use both hands again feels almost like a privilege. You do not realize how much a difference having only one usable hand makes, plus shoelaces become your arch nemeses.
I have also gone through the older chapters to produce a chapter summary on my Forums for what has happened so far. The link is on my profile and is as follows: myforums/Shahismael/5585574/
I did notice something that fell through the editing as I was reading everything, When Montu manages to meditate in Chapter 21, I wrote that his ship came out of Hyperspace and he quarantined the system at seeing where he was. Please ignore the drop out of hyperspace and quarantining aspect of it, that was actually meant to follow him receiving orders that he receives in this chapter, the meditation part is fine though.
Anyway, on with the show :)
Chapter 24 – Dark Clouds on the Horizon
Harry placed the pieces of scarlet Khyber crystal together. Holding them in place in the air before him, he breathed slowly and allowed his force and his magic to work together and guide him in concert. In this regard, he was as much a witness as he was an architect, observing the beauty of the act as much as orchestrating it.
Gold wiring flowed around him, held aloft by the force and guided into position by magic, to form a lattice that would define his holocron's shape.
Amused at a sudden memory that sprang to mind, he reformed a section of the wire on the whim of a fleeting fancy, trusting in his instincts to guide his way. Function over form – but in many regards, the form was the function.
As he continued to impose his will upon the crystal, he gently poured his power within the frame, allowing his signature to seep into the crystal just as the metal flowed like liquid to seal the two pieces together. Shards of circuitry shattered and reformed in congruous harmony, moving and swimming inside of the solid crystal, hiding in the depths of the device. An internal light began to grow like a fire within the structure as it took shape.
Minutes became hours as a thin dust rose from the holocron as edges refined and smoothed; links made and patterns grown. The dust flowed like a liquid through the air to gather within his palms, fragments of gold wire joining them and flowing together.
Breathing deeply, Harry closed his eyes and allowed his memories of Abaddon to focus mental defences, rewriting and refining the flow to make as clean and precise a recording as possible. Following his instincts and the information taken from San'sii, he poured every facet of his knowledge into the crystal, focusing deeper and deeper as it seeped into every crevasse and plane in a winding maze of knowledge.
Without realizing it, silver tears, heavy with memories and emotions, ran down his cheeks to fall within the mix.
Finally he blinked as he became aware of his surroundings once more.
Floating before him was a sphere of Cinnabar red crystal, bound in gold. The gold pattern reminded him of a snitch but also of Neville's rememberall, the colour the same as the philosopher's stone. It was large enough to fill his palm and his fingers would reach just over half way around its mass.
It was about the size of an adult human's heart.
Within his hands, a jagged crystal had formed from the gathered dust from the holocrons construction. Gold filigree wound itself around the crystal, like a guardian serpent. A faint light flickered in its depths, pulsing in sync with the beat of his own heart.
Lifting it with the force, Harry gently floated it upwards towards the holocron. And as it two neared each other, the sphere opened up like a fractal flower, segments moving aside to allow its heart to settle in place. Smoothly it flowed back into place, leaving no mark of its passage bar the light from within becoming a gentle steady glow.
A flicker of his power triggered the gate keeper.
A copy of him in his Hogwarts robes, but with lightsabers at his waist and armour under the robes, formed from the green light - the colour of which matched his eyes.
"Greetings Maker, how may I serve?"
Sidious smiled as he sat in his opera box; a façade of casual relaxation mixed with pleasured entertainment at the night's events played out before him. To his left sat one of his new bodyguards, knight Olana Chion. Much like Sidious, Olana appeared to be deeply moved by the singers on the stage. To his right stood master Coleman Kcaj. The wizened Jedi master was also a fellow opera lover, but he at least had the dignity to pay attention to his job. With a straight face master Coleman continued to stare at knight Olana with disapproving eyes, disappointed at her distraction from her duty.
Internally, Sidious's mask of relaxation hid a mind deep in thought. He held no delusions that Jade was not watching his every movement, for the bastard turned galactic leader had already shown his aptitude in stealing information and placing spies. He would have to play his proverbial cards close to his chest, reign in his projects and conspiracies lest they be revealed or stolen away from him.
Still, just by being present at the night's opera, Sidious was taking steps to rebuild his plans and undermining his opposition's objectives.
Approving nods of respect had greeted Sidious earlier that night when he took his usual box. If possible, he would have preferred to skip the show, but by attending the opera he was showing that he had recovered from the attack and was unafraid of the terrorists by being out in public. He was not some fragile figurehead that needed to sit behind forcefields and durasteel and protections. He was not some illusive figurehead that never showed himself. He was the leader of the Galactic Republic.
Still, he wished that the other patrons would at least pretend to focus on the opera.
Rumours continued to ripple across the hall, wondering if he was not perhaps baiting the terrorists, daring them to make another attempt. Admiration for his bravery would surely reach the reporters and tomorrow's conclusion of the investigation would paint Jade as the attacker in the public's eye. With no actual proof Sidious could not directly accuse the man, but the public would not care for evidence when the media began a campaign to paint the new Imperium as an already corrupt and dangerous nation of warmongers.
The lead opera singer hit a high note as Sidious returned his thoughts to his plans. The majority of them were scattered and broken and the most fundamental core could no longer be the formation of an empire. After all, Jade had already stolen them and used them. It wouldn't do to be seen as a copy-cat, even though the truth was the opposite.
How else was he to impose order on the galaxy?
Sidious's thoughts slowed to a crawl for a moment before rushing back to full speed. His façade broke as a massive grin broke upon his face. An epiphany struck him just as the crowd erupted into applause at the conclusion of a rather taxing series of high notes. To the rest of the audience, he was enthralled by an opera that he really wasn't paying any attention to.
He had seen this show before.
It was boring.
Sidious would create a new order, rising from the collapse of the republic against a mortal enemy that desired nothing more than their total annihilation. It would use the few Jedi still loyal to the republic as a foundation and he would paint them as his personal liberators while slowly perverting their ideals towards his own goals. He would still destroy the Jedi eventually, but by the time he was through building his empire they would have already burned themselves into a shadow of their former glory. After all, the war was only going to get far worse for them.
The name and the details would come to him later, after he had a chance to iron them out in the near future. But thanks to Jade's actions, Sidious now had an option to escalate the war even further than it had been in the past. The senate would have no choice but to agree to him, even the dissenters would fall into line.
After all, this was no longer a civil war. This was now a war against a new, major power – Jade's imperium. This was a war against a rising and hungry Empire who would wish to expand and conquer. After all, that's what Empires did. It didn't really matter that Jade's imperium was going to hold its own territory, Sidious could goad them into war.
His Order would then liberate enslaved worlds and bring them back to the fold. Clean, neat, and a good PR front. The people would love him and his enemies would fear him. A passing notion also reminded him that this war would also keep the Hutt's contained, they will not wish to become involved any more than they are now.
He glanced up and clapped with the rest of the audience as the opera ended. Perhaps it was time to accidently find Skywalker with Senator Amidala. Yes, it would be best to get the issue of their relationship out of the way.
After all, what good is a Jedi Order without a puppet to lead it for him?
Padme took a deep breath before opening the door to her apartment, "Chancellor! This is a pleasant surprise. How can I help you this evening?"
Yes, he was probably rushing things. Yes, he was going off half-cocked. But damn it all he was in a good mood tonight and nothing would spoil it for him. His security forces had already informed him of knight Skywalker's present location and now was as good a time as any to get it out of the way.
Palpatine smiled wistfully at the sight of her, "I hope I am not disturbing you, this isn't a business call, though I do have some documents that I would like you to look over in the next few days. I'm afraid that Jade's new Imperium has left us both as politicians without homes."
"If you had wanted me to read over some documents, surely you could have simply left them in my office." replied Padme Amidala as she motioned for the chancellor to enter into the doorway.
Palpatine continued to smile softly as he accepted her invitation, the door closing behind them as he spoke, "I would prefer to speak as friends and not as politicians. It has simply been too long since I was home and with the whole Naboo issue I couldn't help but feel nostalgic. We aren't as close as we used to be, and I can't help but feel that I have been remiss of our working relationship. Perhaps it is simply because of Jade's imperium, but I find myself desiring to rebuild our friendship."
"What are you saying Chancellor?" asked Padme, her face one of cautious apprehension as if to say that she did not fully buy Palpatine's story.
"Truthfully…" started Palpatine before he paused and prepared to lie through his teeth. "… I feel old senator. This war has dragged on and with Jade's imperium I cannot help but fear that he will escalate this war. The republic has fought long and hard to try and bring order to this civil war, but then Jade came and blindsided us all."
Padme began to say something, but the words died in her mouth as Palpatine spoke again.
"Truthfully I was going to ask you if you wanted to visit one of the traditional Nubooan restaurants and speak longer about his subject, but I am intruding." As if to make his case, Palpatine motioned an arm to a nearby dinner table that already had two sets of plates and silverware set. A pair of lit candles adorned the center of the table as well. "I didn't know you were seeing someone my dear, might I enquire as to the lucky individual?"
"Well um, you see..."
He raised a hand to stop her. "No, no. I apologize my dear. I am intruding into your personal business. I am sorry for sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong, we have so little privacy as it is, our lives are under constant scrutiny are they not. Would you perhaps agree to join me for lunch tomorrow then?"
"Of course, I would be honoured." She smiled as she nodded to him in agreement.
From Senator Amidala's personal rooms, Anakin Skywalker's voice called out for her, "Padme! I hope you don't mind, I had to borrow your shampoo, I forgot to buy some more of mine."
Palpatine simply raised an eyebrow at her, "Might I enquire why Anakin Skywalker is in your personal bathroom rather than the guest rooms?"
Padme, managed to hide most of her panic as she tried to craft a believable lie. "Master Skywalker was visiting after a mission and…" Padme smiled, well more grimaced at Palpatine, "If you would excuse me a moment." She rushed off to his hidden amusement.
Palpatine moved over to the drinks cabinet and poured himself a glass of Nabooan brandy, not a bad one at that, half listening to the whispered conversation occurring in Padme's bedroom. He couldn't hear the exact words, but the tones and patterns were easy enough to guess at.
'The Chancellors here. No, he can't be. He heard you. What do we do? I don't know. We can try and pass this off as something else.' Something along those lines, he imagined.
It was all rather dramatic and traumatic for them, an excellent point for him to begin to work from. For a moment, he was tempted to let them try and explain this all away, but he simply wasn't in the mood and chose to attack this head on.
At least, he would once they got their act together and joined him for a drink.
He had a quick look at the wine in the ice bucket, a very good choice, an excellent vintage, from Palpatine's own vineyard in fact, a fish meal most likely. His attention was drawn back to the reason he was here as Padme and Anakin came out of the bedroom to join him. He looked the pair over, Padme doing her utmost to stand strong, as if daring him to say something negative, Anakin seemed most interested in everything bar the Chancellor, his embarrassment so very entertaining.
As Padme opened her mouth to start her excuses or similar, Palpatine began his assault, "I cannot describe how disappointed I am in the both of you."
Anakin's mouth opened to defend them but stopped at Palpatine's raised hand. "Calm down Anakin, let me finish. I am disappointed that you felt you couldn't trust me with this information. I know that the Jedi disallow romantic relationships but did you truly believe I would turn you in to the Jedi?"
Padme looked surprised, "Why wouldn't you?"
Palpatine lightly chuckled to himself, "My dear, while I trust the Jedi council with my life, I don't agree with everything that they do. Besides, I would never betray the confidence of my friends. Had you told me, I perhaps could have done something to help."
Anakin cocked his head to the side, "Help?"
"Yes, help. Perhaps I could have bogged you down with bureaucratic paperwork or pulled some strings and put you on special assignment to guard senator Amidala; maybe even a few weeks off from the war front. Now, how long has this been going on? A few weeks?"
At their nervous fidgeting he raised an eyebrow, "A couple of months?"
Still they refused to look at him, "Years?"
At their mutual flinch, he sighed before chuckling light-heartedly. "At least you have hidden your relationship well. For it to have been years, you must be doing something right. Still, whilst I may approve of you two being together, I cannot blame you for hiding your relationship. We all know the Jedi would force you to break apart."
Anakin's, head snapped up at that, fire in his eyes. "I won't let them."
"If only it were that easy," Palpatine sighed, "Anakin, I know what the Jedi prophecy says about you, you are supposedly the Chosen One and I have no doubt that they wouldn't just let you quit and walk out of the order. I have no doubt that they would send you some place far away from Padme; ensuring that you are too busy fighting on the warfront or out of the picture farming on some desolate planet for Jedi flunkies."
"I have no doubt that they would force you to choose between them and Padme, but we all know that the order would only accept one outcome. If they attacked your loyalties with guilt, what would you do…? No matter, I will keep your secret."
Taking the opportunity, he continued. "It is fortuitous that I requested you to be assigned as my bodyguard."
"You did?" Padme asked as Anakin's eyebrows raised in surprise.
"Did they not tell you?" Palpatine grunted in annoyance to cover his glee as he sensed the frustration rising in his future apprentice. "They assigned me one of their best instead of you; they claimed you were too busy and important to the war to assign elsewhere."
"Who did they assign instead?" Anakin's curious tone hid his annoyance well, but everyone who knew him would have heard it clearly.
Calmly Palpatine responded, "Knight Olana Chion." His eyes not missing a reaction as Anakin's eyes closed in pained annoyance for a moment.
"Chion!? She really doesn't like me. She was given a field promotion last year as we needed the numbers. She has talent, but no real combat experience. Ahsoka is leagues above her, even with the age difference, why not assign her to protect you if they would not let me?"
"Because Padawan Ahsoka is not here right now. I asked for her as an alternative to yourself, but they said she was on an important duty for the Jedi." muttered Palpatine as he pretended to be mildly disturbed by the conversation, "Do you mean to tell me that my experienced and advanced bodyguard, isn't. This is worrying, why would they lie to me? What did they have to gain by doing so?"
Padme entered the conversation at this point, her honour and respect for the Jedi clouding her judgement. "I'm sure it was a simple mistake, nothing untoward at all."
Palpatine internally smirked as Padme's tone did nothing to hide the uncertainty she was feeling. Anakin frowning at her words was an added bonus, water for the seeds of doubt settling into fertile soil. Apparently, Palpatine mused, he was in a poetic mood tonight, it must have been the opera.
Palpatine smiled as he continued, waving away the issues for later. "Either way, I will do what I can to assist you two. And should you be discovered and wish to still be involved in the war, then... yes, perfect. Should you desire it Anakin, I can have a vacancy open on my staff, a military advisor. It would allow you to keep your rank but would also allow you to spend a lot of time on Coruscant. I would of course assign you the 501st, no need to cause too much disruption. Now ideas and problems aside, how about we go out for the evening to the restaurant I mentioned, you can have an excellent meal together in the open and when I am called away suddenly on urgent business you can have some small measure of privacy. We can still do lunch tomorrow. Oh and Anakin, I have a gift for you. If possible could you come by my offices tomorrow evening."
Harry looked at the line of bounty hunters at parade rest before him.
"You have all read the file?" At their confirmations he nodded. "Good, your mission is simple, you will go out and track the journeys of Jedi Master Bolla Ropal. You will find every family he came into contact with. Each of you will be provided a crystal which will glow in the presence of a force sensitive individual."
Harry began to pace along the rows. "You will find everyone who your crystal reacts to and offer them a place at a special school for the individual and their families. You will not coerce or intimidate any families, simply inform them of the offer and update us as to the individual. For every individual we confirm as force sensitive that agrees to my offer, you will be paid the bounty fee."
He stopped and fixed them with a burning glare. "If I even hear the faintest rumour of a child being stolen or the matter forced, I will display my unhappiness with the aggressor personally."
Returning to his pacing, he continued. "Should it be necessary to rescue an individual from a hostile situation then you will be reimbursed appropriately for your trouble. Any such instances should be observed and confirmed with ourselves before you take action, unless there is a danger to the target. Remember, no Jedi or any others are to be collecting force sensitive individuals within my borders. If you come across someone without one of your crystals doing so, they are to be treated as a hostile. Capture them if possible. You will likely have already spotted the added bonuses in the file for such instances."
He stopped back where he stated and faced them, his eyes sweeping across the group, meeting the eyes of each individual. "Is that all clear?"
A dozen silent affirmatives were his answer.
"Good. Get to work."
"Is this enough, or do I need to start cutting off parts?" threatened Darth Maul as he stood over a defeated Mandalorian, one clawed foot resting on the warrior's throat. Around him stood several other Mandalorian soldiers in various states of shock and fear.
With a gasped choke, the Mandalorian beneath his foot gurgled something that resembled a "I give up" whilst clawing at the metal limb.
Savage chuckled darkly from behind Maul, the muscled mountain amused by the fear pouring from the defeated warrior.
"Now then, will you contact your leaders?" questioned Maul in a tone that gave the impression that he really wasn't asking a question. "I have an offer for them in exchange for your hospitality."
One of the watching Mandalorians walked over with a commlink in hand and tossed it to Maul. "The Shadow Mandalore has been watching the entire time. Speak and he will hear."
Maul smiled viciously. "Very well. My name is Maul, I and my brother are force users, but we are not Jedi, you might say we are unaligned. I wish to discuss an alliance so that we both gain that which we desire. Vengeance upon a Jedi for myself and Mandalore for you."
A distorted male voice came from the commlink, "I'm listening."
Knight Kato triggered the recording at Elia's motion.
"Knight Elia Tanna presiding over the operation. Knight Kato attending as bodyguard for Knight Tanna. Three medical droids attending to assist. Corporal Swift of Recon Squad nine of the Two Seventy Third has kindly volunteered to undergo the procedure."
The Corporal chuckled from the table, "You could have warmed things up first though."
Elia smiled at him, "Oh hush you. We have given him full disclosure and he demanded to be the first, even with all the risks; 'Scout the Way' indeed. The equipment we are using is outdated by fifteen years to allow us to even detect the target using the scans. Scans using more recent tech have shown nothing of the biochip unless specifically keyed to display it. We have found nerve bundles spreading from the biochip into various regions of the brain, removal of these bundles would be too drastic a procedure with little potential gain. Removal of the core chip will leave these bundles but I don't believe that they will have no further effect upon the subject. We have informed the Corporal that there is a fity-fifty chance he will not survive the operation, he still volunteered."
The Corporal smirked at her, "Shit like this is what I was made for General."
"Not quite like this, but I do appreciate your assistance. Now, blood pressure looks good, heart rates steady and healthy, oxygen saturation is excellent. Temperature is at thirty six point eight degrees, and a local anaesthetic has been placed on the region in question, so everything looks good. I am ready to begin, are you ready for this?"
"Ma'am, you do realise it sounds really creepy to hear you discussing the matter like I'm unconscious, don't you?"
"I do realise that, unfortunately we need to document everything to make sure nothing is missed."
"Fair enough General, creepy talking aside, time for you to get to work."
"As you wish. I will mark that you have signified your readiness." She placed the scalpel to the side of his head and began to cut. "I am cutting back the skin to allow the bone cutters access, once the biochip is exposed, we can investigate further and see if we can remove it safely. If not we will restore the bone flap and seal up the surgery. I'd rather not take any risks if you don't mind."
The corporal chuckled "I don't mind at all Ma'am."
Stepping back she watched as the droids began to remove the required section of the skull that would allow the small biochip to be seen. A small buzz-saw hummed as it lowered itself through the bone before cutting a line through the hard protective with inhuman precision. The smell of antiseptic and blood mixed in the air before an acrid scent of burning bone began to permeate the room.
"Don't mind the smell," commented Elia as the drill continued to slice open Corporal Swift's skull, "It's just the friction of blade along your skull. As soon as the blade ha… never mind… it's finished. The air conditioner should clear the smell shortly. Your skull has been opened and I can see the biochip."
Kato's voice snagged her attention. "Force! That looks... nasty."
"General, can you not say shit like that whilst there's a hole in my skull please."
"Sorry, it's just..."
Elia moved up. "It is rather ugly Corporal, but don't worry, biotech usually looks like that. Still, it appears almost cancerous in nature. I am unsure as to how it all works, but I believe I can remove it without too much hassle."
The Corporal shuddered as she touched it with a probe. "I don't feel good. I can taste… coconut."
One of the droids spoke up at that point. "Core temperature rising rapidly, unknown biological detected in blood attacking organs, target nerve bundles are triggering at random causing rising levels of pain, subject's liver and kidneys are failing. Subject is beginning to go into seizures."
The Corporal shuddered once more and then his muscles suddenly tensed as he screamed in agony. His head was locked in place although she could hear the table creaking under the strain from the struggling patient. Elia quickly grabbed her scalpel and began cutting to remove the chip.
"Get it out!" Kato yelled.
"I'm trying!" Elia yelled in response.
With a ping, one of the arm restraints snapped and his hand began to wildly flail in all directions, the screaming having become a single stream of words and agonised howls.
"Hold him down!" Elia yelled as she tried to cut the chip free without damaging its surroundings.
Kato used his skill with the force to pin the struggling soldier to the table, even then he was surprised at the strength of the soldier trying to get free.
But then, Corporal Swift stopped screaming. His flailing arm went limp and fell into his lap. His other limbs relaxed underneath their restraints. For a second, Kato believed that Elia had saved the man. Then he realized the truth.
Corporal Swift was dead.
Silence cloaked the room as Elia staggered back from the dead clone; a lump of organic matter in one hand and a bloody scalpel in the other. In the wake of the sudden complication, only Elia's heavy and laboured breathing could be heard.
After a few tense moments Kato focused on her face, grabbing her shoulders to bring her attention to him. "What happened? Elia. What happened?"
"He's dead, I felt him, he was grateful. Right at the end as he faded, he was at peace." She muttered sombrely before she carelessly tossed the lump of brain into the pan waiting for it. "I killed him and he thanked me for it."
"Can we find out what is held on the chip?"
Elia sniffed for a second or two before responding, "I don't think so. I had to cut it in two at the end to get it out. Whatever was in it is probably damaged beyond recovery." She turned to the droids, motioning towards the body. "Perform a full autopsy on corporal swift. Get me samples of the unknown biological tissue and run every single test that I've predefined on the samples. I want to know everything about it."
Kato waited until she turned back to him, his voice gentle so as to not upset her further. "I know this sounds crass, but if I supplied you with another clone, do you think that you could you get the chip out without killing him?"
Elia took a step back and leaned heavily onto a nearby table, all the while refusing to make eye contact with Kato. After an awkward silence, it became clear that Elia was not going to answer Kato.
"I don't know, maybe, yes. Yes I can."
"Are you okay?"
She chuckled mirthlessly, "No. No I am not. I just killed a man in an experiment and he thanked me for it." She fell to her knees as the tears began to fall, blood stained gloves covering her face as her sobs echoed around the still room.
Hondo clicked his tongue in annoyance as he looked down at his captured Jedi in frustration. Ahsoka Tano, in response, glared balefully at Hondo but said nothing.
"You have cost me greatly today, young one. And since you lost me so much profit, I am left with no choice…" He motioned to his men and the one holding her arms kicked her in the back of the knee as his partner clubbed her on the back of the head with the butt of his gun, knocking her unconscious.
Hondo sat on the step before her still form, as he rubbed her lips with this thumb, "…But to turn you into profit."
Motioning to the guards, they dragged off the unconscious Jedi to a cell.
A short while later, Hondo entered into his private bedroom and typed something into a datapad. His ship would sent the signal while he took a shower.
Twenty minutes later, a response beeped at him and he opened the link.
Xora smiled at Hondo, "I presume everything went well then?"
Hondo smiled back at Xora, a massive shit-eating grin plastered on his face, "Absolutely not! In fact, I do believe that we have a major problem."
"Oh? How so?"
"The Jedi didn't co-operate when we arrived."
Xora rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Send me a full report, all the details. For now give me the basics."
"Well, you see. I do not have the droid, nor the crystals. I lost several men, including specialists who will be difficult and therefore expensive to replace. My nephew has been spaced, so I'll need to explain to my sister about that and we have Ahsoka Tano in my brig."
"Did I not inform everyone that if they encounter her, they are to leave her alone? Were my instructions not clear?"
"How are we supposed to leave her alone when she was actively defending that droid?" shot Hondo back at the holographic form of Xora, "She killed my men, chased us as we ran away from her, damn near killed me, and boarded my ship when we tried to get the hell away from her. Would you have preferred me to space her instead?"
"No… You likely did the best you could in the situation. Let her go and we'll have to find another way to acquire the data."
Xora raised an eyebrow at that. "Pardon?"
"I said no. This cost me greatly, in reputation as well as coin. I cannot and will not just let her loose. My gang is not a charity, we work for profit."
"Then we are at an impasse. I dislike such things."
"As do I, but I am a business man first of all."
"I do not know. It depends entirely upon the bidding because I need to pay my men. I was thinking a million as an opening bid. I wonder how much the Republic and Separatist's will offer in order to get their hands on her? Or that Hutt she upset? How far will you go? I will inform you of the date. Don't be late." Cutting the comms he shuddered at the look of malice she had given him.
"She reminds me of my third wife", he muttered as he returned to the bridge.
"You called for me Father?"
Harry nodded from behind his desk. "I have a mission for you. Vital importance. Top Secret. Don't fail. All that mumbo-jumbo." He nudged the datapad across the desk towards Montu.
He consumed the information before nodding in understanding, "James always did enjoy the unusual records. I take it that you wish for me to find it?"
"Exactly. Pick your choice of ship from the fleet, you will have my seal for authorisation. There is no rush, so take your time and make sure it's of true value."
"As you wish Father."
"Oh, and Montu, send in Set for me will you."
Montu nodded before leaving.
Harry sat in the dark room, staring at his reflection in the screen until Set arrived a few minutes later.
"You summoned me Father."
"I did indeed Set. I have a mission of great importance, a final line of defence should all else fail. I wish to give you first refusal at it."
"I would accept any such chance to serve you Father. Give me your orders and I shall do my utmost to complete them."
Harry smiled sadly at his son. "I will tell you the mission and then you will tell me your decision." He slid across a datapad, "This is my Ragnarok Protocol. Read it and make sure you understand everything within before making your decision."
Set nodded before linking with the pad, taking a moment to review the data. Repeating the process for confirmation, he nodded in approval and bowed to his Father, "I accept this duty Father, for however long it may require me to perform it."
Harry smiled sadly and nodded to his son. "Thank you Set, I pray you will never be needed, but I know that our future is in good hands should you need to fulfil those orders. You will be assigned the Ragnarok battlegroup; they're freshly built and unassigned so no one will miss them. The HK units from Belsavis will be assigned to your command, update their systems and bring them up to speed. Nearly the entire stock of our Cortosis will be assigned to you to use as you see fit. The medical droids and genetic sources will be assigned just before you leave. The organic material will be placed under stasis charms within cryogenic hibernation. Make sure you have a way to contact James, he will keep you up to date with scientific progresses and current events."
Xora looked at the images of her Captains before her. "As I said, I understand Hondo's position, but he failed to capture the droid and then broke our agreement. So my response will be simple. Destroy everything that belongs to him. No sanctuary, no favours, no respite. Reduce him to the very basics. I will allow him one ship, the crew that can fit within and no base. Once he is brought to heel, then he can rebuild."
Sol Sixxa raised an eyebrow in surprise, "You would let him live and restore himself?"
Xora smiled, "Call it a small modicum of mercy for his years of service. More accurately, Hondo is good, he is skilled and incredibly lucky. I will not waste talent unless they push too far, nor will I destroy him utterly for this. I just want to make sure he gets the message."
Avlin Varn smirked as she asked the question the others were thinking of, "That being?"
Xora looked at the captains around her, making eye contact with each of them as she did so. "You don't fuck with me or mine."
Mehen waited until his charge was at rest in her chambers before asking his question. "Why did you not tell Father of the Tano matter?"
Xora chuckled from her comfy chair, her eyes watching the world turn below. "Do you believe he trusts me?"
Mehen nodded, "I do not believe, I know."
Xora smiled at him, "What do you think your Father would do if he was to find out about the matter?"
Mehen shrugged his shoulder in what she recognised as a form of uncomfortable wince, "He would go and rescue her."
Xora nodded as she poured herself a glass of wine, "Exactly. The Jade Imperium is still young. He must be seen amongst the people, guarding them from the War and other dangers. He must be seen as benevolent and mighty. How do you think the people would react if he ran off to rescue a Jedi of all things?"
"The Phoenix Imperium, and from watching you and reading your reports I imagine it would create… doubt?"
Xora chuckled, "It will be the Jade Imperium within the month and you know it," she swirled her glass, watching as the liquid span within, "They need to trust him and that he will put them first beyond his own interests. So, rather than distract him and allow his, what did he call it? His saving people thing to get in the way, I will take the burden on my own shoulders."
"And if he finds out? He will be angry."
"I know, but better angry at me for protecting him than having to watch all our work fall to ruin."
"It will not stop his anger."
"It will pass. I can live with him angry with me… I can't live with him dead."
"You believe it will be a trap?"
"Hondo has made it into one. Its why I have done what I have, there is no way that all the factions won't throw what they can into the mix in hope of removing enemy pieces from the game. In all likelihood the site of the auction will have at least two hostile fleets ready to fight to the death over Padawan Tano. Why risk the King when we can just lose a few pawns whilst others lose Knights, Bishops and Rooks."
"And Tano? What piece is she?"
"Right now? The board, but she could become a Bishop or more."
"On who's side?"
Xora smiled as she looked up at her bodyguard and strangely, her friend, "He's spent time with her directly and taught her just enough, who do you think?"
Silence crept over the room as Xora returned to her win. She took a sip of her wine as she returned to watching the world move below and sighed, "How can she not?"
Ahsoka watched the feasting pirates for a few minutes from her floating shackles. They had knocked her unconscious moments after the whole airlock escapade and when she came to she had been suspended in the air like a trophy. For the most part, the pirates ignored her, but she knew that they were enjoying watching her suffer; otherwise they wouldn't be eating their meals in the brig.
Eventually, she had gotten tired of waiting and called out to Hondo in as diplomatic a voice as she could muster.
"It would be wise if you would let me go."
Hondo chuckled as he turned, pushing the females from his lap. "No, it would be unprofitable if I would let you go; and why would I do something as short-sighted as that?"
"If you do not let me go, you will wish you have been born a protocol droid."
"Sometimes I do that anyways," Hondo snorted in amusement, "but really, you are in no position to make threats, young lady. No matter how powerful or scary your friends may be. We are well beyond their reach here. Eventually you will be free, once you have been sold to the highest bidder to cover the costs of my men that you have killed."
Hondo rose to his feet and sauntered over to his captive prisoner, all the while maintaining a look of casual indifference, "You look stressed, are you thirsty?" he asked as he waved his mug of alcohol before her face. "A drink, perhaps?"
He put the mug just at the edge of her reach and as she tried to drink pulled it away. "Sorry, but I do not like to share."
At the pirates collective laughter at her plight, she gathered her frustration and anger and bottled it down, fuelling her magic as she called upon both it and the Force to sustain her for as long as she could.
After an hour of watching the pirates come and go, all the while poking fun at her in hushed voices, she spoke up again at Hondo, who was content to simply bask in the spotlight with his female servants. "You know the republic won't pay a ransom for me, and the Separatists can't be trusted. They'll betray you and kill us both."
At that, Hondo broke into an outrageous laughter. The rest of his crew present also broke into laughter. The brig reached a dull roar of jovial humour before Hondo raised his hand and silenced the room instantly.
Then he yelled at her.
"Do you think I don't know that, my dear?! That is why I am holding an auction for you! They will have no choice but to attend, if only to prevent you falling into unscrupulous claws! With all in attendance, they will not dare act against me for fear of the others taking the opportunity to take what they desire!"
The crowd remained silent as Hondo stomped up to the floating form of Ahsoka Tano and wagged a finger in front of her face, taunting her with a predator's smile. The tension in the room was palpable as he poked her forehead and spoke again, this time in a far more controlled and hushed voice.
"And at the end of the day, once I have received my money, the highest bidder will receive the coordinates to the desolate planet that I have marooned you on. By the time they find you, my men, my money, and my body will be long gone from your desolate rock and if the bidders decide to betray me then they will never find you while you still breathe. So, for your sake, you had better hope that they don't betray me."
Hondo was right in her face; eyes almost glowed with fury and anger. His tone continued to grow quieter and quieter until he was barely speaking above a whisper. Ahsoka couldn't help but feel unnerved by the pure wrath that saturated his voice and disturbed everyone in the room. It was a reminder that Hondo, and not her, was in control of the situation.
He spoke again, this time extremely quietly but still loud enough for the entire room to hear his threat, "If they don't pay me, then you will spend the rest of your life alone – stranded and isolated for the rest of your miserable life on some empty and lifeless rock."
Hondo turned away and made his way back to his chair, waving a hand at her in dismissal before resuming his monologue in a louder tone, almost as if he was talking to himself and not her, "The republic will not wish to pay, but they cannot afford not to pay, your master and his allies will see to that. The Separatists are no friends of mine, but they will desire you and your secrets more. Don't ask me why, but Dooku holds such a grudge against me since our little 'I-held-him-hostage' affair."
He scoffed in annoyance at the thought. "The Imperium is new, but wealthy. There is also their leaderships little rule regarding you. I imagine they will be willing to pay most handsomely for you. But, I don't like the green one, she upsets me. So, the truth is, I have my sights set on more nefarious criminals than I. An invitation has been sent to all the major criminal players, including a few hutts, just so that you are aware, but my main bidder will be a specific businessman, who, I hear, pays handsomely for a Jedi. Their resources are as impressive as their finances, but what they would pay for a Jedi", he whistled at the image in mind, "A female Jedi at that! It just makes my little shrivelled heart quiver in joy"
"You don't scare me, Hondo."
As the pirate's burst into laughter at her comment, Hondo snorted, "No? Well that is a pity, but that was no threat or story. That was a warning. I am but a humble and small purveyor of crime. There are much bigger monsters out there than my men and I. Many here have already been warned not to take a taste of you as it were. Would you prefer for me not to have done that?"
As her eyes widened in fear of the implications, Hondo nodded sagely. "Fear not my little Jedi, you are safe as long as I am around. I wouldn't want the merchandise damaged; it would reduce your value."
Count Dooku stood in his personal room on board his flag ship, inhaling deeply through his nose and exhaling through his mouth. It was a simply technique, designed to calm his mind and steady his body. Already he could feel the tension bleeding away into the Force. When he was sure of his confident façade, he triggered the direct comms link and waited for it to connect with his agent.
As the image flickered into being, he looked down at General Grievous and did his best to hide his surprise at the fact the cyborg general was not kneeling before his image.
"General, I have work for you."
The General bowed his head, "What is your command?"
Dooku internally scowled at the sudden lack of respect; perhaps Grievous was in need of a lesson to remind him of his place. But that could wait for now. For a moment he felt a pang of regret for Ventress's destruction, she would have been useful in a situation like this. "I have been invited to an auction. You will attend in my place and acquire the prize. I am transmitting the details now."
Grievous looked over the file and his eyes widened in surprise. "Is this a trap?"
Dooku chuckled, "If it is, spring it and ensure your victory. But I doubt it. Ohnaka is a slippery worm, but he is not stupid, she will be there and the bidding will be high and vicious."
"Am I to bid or simply acquire her?"
"Do not bother with the formalities, just acquire her and remind Ohnaka of his place in the galaxy. You will need to leave for the event immediately, I doubt any of the other factions will be slow in attending. You may use this as a trap for the other guests if you wish."
"I will enjoy carving my vengeance from her flesh."
"No. She is to be unharmed and well cared for. You will acquire her and bring her here, to me directly."
"You have your orders General. Do I need to repeat them to you?"
"No. I understand. I will arrive within the day and complete my mission."
"Good, bring her to me as quickly as you can General, do not fail me."
The door opened and the Falleen Captain entered leading the guests. It had taken a while to find this location, but Darth Maul felt that the anticipation was worth it as he strode into the dark chamber in a manner that stated he already owned the building. Savage followed at a respectful distance.
The Black Sun Vigos all glanced at each other before the one at the head of the table rumbled a query, "Why do you come here?"
Darth Maul, stood tall and proud, he knew that this was a loaded question and that his response would determine the way the Black Sun acted. In all likelihood, they would react the same way regardless, but they had already made a grave mistake and given him control of their organization simply by letting him into the same room as them.
They masqueraded as powerful leaders, but really they were just a bunch of idiots waiting to be culled.
"We seek an army." declared Maul as he continued to stare at the head Vigo who had inquired of him.
"You morons, we are not mercenaries." the leader snarled before turning back to his documents at the table. Without even looking at them, he barked an order to the guards surrounding Maul and Savage, "Dispose of them. Keep their ships and weapons."
Savage used the Force and with a blur of motion, he stood before one of the guards, he grabbed the man's skull and squeezed, the other guards freezing at the sheer speed and power displayed, his victims screams ended abruptly with a sickening crunch and squelch noise.
Maul simply raised an eyebrow as they stepped back in shock, his eyes never leaving the leaders.
"This is your last opportunity to join us."
"Quiet!" snarled the vigo to the right of the head, standing tall and proud in an attempt to intimidate. Such a childish attempt in comparison to his old Masters simple gestures and words to impose fear in his prey. "We are the Black Sun!" The other Vigo's each rose to their feet in support of his words as he continued, "We will..."
Maul ignored the rest of the speech with a sigh of annoyance, he shook his head slightly as he motioned to Savage. A moment later a red blur flashed across the room, the lightsaber floating back to Savages hand as the bodies fell.
"You will all be disposed of in the nearest trash compactor because of your arrogance and stupidity," sighed Maul as he turned to his escort. "It would seem that the decision to join us is now yours."
Ambition coupled with fear and the Falleen Captain turned to look Maul directly in the eyes as he responded. "After careful consideration, we will join you."
"Excellent," Maul snarled at him, "Show us your supplies."
Across the galaxy, in an apartment in Coruscant, nestled in a small apartment that had become their sanctuary in the world, Padme Amidala pulled the cover up around her and her husband further. The night was cold, but he was warm.
"Have you considered Palpatine's offer?"
Anakin wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. "I won't abandon the Jedi unless they force the issue. I am going to stay and help to the best of my abilities. Besides, I have a Padawan that I need to finish training as well."
Padme sighed as she settled deeper into his grasp. "With all the chaos, the unrest increasing and the issues across the galaxy, I can't help but feel something major is about to happen."
Anakin snorted in amusement, "More major than the birth of an Imperium, an assassination attempt on the Chancellor, a virus crippling galactic travel, and, from what I've heard, the embezzling of money in amounts so immense that the banking clans are having fits?"
Padme hit him on the shoulder she was snuggled against, "Yes. Worse than all that. Ahsoka is out there without support with all this happening. Jade seems more than interested in her and they've spoken in person more than a few times. This attack shows how ruthless and callous he is to everyone, not just his military enemies. I'm worried about her. Does she even know what is happening? What if someone tried something? What if Jade went after her?"
Anakin raised an eyebrow, in a manner similar to his old master, in amusement before responding, "Really? That's the worst you can think of happening? I don't trust Jade, but even I have to admit that he doesn't seem to have any nefarious plans involving her. He would probably just send her on a ship right back to the Jedi temple in a few weeks."
Padme's response was a single raised eyebrow to match his own whilst she stared at him.
Wincing slightly at the implied pain and danger of his words, he nodded. "Yeah... fair enough. Forget I said that. I'm sure she's fine. I'll try to comm Ahsoka and warn her as best I can first thing in the morning. Now, get some sleep."
On board the bridge of his Venator class star destroyer, Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi paced restlessly as he watched the lifeless holo-emitter that would hopefully connect him to the Jedi council. His comm signal was currently filtering through an advanced screener, designed to act as a barrier to any potential computer viruses that could disable his vessel and strand them in the middle of nowhere. But it was a slow process and, in the current situation, painfully so.
The last weeks had been exceptionally trying on the seasoned Jedi master. All throughout the galaxy the warfront had ground to a halt as Jade's incredible computer virus mercilessly shut down fleets on both ends. Only a few scattered fleets, Obi-Wan's included, had managed to avoid the worm.
In the wake of the forced reprieve to fighting, Obi-Wan Kenobi found himself unable to enjoy the temporary peace while it lasted.
A loud ringing alerted him to his communication's connection, so he patted down his robes and made himself presentable before addressing the Jedi Council.
"Good evening, council. I'm sorry for waking you all but I have urgent news to report." started Kenobi as he did his best to remain stoic and calm.
The blue, holographic form of Master Mundi leant forward as he bowed politely and spoke up. "Master Kenobi, the time of day is no matter. All who can attend are present. But based on the timing, I presume you are reporting a victory against General Grievous? With the Nav Virus causing chaos, you are currently the only truly active warfront at this time and we could do with some good news."
Obi-Wan stroked his beard whilst his other hand fiddled with his belt. "Unfortunately not, master Mundi. I'm afraid that I have some bad news to report. Padawan Ahsoka Tano has been captured by Pirates. They are going to auction her off to the highest bidder."
Silence reigned in the communication chamber
"I'm afraid we didn't quite get that, Master Kenobi," replied Mace Windu after a long and pregnant silence. "Please repeat what you just said."
"… Padawan Ahsoka Tano has been kidnapped by pirates."
Mace Windu visibly palmed his face as Master Kolar spoke up. "Pirates? Of course pirates." he sighed deeply in frustration, "And what of her charges? The younglings, the ship, and the professor? Her mission was simple; bring the younglings back to Coruscant on a slow route that would allow them the time for lessons to build their lightsaber's. How could she mess things up so much in so small a time? When did pirates even come into this mix?!"
Obi-Wan winced before nodding to his peer, "Master Kolar. The younglings are safe as is the Professor, their ship is heavily damaged but still working. They have called for assistance, which I will be providing as soon as possible. I ordered them to wait for our arrival. The main issue is the fact that the pirates are auctioning off Padawan Tano."
Master Hran coughed in shock, "Would you mind telling us how you know that Master Kenobi?"
Obi-Wan at least had the dignity to look embarrassed for a moment before straightened up and spoke to the Council clearly and calmly. "The pirate Hondo Ohnaka is selling Padawan Ahsoka Tano to the highest bidder in an auction, both the Jedi as well as the Republic have been invited. I have received the invitations with the instructions to send them along to the appropriate authorities. In addition to ourselves, the Confederacy and the Jade Imperium, as well as several Hutts and other interested parties have been invited. I imagine the Zygerrians alone would be happy to get their hands on her, never mind Grievous or Dooku. Force help us if Jade got hold of her."
Master Windu frowned as he pondered the best course of action. "Knowing general Grievous, he will simply crash the auction with a confederacy fleet. We cannot risk Padawan Tano falling into enemy hands. This will require a rescue mission, what do we have in the region able to assist?"
Master Mundi sighed, "Beyond Master Kenobi and his force, not much at all. His battle force is the only group in the area still capable of faster than light travel."
"Very well," replied Master Windu, "General Kenobi, your forces are to arrive at the auction and secure Padawan Tano. Any available reinforcements will be sent to the area; however they will most likely not arrive in time. As such, you are likely on your own for this mission. We wish you luck, and we will notify Knight Skywalker as to the situation as soon as he returns to the temple."
"No! No! Don't tell him anything!"
Obi-Wan looked mortified at blurting his response at the Council, their eyes widened in shock at his outburst. Obi-Wan coughed to clear his throat before continuing in his usual refined and calm demeanour. "Esteemed Masters, that is probably not a good idea. I would like you to ponder the ramifications of informing Knight Skywalker."
Master Shaak Ti spoke up, "I see no reason not to inform him."
Obi-Wan smiled beatifically at Master Ti, "I trained Knight Skywalker. I can predict his possible responses. Upon being notified, he will demand to go on a rescue mission despite the fact that his battle group is currently waylaid in orbit around Coruscant. Because of that, both he and his R2 unit will sneak into a secure bay, steal a fighter and wipe its systems. He will then do the astrogation math by hand, take the immense risks that would involve and jump system to system, brute forcing the nav computer to get him to his target. For most people, even Jedi, this would be suicide with the distance involved and possible errors, but I've seen Anakin do crazier things than this and succeed."
At the Councils winces and nods of understanding, he continued.
"He will then arrive in the system and infiltrate the pirate auction site in an attempt rescue his padawan, in the process causing immense amounts of property damage and fires there will be several explosions and extensive damage to the local infrastructure. He would then escape, most likely in one of the pirate vessels, aiming to reach the nearest support which will be this fleet."
"Assuming he succeeds, Anakin will likely arrive in the middle of a battle, having forgotten the issue of the virus and how it spreads between communication systems, and promptly infect both sides at the same time, thus forcing the battle to continue until one side has annihilated the other due to the lack of retreat options. Presuming we win, we'll be stuck in the black waiting for the virus to clear or a cure to be discovered for it having taken heavy losses in men and ships. Depending on how bad it is we might last 6 months if we ration supplies. Or, we all die and Grievous wins on that front but is also stuck in the black until the virus is dealt with, he at least won't have the same supply issues to worry about and can lead his forces from his stranded position. I can think of three for four more scenarios but those are the two most likely to occur if he is informed."
Master Kolar sat back in his chair, an exasperated sigh escaping his lips. "Can someone please explain to me why we allow Skywalker to rampage across the galaxy in our name if that's his usual actions?"
Master Hran rubbed his eyes and bridge of his nose, "Because he usually causes that chaos amongst the separatists and for the most part wins every conflict he is involved in. His luck, whilst damned, is also in our favour."
Kenobi was sure that he could hear Master Windu's teeth grinding in annoyance at the reminder, even over the holonet. He took a deep breath, to gather his resolve before forging on, wincing at the betrayal of his Padawan.
"So let me rescue her. We tell Knight Skywalker nothing and only inform him after the mission is successful. We can even get Ahsoka to tell him; so that he will direct his irritation at her, not us. Regardless, I can lead a rescue mission with an adequate force should a more military assault be required. I may even be able to resolve the issue without conflict, though I doubt it if Grievous is involved. All of these are better options. I can also begin immediately, thus reducing the chances of others arriving and the auction occurring."
Master Ti raised an eye marking in thought, "What about Grievous, would he not hurry as you plan to?"
Obi-wan shook his head, "No. I received the invite directly, I would imagine Dooku would receive the CIS's invitation. In all likelihood he would ponder the options before ordering Grievous to deal with the matter. I believe that I will have a small head start if I leave now. It's not the best advantage, but I'll take any edge I can."
"In light of Master Kenobi's rousing testimony of Skywalker's abilities, I concur with his plan." sighed Master Windu tiredly as he addressed the council, "Knight Skywalker is not to be informed at this time. Should the issue arise, we will inform the Senate that we are handling this and they have no need to worry."
He turned cold eyes on Kenobi. "Master Kenobi, your mission is simple: rescue Padawan Tano. She must not fall into enemy hands; you will prevent this from occurring with any means necessary, do you understand?"
Master Hran almost leapt to his feet. "Surely such actions will not be necessary?"
Master Windu's eyes never left Kenobi's image. "This is not a matter for debate. Tano knows too much critical information to allow her to fall into enemy hands. Master Kenobi, do you understand?"
Obi-wan nodded, a great weight had settled on his shoulders, exhaustion and distaste coloured his words, "I understand."
Closing the link, Obi-Wan turned to face the captain of his ship as well as Cody, his trusted clone commander, "I will leave at once. Cody, I want you to prep a squad, infiltration specialists would be preferable. We'll likely need speeder bikes as well. Get the rest of the forces ready on high alert as well. Knowing my luck, things are going to get dicey. I need you here to keep things under control until I get back."
Commander Cody just rolled his eyes, "Another day in paradise."
Later that morning, when it was a respectable hour on Coruscant, Anakin Skywalker found himself sitting in a medical office next to the supreme chancellor. With a confused look upon his face, Anakin ignored the medical staff waiting to one side and instead focused his attention on the armoured gauntlet floating inside of a sterile field.
"What is that?"
Sidious chuckled as he moved beside the young man. "That, my young friend, is the height of galactic cybernetic technology and ancient knowledge long hidden from the galaxy."
Confusion coloured Anakin's words, "I don't understand, it's just a cybernetic hand."
Sidious smirked as he waved Anakins words away, "Allow me the sales pitch. Its surface is armoured with cortosis. It can block a lightsaber or a blaster with little to no damage, a lightsaber blade would collapse on contact. The internal mechanisms in the grip are as strong as a fully grown male Wookie and with a thought, it will act as a Mandalorian crushgaunt. With the right upgrades to a ship, the limb can act as a bridge between the pilot and the ships systems, enhancing your reaction time and controlling the systems. That would require a little more surgery though to implant the necessary sections to your central nervous system."
"It has full tactile sensation, although it has inhibitors to prevent distraction in combat, it would be like wearing an armoured suit at that point. The sensors would be trained through a few test fights to recognize combat situations and how your body reacts. Unfortunately it will need to be keyed directly for its owner. It can also act as a shock gauntlet, charging itself using kinetic energy from normal movement and body heat or a power cell. On top of all that it contains a local transmitter with authorisation and access codes as if you were a member of my direct staff or my bodyguard. No door will stay locked, unless you wish it or if there is a mechanical lock of some kind, and a mechanical lock wouldn't slow down its owner much."
"So, what do you think?"
"It's amazing. I thought crushgaunts were illegal?"
"I'm the supreme chancellor, my boy," laughed Palpatine, "you don't get to be in my position without having a few benefits. So, are you ready?"
Palpatine smiled and nodded at his young companion. "Indeed, if you are going to use this, then it will need to replace your current cyber arm. Why? Who did you think this was for?"
"I wasn't sure. It feels a bit weird to me though, I'm not sure if I like the sensation."
"Hmm? Oh, that's likely the crushgaunt aspect. To get the components correct, we had to use a museum piece from my collection. It has a bit of a history, perhaps you're sensing that?"
Anakin shook his head as he chuckled, "Sorry, all the stress of Jade's forced standstill is getting to me and Ahsoka wouldn't answer her calls this morning. I'm kind of worried for her... Sorry, I got distracted for a moment. I suppose now's as good a time as any to do this."
"That's the spirit Anakin, now this is my personal Doctor Rahn, Rahn, this is my trusted friend Anakin Skywalker."
"You have to admit that it was pretty funny, you were all like 'oh no! You can't actually do that to me!' It was gold!" laughed Hondo as me mimicked Ahsoka's voice, his men roaring in laughter. Ahsoka Tano was still in her bonds, but they had moved her off the ship and paraded her around a small space port before settling into what could best be described as a closed off amphitheatre, "You didn't actually expect me to leave you stranded on some miserable planet did you? Please, I am not that much of a savage!"
Ahsoka glared balefully at Hondo but said nothing as his men continued to jovially celebrate the upcoming auction. It had been several days since she had last moved and by now her shoulders were getting tremendously stiff. Still, it would not do to rise to Hondo's taunting.
Thanks to his drunken buffoonery, she now had some semblance of control over the situation.
Ahsoka brought her focus back to the chamber with the pirates laughing and joking, Hondo was well into his cups by the way he was acting. There at Hondo's waist sat her lightsabers, and her wand next to them. Still locked away by her restraints, she was unable to reach them, but it was only a matter of time before an opportunity arose.
Hours later, one of the servant girls decided to take pity upon Ahsoka when she believe that the pirates were too drunk to notice. It was a Weequay female who carried a cup of water intending to give it to Ahsoka; a small mercy for the girl who had spent days suspended in the air.
Quietly thanking the servant, Ahsoka took a sip and felt along the edge of the female's mind - little will and spirit remained, the woman was a servant and little more than a slave. Frowning at what she needed to do, Ahsoka settled her mind into the sensations from Zygerria, drawing the power into her mouth. Her eyes boring into the females, Ahsoka whispered a few words, and saturated the Jedi mind trick with her newfound magic ability.
"Quietly release me."
The female shuddered as the power flooded across her mind, tearing through what few mental defences existed. For a moment the servant did nothing and Ahsoka began to doubt she had succeeded. But soon after the females eyes glazed over and she moved to the controls, tapping on buttons that she truthfully could not understand. The gentle hum of Ahsoka's restraints shut down and the Weequay lowered Ahsoka to her feet before grabbing a cloak from a nearby bench to wrap around her mistress.
Ahsoka gasped at how draining that magic was, she barely had the strength to stand and it was slow in returning to her. She could feel more than a trickle of power flowing from her into her new accomplice. As Ahsoka thought how to get her equipment, she felt a strange tug on the magical connection. The female, without saying a word, moved next to Hondo and poured the man a drink before she pickpocketed the items from his belt and returned to Ahsoka.
Ahsoka opened her mouth to ask for the way out when the female nodded and motioned to a side door. Ahsoka was about to follow her through the exit before something familiar prickled at the edge of her senses. For some reason, Ahsoka hadn't even realized her presence until just now. And that really irritated her on so many levels.
"… what are you doing here?"
"Ahsoka!" Jedi youngling Katooni cried out, her voice unheard by the pirates as music filled the air. "We're here to rescue you! We have a plan and everything!"
Ahsoka just stared at Katooni for a moment in pure disbelief before she shook her head and muttered something about 'Skyguy was right'. Then she grabbed Katooni by the shoulder and pointed towards the exit where her Weequay accomplice was waiting.
"You can tell me about it later," she commented in a chipper tone and a false smile, "We need to get out of here right now, before Hondo notices I'm gone. Where's the ship?
"They dropped us off on the outskirts of the town and are waiting in a forest nearby. Hondo doesn't know we landed."
"Seriously?" questioned Ahsoka, "doesn't he own this town? You know what… Don't answer that. Let's just go before he notices I'm gone."
"WHERE IS MY JEDI?! SOMEBODY FIND HER AND BRING HER BACK THIS INSTANT!"
"… Damn it…"
Blaster fire peppered the ground around her as Ahsoka, Katooni, and the Weequay servant burst through the front door of the amphitheatre and into the quiet streets of the space port. Behind them, a dozen of Hondo's somewhat drunk pirates were failing miserably to keep up with the escapees.
"That's our ride!" shouted Katooni before pointing to an armored speeder parked across the street. Several other younglings were waiting in the speeder, already moving to start the engines of the vehicle.
"Good, I hope you can drive because we are leaving now." declared Ahsoka as she reached the edge of the speeder and ignited her lightsabers. Green and Yellow lit into life as she spun her blades and began to deflect blaster shots from the rapidly advancing pirates. Several bolts pinged across her blades as Katooni and the Weequay jumped into the overcrowded speeder, and then Ahsoka stepped onto the rear seat of the speeder and it erupted into speed.
As the speeder drove into the night and it became clear that they were not being chased, Ahsoka deactivated her blades and slumped into the back seat of the speeder. Taking deep breaths as she took stock of the situation, Ahsoka found herself in a strange company. The Weequay servant was driving with Zatt riding in the front seat and giving her directions. Petro in the back seat next to her and Katooni was sitting next to him.
"How do you feel?" asked Petro as he handed her a flask of water.
Ahsoka graciously accepted the offered drink, shakily drinking it all to wet her parched throat before turning to the youngling, "Better now. I could pretend to be angry, but you were all very brave. "
Petro looked ashamed, refusing to make eye contact, "We disobeyed orders."
Ahsoka snorted in amusement. "If there is one thing I learnt from my Master, it was that sometimes doing the right thing, means bending the rules."
Petro said nothing as he moved to the front of the speeder. He dialled some buttons on a communications console and opened the link. "Ganodi, come in please. Get the ship ready, we need to take off."
Static filled the air as the speeder continued to drive through the night.
"Ganodi?" asked Petro again as he spoke into the comm link. After a short wait that was met only with static, he turned to Ahsoka, "She's not answering."
"Keep trying, I'm sure she's just fine." commanded Ahsoka, belaying her own nervousness. Any number of things could have gone wrong with the youngling's crippled ship and the fact that they had actually landed in the middle of a space port was probably a bad sign. But still, she needed to keep up a brave front lest the younglings begin to worry and panic.
"Right." agreed Petro as he triggered the comms again, "Ganodi, if you're there please pick up. We secured Ahsoka and are approaching the rendezvous point."
To the collective relief of everyone in the speeder, the eccentric electronic voice of Professor Huyang rang out across the speakers. "Sorry for the delay students! I'm afraid that Ganodi is currently occupied in the restroom at the moment."
"Professor!" shouted a young female frantically from the other side of the speakers, apparently she was not entertained by the fact that he was sharing her every actions.
"Ganodi!" shouted Petro into the comms, eliciting a wince and a glare from Zatt as he pulled his ear away from Petro's mouth.
"Don't shout." ordered Ahsoka dryly before she took the comms away from Petro and ordered him into the back seat. "Ganodi. Its Ahsoka."
"Oh! Padawan Tano! We rescued you!"
Ahsoka smirked at the awe in Ganodi's voice. "Almost. We need you to get us home. Are you ready to pick us up?"
"Just tell me what I need to do."
"Okay, fire up the engines and meet us at..." she quickly typed in the numbers that Zatt supplied her, "these co-ordinates."
"We'll be there as soon as possible. Stay safe."
"I hope this thing stays together," commented Ganodi to herself as R2 landed the ship at the coordinates given to her by Ahsoka. Their ship had suffered quite a beating at the hands of Hondo's pirates; the worst damage being the fact that it was currently missing a massive section of its outer hull. As it stood, the ship was barely flight capable and roughly a third of the ship was uninhabitable – having to be sealed off by bulkheads in order to keep the atmosphere from venting. It was a small miracle that the ship had even survived re-entry.
At the jolt of the rough landing, several patched pipes running through the hull ruptured again. Emergency warnings popped back up on the screens and R2 whistled before taking off in a rush to patch the lines once more. Without the coolants supplied by those pipes the engine would overheat during take-off and they would not be able to make it off planet.
Alone in the cockpit, Ganodi released a breath she didn't realize that she had been holding. They had landed and R2 was doing his best – but there was nothing for her to do except wait. She hated waiting.
Minutes passed by with an agonizing slowness as Ganodi tried to keep her mind from worrying. Idle thoughts would not help them here. Every once in a while the cockpit would beep a little alert, warning her about one of the plethora of damaged areas on the ship.
Surprisingly, the one system that hadn't been damaged heavily was the actual engines. None of the thrusters had been damage during their escape and the fuel lines were all in perfect order. Outside of the coolant lines that flowed through the missing section of hull, there wasn't that much damage to them. As such, R2 had left fairly clear instructions to leave the engines on so that they could escape in a hurry. That being said, the reactor was running a little hot because R2 was currently trying to bypass several ruptured pipes.
"Come on, come on." muttered Ganodi as she tapped her fingers on the control panel, "I've got a bad feeling about… uh-oh…"
She froze as her eyes tracked something moving into view over the ridge, her eyes widening in horror at the sight, "Force, it's the pirates. I need to tell Ahsoka and the others."
Her hands leapt to the controls as she watched them begin to camouflage some form of tank, but when she opened up the com link she had to recoil from the sheer volume of the static being pumped through the speakers.
They were being jammed.
Ganodi rapidly punched the console buttons as she watched the pirates move into position. Frantically, she tried the comms again but was unable to cut through the jamming techniques, all she could get was static. Even the in-ship communications equipment was being jammed, rendering her unable to call up R2 from his maintenance tasks.
"Force, why didn't anyone put guns on this thing." She muttered to herself as she ran off to find R2 and Professor Huyang; maybe they would know what to do.
On the outside of the ship, Hondo knowingly smirked and waved at the bridge before moving into cover for his ambush.
Less than ten minutes later, Ganodi watched in muted terror as Ahsoka's commandeered speeder pulled to a halt outside. No sooner had the speeder come to a complete stop and the group began to exit the vehicle when a torrent of blaster fire poured towards them from beyond the nearby tree line.
"Get to the ship! Use the speeder as cover!" ordered Ahsoka hurriedly as her twin lightsabers ignited and spun to life. Dozens of bolts ricocheted off her blades as she jumped to the roof of the speeder in an effort to draw fire away from the rest of the group.
The hatch of the ship lowered to reveal Ganodi frantically working at the hatch controls. "I'm sorry! They jammed us! We couldn't warn you" she screamed as blaster bolts arced around her.
R2 was remotely manning the helm of the ship from a console next to the hatch, already preparing the ship for a quick take off. If she could just get them inside then they should be able to escape before the tank could get through their ship's shields and armour. Even in its damaged state, the Jedi vessel should be able to absorb at least a few major hits on the way out of the atmosphere.
"No time for apologies." reassured the Professor as neutrally as possible, "Hurry up now, younglings, it appears we have overstayed our welcome."
From his spot at the head of his tank, Hondo growled angrily. He was tired, still slightly drunk, and beginning the unfortunate phase of being hung over. The blaster fire rang in his ears, his head throbbed, and his sense of balance was slightly off. What irritated him the most, however, was the fact that his men were firing a veritable wall of stun rounds from their repeater blasters and still failing to put down the errant Jedi.
With a scowl, Hondo watched the traitorous servant scramble into the speeder and begin to drift it closer to the ship. No doubt Ahsoka had used some jedi mind trick on her – or perhaps the servant was just tired of her life and believed that the Jedi would give her freedom. Either way, his prize was starting to escape.
Even though the younglings were beginning to escape into the ship's hatch, he could at least stop Ahsoka.
"Aim at the speeder!" he ordered as he hammered his fist on the tank's hull and pointed to the speeder. From his spot inside the tank, the gunner muttered an affirmative before bringing the turret to bear against his firing target. The cannon briefly charged energy for a split second as the gunner finalized the aiming protocol to hit the speeder dead-on.
Ahsoka's eyes drew wide as the force warned her and she desperately yelled a warning to the younglings. "Get down!" she screamed as she leaped away from the speeder.
Less than a quarter-second later, the tank's gift of death tore through the speeder as though it's armored panels were papier-mâché.
Flames licked Ahsoka's skin as she dove behind a landing gear in a desperate attempt to escape the blast. Shrapnel tore into her cover and bit into the ground around her as she twisted her dive into a rolling stop. Then she convulsed mid-landing and ended up flat on her back.
Her mind reeled as the the link between the Weequay female and herself snapped with the woman's sudden death. She had been inside of the speeder when the tank's energy shell hit it and died almost instantly in the ensuing explosion.
Fire and pain licking at Ahsoka's mind as she relived the last second of the woman's death. Confusion, excruciating pain, terror, agony, death.
The dizzying and sickening sensation settled deeply inside of Ahsoka and she felt like she would need to shower for a year to feel clean again. It was overwhelming and devastating.
Desperate to cleanse the memories and sensation from her mind, she rubbed her forehead and rolled back onto her feet. She reminded herself that there was nothing that she could do for the woman, and that the lives of the group were still at risk. Ahsoka clenched her teeth together as she tried to hammer the feeling down and maintain her focus on the matters at hand; regret and guilt could wait until later – once the group was safe.
She caught desperate waving from the corner of her eyes as Ganodi used the lowered ramp as cover to get everyone on board. A quick head count found the younglings gathered around her, watching and waiting for her commands. By some miracle, the younglings had escaped the worst of the blast.
She centered herself and prepared to run to the ship's ramp when several bolts of red death screamed from the sky into their battlefield. Ahsoka watched in surprise as one of Hondo's men was incinerated beneath the heat of a blast. Flesh melted away instantly as he disappeared beneath the blinding beam of red. Around him, the rest of Hondo's group faced similar attacks. In an instant, several of Hondo's vehicles were torn apart, their crews scattered and slain in the blaster fire. Even Hondo's tank rocked under the sudden assault, though it somehow managed to weather the hail of blaster fire.
The battle went silent for a split second before two vulture droid starfighters passed overhead, followed by a thunderous sonic boom as the sound of their engines trailed behind them. The engines roared in the atmosphere as both sides went still in the sudden shock of the droids' arrival. For a moment neither side moved, both seemingly waiting as the droids continued on their path and out of sight over the horizon.
Then the roar of the engines grew louder, and Ahsoka realized that other ships were quickly approaching. Only, these ships were much slower on their approach and their engines were much louder.
Ahsoka felt the warning rapidly build in her guts as she yelled at the younglings, "Get away from the ship!" she screamed, rapidly running to the younglings and desperately trying to herd them away from the vessel. "Run! Get away from the ship!"
As Ahsoka desperately ushered the younglings away from the ship, two Hyena-class droid bombers appeared over the horizon.
They dipped low and began their pass, heavy blaster fire erupting from their cannons. Several bolts slammed into the ship and scorched the hull, starting several electrical fires as the already heavily weakened shields collapsed under the strain.
The group was barely away the ship when with the droid bombers dropped a quartet of bombs from their payload bays. The ship groaned, protesting beneath the impact of three concussive bombs before its shields snapped and fully gave out.
The fourth bomb struck true and the world roared as everything turned white.
Ahsoka wasn't sure of exactly how long she had been unconscious. It could have been an eternity or a blink of an eye that had passed when her awareness slowly returned to her. Her montrals unpleasantly hummed with the echoes of the explosion and her ears warbled with a high pitched ringing as she blinked away dust and ash.
She staggered to her feet and saw the scorched form of the Professor wrapped around a smaller form. R2 was on his side at the center of a small impact crator, dented but still active by the weak warbles it was making. His panels were scorched and battered by the inferno now filling the sky with thick black smoke.
The Professor unfolded to release the form of the young girl into Ahsoka's hands, a quick touch of the Force told her that the girl was alive and badly injured, but there was nothing directly life threatening. The droid had shielded her as best he could whilst lacking his arms; his back was warped from the sudden heat and the previous damage over the last week had been enhanced by the explosion. One of his sensors was flickering and the other dull and lifeless as he slowly looked at Ahsoka.
"Padawan Tano," he slurred, "I must shut down or risk terminal failure, damage has occurred to my core systems, cascade failure will soon occur. Wrap me in plastic sheeting and bury me nearby, you must ensure the younglings safety. Get them home and come back for me later. I can wait." At this the droid went limp and his sensors turned off.
Ahsoka rocked back on her heels for a moment before nodding to herself; kneeling next to Ganodi, she drew her wand and whispered a few words. Casting the few medical spells Harry had taught her, she dealt with most of the damage to her skin and stopped the girl's internal bleeding. Ganodi's broken leg bones were too much for her to deal with so she made splints and secured the limbs.
Ganodi drifted in and out of consciousness whilst Ahsoka worked her magic abilities, but if she noticed anything, she kept quiet and said nothing while Ahsoka tended to her.
Ahsoka quickly finished up, and noted the rest of the situation. Around her, the other younglings began to pick themselves up and gather around her. A few of the younglings were carrying R2 and Petro was holding one of R2's legs which had unfortunately been knocked off.
With a tired sigh, Ahsoka looked them over and took stock of their injuries and gear. Things definitely did not look good.
The sound of boots crunching against the dirt froze everyone as Hondo and a few of his tattered men walked up to the group. They had their blaster rifles armed and at the ready, coming to a stop at what they hoped would be a safe distance.
"Great…" complained Ahsoka as she palmed her face, "Have I ever told you how irritating you are?"
"And you are like a roach, who doesn't know when to give up." sniped Hondo as he walked in front of his pirates while still maintaining a safe distance. Then he pointed to the sky, "As much as it pains me to say this, I think it best to work together for the moment, we can negotiate once we are safe and away from here when the droids come."
"And why should we do that?" glared Ahsoka balefully as Hondo continued to point into the air. For a moment she just stared at Hondo as he continued to point at something that Ahsoka couldn't see. "For all I know you'll just…"
Ahsoka paused, her words dying in her mouth. Just to humor Hondo she had looked briefly upwards. There she found three CIS large capital ships in orbit with a half dozen droid landing vessels slowly descending towards the earth.
"I should have let you on that uninhabited planet like I threatened." laughed Hondo to himself in a defeated sort of chuckle, "Too late for that, though. Apparently the CIS decided not to wait for the auction."
Continuing his thoughts, Hondo turned around motioned to his men, "Gather them and the droids, we leave in five minutes."
Then he turned back to the jedi group, waving dismissively to the burning ruins of the ship. "Scavenge what you can, if you want to. We only have the tank left and it's a long walk back to the town."
Ahsoka frowned, "How did you get here before us?"
"Come now, does a magician show all their tricks?" Hondo chuckled, "Oh, who am I kidding, of course I want you to know. We tracked your vessel as soon as it started flying, it didn't take long to figure out where your group was heading. You all took the long way to avoid those following you while we knew where you were going. It was simple business to air-drop a tank a few kilometers away and drive it over."
His smirk turned into a large self-satisfied grin, "You are not as clever as you think you are, little jedi."
Then his smile faded as he looked towards his base, "The smoke on the horizon tells me that the town is under attack as well. This will be terrible for business and I'm certain that my insurers will refuse to pay up, pack of disloyal blood sucking maggots that they are. "
As Kenobi's flagship dropped out of hyperspace, the Jedi general took stock of the situation and immediately swore under his breath. The CIS forces that he had hoped to outrace to the planet had beaten his battle group to the planet and were already deploying what appeared to be a small invasion force into the atmosphere. Worse, sensors had already identified one vessel as Grievous's personal flagship. Even worse, Kenobi's fleet had dropped out of light speed almost directly on top of them.
Claxons rang out as Kenobi's fleet prepared for battle. Three CIS capital ships and almost a dozen smaller vessels were already moving to intercept Kenobi's fleet. Dozens, if not hundreds of droid fighters were scrambling into action, preparing to intercept his fleet before they could deploy their own forces. The first salvos of fire came from the CIS capital ships, rocking Kenobi's Venator beneath the blows.
"So much for infiltration, at least we out-gun them." quipped Cody as he looked over the simulated battle area. Clone pilots were scrambling themselves, pouring out of their own Venatorss to provide screens of defence while the many turbolaser cannons of Kenobi's fleet barked out their response at the CIS forces. While technically outmanned by about six ships, Kenobi's Fleet was much more heavily armed and armoured than the separatist forces that stood between them and the planet.
"It's going to be hard to get landing vessels past that blockade, but we need boots on the ground." noted Kenobi as he rubbed his beard in thought. He had little doubt that Grievous was already scouring the city for Ahsoka Tano, hoping to capture her before the auction and bypass the middle-man that was Hondo Ohnaka.
Kenobi's admiral simply looked at Kenobi with disdain, "General Kenobi, we outmatch their firepower by a significant margin. The easiest way to get through that blockade is to drive straight through."
From his place at the head of the pillaging army, Grievous snarled angrily at the corpse of a hapless merchant that had gotten in his way. The buffoon had thought it wiser to beg for mercy than to simply kneel down and accept his death. A swift death at the hands of his lightsabers was more mercy than the merchant deserved.
No sooner had he deactivated his lightsaber than his communications device beeped alarmingly.
"Sir!" reported a B-1 battle droid with a little more volume than was necessary, "A Republic fleet has entered the system, we have engaged them bu-"
"Stop them at all costs!" snarled Grievous as he continued to stalk though the streets. A pesky interruption from the Republic would not stop him from completing his task.
"No buts! Destroy them at all costs!"
With an irate snarl, Grievous smashed his communications device off in order to continue his search for the Jedi. With the Republic forces in the system, time was of the essence and he had precious little of it to spare. His mind raced mechanically as he thought of some way to bring Ahsoka out of hiding before clone troopers made their way to the ground to impede his progress.
Then it clicked.
He turned to one of the nearby battle droids that was trailing behind him, barking out orders as he pointed directly to it, "Bring me a long range communications device and start executing the civilians. If this Jedi wants to hide then we will make the people suffer until her conscience cannot bear the price of cowardice."
Hondo whistled as he watched a Droid control ship shatter and explode, fragments began to fall and hit the atmosphere, burning as shooting stars. Ahsoka's grin was almost feral at the sight.
Ahsoka looked to the pirate, "You know we can just call them for help."
Hondo snorted in amusement, "Of course, why not tell the entire system our co-ordinates, do not be foolish my short friend, the droids will arrive long before any help will and that is if none of the ships fire at us from orbit. No, we need to get off world and then we can contact your friends, much safer."
The hatch opened in the tank and a pirate leant out, "Cap'n, there's something on the comms, you should hear this."
Hondo growled as he pulled the pirate from the tank and climbed in, Ahsoka following him to find out what was happening. She squeezed into the cramped and hot space, the smell of sweaty Weequay something she had no intention of experiencing again if she could. Hondo flicked a switch and General Grievous' voice struck out, full of control and arrogance, a touch of dark humour at his victory colouring his words.
"... burn this world to ash. Attention Hondo Ohnaka and all of the worthless scum on this planet. I have started to execute your city and will not stop until you give me the Jedi known as Ahsoka Tano. Give me the Jedi Ahsoka Tano and I will allow you and your men to leave this world. Your only other option is death. I have destroyed every vessel on this world bar one which sits below my vessel in your spaceport. The only way out is through me. Those who deliver the Jedi Ahsoka Tano to me will be rewarded and be given the ship to leave. If you decide to run, hide from me, and hope for a rescue, I shall hunt you like the rats you are. Fight me and you will die screaming as I burn this world to ash. Attention Hondo Oh..."
Hondo leant back in his chair, "Well, that's annoying. It also repeats, very insulting. Not even a direct call, just a planet wide broadcast."
"Are you going to give me to him?"
"I did plan on selling you to him or another like him, was that ever not clear? But no, not to him, not anymore. He has insulted my honour with his actions. I have little of it as it is, so any insult must be addressed properly. It will be a necessary evil, but it appears I must truly work with you Jedi. So… truce?"
"Agreed, you know this world, I also presume you have a plan?"
"I have many plans, as my mother always said, 'Always have a plan for any situation', it is most unfortunate that most are not even close to viable."
He closed his eyes in thought as he tapped his chin. Ahsoka was amused by his casual dismissal of the dangers and his need to be dramatic.
Hondo made everyone jump in the tank with his sudden exclamation of "Aha!" as he raised a finger as if to emphasis the point. He gave them a large grin before smirking at them with how superior his cunning was to their own. "I have an incredibly cunning plan, so cunning it would never cross Grievous' little broken frothy mind, there will be much gnashing of teeth, if he has any. However, I will require a distraction."
Ahsoka frowned as she guessed where this was going to go. "What sort of distraction?"
His smirk returned to an even larger shit-eating grin as he looked her up and down, "The bait kind."
"Why do I get the feeling that this involves me playing the bait?"
Hondo shrugged, "Great minds think alike, even though mine is greater."
Kenobi gritted his teeth as blaster fire exploded around his gunship. At his admiral's recommendation, the Venators had cut a swath of destruction in the separatist armada just wide enough for gunships to make a break for the planet. It was still a risky affair, as the countless droid starfighters were swarming around them in an attempt to stop any clone boots from landing on the planet.
To his right, a gunship exploded into a ball of fire as a tri-fighter raked it with a strafing hail of blaster fire. Kenobi's own gunship rocked in the explosive shockwave, taking a few glancing shots from the same tri-fighter that had destroyed the ship next to him.
"Odd-Ball get those fighters off of us!" ordered Kenobi adamantly as he watched a pair of ARC-170 starfighters twist and chase a pair of vulture droids in front of him. "They're all over us!"
"Understood general Kenobi," reported the clone pilot automatically as his fighter squadron did its best to keep protect the landing craft from destruction. Unfortunately there were just too many targets for the clone pilots to protect.
Around him, dozens of similar gunships carrying hundreds of clones and equipment were also making a run for the planet. He would have preferred to be piloting his jedi starfighter, but given the situation he would have been an obvious target for the CIS forces to focus on. As such, he was currently feeling rather helpless as a passenger; relying on the skills of the clone trooper piloting the gunship to fly through the blockade and onto the planet below.
On his left, a gunship carrying an AT-TE erupted into flames as a vulture droid slammed into it. The explosion wrenched the armored vehicle free of the gunship and sent it hurdling to certain doom as gravity and momentum pulled the ship into the upper atmosphere of the planet. Everyone on board the doomed AT-TE was dead, or would be once the vehicle reached the ground with asteroid like momentum.
In the chaos, Obi-Wan closed his eyes and did his best to remain calm. There was nothing to be done for the clones that were dying in the battle. All he could do was remember the fact that they were doing their job so that he could do his.
The warning claxons blared momentarily, signalling that a tri-fighter had achieved a missile lock momentarily before it was destroyed by Odd-ball's starfighter.
A few tense moments later, and the ship began to shudder beneath the heat of the upper atmosphere. With that, the pilot pulled upwards and cut his approach to the planet; skirting the edge of the atmosphere while he awaited Kenobi's directions. Around them, countless other gunships continued their descent to the city below. Their destination was the edge of the city where they would soften the separatist forces before Kenobi's gunship landed.
Ahsoka looked over the ambush site once more, frowning at how open it was. High cliffs encased a currently dry river bed converted to a road, the forest thick around the clearing she would be waiting within. The ground, whilst looking solid and stable was actually a thick layer of a local moss-like plant which grew over bogs and swamps, however in this place, a small lake was covered by the moss. The moss could withstand some weight if carefully applied but the droids would have problems, as would Grievous if he attacked. The sides of the clearing were blocked by thick woodland which would act as cover for Hondo's tank which had been hidden on the edge of it, partially submerged and covered in the moss to appear like a small hill. The turret was hidden under the surface and was waiting for the start of the fight.
Zatt and Petro would remain with her for this ambush, but their presence was mostly for show. At the start of the fight they were to escape into the woods and get out of the line of fire. Behind her was the edge of an open plain with little to no cover in sight. It was flat and open; there would be no escape in that direction.
Accepting of the situation, albeit not terribly satisfied with the terrain, she turned to Hondo as he barked orders for his men to position the tank correctly.
"Will the younglings be safe?"
Hondo placed a hand over his heart, well she thought it was his heart, she wasn't sure where it was in his anatomy. "I swear on the life of my mother, I shall bring no harm to a hair on their heads. Well those with hair anyway," he pointed at the wookie youngling, "this one will make up for the others."
Ahsoka snorted, "So, everything is in place and you'll pick us up at the rendezvous?"
"Of course I will, have no fear; you will be rescued by the dashing pirate captain Hondo Ohnaka. We will even wait a time for your arrival should you be late. But not too late." He waved at her in a shooing gesture, "Now go sit in the middle of the clearing, keep away from the cliff face and be... enticing... somehow." He grimaced as he looked her over, "I'm sure you'll manage something. Oh! And remember to pay no attention to the tank."
Kenobi took a deep breath as the forest around them helped calm him; the shakes had finally stopped as the adrenaline faded enough for him to concentrate properly on the mission. His stomach was still orbiting the world and if he had been religious, he would have thanked any gods listening for his safe landing.
He rubbed his eyes as the long conflict finally began to bite into his mental defenses.
Force he was so tired of all this violence. Cody had quipped that it was another day in paradise, but the truth was that it was just another day in hell. Already reports had come in from the vanguard that Grievous's droids were beginning a wholesale execution of the city's population. But, as much as Kenobi's heart went out to the general population, there was little he could do as his men were spread thin in an attempt to retake the city.
When this was over, he would request a posting to a guard duty. It would let his men get some well-deserved R and R, giving him a break as well. With a tired breath, he shook his head and cleared his thoughts. He couldn't afford to be distracted right now; not while the city was burning and Grievous was hunting down Ahsoka.
One of the scout troopers tapped the General on the shoulder to draw his attention, having gained it, he pointed to the nearby comms officer in their makeshift battle command post. Nodding his attention, Obi-wan strolled over to the waiting officer.
"Sir, you should hear this, it's being broadcast across the region.
Kenobi took the ear piece and nodded to the comms officer to patch him in.
Ahsoka's voice brought immediate relief, she was still alive and running around. Her words, however, brought a feeling of cold along his spine.
"... Tano. I have a counter offer. Face me in a duel, the winner keeps this world, the loser is the others prisoner. My co-ordinates are 50.7512 degrees North, 3.2794 degrees West. Transmit your agreement to these terms before arrival or I will respond appropriately. That is if you aren't too much of a coward to face me in a fair fight. I repeat, General Grievous. This is Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano. I have a count..."
Kenobi frowned as he passed the earpiece back. "We had best hurry before it's too late. Sergeant, ready the men, we leave immediately."
Gungi growled a query at the pirates as they watched the large force led by Grievous pass them below as they followed the road to Ahsoka.
Hondo's eyes swept over the column, not missing a thing, looking for anything of use to them. "No, we won't go back and help Tano, she can handle this many enemies and we have a job to do, never let it be said that Hondo Ohnaka backed out of a deal."
Katooni blinked, "Wait a minute, I just thought of something, is your mother even alive?"
Hondo snorted in amusement as his men chuckled quietly around them. "Of course not, how do you think I became Captain of this gang? Silly girl, the world is nasty, horrible and full of monsters. You have to be cruel and powerful to not be eaten by the other monsters."
At her worried look, he smiled and patted her on the head. "Don't worry little Jedi, you'll be fine. The Jedi are some of the biggest monsters out there."
Katooni frowned at that, "Why do you call us monsters?"
He looked at her with a raised eyebrow. "You do not see it. When you get home, look at the recordings, see what the people see, listen to the fear in their whispers. If the Jedi can do that to their enemies, what could they do to us?"
He grinned at her with too many teeth. "Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano will be fine. She normally has a Jedi Master with her, clone troopers, fleet support, weapons and armour, you know, the usual, but I'm sure she'll be fine. If I was a religious man, I'd believe the gods had a plan for her, it's lucky I'm not, isn't it. We had best move, it won't be too long before we need to make our move."
The younglings looked amongst themselves as they pondered his confusing words and ideas, but worry settled within them at his view of Jedi. Did others truly think like that?
Ahsoka knelt at rest and meditated at the centre of the clearing, allowing her mind to clear and the Force to flow through her. With a deep breath, she relaxed and felt the wind move across the moss, the gentle drift of water beneath, flashes of life from fish and crustaceans. The rapid heartbeats of small avians rang in her ears as they flowed amongst the air above her, the light of the sun warming their feathers and giving energy to the plants around her. Zatt's and Petro's presences shone in the cold metal of the tank, their hearts beating quickly in fear as they sat and waited for their moment to act.
Even with the knowledge of the battle in the city, she was able to calm herself and find her center.
It had been a long time since she could just relax and let herself go like this. It was something she had always found difficult, as if something within fought her. She had always thought it was her impulsive nature, her innability to calm her thoughts. Now, she knew better.
Harry's lessons in her mind had opened her eyes.
She slowed her heart as she reached out for the pulse of the world. At the brink of unconsciousness, she felt a stagnant beat, pulsing along the faint lines of the world. It was dull and sluggish, but still there. It was a strange melody filling the world around her, spilling out into the galaxy before joining a faint chorus of other worlds, all part of the universe, the one song. A discordant tone of red hate entered the song around her; the drum beat of cold duty echoing in its wake.
Was this what the Jedi masters felt when they meditated?
Slowly, she pulled herself back into her flesh and opened her eyes to look upon the column moving down the road towards her.
General Grievous flew at the head of the formation on a modified speeder.
A raised claw held the droids in position at the edge of the clearing as he carried on to meet her at the centre of the open space, out amongst the open ground rather than upon the road. He stopped when he was only a few metres away from his prey, pulling the vehicle to a halt before stepping down upon the thick moss. His eyes narrowed and looked around to survey the environment around him, his body recognizing that something was wrong but unsure as to what exactly that meant.
Ahsoka, seeing this, stood up and drew Grievous's attention to her. It would not do to betray their trap by delaying the inevitable.
She nodded respectfully to him, "General, I'm glad we can resolve this swiftly."
He glared at her with his full focus before growling out his response, "Surrender now and you will be delivered intact and without harm, fight me and I will deliver what remains of your desecrated corpse to Count Dooku."
She smiled at him as she carefully drew her lightsabers, "I am afraid that I cannot simply surrender to you."
"I hoped you would say that." He said, chuckled at her response, "Such a pity, Dooku will just have to play with what remains of you."
With that, Grievous's arms detached into his deadly four appendages. Four of his lightsabers ignited and spun into a whirl of death, spinning in deadly arcs that cut through the air as he charged at Ahsoka.
Blades met blades as Ahsoka blocked his charge. Their blades connected a dozen times in the span of seconds before Ahsoka reached out with the force to push him away from her. In response Grievous dug his heels into the earth and braced himself, still spinning his blades as Ahsoka used the opportunity to jump away from the dangerous cyborg.
As much as he wanted to prolong the duel, Grievous knew that the clone army was carving a swath through the city while their navy was being decimated by the Republic's star destroyers in orbit. Time was not on their side.
"Attack!" he barked as he took a moment to still his spinning blades and ready himself for yet another charging attack.
The droids began to walk forward with their blasters deliberately firing to her left and right, nothing close enough to threaten her directly should she remain still but enough she could not dodge to the sides without taking a hit. Her eyes widened as she realised his plan, cutting down the battlefield to a thin column of choice. Face and fight Grievous at one end, dodge to the sides and get cut down by blaster fire, or turn her back to him and hope that she could outrun him.
Surging forward, her lightsabers clashed with Grievous', his laughter grating on her nerves. The tempo of the battle quickly sped up, every attack countered with a riposte, every riposte countered and forced away or dodged on her part. After a few minutes of probing attacks trying to find a weakness or gap in his defences, all she had was a slight judder in his right arm when performing a downward strike, his tempo and stamina were relentless and, unlike her, he was not tiring.
Grinding her teeth, she began a pattern of attacks that she knew he would open up his weakness for her to exploit. Just as his arm juddered, she snapped out a thrust into the joint, but blinked in surprise as he simply bent the arm out of the way and used her over extension to ram the claws of his foot into her side. Anchoring pistons rammed into soft flesh and retracted, tearing the wound open before Grievous slammed his foot into her once more and sent her reeling.
Ahsoka staggered back with a gasp at the unexpected strike, her offhand lightsaber falling to the thick mossy floor with a hiss of steam as her hand grasped at the ragged wound, trying to staunch the blood pouring from her flank.
"Stupid girl, did you think I was unaware of my body? Did you think I didn't see you spot it?" He swiped his lightabers into her weakening defense, the blade spinning from her grasp as she fell backwards, her training fighting her bodies attempt to go into shock.
"You lose Jedi. You always lose in the end. I will take your lightsabers for my collection"
As she fell, the droids ceased to fire and began advancing on the pair, the rhythmic footfalls causing ripples in the moss. Grievous stopped gloating as he felt the ground shift beneath his claws, the faint splosh of water now loud enough for him to hear. His eyes widened as he span to face his army, his arms raised to demand their attention, "Stop! Damn you fools! Stop!"
Zatt and Petro broke out of their shock at seeing Ahsoka so easily defeated and took this as their sign to act. The tank's cannon rose, the moss falling from its curved form and water pouring from the end of the barrel. Grievous blinked in surprise at the hillock he had ignored became artillery and barely dodged to the ground as the first blast was fired. The droids wavered in their actions as the blast passed them and struck the cliff walls, shrugging off the bad aim as bad luck for their enemies. They turned and began to fire upon the new target but their shots barely even marked the hull, only scorching away the moss camouflage and paint to leave the metal beneath.
Ahsoka grabbed a handful of the moss and rammed it into her wound, hoping that it would fill the wound and slow if not stop the bleeding as a second blast was fired.
Grievous watched it arc over his troops and hit the cliff once more, this time a few metres to the right of the last impact. Frowning, he pondered what the gunners were doing, why were they not firing into his droids? His confusion was answered when he looked down to find water coming up through gaps in what he had originally thought to be moss covered ground. Realisation filled him as the third blast struck against the cliff wall.
"No!" He bellowed as he leapt to his feet and began to charge the tank before it could finish its work.
Ahsoka blinked from her position, lying on the ground as she watched the General re-ignite his Lightsabers as he ran towards the younglings in the tank. Cold terror rushed through her body at the danger they were in. Summoning the dregs of her power, she reached out with the Force and tried to grab at Grievous and stop him, moaning at the pain of the effort.
He snarled as he slowed, but hunched down and began to force his way forward with barely a glance back towards her. The droids shots petered out as they were unsure as to what was happening, they had received no orders to act upon and they did not dare risk hitting the General.
Grievous was too close, getting closer to the younglings with every step. She had to do more.
Reaching within herself, she called upon all her power and reached out for him, a grasping motion with her hands. Blood leaked from around the moss and fell into the water, blood saturated with her life's essence. Her desperation fuelled her as her fear rose that she would not be able to protect the younglings.
"Please," she whispered, a half formed prayer on her lips as she poured everything she had into her attempt to stop the bloodthirsty butcher from reaching her charges.
The fourth shot shattered the stone of the cliff and, with a roaring crash, a great sheet of rock fell upon the moss.
As the rock impacted with the thin layer of moss and the water beneath, a great swell rose and fell, the wave rippling across the clearing. The mossy ground tore and ruptured, droids stumbling and falling within the gaps and tears, within seconds, more than half the droids were gone, the rest scrambling to reach more secure ground.
Grievous stumbled as the much weakened wave passed beneath him. He avoided the opening gaps in the unsteady ground, and each step got him closer to his target. He would murder the crew one by one before the Jedi's eyes and then he would kill her as well.
Ahsoka fell into a newly opened pool of water as the wave carried her away from the battlefield. The cold water ripped the air from her lungs in a gasp as awareness flooded her body, the sudden shock of cold burning away the sluggishness from the blood loss. Desperate and now fully aware for just a moment, she reached out once more into the now red waters surrounding her. With a gurgled scream, she begged with her will, magic, and connection to the Force. Her mind and body were unified for a single moment, all screaming out to stop Grievous.
And the world answered.
The moss around Grievous leapt up in the shape of tendrils. Roots rose from the earth, grasping at him and lashing at him as though they were whips. With his advance halted by the sudden onslaught of earth, Grievous spun his lightsabers in all directions and dismembered the strange limbs as they moved in unnatural ways.
But for every tendril of plant life he sliced away, two more tendrils breached the surface to swarm him. With his mind confused by this unique turn of events, he was forced to use all four of his lightsabers purely in defense, slicing and burning away at the plant life that had suddenly turned against him.
Suddenly he was jerked downward into the earth. A root had penetrated the ground directly beneath his feet and wrapped around his limb before pulling his right leg into the soft and unsteady soil.
A rapid spinning slash burnt sliced through the offending root but the distraction cost him as a tendril surged through his off-balanced guard and lashed to his left arm. The root constricted immediately as it bound itself to the servos that enabled his arms to spin like they did, bringing his whirling defence to a halt.
Rage filled him as he roared, slashing wildly around as he raised his leg away from the ground to claw away the moss holding his limb in place. Adrenaline and anger made him faster and stronger, but also stripped his mind of the skill it needed to properly defend himself from the sudden onslaught. Without his four blades spinning in union his whirling defence halted and he was unable to stop the snaking plants that had been summoned against him. Another root breached the surface beneath his feet and grappled with his feet, rooting him to the spot as a veritable wall of roots crashed into him.
And just as the last of his limbs was bound in plant life, the earth beneath him erupted in a massive ground breaker of earthy tendrils. They crashed upwards and lifted him into the sky as roots slammed into him from above, all of which snaking around him and applying pressure against his body that his machine frame simply could not overpower.
He screamed in agony as thin tendrils explored beneath his armour plating, creeping pressure forcing open gaps and expanding. Panels and delicate components warped and twisted under the strain as the moss reached deep within him to bind him in place. As his back arched with the sudden agonies of misfiring nerves and circuitry, a tendril grabbed him around the neck and pulled mightily, ripping loose bolts and fasteners that held his head to his body.
He struggled in vain as the roots blinded him beneath their overbearing and grinding assault. Burning pain filled him as the moss moved into the eye socket and began to crush his left eye; pressure mounting until, with a sickening pop, he lost half his vision.
Unable to restrain himself, Grievous screamed.
With a shudder within the green mass, his body shuddered as his head snapped away by a few inches. The tendril grappling at his neck had partially separated his head from his body, disconnecting sections of robotic spine in an agonizing fashion.
His mind went blank beneath the pain and all resistance stopped. Unable to move, Grievous's barely alive body was twisted once more by the threshing roots before they unceremoniously released him. His body dropped onto the ground lifelessly before a wave of plant life plowed him under.
Hondo looked from the maintenance hatch at the landing bay. By some small miracle, the fighting in the city had not yet reached the bay. For a while, he had been tempted to run to the clone troopers that were fighting through the city but he ultimately dismissed the idea as foolish.
He was pirate scum who was trying to auction off one of their prized Jedi; they most likely would not hesitate before shooting him and his men.
There sat the one ship he had hoped had been destroyed, an old rust bucket of a YT-1300, it had been sitting in this bay when he had acquired the town in a game of Sabacc. Apparently his predecessor had won it in a Sabacc game in much the same fashion as he lost the port. Having no need of a cargo freighter, it had been left to rot, he had intended to trade it for parts to upgrade his flagship, but that was a ruined dream now.
It was obvious as to why General Grievous had left this one intact, but he would have to make do with this now.
A large number of armour panels were missing, the turrets looked more like scrap than weapons, one of the missile tubes looked like it had blown up internally and the sensor dish was barely held on with wishes and chewing gum from this angle.
Not the best escape vehicle he had ever used, but certainly not the worst.
He looked over the bay and began to make his plan.
Droids stood at guard at the entrance to the bay and at the ramp into the ship maintenance droids were doing preflight checks, the fuel lines were still attached but at that point of the routine, she'd have already been fuelled and would be ready to go. Maybe five minutes for the engines to warm up enough.
He waved the Jedi younglings up beside him. He pointed to the raised platform the ship rested upon.
"You see there, that set of pipes running under the platform, follow those and wait for the signal, then open the hatch and run for the ramp, my men will do the rest outside. Use your lightsabers on any droid within. You, furry one, start the engines as fast as you can. You, the two mouthed one, you are to check the turrets, I need to know if either are working or not. You, girl, guard the entrance. Once the bay is clear, we'll load our wounded and disengage the clamps and lines. Then we'll leave, collect the others and get away from here. Any questions? No, excellent. Get moving little ones, you have two minutes."
The pirates waited until the younglings were far enough away that the background noise would mask their words before one moved up next to their boss, "Sir? Why aren't we just leaving and taking their crystals?"
Hondo chuckled, "Because we will have a bunch of Jedi who owe us. Can you think of better protection than that from the good General and Xora?"
"But to bind ourselves to the Republic, the other Captains aren't going to like this."
Hondo smirked, "Not my problem and when the dust settles and this gang is the most powerful one still standing, then we can rise to our proper place in the galaxy. I think the good Generals head above my door and Xora in chains would be excellent, do you not think?"
The pirate winced at that image, "Sir, with all due respect, Xora is bloody scary, General Grievous' head is one thing, but taking on Xora means taking on Jade. And we've all heard the stories, and if you believe some of the rumours, it would be rather personal for him."
One of the other pirates piped up, "I heard he stared down a hungry rancor once and it backed off rather than fight him."
Another joined in, "I heard he duelled and beat Mace Windu himself."
Another muttered "Bantha shit, thats not true."
The second responded, "Oh, so staring down a Rancor is okay, but Mace Windu is crazy? Fuck you."
Hondo hissed at them, "Silence. Enough. Get to work before I show you exactly what I will do to you." He watched as they moved to positions and waited for his signal.
By the gods he was surrounded by imbeciles, at least the younglings were following orders. Perhaps he should acquire some of them to crew his ships.
His hand slashed down and the firing began.
Actually that wasn't too bad an idea, he had heard that the Jedi's rejects travel world to world aiding others behind the scenes, he might have to look at acquiring some of these rejects. That just might be the edge he could use.
The B1 at the sensors scratched its head and waved over the Tactical droid. "Sir. The ship the General ordered to leave alone is taking off. What should we do?"
The tactical droid didn't even look up from the datapad in its hands, "The General ordered it to be left alone, but we have heard no confirmation from him regarding its use. Shoot it down immediately."
The B1 at tactical saluted, "Yes sir!" Quickly and gleefully it brought the turrets to bear and input the firing solutions and authorised the use of the turrets in atmosphere.
If the droids could blink in shock, they would have as the old freighter rolled and dodged their blaster fire.
The tactical droid shook its head before barking orders to the bridge crew. "Fire again! Shoot it down! Do not let it escape!"
The B1's at navigation and piloting shrugged and fired up the engines, turning the ship on the point to follow, completely forgetting about the air control tower in their way.
With a screeching judder, the ship stopped moving as it impacted with the reinforced tower, it crumpled under the strain, but its structure dug into the hull of the Cruiser.
The tactical droid turned and yelled at them, "Stop! Everyone stop! What are you doing?"
"But you said not to let them escape."
"I did not mean like that and why aren't the turrets firing?"
"You said that everyone should stop. So I did."
The tactical droid stormed over to the B1's at the lift entrance and yanked the rifle from one of the guards hands. Turning, it fired and destroyed the droids which offended its processing. Pointing to the guards, "You take those positions, get us loose and shoot them down."
One of the B1's moved across to the sensor post and pushed his predecessor off the chair, looking at the screens it could see no sign of the freighter. "Sir, they're gone. I can't see them on sensors now. There's too much fighting around this position"
The tactical droid turned its entire focus on the B1 at sensors, "Then you had best find them again. Quickly."
From his spot in the tank, Petro watched in horror as the plants came alive to attack Grievous. Zatt had opened the hatch and was driving between sections of the moss to reach Ahsoka who was floating in blood filled water. Faint bubbles leaked from her nose as she floated face down.
The drive had only taken a scarce minute, as the force of savagery that had pummelled Grievous was content to ignore them entirely. As soon as they arrived, Zatt leapt from the tank to administer aid to Ahsoka.
Diving into the shallow waters, he quickly forced a breather into her mouth and pulled her through the water to reach the surface. Petro by this point had regained his courage and forced down his horror whilst joining Zatt to pull the larger Ahsoka from the cold water.
Ignoring the electronic screams of terror from the droids and using the tank as cover, Petro passed a medkit across to Zatt who looked at his datapad and got to work. Petro held the moss in place as Zatt cleared her airways. A syringe of bacta fluid was injected into the wound, the pain of which woke Ahsoka who screamed at the sudden pain.
Pain surging through her body, She groggily looked around and felt herself drifting back into the dark. With her cloudy mind thinking as best it could, she reached out and grabbed at the med kit, throwing the drugs around as she searched for the coloured syringe she wanted. With rapidly failing eyes, she pulled loose a green needle and stabbed it straight into her chest.
As the adrenaline surged into her body, she couldn't help but gasp and shake beneath at the rush of drug induced energy. Grunting, she opened a pocket on her thigh to draw a wooden stick out. With a wave and a word, the younglings blinked as the blood disappeared. Ahsoka chanted strange words while passing her wand over her body and the pair of younglings watched in awe as the blood slowed to a stop and the flesh began to knit together.
After a minute of this, she pocketed her wand and reached into the medkit once more. With a grunt of pain she jabbed the still damaged area at her side with a syringe of painkillers and shivered at the rush of cold that crept through her.
"No time to gawk," she muttered to the younglings, "we need to go."
Blinking away the fuzzy feeling, she staggered to her feet, wobbling at how weak, hollow, and empty she felt. She wearily motioned the younglings next to her of her to begin their trek to make the rendezvous with Ohnaka.
She began to walk, only to stumble a few times before realizing that she had just used magic in front of the younglings. With her mind exhausted, she blankly turned to the Zatt and Petro, "Say nothing of this, do you understand? Promise me, you'll keep my secret."
At their nods she grunted in acceptance, took three steps forward, and promptly face planted onto the wet soil with a groan, swiftly passing out.
Zatt and Petro looked at each other in worry and confusion before they each grabbed an arm and began to drag her into cover amongst the trees, trying not to open her wound again. It felt like an age before they were deep enough in to not be seen by the droids.
Petro looked around and nodded, "Give me your shirt, I'll make a travois and we can get her to the meeting. You see if you can summon her lightsabers from the swamp."
Zatt frowned, "Be quick, I'll give it a try and if I fail, we're going without them. Grievous may be out of commission but there are still battle droids out there and they're all probably very angry with us. We need to be gone."
"I know," Petro snarled before sighing and giving his friend an apologetic look, "I know, just… go and try, I'll be quick."
Zatt sighed, "Yeah. We can always let her use ours if needed. I'll be back in a few minutes." He swiftly removed his shirt and ran off towards the clearing.
Within moments, he was back at the tank and glanced around it to see a group of droids carefully tearing at the moss to release Grievous. Meanwhile, over a hundred more droids were pulling the others up from amongst the mossy islands. Every minute, more were walking out of the water at the edge of the swamp, covered in mud and grime, but still active.
From what he could see, the attempt to destroy the army had failed, it had delayed them, but there were few actually broken or destroyed droids. Maybe if they had fired at the ranks rather than the cliff?
No, no use doubting or second guessing, "work with what you have." he whispered to himself as he cleared his mind as he had been taught and reached out with the Force, seeking out the shining beacons which should be Ahsoka's lightsaber crystals. Frowning, he tried harder to find them when an armoured hand covered his mouth and pulled him back against a large body.
"Shh" was hissed in his ear as a clone trooper held him under the back of the tank as a droid clambered over and dropped to the ground just where Zatt had been standing a few moments ago.
The droid looked around before it raised a hand and opened its comms, "Theres nothing here, must have been a rabbit or something, I'm on my way back."
The moment its arm dropped and it took a step, a faintly quivering shaft of metal appeared in its head, the droids fingers rose to examine the sudden injury as a second shaft appeared in its core processor. With a faint pop and smell of ozone, the droid stopped and fell to its knees. The trooper released Zatt and yanked the two arrows from the droid before leading him back to the woods where he was met by a clone trooper with a bow and quiver of arrows alongside his rifle.
The first clone passed his squad mate the arrows, "You missed, two for a roger? Can't wait to tell the sarge."
"Shut your hole, or I'll tell him who was juggling grenades on the ship."
Zatt blinked in confusion at their banter until he suddenly found himself standing before a living legend, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi himself.
Kenobi knelt beside the youngling so they were a similar height, "Hello youngling, where is Padawan Tano? Where are the others?"
Zatt straightened up at the question. "Padawan Tano was hurt fighting General Grievous, I came back to try and get her lightsabers, but there's too many droids and I think the lightsabers are in the water. She's a few minutes away, Petro was making a travois to help us move her to meet with the others and the pirates."
Kenobi smiled at him and patted Zatt on the shoulder, "Good, you've done well. Take us to her, I'll see about her lightsabers. How many droids are there?"
Zatt blinked, "Umm, I think most of them."
Kenobi watched from cover as the droids began to form up in their units once more, there were too many of them to deal with at this time, way too many.
So he removed his armour and slipped between two islands of moss into the cold water below. His breather unit gave him a good half an hour to get things done.
Settling on the muddy lake bottom, he swiftly dropped into a meditative mindset and reached out with the Force. Nearby two small stars appeared in his senses, their presence wild and untamed, similar to Ahsoka. He raised his hands and called them to him, within a minute, they both slapped into his palms and he opened his eyes to see them still intact, thankfully Ahsoka had waterproofed them before her mission to Mon Cala. Clipping them to his belt, he began to swim over to the islands that were floating lower in the water due to the droids walking upon them.
Carefully he opened the satchel and began to place the thermal detonators, linking them to a remote detonator. It took him half an hour, but it was a job well done.
He returned to his entry point to witness the remains of General Grievous being lifted from within the mass of plantlife and placed within the shuttle. He had to move quickly before Grievous was out of range.
Swiftly he crept out of the shallows and crawled through the mud as rapidly as he could, growling in frustration, he reached out with the Force and took hold of a deeply rooted tree, he began to pull on it with the Force which in turn pulled him rapidly through the slick mud towards the tree.
As soon as he was near enough to cover he stood and ran for the detonator, the shuttle was lifting away when he flipped the switch.
In a cacophony of explosions, fire and steam, a large section of the lake erupted. The shuttle's shields took the blast even as it was slammed into from below, clipping the cliff top as it tried to get away, roaring towards one of the remaining Separatist Capital ships still active, a trail of black smoke in its wake.
Silence reigned as the smoke and steam began to clear, shadows began to stagger amongst the smoke and the clones began to pick their targets and fire.
Kenobi nodded, pleased with the results of the attack, before his guts started to churn as the Force warned him of danger. Signalling his men, they retreated back to the younglings and Ahsoka. Rapidly they gathered everything up and began to move to the location the Initiates had informed them of.
Barely minutes later, the air screamed as turbolaser fire fell upon the forest they had been in as the separatist capital ship moved overhead, fighters and bombers trying to make it to the bay before it escaped the planet.
Kenobi sighed in relief, they had won a heady victory, Grievous had retreated if he was even still alive and he had left a good chunk of his ground forces behind, his fleet had taken heavy losses in the space battle. The droids were being fought even as they moved to the rendezvous. Soon this world would be free, an excellent victory for the Republic and potentially for the sector. Grievous would need to retreat in order to regroup, resupply and await reinforcement. The republic had also taken a few losses, but not enough to hinder their efforts in the region.
He looked at the sedated Padawan and smiled in relief, A good victory indeed.
The Clones stood ready with Obi-Wan Kenobi looking strong and tall, the younglings had quickly gathered together and were chattering about their adventures. Ahsoka Tano stood before them all as if shielding them from the Pirates.
Hondo Ohnaka stood before his own men and women, the ship behind them ready and waiting to go. "Whilst I agreed to rescue you, Jedi Tano, in exchange for the distraction, these... fine gentlemen were not part of the deal."
Ahsoka nodded at that, "That is true, but they won't be going with us. We just need to get back to Coruscant."
"And why should that bother me? I have no plans to go anywhere near the Core, what profit would there be in that for me?"
Ahsoka shrugged, "Our deal was a mutual agreement to let bygones be bygones and to get away from here together. You get us all out of here and back home, then I'm sure a bonus can be organised."
Kenobi spoke up at this point, "As a Member of the Jedi Council I can authorise a suitable reward to be paid to you."
Hondo grinned, "Well why didn't you start with that, much less posturing that way. I always enjoy being paid, I presume handsomely?"
At Kenobi's nod, Hondo's grin stretched further, "Excellent. Just Padawan Tano and the younglings?"
Kenobi smiled tiredly as he nodded again, "Just them, safe and sound to Coruscant for a suitable reward upon delivery."
He opened his arms out to the younglings and the Jedi, "My friends, my friends, why are we all waiting here, we must hurry before more awkwardness occurs. Come! Let us leave this backwater for more profitable opportunities."
Grievous watched from his one good eye as the components in his arm were finally replaced and activated. He shuddered in pleasure at the sensation filling him as he felt the strength in his limbs once more. He glanced at the other droid as it brought over the new armour panels and began to attach them to his torso.
He flexed his hands as his mind roved over what had happened in the battle. Everything had gone to hell from the start. The Republic navy had arrived before he had the chance to secure Ahsoka Tano and that damned padawan had used some strange trick of the force against him.
He had never seen anything like it in his years of hunting jedi. No sith or jedi practitioner had ever utilized the force in such a way as to animate the very trees against him. The use of plants to defend or attack was not a known technique to the jedi. And he had never seen anything quite like that in the halls of sith lore.
It was strange, then, for such a young girl to possess such incredible power. There was also the unnerving fact that the plants moved to follow orders from the Force user as they formed new shapes and forms.
He thought back on other possibilities, grunting in irritation as a droid screwed in his new foot.
The moss had changed its nature; it had come alive during Tano's attempt to stop him with the Force. It had moved like an animal, wrapping and binding around him as though it was a coil of snakes before it forced its way under his armour and damaged him in such a fashion as to make him feel weak, helpless.
He frowned as a thought popped into his mind. Dooku had wanted her intact and alive; she was a known and repeated contact with Jade. Jade was some form of Sith Sorcerer, perhaps... no.
Surely there was another reason. She could not possibly be Jade's apprentice. That made no sense, unless...
It would explain Dooku's attitude in the past, the strange orders and missions. Perhaps it wasn't so crazy after all. Jade had broken free of his Master and was seeking to usurp his position.
If there was even the chance she was like Jade, he would never give her the chance to wield any powers like Jade's upon himself. No, no more playing, Ahsoka Tano must die. No more games. The risk alone was too great, Jade was bad enough, two like him would be too much.
He slowly turned his head to look at the Tactical Droid standing by the door, "Send out a message, ten million credits for Ahsoka Tano, I don't care her state as long as I can confirm it's her and she's dead. Make sure it's anonymous and that there's no link to me over the matter."
At the droids nod he relaxed a bit more, gritting his teeth at the vibrations as the panels were locked into place.
"Anything from Dooku?"
"Nothing as yet General, do you wish me to make a report?"
"No, I shall deal with the relic myself."
Hondo sat back in the pilots chair in deep thought, the bridge only lit by the control panels and the lights of hyperspace as they travelled away from the Jedi fleet. His guests now departed and a sizable lump of funds in his accounts. He tapped his fingers on the panel beside him as he pondered his options for rebuilding.
This ship was not bad, surprisingly so, but he needed more. He was a pirate, soon to be a pirate king if he had his way, not some smuggler or trader. He could probably sell the ship and call in a few favours to get something better to restart matters with.
A polite tap of knuckles on the doorway drew his attention, "Sir?"
Hondo looked down at the young pirate standing behind him; he lazily waved a hand for the minion to speak as he relaxed watching the lights.
A small box was placed next to him on the arm of the chair. "I got a copy of the droids data library, it's not much all considering, but its everything it knew."
Hondo lifted the suddenly valuable box, "Which droid?"
The pirate coughed, "The humanoid one in completion and I managed to acquire some files from the astromech. It's got some weird and pretty heavy encryption going on there, but my cousins girlfriends nephew is a pretty good slicer, he might be able to squeeze something useful from it."
Hondo's smile grew from curious to amused, "And where is this slicer? Your cousin's girlfriend's nephew."
"Well my cousin mentioned working for a Hutt on Nar Shaddaa, his girlfriend's new so probably there. I can send a message if you want?"
Hondo leant back turning the box which kept becoming more valuable in his hands, "Not yet, after all, we don't want to spoil the surprise. No, good work, very good work. Get some rest, I'll adjust course, you tell the others we're going to Nar Shaddaa."
Hondo smiled as he keyed in the adjustments to the nav computer. If Nar Shadaa was still alive, then the nav virus wasn't there, it would have starved by now and turned on itself in its hunger. If the nav virus wasn't there then he had a much greater number of options available to him, the most important being a way to escape when things went wrong.
The data they had been sent for would likely be a good peace offering with the way his luck had been going recently, but perhaps a Hutt would pay more than Xora for such a rare item? Especially one that Xora wanted. Now he just had to remember who owed who what and if he still had allies on Nar Shaddaa. He hummed to himself as he tapped his chin in thought. Beedee Calrissian still owed him for that last job, and for introducing him to his wife, he would be someone to work through.
Standing alone in his chambers, lit only by the single holo emitter as it displayed pages of information, Darth Maul smiled to himself. Everything was moving nicely into place and it had been pitifully easy to engineer and mastermind it all. With only a few choice words and some well-placed intimidation, Maul had organized a movement that would establish his dominance.
A strong force of Death watch soldiers had rallied to his cause, forming the core of his new army. Many had already repainted their armour to match his markings, horns now beginning to appear on their helmets in his honour. They believed that he would restore their former glory, and they would follow him unless he proved otherwise.
The Hutt's, Black Sun, and the Pyke's were already moving men, ships, and supplies to the locations he desired. Slowly and quietly he was beginning to create a vast web of influence and dominance across the galaxy. Many pirates in the region had already signed up, choosing his leadership over others.
Only a few rogue elements continued to resist but most of them were beneath his attention now. Of the dissenters, only Hondo Ohnaka still had the forces to disrupt matters. Fortunately, Darth Sidious' attack dog Grievous was dealing with that matter. With any luck, the Ohnaka pirate forces would be ground into dust beneath the combined might of the Separatist and Republic forces before the latter two decimated themselves fighting for control of the Padawan that Ohnaka was auctioning.
Maul chuckled to himself as he pondered whether to mention his thanks to his old master for the assistance when Maul finally killed him.
This woman, Xora, also seemed to wish for the pirate Ohnaka to suffer; her name had come up more than once amongst the Captains. Perhaps she would be an ally to acquire as well; she was obviously powerful and connected. He noted on a file to research her more.
Stroking his chin, his other hand swept through files and added the information to the simulations. If there was one thing that Maul would thank the accursed Kenobi for, was that he had taught him the necessity of patience. Mother Talzin's restoration of his mind and form had definitely refined his focus. Last time they had met, he had been too focused on his rage to think clearly, and it had cost him.
Opening the file on Kenobi, he skimmed through the known contacts, there were many, most were of little consequence, then an image of a woman appeared and Maul stilled the flow.
He cocked his head at the rotating image of Duchess Satine Kryze.
Marked as close friends with Kenobi during their youth, the Duchess had never married. Her few agreeable suitors had a more than passing resemblance to Kenobi. Perhaps there was a possibility that they were closer than publicly declared. Either way, she would be an excellent thorn with which to cut Kenobi's heart out.
His amused words broke the silence of his chamber. "Oh, how marvellous. The Force provides for its children in their time of need."
Here was his most powerful weapon.
He could gain more favour with the Mandalorians by upholding the bargain with their Shadow Mandalore. In doing so, he would gain power and spread fear of his very name whilst inflicting untold pain upon his nemesis.
He smirked at the data markers. Soon, Vizsla will rule Mandalore and, through him, the Mandalorians would swear allegiance to Darth Maul.
At least, Vizsla shall rule for a little while, Mandalore as the heart of his own faction was becoming more tempting with every day that passed. The manoeuvring of military assets and crippling galactic travel in both Republic and Separatist territories was inspiring and incredibly helpful for those like himself.
A message from Savage appeared; Maul smiled as he added the Zygerrian Slavers to his plans, a useful resource - cheap labour and a source of funds whilst disposing of troublemakers in his ranks or prisoners.
Returning his focus to his slowly constructed trap, he checked a few records with a nod and smirk. General Grievous was on a collision course with Kenobi's republic forces. Soon they would bloody themselves in combat over the prize of Ohnaka's auction. Should Kenobi win the day, which he most likely would, then his forces would be depleted without any hope of reinforcement thanks to Jade's computer virus.
Kenobi would be off balance as they danced around each other, and that was when Maul would strike at his heart.
An attack on Mandalore would distract Kenobi further and the Duchess becoming a prisoner would tug too deeply on his mind and heart to ignore. His need to be the hero and rescue her would be the sweetest bait possible for Maul to lay at Kenobi's feet.
For now, Maul just had to prepare the field and await his target's next move. He must be patient and subtle; if he became too obvious then everything could fall apart. He would only have one chance at this. It must be perfect
Maul collapsed the files, to open a separate section.
Emperor Evan Jade of the Imperium.
The man was a worthy foe. Very little existed in anyone's records, but what interested Maul the most was Mother Talzin's fear of him - along with what wasn't said. Barely out of his teens, this man had brought Jedi masters to their knees, slain countless enemies personally, led armies and fleets large enough to blot out the stars, and reformed and rebuilt governments. His actions caused ripples that were felt across the galaxy.
Especially within the Force.
And for all this, Maul was grateful.
For every move Jade made, Darth Sidious would focus his attention upon him, leaving Maul free to work his own will on the galaxy.
There was a confrontation coming. One which would change everything, Sidious and Jade would have to face each other. Neither could allow the other to live. And when the bleeding and battered winner stood victorious, Maul would strike and claim his prize.
To all the Guests: Thank you and I hope you enjoy the new chapter.
Goddragonking; The Shadows Mistress; Lord of Carrion; Starboy454: Ecto-Dmc; Bluesnowman; Davycrockett100; Camath; Malak18; . ; Hawkmoon888; Bearmauls; Viva01; Tf330129; Suna Chunin; Drachna; Alex2909; Penny is Wise; SSSra; William and jack and jake; Mangahero18; Grovepjp; Tpx1; Neodova; Shalifi; Stars90; Lycan01; PappyOldGuy; Serialchick; Ranmaleopard; Crossfire922; Tylermech66; Mwrandom; Doc Scherer; Chezhran; Blackholelord; Camp1500; Rosendahlmikkel: Thank you.
Divine-Faithborn: I wonder why that can be? ;p Over a year's work and plenty more of the story to go.
Renrag: It's been a while and it's a lot to read to catch back up. I'll try and see about a summary on the forums for everyone.
Blackplant: Spoilers :)
94: Harry will return home during the third film of the prequels. The scene is already written, I just have to get there, but we are on the last sections of the clone wars.
SeverlyLate: Sorry to hear you didn't enjoy the start. I hope you find other stories you enjoy.
Guest: The design of the Hermione is actually heavily flawed by Harry's lack of understanding. His followers simply followed his orders. The original designs ion cannons are fleet killers with the correct support. Harry removed them and replaced them with more guns because he thought it was a better idea. His only advantage is the heavy armour and shields of his ship allowing his tactic to work by bull rushing his opponents. This is why his tactics are actually really simple and basic. Over time he realised that he was causing more harm than good and acquired competent admirals to do things for him. He tells them what he wants and they make it happen now. As for the goblin friend cliché, that one always felt wrong to me as well. Also, if they lost the rebellions then why are they in control of the economy?
Sildet-ebrithil: I hope you carry on and enjoy the rest of the story, but that is your choice to make. This Harry is a little more well-read than canon Harry and has had approximately 2 years of studying and training with Dooku on the use of the Force alongside exploring his magic.
Velial13: His style focuses more on Makashi, however he wants to use both his magic and the force together in combat. For most of his spells, he requires his wand, thus he is refining his style to use them both. He has studied the basics of all the styles Dooku taught him and has chosen the fragments that work best for him to form his own style.
Dcuo Statellizer: Whilst I didn't think of it using the voice of Hugo Weaving, I must admit that when he makes speeches, you damn well pay attention as it feels as if he means every single word he says. My favourite speech of his, or speeches I should say, are those from V for Vendetta.
Guest: I personally would love to update more frequently, unfortunately I do not have that option at this time. Life is very busy for both myself and my beta reader Divine-Faithborn, as such we work when we can.
Hedstrom 2: Sometimes I don't think English is my first language with what I write ;p Thank you first off. The Balance is in my mind for in canon both to be as strong or weak as the other, they can't exist without the other or to be compared to the other. Nothing is perfect, evil acts are just as easily performed by good men and vice versa. It does have a name, not that people will call it what Harry wants for long, the public already calls it by the name it will be known as, that comes up more in the next chapter. I can't answer the next question as I haven't worked through that yet. Way too many to list, see the AN at the start for some notes on its size. Kashyyyk is part of the republic and has no views of shifting. Tatooine is an example of rampant slavery within the galaxy, its also in Hutt space, it would require the new Empire and the Hutts going to war to give him the excuse to do so, not that his agents need an excuse like that. He hasn't declared war on slavery or the Hutts, not that he'd be upset if something happened to the giant slugs. The republic has a war to win first, never fight a war on multiple fronts, it never ends well. If he can hold onto his power, then they would be impressed, if not, then he's just another failure. Not in the books I'm afraid. The beginnings of that are in this and the next few chapters. Harry already has his eyes on those factions, as does Sidious and the Jedi council, to act openly would escalate matters further. I hope that answers some of your questions.
Hacnet: Check your mail for an answer to your questions :)
Urgh (Guest): I am sorry you feel that way, but you can't please everyone. I am just glad and honoured that so many people enjoy my work.
Marie (Guest): Thank you very much. Essays are usually very important, so I am honoured that you read by story in the one block, however, you really should get back to them :)