A/N: This is a little side story that ties in directly with my other Star Wars fic "Twisted Realities".
If you haven't read "Twisted Realities": Don't worry! It's not crucial that you read that before this. It probably won't confuse you too much. The only vital info you need to know at this point is that Darth Vulcanus is an alternate-universe Luke Skywalker and that he has in his possession a crystal that allows him to travel to other universes, other realities. In this case, he winds up in the Jedi Temple in the normal Episode III universe just as Anakin is going on his killing spree. Just so you know ahead of time, there are a few things explained in "Twisted Realities" that I won't be covering here. Check it out if you get too confused — I guarantee it will give you a better idea of what's going on.
"Twisted Realities" fans: This story is a direct-tie in with "Twisted Realities" and takes place at a point in the story I have purposely chosen to leave shrouded in mystery for the time being. You don't have to read this to continue making sense out of that fic — both of these stories can stand alone, although you will definitely see some of the effects this little side-adventure has on "Twisted Realites".
Well, that went like a dream. Darth Vulcanus thought wryly, Except for the parts where I don't know where I am and my dimension-hopping Cindray crystal just vanished. Is it supposed to do that? I didn't think it was supposed to do that. It never did the other twenty times we used it. What in the name of Tatooine is going on here?
The corridor he was standing in could have been any one of the thousands of corridors in Praguet alone. This didn't feel like Praguet though. He could sense several life-forms in the nearby vicinity, a few of which were strong with the Force.
The possibility didn't worry Darth Vulcanus: he was an exceptionally powerful Sith. A dozen Jedi masters could corner him in their own temple and he would emerge minutes later with all of their lightsabers to add to his collection. He didn't just have access to the powers of the Dark Side, he was those powers. Nothing challenged him and survived.
Still, he found himself a bit on edge. Something didn't feel right. Not threatening, really, but wrong. Out of place.
The door directly behind him slid open with a mechanical buzz, and Vulcanus whirled, fully ready to face whatever surprises may await.
Two Storm Troopers stood in the threshold. Upon seeing someone they did not know on the premises, they immediately leveled their blasters at him.
"Die Jedi! " they greeted, just before opening fire.
"What?! Have you gone mad?!" Vulcanus brought up one hand and the blaster fire was instantly absorbed in an invisible barrier. "Do you fools have any idea who I am?"
The Storm Troopers didn't answer. Whatever expressions might be manifesting on their nearly-identical faces were hidden by the large black-and-white helmets covering their entire heads. Vulcanus always thought the upside-down 'V' of black paint where their mouths should be made them look like they were frowning.
Given the circumstances, this was not a good thing for the pair, since Vulcanus was not in the best of moods. He would kill them, of course, but not before giving the brain-dead doubles a chance to explain themselves. After all, it wasn't every day his own troops mistook him for a Jedi.
For a comical moment, both troopers froze, perhaps sensing they'd made a mistake. Their orders were to kill all Jedi on sight. That was part of Order 66, an order issued directly from their true master. But if the young man standing before them was a Jedi then he certainly didn't dress like his friends. Jedi tended to favor the lighter colors of the spectrum whereas this guy's wardrobe was blacker than a starless night.
And why hadn't he ignited his lightsaber?
It all seemed very un Jedi-ish.
Then again, he wasn't a familiar face and he had used the Force to absorb their attack…he must be an enemy.
Their decision final, the clones fired again.
Vulcanus repeated his earlier action, and again the shots were wasted. Bolts of red-hot laser vanished midair.
"What really amazes me, troopers, is that you guys survived so long being so moronic. I mean, I might as well be talking to a pair of second-hand battle droids with motherchip errors." Darth Vulcanus shook his head in pitying disbelief. Apparently, not all Jango-Fett clones were created equal. These two must have been overlooked the day the cloners added the intelligence genes to that particular batch. Such a pity.
Ok, not really a pity, since there were literally thousands of guys just like these two idiots running around.
Then again, Vulcanus reflected, this is an alternate universe. These losers must take orders from somebody else otherwise they definitely would have recognized me. So maybe it really isn't their fault. Oh well. Too bad for them.
The Storm Troopers' fingers tightened again on the triggers of their weapons. That was as far as they got before their knees gave out from under them and they collapsed to the floor like they'd been hit over the head with a mallet, gasping for breath. Their blasters flew from their hands and exploded against the wall. Choking violently, they struggled to their knees.
Above them, Vulcanus's right hand was half closed in true Force choke fashion. "Still think I'm a Jedi? " he laughed quietly, drawing his fingers in a little more and tightening his grip.
The troopers wheezed in response.
Vulcanus shook his head and glanced dispassionately up at the ceiling. "Didn't think so." He closed his hand completely, crushing his victims' windpipes. The unfortunate duo went down like they'd been shot. "You guys were lucky," he told their corpses, "If I weren't conserving my Force powers I could have done a lot worse."
Pure tough-guy talk. There was no way he'd waste his stronger attacks on a couple of lickspittles even on a good day. Some guys just weren't worth the effort it took to put them out of their misery.
That settled, the young Sith closed the door with a swift jerk of his hand and turned back around to face the direction he'd originally been facing. A long marble hallway lined on either side with doors stretched out in front of him. Since the hall was, for all intents and purposes, constructed of rock and marble rather than steel and metal alloys, Vulcanus figured he had to be in some type of building somewhere and not in a ship. Still doesn't answer where I'm at though. Then a scarier thought, Or how I get back!
For the first time since arriving in this alien universe, Darth Vulcanus winced. Few things scared him more than the idea of being trapped in some weirdo-dimension without a way out. He'd had everything going for him back home. Everything. A nice warship, his very own Death Star, an empire to co-rule, more money than he could spend in ten lifetimes, and a handful of bases set up on a dozen different worlds that trembled at the mere mention of his name. What wasn't to love?
Then he and his father had had to go and mess with that stupid Cindray. The only known crystal in all of creation able to grant its possessors the ability to travel to parallel universes; a crystal of priceless value and unrivaled power.
They'd had to do an awful lot of killing to get it. It was Darth Vader's hope that they could use the Cindray crystal to set the wrong things right in their own universe by skipping to others and recovering that which had been lost. It was all a wonderful idea, but randomly traveling to other universes wasn't all it was cracked up to be. There were so many unknown factors involved that a lot of times you just could not find what you were looking for.
Not counting this one, Vulcanus had already traveled to five other different universes, and not one of them had been very promising. This was the first time he'd lost the Cindray though. Since the crystal's mode of transportation was teleportation, it normally it would appear in his hands with him whenever he made an interuniversal trip — right where he left it.
This time, however, it had not.
That'll teach me to go grabbing crystals before I read the instruction manuals. Why had he thought that would be a good idea? Now he was going to have to go find that thing, and he had absolutely no idea where to look.
It could be anywhere, his frantic mind raced, in a locker, stuck in a crack, down a toilet...
He really hoped it wasn't the latter. Sure, he could use the Force to pull it out, but then he'd still have to touch it to go back home.
Vulcanus shook his head, tried to clear his mind. Think — if I were a magic crystal thing, where would I be?
Not in this hallway, that was for sure. It was time to get moving.
With a frustrated sigh, Vulcanus started his walk down the corridor. All around he could hear blasters being fired in other rooms. These sounds were mixed with explosions, loud thuds, and the earsplitting crashes of things he could only guess at getting broken, trampled, crushed, and otherwise destroyed. From somewhere in the distance a woman screamed.
Not that I care, but I wonder what exactly is going on here? I mean, I'm in the middle of a war zone and I have absolutely no idea what this is all about. It's like…
The hall shook with the tremendous force of the latest explosion. Vulcanus actually lost his balance and had to catch himself against the wall.
BOOM! BOOM! KaBOOM!
Three more explosions! The hallway rolled under the punishment.
Acting on the kind of pure instinct that only came with an exceptionally powerful connection to the Force, Vulcanus brought up both hands and was just in time to use it to shield himself from a flying door. While this protected him from a painful impact, it meant he no longer had a good hold on the wall. The ground buckled beneath him and the blond-haired Sith Lord fell on his butt.
"HOLY….is my father on a rampage here? This is ludicrous!"
From somewhere behind the wall, a voice that sounded very much like a Storm Trooper's shouted "Another one down!"
"Yeah, no kidding." Darth Vulcanus muttered, rising to his feet.
He briefly entertained the idea of going after these explosives-happy morons. While they weren't a direct threat, they were a hazard to his health, and quite annoying to boot. However, this thought was quickly dismissed; the Force pulled his attention elsewhere.
Whatever was behind the door at the end of the hall was pulsing with energy, and most of it was negative. Pain. Suffering. Death. Despair. Especially Despair. Not only were lives being extinguished, but hope.
The sensations were not new to Vulcanus. In his own dimension he encountered such emotions daily as he and his father went about their business. These JedI — for he could sense now that that was what they were — were no different.
Yet for some reason he felt compelled to investigate. Call it a natural curiosity. He hadn't seen a Jedi in so long that he couldn't quite remember what they were like. Besides, logic pointed out, the Cindray has as good a chance of being in there as anywhere else.
With a quick glance behind him to make sure there wasn't anything else he should know about, he darted down the hall, and, reaching the door in a matter of seconds, tried the controls. To his surprise, it slid open with ease. Someone else had gotten here first.
The scene that greeted his eyes inside was that of a terrible tragedy.
Before the attack, it had been an archive library. A very nice archive library. The rectangular room was large and spacious with tons of shelves spanning its length. These shelves contained thousands of tomes of knowledge, most glowing a light blue. Capping the end of each section was the marble bust of some important figure. The center of the room was basically a long slice of walkway with a reasonably-sized white table in the middle for quiet reading and/or studying. There was even an upper floor — boxed in, of course, by a sturdy metal railing.
But that was all how it had looked before the attack.
Now the place was in ruins, with shelves toppled over into one another in places and gashes decorating every conceivable object at random angles. Most of the marble busts were scattered in pieces across the floor and the reading table was shredded in areas by lightsaber.
The most striking details, however, were the bodies. They were everywhere: slumped up against shelves, hanging over the rails, lying on the floor. Some were adults, but most were adolescents. Children, really. The majority were dressed in cream-colored robes or tunics with brown belts designed to hold a lightsaber. All of them appeared to have died from one or two well-placed lightsaber slashes through the chest. The clones were clearly not responsible for this mess.
So these are Jedi? I had no idea they were so…fragile.
For a moment, Darth Vulcanus was frozen in the doorway, staring at the carnage laid out before him. He wasn't quite sure how he felt about this.
On one hand, he was a Sith, and Sith were supposed to hate Jedi. All throughout his life, his father had portrayed the Jedi as manipulative, jealous cowards worried only about their own affairs. They were lying backstabbers who only pretended to care about keeping the peace and only helped out when it was in their best interest. Despite the fact that he had only ever encountered one in his life, Vulcanus had been raised to hate the Jedi.
Yet for as much as his father ran them down, there was still a part of him that couldn't help but to wonder if that was really the case. He'd never actually met a real Jedi save for that one time — the few that had managed to survive his father's wrath stayed well out of the Empire's reach — but he had seen evidence to support the idea that these weren't such a bad bunch after all.
Of course, that only made him feel guilty, and like a traitorous hypocrite, because it flew in the face of everything he'd been taught. "Don't worry about how other people feel", his father, Darth Vader, had told him at a very young age, "they don't worry about how you feel. No, all anyone ever cares about is power. You and I have that power, and they can't stand it."
Vulcanus's eyes swept over the massacre once again, and he couldn't help but to feel a twinge of sadness. This was all so confusing…
"Is…" cough, "…someone there?" a man's voice called out weakly from behind one of the shelves to the right.
"Yes, I'll be right over!" In his rush, Vulcanus nearly tripped over the still form of an older white-haired woman who had probably been the librarian and came uncomfortably close to rapping his knee on a precariously-balanced marble column. Thank goodness for those Sith reflexes.
Leaping a few more dead bodies, he homed in on the source of the words like a heat-seeking missile and turned down an aisle near the middle of the room. Here the air hung heavy with death. Several little padawans lay sprawled at odd angles on the floor, some of them still fiercely clutching the lightsabers they had died with.
Vulcanus did no more than acknowledge their presence.
An older man — he appeared around sixty, maybe — was slumped against the archives at the end of the aisle. Breathing heavy, he held his arm over what had to be a serious injury to his midsection. Blood seeped out from under his hand and stained his formerly cream tunic crimson. He was in pretty bad shape.
Vulcanus was at his side in an instant. What he was going to do he wasn't entirely sure, but he just had to see a Jedi up-close and personal. His burning curiosity wouldn't have it any other way.
The older man coughed: a harrowing, sickly sound. His eyelids fluttered open. Steely gray eyes peered out at Vulcanus from behind a few disheveled strands of light gray hair. He had been expecting to see a Council member — maybe Cin or Mace —standing over him, but when he saw the young black-clothed man the Jedi's face took on a tone of confusion.
"Who are you?"
Vulcanus blinked. He didn't know why it surprised him so much, being that it was an entirely reasonable question for the guy to ask, but somehow he hadn't been expecting those words from his first Jedi.
"Me? Well I'm…well uh…" he stuttered, grabbing for an answer. Somehow he doubted 'Darth Vulcanus' was going to sit well with this guy. It would be rather nice to learn something about Jedi before he died. "Luke." he finished.
It wasn't a lie.
Before he had been christened Darth Vulcanus, that had been his name: Luke Skywalker. Sometimes his father still called him that.
"And you would be?"
"Tray-Zing," the wounded man replied, "Jedi Master."
Vulcanus/Luke nodded like he understood. In truth, he couldn't tell the difference between a Jedi Master and a Jedi Knight or Council member, but whatever. Kneeling down on one knee, he took Tray-Zing's hand in his own and removed it from the injury.
It didn't look good. The guy had been sliced almost in half. It was amazing he'd lasted this long.
"The wound is deep." Vulcanus stated impassively, his expression totally neutral.
Tray-Zing moved his hand back in place in a futile attempt to slow the blood flow. "Yes," he wheezed, his deep voice strained under the intense pain, "I will die. You…" he was rasping now, " you…" he couldn't make the words come out.
Vulcanus waited patiently for him to finish. That the old man would die was certain. Already he could feel his life force starting to ebb away. What rooted him to the spot was the urgency in the his voice. Vulcanus had always been a curious little Sith Lord — a trait which had gotten him into trouble more than once in his childhood.
Tray-Zing took a deep breath and fought off the cold hand of Death yet again. This was more difficult than anything he'd ever done, yet also more important. The entire future of the galaxy lay at stake here. Thus he'd been holding out as long as he could, hoping someone would arrive.
He gazed up at Luke through watery eyes. There was something about this stranger that he didn't feel entirely comfortable with, but he was young and strong and maybe the only hope they had left.
Here goes. Quelling his urge to pass out and fade into oblivion, the ailing Jedi forced himself to speak. " The younglings…the man who did this to me will kill them if you don't hurry. Serra and Cin may have kept him back for this long, but there isn't much time. They're…" It was practically a speech for a dying man, and every syllable felt like a noose tightening around his throat, but sadly this important message was interrupted.
There was the metallic 'whoosh' of a door being opened, and Vulcanus's head snapped in the direction. Springing to his feet, he was just in time to greet a trio of Storm Troopers as they spotted him on their run by his aisle.
"Freeze Jedi!" came the sharp bark of the commanding clone as he and his buddies raised their blasters, anticipating an easy kill.
Darth Vulcanus was not in the mood. Rather than waste Tray-Zing's limited time he simply cast both hands out in front of him and electrified his foes with a lethal dose of hopped-up Force lightning.
It was over in about five seconds. Unable to sustain such a powerful voltage coursing through their bodies, the troopers dropped to the floor like rocks. Only the smell of charred flesh told the tale.
"Darksider!" Unfortunately for Vulcanus, the action had not gone unnoticed by Tray-Zing. The Jedi Master's face darkened with his worst fears. They're everywhere!
Without so much as batting an eye, Vulcanus spun back around to face the dying man. "Quick, can you tell me where these younglings of yours are?" he asked, choosing purposely choosing to ignore the 'Darksider' tag.
Tray-Zing frowned. "I'll tell you nothing, Sith!"
Vulcanus jerked back, surprised. Boy, for a guy on his deathbed, he sure has a lot of vigor. The old master had practically spat that last word.
Summoning up his most level voice, Vulcanus tried the rational approach. "Look, as hard as this may be for you to believe, I want to help those younglings. If you can tell me where they are sometime this year, I may be able to reach them before they join the Dead Children's Club."
Tray Zing narrowed his eyes, but the fight was already leaving him. Weakly, he asked, "How do I know I can trust you?"
"You don't," Vulcanus admitted in a rush, "but if what you say is true then the younglings are going to die anyway, if they haven't already. So what have you got to lose by risking me? I might not be a fluffy ball of pure goodness, but I am very powerful. If I can reach these kids in time nobody's going to be able to touch them. That I promise."
Tray-Zing shut his eyes, and for a moment Vulcanus feared he was dead. But no, he was still breathing, however faintly. His life force was slipping away faster now; he probably wouldn't survive the next three minutes.
With a pitiful attempt to sit up straighter, the gray-haired Jedi master tilted his head back, sucked in a deep breath, and spoke as clearly and quickly as he could. " Leave this aisle, turn right, and head straight out the door with the triangle on it. Follow the hall to its end and go out that door. Turn right at the 'T', and follow it all the way down to the end. You'll see another door with a triangle on it — that's the one."
Vulcanus gave his informer a curt nod. "Thank you."
He turned to leave.
"Please….save them…" Tray-Zing's voice was distant now, as if he were speaking from some place far away, "Watch out for…Anakin Skywalker…he's a…traitor."
Having done all he could to keep hope alive, Tray-Zing finally surrendered to the blissful darkness.