Good God! Another Chapter! What is the Universe coming to???
Hope you enjoy: I took so long because I knew where I wanted to take the story, but was a little unsure about how to get there.
Now, on with the story!
Main Control Centre, Separatist Manufacturing Complex, Mustafar, Several Months after the Second Battle of Coruscant and the Defence of the Jedi Temple.
Palpataine scowled as he examined the holographic schematic that showed the areas of the Republic and Outer Rim that were held by forces loyal to him. Much to his great displeasure those areas had been greatly reduced in the months following his flight from Corsucant.
When he had first arrived on Mustafar his first acts had been to have his clone troopers execute the Separatist leaders who had been present, including the viceroy of the Trade Federation, Nute Gunray and to transmit an order that placed the Separatist droid armies and their manufacturing plants under his control. Once that had been accomplished he began to plan the offensive that he had been sure would ultimately return Coruscant to his controlane with it his empire.
But things had not gone as he had wished. Firstly, when he moved to capture Kamino and its cloning facilities his forces were greeted not just by those clones that had been on Kamino and had remained loyal to the Republic but by a force that he had no knowledge of that the Kaminoans had been working on: a force that exhibited some mastery of the Force itself. Between them they had annihilated the expedition he had sent to secure the planet, thus cutting him off from a primary source of clone troopers. However, his backup sources, using templates other than that of Jango Fett as their model, were available and had been in production for some time. Granted, the clones they produced were neither as effective nor as proficient as the clones produced by the Kaminoans, but they were available in sufficient numbers. Or so he had thought.
Although he was well aware of the old maxim that superior numbers had a quality of their own, it transpired that the superior numbers he had when he combined his clone legions with the former Separatist droid army were not enough when faced with a reformed Grand Army of the Republic that had been reinforced by large numbers of the cloned Force-sensitive life form the Kaminoans had produced. Life forms, he realised when he felt their presence in the Force, that were manifestly of the same species as the mysterious stranger who, almost single-handedly, had completely derailed his plans for galactic domination, and which proved to be even more formidable in battle than the Fett clones to such an extent that his clone armies were unnerved merely by the sight of their antique-looking armour in battle.
Once he had managed to regain some measure of control over the droid armies and his loyal clone units, Palpataine had gone and scoured every Sith holocron and document he had in order to find out if they recorded any information about this mysterious stranger. Although the originals of his library had been left behind on Coruscant when he had fled the planet, he had prepared against this possibility by producing copies of every holocron and document he had discovered in his researches, secreting copies in locations where he had also set up ancillary command posts, such as Mustafar, in case he needed them. Thinking of this precaution and of his library on Coruscant brought an evil smile to his face. The Jedi didn't know where his copies were, and any Jedi who sought to access his hidden library would pay for it with their lives when the booby-traps he had set activated. But going through his holocrons and documents had given him some of the answers he had sought.
It appeared that the mysterious stranger had been around at the formation of the Jedi Order, and had even witnessed the formation of the old Sith Order at the time of the First Great Schism, when the renegade Jedi who would found the Sith Empire were expelled from the Order at the end of the Hundred Years' Darkness that had followed. Some records even named him as the founder of the Jedi Order, something that Palpataine found at once both interesting and disturbing. But, unsurprisingly, it was the records of his own master, Darth Plagueis the Wise, that gave him much of the information he sought. And what he learned disturbed him, but paradoxically, also gave him hope that he could turn some of the Jedi against the stranger most of the records named as The Exiled Lord or The Fallen Wanderer, names that the stranger had given himself. But only Darth Plagueis' holocron had what its creator claimed was the true name and past of the stranger. This was something that Palpataine thought he could use.
A disturbance in the Force drew Palpataine's attention away from his musings. Concentrating on it, he smiled. So the Fallen Wanderer has finally arrived, he thought. And it appears he has brought company. The Force signatures of Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi were well know to Palpataine by now, as was that of Anakin's former padawan. The other two he did not recognise, but knew that if they were arriving in the company of the being who had become his greatest enemy they had to be formidable in the ways of the Force. And if the Jedis' precious 'Chosen One' won't turn to the Dark Side, perhaps one of those might, or perhaps even his padawan.
He smiled to himself. Now that would be just the perfect revenge, turning the 'Chosen One's' former padawan to the Dark Side. With such thoughts and plans forming inside his crooked mind, he prepared to give his unwelcome guests a reception they would never forget.
"He knows we're here," said Er-Ranalantae as Anakin, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka, Made Pterois and Gilead Thuus followed him down the ramp of Er-Ranalantae's ship. In addition to his usual attire he also wore a backpack. When queried by his students, he said that they may well need what he had inside it. A heavy blast rifle was slung over one shoulder.
"Then he will no doubt be readying a nasty little welcome for us," said Anakin. He and the others also carried blasters in addition to their lightsabres, and Anakin eased his into a more comfortable position.
Ahsoka nodded. "But we should be able to handle it, Master," she said.
Anakin looked at his former padawan. "Glad you think so, Snips," he said.
"Don't look now," said Obi-Wan, "but I think the reception committee's arrived." He pointed to where six droidekas were wheeling themselves into position.
"Oh, great!" said Anakin as he lit his lightsabre and took up a defensive position. "Destroyer droids!" Er-Ranalantae shook his head as he reached into his backpack. Pulling out what looked like a thermal detonator, he armed it and then casually tossed the sphere in amongst the droidekas. There was a loud electronic crack and all six droidekas, which had by now deployed into their combat form, jerked and went completely limp.
"What was that?" asked Obi-Wan.
"It's a grenade that fries a droid's circuitry," replied Er-Ranalantae. "Useful thing." He looked at the others. "Picked up the basic design for it on a world on the other side of the galaxy where they have things that are much worse, and also more sophisticated, than these."
Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka exchanged looks. "Wish we had that in the war," said Obi-Wan. "May have made things a lot easier."
Anakin nodded. A smirk came across his face. "But then, things wouldn't have been as much fun."
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. "Only you could call what we've been doing these past three years fun, Anakin!" he said. Anakin smirked in reply as Er-Ranalantae gave a small smile and slowly shook his head.
"Since you're finished, I believe we should get a move on," he said. "After all, it would be most impolite to keep our host waiting." He reached into his backpack and took out a device. Activating it, he said "Droid scanner. It'll tell us if there are any more welcoming committees up there." He unslung his blast rifle and, after arming it and attaching the scanner, led the party up the path the droidekas had come down, the muzzle of his weapon tracking where his eyes went. The others simply kept their lightsabres at the ready as they followed him. A couple of times they encountered battle droids, but Er-Ranalantae's reflexes and the Jedis' lightsabres made short work of them. At the top of the path they encountered some clone troopers and droidekas, but the latter were taken care of by a well-flung "droid-fryer" grenade (Anakin had come up with the term much to Er-Ranalantae's amusement). The clone troopers, initially thinking the droid-fryer was a thermal detonator, scattered and took cover, which allowed the Jedi and Er-Ranalantae to rush their position and take the clones out, something which caused the Jedi some grief. "After all," said Obi-Wan, "they're just pawns in Sideous' plans. Much like we were."
Er-Ranalantae nodded. "After Sideous is removed from the formula, I can tell you that, assuming we can take them alive, it is possible to remove the programming from them. But the key is taking them alive. Not to mention removing a certain Dark Lord from the picture." He indicated the doorway. "Whom I believe is awaiting us in there." With Er-Ranalantae in the lead, the party rushed over to the doorway, with Er-Ranalantae indicating that they should go to either side of the doorway. When they were in position, he fished out another "droid-fryer", armed it and threw it into the doorway. As soon as they heard the loud electronic crack, they rushed in, jumping over the prone forms of several battle droids. On the other side of the room was another open doorway. The group rushed over and looked at Er-Ranalantae. He looked at his droid scanner and shook his head.
Anakin spoke. "He's in there," he said quietly. "I can feel his presence in the Force."
Er-Ranalantae looked at Anakin. "Do you think...?" The rest of the question went unasked.
Anakin nodded. "Let's do this." Straightening up, lightsabre at the ready, he walked in, the others following.
When they saw what was waiting for them there they halted. There, standing beside a large holo display, stood Darth Sideous, the former Supreme Chancellor Palpataine. He wore a black, hooded robe, with the hood pulled up over his head. But, even though it shadowed his face, the disfigurement that the Force lightning had inflicted on it was still visible.
Palpataine gave a chuckle as the group arranged themselves in front of him. His sardonic eye took in the fact that Anakin, in place of his customary black under tunic and trousers, now wore grey ones cut in an identical fashion. "So the Jedi and their 'founder' have finally come for me," he said. "I wonder how the Jedi will regard their founder once they learn the truth about him?"
Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow. "And what truth would that be?"
"That one of his names amongst his people is 'kinslayer'," Palpataine said. He looked directly at Er-Ranalantae. "Isn't that right, Grand Master 'Er-Ranalantae'? Or should I say, Maglor Feanorion, Kinslayer?" He chuckled. "Although I must say I like the name you've given yourself: the 'Fallen Wanderer.' Seems to describe you quite well."
Er-Ranalantae looked at Palpataine. "I have never hidden who I am or what I did, or rather, what I did not do on that day," he said. "My greatest regret is in not preventing my father and my brothers from that course of action. I still live with that regret, but have done what I can to atone for the deeds of that day. Unlike you, who hid what he was from all." He gave Palpataine a smile that, to the others, resembled that of a predator. "And if you have indeed found out everything about me, as you seem to be claiming, you'll know that I have faced creatures and beings that are darker, older and far more powerful than anything you have ever seen, even in your worst nightmares. To me, you're nothing more than a mortal wizard. A powerful one, granted, but still a mortal."
Palpataine looked at the Jedi with Er-Ranalantae. "You don't seemed at all surprised."
Anakin spoke. "That's because, unlike someone in this room he hid nothing from either us or the Jedi Order."
Palpataine smiled as he felt Anakin's anger."Good," Palpataine said. "I feel you anger. Use it to try and strike me down."
Anakin smiled and slowly shook his head. "My anger is not directed at you," he said. "Rather, at what you stand for."
"Then what do I inspire in you? Fear? Disgust?"
"Pity. Pity for you and all of the Sith."
Palpataine snorted. "I do not need your pity!"
"Then you are lost." Anakin looked at the others. "And I say we have had enough bandying with Sideous. Let's take him now."
Palpataine gave a wicked smile. Suddenly his lightsabre sprang to life and he leapt in a lightning-quick attack... straight at Ahsoka Tano. Before she could react he was upon her. However, his stroke, which would have killed her, was blocked... by the blue beam of Anakin Skywalker's lightsabre.
Anakin gave a predator's grin. "How about we take this elsewhere?" he said and, without even gesturing, Force-pushed Palpataine out through the door. As Palpataine flew through the doorway Anakin followed hard on his heels. After a brief moment the sounds of fighting floated back in through the open door.
The others, once they saw that Ahsoka was all right, made to follow, bu were stopped by Er-Ranalantae. "Your zeal to help Anakin is admirable," he said. "But this is something Anakin needs to do for himself." The others looked at one another, before Obi-Wan nodded in understanding.
"As you have so colourfully put it, this is Anakin's dog, and it's best he puts it down himself."
"But how will we know what's happening?" asked Ahsoka. "And if he will need our help?"
Obi-Wan placed a hand on the young knight's shoulder. "I know it's difficult, Ahsoka, but Anakin is more than capable of handling both himself and Sideous. Especially with all of the training he's recently had at the Grand Master's hands."
"But..." Ahsoka blew her breath out through her lips. "I suppose so. But how will we keep track of what's happening?"
"Through this." Obi-Wan reached over and punched a sequence into the holoprojector's keypad. Instantly a schematic sprang up, showing the location of both Anakin and Palpataine.
Obi-Wan frowned as he realised where the two were duelling. "I hope Anakin's careful," he said. "One wrong move, and that collector tower could fall into that river of magma."
"I think he knows what he's doing," replied Er-Ranalantae.
Anakin felt the Force flow through him as he duelled with Palpataine. Their progress through the outer chamber of the old processing plant's control centre was marked by damaged equipment where mis-strokes had impacted on equipment and on the structure of the building itself. Now they were on a walkway that led to a collection tower for the droids that took magma from the lava river beneath them and hauled it up so that it could be separated into its useable elements. So far, everything told him that he was doing the correct thing: but Force, was Palpataine powerful! Not to mention an excellent proponent of the lightsabre! But Anakin himself was now a match for the Sith Lord, and it was all thanks to the training he had received from the returned Founder of the Jedi Order.
One lesson went through his mind: Sometimes, Er-Ranalantae had said during one lesson, it is a good idea to let yourself be driven by your opponent towards what may well turn out to be favourable ground. This applies to battle as well as to individual combat.
That had been after a particularly exhausting fight, when Er-Ranalantae had taken on Anakin, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka, the two Senior Padawans and Master Yoda in a bout in order to demonstrate the use of terrain in a fight. The lesson had taken place in the Room of a Thousand Fountains and he had used pretty much all of it. It was watched by most of the surviving Jedi in the Temple, and afterwards they had said that it was the first time that any of them could recall Master Yoda being defeated in a bout.
"Such a bout as this, I have not had in a long time," Master Yoda had said at the end. But he had a fond smile on his face as he looked at Er-Ranalantae.
Another thought went through Anakin's mind: Always remember to use your brain to defeat your enemy. Find your enemy's weak points, and then attack them. But he wasn't sure that Palpataine had any weak points.
Know yourself and know your enemy, Er-Ranalantae had said. By understanding the enemy and yourself, you can engage in a hundred battles without ever being in danger. But what was...
It came to Anakin as he dodged a cut: Palpataine's weakness was what Palpataine considered a strength: his use of his anger and rage. If Anakin used Palpataine's anger and rage properly... He danced out of reach and stood at the end of the platform. "Is that the best you can do?" he asked.
"My worst is still better than your best, Jedi!" growled Palpataine. Anakin kept his face carefully neutral, but deep down he smiled a predator's smile. Palpataine had given him a sign of yet another potential weakness: his pride. Turn all three against him, and... Anakin smirked and, using his good hand, gave Palpataine the universal sign to come and get him.
Palpataine snarled and cut at him, which Anakin glanced away and, as he had been taught by Er-Ranalantae, used the energy imparted to his weapon by Palpataine's cut to turn his glance parry into an overhead cut, which segued into an underhand cut, forcing Palpataine back onto the defensive. Much to Palpataine's discomfort, he realised that Anakin was not fighting like a Jedi, but like a swordsman, using Palpataine's own strikes to power his own attacks. This served to make Palpataine angrier than before, and in his rage he used the Force to rip out a control panel and hurled it at Anakin, who dodged it. The panel, however, controlled a force field that had shielded the complex against falling lava bombs from a nearby volcanic vent as well as from the lava river that flowed underneath it. Now, with nothing to stop them, lava bombs started falling around the two as they fought while down below, the lava river, no longer held back by the force field that had protected the collection plant, started eating away at both the plant's supports and the cliff on which it was built.
Eventually, something had to give. What did give was the bridge that connected the lava collection point to the rest of the complex: the bridge they were fighting on. With a groan of tortured metal the walkway began to give way, causing the collection centre to slowly topple into the lava river below, and sending both combatants scrambling for handholds. Eventually, suspended from the remains of power conduits, the duel resumed, with Palpataine attacking Anakin every time they swung past each other. Eventually Anakin noticed that the tower was going to go over a fall of molten rock and, seeing a hauler platform following the collection plant, jumped onto it and, after overriding its controls, readied himself in case Palpataine followed. He heard a high-pitched whine, as though of a tiny repulsorlift motor, or a series of them, coming near and, without taking his eyes off the collection tower, noted that a swarm of tiny holovideo cameras mounted on equally tiny repulsorlifts had followed them into the river valley.
Good, he thought. They're recording all of this.
Just then the collection tower, which had been slowly sinking into the river of molten rock, went over the falls. As it did so Palpataine jumped from the tower just as it was going to go over and landed on top of a small repulsorlift droid. Overriding its controls with the Force, Palpataine headed for Anakin's repulsorlift platform, and Anakin, seeing him come, readied himself.
As he arrived at the platform Palpataine put himself in-between the shore of the lava river and Anakin's platform and slashed at Anakin, who responded with a parry and riposte, forcing Palpataine onto the defensive. Seizing the opening provided, Anakin, using his weight, edged his platform closer to the shore while at the same time following up his counterattack with a series of cuts and thrusts. Palpataine, however, soon realised what Anakin was up to and began to move his small repulsorlift droid so as to cut Anakin off.
Time to end this, Anakin thought as he defended himself from Palpataine's attack. Once more he glanced parried Palpataine's attack. But instead of a cutting riposte he flung himself into a leaping dive, thrusting his lightsabre ahead of him almost as a spear point. As he had expected Palpataine managed to parry it with contemptuous ease, but Anakin, by turning his dive into a forward roll and making use of the Force, managed to land on the black, sandy shore of the lava flow. He turned, weapon ready, held in a low guard that would enable him to either attack or defend.
Palpataine guided his small droid to in front of where Anakin stood. "This is the end for you, my friend," he said. "Somehow, I find myself wishing it weren't so."
"I agree: it is the end," Anakin replied. "But I hold the high ground."
"You sadly underestimate the power of the Dark Side," Palpataine said and, lightsabre ready, took a flying leap straight towards the bank of the lava flow. His move though left him open to attack and Anakin, with a speed and reflexes that had been honed over the preceding months, struck, slicing first Palpataine's legs from his body, and then removing the arm which held his lightsabre. Palpataine fell, landing on top of the bank, and began sliding back down towards the river of lava. His left hand clutched at the black sand that made up the flow's banks, slowing his slide.
Anakin stood above his foe. He moved over to where Palpataine's severed arm lay and gingerly removed the lightsabre from it. Attaching it to his belt, he moved back in front of Palpataine.
Palpataine kept clutching at the black sand, trying to arrest his slide into the molten rock. He looked up as Anakin loomed over him. "Help me!" he said. Anakin paused for a moment and then, reaching out with his artificial hand, grabbed Palpataine's left arm. Straining with the effort, he slowly pulled Palpataine to safety.
"Why?" croaked the fallen Sith Lord.
"Because you deserve a trial, in front of the Senate and the entire Republic," Anakin replied. He heard footsteps come crunching through the black basalt sand and, without turning, addressed the person who came up behind him. "Isn't that so, Master?"
The footsteps halted alongside Anakin, and Palpataine saw another pair of boots, brown as against Anakin's black, stop alongside his captor. Looking up, he followed the boots up, past the being's waist... and looked straight into the face of Jedi master Mace Windu.
"How...?" he asked. "I saw you fall out of the window of my office!"
"Luckily, or rather, it was by the will of the Force, I managed to land on top of a cargo hauler," the Jedi Master said. "I was able to reach a medical facility which dressed my wounds. Eventually I made my way back to the Temple and caught up with what had happened... including the reappearance of the Order's Founding Grand Master." He looked at Anakin. "He convinced me that, while Anakin's actions were a bit extreme, his intentions were the correct ones."
Anakin looked somewhat sheepish at Windu's remarks. "Somehow I suspect you will never let me live down what happened. And deservedly so, I suppose."
Windu indicated the prone Sith Lord. "We had better get him ready for transport back to Coruscant." He reached into his robes and, from an internal pocket, brought out a restraining collar. "This will cut off your connection to the Force," Windu said as he placed it around Palpataine's neck. "Even though Anakin's crippled you, in my opinion you are still dangerous."
"Quite correct, Master Windu," Anakin said. Together, they placed Palpataine onto a small repulsorlift platform that Windu had brought down. Together they guided it up the pathway that Windu had come down. Near the control centre they met the others.
"Ah! You have him!" said Er-Ranalantae as they approached the group. "And I see he has been rendered harmless." He looked at the others. "Let's get him on the transport and, after his wounds have been tended to, back to Coruscant for his trial before the Senate."
On hearing that Palpataine cackled and lifted his head and looked at the assembled Jedi."Before the Senate? You have little hope of convicting me before the Senate! As I told Master Windu, I am the Senate!" He cackled again. "They will free me and I will crush the Jedi with the blessing of the Senate!"
Er-Ranalantae smiled and looked at Palpataine. "I can understand you thinking that," he said. "But that was before we found your concealed library of Sith artifacts and showed them to various Senators from the various factions. Interesting little trap, by the way, but easily overcome, once you know how," he added as an aside. Indicating the small cameras hovering around them, he continued; "And every aspect of what happened here was recorded by small holocameras on repulsorlifts and transmitted live to the Senate, which is currently in session and hearing every word we are saying." He looked at Palpataine. "So I would question whether you have the influence with the Senate you once had."
Fir the first time since anyone knew him Palpataine truly looked defeated. "It appears you have thought of everything, Kinslayer," he said
"One can never think of everything," Er-Ranalantae said. "Such as you may decide to stop your heart... Oh yes, I know about that little trick the Sith perfected so as to avoid a situation like this, which is why I had Master Windu place that abomination around your neck. You will get the trial you so richly deserve."
"And the punishment I deserve? Most likely death, if the Jedi have their way."
Er-Ranalantae shook his head. "You truly do not know the Jedi," he said. He looked at the others. "Let's get him onto the transport and back to Coruscant."
"What about the controls for the Separatist droid armies and the factories that make them?" asked Anakin.
"Taken care of," said Obi-Wan. "We didn't switch them off: rather we sent signals that placed the droid armies under the control of the Republic. Once the last resistance to the Republic's forces are overcome, they will simply act as a garrison until we can get live troops there, whereupon they just simply shut down." He looked at Er-Ranalantae. "The Grand Master thinks we should keep the more advanced models and use them as training equipment for any future armies and in the Temple."
Er-Ranalantae shrugged. "Waste not, want not," he said. "A good philosophy to follow. Besides, the droids and the factories that manufacture them could well be of some use in reconstruction work, now that the war is effectively over. At least we may be able to gain some good from all of this."
He indicated Windu's replacement hand. "How do you like your replacement?"
Mace Windu flexed his artificial hand. "It's pretty good," he said. "Much better than what is generally used and so realistic you wouldn't even know it was artificial. However, I am looking forward to the new hand you say that technology you brought back from the other side of the galaxy can grow for me." He looked at Anakin. "You should look into having your prosthetic replaced, Skywalker."
Anakin shook his head. "Thank you, Master Windu, but I would rather keep this one," he replied. "Reminds me of some rather hard lessons I've learned."
Mace Windu stopped and looked at Anakin with amazement. "It appears you have grown, Skywalker," he said. "Maybe you are ready for your Mastery."
"Only if the Council thinks I deserve it," Anakin replied, "and not just for defeating Sideous." With that, they followed the others towards the landing platform.