Crown of Ebony
Chapter 1: Prologue
This is a tentatively revamped edition of CoE's first chapter, there are variety of changes from the original edition, such that when I first began it I intended to simply post as a new story... and then I put the project on hold as I moved on to other things. This is an incomplete version of that, as if I had ever finished the rewrite Chapter 1 would have been about six thousand words. Anyway this is the new version and I'll gradually get back into the project and rewrite the older chapters, but I honestly don't know when that will be finished.
"The situation with the senate is worsening."
Amber eyes narrowed, and the Sith Lord refrained from muttering about how that was so unexpected... it would do no good. Still wiping away the last vestiges of the Old Republic was ultimately for the better. "I see,
"The dissolution of the High Council raises many concerns Lord Kratos."
The end of the war had brought a steady shift in Galactic politics, not all for the better, but as far as the Sith Lord was considered it was sufficent to be a net gain. The Emperor had known what he was doing... maintaining some semblance of the Old Senate managerial power for this long.
The destruction of the Jedi Order eliminated the single greatest threat to academic, and military reformation in the galaxy. It had also only been part of a wider goal, a reformation started with the clone armies. The Grand Army of the Republic was dwarfed by the standing forces arranged to protect civilized space under the Auspex of the Imperial Army. The Clone Troopers largely replaced in role by conventional recruiting in the form of the Storm Trooper Legions. It was necessary... just as it had been necessary to discard Bane's rule of two.
A flight of the new Tie Interceptors swept over the view port. Prototypes undergoing their first tests before being sent to Vader for more indepth examination. Sienar had worked closely with the other Sith Lord's engineers to create them... understandable given Vaders fighter jockey tendencies. "We'll hold off on the Interceptor Evaluation until Vader's has concluded his outing with Tarkin."
The Imperial officer nodded. "By your command."
"Captain," The man stiffened as the Sith Lord pushed himself standing, "Arrange to contact Admiral Zaarin for me, discretely."
"Yes my lord." The officers salute was terse, professional reflective of the expectation of this command. "Sir I may be out of line, but Grand Moff Tarkin is adamant about the Death Star-"
"I am aware," Tarkin's pet project was hailed as the latest in super scale engineering. Massive, imposing, and fairly swift given that tremendous size. "That is why I wish to speak with Admiral Zaarin regarding the technical specifications." Something he shouldn't have needed to explain, Vader would have choked the man to death by this point. "Now go." He turned away from the view port and headed for the corridor. Kratos... it meant the State. It meant a power beyond the individual. It had been chosen for a reason, for that reason.
The Grand Admiral had never been foolish enough to oppose Tarkin's grand project vocally, or in any other kind of public matter. Still out of everyone Zaarin was the best second opinion available on costly potential boondoggles. Tarkin already complained the expenditures of the 'Sith fleet' were unnecessary in this modern age. The Emperor was already allocating funding and space at Kuat for the super star destroyers... including naming one the Amidala and giving it priority at the drive yards. Naboo... that one little planet.
The running gun battle, and exchange of blaster fire were becoming ridiculous. "They confirmed Lord Vader's suspicions regarding General Kenobi, it will be over soon."
Kratos wanted to believe that. "It is fortuitous." He agreed, stepping through the entrance. The hanger was mostly empty. A handful of stormtroopers were watching the clash with interest... so much interest they were ignoring the escaping princess and her other rescuers.
"Still keeping Vader company I see," Kenobi grunted parrying Vader's cybernetically strengthened stroke; age was working against him though.
That blue beam was weakening. There was a reason Sith used synthetic crystal. They were easy to understand, to measure, to predict them. "You are out of practice Master Kenobi," He observed idly, age in the end of things meant little. The Emperor was much older than Kenobi, and his form was better practiced. Vader had even more time to practice given his constant forays from core to outer regions, and the benefit of cybernetic limbs that wouldn't tire.
"I am an old man." Obi Wan declared in a snarky manner as he and Vader circled each other.
Kratos swirled on his heel; eying the others in the rescue party. "Cadet Solo, this is a surprise," The wookie was still around, that wasn't much of a surprise truth be told. The younger man was an unknown, evident force potential, but was relying on a blaster. He was unpolished, unused to this.
"Its Captain now," Solo muttered snarkily, blaster trained much more confidently. "Still going about in all that silk?"
"We can't leave Ben behind,"
"We don't have a choice," Han growled to his friend, "Get on the damn ship kid, go." There was a crash of lightsabers again, but the Jedi Knight and former General in the Grand Army of the Republic assured that he would be 'all right'. "You gonna give us a speech about hokey old religions as well, Lord Kratos?"
He shook his head, carefully considering how likely it was that the princess might try at getting a shot off, "No, not today. You seem in no mood to be lectured." The com piece in his ear chirped providing a name to put to the youngers face... Skywalker. There was too much of a coincidence... Kenobi must have spirited the child away... Vader still refused to set foot on Tatooine even after all these years... and it was a big planet. "Go on then, run back to your smuggler's cove." Kratos took a step backwards, hand resting on the silver cylinder of a lightsaber ready to unleash the crimson blade if it came to that.
Vader could track down his errant son... the Noghri or another asset could be used for that. The Noghri though would be delighted that Vader had an heir. That lightsaber on the boy's belt wouldn't last forever... it was Anakin's old one after all... a bloody miracle it even worked. Even if he inheiritted some fraction of his father's raw potential he was untrained... not even a green padawan unskilled in grasping the force. He would need training... how many Jedi could still be breathing... well regardless it would be one less after today.
"If you strike me down Darth I will become more powerful than you can ever imagine." Obi Wan remarked wisely about the Force Ascension... but becoming one with the Force almost always severed a Jedi's ability to affect normal reality beyond simply talking to people. There were exception... the Sith habit of leading Holocrons imprinted with their minds and presence in the force as ancient Sith Masters like Exar Kun, and Revan had came to mind. Even that had its limits though... teaching someone was alleged to be impossible.
The lack of a body in the robes confirmed the prior suspicion. "A tracking device?"
"Of course," Vader rasped, prompting the other Sith to nod, "We will soon crush the Rebellion."
"I would prefer to wait for the Harrow."
Tarkin snorted contempuously at the notion.
Zaarin's concern had been in the end well founded. The Emperor was furious, but at the same time not entirely dissuaded from the idea that the Death Star represented. Then there were the other problems all of this... that this whole debacle had raised. The idea that the Rebels had intentionally hidden away in Yavin to take advantage of the force masking properties of the temples there was absurd... but the genetic samples and security data from the Death Star didn't lie.
Twins. Force sensitive twins. Kratos did not fancy himself superstitious, but the idea concerned him... still they were untrained... on the other hand there was a certain dread in knowing there were two more Skywalkers running around. The Emperor hadn't wasted any time breaking the findings to Vader either... never mind that Tarkin had mass scattered Alderan... the girl's adopted homeworld... which would surely complicate any efforts to reconcile. There was no telling how the boy would take Vader killing Kenobi.
Still there would be time to deal with that later, and time to deal with the engineering failures of the Death Stars and that loss of material and manpower as well... "About your star fighter proposal?"
"The Defender's capacity are a marked improvement," Demetrius's smile was smug, in that proclamation, "though we are still in Alpha testing at the moment.
"Yes I've seen the cost projections," Kratos muttered. Zaarin had been pressing hard for the new model to be outfitted with hyperdrive systems, which Kratos was dubious about given the sparse nature of life support systems on the standard TIE fighter. "The idea intrigues me."
The Grand Admiral brightened at the admittance. "I am delighted to hear such, you would be of tremendous help in broaching the matter with Lord Vader."
"I will discuss it with him," Anakin... Darth Vader... was a renowned patron of the Imperial Fighter Corp, Kratos himself lacked that reputation. By comparison the dark haired sith lord sitting across from the Admiral preferred spending time with Research and Development of a more capital nature... though that was in part the fault of his role in overseeing the Emperor's Star Cruiser, and now his association with the Super Star Destroyer programs. "Your insistence that the Interceptor proposal is a stop gap at best has raised concern."
"There exists a starfighter gap, which we must correct. The fault lies not with our pilots, but with the bureaucrats who hamstring them with subpar equipment." The Sith Lord restrained himself from groaning at the blatantly populist rhetoric, Zaarin forgot to whom he spoke while he played these political games. Demetrius Zaarin pressed on, "Even now your own fleet is kept on reserve testing technology that the bean counters left over the republic squeal on about."
The 'Sith Armada', which was admittedly a grandiose hyperbolic name assigned by the Emperor, was admittedly involved with extensive R&D programs. Programs that were very expensive, and that thus far the Emperor had deigned to keep in reserve as they were 'overkill'. The Emperor deemed it would send the wrong message if the regular Imperial Starfleet could not deal with the problem. "As I said Zaarin I will speak to Vader, in the mean time Imperial Intelligence has arrived come over here comodore." He declared waving the Imperial Officer in dress whites looming in the entry way.
"What was that about?"
"He's hiding something, but he has a point."
"There are commanders who will not appreciate such a shift."
That was certainly true, "Indeed, but these fighters are something we should have. I want them."
"Of course my lord."
"Was it bad?"
Kratos scowl deepened, the emperor had once again asserted that the Sith Fleet represented an admission of failure if it needed to brought against the Rebels. "Yes. Are we docked?" The clamps rumbled and there was his as pressure stabilized as the massive warship connected to the space station known to the Ratakan as the Star Forge. This had been the Sith Lord Revan's fortress thousands of years ago. "Come." Only a handful of Grand Moffs had known of the Harrow's construction... Kratos's flagship was comparable to Vader's Executor. The Senate had been in the dark... and that was how the Emperor had liked it.
Kratos was a Dark Lord of the Sith, but had a myriad of duties beyond that of Sith Lord. There was a sincere feeling of appreciation for that discretion. With the high council, and its oversight capacity, disolved there was little need to worry about the matter. Having to explain the... extensive... presence in the Rakata system would be have been a nightmare compared to having to just explain the off the books Super Star Destroyer.
With Tarkin dead though, and his command in shambles there was plenty of head hunting to be done in the interim that the remnant of civilian authority... even the Moffs wouldn't notice until it was well and done. No doubt that theyd be more focused on Vader's efforts.
Soon Vader would take a new apprentice... and that would be for the best. Established by Darth Bane the rule of two stated that: 'Two there should be, no more no less. A master, an apprentice. One to embody power the other to crave it.' Kratos despised the idea. If there had been one thing he had respected the, Jedi, order for it was its size, and the ability to delegate that those numbers allowed them.
He smiled at the brunette, "My apologies Admiral, may we come aboard?"
"Thank you Admiral Daala," He replied clearing the portal. It would have been possible to take a shuttle over, but the Harrow's berth had been a permanent addition to the Forge completed a few months previous... admittedly though the Harrow itself had still been on its own inaugaral cruise at the time. "How do you find Rakata?" There was a tension in her jaw, and a hesitation. "I see, well if its not the amenities available go ahead and out with it." He paused at the sealed lift.
"She was causing trouble." Daala remarked knowing full well that the Sith Lord would know of whom she was speaking of. The Admiral didn't approve of some things but she put up with it, which admittedly given the demise Tarkin was understandable.
"Duly noted." Kratos murmured with some finality, reaching up to lower his hood, pale flesh, dark hair, and the tale tale indicator of Force mastery of a Sith... the amber eyes. They had once though been green... long ago, before the clone wars. A vibrant green they had once been. "I'll see to it that Kaguya handles it," He muttered as the lift began to move. The Mandalorian might not have subscribed to the idea of institutional hazing welcoming new flag officers, but some of the graduates of the Academy were not. He was rather certain that the hazing pervaded the lower officer ratings as well, but given his constant schedule had never had the time to confirm it. Kratos's hand picked command staff had its share of outsiders of course, but the academy's scientific courses provided the technical experts he required to operate smoothly.
Rakata's primary star generated the massive energy that the Star Forge used to power its arcanotech systems, which were in turn capable of churning out thousands of ships. Kratos wasn't foolish though... even though technology had advanced crews were preferable. Delving too far too fast was a dangerous matter... after all Revan had sealed the Forge for a reason before he had departed deeper into the unknown territories.
Revan's disappearance.. it was a mystery Kratos longed to solve, but it was a fantastic adventure that he simply didn't have time for. All the myriad of Sith, Jedi, and other ancient artificats spent more time gathering dust than being studied. The Force was infinite, but unfortunately his time and patience weren't.
Months would pass before he would get the chance to study his holocrons, never mind the chance to explore the ancient Sith sorceries. It was a simple matter of fact. Even so, slowly a replacement in the shadows slowly was assembled... though at this rate it would probably take the rest of the century.
Kaguya's matte armor soaked in the light as the Mandalorian stepped under it, "My lord, regarding the efforts being made?"
"We have been told to leave things be." Which on the one hand was both infuriating, and a welcome break. Perhaps if Tarkin hadn't gotten the chance to demonstrate the Death Star's super laser then perhaps the Emperor wouldn't be so obsessed with the system... on the other hand there was no telling, "I'm leaving for Kuat to monitor the Amidala's construction rate, and I will probably be involved in seeing it to its initial tour," At least from Coruscant to Naboo, "beyond that I should be able to spare some time."
While there were surviving clones of Jango Fett out there, some with families even... the Mandalorian were effectively extinct, or that had been the general opinion. Some however had chosen not to go quietly into the night. Rakata prime offered an opportunity to congregate and raise a new generation of Mandalorian away from the galaxy. It was a tiny community, dwarfed by the other personel of the Imperial prescence. "It would be auspicious Eminence."
"I can assure nothing, Kaguya," Kratos reiterated, "The Emperor is unlkely to send us to battle this year or the next. So I will say this the Harrow will stay here, and that in itself is an opportunity. Are your pilots ready?"
"Coordinate with Daala," She'd been involved with Tarkin... and the vulnerabilities of the Death Star to rebel star fighter attack was still a fresh wound in the Imperial Navy's psyche. "If we can do nothing else then we can produce better starfighters than the standard TIE, it is time to cast them aside." It was well past time to switch to shielded fighters... to switch back... after all the Jedi Fighters had had shields during the war.
"As you command." A fist clenched to his armor.
Kratos lifted the Holocron up slightly and watched sparkle, feeling the reverberations. The twinge of the force across space... a blue world... small lacking in spaceships or conventional defenses but a cacophony of noise in the force. A fleeting memory beyond the galactic pathway. Returning wasn't an option... the rebellion needed to be crushed. There was too much at stake. This was no longer the brief peace after the end of the Republic. There was a shadow in the Force across the future.
"Darth Kratos," Han leaned back, "He was on the board, back in the day I was at the Academy on Carida, haven't really thought about it" His face twisted into a grimace and he shrugged, "well a bunch of stormtroopers were harassing chewbaca here," He jerked his thumb towards the wookie. "So I set them straight, it got me brought up. Told me I was screwing up my chances to be an Imperial Officer, that I had a future in the Navy."
It was no secret that Luke had looked forward to going to an academy to learn about starships, "So what happened Han?"
"Bastard sent me to community service, thought it would show me responsibility."
Leia snorted, "Well clearly Captain you showed him." If Han had graduated the Imperial Academy at Carida they would have been in a real mess... so it was better this way.