Greetings and welcome back to our story. First, my profound apologies for disappearing into the netherworld of real life. Work is still hectic, but I managed to finally get this chapter together. Unfortunately, things haven't slowed down too much so updates are going to be erratic for awhile. Again, my profound apologies, but also my heartfelt thanks for all the great emails of support and encouragement that you my readers are still out there. Now, without further ado...
Obi-Wan certainly didn't like the company he currently kept. After a quick flight from Eriadu to Geonosis, he was ushered into Archduke Poogle the Lesser's stronghold, deep beneath the planet's surface where the other Separatist leaders had already assembled. Dooku, who wished to avoid any unpleasant questions by his minions, had given Obi-Wan a set of formal dress tunics to wear for the duration of the negotiations with the Republic leadership. Instead of looking like a Jedi, he appeared as member of a royal family.
It was quite disconcerting.
However, he recognized the need for discretion. Indeed, Obi-Wan had his own motivations for playing the part, which had already reaped significant rewards. For starters, he learned of the exact systems that were aligned with the Separatists, as well as those who had been supporting them in secret. Aside from the Techno Union and the Trade Federation, the Banking Clans were heavily involved, as were the Commerce Guilds. It should not have surprised Obi-Wan, given the current political circumstances that had hampered the economies of thousands of systems throughout the galaxy. Like most things in the universe, he mused, this Separatist cause was rooted in fiscal greed more than idealistic notions of justice. In the end, this group wanted more credits in their pockets, nothing more.
Obi-Wan recognized the strategic importance in aligning oneself with allies who had the means and the resources to help carry out one's ultimate goals. To that end, Dooku had chosen wisely. Yet, he also knew that in order to appease them, Dooku would be called to sacrifice some of his ideals. Trickery and deceit were Dooku's means for achieving what he believed to be the greater good. And if that brought about peace, as well as the end of the Jedi's arch nemesis, weren't they justifiable?
For probably the first time in his life, Obi-Wan saw that the path to the dark side could be paved with good intentions. Obi-Wan had always subscribed to the idea that evil was as simple as black and white with no room for debate. He was now at a point in his life to be able to recognize there were shades of grey in the choices a being could possible make. But to sell one's soul, even if that meant saving the galaxy... was it worth it? This was a debate that would certainly not be solved in that very moment, if ever. However, in spending this time with Dooku and despite his own prejudices on the matter, Obi-Wan could no longer ignore what was right in front of him.
Dooku had truly fallen to the dark side.
The man who had raised and trained Qui-Gon Jinn had turned away from everything he had fought for and believed in for the sake of his idealistic crusade. Did this make him evil? Obi-Wan was still uncertain. He was also unsure whether Dooku was involved with the Sith. Or perhaps, the truth was he didn't want to know since Obi-Wan knew what he would have to do.
Shrugging off that line of thoughts, he shifted his attention back to the monitor, which displayed the conference room where the gathering would assemble. Dooku had thought it wise for Obi-Wan to stay out of sight so that he might be an unbiased observer of the Republic's treachery. He didn't believe for one second that the Republic's delegation was coming with the sole purpose of destroying Dooku. Especially since the Chancellor had sent Senators, including former Queen Amidala, whom Obi-Wan respected for her unflappable integrity. He could never believe that she would betray her values in order to enhance her career.
So Obi-Wan would watch and wait for the right moment to act.
Sar Dooku stood in silence, peering up at the blackened window where Obi-Wan Kenobi was watching from behind. For a brief moment, the events of the past fifteen years disappeared and he was once again a Jedi Master training a promising student. The Sith, his fall to the dark side, Qui-Gon's death, all seemed like memories from a bad dream. There was a part of him that wished that to be true. But as with all illusions, reality was close at hand to break the spell.
"Count Dooku," called out the robotic voice of General Grievous. He turned towards the large cyborg, but said nothing until the creature spoke again. "The delegation from the Republic has entered the system. They are requesting permission to land."
"Permission granted," he responded dispassionately. "And be sure to tell the Archduke's warriors to treat our visitors with the utmost respect. After all, we wouldn't want a diplomatic incident on our hands."
Dooku's sarcasm seemed to mystify Grievous, who remained standing in place, unsure what to do. "One other thing, General." His eyes turned back up to where he knew Obi-Wan was sitting. "While the negotiations are taking place, I want you to remain hidden with Master Kenobi." The cyborg grunted its dissatisfaction, but did not argue. "Should Kenobi decide to act against us, your success against the Jedi on Hypori makes me confident that you can stop him permanently."
"Ah!" Grievous acknowledged delightfully. "It will be a pleasure to crush that Jedi's skull!"
Dooku raised a finger in warning. "Do not act against him unless provoked, General. I will be quite displeased otherwise." He paused and looked directly into the Huk's bright yellow eyes. Dooku nearly laughed aloud when he realized that Grievous was attempting to stare him down. The fool! Dooku would not be intimidated, least of all by a mechanical freak. Quickly surveying the Force around the General, Dooku found Grievous' organic components that were still susceptible to discomfort and pain. He subtly pressed two fingers together, directing the Force to those sensitive points.
Grievous' sickly eyes bulged just as he groaned in misery. The monstrosity fell to its knees, clutching at its breastplate. The Geonosians and other aliens in the room stopped what they were doing to watch. Dooku didn't care. In fact, this was the perfect opportunity for him to exert his authority, as well as his powers to those who might have opinions contrary to his own.
I am the Master!
I am in control here!
"General," Dooku leaned down so only Grievous could hear. "Remember that you serve me, not the other way around." He paused and purposely stood up to ensure the others were listening. "There are grave consequences for those who forget that I am the supreme commander of our forces. Is that clear?"
The cyborg panted for several agonizing seconds before nodding its head in agreement. With his acquiescence, Dooku released the Force grip around the creature's heart and lungs, allowing it to breathe normally. Grievous fell flat to the floor, trying to catch his breath.
"Excellent," Dooku sneered as he felt the tension in the room escalate. There were many beings in the galaxy who did not believe in the power in the Force. No doubt there had been some in the room up until a moment ago. Dooku could not show any weakness, especially since he was so close to launching his own plans against Sidious. For the moment, he needed the war machine that the Separatist confederacy provided him to conquer the Sith once and for all.
Soon they would all get exactly what they deserved.
Another loyal supporter to her cause.
Darth Traya couldn't help smiling when another group of Nightsisters swore eternal loyalty to her and her alone. Then again, it wasn't as if that was any surprise. Utilizing the ancient Sith alchemy she had learned long ago, Traya easily corrupted the minds of these dark side witches, just as she did the other hapless adepts she had found en route to Dathomir. What had been unexpected was the ease of the Nightsisters' conversion, making her optimistic that the same would be true when she found Bastila's coven that still eluded her.
These fools had no concept as to the extent of her powers. Indeed, Traya had personal knowledge of abilities that were presently considered as legend. The Force adepts in this age were weak and Darth Traya would be hard pressed to find anyone worthy to oppose her. She could rule in the way the ancients only dreamed, and there were none here to stop her.
And she would destroy the Force's Chosen One before he realized the full extent of his powers. A cruel twisted grin suddenly spread across her features as Traya imagined the moment when she would have the embodied Force under her blade. She hoped that he would look upon her, wishing for pity, only to be desperately crushed when Traya impaled her blade into his face. It would be then that she would use her knowledge to destroy the Force, ending the miserable existence of the universe, as well as her own.
She could hardly wait…
"Mistress," one of the Nightsister chieftains hurried towards her.
"What is it?"
"My apologies for disturbing you, but one of my sisters just saw a ship land near Aurilia." The Chieftain swallowed. "The Mother witch has returned, accompanied by the Son of the Suns!"
"Argh!" Traya shouted and used the Force to send the dark side witch flying across the forest. "Why wasn't I told of this sooner?"
"We only learned it of it just now," one of the other Nightsisters defended her Chieftain.
"Get your things and prepare for battle!" Traya ordered. "We leave for Aurilia now!"
They had come much sooner than she had expected. Nevertheless, Traya wouldn't shy away from a confrontation. Besides, it was time that she finally taught the troublesome Bastila Shan a lesson. As for the Chosen One, she would do as always: adjust appropriately on the battlefield.
Perhaps her revenge would come much sooner than she had dared hope?
The village of Aurilia on Dathomir was lifeless, save for the few creatures wandering through its center. The mother witch Bastila had sent her coven into the mountainous highlands to hide from Darth Traya and so far, Traya had not found them. During the time he had trained here, Anakin had found it a place where he could more easily communicate with the Force. However, with the growing power of the dark side rising from his possessed former Master, the serenity he had once experienced had nearly disappeared from his perceptions. What he could sense was that their opponent was well aware of their arrival, and would soon confront them.
Time was short.
Unconsciously, Anakin followed Bastila from his ship to her hut. She used the Force to swipe away a large carpet on the floor, which covered a door like structure. Kneeling down, Bastila waved her hand, causing locks to click and the door to retract, which revealed the top of a ladder.
"Where does that go?" Anakin queried.
Bastila turned away from him to look outside of the hut. "Traya is coming with at least ten others. You will have to hold them off until I return."
"What? Return?" He asked anxiously. "Where are you going?"
"The scrolls are down there," Bastila pointed at the hole. Turning to face him, a grim expression was set firm on her face. "Anakin, you must use all your powers if we are to be successful." Before he could question her, she added, "You cannot show any mercy because I guarantee none will be given should you fail."
"I hadn't planned on it."
Bastila nodded then pointed at the opening with her chin. "Close the door behind me. And whatever you do… destroy the hut if you have to but do not let them find this compartment. "
"May the Force smile upon you, Mother."
"And you as well…Son of the Suns." Bastila stepped onto the ladder and disappeared into the darkness.
Anakin waved his hand and with the Force closed the hidden compartment as instructed—and none too soon. At the edge of his awareness, he sensed the familiar presence of his Master, which was engulfed in darkness. Probing further, Anakin sensed the emptiness within the spirit that was once Darth Traya, which was consumed with blind rage. The only time he had felt anything as intense was when he had naively tried to fight the Sith Master through Force. He had only been intent on dominating the universe.
Traya wanted to crush it into oblivion.
And it was up to Anakin to stop her.
Without hesitation, he strode across Bastila's hut and outside to the middle of the village. His fingers wrapped around the familiar hilt of his lightsaber, pulling it away from his belt in one motion. Anakin's thumb immediately found the activator switch, bringing the brilliant blue hued weapon to life, but he kept it down by his side. He didn't think for a moment that he could find a nonviolent way out of this situation. Rather, Anakin wanted to observe his opponents' reaction to his state of feigned uncertainty.
It was a trick Ilianya had taught him.
Darth Traya, surrounded by ten Nightsister witches, confidently ambled towards him, but stopped several meters away. The witches though were not as certain in their movements as they chose to remain safely behind her. Anakin shifted his gaze amongst the different witches, noting that they each possessed a different form of lightsaber. He instantly recalled the coven witches describing the unusual weapons that their darker counterparts wielded, as well as their unorthodox methods of combat.
He would have to be cautious.
"Chosen One," Darth Traya addressed him. "We finally meet."
Recalling his shared vision with Padmé, which was no doubt Traya's desire to slice him to pieces, Anakin moved his blade protectively across his body. "Darth Traya."
She took one step forward. "I see that we are familiar with one another."
Anakin raised up his blade to the ready position. "Unfortunately."
"Then I will get to the point," Traya began and at the same time, pushed back her cloak, reveling one of Ilianya's silver encased lightsabers. "My quarrel, at the moment, is with Bastila, not you. Deactivate your weapon and…walk away. Neither I, nor my servants, will cause you harm."
"I have a counter suggestion," Anakin stared intently at the possessed face of his teacher. "Release Ilianya and go back to whatever Sith hell you came from and I will not injure your minions."
"Seems we are at an impasse," Tray observed, calling her lightsaber into her outstretched hand.
"Enough talk!" Anakin clenched his jaw and raised his lightsaber above his head.
"I had wanted to deal with you later, boy." Traya's sapphire hued blade sprang to life. "But I have no problem teaching you a lesson now!"
"Well, I am a slow learner," Anakin grinned before charging forward and engaging the ancient Sith Lord in battle.
Geonosis was not a vacation planet, Padmé mused, as she walked through the stark corridors of Archduke Poggle's palace. The structure appeared to be built into the mountain with its supports comprised mainly of rock. Several of the rooms were rounded and narrow—a testament to the fact that that non-humans dwelled here. Geonosian architecture, though, was not foremost in her thoughts. The impending meeting with Dooku, as well as her grave concerns for Anakin's safety had plagued her since the delegation left Coruscant. And now, far in the Outer Rim, she sensed something that was particularly troubling.
Something very dark was near…
"Something disturbing you, Milady?"
Padmé glanced over her shoulder at Siri Tachi who was disguised in a Naboo security uniform and striding to keep up with her. "It's nothing….just the mission."
"There is that," Siri darted her eyes about, attempting to look the part of her personal guard. "But I can't help feeling that you sense the same thing I do."
Padmé came to a complete stop, allowing the other members of the delegation to pass them. "The darkness?"
The Jedi Knight dipped her head affirmatively. "The dark side is especially strong here."
"I don't know and don't like it," Siri urged her to press forward. "But if we run into trouble, stay close."
Before Padmé could question her, their Geonosian escorts ushered them into a large, circular room with a round table set at the center. On the periphery were stacks of communications equipment and scores of Geonosians standing nearby, staring at the delegation. Her eyes quickly fell upon those on the other side of the table, namely Count Dooku who was accompanied by Poogle the Lesser of Geonosis, San Hill of the Banking Clans, Wat Tambor of the Techno Union, Shu Mai of the Commerce Guilds and Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation. It took her entire self control not to dart across the table and strangle the slimy Neimoidian after he nearly had her executed.
"Honorable Senators, I bid you welcome!" The baritone voice of Dooku greeted them. "Won't you please take a seat so we may get started?"
"Thank you, Count." Padmé answered and motioned for the others to comply.
To her immediate left sat Bail Organa, and next to him was Mon Mothma. On her right side, Garm Bel Iblis anxiously shifted in his chair, which was apparently unnerving Ambassador Matin of Mon Calamari, who was on Garm's opposite side. Behind the delegation stood each one of their personal guard, as well as the disguised Jedi Siri Tachi, Ferus Olin and Jaden Fai. It was her profound hope that the Jedi would not be called upon to act. Padmé hoped the Separatists' call for peace was sincere.
Her better judgment told her otherwise.
"First, I would like to say that we the Separatist Council deeply appreciate your many efforts to come to Geonosis so soon after our initial communication with your Chancellor."
"It is in all of our best interest to broker a deal for peace," Bail Organa pointed out.
"Indeed," Count Dooku replied, folding his arms snugly against his chest. "Unfortunately, peace can only come at a high price." Almost faster than Padmé could see, the Separatist leader rose from his chair, extended his right hand and unleashed tendrils of lightening from his fingertips. She didn't need to turn to see his attack was intended for Siri. The Jedi's painful cry and the loud thud of her failing to the floor confirmed what Padmé already knew.
Their ruse had been discovered!
"What is the meaning of this?" Garm Bel Iblis stood up ready to fight.
Dooku didn't answer him verbally. Instead, the noisy clatter of battledroids marching into the chamber clarified his true intentions. Padmé turned to see a battalion of droids approaching with their blasters drawn. Turning her focus downward, she saw Jaden and Ferus tending to the unconscious Siri, whose chest still smoldered from the attack. Padmé pushed away her chair and knelt by the fallen Jedi.
"Is she alright?" she asked Ferus.
The padawan shrugged and looked helplessly over at Jaden, who appeared to be using the Force to heal her. Meanwhile, Count Dooku answered her question. "I assure you Senator Amidala that Master Tachi is fine."
Padmé stood up. "I hardly think your attack was a sign of good faith."
"Nor was trying to sneak in Jedi when I specifically asked you to do otherwise." Dooku pounded his fist on the table. "Did you honestly think that I wouldn't know?"
"It was poor judgment, I freely admit." Padmé quickly retorted, hoping to prevent the situation from escalating into something worse. "However, given our less than peaceful prior encounters, we were acting in the interests of self-preservation. This doesn't have to change anything."
"Oh but it has, Milady." Count Dooku pointed at the delegation, but looking over to one of the battledroids. "Take the Senators to a holding cell, and secure the Jedi's lightsabers before putting them in Force inhibitors."
Padmé closed her eyes and extended her perceptions into the Force. She physically shivered when she probed the bleakness that surrounded Dooku's presence. It was very powerful though, and she felt she could draw on it to get them out of this situation. But could she risk opening herself to his dark powers? More importantly, did she wish to reveal her powers to the others? In her moment of deliberation, Padmé suddenly became aware of another presence. This one sparkled in the Force and better yet, it was familiar.
He was nearby.
Reaching out with her feelings, Padmé sent him a message: one that was not subject to interpretation.
Help us, Obi-Wan!
Obi-Wan unconsciously rose to his feet as Siri fell to the floor after enduring Dooku's unprovoked attack. He wanted to jump through the window and defend his fallen friend, but he didn't make another move. Instead, he reflected over the conversation he had with Dooku on Eriadu. The former Jedi was convinced that the Republic would engage in some form of treachery, and he was proven right. But Senator Amidala's explanation as to why they had disobeyed was not only prudent, but justifiable. Obi-Wan had already conceded the fact that his Master's Master had succumb to the lure of the dark side, but he had held out hope that despite his decent, the word of Sar Dooku was honorable and just.
Even that was gone.
In his heart, that very moment was like watching Qui-Gon being struck down by the damned Sith monster. Obi-Wan felt as if his Master had died again. The deep despair he felt was being quickly supplanted with something else: anger. He wasn't mad at Dooku for attacking Siri (although it greatly disturbed him). No, Obi-Wan was upset with his own naïveté. He had hoped beyond hope that the man who had taught Qui-Gon Jinn to be the great Jedi that he was could impart some of that knowledge to him and in doing so Obi-Wan's Master wouldn't truly be dead. It was a beautiful illusion, but an illusion nonetheless.
He had to act.
Glancing out of the corner of his eye, Obi-Wan saw General Grievous readying himself. He sensed that the cyborg anticipated that he was about to jump through the glass and down to save the delegation. Too bad. Obi-Wan had another strategy in mind.
And a score to settle.
Opening his mind to the Force, he quickly located his lightsaber. It was hidden beneath Grievous' oversized cloak, hanging with three others. Not wanting to burden himself with thoughts of whose weapons they had been, he focused solely on what needed to be done.
He concentrated on getting his lightsaber back.
Spinning about, Obi-Wan immediately noted Grievous' surprise. Using the moment to his advantage, he extended his hand and yanked his lightsaber from within the cyborg's cloak. Obi-Wan flicked the activator switch on and with one swift movement sliced off the General's right mechanical arm from his body. Surprisingly it groaned in pain. He didn't care. Obi-Wan had to escape. With a carefully guided projection of the Force, he directed it at Grievous' chest plate effectively knocking it down and opening the way to the door.
"My apologies," Obi-Wan mockingly flipped a salute as he ran past the cyborg. His momentary triumph ended when he felt his legs kicked out from under him and the floor nearly smashed his nose into his face. Catching himself at the last second, Obi-Wan looked back to see Grievous watching him intently with his leg extended. Now both on the floor, the two adversaries measured one another, waiting for the other to make a move.
Obi-Wan was the first to react. Shifting from his hands to lie on his side, he re-activated his weapon and separated the part of Grievous' leg the General had used to bring Obi-Wan down. The cyborg again yelped in misery. Obi-Wan jumped to his feet, adjusted his unfamiliar tunics and left the room. He hurried down the stone stairs, darting his eyes around for any roaming droid patrols. He made a quick right turn, but stopped and hid behind a large stone column when found what he was looking for.
Unfortunately, he was too late. The Senators were being led away by a number of battledroids while his apprentice, Ferus and the barely conscious Siri were being prodded down a corridor by several Geonosian warriors but in the opposite direction. Dooku was still standing in the same place, overseeing the entire process. Obi-Wan hoped that the continued distraction would keep the Separatist leader from sensing his escape. But he knew that would not last, since Grievous' absence would be noticed soon and it would be next to impossible to mount a rescue with Dooku pursuing him throughout the Geonosian catacombs.
Obi-Wan had to call for help before he found himself back in Force binders.
When she waved her hand at what appeared to be a solid stone wall, the large structure disappeared, revealing a small room illuminated by two torches on opposite sides. Bastila hurried towards a large wooden chest that was as old as she, carefully opening the lid. Inside were several spools of parchment, each encased in its own transparent box. The scrolls contained the history of the clans of witches that had dwelled on Dathomir even long before Bastila's birth. The knowledge they recorded supposedly came from the early Force users of the Infinite Empire, which they in turn added to over the eons. Indeed, even some of the early constructs of the Infinity Gates had been recorded within these very texts.
There was one piece of information she needed desperately.
Rummaging through the scrolls, Bastila reached for the familiar box and opened it as she pulled it towards her face. Unraveling it to read, a plume of dust flew into the air. It had truly been a long time since she had last set eyes on the text. However, it was as she remembered. The only problem was that she would have to enter into a deep meditative trance to facilitate the means to send Traya back to the abyss.
That meant Anakin would have to fight off the Nightsisters and Traya on his own.
Bastila placed the scroll back into its box and reached for her lightsaber. Even Anakin, could be overwhelmed by the Nightsisters, or worse. She had to go to his aid…
Bastila swiveled around, lightsaber in hand, but stopped in place when her eyes found who had spoken to her. Standing before her was the Force incarnate. She wore a tunic made of pure light and her large blue eyes sparked even in the dim torch light. Bastila willed herself to her knees. "My Lady."
"There is no time for that," the Force urged Bastila to rise. "My Chosen One is in need of your help."
"I was on my way to do just that," she lifted up her weapon from her side.
"Not that way," The embodied Force shook her head. "You must use your gift."
Bastila blinked several times, unsure of what she had just heard was correct. "My Battle Meditation?"
The Lady nodded once. "He insists on being human, so your assistance in the battle he provoked is needed."
"But what about Traya…or Ilianya for that matter?" Bastila queried, shocked at her bravado at questioning the Force.
"Concentrate on your task," the Force began with a cryptic smile. "I will take care of the rest."
"As you wish," Bastila acknowledged, and sat back down on the ground. Folding her legs together and closing her eyes, she summoned her strength in the Force. She was unsure how using her powers would help Anakin; however, the Force was quite insistent on her doing so. Bastila quickly opened her eyes for reassurance, but as she was so fond of doing, the Force had disappeared from sight, leaving her alone to ponder what she was planning.
Not knowing how long he would have to face Darth Traya and her lackeys alone, Anakin decided to fight defensively. They did not assail him all at once as he had expected. Rather, Traya would attack then back off so one or more of the Nightsister witches could try to catch him off guard. However, their technique was sloppy and he easily anticipated where the next assault would originate. What troubled him more was not knowing whether Darth Traya had access to any of Ilianya's memories.
If she did, she would have the key to defeating him.
And yet she stayed back.
Noticing two witches were growing anxious over the stalemate and decided to act out of order, Anakin took to the offensive and engaged them. Both had lightdaggers, which were considerably smaller than his weapon, but most importantly, they could be damaged much more easily. Twirling his lightsaber in his hand, Anakin focused on disabling their weapons rather than causing the witches physical harm. He was about to sever their lightdaggers into pieces, when Anakin paused. An unusual sensation began to fill him. At first, he thought it only the heat of battle that was causing him to focus. But, as the seconds passed, Anakin became keenly aware of each and everyone of his opponents—their strengths, their tendencies and also their weakness—but most importantly, how best to defeat them. He looked over at Traya and immediately knew what would work against her, as well as something else he hadn't seen only a moment prior.
She was alive, but was held captive deep within her own mind. If Anakin could find a way to reach her, she could expel the ancient Sith on her own. Turning his attention back to the witches, he knew what had to be done. Their continued presence would only give Traya an opportunity to strike him down, and he needed to concentrate on her solely if he was to reach Ilianya. He would have to unleash his full powers—a prospect that frightened him because he didn't know where it might lead. Having no choice, Anakin took a step back and centered himself. In that moment, which seemed liked hours, he felt the tidal rush of the Force surround him, penetrate him and embolden his resolve. He had to kill. He took no joy from it, but it was necessary.
It had to be done.
Opening his eyes, Anakin caught notice of the two witches charging him with their lightdaggers poised to stab him. He raised his blade, effectively blocking both opponents' with one hand and with the other, pure Force energy erupted from his fingertips which hit both witches in the chest, hurdling them several meters backwards. Neither was living by the time their bodies struck the earth.
Traya, who appeared dumbstruck by his display of power, stood back and motioned for the others to attack. To Anakin, they moved as if time had come to a halt. Anakin saw their muscles tense as the Nightsisters brought their weapons to bear. Yet, it was too late for them. He blocked a lazy stab from one of their laserstaffs and used the Force to push one attacker back. In the next movement with his blade, Anakin slashed her chest open and used his powers to disable the rest.
"This is between you and me, Traya!" Anakin shouted while standing over the broken bodies.
"My, you are an impetuous one," She grinned evilly as she activated her lightsaber. "I will enjoy destroying you, and then your precious Force."
Without conscious thought, Anakin charged and nearly decapitated her with his first swipe. The ancient Sith was knocked off balanced. She desperately backpedaled trying to avoid his next attack. Anakin channeled his Force energies into his adaptation of the Djem So form, especially since he had the advantages of youth and speed on his side. But, he knew that it would not be long before Traya recovered and counterattacked.
Which she did just as he thought it.
Traya's attacks were adeptly placed and alarmingly powerful. Anakin had sparred with Ilianya more times than he could count, and yet he had never experienced such brute strength. The darkness that surrounded her was palpable and was singularly focused to bring about his untimely end. He had to remind himself that Traya had been both a Jedi and Sith Master in the time of the ancients. They had possessed knowledge and abilities that Force adepts in the present considered legendary. Even in his time in the past, Anakin had not seen such a display.
He would have to act fast to accomplish his mission.
Traya does not know what I know.
Use it against her!
Anakin nearly lowered his weapon when he heard the familiar voice of his Master inside his head. Ilianya was communicating with him, and was telling him how to win. Without hesitation Anakin tucked himself into a ball and slid underneath Traya's outstretched blade. When her deadly lunge completely missed its mark, and while kneeling, Anakin kicked the back of her knee, causing the ancient Sith to fall to the ground. Without a moment to waste, he somersaulted over her, hoping to strike the deathblow when he landed. However, Traya anticipated the maneuver and rolled away before he could impale her. Quickly, she stood, bringing her weapon to ready. Strangely, she did not re-engage.
"Interesting trick," she noted.
"Thank you," he replied, his voiced drenched with sarcasm.
"You remind me of Revan when he was my student," Traya observed with what seemed like a nostalgic tone to her voice. "So much potential—so much power—I think it needless that we are enemies."
"You can't be serious," Anakin laughed humorlessly.
"I have knowledge that has survived the sands of time." She grinned evilly. "Together, we can destroy any who oppose us and rule forever!"
"What you have to teach," he raised his blade, ready to attack. "It is something I am unwilling to learn."
Had he blinked, Anakin would have been struck by tendrils of Force lightening. Indeed, it was only his quick reflexes that had guided his lightsaber up to protect him. He felt the muscles in his entire body tense as he tried to keep standing against the power of her attack. Seeing that the lightening had caused him no damage, Darth Traya lowered her free hand and once again grasped the hilt of her lightsaber. She had only been testing him before. Anakin sensed that she would not remain on the defensive.
Nor would he.
Lifting his weapon above his head, Anakin decided not to wait. He placed several powerful chops against his opponent's blade, again forcing her backwards. Anakin knew brute strength would only get him so far. Traya was too knowledgeable to let him overwhelm her. As before, he had to use his powers in ways that she wouldn't anticipate. Continuing to press the battle, Anakin extended his perceptions to locate the remnants of his training bond with Ilianya. It had been abruptly severed when she had been catapulted into the past, but he felt it stir when his true Master had tried to communicate. Somehow this was the key. But how? And if he found it, what then? Yet, something compelled him to find the bond, and Anakin did not fight that urge.
It was difficult to sort through the web of countless connections that existed in the Force. Some obviously shone more brightly than others, but with the majority of his concentration focused on the battle with Traya, he had to examine them one by one. The Force was especially strong on Dathomir. Its connections to the rest of the galaxy, although not visibly apparent, were in fact quite powerful. As he was considering this, something at the edge of his awareness caught his notice. Focusing in that direction, he peered into the darkness, waiting, hoping that it would flicker again.
Instead he got a message.
Over and over the voice repeated, to the point Anakin wanted to scream for it to stop. Instead, he resolutely conveyed a response: "No!"
It is the only way. Ilianya's voice echoed throughout his mind. Before he could retort, she added, "Do it now!"
His eyes snapped open and Anakin nearly jolted in surprise. Traya was disarmed with several noticeable wounds and more importantly, was backed against a rocky cliff. Her chest was heaving and he could sense her trying to find a way to turn the fight back in her favor. However, Ilianya's words continued to echo in his head, growing louder by the second. He had to act. The opportunity had presented itself. But, Anakin was hesitant. He knew what Darth Traya would do if he were to let her go, but it was difficult for him to loathe the body she had stolen.
He owed Ilianya everything.
It happened in an instant. Traya must have sensed his uncertainty and had called her fallen weapon into her outstretched hand. The sound of metal slapping against flesh had prompted his muscles to react. In one powerful lunge, he impaled his lightsaber into the right side of her abdomen while slapping away her lightsaber with his free hand. Traya fell to the ground; her eyes grew cloudy as she peered into the distance. Horrified, Anakin dropped his weapon and hurried to her side.
She was dying and there was nothing he could do to stop it.
"What have I done?"
It was the opportunity she had been waiting for.
Ilianya focused, and for the first time since being banished into the dark recesses of her own mind, she had regained some control over her body. The lightsaber wound Anakin inflicted on Traya had distracted her; but soon, the ancient Sith would realize that it wasn't fatal. Using the Force to search her own mind was an odd sensation. It was like seeing her life from another's eyes. People, places, events all took on new meaning as she examined them. Ilianya would have been completely intrigued; but, she had more pressing concerns.
It didn't take her long to find the darkness of Traya's soul that had invaded her body. In her mind's eye, Traya appeared like a black cloud that obscured any light that dared to approach it. Yet, the old Sith looked more pathetic than the time she had found her on Peragas station all those years ago. If only she had known…
"Traya!" Ilianya shouted. "It's over."
The dark cloud seemed to coalesce with the nearby shadows, forming the haggard looking Traya she knew and despised. "Ah, Exile. I was wondering when you would be getting here." She cackled momentarily. "As always, you are too trusting."
"It's done," she huffed. "We're both going to die, here and now."
"Perhaps you will," Traya responded with a sly grin. "But I intend to live on and enact my revenge."
"You fool! Don't you realize that by destroying the Force, you destroy existence itself?"
Ilianya didn't think it was possible, but Traya's proud smirk grew larger. "That's exactly what I am hoping for." Wagging her finger at Ilianya as if she was a child being scolded, she continued, "I would rather cease to be than return to the void. It was torturous to see the world, but not be a part of it. I will not go back!"
"You don't have a choice!"
Traya had no snide remark. Rather, her face had transformed from smugness to shear terror as Ilianya motioned to the outside world and she realized what was about to happen.
"Move out of the way!"
There was no time to think, let alone question Bastila as she came charging from seemingly nowhere. Anakin, who had been tending to Ilianya's wound, flung himself backwards. In the spot where he had just been kneeling, a bright blue flash preceded an opening that formed in mid-air, which was filled with the brightest light he had ever seen. It grew by the second and it seemed to be reaching for Ilianya.
Bastila lowered her arms and raced over to Anakin's side. "We have to get away from it!"
"But it is going to pull her inside!"
"It's supposed to."
"No!" He tried to pull away, but Bastila's grip on his shoulder was amazingly strong.
Ilianya was slowly being drawn inside. Anakin's eyes drifted to his former Master but he jerked in shock as he saw her face morphing between the person he knew and the evil appearance of Darth Traya. She screamed in horror and there was nothing he could do. Anakin watched helplessly as Ilianya's legs disappeared into the opening.
"No!" She screeched. "I will not go back!"
"Bastila!" Ilianya herself seemed to shout. "Now!"
Anakin felt her instantly release her iron grip and saw Bastila's left hand rising up. Before he could utter a sound, a single red stream of energy erupted from the mother witch, striking Ilianya's chest. The scream that tore through the air made his skin crawl. He felt his whole body tremble as Ilianya writhed on the ground. Never in his life had he felt so powerless. He wanted to scream.
Instead, he gasped.
The seizures stopped. Hovering over Ilianya's still body was a black mist. It didn't move for several moments until Anakin saw it being sucked into the opening. The wind howled and the trees from the forest bent towards the singularity. Indeed, he felt himself being drawn towards it.
"Anakin!" Bastila again moved next to him with both arms extended out. "Get Ilianya away from there!"
Without question, Anakin summoned the Force around his unconscious Master and pulled her towards them. Meanwhile, another volley of red energy burst out of the witch's fingers, surrounding the mist. A flash of light, a clap of thunder and then nothing but silence. Where once trees and leaves were being torn from their roots, everything was now calm. The blue singularity Bastila had conjured was gone and more importantly, so was the black mist.
Anakin looked over to the mother witch, to question her about what had just transpired, but she had hurried next to the prone Ilianya. He followed, and knelt by her, but on the opposite side. The Force that surrounded his teacher was very strange. He looked up at the witch who opened her eyes to meet his.
Bastila chuckled and shook her head. Meanwhile, Ilianya's eyelids snapped open. "Who's dead?"
"Master!" Anakin greeted her joyfully.
"In a manner of speaking," Ilianya winced while rubbing her forehead.
As she tried to sit up, Bastila gently pressed her back down. "Try not to move until I can finish the healing trance."
"Is she going to be alright?" Anakin asked the mother witch who ignored his question so he cast his attention back to Tro. "Master, what do you remember?"
She sighed deeply as she held a far away look. "Everything," her voice trailed off.
"There!" Bastila announced happily. "Good as new."
"Thank you old friend." Ilianya motioned for them to help her up. When she got to her feet, she looked about curiously before returning her attention to Bastila. "Is Traya gone?"
The witch nodded once. Meanwhile, Anakin felt his face scrunch curiously. "Can't you tell?"
Ilianya shook her head slowly. Her expression had quickly changed from relief to what appeared like sadness. Meanwhile, Bastila had placed her hand on his shoulder. "No, she can't."
"What? Why?" He darted his eyes between the two women. "Did Traya do something to you?"
"No, I did." Bastila sadly admitted.
Ilianya sheepishly smiled at him. "I am cut off from the Force, Anakin."
"And the motion passes."
Palpatine informed the Senate of the success of the resolution and turned to enter the results of the vote into the log. He could feel the Force resonating in anticipation of what was to come. Indeed, Palpatine had been anxious throughout the entire day as he awaited news from Geonosis. He had sensed that things had gone, more or less, according to plan. Yet there was something significant that had occurred elsewhere, but it continued to elude him. Palpatine atypically shrugged it off, reasoning that he would soon learn what it was once his important plans came into fruition.
"Are there any other points of order on the agenda?" he asked Mas Amedda.
The blue Chagrin shook his bi-horned head. "No, Your Excellency."
"Excellency," Sly Moore called to him as she grimaced at the com panel.
"What is it?"
"We're receiving a message from Geonosis…"
"Ah good," he said, trying to feign the sound of relief in his voice. "The delegation has reached an accord with Count Dooku."
"I don't think so, sir."
Before Palpatine could question her further, the lights in the Senate rotunda dimmed and the giant holoprojector from the base of the floor came to life. The sound of hundreds of gasps filled the building as the enormous projection of Count Sar Dooku appeared before them.
"Senators of the Republic, I will be brief. Three Jedi were discovered amongst your delegation sent with your negotiation team. I warned you that any trickery would be met with severe consequences and I am here to announce that I am a man of my word. In forty-eight standard hours, the delegates, who have been found guilty of espionage, will be executed in accordance to Geonosian tradition. Do not attempt to rescue them, as we would view it as an act of war. You have been warned."
The lights of the rotunda immediately returned to their normal illumination and the brief shock that had momentarily held every Senator's tongue in check had dissolved. An eruption of outrage poured out from each pod. And much to Palpatine's satisfaction, it was not directed at him or his office. Instead, the Senate wanted Count Dooku's head, as well as those of the other Separatists, on a plate.
And they wanted him and his Grand Army to deliver it.
TBC-Comments and especially reviews are greatly appreciated!