Long ago, it was known as the heart of the Old Republic. But after a thousand years of peace, it has now become the center of the Galactic Empire. A haven for those willing to comply with this new order, a prison for everyone else. And on Corusant, the planet in which natural life could no longer exist on its own, the day was slowly dying. The orbital mirrors surrounding the capital began to turn to their side, giving the illusion of a stunning sunset. Nightfall would not be far behind.
All was going according to plan.
The skylanes were congested on this particular day; vehicles glided along the their paths in order, each gleaming with the radiant auburn light and reflecting it off onto the others ships and casting long, dark shadows across the fronts of the buildings they passed. Most faded into the background of moderate life, bearing no more attention then a passing glance, but one ship stood out among them for both its design and the beings onboard guiding her. This skyline moved in conjunction with the lane beside them going the opposite way and the two below that mirrored them. The ship followed this path as well, for a time, at least. The craft banked to the right, slipping nimbly through the traffic, weaving through gaps like a shadow in the back of everyone's minds, until it emerged out of the lane and glided away without notice. Any ship doing this should have had alarms going off in bases spread throughout the sector, but not with this ship, not with the experimental cloaking device it held within, and so the scanners remained dubious to its presence.
The alien craft approached the dome of the Senate building where a new law that enforced security in residential districts was currently being voted on without a whisper. That law would be passed before the night fall. But that didn't matter, not to them. The mission came first. Slowly, the Rouge Shadow's, twin blade-like front dipped up and the ship soared high over the building and moments later was out of that sector and flying head first into another that few dared to venture.
The amber light bounced off the leveled clearing where buildings once clustered. There were cracks in the flat and metal surface and if one peered close enough they could make out the shapes of ships and vehicles floating like insects skittering in the darkness of their hole. The only remaining structure in the sector—their destination—stood out in the center of the desolation.
But the Jedi Temple was barely standing, as the material that created its walls seemed to be decaying. The reverence that the structure once held had been whisked away like a flame in the wind with the fall of it's occupants so many years ago. The Jedi Knights—the protectors of the Republic who were reduced to almost nothing in a single day much like this; they had gone from being the protectors to the hunted. The place itself felt muted, frozen in time as the world moved on around it. It left a hallow gap in the Force, where once there was the warmth of light and tranquility of peace. But when you searched deeply enough, you could still find a flicker of something within, like a small fire that still burned within hollow center of the crypt.
Almost level with the tops of the five spires that stuck out high, the Rouge Shadow lurched to a halt barely inside the parameter of the Temple.
In the cockpit, the tension eased a little as both Juno, the pilot, and the drunken and blinded former Jedi Kota let out a soft sigh of relief and sunk into their seats, nerves unwinding somewhat after days of nerve rattling travel. But just beyond them, leaning against the wall beside the open hatchway of the cockpit, the shadowy figure of Starkiller stared intently across the relatively small space from him at the heavy shadow within an archway, lost in his own world and not allowing the stop to unravel the tension that had been building in him since they embarked from Kashyyyk, and continued to stand in silence.
He felt the vibrations in the soles of his feet, emanating from the cloaking device and distantly heard the rattle of its casing. They had pushed it to its limits, and despite Juno's protests, he ordered to keep it running. He hated having to go against her, but he wouldn't risk detection. It could have broken down at any moment, as everyone onboard but Starkiller feared it would, and could still give out, and replacing the unstable Stygium crystal at its core would be impossible, even for them, but it had held. Still, it only added another problem and another worry to this small crew.
Starkiller had barely spoken since they left the Wookie home world, and most of it had been when he and Kota arguing after he'd returned to the ship and a little with Juno (mostly about the ship) and PROXY. Through the argument, though, he had learned that Bail Organa, the senator of Alderaan, had gone missing in search of Shaak Ti, the Jedi Starkiller had fought just before he was betrayed—
His stomach seared in pain from the memory and his hand clasped over the spot where now there was no scar, and realizing this, lowered it.
-by Vader on his command bridge. His daughter, Leia, was being held by the Empire, a ploy to keep the senator in line from speaking out against the Emperor. But it was those rebellious words, his unbreakable passion and commitment that had earned such high respect for him in the eyes of both civilians and some of his fellow senators. So he had taken the mission upon himself; reaching the surface through blockade and in addition to saving the princess, liberated the tribe of Wookies being held.
Then there was the other thing he foundon the surface . . .
With an effort, he pushed down that thought and the image that it brought with below his consciousness. It was why he hadn't set course for Felecia; it was his reason for returning to the former home of the Jedi Order for a third and what he hoped to be a final time, but thinking about it distracted him, and he couldn't allow that. Not now.
Starkiller began walking away from the cockpit and toward the archway. As he did, he could make out the details of heavy-set grey door and short stretch of floor leading to it within archway. And as he drew closer, he could see the faint light shining on the wall within the archway: a melding of red, green, and white, but could not see the panel yet. He reached down with his right hand and unclipped the handle of his lightsaber from his belt without breaking stride. The design was simplistic, but it wasn't his own. It was Kota's, and it was the weapon he took after watching the general spiral through Nar Shaddaa's atmosphere and vanish. The weapon had felt clumsy in his hand ever since he'd gotten it six months ago; every time he looked at its emerald blade, he felt a twinge of guilt in using it, especially with Kota aiding—if his drunken slurs and falling unconscious in the cargo hold could be called helping—his quest. But after coming across a new lightsaber gem on Kashyyyk and installing it, replacing the green blade with a bright blue that resembled a clear sky, it had begun to actually feel like his. Starkiller had yet to practice with against living opponents, but that would change. He felt a bond to this crystal and knew why that was so; another reason for coming here.
The same kind of comfort, however, could not be said of his attire.
He'd opted for the temporary change as he'd done on Kashyyyk, both for the same reasons. But this felt utterly alien to him. The white fabric ruffled against the second-skin like suite beneath it, but he knew that wasn't his problem with it. He knew it wasn't the layers. It wasn't because they wrapped tightly around his body. No, it was how he appeared once it was all put together.
He almost looked like a Jedi.
But that was the point. If he was caught or spotted, he wanted to throw off any trace of his ties to his dark master. To help this, he kept his look in constant flux. And removed every contact and trace of Vader from the Rouge Shadow's databases, leaving only PROXY as a means of communication to his master. Even when he was in this sort of state, tightly focused on his goal and shutting out those he considered his friends, he never hesitated to keep up his façade to ensure the Emperor remained under the illusion that he was dead, killed by Vader's own hand in cold blood. And that arrogance would prove to be his undoing, Starkiller would see to that.
He stopped in the arch and hit the glowing buttons on this side of it with the back of his right hand. They flashed a deep red on and off continuously in warning, but obeyed none the less. A small hiss of pressurized air came from in front of him and Starkiller was ready for what came next. The door and floor suddenly broke away from each other by a few centimeters, amber light shining through the crack, and buffeting him with icy air, throwing the tails of his robes back and ruffling his trousers. He squinted his eyes almost to a close against the wind, ignoring the prickles of icy pain stabbing throughout his face and hands, and watched the floor and door grow further apart.
They drew past the halfway point and he resumed walking, ducking down and stepping outside. The surge of light was blinding, but he squinted through it until his eyes adjusted. He continued down the ramp that was previously the floor and shifted his weight as it continued to fall. He reached the edge and it stopped. He gazed at the ziggurat that was the Jedi Temple, taking its scope from this new angle. He sometimes forgot about its immensity. They were against the sun, though, so most of what he saw was shadows so deep it looked like he was staring into the vastness of space, and in white robes, he could have been a single star. The roar of the wind was deafening.
So loud that he did not hear the metallic footsteps from behind, and felt nothing in the Force.
"Master," Starkiller craned his neck back, recognizing the voice the second it was heard. He found PROXY standing where the door once was, partly inside and partly out. The droid with thin limbs that had been with Starkiller for as long as he could remember was gripping the side of the wall in a very human way. Seeing this, in spite of the situation, warmed Starkiller's heart, and almost made him forget that his friend's secondary programming was to kill him. "Are you sure about this? We have already risked coming here twice before. Someone is bound to make a connection. Why don't we leave the planet and resume our mission . . ."
Starkiller narrowed his gaze on the droid, and having seen this expression countless times, let his words trail off. One of PROXY's metal hands came up and his head nudged with it, but whatever he was going to propose he apparently decided was futile on his own. Once his master made up his mind, it was difficult to sway it. The hand dropped and PROXY turned and headed back inside, muttering something indistinguishable and leaving the doorway open.
Starkiller sympathized with his friend, and even a small part inside of him considered abandoning this detour and plot course for Felecia, but he couldn't. He would try to talk to PROXY later, after he was done and they were in orbit. Starkiller watched his friend until he was out of his sight, then turned his attention back to the openness.
His light would gone soon, but that was fine. There wasn't much where he was going, and he didn't intend to be outside for much longer.
And so, with the colossal structure of the decaying Jedi Temple standing uncomfortably close, Starkiller shifted his weight forward, and fell.
The air buffeted his body with twice the intensity from before and he kept his limbs close to keep dragging and his body tensed immediately. The tails of his robes flapped wildly around his boots as if to ensnare them. The warm rays of day did nothing to ease the needles of ice stabbing into his face, but his expression remained clam and eyes shut against the amber light and cold wind that deafened him to the sounds of the world. His sight and hearing both were useless to him right now. Some would have called him mad. He knew Juno had thought this during their journey here and probably even at this moment in time, as she had tried and failed in convincing him out of this. And that small part of him pined to agree with her, to tell her to plot the fastest possible course to Felecia and leave this behind him, but didn't. Couldn't. His heart sank with the thought and her pained look only intensified it, but he had to know. And this was the only place in the galaxy he could imagine having answers.
But he wasn't blind. Not at all.
He had the Force.
He thought for a second that he may have fallen too close to the Temple, but then he plunged into the structure's immense shadow; a speck of an iota in contrast to its size, and continued downward into the dark crevasse only a few feet from the Temple's base. He gripped the lightsaber in his hand, as if to make sure it was still there. The temperature dropped and he felt the cold seep through his layers, and his eyes squinted open against the wind into the darkness. He saw the wall of the Temple and the wall of the abandoned living spaces opposite it and felt the almost overwhelming enormity of it all as it whisked past him in a blur. The speck below that was his target grew steadily larger with each second and Starkiller spun himself into alignment with it.
As he did, Starkiller wondered what he should do once he reached the platform. Bloodshed would happen; there was no doubt in his mind about that. He thought he could go in, guns—or lightsaber—blazing and take them out quickly, but dismissed it. He wanted to try and slip in more discreetly then he had in his previous trips. So he had to do this quietly, and take them out as fast as possible before they could get word out.
Unless they already have.
Starkiller reached out into the spectrum of the Force and felt the presences emanating from his target, and felt the dull attention coming from each. And before long, he began to see the tops of the same, faceless Stormtroopers he'd fought on planet to planet, all slowly walking up and down the simple platform. Starkiller reached deeper, trying to find ay intent or emotion that they were burring to keep him from sensing they had spotted him—this was his third time coming to the Jedi Temple in less then a year, so the deceit wouldn't surprise him—but found nothing. Good. He saw that, in this deep in the shadows, their pristine white armor was a muted grey and assumed his own attire appeared like that, which is probably the only reason they hadn't notice him.
But they would.
He closed in.
Trooper's heads inclined up, thinking they saw something in the corner of their eye—
Starkiller landed in a crouch dead center on the platform amid a group of Stormtroopers; a shadow in the back of their minds, and using the Force to cushion his landing. It was silent, a faint vibration through the suspended floor being the only sound he made. For a second, this did not register with the troopers. Too bad.
He thumbed his lightsaber to life, the bright blue blade igniting with its distinctive snap-hiss, then stuck his arms out and whipped his body around. Plasma seared through armor and bone. Troopers were sent flying upward by an unseen force, limbs flailing as they spun past the edge and fell into the crevasse, screaming. Starkiller completed his spin, and the platform was now barren. The same could not be said, however, about the walkway connecting it to the base of the temple.
And his second was gone.
Red energy spat at him all at once and Starkiller steadied his footing and whipped his lightsaber, a bright beacon in the darkness, to catch them. The bolts ricocheted off the blade and some returned to their sender while others went wild. Starkiller eased himself into the flow of combat, using the Force to guide his hand and his blade became a blur; a shield of light that was as much as his to command as the Force.
On the crowded walkway that lead to a massive pair of doors and equally massive statues standing on the sides, the troopers formed up more tightly, some dropping to one knee to let the one behind them get a clear shot. There was less space between the bolts and soon it became a continuously focused beam of red death. Even with the Force under his command, Starkiller began backing up under the onslaught, the strength of it surprising him. He sent many of them back, but each time one fell, another blaster nozzle appeared in the gap, firing.
Suddenly, he was starting to wish he'd heeded Juno's advise.
This was far from his first time in this kind of situation. Alone. Fending for his life. Armed only with his lightsaber. And he had made it out of it every time. But something was wrong.
His lightsaber was slowing by a fraction of a second. The black hole of power he drew from for most of his life felt like its gaping maw was closing on itself. His breathing was growing heavy, labored. He kept falling back. His heart rate grew and body tensed beneath the force it, and he could feel the shaking beginning to develop in his limbs. But he couldn't panic. If he did, he would die. His legs would give out, or his lightsaber wouldn't intercept a laser and all would be over. Yet his mind was in a frenzy, frantically trying to figure out what was happening. The blizzard of shots grew thicker and he hefted his blade to make up for it, gritting his teeth. He needed to solve this problem, and solve it now.
But the more he thought about it, the farther away he could feel the answer slip from him. And when it did, a haze of red blanketed Starkiller's brain, shrouding the answer further. It was a cycle that was getting him nowhere, except beaten back . . . and back . . . and back, until the back of his heel stopped cold against something.
Starkiller didn't have to look down. He knew he had reached the edge of the platform.
End of the line.
Starkiller caught a flicker of movement between the cracks of laser and his saber, rising over the walkway of troopers from behind, and a second later the pressurized roar of sputtering flame caught up with the motion. He had heard that sound before, echoed in the forests of Kashyyyk more times then he cared for. It droned on, feeling like a vibration beneath his skin and rustling the kilometer-high tree's around him; crunching under his boot; and he remembered when the Jet Troopers would burst out from the underbrush or swung around from the massive shadow of the tree's trunk, without warning, just as this one had. Unable to tear his gaze from the bolts, Starkiller followed the trooper climb further upward with the Force acting as a second pair of eyes, the trooper standing out in his mind like a bright pinprick.
Danger sense prickled coldly up his spine and lasers spat out from above. Starkiller shifted his stance by a centimeter, putting the bottom of his heel atop the edge, and they bounced harmlessly off the aqua blade.
The pinprick stopped against the wall and for the moment, the bolts from above ceased. Starkiller was relieved of this, but kept his guard against the troopers on the walkway. The pinprick darted to the right and began to swing around. He could feel the intent from it and the prickling in his spine was beginning to gather. If that trooper got behind him and got a clear shot—
Starkiller couldn't allow that.
Starkiller reached out into the infinite nebulae of the Force seemingly closing itself and ripped the black hole open, until the power was surging back in overwhelming mass. It flowed into him, filling him; completing him. His nerves unwound and His efforts redoubled, and he caught every bolt that came to him, and sent it back to the trooper unfortunate enough to have fired it in the first place. In seconds, the concentrated beam of laser fire had been reduced to a couple of discharged red energy bolts. It took almost no effort in his heightened state to deflect them, and when they were gone, the walkway and platform were silent.
Save for the sound of pressurized flame.
The Apprentice lowered himself into a crouch, then focused on the burning power of the Dark side. His body seared with a wild fire that burned through his inner most soul. He everything opened up to him; the dread emanating from the surviving troopers on the walkway; and the confusion of the Jet Trooper looming in place high above the crevasse. Starkiller basked in this as he always had, leaving the problems and burdens of the situation behind him. Here, the temple no longer mattered. The troopers no longer mattered. His doubt about his power was a distant memory that he was willing to give up. They were only a means to an end that felt like was no longer in sight. And for that split-second, his mission—both of them—didn't matter to him. Not here. Not now. For he was strong. His authority could not be denied. No being could stop him. Not Vader; nor his emperor. He was unstoppable. A force of nature.
But, in spite of this, Starkiller dragged himself out of that beautiful place enough to bring him back to the string of mundane events that was reality.
It all came flooding back to him at once and he twisted around to the Jet trooper, still where he had left him. He gathered the Force into the soles of his feet, and leapt toward the trooper.
When he was close enough, Starkiller saw the details of the trooper: the bulkier armor that still harkened back to the stormtrooper design; the twin trails of smoke traveling downward from the troopers back; and the plasteel panel sticking out above the eyes like a cap.
The trooper had a blaster, but it wasn't pointed at Starkiller, instead he was balancing it while pressing a finger hard against one of the buttons on his suite's forearm. The button glowed green under his finger. He didn't seem to have noticed Starkiller had jumped, by the even nature of his voice as he spoke into the forearm.
"Repeat: Backup required immediately at sect—" He saw Starkiller. "BACKUP! GET BACKUP NOW!"
Starkiller landed squarely on the trooper's shoulders. He wasted no time, slicing the tip of his lightsaber cleanly through the panels of plasteel on the troopers and cutting through the jets that lay beneath. The pressurized sound was enveloped by an ear-splitting screech, the same kind Starkiller had heard on echo through Kashyyyk's forest floor. And knowing what would come next, Starkiller threw himself back just in time for the Jet trooper to be lost ball of bright fire and bits of melted plasteel rained down from the cloud of smoke.
The explosion carried Starkiller some of the way and the Force brought him the rest, as he landed on the other side of the walkway, in front of the two massive doors veiled in a haze of darkness that he spared no second thought about.
What he saw next brought a smile to his lips.
The last eight remaining Stormtroopers had apparently realized that without their numbers or the Jet trooper, they couldn't contend with Starkiller and resorted to falling back at full speed to the landing platform. They were shoulder to shoulder; tripping over the body's of their fallen allies at their feet, and glancing over their shoulders to see if the monster was coming at them, all of this in order to get away from him.
As they should, Starkiller mused as he calmly began striding toward the troopers.
But when the last of them stumbled onto the platform, a wall of violet energy shot up in front of the Apprentice, spreading from one end of the walkway to the other, stopping him in his tracks. Two more shot up behind it, smaller then the one before him and angled in a way that left only a two foot gap between them. And from there, the rest fell into place. Walls jettisoned from the ground one after another across the walkway and all around the rim and within the platform itself, surrounding the troopers in shimmering purple light.
Starkiller cocked an eyebrow to this, examining the shield. He raised his lightsaber and sliced the blade against the field. It flared brightly at the contact point and rippled softly on the surface, like water when a stone is thrown, then calmed and was once again stood still, like nothing had happened. He closed down the saber, but kept it in hand.
This precaution was nothing more then a burden that he had to get around. Surely they just saw him leap across a chasm and back without trouble? Did they think these of all things would actually stop him? Starkiller would teach them the fatal error of their mistake. The shields, while able to deflect and absorb the high energy of a lightsaber strike, also threw off a soft yet eerie glow that stood out in this muted darkness as much as Starkiller's lightsaber did was just bright enough to make out the outline of the towering figure looming in the shadows behind Starkiller.
Starkiller bent his knees and lowered himself, gathering the Force. The figure inched closer without a sound. Starkiller launched himself up—
But a pair of dark metallic arms shot out from the darkness and caught him out of the air with unnatural force and pulled him back. His head hit cold metal hard and bright pain exploded in his cranium, and gripped his upper body tighter then he could break free from. But when his head collided, a hollow pang echoed from within, and as he strained to tear through the inviting and comfortable stillness of falling unconscious, he heard the tumbling of gears and cries of servos within.
With chilling surety, Starkiller knew what was crushing him.
He fell forward, and his feet almost touched the ground, but was upright again instantly, the droid having to step forward to balance the extra weight. They were known as the Purge Troopers, a mechanical project that many thought was brought on after the Clone War; a droid that was humanoid in its shape but towered almost double the height of one built out Duranium armor, some even laced with cortosis, designed to hunt and combat Force-sensitive's with its astonishing strength; repulser's in its feet that allowed it to glide along any surface unheard, and whatever other weapons it hid beneath the panels its metal body.
Starkiller had heard of these droids from his master, and hearing of their effectiveness, tried to avoid a confrontation with one and had only come across a few and always at long range.
The pressure against him built and suddenly his body felt fragile. He could almost see his ribs flexing inward, pushing against his intestines. He could image his chest caving into his heart if this continued. But the more the Purge Trooper crushed him against its chest, the more he felt his consciousness begin to slip to that cold, comforting embrace. A place where his troubles and pain would end.
No. He wouldn't allow it to happen. Not here, not like this. He shut his eyes just as his lightsaber slipped from his numb fingers. and channeled the black fury within him. Blue/Violet lightning cascaded from his hand, igniting the dead nerves like fire and traveled up his arms and all around his body, until he was encased in his own power.
The Purge Trooper stumbled, but caught its footing. A synthesized cry that rattled Starkiller's bending bones shrilled from the droids helmet. Starkiller pushed harder, and the droid lost its grip on him for an instant, and Starkiller used it. The power in him erupted in a wave that wrenched the Trooper's arms off him and he landed in a roll—painfully—and spun back around, weaponless. But the droid had already recovered and was charging at the Apprentice with a energy blade ejecting from its raised hand—pointed at him.
The droid lunged, and Starkiller could only side-step to avoid it, putting him at the edge of the walkway that now felt very narrow. He watched the blade cut where he was, and saw exposed servos in a crack between the Duranium plates.
Something he knew was susceptible to a lightsaber.
He narrowed his sight onto those servos.
Starkiller extended his hand out and called his weapon lying at the Purge troopers feet. The aqua blade ignited in the air and sliced precisely between the plates before clasping into his palm. The severed forearm landed loudly on the metallic surface of the walkway and the energy blade flickered out, but the Trooper seemed unfazed. It brought its other hand around, now clenched as a fist, and still emitting the synthesized cry. And again, Starkiller side-stepped and let it pass on by, then severed it as he had the first.
He turned to the droid, and found a number of cracks and openings.
In its knee's.
And its waist.
And its neck.
The Purge Trooper fell to its shaking knee's, then collapsed front first and the pieces clattered against the durasteel deck, edges still white-hot. The helmet rolled on its side with loose gears and wire flipping continuously out the bottom, spraying liquid bits from its ends until it came to a stop against his boot. He closed down his lightsaber.
Starkiller looked at the head with an expression etched from stone. His nostrils flared as he breathed in the air stained with ozone. Slowly, the fire burning deep inside dimmed and his mind cleared. He turned, smoke still trailing off his body from the lightning.
Peering into the violet energy was like trying to peer through a dozen bodies of water all at once, and he could barely make out the disjointed outlines of the stormtroopers. But since he couldn't see them, they probably couldn't see him, or see that their last resort was just cut to ribbons. He felt no sense of loss from them: Just a curiosity attempting to override a fleeting hope that was just desperately trying to balance itself atop a sense of dread shared between them. But so long as these shields were up, they would never know. Not until it was too late to save them.
Or would they?
Starkiller grasped the helmet at his feet and it levitated to chest height. His mind flashed to the beam of concentrated fire coming at him, and the helmet began to spin in place. Faster. The wires, now cold and charred, whipped around in a blur. All he needed to do is simply send them the message. The floating helmet launched high above the shimmering shields, pausing in the air, and a couple of red blaster bolts shot up from the maze of light. They connected, throwing it off its course, but still disappeared into the shields, just as Starkiller wanted.
Eight senses of hope shattered instantly.
Swallowed whole by the deep dread. It flowed like a dark, rushing river in the Force, and the Apprentice took it all in, greedily, savoring this moment, and allowed it to fill him.
Starkiller thumbed his saber back to life. Then he narrowed his sight on the gap between the wall and the shield, and gathering his energy, chucked his lightsaber. His mind caught it before the fail-safe function could activate and shut down, and the saber shot through the gap, gaining speed as it whipped around, the blade shining through the gloom, and disappeared behind the view of the shields. But Starkiller saw where it was going just fine. The lightsaber cut through the bleak shadow of the platform and stopped abruptly beneath it, blade and tip pointed up.
The beam of aqua energy stabbed precisely into the thick plating, burning hot enough to make the metal screech. Then, as Starkiller willed, the saber began dragging itself through the underbelly of where the walkway met the landing platform. Hot bits of metal rained. The platform dipped, though it was too minute for anyone to notice. Shields between he and troopers winked out of the world as the lightsaber passed one of the power cables buried inside the bridge that fed from the generator under Starkiller's feet. Along the surface the saber's journey was marked by a black, sizzling stain on the floor.
He knew he burned the blade all the way through, but that would be too easy for them. Another cable was cut, and the shields around the troopers disappeared. They didn't have long to figure out how it happened, and they were only able to interoperate one fact for sure: if you were on the other side of the black line, you didn't have much longer to live.
They would have opened fire, but the shields on the walkway were still active, unaffected by the saber's damage like nothing was happening. And through them, they could see the shadow of a man standing on the other side of them, almost mocking.
Their shields were now his shields. And their safe haven would soon be their hell.
The platform began vibrating harshly, and the survivor's flinched in unison. The end was near. And there was nothing they could do.
The lightsaber, burning faster through the metal, passed through the final cord. The shields around the edge of the platform were gone.
But before it reached the other end of the underbelly, which would complete the hideous scar, the lightsaber froze and whipped out of the track it made and spun back up and around to the other end of the walkway. The blue fire spat out of existence and the handle flew through the gap opposite the one it left through and smacked into Starkiller's waiting hand.
He could only make out blurs and shapes through the shields, so Starkiller only listened as the tension of the walkway gave.
It is said that when you're about to die, you life flashes before of your eyes. Some believe it, some don't. But this happens to a small group of eight Stormtroopers who stand in the center of a platform that is about to give out. In a single, glorious instant, they are reminded of the joys they felt in childhood. The sorrow, love and loss that came later with adulthood. If they have spouses, or children, they think of them. If they have loved ones, they think of them. If there is anything good in their life, no matter how fleeting, they latch onto it. And for that second, the galaxy stops moving. They are safe, in the company of those they think about.
But that second passes agonizingly too soon. They want it to last forever, but it is too late. It's gone. And they haven't completed the contract.
They still need to die.
The platform lurched suddenly, and a trooper was thrown off his feet and his back armor scrapes against the slanted floor as he slides, flailing, then hits the edge and tumbles into the seemingly infinite crevasse.
The others fought for balance, but were loosing. Another section of the platform at the cut point gave out and it lurched again, spilling two more over. The end where the saber started separated, and now the platform began to sway. Muted white figures stood frozen. The angled platform buckled, and another few inches separate from the walkway, taking three more troopers with it. It swayed faster and farther from side to side. As it did, another inch was lost. The end of the bridge droops down, only a bit. Further it swayed. Another trooper was thrown, bumping the floor and tumbling into darkness.
Leaving just two.
One was close to the top and the other having been able to stay in the center. The one close to the top risked it and leaps with all he had, and actually grabs the charred edge, which has, like the end of the bridge has bent and twisted, with both hands. He knows it was cut by a lightsaber—that damn energy sword that damn Jedi kept blocking them with—but assumed that with the colder climate down here in the shadows, and since he never saw the saber poke through the metal, he was safe. But he doesn't know that a lightsaber doesn't need to cut all the way through to leave the metal hot, and though it has cooled, it was not enough. It burns through the black glove like it wasn't there. It torches his skin, but he continues to grasp the edge. Sensitive muscle is reduced to char, but still his grip holds. But when it reached the bone, he can hold out no longer, and lets go.
He skid along the swaying floor, smoke trailing up his ruined fingers.
The other trooper, however, was miraculously standing, and has his arms out to fight the sway. He's looking at his feet. He dose not see the second trooper until he is running through his legs. He's sent flying while the other raced after his buddy's below. The last hits the floor with his chest, denting the breast-plate of his armor and he goes over the edge. But against reason, he grabs the raised edge that everyone else couldn't with a grip that wouldn't be broken. The platform swayed further then it ever had, and the last of the burned cut separated from the walkway.
Leaving it dangling on the sliver of space the Jedi had left untouched.
He stares at the top, unable to see the sliver twisting. His heart stops. For a moment, no sound came from him, the platform, or the universe itself.
Then the sliver snapped.
He screamed, but it is small and lost as he and the platform he still holds onto spin and tumble down into the deep abyss, falling forever until it—and he met a final end.
And after that, there is only silence.
The floor bumped beneath Starkiller's heel, and he stood still as stone until he heard a crash echo far in the distance below.
Then he blinked.
Slowly, he inhaled the air that stank with ozone and allowed himself this moment. His moment. The quiet mummer of the trillions of lives above didn't reach his ears. The shields on the walkway remained active, and though they made no sound heard by sentients, Starkiller felt a hum resonating from them seep into his bones. He extended his will and found the power supply under him and flipped the kill switch inside. The violet energy walls faded, and the hum went with them. Now the only thing he heard was the sound of his even breathing, and the steady beat of his heart beating in his chest. He stood in what he knew was triumph, and he might have smiled, but in that moment, he thought of his failure.
In his mind, he saw the beam of blaster fire coming for him, and he saw an aqua-hued blade almost too slow to catch them. But what eluded him was why.
He pulled himself back to reality. Starkiller looked at the weapon handle in his hand. Every time he did he felt a small pang of regret in his heart as he knew he would never hold his old lightsaber—the skeletal-like weapon that he found himself taking apart and reconstructing in his meditation sessions—for it was lost to the infinite spectrum of stars that he himself almost had been. Starkiller had practiced for endless hours on the Rouge Shadow in hyperspace while everyone else slept, honing his mind and body with the saber, specifically its new crystal that he could to this very second, feel within the handle. Calling to him. But its voice belonged to another: A voice who spoke to him in the same place he'd found the focusing crystal.
But he had no living beings to train against onboard his ship, just PROXY and training drones programmed to fire high-powered stun bolts at him while changing the way it jerked through the air and shuffled the cycle and speed in which it fired to try and throw him off. He had thought he would be fine.
Now, he wasn't sure.
Starkiller turned, storing that line of thought away for when he had more time—preferably after he left this place, and gazed at the twin behemoth slabs of metal closed together with a thick veil of shadow draped over its bottom. Two identical gold statues of robed figures stood facing each other, just as tall as the doors between them, with their faces hidden behind drawn hoods and both frozen in the pose of reaching into their cloaks to draw a weapon to battle, only to never to raise a blade. Deep in the back of his mind, Starkiller found himself sympathizing with that, but it was buried quickly and he moved on.
He clipped his lightsaber back to his belt. Then, extending his hand out like he was offering it to someone to dance, he grasped the right door with the Force and pulled.
The rust-engraved hinges fought the pull, but try as they might, it could not sustain their hold and the door crept away from the other; the fingers of Starkiller's fingers slowly clenching into his palm. The door groaned under the strain. The bottom scraped against the walkway, leaving a scarred trail in the floor as it swung out. His fingers and thumb clasped into a fist and the door stopped against its robed figure with a hollow clack.
Starkiller stared at the entrance, a tall doorway that lead to absolute darkness with the chilling suspicion that once he passed through, he would not come back.
He did not hesitate.
He did not even blink.
Starkiller stepped through.
The weak light from outside shone onto his back but left his face shrouded. He stopped after four steps and again, raised his hand, this time facing his palm behind him. That hand clenched into a fist and, with less strain this time, the door flew back and shut, enveloping him into complete blackness.
It wasn't simple darkness at first, no, this was different. This sparked feelings that most beings never got to experience: A deep, bleak dread like no other, that, coupled with the darkness, made you wonder if anything truly existed anymore. The world was closed off to you. The temperature dropped drastically. The hairs on your neck stand from it. Muscles tightened under your skin. Your throat felt like it was going to close. The air was chilling and harder to breath, though no mist came from his mouth when he was able, and what air was there passed by his feet, lifting the tails of his robes and seemingly call to him like a ghostly whisper that, though a soft sound, echoed through the chamber.
But to Starkiller, this was life.
This is how he's felt since departing Kashyyyk.
And this is how it feels while under Vader's heel.
His eyes soon adjusted and the world returned, if only a bit. It was still difficult to see in front of him, but Starkiller could make out the faint outline of the large yet utterly empty room he was in. And a second later, a small, but bright and welcoming speck materialized in the distance ahead of him—
(While below the level of consciousness in his mind, Starkiller longed for such a door that would let him escape his own darkness . . . )
-and Starkiller knew it would not be much longer to his goal.
He thought about using his lightsaber, but decided against it. The aqua light would almost certainly blind him to what little sight he had, including the speck. And both its light and musical hum would give him away.
And like outside, he decided that if others lied on the other side, he'd want to keep his presence a surprise. Because who doesn't like surprises?
He began walking across the long and open room, narrowing his thoughts on his goal; feeling it in the decaying temple like a heart beating within a withering corpse. He would find it, and, if need be, he would rip out the heart to get to the answers that lied with it.
The answers about his father.