A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...


The brutal war that has ravaged the galaxy for nearly a decade has at last come home to Coruscant.

The streets and towers of the Galactic capital are one vast battlefield, red with the blood of its citizenry.

The Jedi Temple and Galactic Senate remain islands of calm and security in a sea of warfare, but the Republic is in dire straits and order seems to be crumbling.

Anakin Skywalker and his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, heroes of the Clone Wars are fighting to save Coruscant from the Separatist invasion. Day after day they wage a ceaseless war against the Confederacy's droid armies while in the Senate unrest under Palpatine's rule begins to stir up after long years of wartime complacency. Senator Padmé Naberrie struggles to restore democracy to a government careering wildly out of control while over everything hangs the enveloping shroud of the Dark Side, omnipresent and evil.

Coruscant, the Jedi and the Republic now rest in a crucible of war, deceit, betrayal and love. Only blood will tell whether or not they survive their test.

CHAPTER ONE: The Chosen One


There were no stars on Coruscant. Thousands of years of smog and light pollution had wiped the cosmos from the capital's skies, replacing it with garish billboards and the beacon lights of penthouse apartments and luxurious restaurants. Now even those had gone dark, but the stars remained hidden by the fires of war. Great towers had been gutted by turbolaser fire. Proton torpedoes and concussion missiles had cratered the city-planet's skin. Whole districts had collapsed in on themselves, leaving gaping holes like toothless, ragged mouths in the cityscape. Fires raged across multiple blocks, consuming durasteel, flesh and detritus with equal indifference. Confederate Providence-class destroyer-carriers cruised like predatory fish through the lower atmosphere, exchanging occasional desultory fire with groundside turbolaser batteries. To Obi-Wan Kenobi, standing alone on the steps of the Jedi Temple, Coruscant looked as though it had entered its death throes.

The Republic is dying, he thought. These are its last days and we its last and least defenders.

In his enveloping brown cloak and borrowed plastoid armor Obi-Wan felt a cheat, a poor stand-in cobbled together from spare parts. He was a diplomat, not a soldier. The galaxy needed another Qui-Gon, bold and brash and impetuous. Obi-Wan folded his arms against the gathering cold of night. With the atmospheric control satellites lost or destroyed by the CIS navy, Coruscant had begun to swing between climatic extremes. Some nights it was so cold that sweat froze to skin. Others the air seemed so thick and hot it oppressed the lungs and diluted the horizon to a shimmering nightmare of heat and sweat. The Republic's medical centers were working overtime to treat frostbite, hypothermia, heat stroke and malnutrition to say nothing of the colossal clone triage centers where a never-ending procession of Jango Fett's hundred million doppelgangers limped for morpha and whatever cursory attention the Kaminoan medical specialists and gene therapists could spare. Palpatine had instituted a draft to swell the Grand Army's ranks, but still the clones bore the brunt of the Confederacy's wrath.

Recognizable by every man, woman and child in the Galaxy, Fett's doubles were completely faceless. Obi-Wan pitied them. For all that one had tried to kill Padmé, though neither he nor the Jedi Order had ever discovered why, he pitied them. They die for us without question or choice. When the Kaminoans had first broached the offer of a clone military the Senate had balked, both at the cost and at the implication of cloning on a grand scale. It had been Palpatine, however reluctant, who had led the charge. Everything leads back to Palpatine. Opposed by the stalwart Bail Organa and the majority of the Rim World Senators, Palpatine had nonetheless managed to install himself as Supreme Chancellor and secure the purchase of the Kaminoan army. Obi-Wan remembered the avarice in the eyes of Taun We, the Kaminoan Senator, when the motion had passed.

"General Kenobi."

The clone's crisp, clear voice dragged Obi-Wan from out of his own memories. He turned to face the white-armored man standing above him on the Temple steps. The bulk of that great structure framed him in dark stone, glass and durasteel. It made the clone seem a dwarf, malformed and small.

"What is it, Commander?"

"Generals Windu and Yoda request your presence in the Strategic Room, Sir."

General Yoda, not Master. Is that what we've become?

"Thank you, Commander. At ease."

The halls of the Temple, still scarred by Grievous's suicidal rampage, echoed to the click of Obi-Wan's boots against the marmoreal floor. In the Strategic Room, a sunken rectangular chamber walled in holo-displays, he found Yoda and Mace conferring with Plo Koon, the Judicial Committee's head and Jocasta Nu, the Order's Chief Librarian. Between the four Masters hung a holoprojection of Coruscant, incredibly detailed with zones of CIS infringement and control marked out in purple while the Republic's strongholds stood as slate grey. Areas where structural damage to the planetary city structure had been catastrophic stood out like angry orange wounds against the holographic planet's surface, raw and ragged. Obi-Wan descended the steps to the chamber floor. Plo's calm, vox-distorted voice carried over the hum of the Strategic Room's projectors.

"...no trace of embezzlement or profiteering, but the fact remains that he has managed to remain in office well past his elected term. With Senatorial approval, yes, but still..."

"Master Kenobi," said Yoda, glancing up from his intense scrutiny of the rotating holomap of Coruscant. The diminutive Grand Master of the Jedi Council stood no more than two and a half feet tall. His gnarled hands and feet were clawed, his white hair wild and thinning. "What troubles you?"

"The war," said Obi-Wan, truthfully. "My dreams are troubled, Master. The Force is unclear. Meditation has become...difficult."

"The galaxy's suffering clouds all our vision," said Mace, rubbing his chin with a slim, dark hand. The aging Master was clean-shaven, his skull scraped hairless and smooth, but deep lines etched by decades of laughter and worry branched from the corners of his mouth and eyes. "All across inhabited space, the people of the Republic cry out and we are deafened. Here on Coruscant it is worse. More concentrated." As though to underscore his pronouncement the distant strobing boom of a turbolaser blast thrummed dully in the silence. It had to have been close for the sound to penetrate the Temple's walls.

"Indeed," said Plo.

"Grave, their suffering is," said Yoda. "Blinded we are, but not so blind. See we can what lies before our very eyes, Master Kenobi."

Obi-Wan's blood ran cold. It all comes back to Palpatine. "I can't ask him," he said. "The Chancellor has been a father to Anakin."

"The Jedi renounce their families," said Plo. "We have no fathers. Anakin is too close to Palpatine, the Chancellor's influence over him too great. He must know what Palpatine plans, and with the war's end so close at hand it is imperative we know whether or not the Chancellor plans to relinquish his power."

"Uncertain, the war's end is," said Yoda, "yet correct is Master Plo. Know Palpatine's mind, we must. Enlist Anakin's aid you will."

There was iron in the old Master's voice. Obi-Wan stared into the depths of the hologram, watching the live display morph and change. "I haven't spoken to him in some time," he said at last.

"You were his master, Obi-Wan," said Mace. "He will listen to you."

If they knew, thought Obi-Wan. If they guessed, we would both be expelled from the Order. He cleared his throat. "I will broach the subject," he said after a long, tense pause. "I was invited to the Chancellor's charity opera. I had declined, but it would present an opportunity to approach Anakin." He comes to the Temple so seldom these days. Small wonder.

"Attend," said Mace. "Discover what you can."

"Anakin has become reckless," said Plo. "He must be reined in, or else we risk having another Dooku on our hands. If he is the Chosen one-"

"Unclear, the prophecy is," said Yoda. "Only guess at its meaning, we can." Silence echoed in the room for a moment, and then Yoda began to speak. Obi-Wan knew the words well. "He will bring balance to the Force, but he shall no know peace. He will be a conduit to its Will, but he shall not know his own. Twice he will die and twice he will be reborn, and the Galaxy will shake at the rumor of his passage." The ancient Master closed his eyes.

How many times have I read it? wondered Obi-Wan. The ancient scroll itself, preserved in an airtight room in the Library archives, had been penned in Ubese by some Jedi, a seer, whose name was lost to time. How many hours he had spent poring over that fragile scrap of paper? Hundreds. So many hundreds. How could I take what happiness he has, if he will never know real peace? Did I make the right decision?

"May the Force be with you, Obi-Wan," said Mace.

"Indeed," said Plo.

Yoda gestured with a gnarled hand and the holoprojection of Coruscant faded into scattered light, and then into nothing. The other Masters left by separate doors, their shadows trailing behind them like weary bars of night. Obi-Wan stood for a time, thinking, and then he departed.


The darkness sheltered him from the prying eyes of Dooku's Geonosian guards as he crept along the crumbling ledge of the Count's Menari-district apartment building, a towering marble-sheathed obelisk located at the heart of what was left of Coruscant's most palatial sector. Once Senators, Admirals, royalty and corporate solicitors had made their homes in the shadow of the Menari Mountains, Coruscant's last natural landmark, but now only the Count and his cronies, his hangers-on and sycophants, remained, ensconced in the monolithic bulk of the former Twin Suns Luxury Tower. Two lucrehulk-class merchant battleships hung over the Menari district, the downdraft of their repulsor engines impregnating everything with a faint tingle of static. Anakin, dressed only in an insulated black singlesuit and hooded black cloak, clung to the ledge like a duracrete barnacle, squinting into the cold wind of Coruscant's lower atmosphere. His eyes watered. His stump ached.

I can feel you, Dooku.

The Count, renegade Jedi and grand rebel statesman, was coiled, serpentine and waiting, somewhere within the tower's cavernous interior. Anakin edged onward, gloved fingers both organic and mechanical feeling for purchase on the marble wall. The window wasn't far. Another ten yards spent inching onward, avoiding the temptation to look down into the bottomless abyss of Coruscant's fissured skin, and he was there. The wind howled in his ears. The fading concussions of distant explosions beat against him like the papery wings of insects. The bone-deep cold of the marble struck his right hand even through his glove. Anakin Skywalker closed his eyes and let the Force take him, let it fill him with light and power and sensation.

It was different than it had been before. Once he had known conflict, strain and strife. The howl of Coruscant's million, billion inhabitants had deafened him. The sound of the Force itself, stripped of its protective layers of dross by the peace and silence of Padmé's Naboo lake house, had been worse, a ceaseless, mindless roar of unimaginable immensity. Now the inferno of his power was contained, caught inside a mental shell of durasteel and ceramite. His mind was a blast furnace roaring out of control, burning with the heat of a bottled sun. It was the only way to stay alive, and even so he could feel the flames of his own mad awareness licking at his skin.

Anakin twitched a finger and his lightsaber disengaged itself from his belt and floated, rotating slowly, toward the window. It was harder to direct than it had been, as though he reached out through thick, viscous syrup with his will. The city around him pulsed with murky life, the mutters of defeated souls going about their lives in the wreckage of their once-glorious capital and the alien chatter of Geonosians swarming throughout the tower and its grounds. A thousand miles from the Senate Round, and the distance gets shorter every day. The CIS was conducting its campaign against the Grand Army with ruthless efficiency. All over Coruscant droid factories and massive refineries had sprung up like gross boils, converting the planet's wealth of processed materials into new weapons for the Confederate war machine. Columns of battle droids and their sleeker, more modern cousins clomped in perfect formation down abandoned skyways while vulture-class droid starfighters patrolled the skies in lightning-quick swarms. Several flights had already passed Anakin by, their sensors fooled by the tower's reflective surface and by the low-power scrambler at the Jedi's belt.

Another twitch of the finger and the lightsaber blazed to sapphire-bright life with its distinctive snap-hiss of plasma devouring oxygen. Anakin directed the meter-long blade in a precise cut, slicing a neat circle from the triple-thick safety glass, which he wrapped in a cushioning mental sphere and lowered to the unseen floor, of the window. He deactivated the weapon, caught it and returned it to his belt before slithering swiftly through the still-smoking opening. The room within was derelict, a lush suite abandoned by its wealthy occupants when the invasion had begun. Crystal chandeliers hung from a bloodwood ceiling elaborately grown to resemble a cathedral's vaulted heights. The bare floors were polished marble, black as night and veined with carnelian.

Alertness surged through the tower. A thousand distinct awarenesses, the chittering minds of Dooku's Geonosians, and the blurry crackle of droid brains converged in scrutiny on Anakin's point of entry. A smile cracked the cold, hard glaze of the Jedi's face as the furnace in his chest burned brighter. He'd guessed the walls themselves would be alarmed. "This is going to be interesting," he said to the empty room. I wonder if I'll be back in time for the opera. His lightsaber was already lit and in his hands when the first of the B2 super battle droids came through the door, wrist blasters already locked and firing. Anakin flew through the opening motions of Soresu, letting his instincts guide his lightsaber as it thrumm-ed through the air. Blaster bolts ricocheted off of the walls, the floor and the chromed carapaces of the ponderous B2's. One exploded, its fuel cells ruptured. Anakin bobbed and spun, his lightsaber weaving a curtain of blinding azure radiance around him. He existed in the moment.

I am a drop of rain caught in a storm.

He deflected a withering hail of blaster fire into another of the droids, blasting it to scrap, and then halved a third with an overhand slash. Sparks exploded around him as he pirouetted away from the ruined droid to plunge his lightsaber into the armored chassis of yet another. Blaster fire sputtered out with a pathetic clunk of spin-seal rotators jamming and the droid fell forward with a crash that shook the entire suite. Anakin grinned, coming around into a backhanded slash with a wild yell on his lips. The blaster bolt missed his right eye by half an inch and ripped his face open along the harsh line of his cheekbone. The smell of cooked meat filled the air and blackness swallowed the right half of Anakin's world. He cried out, pain beating the side of his skull like a stun club. I could die.


The children.

There was light, a lurid red wash of heat and radiance that swept everything else away. He felt himself floating in a void, buoyed by some inner reservoir of energy. Strange, etheric tides buffeted him from all sides, but their touch was gentle and he felt no alarm. There was no reason to be worried. The mission would proceed as planned. Dooku would die and the war, at last, would be over. I can leave the order, live my own life. I can be a husband. A father. I can...

He stood gasping for breath in the center of a war zone. The hacked and mangled remains of better than a dozen droids were scattered around the oil-drenched room, along with the bodies of a pair of Geonosian guards. The insectoid aliens were just over five feet tall and delicately built with long, cadaverous faces and bony limbs. Their gossamer wings, ripped and crumpled now, looked like the wax paper kites children had flown in the Wind Gardens near the Senate Round before the invasion. Anakin stared at them, breathing hard. His right cheek felt numb and his vision was speckled with little spots of black. His muscles, wound like wires, ached with tension. His mechanical hand opened and closed as though of its own volition. An instant later he realized that someone in the building had triggered an alarm klaxon. Soon every guard in the building would come crashing down on him. From a distance he heard the rumble of droidekas moving in wheel configuration over flat, hard ground.

Fortunately, Anakin had chosen his point of entry into the tower for a reason. The marble floor cracked and bubbled as Anakin plunged his lightsaber hilt-deep into its perfect mirror finish. Durasteel support beams melted like butter as insulation burst into flames and choking fumes boiled up into the suite. Anakin held his breath, fighting the stinging pain in the side of his face. There was a medical droid waiting two miles away with his atmospheric fighter in the safehouse he'd chosen. His face would have to wait until he'd made his escape. The floor shifted beneath his feet as he turned in place, inscribing a meter-deep cut into the now-ruined floor. He managed not to smile when, just as a pair of droidekas clattered into the doorway and unfolded themselves into murderous action, the floor dropped out from under his feet and he plummeted down into Count Dooku's bedchamber.

The durasteel-and-marble plug crashed through the bedchamber's polished hardwood floor and down into the tower's further depths, but Anakin Skywalker did not fall with it. He stepped onto the creaking floorboards, the Force raging within him, and brought his lightsaber up just in time to meet the Count's blood-red blade. The two sabers crackled against each other, throwing bruise-colored shadows over the unadorned walls. Dooku was hooded, cloaked in shadows. Anakin could see nothing of his face. The aged Jedi moved with sinuous grace, stabbing and thrusting at Anakin's heart like a Corellian sand viper. Anakin backpedaled, turning Dooku's attacks aside with brute force. He was stronger than the old man, strong enough to break him.

No. Not him. A looping counterattack stirred the figure's hood and Anakin saw for an instant that pale, pale skin, those thin lips and that pointed chin. Not him. Her. Asajj Ventress. "YOU," he roared. The deep wound on his cheek broke and began to bleed again, but there was no pain. There was nothing but focus, needle-sharp and absolute, and beneath that: rage. "I'LL KILL YOU."

She laughed, a high, ragged sound, and skipped away from him like a gleeful child playing tag. A second lightsaber snapped to life in her left hand, throwing the room into harsh red relief. In a heartbeat Anakin was after her. She raced out the door, bare feet pattering over polished wood, and when she slammed the door in Anakin's face he blew it apart with the Force. It felt good to break something, to reach out and crush. He burst out into the hall, power raging around him. A battle droid appeared from a neighboring apartment and he reached through its armored shell with his mind and ripped its innards apart in an explosion of sparks and blazing oil. She's getting away. His heart pounded against his chest as he raced down the hall past ornate doors and sparkling holo-trails where incongruous Alderaanian skies beamed down on scenic footpaths. Fountains burbled and avians sang or croaked random words in voices disturbingly sentient in tone.

How had Ventress survived him? How had that bitch escaped the destruction he had wrought on Tattooine, where she had killed his mother? Truthfully, Anakin didn't care. Dooku was forgotten. He wanted to kill her again, and he wanted to make sure it stuck this time. She danced ahead of him, lightsabers striking sparks from the walls as she spun and leapt, hood thrown back and cheeks flushed with exertions. He leapt after her down a flight of stairs, nearly braining himself on a low-hanging lintel, and landed lightly in an echoing white marble hall, its far end dominated by a colossal picture window, with artificial waterfalls cascading down its immaculate walls. The water crashed into ornamental basins linked to one another by narrow channels that ran along the hall's circumference. The water, the trickle and splash of the water in that Tusken temple in the arid bones of their empty settlement. Anakin surged after Ventress, already sprinting away across the hall. He had become a machine, tireless and driven by the urge to destroy. A piston hammered where his heart had been.


Asajj ducked under his vicious two-handed slash, turned aside his brutal thrust and jumped nimbly over his backhand. Her sabers darted and kissed, scorching flesh and cloth alike. The crash of droid magna-peds on marble and the dry rattle of Geonosian wings were drawing close again, and in greater numbers now. He could feel them, and also Dooku. The Count's anger was dry and cool, but building. He would not be long in coming, and Anakin could no longer hope to kill him. Failure after failure. "DIE," he roared, whaling away at Asajj's swift, lithe defenses. "DIE."

She fell back, smiling viciously as she spun and twirled. She ripped off her cloak and dropped it to the marble floor. Beneath it she wore a grey bodysleeve that covered her from throat to mid-thigh. Her pale skin was slick with sweat.


The cage of ruby light around her slender form began to falter. Her tempo broke. She retreated, the smile wiped from her face by fear. Dooku was coming. His guards were almost upon them. Already the odd blaster bolt whined across the vast emptiness of the hall, throwing up curtains of steam where they struck the water at the base of the sheeting falls.


His lightsaber hacked through her right-hand weapon, reducing it to a sparking wreck. He reached out with the Force and ripped her remaining blade from her hand. It clattered over the marble floor. Anakin waved a hand and the hall's pressure doors slammed down, cutting off the approaching guards. The furnace in his chest glowed brighter. I can do anything. Ventress stared at him, shocked and frightened. Her lip trembled. "Please," she managed.

There was no mercy in Anakin's heart. He raised his right hand, his real hand, and the Force answered his summons, it obeyed him as it would obey no other. Mother. Asajj rose up from the floor, iron bands of power wrapped like fingers around her throat. Anakin squeezed, rage twisting his features into an awful mask. Asajj choked out a strangled word. Her grief and fear pounded against Anakin's awareness. He felt the cartilage in her neck crack, then brake. Her vocal cords burst. Her trachea ruptured. Bone punctured skin. Her wide, pale eyes never left his. Even when her spine snapped, she still stared at him. Anakin let her lifeless corpse drop to the floor. The sound of blasters pounding against the pressure doors seemed dull and distant. He deactivated his lightsaber and took a deep, shuddering breath. Dooku was getting closer.

In nine huge bounds Anakin crossed the hall and flung himself through the picture window, into the howling wind and the night. He flew down through the darkness, but he was not afraid. He knew he would not die. The Force watched over him.


The last of his private cloning facilities had been destroyed in a bombing run on Ord Mantell. Sidious had said it was necessary, that the bombing campaign against the Confederate installation there was so obvious he'd have been deposed had he argued against it. Grudgingly, Dooku, the ninth Count Serenno, had accepted the words of Palpatine, a vicious Naboo gutter rat who had clawed his way into power behind a mask of genteel compassion for the Galaxy's plight. Now, though, Asajj was dead. She was dead, and he was alive. Alive because he'd risen from his sleeping mat to answer his bladder's urgent summons, to squeeze out a few painful drops into the privy. The curses of old age. He had left her curled catlike on the mat, her knees pulled up against her flat chest, her face peaceful in sleep.

She lay like a broken bird in the center of the windswept hall, framed by the burbling waterfalls and the shattered picture window. The battle droids had returned to their posts at Dooku's command. He was alone with his apprentice. Skywalker had crushed her throat. He had destroyed her. "Asajj," Dooku said. He knelt down and gathered the bloodied, broken body into his arms. Her head lolled against his shoulder, drooling blood onto his bare skin. He felt his years, felt the dull ache of other loves lost, other friends murdered. "I failed you, my darling," he said quietly, kissing her bare scalp. Her skin was cooling already. "I failed you."

Never again.

{My friend. Geonosis grieves with you.}

Archduke Poggle the Lesser stood at the foot of the hall's main stair, his cane planted between his gnarled feet. His wings buzzed fitfully as he limped toward Dooku, the report of his cane's metal butt loud against the marble. He was large for a Geonosian, heavy with fat and muscle beneath his chitinous exoskeleton. A fleshy beard gave him a goatish, absurdly grave appearance and he had a miser's black, beady eyes, but despite his repugnant aspect and his regrettable inhumanity Dooku counted him a closer friend than he did any other members of the Confederacy's Leadership Council. He had known Poggle for decades. "Archduke," Dooku managed. "I would as soon you returned another time. I am not myself at present."

Poggle shook his head, setting his tendrils wagging. {A man is entitled to his sorrow. Without it, how would we know we still lived?}

Dooku knew he should rise, that he should have Asajj taken to the tower's mortuary and tended to by the medical droids. He could not let go of her, though. Not yet. He had a campaign to oversee, a carefully orchestrated dance meant to secure the galaxy for himself and Palpatine. And Skywalker, of course. Foul, retiring Skywalker who had fled rather than face him. He ground his teeth, tears stinging the corners of his eyes. Poggle came to stand at his side, placing a clawed hand on his shoulder.

{Our game with Sidious is nearing its conclusion,} said the Archduke. Of all the Separatist leaders, only Poggle had been informed of the ultimate design of Dooku and his Master, though he did not know the truth of Sidious's dual identity.

"Yes," said Dooku, unable to hide the bitterness in his voice. "It is." He eased Asajj to the floor and folded her hands over her stomach. She looked young in death, and he felt old. So damnably old.

{You are, perhaps, displeased with him. With Sidious.}

Dooku glanced sharply at the Archduke. "Speak plainly," he said.

Poggle met Dooku's stare without flinching. {If you wish it,} he said, {another piece can be brought into play. Something of which Sidious has no knowledge.}

The wind blowing through the hall seemed suddenly bitter cold. Dooku gathered the Force around himself, letting his grief ebb away into its murmuring depths. "What are you talking about?"

From a pocket of his ornate vest Poggle produced a palm-sized holoprojector. He keyed its display button and a tiny image snapped into vivid life above its projection base. A chill crept up Dooku's spine. His mouth felt dry. "Poggle," he heard himself say. "Is that a moon?"

The Archduke was silent for a long moment, and then he said simply: {No, my friend. It is not.}