Disclaimer: I own neither DC comics or Star Wars
Chapter Three: Finding Your Heritage
His black eyes traced every detail of their figures, making sure that nothing escaped their gaze. They took in the muscles beneath their skin, the whirl of their cloaks, the clashing of their lightsabers. This was a momentous moment, one that was certain to be recorded in the annals of the Sith for all time. The changing of the guard, the passing of the torch, a new champion to lead the greatest empire the galaxy had ever seen since the Infinite Empire itself.
Naga Sadow and Ludo Kressh were powerful Sith Lords, both worthy of the throne. But who was more worthy? Sadow, the Sith Sorcerer who thirsted for glory and power? Or Ludo Kressh, his eternal rival? In the end what did it matter? This was but a memory of a memory, distorted as if it was being viewed through a multi-faceted diamond. It was but a drop in a sea of knowledge and secrets long hidden from the eyes of the living, its benefits craved for but unattainable. But would that fact remain absolute? The specter of a specter who resided in this place no longer knew the answer to that age old question.
The gatekeeper turned its attention away from the memory, having viewed it hundreds if not thousands of times. It had found something far more interesting for the moment.
A half machine swallowed in the darkest shade of black stood before it, the demon helmet upon his head directing its gaze upon the ancient memory of a memory. He uttered not a word, opting to simply sit and stare as if waiting for a reaction. The gatekeeper chose to do the same, and soon it became a battle of wills, a wait to see who would be the first to cast their die.
Eventually it was the demon machine that moved first.
"I would seek your knowledge," it declared before dropping to one knee with his head bowed in a rare gesture. "Your Majesty."
Only now did the program react, the personality of its creator finally seeping through. It sneered in disdain. "One is not simply given knowledge," it declared in the growl of its maker. "If you wish to learn, prove yourself worthy of the title of Dark Lord. Only then will I give you what you seek."
With that, the world faded to an abyss that was darker than black.
In his meditation chamber, the amber eyes of Lord Starkiller opened underneath his helmet as they glared in determination. "As you wish, Marka Ragnos."
He leapt up from his meditative stance, grabbing his lightsaber as he exited the room at a rapid pace. There was no time to dawdle. He had a holocron to find.
Alex Bordeaux, commonly known as Captain Alex within Ascension, was irritated. Greatly irritated.
It was strange, as he really didn't have that much to be annoyed over. It had been three weeks since his dark lord had killed Brandon Kelly, and even though it was a relatively short time the effects were already starting to show. The Irish Mafia was tripping over itself as they reeled from the death of one of their highest ranking members. Their sales of drugs and illegal weaponry in Gotham were plummeting, and infighting was beginning to break out in the lower ranks as people pointed fingers at each other over who killed the Irishman. All the while Ascension quietly expanded, eating up Kelly's holdings in Gotham as the once powerful Irish Mafia descended into chaos without his hand there to guide it in Gotham.
Things weren't going their way just in Gotham. All over the world Ascension cells and safe houses were being established, and recruits were pouring in at a lightning fast pace. Their cornering of the black market for weaponry was proceeding like clockwork, and was quickly filling the organization's growing coffers. Alex had also heard that they were looking into establishing a front corporation to expand into the business sector, but that was just speculation. All in all, everything was perfect. So why was he so irritated?
He glanced down at the clipboard in his hands and for a brief moment the captain's true nature showed as his irises flashed a deadly magenta and his pupils turned to slits, but it was only for an instant, and Alex nodded to himself when he realized no one had noticed. He once again looked to the clipboard and frowned deeply. This truly was troublesome if it managed to bring out that side of him. It wouldn't do for his master to know his true nature, at least not yet. The time simply wasn't right.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. The source of Alex's irritation. Ever since Kelly's assassination Lord Starkiller had more or less declared all out war on the Irish Mafia, taking advantage of their disarray to not only gain some of their holdings but to completely push the group out of Gotham. While the cyborg was off handling that front, he had poor Alex searching for what was, in the captain's eyes, a useless trinket. He had gone with his Lord's wishes of course. Who was he to refuse when he had already decided that his life was to be used as Starkiller saw fit? And besides, he had thought at the time, how hard could it be to find an ancient artifact shaped like a pyramid? Apparently harder than he had first thought.
For an entire week the Captain had headed the intelligence division's search for what his master had called a "Holocron". Whatever that meant eluded Alex, but after a week of dead ends and false leads, he had decided that this holocron was a sizeable pain in the ass and that the sooner he found it the better.
Alex turned his attention from the clipboard to the technicians working at the computers in the control room. "Anything yet?" he asked hopefully, but at the same time with a twinge of doubt.
"Negative sir," one of the techs replied, his eyes glued to his screen. "None of the Seekers have reported in a possible sighting. And our computer search is turning up nil."
The Ascension captain sighed as he rubbed his hand down his face. "Keep looking," he replied.
He ignored man's acknowledgement of his order as he sank deeper into his chair. "I swear," he muttered under his breath. "When this is over I had better get a raise."
When he had accepted Starkiller's offer to join his organization, Alex had done so under the impression that it would be rather exciting. Granted, he knew there would be dull moments that came along with his station, but this was ridiculous!
Then again, he mused as he took a sip of his coffee. No one ever said being a member of a terrorist organization would be easy.
Wayne Manor, Gotham City
When one first stepped into Wayne Manor they would quickly realize that they had taken a step into a whole other world. It was one of the most luxurious estates in all of Gotham, if not the entire world. Priceless paintings and sculptures lined its marble halls, the windows of which let in the light in a manner that rivaled the legendary Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. Rich materials made up the curtains, while the rugs were thick and elaborately designed. The various rooms were each a blatant show of wealth, albeit a tasteful show. The current owner of the Manor was not above displaying his wealth and power to his guests to show them just who they were dealing with, but he made sure that it wasn't gaudy. Instead the grandiose interior of Wayne Manor gave off a cozy and inviting air, a place where one could relax and say I am home.
Beneath the manor however it was a different story. If someone miraculously managed to find the hidden elevator or one of the hidden staircases that led to the underground cave system it would be a complete reversal from the wealth and grandeur they had just departed from. One would exit one of the hidden passage ways to come upon a dark cave with high walls and random stalagmites and stalactites scattered about. This was not the most noticeable feature however. No, for in the middle of this cave there was a metal platform which bristled with the latest technology.
On one side there sat a massive computer station that contained the latest software and hardware and could tap in to almost any network. A little ways off there was a medical area that was just as advanced with computer, complete with the best medical technology money could buy. It even had an observation table with highly advanced scanning equipment that was capable of analyzing the smallest piece of organic tissue. On the other side of the platform there was a stair case which descended deeper into the cave, and if one were to walk down this staircase they would come upon a garage filled with sleek yet deadly vehicles that curiously enough all shared a bat theme in their exterior design, whether they were a car or a boat or a plane. Each to their own as the old saying went.
However that is not where one's attention would lie at the moment. For if they were to enter the cave now they would see all of this but it would pale in comparison to the person sitting at the computer staring intently at its screen. And could one really blame them for focusing all of their attention on this one person? For this person in particular was well known, no more than that, he was legendary.
Some called him the Caped Crusader, while others referred to him as the Dark Knight, or perhaps a few might be of the inclination to think of him as Gotham's Dark Angel.
In spite of all these names everyone would acknowledge him first and foremost as Batman, or Bruce Wayne when he wasn't wearing the cowl.
He typed away furiously at the keyboard while his eyes were narrowed slightly, his concentration focused completely on the screen before him. Said screen was flashing with various newspaper reports that were focused specifically on recent murders and mass killings in the Northern U.S.; it was obvious that the Dark Knight was searching for something, but what was anyone's guess. After a while he sighed wearily before hitting a key on the computer causing all of the newspapers on the screen to disappear. It took quite a while to clear all of the tabs the computer had been running, as Batman had been at it for a good hour.
When the last newspaper finally disappeared from the screen Batman was treated to two pictures. Both of them were rather dark with each depicting a figure cloaked in black wielding a blade of black hellfire. One of the pictures had been on his computer for months now but until now had proven to be rather useless. The other was a recent addition, having been added on to the computer's hard drive only a week ago courtesy of one of his former protégé's team members. For what seemed to be the umpteenth time he proceeded to analyze every single detail the two pictures had to offer, trying in vain to find some clue that would aid in capturing this… thing.
The first picture had been drawn by J'onn immediately after his incident on the Watchtower a few months ago and had been the first and until recently only clue they had on Gotham's newest serial killer. The picture itself was grim: the sky was covered in dark storm clouds and the ground was rough and rocky. In the middle of the picture a large and jagged piece of black rock (it reminded him of obsidian) jutted out from the ground, its sharp tip appearing to try and touch the sky. On the rock stood a presumably male figure that was garbed in a black suit. The man assumed a commanding pose on the rock; one which displayed confidence, authority, and power. In his right hand he held what Batman assumed to be some sort of plasma sword with a black blade while his left hand was raised as if it were gesturing at something in front of the man. It was no simple gesture however, as blue lightning was shooting forth from the man's fingertips.
The second picture which had been drawn by the resident psychic on the Teen Titans was not to be outdone by the first. In the background he could see a warehouse with multiple figures inside. One of them was the same person from the first picture while the rest appeared to be criminals, mafia members most likely. The picture displayed the criminals flying through the air, their faces contorted in pain and surprise as they were flung about by an unseen force. In the middle of all this the man stood with his arms splayed wide as if he was pushing something outwards from himself. It didn't take a genius to realize that he was the one responsible for the men that were being flung through the air.
Once again Batman narrowed his eyes in thought. If these pictures were anything to go by, then they definitely weren't dealing with a normal human or a machine. Was it some experiment that Luthor had created while he was president? Unlikely; they had been extremely thorough in making sure that everything his administration had initiated was accounted for and erased completely. There was no way they could have missed an experiment like this. Perhaps it was a recently awakened Metahuman? It was possible. Metahumans popped up all the time; a Meta discovering their powers and managing to stay off the grid wasn't unheard of.
But that possibility itself raised concerns. For a Meta to be this powerful and still be able to hide themselves for this long… just what were they dealing with?
It was while he was going over possible motivations for this unknown Meta that Batman's ears picked up the sound of running footsteps… two pairs of feet, one belonging to a child while the other belonged to an adult.
He strained his ears to focus on the sound, and eventually he realized that the two people were running from the rhythm of their footfalls. Soon he was able to hear that the two were having a moving conversation and he heard them clearly.
"Catch me if you can Al!" the child, a girl, squealed, her voice filled with innocence and wonder that only a child can possess.
"Lady Helena," an older voice, this one male, replied in an exasperated tone. "I must insist that you have your bath! Master Bruce will be very upset if you aren't in bed by nighttime!"
The voices were close, he realized, coming from the stair case that led up to the mansion. Apparently the girl had managed to get past Alfred and to the secret doorway… again. Sighing heavily Batman shut down the computer as he knew that he wouldn't be able to get any more work done. He stood up from the chair and made his way to the stair way's exit, intending to catch the child as she cleared it. All the while he could still hear them.
"But I'm not tired! I still wanna play!"
"We have played quite enough my lady! It is time for your bath, and you will take it whether you like it or not!"
They were just a few meters from the exit now. He tensed as he prepared to catch the child as she dashed out. She was oblivious the fact that he was waiting for her as she was still running at full speed.
"You'll just have to catch-"
It was at that moment that the small form of the girl burst out from the staircase, and she was stopped midsentence as a pair of gloved hands grabbed her and held her up in the air. For a moment the girl squealed in both surprise and delight. She was a typical five-year old; still possessing some baby fat and short, with her waist length brown hair that was normally done in pigtails flowing freely. The girl had a pair of bright hazel eyes that held nothing but innocence and curiosity and seemed to light up every time she smiled. In all, Helena Wayne was a beautiful daughter, both inside and out, and as he caught her he knew that his being Batman was over for the day. It was now time for him to assume the role of Bruce Wayne the father, a role he had come to greatly enjoy.
For a moment Helena was somewhat confused by her suddenly being lifted off the ground and blinked owlishly. When her gaze settled on the cowl of the man holding her she beamed with happiness. "Daddy!" she squealed with all the love and energy a child could muster.
For his part Bruce simply smiled lovingly at his daughter as he adjusted his arms so that they firmly held her. "Helena," he said in a soft voice. "Were you running from the bath again?"
She nodded enthusiastically, as if the subject were the most interesting thing in the world. "Al wanted to give me a bath but I'm not tired!" she exclaimed as said butler appeared out of the staircase looking quite out of breath. "I'm gonna stay up all night, just like mommy and daddy!"
Bruce's lip twitched slightly, but Helena didn't notice. "I'm sure you could," he said in reply. "But if you stay up all night you would be too tired for school tomorrow. And if you're too tired you won't be able to play with your friends. You wouldn't want that would you?"
Helena shook her head. "No, I wouldn't daddy," she answered in a serious voice. "But I don't want to take a bath though. They're so boring!"
Bruce sighed in minor frustration. Helena never did like taking baths, and it always proved to be quite interesting trying to get her to take one. Never a dull moment in the Wayne family, he supposed.
"Tell you what," he said eventually as he came up with an idea. "If you take a bath and don't give any trouble to Alfred, I'll take a day off of work and we can do whatever you want. Just name it."
Helena's face brightened up considerably at this. Ever since she could walk she had always wanted to spend time with her father; no matter what it was she was happy so long as she was doing it with Bruce. It warmed his heart considerably.
"Ok!" she replied in delight. He put her down and as soon as she did she turned to Alfred. "Come on Al! Let's go take a bath!"
Alfred's shoulders visibly sagged with relief. "I never thought you would ask My Lady," he answered as he sent a grateful look to Bruce. "Come along now."
As the two made their way back up the stairs Bruce simply stood there for a moment before the ringing of a cell phone caught his attention. Once he pulled it out and saw who the caller was he was quick to answer it as he slipped back to his Batman persona. "It's me."
He waited as the person on the other end said a few words, and when they were done his mouth was firmly set in a frown. "You're sure?"
At the person's confirmation he quickly swore. "Damn. Well if that's the case then you need to head back. You're not likely to find anything at this point."
The person said something in reply that made him want to massage his forehead. "Look, I know that you want to help and I appreciate that, really I do, but this is getting dangerous. I need you here where you and Helena will be safe."
The comeback that she had ready for that made Bruce smile fondly. "No, this isn't some macho thing. I just don't want you putting yourself at any more risk than you have already, alright?"
She was silent for a moment before she eventually gave in. "Thank you," Bruce replied. "I'll see you soon. I love you."
When they answered back he hung up the phone which he had Fox make specifically for him and the person who had just called and put it back on his utility belt, all the while smiling fondly. Selina Kyle, or as of their wedding Selina Wayne, was still as much of a handful as ever.
Though, he supposed he wouldn't have it any other way.
It was time.
After hours of observing the warehouse in the seedier part of Gotham they knew that no one else would be entering the building and that it was now or never. All of those gathered for this mission knew that this was the culmination of all their efforts for the past weeks. Failure was not an option.
Not that they would ever fail. The soldiers that made up their unit were the best Stormtroopers Ascension had to offer. They were the cream of the crop, the only ones skilled enough to even be considered worthy of Ascension's Fist, the resident Special Forces unit of Ascension.
It was an eclectic group, with its members consisting of ex operatives from the Spetsnaz, SAS, SEALs, Kommando Spezialkräfte, and many other elite units. For a SpecOps unit this would normally cause problems, but each member of the A.F. had been trained and indoctrinated to the point that they considered one another brothers and sisters in arms each united in camaraderie and a common goal; to smash the enemies of their lord, and to see his vision realized no matter the cost. It believed in absolute success, and would stand no less.
Which was why Starkiller had brought them along for this mission. Ascension's shadow war against the Irish Mafia in Gotham had been quick and brutal, and this mission was simply proof of that. The remaining heads of the Mafia in the city had all gathered here in an attempt to join their remaining assets together in a desperate last stand. It would prove to be a fatal mistake that would merely speed along their destruction. Now they would be able to destroy the Irish Mafia in Gotham in one final strike, therefore securing Ascension's rightful place as the most powerful syndicate in the city. The Mafia's time of glory had passed, and now, like the Russians and Italians before them, they would be ground into dust.
One of the Stormtroopers that would take part in this mission couldn't help but shiver in anticipation. At long last they would be able to prove that they had earned their place as Starkiller's fist, and she couldn't wait to serve her lord for the first time. At the same time though she was slightly nervous. What if she slipped up? What if she let Starkiller down in some way? The reasonable part of the trooper knew this was unlikely, as she was one of the most experienced operatives in the whole unit, but the anxiety was still there. She felt like a kid on their first day of school. Nervous and slightly afraid.
She ruthlessly quashed the feeling. She would not fail. She was a Stormtrooper of Ascension's Fist and an enforcer of her lord's will. Failure was a foreign concept to one such as her.
After her little mini crisis had passed the Stormtrooper turned her attention to her companions. There were eleven of them, nine Stormtroopers including herself whose armor bore a blood red stripe down the middle of the faceplate and a motif of a red fist on the left shoulder, up on the roof with grappling guns and cables. Currently they were gathered around two individuals in the middle of a conversation.
"You're sure that they're all there?" Starkiller asked, his baritone voice betraying nothing to the other man who was shaking in his boots (though who wouldn't be scared if they were surrounded by nine black armored soldiers and a Meta as fierce as their leader?) as he nodded frantically.
"Yes, yes, I'm positive. All of them are here."
The black clad cyborg nodded in satisfaction. "Good. You have done well. I am grateful for your services."
The beige suited man's eyes lit up, not with joy but with greed, much to the disgust of the gathered Stormtroopers and especially to her. They all knew why this man had really given them this information so freely. He was merely saving his own wretched hide, even if it meant betraying his own allies. What was worse, this… filth had dared to ask their lord for payment in return for his information. The way she saw it, he wasn't even fit to kiss the ground that Starkiller walked on, and she would have liked nothing more than to put a bullet in his head.
"So, about my payment…" the man trailed off eagerly, wringing his hands anxiously. "Ten million, just like you promised?"
Starkiller nodded, gesturing to her as he did so. "Yes, it's all in there," he said as she stepped forward holding a briefcase. She opened it up to reveal the money, and had to fight the urge to deck the man in the face as he gained a look of pure avarice.
"I am a man of my word," Starkiller continued as he crossed his arms behind his back. "And now that our deal is concluded it is time to tie up loose ends."
The man became confused at those words, but that confusion quickly turned to horror when he was suddenly lifted up off his feet. His hands quickly went to his windpipe which she assumed meant Starkiller was choking him with his powers. She couldn't help the fierce grin that broke out on her face at the mobster's panic. "W-we had a deal!" he wheezed as the Sith steadily applied more pressure to his windpipe.
For his part Starkiller simply stood impassively. "Indeed we did, and I have honored it. I promised you payment in exchange for the location of the meeting. I never promised you your pitiful life as well."
"It was… implied… you… bastard," the man replied, his face turning an alarming shade of purple.
She could hear Starkiller's smirk as he replied. "It was never explicitly stated, therefore I had no reason to assume that was a condition of our bargain. Besides, did you honestly think that I would spare you? You know far too much, and considering what I have seen so far you are nowhere near trustworthy enough to be let free. This was inevitable the moment you came to me with your offer."
"M-monster…" the man wheezed.
Starkiller openly laughed at that. "Indeed! I would have thought my reputation would make you aware of that fact! But no matter. You have given me the information I wanted, therefore I shall grant you a swift death. Goodbye."
The man's neck snapped violently, and he fell to the ground in an unceremonious heap at her feet. "Disgusting," she said as she kicked the corpse while closing the briefcase.
"Truly," Starkiller said as he turned to regard the warehouse. "I am glad to be rid of him. Insolent pest."
As the Stormtrooper put away the briefcase she couldn't help but bite her lip as a question sprang up in her mind. Should she…? No, it was not her place to ask.
"Something on your mind?" Starkiller suddenly asked, causing her to jump slightly. The other troopers snickered at this as they went about their work. For her part she ignored them as she focused on her lord. "Sir?"
He turned his head over his armored shoulder to face her, and she could feel the man's unseen eyes boring into her. "I can sense that you are uncertain about something. Feel free to ask whatever you like, though be aware that I might not answer."
Slightly stunned at the fact that Starkiller was even giving her the time of day, the Stormtrooper nonetheless asked her question. "That man, would you have let him live if that had been part of the deal?"
Starkiller regarded her for a moment before turning his head back to the warehouse, and for a moment she thought that he wouldn't answer. Imagine her surprise when he did. "No, I would not have," he said evenly. "I wouldn't have killed him on the spot as I did, but I would have found a way to eliminate him. Never trust someone who is willing to stab their allies in the back for petty reasons, for if you do they will betray you as well."
The Stormtrooper nodded as she drank in Starkiller's words. Everyone in Ascension regarded him as a teacher and, to the surprise of many, a bit of a philosopher. Granted, one that headed a terrorist organization (for all their talk of changing the world they had no illusions as to what they were), but a philosopher nonetheless. Him giving words of wisdom to an individual were rare, and she would relish the moment while it lasted.
"I understand, My Lord," she replied. "I'll try to remember that in the future."
The cyborg nodded but didn't turn back to her, signaling that the conversation was over. The woman turned towards her squad mates to give them a few last minute orders. As she did she failed to here Starkiller's next words.
"How ironic," he said with a slight smirk. "That I would give such advice when I am no different."
He remembered one of his first lessons under Palpatine, and what he had said that day. Though Starkiller's hatred for the Sith Lord blazed hotter than any sun, this lesson had stuck with him. He still remembered every detail from back then.
He knelt before the Emperor, his newly armored head looking downward in subservience. Inwardly he chuckled at his new suit's likeness to that of his old mentor's. He had destroyed him to escape the prison that had been his apprenticeship, and now his very body had become a prison just as Vader's had. How ironic. Vader's destruction had supposedly made him the second most powerful man in the galaxy, and there was some truth to that statement. He was the supreme commander of the Imperial fleet, answerable only to Emperor Palpatine himself; many would kill for the position.
In reality however, he had simply traded one slavery for another. He had everything, yet at the same time nothing.
It was all due to the fact that he had betrayed Sidious. He cursed his ambition, and swore from the moment he had been forced into this suit that he would never betray so freely again. Perhaps never. Such a vow was paradoxical for a Sith, but he couldn't care less.
He was aware that he had been prostrate before the Emperor for quite some time now, and the old man had yet to say a thing. His knees (thank the Force he still had both of his original legs. If he'd been forced to use prosthetics to walk he would have gone mad. Even though his right arm wasn't a complete prosthetic the sight of it still made him seethe) were becoming slightly sore from the prolonged kneeling, and he wondered when Palpatine would tire of this game and get on to why he was actually here. Because if his new master had called him here just to kneel before him he would be greatly irritated.
It seemed as if the old Sith had read his mind, as a smirk spread on his face and he began tapping his cane rhythmically on the ground. Starkiller tried to ignore it, but it quickly began to test his already thinning patience.
Sidious was so much… different from Vader. Whereas Vader had been brutal and upfront, Sidious was viciously cunning and devious. He was so… insidious. Though Starkiller supposed he shouldn't be surprised. It was the man's name after all. At instances such as now it could be quite irritating, but most of the time it was oh so fascinating. The way he cloaked everything in a veil of half-truths and deceptions, the way he mentally toyed with those around him so effortlessly, it had Starkiller intrigued.
He had found that he couldn't simply get what he wanted from Palpatine as he had with Vader. To gain the man's knowledge he had to play along with his twisted games. He found his razor sharp mind tested each time he talked with Sidious; every conversation they had was in reality a verbal and mental duel that was constantly shifting and altering itself as they continuously tried to determine who was really in control. It was an insidious conflict that pushed his intellect to the limit.
And he loved it.
The challenge it presented to Starkiller was so new, so fresh, that it was like a drug. He knew the stakes in this game that he and Sidious played, but he couldn't bring himself to care. He had never been so challenged before in his life; all previous obstacles in his path had been physical. To be able to pit his mind in this battle against who he was quickly realizing was his intellectual equal, if not outright superior, was perhaps one of the greatest challenges of his life, and Starkiller was not one to back down from a challenge.
All of this, however, did not detract from the fact that Sidious insisted on continuing with his infernal tapping and that it was driving him insane. It seemed that his master was quite content with continuing with the current state of affairs, and for the Sith Stalker that simply would not do. So what was his response to this? Why, he decided to spice things up a bit.
"Is there a reason you called me here?" he asked, effectively calling Sidious out on his little game. "Master."
It was a bold move, taking the direct route, and he knew it. It seemed that the Emperor saw it for the bold move that it was as well, as his eyebrow had raised quite a bit. When his smirk grew and his eyes gained an approving look in them, Starkiller knew that it had paid off.
"Yes," Sidious purred, his voice alike to both silk and acid. "I have called you here because I have noticed recently that you seem… troubled, Lord Starkiller. Tell me, what ails you?"
Starkiller raised his head to regard the Emperor with suspicion. What was he getting at? Starkiller hadn't been slipping in his duties as the new Supreme Commander; in fact, he had just recently discovered and crushed a base of this new "Rebellion". Had he done something wrong and not realized it?
It seemed that Sidious wasn't going to allow him to answer, as a snarl grew on his face after a moment. "Perhaps you are still resentful over your condition, and do not fully appreciate your situation."
Starkiller remained silent, but the clenching of his fist gave him away. A triumphant look entered the Emperor's eyes. "As I thought," he said to himself. "You somehow blame me for what has become of you, don't you? And do not lie, for I will know."
"I do not blame you, My Lord," Starkiller answered evenly. It was the truth too, in a sense. "I have only myself to blame. My betrayal of you cost me dearly. I will be sure not to let it happen again."
It was the logical answer to give; the only answer to give. Any other answer would likely result in excruciating amounts of pain. It was the only answer Starkiller could think to give, so imagine his surprise when Sidious gained a look of disapproval on his face. "That is a pity, Lord Starkiller. I would have thought you would come up with a better answer than that."
"My Lord?" Starkiller asked, genuinely puzzled over his master's response. Hadn't that been the right thing to say?
The Emperor shook his head at his confusion. "Do you not hear the words coming from your mouth?" he asked. "It is the nature of the Sith to betray one another. It is how our order survives. And yet here you are, practically refuting it! Refuting the continuation of our order!"
Now Sidious sported a dangerous glare on his face, his eyes darkening as his lips curved into a snarl. For his part Starkiller simply sat there, stunned. He had most certainly not expected this.
"I'm afraid I don't-" he began, but Sidious interrupted him.
"Do not speak!" he shouted, honestly shocking Starkiller with his loss of composure. He had never seen his master so openly display his anger before. "For a thousand years the Sith have always betrayed one another! That is how we have ensured our survival and strength! Have you forgotten that? Once the apprentice learns all that the master has to teach, they challenge their master for the mantle of Dark Lord. This enables the strongest to rule while culling the weak from our ranks!
Yet you cringe at the very notion of it! As if you are perfectly content with the status quo! This is unacceptable! You are currently the future of the Sith Order, and there is no place for your complacency and hesitation! You must be willing to risk everything to gain what is by right yours. I will stand no less!"
Sidious finished his tirade by slamming his fist on the arm of his chair. He had stood up now, and was looming over Starkiller. He would have gotten up as well, but he honestly wasn't sure if getting out of his kneel would anger Sidious further or not. It seemed that his kneeling only worsened Sidious' anger though, as his face twisted in disgust. "Get on your feet," he practically spat. "Your feigned subservience cannot hide your hatred of me. The fact that such hatred exists within you makes your notions all the more disgusting."
Starkiller rose as he was asked slowly until he reached his full height, which was easily a head taller than his master. Slightly emboldened by the fact that he was no longer on his knees, Starkiller finally spoke. "Betrayal is what led me to this," he replied. "If I had not betrayed you I would be your equal. Now I am but a shell, a half-machine whose only purpose is to destroy my master's enemies, waiting for the day that I will be cast aside."
Sidious' eyes seemed to twinkle in amusement. To Starkiller their gleam looked downright sadistic. "Indeed, my dear apprentice, but it is not the betrayal itself that brought you here."
"I'm… afraid I don't understand, Master."
Sidious chuckled, and the Sith Stalker was reminded of how his master could change moods in an instant. "For all of your intelligence, at times you are quite blind, Lord Starkiller. It was not the betrayal itself, but you that resulted in your failure."
Starkiller prepared himself to reply to that when Sidious held up his hand, causing his reply to die on his lips. It seemed his master had more to say. "Betrayal," he began, and Starkiller could have sworn that his eyes were gleaming. "Is like an art. One that we Sith have perfected over millennia. And like any form of art, it requires certain virtues if the artist is to be successful in their work.
Firstly, is power. The ability to successfully complete the work in the desired manner. Second, a complete understanding of the situation. Like the painter, a Sith must know every detail before they make their move. Finally, and most importantly, patience. The willingness to wait years if necessary to achieve their goal. The first you undoubtedly possess, but the other two are what you lacked that day. That is why you failed."
He sat back down in his throne as he said this, regarding Starkiller from underneath his hood. "Power is useless if one does not understand their enemy and does not have the patience to wait for the right moment. Remember that Lord Starkiller, otherwise you will not last long."
Starkiller nodded, his mind spinning. "Yes, Master."
Seeming satisfied with the response, Sidious gave a wave of his hand. "Leave me."
The Sith Stalker gave a bow before exiting the room, his thoughts swirling like a tornado as he did so. He made sure his mental shields were at their strongest as he mulled over what Palpatine had said. Patience and understanding, he thought. Well, I have plenty of time to learn both. This shall be interesting. Thank you, Master.
Under his helmet Starkiller grinned. Inside of himself he felt something bubbling up to the surface, something he hadn't felt in a month.
He had a goal to strive towards, and the thought made him grow excited. Perhaps escaping this hell wasn't so farfetched after all…
He blinked slightly as the voice of unit's commander filled his ears and brought him back to reality. "My Lord, preparations are complete. We await your orders."
Starkiller smiled viciously under his death mask as he mentally reviewed the plan. Half of the unit would infiltrate the building from the ground, the main force in this operation. At the same time, around twenty troopers and he would use grappling guns to rappel onto the warehouse's catwalks, providing the main force with suppressing fire. If intelligence was correct there would be no suitable cover to protect from fire coming from above. Hopefully this would be the case. Finally, five sniper teams were positioned at points facing the warehouse, giving them a clear line of sight into the building and its immediate surroundings. They were to prevent any of the targets from escaping and to provide overwatch. A simple yet effective deployment, one that would ensure that none of their enemies escaped alive.
He closed his eyes slightly as he stretched out his senses, locating all sixty of the Stormtroopers that he had handpicked to be his personal unit. All of them were filled with determination and resolve, eager to see this mission carried out successfully and to prove themselves to their lord. He knew they would not fail.
"My Lord," the commander repeated patiently. "What are your orders?"
He made his way to the ledge where the troopers were waiting with their grappling guns. He did not need one for he had the Force so he simply stood on the ledge. He took a deep breath and with no hesitation whatsoever, declared, "Begin the operation!"
She twisted and turned, desperately trying to find her way out of this hell. Images danced before her eyes: images of pain, suffering, death. No matter where she turned unimaginable horrors were there to face her. So, lacking any other suitable response, she did the only thing she could. She ran.
She ran and ran, knowing even as she did so that it was a futile gesture. It would not help her escape… wherever this was. All she knew was that she did not want to be here.
After running for an indeterminate amount of time she was stopped by some unseen force and fell back to the ground, her energy suddenly leaving her. She made to get back up, but something stopped her. It was a sound, a horrifying sound that sent chills down her spine and made her blood turn to ice.
Laughter, cruel, mocking merciless laughter echoed from nowhere and everywhere. It was inhuman and insane and dear god why wouldn't it stop?
She froze as she felt a presence behind her, one that was both familiar and terrifying. She identified the laughter as his, and slowly, ever so slowly she turned around fearing what she would find.
Her eyes were wide with fear she took in the form before her. It was impossible, he was dead! He could not be here, this had to be some sort of illusion.
Yet even as she thought this, the young Meta could not deny what stood before her now. She struggled to find words as she took in the form of her dead father Trigon, positively terrifying in all his demonic malice.
"How are you here?" she asked, internally cursing at how small her voice sounded. "You're dead."
Trigon simply smiled wickedly as he began advancing toward her. She unconsciously took a step back which caused him to chuckle. "If I am dead, then why do tremble in fear at my presence? If I am dead, you should have nothing to fear from me."
She closed her eyes as she took in a deep breath to try and regain her courage. She opened her eyes which blazed with steely resolve. She would not be cowed by this ghost. "I defeated you once, I can do it again."
Now her father boomed with laughter as he continued to advance towards her. She took more steps back until she felt her back press up to a wall. She was trapped, and the realization reignited her fear. Her fists clenched until they turned white and she trembled slightly.
"Foolish child," her father replied, his smile never faltering. "You do not comprehend the threat that you face. He is the herald of all darkness. His power is limitless and you and your friends are nothing before it."
"You said the same thing about yourself, and look how that turned out," she shot back, trying to hide her fear behind a mask of bravado. It didn't work.
"You cannot hide it from me!" he boomed, by now nearly on top of her. His hand was reaching out to ensnare her and she desperately tried to make herself smaller. "I sense your fear, I see the way you tremble. Before me you are an insect, and before him I am nothing more than a speck! If this is your reaction to me, then against him your cause is already lost!"
He nearly had her in his grasp. She tried one last push to stave off what she knew was inevitable. "We'll stop him just like we stopped you. As long as my friends and I work together there's nothing we can't do."
The statement made her smile slightly. She basked in the comfort and confidence the idea of her friends brought her. As long as they stood together everything would turn out okay.
The feeling was shattered as Trigon cackled madly. "So you say! But even the sturdiest of foundations can fall when enough force is applied. Your fate is inescapable. All of your resistance and plans are futile. And when you fall and enter the next life I will be there, waiting for you with open arms, my dear daughter."
With that the hand closed around her, and as her dream ended the girl known as Raven woke with a blood curdling scream.
Metropolis Museum of Natural History
On an average day the Metropolis Museum of Natural History was filled with tourists on vacation or locals simply taking a day to relax, and today was no different. The building was abuzz with activity as people milled about gazing at the many exhibits. The objects displayed ranged from Stone Age spears too fragile to be touched to World War I military uniforms, reminders of a darker and bleaker era. A time before the Metas.
None of this mattered to him however. He was here for one reason only, and would not be distracted by things that amounted to trinkets to him. He was a handsome man, with close cropped raven hair and grass green eyes. His skin was a healthy shade and he had attractive features. High cheek bones, a slightly pointed nose and full lips. He had an athletic build like that of an Olympic athlete to go along with his fine face, and many a woman (and some men) swooned at his very presence. Like countless others in the museum he was dressed in a sharp suit, but unlike the rest it was as black as onyx, dress shirt and all. Even the tie was black, giving the man a slightly dark and mysterious appearance.
He walked briskly to the receptionist's desk, his gloved hands clasped behind his back and giving the man a darkly regal air. As soon as he reached the desk the woman sitting behind it looked up with a bored look on her face. "Can I help you sir?"
The man nodded, his eyes seeming to bore into the young woman. "Yes, I'm looking for someone, a professor Smith?"
The receptionist now eyed him with slight suspicion as she began typing away. "He may be in. What were you seeing him for?"
He hid a small smirk. If the woman was eyeing him with suspicion it meant that she must be one of their operatives, now all that he needed to do was let her know that they were on the same side. "I received a call from him about a curious item that he discovered. I'm sure you've heard about that tomb that was recently found in Egypt? He was on the dig and when he found the artifact he couldn't make heads or tails of it. He wanted a colleague to come in and give their opinion on it. I happen to be that colleague."
Now the woman's suspicion was blazing, but he detected a small amount of curiosity there as well. She hid it quickly, much to the man's approval. An operative always kept their emotions hidden and in check no matter where they were.
"Alright then," she replied as she continued to type. "Before I show you to him I'll need your date of birth, sir."
He knew that that was bogus, but it wasn't really the date of birth that the woman wanted. It was confirmation of his allegiance. He was only too happy to give it. "One zero two eight," he began in a monotone. "Nine nine two zero."
He smirked as he saw the woman's eyes widen slightly as he finished. The first four numbers were his designation, the last four identified him as a Seeker of Ascension. A rare sight, as only one out of every twenty applicants actually completed Seeker training. They were the bogeymen of Ascension, handling all of the dirty work and assignments that would never see the light of day. They were also fanatically loyal to Starkiller and were willing to employ methods that put the KGB to shame to complete their objective.
"I-I see," the woman said shakily. "I'll page him immediately."
She hit the PA and asked for Smith. While the two waited the woman couldn't help but ask, "So what is a Seeker doing here? If I may ask, sir."
He smiled indulgently at the tone of the operative's voice. It was a mixture of awe and fear as well as honest curiosity. "I'm afraid I can't give you specifics," he answered, which caused the woman to deflate slightly. "But, I can tell you that Smith has found something that may be of great value to our organization. Mentor himself assigned me to this mission, as well as the entirety of the Seeker division to find this artifact."
The woman's eyes widened to a near comical size. "The entire division…" she breathed. "What could be so important that every Seeker would be deployed to search for it?"
His eyes flashed as he replied. "That information is above even my clearance. Only Mentor and one other know the full details. They have only given us the object's appearance and size."
"That's… kind of scary actually," the woman replied. "What could be so powerful and damaging that not even a Seeker is allowed to know what it is?"
He laughed lightly. The Seeker was starting to like this woman. "My thoughts exactly. It is kind of frightening. However, it is not my place to question, merely to act according to my orders."
The woman nodded, agreeing with his attitude. She felt the same way. That was why she had not protested her assignment of shadowing Smith in the first place. All she needed to know was that she was to prevent him from letting the wrong people know about the artifact, and to make sure the Seeker that came to meet him had minimal problems. Her superiors could see the bigger picture, and like the man before her she trusted their judgment.
Before they could continue their conversation a man dressed in a green dress shirt and beige slacks practically bounded up to the desk and grabbed the Seeker's hand in a vigorous handshake. "Hello, hello, I'm Professor Smith. You're Professor Michaels I take it?"
The Seeker, not missing a beat nodded as he returned the handshake. "Yes. Johnathan Michaels, at your service."
That wasn't his real name, but it wouldn't do for them to know what his real name was, would it?
"I'm so glad you returned my calls," Smith continued. "Everyone else has brushed me off saying that I'm wasting my time with this artifact. Can you believe it?!"
The Seeker shook his head, feigning sympathy and disbelief. "A true shame, it is. I however, am quite interested by the description that you've given. I simply had to come and see this artifact for myself."
Smith let go of his hand and gestured behind eagerly. "Ah, but I'm holding us up. Come, come, and let me show you. We'll have to go into the basement to see it. The museum won't be putting it in an exhibit for another week."
'Johnathan' nodded. "Lead the way, professor."
Smith led him away from the lobby to a door at the rear of the museum. The Seeker noted with some surprise that it was guarded. Museums don't usually have their basements under guard. Something's not right here.
They asked the professor for his I.D., and when he showed it they asked for the Seeker's as well. He handed it to them, and it seemed to pass their inspection. After this they proceeded down the staircase and into the basement proper. Only a few meters in they had to stop at another security checkpoint, this one's guards being armed with assault rifles and wearing Kevlar armor. The Seeker narrowed his eyes. They look like they're military. What is this?
They followed the same procedure as with the first guards, and were soon on their way. As soon as they were out of earshot 'Johnathan' turned to Smith. "Mind telling me why that checkpoint was manned by soldiers, professor? Seems a bit excessive for guarding a museum basement."
Smith looked around them discreetly as if he was making sure they weren't being watched. The action put the Seeker on edge, and it wasn't helped when the man looked at him with nervous eyes. He sighed wearily. "You see Professor Michaels, soon after I brought the artifact back from Egypt I was visited by members of the Justice League and government officials. After asking me many questions they then informed me that the artifact that Ihad found was to be placed in the museum's basement under heavy guard, and that it would stay there indefinitely. I protested of course but they would hear none of it. In fact they very nearly took it away from me entirely, it was all I could do to keep it from being shipped off to some government facility. It deserves to be shown to the world, not sequestered in some remote lab!"
He was about to respond, but before he could they came upon another checkpoint, just as heavily guarded as the last. They repeated the process of the last two, and once they were far enough away the Seeker asked his question. "Why not go public with this? If you had the support of the people you could get the government and League to back off and allow the artifact to be put on display."
Smith chuckled bitterly. "I did actually. I was dead set on revealing everything, but then I realized that it would my word against theirs. Who would you side with, one obscure archeologist, or the United States government and the Justice League?"
'Johnathan' nodded, once again feigning sympathy for the man. In reality he could care less about Smith's predicament, but the speed with which their enemies had moved was worrying. Within days they located the artifact and the man who discovered it. It took us weeks to even get his name. Even then I still don't know if what he's found is what Lord Starkiller is after. One thing is clear here, we are in no way ready to take them on as equals. For now…
The man continued on. "Eventually we were able to compromise. I don't go public with this and allow them to place it under guard, and I get to study it to my heart's content. It's a small miracle that they even agreed to that, though I suspect they were simply being generous. They had all the power and still do. I'm actually rather surprised that they even agreed to let you come here."
The two men walked on in silence for the rest of the way, passing several more checkpoints as they walked deeper into the basement. All the while the Seeker noted every detail he could. The amount of guards, their armament, the locations of various security cameras, other passages, anything that might prove of use later.
Eventually they reached a massive door akin to that of a bank vault, guarded by security cameras, automatic turrets, and more guards. It even had a retinal scanner for opening the door. As they made their way to the scanner, the Seeker noted that even though they didn't fire, the turrets still tracked them all the way to it. Even if it isn't what I'm looking for, this much security warrants further investigation. Whatever this is will definitely be worth the effort I put into finding this man.
The professor put his eye to the scanner, and after it verified his identity the door began to open. After the door had finished opening (the sound its hinges had made grated on his ears) the two men walked into a small room devoid of any crates or cabinets like so many other rooms in the basement. There weren't even any security cameras or other listening devices, thankfully. The only notable thing about the room was a pedestal in the middle which had a black box placed on top of it. The Seeker's heart began thudding in his chest as the vault door shut behind them. This was it.
Smith seemed giddy as he made his way to the box, his eyes wide with delight. The man was far too obsessed with this artifact of his…
"The moment we've both been waiting for Professor Michaels," he said as he opened the box and grabbed whatever was inside. "The fruit of my labors."
He turned around, and it was all the Seeker could do to limit his reaction to a wide smile. Even then he failed to stop himself from muttering, "At last…"
Cradled in Smith's hands as if it were a newborn infant was an object that was as black as the brimstone in hell. It was a small four sided pyramid with intricate symbols and sharp letters in a strange language etched all over its surface. Atop the pyramid was a black crystal that reflected no light. In fact it seemed as if it devoured the light around it. Also he could have sworn he felt… something. It was as if the air had shifted, and that the small pyramid called to him. He felt the strong urge to grab the object and run, but he quashed it immediately.
"Beautiful isn't it?" Smith asked, looking at the object with… affection? "Such a treasure deserves to be shared with the world, but I suppose I can settle for showing it to you. What do you think professor?"
The Seeker was jolted out of his admiration of the object by the question, and for a brief second he fumbled. Thankfully he recovered before Smith could notice. "Yes, the artifact appears to be Egyptian in design, but the symbols and writing are most certainly not Egyptian. Perhaps it is from an undiscovered civilization?"
While he had been called on by Smith to help him understand the artifact, the reality was he didn't know a damned thing about archeology or ancient history. His talents lay elsewhere to say the least. If the man asked him for any detailed explanations he was in trouble. He needed to find a way to distract Smith, but how?
The professor seemed to ponder his response before nodding in agreement. "It is entirely possible. While it was discovered in an Egyptian tomb, it could have come from a different region entirely. The Egyptians claimed a great amount of territory in their history. Yet another reason why this should be put on display! Damned Justice League…"
The Seeker was suddenly struck by an idea. It was crazy, and went against all protocols, but perhaps it had some merit. He would just have to manipulate the professor into seeing things his way.
"Indeed, how could they hide such an incredible artifact? It's saddening to think that it will be hidden away forever, its secrets never being revealed."
Smith seemed to look at him with wide eyes. "You feel the same way as I do?" he asked hopefully, causing the Seeker to smirk slightly. The man was simply too easy.
"Yes," he replied heartily as he nodded. "Such a treasure deserves to be shared with the world."
His eyes were boring into the professor as he digested what he had said. Finally he asked with baited breath, "Could you help me?"
The Seeker seemed to ponder this question before shrugging. Internally he was dancing in joy. "Perhaps I could… No, I shouldn't, people might be watching…"
He knew that there was no possibility of anyone listening in on this conversation, there weren't any suitable hiding places for bugs, but Smith didn't and he would use to his advantage.
The ploy seemed to work as the professor's eyes became desperate and slightly crazed. "There's no one watching, I promise! I've checked myself, this conversation will not leave this room! Please, tell me what you can do!"
Now the Seeker didn't bother to hide his smirk. Smith was practically clay in his hands already. "My employer is very interested in this artifact that you have discovered. He has the resources to get the artifact out of the museum and away from those who would take it from you."
Smith's eyes widened in surprise. "You mean… steal it?"
He nodded. "It is the only way."
Smith seemed hesitant and unsure now. "I… I don't know… I mean, isn't stealing wrong?" suddenly his eyes became filled with suspicion as he cradled the pyramid closer. "You're not really a professor are you? Who are you?"
The Seeker's eyes narrowed. He couldn't have Smith become suspicious of him, else things would go downhill very fast. "I cannot give you my name," he said at length. "But, I can assure you that the best place for this artifact would be with my employer. He has a great vision, and this can help him achieve it."
Smith seemed about to object, but paused. He looked as if he was listening to someone, but they were alone. Eventually he met the Seeker's eyes once again. He was pleased to see acceptance, as well as trust. "Alright," the man answered firmly. "What would you have me do?"
He grinned from ear to ear as he pulled out a card and handed it to the professor. "In a few days I will contact you with instructions using this number. Do not call me, I call you. Understand?"
Smith nodded as he took the card, but he looked slightly confused. "I appreciate that you are willing to help me, but why go to all this trouble? Why not simply take the artifact now while you're here?"
At that the Seeker simply sighed. "They would notice at the first checkpoint. And besides, I was explicitly ordered not to take the artifact, merely to locate it. Once I report the location of it to my employer he is supposed to take it from there. Apparently he has something special in mind."
Smith nodded. "I understand. But, I have a question."
At the Seeker's nod he continued. "What do you get out of this?"
His grin would have put the devil to shame. "Nothing more than glorious Ascension."
As he left the museum building with Smith seeing him off the Seeker quickly ducked into an alley way and made sure that he was unseen. After confirming that he was indeed hidden away, he pulled out his cellphone and dialed the number he knew by heart. After two rings it answered.
"Atlantic Ways Shipping, how may we help you?"
"This is Seeker one zero two eight, codename Shadow. Recognition code is zero-zero-eight-five-six. I have a priority Black communication."
The line was silent for a moment before a new voice responded. "Seeker Shadow, this is Captain Alex. What is your report?"
Shadow could barely keep the glee out of his voice. "Captain, I found it. The artifact is in Metropolis."
Silence, broken by a whisper. "Are you sure?"
"I saw it myself."
There was a moment where Shadow heard shouting on the other end of the line before the Captain was talking to him again. "Shadow, I need you to get back to Gotham immediately. You will give your report in person to Lord Starkiller himself. We expect you here in two days. Good work. I look forward to your report."
Shadow nodded his head even though Alex couldn't see it. "Thank you, sir."
The call was ended from the other side, and as he returned his phone to his pocket the Seeker couldn't help but grin in savage anticipation. If he was correct about his lord intended with this artifact, and he was usually correct, then Ascension's time in the shadows was coming to an end. Soon, they would stand before the world, and their might would be known. And all the while, he would be in the shadows, insuring that those who would oppose Starkiller's vision met their rightful end. He would not be seen or known, but he didn't mind as long as he was able to vanquish his lord's enemies and enforce his will. After all, what better task could a Seeker of Ascension ask for?
Author's Note: I present to you the next chapter.
I feel as if I was too long winded in certain scenes, such as the flashback with Starkiller and Sidious. It was meant to be a small snippet and ended up turning into material suitable for a one-shot. I really liked it though and put a lot of work into it so I didn't want to just delete it. I'll leave it up to you guys to judge it.
Big things happening next chapter. The moment we've all been waiting for, Starkiller and Ascension finally reveal themselves to the world, and if I'm able to fit it in there they face the Justice League for the first time!
On another note, someone actually guessed Batman's pairing right. To them I give a tip of my hat, while to the rest of you I say this. While some of you might be mad please don't rail at me for putting him with Catwoman. I've recently taken a liking to that pairing (thanks in no small part to A Harbor in The Tempest. Thirty-odd chapters in and I'm still not bored with it. Quite the opposite actually, it's a great story), and I have some interesting ideas in store for little Helena. I'm still fine tuning them, but if I can make it work it should turn out quite fantastic.
Til next time.