A/N:MWAHAHAHA! I return! It's been a terribly long time since I last touched this story =and after that last chapter= I'm proud to say that we are finally back on track! As is my new job! It's rather bittersweet, living up here in the country now, after having spent nearly all twenty-three years of my life in town, but in the same vein, I think its high time for change. And on another note, we can finally see what's going to happen now that Miri has been introduced...
...prepare thyself for the next chapter! Onward!
"I am, above all things, a father foremost...
This Means War
"Well, that went better than expected."
Naruto-Karr!-inclined his head slightly as the last of his lovers filtered out of the throne room, their expressions sullen, but silent. Some weren't pleased by Shion getting the drop on them, but none were fool enough to dare challenge that Miri was in fact, Naruto's child. Perhaps not his heir per se, not yet, but with a bit of careful grooming, who knew? Shion had been right in that regard; he'd been half-expected a storm of shouts and screams to break out upon revealing her heritage to the world. Compared his expectations, their reacition had been practically demure. Oh there had been some bickering, but it was nothing a Force-induced snarl could not mollify from the rest. The rest were almost...amusing.
"Cute little shit." Kurotsuchi remarked in passing, tousling the little one's hair, her dark hazel eyes regarding Miri inscrutably; not even the Force could tell Karr what his fiance was thinking. "Makes me wonder what our kids will look like someday, ya know? Which reminds me," her gaze hardened like the rock for which she was so well known. "You didn't knock up Anko or anyone else when I wasn't looking, did ya?" Typical Kurotsuchi; blunt and to the point as ever when it came to romance; it was a hotly contested fact whether or not he'd impregnated with the leader of his shinobi forces-hey, someone had to do lead the troops while he was away-a fact that the blackette seemed intent to remind him of.
"No." Naruto's deadpann was barely concealed. "Last time I checked, I was busy trying to rule the galaxy. But," A slight smile danced at the corner of his lips, "You never know though...
"God, you're an ass!"
Naruto promptly kissed her once and sent her on her way.
Next to come was Hanabi; the last Hyuuga and Karr's private enforcer stared down at Miri, looking as though she'd just seen a ghost. Were it not for her long, creme-colored hair, she might've resembled a yong Hinata and even Naruto had to admit, the sight did cause the occasional twinge of pain. Granted, it was masked by the knowledge that she was his daughter, that he'd actually helped bring her into this world, but were it naut for that, he might've found himself a touch discomfitted as well. Hopefuly she'd be able to control herself...
"Oi, are you really Naruto's kid?" Hanabi demanded to know of Miri. Faced with such anger, the little one faltered.
"Hanabi!" Naruto's growl nearly deafened the room. "That's enough! Not another word!"
"No more surprises like this." the Hyuuga remained adamant in her anger. "Ever. Shithead! I hate you! HATE!" Without another word she whirled around and stormed out of the room, silently seething.
Brood cocked her head, quietly aghast, at the emotional outburst.
"I'm not sure how I feel about this," the zabrak woman, newest of his apprentices admitted. "But if she truly is your child, then I see no harm in treating her as I treat you."
Temari, having overcome her intial anger, actually cracked a smile.
"Well, I'm certainly not going to scream at the poor thing. Guess I'm okay with it."
"Oh, she's adorable!" Aayla's reaction caught everyone flat-footed; the Twi'lek showed the least restraint of all; she promptly embraced the girl as soon as she was introduced. "She's like a doll!" Miri actually squeaked-such was her shock at the sudden hug, her little cheeks flushing scarlet. Finally someone managed to pry the enamored former jedi off the poor girl.
"I would speak with you in your quarters later, master." Ventress looked torn somewhere between scorn and disbelief; but she had nothing further to offer where Miri was concerned.
Mei was one of the few to remain; lingering by the doors until Temari and the others had finally departed. Only once Ventress had brushed past her did she dare approach the throne, her jaden eyes watching the young girl intently. Young Miri might've been blind, but Naruto knew she was keenly aware of the Mizukage's intentions. As was he. Otherwise she wouldn't have gotten within three feet of his daughter. Upon reaching the girl, the shinobi allowed a rare smile to grace her full lips.
"You must be Miri." she said softly, reaching out to stroke the child's cheek. "And you must be Shion. Its so nice to finally meet you." She extended her free hand in silent offering; an olive branch between the leader of the the Land of Water and that of Demon Country. To her credit, Shion returned the gesture. Karr heaved a sigh of relief. He had a galxy to unite; the last thing he needed was pointless bickering.
"Pleased to meet you." Miri, for her part, also stood steadfast under this silent scrutiny. "Say," She raised her sightless eyes to regard the orange-haired woman. "It is alright if I call you Momma Mei?"
The three adults nearly facepalmed as one.
"Of course you can, sweetheart." Mei murmurred, her eyes toward Naruto with smoldering, if not amsued, intent. "So young, yet so mature. You must get it from your mother."
"Hey." Naruto adopted a faux-wonded expression, his Sith persona momentarily slipping in the face of this small slight. "I'm standing right here."
"I know, darling." she blew him a quick kiss.
"Mama says I'll grow up to be like Papa someday."
That got a chuckle out of the Mizukage. "If you're anything like him, I'm sure you'll be a regular heartbreaker when you grow up."
Then the little one surprised them all once again. "Would you like to play a game?"
Mei's visible eye widned in light amusement.
"Why, I'd love to." she glanced to Shion for silent confirmation, seeing her discomfort. "You're more than welcome to join us if you'd like."
"What about Sing?" Shion asked.
Naruto's smile looked as though it belonged on Lucifer himself.
"Leave that to me...
Aurra Sing awoke disoriented, angry and possessed of a throbbing headache to find herself in a large, dark room, her body propped up on a small bed of cushions and pillows. Her baffling opponent was gone-which was no surprise. What was surprising was that she still drew breath. She had thought for certain that he would end her; that he'd keep going and obliterate all her memories entirely-her mind with them. It would've been so easy for him to keep going, to just erase her existance. And yet he'd held back. Out of some misbegotten sense of decency, perhaps? Or was he deliberately allowing her a second chance on his life?
Good. A challenging enemy was a worthwhile enemy.
But he would not be expecting this. The Sith had thought he'd been able to scrubb her mind but he'd failed; thanks to the tiny prosthetic computer implanted in the depths of her mind, she'd been able to erect a small syntehtic bastion in her mind-walling off what was important and giving up what was not, sacrificing it to Karr's attempt to dominate her mind. Her past was gone, wiped clean, leaving only the vaguest of impressiosns in its wakes. Sing, remembered who she was, what she was, why she had come here, and her insatiable hate for the Jedi, but beyond that...nothing.
It was so strange. Her head felt...empty, almost withot purpose. Almost, but not quite. Karr. He'd done this to her. And she would have her revenge.
A guarded inspection of her immediate surroundings confirmed that she was indeed alone; with no restraints to speak of. Apparently her captor felt she did not require them. Well, that would be his undoing. Even in the throes of her fury, Sing had to admit that she was impressed. He had tricked her most cleverly, lulling her into vulnerability and then using her own trap against her. She had briefly succumbed to worst enemy someone in her profession could face: overconfidence. It would not happen a second time.
That accepted, she still had to give the Sith his due. He was as resourceful as well as skilled. She would relish their next battle when it came. If it came. She stood taking in her surroundings but not letting herself be at all absorbed by them. The room was dimly lit by human standards, but posed no obstacle to her vision. She could clearly see the dimension of the small chamber, could see there was no further furniture save for a lone formfit chair and a desk. One of the walls was inset with graphic readout screens, serial port plugs, and other devices she didn't immediately recognize, beyond their use for surveillance.
So this was what the Sith used in his day-to-day life, hmm? The technology was ridiculously advanced; she couldn't even begin to decipher its meaning. The guard on the grounds had been outfited with similair devices of a sort. The longer she thought about it, the more Aurra Sing began to think a strategic betrayal was in order. This Karr clearly had better resources than the Count-and as evidenced by his brief display of power, he'd no doubt surpassed the former jedi long ago. And now that he'd been in her mind...now, that he realized the Count had been the one to hire her; he'd probably be ending Tyrannus quite soon. How was she going to get her credits if her employer fizzled out?
Pushing harder, she found that she could make out the slight puffs of fog caused by her breath meeting the cold night air. Wherever her captors had placed her, it was cold. She realized that much. Karr doubltessly had done so for a reason. But why? And where the devil was he-
Across the chamber, the eclectic snap-hiss of a lightsaber caused her to start.
Karr had to hand it to Aura Sing, however ugly she might be from within, her body posessed boundless beauty on without.
Her skin was white as alabaster. It gleamed coldly in the starlight that poured down from the skylight, bone - white to his eyes. He realized she was bald save for a hank of dark red hair that rose from the back of her head like a magmatic eruption. The tight-fitting jumpsuit she wore was a simiair shade-although he didn't know whether that was its actual color or if it had something to do with the dried blood. She knew not how he longed to end her, she probably wasn't even aware of his prescence. Time to rectify that, then.
Taking the lightsaber from his belt, he ignited the blade.
Karr stood at the room's far end, stentorian sound of his lightsaber alerting Sing to his prescence. The deafening drone of its edge, steady and even, filled the air. His eyes were golden slits-were turned towards, Aurra-but with Karr, one could never tell what he was looking at. His vision seemed to encompass every direction. And what he did not see through his eyes, Sing knew, he sensed through the Force. It boiled around him now in a curtain of palpable malice- he seemed to be holding himself in check with an insurmountable source of will.
Despite having ignited his lightsaber, he made no move towards her. He simply stood there, radiating righteous fury. One look in his eyes and Aurra Sing knew; she had only minutes to live. Without thinking, her brain leapt into overdrive.
She wondered how he slept-or indeed, if he slept. It was said that those of the Dark Side were able to do without rest entirely, sustaining themselves solely upon the powers of the Force. One of the many rumors about the being hidden in that armored suit held that he had once nearly been slain in his sleep at the outset of his reign. It would certainly explain the scars on his visage and neck. So according to speculation, Darh Karr did not sleep unless under heavy gurard; nor had he for the last decade.
Most of the rumors of his origin, disparate though they were, agreed on one thing—that Karr was a man of principle. Ethical even-if such a wicked word could be applied to a Sith. He did not kill what he could tame—did not needlessly shatter tools that might yet perform some sort of function. Which meant he intended to use her. Like hell he will! Part of Sing bristled at this thought, and yet...she wondered just what it was that drove a man of his calibre forward in this day and age. Even a Sith Lord, which Karr was rumored to be, needed somes sort of incentive, surely.
Karr was merely one such being, having risen to power in the vaccum left unfufilled by a Grand Army of the Republic. None but the Jedi had dared to challenge him and his fleet...and they'd all seen how that turned out hadn't they? He was allied with neither the Rep and when war broke out, as wars often did, one could only guess at what side-if any- he would take.
Sing thought she knew what would dictate his actions, at least in part.
Ambition motivated Karr to get through each day and night. Ambition was the fuel that fired his existence. But that wasn't all. Having given himself over to the Dark Side, he hadn't done so unreservedly and completely as most Sith would often do. Sing had witnessed it firsthand back on the balcony sensed it, glimpsed it in his mind just before he tore into her. Karr loved. He had many loves, women, he cared for with all his heart and soul, subjects upon whom he placed equal value. The woman and child must've been truly precious to him indeed, for him to risk such injury on their behalf.
Which meant, beneath that eerie armor, he was still a human being.
Putting the ever-growing gulf between the Republic and the newly-named Separatists aside, Karr's claim to this side of the system hadn't happened overnight. It had been a slow takeover which implied untold patience-improbbable for a Sith Lord. Her own connection with the Force was strong enough to tell her that again, Karr proved himself the black sheep in the fold. While there was anger in him, there was also compassion, caring sympathy for his fellow humanoids and other species. He distinguished between enemy and ally like light and dark; and yet she instinctively knew he had made exceptions for enemies before.
That was what made his men so loyal, she realized. So lethal. Some of them had once been his enemies before being converted to his side. She'd sensed no duplicity in them; he'd made no attempts to mind rub any of his faithful followers. Those brought into his prescence could be certain of one thing: all would be treated equally and with benevolence.
It remained to be seen if the same could be said of Aurra Sing. If the dark lord chose to carve her into pieces with that lightsaber, there was precious little she could do to stop him. She was unarmed, of course. All her weapons had been confiscated at some point during her forced slumber; they'd been most thorough. Even the toxic needles she kept secreted in her hair were gbone. While Karr wasa master of all he surveyed, she did not deem him foolish enough to rely altogether on the Force to ensure his safety. It was all well and good to let the dark side flow through one.
To be truly effective, however, it needed not only to be manipulated by skill but also by intelligence. Force or no Force, Karr was by no means foolish enough to permit something as simple, as utilitarian, and lethal as a poisoned dart into his prescence. Now she would see if all her careful planning had paid off. The Dark Lord had begun to speak.
"I am, above all things, a forgiving man." The Sith's voice was like an amplified whisper—if a knife could talk, this, would be what it sounded like. He pointed one long finger at her. "I have butchered entire planets with my will alone cut down countless lives for daring to challenge me-all without a moment hesitation. And yet, when asked for forgivneness, for fairness, I am more than willing to mete out my judgement. Aurra Sing. You have entered into my house, injured those to whom I have sworn protection, threatened those I hold most dear. What say you? And don't play coy. I know full well you still have most of your memories. A clever trick I admit, one that I will not fall for again."
"Lord Karr." She didn't bow, save for a slight inclination of the head. If Karr was bothered by that, he gave no signs of it. "I humbly ask for you forgiveness. It was just a job; nothing more. You were my intended target no one else."
"You have been known to cause collateral damage before. Indeed, your prescence precedes you." He tilted the lightsaber in his hand as thought inspecting it-and it was with a sudden flash of gall that Sing realized he was holding her lightsaber. Hers! She tamped down on that furious flash of indignaton, determined not to let it show. His words didn't fool her, though he might be masking his anger, she knew that the slightest slight would send it boiling to the surface. So there she stood, helpless as he closed the blade down, willing herself to take the next step to ensure her survival.
"Only to someone who knows the Force." Without being prompted, or given permission, she came several steps closer. "Quite a residence you have—this antechamber doesn't do it justice." She glanced at the walls and their electronics, then back to him, awaiting his answer. She was taking a risk, she knew, but in doing so she hoped to curry favor with the enigmatic lord. Fortune favored the bold after all. "If if pleases your lordhsip, I would propose an alliance."
"Oh?" Naruto cocked his head aside, golden eyes surverying her as though she were just that; a piece of meat. "And what could you possibly offer me, I wonder?"
"More than you think." she challenged. "For the right price."
He moved almost too fast for Sing to see; in an instant, his lightsaber was abrutply reactivated. Part of her noted almost acadeimically that the ignited shaft was the same color as her hair and jumpsuit. She had ample opportunity to appraise its exact hue because the incandescent tip now hovered entirely too close to her throat as it backed her up against the wall behind her.
"The only thing you value in this world is credits." The lightsaber that threatened her throat was as steady as if held by a droid. "But I wonder," he continued, "Do you intend to serve me solely to save your own skin, or do you truly respect the empire I seek to build? I know of your hatred for the jedi. Perhaps you might've been useful to me...if you hadn't threatned my kin."
"I told you," Sing bit back an angry hiss, fighting the invisible hand now closing around her throat. "It was...just a job. The girl...wasn't...my target."
"And yet you nearly ended her nonethless." Karr tightened his grip.
"No!" Unbidden a well of dark fury, a memory, escaped her mind. "I would never do such a thing!" She was suddenly a child again, cradled by her drug-addled mother, as she stalked the dirty streets of Nar Shadaa, in search of her next fix. Dropped by that same mother as she rushed to meet her spice-dealer. Cold. Abandoned. Alone. That was a fate she wished on no one. For all her venom and viscitude, Sing had her standards. It galled her to admit it, but she just didn't have it in her to kill kids. Karr must've sensed it, because the vicious vice around her throat loosened.
His tone did not change, but nonetheless seemed colder. "Do you presume to take me for a fool, Sing? Make no mistake bounty hunter, you are alive because I will it, nothing more." He held her against the wall for the like of an eternity, golden orbs searing into her very soul, lightsaber sizzling against her neck. Abruptly he released her completely, allowing her to suck in a breath. "It seems you are more than I thought you to be, my dear Sing.
But, putting that aside, I find myself in the strange position of being in your debt." A sharp smile plucked at the edges of his whiskered cheeks. "Your attack on my person, failed though it might be, has given me all the excuse I need to annihilate that fool of a count once and for all. I have already taken steps to that effect-as has the orignal. That leaves you. Whatever shall I do with you? I can't let you leave here without some sort of punishment; after all, what kind of example would that send?
The hunter's mind was elsewhere.
Sing wondered at that, once more finding herself drawing on the rumors of the sith lord. It was said he had the uncanny ability to duplicate himself...was this Karr before her merely one such clone?
Too late she came back to herself; saw Karr wave a black clad hand in her direction, finger extended. "I hope you've prepared yourself."
Sing barely had time to blink before a thin stream of lightning leapt from the lone digit, engulfing her body in spams of epileptic agony and sending her shrieking in pain. Her body crumpled the floor, rendered insensate beneath the barrage of Force lightning, all but nerveless by the time she struck the steel grating. The scent of smoking flesh reached her nose-causing her to wretched. That blast hadn't been enough to kill her but each of her muscles seemed to disagree on that factoid.
"Imrpessive." the dark man noted, the slightest of smiles plucking at his bleak visage. "Most impressive. "You have an admirable tolerance towards pain, miss Sing. I'll be sure to make use of that in the future. But that was but a fraction of my power." Karr strode past her, leaving her still-twitching body to regain its strength. "If you do anything to betray me or the ones I love, make no mistake, I will end you." She felt the fabric of a cloak settle about her shoulders, quelling the chill from the room. "I will send an apprentice to collect you and show you to your new quarters. You will be kept under surveillance for the next month, twenty four hours a day, until such a time as I deem you trustworthy. When that time comes...rest assured, I, will have many tasks for you. You will have the credits you so desire. Those are the conditions of our "alliance. Unless you have any objections?"
To her credit, Sing didn't take the bait; she knew objection meant death.
Instead, she lay there, silently grateful she was only in pain, not dead. The mere thought of dying rankled her. And working for a Sith Lord, let alone one as powerful as Karr? She risked a glance up at him as he strode out of the room, a portion of the wall sliding up at his departure, risingto admit him entry into the well-light hallway beyond. Its slamming shut acted like a bell of sorts, heralding an end to her old life and the beginning of a new one, its dulcet tones ringing on into the distance until they finally fades away. Sighing, Sing laid her head against the floor and contented herself to wait until her body was able to move again.
This is gonna take some getting used to...
Aayla was there to greet him as he emerged from his session with the bounty hunter, her chocolate brown eyes slightly wide as she beheld his appearance. A glance was more than enough to confirm his suspicions; she wanted to speak with him. In private. The Karr clone brutally bit back a long-suffering sigh. He was only one of many dopplegangers spread throughout the base at present; within good reason. The moment he had told his wives and apprentices of Miri's heritage, he'd been forced to lend them each a clone just to "de-stress" as they called it nowadays.
With the festivities effectively on hold, he'd no choice but to postpone his plans that he'd worked so hard to fufill-to say that he was frustrated was the least of his worries.
That Aayla had come to find him directly surprised him. It also soothed him.
Of all his students and wives he'd always been the most gentle with the twi'lek Jedi, and as such she still clung to those old Jedi doctrine at times. Her refusal to show fear amongst them. She did not quail from the dark fury boiling off his shoulders-if anything she seemed to drink it in, deflecting it off herself, like water off a duck's back.
"Aayla." he wasn't quite able to conceal his own surprise. "Is something wrong?"
She gazed up at him with sorrowed eyes, leaving him to wonder what had happened to cause such sadness.
"Do you not find me attractive, Karr?"
The blonde blinked, momentarily baffled by her words. Then he understood. Shion. He'd had a child with her, and several others were already pregnant with his children, but, due to Aayla's alien physiology, he couldn't physically have a child with her short of conceiving one through the use of Midi-Chlorians. And for all his might, Karr simply wasn't that skilled. Add to that the fact that she was still relatively new to the fold, and it was only natural she'd feel undervalued, especially with the fierce-almost daily-competition taking between all those who cherished a place in his heart.
"Who said it?" he demanded to know.
"Who said you weren't beautiful?"
"Ventress, but I'm sure its not her fau-
Naruto pressed a finger to her lips, silencing her voice.
"Ventress, hmm?" He sighed. "I will speak to her of this." Everyone was feeling the stress of this new addition, and some were lashing out. It was only natural.
Her hand was in his almost before he realized it, his lips gently touching hers, desperate to drive her sorrow away.
"You have no reason to think you're not beautiful."
That was what had caused Aayla Secura to fall in the very first place; she did not have well of untapped anger like Mariss, did not posses the vindictive tendencies of Ventress, or even the fierce pride that Bariss clearly clung to after all these years. But what she did have was passion. She was an empthatic being by nature, she always had been. For her say or do otherwise was to deny her very self. She'd fallen to her emotions but in such a way that prevented her from tapping the true potential of a Sith; something Karr silently resolved to rectify when he had the chance. But for now, he simply smiled and held her close.
"Come with me," he purred, stroking at her lekku, sending them curling in delight. "I'll show you just how beautiful you are."
"Well, I certainly wasn't expecting this." Obi-Wan murmurred.
Anakin was inclined to agree with his mentor. "Nor I, master."
A contingent of Shadow Guard were currenly them to their shuttle; they had been assigned a five-minute window to leave the planet before Karr's orbital stations blew threm clear out of the sky. The Sith had spoken with each of them in private and unbeknownst to one another, planted the first seeds of doubts deep in their minds shortly after the attack. Then he'd sent them on their way, claiming he had no further use for them, at the time. And so here they were, their lightsabers returned to them, free to go. There was just one catch. Two, actually.
Master Shaak Ti however, and to Anakin's sincere regret, was not be accompanying them. He secretly wondered if Karr had gotten to her as well, broken her like he'd broken Brood and the others. The second was that Karr had resolutely refused to return them their clothes. As such, they were stuck in this garrish garb until they returned to the Council. Anakin didn't much mind it. He thought black rather suited him; and the sight of the normally Master Kenobi squirming in these outlandish garments almost made up for this dissapointment of a planet.
"You seem tense, master." Skywalker's smile wasn't entirely forced.
"Its these blasted clothes." Kenobi grumbled, tugging at an overly long sleeve. "How do the people of this planet wear these things?"
Anakin laughed. "I think it suits you."
Obi-Wam harrumphed, his mouth twitching noticeably beneath the beard, but his words were without rancour. "Oh, shut up."
Though neither jedi would ever speak to the other of what had transpired here today, Anakin remained certain things had changed between them. He couldn't put his finger on it...only that they must've. There was an uneasiness about his mentor, an edginess that hadn't been there before, he felt distant and preoccupied in the Force. He had no way of knowing that Naruto had spoken to his master of Siri, shaking his beliefs that his one-time love no longer harboured any feelings for him.
"Keep it moving, jedi!" Grievous barked, his words rife with derision. "I'd hate to see something happen to you."
"Ah, yes." Kenobi replied tactfully. "Perish the thought...
Anakin quietly clutched the comlink Karr had given him, secreted away on his belt. He could no longer contact his mother with it, but just holding it somehow bolstered his confidence.
"Patience, my young padawan." his master cautioned. "This Dark Lord will reveal his hand in due time; for now, it is up to us to relay this information to the Council."
"Yes, master." the words were a littany, but Anakin felt it neccessary to add to them. "As well as those clothes."
Although he was delighted to be reunited with his master, and perhaps just as-if not moreso-pleased to be off this tempting planet, Anakin Skywalker couldn't quite drive the Dark Lord out of his mind. Naruto embodied the very essence of the Dark Side, and yet in some strange way, the padawan almost...admired him. He had erected his own government, ruling with a fair and just hand-dealing death only when neccessary, but, when threatened, he annihilated all who would threaten his people, safeguarding them at the cost of his own resources. In a way the padawan all but understood his motives. He was trying to make the world a better place in his own way. It was almost admirable. Nothing he'd seen on this planet had suggested he was as heartless as everyone claimed him to be. But if that was the case, then why-
"You may release their restraints now, Grievous." A soft, feminine voice announced, causing him to come about suddenly.
Indeed, the Mirilian Jedi stood there at the foot of their shuttled quietly awaiting their arrival. For a heartbeat, he amost thought she was would be leaving with them. But then he saw it. Tthere, bulging noticeably under her garb. Her stomach. Anakin didn't need the Force to know what he was looking at. Bariss was pregnant. Everything fell into place. That was why Karr was so uncharacteristic for a Sith. He cared. He had a family. He would probably have children in a month or so. Karr was a sith and he still loved. Who would've thought..
Obi-Wan's reaction was slightly less profound; the moment Grievous released their binders he marched right towards the former jedi.
"You're...looking well, padawan."
Bariss shook her head.
"You know I'm not a padawan anymore, Obi-Wan."
"No, you're not, are you."
"You should come with us." Kenobi insisted. "We can help you." Anakin instantly knew it was the wrong thing to say.
"Help?" For the first time, Bariss's gentle expression vanished, replaced by one of utter scorn. "Why do you think I need help? Can't you see that I'm happy here with my husband? Away from you Jedi and your damned hypocrisy?" she shook her head sharply the ebony curtain of her hair swaying from side to side."War is coming, Obi-Wan. I only hope you realize the truth and leave the order before its too late." Anakin's jaw nearly fell clear off his face. Karr had married Bariss? The convuluted picture of Darth Karr took another turn in his mind. If the man actually cared enough to marry a jedi...
Obi-Wan gave it one last try. "You don't mean that. Please, listen to what you're saying."
"No, you listen to what you're saying." Just like that, her anger vanished, leaving Bariss looking abashed. "I'm sorry. That was unkind of me. Please give my regards to Master Luminara. I'm sure she's been worried sick these last few years. Tell her I'm alright; I'm happy here."
"We will." Anakin promised. "May the Force be with you."
"And you, my friend." Bariss said nothing more as the ramp descended.
"Up you go." Grievous gestured menacingly with a lightsaber. "And don't come back."
The shuttle rapidly cleared the atmosphere as the two jedi input the coordinates and made the jump to hyperspace, clearing the planet just before the five minute mark. And still those words lingered in Anakin's mind.
"If ever you have need of power, seek me out."
Seek me out.
At these words Celeste Morne woke with a start, her eyes fluttering open, her body arching against the bench as life was breathed back into her body. That was her first mistake. Her second was trying to stand so soon after emerging from her comatose state; her body betrayed her. Knees buckled and legs collapsed, unabe to support her weight, leaving her helpless to pitch forward helplessly towards the floor. She was so weak; she couldn't even focus enough to draw upon the Force to steady herself in time to prevent the collision.
But before her face could kiss the unyielding permacrete, a pair of strong arms wrapped around, supporting her as the room swam in and out of focus. She could hear running water at a distance, the sounds of chirping birds and other wildlife gradually becoming more and more apparent to her as she recovered.
"Welcome back to the land of the living my dear." An eerily familiar voiced purred. "Again."
It took everything she had not to start when she saw Karr's face. Those golden eyes sent shivers shooting down her spine. But though he could've easily stranged her, in this instant, he made no move. Silence. Celeste waited for the spirit of Karness Muur to say something, but there was only silence. Without thinking, she touched a hand to her neck, expecting to feel the living metal of that awful necklace. But instead she felt only all of her throat and collarbone, utterly unharmed.
Celeste sat up, pawing at her chest. The Muur Talisman was gone! She peered up at the Sith, half-expecting to see it wrapped around his neck, but it wasn't there, either. Had it latched onto someone else, then? Would the Rhakgoul plauge start anew? After all she'd done to stop it?! As if sensing her distress, the sith began to laugh. The fiend! Was he actually delighting in her fear?! Was he-
"Oh, that thing?" Karr turned his head aside, revealing his smile. "I destroyed it. Couldn't risk having
"Crushed it in the palm of my hand." he made a fist for emphasis. "You'd be surprised how fragile the darn thing was. A couple of shatterpoints and wham! Gone."
"Thank you, Sith." the words burst from her lips before she could think to stop them. "As much as I hate to admit it, I am in your debt."
"I'd rather you call me by my given name, not sith." he admonished.
"And what might that be?"
"Does this face look like its kidding?" the blonde deadpanned. "Its either that or Karr. Take it or leave it."
"Alright, Naruto, where are we, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Why, my garden of course." Karr explained, indicating the thriving wildlife around them with a wave of a glove hand. "Your body's already fully healed; I thought a change of scenery might aid in your recovery. I often come here to meditate when I find myself ill at ease." Celeste found it difficult to reconcile a Sith with something so peaceful as mediation, let alone this beautiful scenery. Her surroundings were a peaceable blue, upon which a bio-habitat might survive virtually unpolluted and unaided.
"You're more than welcome to stay awhile." Karr replied. "Clear your head, smell the roses."
"I don't have any other choice, do I?"
"Not really, no.
Celeste exhaled in a long suffering sigh. Just who was this Sith? One moment he was trying to draw out her inner darkness, the next he was as calm and peaceful as this garden around was...frightening. Perhaps hewas only being kind to her because she'd escaped the debilitating effects of the Muur Talisman? Whatever, the case, Celeste Morne began to realize this Sith might not be so hopelessly lost as she'd first believed him to be. Perhaps she could do something about that.
"As a Jedi, it is my duty to reform and/or kill you." she warned. "I won't take kindly to your advancements."
The sith smiled softly, it was possibly the most charming sight she'd ever seen.
"Always did like a challenge."
Memories of all these experiences and more came rushing back to Naruto, making the task he was about to perform all the more sweet. It was all coming together. His grand plan. But first, there was one last matter to address before he began the operation.
And it would be by far, the most satisfying of all.
Karr, the original, waited patiently for the transmission to filter across time and space. Two images sprang up before him, one a great deal larger than the other. The senior Sith lord appeared in a shimmer of robes and shadows as his protege rippled into existence beside him. Indeed, Sidious's hologram, filled the space at one end of the room, rising up before them menacingly. The dark-cloaked figure at its center gestured in respect toward Karr, that single motion earning a slight cringe from Count Dooku.
"Greetings, Lord Kar." Smooth and silky, his voice oozed through the shadowy ether, making himself heard throughout the entire room as though he were actually present. "To what do we owe this audience?"
"Greetings, my lords." Naruto's every word dripped with derision. "Before we begin, I have a few words for Count Dumbass over here."
Dooku visibly bristled, his face purpling at the blonde's blatant disrespect.
"You impertinent little-
"Calm yourself, Lord Tyrannus." Darth Sidious soothed, hands spreading in a placating motion, hidden within his dark robes. "Let him speak."
Like an iron trap, Naruto's gaze locked onto the count's own. The sheer intensity of his stare, the sudden ice in his expression, was enough to silence the room. Nothing moved. Nothing at all. And then he spoke, voice black as pitch, eyes cold as the coldest winter.
"Did you really think you could kill me?"
"What nonsense is this?" Dooku scoffed, but it was there, the slightest narrowing of his eyes through the hologram. "Master, surely you do not-
"Lord Tyrannus," Sidious whispered softly, his voice dark with malice, "Surely you did not disobey my edict?"
"O-Of course not, master!"
"Believe what you will." Karr shrugged. "It doesn't change the fact that there was an attack on my compound; perpetuated by Aurra Sing. She was so kind to identify her employer before I killed her." A lie to be certain but Dooku didn't have to know his top assassin had gone turncoat on him. "I know for a fact that she has been in your employ, count. Were you so furious that I took Ventress from you, that you needed to last out and reclaim your honor? Pride dicated your actions, now it is your pride that I'm going to destroy. You're no better than an Uchiha; and you're going to be slaughtered like one. With your head on a pike!"
His gaze switched to Sidious.
"And as for you. Don't think I don't know your game. You may play the part of the benevolent master, but you're worse than Orochimaru. I doubt you know who that is exactly, but, trust me when I say you've gottabe absolute scum to be worse than him. You want to rule it all, put everything under your thumb. Well, I've got news for ya, Palpatine," and here, his grin did grow another inch, "Ain't gonna happen. I may not be able to reveal your identity to the world, as I very much doubt anyone in the Republic would believe me, so I'll settle for the next best thing. I'm going to ruin you. Know this! I am more, than just Uzumaki Naruto, more than Darth Karr!"
"Who are you, then?" Sidious challenged, momentarily bemused.
"I am vengeance." Naruto spread his arms wide, his shadow seeming to encompass the entire room. "I am the night! I am Ba-
Abruptly, Karr frowned and checked his notes.
"Oops, my bad." he chuckled, sifting through the papers. "Wrong speech! Lets try this again:
I am order. I am unity. I am everything the two of you fear; everything you've failed to be, and will never bcome. I will take this galaxy and unite it; I will create a world so bereft of darkness that there will be no place for the likes of you or myself! I may be loathed for this, I may even be spat upon, by those for whom I care and love...but I will prevail." His gaze pinnioned the two Sith Lords with a furious glower, golden eyes narrow with dissapointment and anger. "Wanna know the funny part? You coud've been a part of this.
I had thought to work with the two of you to establish a true era of peace, but I see now that so long as you remain, my dream can never be realized. Your legacy is always to betray one another; killing one of you, would serve no purpose. I must try the hard path; take the road less traveled. I hereby declare myself an enemy of you both, come what will. Dooku, your days are done. Sidious, yours are already numbered. I will leave you each a month to make peace with your lives and amass your forces before I come for you and know this; it won't make any difference. You'll. Never. See. Me. Coming. For I am Darth Karr. And..."
"Everything will burn." Before either Sith could get a word in edgewise, Naruto ended the transmission.
Dooku could already feel the sweat beading upon his face; his earlier composure deserting him in the face of Karr's threat. He'd been serious. Deadly serious. His mind couldn't explain it, but his very soul was filled with pure, primal fear at the thought of the Sith Lord coming for him. And to make mattters worse, he'd brought this fate down on his own head.
His only solace was that he was still upon Serano, miles from Coruscant and away from Sidious. But that did precious little to lessen this fear. Karr knew. He didn't know how but somehow the man knew, and now he was coming for him with all the might of his armada, one month from today. What's more-he was no longer entirely certain if Darth Sidious trusted him anymore. He might just be content to replace him with Karr, or worse...kill them both!
They'd been right, he'd let his pride get the better of him. Now he was on the out and if he didn't do something, something soon...
...his head would end up on a pike!
Sidious, in contrast, was only slightly ruffled by the blonde's blindsiding betrayal. He'd been expecting something of the sort for some time now, but it irked him to no end that Lord Tyrannus had bolloxed everything up by making an attempt on Karr's life. He'd hoped to lull the fool into a false sense of security and terminate him in the future with one grand stroke. Now, he no longer had a choice in the matter. He would have to move up his plans. The fool had given him a month, and he would make good use of it. In a one month, he would make certain that war erupted between the Republic and the Separatists, and use that chaos to obliterate the arrogant upstart as he should have done from the beginning.
Tyrannus was a broken pawn now; he could still be used to instigate the war, but, with limited effectiveness. No matter. When the time came, Skywalker would be more than a suitable replacement for him...if this eerie sense of foreboding in the matter would just leave him be. Surely Karr hadn't done something to the boy...or had he? The boy was young and with youth often came arroagance. He wouldn't put it past him. If that were truly the case, then he'd just have to use his trump card. Surely a month would be more than enough for those cloners on Kamino, and with the appropriate tissue samples...
Pushing a hand through his graying hair, Palpatine extracted an encrypted comlink from his desk and made a call.
It was time...
...time for the contingency plan.
A/N: And there we have it! The alliance is broken! The war is on! The events of Attack of the Clones are rapidly approaching, in fact, you'll see them next chapter! Expect to see a month's timeskip in that regard! Narutoa' plans are finally coming together, but just what are they? And Palpatine's getting ready to pull out that trump card...wonder what it is? On another note, it felt damned good to jump back into the thickof things and get this story rolling again! As I'm sure you've all noticed, I've been on a crazy updating spree, and though its taking its toll on me, and even with this blasted new job eating up all of my mornings and most of the afternoon, I'm still resolved to continue!
So...in the Immortal words of Darth Vader...
...Review...IT IS YOUR DESTINY!