Satellite Inos, Capella System
Year -19 BSW, four days after the end of the clone wars
The moon Inos hung silently in the black void of space above its parent. From where the Hall of Darkness lay, in the center of a giant crater, the planet Capella filled the starlit sky as the shuttle came in on its approach vector. As the shuttle drew close to the sunken circle of ground upon which the Hall lay, a square of vectoring lights came to life, revealing a landing pad. The newly designed, sterile white Tyderium-class shuttle set down in a smooth landing, then began to descend as it was lowered down into a small underground hanger. Small enough for only a few of such ships, it was nonetheless occupied by several technicians and a score of storm troopers. The former rushed forward as soon as the shuttle came to floor-level, securing the landing docks as the overhead trapdoor slid closed once more. As the room was enveloped in darkness, the storm troopers lined up parallel to the cockpit, forming a pathway that lead to the envoy waiting at the exit. When the red auxiliary lights came on, the troopers were in perfect order.
The shuttle’s boarding ramp descended, and a dark figure appeared in the hatchway. After a few seconds, it strode down the ramp, booted feet barely making a sound. Envoy Mas felt more than uneasy at seeing the newcomer, and he wiped his sweaty palms on the sides of his pants, knowing it betrayed his nervousness. As the figure approached, Mas could make him out more clearly. The visitor wore a cloak, black as night, covering his hands and extending down to his heels. Standing two meters tall, his head was hooded and his face was so far in shadow that Mas couldn’t see anything of it.
Standing as straight as he could, Mas gave the figure a respectable bow. After all, the visitor was still to be treated as a dark lord. “Welcome to Inos, sir. I’ll escort you to the main hallway.”
He waited a full five seconds for a response, but got none. Turning on his heel, Mas started off, leading the way into the turbolift, not knowing whether he was followed or not. Entering the enclosed lift, Mas turned around. The black-cloaked figure had indeed followed and now stood before him, barely a meter away, yet Mas hadn’t heard a sound. The figure moved near the side of the lift as Envoy Mas punched in the command to take them to surface level. The doors closed, and the turbolift started upward.
The dark visitor reached up and threw the hood back, revealing his face. Mas involuntarily went back a step. Although he couldn’t tell the age of a Jedi, he guessed that this one was fairly old. The man had short-cropped gray hair, and likewise grew his mustache and beard fairly short over his stern-looking face and squared-off jaw. Only a few spots of black on the gray hinted at its former color. His once handsome face had a small number of scars decorating it.
“Time to pacify the elders,” said the Dark Jedi in a sarcastic tone. “I hate crowded places. Don’t you?”
Envoy Mas swallowed hard, then nodded once.
* * *
The ten-meter high, elaborately carved double doors split down an otherwise invisible seam, and slowly opened. As soon as there was enough room for his wide frame to fit through, Dark Jedi Master Runis strode into the Grand Hall of the Brotherhood of Darkness. Protected by his cloak from the stares from the sub-level seating area to each side, he made his way across the hundred meter long red carpet, leading like a red lightsaber shaft to the black stone bench behind which sat the members of the Dark Council. The Grand Hall was a massive chamber with room for over a thousand visitors and Jedi. The number of such Dark Jedi had been significantly reduced by this time, however. Countless years of war and brutal conflict had all but decimated what had once been a powerful order of Dark Jedi. In truth, they had nearly been wiped out to a man by Lord Kaan’s folly in the war between Jedi and Sith a thousand years before. Fortunately, history always forgot a few details, and there had been more survivors, those not on Ruusan, that the galaxy at large was unaware of. Now their descendents were in hiding, banished from the rest of the galaxy and prevented from acting by the rise of a powerful rogue, an adherent of the Rule of Two named Darth Sidious, who had wiped out the Jedi in one clever stroke and had now risen to become Emperor of the newly formed Galactic Empire.
Now in the chamber only the first three rows of seats were filled, and not full at that. Some were masters; more were merely apprentices. The glory days had passed.
To either side of Runis, above the area for the dark brothers, sat a large balcony on each side, intended for VIPs and other special visitors. A few beings sat up there, their faces hidden in shadow.
Directly ahead was the massive stone bench. Behind it sat the five members of the Dark Council, each diverse from each another in his or her own way. Runis could sense the tale-tell traces through the Force that distinguished them each as unique, like snowflakes. He doubted any of them were aware such subtleties even existed, however. His studies, considered arcane by most, had taught him many new and forbidden things.
Above and behind their position sat the Grand Master. The crooked, ancient figure sat stone still, and his white beard extended downward from under his hood, onto his chest. His eyes were not visible, but the heavy, drooping bags under them could be seen. Known more for his devotion to tradition than anything else, he had presided over many years of stagnation in the Brotherhood. Old coot, Runis thought. You’ve been in office too long. But your time will be over soon.
Behind the Grand Master hung the banners of the Brotherhood, and the Grand Master, and those before him, though the current one had been in power for a hundred years. Runis stopped a few meters away from the bench and waited patiently.
The Deputy Grand Master, a gray-bearded man who sat at the center of the bench, stood and addressed everyone present in a grave tone.
“Dark brothers,” he spoke, “We are gathered here to pronounce judgment on an audacious member of our order, who is charged with the most serious of crimes. Master at Arms Estod, present the charges.”
Cernis, my old friend, I knew you couldn’t convict me yourself, Runis thought. After all these years, I know you did not wish to see me thus. But your concern for me is a waste. I have no such admonitions about you.
Estod stood beside Cernis, and began after swallowing once. The dim light shone palely on his balding head. “Brothers assembled here, we have before us a traitor the likes of which the Sith Lords have never known. Master Runis, standing here before us, has conspired against the Sith - and has, in secret, attempted to create his own order, apart from ours…” He waited for a moment to let the words sink in, his eyes trying to bore straight through Runis.
“Rebellion in itself is nothing new to us. However,” Estod continued, looking around at the assemblage, “It is not as much this fact as to the nature of Runis’ supposed order. Runis has ventured into ancient places, forbidden to our Brotherhood, tapping into the forbidden powers older than recorded history. He no longer summons the Dark Side of the Force…” He paused to let the words have the desired effect, a ripple of murmurs emanating from those seated to either side of Runis. Fool, Runis thought. They didn’t understand anything about him after all this time.
Estod’s eyes narrowed. “Obviously, this idea cannot be allowed to stray into the hands of our apprentices here, nor to escape into the galaxy to become a threat such as it once was, as recorded in the most ancient Holocron. As entailed by our honorable Grand Master’s laws, such a crime is punishable by nothing other than death.”
Now we go into the long debates. Perhaps I can sway Cernis to my side. “If I may be allowed to speak…” he began.
“The Council members will now vote,” Estod announced.
What!? Runis made no effort to hide his shock. They have already decided to kill him. They were going to put him to death in total ignorance. “What kind of trickery is this?” he challenged. “You’re all dooming yourselves. My methods will save the Brotherhood, and the rest of the entire galaxy! Your nearsighted schemes have degraded the Brotherhood through all these years!”
“No! Things have been on a downward spiral since our predecessors were wiped out at Ruusan,” Another Council member, Judicator Distrun, a broad-shouldered Togarian, spouted angrily. “We cannot allow your heresy to destroy the remains of our order!”
“Show respect for our leaders, heretic!” another voice called out to Runis.
Distrun’s words struck at Runis like a viper. He continued. “And now the war is over, and the galaxy has been handed over to that ill-trained rogue, Sidious.”
“Actually…” Farn, the always logical and precise Warden, interrupted quietly. “Sidious’ master, Plagueis, was ultimately a descendent of Darth Bane…”
“It doesn’t matter,” Distrun shot back. “The point is still the same. Now the galaxy is ruled by one who is not one of us. If there can only be two Sith, what of the rest of us? Things will only become more…”
“Silence!” Estod called out, ending the argument. “There is more going on here than most of you realize. The new Emperor may not be our enemy. And he has done a great work for our cause by removing the scourge of rule under the Jedi. No Sith in history has achieved such a complete victory. To keep an eye on this… Palpatine, we had to take care of his former advisor, Kinman Doriana. Soon we will be moving in a new one to replace him.
“So, as you can see,” he said confidently, now addressing Runis. “We have all the power we need. Never before has the galaxy been dominated so completely by the Dark Side. We have no use for you or your heresy. Your use of forbidden methods has condemned you already. Now, the Council shall render its vote.”
Runis remained silent as, one by one, the council members spoke into Estod’s ear. He hesitated, then, standing once again, he pronounced the decision with a look of resignation on his face that Runis knew was as much a lie as the legalities were.
“The verdict… is guilty.” His eyes met Runis’. “Master Runis, you must be terminated for the sake of the Brotherhood. Guards, you will escort Runis out of the chamber and to the detention level for disintegration.”
Runis stiffened, preparing his escape plan.
As two armored guards came up on either side, Runis called out a plea. “Cernis, do not do this. You know I am not involved in such heresy. This is against all tradition. I demand a fair trial, by a council of my peers.”
Estod shook his head and spoke up instead. “Your request is denied. You have been tried, and you consider us to be your inferiors. We have more than enough proof of what you’ve done. I’m sorry, my onetime friend. Guards, take him away.”
The guards went to grab his sleeves, but Runis shrugged them off. “I know the way. Cernis, I cannot believe you think I would cause trouble here. I do have enough honor to accept my fate,” he lied.
Cernis turned his head away, no longer meeting Runis’ baleful gaze. Then Runis turned and strode toward the entrance doors, flanked by the guards.
Halfway down the carpet, Runis cocked his head toward the guards. “What’s wrong?” he whispered. “Do you think I could overpower the whole Brotherhood?”
One of the guards swallowed at that, but the other said sternly, “Move.”
Shaking his head, Runis dropped his hands to his sides, the lightsaber in the arm of his cloak dropping into his right hand. He spun as he ignited the blade, its violet edge slicing cleanly through both of the guards effortlessly.
The Council members stood almost as one and Runis turned to face them. Each showed an expression of outrage, shock, anger. The Grand Master had mysteriously not moved from his position. Runis smiled to himself. The crowd members were all turned back in their seats in shock that Runis had concealed a lightsaber past all their security. Runis knew they were all probably angry enough to crush him flat with the Dark Side, but he was faster. Without warning, he cast Blackness, a dark side power. A camouflaging veil of black smoke enshrouded Runis, and he vanished from sight.
Seconds after the dark cloud obscured him from their view, Deputy Grand Master Cernis sent the black screen into the air vents with the Force, but when floor was clear again, Runis was gone.
“Red alert!” he yelled. “We have an escaped prisoner. Secure all exits; we must find him!”
* * *
Envoy Mas heard the alert as he was about to order the Shuttle’s departure. He turned to the troops around him. “Listen up, troopers! There’s an escaped convict heading our way! He is a Jedi Master, so shoot first and don’t ask questions!”
He reached into his holster and pulled out his modified hand-held blaster. Setting it for full power, he turned toward turbolift.
Just then the turbolift started downward. A chill involuntarily shot up his spine.
“All right, men, this is it!” he called.
The turbolift descended. The troops gathered beside him, watching as time seemed to slow and the turbolift seemed to take forever. Finally it reached the bottom, and the doors opened. All guns were upon the interior.
The turbolift was empty.
Mas looked up just as Runis dropped from the rafters, over fifty meters above. He landed lightly behind the stunned envoy, and as Mas turned around to face him, Runis reached out and calmly took the blaster from his hand.
Runis turned toward the troops, who hadn’t yet recovered from their shock. Quickly he wrapped them all in tendrils of the Force, holding them in place, and with a smile he drove his fist back into Mas’ face, hearing a cracking noise. He felt the man fall back. The gun in his other hand, he switched it over to stun, and with a few shots put all the troopers down onto the floor. Then he calmly walked over them and up the Shuttle’s ramp even as it began lifting up.
Runis moved into the cockpit as the Shuttle cleared the floor. “Thanks for the assistance,” he told the skinny human pilot.
“No problem,” the mercenary Runis had hired replied stiffly. “You’re money’s good, and…” the blaster shot into his head silenced him.
Pulling the pilot’s body out of the seat, Runis sat down and proceeded to lead the shuttle away from the moon. As he pulled out, the Shuttle’s backwash provided the hanger’s inhabitants a clean, private crematory.
The shuttle left the planet’s gravity well as the Imperial fighters that Runis had betrayed the council to came in on their approach vector. The laser batteries and missile launchers of the Hall of Darkness opened up, offering stiff resistance, but the fighters were coming in too fast to target accurately. Locking torpedoes on the Hall, they fired without mercy. The first torpedo streamed in toward the Dark Hall and hit the ceiling viewport. It entered the main chamber and detonated in midair, incinerating everything and everyone that remained inside by that point. More missiles hit the exterior of the Hall, pulverizing stone and duracrete, and wiping out the weapons batteries. Then, defenseless, the Hall succumbed to an endless wave of fire that tore through the interior and ripped it apart. As the fighters pulled away from their attack runs and sped away into space, the Dark Hall was a pile of smoldering ruins.
* * *
And so it began.
By Joshua Ausley
a.k.a. Xar “Sauron” Kerensky