Sunday, June 25, 2006

Chapter Seventeen

They were riding in a small hovercraft with a large hemispherical cover. They had rented it in Shareed, and to cover their story that they were tourists, they had also rented some holographic recording equipment. They also had shopping bags in the hovercraft, filled with clothing Sentinel had picked up in a bazaar near the hovercraft rental place.

So now, they were officially on their way to check out the ruins to the South of town. This was also remarkably near the location the Jedi were rumored to have set up their encampment.

They crossed a huge ocean of sand dunes. It felt exactly like that... a sand ocean... because they had gone from the city, with it’s silver spires, and were headed towards the mountains on the far side of this dune sea.

Vader asked her to pilot the hovercraft. He seemed to be trying to keep himself in an alert, but relaxed state. She couldn’t get any real reading on him or his mental state as he was doing his best to cloak his own Force abilities from other Force sensitives.

She was cloaking her own Force abilities, as well. She hoped she was doing a good enough job of it. She was pretty sure Vader would have let her know if she wasn’t.

She watched the mountains growing in front of her. The sand/dust storm had thankfully calmed down, and the sky was actually a clear, deep blue. The sun was starting to set, and the mountains surrounding the dune sea left long shadows.

They arrived at the foot of the mountains, near the ruin of a temple. The temple was carved out of the mountain itself. The artwork at the entrance was breathtaking. In the artwork were representations of bipedal creatures, with muzzles, all bowing in worship. At the top of the entrance to the temple was the object of their worship, which looked very much like an image of the sun.

Sun worshipers. So the original inhabitants of this world were sun worshipers, Sentinel thought.

She brought the hovercraft to a halt, and with a push of the button, the hemisphere started to slide open at the sides, leaving the top of the craft still covered with the transparent material.

They both jumped out of the ship. Sentinel reached back in to grab her bag of tricks, and the holo-recording equipment. Best to keep up appearances until they needed to show their true colors.

“Xam, get in front of this entrance! I’ve got to get a shot of you with the artwork!” she called.

Vader seemed to slump his shoulders. In order to maintain appearances, he was going to have to go along with her request, or have some sortof ‘friends-on-vacation’ argument regarding it. It was easier to just go along with her idea. But he wasn’t exactly feeling photogenic just then.

He stood in the massive entranceway, the top of the entrance easily twice his height. “How’s this, Venga?”

“Fine!” Sentinel said, taking the shot, while muttering to herself under her breath, “’Vessa’, you idiot... how hard is it to remember a common name like Vessa?”

Then Sentinel turned on the light she’d brought, shone it inside the temple, and said, “Let’s check it out!”

Vader turned on his light, and they entered the temple.

The walls were covered in similar carvings, more bipedal forms with long muzzles, bowing or somehow showing subservience to something very sun-like. Sentinel got shots of everything as they walked deeper into the temple passageway.

About 40 meters in the passageway suddenly widened into a huge square room, at least 100 meters on a side. The ceiling was out of sight from the light. Every footfall caused an echo.

In the center of the room stood an obelisk, of solid black. It gleamed in the light. It was amazingly shiny and clean considering how dusty this part of the planet happened to be.

Vader approached the obelisk, and caressed it as he walked by. He felt strangely drawn to it.

But Sentinel felt the pull much more strongly than Vader, and found herself just standing in front of it, somewhat dumbstruck.

It took her a moment to realize that it looked out of place here. Why that was, she couldn’t quite say. But it felt like it was an after-thought, something brought in, something alien to the original culture that had lived on this planet.

She walked up to it, reached out to touch it, when someone shouted.

“Sith!” a man yelled, from the far side of the temple.

“So, our intelligence was correct.” A woman said, off to their right.

“And we finally have our chance to strike back.” another man said, on her left.

“You will find, Lord Vader, that we are much harder to kill than Jedi younglings.” This was a man standing behind them both.

They whirled at each new voice. Sentinel set down her light, her holo-recorder, her satchel, and almost joyfully removed her pastel trappings to display just her black jumpsuit. She saw, out of the corner of her eye, Vader placing his light on the ground, and then removing his visor and his ridiculous baby-blue robe, revealing the more dignified and impressive outfit he lived in day and night.

“So, we were expected.” Vader rumbled. “Good. That will only make this all the more... interesting.”

The man behind them, who was blocking their exit, walked closer to them. “You were expected. And alone, of all things. So who is this person?” he gestured in Sentinel's direction.

Vader nodded at her, giving her permission to handle her own introduction.

“Darth Sentinel, at your service.” Sentinel bowed elaborately, grinning. This was going to be fun. As long as there weren’t too many of them.

4 more Jedi came out of various side chambers, helping to complete the circle.

Uh-oh. Ok, it would be a fun, but very challenging, fight, Sentinel thought.

“And you are?” Vader asked the man closest to them.

“I am Jedi Master Wimble. One of the many survivors of order 66. That’s all you need to know, and all you get to know.”

“How rude.” Sentinel commented.

“Rude is destroying our temple, killing our younglings. Attempting to exterminate the rest of us.”

“The younglings would have become a threat to the Emperor, and therefore the Empire. Your paltry attempt at a coup meant your entire organization was suspect.” Vader spoke coldly, but Sentinel thought she detected a speck of doubt in him.

And she found herself struck by a fact she hadn’t known. Vader had killed Jedi younglings in carrying out order 66.

She looked at Vader. “You killed younglings?” she asked.

“Yes, he killed younglings. When the temple was attacked by the Stormtroopers, Vader was at the head of the offensive. With the exception of 5 adults, the only ones left in the Temple were younglings” Master Wimble said. “My informant was very specific about Vader’s role during the initial execution of order 66.”

“You killed younglings?” Sentinel asked again.

“Sentinel, you don’t know who you are working with, do you? Judging from the tone in your voice, maybe there’s still hope for you...” Wimble stated.

Sentinel stared at Vader, mouth slightly open, brow furrowed.

“Sentinel, now is not the time to have these doubts. Now is the time to trust me, and remember your loyalties.” Vader softly rumbled, disconcerted by how easily she was swayed by the Jedi Master.

“Now is the exact time for these doubts, Sentinel! This is your chance to choose to follow the right path, to turn away from the Dark Side, to keep from living a life of evil and regret!” Wimble exclaimed.

Sentinel turned to look at Wimble, anxiety and doubt clearly expressed upon her face.

“But... you Jedi want to overthrow the Empire.” She said, meekly. “You want to continue this dissension, this war.”

“We tried to end the war. We wanted peace for the galaxy. I have sources that state that the Emperor staged the war, that he was actually secretly behind the Separatist movement, using that as an excuse to increase his hold over the Senate and eventually be able to take full control, and become the Emperor. We want what’s best for the Empire: for the Emperor to be overthrown, for worlds to be allowed to govern themselves once more, and for a return to the galaxy being governed by the Senate. We want democracy back. We want personal freedoms back.” Wimble looked at her, earnestly, trying to break through her confusion.

“No, no, you want to take over the Empire for yourselves, you want to take control of it from the Emperor.” she said, shaking her head.

A girl from another side of the room said “We don’t want to rule the Empire. We just want the Republic back; we just want the Republic’s people to be free once more.”

“Sentinel!” Vader roared. “Don’t listen to them! They will cloud your mind with their talk. Their way failed to earn peace for the galaxy. Our way will complete that task. Their way was and is doomed to failure.”

“But... but...” Sentinel faltered.

“Look at me!” Vader yelled. “Trust. Me.” He used every last ounce of his feelings for her in those 2 words.

Vader said trust me.

Sentinel heard love me.

Sentinel turned from Vader, to stare at the Jedi, her eyes suddenly blazingly yellow. “Do not mistake where my loyalties lie, Jedi.” She growled. “They are most certainly not with you.”

Wimble sighed. “Then we must kill you as well. It’s a pity. It sounded like there might have still been hope for you.”

“You can certainly TRY to kill me, Jedi. But I assure you, you will fail.” Sentinel snarled.

Lightsabers ignited all over the room. 2 of them were red, of course, the rest where greens and blues, and one purple lightsaber.

And the battle was joined.

Vader and Sentinel initially took a defensive stance, keeping the obelisk on one side, and their backs to each other.

The Jedi attacked, two tackling a Sith Lord at a time, the rest standing back, waiting for an opening where they could attack without endangering their fellows. When a Jedi started to tire, he would fall back, and a rested Jedi would take his place.

It was starting to wear Sentinel and Vader down. But it was also angering them, both, and thus giving them the Dark Side energy they needed to maintain their defense.

Sentinel sensed a nudge in her mind from Vader, heard him tell her it was time to change tactics. In unison, the both feinted, then pulled back and jumped over their attackers heads, each beheading one of their attackers before landing on the other side.

Two down. Six to go.

This enraged some of the remaining Jedi. But they had no practice with the Dark Side, and the anger merely made them sloppy. A few more coordinated feints, and another 3 Jedi were slain.

Vader relished the power, the fluid motion of the battle itself. He felt Sentinel also glorifying in her skill over the other Jedi, as she allowed herself to become more and more enmeshed in her Dark Side powers.

The remaining 3 Jedi did their best, valiantly fighting. Then there were two. One of them broke off, trying to run for one of the side corridors. He was screaming something... Sentinel thought it was “Evacuate!”, but she couldn’t be sure. He never made it to the corridor... her well tossed lightsaber split him into two pieces.

Running away from the fight... coward, Sentinel thought. Then she called her lightsaber back to her.

She turned to see the final Jedi’s body relieved of the weight of it’s head. The body fell forward, almost as if it were bowing low to the ground to Lord Vader.

And it was done.

They turned to each other. Sentinel was torn between the desire to be with Vader, here, now, in this place, with the dead bodies of the Jedi scattered around them... and the desire to duel Vader and prove for once and for all who the more powerful Sith Lord was.

Promise... she thought.

She took several deep breaths, and disengaged her lightsaber, smoothly hooking it onto her belt. On the last of her deep breaths, as she opened her eyes, the yellow fully dissipated, and her jade green eyes returned.

Vader watched her, head tilted. He sensed her arousal, and shared it. But he didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of either of them being... vulnerable... right now. He sensed something was very wrong with this place.

And the fact that the Jedi had been told to expect him was not giving Vader any warm fuzzies.

Sentinel started to walk towards him, and was about to ask him why he still had his lightsaber ignited. Before she could get the words out, 3 children ran out of one of the side corridors, yelling, short lightsabers ignited.

Sentinel turned, instantly igniting her lightsaber, and easily defended herself against the younglings. They concentrated their attack on her. She could sense their palpable fear of Vader. In comparison, she seemed easy pickings.

She blocked every thrust, and was able to knock the lightsaber out of one child’s hands. She took the blade, using the Force to snatch it out of the air, and while still fighting, hooked the blade to her belt.

The weaponless child backed away, frightened. And Vader strode forward and quickly beheaded him.

Sentinel turned towards Vader, as did the remaining two children. “No! They’re just children!” she yelled.

The two younglings, a little boy and girl who couldn’t have been more than 11 standard years of age, quit fighting Sentinel, and attacked Vader. He cut the girl down almost an instant later. The boy dropped his lightsaber, and ran, but tripped on a rock and went right down with his face in the sand, yelping.

Vader walked quickly towards the boy, but was surprised when Sentinel got to the child first, and covered him with her body, looking up at Vader with tears in her eyes.

“Get out of my way, Sentinel!” Vader ordered.

She shook her head, tears streaming down her cheeks, unhindered.

“Move!” Vader yelled.

“No! We can’t kill them!” She sobbed. “They’re just children!”

“Do as I command!”

She shook her head, defiantly, sadly. Vader raised his saber for the killing blow.

Sentinel lowered her head, exposing her neck. Her body would not be a sufficient shield, she thought. But she couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t try to stop him from this terrible act.

And she couldn’t bring herself to instead fight him. She couldn’t. Her lightsaber was still in her hand, but she had turned it off. She sensed that fighting him over this would bring about the end of everything. It would be worse than losing her life.

Suddenly, Sentinel sensed everything as if it were happening in slow motion. Her eyes were closed, but she saw with her inner eye what was happening around her. Her perspective in her inner vision was such that she could see herself, covering the child. And Vader, to her inner-eye’s right, poised to attack.

She had seen it before, but never this clearly: Force aura’s. The boy’s aura was a bright, shining blue around his small frame, with a hot spark of blue light from his solar plexus that was so bright it was almost white.

Her’s... was confused. It seemed to be trying to be both blue and red, with the colors crawling over her frame and sometimes forming a bright purple light. Inside of her, her bright spark was also alternating between blue, red and purple.

To her right was Vader, and his aura. It was a deep, dark pulsating red, both externally and also the inner, almost blindingly bright pinpoint of light.

But also inside him, she caught the barest hint of a bright, blue spark.

She knew the aura’s were perceptions, and that someone else would see other colors, depending upon their perspective. But what her perception told her was that blue was the Good Side, and Red was the Dark Side.

And so she was surprised to see that small, bright blue spark deep within Vader’s form.

She watched, in slow motion, as the lightsaber came crashing down to cleave her head from her body. She knew she would barely have time to register pain. The sorrow at having things end this way, though, was painful enough.

As the lightsaber descended, it seemed her aura changed colors. It went pure blue, inside and out. And she thought, ah, yes, a pure sacrificial act in respect of what is good and right.

But she didn’t fully register the meaning behind that thought.

Also as the lightsaber got closer, moving absurdly slow to her perception, the small, bright blue spark inside Vader pulsated brighter and brighter.

Just as the lightsaber was barely a centimeter from her neck, the bright blue light in Vader outshone the red of his aura. She felt overwhelmed, blinded, even though it was not her real vision that was being affected, but her inner eye’s vision.

The lightsaber had stopped, and was quivering above her neck. She could sense it there, and dared not move, else she might behead herself by accident.

Vader roared something incoherent, lifted the lightsaber from her neck, turned away from her, and swung his saber around in a fury at the air, swearing profusely.

The promise, she thought.

That blasted promise! Vader thought.

She rose up, forgetting the child for the moment, and started to walk around the child to go to Vader, talk to him.

Vader stopped, as if he sensed something in the circumstances had changed. He suddenly turned and threw his lightsaber directly at the now sitting child.

The blade split the child’s head open before it auto-disengaged, and fell with an audible thunk onto the sandy floor. The next thunk was the boy’s opened skull hitting the same floor.

Sentinel stood, staring at the boy in horror.

Vader gestured in the direction of the boy, and his lightsaber flew back into his grasp.

Sentinel's eyes tracked the lightsaber's course from the boy back to Vader. She stared at Vader.

Vader watched her expression turn slowly from horror to something... inhuman. Her eyes skipped turning yellow, and went straight to red irises. Then they did something that made Vader flash back to the Emperor’s speech... on how the Jedi considered some of the Sith abilities to be... unnatural.

Her eyes became completely red. No whites, no black center of the pupil. No distinguishing the iris from any of the rest of her eyes. And they glowed.

The sensation of having Sentinel stare at him, while this strange affectation of the Dark Side was taking her over, made him feel something he hadn’t felt in a long time.


And then she was attacking him, a lightsaber in each hand, using the child’s lightsaber she had picked up earlier. Blue and red blades flashing so fast...

Vader held his own, utilizing his fear, using it to help power the Dark Side. His anger instantly welled up, anger at feeling fear, anger at her attacking him, and anger at how circumstances seemed determined to undermine her trust in him. And this too fueled his Dark Side powers.

He kept her at bay, but she wasn’t Sentinel anymore. She was something else. She was the Dark Side personified, and he was having a very hard time keeping up. She just seemed to move faster. She was beating him down with every hate-filled stroke.

He tried to distract her by Force choking, but she blocked that with ease, and in retribution, pushed him powerfully with the Force, sending him flying until he hit the wall of the huge chamber.

He hadn’t been able to block her Force shove. What was going on here? He was the Chosen One! Vader knew he should be able to fight her off more easily! It was as if she was tapped into something, some power source he couldn’t even imagine. It was as if her abilities only partly had to do with her Midichlorian rating... as if there was something else about her entirely that helped her channel the Force.

She came at him, quickly covering the distance that he had been flung. And attacked.

He was suddenly very tired, and disheartened. But he did his best to defend himself.

Then she got past his defenses and sliced his right hand off, sending his lightsaber tumbling.

He didn’t know what else to do. She was out of control, like a raging storm. He lifted his left hand up, palm facing her, and pleaded with her to “Stop! No! Stop!”

She raised her lightsabers to strike, began to bring them down, then stopped. And stood there. Panting, trying to catch her breath.

She blinked rapidly, looking down at him. Looking confused.

Staring out of eyes with no pupils.

And then, with a barely audible whimper, she dropped both lightsabers, and collapsed into a dead heap on the floor.

Goto Chapter Eighteen


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