Part 17: The Death of Kings.
(Richard II, act 3, sc. 2, l. 155)
Palpatine studied his visitor carefully. All of his senses were highly suspicious of this sudden and prospective student, who had allegedly been an apprentice of Darth Maul and was now offering his services to him. He had never had a Sith seek him out before. When it came to training his own apprentice, it had been he who had gone to Dathomir to find and select the best warrior for his purposes. Maul was merely a tool, trained for the sole aim of being able to carry out his orders, from announcing the return of the Sith to the Jedi, to killing everyone who stood in his way.
Unfortunately, events had not proceeded as he had foreseen. Instead of Maul doing the killing, he was the one being killed, by the Jedi. And by a lowly apprentice. Obi-Wan Kenobi. For a brief time, Palpatine had considered recruiting the newly promoted knight, but he was soon to prove himself too valuable to the Jedi, making his absence difficult to go unnoticed. Training a Sith took time, and was best done in uninterrupted obscurity. He was forced to let his wish go, and watch as the knight grew into a powerful man.
Since the untimely death of Darth Maul, he had not the time to search for or train a new apprentice. His defeat in the Senate Chancellorship elections was both unexpected and a setback, requiring him to return home so he could build his empire from the obscurity of Convergence. If he had stayed in the Senate, as a former bidder for the title of Chancellor, he would have been watched too closely for him to accomplish all that he had managed to gain since his return to Naboo. Now he planned to ascend the throne once Amidala had finished her third and hopefully final term of sovereignty. From his position as ruler of Naboo, he could then declare his empire and call in the alliances which he had been secretly establishing for more than a decade. Then he planned to search for an apprentice, perhaps the chosen one whom his master had created but failed to provide him with the whereabouts of, who would travel to Kamino, take the army he had secured with the help of the bounty hunter Fett, and wipe out the Jedi, along with anyone else who stood in his way.
Yet now, an apprentice had presented himself before him. Palpatine was aware of the possibility that this could be a trick, that perhaps the Jedi had managed to find him at last after their years of searching for him since the death of Maul, but he did not want to believe it. He had monitored all of their activities over the years, even the ones they thought it was not possible to be observed. And there was nothing to tell him that the Order had found him out, or even come close to doing so.
His senses probed the man before him. The shields he met with did nothing to allay or increase his suspicions. Sith relationships were build on mistrust, the certain knowledge that in the end, one of them would be dead, killed by the other's hand. He had expected to meet with resistance. He also expected to overcome such barriers easily, for the visitor was an apprentice, his emotions, his powers and his skills not yet mastered. But here he was alittle alarmed and surprised, for the resistance to his probing was powerful, the emotions controlled and contained, the powers held at bay considerable.
The struggle did not show. Palpatine had lived a life time in hiding, the mask of an aged, provincial councillor came to him as naturally as breathing. Where he expected to see strain was on the face of his visitor, who also managed to disappoint him in this regard. If Maul had taught him, then he had taught him well.
For a moment he contemplated lying to the man, pretending that he had never heard of Maul, or indeed of the Sith. This still could be a trap, the man could be bait for him to admit to all of the secrets which he had been guarding so carefully for so many years. He could not deny that there had not been times when he suspected Queen Amidala was suspicious of him, or was watching his activities, the ones he did not wish her to discover.
Yet there were times when his isolation became oppressive, and the need to confide, boast, terrify someone even, overruled his more cautious nature. A decade and more had passed since the demise of Maul, an apprentice who was just beginning to earn that confidence before he was killed.
Another possibility occurred to him, that this man could even be the chosen one, who he had been forced to put aside his search for in favour of other priorities, such as establishing his imperial network in waiting. That the chosen one may have sought him out was not unlikely. During his years in relative Nubian obscurity Palpatine had wondered where the being might be, if he or she was waiting for him, or searching for him. Not since he had sent Maul out on what proved to be his last sojourn had he continued the search for the chosen one, trusting no one else within his network of alliances to prove worthy of tracking down such a Force blessed individual.
There were many Force sensitive beings out there, undiscovered by the Jedi, waiting to be recognised. He had even come into contact with some, such as the young security officer under Captain Panaka's command, who Queen Amidala was doing her level best to keep away from him. Anakin Skywalker was an interesting young man, with a background that made him ripe for corruption, but thanks to his sovereign, Palpatine had not been in company with the officer long enough to determine if the boy was powerful and susceptible enough to meet his needs.
Torn as he was between revealing his true self and denying everything to his waiting visitor, Palpatine reasoned that perhaps there was only one way to know. Without a word of warning, he sent out a spark of lightning from his hand towards the man.
Who, faster than the blink of an eye, produced a red crystal lightsaber, which swept up to catch the lightning, its blade absorbing the deadly sith energy with ease.
In the surveillance room back at the Naberrie Villa, Padmé uttered a quiet gasp, her hand going to her mouth as she strove to take in what she had just witnessed. Not even in her first life time had she seen Palpatine display his powers, even though she had been present at the emergency Senate session where he declared himself gravely wounded, his features altered by the supposed traitorous Jedi attack. To see such a lightning spark, something Anakin had once referenced Count Dooku using on him, was not just confirmation of everything which she had been working towards, but proof that she was right to suspect him in the first place.
Shakily her other hand reached out to access the communication panel for the Palace at Theed, where Captain Panaka was waiting, watching the same surveillance stream with her Councillors.
"Captain, are you receiving this?" she asked him, surprised that her voice was so calm, considering she was deeply shocked. "Did you just see what I saw?"
"I did, milady," Panaka replied, his tone grim. "We are just as shocked as you are. I have the Jedi Council on conference holo. They wish to inform Queen Amidala that the four masters on the ship they sent are still standing by, ready to send assistance should Knight Kenobi require any."
"Thank you, Captain," Padmé answered. "Tell them we are most grateful for their assurances." She ended the conference and turned back to the vid stream, anxiously hoping that the Masters assistance would not be needed, that Obi-Wan would be able to defeat Palpatine alone. Last time four masters and Yoda had not been enough to prevent him seizing control of the Republic or making Anakin a Sith. Obi-Wan had been away fighting Grevious when the first confrontation occurred, then Yoda commanded him to fight his own fallen apprentice.
Padmé often wondered what would have happened if it was Yoda who faced Anakin while Obi-Wan tackled Palpatine. Now she had the chance to find out, the opportunity distressing her. He had to succeed, for the alternative was unbearable. She had been given a chance to change things but once again the entire future depended upon the end of one being. The fate of Palpatine after Master Yoda had faced him she had not learned due to the severity of her own injuries, but given that they had not returned to Coruscant or the Temple, choosing instead a remote medical outpost, suggested that the Jedi had not emerged from the duel triumphant. She could only hope that a different combatant would alter that outcome.
The fate of the entire galaxy depended upon it.
Obi-Wan's Shien variation move to absorb the lightning strike was instinctual, for his mind was striving to come to terms with what he had just witnessed. Had he not been a Jedi, the attack would have caught him completely by surprise, not to mention wounding him deeply. A part of him was relieved that he had possessed the foresight to create a lightsaber with a red crystal, taking a spare hilt with him from Coruscant, cooking the red rock from scratch at the Naberrie Villa while he prepared his disguise and waited for Padmé to join him. If he had performed the same move with his own blade, the ruse would now be at an end.
Instead the deception was still proceeding, with him waiting on Palpatine's next move. Other than to watch how he received the lightning strike, the Councillor had not stirred, causing Obi-Wan to wonder if he perhaps knew of the surveillance and wished to censor this recording later. Something that he would be unable to do, as they were streaming live to the Naberrie Villa, the Palace in Theed, a Jedi ship in orbit and the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.
He should not have been so shocked, after all he had come to Convergence expecting to confront a Sith lord. But until now there had been no evidence that the councillor was of this persuasion, only supposition. The attack had been so swift that even now it was possible to reason that he had imagined the strike.
"You are powerful," Palpatine remarked suddenly, "I can sense your frustration. Use it. You must earn your place by my side."
Obi-Wan took a deep breath, steadying himself. There was something almost hypnotic about Palpatine's tone, had it not been for his Jedi training and self discipline he might have surrendered to the pull of the dark side. He saw now the nature of the Councillor's scheme, Palpatine was waiting for him to surrender to his anger and attack, whereupon the Sith would strike back, showing his superiority. He wondered if he should make a show of unleashing his rage, or if Palpatine would be more willing to trust him if he held back and waited.
This encounter would not be similar to that with the Sith he had faced on Tatooine. Unlike Palpatine, his challenger then had known what he was, making the move to attack first in a contest of Jedi verses Sith. It had been a fight of raw strength in saber and Force skills which he was grateful to emerge from as the survivor. He was a padawan bordering on knighthood, who believed that fighting Siths was work for a true master of the Force, one who had trained for decades, raised their own apprentice and perhaps stood ready to sit on the Council. That desert fight had yielded no displays of lightning, only saber thrusts, anger and aggression, the dark side in its most basic form. Here he would be on solid ground, not the shifting unstable grains of sand, able to use whatever saber form he found best to counteract that of the councillor who had yet to reveal the other skills of his arsenal.
Obi-Wan's Shien variation was not his only talent either. Since fighting that Sith on Tatooine he had studied to master another saber form, Soresu, which was designed to be defensive yet enduring, the theory being that it should outlast the skills of any opponent as each move was born from that of their enemy.
"You wait," Palpatine observed at last. "You use caution, storing your anger for later use. Your master taught you well. Who was he?"
"I never learned his name," Obi-Wan replied. The Sith on Tatooine had been a silent warrior, with little care to introduce himself except through his attack, the only sound was the constant hum of their lightsabers. "He was always my master. He told me that if anything ever happened to him, if he did not come to me, I was to come here and serve you."
"What was he?" Palpatine asked. "Or did he conceal that nature from you also?"
"He was a Zabrak," Obi-Wan answered, hoping that there were no further questions. His partial legend of being trained by the Sith he faced on Tatooine would only go so far.
"And when did you last see him?" Palpatine inquired.
"In the Arkanis system," Obi-Wan replied, deciding that it would be wise not to be so specific as to mention which planet. If he said Tatooine, which the councillor knew had been Queen Amidala's base for the negotiations with the Arkanis populous to abandon the slave trade, Palpatine might make the connection to the fact that her delegation had included a Jedi to ensure fair play. And from there, it would not be too hard to realise who Obi-Wan actually was, rather than the Sith he was pretending to be.
"So he saw you before his disappearance," Palpatine murmured, causing Obi-Wan to hope that the audio and holo devices planted on him and around the house had not only picked up and recorded the words, but also that those who were listening had caught the implications behind them. That Palpatine knew who Obi-Wan was referring to now was almost undeniable. "Do you know what happened to him?"
"I felt his death," Obi-Wan answered. It was true, any Force sensitive felt the death of another, be they Sith or Jedi. If it was the former, the Force appeared lighter for the shifting of a shadow from the universe of the living, or darker for that shadow becoming one with the ancient energy, and with the death of a Jedi, the Force appeared darker for that light fading from the universe of the living, yet lighter for that Jedi becoming one with the ancient energy. After all, light or dark, it was all a matter of balance, whether one believed that the dark was a corruption of the light, or both were required to achieve such.
"If that is true, why did you not seek me out earlier?" Palpatine asked him.
Obi-Wan had been ready for this question, he knew that no matter how he had answered the councillor's previous inquiry that it would be the next one to emerge from Palpatine's lips. "I did not feel that I was ready to serve you. I wished to become confident in my skills before putting them under the service of another."
Palpatine frowned. "You do not think you are better than me?"
"No," Obi-Wan answered. "You have had years to accumulate your wisdom and skill, I have not."
"That is an unusual attitude," Palpatine commented. "Do you not secretly wish to kill me and assume my position?"
"How could I assume it without knowing what it is or who to command?" Obi-Wan countered. "The desire for power must be tempered by the patience to gain the wisdom and skill that is necessary to acquire it."
"How is it you are spouting my own ideals, ones which I never taught to your teacher?" Palpatine queried.
"Not all ideals are original thought," Obi-Wan remarked. He was in his negotiating element now, this conversation was typical of the debates he had spent all of his knighthood and padawan years involved in. "Most are sourced from other's recorded experiences, left as advice for those who know where to look."
"Your self-confidence is your weakness," Palpatine mused.
Your ego is yours, Obi-Wan silently replied, inwardly chuckling at the irony of the councillor's observations. There had been a time when his self-confidence was lacking, in his early years of being Master Jinn's padawan. Qui-Gon had endured a second apprentice falling to the dark side, the betrayal cutting so deep that it caused him to reject future teaching. In the end it was Master Yoda and Obi-Wan's own determination that had worn away Qui-Gon's stubborn insistence never to train another apprentice, resulting in a partnership which had been one of the strongest in the Order.
When Obi-Wan was knighted, Qui-Gon had not returned to the solitary lengthy missions away from the Temple he had been famous for after Xanatos' fall but instead took to teaching the initiates, waiting for another call of the Force to guide him to his next apprentice. And this time, as he remarked once to Obi-Wan, he would not ignore the call in the hope that Master Yoda would be around to persuade him to do otherwise.
There was still a look towards the Grand Master for his blessing however, when a year ago at the Initiate tournament a young Togruta by the name of Ahsoka Tano had caught his eye. Both Obi-Wan and Yoda had merely smiled at Qui-Gon as he turned to them in a silent plea that he was right in hearing the request of the Force to take Ahsoka as his next padawan. When he left Coruscant for Naboo on this mission, Obi-Wan had spent a pleasant farewell meal with his old master and the padawan in their quarters, laughing and teasing as Qui-Gon encouraged Obi-Wan to take an apprentice.
"Let us see what others you possess," Palpatine added, rising from his chair behind the desk. Obi-Wan took a small step back as the councillor advanced towards him, keeping a watchful eye on the politician's hands for the slightest glimpse of lightning or lightsaber. If the man was ever going to attack him, it was now and he had to be ready to respond, otherwise the Jedi might never have the opportunity to do so again.
When the move came, it was as fast as the lightning strike that had called forth his own weapon. Obi-Wan could not track where Palpatine's saber had come from, deep within the man's clothes, or from a suitable hiding place within the chamber itself, of which there were too many to investigate. All he could do was ignite his own saber in response, sweeping the weapon upward in time to defend himself from the blow that was aimed at his legs. This was followed by another equally swift manoeuvre, this time in the opposite direction towards his upper body. Clearly the Sith was aiming for dismemberment in a rapid end to the fight, something which Obi-Wan could not allow. He wanted an end to the duel, but not due to the result of a loss of limb, or victory to the councillor.
Palpatine pressed the sabers close to Obi-Wan's chest, causing him to return the pressure or risk being injured by his own blade. It still felt strange fighting with a red crystal, but Obi-Wan knew that he did not have the time to switch weapons or the safety to do so, for once the councillor noticed the switch and realised who his opponent really was, his ferocity and aggression would only increase. Focusing on the moment as his master had taught him, Obi-Wan gradually managed to force his opponent's blade away until the move was reversed.
For a brief instant he thought that the move would end things, for Palpatine's hand seemed to be slowly surrendering under the pressure of the blades pressing against each other, letting them move closer to the councillor's body. Then Obi-Wan felt the sharp sting of a lightning strike aimed at him from Palpatine's free hand, the impact burning a part of his robe, causing him to back away, taking his saber with him.
Palpatine cackled at the motion, then advanced forward, saber at the ready. Obi-Wan swung his own back up, preparing to meet the advancing blade of his opponent once more. In the Force he could sense the height of the councillor's powers, his strength in the dark side was considerable, more than a match for his own in the light. Yet he could sense the Force adjusting to the dark and making its own preparations to meet it with the light, as though there was much more at stake here than just Jedi verses Sith. But then there always was whenever two such opposing forces were drawn into battle.
If the dark won today, Obi-Wan could not help but fear for the future of the light, and of the Jedi Order. He was only one man after all, and just a knight, for Jedi did not earn the right to call themselves master without training a padawan first, or from extraordinary actions. But though Obi-Wan doubted if he could defeat an opponent as powerful as Palpatine was, he also knew that he had no choice. The Jedi were watching from Coruscant and a ship in orbit of Naboo, but that was still too far away for them to respond in time if he was wounded. He could not hope that the masters on board the ship had the sense of mind to land as soon as the attack had begun and were about to enter Convergence to lend him a hand, for his body would respond to such hope, changing the course of the fight into one that stalled for time, rather then a duel to the end, be it Jedi or Sith.
As with all duels, the saber moves slipped into a routine of thrusts and slices, with an occasional burst of lightning from Palpatine's free hand whenever Obi-Wan's lightsaber seemed in danger of getting too close. The Jedi slipped easily into the saber forms he had trained and mastered in committing in order to defend himself. Soresu espoused tight, efficient movements which exposed minimal areas of a Jedi's body to injury from their opponent, a highly refined style of nonaggressive Jedi philosophy designed to maximise defensive protection. Obi-Wan also incorporated other saber styles into the fight as well, Niman, which was the most practical of the seven forms as it was a balance combining each of the other six with moderation, one which those Jedi who were diplomats tended to learn because of its less intensive training. He also used the Shien variation of Form V to block the lightning blasts from Palpatine with his saber. His skill in Ataru was left from the fight for the moment, as it had yet to require the acrobatic moves which was the style was known for.
"Where is your anger?" Palpatine inquired in a deadly tone. "I can feel your fear that you won't defeat me. You should resent my superiority and wish to prove your own. Use your aggressive feelings."
Obi-Wan resisted the taunt. It was not in his nature to be aggressive, nor did he believe that by employing such emotion he would defeat the danger which this Sith Lord posed. A part of him suspected that Palpatine might be able to feed off the aggression, as he seemed to be so eager for Obi-Wan to use such negative emotion, which made him even more reluctant to do so. He could shield his mind and feelings from Palpatine, but that would mean lessening the focus on the fight which required all his strength and skill to maintain, although he knew that by not shielding himself also ran the risk of Palpatine realising that he was not a Sith apprentice but a Jedi.
The councillor aimed his saber in a slice towards Obi-Wan's chest, simultaneously directing another lightning strike towards the Jedi's legs. Utilising both Soresu and Ataru in reply, Obi-Wan blocked the first with his saber and dodged the second with a jump that carried him over his opponent's position, allowing him to make a slice of his own at an unprotected area of the Sith's back.
Palpatine growled through the pain, turning round and swinging his saber high to try and wound Obi-Wan in return. But the move was hindered by his wound and the Jedi was able to land in time to bring his weapon up to block the thrust.
The smell of burning robes and flesh permeated through the air, the Force both shivered at the anger released from the wound and rejoiced at the light's achievement.
"You shall live to regret that!" the councillor threatened. Obi-Wan silently hoped otherwise, though from the expression on Palpatine's face it was certainly no idle threat that he had just made. The politician followed the words through with a series of swift thrusts, the movements so fast they blurred.
Drawing more upon the Force, Obi-Wan at first scrambled to meet then return them, before stepping back a little in an attempt to predict where the last move would finish and strive to meet that, rather than wearing himself out attempting to block them all. Once he had caught Palpatine's saber with his own, he held on, forcing the weapons together in an effort to overcome the Sith's hold on his and disarm him.
Palpatine did not allow him the chance to seize such an opportunity. Summoning his own power within the Force, he pulled a piece of furniture from the room to use in damaging his opponent. The chair caught Obi-Wan side on, causing him to lose contact with the councillor's saber. He almost lost grip of his own weapon as well, the strength of the impact from the chair throwing him away from the Sith for a time. Gathering his resources, Obi-Wan struggled with the impulse to clutch his side due to the pain. There would be time to nurse the bruises later.
Another series of lightning strikes hailed from Palpatine and Obi-Wan hurriedly put up his lightsaber to intercept them. Reasoning that it was only fair to return the move, he caught the chair with his own strength in the Force and threw it across the room, back at his opponent. The piece of furniture struck the councillor's stomach, causing him to double over from the impact. Seizing the opportunity Obi-Wan darted forward and attacked the Sith with his lightsaber. The blow was well aimed, striking the councillor upon his neck, slicing through.
Palpatine's head dropped to the floor. After a moment's hesitation the rest of his body followed. Obi-Wan lowered his weapon but kept the blade on. Sai cha was not a recommended move, only permitted if your opponent was considered extremely dangerous. Qui-Gon had performed it once on Baroness Omnino of Vena on Ord Mantell. She had worn a physic augmenter which enabled her to control the minds and actions of anyone around her. He had been a padawan still, held from helping his master by savrips that the Baroness had manipulated to seize him, whilst she made two Senate Guards aim their blasters at Chancellor Valorum's head. At the time it had been the only move Qui-Gon could have made, but Obi-Wan was not sure if he could say the same.
The entrance panel slid aside once more, as the Jedi Masters that the Temple had sent entered the room. Obi-Wan extinguished his blade, but kept his stance by the fallen Sith as the Masters drew level with him.
"No doubts you should have," Yoda mused as he surveyed the sight, "the right move it was, Obi-Wan. See that you will, when your centre is recovered. To Varykino return you must. Waiting for you there, it is. On our findings in this place, brief you later we will. "
Too tired to protest, Obi-Wan obeyed.