2. Dark Legacy
Korriban was a hellish, remote world of barren rock and crumbling monuments. The traveler had spent years in the libraries of the Outer Rim worlds, ever searching for one word, making no attempt at subtlety: Korriban.
At last he landed in the badlands of a planet he was convinced must be the legendary Sith homeworld and final resting place of the great Sith Lords of old.
He had found it.
Darth Bane entered a tomb. Pillars, statues and sarcophagi lined the walls of the maze-like corridors carved long ago into a great mountain. He was not alone.
For some time he had sensed the presence of the other, a great disturbance in the Force. Now he followed the Force to the heart of the catacombs, to a small chamber lined with state-of-the-art equipment. A robed, hooded figure turned to face him.
"I have been expecting you," he said. "I am Darth Sidious. And you are Darth Bane, I presume?"
"Yes," Bane said. "We meet at last."
The two Sith Lords stared at each in silence other for a long time. They could have been twin brothers.
"I have a proposition for you," Bane said at last.
Bane told Sidious his terms.
"Interesting," Sidious said. "Very interesting indeed. And if I refuse?"
Bane smiled. "My HoloNet account is programmed to transmit all the information I have gathered about you to every server in the Republic, if I do not log in every hour."
The clunky presidential shuttle came to a graceful landing on the pad high above the metropolitan surface of Coruscant. Chancellor Palpatine emerged and strode swiftly down the debarkation ramp, surrounded by the red-robed Republic Chancellery Guardsmen.
Jedi Master Plo Koon met them on the bridge linking the landing pad to the Capitol. He bowed low.
"I am honored by your greeting, Master Jedi," Palpatine said brightly. "To what do I owe this...pleasure?"
Koon spoke in a sibilant voice through his antiox mask. "Chancellor, I have grave concerns about recent events. I trust you received the Council's communiques regarding the surge in Sith activity?"
Palpatine sighed. "Yes, yes, Master Koon, and as I told the council in my reply, I will take the matter under advisement."
Koon stopped, and the chancellor's entourage came to a halt. "Is that all? Do you not see the danger?"
Palpatine grew suddenly irritable, his voice darker. "Master Koon, I put little stock in ancient religions. The Jedi are an anachronism! Perhaps they should consider that their time has passed. Now, if you don't mind, I have more pressing matters awaiting me. More...practical matters. Good day."
"Chancellor, one more thing....How was your trip home to Naboo?"
Palpatine smirked. "Most...interesting."
The chancellor and his guards turned and were whisked away on a moving sidewalk. Koon was left alone.
Darth Vorpel was going out of his mind with boredom. Ever since his short convalescence and return from Korriban, the HoloNet had been silent. No messages from his girls. No calls from his friends.
And no communiques from Darth Sidious.
He suspected his master had imposed a communications blackout on him, that he didn't trust Vorpel with his secrets.
Or perhaps this was a test.
Vorpel was shaken out of his musings by the crackling static of the HoloNet pad. He rushed to it and prostrated himself, as he had been taught.
"What is thy bidding, my master?" he muttered.
"Arise, that I may look at you, my pupil."
Vorpel stood. And looked into the face of a stranger.
"Master, you look....different."
The blue-tinged hologram wore black monkish robes. Like Darth Sidious. He had wrinkled skin and a hawkish nose. Like Darth Sidious.
But he felt...different somehow.
"No, I don't," the hologram said, waving a hand gently toward Vorpel.
"No, you...don't," Vorpel said.
"Good....Good. I have a new mission for you, my apprentice. You are to destroy Plo Koon. That Kel Dor has been a thorn in my side for too long....You will then rendezvous with me on Korriban."
The holographic Sith Lord drew himself up into his robes, and vanished.
Darth Vorpel was not so easily taken in by simple mind tricks. He would play the game, but he knew in his dark heart that he had just spoken with a total stranger.
Plo Koon liked to take nightly strolls through Monument Plaza. There the tall Kel Dor was dwarfed by statues from a thousand worlds.
There Darth Vorpel pounced upon him. The Sith apprentice jumped down from his perch on the shoulders of an immortalized Skaro warlord, igniting the yellow blade of his lightsaber as he fell.
"You again!" Koon said, instantly drawing his own like-colored blade to parry. As Vorpel landed, Koon swept him off his feet with a leisurely kick. The young Sith rolled and deftly regained his footing.
"What's the matter, boy?" Koon taunted. "Run out of droids to throw at me?" Then Koon slashed mightily downward with his blade. Vorpel blocked.
"Why don't you just fade away, like all old soldiers?" Vorpel sneered. He disengaged his saber from Koon's, spun and kicked the Jedi in the face. Koon's antiox mask and goggles were knocked away.
I cannot see! Koon thought. But he controlled his feelings. He did not panic. And he felt he was not alone....
He heard the hiss of a third lightsaber igniting. He heard Vorpel curse and run away. He heard the newcomer's weapon being closed down. He felt his goggles and mask being handed back to him. He replaced them on his face, and looked up.
Into the serene face of Jedi Master Yoda.
"Escalating, this is," Yoda said.
"They will do nothing," said Ki Adi Mundi to the rest of the Jedi Council. "And the Republic will fall into ruin. Our sources on Naboo have confirmed that the esteemed chancellor has not been back to his homeworld for months."
Adi Gallia spoke: "My informants tell me that a human, matching the description of the Sith encountered by Master Koon on Tatooine many years ago, has been making inquiries toward finding the fabled world Korriban. We can follow this trail all the way to him."
"Agreed," Koon said. "But I suggest a surgical approach, lest we betray the extent of our knowledge."
"We are only talking about two Sith!" said Mace Windu. "We have an entire legion of Jedi! What the Senate will or will not do is irrelevant."
The debate was long and intense. Finally, a proposal was made and a vote taken.
"Decided it is, then," said Yoda. "Three we will send - a master, a knight and a padawan - to search out this dark coven...."
Moments later, the doors to the council chamber parted with a whoosh. Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi and his apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, stood ready to receive their new orders.
"The Jedi are on their way to you now," the hologram of Darth Sidious said. "They know where you are!"
"I know. I am ready for them."
"This isn't what we planned! You are jeopardizing everything!"
Darth Bane hung up on Sidious, then jammed all communications to and from the Korriban system.
"What's going on, master?" said a voice from behind him.
The Sith Master turned. Darth Vorpel was slammed against a stone pillar with bone-jarring force. "You are late. And you failed to destroy Koon! The Jedi are on to us! Explain yourself." He released his Force grip on Vorpel, who coolly picked himself up off the floor, dusted off his black robes and slowly approached Bane.
"Explain yourself," Vorpel said. "Who was that on the HoloNet?"
"It is none of your concern!" Bane spat. "Now, patrol the perimeter and await the Jedi! Leave Plo Koon to me....You should find his young companions much easier to handle!"
The shuttle emerged from hyperspace and entered the atmosphere of Korriban. It was instantly spotted and set upon by three large, black predators.
"Those look like the droids Darth Vorpel uses," Koon said. "Only larger....Look out, Anakin!"
One of the Sith hunter droids spat laser bolts at the ship. The shields absorbed the damage.
Kenobi brought the ship's limited weaponry to bear and easily destroyed two of them.
The third drone was nowhere to be seen, until it appeared on the ship's rear scopes.
"He's behind us!" Anakin said from the pilot's station. "He's gunning for our engines!"
The ship was rocked with blaster fire. Kenobi managed to take out the droid, but the shuttle was badly damaged.
"We're going down!" Anakin said.
The boy managed to bring the ship in for an emergency landing in a flat canyon bed. Titanic walls of rock surrounded them. Dark monuments dotted the horizon beyond.
The three Jedi emerged from the ship to survey the damage. But Plo Koon stared off to the east. "They're out there," he said, stretching out with his enhanced sensory powers. "I can feel them....Kenobi, you will come with me. Skywalker, you will remain here and repair the ship. Be ready for a hasty retreat," he said darkly.
"Yes, sir!" Anakin said. He ran into the ship and quickly emerged with a crate of tools almost larger than he was.
Kenobi knelt down, gently gripping the padawan's shoulders and looking deep into his bright eyes.
"Be wary, Anakin," he said. "I have a bad feeling about this place."
The boy nodded. "Sure."
Kenobi and Koon walked off into the badlands. They decided to split up, approaching the Sith stronghold from different angles. Koon took the most direct route, Kenobi the more rugged path.
The young Jedi Knight found himself facing a chasm a hundred feet deep, bridged only by a series of natural stone pillars with flat upper surfaces. He started across, hopping casually from pillar to pillar. Then he saw the dark-clad figure waiting for him on the other side. A young man in black clothes, a cape whipping violently about in the wind. Kenobi's blood raced faster through his veins as he remembered his last encounter with a Sith Lord...and the untimely demise of his mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn.
Darth Vorpel ignited his lightsaber and focused on his new enemy. Small boulders began flying toward Kenobi. One nearly knocked him off his precarious perch. But he kept advancing, dodging more and more easily as the Sith advanced and his Force attack became more and more frenzied.
Vorpel met him halfway. The hail of rocks stopped. Kenobi activated his lightsaber. The two men stood facing each other on separate pillars. A desert bird called in the distance.
"So," Vorpel said conversationally. "You must be Kenobi."
The young Jedi eyed him suspiciously. "How did you-"
Vorpel struck, leaping into the air and swinging his saber toward Kenobi's feet. It connected with rock. He hadn't even seen the Jedi move....
A mighty punch sent Vorpel flying. The world swirled around him in a vortex of sunlight and stone. He barely caught hold of the next pillar's surface. Deactivating his saber, he clawed his way up. When Korriban stopped spinning, he saw Kenobi reach the end of the chasm and continue running toward the stronghold. The young Sith smiled.
Anakin finished his repairs and began to wipe the smudge from his face. "Artoo would be proud," he said.
The boy suddenly felt very cold, though he knew the temperature was almost as hot here as on his native world of Tatooine.
He turned around and saw a dark form nestled in the shadows of a rock formation. The form of a man.
"Who's there?" he ventured.
Do not be afraid, the dark ghost form said in a whisper. We have been waiting for you.
"W-We?" Anakin croaked.
Several more of the dark figures materialized in the shade.
The first one spoke again. The Force is very strong with you, Anakin. We had to know if you are the one.
Yes, the black forms hissed simultaneously. The Chosen One. The one the Ancients said would visit us. Your arrival is an omen. That our sacrifices, our ways were not in vain; that we followed the correct path in life. You herald the return!
"Go away!" Anakin shouted. Suddenly the shadow men were gone, as if they had never been there.
Anakin powered up the shuttle and plotted a course toward the enemy stronghold.
Plo Koon entered a tomb. The Sith stronghold was well concealed in the side of a mountain, but little remains hidden from a Kel Dor Jedi for long. Within its halls, illuminated only by his yellow lightsaber, were thousands of statues and sarcophagi. At the end of a long hall was a large chamber filled with more stone coffins, lit by a large iron brazier that smoldered on a central dais.
"Welcome, Padawan. It has been a long time." Darth Bane emerged from the dancing shadows. "I never had a chance to thank you properly for my freedom."
Koon slowly approached. The two were on opposite sides of the fire. "I've spent decades looking for you, Bane," he said. "But you've always known where to find me, you coward!"
Bane laughed hoarsely. "And now you intend to kill me, to take your revenge for the death of your master! Delicious!"
"I intend, Bane, to rid the galaxy of the Sith forever," Koon replied, starting around the brazier toward Bane.
Laughing again, the Sith Master flung his arms wide, and the lids of four sarcophagi were thrown across the chamber. Each had concealed the corpse of a long-dead Sith warrior, each of whom clutched an ancient lightsaber against his chest. Now they emerged from their coffins, igniting their scarlet blades with a snap-hiss that roared in the relative silence of the tomb. The skeletal warriors converged upon Koon as Bane withdrew into the shadows.
"This is only the beginning, Jedi!" Bane called. "I shall resurrect all my thousands of brethren who are entombed on this world, and no one in the galaxy will be able to withstand the Sith storm that will follow!"
But Koon paid him little notice. He was busy fighting off four undead Sith Lords. One lunged at him, but the Jedi used the Force to fling it into the flaming brazier. Another actually threw its saber at him. The red blade came about in a deadly arc that Koon barely deflected. As the ancient weapon landed in the far shadows of the chamber, Koon impaled the skeleton with his own blade, melting through the rib cage. Koon saw that a third skeleton was advancing, so he flung the one skewered on his saber at it. Koon snatched up its still-glowing weapon as the two corpses fell to pieces.
The Jedi Master turned, a blazing lightsaber in each hand, to face his remaining opponent.
The ancient Sith warrior hissed at him, a fell glow in its eye sockets. It feinted with its saber toward Koon's head, then redirected his aim toward the Jedi's midsection. Koon blocked him all the way. Angrily the gruesome foe kicked over the brazier. Glowing ash flew everywhere, but Plo Koon had his goggles to protect him and the eyes of the Force to guide him.
The undead warrior jumped straight up into the air, aiming to impale Koon on the way down. Koon blocked. The glow in the skull's eye sockets grew suddenly brighter, and yellow bolts of lightning streaked from them toward Koon. The Jedi Master deflected the first barrage, but took the second full in his torso. He wailed in pain, falling to the ground. The skeleton approached, swinging its saber wildly.
The Jedi stood. A quick slash with his yellow blade chopped off the skeleton's sword arm, and a leisurely swing with the red blade severed its death's head. Koon closed down the red saber, affixing it to his belt. Now he walked into the shadows.
"Face me, old one," he said. "We end this now!"
He was answered by a hiss and a red blade jumping out of the darkness toward him.
Darth Bane fought ferociously, swinging the saber he had retrieved from the tomb floor. The old man was lithe and quick, easily scoring glancing hits on Koon's shoulder and leg.
"How do you like the efficiency of my artificial arm, Plo?" he shouted. "What a wonderful age you live in! Allow me to thank you for that as well!" Koon ducked to avoid a decapitating swing. The Sith Master kicked him to the ground, pinning him there with one strong leg. A Force push sent the Jedi Master's yellow blade drifting into the shadows. Bane raised his saber to chop off Koon's right arm.
Bane turned. And froze. His face was inches away from a blue lightsaber blade.
"I used my mental powers to conceal his approach," Koon said, standing and activating the red lightsaber he had stowed on his belt. "Well done, Obi-Wan."
"Thank you, master. What do we do with him?"
Koon retrieved his own weapon. He disarmed Darth Bane and, with Kenobi, marched him outside. Their shuttle was waiting for them there. Anakin waved from the cockpit.
From the pilot's station of his Sith Infiltrator spacecraft, Darth Vorpel watched them depart in their small ship. A tiny projection of Darth Sidious issued from a holoprojector, casting eerie shadows throughout the dark cabin. "Report," it gurgled.
"It went as you said it would, master," Vorpel said. "Darth Bane is their problem now. What happens next?"
The character of Darth Vorpel was created by my good friend, Bill. While "Dark Legacy" is the sequel to "The Trials of Plo Koon," it also directly follows "Enter Darth Vorpel," a story Bill wrote that used to be posted on his Web site.