Chapter 13

Eyes, Ears and Voice

The shuttle passed over the vast fields beneath. Pelennor fields still bore craters and scars, burnt patches of grass and clearings left by the battle from weeks before. Taruk imagined, staring out from the open doorways of the shuttle, that any true sleuth could probably find buried weapons, or even machine parts burrowed into the soil. Even the largest and most industrial magnetic clearing ships left behind small bits in their wake. Taruk leaned himself back into the cold durasteel of the shuttle as it moaned through the open skies. Several clone troopers; security personnel leased to him from the orbiting patrol, stood at either side of the shuttle. Their armored bodies nearly lifeless and statuesque as they grasped the straps at the top of the shuttle to keep them in place. Hopefully to stop any potential fall.

Idly he had noticed them, but closed his eyes and sighed to himself. His hands rustled together within the folds of his fine robes as he replayed his meeting with the King. Certainly not one of his finer moments, but such mistakes could be recovered from. He did not think it prudent to inform his young benefactor of the meeting as it would surely only serve to raise Arsuna's ire. A thing, and manner of hers he had not missed during the length of time she was cut off from him. That's one thing he supposed he could be thankful of the Separatists for.

Koll wondered in the moment, as he had several times beforehand, if he should have been more forthcoming with the Lord Steward as to why he had need to leave Minas Tirith? Though he always knew the answer was an inherent 'no' he wondered more so if his lies were sold to Faramir? He was a quieter man, more stoic, and seemed to have the air of a philosopher more than a warrior, even if his physique showed otherwise. The Steward though, Taruk knew was an aiding and vital power behind the King. Elessar was no less than Faramir of course, but this man seemed wiser than his years showed him to be in body. He was soft and fair, but had heard tales of the rigor Faramir, Captain of Gondor, would show to protect his Kingdom and her people. To the point of what some may perceive as brutality. Tales sure, but the point was that Taruk had come to realize the Steward was as much an obstacle as Elessar. For sure, his leaving of the White City would raise eyebrows, and Faramir showed no sign of it having done so during their brief meeting following the debacle with the King. However, Taruk would play safe and assume the Steward to be unsure of his intent. Though he would be truly incapable of following him, watching him. That gave rise to a smirk along the diplomat's face.

"Even if these natives are all too perceptible they certainly lack then in technology." Koll caught even himself speaking aloud as he derided the simpler folk of this world. It truly wasn't a bad planet, but its people, at least those he had dealings with had soured his thoughts on it, and he would sooner be done with the place. However, as long as the Diplomatic Corps kept extending his tenure as 'liaison' and as long as Sipillona family checks cashed out, he'd be here.

"We're approaching the mouth of the river now, sir."

"Ah, good. Tell me if you make eye contact with an individual. He should be alone. If not we move on soldier."

"Yes sir." The clone to his right offered. Prince Amathir had made clear instruction on the manner in which he'd be meeting with Taruk and joining him on a little southern trek into the deserts of the land called Harad. At the mouth of the Anduin river he'd be alone with but his horse and robes. Though Taruk assumed a sword would be present he had little to fear from one of these simple folk. Least of all this deviously minded Amathir. Taruk was sure he would think himself a patriot whilst at the same time plotting treason. As ever was the manner of these self righteous types. They made for excellent tools of their betters, and though Taruk was not one to think of himself as superior, in this case he chose to make an exception. Though he would gladly follow through on the plans made with Amathir. Plans Arsuna had been quick to praise him for! He could care less for that little pantoran tart's accolades, but so long as he kept the schutta happy, his pockets remained happy and his credibility mostly intact. At least as far as the Diplomatic Corps were concerned.

"Individual spotted, sir. Single humanoid male." The trooper announced.

"Alone?"

"Minus the horse, sir?"

"Yes, minus the horse, soldier."

"Then yes sir, alone sir." Taruk nodded happily and motioned his hand out in a swing.

"Lower the ship and bring our guest aboard. Treat him well, he's a dignitary of our friends here on world. Once he's aboard, you know where we'll be landing."

"Yes sir." The trooper acknowledged and motioned to the pilot whom silently did as instructed. The LAAT circled the open clearing of green grassy flatland where spotted trees were seen here and there as the river mouth of the Anduin flowed its clear waters out into the vast southern sea beyond. The shuttle gave a single further circle and steadied itself to make a flat landing. Taruk glanced out the left door to see Amathir dismount his steed. The man bore very simple, if expensive seeming a tunic and leggings but no armor or crest. Indeed he bore a sword, but that was all that could be remarked of the man. He hitched his horse to a nearby tree and pat the beast before approaching the gunship which sent small traces of dirt and leafs through the air around itself.

"Lord Delegate Koll?" He called over the warble of the LAAT. Taruk waved him in.

"It's alright, my Lord Prince! This shuttle is quite safe."

"Is it?" Amathir intoned and gave the interior a once over.

"Quite. Now one of my men will stay here with your horse. Meanwhile we'll be let off at the drop point. From there I assume your contacts are well in order?" As he spoke one of the troopers jumped from the shuttle and moved towards the horse, blaster in hand and silently took up position along the wide mouth of the nearby river. Amathir was pulled inside by the other trooper and nodded.

"Yes. I sent word some days ago. Even before our meeting, my Lord. Our friends should provide us transport while yours remain where it...lands." Amathir assured as Taruk pat his knees.

"Excellent! Just be sure that your people behave themselves. Any wrong move with me, and it may well be considered an act of aggression against the Republic." Not a total lie nor the whole truth of it, but Taruk did see Amathir pause and look him a once over.

"I understand, and so shall they." The Prince assured with humorless an intone. Taruk smiled and snapped his left hand circling it afterword before himself.

"Let's get a move on then shall we!" The gunship gave a lurch and Amathir grabbed the sides of the gunship to steady himself taking his seat but seconds before the LAAT returned up into the air.

"This shall take some getting used to, my Lord Delegate."

"Ah, ride in them once, the second time will be as boring as...well as using your legs thirty years into life." Koll laughed, and the Prince hummed thoughtfully, but turned to a peaceful if heavy silence that fell over the both of them. Impending plotting ahead of them as the LAAT passed over the sea and beyond. Soon to come along a far land of desert wastes and nothingness that left little in the ways of beauty. Wide savanna lands with sparse and gray shrubs of thorns or twisting bent trees that seemed dead already. Though the desert sands ate at these spots and bore nothingness, but distant blackened dots in the far corners of one's perception which Taruk assumed to be caravans of even more simpler folk than those of Gondor on the move. It made him wonder, as they neared their destination, how useful such a people could be in the event of a fight against Gondor. Though he supposed time would tell more than his own musings on the matter. As a distant seaport would soon come into view. Its name of course being, Umbar.

(…)

The gunship landed about two miles outside of the city. At least that's what the pilot had told Taruk. Which is where it would remain for his return come the end of their time there. And, quite quickly thereafter, he and Amathir were soon greeted by four men on horseback. They had bore scarfs around their faces and armor that seemed more wool than metal. All with hardened eyes and dark complexion that one could expect of the harsh desert sands. At least Taruk would assume so. If Umbar proved a city that gave rise to such manners and looks as these men bore he was no more impressed than before. Nonetheless, at least one of them spoke 'Westron' or Basic to him, and the Prince. He did not give a name, but his skin was a bit fairer than that of his three comrades. With them were drawn two riderless horses, and Taruk was agitated at his needing to ride such a beast, but he did so. They stunk of a sort of smell akin to soil, and waste, and he found animal riding overall beneath him, but kept his mouth shut the entire ride as Amathir took charge of the men with an ease even Taruk had not expected. Though perhaps he took control of their leader and as such became everyone's leader, but whatever it was if it meant leaving the interior desert waste they found themselves in then he was all for it.

It took some time, perhaps twenty some odd minutes, but when they crested a hill of sand Taruk saw the city once more, and closer than from the skies even if still from the distance. A ragged thing it seemed. At least based on the walls that surrounded it. The stone seemed ancient, but unlike that of Minas Tirith hardly kept in repair. Stones were fallen here and there and birds, gulls and crows rested upon portions of the wall where not a man crossed as a sentry. If they could cross it at all. There lay no pits or caverns in the wall from which a man could fall to his doom though. So, that at least was comforting. Within the city though, there Koll would come to find something of more...finesse.

They had crossed the desert between themselves and the walls. Coming upon small streams of water that were hardly a river but flowed to the city in what seemed to be stone aqueducts. Ancient as it was, this at least seemed tended to by the residents of the land. Koll could give a guess as to why it was seen to be more important than the walls. After all without drinkable water everyone within would be assuredly dead. Regardless, the city was a thing of old and contrasting beauty that even he could admit to. Taruk recognized architecture like that of Minas Tirith. White walls lining the inner city, and high towers with archers set atop them. Small domed buildings of white stone and the cobblestone streets bore a look and even a smell of age. Pleasant but noticeable save for the rotting stench all cities bore, be they simple or advanced in terms of age and technology.

Interlaced with the designs he recognized were other designs not so recognizable. Symbols lined certain buildings bearing the stars Taruk had come to know as important to the people of Gondor, yet around them would be a serpent encircling these stars in a sort of domination of them, other times a serpent's face would be crudely painted along the walls of what seemed to have been a temple of some manner and purpose, and upon the serpent's brow would be a single star that shimmered in the sunlight that bore down relentlessly across the city. Plots of grass, and trees that were accustomed to great heat lined little cobblestone plots set between and alongside the buildings. The buildings that were not of Gondorian make, or the so called Númenor, were of open terraces, lined with meshed woods and lined with plotted plant holders. Quite beautifully made even for uncivilized people. Domed buildings were set besides those of deigns Koll recognized, but stood taller, prouder, larger, and glimmered in gold and black stone against the beating heat of the sun.

Amathir, sporting a scarf as did Taruk were led through a city square. The cobblestone beneath them was of a waned white make, and so Taruk assumed it also from the days of Gondor's rule or the time of Númenor. Though waning in its beauty, he did observe many a man stood outside in the heat of the day. All of whom were draped in cloths of crimson, black and tan sweeping at the stones as guards with wool and steel stood as stones set to the edges of the courtyard. Their eyes, as they passed them were blackened, likely brown of course, but none held any great manner of kindness about their postures. Many a man, woman and child stepped by them through them and apart from them, but none seemed concerned in making contact or speaking with any among these guards. Though for his part, Taruk noted the many stalls of trader set beyond the central courtyard plot. Stands of beads and jewels, of fruits and vegetables of unknown taste and name to him were placed about. Men and women haggled in a mixture of tongues and words he both did and did not recognize. Above them all gulls chirped and howled as they flew to and fro beyond them and let the stiff winds of the nearing sea glide under their wings. Taruk had eyes drawn away from the guards when he and his small group passed the central plot of the courtyard where there was stood a massive statue. It too was of a glinting white sort of stone that must have been a thing of beauty in its day. Taller than most of the buildings of the city seen so far. It bore the vision of what anyone could assume to be a great man. Robes fell down across his figure and armor was set across his frame. A great sword at his belt that swayed back against a cloak that was frozen in a whipping wind. A shield set underneath their left hand against the plot at their raised foot upon a step. Upon the chest was born a symbol, but it seemed to have been purposefully faded. Etchings even from a distance could be seen where it seemed something had been harshly scratched against what Taruk could tell had once been a great tree against this unknown man's armor plating. Great effort taken to deface the man, the statue, and the symbols he bore.

Though, what was most telling of this statue was its head. For, it had been long removed from the neck and lay upon the ground beside the stone body. The cobblestone beneath it were uprooted and turned in cracked a manner as was the head. A younger man's features still showed from the beheaded statue. A crown placed upon his head that seemed similar yet different, and more grand, than the one Elessar had bore upon his head.

"Taking in the sights?" Prince Amathir asked, joining alongside Taruk. The delegate from afar nodding.

"Who may that be?" Taruk asked and Amathir chuckled as he rested his hands against the neck of his horse.

"That would be Ar-Pharazôn the Golden. The last among the Kings of Mighty Númenor. This great statue had been built following his coming to Middle-Earth in the Second Age. The Dark Lord Sauron dared to call himself the King of Men, and Ar-Pharazôn in his pride felt insulted and brought a mighty host to make war and humble Sauron. The armies of the Dark Lord disintegrated so the tale is told before the might of Númenor, and the Golden King. Sauron humbled himself before Ar-Pharazôn and was taken as prisoner to Númenor." Amathir gave a sardonic laugh, more a scoff.

"What?" Taruk questioned the Prince's laugh.

"Upon Númenor, Sauron turned himself from prisoner to Chief Advisor for the King. The Kingdom of Númenor fell into darkness and became but a vassal of Sauron's will. The King sought to make war with the Valar in Aman, the far continent to the west no man may reach since those days of old. Númenor was sunk into the oceans, and Ar-Pharazôn killed along with the great host he had taken with him. The faithful among men came to Middle-Earth and became Gondor, and Arnor. The Great Kingdoms descended of Númenor. Led by Elendil, Isildur, and of course, Anárion. A long and sordid tale, but to which we are all of us descendant of." Amathir intoned. Taruk hummed thoughtfully in turn. Coming to see a direct correlation between the figures that shaped Gondor and this world in this story. Regardless of the truth or validity therein.

"Why then is the head of this great king removed from his body?" Taruk wondered aloud.

"These men of Umbar are kin of Gondor. Though some among my people would like to imagine otherwise. From Arnor south here to Umbar the memory of Númenor lay in our blood. Even those counted as lesser men of Middle-Earth. Yet, when Ar-Pharazôn was King there grew a strong schism that had already been born in days past. The King's Men who remained loyal to the King no matter his wish and will, and the Faithful who sought to remain true to Eru and the Valar. The Men of Umbar are descendant of the King's Men and it is ironic a thing, for now we would call the greatest among them Black Númenoreans. Though their namesake speaks of their loyalty to the Kings of Númenor, in reality they truly sought to follow the will of Sauron." Amathir pointed to the fallen head.

"This statue was built in honor of Ar-Pharazôn when he humbled the Dark Lord so long ago now. Upon the fall of Númenor, and Sauron's return to Mordor, Umbar remained set apart from Arnor and Gondor as a land of Númenoreans in exile. Not exactly a kingdom in its own right, but perhaps seeking to be so. In long awaited reverence and submission to the far off will of the Lord in Mordor, the head of the King who 'humbled' him was torn down, and forever remained so. Even when Umbar was taken by Gondor, and assailed by enemy they refused to remake the statue, and Gondor's tenure of Umbar was short lived, nonetheless." Amathir seemed distant in voice and eyes. Taruk could not guess as to what had come across the Prince's mind in the moment, but perhaps it was not his to know anyways. Though he did find the tale of some use. Historical meaning and context was always of key value when negotiating with a peoples you did not know. A peoples art and history often times could teach one a great deal about them in mind and manner, and such long standing hatred for the failure and inequities of the past must have made these people spiteful indeed.

"So strange a King of Gondor would seek exile in a place such as this, or even just their descendants."

"Why shouldn't they?" Amathir asked.

"A place that harbor's no love of Gondor, but is willing to seek regime change for perceived ills of old. An ancient feud, and a familial one. Brothers at odds with one another. Umbar has never had a chance at the kind of power Gondor brings forth. Yet," Amathir paused and shrugged before pulling his horse away. "None ever believed Arnor would fall I am sure." He intoned darkly. Leaving Taruk to observe the statue for a moment longer. Himself finally turning away and once more joining Amathir and his men.

It did not take long, and was all but silent for the group to make for what seemed to be a graveyard. Taruk furrowed his brows but was, nonetheless, motioned to dismount his horse, which he did so happily. Three of the masked men hitched the horses to a nearby post while the fourth remained with Taruk and Amathir.

"This way, my Lord. The quieter way to my Lady Amdirniel is through this way." The rider pointed to a nearby crypt. Taruk waved his hand through the heat as his brow bead with sweat. Casting a glance upwards he noted the clear blue skies and miserable beating sun as Amathir and the rider moved ahead of him.

"Come along now, my Lord!"

"Alas, I am!" Taruk replied to Amathir who moved with the rider to the rather ornate if decrepit looking tomb. A square thing of marble and stone with a faded helm upon the stone doorway lined with stars, but scratched through it were piercing marks made with what seemed to be a chisel of some sort. Much as many of the monuments that seemed born of a time long ago with Númenor in mind, it was fallen into disrepair.

"Why are we in a graveyard?" Taruk finally asked.

"Our Lady Amdirniel does not receive many guests, my Lord. The home in which the House of Castamir remain is under heavy guard and no small amount of secrecy. The front entrance is watched, but left inconspicuous for any potential traveler and visitor to the city. However," This unknown rider went on and heaved as he pushed on the crypt's door which gave way and opened up into a tomb that bore no coffin nor sarcophagus, but rather a dark stairway leading into the earth. "There are ways to enter the home unseen." He finished patting his hands of dirt and dust before grabbing one of two torches set along the wall within the crypt.

"Follow me if you would, my Lords." He went on down and Taruk eyed Amathir.

"You trust this man?"

"He is one of my men. Of course I do! He's been living among the Umbar for some time as per my will."

"For how long?" Taruk asked as he followed Amathir down into the darkness. A steep stairway of rotted wood that left a peculiar smell in the cramped walls made of hardened mud and old scaffolding.

"I told you, the Lords of Pelargir were tasked with protecting the southern frontiers of Gondor. The Haradrim were no strangers to raids and assaults on the south of Gondor. Long has my family kept spies hidden among the people of Harad and even so far as to keep men hidden in Umbar." Amathir paused his account. "Is that not true, my friend?"

"Wholly in truth, my Lord!" The man in front of them replied with a chuckle in his voice. Taruk gave a curt snorting laugh. Noting that neither of them had divulged the rider's name. An interesting if small thing to keep secret, but perhaps an intelligent choice. Regardless, Taruk had no desire to learn it for now.

"Relax, my Lord Delegate. We are in good hands." Amathir assured.

"Indeed, my Lord. We near the tavern." The unnamed man spoke. Causing Taruk to again furrow his brow.

"Tavern?"

"Aye. Connected between the graveyard and my Lady's residence is a tavern. I believe its name to be the 'Gull's Bristle.' It's a halfway point, and sort of guard post." Their guide told them. Indeed, they made a turn right in the cramped dirtiness of the cave and down the long hall could be seen another man. He bore a stern look about him though no mask or scarf. His blackened hair was wild and he sported an almost crazed amount of scruffy hair along his face in a braided beard that was graying and accentuated by his hard darkened eyes set against two more lit torches. Behind the man was another doorway though this one was less impressive than the crypt's, and was made of wood though it appeared sturdy enough. Whilst a second staircase was set off to the right that allowed a mixture of voices and sounds to creep downward. Koll assumed the 'tavern' stood beyond that particular doorway at the top of the stairs. Making him wonder why they had not used that entrance instead?

"Ulagdir, the guests to meet our Lady!" Their guide approached first with an air of familiarity.

"You best keep watch over them. Anything happens and the lot of ya will be hung from the docks."

"Well met, sir." Amathir cut himself in and greeted. Bowing his head while Taruk said nothing.

"Alright head through." This Ulagdir allowed and unlocked a heavy mechanism of rusted iron. The door creaked open leading to more of the same dirt made and stinking earthy hallway. The three men entered through, but at least this side bore torches the entire way down. Though it took them another five or so minutes of quiet walking until they came to another door. This one having been left seemingly unguarded but of finer and well maintained make.

"This door leads up to my Lady's residence. She is most welcoming of 'my Lady,' or 'madam,' my Lord. I would recommend being of utmost polity. She can be...difficult." Their guide warned.

"Needn't you worry. I am accustomed to such." Taruk offered and the man eyed him before chuckling and nodding. Maybe he could guess by Koll's voice that he was not simply speaking empty words. Regardless, the door opened up and led to a staircase of stonework that seemed well kept. They climbed them easily and came up into a room that seemed more like an eatery. Several people, dressed in what seemed to be maids gowns or attendant suits and pants of fine enough make moved about the room paying them no mind.

"This way." Their guide pointed to an open doorway and they moved through it into a more ornate hallway. A woman within with blackened hair, and darker tone of skin didn't even look their way as she swept the floors of dust and sand that had traveled in by the winds of the shore or the boots of those who came from without. The hall was lined in marble statuettes of faces Taruk did not recognize and if Amathir did he made no mention of them. Along the walls were paintings of what seemed to be Gondor in a bygone time. A city upon a river stood tall and proud, domes lined the skyline while mountains were in front of it and beyond it. Taruk recognized the place as what had once been called 'Osgiliath.' Though from what he had seen the place was hardly worth even the dilapidated stonework that remained scattered around itself.

Another painting showed a man with eyes set out against the world. He stood in a Great Hall, and Taruk could see it was that of Minas Tirith. However, this man was robed in the finest of blackened silk cloaks, and layered in glimmering armor of steel, that seemed more like silver as sunlight streamed in upon him like a herald of some unknown beautiful era. His hair was long with curls running back around his shoulders, while his face bore much facial hair though well trimmed and maintained. A mighty sword at his side which his right arm rested upon while the left was outstretched and fingers were opened from one another. Taruk assumed it was a gesture of mercy. Mostly from the fact that beneath the man lay another upon his knees and prostrated in fealty. Taruk in that moment assumed it to be a painting depicting the Lord of this House, Castamir. Though from what he had heard of the man, he was hardly the merciful kind.

"My Lords." Taruk realized he had been doting on the painting for long enough as to be stood alone in the middle of the hall. His two comrades were further down from him along the left past the maid. Seeming to have left him there, and both stood outside a door that was set high to the ceiling of blackened wood. Opening it was a meek man, that bowed his head and swept them inside past himself.

"My Lady Amdirniel welcomes you!" This man announced. Taruk frowned and quickened his pace. Reaching the door just as Amathir made it inside and followed him in after. The door was shut with a heavy latch behind them, and the greeter stepped past them opening up silken drapes that showed a set of large windows that streamed in the harsh illuminating daylight. The walls were lined in bookcases, and stood with couches and fine seats within the center of the room, with assorted statues of men and cases of maintained various items.

"Please take a seat, my Lords." Taruk and Amathir were offered the nearby cushioned couch and both were quick to take it as their guide stood to the wall away from them. Taruk noted a subtle nod between the man and Amathir, and though he could not be certain, he believed it a silent agreement that he would stand guard just in case. Though for his own part, Taruk reached into his pocket and rubbed a small emergency transponder he kept on himself. Just in case some clone aid was needed for this whole affair. They aid was quick to leave after chauffering them inside. Leaving the three in silence as they collectively waited. Moments passed on and on and neither Amathir nor Taruk seemed in the mood to make small talk leaving the three to be drawn out into an awkward silence.

Taruk glanced about noticing the many books and paintings. Behind them was an upper balcony led up to and supported by wide columns down on their own level. A rug lay underneath their boots of some reddish make, and made with a swirling pattern that was dark. It encased a golden center that streamed out in many direction like a star, perhaps even their own. In fact, it took a moment, but Taruk came to realize this swirling darkness seemed like a snake. Same as the other sculptures and adornments found through the city of Umbar. These people seemed to have an obsession with serpents, and a blackened one at that.

"My Lords," The doorway opened revealing the attendant from before.

"I present you, my Lady Amdirniel." He bowed and indeed came walking into the room an older woman. Taruk and Amathir rose, but Taruk was confused. She was...not what he expected. Her hair was dark, and her eyes nearly as much so. Her skin was kissed by the beating sun of this land and browned far more than that of the Gondorian people and her brow seemed creased in a constant strain of irritation or annoyance of some manner. It gave her a hardened appearance that did no justice towards her beauty. That was what confused him. She looked hardly the age he expected her to be. Perhaps mid to later thirties at most by galactic standard count. Her hair fell down her back in pronounced waves and she held a grace about her as she came to the center of the room in front of them and committed to a curtsy. Allowing Taruk to note the dress. Black as a widowed gown, it was accentuated to her lithe form and was more revealing in manner than the styles of dress Taruk had borne witness to in Gondor. With what seemed to be white tassels hanging loosely down from her wrists and her elbows, while her dress hung low enough in a V neck. Taruk was no stranger to attractive women using their beauty in negotiations. He thought this the case here, for sure. He couldn't deny the effect either.

"My Lords, I welcome you to my humble home here in Umbar." She smiled, and spoke with a voice dripping with sweetness. This Amdirniel's face only then softened as her dark eyes bounced between Taruk and Amathir, her pronounced lips smiling as she motioned them to their seats once more.

"I thank you for allowing this meeting with us, my Lady." Amathir began. Taruk having already discussed remaining mostly in the background during this little talk.

"Not at all, my Lord..."

"Ah yes, forgive me. I am Prince Amathir of Pelargir. We've corresponded."

"Yes of course." She smiled and looked to Taruk.

"This is?"

"I am Davok Nell. I represent a distant land to Elessar Telcontar of Gondor." Taruk sensed Amathir cast him a confused eye, but Taruk for his part watched as Lady Amdirniel's face soured. Her eyes darkened more than he thought possible and she sneered as she took a seat opposite the two men on a lone lofty chair.

"Yes...I've heard of this Elessar of House Telcontar. His own House he has chosen. Forsaking the memory of Elendil. The House that has been passed from all the rightful rulers of Gondor, and even the furthest northern reaches in Arnor." She scoffed.

"Is that the name of your House, my Lady?" She whipped herself back onto Taruk. He was sure to show no outward reaction to her, and a mix of emotions passed over her features. Before she finally took in long a breath through her nose.

"I am Amdirniel of the fractured House of Elendil. Descendant of Castamir the Rightful. My family is by blood-right owed the Throne of Gondor." Taruk could practically feel the heat and rage emanating off of her.

"So it would seem, my Lady." Taruk followed after her. "Though I am sure you can understand why my people would send me to invetigate such a claim. You see, my nation is very vast, very powerful. We've counted ourselves friends to the nation of Gondor, and its people for some months now. We have even aided it in their fight against her enemies. Though I am sure to the disappointment of many a man, woman and child here in Umbar." Taruk subtly threatened utilizing every bit of his diplomatic training to choose his words carefully. For her part Amdirniel gave a callous smirk and leaned into the chair.

"Indeed. Many of Umbar would count any friend of Gondor an enemy of theirs. An entire Corsair pack was lost some months back. Word has reached even the furthest southern tip of the forested lands beyond us that a Great Power has fallen in the north. Sauron has been defeated and Gondor triumphant with this Aragorn made King. Elessar of House Telcontar." She spat the name.

"Which is why it is of great importance we deal with this situation, my Lady." Amathir butted in. Taruk sensing he wished to redirect onto himself. Perhaps a bit unsettled that taruk was speaking more than had been agreed upon.

"Aragorn has proven himself a King in name only! He has sacrificed his own people for personal gain, and to the betterment of the elves. He is proven a poor leader at best, and a puppet at worst." Bold words for the Prince, Taruk thought. But, for her part Amdirniel smiled.

"I have heard of what has befallen Pelargir. A mighty city, my Lord Prince. One my ancestors sacked when they slew Minardil." Amathir reclined some, but gave a curt nod.

"That they had, and Telumehtar Umbardacil came to the port and avenged the attack. Slaying all that remained of Castamir's line." Amathir paused looking her up and down. "So everyone thought." He finished and Amdirniel tilted her head. A thoughtful gesture it seemed to Taruk.

"Gondor and its Lords that were descendant of Eldacar often times saw themselves as the greatest exhibitions of what some would call chivalry. This as they make war on all to the east and the south who hold to grudges long standing and not lacking in merit. As they claim dominion over all the continent based upon the stated worth of Númenor which now lay sunken into the bowels of the Earth. The so called King Umbardacil came to Umbar and his army killed many who still bore the blood of Númenor. Man, woman, child, and all who bore the line of Castamir save but one. My ancestor Nyérolla. Last of the male heirs of the line borne from Castamir he was taken deep into the heartlands of Harad. Our family resided there for many a century among others who fled Umbar when Umbardacil burned it away. Hence Númenor's blood remains strong in my family. That alone gives my claim validation." Her final words were bitter, and Taruk sensed she had need to speak of this 'fact' often enough to make her tired of it. With whom he did not know. Though her blood, now that was interesting. Taruk was learned enough to know those who carried this 'Númenorean blood' were gifted longer life than that of your average human. So the locals say, and so the reports made by General's Kenobi and Skywalker attested to. If she bore this blood, and it made sense, that would explain how she would seem so young despite having been under watch for quite a time, with a child no less.

"Of course, my Lady." Amathir seemed to agree. "Though this Aragorn claims to be of the Dúnedain. He is of many long years himself, or so he claims. If we are to base the right to rule on blood alone then you two would be equal." Amdirniel smiled to the Prince.

"Ah, but we do not argue my claim against his. I argue on behalf of my son."

"Yes, where is the boy?" Amathir asked.

"He should be returning any moment. He has grown into quite the Captain among men. Both in rank and status. The Corsairs have need of a leader such as him. Especially in days such as these with our northern protection defeated." She intoned and Taruk assumed she meant this Sauron he had heard so much about.

"He is a ship Captain?"

"Indeed. Though he was not sent with the pack that assailed the Gondorian coasts in the last war. He has found himself a desperately needed man and profession in these dark hours for Umbar."

"I see. As to his claim, you did infer your family still bore the blade of-"

"Anárion, yes." The Lady cut Amathir off and waved her hand in an almost condescending flick of her fingers. Both Taruk and Amathir twisted to watch the servant from before bring forth a sheathed sword. Taruk glanced to Amathir and he saw the Prince tense as the sword was brought before the both of them, and the servant presented it within his two opened palms.

"Held by Anárion before the tower of Barad-dûr when the Dark Lord was considered an enemy. My great ancestor was felled by falling rock cast by the black tower, yet here lay his sword. 'Cundrill, The Prince's Glittering Flame.'" The Lady spoke of it as an ancient tale, and for his part Taruk was intrigued as Amathir seemed enthralled. The Prince reached out and ran his finger's along the sheathe.

"Go on, my Lord's inspect it. Just be careful, if you would. It bares some importance to myself and my line." The Lady chuckled. Sarcasm aside Amathir took hold of the sheathe and eyed it. Taruk was able to see its age and withered state.

"I have not seen such leather work in long a time! The symbol of Númenor!" He gasped as he beheld a tree unmarred by serpent or gashes as those of the stones throughout Umbar. Amathir drew the blade, and it sung as metal lightly ground against the ties and binds that held it close to the sheathe. As he bore it before himself and Taruk, the Prince of Pelargir inspected the finely made and kept steel that even Taruk had to admit shone bright. Glimmering against the sunlight as a shining pillar of metal and craftsmanship. Etched along the blade were symbols and letters that Taruk could not decipher. Though, based on the widening eyes of the Prince, he assumed it was a good sign.

"These runes are of old Adûnaic. They speak of its wielder in such a manner. I think its meaning is meant to be derived by the record keepers and wise."

"Meaning?" Taruk asked the Prince.

"'Those of my line shall bare witness to the blade and know He who bore it was the son of Elendil. Anárion of Númenor, of Gondor. Seek the Dawn and Mount the soaring winds, for it shall be as the Herald of my Line.'" Amathir read aloud.

"Sounds like a bit of a riddle mixed with a statement of authenticity."

"A riddle, yes." Amathir intoned as he griped the blade in continued awe and fascination.

"Does it seem the genuine sword to you?" Taruk asked.

"Of course it is!" Amdirniel spoke for Amathir catching Taruk's gaze.

"Castamir took possession of the sword as was his birthright when he became King of Gondor! It was sheltered away here to Umbar by his sons, and has been in the protected possession of my family hence!" She was adamant and spirited in tone. Hot and fiery in her agitation as her darkened eyes bore into him. Though Taruk suspected it wasn't all aimed toward him. As before, he suspected she was a woman wearied by her defense of her so called 'birthright.'

"Cundrill..." Amathir repeated beside Taruk. Though the Delegate noted the sound of a door shutting loudly beyond their room. This also caught the Lady's attention and she smirked and nodded her head to the servant. The man moved to the doorway and exited once more. Voices low, and hushed began beyond Taruk's understanding, though he assumed his meeting with the Lady's son, and this 'Pretender' was soon at hand.

"This blade must be taken to Minas Tirith. I believe the record keepers; the wise men who spend their lives keeping to their secrets of the kings of old, would know its validity!"

"Does this so called Elessar not also bare a blade?" Amdirniel asked.

"Yes, he claims it to be the shards of Elendil's blade reforged anew. Though this blade has been lost for millennia, and we are to believe it held by the elves?! As we are to believe the heirs of Isildur have been crept in the shadows of the far northern forests?! I think not!" Amathir rasped and Taruk noted the shaking of his jaw.

"I will not let this murderer of men claim the throne of Gondor! I shall not sit idle while we await the return of a true King! Not this ragged Pretender beset upon us by the elven lords! Who have ever sought to meddle in the affairs of Men. Who sit one of their own as our Queen, and have set themselves as our representatives to far off lands with whom lay great power!" To that Amdirniel eyed Taruk, and the Delegate merely smiled but said nothing.

"Tell me, my Lord Prince, is it that you believe in the validity of my family's claim, or that you seek vengeance upon this Elessar?" The Lady asked and folded her hands into her lap. Taruk turned feeling he knew the answer already. Though for his own part it needn't matter which, so long as he received his end of the bargain for the Sipillonas.

Amathir was silent for a moment and cast his eyes between Lady Amdirniel and the sword, Cundrill.

"Pelargir burned for Gondor, so I was told. Then I learned it burned for the whim of one man, and his desire to aid those whom do not concern Gondor. I've watched over Umbar for many a year, and so has my father and my father's father. Perhaps I seek...retribution. Perhaps I do believe you, my Lady, and this day I have seen something I had never thought to be found again." Amathir held Cundrill aloft.

"I think at this moment it matters little what I personally believe. Only that I am indeed invested in removing Aragorn from the throne of Gondor, and even IF he should be of the line born of Isildur. Gondor has always been ruled from the House of Anárion. That is reason enough." Amathir affirmed with ever hot his manner. And, all was silent a moment, Amdirniel appraising the Prince, and glancing her dark, and thoughtfully cunning eyes onto Taruk. She smiled sweetly, though her brow once more turned into a thing of muted agitation. Taruk now thought it to be a tell, or tick. This woman was venomous as she was beautiful, and singularly minded as she was vain. She could be trouble, but he doubted she could be any worse than his Lady Sipillona.

"My Lady." The servant reentered preventing Amdirniel from making any sort of reply to Amathir.

"The young Lord wishes to enter."

"Send him in." She bade and the servant stepped aside. Taruk, Amathir and the Lady all rose to greet their new arrival. It was certainly not what Taruk had expected. His face betrayed him for a moment as he furrowed his brow. As in came a shorter man than he had anticipated, but not unusually shorter than many. Perhaps five foot ten or so in his prefered calculation of height. Though the man bore a blackened cloak of sorts. More a jacket that was pressed against his slender frame. It fell down to his ankles, and a line of three belts kept it tied close to him around his waist and lower torso. His hands were gloved and they seemed ragged while a sword, seeming as a cutlass, hung at his side tied by another band wrapped to the prior straps. Its handle bore a glint of yellow with black bindings around the grip. Peeking from underneath the coat...yes that was it! A blackened coat that seemed meant for seafaring types. Regardless, what poked out from underneath were a pair of blackened boots that thudded the floor underneath him. Though his smaller and slender frame hardly made the thuds seeming worthy of the sounds.

Across the lad's face, or at least covering over their nose and mouth, lay a black scarf, or more a mask. His eyes were not dark like his mother's, but no less intense. Prominently blue they stared back at Taruk before flashing over both Amathir and his mother. Atop his head was a pointed hat...it took Taruk a moment to think on the style name. Believing it to be a 'tricorn,' and down from the hat to the lad's back hung hair equally as wavy as his mother's that was swept back and buried into the coat he wore. As his hair was, so too did the tone of the boy's skin match his mother, and was a notable if dim brown set down upon all who sweltered in such heat as that of Umbar's for generations.

"My Lords, my Lady, presenting my Lord Mahalmion." The servant announced and bowed. Amathir notably tilted his head to the name.

"Welcome back, my son. How goes the preparations?" The Lady began before Amathir or Taruk could speak. This Mahalmion glanced once more between Taruk and Amathir before clearing his throat.

"Fine mother. We sail within two weeks time for the northern shores." He spoke, and Taruk noted the boy must have been young indeed. His voice; while certainly a bit scratched, was far softer than expected. Though perhaps it was simply how his voice was? Either way the boy seemed a bit awkward as he stood idle.

"My son, do greet our guests."

"Forgive me. Greetings my Lord Prince, Amathir, and..."

"Davok Nell." Taruk again added, bowing slightly.

"Greetings, my Lord," AMathir cut in. "...Mahalmion is it?"

"Yes, my Lord." He answered. As he did so Taruk noted underneath the boy's left eye seemed to be the tail of an unseen scar leading down towards the mouth. Actually in just a flash Taruk could see creased healed skin over top of his eyelid as well. He wondered where such a gash may have come from? Though it was perhaps reason enough to hide their face. Perhaps a bit of vanity ran in the family.

"Mahalmion...Throne Son is its meaning if I am not mistaken?" Amathir broke through Taruk's thoughts as he spoke.

"Yes, my Lord. It is my royal title. I have taken my name some years ago with the intent of taking my family's place upon the throne of Gondor. I'm sure you think it premature." Mahalmion offered humbly enough. It gave Taruk pause. Humility was not so easily found thus far in the mother. Perhaps the boy was different? Even if only a little.

"What name were you born w-"

"It matters not!" Amdirniel cut Amathir off hotly. Seeming agitated by the pleasantries.

"What matters is deciding what the point of this meeting will be. I do not rest on idle banter, nor simple chatter like a gossiping old hag. To me you two have come, and you have need of me, and my son. Though I am not lacking in need of my own. We should cease this idle chatter, and make point to this affair!"

"Well taken." Amathir raised a placating hand as Mahalmion took to a position alongside his mother clasping his hands before himself and choosing to remain standing as the three retook their seats.

"Why do you not remove your mask, my boy?" Taruk asked purposefully ignoring Amdirniel's agitation with idle banter. Indeed she bore him a sour look, but Mahalmion spoke first.

"Forgive me, my Lord. I bare terrible a scar along my face. Call it vanity or foolishness but I should like not to share the wounds I bare for all to see." Taruk nodded and Amdirniel seemed pleased with the answer. Taruk found himself morbidly curious, but the lad was polite enough and earnest sounding, so he let him be.

"Mahalmion," Amathir began, cutting Taruk off again. "As the male heir to your House do you claim to be descendant of Castamir the...Righteous? Thus heir to the House of Anárion, and rightful ruler of Gondor?"

"By birthright I am, my Lord. I am adamant in my House's validity. I present; as I see my mother has, the Sword of Anárion my forefather." Though slightly muffled through the mask Mahalmion spoke proudly and firm in his conviction.

"I am willing to support your claim, and my Lord Nell is also willing to cast his support for such an endeavor in...other ways."

"The nation I represent has desire to make friends with Gondor, and not enemies." Taruk followed the Prince. "Truthfully, we wish peace across the whole of the continent. However, King Elessar, so he calls himself, has made such a hope...difficult. We seek to confirm the validity of your House's claim, and in doing so we seek friendship." Taruk added and noted the smirk Amdirniel cast. Likely discerning his true intent.

"Any friends of peace, and Gondor shall be friends to the House of Anárion." She assured simply.

"It is my desire that from this alliance, Aragorn should be removed from the throne. Better still I want him chained, and if possible his head stricken for what he has done to..." Amathir paused and contained himself. "For what he has done to Gondor."

"He shall be removed, and to what manner we shall decide when the time is upon us, my Lord Prince." Mahalmion offered, but bore no venom in his voice.

"Indeed." Amdirniel began again. "My son has the support of the elite here in Umbar. These few remain aware of his standing birthright and hold it near to them. They too hold the last vestiges of the blood of Númenor and would see one from among us, the rightful rulers sat upon the throne of Gondor."

"I have been promoted to Squadron Captain." Mahalmion quickly offered. "I now possess direct control of fifteen vessels equipped and ready to raid. It is no simple matter, but this alone cannot bring the Pretender down. I should like to commit as little damage to my Kingdom and its people in the pursuit of removing this Elessar." Taruk raised a brow. Noting the outward sincerity in the boy's voice. Perhaps he was an idealist? That would account for his manner as opposed to that of his mother.

"An honorable thought, my Lord." Amathir offered dipping his head. "To this end I can promise information on the movement of forces, and the mind of my fellow Lords of Gondor. I shall keep to my position among the Princes and Lords who hold council with Aragorn of the North." Amdirniel passed a glance to Mahalmion. Whom nodded in return.

"What do you plan to offer? That is, if anything, Lord from afar?" The Lady prodded Taruk. And, to her he smiled.

"My people are willing to offer our support to your claim. Though you understand it must not come back that we do?"

"So you believe in the validity of the claim?" Amdirniel asked. Taruk shrugged.

"Does it matter? When peace, security and friendship between all peoples are at question?"

"No, I suppose it does not." The Lady smiled, though Taruk noted the shuffling of the boy who did not speak up.

"As I was saying; we should be willing to offer quickness of communication between yourselves and, Lord Prince Amathir. As well, a substantial financial investment shall be made into the righteous removal of the so called 'Pretender.' To the benefit of all parties involved. Though I should make it known that I intend on meeting with the Lords of Harad and Rhûn to the east." Taruk declared, looking between his three fellow conspirators as he did.

"They too should seek to make peace and secure their borders. There need be no reason for continued warfare and hatred between these peoples should a righteous king come to the throne of Gondor."

"To that end I am in agreement, my Lord." Mahalmion agreed with Taruk. Who was happy to hear an opinion of him.

"I shall take my squadron to the north shores. Our intent is to draw forces from Gondor away from their posts in the south and east."

"You have been in contact already then." Amathir stated.

"To an extent, my Lord Prince." Amdirniel spoke for the boy. "The Lords of Harad and even far Rhûn have not submitted to Gondor, even with the fall of the Lord of Mordor. Emissaries have been sent under the banner of Umbar seeking mutual aid in the event of conflict. An attack on one should be seen as an attack on all."

"Then progress has been made in forming such an alliance?" Amathir asked sounding pleasantly surprised.

"To an extent." Amdirniel intoned. "Both peoples are licking deep wounds caused by the great battle in the north. Pelennor Fields, and even to the far north beyond imagination the Lords of Rhûn have suffered dearly." The Lady smiled as she spoke.

"So I've been informed." Taruk thought her manner odd, but made no mention of his feelings.

"Then incentive should be imposed onto them to adhere to any alliance made." Amathir turned to Taruk questioningly. Knowing the Prince wanted his, and his benefactor's pocket books opened, he sighed..

"That could be arranged. Though from what we know there is continuing internal strife to the east. The aftermath of their Emperor's death. That should need to be tended to I would think?" Both Amathir and Amdirniel nodded their agreement.

"Aragorn should be slow to respond to any Corsair activity. The...loss of Pelargir will have removed the most vital defensive harbor in the southeast. The only option he would have for stable defense upon the seas would be Dol Amroth. Though I can promise Prince Imrahil should be ill equipped to mount a serious sea venture."

"Best we are assured of this." Taruk countered Amathir.

"What do you suggest?" Mahalmion asked with an air of excitement in his voice.

"I suggest you ensure yourself and your squadron free reign over the seas from here to the far north lands." Taruk pressed. "More time to build more ships, recruit more men. If Gondor can have its ships destroyed; all the ones that remain anyways, then Elessar will have no ability to meet and match further raids or attacks." Taruk turned to Amathir again. "We set a trap and you set the bait for it."

"Explain yourself." The Prince narrowed his eyes, again questioningly

"I think I know." Mahalmion interjected. "As a Prince of Gondor you have the King's ear when needed. I assume it's intended to rebuild Pelargir?"

"Yes...slowly but surely." Amathir noted.

"Then if you go before Elessar and make him believe you have seen Corsairs assailing your people up the Anduin, or anywhere along the shore, and then inform me of their position, my fleet can choke them against the shores. Better still up the Anduin, and we can destroy them! A successful raid such as that would set fires in the bellies of my men!" Taruk was impressed. That had been roughly his thoughts on the matter.

For his part, Amathir seemed to mull the conspiracy over. Pressing his hand to his chin in thought. The Prince's eyes darting over the floor beneath him before he gave a curt shrug.

"I think that is certainly possible. You say you set sail in two weeks?"

"Yes, my Lord."

"Then I shall begin preparing such a ruse in the time until then." The Prince of Pelargir nodded. Quickly followed by the rise of the Lady to a stand.

"Then we are all at accord? It is settled that our task...that our venture will be the cessation of the Pretender's hold over Gondor. To return to power the rightful heir of the House of Anárion. To make peace, and seek security in this way. To the betterment of all peoples. Be they near or...distant." She offered to Taruk who rose and bowed his head.

"I think those I represent will be of sound mind supporting your claim, Lord Mahalmion." Taruk gave in reply, and the boy's eyes lit up.

"I am honored by the support of your people, my Lord Nell!"

"All that matters is the rightful restoration of the righteous to the throne of Gondor. Which, to my understanding has been for far too long lacking in such." Taruk gave a curt laugh.

"Indeed. Now comes the time for strife. Alas it is borne of a false king set upon us by those who care not for our lives and our plight." Amathir rose saying.

"A tragedy set upon all Men since the days of Númenor, my Lord Prince." The Lady commented. "Now should be the time we end all influence of elves upon our people."

Amathir bowed and Taruk followed in his wake. A curtsy was offered by Amdirniel and Mahalmion did nothing. For just a second Taruk felt insulted, but then had to remind himself that the boy was slated to be King. Well, if all things panned out, and if it was shown that he was needed. Regardless, of what anyone in this room wanted, or felt they deserved what mattered to him was the happiness of a pantoran woman. More a girl if anyone were honest. It was a somewhat surreal thing even now in this moment. The treachery against the King of Gondor that was now fomented. Even still, how such treachery would be carried out, and that something much greater than them had begun here and now. Taruk felt his stomach turn a little. A sense of anticipation mingling with an eerie anxiety that he did not allow to show outwardly.

Taruk looked to this young man, more a boy, ironically enough. 'Mahalmion,' or as Amathir stated his name to mean, 'Throne Son.' His bearing and manner, his slim and athletic statue, his voice, everything about him was strange to Taruk. Though, maybe he had simply spent too much time in the company of those with ill intent. Including himself. Though such self reflecting was better left for those with the time to have it. Taruk had much work to do, and a Sipillona to call.


Sing we do songs of old, dead lonely bone of cold.

Struck aside by rattled thunder, broken against the cliffs, dashed as rock to water.

Against Him there is nowhere to hide.

None can see, but fire avails, for in the shadow of the mountains the Eye is unveiled.

Sing we shall the chorus of rebirth, and the undead, for we are given life by his stead.

Thunder wail, mountain quake, deep and thrumming the Dark Lord awakes!

Be it bone, be your throne, be it wail, all shall groan.

Bend thy knee and hail the fire of His light!

None shall contend with His Will!

His Might!


"I am assured that the matter has been tended to with the utmost respect to discretion, Director Isard."

"Of course, your Excellency. I would have it no other way." Director Isard professed as the Chancellor sat leaned into his desk seat. His robes cascading around himself as he eyed both Armand Isard and Director of the Republic Security Bureau, Crueya Vandron. The two men stood about ten feet apart from one another sporting similar poses to the other. Their disdain for one another palpable. Both held hands clasped behind their respective well pressed and cared for suits. Armand's the usual light red tint of the Intelligence Command, and Vandron sporting one of the light gray standard uniforms denoting his rank. Both men of such high a station, and both on track to enter into the New Order, but both on track to rival one another in agency and through the bureaucracy for more favor.

"I expect the security features were of little irritant to install, Director?" Palpatine again pressed Isard. Vandron cast him a sideways glance. Silently judging his fellow Director.

"The metallurgy workstation your guest required was installed, as requested. Your dinner the night prior allowed my men plenty of time to setup the sonic sensors, cameras and motion kits, your Excellency. Not a thing should get by the men I have watching her without a word reaching you first and foremost." Armand dipped his head. Palpatine smiled and glanced Vandron's way. The man said nothing but the upturn in his lip showed clear disdain. It did little else than make Palpatine laugh inwardly.

"Very good, Director. Now, Mister Vandron, what have you to report?" Crueya straightened his somewhat portly self and turned his chin upwards in an almost militaristic stance of attention.

"Three lines of code were deciphered in transit through a database in the Works Sector, your Excellence. Transmission bytes, that if deciphered, contained junk data. Junk data, unless rebuilt by experinced coders. In all earnest respect it was little more than three coordinate codes, but still it is best to not leave such information freely floating through HoloNet cables."

"They have been destroyed." Palpatine assumed with expectant brow.

"Yes Chancellor. It would seem that several remnants of our transmissions to allied actors have yet to be rooted out." Vandron noted, but Isard cleared his throat and cut him off.

"Those transmissions are of vital importance to the safety and security of the Republic, Vandron." Isard noted and cast Vandron a steely glare. "Should such information be found, and worse still traced to its source, the systems of governance would be in extreme danger."

"Then it should be of relief to the Director that the data found has been purged." Vandron replied with venomous and sarcastic a smirk. "If the job I and my team are committed to is found to be so lacking, Director, then perhaps Republic Intelligence would do well to aid in the rooting out of such data packets left loose throughout the HoloNet. I was, after all, under the impression such data scrubbing was to fall under your office's duties?" Crueya spat and turned back to Palpatine.

"The Security Bureau has done an admirable job...finding the remnants and junk code left over by whomever sent the Separatists the reversion coordinates. We shall continue to find them and deal with them as need be. Yet, it is most detestable that Director Isard offers nothing but veiled implications towards our work, your Excellency." Vandron sighed. Palpatine then glanced to Isard.

"Do you in fact question the effectiveness of Security Director Vandron's work, Armand?" Palpatine questioned with cool and emotionless a tone and demeanor to himself.

"I question the effectiveness shown by the Security Bureau in discovering the root of such data leaks through the HoloNet." Armand shrugged. "After all, it was R.I that was alerted to loose packet trails with potential origination metadata within them. These packets were found, collected, and remotely destroyed. Furthermore, the attack on the Capitol had rendered many such trails inconsequential. Alas, the Bureau has yet to finish the cleanup operation committed to and carried out to the word described and desired by your person by my operatives and forces, Chancellor."

"Alas," Vandron cut in with haughty scoff. "Intelligence cannot find with all these stated resources a single woman traveling alone through the depths of the outer Works." Vandron countered not lacking in any pettiness. "Rather you required the aid of my operatives, and my network to do so."

"You assume that to be of necessity to my own person when it was the will of our Chancellor that woman be found! Do not presume to hold any monopoly on intelligence, counterintelligence, or operations networks! We all work for the same goals, to the same ends, and for the rightful maintenance of the Chancellor's Government!" To Armand's declaration Vandron scoffed, shaking his head.

"Yet, you haven't the ability with all your wit and lack of 'presumption' to do the task required of you without the aid of others."

"Perhaps you should return to one of your little COMPOR party gatherings, Vandron. You clearly lack the ability to-" Armand was quickly silenced as the comm terminal within Palpatine's desk sounded. For his part the Chancellor still bore no sign of finding either in the right or wrong. Truthfully he did not care about their squabble for prestige and power. It was amusement at the very least, but the dinging of his terminal was a blessing in disguise. The boredom with this display had only just begun to set in.

"Yes?" Palpatine answered.

"Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker to see you, your Excellency."

"Ah yes, do send him in right away!" Palpatine ordered and his aid was sure to comply as he ended the connection. The Chancellor then stood to attend to his two irritable cohorts.

"My friends, I do believe our time is up. You both would do well to attend to your duties with the vigor and prudence expected of civil servants to the Republic." Eerily cheerful in display Palpatine noted. Motioning them both with a sweep of his arm to the far door. Armand bowed his head and turned on his heel. Ever the quickest to see to the Chancellor's whims. Vandron smiled Palpatine's way before he followed suit and made after Armand. Though with a healthy distance between their pairs of boots as both sought as little further interaction as possible.

The Chancellor watched them go and turned himself to the vast viewport behind his desk. His eyes idly watching the flow of movement above and across Coruscant. Chunks of missing metal, gouged buildings and cracked walkways visible as dim pillars of smoke still rose from the depths of the lower rungs of the great endless city. Grievous certainly had made quite a mess of his capitol. If nothing else.

"Chancellor." Came his Jedi's voice from behind. Palpatine smiled, an earnest one in truth, and turned to face the young knight.

"Ah Anakin, my young friend! I'm delighted to see you again, and so soon after our last meeting." Anakin smiled and dipped his head to Palpatine's boistrous display.

"It's good to see you again as well, Chancellor sir. I was told you wished to speak with me?"

"Oh of course. I have been ruminating on the last week and the events that have played out, and well...the war entirely to be frank. It has been a tiresome few days. Though I'm sure one such as yourself can appreciate such." Palpatine offered moving to the side of his desk. Anakin joined him and both came to the elevated loop that lined the room.

"Of course, Chancellor. I can't imagine it has been easy to return to work, and so soon after the abduction. I hope you weren't harmed by Dooku or that metal abomination in your tenure aboard their ship?"

"Oh not at all." Palpatine waved him off curling his hands together in front of himself. "That petty dictator Dooku, I feel he wished to make an example of me. I'd do little good than to galvanize the Republic, and perhaps even some of the few yet remaining neutral worlds to the Republic's cause. Should I have been killed so boldly, of course."

"Then the Republic is lucky. If that was the goal. Even if it wasn't, the fact that you're still alive can only bode well." Anakin offered with a smile as he and the Chancellor remained in silence for a moment. Palpatine watched as the young Jedi tilted his head. Anakin seemed to be surveying the room. His room. Hard as Anakin's thoughts were to glimpse with his strong walls Palpatine knew just how much to prod, and often young Skywalker would let spill what he was thinking when he least desired it. Palpatine prodded ever so subtly into the Force, and felt the faint passing of stray feelings come from the Jedi. Anakin was remarking on the similarity of this room and his chair to that as he had been sat in aboard Grievous' ship. The red of his carpet floors and the matching crimson of his personal guard. The fluttering dark of his robes. So very particular of every minute detail he had been sure to see before. Palpatine could only imagine why he should be so observant, so critical. It made the elder man smile, but just for a moment. A frown crossed his face and he heaved a sigh looking out across Coruscant once more. He believed then that the time was approaching. The critical moment was nearing.

"Do you see, Anakin?" He began uttering emotion unfelt into his voice staring from the viewport, catching Anakin's attention.

"Do you see what they have done to our magnificent city? This war must end. We cannot allow such...such..." Palpatine trailed off with a shake of his head and aversion of his eyes. It was then he felt the seemingly helpful and understanding grasp of the young man's hand to his shoulder.

"You know you have my best efforts, and those of every Jedi." Palpatine nodded looking to Anakin.

"I know I have yours Anakin. The rest of the Jedi..." Again he loosened stray sigh and turned away seeming the tired old weary man. Anakin watched him, and he saw the furrow of the Knight's brow.

"I have asked you here," Palpatine began, slow to part the words from behind his lips, "because I need your help on a matter of extreme delicacy. I hope I can depend on your discretion, Anakin." Again the Jedi followed him as the Chancellor shuffled ever so slowly before the viewport.

Ah, and there it was! A slight pang of hesitation, and another voice was fluttering across Anakin's mind. Though Palpatine could not sense what it said to him it caused the Jedi's hand to fall from his shoulder, and to recede from him warily.

"As a Jedi there are...limits...to my discretion Chancellor." Carefully, inwardly facing though, did Anakin reply. Palpatine forced a common and fatherly smile of his onto his face and waved Anakin away.

"Oh, of course. Don't worry, my boy!" Relief came and went from the Jedi very quickly in succession. "Anakin, in all the years we have been friends, have I ever asked you to do anything even the slightest bit against your conscience?"

"Well-"

"And I never will!" Palpatine cut him off. Anakin need not have a moment to think of the question in honesty.

"I am very proud of your accomplishments as a Jedi, Anakin. You have won many battles the Jedi Council insisted to me were already lost. And you saved my life. It's frankly appalling that they still keep you off the Council yourself." Palpatine went on seeming aghast and turning lips to scorn for just the flicker of a second. Anakin's eyes averted thoughtfully.

"Perhaps I lose myself again." Palpatine was sure to add. "When we were stood over the remains of Grievous' ship and on our return flight to the Executive...I know Master Kenobi thought me out of line."

"I wouldn't say-"

"Come Anakin," Palpatine went on, raising left hand to silence the Jedi. "Even while away so long it was clear as day that Master Kenobi had little desire to hear the opinions of an old man like me. None among the Council take heed of what I have to say, I should imagine." Anakin's mouth opened and closed quickly after. Repeating that process again two more times before he lowered his head fiddling his hands within his robes.

"I think Obi-Wan simply didn't know what to say. Yes, the Council keeps...well, its own council. So, whenever someone who is not party to it makes any suggestion of it I think it does throw them off."

"Of course it should. Those who hold onto power like the Council would have little taste for anyone who may threaten it to suggest changes! Even if for the better." Anakin seemed confused, and as he should be. Palpatine again reached out and sensed the Jedi to think over the Council. It brought a smile back to Palpatine's face.

"My time will come...when I am older. And I suppose, wiser." Anakin offered smiling through his discomfort, rounding the conversation away from the Council. He was becoming a bit more clever! It almost made the Chancellor proud. Again, Palpatine sensed a mixture of thoughts. It was no humility Anakin showed in seeking to ignore this line of conversation. No...no Palpatine sensed he felt good. Anakin liked discussing these matters with him. It made the Jedi feel like a man, and he did not want to be seen as complaining. Oh, but whom else should he turn to with such thoughts?! Palpatine now almost felt insulted.

"Nonsense. Age is no measure of wisdom. They keep you off the Council because it is the last hold they have on you, Anakin; it is how they control you. Once you're a Master, as you deserve, how will they make you do their bidding?"

"Well..." Anakin gave a short huffed laugh and smile, "They can't exactly make me, even now." Yes, a shot of pride echoed off Anakin. If not through the Force then by his words. Palpatine chuckled softly beside him, joining him.

"I know, my boy. I know. That is precisely the point. You are not like them. You are younger. Stronger. Better. If they cannot control you now, what will happen once you are a Master in your own right? How will they keep your toes on their political line? You may become more powerful than all of them together. That is why they keep you down. They fear your power. They fear you." Palpatine watched again. Anakin looked away, and he sensed old wounds within the Jedi float back to the surface. Inequities, insecurities and pride. All good things indeed.

"I have sensed…I don't know..." The boy sighed. Not exactly what Palpatine had expected. Anakin turned away from relenting the fact of it. Now that was unlike him. He had in fact contained himself. So close to accepting his words, but he pushed them aside. Odd…

"I have asked you here today, Anakin, because I have fears of my own." Palpatine redirected, and met the young man's gaze. "I am coming to fear the Jedi themselves."

"Oh Chancellor-" Anakin bore a bewildered and disbelieving smile, "There is no one more loyal than the Jedi, sir. Surely after all this time-" Palpatine turned away cutting his Jedi friend off and retook his seat behind his magnificent blackened desk.

"The Council keeps pushing for more control. More autonomy. They lost all respect for the rule of law. They have become more concerned with avoiding the oversight of the Senate than with winning this war." Palpatine pointedly looked and met Anakin's gaze. "You have been gone for quite some time, my friend. In your absence I fear the Jedi to have lost a beacon. Something, or rather, someone to aspire to. Even if they do in fact fear you." Again Palpatine prodded and Anakin seemed shaken. His blue eyes darting, thinking. As to what Palpatine would guess, the fact he was in fact gone for so long. What else did he not know of to be occurring? Poor distrusted young Jedi fool.

"With respect sir," Oh, he was shifting the topic again. "Many on the Council could say the same of you." Palpatine did find that ironically funny. He smiled and Palpatine let his features grow sad if baring a hint of understanding. He felt Anakin feel uncomfortable again. Like he was betraying something...or someone. Yes, Anakin need remember whom had his best intentions in mind. For that singular being was right before him. Whether he knew it or not.

"Oh, I have no doubt of it." Palpatine leaned back again. "Many of the Jedi on your Council would prefer I was out of office altogether. Because they know I am onto them, now. They're shrouded in secrecy, obsessed with covert action against mysteriously faceless enemies..." Palpatine trailed off watching Anakin who shrugged.

"Well, the Sith are hardly faceless, are they? I mean Dooku himself-"

"Was he truly a Lord of the Sith?!" Palpatine cut his poor Jedi off again. "Or is he just another in a string of fallen Jedi, posturing with a red lightsaber to intimidate you? Perhaps the Council will learn of what he truly is; if he should awake within the deep confines of their Temple walls. Interrogations unheard, justice unmet, and council kept to themselves."

"I..." Anakin struggled to form a word and frowned. "But Sidious-"

"Ah yes," Palpatine almost smirked at his true name, but managed to contain it. Replacing it then with a scornful upturn of his head and elder eyes.

"Ah yes, the mysterious Lord Sidious. 'The Sith infiltrator in the highest levels of government.' Doesn't that sound a little overly familiar to you, Anakin? A little overly convenient? How do you know this Sidious even exists? How do you know he is not a fiction, a fiction created by the Jedi Council, to give them an excuse to harass their political enemies?" Ah the boy was now thoroughly pressed.

"The Jedi are not political-"

"In a democracy, everything is political, Anakin. And everyone. This imaginary Sith Lord of theirs, even if he does exist, is he anyone to be feared? To be hunted down and exterminated without trial? It would seem such is the way of the Jedi. Where the Republic, with whom he had made war against is disallowed access to him. Has he made war against the Jedi in particular, or upon us all? Should this Sidious, if proven real, and the cause for the war be left to execution without questioning by the Jedi Council if they so will it?"

"The Sith are the definition of evil-"

"Or so you have been trained to believe." Palpatine went on feeling a fire build within him. Though he had sensed something when Anakin thought of the 'definition of evil.' It wasn't disbelief in what he said, but a memory of something...someone. Interesting.

"I have been reading about the history of the Sith for some years now, Anakin. Ever since the Council saw fit to reveal to me their...assertion...that these millennium-dead sorcerers had supposedly sprung back to life. Not every tale about them is sequestered in your conveniently secret Temple archives. From what I have read, they were not so different from the Jedi; seeking power to be sure, but so does your Council."

"The dark side-"

"Oh, yes, yes certainly the dark side. Listen to me: if this 'Darth Sidious' of yours were to walk through that door right now, and I could somehow stop you from killing him on the spot, do you know what I would do?" Palpatine rose feeling that political passion he had crafted for so many years well and release from himself. "I would ask him to sit down, and I would ask him if he has any power he could use to end this war!"

"You...would...you would..." Anakin's brow creased and he seemed taken totally aback.

"And if he said he did, I'd bloody well offer him a brandy and talk it out!"

"You...Chancellor, you can't be serious."

"Well..." Palpatine expertly turned himself back to weary resignation lowering back into his seat. "Not entirely, no." Palpatine shrugged.

"It is only an example, Anakin. I would do anything to return peace to the galaxy, do you understand? That's all I mean. After all," Palpatine offered an ironic smile aiming to the far door. "What are the chances of an actual Sith Lord walking through that door?"

"I wouldn't know," Anakin began and offered a curt smile. "But I do know you probably shouldn't use that example in front of the Jedi Council."

"Oh yes." Palpatine chuckled rising back to a stand and motioning Anakin to join him in a stride around the room. "I'm sure you're quite right. They might take it as an excuse to accuse me."

"I'm sure they'd never do that-"

"I am not." Again he cut the poor lad off. "I am no longer sure they will stop at anything, Anakin. That's actually the reason I asked you here today." They both moved around the shoulder of the room near the wall. Both weaving their hands about their darker robes. The crimson of the room contrasting their outlines as dark masses set through the room on their own paths.

"You may have heard that this afternoon the Senate will call upon this office to assume direct control of the Jedi Council." Palpatine watched Anakin frown. Clearly he had no clue of the full details of the Senate vote.

"The Jedi will no longer report to the Senate?"

"They will report to me. Personally. The Senate is too unfocused to conduct this war; we've seen this for years." His laugh came as sharp and sardonic. He could tell Anakin agreed with him wholeheartedly.

"Now that this office will be the single authority to direct the prosecution of this war, we'll bring a quick end to things." Anakin nodded to that.

"I can see how that will help, sir, but the Council probably won't. I can tell you that they are in no mood for further constitutional amendments." Oh the irony. Again the Chancellor contained a smirk.

"Yes thank you, my friend. But, in this case I have no choice. This war must be won."

"Everyone agrees on that." Anakin offered smilingly.

"I hope they do, my boy. I hope they do."

"I...I can assure you, that the Jedi are absolutely dedicated to the core values of the Republic." So defensive, but confused. Indeed, Palpatine could sense the young man was wondering what had been going on here in his absence. As he should. So much had occurred...could have occurred. What he did not know certainly will hurt him, and deeply.

"Their actions will speak more loudly than their words. As long as someone keeps an eye on them. And that, my boy, is exactly the favor I must ask of you." Now he came to it, and Palpatine felt excitement well up from within himself as he turned to Anakin pausing them on their trek through the room.

"I'm depending on you."

"For what? I don't understand, sir." Anakin pressed and Palpatine could sense the Jedi's nerves so easily frayed.

"To be...the eyes, ears and voice, of the Republic." Palpatine smiled as they both had returned to a slow stride from before.

"Anakin, I'm appointing you to be my personal representative on the Jedi Council. This new law demands such a position, or at least it implies one. I can think of no one better to help keep them in line, and honest. Not only with the Republic, but to themselves, my friend." Anakin had paused behind him and Palpatine sensed his eyes tracking him.

"Me?"

"Who else? You are the only Jedi I know, truly know, that I can trust. I need you, my boy." Palpatine offered turning back to Anakin before the Jedi crept nearer to him.

"On the Council...a Master...I...I'm overwhelmed, sir." Anakin intoned but Palpatine sensed the pulsation of pride echo from the Jedi, and in this moment Palpatine truly found the man he remembered. The Jedi limned in pride and want from before his little excursion on that strange little world, Arda.

"Bu...but the Council elects its own members, they'll never accept this." Palpatine smiled openly as they moved through the room.

"I think they will. They need you, my boy, more than you know."

The two of them kept moving slowly down the main hallway towards the wider foyer of his office.

"Tell me Anakin have you heard of any new arrivals recently?" The Chancellor watched as the Jedi remained eyes fixed to the red carpet beneath them before he tilted Palpatine's way.

"What? Oh, sorry, sir. I'm...still thinking over things. Um...what did you need?" Palpatine chuckled and pat Anakin's back with his left hand comfortingly.

"My boy, we have new arrivals to Coruscant. Some you may be familiar with."

"Oh, right! Yes I had a run in with them yesterday after we returned you here to the Executive."

"Your friends had been here?"

"No, sir. I had...well I met up with Senator Amidala. Her and I were catching up on things and I ran into an old...well I guess he's not really my old friend. Gandalf is his name anyways, sir." Anakin smiled, Palpatine sensed warmth arise from within the Jedi at the mention of this name. Palpatine ran over the names gifted to him by Sauron, and the name did sound familiar. The Force whispered of power there. The Dark Lord of Arda had told him to be wary of this Gandalf, so he did believe.

"I'm actually glad you mentioned them, sir. With everything else we've talked about I likely would have forgotten."

"Forgotten what, my boy?" Anakin paused suddenly and turned. Pulling Palpatine to a stop in kind.

"I met with my friends, and I'm incredibly glad to see them again, but they are on a diplomatic mission."

"To potentially join the Republic, yes." Palpatine smiled knowingly and Anakin averted his eyes. Bashful in the realization he need not explain such things to the Chancellor.

"Right, sir. Well, one of them was told to meet with the Jedi to gain a better understanding of our Order. The rest I think would like to gain a firsthand experience of the Republic to inform their decision."

"Would that be wise? To allow them so freely to mingle where anyone could make ill impression? I wouldn't like to jeopardize their joining with the Republic is all, my friend."

"Oh no, sir! I don't think that will be a problem. At least if I can try and help win them over. Well, me and Obi-Wan of course. We know some of them from when we first crash landed on Arda."

"Hmm..." Palpatine trailed off, resuming his walk. Though truthfully he played his part more than he felt it as he had other concerns in mind.

"Tell me, son, I have read the reports on the strange 'magic' and powers of these Arda natives. I can hardly believe it myself, but yourself, Master Kenobi and several dozen troopers all report experiences that baffle them. Even when they know of or have experienced the Force. Should I...have need to worry about any of these guests we now harbor?"

"Oh no, Chancellor sir! I wouldn't say that at all." Anakin began with an earnest smirk to his face. Palpatine sensed the deepened nature of his affinity for these strangers, and it was worrisome.

"I would guess that some could see Gandalf as 'dangerous' only because he is a wizard. There's a lot more to it, and I've been told what several times. I know for the most part what he is, but even I still get confused, sir. My point though, Gandalf is powerful, and dangerous only if he needs be so. Even then I think he contains himself for the most part. Galadriel, she's a very powerful and old Elf Queen. I've been told she can do great things. I would guess 'magic' like you said, but both me and Obi-Wan don't fully understand where this power comes from."

"Ah, I see. If we do not know the source how then can we be so sure to the safety in their use of it?" Palpatine wondered and Anakin pursed his lips. Mulling over what the Chancellor said.

"I don't know, sir. I suppose the power could be used for evil. Sauron, the one who allied with...you already know this." Anakin again sighed to which Palpatine smiled.

"I do, my boy. Carry on though." He could see Anakin appreciate his accommodation of his wandering thought. Ever would he be the accommodating sort for this lost little slave boy come Jedi.

"Right...well from what I understand Sauron is, or was, much like Gandalf. They're similar beings. Sauron used the power natural to him to do a lot of terrible things. Some would call it unexplainable. I guess I can't explain it either so..." The Jedi trailed off again. "My point is, I trust them, sir. I know that if you meet with them you'll see that they can be trusted! They did a great deal of good for the planet, and they fought the Separatists when they needed to."

"Hmm, say no more then, Anakin." Palpatine paused them both once more as they reached the center of the outer foyer. "Any friend of yours must surely be a friend to the Republic." Anakin beamed a smile across his face to that.

"I'll sign off on Senator Amidala's request to expedite their temporary diplomatic credentials, and straighten everything else out with the Diplomatic Corps. As of this moment, they're free to go where they desire...within reason of course." Palpatine added with a chuckle to which Anakin nodded.

"Of course, sir. Nowhere off limits!" He laughed and Palpatine pat his young Jedi's shoulder.

"You are both kind, and wise, my friend. The Republic and Order are beyond lucky to have your presence, and loyalty. Even when both fail to show such appreciation."

"I've never felt unappreciated by the Republic, sir!" Anakin assured, and Palpatine felt the Jedi mean what he said. Though, he also garnered more from him than he perhaps had meant. The 'Republic,' he had said. Not the Jedi, not the Jedi and Republic. Just the Republic. Oh, poor young Jedi.

Palpatine smiled and the two remained chatting for a time as the day dimmed closer to the dark of night.


The slide of the durasteel door gave a hissed reverberation as Obi-Wan stepped underneath it and into the room. This 'room' was more a hallway, but a connective corridor. A setup hardly ever used by the Temple staff, but having found one such person in need of holding within. Obi-Wan glanced left to right noting the deactivated ray-shield slots set across massive durasteel doors that were also left open. Within each of these smaller holding rooms were assorted items. Bacta tanks free of the healing bacta fluid. Cots that were primed and ready for someone to rest on. Tables with various medical instruments and shelves holding tonics, painkillers, and healing crystals.

Obi-Wan tilted his head up as he walked ahead noting the presence of turrets. Those that were present were shifting back and forth. They would follow him for a second, but lose interest. He recognized them as sonic blasters set to the highest yield of stun possible. While between these turrets were ports that hid the more lethal variety. Only to be unleashed in the worst case scenario. Again, Obi-Wan glanced right noticing embedded into the walls between the cells, indented circular ports. Large, and covering most of the wall between the cells, these were shock inducing field emitters. Another line of defense that would activate from one wall to the other forming a large electrical field. The current worse than a power coupling, and Obi-Wan knew how those felt from...past experiences involving Anakin. The memory made him shake his head and laugh, but it was soon stricken as he reached the end of the hall and turned left down an adjacent corridor to the first. There at the very end of it to the furthest point stood two figures on either side of the ray shielded and fully blocked doorway.

"Knight Kholt, Rowban." Obi-Wan greeted as he neared and tipped himself from the waist. Both of the Peacekeepers from before followed in his stead and bowed.

"A pleasure again, Master Kenobi." Rowban spoke in his native bith tongue, nonetheless, Obi-Wan smiled his way while the elder Kholt motioned her thumb over her shoulder to the doorway.

"I assume you're going in, Master?"

"That'd be right. Are the others already present?" She nodded and folded her arms over her chest once more.

"Masters Yoda, and Windu are with Master Che as we speak. Master Yoda told us to expect you."

"I'm sure." Obi-Wan smiled. The door's ray-shield dropped with a warble of some unseen generator and the heavy doors loosed a sliding of heavy metal against heavy metal. It gave a powerful hiss and sound of release as the door's pressure and magnetic locks were disengaged allowing it to pull apart down the center to either side.

"My thanks, you two." Obi-Wan moved ahead as the two Peacekeepers remained diligently at their posts. The door closed harshly behind him, and Obi-Wan felt a sense of nerves strike at him. Claustrophobia sent a chill through his body up his spine as the room felt so impersonal and hollow. The amenities from the other room were also present, but were added to by the whir of active machinery checking vital signs, and the hum of interior 'static.' Along the walls embedded behind durasteel lay speakers that constantly unleashed this sound. Found many generations ago to meet a frequency similar to Force disruptive headbands. Able to, in essence, keep those who felt and utilized the Force from centering themselves enough to use it. Which he was sure was unsettling not only to himself but Masters Yoda and Windu who stood ahead of him with the blue skin toned twi'lek Chief Healer of the Order, Vokara Che. How she had become accustomed to this sound, if she even was, was beyond him.

"Welcome, Master Obi-Wan." Yoda hummed from where he was sat upon his floating chair.

"Master Yoda. Windu." Again Obi-Wan bowed receiving nods from both the Grand Master and Master of the Order.

"Glad to see you could make it, Obi-Wan. We have been talking with Master Che, and we have an update of some importance."

"Shouldn't the whole Council hear of it then?" Obi-Wan asked in reply to Mace.

"Hear it they will, Master Obi-Wan. Conjecture, it is."

"'Conjecture,' Master?" Obi-Wan repeated.

"Yes, Master Kenobi, conjecture." Master Che turned to him from where she had been meditating over the encapsulated body of Count Dooku. News was spreading like wildfire now, and all day the HoloNet had been having a field day with the supposed capture of the Separatists, Head of State. By none other than their 'Hero with No Fear.'

"It's been quite a while since you've been in my healing halls, Master Kenobi."

"No offense, Master, but I shouldn't want to be here often." Even with the hard and stern woman that Che could be, the twi'lek Master cast him a thin smile of understanding as she placed a healing crystal atop the unusually still brow of the Count.

"How has he been?"

"So far, he'll live." Came Mace's terse reply.

"Live he will, and minus one of his hands, but he will have to make do. I cannot judge him myself, but certainly many among the Order would say a hand is a worthy price to pay for what he has done."

"Among the Republic, more they will want." Yoda finished Che's thoughts as Obi-Wan moved ahead and took in Dooku's image. The elder Sith Lord was robed in the simple tunic and robes of those kept in medical stay. His left hand was gone, but the right bore the thin line of scars made from the reattachment process and a bacta coating was lathered across the wrist. Singed flesh was already healing well, and a welting bruise could be seen on his left brow and eye. Obi-Wan cringed. Imagining how hard Anakin must have hit for that to form. Though even that seemed to be on the mend.

"We shall attach a metallic left hand along the wrist in a few days."

"Is that necessary? I mean, we've already given him his right, and might I say, primary hand back." Obi-Wan cautioned.

"Cruel it would be, to leave one without limb when replace it we can."

"Yes Master, but...mitigating circumstances..." Obi-Wan trailed off.

"I think we all understand the concerns there, Obi-Wan. However, I've come to agree with Master Yoda. It would seem cruel to some within the Order, as well as citizens of the Republic to have Dooku as a captive but tout the removal of his hands. Some, of course, will be out for his blood. There would be others who could...use his state to accuse the Jedi of not utilizing our powers to tend to a wounded enemy. The Order could use fewer such accusations of hypocrisy from the citizenry." Mace thought aloud and Obi-Wan shrugged. He did find the logic sound enough. If a bit political for his own concerns, but he decided to drop it and simply accept it for what it was.

"It may be more cruel to give him the hand." Che began. "If I know Dooku as much as I think...well thought, then he will have no love of a mechanical limb. Even as a Jedi his arrogance in his mastery of makashi will make a robotic wrist and hand seem a cruel twist of fate."

"Regardless, he will come to accept it. Should he wake that is." Mace answered Che and neared the capsule alongside Obi-Wan.

"Has no progress been made there?"

"No indication to be had yet, Obi-Wan." Yoda replied from behind. As Mace stepped in after.

"Master Che thinks it could be brain trauma incurred during the crash. Or, even by the blunt force your old padawan exerted on him."

"Anakin did what he thought best, and I stand behind him."

"In question, that is not." Yoda again interjected moving his seat ahead some to join the other gathered masters. Mace nodded curtly, but said no more of Anakin.

"I said it 'could' be, Masters."

"...Yet?" Obi-Wan prodded Master Che.

"All brain scans and trances, for which I am accustomed to, show no real sign of brain trauma. A concussion is for sure present, but there is no fracture along the skull. Cranium fully intact. Even where Skywalker placed his fist there is swelling and bruising, but nothing to suggest any long lasting effects even for one as old as Dooku. No brain bleeding, no signs of brain hemorrhage, no swelling and no fluids leaking. All expected brainwave activity is nominal. Though, he does not appear to be in a dream state."

"A coma?" Obi-Wan wondered.

"It would seem so. Certainly not a medically induced one." Mace added. Obi-Wan would guess Che having already talked that over with the two other masters.

"Is it at all possible the scans haven't picked anything up, Master Che?" The woman pursed her lips, and Obi-Wan got the distinct impression she felt insulted. He was used to Master Che and her ways though, and she was quick to subdue any such thoughts.

"The scans may well have...possibly...missed something yes, Master Kenobi. However, that is unlikely. Furthermore, the healing trances placed upon him along with the healing crystals have shown little fruit. The Count is unchanged, but I would stress that we are but a day into this set of circumstances. While troubling they. could be temporary as his body commits to its natural healing processes."

"It makes me feel uneasy, nonetheless." Mace added after Che and rubbed his chin with one hand thoughtfully. Obi-Wan sensing one of Windu's deep moods boiling beneath the surface. Brooding as ever.

"I suppose that would make interrogating him impossible. Until he wakes up." Obi-Wan stated rather obviously. Himself now rubbing his beard.

"Not necessarily." Mace again added catching Obi-Wan and Che's eyes. Yoda said nothing but Obi-Wan sensed the Grand Master to be listening.

"What do you mean?" Obi-Wan asked.

"We have not considered the possibility that this may be a coma. Though, not one induced by any actual brain damage or trauma."

"Hmm, suggest you do, caused by the Force?"

"Yes, Master Yoda." Mace intoned. "We have Dooku, or I should say, Darth Tyranus. However, we still must find Darth Sidious. The true mastermind of this war. The true leader of the Separatists, and Dooku's Master."

"Ah, but you suggest to enter Dooku's mind, Master Windu." Yoda deduced and Obi-Wan frowned.

"Enter his mind? That would be...tricky. Not only that but highly unusual, Masters."

"Yes, and risky to his health." Che followed Obi-Wan. Mace cast a hardened glance Obi-Wan's way though.

"Unusual yes, but not unprecedented, Obi-Wan. Dooku knows more about Sidious, if not what or whose Sidious' true identity is! If this war is to be ended as quickly as possible then the Sith must be brought to light. Even should Grievous be found, destroyed or captured, this Sidious may well have control over the Separatist Council. Not even to mention what Dooku told you back on Geonosis."

"An unsubstantiated claim still, Master Windu." Obi-Wan offered though his thoughts traveled back to his uneasiness where things were concerned with the government of the Republic. Palpatine and Anakin…

"Even so, great care should be taken. To invade the mind of another, no simple matter, that is." Both turned to Yoda as Che gave Master Windu a pointed half glare.

"I don't mean to invade, Master but-"

"Ah, but invasion it would be, Master Windu! Temper your desire to bring an end to the conflict you must, with the basic tenants of what it is to be a Jedi. Consider the possibilities. If placed under a Force induced coma, he is, then prepared his mind may be for just such an invasion. Better still, consider we must, when would this shield have been made over his mind? Surely after the battle with young Skywalker, but when, where, and how? Careful questions we must answer ourselves. Questions in need of answering, before such grave actions should be taken. Believe I do, such thoughts are premature."

"I concur, Master." Obi-Wan agreed. "Though I suppose I would not...necessarily rule out the option." Obi-Wan offered Mace the proverbial olive branch. Master Windu gave a slight nod, and Obi-Wan was glad it seemed to have been accepted. Though Mace turned back to Yoda and sighed.

"You're right, Master Yoda. But, these are not easy questions to answer."

"No, no ease! But, important they are! Inquire to the path taken on your delivery to Dooku we must, Master Obi-Wan. Whilst staying on Coruscant, aid in this review you should."

"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan again nodded.

"Without being on the Council, I will add my thoughts, Masters." All turned back to Che as she cleaned her hands with a small cloth. "Believe whatever you will. Coma, or no coma. Induced or not induced. Sith Lord or not a Sith Lord. This man is my patient. My ward is meant for medical procedures, healing and recovery even for our enemies. If you desire to interrogate, be it in or outside of his mind you will have to accept it will be through me. Not with me." Mace raised a curious brow, but Obi-Wan turned as Yoda offered a signature old chuckle.

"Understand that, we do, Master Che. An admirable job you have done, and continue to do such, I hope you will."

"Always, Master." She cast a thin smile.

"Hmm, good." Yoda dipped his head again but swiveled his seat towards the exiting door. The faintest, and just briefest utterance loosening through the Force in that moment from the Grand Master. A memory perhaps, but Obi-Wan could tell it was of Dooku. He had to remember he had once been a Jedi, and had once been an apprentice to Yoda. Obi-Wan made sure to remember that. He hoped Mace would as well. No matter what Dooku had become; even if Tyranus was all that was left, he had once been Yoda's apprentice, and Qui-Gon's Master. A line of succession that had begun with Yoda, through Dooku, to Qui-Gon, to Obi-Wan and Anakin. Such a fact only in that moment struck Obi-Wan. Such a strange recognition.

"Master Che." Mace's voice shook Obi-Wan from his thoughts. The brroding Master bowing his goodbye to the Healer. Obi-Wan followed suit, and joined his fellow Councilors toward the exit. The thick security door gave another heavy release and hiss of its many locks to let them free. They passed by both Rowban and Nedama Kholt whom tipped their heads. Silence momentarily gripping the three before Mace finally spoke up again.

"We should be wary, regardless, of whatever moves made."

"Much trouble Dooku could be." Obi-Wan intoned. "The HoloNet is expecting a press release come nightfall. I expect the official proclamation of his capture will be announced there. The immediate joy the people will feel may be tempered by the need for mob justice likely to follow after."

"The Senate may demand a trial from the Supreme Court itself. Perhaps even a trial by Senatorial Review. His guilt is unquestioning, but you are correct I feel, Obi-Wan. Mob rule will win out over any appropriate sense of justice." Mace all but snorted as they strode onward.

"The Supreme Chancellor, as I reported before, made it clear he expected the Courts and the Judiciary to demand Dooku's turnover for the application of justice. Despite the words used I suspect it was a veiled promise rather than political foresight."

"Agree, I do." Yoda offered Obi-Wan from ahead. Having turned his seat around even as it kept moving down the hallway.

"We may be placed into yet another battle against public outcry if the less Jedi friendly senators and representatives have anything to say about this. Dooku's capture may rally the Republic for a few hours, a day, a week, maybe more, but in the end there will come the question of primacy over his person." Obi-Wan warned, but Mace again deepened his scowl.

"They should accept the fact that he is best left confined here. He is still a Sith Lord regardless of who is owed whatever form of justice."

"Not easily explained, where emotions cloud judgment, Master Windu." Yoda rebuked Master Windu. Whom seemed all too tense today to Obi-Wan. Regardless, Obi-Wan carried on his point.

"The vote concerning the Chancellor's enlarged Executive Powers may complicate matters. If he is given more control over the Judicial process then he may well have the right under Republic law to make an official request for the transference of Jedi prisoners to the Republic."

"Hmm, review the new powers, we must." Yoda replied. All three nodded their agreement as they soon neared the exiting turbolift.

"Many things are moving now. Hett's Operation, the hunt for Grievous, these new acts in the Senate and the Chancellor's movements. Not to mention Dooku." Mace shook his head.

"Hmm, more complicated the galaxy has become?" An odd question that left both Obi-Wan and Mace to eye the other.

"Steeped in the workings of others the Jedi have become. Deepened our involvement in the cogs of the Republic, this war has. Bemoan you do, bureaucracy, Master Windu. Bureaucracy and the strains of it made by war."

"I...suppose that is true, Master." Mace acquiesced. Obi-Wan couldn't argue against the logic himself. War did nothing but complicate matters in all sectors of society. War rarely left anything unscathed, and this one had been going for nearly four years. The end of the third was approaching and the Jedi were certainly strained. Perhaps that's ultimately what Yoda wanted them to understand? Though Obi-Wan didn't miss Mace call this little Covenant venture as an 'operation.' If that was the lingo, then so be it.

"Ah, while have you we do, Master Obi-Wan, a matter of great importance we must discuss." Obi-Wan's brow furrowed.

"Master?"

"Not to be had on record, Obi-Wan, but the Council will be convening in a more...scarce meeting within the hour." Mace followed up as the three entered the turbolift.

"Concerning what?"

"The least said in the open the better. Though I will say it will require your input regarding your old padawan." Immediately the Force sent an uneasy tremor through him, but Obi-Wan could see that same brooding and stern face cross Mace's features. Force or no Force, he knew this was not something he would enjoy much.

"I understand, Masters." A thought came back to him then and Obi-Wan motioned his hand up. "Though I would like to ask a favor."

"A favor, Master Obi-Wan?" Yoda chuckled seeming to try and return some level of mirth to the gathered three.

"Yes. It concerns some new visitors to Coruscant. I would call them old friends…"


It had been a very difficult thing to let Anakin leave the apartment this morning, but somehow Padmé had managed to do it. His nightmares plaguing what should have been a simple and warm night home. The first in too long a year. Managing to get him back to bed, though she did not know if he had slept any the two had remained holding one another. It was enough to be with him, and know he was there in the safety of that one space while their children slept in a nearby room guarded by Artoo and yes, even Threepio. In his own way. She had managed a few more hours of rest, but her own anxieties had woken her in a state of drowsiness. Anakin had been awake, and he had cast her a damnable broad smirk. All before he had business to attend to, and she much the same. It had been enough, but she still yearned for more. To find the time to escape with him, and be with him for just a bit longer. Alas...there was matters of importance to discuss.

That's how she found herself sat in a simple purple gown that ran from neck to to ankle. Her hair tied to either side of her head in twin loops with a metallic band atop her head. Across from her were sat: Fang Zar, Senator of the Sern Sector, Terr Taneel of the Senex Sector, and Giddean Danu who acted as a Special Senator representing Kuat. Sat directly to her right was Bail Organa of Alderaan and its Sector. Whom was in the midst of a subdued, but no less angry tirade against the Chancellor. While beside him sat Mon Mothma of Chandrila, representing the Bormea Sector.

They were all meeting as the day was winding down towards evening and the orange glow of Coruscant had yet to set in. It had already been long with matters concerning votes occurring in the Senate this morning relating to the Chancellor's expansion of powers. A vote Padmé had decidedly moved against. Among a relatively small pool of fellow Senator's. The strongest voices among which sat here in Bail's office.

"...and now that he has control of the Jedi Council, the Chancellor has appointed Governors to oversee all star systems in the Republic." Padmé turned listening to Bail from where he sat.

"When did this happen?"

"That decree was posted this morning." Bail replied to Senator Zar, with a hint of sarcastic frustration in his distinguished voice.

"Do you think he will dismantle the Senate?" Padmé asked even if she felt an innate desire to almost not want to know.

"Why bother? As a practical matter, the Senate no longer exists." Mon replied looking her way with what seemed an almost horrified expression within the Chandrilan woman's eyes.

"The constitution is in shreds. Amendment after amendment...executive directives, sometimes a dozen in one day." Senator Danu offered as he lounged in his seat with a shake of his head and disbelieving motion of his hand.

Padmé watched Senator Taneel look between the other Senators. An unsure look in her eyes as she pursed her lips. Really Padmé need only look between the others to see they all felt the same unease. The same anger slowly rising to the surface to have likely been hidden for some time. She had known it for long a while now herself. Even before the war's outbreak Palpatine had managed to remain Chancellor far longer than term limits were supposed to allow. The Senate and its senators at the time demanded he remain in office up and through the Separatist Crisis, and then the war…

"We can't let a thousand years of democracy disappear without a fight. A thousand years after the Ruusan Reformations and already the rules, checks and balances set down then are in shambles. I daresay we could not even dare to compare our current Constitution with the pre-Reformation Republic Constitution." Bail offered hotly as he rubbed his hands together.

"What are you suggesting?" Senator Taneel asked asking what everyone else silently wondered.

"'Suggesting?' I apologize. I don't mean to sound like a Separatist."

"We are not Separatists trying to leave the Republic." Mon defended earnestly. "Rather, we are Loyalists trying to preserve democracy within the Republic. That foundational code and contract between government and people." Mon finished and Bail nodded the entire way through in agreement.

"It has become increasingly clear to many of us that the Chancellor has become an enemy of democracy...or...perhaps I should say his tendencies would leave some to think that way." Bail added though seemingly felt the need to self correct himself. Even if everyone present knew what he honestly felt by his words.

"I can't believe it has come to this! Chancellor Palpatine is one of my oldest advisors. He served as my Ambassador when I was Queen."

"Senator, I fear you underestimate the amount of corruption that has taken hold in the Senate." Senator Danu retorted her. Leaning forward from his seat and clasping his hands together.

"The Chancellor has played the senators well.: Mon Mothma again cut in. "They know where the power lies, and they will do whatever it takes to share in it. This has long been the case. Palpatine has managed to push through every piece of legislation he wants time and again. Even when vigorous debate is had the vote always swings in his favor. A dictatorship of the apathetic I fear, has taken hold of the Senate. We have allowed this to happen on our own watch." Mon's voice carried both sadness and desperation as she lamented.

"That's why we can't sit around debating any longer," Bail interjected rising with a furious speed from his seat. "We have decided to do what we can to stop it. Senator Mon Mothma and I are putting together an organization-"

"Say no more, Senator Organa." Padmé was quick to cut Bail off. "I understand. At this point, it's better to leave some things unsaid." All eyes had turned to her again. She knew when enough was enough. No one here could claim naivety. Bail turned to her fiddling his fingers together before he bowed his head.

"Agreed. And, so we must not discuss this with anyone, without everyone in this group agreeing." A directive not a question even as Bail seemed to open the thought to the forum.

"That means those closest to you...even family...no one can be told." Mon added. The others glanced the way of their fellows. Undoubtedly all feeling the same unease Padmé had welling within her gut. For so long she had kept too many secrets from her own family, her friends, the people she represented. Though...never had she ever kept anything worth saying from...from Anakin…

"Senator?" She looked up as Bail appraised her. He held no malice to him, no demanding posture, but her certainly desired to hear her state herself aloud.

Secrets...so many...too many of late. She hated it. Yet, still she found herself nodding. Matching Bail's questioning gaze.

"Agreed." She gave in simple utterance.


The great city of the Ñoldor, Tirion stood as a beautiful thing of glimmering white. Its streets lined with a glinting and glittering dust more akin to diamond than sand. White towers rose throughout the city, but were eclipsed by the central spire. The palace of the High King of the Ñoldor here in Aman. The King Finarfin sits there with his golden hair set against a beautiful golden sunlight. His city is swollen in the green and beauty of unblemished Valinor, and the streets had remained quieter than the other cities of the Eldar spread across the continent. Yet, in the past age many of the Ñoldor had finally begun returning home. Come in ships across the impassable sea aided by and sailed by Círdan. Many a number would rise from the Halls of Mandos. The gates would open and doorway release, and all would weep. Wives and husbands and other close kin would bask in happiness and let past sadness fall away. As water dashed to mighty stone. They were ushered back into forms of flesh and blood. Many who had fallen to Morgoth and the doom borne of Fëanor's oath. They would ride again. Ride to beautiful Tirion. There they would find wife, or husband, child and parent and all would be well and merry. Merriment in fact filled the streets on nearly constant a basis of late. The Ñoldor were returning home, and the Eldar of the other kin were as delighted as the King Finarfin.

Nestled near the mountains Pelóri about the singular mountain pass the Eldar wept and bore mirth. Good were the days to come for the Elves. Endless were their lives and no more were they to be burdened by the woes of Middle-Earth. So it was told. Everyday more ships came, and some bore kin of other elven stock. Even many among the Úmanyar. The Elves who had begun their journey to their homes in time so long forgotten now, but who had ultimately remained within Middle-Earth or Beleriand before its fall into the sea. Many had yet to come, but in time all would return. So all among the elves believed, and the doom of mortality set upon them in the mortal lands would be forgotten to time. Until such a time demanded of their remembrance, but even the wisest knew not when such a time should come.

Though, this day, and this hour was different. Tirion shone with glimmering pure walls of white and spires shining high against the winds of mountain and sea alike. Yet, the mountains rumbled. As they had before, and those among the Ñoldor knew that it should be that Manwë communed upon the highest indiscernible peak of Taniquetil. Highest mountain among all the Pelóri. However, the thunder then came. All Ñoldor, ancient and forever about Tirion, and newly returned home turned their heads to the high peak beyond the city. The King Finarfin strode from the high halls of his throne and smoothed hands upon marble rail. For, the skies were alive.

Thunder struck, mountain quaked and bolts of lightning rasped the skies in a dazzling display. A communion this surely was, but it was heavy in temperament. A sound then fell upon the ears of all elves across Aman, for so loud was the sound that the valleys sung its reverberation for a time after it had ended. A horn bellowed and the skies lit through the clouds of a breach. A swirling circle swept through the white clouds and they boiled in heat. All stared upon it, and all Valar across the continent were called by this sound. For, it was no mere horn, but a signaling of arrival. A voice among their kind in a language known only to the Ainur. Their voices; their language was strong upon any who heard it, and all who heard this voice, and the exchange of voices thereafter covered ears, and for the first time in countless millennia Valinor felt the faintest tinge of fear.

The thunder rattled and bolts of lightning curved inwards in circular fashion as a hole bore through the sky and the blue color was torn away opening up into a brightness unlike anything borne witness to. A rush of winds vomited out from this gaping maw, and it was hot as it was cold. It was set about high Taniquetil. The rocks of the foundation shook and fell as pebbles across the mountainside. A mist formed from the loosened air and the hole in the clouds was closed and the light that had shone through it silenced. The horn that blew came in percussion and booms. As the mist snaked over Tirion and sent tree and blade of grass around and within the city fluttering eastward.

For the mist did not stop and instead passed beyond Alqualondë and into Belegaer, the Great Sundering Sea. Underneath it the waves broke and formed crescent rings about the water and all clouds broke before the passing of the windy mist. It did not stop even as the Teleri watched on in awe, and the ships rocked about the ever calm seas. It flew into the far east, and there could be no doubt it was meant for no place other than Middle-Earth.

In time a messenger would come, and it was none other than the Herald of Manwë, Eönwë. The Banner Bearer of the Lord Manwë would go before every city, as a gathering among the Valar was to be had.

"Fear not, First-Born of Eru! For come onto Arda is another among my kin. The Aratar are joined by the first in years beyond the reckoning of even the elves! Hasty is their venture into our world, but turn your mind not to the workings of the Ainur, and be content about your homes! In time, all shall be revealed." Eönwë would then retreat.

Calmed as all would be from the word of Manwë through his Herald some could not help but be aghast. A new Aratar come into the world?! Gone into the east where Men were now rooted as masters of the land? Why now, and why in such a manner?

Who was this new Valar, and why were the others convening on the matter? Aman was alight in excitement, in questions unseen since the time of Fëanor.

And the doom wrought then.


L's Note: Haha I wonder what's going on? A lot is happening now isn't it? I bet you're all gonna be utterly gobsmacked by what's occuring, but I spill no secrets for my friend's story. ;) Though, YES, as his editor I know exactly what's happening. :)

Ahem, anyways! All grammar issues will be fixed once I have the free time. I've done an initial editing job as per usual, but I am sure I missed something. Any major issues you find can be told to me and I will make a quick edit if it is something very bothersome. Anyways, enjoy, read, and review!

Oh, and to whomever sent a review for the Arda Campaign inquiring as to where Ahsoka is, Lord Exar Kun does not know Clone Wars all that much. He suses technology from the show, but he does not follow it, so characters like Rex and Ahsoka are unknowns to him. At this juncture it would be damn near impossible to involve her in this story without opening major plotholes. Anyways, I digress!

-L

Edit Note: Edited/Updated 9/17/2020