A/N: As always, thanks to those helping me write and plan out this story and checking it for continuality and logic errors.
This chapter was released at least 2 weeks ago to my Pat-re-ons (with them seeing a draft version around 2 months ago) and on the story's Discord server (in GDoc form) about a week ago.
Links for both are at the end of the chapter.

Hopefully, all the little mistakes have been found and removed.

ALSO

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Current Date: (less than) 1 year until the Invasion of Naboo


Strange Bedfellows

… …


As I felt Raven's landing struts touch down on the ground, I eased back gently on the power flow to her manoeuvring thrusters. I chuckled at the disappointment I felt radiate through our bond. "Perhaps later, girl," I commented as I stroked her hull just above the console, letting my hand glide over her organic texture. "I doubt I'll be here long."

I stood and turned, sensing Raven's anticipation for what may come, and then left the cockpit.

"How long will this meeting take?" Simvyl asked as I stepped into Raven's common area to find him lounging at one of the luxurious sofas, a datapad in hand.

"Don't know for sure, but I doubt it'll be more than an hour or two. Though the Senator isn't one to waste his time or mine on unnecessary meetings, so whatever the summons was for, it'll be important." Then again, since I was sure Palpatine wanted to keep me close and maintain the idea that he was something of a benevolent uncle for me, it could be as simple as him wishing to check up on me personally.

It has been his request that resulted in me being on Eriadu for the summit, so he might well try and use that to slide further into my good graces by offering a sincere apology for what happened. Perhaps even gift me something to help strengthen the bond between us. I'd take the gift, depending on size, but since I knew what he was doing, I would be able to – I felt – avoid letting him gain any real connection to me. At least not something he could use to tempt me into becoming a Sith.

Yes, it was a dangerous game to keep him close, but it was better than antagonising him early before I was ready or able to counter the Sith plan.

"Should I have the droids refuel Raven?"

"Aye, why not," I replied as I left the common area. It took about a minute to reach the landing ramp. When I reached it, I sighed. "No, you can't come." Fenrir's ears drooped and he lowered and tilted his head. I chuckled at the behaviour as he was as tall as me already, yet it was easy to forget he was still a pup and acted his age at times.

Of course, this behaviour rarely worked with me, but with others – particularly Serra, who Fenrir considered part of our pack now – it was far more successful. Force, I'd even seen him use it successfully on Jocasta Nu after he'd run into the Archives one day. That hadn't saved me from having to clean up the mess he'd caused without using the Force.

"No. I don't want to get hauled in front of the Chancellor when you invariantly give some poor Senator a heart attack." I paused and rubbed my chin. "Although, depending on the Senator, I might not mind." Senator Dod and a few others came to mind, that was for sure. Fenrir's amusement flowed through our bond, and I chuckled again. "But no, not today."

Seeing him sulk, I reached out with the Force and opened a storage compartment. One that had no external lock. Fenrir's ears perked up as he heard it open, and then his tail started swishing around, making me glad there wasn't anything loose around the room as the tail would've destroyed it. A large chunk of Ewok jerky came out and as I floated it in the air, Fenrir leapt and grabbed it. Though to be fair, at his size, it was more a bounce-step than a leap. Still, the jerky was in his maw as he raced away, heading back for his quarters to devour it.

I shook my head and laughed as I pressed the button to lower the ramp, wondering what meat the jerky was really made from. There was no way it came from Ewoks as, from what I knew, they were from a planet that few, if any, had heard of on the very edge of Republic space, yet the jerky was relatively easy to find on most major planets, which I was grateful for since both me and Fenrir had developed a taste for it.

I blinked as I exited Raven, even as I fiddled with the controls of my vambrace, adjusting to the midday sun that was shining down on the Senate building through crystal clear skies. While I disliked Coruscant, I couldn't complain about having the weather be so clearly defined. Yes, it was entirely artificial, but it still generated some breathtaking sights, something Serra had commented on during our last trip in Raven.

Thinking of Serra, I turned to look toward the Temple. I could sense her inside, and I wondered what she was doing. My thoughts then shifted to Bultar Swan. I'd spoken with her not long after returning from Zygerria, and then again before going to Eriadu. She'd been taken on by Plo Koon to finish her training, and while she seemed to be doing well, I'd asked Serra to keep an eye on her simply because Master Giiett had been, along with Serra, the first to make me feel welcome in the Order.

I turned back to the Senate building. It glistened in the light, drawing attention to it, and in theory, showed the beating, beautiful heart of the Republic. Of course, when a large vessel passed overhead, the building was engulfed in shadow, revealing the fact it was a façade, much like everything and everyone within.

A squad of Senate Guards approached, resplendent in their blue uniforms though the rifles they carried always made me scoff. The sheer size of them made them look impractical as hell, and in a tight space, if the weapon couldn't be unhooked, then they'd need to resort to hand-to-hand.

"Master Jedi," the lead guard said once the squad was close enough. "This way. Senator Palpatine has requested we escort you directly to him."

I nodded in acceptance and fell in behind him. One guard walked at his side while the other pair followed behind me. I noticed people around the private landing platform looking my way, no doubt wondering why a Jedi needed an escort. I paid them no mind though, nor the trio of droids that moved toward Raven, one dragging a fuel hose behind it, even as Raven closed her ramp.

As we passed into the shade provided by the Senate, I let my thoughts drift to why I might be here. It'd been just over two weeks since I'd woken after the summit on Eriadu, though Palpatine had already reached out to me before requesting an audience. I'd managed to delay it until now as the Healers wanted me to remain within the Temple for observation as there were scant few records detailing how a Jedi recovered from teleporting into an active energy barrier.

The two weeks had passed quickly enough, as I'd spent most of my time helping Battlemaster Drallig with training Initiates – something I enjoyed – sparring with my friends, or prepping for Naboo.

While Padmé wasn't yet queen, she had become the strong favourite, which made me glad I'd been able to place a wager on the matter not long after waking. The odds I'd gotten for my hundred-thousand credit bet was five-to-one. While that was good, if I'd been able to place a bet earlier, like just after the summit before it was official that Veruna had abdicated, I'd have gotten odds of over twenty-to-one. Still, a half-million credits weren't something to sneeze at, even if I had around a billion stored in my account, a pittance compared to what I would eventually need but a good start.

As we entered the building proper, I saw the corridors were far quieter than I was used to, though that might be because, this time at least, I wasn't entering from the main entrance but from a private platform. That was one benefit of having a vessel the Council were happy to let me keep for myself. Minus the times they wished for me to take them out in it, which Saesse Tiin and Plo Koon did more than others. Still, the emptiness of the corridors, and what lay ahead, focused my thoughts once more on why I was here.

This was the second time in a month that I'd been summoned by Palpatine, and while he might wish to privately apologise, or even ask for my help on another Senatorial venture, I felt that wasn't the case. No, while he'd not outwardly confirmed it in our calls, he had hinted at wanting to discuss a possible threat he'd been made aware of, one that lay on the edges of the Republic. That had me pondering whether this meeting was to discuss the Vong, and I could only hope that he had some ideas to implement for preparing the galaxy – whatever state it may be in – to face the Vong when they invaded.

If that was the case, I had some suggestions for countering them in combat. Those had come from HK, who – after approving of the Vong's ability to counter Jedi – had revealed he'd analysed the recordings Bo had left extensively. As he rattled off ideas, I felt like a fucking moron for not consulting him more on Zonama Sekot as he'd seen more combat than Bo and I had combined. Even when factoring in my former life. Of course, since we didn't have a way to restore power to his brain while acting as resistance, I'd felt it safer to keep him offline and secure than risk damage to his memory circuits. It had worked out in the end, but I wondered just how things would've gone with HK serving as an advisor.

Still, I couldn't help but shake my head as I entered an elevator with my escort. If I'd been told before I'd been reborn, or just after I'd arrived in this galaxy, that I'd actively work with Darth Sidious against a common threat, I'd have laughed in the face of the messenger. Then likely shot them. Yet, I'd actively chosen to take the matter to him when the Jedi Council had publicly dismissed my concerns. Now, that wasn't to say some of them didn't agree with me, in part, but since the consensus was that the Vong weren't a large-scale threat, it left me shouting into the wind to warn of the danger the Vong posed.

Plus, by staying close to Palpatine, by appearing as an ally, not only would I keep his focus off Anakin, but I might be able to glean something I could use to counter him when war broke out. It was a long shot that I'd learn anything, but it was better than staying away and wondering what he was up to. As was keeping his focus away from Anakin as long as possible, so he couldn't ingratiate himself with the true Chosen One.

My musings were abruptly interrupted as we emerged from the elevator, and an air of tension permeated the surroundings. Puzzled, I furrowed my brow, confused for a moment as to the cause behind the heightened alertness. We had arrived at Palpatine's office, and there stood Kinman Doriana, a familiar face. Yet, it was not Doriana that captured my attention, nor that of the Senate Guard present. Our collective gaze fixated upon the quartet of formidable figures clad in resplendent golden armour, their presence serving as an impenetrable barrier to anyone seeking entrance into the esteemed office. Sensing our approach, their postures stiffened, and as one of them began to advance toward us, I used Observe and blinked in shock at what it revealed.

Alac Larkid
Race: Thyrsian
Level: 32
Health: 100%
Age: 30
Force Potential: Minimal
Threat Potential: High
Reputation: Disliked
Affiliation Loyalty: Sun Guard (100%), Hego Damask (65%)
Emotional State: Cautious/Distrustful/Curious

Alac is careful as his employer, Hego Damask is located nearby with clear instructions to limit who may enter the area.
Even though you match the description of the expected guest, he isn't willing to allow you entry without a challenge. The hints of Mandalorian armour you wear make him even more cautious.
That said, he wishes to test himself against you if the chance should arrive as he feels the Sun Guard are superior to any Mandalorian.

A surge of tension coursed through my veins as the realization dawned upon me. If the Sun Guard was present here, it meant that Hego Damask, Darth Plagueis, was in that office alongside Palpatine. My throat tightened, and a profound alarm echoed through my being as Alac advanced, engaged in a charged standoff with the Senate Guard. In that moment, I steeled myself for the impending confrontation.

I stood on the precipice of what Windu would likely classify as a shatterpoint, poised to come face-to-face with not one, but two Sith Lords. I knew all too well that my survival depended on concealing the knowledge that now gnawed at the recesses of my mind. Revealing even a fraction of my awareness would result in devastating consequences and if they decided to kill me I likely wouldn't even have time to draw my saber.

Reluctantly, the senate guards yielded, granting passage as Alac drew nearer. His voice radiated with authority as he demanded, "Your arm." Raising an eyebrow, I couldn't help but question whether he was genuinely foolish enough to issue orders to a Jedi, or simply unaccustomed to encountering individuals who would defy his commands. "To ascertain your identity," he clarified, sensing my hesitation to comply with his demands.

Complying with his request, I extended my arm, submitting to the scrutiny of the scanning device. At that moment, a flicker of contemplation and battle lust danced within me. How long would these four guards endure if I were to draw my lightsaber? Undoubtedly, they had been honed and trained to engage Jedi adversaries, as most of the highest elites in the galaxy were. Yet, a profound sense of confidence welled within me, whispering that I could dispatch them in a single minute if not less. Perhaps two minutes, should I aim to minimise unnecessary collateral damage. Even if this was some sort of trap to capture me – a far-fetched idea, but one I couldn't entirely dismiss – the Sith wouldn't reveal themselves. Plus, before coming I'd made sure Serra and Fay knew where I was heading. Force, I'd promised Serra another 'spaceflight' as a way of having to cancel a private meditation session we'd planned in the Jedi gardens.

Once Alac was satisfied, he stepped back without saying anything. That was when Kinman nervously paced forward. "Knight Shan, I'm sorry about the security, but the Senator has a rather important guest he wishes you to meet."

"With all due respect, Magister Damask, am I correct?" I chuckled lightly, noting the subtle arch of Kinman's eyebrow. "I remember seeing several dead guards attired like this lot in Keldabe. While the Sun Guard aren't exclusive to the Magister, I know he is friends with the Senator, so it seemed a logical choice."

"Yes, quite." Kinman gestured to the entrance even as his brow creased. "They await you in the study, Master Jedi."

The doors gracefully parted, granting me passage into the compact antechamber that served as a threshold to Palpatine's office and study, I considered for a moment withdrawing a thermal detonator from my Inventory. However, I pushed away that idea. Not only would the distinct beeping of an activated explosive betray my intentions, but I had little doubt the Sith could survive one exploding at their feet. And of course, should the attack succeed or fail, the fallout wasn't something I was equipped for yet.

Before stepping into the study, I wondered how the pair would spin this. Hego Damask was insanely powerful, and I had a connection to him because of the Battle of Keldabe, but that didn't feel like enough of a reason to bring him in on the Vong threat. Oh, Plagueis would be aware of the threat, but Damask wouldn't.

However, before I could consider what story they might spin, the door to the study slid open. "Ah, Cameron my boy," Palpatine began as he saw me standing in the foyer. "I was beginning to wonder how much longer you would be." He stepped back and gestured into the study. "Please, come in and make yourself comfortable."

I stepped forward and shook his hand, avoiding stepping into the study for the moment. "Sorry, uncle," as expected, that increased the size of his smile, "While I was making my way to the Jedi hangar, I ran into my former Master. She wished to speak with me about a private matter, and it took me a moment to extract myself." Truthfully, I'd sought out Fay, but by saying it this way, I hid the lie in the truth and made it clear someone in the Temple knew where I was.

"Of course," Palpatine replied as we stopped shaking hands and he once more gestured into his study. "Though on the matter of former masters, have you spoken to Master Dooku recently? I had hoped to speak with him regarding a private matter, however, he's been unavailable for some time."

"Master Dooku is dealing with a personal matter. One that is keeping him away from the Temple and Order." I smiled as I stepped into the study. "Though I do believe he isn't at all bothered by that development." That earned a small chuckle from Palpatine, as I'd planned. There was little doubt Palpatine and Damask knew of Dooku's issues with the Order as they'd existed before my arrival, as had his friendship with the hidden Sith Lords.

"Yes, I do recall him hinting at disagreements with the direction of the Order." As he spoke, a figure in the study stood, dwarfing the pair of us.

I moved forward and bowed slightly. "Magister Damask, if not for the Sun Guards outside, I would be surprised to see you here."

Damask chuckled, which sounded as off as always because of his mask. "Yes. I do hope they didn't inflict too severe of a security check on you. They've been cautious for the last month or so due to personal concerns."

My brow rose, wondering who would be dumb enough to target someone of Damask's power. "No. While blunt, they were professional." As I replied, we shook hands, his long fingers curling menacingly around the back of my hand. "Though I'm still at a loss as to why the Senator has requested us both to be here."

Damask glanced at Palpatine just before he answered. "The Senator brought your concerns about these Vong to me. As a concerned and loyal citizen of the Republic, I shared those concerns and requested a meeting so that we might speak at length about your experiences dealing with the Vong." As he explained the public reason for why he was here, my eyes noted that not only did his skin seem healthier, having regained some of its colour, the scars around his mask and neck had faded. Either he'd used the Force to heal himself – something rather alarming as the dark side was not famed for its ability to rejuvenate a user – or had hired some very expensive privatised healthcare. Why he'd only done so after the Battle of Keldabe wasn't something I could answer, though, from some simple research, I knew he'd been wearing the mask for a while beforehand.

I smiled and nodded as we stopped shaking hands. "I'm glad the Senator was able to find another concerned citizen. Particularly one as influential as yourself, Magister. Though I hope I wouldn't be out of line to wonder if your concern was more business-inclined than say the Senator's political inclination."

A chuckle escaped Damask's lips once more, sending a subtle shiver down my spine. I couldn't help but tense, acutely aware of the unnerving quality that accompanied that peculiar sound. "Indeed," he responded, his voice laced with a discernible mixture of amusement and underlying motives. "While I cannot deny that I hold a preference for the Republic to maintain its current state, with its steady influx of credits and thriving trade networks, I must admit that the prospect of war has its own appeal from a business standpoint. Naturally, this hinges on the condition that it does not fracture the galactic economy or jeopardise my existence. Does this pose a problem for you?"

"Not at all, Magister," I said as Palpatine silently suggested I sit on one of the sofas. "Just because I value a strong and secure Republic as a Jedi doesn't mean I expect everyone else to share those views." I moved around and took the sofa Palpatine was suggesting, one that left me between the two Sith like a bark rat between two nexu. "When I was young, my grandfather – a former Chancellor of the Old Republic – often said that not everyone will share my ideals, however, the trick is finding common ground where various ideals and beliefs intersect." He'd never said anything of the sort, but there was no way for either to prove that, and it was a good reason as to why I was apparently comfortable with this meeting between a Senator, a Jedi and a banker.

Damask nodded. "It sounds as though Vaner Shan was a wise man. One worthy of the office of Chancellor." He glanced at Palpatine, and I wondered if this was some sort of stage event to show a differing opinion regarding Chancellor Valorum, who'd earned his position, from what I understood, due to his name as much as his skill.

"The flaws of the Republic's current leadership aren't why we are here today, Magister," Palpatine replied, confirming my suspicions. He then turned to me. "If I might ask, how are you recovering from events on Eriadu?"

I smiled in thanks at his concern. "According to the Order's healers, I'm fully healed and able to take missions again. Hopefully, my next one won't be quite as painful." Palpatine moved to speak only to pause as I chuckled. "Then again, the mission before Eriadu resulted in a conflict that is why we're here today. To say nothing of my missions involving the Bando Gora and the Mandalorians." Truthfully, looking back on events, it was almost as if the Force or some higher power was throwing me into the fire to test me. So far, I'd emerged tempered from each event, but I did wonder how much longer my luck would hold.

"I was told the conference on Eriadu hadn't had any injuries beyond the Trade Federation's Directorate." I looked at Damask as he spoke. "Was something withheld from public knowledge?" His confusion appeared genuine, yet there was no way he didn't know about what had happened, which only showed how skilled the man was. And along with Palpatine, how dangerous they were.

"During the recent summit, Cameron attempted to do something to stop the droid attack," Palpatine began. "However, the forcefield had already been raised and whatever he attempted failed, resulting in Cameron being badly wounded."

The pair looked at me, and I saw no need to hide the details. Palpatine knew I could teleport as he'd have seen the recording of the obstacle course back when I'd been just an Initiate. "I attempted to use the Force to move instantly. However, as the Senator stated, the forcefield… interfered with what I attempted. So much that, if not for the quick actions of Senator Palpatine and his aides, I'd have likely died." Palpatine offered a smile and nod at that even as I continued. "What still irks me, is that we knew the droids were the threat, but the Council members present prevented me from moving against the droids before they attacked."

"I was unaware the Jedi knew of the threat to Chancellor Valorum before it commenced."

I nodded at Palpatine, letting some of my annoyance at the choice made by Master Gallia show on my face. "We were, however, the Masters present were insistent that we not move early, lest we bring the impartiality of the Order into question." I scoffed. "Something I doubt many in the Rim regard as true about Jedi."

"Sadly, that is true and regrettable. I know of many, and not just in the Rim, who feel the Jedi are nothing more than servants of the Senate and the veiled interests that control it." I gave Damask a nod, signalling my agreement.

"I wouldn't say the Senate is under the control of outside interests, though I will admit that some within this building have focuses other than the betterment of those they serve."

"Eh," I muttered, not wanting to entirely agree with Palpatine. "Anyway, while the droids were stopped, the Directors were killed; well, all bar Viceroy Gunray." I paused and frowned. "It is odd that both he and Senator Dod were called away mere moments before the droids attacked."

"The timing is unfortunate, however, their reason for leaving was confirmed by Eriadu security as genuine." I had little doubt it was, though again, when Palpatine spoke there was no hint of deception even though I knew he'd arranged it so they could be called away before the attack happened.

"It was," Palpatine cut in as I took a sip of the cup of tea he'd poured for me. "However, I'm led to believe that, beyond a basic statement, there is little Eriadu security, or even the Senate or Jedi can do to investigate the incident further. The Viceroy, beyond now being the sole leader of the Trade Federation, has diplomatic immunity. While Senator Dod could be called before a tribunal over this, the Federation has enough support in the Senate to ensure that will not happen. Not without valid proof that he was somehow involved in the attack."

My brow creased as Damask spoke. "The Viceroy has had a very fortuitous career over the last few years. Becoming the first Neimoidian to sit on the Directorate in almost a hundred years and now having all but total control of one of the galaxy's largest conglomerates."

As an oddly comfortable silence fell over the room, and I continued to sip at the tea – which, even if I wasn't much of a tea drinker, was remarkably good – I couldn't help but mentally chuckle at the situation. Not only was I sitting in the room, enjoying a civil chat with two Sith Lords, but they were able, with entirely believable faces, to sit there and ponder on how Gunray rose to prominence without ever hinting that it was because of them that he had.

I lowered my cup and turned to Palpatine. "Before the attack, I heard you mention to Senator Taa that King Veruna had abdicated. Might I ask if you've heard anything on who is likely to replace him, uncle?"

I smiled lightly at the way Damask frowned at my referral to Palpatine as my uncle. "While we refer to each other by such terms, I assure you there is no blood connection. Several years ago, young Cameron posed as my nephew to investigate the disappearances of children of prominent citizens across Coruscant. He was able to capture those involved and free many of the children, though we have maintained the terms as something of a private joke."

"Ah." Damask's eyes shifted from Palpatine to me and back as if trying to reconcile this apparently new information. There was no way he didn't know this already, but watching him and Palpatine dance around the truth was a masterclass in deception and misdirection.

Palpatine turned his gaze back to me. "As for Naboo, the current favourite is someone from the Tapalo family, however, he is fast losing ground to someone I believe you are familiar with; Padmé Naberrie."

I chuckled at that, wondering how much effort it was taking to ensure Padmé became queen. "That is good to hear. I'll admit that while not something the Order will approve of, I placed a decent wager on Padmé to win. If it pays off, I'll likely donate the winnings to the Refugee Relief Movement, or a local charity of her choice."

Palpatine smiled warmly. "A noble gesture, and one I'm sure she would appreciate." He leaned forward and his gaze narrowed. "If you weren't a Jedi and one I trust at that, I'd almost wonder if perhaps you are seeking some positions of power on my homeworld. Perhaps even as Royal Consort?"

A boisterous laugh escaped my lips, accompanied by a dismissive shake of the head. "You wound me, uncle!" I held a hand to my chest. "Padmé is years younger than me, and as a Jedi, I took an oath to not form bonds such as those." An oath I'd broken twice now with Serra, and multiple times with Bo though there wasn't as strong a Force connection between us as existed between myself and Serra. In this situation though, The Jedi Code was, to me, little more than a set of guidelines for those unable or unwilling to control their baser impulses.

"Understandable, even if I feel you might be one the Order could make an exception for. Like they have with Master Ki-Adi Mundi." I wondered where Damask was going with that, as in Master Mundi's case, it was due to issues with his species and not him proving he could handle having wives and children. "However, I also wonder if you might donate some of your proceeds from your holonovels to support the new Queen." I was glad I wasn't sipping my tea as I'd have likely spat it out in shock. However, even without the spit-take, my reaction made the Munn chuckle. "I was only recently able to link the Lord of the Rings trilogy to you, and only then due to Damask Holdings being a partner in several companies involved in converting the works into holomovies."

I blinked, processing that Darth Plagueis knew about my hidden stash of credits. Or at least the larger, more public one. With little effort, he'd easily be able to link me to funding the Lokella and possibly determine their location. That was a concern as it might lead him, and Sidious, to Anakin, which would fuck up my plan of placing him with the Lokella to keep him safe and hidden.

As for the credits, of which there were about a billion now, I could easily move them into other accounts. The one on Mandalore for Clan Shan would be an option as I doubted it was with the IGBC or an offshoot. The other easy choice would be to use my Inventory. However, if I pulled all the credits, or even a large enough minority of them, soon after this meeting, then Plagueis might get suspicious. I'd have to work slowly, filter them through various other dummy accounts and then withdraw and deposit in new, hopefully, untraceable accounts across the galaxy.

"I think," I began slowly, "I might need to speak with my publisher and his company. I was assured that my name would never be linked to the works until I wanted them to be."

Damask raised a hand, palm facing me. "I assure you that neither he nor the publishers revealed this information. At least not directly." Damask spoke slowly, though it was clear he was amused at my reaction, not understanding my pause was me panicking about the Sith knowing of my money. "I simply wished to learn who the author was after discovering the novels and enjoying them immensely and then learning my company was involved in their adaptation." He leaned forward, hints of a smile showing around his mask. "Perhaps, at a later date, I might even trouble the author for a set of signed copies? No doubt their value will increase when the movies are distributed, and perhaps more so if the author is ever revealed to be a Jedi."

"Of course." I paused and then looked at Palpatine. There was some surprise on his face, more than likely meant to show he didn't know of my credits. However, as always, it was impossible to tell if the shock was genuine or not. "With your permission, uncle, I'll have the copies delivered here." I turned back to Damask. "Since I have no idea where to send them otherwise."

"You may send them to the penthouse of Kaldani Spires here on Coruscant," Damask began with an odd amount of amusement and pride. "My former residence was recently damaged in an act of corporate sabotage, though it only served to hasten my move to Coruscant. I have come to understand that being closer to the corridors of political power has many financial benefits, and in preparation for the move, I purchased Kaldani Spires. It will also allow me to return from my self-imposed isolation at a time of critical need."

I wasn't sure how much of that was true, but his moving to Coruscant made sense if, as I suspected, the plan was for him to become some sort of advisor to Palpatine when he became Chancellor. While Kaldani Spires weren't as impressive as 500 Republica – where Palpatine had a suite – or within the Senate District, I knew they were considered some of the finest suites on the planet. That Damask would simply buy the entire building was hardly a surprise. "I'll arrange for your copies to be sent there, then."

"Thank you. Although," he paused and tapped his mask. "It occurs to me as we speak of the Spires that it would behove us if you also had a place of residence there."

My jaw involuntarily dropped, stunned by his proposition. Not only would such an arrangement situate me near Darth Plagueis, but the opulent suites within the Spires commanded exorbitant prices, numbering in the hundreds of millions of credits for even the most modest. Yet here he stood, casually offering me one. "Th-that's not necessary," I spluttered.

Damask waved his hand. "But it is. If not for your actions on Mandalore, I would have long left this mortal coil. For that alone, even ownership of the entire building would be a small price to pay."

My mouth fell open once again, stunned by what I had just heard. That grand structure must have been worth well over three hundred billion credits, and yet he spoke of granting me its rights as if it were spare change. While I had been aware of his immense wealth, witnessing it in action was a stark reminder of the Sith's formidable power, even when masked by their public personas. Composing myself, I managed to find my voice amidst the astonishment.

"I…There's really no need for such a gesture, Magister," I replied, working to keep my voice steady. I couldn't help but notice the smug smirk playing on Palpatine's lips as he observed my reaction. "The blade you bestowed upon me was more than generous for the completion of my duties, Magister."

As tempting as it would be to take a suite, never mind the whole damn building, the place would be bugged from here to Kashyyyk and back again.

"If I might ask, what blade is this?"

Both Damask and I turned to face the Senator. "An artefact from my collection. After the events on Mandalore, I considered for some time what would be a suitable gift for not just a Jedi, but a Mandalorian." Palpatine nodded in understanding of what was said so far. "Pondering it, my mind turned to a blade once used by Jedi before the advent of lightsabers. Since I knew he carried a Mandalorian beskad already, I felt it a suitable gift."

"I must confess, Magister, that I still find myself unworthy of such a historically significant gift," I admitted, my tone genuine and humble. "Had you personally extended the offer, I would have insisted on refusing it. However, given the circumstances, I found myself with little choice but to accept, and for that, I am eternally grateful."

Pausing for a moment, I continued, "That being said, I have taken great care to keep the blade safely stored within its case. While the temptation to wield it is undeniable, I cannot ignore the nagging concern that even the slightest mishap or excessive force might risk damaging this priceless artefact."

By explaining my cautious approach, I hoped to dispel any inquiries he might have regarding the blade's continued confinement within its protective casing. It was undoubtedly bugged, and the desire to test its capabilities burned within me. However, I knew I had to exercise prudence and find a suitably secluded location where I could assess the case and blade meticulously, searching for any hidden tracking or surveillance devices that might have been concealed alongside it.

Palpatine's chuckle drew my attention back to him. "Yes, I can understand that reaction." He gave Damask a nod. "I believe I know of the blade you speak of." He turned back to me. "I saw it several times when I spoke with the Magister at his former residence. I am relieved that not only did it survive the sabotage there, but that it has found its way into the hands of a worthy inheritor."

I bowed a fraction in thanks for the compliment before I let my brow crease. "If I might ask, how did you two first meet? Details of your acquaintanceship are common knowledge on the Holonet, but I don't recall reading about how and when you first crossed paths."

The pair shared a look before Palpatine responded. "It was many years ago when I was not much older than Miss Naberrie is now. The Magister had arrived on Naboo to begin negotiations with the candidates for the throne over the plasma reserves recently discovered on Naboo. It was, I believe, a chance encounter when the Magister became lost on the Legislative Youth Program's campus in Theed and needed directions to return to his quarters."

"Yes, that would've been our first encounter," Damask cut in with what felt like practised ease. "Though it wasn't until many years later when Palpatine became an aide to the former Senator of the Chommell sector that we began a regular correspondence, and I took him under my wing. And even after becoming friends, I dare say we've disagreed at least once every few months over various proposals and issues facing the Senate and Republic. Still, he is one of the few people I consider a genuine friend."

As I watched, Palpatine nodded in thanks and agreement. Nothing stood out about the interplay to suggest it wasn't the truth, once more proving just how kriffing skilled the pair were and hiding facts within fiction. Even if nothing was decided about the Vong from this meeting, it was a masterclass in how to say one thing and mean another while making everything seem true.

"Ah. My thanks for indulging my curiosity," I said with a smile. One returned by Palpatine while Damask nodded. "With that settled, should we perhaps move on to the reason I was summoned?"

… …

(Sidious' POV)

"Yes, of course," Sidious began. He placed his cup of Karlini tea down, and after glancing at his Master, continued. "I've spoken with the Magister about your report, and what you told me. However, we would be interested in hearing a more detailed recounting. One that, unlike the formal report, would cover everything that happened with the Vong. We hope that by hearing such a retelling, we might be able to determine elements about their society, culture and thinking to better prepare for them when their threat is revealed to the wider galaxy."

Cameron nodded and lowered his cup. Sidious had considered adding some serum to make the young Jedi more inclined to speak truthfully, however, he had decided against it. Most Force-sensitives, even Jedi Padawans that would never become Knights, would sense such a thing, and since Cameron was as far beyond those Padawans as Sidious was beyond all but a handful of Jedi Masters, it would be an insulting blunder to have done so. "Certainly. Where should I begin?"

Sidious watched as his master leaned forward. "You mentioned in your report that these Vong are immune to the Force, that they cannot be sensed by Jedi. While I know some of how the Force works," Sidious cackled internally at how far from the truth that was, "I'm confused as to what exactly you mean by this."

Cameron paused and leaned back, taking time to consider his words. To Sidious, this was a clear sign of Dooku's influence. The elder Jedi was deliberate in his actions as well as his word choices and it appeared much of that had rubbed off on Cameron. Which would make it easier for Sidious and his Master to see through any attempted deceptions.

Yet Sidious pushed that aside as, for the briefest of moments, he sensed anger – no, delicious, unbridled fury – emanating from Cameron. The feeling vanished almost as soon as it came, but what drew Sidious' attention, and no doubt that of Plagueis, was that Cameron didn't release that rage into the Force as a Jedi was trained to do. No, instead he seemed to push it down, as if unwilling to let go of the emotion. "The Vong aren't immune to the Force per se. Much like a taozin, which I had the unfortunate luck to encounter not long before travelling to Zonama Sekot, the Vong present as… for lack of a better term, a null presence within the Force. The very fact they cannot be sensed means they can be detected, though I admit it took me time to fully understand how to do so." Sidious nodded, understanding what Cameron was implying, though he wondered when and where the Jedi had encountered a taozin. The creatures were believed to be extinct, and Sidious did not doubt that, if it could be recovered, Plagueis would want a sample for research. "They are though immune to directed Force abilities."

Sidious felt the Force shift around Cameron, though it reacted slightly faster and oddly to what Sidious would expect from a Jedi. With but the slightest movement of his fingertips – a sign of his skill with telekinesis – Cameron lifted his cup. "When I attempted this common Jedi trick on the Vong, it failed as if nothing was there. The same was true of using the Force to generate a barrier which I tried to use in my first encounter with Vong warriors. However, while the Force cannot be used directly on them, I could still, if one was present, toss the cup at them with enough kinetic impact that it might stagger them."

"There are certain species, like the taozin you mentioned – and I would be curious to hear where and when you encountered such a beast – that are, from what I understand, difficult for Jedi to manipulate. The Hutts are the example most would choose. However, they, and the others I know of, could still, from what I believe, be affected by direct application of the Force, could they not?"

Sidious was glad Plagueis had brought up the taozin. Such a creature, if it could be studied, could be a useful tool for eliminating Jedi.

"I can't say I've ever tried lifting a Hutt. That much bulk would no doubt cause problems," Cameron replied with an amused chuckle. "To say nothing of the smell." At that Sidious allowed himself to grimace. He'd had the misfortune to once encounter a Hutt and be forced to kill them. While far harder to eliminate than most sentients believed, they were still susceptible to the Force. Though Cameron was right to say that moving them with the Force did release some rather unpleasant odours. "But yes, I believe they could be lifted. Or Toydarians, who are also highly resistant to mind tricks. The Vong are… something else. Even concentrated Force energy used akin to a blaster bolt did not affect them."

Plagueis leaned back and castled his fingers, resting his chin on the tips. "That is most concerning. While I do not claim to know how the Order teaches a Jedi to fight, from what I have observed, using the Force to move objects is a default practice for many." Cameron nodded even as Sidious snarled internally at the narrow-mindedness of the Jedi. The Force was capable of so much more if they only opened their eyes and saw that it should serve them. "How, then, did you survive your first encounter with the Vong?"

"I almost didn't," Cameron replied with a dark chuckle. Sidious found that interesting, as it showed that perhaps, Cameron found being almost killed amusing, or perhaps even challenging. Something to learn from and ensure never happened again. A lesson he had instilled in Maul just as Plagueis had instilled in him. "After my attempted barrier had no effect, and I felt Master Fay's attempted push come to nothing, they closed on me." Cameron paused here and looked away as Sidious felt the return of that rage from earlier, along with some hesitation. As if there was something Cameron had left out of his report. If he was a lesser being, Sidious would've leant forward, curious about what was brewing in the Young Jedi. Thankfully for him, the Sith and the Grand Plan, he wasn't. "I'm unsure of how much you understand Magister, Senator, but the Jedi rely on the Force to guide them. To warn them of danger. Now, that… sensation isn't perfect. A kill shot from one who can mask their thoughts, or one the Jedi considers a friend, from what I understand, can occur before the Jedi senses the shift. However, in active combat, until Zonama Sekot and the Vong, I'd never known it to not warn me of danger. Yet against the Vong…" Cameron sighed, the sense of conflict within him growing stronger and further intriguing Sidious. "It failed entirely. If a Vong wasn't in my line of sight, I didn't know what they were doing."

… …

(Plagueis' POV)

Plagueis sat quietly for a moment, considering Shan's words. He pushed his curiosity about the faint tremors of rage he sensed from the young Jedi. While that was interesting, the fact these Vong were not just immune to manipulation, like the Yinchorri, but confirmed to not be affected by direct applications of the Force was troubling. In his decades of research, he'd never come across such a species, and from all he had learnt, it simply should not be possible. Even those species like the Hutts which were immune to mental manipulation were still connected to the Force. These Vong, apparently, weren't.

While they were undoubtedly excellent warriors, they posed a threat not just to the Jedi, but, in large enough numbers and skill, potentially to him, Sidious and the Grand Plan. That concern was his primary reason for arranging this meeting, one that now pushed the secondary reason of observing Shan at close quarters with Sidious, further to the periphery.

"You are saying that these Vong are immune to everything a Jedi can do?" He asked. Even if aware they were not, he wanted to learn in greater detail what techniques Shan had developed to counter the Vong. From there, Plagueis knew he would be able to devise at least a dozen theorems to counter the Vong. Though most would only be applicable in smaller-scale combat.

"No," Shan replied with a quick shake of his head. "Anything directed against them, or their weaponry at least, that uses the Force won't work. However, as I mentioned with the cup, applying Force techniques in more brute-force methods was effective. Often to begin an ambush, I'd use the Force to accelerate a few dozen decently sized rocks at the Vong. While their armour would weather the attack – bar the odd case where I struck something like an eye – it would knock them off-balance."

"Something akin to a scatter gun?" Shan nodded, confirming the concept. "Interesting." He tapped his chin as he considered this. It was a very crude way to control the Force, but against a large group, such approaches often had their appeal. However, it wasn't the only method Shan mentioned as being successful. "In your report, and the recording you provided Senator Palpatine, you used something akin to electricity against them." Plagueis was well aware of the Jedi's inferior imitation of Sith Lightning, however, if the Jedi's imitation could, as the recording suggested, drive back and stun a Vong, then Sith Lightning could undoubtedly kill them.

"I call it Electrokinesis; as in the ability to control and manipulate electricity." Plagueis nodded. The name was suitable and hinted that Shan saw other uses for the power than simply combat applications. Additionally, it sounded better to Plagueis' ears than what the Kel Dor Council member called it. "Master Plo Koon uses something similar, though he terms it Electric Judgement." And there was that pathetic name. Plagueis could respect the Kel Dor Jedi as, like Plagueis, he applied science to the Force. Sadly, the being was too deeply rooted in the illogical ways of the Jedi to understand the truth. "Other abilities, such as those that enhance my body, also worked. Which is a good thing as the Vong are stronger, faster and more agile than most other sentients I've encountered."

Plagueis felt the Force shift as Shan stopped. The hints of rage within him flickered as if calling out to the Jedi to take control of him. No, as Plagueis watched, Shan took control of that anger. Most interesting. He had not expected the young Human to have the understanding to control the Force, and the rage one needed to bend it to your will, so easily.

"There was one other power that I used that worked." Shan's voice was quieter now even as the fury inside became clearer. The temptation to reach out and sense the source, the reason for the fury was there. However, Plagueis did not. He and Sidious needed Shan to trust them, to work with them for the Vong threat. If, over time, Shan proved himself, then perhaps he might, as Sidious implied, have a purpose in the Grand Plan. Or at least one outside of Plagueis' standing interest in how the Human had increased his midi-chlorian count. "When Master Fay fell… I," Shan sighed loudly and looked away for a moment to steady himself. Around him, around the room, Plagueis could feel the Force moving. Something about this moment was critical. "I lashed out. She… I thought she was dead. Her blood… It dripped from the tip of the Vong's spear to the ground. In that moment… I lost control. Rage the likes of which I'd never felt before rushed through my veins, telling, demanding, that I kill all those who killed my Master."

Plagueis felt himself lean forward, savouring the emerging hints of rage and power that were slowly seeping out of Shan into the Force. His count had indicated his potential, but the hint of power Plagueis was sensing now was on another level entirely. Easily comparable to Sidious when Plagueis first pushed him to the very edge of losing control. Yet what truly caught Plagueis' attention was that this fury that he felt was not something summoned in the moment. No, it was tied to the Vong, and the injury Master Fay had taken. Nearly a year later, Shan still held it, and it seemed he had learnt to bury it so deeply that neither the Jedi Council nor he or Sidious had sensed it until the seal upon it loosened.

"How exactly did that affect your battle?" Plagueis glanced at Sidious, grateful his apprentice had prodded for further details as he did not want to shift his focus from Shan. Not when, as subtlety as he could, he was probing the darkness coming from the descendent of Darth Revan. The ancient Sith most responsible for Bane adopting the Rule of Two.

Shan gulped and looked down at his hands as if ashamed of his actions. No. Plagueis sensed he was not ashamed of them, merely conflicted about revealing what he had done. Intriguing. "I… I don't fully understand what happened," Plagueis sensed the deception there, but it was understandable a Jedi would not want to admit to knowing what he had done. Even to non-Jedi. "But the rage… it strengthened my Electrokinesis. Darkened it. When it struck the Vong, they were flung back, some dying on contact." Shan lifted his head and Plagueis saw the confusion in his eyes even as conflict swirled around him in the Force. "I… What I did wasn't what a Jedi should do, but they hurt my Master. And if I hadn't… others would've been hurt."

A flash shot through Plagueis' mind. The Mandalorian girl. Duke Adonai's daughter. Hmm, so Shan was close to her. That would require discussion with Sidious to see how she, and her people, might be adapted into the Grand Plan. For now though, Plagueis stayed focused on Shan.

Before this meeting, he and Sidious had spoken of Shan's potential for the Dark Side. Not only was it, if such a thing existed, in his blood, but he had endured much before Zonama Sekot that would break lesser Jedi. The methods the Bando Gora used to create converts were primitive and imprecise, but still effective. That Shan had survived months under their mercies spoke to a strength of will few Jedi younglings possessed, yet Plagueis remembered vividly the tremors he had sensed when Shan had been freed. He had not sensed such tremors from Shan on Zonama Sekot, but as the report stated the planet was strong in the Force, perhaps it had masked Shan's reaction. And possibly more than one as this event that Shan was admitting to occurred within the first battle of a nearly year-long insurgency.

"I was unaware a Jedi could do such things," Sidious spoke, playing the role of a scared and concerned adult figure to perfection as he reached out tentatively for Shan's hands. "Did you speak to the Council about this?"

"No. If I had… What I did was against the Code, but I had no choice." Shan's head lifted and Plagueis stared into the Human's soul. "If I hadn't… Fay would've died, B… the others would've died. I would've died." Plagueis smiled internally. Yes, Shan was not ashamed of what he had done, only that he had lost control. This was highly encouraging and not something he had anticipated learning today. "It was one moment in a battle where I lost control, a moment of weakness. But, if I had to do it again, I would." Plagueis sensed Shan was holding back something else, something more. However, he knew that it would not be revealed today.

"Do not fear, for we won't reveal this to the Council," he offered sincerely. No, doing that would only result in the Jedi imprisoning him in one of their nigh-unknown locations. At that, Shan would be removed from the galaxy, and his potential, his power, and his ability to alter his midi-chlorians would be lost.

On the other side, Sidious nodded. "Yes. Anyone faced with such a situation would do whatever they must to ensure the survival of their friends and loved ones."

Even as Shan weakly smiled his thanks, Plagueis was beginning to consider possible uses for the Human. Shan was not as fully corrupted by the Jedi's teaching as someone like Dooku or C'baoth, however, he also lacked the gravitas due to his youthful age. It would be easier, in theory, to instruct Shan in the correct way to use the Force, to reveal the underlying power of the Dark Side when one bent it to their will. Plagueis was unwilling to share power with another so close to the Grand Plan entering its final stages. Yet, once the Plan had finished, and the Jedi and Republic replaced by a new order, there would be a need for those beneath himself and Sidious.

If Shan could be turned before the Plan ended, then not only could he be of use against the Jedi, but it would allow Plagueis to examine the Human and learn how he had managed something that shouldn't be possible. However, before all that could occur, the boy would need further testing; further challenges that would force him to draw upon the Dark Side. If he survived those encounters, then Shan would turn to the two beings he could trust to talk about further lapses in judgement: Sheev Palpatine and Hego Damask.

Perhaps Shan might even one day be tested against Sidious' assassin, Maul. Yet, when Plagueis' thoughts turned to the Zabrak, he remembered the recent report the assassin had submitted. While the alien Maul had fought on Cog Hive Seven was unknown to him, based on the report, Plagueis believed, and Sidious agreed, that it was likely a Vong. Sadly, for Plagueis, Cog Hive Seven, and the dead Vong, were gone, depriving him of a new subject for experimentation.

Plagueis' thoughts returned to the present as Shan stood slowly. "If I might have a moment."

… …

(Cam's POV)

"Certainly," Palpatine replied as Damask nodded in agreement.

I moved slowly away, making sure to let hints of my rage leak out. While I'd have liked to watch their reactions as I told them I'd used Force Lightning – though not with that term – I felt it better to play the part of a slightly confused and concerned young Jedi. Thus, I'd kept my head down and let my genuine worry about what I was doing seep out. From what I could tell, they had bought the performance, though I worried they might've sensed more than what I wanted them to.

The reason I'd revealed this was two-fold. First, it was simple logic. The Vong were more vulnerable to Force Lightning than Electrokinesis and that needed to be known. I wondered what other Dark Side-aligned powers might work as well, but the battlefield wasn't a place to test out new theories when you were continuously outnumbered when entering combat. I was sure the pair would know of other powers that might work against the Vong, and while having them improve themselves for a potential invasion was only going to make taking them down that much harder, the benefits still outweighed the drawbacks. If only just.

The second reason I'd done this was Anakin. Or more specifically, to keep the Sith focused on me and not him when he finally was revealed. There was no way they wouldn't be interested in him due to his count, however, the longer they failed to see he was the true Chosen One, the less chance there was for him to become Vader. Of course, this made the idea of taking Anakin as my Padawan – which I'd been toying with for a while now – a more dangerous option, however, there might be a way to use it. If I hid Anakin's power behind mine and passed off his impressive growth as a result of my teaching – at least with a lightsaber that would be believable I felt – then it might just work. Additionally, after Naboo, I wanted to spend some time travelling. Not just to potentially gain allies for the war to come, but to learn more than what the Jedi taught. There were other Force-sensitive groups in the galaxy that might know something useful. If I took Anakin as my Padawan after Naboo, then slipped into the ether, it would be harder for the Sith or Jedi to realise who Anakin was and would be.

Figuring I'd taken long enough, I took a deep breath, pushed aside the wisps of anger I'd released and brought myself back under control. While I could use Player's Mind, they'd sense its activation, and other than wondering why I'd suddenly blocked my emotions, might grow concerned that I knew more about them than I should.

"Ok," I muttered as I returned to my chair, giving the pair a weak smile.

"How much more effective was this… anger-driven lightning compared to your Electrokinesis?"

I turned my attention to Damask as he spoke. "When I lost control, I don't exactly know the specifics. However, Bo-Katan Kryze, who was travelling with me at the time, was able to use the sensors in her armour to compare the first battle to later ones. From what she showed me, it was clear this… darker variant of the power was several orders of magnitude more dangerous to the Vong." Or to anyone really. "However, since I was… ashamed of drawing on that rage or losing myself in my desire for vengeance for what they did to Master Fay, I didn't risk using that anger again."

The pair were silent, likely seeing the holes I wanted them to see in my story. I'd not let go of that anger. Even now, it was still there, though that was heavily influenced by my Eidetic Memory bringing the raw emotions to the forefrontthe moment I thought about those events. I knew it was dangerous to keep hold of it, to bury it deeply, but I understood that if I tried to let go of it in the Force, then the next time I encountered a Vong, I might be overwhelmed by those emotions all over again.

"It is good you restrained yourself," Palpatine commented. "Since we all agree these Vong pose a serious threat, losing control of yourself in battle would've been… fatal. Apart from that meaning we wouldn't now know of the threat; it would also have resulted in your death. Something I for one would deeply regret."

I nodded in thanks for his assurance, however, I stayed silent. What I'd revealed on a personal level was as far as I was willing to go. At least regarding how I'd drawn on the Dark Side. There was no way in hell I'd ever bring up having King Adas' holocron, though as I thought about that, I realised it had been some time since I'd last spoken to the first Sith King. While understandable since I'd not had any time away from Jedi – even my excursion to the ShaDo system had been with Dooku – I needed to spend more time speaking with him before Naboo.

"Returning to the primary topic, I'm curious how you, and Miss Kryze, would rate their combat tactics," Damask said methodically. "How a military operates can often provide insight into their culture, especially if it is one orientated toward battle."

"Aye, that's true." I looked away for a moment to collect my thoughts. "Ignoring that first battle, as it was chaotic, most of our encounters took place in ambushes. Initially, their patrols were small, no more than four beings, and kept to set paths. Once we started to have success against them, the size of the patrols grew, and they varied their routes enough that there were times when we couldn't ambush them due to them choosing a different path."

I stopped there for a moment and sipped the tea. "Eventually, they learnt enough from our tactics to prepare a counter-ambush, and we lost an Antarian Ranger along with a unit of locals in that battle. It was also when I encountered what I considered their elite warriors."

"The ones who you referred to as clawed-Vong?"

"Yes," I replied with a nod at Palpatine's question. "Like all Vong we encountered, they'd undergone modifications to their bodies, though for them it was their hands, and the claws they'd had attached that stood out."

"How would you rate these elites compared to their base soldiers?"

I leaned back and pondered Damask's question for a moment. "To start, I'd rank a base Vong as good as, if not better, than a comparably aged elite soldier. Different armaments, yes, but similar tactics. Though the Vong are superior to a baseline Human in every physical way. When using the Force to engage them – and as my report mentioned, they favour close-quarters-combat over ranged assaults – I became able to handle three to four base warriors with relative ease. The appearance of just one clawed-Vong changed that entirely. When fighting that one, I struggled to deal with even a single regular warrior. Though I will admit that I only had one encounter with an elite before the invasion reached its climax."

"From this, and your report, it seems safe to assume that the Vong are highly trained with a preference for engaging an enemy personally." Damask paused and tapped his chin just below the mask. "For now, using a baseline built from shared ideals of groups such as the Mandalorians, Trandoshans, the Sun Guard and other warrior cultures would allow us to generate a very simple outline of their combat doctrine." His eyes narrowed as he continued. "Though this… choice to alter themselves is most peculiar. While there are some species that I know of that have ritualistic self-mutilation, the Vong seem to use it to increase the combat efficiency of their warriors. Most concerning."

"And dangerous," I added with a chuckle remembering how close I'd come to losing an eye in my duel with their leader, my hand gesturing toward the scar I bore from that battle. "Their armour is also an issue. Like certain alloys and elements, such as beskar and phrik, it is resistant to lightsabers, though it can be pierced with effort. However, my beskad was able to pierce their armour easier, even if it could get lodged in place."

"So not only are the Vong seemingly impossible for a Jedi to sense, but their famed weapon has reduced efficiency against a Vong's armour. That is extremely concerning." Damask rested his chin on his fingers which he had once more interlocked. "How would you compare a squad of Vong against a Mandalorian one?"

I took my time to consider the hypothetical. I understood why he was using Mandalorians, as it was the culture – outside of the Jedi – that I knew best, but I was worried he was also using it as a way to judge my opinion about the Mandalorians. "In full armour, I'd say it would be a close thing. Vong are stronger, and faster but Mandalorian armour and weaponry could give them an advantage as long as they maintained their edge. The acid shot from the Vong's staff weapon had a negligible effect on Bo-Katan's beskar armour, though it caused considerable damage to durasteel when it struck that."

"Very well. This can be used to further the model." Damask leaned forward. "We could be looking at an invasion comparable to the Mandalorian one that your ancestor fought against. Perhaps more as if these Vong come from, as you suggest, beyond the known galaxy, they may well have ships of a size hereunto unseen in Republic space."

Even as Palpatine gulped, I nodded, aware of that idea. If the Vong were from outside the galaxy, and I had little reason to doubt Sekot's words when he referred to them as from Far Outside nor that the Interface was being accurate in saying the came from the Void, then they'd need ships capable of travelling through the void between galaxies. To say nothing of them also being able to support an entire civilisation. Assuming that they came from a galaxy at least the size of one of the companion galaxies to this one and that they held at least one planet – which was probably a massive underestimate – then the invasion force would number in the tens of billions at least. And be aboard ships massive enough to carry them.

"Moving on slightly. I'm curious as to why, when you and Master Fay spoke to the Vong leadership, you felt a challenge was the correct approach to take."

"After we approached their base, and Master Fay had begun her attempts to seek a peaceful resolution – something I was aware would never work," I added with a smirk, "the way the Vong spoke drew my attention. Not only did they seem to have religious reasons for the occupation of Zonama Sekot, but there was enough there that hinted at it guiding their society. Sensing the Force react to that thought, and drawing on what I'd learnt on Mandalore, I pushed for the challenge." A chuckle escaped my lips. "That said, I may have insulted their sense of honour to goad their leader into accepting."

Palpatine smirked at the image while Damask nodded. "Something I have learnt in my many years is that sometimes what one person considers underhanded or dishonourable is entirely acceptable to another." That made perfect sense in a galaxy full of over a million differing species, many with variant values depending on the world they came from. Honestly, I wasn't bothered about insulting the Vong. Even if it hadn't worked, it was fun to screw with them like that. "Though on the topic, I must ask how, beyond a general sensation from the Force as you put it, you deduced such an approach would draw a response. And what you could infer from that, and other encounters, about the Vong's culture. Specifically, why Zonama Sekot was important to them."

"That was the only time I spoke with a Vong. At least beyond cursing them and getting something odd and guttural thrown back at me." Even if I didn't know what they'd said, I could remember them and if, as I suspected, many were curses, I planned to use them against the Vong. Provided I lived long enough to face their invasion fleets. "From the short talk, it was clear they placed an almost religious significance on whatever mission they were on and believed that Sekot was their goal. They claimed the planet was a seed, if such a thing is possible, of their lost homeworld. It was implied they felt the planet belonged to them simply because of this almost fanatical belief. That religious element was reinforced by their leader remarking that fighting and dying in the name of their mission was a worthy service to their gods. Though that feeling of importance was what drove me to strike at their honour and openly question its existence. They didn't take that very well." I finished with a grin.

"Yes, I've seen similar tactics employed on the Senate floor. While underhanded, it is often successful in disrupting a debate," Palpatine offered with a grin of his own. "As I'm sure the Magister has seen in various negotiations across his long, expansive life."

"Indeed," Damask commented with a nod. "While your affront to them was a risky manoeuvre given your lack of knowledge, it was successful in drawing their leader into single combat. It also grants us a small insight into the importance of their beliefs, which we may be able to exploit when their fleets arrive in Republic space." He paused and seemed to contemplate something. "We will need to use our limited information to search various religious sects and species within the Republic. Much like with their combat capacity, we can use those that share a similar mindset to generate an elementary template for the Vong.

"I'll leave that up to you and the Senator," I remarked. "I lack the… patience for such a long-term and detailed project. Something my former masters have commented on, and I believe you've observed in our chess matches Senator?"

Palpatine nodded and chuckled. "Yes. While you are improving it's clear you prefer to rush into situations."

"A failing that is sadly common for many Jedi," Damask added. "Though I understand one not shared by either of your masters. While I cannot speak for Master Fay, I have known Master Dooku in passing for several decades and he is a patient, considered individual. Still, that is a side matter. I shall instruct various employees to begin developing these research threads, though I will likely need to reach out for further observations as progress is made."

… …

(Sidious' POV)

Sidious watched quietly as his Master spoke with Cameron. While Cameron had indeed shown a tendency to rush in, there was more to it than Cameron stated. He was rash, arrogant and headstrong. A failing common among the Jedi who'd grown complacent with a millennium without the Sith to challenge them. However, with Cameron, Sidious knew there was more to it. He was aggressive, and from when he'd first spoken with the young Jedi about the Vong, Palpatine had sensed hints of enjoyment when he'd spoken of combat. Much like Maul exhibited, though in a far more restrained manner.

Still, of greater concern was the interest his master was displaying in Cameron. Sidious was secure in his place. He knew that his place beside Plagueis was safe, that when the time came if Sidious was unable to remove Plagueis as the Rule of Two demanded, then they would rule together with him in the light and Plagueis in his shadow.

Yet the interest in Cameron threatened that balance.

Oh, Sidious understood the potential Cameron held for the Dark Side, even before Sidious had tasted the rage within the young man. Yet, the way Plagueis spoke and observed Cameron, it was clear to Sidious that he didn't see him as just a science experiment on how to control and manipulate midi-chlorians, but as a potential third member of the Order of Sith Lords. Perhaps even a replacement for Sidious himself if a need arose. And that was something, no matter Cameron's potential, Sidious wouldn't allow.

Gifting Cameron the blade that had belonged to a member of the Legions of Lettow – a precursor to the Order of Sith Lords that they claimed lineage from – was a powerful move. Though Sidious was pleased to see Cameron be wary of a gift from a man as powerful and connected as Hego Damask. Sidious had coveted the blade for his collection, but he could see the value in gifting it to Cameron. Not only was the Jedi fond of a Mandalorian beskad, but the faint embers of the Dark Side within the blade would help open the crack Cameron had created to the Dark Side, turning it into a fissure through which he could be turned.

"Moving on, you mentioned their technology was heavily organic?"

"Yes, though I'll admit I didn't see everything they had. The armour they wore certainly was, though until we carried out a battlefield autopsy, I'd honestly thought it was just some unknown alloy. Their main base was surrounded by walls that weren't made from the environment, as were the glimpses I caught of buildings and flyers inside, however, I never got close enough to confirm that. The same goes for their starships, as I was only able to perform simple scans when we were engaged as my focus was on surviving and then escaping."

"Yes, I admit I found that part of the report odd. You said the planet warned you to escape, and then when you returned it had seemingly gone to hyperspace." Sidious bit back a snort of amusement. When he'd relayed the report to Plagueis, his Master had seemed genuinely shocked by the revelation that the planet wasn't just strong in the Force, but was in essence alive. At least enough that Cameron spoke of a telepathic conversation he'd shared with the planet before its disappearance. To say the idea caught Plagueis' attention would be like saying a star was dangerous when it went supernova.

"Yes, though even after experiencing it, I'm still struggling to understand how it could be sentient."

"Indeed."

Cameron shook his head before he continued. "While the idea that the planet entered hyperspace sounds… insane, the facts support that theory. The area where the planet had been was soaked, to incredible levels, in the residual energy one would expect of something entering hyperspace." Sidious noted that Cameron was slowly becoming defensive of the idea that the planet had escaped into hyperspace, suggesting he was still receiving pushback from within the Jedi over it. That was, potentially, something he and Plagueis could use. "The Vong fleet was still there, and their escape vector toward the Galactic Edge added credence to what Sekot said about them being from far beyond. Yet, the fact that, when you consider there were no remains to suggest the planet had been destroyed, and the gravitational field in the system had shifted rather suddenly, I'm left believing that, however improbable it might be, the planet entered Hyperspace."

While not as scientifically inclined as his Master, Sidious could still understand the sheer power such an action would need. Yet, as Cameron said, based on the facts provided, it was the only logical conclusion. Something he knew Plagueis agreed with.

"There is no need to be concerned about this, after reviewing the sensor data you provided, I concur that the planet leaving into hyperspace is the only logical conclusion to draw. However, I admit I am uncertain if it, and its inhabitants, could survive such a voyage." Plagueis waved a hand, dismissing the matter. "Unless the planet reappears, it is no longer of concern. What is, is the fact that the Vong seemingly use organic technology and weaponry."

"While rare, it isn't unusual," Sidious remarked, re-joining the conversation. "The Gungans of my home, for example, heavily use organic technology, as do many species within and without the Republic." As he spoke, Sidious' thoughts turned to the Gungan's energy balls.

"Yes, though I don't recall hearing of any species that has the technology to counter a Jedi in combat, or use it in place of standard orbital technologies." As Plagueis spoke and tapped his mask, Sidious ran with the thought he'd just had.

Those energy balls – boombas if he recalled correctly – shorted out any piece of technology when they struck, and Sidious wondered if it would work against Jedi. While the Gungans and Naboo were at odds, with the upcoming invasion, it shouldn't take much convincing to ensure the snivelling Neimoidian Gunray acquired examples of these boombas. With that in mind, once this meeting was concluded, he would speak with his agents to further ensure Miss Naberrie was victorious in the election, as, unlike Tapalo, she was young, predictable, and controllable.

"The fact that the Vong consider Zonama Sekot a seed of their homeworld would be something to explore, if not for the planet's disappearance," Plagueis added with a sigh, bringing Sidious' thoughts back to the meeting. "It is a shame that with it gone, and the rare vessels it produces now withered and dead, we lack an example of technology that might share a common ancestry with what the Vong use."

Internally, Sidious smirked. Plagueis had made sure this little trap was ready beforehand, and now was the time to spring it. "I believe that Cameron's current starship is a product of Sekot." With Plagueis he turned and faced the young Jedi, watching as he tensed up. It appeared he was reluctant to let them examine that vessel, however, access to it was something both Sith desired.

… …

(Cam's POV)

As the pair turned my way, I barely resisted the urge to freeze. I knew Raven would come up, but knowing and preparing for it and facing off against two hidden Sith Lords who wanted access to a ship that was, in some way, Force-sensitive, was another matter entirely. Like standing on the surface of a star, or standing in the Oort cloud and comparing the heat.

"The Raven is. However, many of its components, including the powercore and hyperdrive, are mechanical," I spoke slowly, doing my best to refer to her as a machine only. I'd do everything I could to deny access to Raven to these two or let them gain access to her schematics. Yet, there was a valid point in that she was born on Sekot, and should, in theory, share some root similarities with Vong-tech.

"Still, even if your vessel is only partly organic since it is Sekotan built, there will be some shared ancestry between it and Vong biotechnology."

I sighed, accepting the fact. "That is true, though I'm not sure what more I could do beyo…" I cut myself on purpose, drawing on the only way I had to avoid letting either Sith Lord onboard Raven. "The Council requested a full report on Raven. From a mechanical and biological stance, and on any potential Force presence it held." I paused and rubbed my chin. "I'm not sure if the report is finished as even before I left to come here today, there were still technicians and Jedi examining it." I focused on Palpatine. "As a member of the Senate, you should be able to access that report. If not, I can gain a copy and pass it along." After seeing if there was anything I'd rather they didn't learn about Raven and if I could alter the report to hide said information. "I know it's not ideal, but I'd rather not lose access to my ship, and thus an ability to come and go as I please, again."

There were a few moments of silence before Damask lowered his elongated head. "That will suffice, for now, I feel. Though I will admit that I have long held a fascination with Sekotan vessels. Perhaps, if time allows over the next year or so, you might permit me," he glanced at Palpatine, "us, to come aboard and experience a short flight on the Raven?"

"I believe that should be doable, Magister," I replied even as I considered the long list of reasons I already had to delay such a flight. They ranged from anything from needing to spend time instructing Initiates in elementary lightsaber velocities to outright faking a mission and running to the Outer Rim for a few months. Truthfully, I felt I only had to delay the trip until the Invasion of Naboo as after that, whether I took Anakin as my Padawan or not – and the more I considered it, the more the reward was greater than the risk – I planned a long time away from the Core. Hopefully, the Council, or Palpatine after he became Chancellor, wouldn't summon me back until I was ready.

Behind his mask, Damask's face shifted into what looked like a smile. "I look forward to it."

"As do I," Palpatine chimed in. "And while we are on the subject, perhaps you might provide your opinion on the Vong starships? We have read the report and seen the sensor logs; however, I often find hearing someone speak on a matter to be far more illuminating."

"There's little I can add. I was far more interested in guiding the ship I'd just taken control of for the first time away from combat. The only thing I'd draw attention to was the readings that they don't use anything akin to blasters or lasers. From what the sensors showed, and what I observed as we dove between their fire, they used some form of superheated material, akin to plasma weaponry possibly, to target us and Sekot. It might seem primitive compared to turbolasers, but the Raven's sensors suggested we'd have not survived many direct hits."

"Others will undoubtedly see it as primitive, which might be one reason why your Council dismissed the Vong threat, however depending on how exactly they generate this plasma, it might cause Republic vessels problems. Particularly in early engagements." Damask paused and again tapped his mask as he considered something. "Is it safe to assume that, based on what you observed, the Vong ranged weaponry scales with size?"

"Yes, though the largest vessel in their invasion force was perhaps double the size of a Judicial cruiser. I'd consider it a good bet it holds true for large ship classes, but there's no proof they don't have something far more dangerous on their largest warships."

"How expectedly concerning," Palpatine remarked but my attention remained on Damask. He was the one leading this meeting, which made sense as he had less of a read on me than Palpatine did. Plus given the way he spoke, he seemed far more scientifically and logically inclined than his apprentice.

"Yes, but I would consider it more probable they simply scale up their weaponry, much like most vessels go from lasers to turbolasers. That said, while the overwhelming majority of starships built in the Republic use such technology, I do believe there are a handful of specialist manufacturers who use more esoteric technology." That he knew this would be impressive, though I suspected he'd already researched those companies long before this meeting. Just as he likely had for the other topics we'd discussed. "Does your vessel have any such weaponry?"

"No. The Sekotans, at least until the invasion, never considered the need for offensive capabilities on their vessels." That was something that irked me greatly. While the Jedi Council approved of the fact that Raven was unarmed, I hated it. I had some ideas for adding weapons to her, but I'd not had time to examine the technical details of such modifications, though I would admit that, since Vong and Sekotan technology seemed to share a common ancestry, I was wondering about plasma weapons for Raven. Of course, regardless of what weaponry I gave her, or when, I'd have to make sure to do so without telling anyone first. The Council would no doubt complain, particularly if I armed her as much as I wanted – to say nothing of HK's suggestions, which would've given her more firepower than a dozen Judicial cruisers – but she was my ship, and I could apologise after the modifications were done.

"It is unfortunate that they didn't have any vessel comparable to the Recusant or Munificent classes, to say nothing of something akin to the Assertor class. Without those, it will be difficult to convince many of the military threat the Vong pose to the current Republic military?"

A dry chuckle escaped my lips. "What military?" I couldn't help but retort, causing both to turn their attention towards me. I let out a sigh, realising my words might have come across as disrespectful. "Apologies. It's just that I recall, even from my childhood, the sheer magnitude of the fleet stationed around Talravin. And that was merely one isolated world within the Core. But now, apart from key systems like Coruscant, Kuat, and Corellia—all of which are located in the Core—the Republic lacks anything resembling a formidable military force."

"The Senate relies on the Judicial force, supplemented by local defence forces, and the Jedi to deal with incidents inside Republic borders. Though I'll admit they have been found… wanting in anything beyond small skirmishes." Palpatine leaned back in his seat and took a sip from his cup. "As for those systems you mentioned, and others like them, most of their fleets are… limited to intra-system operations. The Ruusan Reformations made clear the limits for any vessel of significant size."

I snorted again and shook my head. "While I understand why, at the time that was passed, the idea was… short-sighted." That was being kind as, if the Republic still had even a basic standing military, it would've helped in hundreds of conflicts over just the last few decades, from the Stark Hyperspace War to the recent issues with the Nebula Front, through wars like that between the Kaleesh and the Yam'rii - which had been brought to an end, badly in my opinion, by the Senate.

That war stuck out in my mind as it was where Grievous was born. However, the war had ended several years ago and from what I could discover, he'd become an agent of the IGBC. If I could, I wanted to eliminate or turn him before he became a cyborg, but details on his assignments were redacted from the Holonet. That made sense as, since he was an agent of the IGBC, he'd be a target for those with grudges against the bank.

"Sorry," I resumed after clearing my head. "I just have a hard time wrapping my mind around why the Reformation was never altered to allow the Senate, or at least the Chancellor with Senate oversight, the ability to call upon a rapid-reaction-force."

Palpatine offered me a sad smile. "It's an entirely understandable reaction. I have lamented on this very issue many times over years working in the Senate." His tone was soft, like a grandfather, and I realised he was using this moment to strengthen the bond he felt existed between us. "There have been many moments where something akin to rapid reaction force as you called it, would have helped. Alas, every attempt has failed, with the most recent being, I believe, the creation of the Outlands Defence Force around a decade ago. No such effort has ever gained enough support in the Senate to even make it to debate, never mind a formal vote."

I barely resisted an urge to roll my eyes. "When the Vong make their presence known, the Republic shall face its inevitable downfall unless it is adequately prepared. Even a solitary fleet bearing a hundred million warriors has the potential to thrust a searing dagger deep into the heart of our Republic, perhaps scorching even the sacred grounds of Coruscant herself." I knew I was being poetic, but I wanted to drive home just how much danger the Vong posed. I knew they were going to invade; I knew it would be more than one fleet, and while I couldn't say as much to others – particularly not the Sith Lords sitting with me – I wanted them to understand how fully I supported a military build-up.

I understood well the sheer insanity of the fact I was in lockstep with the Sith over the need for a military, even if our reasons behind it were vastly different. Yet without the fleets, no matter which of us was still standing when the Vong arrived, the galaxy was doomed. If I could get in with the Sith here and now, I might just get some of the curtain pulled back, perhaps even enough to learn ways to exploit events to my benefit.

"Then we three, and other like-minded individuals that we can find, must prepare for what is to come." I let some surprise creep onto my face at hearing Damask's words. "While I would prefer to reach an agreement with the Vong that could potentially be beneficial to my interests, from all I've read and heard, I can see that won't be possible. Not unless the Republic is able to shatter the Vong fleets almost entirely. What we must arrange, slowly, cautiously, and without drawing the attention of the Senate, the Jedi Council and others who might oppose us, is the development and construction of instruments of war the likes of which the galaxy has not seen for a thousand years."

They were already planning that, but they didn't know I knew, so Damask's pronouncement would, in theory, draw me deeper into an alliance with them. And, as they no doubt hoped, make it easier to slowly manipulate me into turning to the Dark Side. Even knowing this, I understood there was a chance I might fall, but better the devil you know, than the one you don't. Plus, if I played this right, and kept them close but not too close, there were ways I could use this alliance to prepare to counter their plans for the galaxy.

"Can we not count on the Jedi to defend the Republic against the Vong, just as they've defended it against threats for millennia?"

I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose to hide my reaction to hearing Darth freaking Sidious suggest, convincingly, using the Jedi to defend the Republic. It was fucking rich to hear him suggest that, when using them to defend it was exactly how their plan would ensure the destruction of the Order and the Republic.

After taking a breath to calm myself, and hoping that they misunderstood my need for a moment, I replied. "While the Jedi will fight for the Republic, our numbers aren't enough, uncle." I shook my head and sighed to hopefully drive home that point. "Even if the Council supported us now, I would say only a third, perhaps at best a half, of the Order, would be ready and willing to fight against the Vong. The majority of the Order aren't Jedi as you'd expect. Most are Initiates, Younglings or assigned to a service corps such as those deemed unable to become a Padawan; never mind a Knight. And even then, of that half that could conceivably fight, I'd say half again wouldn't survive their first engagement with the Vong. We're taught to be defensive, to react to a threat and not go for the kill. That mentality, when combined with the common Force abilities a Jedi would use – such as trying to push back or throw a sentient away – would get them killed within seconds of battle commencing."

"Are you not, perhaps, underestimating the Order? After all, you survived your first encounter with the Vong, and many more thereafter."

"Perhaps I am," I responded with a shrug. "However, I'd rather underestimate than overestimate the Order's fighting ability. That said, I'd expect most Jedi Knights and Masters to fare better against the Vong than I did." I hoped that was true, but I knew many Jedi only learnt enough of the lightsaber to be decent with it, preferring to concentrate on other aspects of the Order. Those Jedi would be slaughtered by the Vong and would be among the first to fall in the Clone Wars.

"Indeed, from the recordings I've seen of many senior Jedi, their skill with a lightsaber is most impressive." Damask shared a quick look with Palpatine when he finished speaking, and I wondered if they truly felt that, or were dismissive of all but a few of the Order's fighters. After all, Sidious had slaughtered three Council members in seconds when they'd gone with Windu to arrest him. "I would also speculate that groups, such as the Mandalorians, Sun Guard, Echani and others would be just as, if not more, proficient against the Vong during planetary combat when compared to a baseline Jedi. However, if we cannot develop the forces to counter their suspected orbital superiority, then any advantages Republic forces might have on the ground would be irrelevant."

"Aye. While Bo-Katan did well enough against the Vong once she'd fought them a few times, she was never able to truly go toe-to-toe with them. However, since we were always outnumbered and she is still a young warrior, I'd rate her as average at best for her people." I mentally chuckled at that comparison as I knew it was untrue, compared to any truly seasoned Mandalorian, Bo still had a lot to learn even with all her talent. "The Antarian Rangers with me weren't as useful, though the surviving member is new to their ways while the Lieutenant was overwhelmed in the Vong's counter-ambush."

"And what of your beast?" Plagueis asked, leaning forward. "How did the adolescent tuk'ata fare?"

I smirked, both thinking of Fenrir and that Plagueis had brought him up. I'd left him off intentionally as I knew the Sith would want to hear how a Sith-created beast did against the Vong but wanted them to mention him. "Like everyone, he struggled in the first battle. While he did kill the beast the Vong had with them, he lost a spinal crest. After that though, he got better and better, even managing to take down two of their beasts in a later ambush with only a few scratches to show for it." I chuckled for a moment. "The only downside is that now, after the battles, he no longer finds the Temple as… comforting as he once did."

"A feeling you perhaps share?"

I smiled at Palpatine. "Maybe, though unlike Fenrir I know that not every problem can be solved by violence. Sometimes you have to use words," I shifted my focus to Damask, "and other times, the promise of financial motivation can gain you what is needed." The pair nodded, seemingly accepting and glad that I understood, I knew that point as Palpatine offered another grandfatherly smile.

Before either could respond, a gentle beep came from my vambrace. I glanced down at it, surprised to see that the timer I'd set as I'd exited Raven had expired. I'd set it to avoid being stuck talking with Palpatine for too long, though now I realised it was cutting short my discussion with him and Damask. "Forgive me, but I must return to the Temple," I began as I turned off the alarm. "The Battlemaster has requested my help with teaching several Initiate clans the very basics of lightsaber combat, and unless I leave soon, I fear I'll miss the class." Even if the alarm hadn't been needed for what I'd expected, it was allowing me to end this unexpected meeting on my terms, which I made clear by standing.

"Of course, of course," Palpatine replied as he and Damask stood as well. "I understand that you couldn't have known why I'd summoned you. I kept my message vague to ensure others didn't learn of the Magister's presence, or the topic of our conversation." He moved closer and shook my hand while gripping my arm near my elbow with his free hand and smiling. "While more time would be useful, what we've covered today allows us to move forward with initial plans, though I expect we'll have to meet again to review how those plans are coming along."

"I would expect the same," Damask added as Palpatine released my arm and hand. "Though I suspect if we continue to meet within the Senator's office, others might grow curious as to why." Even as I shook his hand, I couldn't deny he was right. "Therefore, the suite I offered earlier might be a way to remove some of that issue." I opened my mouth to argue against the idea when he raised his free hand, extending his long, thin fingers. "I understand your reluctance to accept another gift, however, I'm not offering simply for that now. Since I will normally be present within the Spires, it would allow us an easy method to speak privately, away from almost all prying eyes, since I will be located within the penthouse."

As I stopped shaking Damask's hands I sighed, seeing no way to avoid accepting the offer. "Then under that condition, I accept, Magister. Though perhaps you might ensure it isn't placed under my name as I'd rather not have to explain such a place to the Jedi Council."

Damask chuckled, which still sounded strange because of his mask. "Yes. I suspect your Council wouldn't look favourably on ownership of a suite in such an exclusive location. Would placing it under your pseudonym be acceptable?"

"It would, and while my former masters would realise this, I'm more concerned it might draw any fans of my works to the Spires. Especially once the holomovies are released."

"Yes, that is true, though be assured the security around Kaldani Spires is second to none. I wouldn't allow anything less." I nodded my thanks to Damask about that, and so long as no one linked me directly to the stories, the comings and goings of a Jedi would, I hoped, avoid too much scrutiny.

"When the first movie is ready, will you attend the premiere?" Palpatine asked. "And might I request several early tickets to the event?"

I laughed at that. I didn't know if he was a fan of the works – Force I hoped not as the Nazgul were something I hoped they never used as inspiration – but by the time Fellowship came out, he'd be Chancellor. Getting him to attend would drive up interest exponentially, meaning more credits for me to use to, hopefully, counter the Sith plan. "Of course. I'll have to ensure Padmé receives some as well, though if she is Queen then, it might be difficult for her to attend."

"I'm sure she'd make room in her schedule for you," a sly smile crept onto Palpatine's face. "While I've only spoken to her a few times because of the upcoming election, each time she asked after you. It seems your work with the Shadda-Bi-Borans had a greater effect on her than I'd realised."

"I hadn't known you were involved in their relocation," Damask commented.

Palpatine's smile shifted into an amused one. "Yes, that was when Cameron here met Miss Naberrie for the first time, which sparked their friendship." Palpatine turned back to me. "I believe it was you who sent the lightfoil when she became Princess of Theed?"

"It was." There was little point denying it as Palpatine would've researched who sent such a gift already. "Though I haven't managed to return to Naboo to give her any lessons."

"Perhaps, if she is successful, after her coronation? Having the support of a Jedi would help secure her position."

"If time allows, I'll see if I can manage it." Palpatine nodded, no doubt looking forward to it as it would give him an in with Padmé for ensuring my return, and as he said, help secure her position. Though for me, it would allow me to map out the Royal Palace for the invasion, though I wasn't sure how long I had from her coronation until the invasion, and I had certain things to sort out before then.

My vambrace beeped again, making me chuckle as I turned off the secondary alarm. "Right, I really have to leave now." The pair smiled at me. "Still, I'm grateful to both of you for believing in me regarding the Vong threat. It's… comforting to have that after the blunt dismissal the Council gave." Well, the Council had done so as a group, but others including Windu had sought me out for information, letting me know that they agreed the Vong could be a threat. While not what I wanted, it was better than nothing.

As for the Sith, I knew they'd be interested in the Vong as both a threat to their plans and a way to get closer to me. While the former was a risk, the latter was worth it if the galaxy, in whatever state it was in, was ready to face the Vong when they appeared with their full might.

"I'll admit that I'm hesitant to believe they are as great and immediate a threat as you do, however, I can't deny that from this single encounter, they pose a danger. That being said, you've shown a tendency to not overreact to issues, which lends credence to your worries." Damask nodded in agreement with Palpatine's words.

I bowed deeply to the pair, making clear my gratitude for their support. "Senator, Magister, until we next speak, thank you for your time."

After nods from them, I turned and left the study and then Palpatine's office. The Senate Guard were gone, though the Sun Guard were still present and tensed as I emerged and then walked past. I kept my mind still until I'd not only left the floor but had reached the exit to the landing platform where Raven waited. Once I was there, with Raven in sight as the droids moved around her, I stopped to consider the meeting.

I had to chuckle and shake my head at the sheer insanity of the fact I was now actively working with Sith Lords to defend the galaxy, even if this was one of the rare moments where the term 'The Greater Good' could be applied. The Vong were a clear danger to everyone, though I understood enough that by stopping them on Zonama Sekot I'd bought the galaxy several decades, perhaps up to fifty years, to prepare.

That meant the galaxy, whatever shape it was in after the Clone Wars, had to be ready. I fervently hoped I could stop the Sith before things got too insane, or failing that, at least ensure the Empire didn't rise to the same heights nor last as long as canon. However, even if I couldn't, and my actions somehow resulted in the Sith and Empire ruling for longer with a stronger military, I'd take it. For all their flaws, the Empire had to be a better choice than a galaxy dominated by the Vong.

My thoughts drifted to the vision I'd shared with Anakin several years ago. If, as that hinted, we had to shatter the galaxy, the Republic, to save it, then that might well be a better situation than having the Republic survive the Clone Wars, or be reformed after the Empire fell, and had to face the Vong. Smaller states would mean weaker individual navies, but since the galaxy would be unstable, those states would have larger militaries that, when combined, would surely outnumber anything the Republic or its successor might have.

My eyes drifted off, trying and failing to see Kaldani Spires. There was no doubt it would be bugged to hell and back, and it was close to Darth Plagueis. Yet, ignoring all that, the offer made sense. We couldn't keep meeting in Palpatine's office. Especially after he became Chancellor, as that would tie me explicitly to him, which I didn't want. Plus, as we got closer to the Clone Wars, then depending on the situation, I could use the suite to ensure false, or at least not-entirely-accurate, information was overheard by the Sith.

Also, by keeping away from the Senate and Palpatine directly, Dooku wouldn't consider me hypocritical. Back when the Coalition of Jedi was formed to prepare for the coming darkness, he'd wanted to reach out to people like Palpatine. I'd argued against it, so if now, as the darkness grew closer and more encompassing, I spent time with Palpatine, Dooku might begin to doubt my sincerity. Fay could've also been a problem in that regard, but with her now focused on Tython, I wondered if she'd be around as plans began to take shape for the wars to come.

A third advantage of the suite, though I was reluctant to consider it currently as it would give the Sith a hold over me, was that it would no doubt be a wonderful place to retire with Serra on certain days. There'd come a point where taking her into orbit in Raven would draw questions and while not as aggressive about things as Bo, Serra clearly wanted what we had to continue on a more regular basis. Yes, taking her to the suite would bring her to the attention of the Sith, or more so since there was no doubt in my mind that they already knew of her due to our friendship, but I knew she'd love the place. Though before I brought her there for the first time, I'd have to be explicitly clear about what could and couldn't be discussed openly in the suite.

Of course, thinking of Serra brought to mind the last time I'd been with her. The faint squeaks of delight she emitted whenever I nibbled her neck or other points. The way her heart raced when I pulled her close, of how her breath seemed to freeze whenever I captured her lips, or the way…

I shook my head. This wasn't the time nor place to think about her like that, and not just because I was still close enough to the Sith that they might pick up on a stray lustful desire. No, when I returned to the Temple, I'd no doubt end up sparring with my friends, and we had to be mindful of our thoughts within the Temple's walls.

I started moving, letting the sun blaze down on me. A wave to the droids had them removing the fuel hose and other connections to Raven, and as I reached her, and ran my fingers along her hull, I sensed her desire, her need to race between the stars once again.

"Soon, my dear," I whispered as I moved toward the ramp that had just begun descending. "Soon we'll enter the vastness of space, and you can bask in the light of different stars."

On her hull, light patterns raced around my fingers, making clear she understood my comments. I chuckled as I removed my hand and stepped onto the ramp. The meeting today would be playing in my thoughts for a while. I felt I'd seen most of the Sith ploys, but until I reviewed it all again, multiple times, in solitude, I doubted I'd sense all of them. If I ever would.

… …


… …

(Plagueis' POV)

Plagueis sat quietly as the door closed behind Shan. Neither he nor Sidious spoke, which allowed him time to consider the meeting.

Shan was cautious, which was understandable since he had been blindsided by Plagueis' presence at the meeting. However, while Shan had adapted to that rapidly, Plagueis felt there was still something Shan was holding back on. Or at least more so than the faint images of a female he sensed from the Jedi when Plagueis had made the second offer for the suite in Kaldani Spires. However, the female was not Miss Kryze, which was unexpected, yet Plagueis felt certain this female was another Jedi. If the pair were close, it could potentially be used as a way to drive Shan from the Order, though Plagueis felt that it would take far less than a scandalous relationship to eventually drive Shan from the Jedi.

A soft beep drew his attention to the door that led to the short foyer. A second beep, this time accompanied by a light that only stayed active for a moment, was the signal Shan had left the office.

"He has the potential to be a powerful Sith," Sidious offered quickly. "The fury he held within when he spoke of what happened to his former master, and what might've happened to the Mandalorian girl was impressive."

Plagueis inclined his head. "Yes. Beyond his obvious potential with the Force, and the legacy he bears, that instance proves he has already tasted, and dominated the Dark Side. That he admitted it was interesting, but it proves he considers us trusted allies."

"Yes, Master, though I feel he did so more to show that there were ways to hurt the Vong beyond simplistic Jedi approaches. In addition, the choice he's made to maintain, and hide, that anger within instead of releasing it into the Force was unexpected."

"Indeed." Plagueis glanced at the door Shan had left through, his brow creasing. "Still, there is something, perhaps several things, he is withholding from us. I postulate that the exact details of his usage of the Dark Side is one such instance – as there is little need to explain what he did to non-Force-sensitives – I feel there is something else he's keeping from us. Something linked to either his vessel, the planet, or perhaps both."

"Yes, and the way he spoke of the Mandalorian girl, Miss Kryze. He cares for her, and I believe they may have grown close during their months stuck on the planet. I suspect that, if there had been a point where she'd been in mortal danger, Shan would've drawn on the Dark Side again to protect her."

"Yes, the girl might be of use. She is the daughter of Duke Adonai Kryze, correct?" Sidious nodded. "With the recent shift in Mandalorian politics, there may well be a way to either bring the culture into the separatist faction or perhaps use them alone to strike at the Republic as they've done many times in the past. Use them to fuel the flames before war consumes the galaxy."

"There might be another avenue to consider. When he accepted the suite, there were flashes of another, who I believe is a member of the Jedi. A Padawan around his age named Serra Keto." Plagueis' brow rose at this. The Keto family had once, millennia before, allied with Exar Kun against the Republic and Jedi. "The girl came to my attention some years ago, and from what I can gather, while not overly special as a Jedi, she is connected to the Keto family of the Empress Teta system. A lineage with a strong historical link to the Dark Side. When she first came to my notice, she lusted for Shan, and from the glimpses I sensed today, it's clear Shan feels the same way. They may well have already broken their vow of non-attachment."

Plagueis leaned back, his fingers tapping his mask as Sidious spoke. "Hmm, that will require observation. Even if she cannot be used to control Shan, her connection to the Keto family might make her susceptible to conversion into an acolyte. Not on par with Shan or your assassin, but any that we can ensure fall before the Grand Plan's final order could be useful in what will arise from the ashes of the Republic."

Plagueis wondered about the young Miss Naberrie, as from how Sidious and Shan had spoken, it was clear the future queen had an interest in Shan, though there was no hint Shan reciprocated. As Miss Naberrie was nothing more than a pawn to ensure Sidious's rise to Chancellor, Plagueis doubted she would be of any importance. Still, it was another possible tangent for corrupting Shan and showing him the true path was to dominate the Force, not submit blindly to it.

"What if Shan cannot be turned, or even tempted, Master?"

Plagueis allowed a faint smile to come to his face. While Sidious hid it well, he could sense his apprentice's concern. Shan was potentially more powerful than either of them, and Sidious feared being replaced. Even if Plagueis had made clear the Rule of Two would be removed once the Jedi were gone and they would rule as equals, Sidious was still the Apprentice and always at risk of replacement. If Shan could be turned, then Plagueis did not foresee a need to have him replace Sidious. No, Shan would serve as the one directly below them, controlling elements of their new empire that neither he nor Sidious wished to concern themselves with. In time, perhaps Shan would ascend to join them, but by then Plagueis did not doubt that he would have discovered true immortality.

"I have little doubt Shan can be tempted, Sidious. The desire to know more about his new powers will be enough to ensure that. However, even if he cannot be turned fully, he will be of use. An obvious role may well be to assume control of the Mandalorians and ready them for war. Perhaps he might even be able to convince other Jedi to leave with him."

"I don't feel he can cause another schism, master. While powerful, he is young and seen by many in the Jedi as an outsider. Much as Master Dooku is. The chance he could cause enough Jedi to rebel against their council is small enough to not be factored into the Plan."

Plagueis lowered his head, accepting the point, even as he ignored the faint hints of annoyance he felt regarding Dooku. Of all the Jedi that might serve the role of the instigator of unrest, Dooku was the ideal candidate. Well known to many in power, a respected member of the Order, and with a family name that carried weight in the Rim. Dooku would have been the perfect tool to create a force to challenge the Republic. That it was Shan who had inadvertently taken Dooku away from a place in the Grand Plan was not lost on Plagueis. Though he did acknowledge that as the Force hides one path, the Sith forced open others, in this case, Shan and C'baoth.

"Yes, he is still young and unknown to many." Plagueis paused and tapped his mask. "It would benefit us if we might glimpse some of Shan's potential paths. Since we have time on the matter, there is no rush, but before the invasion of Naboo, I require you to perform a ritual and gaze into Shan's future."

"Yes, Master." Sidious.

Plagueis cursed his former Master, Tenebrous. The fool had, with his dying breath, somehow robbed Plagueis of his ability to foresee what was to happen. While that had not disrupted the Grand Plan, it had caused Plagueis issues until Sidious was sufficiently skilled enough to peer into what might and will be. The thought always remained at the back of Plagueis' mind that perhaps, on occasion, Sidious omitted a detail here or there from what he saw. Not enough to affect their plans, but enough that it might place Plagueis in future danger. However, he considered Sidious an equal and knew they would soon rule the Republic, and enter the final stages of the Grand Plan, at each other's side.

"It is unfortunate that your assassin destroyed Cog Hive Seven prison during his escape," Plagueis commented slowly, watching his apprentice for any reaction. "While its destruction helped remove a minor nuisance, from the reports he submitted, I believe the assassin fought and killed a Vong in one of his deathmatches."

Plagueis was sure there was more to that mission than the removal of Iram Radique, but so far he had not found any connection to Sidious. Through either Radique or Jabba Desilijic Tiure. Yet that suspicion that there was more to the mission than Sidious let on remained, even after questioning Sidious for several days.

"Yes, Maul was, regrettably, highly efficient at removing the evidence of his presence with the prison's destruction. Though since we now suspect that it was a Vong, it is possible there are other infiltrators spread across the Outer Rim, learning the strengths and weaknesses of the Republic?"

"That is likely. Cog Hive Seven is far from where Zonama Sekot once was. For the Vong to have travelled there would mean placement on a planet that used the prison. With effort, it might be possible to determine which planet he was captured on, but I suspect that road will lead to nothing substantial."

"I don't believe we will be able to locate other infiltrators, Master. Even if they do nothing to hide their unusual appearance, it is probable that by the time any rumour can be substantiated, they will have moved on."

"I concur; however, we should still send out feelers into the underworld. With the Vong as fearsome as both Shan and Maul contend, there is a chance one or more might be taken on as muscle for powerful figures or cartels. The odds that we will be able to acquire a specimen before the Grand Plan is initiated are slim, but it shouldn't be overlooked."

Regardless of if or when a Vong was acquired, Plagueis would need a new location for his experiments. The loss of Sojourn was unfortunate, but there were several places on Coruscant alone where he might be able to set up a new facility. The LiMerge Building in the Works district was one such option, however, that would be placing it near other critical facilities, and centralising the Sith operations.

"If the Vong are probing our defences, perhaps we might return the favour." Plagueis raised an eyebrow, wondering what Sidious was thinking. "Master C'baoth has spoken rather passionately about a desire to seed colonies in the Unknown Regions. The effort will require significant capital, but allow us, with the right investments, to use this expedition to determine if the Vong are active in the Unknown Regions, or if, as Shan believes, they come from across the galactic void."

Plagueis ran through the scenario in his head. C'baoth was now, with Dooku seemingly no longer an option, the prime candidate to act as the figurehead of an Outer Rim insurgency against the Republic. C'baoth didn't have Dooku's gravitas or flair, but he had a way with words and people that would ensure others rallied to him regardless of the cause.

This expedition C'baoth wished for was a folly, but one that could, if used properly, ensure the removal of a substantial number of Jedi before the Grand Plan entered the endgame. Still, if it was supported, plans would have to be enacted to ensure C'baoth was removed from the vessel before it left Republic space. From there, it could be used to explore the Unknown Regions, however, any outposts it set up would have to be removed when the project outlived its usefulness.

"There may be some value in this project. I doubt C'baoth would take much convincing to expand the scope of it to include a larger contingent of Jedi and exploration and research components. Even if, as I suspect, it failed to make contact with the Vong, an enlarged mission would mean more Jedi could be removed when we inevitably end it. The largest issue though is ensuring we do not sacrifice C'baoth with it." Plagueis nodded. "Reach out to C'baoth and arrange a meeting between us."

"Yes, Master."

"I will take the reports and files Shan has provided and provide them to trusted sources for examination. I'll also enquire for information on all species that either use organic or bio-mechanical technology or are, in some way, immune to the Force. While the Yinchorri have been removed from the board, we cannot discount that a race like them, or the Vong themselves, might not emerge to interfere with the Plan at a critical juncture. "

"And what of Shan?"

"We will continue as we have. Monitoring his movements and actions and continuing to provide an outlet for any resentment he feels toward the Jedi. I suspect he might choose to move his funds now that he knows I am aware of them, however, contingencies are in place to monitor any significant outflow credits and the creation of new accounts with accounts of similar amounts. It is clear that even if he doesn't understand what, he senses change on the horizon. With the right word in his ear at the right moment or the correct reveal of certain information, he can be guided as we need to ensure the Jedi and Republic fall."

Sidious nodded in understanding and Plagueis stood. He left the study and office steadily, his Sun Guard falling into step around him. While they were new, Plagueis was assured that unlike their predecessors they would not commit the same mistakes that led to their forerunners' death when Sojourn was attacked and destroyed.

Still, it should only be a few short years until Palpatine became chancellor. When he did, and named Hego Damask as his primary advisor and co-Chancellor, there would be little any could do to stop them from bringing the Grand Plan into its final stages.

Soon the Republic would burn, and from its ashes, a new Sith Empire would rise. One ruled by himself and Sidious.

… …

(Sidious' POV)

Sidious watched Plagueis depart, keeping his mind calm and centred. Once he was alerted to Damask's transport leaving the Senate, he returned to his office and frowned.

Plagueis hadn't mentioned how Cameron would be used, but it was clear to Sidious that Plagueis was considering Cameron for his own devices. This, Sidious would not allow.

While Cameron was young, his potential, if worthy, would be Sidious' alone to harness. First, though, he would have to be tested. Perhaps during the blockade of Naboo. If, as Sidious expected, Gunray was forced to invade the planet, there was little doubt in Sidious' mind that Cameron would intervene, regardless of what the Jedi Council ordered. From there, it would be a simple matter of ensuring Maul was deployed to Naboo and Sidious would have them tested to determine who was worthy of being his apprentice.

As for Plagueis, while Cameron's actions had brought his master out of his seclusion, the last moments of Plagueis' life were drawing near, though Sidious did wonder if that moment was now further away than it would've been without Cameron's intervention. Still, the day would come, be it in one year, five or ten, when Plagueis would have served his purpose. From then on, Bane's Rule of Two would give way to a new order: the Rule of One.

… …


… …

A/N: Alternate name for the chapter Deal with the Devils

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Also, for the first time in a very long time (Perhaps going back to book 1) I have a recommendation.
Penumbra by TheZod here on Fanfiction

It's a story starting with Darth Plagueis meeting Anakin before the Battle of Naboo and spiralling from there.

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As always, this story is crossposted on Questionable Questing, Archive of our Own, and Royal Road.

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May the Force be with you. Always.