"I charge you, noble Knights, to avenge your fallen brother and save the galaxy that looks to you for its protection." -- Chancellor Palpatine
Up close, the man appeared far older than anyone should, Narcen Serfel thought, as he took his seat in the fourth row of the ready room in the basement of the Republicís military installation.
The lines on Chancellor Palpatineís face and forehead seemed far more vivd , more pronounced than when the politician appeared on the holonet to crow about the Republicís latest victory against the Rebellion of Count Dooku, or to plead for more taxings to build bigger class capital ships and step up the production of clonetroopers to bring the Wars to an end.
Narcen had been a Jedi Knight for almost two years, since the slaughter at Genosis had prompted the remaining members of the Jedi Council to indoctrinate the most promising Padawans into the ranks of the Knights. Narcen, a native of Corellia once upon a lifetime, had been near the top of all his classes as a Padawn, and was one of 45 students who had been promoted into the most sacred order in the galaxy.
Now, Narcen sat among some of his fellows from the Temple, and a great many more who had been summoned back to Coruscant by Master Koon and Ki Adi Mundi to take part in a bold venture to oust Dooku from power.
Dooku, the former Jedi Master who had left the order, adopted the ways of the Sith and renamed himself Darth Tyrannus, was on the minds of plenty of Narcenís fellow Jedi here and now in this room.
They had all found out over the course of the past week that Tyrannus had sent a mysterious assassin to Coruscant to strike at the heart of the Jedi Order. The assassinís identiy was not known, but his mission had been a successful one, much to the devastation of Narcen and many of his young contemporaries.
The body of Anakin Skywalker had been found in his old quarters at the Jedi Temple by a custodial droid. Anakin had been murdered in his sleep apparently, but no marks were found on his body during an autopsy.
In fact, it seemed whomever had murdered Anakin had simply stopped his heart by unknown means. The rumor was rampant that it was another Sith Lord, perhaps an apprentice to Tyrannus, but frankly no one knew.
Anakin had been chosen to lead the Jedi strike force that would land at Tyrannusí outpost, destory his cloning complex and remove the Rebellionís leader from his position of power.
Could the Sith Lord be tipped off to the Jedisí plan? It seem impossible, only a handful of men had known about the plan until yesterday. Master Adi Mundi and Master Koon were in agreement that the assassin had been out to kill Jedi, and the murder of Anakin was just a nightmarish coincidence.
Narcen focused his attention back on Palpatine, realizing he had missed the first few sentences of the Chancellorís message.
"... the loss of young Skywalker is of great concern to us all. I have received word from former General Kenobi and from his close friend Senator Amidala of Naboo that they send their deepest regrets and like us, they mourn his passing."
Palpatine sighed deeply, closing his eyes for a moment. Narcen was surprised of the manís candor in front of so many high-ranking Jedi. Much had been made of the mentor role the Chancellor had taken with Anakin.
Many of the older Jedi felt it was the beginning of the end when Jedi became active in politics. For his own part, Narcen felt that a common bond between men of power could only help matters. Besides, Anakin had not had the traditional master-student relationship that most Padawns had.
The Jedi who had discovered Anakin, Qui-Gon Jinn, had been murdered by another Sith Lord, the one generally regarded as Tyrannusí apprentice. Obi-Wan Kenobi had taken over the training of Anakin, but had been absent when asked to take on a generalship by Bail Organa.
Narcen could see Anakin wanting that father figure, and knew Palpatine had no family of his own. Narcen, who had lost his own Master at Genosis, felt he shared the pain he knew Palpatine felt.
"I feel that despite their strike into our very heart, the forces of Count Dooku have vastly underestimated our reaction. In his death, young Skywalker has galvanized our warring factions in the Senate, and given us the driving force to end this senseless conflict. Dooku does not seem to realize that by killing one Jedi, he has made the rest that much stronger. And so, I ask you, no, I charge you, noble Knights, to avenge your fallen brother and save the galaxy that looks to you for its protection. The mission at hand is one of danger and risk, but the ultimate reward of peace cannot be overlooked. Master Adi Mundi has volunteered to replace Skywalker as your leader on this mission, and under his guidance, we will remove our erstwhile Count, and bring order back to the galaxy. I thank you all for leaving your home worlds and those you have sworn to protect to undertake this move. Even in your infinite wisdom, I feel I can honestly say you have no idea how important this mission will some day be. I leave you now to your final preparations, and may the Force be with you."
The Jedi were not often swayed by politicians, but Palpatine left the ready room to thunderous applause.
Narcen smiled for as luck would have it, he had drawn a seat next to Master Koon in the front of the stealth shuttle that was taking the Jedi Strike Force through hyperspace to Ponscii. After some initial misgivings, Narcen had manged to get over his nervousness and ask Koon a few questions about lightsaber techniques.
The large-framed alien had been surprisingly candid, even bringing out his lightsaber -- without igniting it of course -- to show Narcen a difference in the traditional grips used by Jedi in duels.
He was just about to ask Koon about the scar on the Masterís forearm when the ship lurched, something ships in hyperspace were not supposed to do unless there was something seriously wrong.
Koon was out of his seat in a heartbeat, heading for the cockpit where Adi Mundi and the shipís pilot sat in stunned silence.