A NEW DARKNESS: EDPOSITION
DISCLAIMER: I don’t own the characters from Buffy or Star Wars and I earn no profit in writing this.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a sequel to Marooned. That story should be read first. In the Star Wars time line, this occurs immediately after the end of The Swarm War. For BTVS it occurs an unspecified time, two years perhaps, after the end of the series. All reviews are welcome.
“Play the recording,” the chief ordered. Lt. Ralri activated the playback and the group gathered in the briefing room watched as the medical droid began its work, rattling off the time and date before turning to the subject on the table.
“The deceased is a human male, 33 standard years old. Preliminary cause of death is exsanguination. The on-site report indicated no pools of blood at the scene, which led to two hypotheses. The first states that the victim was killed elsewhere and dumped at the scene, but no other physical evidence supported this conclusion. The second hypothesis holds that the victim was drained of blood at the scene and that the blood left with the person or creature responsible.” As the droid rattled on, it activated the scanners built into the autopsy table.
“The only injuries are two small puncture wounds found in the jugular vein. The bruising around the site suggests that the blood was extracted at a significant rate. The manner of death and the lingering traces of an anti-coagulant at the site of the injury suggest that the attack was the work of some kind of animal. The only blood was found around the victim’s lips. A full autopsy will reveal it’s source, but it is most likely the result of a bitten tongue or cheek. This manner of death would have been extremely painful for the victim.” A beep drew the droid’s attention to the head of the table. “The scanner is ready. Commencing internal examination…. Odd. There appears to be eeekkkkk.”
The security detail watched in alarm as the corpse rose from the autopsy table and attacked the droid, easily tearing it apart. Chief Talas stopped the playback, with the image of the victim’s face clearly displayed. “Before leaving the building and escaping into the tunnels under the medical complex, our ‘victim’ killed two people, draining one in the same manner he had been drained. That orderly was the fourth death like that in the last week, but the first time this has happened,” he scowled at the assembled security agents, “in this district.”
“This has happened elsewhere?” Ralri asked, obviously alarmed at the notion. His species, the chief knew, revered their ancestors, and he realized that this particular assignment would be difficult for him. The notion of the dead rising wasn’t a happy thought for anyone.
“Yes. We have six confirmed cases on this planet alone in the last three months, and that is just on Corruscant.”
“Any theories?” The question came from a Rhodian named Grix.
“At this point? Not really. The best guess, based on what information the sensors in the autopsy table were able to gather is that we’re dealing with some kind of parasite. Beyond that?” He shook his head. “We don’t have enough information. We’ve sent inquiries to other worlds with human populations in the Galactic Alliance, as all of the victims have, so far, been human.”
“Yes, unfortunately. Three worlds have reported similar outbreaks; Ord Mantell, Mon Calamari, and Tyana.” A stunned silence greeted this announcement.
“Those planets are at practically at opposite ends of the Alliance!” Ralri protested. “How could something like this spread so quickly?”
“We can’t assume it’s a disease,” the chief shook his head. “This may be the beginning of a new offensive against the Galactic Alliance.”
“Then the military has been made aware of this?” Grix asked.
“Yes. In fact, the original recording of this incident was confiscated by Galactic Alliance Intelligence agents, and we were ordered to forget it. All investigation will be handled at a higher level. I kept a copy, because I suspect that we’ll be seeing more of this, and we need to be ready, regardless of what the military thinks. We’re going to continue to investigate this as we would any other threat to the public.”
The exhausted Sulustan staggered into his home shortly after dawn, clothes shredded and bloody. Okeis was a moderately successful merchant, who had, until the previous night, led a remarkably unremarkable life. He looked around his home and called for his wives and children. There was no answer. That didn’t make sense, but then nothing that had happened in the last two days had. They had been gathered for a family meal shortly before sunset, as was their habit. It had been a minor celebration of sorts.
Okeis was celebrating the fact that he was alive. After all, the vicious beast that had attacked him the night before could have killed him had not a security patrol heard his cries for help. It had savaged his arm, but there was no permanent damage. The creature had escaped, but the security force had promised to search diligently for it.
He and his family had been about to begin their meal when… his memory ended at that point. Where was everyone? Someone must have seen what happened. One of his family had to be able to tell him why he couldn’t remember. He entered the meal room, calling out for his primary wife, or for anyone at that point.
The scene inside stopped him in his tracks. He had found his primary wife, second wife, and three of his children, or rather what was left of them.
Iras Jil had never seen anything like them before. They were bipedal, like many races, with two arms, two legs, one head, etc., but the pale skin and odd markings on their faces were unfamiliar. Then there were the eyes. There were three of them. The two in the front seemed normal enough. The one in the back was new in her experience, but hardly alarming in and of itself. Two things about her situation did alarm her. Their unwanted visitors’ behavior was one. They had broken into her family home and subdued her father and brothers with alarming ease and now held them prisoner without explanation. The second thing was the change. Humans weren’t supposed to have an eye in the back of their heads.
She could see the wall behind her as easily as she could see the guards in front of her.
“Why are you doing this?” her father demanded, struggling with his bonds. “We’ve never done anything to you! Let us go.”
For the first time, the question got an answer. One of the creatures turned to him. “Too few,” it said in a rasping voice. “More must rise.” Iras whimpered as a sharp pain lanced through her head. The spokesman of the group noticed and turned to her, watching intently, eagerly, as the pain grew worse. “More will rise!”
The war was over. The Kiliks were quiet, the Chis were happy, and Jacen’s family, all of it, was safe. Their return to Ossus was not heralded with a victory parade or a banquet in honor of the returning heroes or any real fanfare at all. None of them would have wanted that anyway. All Jacen wanted, was catch up on his sleep in a comfortable bed.
Apparently, he wasn’t the only one who felt that way. His uncle Luke and the other masters didn’t show their fatigue openly, but some of the knights weren’t too proud to admit they were exhausted. His father certainly wasn’t. “I could sleep for a week,” he announced as he came down the ramp of the Millennium Falcon
. His mother looked tired as well, but both were proud. Not only had they averted a war that would have plunged the entire galaxy into chaos, but Leia Solo had finally attained the status of full Jedi Knight.
He was happy for her, but still tired. As they passed through the gates of the academy, he smiled as his mother stifled a yawn. The moment of contemplation required before entering the grounds had only given their eyelids time to grow heavier. Saba seemed to pick up on his train of thought and sissed quietly in amusement. “Not to worry, mom,” he smiled as they walked toward the quarters they used while visiting the academy. “With the Kiliks settled and the dark nest destroyed, there should be nothing to keep us from having that well earned rest.”
She smiled tiredly at him, but her eye flickered past him to someone standing in the door with one of the older students. “Jacen, Jacen, Jacen,” came a mock reproachful voice. “I thought we’d taught you better than that.” Jacen Solo stopped in his tracks and turned to face the source of that familiar voice. “You spent months with us learning what and how we fight, and yet you didn’t pick up one of our most basic rules?”
The others had stopped as well, sensing his disquiet and looking back and forth between him and the stranger. “Don’t talk about your good luck,” Jacen answered.
“Right,” the stranger nodded. “Never say things like ‘we can relax now’ or ‘the worst is behind us’ and never ever ask ‘what could go wrong?’” Some things, it was good to know, never changed. The situation that drew this man to Ossus must be grave indeed, but there was a twinkle of amusement in the other man’s eye. His one eye. “Why it’s almost as bad as the ‘W’ word.”
Jacen grimaced at the mention of that word and the stories he’d been told. “I’m about to be reminded why I shouldn’t say such things, right?”
“Sorry Jacen.” The joking tone vanished entirely. “This isn’t a social call.”
“Never thought it was, and don’t take this the wrong way, but I was hoping I’d never see any of you again.”
“No offense taken. You want to make the intros?”
“Inside.” At his gesture, the other Jedi followed, curious to learn even a little about the journey Jacen had taken in his search for Force lore, but also sensing that their unexpected guest had serious matters to discuss. They settled in the meeting hall and Jacen introduced his family and friends to Xander Harris. “Now then, what is this about? From what I understood, it shouldn’t be possible for you to be here. Winding up on your world was a million-to-one shot.”
“Yes it was, or would have been without the intervention of the Powers.” Jacen didn’t respond to that. “I’ll cut straight to it. I’m here because you’re here. I used the same portal that you used to get home.”
“Impossible,” Jacen stated flatly. “I sealed it behind me. I didn’t want anything from… that place, following me.” Their visitor’s expression hardened.
“’That place’ is my home. It’s not perfect, but there are good people there, who fight to make things better.”
“I’m sorry. You’re right.”
Xander nodded, relaxing. “That said; there’s a reason that we’re cut off. Transition between this place and mine isn’t easy and that seems to be intentional. It protects both our worlds.”
“Then how? The portal was sealed. I watched it being made and I felt the seal from this side and even took steps to strengthen it.”
“That’s probably the only thing you did right,” the man answered, then grimaced. “Sorry. You didn’t deserve that. In some ways it’s as much our fault. Sort of a gap in your education. We never told you about Wolfram & Hart. If we had you would have known to never accept favors from them.”
“Excuse me,” Han Solo spoke up. “We’re kind of coming in in the middle here. Care to fill in some of the background?”
“Okay… This is kinda confusing, even to me, so bear with me. My planet isn’t part of your space-time. It’s in another dimension. How Jacen got there in the first place is still a mystery, but like I said, I think the Powers-That-Be had something to do with it. Don’t ask about the Powers,” he hastened to add. “You probably wouldn’t believe it, anyway. Despite his own problems at the time, he pitched in and helped us put down a threat that your late unlamented emperor would have run screaming from.” He ignored the shocked and incredulous reactions to that assertion and pressed on. “Our… ah, association with Jacen wasn’t what it could have been.” He paused and sighed. “Okay. I guess that’s no one’s fault, really. We were all caught up in our own problems. There was so much more we could have done if we’d been able to work together, but…” he shrugged and glanced at Jacen. “We couldn’t take the time, too busy just staying alive, and,” he gave Jacen an apologetic look, “we didn’t realize how much the First was messing with you.”
“The interference,” Jacen surmised. “The constant feeling of unease and scrutiny.”
“I guess so, believe it or not you got off light if it never bothered to talk to you.” Before Jacen could ask, Xander pressed on. “He did help out during the final battle, in a… periphery kind of way. The coven’s seer said you must have killed over a hundred bringers. That would have been more than enough to tip the balance if they’d come after us instead.” He turned back to the group.
“Anyway. We didn’t know any of this at the time. Some of it we didn’t know until months later. Things got a little confused after our town was turned into a big hole in the ground. We barely made it out and didn’t know at the time whether he had or not. Since we never found any trace of him after that…” He shrugged. “Willow lit a candle or three for you.” Jacen raised an eyebrow, but didn’t ask. “We didn’t find out about the portal until later. A friend of ours took over the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram & Hart, or as we like to call them, Evil Incorporated. He had some stupid idea about fighting from inside the belly of the beast.” He paused to shudder at the notion. “Fortunately, before he got digested, and I’m not entirely sure that’s metaphorical digestion, he sent us some information. Apparently, the firm sent a rep to talk to Jacen right after the First got scrunched.”
“Wait,” Jacen interrupted. “The man I spoke to wasn’t-”
“Evil? Probably not. You spent months on Earth. I’m guessing some of that ‘scrutiny’ you felt, came from the senior partners, the Wolf, Ram, and Hart taking a personal interest in you, and yes you should be frightened. Don’t feel too bad about being tricked, though. Manipulation is what they do. They probably sent someone who sincerely believed he was there to help you. There were no lies to pick up on.”
Jacen collapsed back in his seat, shaking his head. “Wait. I need a minute. They used an innocent man to trick me into helping to open a stable portal between our universes? Things from your world are coming here?” His fellow Jedi watched him with growing concern. He had actually paled at the prospect.
“Afraid so, but its better and worse than you think.”
“How so?” Luke asked for Jacen, who was starting to look ill.
“Jacen told you he felt the seal from this side?”
“Yes,” the Jedi Grand Master nodded.
“And that he reinforced it?” Again Luke nodded. “Well the seal on our side was meant to be more of a temporary barrier that the senior partners could open and close at will. They wanted a stable portal that they controlled so they could expand into this universe, something they’ve never been able to do before. What Jacen did screwed that up.”
“How so?” Han asked, not liking the way his son was reacting to this news. He had never seen Jacen so rattled.
“Because right now, no one controls the portal. Don’t ask me to explain the science behind it. I can’t. All I know is that the damn thing is bouncing around like a pinball. It’s popping up at random all over our planet and all over your galaxy. We’ve been run ragged playing the weirdest game of whack-a-mole in history!” The silence that followed this bizarre statement was at least partially due to their visitor’s cultural references, but everyone got the idea.
“You can’t control this portal?” Leia asked. Xander shook his head. “Yet you managed to come here?”
“Well, when we catch it, we can hold it in place for brief periods, but it’s a dice roll as to where anyone using it will end up on this end. We’ve been in this galaxy for about a month, making our way here. Not easy, I don’t mind telling you. If we hadn’t run into a Jedi some place called Hapes, we still wouldn’t know which way was up.”
“Who is ‘we’?” Jacen asked. “Who came with you?”
“Someone who remembers you fondly.” He frowned thoughtfully. “I don’t think the queen liked her much.”
“Hey, Jacen,” a female voice called from the entrance to the meeting chamber. He turned around and suppressed a groan. He remembered Faith. Her attraction to him had been a little disturbing.
“Hello Faith,” Jacen nodded.
“What kept you?” Xander asked.
“Well, you were making with the explanations and I didn’t want to… you know.”
“Help?” He glanced at the group of, by now befuddled Jedi. “Faith hates exposition.”
“True,” the brunette slayer agreed. “It’s always the most boring part of the show. So, have you gotten to the weird part yet?”
“Not yet,” Xander answered.
“There’s a weird part?” Han asked sarcastically.
“Weird,” Faith nodded, “but kind of comforting, too.”
“How so?” Jaina asked, having quietly sat back and simply absorbed the revelations thus far. Jacen hadn’t closed himself off, as he had been wont to do in recent months. The twin bond was open, and the feelings she was getting from him were anything but comforting. Jacen blamed himself for the situation, a situation which none of the other Jedi yet understood. The emotions were startling in their intensity, and there was more. Another emotion was there as well. In anyone else, she would have called it terror.
“Because it means that this was all going to happen regardless of what Jacen did.” She held up a scroll. “Can anyone say ‘prophecy?’” she threw a glance at Xander. “I mean without groaning all melodramatic like and banging your head against the wall.”
“Prophecy?” The hottie with the dark blonde hair might have been going for polite interest, Faith thought, but he didn’t quite make it. She smiled at him, and got a warning glare from the redhead next to him for her trouble.
“It doesn’t matter,” Jacen broke in. “I brought this down on us. I’m responsible for this mess. I’ll clean it up.”
“All by your lonesome?” Faith asked. “You gonna clean up the entire galaxy by yourself?” She made a rude noise. “Please. I could spend the next year or two poking holes in that plan if we had the time. Guilt’s a killer J. Don’t go there. You just deal with the situation.” She looked over him critically. “Even if you wanted to try, they’re not about to let you go it alone.” She nodded to his family. “I’ve heard a lot about you since we got here. You’re supposed to be something special, even for a Jedi. Thing is, I remember the night we met. Bringers aren’t any stronger or faster than your average human, but a group of only 30 of ‘em was giving you trouble.”
“I may not understand much of anything about the Force,” Xander spoke up, “but I think I got the general idea. Every living thing has a… signature of some sort, its own feel in the Force. What did the bringers feel like to you?” Jacen grimaced but made no reply.
“I didn’t just train to fight monsters,” Faith broke in. “I was born to it. I’ve seen a lot of fighters and a lot of fights, enough to know that you weren’t at the top of your game.”
“I’m guessing that bringers, vamps, other types of demon put out a pretty nasty vibe in the Force. What do you suppose is gonna happen when another Jedi, with no idea what to expect, stumbles into a vamp nest?”
Jacen nodded glumly. “This shouldn’t be a Jedi problem, but I don’t see an alternative.”
“Doesn’t need to be,” Faith assured him. “That’s where the prophecy comes in.”
“Perhaps you should hear them out, Jacen.” The young man glanced at his uncle. “Tell us about this prophecy.”
“Oh come on Luke!” Han broke in. “A prophecy?”
“Yeah, prophecy, as in foretold, a long time ago.” Faith held up the scroll. “I have here a translation of one of the more obscure prophecies of Abaerja.”
“It’s pretty far out there even as prophecies go,” Xander picked up the tale. “I think the general consensus is that, by the time he wrote this, the old prophet’s cheese had slipped entirely off its cracker.” He nodded to Faith who started to unroll it. “Maybe we should let you be the judge of that, though.”
“Huh,” Faith grunted eyeing the scroll dubiously. “I never liked prophesies much myself. Don’t like the idea that things are laid out for us in advance.” She shrugged. “Anyway, here goes.
“In the final days of the valley of the sun, the Wanderer shall come. His coming shall crack the cursed seal and his leaving shall swing wide the gate. Darkness shall spread in his wake as the demon taint blights untouched worlds.
“Light shall blossom in the new darkness as the call to arms spreads across our world and beyond to every corner of the wanderer’s realm. The Daughters of Semeya shall rise, and they shall be a force to fear. Led by the Penitent and guided by Faith.”
She looked up and sighed. “It sucks when a prophecy calls you by name.”
“You did volunteer before you found out,” Xander reminded her.
“Yeah, yeah. I knew this was a one way trip for me.” She dropped down in the seat next to Jacen and put an arm around him. “Looks like we’re going to be workin’ together, stud.”
“Hooray,” Jacen answered glumly.
“Who are the Daughters of Semeya?” Mara Skywalker asked.
“They’re the ones who keep the humans and the more peaceful nonhumans on Earth safe,” Xander answered. “It’s a long, complicated story, and I’ll do my best to answer all of your questions. Be patient, though, usually it’s Giles who gives ‘the talk.’ What it comes down to is this. All over this galaxy, young women, er human women, are discovering that something has changed for them. They’ll find out they can do things they never thought possible before, and that’s going to get some of them into trouble. They have to be found and prepared. The sooner the better.”
“Jacen?” Luke Skywalker looked to his nephew for confirmation. The strangers, he could tell through the Force, were telling the truth, but so much of what they had heard was incredible, even with all he had seen and done.
“He’s right. There’s a lot I don’t know Master Skywalker, but I know he’s right about that.”
“So,” Xander nodded at Jacen. “It’s time to continue your education.” He then turned to meet the eyes of each of the others in the room in turn, “and begin yours.”