by James and Debbie Casselbury

(Note: This RP happens in the near future, after the Emperor returns to Coruscant.)

Emperor Palpatine sat upon his throne in the Imperial Palace. There was no one else in the Throne Room - he had decided not to hold court this day nor grant audiences. He didn't consider this any great loss; indeed, quite the opposite. More than once the hordes of supplicants seeking favors from him,or asking to have him settle their petty problems for them had nearly driven him to lash out at them with the Dark Side of the Force. Fortunately, he knew better than to waste his power on such miserable wretches. Still, he mused with an unpleasant smile, it was a tempting and quite enjoyable thought.

The sounds which broke in upon his thoughts were not pleasant, they were the sounds of combat - and they originated right outside the doors of the Throne Room. The Emperor gestured and the great double doors swung open, revealing a fantastic tableau-- a stranger clad in robes of black and purple was fighting the two Red Guards stationed at the entrance. More to the point, he appeared to be actually holding his own with them, which the Dark Monarch found quite amazing. Anyone that skilled or powerful was of great interest to him and so he snapped, Enough! at the combatants in his most commanding tone.

All three fighters halted at the sounds of Palpatine's voice, then turned to face him. The stranger stood silent and still under the Emperor's intense scrutiny. The results of that scrutiny increased his already great interest in this newcomer, for beneath the intruder's hood, where a face should have been, there was only darkness. Nor was this all: the man (or being) fairly radiated the Dark Side of the Force. And it was the stranger who broke the silence.

Greetings, Your Majesty, he said in a quiet yet clear voice, inclining his head.

The Emperor waited for him to say more, but he didn't. Greetings, the Dark Ruler replied, his tone revealing nothing. Who and what are you?

My name is Bourne, Your Majesty, and I am the High Priest of the Krath. The statement was made in the calmest of voices, and again the newcomer said nothing further.

Indeed? Palpatine's lips quirked in amusement, and he allowed the slightest trace of polite skepticism to season his words. I was rather under the impression that the Krath were extinct, and had been for some 4,000 years.

Naturally, came the response, that is what we wanted everyone to believe. Especially the accursed Jedi. There was just a hint of venom in Bourne's pronunciation of Jedi; the Emperor noted it as clearly as if the other had screamed it aloud.

Yes, you would have little reason to love the Jedi, if you are what you say you are, he said, nodding slowly. His evaluation of the newcomer was now well underway and Palpatine decided that the best course of action in dealing with this supposed Krath was to interview him in private. Approach me,Bourne, he commanded. As the alleged high priest entered the Throne Room,a gesture from the Emperor closed the doors behind him. Bourne stopped about two meters in front of the throne and the seated monarch again subjected him to an intense scrutiny. Bourne wore a heavy gold chain around his neck which held seven large linked circles. I presume that is your badge of office, Palpatine said after several minutes silence.

Yes it is, Your Majesty, replied Bourne as calmly as ever. Again, he said nothing further.

Does it represent anything in particular? the Emperor asked, having confirmed to his satisfaction that his visitor was not about to volunteer any more information than he had to.

It represents our belief that life is a series of circles, joined together to form a grand pattern.

I see. Palpatine turned his attention to Bourne's staff. At first glance, it appeared to be made of a light polished wood, very plain, with a knobbed head but there was something about it that didn't quite look right to his eyes, and he definitely sensed Dark Side emanations from it. Your staff is quite interesting; another badge of office?

Yes. We believe in simplicity and practical austerity. It serves as a reminder that all are equal within the Force.

Of course, the Emperor replied in a casual tone, carefully hiding his inner glee. He was certain he had just caught Bourne in a lie. He was positive that the staff was some sort of energy construct, likely formed from the Dark Side and believed that Bourne himself had created it. Such an ability bespoke of great power and this was one he didn't have, and must possess. Tell me,High Priest...why have you sought me out? he asked, continuing the game.

My people feel that the time is right to both reveal ourselves to you, as well as establish full diplomatic relations. However; there is some...disagreement amongst us as to whether an open alliance with the Empire is advisable at this moment. As our ambassador here, my duties would include evaluating the prospects of such an alliance and advising my people of my observations.

I see. Palpatine lapsed into silence, let it stretch for several moments, then leaned forward, smiling icily at the supposed Krath. Tell me, Bourne, what does the Empire gain from your presence here? What do *I* gain from it?

I would, of course, serve Your Majesty in any way I could, was the calm reply. By carrying out such duties or missions, you might choose for me, I could demonstrate for you my value to the Imperial cause and also, by extension, the value of alliance with my people.

Are you willing to swear allegiance to me? The question was spoken in a tone as calm and quiet as Bourne's but the Emperor's eyes were as hard and cold as diamonds as he awaited the reply.

No, I am not. This time, Bourne did continue speaking, as if to forestall what he perceived the Dark Monarch's reaction would be. By the laws of the Krath, I am allowed to offer my allegiance to the *Dark Side of the Force*, as well as to my people. I will, however, give you my solemn word of honor that I will serve the Empire loyally and to the best of my ability. He gazed at Palpatine for a moment, then added, If my word of honor has no value, Your Majesty, then the same would be true of any oath of allegiance you secured from me.

The Emperor mulled this over, then nodded. Very well, Lord Bourne. Just *Bourne*, if you please, Majesty. Or High Priest - our laws forbid the taking of foreign titles.

Palpatine gave the other an irritated glance to show he didn't like being interrupted. Return here in one week's time and be ready for your new duties. A small suite of apartments at the palace will be available for your residence here. Palpatine believed a close watch on this man was in order.

Very well, Your Majesty. I will return a week from today. Bourne bowed, then turned and walked to the doors. As the Emperor started to gesture to open them, the Krath turned and said, No need for that, Majesty. Then he walked right *through* the doors as if they weren't there!

Palpatine leaned his head back against the throne, pondering what he had just seen, as well as his interview with the supposed High Priest. Krath or not, this Bourne was of considerable interest, not least because of the unusual abilities he appeared to possess. The Dark Ruler smiled as he contemplated his next move.

Yes, he thought, I must introduce him to Lord Vader, and Princess Anelis...perhaps Lord Taras or Darana. But Bourne must never be trusted. I will learn from him the secrets he holds - and after that....

And the Emperor's smile broadened.


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