AUTHOR'S NOTE: The Skywalker Prophecy is an epic-scale story that encompasses AU versions of Episodes IV, V, and VI of the saga of Anakin Skywalker and his family.  As with A Destiny Renewed and Hope and Darkness, the AU retellings of ANH and ESB (also posted at this site), some of the broad plots arcs in The Paths of Fate will be familiar from ROTJ; others will be very different.  Like the movies, some characters play more pivotal roles at certain times, while others predominate in different sequences, and the story will contain considerable drama/angst and a good deal of romance/mush in addition to heavy doses of fun action sequences.  It is my sincere hope you will find this story as entertaining to read as it is for me to write. 

And so we conclude with Episode VI: The Paths of Fate.

Episode VI: The Paths of Fate

PROLOGUE

One year after the Galactic Senate's Declaration of War, the conflict in the Mid Rim has not abated in intensity.  Although Republic forces have retaken the conquered planet of Gimna 3, numerous other captive star systems have not yet been liberated from the tyrannical despotism of King Argis IV of Vyhrrag.  Many times it has appeared that the Republic was on the verge of triumph, only to have another battle lost to the enemy.  The military impasse is exacerbated by relentless and unpredictable terrorist attacks against military and civilian targets throughout the Republic.  Sabotage and assassinations, piracy and devastating baradium bombs, commando raids and orbital bombardments have wreaked havoc in the Mid Rim, Expansion Regions, Inner Rim and Core, even in sectors on the opposite side of the galaxy from the territory controlled by the insurrectionist New Justice Movement. 

Within the Senate a firm majority of the delegates remains committed to full-scale war against Argis' Vyhrragian armadas and legions, and the dissenting members urging a peace treaty or truce continue to be outvoted by wide margins.  Yet the representatives cannot ignore the voices of their constituents, who despite the Republic's increasingly common victories grow more and more fearful of the enemy's power.  To preserve stability – and ensure their own reelection in their home systems – many Senators have demanded that regional and sector fleets remain in place to defend against the indiscriminate depredations, rather than being deployed to the front.  Without the advantage of their full arsenal and corresponding numerical superiority, however, the Republic's military commanders find themselves mired in a seemingly unending confrontation with a fanatical and nearly equally matched opponent. 

On the galactic capital city-planet of Coruscant, Supreme Chancellor Padmé Amidala faces a troubling choice.  At a top-secret briefing only one week ago military advisors presented a bold battle plan devised by several of the Republic's most creative tacticians, including the acclaimed Mon Calamari Admiral Ackbar and the Chancellor's own son, Colonel Bryon Skywalker.  If successful the strategy would without question induce a complete and unconditional enemy surrender.  But the plan also carries great risk, and should it fail the political – and personal – cost to the Supreme Chancellor would be incalculable.  With only a small circle of her closest and most trusted friends to assist, she ponders a decision that could alter the future of the galaxy forever.

Unseen but not forgotten and safely ensconced behind enemy lines, the diabolical Sith Lords are poised to unleash an offensive of their own, their goal nothing less than the slaying not only of the Jedi champion Anakin Skywalker but also his entire bloodline.  Yet even with a final showdown looming, a group of young heroes first carries out a deeply personal – but perhaps no less important – mission. 

---

Jedi Master Anakin Skywalker leaned back in the comfortable plush chair and ran his fingers through his short gray hair.  Crossing his arms over the front of his plain white nightshirt, he gazed across the cozy room at his wife.  Her long hair trailed to the small of her back and her slim yellow nightgown flattered her petite figure.  After over a quarter century of marriage the sight of her still took his breath away. 

Padmé turned to face him, revealing the tiny bundle of blankets nestled lovingly against her chest.  "He's asleep," she whispered to him across the quiet space of the nursery.  "Finally."

Anakin nodded.  Their infant grandson, Nyklas Skywalker, was nearly five months old now.  Like his father Bryon had been two decades ago, the baby was notoriously difficult to quiet for the night.  Even worse, Nyklas's already burgeoning sensitivity to the Force nullified many of the subtle tricks Anakin had used on Bryon.  Instead he and Padmé and the boy's parents were stuck with old-fashioned methods like singing and pacing.  Fortunately for Nyklas his grandmother had infinite patience for her first grandchild. 

After she finished tucking the infant snugly into the basinet, Padmé tiptoed over to Anakin and cuddled herself comfortably into his lap.  She rested her head on his shoulder and smiled tenderly.  "You're worried about them."

"I am."  Anakin wrapped one arm around her waist and ran the fingers of his other hand through her hair.  The burdens of the office of Supreme Chancellor were wearing on her greatly, and it seemed that every week he noticed more strands of gray in her still mostly brown tresses.

"Everything will go smoothly," she said.  "I promise."

"At least they're Knights," he agreed with a sigh.  Nearly two months ago the Jedi Council finally had approved their son Luke and Anakin's apprentice, Mara Jade, to stand for the Trials.  Both had succeeded, and since then they had been away from the Temple on a clandestine mission to which the Council – with Anakin's grudging acquiescence – had given its approval.  "I do wish they'd check in more often, though.  It would make me feel better."

"It's a little late to instill that in them, Ani," she laughed.  "It's your own fault they're so much like you."

He laughed too.  "The Force is quite fond of that kind of irony, I've found.  Completing the circle.  Finding balance.  And visiting the torment of the youthful apprentice back upon the Master.  I suppose I deserve this for all the suffering I inflicted on Obi-Wan over the years."

Padmé squeezed him tightly at the mention of their slain friend.  "I have no doubt he is reveling in your misfortune," she said.  "He always did enjoy a laugh at your expense."

"Very true," Anakin nodded.  "At least Danaé is as reliable as ever.  She filed her report today, right on schedule.  Her investigation is proceeding rapidly; we're expecting word from her at any time."  Promoted to Jedi Knight a year ago after the fall of Gimna 3 to the Vyhrragians, their younger daughter was on an undercover solo mission tracking down rumors of an enemy weapons program. 

"That's my baby girl," Padmé smiled.  "Now if we could just get her to lighten up a little."

"All in due time, angel," he said.  "She'll find the right balance within herself soon.  I have confidence in her."

"I do too," she said, kissing him lightly on the side of his neck.  "Have you heard any word from…"

At just that moment the door to the nursery slid upward and Nyklas's mother stepped inside.  The short young woman wore a plush burgundy bathrobe and was rubbing a truly gargantuan towel with both hands through her long locks of luscious blonde hair.  Gingerly she walked across the room to stand next to them.

"I was in there for two hours," Sarré Bellion Skywalker exclaimed in hushed tones.  "Why didn't you get me?"

"We don't mind," Padmé insisted quietly.  "I know how refreshing time by yourself can be at this stage.  It's fine.  Really.  I promise."

Sarré grinned broadly.  "I'll admit it was pretty nice.  Thank you."

Anakin smiled.  "You're welcome."

"I can see why having Jenny around was so great for you when all of us were young," Sarré said thoughtfully.  Then she plopped down on the armrest and slapped the towel around her shoulders.  "I talked to Bryon.  The offensive is going very well.  Tomorrow they expect to make landfall on Xixus and retake the planet."

"That's great news," Padmé beamed.  Their youngest child, still not yet twenty-one years old, was a colonel in the Republic Army Special Forces and one of the top commanders at the front.  "Each additional victory we can extol on the Holonet makes a difference.  And that system has important strategic value as well.  This is great."

"It is," Anakin said distractedly.  As much as he tried, he couldn't get used to the fact that Sarré conducted all manner of personal correspondence from the bath.  It was just… bizarre.  But lately she usually brought word from Bryon, who never seemed to contact Padmé or him directly, so he did his best to focus on the updates and not the manner in which they were acquired. 

"I also reached Leia, actually," Sarré said.  "I needed to clear a few matters by her for the Senate, and for once I was able to get a stable connection."  During Leia's absence from Coruscant for the past month, Sarré had served as Acting Senator from Naboo in her place.  It was first time the handmaiden had taken on that authority, and she seemed to be enjoying it immensely. 

"Really?  That's wonderful," Padmé said, sitting forward expectantly.  "And?"

"A few more days at most," Sarré told them.  "Everything is in place.  It won't be long now."

"That's good.  For once, though," Anakin chuckled, "I can't accuse them of being impatient."

"Very true," Padmé chuckled too.  "There may be hope for them yet."

Sarré laughed lightly and rose to her feet.  "I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything.  Thanks again for watching Nyklas for me."

"It was my pleasure, really," Padmé said. 

"I'm going to bed," Sarré nodded.  "You should too."

"I'll just make sure he's really down and out," Padmé winked.  "But you go on.  Please."

Sarré bent down and kissed Padmé on the cheek, then paced over to the basinet.  After a long moment gazing at her son, she smiled back at them and left the room. 

"See?  I told you everything was going smoothly," Padmé teased as she cuddled into Anakin even more. 

"I know," he said, kissing the top of her head.  After his moment of weakness during the fall of Gimna 3, when he had failed to maintain his Jedi serenity and had used the dark side of the Force to kill, he willingly had given up an active role in the war effort to focus on his duties on the Jedi Council and on providing all the support, encouragement, and love he could to Padmé while she served as Supreme Chancellor.  Since that day he had worked tirelessly to mend his soul, earn Padmé's trust again, and rebuild his shattered bond with his apprentice.  In the first two tasks he had succeeded; Mara's healing was not yet complete.  And there remained times, like now, when his innate impulse to take action – to help his children succeed – still simmered in his spirit. 

They sat silently in the chair for a few more minutes before Padmé rose from his lap, pulled him to his feet by his hands, and led him from the nursery. 

---

As she sat down in the pilot's seat of the starship the brown-eyed woman in a tight-fitting black flight suit brushed her long, straight black hair off her shoulders with the fingers of her black-gloved hands.  Settling into the customized, high-backed chair, she tapped a few buttons on the semicircular console with her right hand before shifting the hyperdrive lever with her left.  Outside the wide viewport the bright streaks of lightspeed condensed into the multitude of tiny dots of light comprising the stunningly beautiful array of realspace.  With a quick check of the navicomputer at her right elbow she cut the sublight engines to minimum and turned to her left. 

Activating the cockpit's communications panel, she entered the first coordinates to be scanned.  After only a moment the galactic map on the display screen spun and then zoomed in on a single star system.  The confirmation beep sounded when the encoded message from Coruscant was identified. 

The hawk has roosted. 

Lightning strikes at storm's end.

The woman smiled and tapped in a second set of coordinates.  The map image zoomed out, whirled, and zoomed in again.  A message from Gimna 3 also was waiting for her.

The scorpion walks the sands. 

A journey of seven days.

With a pleased nod she entered coordinates a third time.  The map shifted far less distance across the galactic plane before ending at a point in space near the Xixus system.  The panel was silent for several heartbeats until the beep sounded and the screen identified the encrypted message's source as the Vyhrragian destroyer Guillotine

The chimney falls.

The smoke remains.

This was all excellent news.  The woman deactivated the communications panel and turned to face out the viewport at the stars again.  Leaning back in her seat, she crossed her arms over her chest and closed her eyes.  Today had been a good day, she decided with a smirk.  A very satisfying fortieth birthday indeed.

She opened herself to the Force and let its energy flow through her.  In its currents she perceived all the elements of her final design in their places and the myriad of contingencies anticipated and resolved.  As always there were ripples and eddies in the Force, subtle shifts and untraceable whispers that confounded all prediction.  But that was the brilliance of her scheme – events did not have to go according to plan to ensure victory.  She expected the unexpected – foresaw the unforeseeable.  The likely course of events would bring about her final triumph with pathetic ease.  Unlikely courses only increased her burden; they could not block her path. 

For in all her meditations she had seen time and again that no matter what took place in the coming days, her ultimate defeat of the Chosen One remained constant.  It was a foregone conclusion. 

It was inevitable. 

She opened her eyes again and sat forward.  The console indicators revealed a starship primed and ready for its next jump to hyperspace.  She leaned to her right and confirmed her destination, then gripped the two-handed control stick and swung the nose of the vessel around to the proper direction – toward the Core. 

She smiled as she pulled down the lightspeed lever and watched the countless stars lengthen into streaks again.  In a matter of days everything would be decided once and for all, and she would be the victor.  She had waited a quarter century for this moment, and now it was finally here.

Darth Vengous caught the reflection of her own wicked grin in the viewport of the Ebony Fang – and laughed.