Disclaimer: The characters etc.....
This is a slight variant of my story "Secrets", written mainly because I thought that the Dak Lord did deserve a happy end after all
Luke Skywalker was taken completely by surprise, when the prisoner, who should have been too injured to move, very suddenly rose like a thunderstorm and grabbed the Jedi´s throat with his right hand, pushing him against the wall and up, until their faces were level with each other. Blue eyes blazing, the tall man snarled: "You didn´t know the Jedi the way I did!" He hissed at Luke, who tried to break free from the other´s hold, but was slowly weakinening with loss of oxygen. The two guards, who had been equally surprised stepped in and one put his blaster rifle´s muzzle to the prisoner´s left temple:" Put him down, Vader," the soldier ordered quitely. And the Dark Lord obeyed, letting the Jedi Knight drop to the floor in a tangled heap, then taking two steps back, suddenly deadly pale. He slumped to the floor opposite from Skywalker, exhausted. The other was shaking his head now to loosen the daze he was in, then turned his eyes to the captive. "What do you mean?" He asked, truly curious now.
But the Dark Lord didn´t answer. The rebels had captured him only two days ago. The day the second Death Star had been destroyed, the day Palpatine had died, the day when.... No. He couldn´t think of that right now. Not under his enemy´s eyes. He would not permit himself any weakness now. There was no point. Not anymore.
Seeing that he would get no answer to his question, Luke rose carefully, then motioned the guards outside, following them. Before the security door slid closed, he threw a last look at the dark-haired Sith, who seemed to have lost consciousness now. To have him here, to get his revenge at last, it was a delightful thought. But the Dark Lord´s comment about the Jedi was disturbing. If he knew something that Luke didn´t, he needed to get it out of him before the warlord´s impending execution. Maybe Master Yoda could help. They would pick him up in three more days at Dagobah, then fly to the current Rebel Headquarters at Dantooine, where Leia and Han and the others were already waiting. Leaving the prison block of the battleship `Liberty`, Luke couldn´t hide his glee, though. Vader would pay for his crimes against the galaxy and for everything he had done to harm Luke and his friends. For killing my father. For killing Nomi.
Darth Vader had his eyes closed. His breathing was shallow, when one of the medics assigned to the prison block came in, accompanied by two guards, and injected him with a pain-killing substance. She looked him over quickly, then disappeared again. Now that he was alone again, and most likely would be for some time, Vader sighed deeply. What had triggered that sudden outburst back there had been the young Jedi´s careless comment about "You Sith." "You Sith should never have been allowed to gain power," he had said, including Palpatine there, and that had truly rankled. Palpatine might have been a Dark Jedi, but not Sith. Vader was all that was left of them. The last Sith. Blinking back unbidden tears the Dark Lord remembered the past. He remembered first meeting Palpatine, when he had been a fourteen year old youth, a student at the Jedi Academy on Coruscant. Where the other apprentices his age already went on missions together with their teachers, he had had the Jedi Council to teach him and never left the Academy.
His father had sent him to Coruscant to learn, a gesture of good-will towards the Jedi, one they saw as a chance to influence the young son of the Dark Lord of Sith. When he had arrived at the Academy he had been all wide-eyed curiosity, until he found out that the training he had previously received from his father put him ahead of the students in his class. Confused about what he was going to learn here, Vader had been relieved when the Council took it upon themselves to teach him. At first. Soon he saw through their attempted manipulations and refused to listen to their lectures, at least inwardly. The other students thought him arrogant and he wasn´t well liked. With one exception. The newly knighted Obi-Wan Kenobi had taken an interest in the Sith lore and tried to befriend him. Their friendship developed gradually, carefully. But in the end it payed off on both sides. Palpatine. That was what he had been thinking about. Palpatine had found him one warm evening atop the students´quarters, practising with his lightsaber. He told Vader that he was mature for his age, whatever that meant back then. Vader was sixteen then, and about to leave Coruscant for good. Palpatine, like Kenobi, had shown an interest in the Sith, and he was sincere, that the young man could feel through the Force.
When Darth left the Academy two years later he knew that he had found an ally in Kenobi, one who might be able to sway the Council´s stance towards the Sith one day. And in Palpatine, who was a senator at that time. In high spirits, he returned home. Only a year later, though, his father died, leaving his only child to rule the Sith wisely. Unfortunately his son had seen more of the galaxy than any Sith in many generations, ever since the Jedi´s verdict that any Sith caught outside their system would be executed on the spot. They were afraid of the Sith´power. And rightly so. The story of the Sith had been a glorious one once. Not anymore. but the young Dark Lord was determined to change that. His people wanted to be free again, independent, just like everyone else. Luke Skywalker didn´t have a clue about all this. Nor should he. The Sith were dead, and their memory would die with their Dark Lord, forever.
When Luke entered his quarters, he immideatly went to take a shower. Meeting with Vader always made his skin itch. The last battle with him had been fierce and hard. It had been back on Endor, when the little team under Han Solo´s command stormed the bunker which stored the Death Star´s shield generator in the early morning hours, with a load of ewoks backing them up. Luke had gone immediately for the Dark Lord, whose impressive black-armored form was clearly visible among the white-clad stormtroopers. But he hadn´t been able to reach him at the first go, or the second or third. Other enemies were demanding his full attention, as if on purpose. When hours later the Death Star finally exloded in the blue midday sky above Endor, Vader was standing atop a small hill, fending off his attackers with wide sweeps of his blood-red lightsaber.
He had turned his head to watch the explosion for a moment, Luke remembered, but the Dark Lord´s anguished cry ripping through the battle noises brought his attention back to the scene on the hill. From a distance, he saw Vader fall to his knees, and heard him scream again. He had run for the hill then, hefting his lightsaber, unmolested by the stunned troops watching their leader drop his defence and being overwhelmed by rebels and ewoks alike. Luke was panting, when he finally reached Leia and the others. A grim-faced Han Solo sat straddling the Dark Lord´s hip, holding his blaster to the fallen man´s armored neck. The others were equally agitated.
"Take his mask and helmet off," he heard Leia ask. And Han did so. Luke wasn´t the only one surprised when his face was revealed. They had expected anything but that handsome, pale face, framed by dark brown hair, now matted down with sweat, and the blue eyes regarding them icily. Anything but him being a normal human man. It didn´t seem to fit his reputation. The tableau was frozen for a few seconds. Then Vader shook Han off in one powerful move and rose, kicked the blaster out of the Corellian´s hand and called his own lightsaber back to him. He was staring straight at Luke now.
The young Jedi Knight took the challenge. With the others giving them a wide berth, the two opponents circled each other for what seemed like an eternity. It was Luke who made the first strike, rushing the Dark Lord, then trying to get under the other´s defence. Vader deflected his blow easily with a twist and side-step, reminding Skywalker of his bitter defeat on Bespin. That memory brought powerful emotions back: fear, hate, anger. Luke thought of Nomi´s bleeding dead body on Hoth, her dead blue eyes staring up at him, and how he had to leave her there. It was Vader´s fault that she had to die, Vader, who had cut off his hand, tortured Han and Leia. With renewed power, Luke attacked again. And saw the Dark Lord´s eyes widen in surprise at his emotional outburst. He was using the Dark Side! Shocked by that unwelcome revelation, Luke didn´t react fast enough when Vader cut at him. The searing pain in his shoulder brought the young warrior back into the present.
Laughing, the Sith kicked his legs out from under him, making him drop hard to the ground. His jaw rattling from the impact and gasping for air, Luke stared up into the cold blue eyes and saw his death there. Then Han moved, saving his friend´s life yet again. Vader tumbled back, hit squarely by Solo´s blaster bolt, stumbled and fell. The Corellian took aim again and the second shot hit the Dark Lord´s lightsaber, destroying it. That had been the end of the battle.
Coming out of the shower and dressing, Luke thought of Nomi again. She had been a refugee, a runaway even. The Empire had destroyed her family, she had told him, crying. He had comforted her then, and fell in love with her innocent beauty the moment she kissed him on the forehead to thank him for his concern. He reminded her of her father, Nomi had explained, smiling sadly. He had been a warrior too. And from the way she spoke of him Luke could tell that she loved and admired him deeply. Han and Leia had been happy for their friend. And Leia had even befriended Nomi, though the small, delicate princess and the long-limbed, mischievous runaway made an odd pair.
Life had been great, despite everything else that was happening. Then Hoth. Somehow Luke knew that something terrible would happen there. It was just a feeling, but Ben had taught him to trust his feelings. When Nomi lay dying in his arms amidst dead rebels and stormtroopers, with alarms wailing all around them, Luke had been overcome by grief. He should have protected her better, should have made her leave on the first transport. But Nomi had refused. My father would stand and fight too, she had told him sternly. Of course Luke knew that she could handle weapons, but still. Still it had been a mistake. One he couldn´t make undone anymore.
In his dreams, Darth Vader was a young man again, newly wed to the beautiful Andra. They had been a happy couple. He could remember her long flowing hair, a silken black and soft to the touch. How he had loved to curl those long tresses around his fingers, always admiring her beauty and strength. Then she had fallen ill. So ill that no treatment the medics could offer would be able to save her life. There was one cure though, the buthan plant´s leaves , which grew only on Alderaan. Alderaan. It might have been in another galaxy for all the chances they had of obtaining it. But Darth Vader knew he must try to get the plant, or else he would loose his one true love forever. And their child with her. The Jedi had caught him on Alderaan. He hadn´t resisted their taking him prisoner. It would only have made matters worse. On Coruscant, facing the Jedi Council again, only Obi-Wan Kenobi had stood for him. In a passionate speech he had defended his friend, selflessly risking the Council´s wrath. But in the end it had been the Rebublic Chancellor´s intervention that saved the Dark Lord´s life. Palpatine had chosen the moment well. The Sith´s anger at the Council was making him blind to the other´s plans. And before he even realized it, Palpatine had him trapped.
After Hoth came the training on Dagobah. Still burning with the desire to get at Vader and hold him accountable for Nomi´s death, Luke had asked Master Yoda how he could defeat the Dark Lord. Yoda had looked at him pensively for a long time. "Easy is not defeating the Sith Lord. Cunning he is and resourceful. A lot of training you need, before anything you can do. But this remember, Luke: either kill him or leave him alone. No capture there is with the Dark Lord." Well, that had been proven to be untrue. They had defeated and captured Vader in one go. Yoda would be proud of his student. Still beaming, Luke went to the scheduled meeting with Admiral Ackbar.
"Ah, Luke," the Mon Calamari greeted him, when he entered the Admiral´s office, "I hear that Lord Vader does feel better."
"I am not so sure, Admiral. But there is something about what he said that I wish to investigate until we reach Dantooine."
"What would that be?"
"He said something about the Jedi, that I didn´t know them the way he did. I think that Master Yoda will certainly help me with that, but I want to interrogate Vader again before we pick him up. If you allow it, sir."
Ackbar leaned back in his chair and regarded Luke thoughtfully. "It is not a question of allowing, or not, Luke," the Admiral finally answered,"It is more a question wether you can hold back your emotions enough to not provoke him like that again. I needn`t remind you that we have no means to block his access to the Force."
"He is still too weak to use it."
"If you say so. Well. Alright. But tomorrow, Luke. Today I think you should relax and cool down."
Cool down? Luke thought angrily, as he stormed from Ackbar´s office. How can I cool down with him this close. All I want is to kill him. Nothing else. Luke was brooding all evening and couldn´t sleep well in the night. Instead he thought back on their encounter on Bespin. Vader had had Han and Leia tortured, thereby luring Luke to him. Master Yoda had told his apprentice that going now would be foolishness, but what was Luke to do? Let his friends die? So he had left nevertheless, although even Ben had tried to caution him. Yes, Ben had appeared from the grave the Dark Lord had put him into, to warn his student. Beware the Dark Side. That sentence still hung in the air, when Luke finally faced the monster in the carbon freezing facility in Cloud City. The hot steam clouds whirling through the chamber had been distracting. Equally so the Sith Lord´s mechanical breathing. Vader had stood there atop the stairs, calmly waiting for Luke to come to him. And he had, foolish as he was at that time.
The ensueing battle had been a game of cat and mouse, with Vader the silently stalking predator, lightning fast and brutal, and Luke the confused prey, who barely managed to escape, let alone defend himself. Vader´s anger, that was what he remembered most vividly that night. That uncontrolled fury had been more frightening than the ease with which the Dark Lord threw loose parts and heavy machinery at Luke. And his silence. Only when Luke finally lay defeated on the gangway above the bottomless abyss in Cloud City´s interiour, had he spoken. His harsh words still rang in Luke´s ears, as if he had only said them yesterday: Now you will pay for your foolishness, Skywalker, just like your father before you. Then he had struck, cleaving Luke´s right hand off, laughing at the younsters terrified expression. My father. You killed my father! Luke hugged his pillow hard, resisting the nearly overwhelming urge to kill that monster right away. Instead he remained wide awake, staring into the darkness of his cabin, his eyes burning with hatred.
Mara Jade had been openly surprised to see Vader cry at his wife´s funeral. He could still see her there, a young woman, her bright green eyes staring at him curiously. Apart from her only Palpatine attended the funeral service. The two of them had taken their positions at one end of the funeral pyre atop which Andra´s white-clad body lay, whereas her husband stood next to her head, also dressed in white. Holding the ceremonial dagger in his right hand he briefly considered burying it in Palpatine´s chest. But that would not bring his loved ones back. It would only bring more grief in the end. So he clenched his jaw tight and drew the sharp edge over his left palm, painting Andra´s face with the ancient funeral symbols in his own blood. When he was finished, he lit the pyre and stood back, waiting until only ashes remained.
Staring down at them he recalled standing like that before, on Hoth, where he had buried his only child. She had run away just after the first Death Star had been destroyed, and both he and his wife had been happy for her. At least she was free. Even if it meant that now Vader would never be able to meet his wife alone ever again. He had found Nomi´s broken body in the ice caves of Hoth, amidst dead rebels and storm troopers. When he told Andra via holocom that her child was dead, she had told him that he had lost her trust and love. He had felt her sudden resolve, begged her to not do it, threatened even, but was powerless in the end. She had broken the connection and killed herself only minutes later. Vader had been devastated. And angry. He had known from the moment he saw Nomi´s pale face, that Luke Skywalker was responsible for her death. It didn´t come as a surprise that she had chosen the young Jedi. Her lovers always tended to be a reflection of what she wanted her father to be: Noble warriors, fighting for lost causes. And he had let her down. Skywalker had let her die.
Vader had tried to repay the Jedi on Bespin, but failed. From then on he hadn´t really cared about the Empire´s struggle anymore. When Palpatine sent Mara Jade to Tatooine to kill Skywalker he wasn´t surprised. The Emperor didn´t trust him anymore. Vader had lost nearly everything that chained him to the throne. He was ready to die himself and only the meanest threats could bring him out of his suicide fantasies. So Palpatine sent him to oversee the second Death Star´s construction. It was a risk, yes, but if Vader didn´t want to risk everything, he would behave. And he did.
"What are you doing here?" The young man turned around, his face a ghostly shadow in the dim lights of the hallway. Everyone was supposed to be asleep on the ship except for guards or technical personnel. Luke Skywalker though could not sleep at all. He was eying the guard coolly, then made a dismissive gesture: "I am just walking around, nothing to worry about." But the guard wasn´t this easily fooled. His eyes flicked towards the security door further down the hallway and when he turned back towards the young Jedi he held his blaster rifle tighter.
"Admiral Ackbar´s orders were specific," he began nervously.
"Specific? What orders do you mean?"
"He said I was not allowed to let you go anywhere near here without him knowing."
"Did he now," Luke replied flippantly and frowned at the steel door beyond the guard´s shoulder. "There is only one of you? And the Admiral thinks this sufficient?"
"Very well. I will talk to him personally."
Darth Vader stood at the security door, his head cocked to one side and eyes half closed, listening. It was, he thought, a pity really that the guard had intercepted Skywalker before he could reach him. Too bad. He sighed. He shouldn´t be thinking of revenge now. The boy had reason to hate him and he was not the only one. But then, he had reason to hate Skywalker too. He smiled to himself. The young Jedi was still far from being a Knight and there was much he had to learn. Maybe he could teach him a lesson or two. Imagine that, the last of the Sith teaching the last of the Jedi.
But first he had other things to do. Back on Endor he had surrendered to his will for self-destruction, but he was growing restless and impatient. Why had Solo not simply killed him? It would have made things so much easier. Now Vader was stuck here, waiting for a trial and execution, while he could be doing something useful. Yes, useful. The picture of a dead planet flashed before his eyes, all life destroyed in one vengeful moment. He would have to go there eventually, he knew, and honor the dead properly. His eyes misted over with unbidden tears, but he could not shut those feelings out, could not make this picture go away. Suddenly though his face became grim. Someone would pay for all this. Someone, that was, except for himself. And Luke Skywalker was near the top of the list. But not first priority. Not yet.
Luke pounded his fist against the ship´s inner hull furiously. So, Ackbar would not permit him to...to. Well, it had been a stupid idea anyway. Walking down the hallway the young Jedi tried to calm himself. There is no emotion, there is peace, he told himself and took a deep breath. No emotions. I wish I could forget everything, he sighed inwardly, but almost immediately he remembered Nomi´s face, pale even against the snow, her bright blue eyes, shining with an inner light as she drifted towards Death.
"Luke", she whispered. "What?" he asked softly, trying to tell himself that she wasn´t dying. "Luke," Nomi repeated and smiled up at him, laying a hand weakly on his forearm, "Promise me." - "Promise what?" - "That you will not tell him." - "Tell who?" Her eyes broke then and a dark shadow dimmed their lights forever. Numbly he let go slowly, bedding her head on the white ground cautiously. Tell who? Her father? Luke shook his head angrily. Why would she ask something like that? She loved her father. And he didn´t even know who he was, so how could he tell him? He did not even know where she came from. Too many secrets. Far too many.
Back in the present Luke had stopped walking and stood now alone in the darkened hallway. The shadows suddenly had become threatening and he quickly retreated into the safety of his own quarters. He hated the darkness. There were nightmares waiting for him there. Nightmares and memories. And he couldn´t decide which was more unpleasant.
Sitting cross-legged on the metal floor of his cell Darth Vader was meditating. His wounds were nearly healed and any time now the rebels would realize that they had made a mistake in being so lax with security. He permitted himself a tight smile. When he felt someone approaching, their minds focused and determined though, he rose quickly, frowning. What had happened? The door slid open and he straightened, regarding the two newcomers coolly. Luke Skywalker returned his gaze with open hatred, but Admiral Ackbar was not so easy to read. What was he hiding? He had been Tarkin´s slave once. If he knew...
The third visitor though caught his full attention before he could ponder this thought further. Bent over his walking stick the ancient Jedi Master had a presence that was very hard to ignore. "Master Yoda," he acknowledged his old teacher, his voice grave. What was this about?
"Sit down, you will," the other replied coldy, but Vader would be damned if he followed any order of this relic. So he remained standing until he realized that this kind of defiance was more than foolish.
Frowning at the tiny alien who regarded him calmly out of moss-green eyes, he finally held out an arm invitingly: "Why don´t you take a seat too? I could imagine that it would be less strenuous for you than keep on standing there in the doorway." Yoda snorted loudly, but started walking into the cell and hopped onto the bunk. The Dark Lord again took his seat on the floor. That way their heads at least were level with each other. Vader smiled, but the smile didn´t last long, for Skywalker and Ackbar did not leave, as he had expected. Instead they too sat down, next to the Jedi Master. All three of them were facing him now and he could not help but feel like a defendant on trial.
But surely Master Yoda would want to keep his secrets too? After all, he had a young student to impress. Composing himself into a more graceful posture, his back very straight, the Sith regarded the threesome calmly for some time. The silence lasted only for a few moments though, before Admiral Ackbar spoke:
"You may wonder at the reason for this visit, Lord Vader." He didn´t answer. "No? Very well. As I am sure you are aware of, we are on our way to Dantooine. Where you will be tried." Still no reaction. What was he after? "But first there are some questions to be answered, it seems."
"A confession, Admiral? I did not realize that one was needed."
"Will you answer our questions?"
"Lord Vader, there is no reason why..."
"I said no. There is nothing that I would say to you."
"Well, I have tried. I will leave the three of you alone for now."
Standing up the Mon Calamari shook his head once and strode towards the door that opened for him. Vader followed him with his eyes, taking in what he could see of the hallway. A lot of guards today. He should have known that they would monitor his healing progress very closely. Eventually he became aware of the Jedi´s eyes boring into him and turned his head back to face them. Setting his jaw he prepared for what was most certainly to become a battle of wills.
Yoda could feel the wall of hatred and anger build between Luke and Vader the longer they remained silent. And since the Dark Lord was preoccupied, the ancient alien half-closed his eyes and concentrated, letting his mind slip unnoticed between Vader´s mental shields.
There was a lot of anger there, as expected, but the most overwhelming feeling was that of incredible loss and grief, which was so strong in fact, that Yoda flinched back as if physically struck. The Dark Lord´s eyes whipped towards him and narrowed dangerously. "Don´t do this again," he warned the Jedi Master softly. "Do what?" Luke demanded, glancing accusingly at his teacher, and the two older beings shared an exasperated sigh.
Yoda frowned at the young Jedi who subsided quietly, then turned back to face Vader. Of course he had known of the bonds that Palpatine had fastened on the Sith Lord. It had been the whole reason why he told Luke to either kill Vader or leave him alone. He had not wanted that sort of guilt placed on his shoulders after all. Although it rested there anyway.
This way though he could pretend that it was not his concern, never had been, since the Sith had been enemies for so long. Every Jedi had thought that way. And they had payed dearly for their arrogance. Vader must have been overjoyed at getting his chance for revenge, had savoured the killings.
Yoda was the last Jedi Master with only one Padawan left. Two, if the Princess agreed to being trained. Luke was more than willing, of course, but Vader´s presence disrupted the flow of the Force immensely and, furthermore, infuriated and intrigued the young student. Luke had told him that Vader was keeping secrets. Something about the Jedi, something that felt wrong. If he only knew. But that was something the old master wanted to prevent with all the means necessary. Or else the Jedi could never rise again. Not with this weight on them, marring their light.
But how could he bring himself to take those steps necessary? Hadn´t he hurt the Dark Lord enough already? Here was his chance to make it all undone, to ask forgiveness. But then, had Vader really deserved it? He had killed millions. His crimes were unparalleled. Looking into the tall Sith´s eyes Yoda found they were full of knowing, silent mocking and a profound sadness that made his decision even harder. In fact he was so lost in his thoughts that he nearly jumped when Vader said: "Let me make this easier for you."
Luke´s pupils widened for a second, then shrank back to tiny pinpoints in a sea of blue, before his head bounced gently against the wall behind him. He half-fell to the left, unconscious, his breathing laboured, limbs slack. Yoda managed to overcome his shock quickly and his eyes became dangerous slits of green fire. Holding out his hands he summoned the Force to him to counter Vader´s attack, but the Dark Lord only smiled at him. The old master hesitated:
"Why?" he asked finally.
"Because this is between you and me. You want to keep your secrets? Fine. I won´t reveal them, but I expect the same from you."
"You must understand that, right now, revealing those things could prove fatal."
"But I do not want you to die senselessly either."
"Neither do I."
"I am sure you can guess."
Nodding gravely, Yoda bent over and touched Luke´s forehead. Not looking at Vader he replied quietly:
"Revenge of the Dark Side is, know that you do."
"Then why?" He could hear the soft rustling of cloth as the Dark Lord rose gracefully:
"That too is a secret." Yoda sighed deeply and turned back to look up into Vader´s cool eyes:
"Alright then. But I have one condition: You will leave Luke Skywalker alone." He could see the other´s lips twitch slightly, but then the Sith smiled coldly:
"As long as he does the same."
"I cannot ask more of you, I know. Will you release him now?"
"Thank you. We will reach Dantooine in six standard hours. May the Force be with you, Lord Vader."
"And with you too."
Waking apruptly, Luke Skywalker opened his eyes wide. He was lying on his back, staring up at the ceiling of his cabin, feeling the soft mattress underneath him, and sighed deeply.
"What happened?" he asked noone in particular, but wasn´t surprised when Master Yoda´s voice answered:
"Better you feel, do you?"
He pushed himself up on his elbows and regarded the ancient Jedi in silence for some time. What little he could remember was clouded, but he knew that he had blackened out somewhere along the conversation they´d had with Vader. "Let me make this easier for you," the Dark Lord had said.
Make what easier? One thing was clear though: Both Vader and Yoda were keeping secrets. Which prompted the question: Did they know each other´s secrets too? And Luke did suspect something like that.
"We have reached Dantooine an hour ago," the Jedi Master stated calmly, interrupting the young man´s thoughts politely yet firm. Luke started:
"Really? Why didn´t you wake me earlier then?"
He swung his legs off the edge of his bed and immediately a wave of dizziness swept over him, making his head spin.
Yoda smiled at him: "Reason I had, for not waking you."
"I see." But the alien master just shook his head.
It was then that alarms began wailing throughout the ship, making Luke jump. "What´s happening?" he asked and frowned. Yoda cocked his head to one side and seemed to listen to some inner voice: "Vader," was all he said and all Luke needed to hear. Suddenly wide awake he raced over to the chair where his belt and lightsaber lay, grabbed the weapon and made for the door. Which didn´t open. He turned around to glare at his teacher, but the Jedi Master simply sighed: "Calm, Luke, you need to be." His student nodded once and closed his eyes, letting the Force soothe his nerves. Only when he heard the door glide open did he reopen them and walked out of his cabin with measured steps. Yoda was right, of course. There was no point in just charging into the mess. He had to know what was going on first.
Darth Vader was calmly waiting in the shadows of the hangar bay, eying the three x-wings standing two meters away with an expert eye. Not bad, those ships. He had never flown one, but he knew that they were highly maneuverable, fast and, above all, equipped with a hyperdrive. Just what he needed. Slipping between the three ships he scanned the area and found noone paying attention. He had to move quickly now. The lock mechanism was easy to override with a little help from the Force and only minutes later the fighter´s engines were roaring loudly in the warm-up phase. Now it was going to get tricky. Technical personnel was seeking cover while the guards ran forward to meet the theoretically still unprotected ship. But their shots were deflected by an invisible Force shield. Still, Vader was glad when the real shield went on-line. He needed his concentration elsewhere now. When finally open space took his ship into it´s wide embrace he let out a deep sigh. It was time to go home.
The flight was long and the Dark Lord spent most of it in a trance, knowing full well that this visit would cost him both mentally and physically. There were no dreams in hybernation and he was thankful for that. Nothing to distract him. Nothing to remember. No nightmares. As if real life wasn´t bad enough, he thought grimly, when he finally pulled the ship out of hyperspace. His stomach knotted in anticipation and dread. There it was: Sith.
He swallowed once and couldn´t stop the tears from falling when he saw the dark brownish surface of what had once been a green jewel of a planet. What was he doing here anyway? He couldn´t change what had happened. Not anymore.
Landing the fighter on the roof of what had been his house when he had still lived here, Vader took a deep breath. He knew what was waiting out there. Palpatine had shown him the high security containers personally. It was a special blend of different chemical gases, which, once released, would wipe out any life on the planet. Everything.
He reached out to the Force and opened the fighter canopy. An eerie silence filled the contaminated air. No sound at all. It was frightening. Moving slowly he made his way off the roof, into the house. And stopped short when he noticed the first, dried-out body. It´s face was distorted beyond recognition and the Dark Lord swallowed down the bile rising up in his throat. He coughed loudly, shaking his head in disgust. How could anyone....
No sense in arguing with himself. He had done this. He had allowed Palpatine to take his people hostage. He had been the one blinded by false promises. And now... He was paying the prize. But he would not pay alone. Oh, no. Revenge was of the Dark Side, yes, but a Sith did not know the difference. As Yoda had known very well when he had appealed to Vader´s Jedi training back on board the Liberty. He had thought about this for a long time. There was nothing he could accomplish by killing those responsible, but it would ease his pain immensely. Which reminded him...
Quickly walking past the body he went into his former office and found, to his relief, his computer still intact. Maybe there was a way after all. But he could not be sure. Inserting a datacard he called up a special file and read it closely. Apparently he had no choice. He would need some parts to build the necessary equipment, but somehow he would manage. Had to. He owed it to his people, after all. According to his father this ritual had never been performed before, but everyone destined to become Dark Lord did learn about it. Just in case. He grimaced slightly, but finally Vader downloaded the file and tucked the datacard back into his belt. Now, what to do?
Yoda would keep silent about the Sith's history and if he could get the files off the Coruscant mainframe noone would ever remember them. And leave them to rest in peace. He did not want his people´s fate to become a tale to be told on dark, boring nights somewhere in a living-room across the galaxy by people who had never known the Sith, did not care for their culture and what had once made them great. No. They had deserved some peace. Closing his eyes he again saw his wife´and daughter, alive and well, their heads bent close together, both of them smiling. They were talking. Gossiping, most likely. Or talking about him. They loved that too. He smiled, despite himself. Then shook his head. They were dead now, just like everyone else. Just like Merak.
Vader´s face became grim as he remembered returning from Bespin: Palpatine had received him in his throne room and he had known immediately that something was very wrong. Then Palpatine had broken the news: Merak had started a rebellion on Sith. Merak, his best friend. They had been so close, as if they were blood-kin. And he had betrayed his Lord´s trust. Although Merak officially registered as administrator, he had no authority. Not surprisingly. And Vader had told him repeatedly that he should never ever do anything to endanger their people.
"I am regretting this," Palpatine had told him quietly and shown him the holos of prison camps, which had been erected as if by magic. For a moment the Dark Lord had wondered if they had been there all along, without his knowledge. "Where is he now?" he had asked coldly, truly feeling nothing. Not even when he had killed his friend with his own hands.
It had been a long time before he could once more experience true emotion after that. And strangely it was Luke Skywalker who made him feel alive again. That insolent boy. There was something about him. Vader could not place this feeling, but he knew that the young Jedi would play a not so small part in events to come. Well, as long as he stayed out of his way...
Luke Skywalker was heading back towards his x-wing, trying to stay covered as much as possible. The storm troopers fleeing the military complex on Gyndine were panicking and shot nearly literally everything they laid eyes upon. Shaking his head grim-faced the young Jedi huffed a sigh. What had been supposed to be a surprise attack had turned into a mess. When Rogue Squadron had first arrived onplanet, with Alliance cruisers engaging the two star destroyers in orbit around the planet, they had been met with little resistance. Until a huge explosion had sent the white-clad soldiers pouring out of the facility blindly, scrambling for safety.
"Luke!" Turning around he squinted at the man squatting not far away in the shadow of an upturned AT-ST. That was another things. All the heavy machinery had been smashed and now littered the huge exercise yard of the complex. "Stay covered!" Luke shouted back at Corran Horn who simply shrugged and pointed. Following the other's gaze Luke could just make out a flash of black on top of the building, before the middle of the yard exploded in a shower of hot metal and duracrete. Frozen in place he unconsciously reached out towards the source of the destruction.
Vader. Cursing silently Luke tried to get a better glimpse at the man standing like a god of war overseeing a battle-field, but he was careful not to draw the other' attention. To no avail. Luke's heart skipped a beat when the Dark Lord turned his face down to look straight at him and smile. Giving the young Jedi a curt nod he vanished back into the fortress. "Corran!" Luke shouted and sprinted towards his friends. "Get to your x-wing. We have a Sith to catch," he hissed and threw a last look back, "What are you waiting for?"
Running the last meters towards his ship Luke was already talking into his commlink: "Yes, you heard me. How are the star destroyers? Good. We will try to intercept him. Over. Artoo! Power up the engines!" Using the Force to leap up to the cockpit hatch Luke completely missed the dark shadow crouching on the ship's wing opposite from him. "Going somewhere?" Rising gracefully Darth Vader aimed a kick at Luke's face, prompting the other to fall back. A laser bolt whizzed past the young man's shoulder, missing Vader by inches.
"A friend of yours?"
"I urgently advise you to stay out of my way, Skywalker."
"Very well. This is your only warning. There will be no other should we meet again."
Pushing Luke off the ship the Dark Lord ripped Artoo from his perch and vanished into the smoke that was rising from the burning complex in billowing black clouds.
"Luke, what happened? Is he gone?"
"Not yet. Give me a hand here, will you."
Making his way to his own ship Darth Vader was fuming. He should have killed the kid here nd then. But he had practically promised the boy's master to spare his life. Laughing quietly he shook his head. Well, if Skywalker died Yoda could always train his friend. He had been surprised at first when he had felt not only the young Jedi's presence, but another one besides. Two students. If Yoda took his chance. In Vader's mind that were clearly two too many. Yet, he had given his word and he would not interfere. Besides, he had other things on his mind. The trip to Gyndine had turned out very well. He had found some of the parts he needed and he would get the rest on the next trip. And once the device was finished he would make a last run through the enemy territory before making his leave. That was, if nothing unexpected crossed his plans. But he could deal with any surprises as and if they occured. That he was certain of.
Luke kept his senses alert, relying more on the Force than the radar read-outs. Artoo was still grumbling in the background, trilling and sighing on his lonely perch. Well, he should be lucky that Vader had not simply crushed his hull. Or his master's head, for that matter. Why had the Dark Lord spared his life at all? Why the warning? Luke had the bad feeling that this too was part of the secrets Master Yoda harbored.
"Hey! Are you asleep over there or what?" Corran's voice had a nervous edge to it and shocked Luke out of his own dark broodings.
"Man, Luke, he's right behind you!"
And really, his radar was beeping like mad. Why had he not sensed him before? Because he was shielding his presence, came the immediate answer from a small voice in the back of his mind. Of course. Veering sharply, Luke tried to catch the larger craft by surprise, but Vader was handling his ship as if it were a fighter. And to the young Jedi's surprise he did not attack. He was simply clawing his way further into open space, clearly only intent on leaving. "Okay, Corran, let's go and get him."
The two x-wings' laser volleys were straining the shields immensely, but Darth Vader had no doubt that they would hold out a while longer. At least until he had safely jumped into hyperspace. Dancing his ship gracefully through the enemy fire his only concern was his precious load. Although the attack on Gyndine had been easy he had still risked a lot. This time the Imperial troopers had been surprised, but word would spread soon. Not that this would help them much. He smiled cruelly to himself. They would pay. As many as he could find. He pulled the hyperdrive lever and closed his eyes.
Loosing himself in the swirling dreams of vengeance he recalled the soldiers' fear, their panicked screams, the feeling of triumph he had experienced and savoured. They were his to punish for all that had been done to him and his people in the name of the Emperor. For all the pain he had endured and the loneliness that held his heart chained to a wall of ice. Only his enemies' blood could ignite the flame again that would give him the strength to fulfill his deepest desire. And once his own blood embraced the realm of life and death he could finally be free again.
When Luke and Corran returned their fighters to their assigned landing bay aboard the cruiser Liberator the young Jedi was fuming. "Hey, it was not our fault that he got away," his friend tried to soothe him, but that brought no relief: "No, it was mine. I should have been more careful." Corran simply shook his head and took the lead. "Hey, what was that about?" Corran turned around, one eyevrow arched coolly: "I just think that your being a Jedi does not automatically give you an advantage over the likes of him." Luke pouted indignantly: "But it should." - "Then i suggest you train harder," Corran bit out angrily, "You should go back to your Jedi Master instead of flying around with Rogue Squadron." Astounded at his friend's outburst Luke stopped: "Am I really acting so bad?" Sighing, the other pilot clapped his shoulder: "It's just constructive criticism. Go and become a Jedi Knight. We need you."
Dropping off the tall metal fencing Darth Vader landed noiselessly in a crouch, his blue eyes half-closed to guardsafe them against any sudden light that might blind him otherwise. Nothing moved out of the ordinary in the still night of Carida. The guards had just changed and he had made short work of them. It would be some time until they would have to report in and until then everyone would have realized the threat in their midst. He had chosen this place for obvious reasons: not only was the Imperial Academy of Carida the symbol for the Empire's might, but also the supposedly best-guarded world next to the capital itself. If he succeeded here his glory would be great indeed. If indeed.
Stalking through the shadows he cloaked his presence skillfully, but there was no way he could fool any heat-sensors without slowing his metabolism. And that would be the most foolish move.
Darth Vader was well aware of the danger he was facing. If he died here he would have accomplished nothing. And that is why I will not fail. Grim-faced he strode towards the entance he had selected for ist obvious qualities. It was not guarded at all and the lights did not reach it very well. But it undoubtedly was protected by alarms. Well, he could deal with that too.
It was two hours later and alarms were howling their warnings into the night air with deafening volume. Shouts and screams added to the gruesome cacophony of death and destruction. But the Dark Lord was unfazed by the noises and feelings permeating the fortress. His mind was focused deeply, and his concentration did not even falter when a laser beam seared his shoulder with roaring fire. Crushing his attacker with ease he brought his own weapon to bear. It had not taken him very long to construct a new lightsaber. Although finding the crystals needed had been quiet difficult. This one was a special version for a special occasion. He smiled when he ignited the twin beams of the double-bladed lightsaber, their cold blue light bathing the hallway stretching before him in an eerie light. The soldiers assembled at the far end took a step back as far as that was possible. He had not had to employ the weapon before, but he was feeling his mind tire. Killing with the Force required far too much concentration.
Advancing slowly he nevertheless kept track of the three soldiers crawling overhead through one of the ventilation shafts. Vader closed his eyes briefly and shut down one of the blades. It did take a supreme effort but it was worth it. A wall of hardened air closed the distance to the soldiers waiting in the hallway while the blue beam cut upwards, tearing through metal and bodies alike. Growling softly the Dark Lord shook himself, shivering with fatigue. He had to get out of here. And soon.
Jogging along the now deadly silent corridor he rounded the far corner, ignoring the bloody relief now covering the wall. There was no one around when he finally got out of the fortress. But in the distance he could hear the whine of heavy machines and star fighters. It was definitely time to leave. But he could be sure that his work here had left its imprint on the Force. And that had been his major goal here all along after all. Darth Vader permitted himself a tiny smile. One more target and then he could start working on the ritual device in earnest.
His ship was packed with different parts of machinery from all over, and he knew that he would have to drop some of the load off before he began the next attack. Evading the Imperial warships was easy and he made it out of the Carida system in no time. A few jumps later he finally landed his craft on the landing pad of what had once been the Alliance Headquarters on Yavin 4. Fitting, wasn't it, that he should return here to end what the Empire had begun. And to give the Rebel Alliance another victory. He did not particularly care about that aspect, but it came to his mind nevertheless and reminded him of the other task at hand. Yoda. He would have to find the Jedi Master soon. Together they could work out a plan. But that would have to wait until Vader had accomplished the first part of the ritual. Three sacrifices were needed and two had already been made.
Now he also needed to erase any information the Emperor might have kept on the fate of the Sith. And the place to do that was Coruscant. The crowning glory of the Galactic Empire. An attack on that planet would serve three purposes: to delete the files, humiliate the Imperial Navy and give the Rebels a good head-start. The last was so important because it was one token he could play should the ancient lizard refuse to help. The other one was Skywalker.
Stepping deftly into the giant structure of the Great Temple of Yavin 4 he could still sense the presence of an ancient sacrifice, but it tasted impure. Darth Vader shook his head in disgust.
His father had told him about the Dark Lord Exar Kun who had abandoned the Sith to make a last stand against the Jedi hordes. But his selfishness had only ended in disaster. Glory was not something to crave when one had shouldered the responsibility of leading and protecting a people. And forgiveness was not to be expected when one had failed, he thought ruefully.
Darth Vader touched the cool walls in bitter-sweet memory. The greatness of Sith had long ago fallen prey to the Jedi and the internal fighting of the Lords. He himself was a warrior, true enough, but his priority had never been personal gain and power. Maybe he had learned that from the Jedi. And maybe it was just the fact that he had been brought up to take his father's place as leader. He never had had to fight for that position or the power he possessed. And now the battle had ended even before it could begin. Bowing his head towards the sacrificial dais at the far end of the Great Hall he sank to his knees slowly. "The Gift of Life," Darth Vader whispered, "does lie in the Hands of Death."
He felt the other presence materialize not two meters away and opened his eyes angrily. The tall man standing opposite from him, his ebony skin glistening in the moonlight falling through the skylight overhead, wore a cold smile on his lips. Without saying a word he started circling the kneeling Dark Lord, eyeing him up and down. Taking up his previous position he folded his arms in front of his chest.
"There is some truth to those ancient words, young one," he told Vader finally. The other man snorted contemptously:
"What would you know about the Sacrifice of Life, Exar Kun?"
Kun's smile deepened before he shook his head slightly, his long hair swinging behind him like a black cloak: "The Shanda Ritual is meant for battle. As a last resort. But you have nothing to lose, Lord Vader."
Raising his eyebrows coolly the younger man rose gracefully: "You are right. In a way. But on the other hand there is so much to gain, is there not?" he added and turned away.
"You are a fool. You could wipe your enemies off the face of this galaxy and yet you chose to misuse the Shanda for this foolishness. For nothing."
Whirling around Darth Vader lashed out at the other Sith, flinging Kun's spectre against and through the far wall:
"Nothing!" he bellowed, furious, "You selfish creep! Our people are dead because I failed. It is my duty to at least honour their deaths properly."
Reappearing in a safer distance Exar Kun growled softly: "They were no warriors, Vader. And revenge is so much sweeter than mourning, so much more rewarding. You cannot bring them back. But the Sith can rise again." Frowning slightly the Dark Lord cocked his head to one side: "What do you mean?" Next to Exar Kun the image of a familiar youth popped into existence: "He is so full of anger, so full of vengeful thoughts and dreams. He can be an easy prey for you."
Darth Vader grimaced in disgust: "He is weak."
Kun laughed softly: "And you hate him. I see. But he has potential. You have to admit it."
Shaking his head fiercely the younger Sith took a deep breath: "My mistake, my decision. The Sith expect retribution. And they will get it. You can play with Skywalker once I am gone. But I made a promise to his master. And I will honour that, just as I honour the vow to my people."
Turning around to leave, Darth Vader ignored Exar Kun who whispered softly: "Who is the fool now?"
Covering his nose with his right glove High Admiral Torlok's face twisted in disgust as he surveyed the destruction before him. The dead bodies of hundreds of troopers had been laid out in neat lines across the Academy's exercise yard. A quarter of the troops stationed on Carida. A quarter! And then there was Gyndine, too. Waving an aide to his side Torlok gestured over the gruesome lines:
"Do we know who did this?" The aide hesitated:
"We do have the recordings of the security cameras."
"Not yet, sir."
"Then hurry, man! I want to know how a single - a single! - man could get in here and leave unharmed, not to mention wipe out half of the planet's polulation!"
And I want to know why, he added to himself as the flustered aide left hurriedly. After the Emperor's death every warlord powerful enough was vying with his former comrades for the Empire. But there were also the Rebels to take into account. And whoever was hunting Imperial soldiers for fun. Torlok did not know exacty who that might be, but he did have a certain suspicion. And should his suspicion turn out to be the truth he might be able to turn this madman into a weapon for his own ends. If. And for that eventuality he needed to be prepared.