Torment 9

Luke found himself jammed in the dark, narrow closet with Mara and his anxiety instantly soared skyward. His back was pressed against the damp limestone wall behind him, yet she was pressed right up against him. This tiny room was obviously too small for two people to be jammed inside it together and he wished there was some way he could escape; not that he didn't exactly dislike Mara. It was just being alone with her like this … as if he didn't have enough to worry about with Tantalus out there and all his friends dead. Warmth from her body soaked into his damp clothes and he could feel her hot breath on his face.

"So Farmboy, what are you going to do now?" Mara asked as she slipped her hands up onto his shoulders.

"I don't know." Luke admitted nervously as he tried unsuccessfully to shove himself farther against the wall. "I guess wait for Tantalus to kill everyone…"

"I thought you were really brave standing up to him like that. Most people would have run from that flaming dragon skull." A smile spread across Mara's lips although it was invisible in the dark.

"A dragon skull? Is that what it is?" Luke asked as he felt her hands snake around the back of his neck. He could feel her press closer and his nervousness soared to an all time high.

"Do you know how hard it was to get you into this closet, Farmboy? Of all the maneuvering I had to do?"

Confusion exploded in Luke's brain. "What are you talking about? That thing out there killed everyone!"

Mara leaned closer and kissed Luke, her arms tightening around him. His eyes grew wide in shock, and then he relaxed a bit and kissed her back. He was just starting to enjoy the kiss when the closet door flew open, blinding white light flooding the tiny room. Loud clapping could be heard and Luke squinted out at the sudden mass of people grouped around the open door. To his utter astonishment; Han, Leia and Chewie were all miraculously alive! His bottom jaw fell open and he just gawked at them. "You were dead … How did you … I …"

"You should see your face, Kid!" Han laughed.

Squeezing away from Mara, Luke rushed at his three friends and hugged each one joyfully. After hugging Han, Chewie and Leia, he noticed that Palpatine and Xizor were alive as well. Determined to find out exactly what was going on, he marched over to Palpatine. On the way, he noticed that the flaming dragon skull still hovered in the air except now it was over the center of the room. All the tiny flame skulls had arranged themselves at shoulder height around the walls placed evenly apart, as if they were serving as lighting fixtures. His Father, Darth Vader, stood next to Palpatine and apparently was waiting for his arrival. A new person, one he had never seen before, stood next to Vader and was dressed in the gray clothing of an Imperial Officer. Prince Xizor stood on Palpatine's other side, a bored expression on his greenish face.

"What exactly is going on here?" Luke demanded to know angrily.

"Congratulations, Skywalker." Palpatine said. "You have passed your Trials and have become a full Jedi Knight. I had tried to sway you to the Dark Side but even in your darkest moment your heart was pure and you would not be swayed. Many a Knight, your Father included, can't stand to see their friends die and go over to the Dark Side. But you stood your ground."

"So this whole thing was some kind of test?" Luke's mouth hung open. It was just too weird to be believable! "But why would my friends cooperate with such a crazy thing? They don't even LIKE you!"

Palpatine cackled. "Perhaps, but Jade likes you or haven't you noticed?"

Luke's face reddened in embarrassment when he realized they had probably saw him kissing with Mara. The young Jedi looked dumbfounded at the four Imperials. "They wanted me to get together with Mara? Well, that's crazy!"

"Hey, Kid!" Han said as he came over and threw an arm around Luke's shoulders. "I asked you before to go to a party that Mara was going to be at and you kept making excuses! You know me and Leia are together and well, we didn't want you to be by yourself with only that Jedi hocus-pocus stuff, so we thought a girlfriend would be good for you. Mara was interested and well, if I'm not mistaken you're a tad interested in her yourself. But seriously, Luke, you need to learn to relax! You won't believe all the trouble we went through to cook up this whole Tantalus thing."

"But…it was real! I mean, it's right THERE!" Luke pointed at the flaming dragon skull that floated up near the ceiling, red fire flickering in the eye sockets and nostril holes.

"That, my boy, is my favorite autumn decoration." Palpatine explained, a smile on his wrinkled face. "And those little skulls are decorations as well. Your Father and me used the Force to move them around the room. It's a simple enough thing to do. Admiral Piett here was the creepy voice you heard. We used a voice changer, of course."

"It's the most fun I had all year." Piett admitted, relieved he had done his unusual assignment well and that his superiors were pleased with his performance.

"Of course, I'm disappointed you won't be joining the Dark Side, but then, you are still young. Perhaps a few years from now you'll change your mind…" Palpatine waved his hand in the air and music started up. While he had been in the closet with Mara, a band had set up in a corner and now they played a lively tune.

"I am proud of you, my Son." Vader told Luke and hugged him. He pulled back and studied him at arm's length. "You have succeeded where I have failed. I never could stand to see my loved ones die and I always went to pieces, my anger and lust for revenge getting the better of me. That's how I ended up on the Dark Side."

"That's why you wouldn't let me go near any of the bodies … because they weren't really dead and I'd notice!" Luke exclaimed with sudden realization.

"Things are not always what they seem, Son." Vader put a hand on Luke's shoulder and gently turned him around. A long table of food had been set up against one wall and the Sith Lord gently led him in that direction. "Now let us go get something to eat and we can discuss what you learned today. And perhaps we could talk about your feelings for Jade as well…"

"Well, I'm just glad it's over and that none of it was real!" Luke admitted, relieved that things were more or less back to normal. "But I still don't see how Han and Leia could have arranged this whole thing with Palpatine. Do you think there's a possibility for peace between our two groups and that this war could end? I mean, if they could cooperate long enough for this…"

"You're thinking like a Knight already." Vader informed him as they reached the food-laden table covered in autumn treats. "In the old days, the Jedi were the peace keepers."

"Really? Tell me more about the old days, Father." Luke picked up a pumpkin muffin with walnuts and started munching, content. He caught Mara's eye and smiled in her direction. Perhaps when he was done talking to Father, he'd ask her to dance with him. All in all, the day had turned out a lot brighter than he had ever expected.