Luke's lightsaber ignited low behind him in a flare of crimson, the familiar power making the hilt jump in his hand as the low thrum of the blade reverberated through his arm into his chest. After long hours and hard days and grueling months of relentless training to the Emperor's uncompromising, exacting standards he felt incomplete without it, its obsessive study to the exclusion of all else his only lifeline here, his only escape.
He lunged forward, completely unafraid—either he would win or he would lose, kill or die, but one way or another, he would be freed of his father's shadow tonight…
No matter what the Emperor had ordered.
Lit by the unearthly sulphurous light of the sparking blades, Palpatine cackled his gratified contentment.
Vader sidestepped Luke's obvious blow, designed to do nothing more than bring him within tested striking distance. Long experience cut in unbidden as he looked automatically for any weakness in his opponent; studied closely his movements as they circled warily, neither ready to give any advantage yet.
Then he stepped in for four fast blows, one to each side, one high and one low, all designed to be easily intercepted, each with a purpose. He noted from his movements that his son controlled a limp, that his back, shoulders and neck did not move as freely as they should, that he took the brunt of the saber blows with his right arm, the fingers of his other hand already strapped together. All Palpatine's handiwork, no doubt. He could see the fading scars lit by the scarlet glow of the blades, the healing wounds, old and fresh.
All this pain contained within finely focused Darkness. Still there, but contained. It didn't slow the boy; he simply didn't let it. Didn't listen—wouldn't listen. Stubborn, like his father.
They moved warily, Vader's uneasy reluctance holding him back, his son responding to this, no matter how unwillingly.
Some tiny doubt remained, deeply hidden, Vader realized, and it colored Luke's actions now no matter how well concealed—kept him at arm's length despite that first flush of aggression.
Recognition of Vader's insight drove Luke forward, angry at his own weakness, his own hesitancy. He lashed out a lightning-fast string of blows, a curtain of hard light the speed and precision of which left Vader staggering back, requiring all of his concentration to parry. He gave ground, but Luke didn't come forward, leaving Vader to realize that his own defenses had been tested, nothing in the boy's stance indicating his opinion or intention. The action had brought him subtly around though, so that he stood with the windows at his back, his face and eyes unreadable now, shadowed by the diffuse halo of subdued light from the city beyond.
Each had tested, had measured their opponent. The next blow would be genuine.
Luke stepped forward, blade high, but when Vader brought his own blade up to parry, Luke's downward sweep was instantly halted as he rotated his hilt in the palm of his hand to swing in from the side instead, forcing another backstep from Vader in order to meet the unanticipated blow with any force. Already that feint was abandoned, the massive momentum from Vader's powerful defense giving Luke the impetus to push off and swing completely about, his blade whipping down low from the opposite direction, forcing a hasty retreat.
He pressed forward, twisting his blade over Vader's without releasing it, attempting to push it clear. With no effective force to counter, Vader stepped back again, pulling his saber free and to the side. Luke held back, too skilled now to step into the waiting blow as he would have on Bespin. Instead he stepped nimbly to the side, attempting to move around Vader's blade to gain the advantage by taking his own saber with rather than against the momentum, stealing power from any possible attack and forcing Vader back another step, Luke's blade effectively inside his defense.
He attacked with cold precision, incredibly fast, each blow providing momentum for the next, forcing Vader to retreat defensively, knowing the wall was almost at his back with no chance to break the flow, only withstand it—
His son's eyes flicked behind Vader for a fraction of a second, but it was an instant, a moment lost, a split-second too far on the backswing—and Vader stepped in, hooking the boy's blade, using strength against speed. The massive, heavy blow took Luke's balance, breaking his attack and slowing his blade just slightly, so that Vader could lock it with his own.
They stared through the glow, each with a better understanding of the duel ahead. His son's scarred face was composed and focused, anger held in check to better serve his intentions, sharp eyes so clearly taking Vader in as a whole, looking for tells in body-language; the tilt of his head, the line of his shoulders, his weight on his feet.
Was this the boy he'd faced on Bespin? If Vader had held any lingering belief that it could be, that he could maintain control of the situation if his son was lost and it finally came to this duel, then the finely honed assault which gave him barely enough time to think between blows shattered that hope and scattered it to the winds.
How had it come to this? Vader disengaged, pulled back, his own intent lost in the turmoil which was eating at his soul.
But wasn't this what he had wanted?
Darkness exacted a price, he knew that. Better than most, he knew that. But he'd still wanted that power for his son. Still cornered him and bound him and forced it upon him, believing—knowing—it would make him unassailable, intending to turn him on the Emperor.
But hadn't he known that this could happen? That all of that power and capacity could be turned just as effectively on himself, once the boy was brought to Darkness; that Palpatine would know that too, and would seek to take control, would manipulate and plot as he always did?
Yes, but he had gambled—gambled that his natural bond with his son would ensure him good will, when in fact it seemed to do the very opposite.
Because of what he had done, Vader realized! Luke had looked to him for that same acknowledgment onboard the Executor when he had asked Vader to free his companions—some confirmation of a deeper connection—and Vader had turned away without compunction, seeing only his own goals.
What right did he have to ask for those same considerations now? This was his own doing, and he was paying the price...
Or was it the Emperor's doing? Wouldn't it be just like him to stir up all that antagonism and direct it against the one person who had the potential to step between Palpatine and his goal... Gain a Sith and remove a complication in the same act.
Luke came forward again, breaking Vader's train of thought and forcing him to focus on simply withstanding the assault. The boy was finding his own focus now, Vader knew, finding his pace. Which was fast. Very fast.
Both physically, with the speed which he moved in attack and defense, and mentally, always looking for an opening, working several blows in advance of where he was now, leading Vader to check, trying to force him to a mistake.
Vader reached out with the Force, widening his awareness; he was steps away from the wall now, and Luke was too fast for Vader to risk allowing himself to be backed against it with no room to maneuver.
The Audience Chamber itself was nowhere near large enough for a saber duel, though Vader knew this was to his advantage. His son was fast, but Vader had brute strength, and in an enclosed space that was difficult to counter. And it was time to bring it into play.
He stood his ground and for the first time mounted a premeditated attack, twice attempting to lock Luke's blade to his own without success. On the second attempt, as he twisted his own blade about Luke's, both was forced down and Vader took the opportunity to step forward, shouldering the boy back and releasing his two-handed grip on his saber to lash out with his fist.
Luke arched back to escape the sideways blow, realized that he was past his center of balance and launched back into a low, tight back flip, one hand coming briefly to the ground as his blade whipped out behind him to cover the move. Vader took a half-step forward but the boy was already somersaulting effortlessly back again into a high arc which took him well clear to land in a low crouch as his saber swept out horizontally, its tip briefly biting into the stone floor.
He stood slowly, body sideways on, blade held one-handed behind him—inviting an attack.
But Vader was far too experienced to step into such a feint of supposed vulnerability. Instead he moved clear of the wall and waited, breathing labored, surprised at the boy's unexpected skill and deftness both in technique and reaction time, each honed to split-second accuracy.
There was no need to ask where that had come from—Palpatine would not have allowed the boy to fight until he knew he was capable, probably choosing this moment with great deliberation. Had the situation not been so uncontrolled, Vader would have allowed himself some measure of pride at his son's burgeoning expertise, even whilst having those razor-sharp skills aimed at himself. But right now that ability required his full attention to hold at bay, committing his son's unexpected talents to memory for future reference.
Both remained still, each waiting for the other to bring the fight to them. Behind his son, Vader could make out the form of the Emperor, seated again on his precious throne, eyes glowing in the low light, enthralled.
Keeping his saber in one hand, Luke stretched his free arm out beside him to shake it, that shoulder clearly already injured long before the duel had begun.
"My weak side," he allowed, smiling, a strangely genuine act.
"I know," Vader said, glancing meaningfully to Palpatine.
"Then use it," Luke invited.
When Vader said nothing, Luke took several fast steps to the side without stepping closer, forcing Vader to turn to keep him in sight.
"Yours is your limited vision," his son said coolly. "Especially at close quarters. The advantage you gain in strength you lose in restricted sight, when you try to bring it to bear."
"Your leg is injured," Vader parried. "An old injury not yet healed. You landed from your high jump into a crouch to soften the impact. You haven't since taken your full weight on your right leg."
"It will hold."
"For how long?"
Vader began a slow half-circle, forcing the boy to bring his lightsaber before him as he kept their distance constant.
"You're weak and you're injured," Vader said in bass tones. "You've been forced into a fight your body's still too damaged for. You've made your point—step down."
"You're old and you're slow, father. And I haven't made my point."
That brought Vader's ire up. "Step down or I will bring you down."
His son only smiled. "Then stop talking and do s—"
Luke broke off as Vader plowed in, saber slashing into an infinity loop to force him back. After two quick backsteps, not wanting to give further ground he countered with the same move traveling in the same direction so that briefly the two scarlet sabers chased each other, creating a blinding barrier of light which neither could cross without allowing the other inside their guard.
But the movement was dangerous, uncontrollable by either party save in ending it, so that it was Luke who finally stopped the it, his other hand darting out to halt his saber forcefully so that Vader's blade finally intercepted, the driving impetus of its speed impacting Luke's blade in a shock of power which reverberated through the hilt and into his shoulders. It was a gamble, to give Vader a free move within his defenses, but Luke took the risk rather than maintain such close quarters, where his father's strength was a huge advantage. Because of this he expected Vader to move in, to try again to turn this into a more physical fight—and he didn't disappoint.
Having brief control of both blades Vader knocked the sabers down as he plowed forwards, shouldering into Luke, brute strength forcing him back. Luke didn't even try to hold his own against it, giving the ground without struggle, refusing to be forced to fight to Vader's strengths.
Vader lashed out with a roundhouse blow, and with his blade still locked low, Luke could only hunch down and take this one, pulling his shoulder up to partially protect himself and staggering back at the ferocity of even the glancing blow as a flare of scarlet which lit his vision.
The backward snap freed his blade though, so that as Vader powered forward to deliver another, hand closing to a fist as he pulled it to head-height, Luke swung his saber round and up in a wide one-handed arc which would have split his opponent from hip to shoulder had he not pulled hastily away.
Instead of backing up and taking a second to recover, Luke took the path he'd just cleared and darted forward, twisting to the side and dropping low beneath Vader's vision to come up close behind him, relying on his father's surprise to give him the edge.
Vader spun, lashing out with a blind horizontal sweep as he twisted round toward Luke then, as their blades met, abruptly spinning back the other way, his saber still held horizontally before him.
It was an unexpected maneuver, the first his father had sprung on him, forcing Luke to drop to a low crouch so that the blade buzzed past his head with inches to spare, his own saber in the wrong hand to parry. Vader immediately stopped his spin, using all the power in his arm to bring his saber back again, low enough to take Luke's head off.
Too close to maneuver, Luke could only bring his own blade up with no real power and allow Vader's to slide along its length towards his unprotected hand, using what little power he had to guide it just over his head, close enough that he felt the heat of its coruscating energy; heard it sizzle as it scorched the tips of his hair.
Ignoring the hiss of the blade and reaching out with the Force in that same instant he jerked Vader's legs forward, tumbling him backward as Luke reeled up and away.
Vader stumbled to catch himself before he fell, taken completely off guard and still backstepping as his son came forward, kicking nimbly off without hesitation despite his near-miss.
With all Vader's weight and momentum still moving backwards, he was dangerously split between defense and balance—and the boy knew it. He pressed in, the blows short and swift, never two to the same place, a series of fast blows designed to keep Vader off-balance, pushing for the error. His momentum too great to halt, Vader stumbled down—
Luke lunged forward, saber before him as Vader twisted desperately to the side, his lightsaber digging a hissing gouge from the marble floor, too low to bring into play even in a hasty defense. The incoming blade brushed against Vader's leather-clad arm cutting a long slit through his heavy cloak as he rolled free, kicking out against his opponent's feet. The hurried kick caught Luke's right ankle, forcing him to stagger backwards as his weakened leg crumpled beneath him momentarily.
Vader was already lurching up again, saber before him to tap lightly at Luke's own as each regained their composure. Luke knocked Vader's lightsaber away angrily but without any real force as each circled, freshly wary, realization of the other's abilities clarified.
Over the hissing thrum of the blades, Palpatine clapped appreciatively, voicing delighted encouragement to the combatants, as if this were simply a game, a harmless distraction for his amusement.
Realization brought Vader a burst of clarity—that he was doing the very thing that he'd come here to deny. This fight could only serve Palpatine's ends; he was giving Luke what he wanted, carefully managed to better isolate and therefore control him, underlining the limits of the stormy relationship between Vader and his son.
"He wants this—" Vader said, his voice low to disguise his words. "He needs this—to break us apart. Together we're a threat and he knows it."
"Together!?" the boy hissed, tone deriding.
"He's using you—he will always use you."
"And you're so very different," Luke accused knowingly, his words a knife-twist in Vader's dim conscience.
The emotion when he spoke, the betrayal, the anger, was deeply disquieting…and distantly familiar. For Vader, seeing his son like this, the blind accusation in his face a mirror of Anakin Skywalker's on Mustafar, as wild and lost as he had ever been, everything—everything—was twisting away from him.
Luke's blade swept in again, sharp as his accusations, fast as thought, forcing Vader into defense as he realized more and more the deadly skill of his opponent. Frustration welled up at his inability to control this—to control Luke—and resentment followed it, burning away that burst of conscience in a flare of fury and firing a new purpose which pushed all other considerations aside.
The boy was committed to this duel, that much was clear—which meant that Vader must be the same.
He must bring his opponent down, as he had before. But decisively; this was no longer the same awkward, unpolished youth that he'd fought over Bespin. He needed to use enough force to stop him despite his determination... Injury was unavoidable now.
In that moment of Dark clarity, the battle between father and son became a duel between Sith.
And it could only escalate. They were past the point of no return—both combatants could not walk from this battle.
Finally accepting that this was no manageable threat, no controllable situation, Vader stepped into Luke's next assault of a very different mindset, slashing a fierce and formidable slice with vicious intent for his opponent's midsection. With hair's-breadth timing Luke intercepted the attack, but the backstep put his weight on his injured leg forcing two quick steps to that side, the power robbed from his swift parry.
Vader used his opponent's unwilling sidesteps to swing out again into Luke's path, pushing home the attack to force a slight retreat from his son, genuine anger sparking in Luke's eyes.
Palpatine laughed coldly to no one but himself, the sound lost beneath the angry clash of the blades.
Vader's fighting style, his whole temperament, had escalated in the last few minutes, with Skywalker's own reaction spiraling in response. Long months of strict training were now paying off, Palpatine's harsh lessons and relentless, faultfinding criticism forcing the boy to master every weakness, oppressive discipline drilling knowledge and expertise into him, driving him to obsessively remove every defect in technique.
His fine blade. Unique and exquisite, ruthless and deadly. A flawless work of art.
Luke moved without hesitation, without doubt, without anxiety. He knew that Vader was right; his real weaknesses were the injuries he had sustained at his Master's hand and his exhaustion from months of relentless pressure, never time to fully heal, to recover physically or mentally since he'd first been brought here. But all that frustration and bitter resentment could be channeled and twisted to serve now; to give power to aching muscles and failing repairs.
He wasn't afraid—death was easy, now. He'd stood so often at the brink in the past months that it held no threat anymore. But he wouldn't die without taking the source of all his torment with him.
He closed in, mind set on that end goal and what would take him there, his attack herding Vader back towards the cavernous main hall.
Beneath a hail of swift blows, Vader backstepped towards the tall double doors. Momentarily he thought this was coincidence, but the blows were too specific, his every attempt to sidestep them pointedly curtailed.
Luke was trying to back him out into the larger space of the Vermilion Hall, taking the fight to better ground, more suited to his strengths. He'd isolated his father's fighting style, his strengths and weaknesses. Now he was attempting to take control. In this confined room he'd been uncomfortably close, with no real space to maneuver in counter to his father's raw power. Speed and agility gave little advantage in a cramped space, so close that Vader had repeatedly been able to force physical contact, knowing that Luke had no defense against his tremendous physical strength. Not surprisingly, he was pushing to take the fight to a larger arena where he could better maneuver to bring his dexterity and fast pace into play.
Technically they were well matched, though Vader was beginning to realize just how much faster Luke was than he, how much more agile, both in body and approach. Classically trained, with years of ingrained practice, Vader fought according to pre-recognized and established moves, his automatic responses to certain attacks and defenses ingrained, something Luke was already learning to use against him. Wildly unpredictable but quietly pre-meditated, the boy used any chance, any opportunity presented, often luring Vader in with conventional moves before changing the attack part-way, so that there was no known response, no guaranteed parry. He fought with a combination of what must have been months of intensive training and the open mind of one who had only recently acquired these skills with no weight yet of convention or expectations. The Emperor had clearly invested the last several months in intensive training, equipping Luke with the aptitude to fight to this level, but none of the restrictions.
But if he hoped that taking the duel to a larger space would give him any advantage, he was mistaken, Vader mused grimly. He had fought too many duels against so many opponents in similar arenas, all of whom thought they could gain the advantage this way.
He backed into the long hall, relaxing into the fight, watching his opponent's body language and stance for clues as to his next attack, relieved that the Emperor had not yet followed to interfere.
Because it was here where the real duel would begin. And end.
There could be no hesitation, no holding back. His son's considerable skill had pared Vader's options down to almost none. The duel was too evenly matched for comfort, an unexpected and unwelcome complication. Cold reality had fired a rush of adrenaline-fed clarity of intention which stifled any guilt.
He whipped the blade around and down one-handed, stepping into a feint to lure the boy in closer then lock their blades in a spiraling movement, hoping to lash out again as he had done in Cloud City. But Luke was too fast, adding his own speed to the spiral then dropping his saber tip down and sliding the blade free as he moved swiftly forward to slash out in a tight horizontal cut towards Vader's shoulder that drew sparks as it impacted with cordite-reinforced armor.
Vader twisted back as Luke stepped nimbly to his side and out of his range of vision, a flare of panic causing him to lash out with a Force-push which the boy easily countered.
The biting realization that they truly were equally matched, brute force against speed, beat again at Vader's thoughts. There would be no easy win, and the longer they fought, the more likely it was that one of them would make a mistake. He needed to bring the boy down now, by any means necessary, and deal with the consequences later. That single thought buzzed in his head and pounded with the beat of his heart, precluding all previous considerations.
Luke launched forward again, and the screaming clash of the sabers reverberated around the cavernous, empty space of the long reception hall, their acid glow the only light now, bathing the huge room in dancing shadows of blood red.
Vader pulled back, looking for a way to hobble the boy, who was gaining speed now, using the space to back his father onto the tiered steps, then pushing forward as he faltered, using any opportunity presented.
But he wasn't the only one who was capable of that.
When Luke pushed forward again, Vader reached out with the Force and snatched up one of the heavy carved chairs which lined the long wall beneath the tall windows, launching it forward—
At the last second, Luke was forced to abandon the attack to turn and throw out his hand, using the Force to deflect the incoming missile to the side and stepping clear in one smooth move. Abandoned by both, the chair skittered away over the smooth marble floor.
He spun back with barely enough time to meet Vader's blade as it swept out in a powerful horizontal blow, forcing a retreat. Vader pushed forward and Luke stepped back beneath the onslaught, fighting hard to hold ground, clearly aware that his father was trying to back him against the wall. A long string of heavy blows pressed him back though, as he searched for an opening.
When he saw it he took it without hesitation, catching Vader's blade on his own, stepping back as Vader came forward. In the same moment that he guided Vader's saber past himself he dropped the tip of his own, Vader's momentum too great to stop the move. Luke sidestepped, moving nimbly away from the ever-closing wall and gaining the time to gather an attack—
And Vader launched another chair from behind him, again forcing Luke to abandon his offensive in order to stop the incoming missile.
This time Luke twisted about and shattered the hefty chair to pieces with a counter-blow in the Force, spinning back round barely in time to stay the crushing backswing which Vader landed, powerful enough to stop his blade dead and force another backstep as his feet slid on the smooth marble floor.
He took another quick step back, his heel hitting the steps he had earlier forced Vader down, and Vader pushed forward with a hail of heavy blows, trying again to force the boy along them and into a corner.
Luke backed quickly up the three steps, knowing that his opponent would take the opportunity to land a low blow that would be difficult to counter, but knowing also that he either he took the chance, or allowed himself to be corralled into the dangerous restriction of wall to his side. As the boy stepped higher Vader lashed out with his saber across Luke's ankles, knowing that he'd have little power to counter, so low.
Luke launched upward and somersault over Vader, clear before he'd even had the time to bring his blade up. He twisted mid-flip as Vader turned, but his agility and speed bought him the edge, and it was Vader who was forced to defend, dropping from a high swipe to a low defense, knowing that the boy's saber would land the blow first.
Luke was landing his first blow as his feet touched down, springing into a fast sidestep as he strung three more swift strikes together, gaining him time to launch a more premeditated sequence—
And the moment he moved to attack, Vader reached out to the long window-lined wall with the Force, and launched another heavy chair toward him.
Letting out a yell equal parts frustration and rage, Luke broke off, head jerking to the side momentarily, eyes afire—
The burst of Dark power exploded outwards into the room, hitting Vader like a body-blow, knocking the air from his lungs and impacting with painful compression on his eardrums, the shockwave radiating out past him, its power bulging the bank of tall glass windows with a solid 'whump!' which crazed them into opaque devastation with an ear-splitting screech of splintered transparisteel—
And the row of chairs beneath them which had proved so useful to distract the boy…every one was instantly reduced to matchwood, collapsed against the wall under the magnitude of the blow as a spray of splinters and fine dust ballooned up about them.
Luke was already rushing forward incensed, saber swinging back to deliver a heavy blow, twisting past as Vader blocked. A second fast blow landed to his nearly unprotected back, forcing Vader to over-reach, to overstep his own center of balance, so that the next blow pushed him back further, his defense slower, Luke already moving again, looking to land the next blow.
Vader retreated against the onslaught, searching for an error, an opening, an opportunity. Luke drove forward, every blow a precursor to the next, every defense a step into attack.
He had his space now, room to maneuver, and he used it, always moving, always changing the angle of attack, forcing Vader to do the same, to fight at his pace. Robbing him of his massive, powerful swings in order to hold against the momentum. Too fast—but if Vader stepped back then Luke was immediately there, taking the fight to him, four or five fast blows, then pulling back again, drawing Vader back into the fight then flipping clear, darting away. And the moment Vader slowed, he would sidestep, moving round his opponent's limited vision, looking for that blind spot, making Vader back up again, giving more ground. Too much ground.
Finally Vader broke the pace by giving several steps, chest heaving in labored breaths as he pulled back to a safer range. Luke paused momentarily, walking slowly around his father, his limp growing worse but still looking for that opportunity, some chink in his father's armor, physical or mental.
"You're tiring," Luke goaded as he circled, bringing his arm up and back, attempting to loosen that pre-injured shoulder as he swung his saber in slow arcs before him, tip to the ground.
"You're weakening," Vader ground out, aware that the boy was right.
"Not in resolve."
"You don't have to do as he commands…"
"This from the man who told me that I didn't understand—that he must obey his Master." Luke shook his head, voice rough with scorn. "Don't dare lecture me."
"You are slave to no one, Luke—neither Palpatine nor Darkness. You are beyond both. Understand that!"
"Because of you, is that what you think? Because you pushed me to this?" His son's chin came up in a challenge, words clipped by short breaths. When Vader didn't reply, realization flared in Luke's eyes. "Is this what you wanted? Is this what you wanted for me?!"
"I wanted everything for you. I would have paid any price…"
"But you didn't…I did." Luke's voice was raw with anger and accusation. "I paid the price for your ambition. Yours, not mine."
"Luke, listen to me..." Vader glanced to the doors which he knew Palpatine would soon walk through, stepping back as his son stepped forward, determined to have this opportunity, even now. To make the boy understand. "The power you hold now will gain you everything. An Empire, when you decide to take it."
"I don't want your Empire!"
"Then why were you fighting with the Rebellion? To overthrow—to take command. Everything you wanted then I have placed within your grasp. Everything."
Luke dragged broken, strapped fingers back through sweat-spiked hair, voice fraught with emotion. "You have no idea what I wanted! I was fighting for freedom, not command. From you, from him, from this—" He gestured wildly about him to the gilded opulence of the huge Palace, the grasping affluence and self-serving influence of the city-planet beyond.
It was an impassioned cry, accusation and desperation both, a momentary glimpse of the idealistic boy that Vader had faced over Bespin. Proof that he still existed in some form, no matter how tattered.
"You've made me everything that I was fighting against, and I can't step back—I can't ever go back. That person is dead! Your son died here—can't you see that!"
Vader shook his head, aware that Palpatine would be in the room in moments. "You are still my son…more powerful than ever."
Luke shook his head, manner slipping instantly from impassioned to cool, the change chillingly mercurial, that outburst of unbridled emotion completely suppressed. "That won't save you."
"I don't believe you'd kill me. I don't believe the Emperor has taken you from me so completely," Vader gambled, realizing as he finally gave all of his own tangled confusions voice, that he should have spoken out long ago. "Because everything that you are, I am. Every feeling that tears at you now, I have endured. But look at where you are…the power you hold! I did this for you—for you! The Darkness has not taken away what I feel for my son. No matter how at odds, or how powerful the Darkness, I cannot deny them. This is stronger. And everything that I feel, I know that you feel too. That is why you will not land the blow."
The boy was silent for long seconds, head low, chest heaving from exertion…
Unstable, volatile emotions flared again quicksilver-fast, Luke's reaction tearing through Vader's hope. "You of all people, you who brought me here… You have the audacity to claim affinity, any connection—a right to ambition on my behalf? You're nothing to me! Nothing!"
Luke hurled the words at his father, wild with the pain of bitter abandonment and his own shattered hope, an intensity Vader couldn't hope to counter. He charged forward, saber swinging high and back, the blow coming down with enough power to send a shock through Vader's arms and stagger him back a step as he held against it, Luke's blade still pressing home, locked onto his father's as he leaned unafraid into the wildly flaring blades, the red glare showing deep scars gouged into the pale skin of his face as ragged black lines.
Vader faltered beneath the raw emotion contained in those eyes and in that moment Luke struck out, eyes hard and cold, the Darkness answering his actions unbidden, whipping about him, power drawn to passion.
Anger, absolute outrage, gave him a speed which Vader couldn't hope to match. Every move came faster, every action leading to the next, forcing Vader into check, each attempt to free himself only taking him into another check.
Vader looked for an opening, a way to contain him so that he could bring his strength to bear, but Luke was moving too quickly, countering every parry, giving no quarter, every blow closer, reactions honed to a hair's-breadth.
Realization came in a scarlet wave of burning panic; that they were not equal...
That his son would best him.
Luke's lightsaber swung down and away as his hand rose, palm out, a whirlwind of power compressed into a single body-blow.
Realizing, Vader raised his own hand, calling the Force to counter the push, and momentarily they froze, power against power, the Force holding each of them immobile whilst pushing forward with inexorable strength, feet sliding against the smooth marble floor, unstoppable force meeting immovable object.
Raw power—Vader's bulk towered over his son's slight form at this proximity as each channeled the deluge of energy, hand out before them so close they could almost touch. Vader grunted; let out a primal sound as he brought every last trace of strength to bear.
But this was not the physical—this was a blow conceived of Darkness. His son tilted his head, narrowed his eyes…
The power—the blow which hurled against Vader in that moment—was fury unleashed, utterly unstoppable. Absolute energy directed and constrained, channeled to a single intent. It was raging emotion given physical form and even countering with the same, Vader had no chance of neutralizing or containing it.
He faltered, felt himself launched backwards as his feet left the floor, thrown against the far wall with massive force which drove the air from his lungs as his legs collapsed beneath him. He kept hold of his lightsaber as he crumpled down, vision tunneling to darkness, desperately pulling the Force about winded lungs and pounding head as Luke stalked forward, eyes burning with grim intent.
It took a second—a second, no more—to bring himself around, to force alertness and energy through failing awareness…
…The sound of a lightsaber's droning buzz overrode the hiss of his respirator.
His son stood over him breathing heavily, pale, scarred features given harsh relief in the scarlet glow, sweat spiking his hair.
His hands holding the saber shook as the bright crimson blade wavered before Vader's throat.
Palpatine stood mesmerized at the entrance to the hall, frozen in tense anticipation, waiting to see what his feral Jedi would do—whether he would walk away as ordered, or whether the desire to destroy that which Palpatine had invested so much in making him hate would drive him to openly disobey his Master and bring down his wrath yet again.
His own black heart beat fast in his ears, the slightest of gratified smiles tugging the corners of thin, bloodless, breathless lips as he waited, transfixed…
His Jedi's blade lifted just slightly, weight shifting…
"Leave him…" Palpatine grated voice low and even, equal parts confident coercion and oppressive threat.
Still the boy didn't move.
"Step back, Jedi," Palpatine ordered, caught up in this strained battle of wills, the ultimate opportunity to pitch his own inflexible resolve against Skywalker's volatile, headstrong temperament. To bring his will to bear against this Sith he had created, as wild and dangerous and unpredictable as the wolf which haunted his visions.
Skywalker wavered long seconds, the scarlet saber blade weaving before Vader's face with every labored breath…
The burning compulsion to push the blade home seared through every fiber of Luke's body, cramping taut muscles to strained paralysis, his Master's words a distant abstraction no more substantial than a whisper whilst driving forces tore at him, screaming in chaotic contradiction, driving him to distraction, his heart pounding so heavily that it shook his whole body with every beat.
Harsh, uncompromising reality bled slowly back in about him, cold and clammy, as the intense burst of Dark clarity fired by the heat of battle abandoned him to a chilling, crushing confusion.
Palpatine watched his Jedi blink; blink again…and back a step away, deactivating his saber. Frustrated and stormy and murderous, driven to distraction…but controlled now. Perhaps this wolf would yet walk to heel.
Skywalker stumbled another step back, sense boiling as Palpatine remained still and resolute, not allowing his triumph to show in his face as the boy wheeled away—
And Vader launched up, incensed, saber high, slicing down…
With no time to turn, Skywalker brought his hilt up and over the back his head, igniting it as he did so to block the attack from behind. He twisted around, using the momentum to carry Vader's blade with him as the turn pushed it away, his eyes wild and feral and outraged—
The blow was incredibly fast, absolutely faultless: Skywalker pulled back and swung in high but as Vader moved to intercept, he brought the base of his hilt around in the palm of his hand so that Vader's blade met empty air as Skywalker's swung in horizontally towards his father's head. Vader ducked and twisted away as the blade snicked against the edge of his helmet, missing the killing blow by less than a blade's breadth. He spun his saber back in a desperate defensive arc but Skywalker caught it with his own, his blade looping about it to rob it of any power and drive it to the side—
And he was inside Vader's guard, batting his ruby blade back with a final twist—
Perfect strategy, incredible speed, flawless execution. No defense…
Luke kicked out hard, the blow landing solidly against Vader's ribs. He fell back, landing heavily, the breath knocked from his lungs in a gasp—and Luke was there, one knee on his father's chest, back arching as he held his lightsaber high above that hated black faceplate to deliver the killing blow, hilt up, blade pointing straight down.
Palpatine shouted out, the speed of the final attack unanticipated. "Skywalker—STOP!"
Luke stabbed the blade down, ignoring his Master's shout of "NO!"
All that revulsion and rage and resentment, that driving desire to destroy this creature and so free himself of that which reminded him every single day of his own inherent weakness… Into a single blow was compressed all of that bitter, grievous hatred and loathing…
Of his father…and of himself.
Too far away to intervene Palpatine reached out with the Force, lifting his hand as the saber came down. But his attempt to stay the blow was knocked aside by the surge of savage power hurled out from his feral Jedi, batting away any hindrance—
The scarlet glow of the blade disappeared without visible resistance as he drove it down, stopping with a solid thunk only as the hilt finally hit resistance.
Skywalker cried out in frustration as he wrenched himself up and away, stalking from the huge hall without stopping, a shadow lost in the darkness—
Leaving his saber buried up to its hilt in the floor…a hair's breadth away from Vader's head.
It's everywhere here in the Rebellion, especially here below decks. Especially now.
There's a new Sith. That isn't idle talk.
A new enemy who serves the Emperor on Coruscant with as great a commitment as Vader ever did, whilst Vader himself travels with the fleet, dedicated to continuing his life's work of hunting us down for his Master.
He has no name, this new Sith. He has no past.
And Palpatine plays his games; calls him his feral Jedi, his purebred Sith, his fine blade.
They say there's no solid information as to who he is, though rumor is that there are those here in the Rebellion's hierarchy who know the truth.
The rest of us…we fall back on theories, gossip, second-hand accounts…
There are whispers that this new Sith is Vader's son. There's conjecture that he's Palpatine's son.
There are rumors that he was once a Rebel. There are murmurs that he was a spy, skilled enough to infiltrate the leadership here.
There are theories that he served as an elite Red Guard on Imperial Center whilst he was being trained by Palpatine.
Speculation that he traveled with Vader in the Emperor's fleet, as a combat pilot.
Indications that he grew up hidden away on a Rim world, where harsh lessons are learned young.
They say he's as cold and heartless as his Master. They say it's good that he's caged within the Core Systems because his Emperor likes him close to heel.
Close, because it's whispered that this new Sith has his own mind and his own will, reluctant to tender the same blind servitude that Vader offers Palpatine.
That he builds his own power base within the Emperor's Palace.
Still, it's this new Sith who leads the Emperor's forces in the Core systems, now.
This new Sith who stands at the Emperor's right hand and dispenses his will with such cool, detached diligence.
They say that Palpatine describes Lord Vader as his attack dog—and this new Sith as his wolf.
That's what they call him now…even here, behind close doors: The Wolf.
They say he'll rule the Empire within a decade.
They say that isn't conjecture.
In Shadows and Darkness
(Also complete - check back on my bio page for the link)
As ever, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Jedi-2B for betaing my considerably less than perfect grammar and grasp of American English. She's written endless great stuff herself and always encourages me no end to get my ass in gear and post!
My gratitude, always.
Disclaimer: As per usual, I should point out that I own no part of Star Wars, nor do I profit from it. It's all owned and run by the guy in the plaid shirt and the Mouse