The cantina was packed, the sound of leisure and business almost, but not quite, drowning out the din of the band that was crammed into one corner. She peered through the smoke, searching the room for the man she had come here to meet.
He was sitting quietly in a booth behind a group of humans, the raucous laughter and revelry masking him from any casual inspection.
She leaned against the bar, ordering a beer, watching him stare into his drink as he rolled the glass between his hands. The barman placed her beer on a soggy mat and she handed over some credits. Taking a mouthful of the bitter liquid, smooth against her tongue, her eyes played across the rest of the cantina, searching for any friends he may have brought with him.
Satisfying herself that there was no one of any importance, she sauntered over to the table. "You Antilles?"
He lifted his heed to look up at her, "Who wants to know?"
He smiled, "Right answer. Care to join me?"
She slid into the seat on the opposite side of the booth, immediately discarding the niceties. "You got the money?"
Wedge Antilles looked at her for a moment, caustic remark on the tip of his tongue: but he held it in check. He was here on business: the woman had information that they needed. A clever comment could send her away; taking with her the whereabouts of one of the few people in the galaxy who could help them locate Han Solo. So he said nothing and reached down to lift the small, grey satchel from the floor, placing it on the seat beside him. Sheltered from prying eyes in the cantina it was in the full view of the woman sitting across from him.
She looked at the bag calmly, her featured never changing, telling Wedge nothing. Then, suddenly, she smiled.
Wedge didn't return the smile, noticing that it didn't quite reach her eyes.
"The man you want will be at the old Imperial outpost on Yeltarn for three more days," she told him. "He knows you're coming but won't wait for you. Arrive after that and you've blown it."
She reached into her pocket, pulling out a folded print-out and pushing it towards him across the table, "This is the layout of the base."
Wedge moved to take it.
"Ah-ah," she admonished, shaking her head slightly and pulling the print-out back towards her. "Money!"
Wedge smiled, lopsidedly, lifting the satchel onto the table.
The woman stood, leaning across the table to kiss him on the lips, pushing the printout into his hand as she lifted the money. Then she pulled away, patting his face.
"So long, fly-boy…"
She turned, disappearing into the smoke and the revelry. Wedge watched her go, unsure of her. Then he gave a soft laugh, shaking his head.
From the other side of the cantina another figure observed the transaction, watching as the couple kissed before the woman broke away, waiting until she had gone before rising and making his way towards the man still sitting in the booth.
"Can't take you anywhere!"
Wedge grinned at Luke Skywalker as the pilot slid into the booth, "Hey! She kissed me!"
Luke shook his head, "Yeah, sure… What did you get?"
Wedge's grin widened and Luke rolled his eyes, throwing his friend and evil glance, "That's not what I meant!"
Antilles laughed, handing over the print-out to Luke, "That's where we go. He'll be there for the next three days, but won't wait any longer."
Luke unfolded the plan, reading it, "Where is this?"
"The old Imperial outpost on Yeltarn."
"Was that all she said?" Luke asked.
Wedge nodded, repeating her message word for word, "The man you want will be at the old Imperial outpost on Yeltarn for the next three days. He knows you're coming but won't wait for you. Arrive after that and you've blown it."
Wedge sat silently as Luke poured over the map, unable to shake the feeling of unease. He didn't trust the woman. There was nothing that he could identify, but he didn't trust her. Yet, this was the only lead they had, the only indication of the possible whereabouts of Han Solo. No one had heard from Chewbacca or Lando Calrissian since the Millennium Falcon had left to track down Bobba Fett.
Everything else slipped together perfectly. All the information that had brought them here to this cantina had checked out…
He sighed softly, shaking his heed.
Wedge forced a smile, meeting Luke's concerned gaze. "Nothing," he dismissed. "I just need a drink."
Luke smiled back, shoving himself to his feet, "No time."
"How did I know that you were going to say that," Wedge groused.
Luke sat back down, harrumphing in mock disgust, "Okay! One beer!"
Wedge shook his head, sliding out of the booth, "The beer can wait. Han won't…"
As the two Rebel pilots headed for the door of the cantina, a third man watched them from a table near the opposite door. He stood, tossing some coins onto the table before muttering something to his associate. Laughing he slapped the other man on the back. Then he turned, following the two Rebels.
The Lord Darth Vader unfolded from his meditation, rising with liquid grace as the door opened. He turned his gaze on the officer who took two paces into the room then halted. Vader said nothing, merely stood watching, a dark shadow in the gloom, the mechanical rasp of his breathing cutting through the silence.
The officer forced himself not to gulp, his mouth suddenly dry as the full weight of Vader's attention focussed on him. "Sir," he began, correctly interpreting the question in the silence. "Surveillance reports two ships dropping out of hyperspace, now en-route to the asteroid belt."
The question jarred at the officer and he swallowed hard, trying to suppress the feeling that it was his fault, personally, that two ships had appeared instead of the single fighter that Vader had been expecting. "Yes, Sir," he replied, mildly surprised at the confidence he heard in his own voice.
"You have them identified?"
It was not a question. The officer flinched. "No, Sir. You asked to be informed as soon as we picked anything up."
Vader turned, cloak flowing around him, "You are dismissed."
The Sith Lord waited until the door closed behind the officer, then he reached out through the Force to confirm the identity of the prey lured to the trap, careful to keep his own presence shielded. Luke Skywalker was not yet totally ensnared and any hint of the Vader's proximity would ruin everything before it began.
He turned, striding out of the room, moving through the corridors of the ship towards the command centre, dark determination settling around him.
The Emperor had expressed concern at the speed with which Vader wanted to act, warning that perhaps he moved too quickly, but Palpatine had not witnessed Skywalker's devastation on Bespin. Vader had: and he knew that he should push home the partial success he had achieved on the Cloud City before the boy had had time to fully recover.
The bait had been obvious – information on where the bounty hunter Fett had taken Solo's carbon-frozen body. Vader's sources had informed him of the Millennium Falcon's departure for Tattooine and Jabba the Hutt, confirming that the search for the Corellian had begun. All that had been required was misinformation aimed at Luke.
There had been a risk that the boy would see through the ploy. Vader had used Solo in the last attempt to gain control of him, but Vader had sensed his son's fierce loyalty to the Corellian and had taken that chance.
Until now, until he sensed Luke's presence in one of the approaching ships, he had not been certain. Unknown factors could still have stopped Skywalker's deliverance unto the jaws of the carefully laid trap, even though everything had been examined in minute detail to eradicate any information or actions that would ring untrue and bring the painstaking preparations crashing into nothing.
Reaching the Command Centre, he stood watching the long range screens as the two X-wings slowed, slipping through the asteroid field with ease, heading for the planet beyond and disappearing into the planet's atmosphere.
Obi-Wan had taught Luke well, but the training was incomplete. Luke did not yet understand the potential of the gift he had inherited. Now he, Vader, would lead Luke to his destiny, guide him to full Jedi status and show him the potency and the unqualified power of the dark Side.
He had nearly succeeded on Bespin, but Luke had chosen death over the Dark Side. This time, death would not be an option.
Vader considered the new situation. Skywalker's companion would help begin Luke's training and would allow Vader to let Luke taste the bitterness of absolute defeat… yet again: this time with no escape.
He turned to the Captain, ordering simply, "Move in!"
Not waiting for acknowledgement, he swung around, issuing new orders to the white-armoured Commander standing a discrete distance behind.
The two Rebel pilots slowed as they approached an intersection. The lamp Luke held penetrating the darkness for only a few feet around them, throwing their shadows, large and grotesque across the walls, the corridors closing rapidly into blackness on all sides.
Wedge Antilles glanced down at the map.
It had all seemed so straight forward in the cantina. Come here, meet the man and buy his information, then get Han… wherever he was…
But now… Now he realised that things weren't so simple. Nothing was ever that simple. "Left," he informed Luke.
Skywalker forced a smile to reassure Wedge, reading his friend's mood, "He'll be here…"
Antilles looked up, flashing Luke a grin, missing the lie in Skywalker's smile. "Left…"
Luke turned away, moving into the corridor before Wedge could see his unease. Something about this wasn't right… something elusive that slipped away as he reached out, staying just beyond his ability to identify it.
At first he'd dismissed the feeling. He had been so keyed up, so desperate to meet with this man, but the sight of the deserted base and the darkness of the landing bay had brought him back to reality. This could be another trail that would ultimately lead them nowhere. The man they were due to meet may not have the information they needed about Han, the search dead-ending here.
So he had dismissed the feeling of unease, convinced that it was nothing more than the aftermath of the rush of hope…
But as he moved deeper into the corridors, the feeling was growing stronger. He was no longer sure of his reasoning. There was something about this place… Something…
His gut twisted, fear icing long his veins as the elusive quality coalesced into a dark, evil presence in his mind.
He turned, clutching at Wedge, beginning to push his friend back down the corridor.
"It's a trap!" Luke cut in, finding his voice. "Vader's here!"
Wedge swore, breaking into a run, fear beginning to pump adrenalin through him. He reached for the blaster at his hip and pulled it free from the holster.
The light from the lamp danced crazily on the walls as they raced back along the corridors in the direction of the X-wings. The pounding of their feet filled the corridors with hollow, menacing echoes that seemed to snigger, mocking their frantic attempt to escape.
Luke ran, fighting down the wave of emotions that threatened to engulf him at the sudden reappearance of Vader. The disbelief when Vader had told him of his heritage; the hurt and betrayal that neither Ben nor Yoda had told him, that it had had to come from Vader himself; the confusion inside him as he refused to accept the unthinkable - all of it rushing back to the surface with absolute clarity, hurting him in their intensity. Anger: at not listening to his first instincts, at not realising before that this was, after all, a trap. Fear and despair as he faced the very real possibility that they wouldn't escape.
Once before Vader had laid a trap for him and he had walked straight into it. Now, again, the same thing had happened. That was the only possible reason for the Dark Lord's presence and, as before, Luke was not the only one ensnared.
They turned a corner, the landing bay doors lying ahead. Luke swore, skidding to a halt, reaching out to stop Wedge from running through to meet the Imperial soldiers he sensed waiting for them.
The doors burst open, the stormtroopers surging through: immediately bringing their blasters to bear.
In the brief silence before the firing began, Wedge started to run, stumbling as he turned, feeling the heat of the first few laser bolts sizzling over his head. He half-turned as he ran, aiming back in the direction of the stromtroopers, aware that Luke had reached the corner where the side corridor intersected with the main.
Then he was lifted off his feet, a blaster shot hitting him high in the chest, twisting him backwards. There was a brief awareness of agony, cut short as he slammed against the wall and tumbled to the floor. He heard Luke scream his name then darkness crashed in to smother him.
No! Please, no!
Luke crawled out, catching hold of his friend's flightsuit, desperation tearing at him as he dragged Wedge back into the relative cover of the corner. Blaster fire thudded into the walls around them, showering the two Rebels with dust and debris.
Without warning, the firing stopped, the corridor lights snapping on. Luke shielded his eyes against the sudden brilliance, squinting against the light. There were stromtroopers positioned at either end of the corridor, blocking the way out.
The breath caught in his throat as he heard the manufactured voice. The anger, hurt and despair of before, swept away when Wedge went down, came crashing back in on him. He squeezed his eyes shut, forcing himself to breathe, fighting the emotions and searching for the calm that he knew would be their only help now.
Cradled in Luke's arms, Wedge moaned softly.
There was movement from down the corridor to his left and Luke opened his eyes, lifting his gaze to meet Vader's. For a long moment, Father and Son considered each other: Vader standing quite at ease; Luke on his knees, holding Wedge in his arms, blaster clutched in his hand.
"Stop this," Vader offered finally, "and he will receive medical attention. Continue and he dies. Either way, you will be taken alive. The choice is yours."
Luke dragged his gaze way from the obsidian mask, staring down at Wedge: at the blackened, charred hole in his flightsuit; at the blood that flowed from the blaster wound.
Luke cursed himself. He should have returned to Yoda, completed his training. Instead, he had ignored the Jedi Master. Fully trained he would have been better able to protect Wedge, would have sensed Vader and the trap sooner, could have faced Vader, buying time for Wedge to escape.
Instead his friend was lying here badly wounded, so badly wounded…
There was only one possible decision.
I'm sorry, Wedge. I should have come alone. It was me he wanted, no one else…
Slowly, gently, Luke laid Wedge on the floor. Then he pushed himself to his feet, dropping the blaster, having to hold the wall for support.
The stormtroopers flooded in, pulling Luke away from the wall, binding his hands behind him as Vader turned, striding out of view. The soldiers moved in front of Luke, blocking the last few moments with Wedge, before a push from the muzzle of a blaster sent him stumbling forward.
The Lord Darth Vader knelt before the holographic image of the Emperor Palpatine: the only being in the galaxy that Vader feared, that could cause a tremor of terror in the dark soul.
The shrouded form of Palpatine moved his hand. "Rise, my Servant."
Vader unfolded, standing before the Emperor, head bowed. "Skywalker has been taken," he reported.
Palpatine sighed in dark delight. "Good, Lord Vader. Very good. You will keep me informed of his progress!"
Vader inclined his head, "Yes, my Master…"
The hologram snapped into darkness, leaving Vader alone in the gloom.
Luke lay curled on the floor of the cell, unable to sleep in the cold and the glare of the lights, his mind going over and over the situation: always returning to his last sight of Wedge, lying unconscious, his face so terribly pale against the orange of his ruined suit, surrounded by stormtroopers.
He had no idea how long he had been here. They had drugged him before throwing him inside, knocking him unconscious almost before he hit the floor.
It was obvious why the trap had been set. He knew what Vader wanted of him, had more than a vague idea of what lay ahead. Yet, in all the hours that he'd been awake, he had seen no one, had heard no one. That, more than anything else, was slowly destroying him. Terror for himself; anxiety over Wedge; guilt for this whole situation: all combining to make the waiting interminable, his spirit growing weaker and weaker as each minute dragged towards yet another hour, robbing him of the strength to fight against the despair that settled more and more heavily around him.
He should have returned to Dagobah after the confrontation with Vader on Bespin. He should have finished his training with Yoda... but…
He had been so confused, so terrified, unable to comprehend his own feelings. The most hated and feared being in the Galaxy after the Emperor, suddenly announcing that he was his father: the man he had watched cut down Ben in cold blood; the man who had tortured his friends.
There had been so much hurt, still was so much pain. How could Ben have lied to him? Why hadn't Yoda told him? So he had avoided returning to Dagobah until the last, possible moment.
And then had come the news of Han, and he had pushed aside thoughts of Yoda and Ben, throwing himself into the search, desperate to find the Corellian and relieve his own conscience… because he was responsible for the mess that Han was in. If Vader hadn't wanted him so badly, then Han and Leia and Chewie would have been safe on Bespin.
Hoping to rid himself of the pain and the confusion in the hunt he had succeeded only in walking straight into another trap, getting another friend involved.
If only he'd gone back to Yoda…
If only he'd listened to Yoda's warning in the first place.
If you leave now, help them, you could. But you will destroy all for which they have fought and suffered…
He had been so sure of himself, so convinced that he was doing the right thing. Instead, he had delivered himself into Vader's hands.
Sure, he had escaped that time… just…
Only to fall into Vader's clutches once more.
Why hadn't Ben or Yoda told him the truth? Told him why he could destroy the Rebellion? Explained…
Yet, could he have remained on Dagobah knowing that his friends were suffering because of him? Wouldn't it have been more dangerous to tell him?
He sighed, his mind reeling. "Ben…"
"I cannot protect you, Luke," the old man had warned him. "If you chose to face Vader, you will do it alone…"
He should have listened to them. Damn it, he should have listened…
The door hissed open, pulling Luke from an uneasy sleep, back to reality. Two stormtroopers clumped into the cell, dragging Luke to his feet, marching him out and along the corridors.
They hauled him to a stop, removing the binders before pushing him through opening doors into a large, empty room. Luke stumbled, putting his hands out to stop his fall, landing badly, the pain jarring up his arms.
The tail of Darth Vader's cloak brushed against him.
He looked up, starting to pull away but Vader caught hold of his wrist, drawing him to his feet. The pressure of the Dark Lord's fingers triggered a release mechanism in the younger man's cybernetic hand. The small access panel popped open.
Luke stared at him, breathing heavily.
Vader considered the automation then let Luke go, sweeping away. "Why do you deny your heritage, my son? It makes you weak."
Luke said nothing, cringing at Vader's use of "son", memories of Bespin flooding back, washing through him as he pressed the access panel back into place.
The Dark Lord turned, "You let the fear and hatred reach you."
Luke pulled his breathing into long, deep breaths, calming himself. He couldn't let Vader get to him. He had to remain passive, not rise to the provocation. It was the only way to protect himself.
The Dark Side was not stronger, only easier to follow.
"Good!" Vader was moving towards him, "You bring your fear under control, but I still feel the anger."
Luke gathered his strength, staying his ground as Vader loomed over him.
"Obi-Wan taught you well, Luke, but your training is not yet complete. You are not yet a Jedi!"
"Neither are you."
The comment caught Vader off guard. He had expected fear, hatred, and resignation: not confrontation. He stepped back, watching his son, seeing the determination in Luke's eyes.Interesting…
He turned away, deciding to ignore the comment. "Your training will be completed here."
"I will never turn to the Dark Side, Vader!"
"Your future lies with the Dark Side. Your destiny lies with me."
Vader cut off the vehement denial, "There is no escape for you, Luke. The Emperor wishes you to join us… or be destroyed…"
"Then you will have to destroy me! I…"
"Do not remain under the misapprehension that you will be allowed to die!" Vader interrupted. "You are too valuable to the Empire. Your death is not an option. You are the future of the galaxy, Luke. You have the power to destroy the Emperor. He fears you."
He moved closer, towering over Luke, "You will join me! You will stand by my side! You have no choice! It is your birthright!"
Luke stepped back, moving away, unable to bear the evil and oppression that flowed from Vader. The Dark Lord stopped him with a flick of his hand, holding the boy immobile as he struggled against Vader's hold.
"Your training begins now!"
Luke lay on the floor of the cell where the stromtroopers had dumped him, too exhausted to move; too tired to sleep: his whole body aching.
Vader had drilled him, attacking him again and again, testing him, pushing him, driving him on when all he wanted to do was drop – pushing him to the edge of his endurance.
He had tried not to co-operate, but Vader hadn't allowed that. He'd had no choice but to comply, pushing away the hostility and belligerence to meet each situation as calmly and methodically as he could, Yoda's warning always in his thoughts.
Luke rolled onto his back, groaning, feeling the discomfort ease slightly, unable to stop his thoughts running.
Anger, fear, aggression. The Dark Side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join a fight…
Perhaps that was the answer…
To run with Vader, allow Vader to complete his training, but always staying alert to the Dark Side. Vader would not try to turn him until he was almost fully trained, and it would be easier for both himself and Wedge…
The despair settled in on him again. He had no idea if Wedge was alive or dead. Vader had said nothing and he couldn't risk asking. If Wedge was alive, the last thing he needed was Vader's attention on him.
Wedge, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.
He turned onto his side, curling his knees to his chest in fetal position. He should have listened to Ben and Yoda. He should have finished his training and faced Vader on his own terms.
Darth Vader stood, a dark presence watching as his son battled against the energy bolts from the seeker balls darting around him, never still, always moving.
The boy manoeuvred, turning the staff in his hands to catch the blasts streaming from the spheres, twisting to protect his back, bringing the staff up a heartbeat too late. The blast hit him low in the spine, pitching him towards the floor. Another blast caught him on the shoulder as he fell, driving him sideways onto his back. The globes hovered, finally still as Luke lay paralysed, pain flaring as he fought to breathe.
Vader turned, moving to the door. Luke's strength was building each day, his reflexes growing faster with each exercise thrown at him, the Force flowing more strongly.
He exceeded the targets Vader expected of him, but his concentration was total. There was nothing to break that focus.
That was about to change.
Wedge Antilles surfaced slowly. A nagging ache across his chest and along his collarbone pulled him sluggishly back to reality. He reached up, tying to massage away the gentle pain, still only half-aware…
His eyes drifted open, the white ceiling telling him nothing. He turned his head, confused and unsure.
The stormtrooper at the door glanced at him before leaving.
Fear brought Wedge to his feet immediately. Instinct pulled his attention round the room, seeing every detail, searching for an escape route. His memory returning in a rush, fragmented…
Wedge vaguely remembered Luke saying something about a trap…
Deep down, Wedge knew that it had to have something to do with the events on Bespin. He knew that Vader had been on Cloud City. He also knew that Luke refused to talk about it. What had happened there that had been…
The door opened. The stormtrooper tossed a bundle of clothes at the Rebel before turning, the door sliding closed behind him.
Wedge made no move to catch the clothes, letting them sprawl on the floor.
Fear settled tightly into the pit of his stomach. He looked down at his chest, seeing, for the first time, the perfectly healed skin where the dull ache and his own, tenuous, memory told him that he had been hit by a blaster bolt. The lack of scar tissue could only mean that they had used Bacta… Imperials did not waste Bacta on Rebel prisoners!
And where the hells was Luke?
Sinking to the floor, his back against the wall, Wedge pulled his knees up, hugging them to his chest. What was happening here?
He closed his eyes, resting his head against his arms. He had a dreadful feeling that he would find out sooner than he would ever be prepared for.
Luke concentrated on the Force, feeling it flow through him, deflecting everything that Vader threw at him. Conscious only of the power of the Force, he was unaware of the door sliding open, of the two stormtroopers hauling in a struggling Wedge Antilles.
Vader turned, momentarily, noting Antilles' arrival, reaching out with the Force, effortlessly picking up another crate and sending it hurtling towards Luke. At the same time, he turned his attention upward, loosening one of the heavy roof panels directly above the apprentice Jedi.
Despite the stormtroopers' grip on his arms, Wedge stopped short at the sight of the black-clad Luke, watching, fascinated as crates bounced away before reaching Luke, falling harmlessly to the floor yards away.
Wedge had known the significance of a lightsabre before he had met Luke. He'd been a little in awe when Luke had confided that he had his father's lightsabre. Anakin Skywalker had been a Jedi Knight, betrayed like hundreds of others, by Darth Vader.
It made sense that Luke would also have the potential to be a Jedi… not that Wedge had really understood what that meant: not until now.
A movement above Luke caught his attention and, horrified, Wedge saw the roof panelling above Luke breaking free, almost ready to crash to the floor. All thoughts of Luke's strange powers fled, forgotten, as he shouted Luke's name, desperately trying to warn him of the danger.
Skywalker's eyes snapped open, suddenly aware that Wedge was there. Relief flooded through him as he saw Antilles alive and well: understanding in that same instance that Vader could have brought Wedge here for only one purpose. Concentration broken, his mind began to race.
He had thought he was prepared, dreading this moment from the very beginning. Now, gut twisting, he realised that nothing would ever ease the horror of watching someone suffer because of him.
Wedge screamed his name, trying to pull free of his captors.
Distracted, Luke felt the movement above him too late to move successfully. The panel smashed down on him, crushing him to the floor.
Vader turned back to the struggling Wedge, weaving the Force, wrapping it around the young Rebel, slowly strangling him.
Wedge choked, battling for breath. Throat constricting, his struggle against the stormtroopers' grip weakened as his sight blurred. Held upright in the grip of the white-armoured soldiers, his lungs cried out for the air denied them, his consciousness beginning to fade.
Luke turned his head, fighting against the flare of pain, seeing Wedge deliberately suffocated.
Focussing on the weight of the panel pinning him to the floor, Luke summoned the Force, feeling the pressure lessen as the panel slowly moved. Ignoring the rush of agony, he used the Force to lever himself to his feet, determined that Vader would not defeat him. Centring his attention on Wedge, Luke challenged the power that crushed the young pilot.
As suddenly as it began, the choking stopped. Great gulps of air flooded into Wedge's burning lungs as he sagged in the stormtroopers' grip. He lifted his head.
Luke stood, struggling to remain on his feet, arm dangling uselessly at his side.
"Yes," Vader hissed, moving towards him. "Your fear and anger grow! Let it flow through you, Luke! Feel the power of it! Embrace it!"
Vader's influence was overwhelming, battering against him, a foul shadow looming darker and darker.
"This is only the beginning, Luke!" Vader warned. "Do you really think I will not use Antilles against you again? Your foolish attempt at saving him this time has only ensured his continuing agony!"
Vader watched the emotion flit across Luke' face, seeing his taunt hit home, feeling the boy's hatred and despair growing. He took another step, relishing the power that flowed through him. "Let your anger possess you! Use it to stop me!"
He could feel Luke beginning to respond. Beneath the mask he smiled. Soon, Luke. Very soon you will be mine.
"Your family are dead by my hand! Obi-Wan dead by my hand! Han Solo dead by my hand! Now Antilles will also fall!"
Grief clawed through Luke, the news of Han's death delivered so bluntly, pushing him further towards the abyss. First Ben, now Han, and after Vader had finished with them, Wedge too would die… or worse…
Luke stumbled back a step, everything disintegrating around him.
I'm sorry, Wedge, so sorry…
Vader advanced, slowly, menacingly, manoeuvring ever closer. "I feel your anger, your fear, your hatred! Let it own you!"
Luke dropped his head, closing his eyes. Struggling with the darkness that pushed against him, Vader's voice was hypnotic, demanding, drawing him in as the rage and hostility built inside him.
"Use it to stop me!" Vader pushed. "Take your revenge! Stop this now and save at least one of your friends!"
Luke could taste blood in his mouth. He could feel the power of the Dark Side of the Force flowing around him, centred on the ever more feasible figure of Vader. It pulled at him, dragging at his resistance.
I cannot protect you Luke… I cannot interfere.
Kenobi's warning on Dagobah echoed in his mind. Vader had almost reached him, hand outstretched.
"Join me, Luke! Stand at my said! Together we can rid the Empire of Palpatine and rule in his stead! Together we will be invincible! Join me, Luke! Join me! Look to your anger. Allow it to claim you!"
Luke's mind whirled, Vader's influence coercing him. He heard the screams of his friends in his head, fought to maintain his hold on reality, the influence of the Dark Side all around him.
If once you start down the Dark Side, forever will it dominate your destiny.
Your hatred can give you the power to destroy me! Use it!
The pain was overwhelming, weakening him, the power of the Dark Side battering at the last of his defences, drawing him: the urge to lash out at Vader, to destroy him and stop the pain, almost overwhelming.
Your future lies with me. Now you will embrace the Dark Side. Obi-Wan knew this to be true.
Consume you it will… as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice.
Beware… a heavy price is paid… forever will it dominate your destiny…
Clouded is your fate…
Luke's mind reeled under the attack, images and voices racing through him, dragging at him.
Your future lies with me…
Clouded is your fate… Beware…
…you will embrace the Dark Side… your future…
Your future lies with me… Obi-Wan knew…
Consume you… give you the power to destroy… you will embrace the Dark Side…
…lies with me… Obi-Wan's apprentice…
…give you the power to destroy…destroy all for which they have fought…
Luke's scream echoed around the room. He turned towards Wedge, desperate to find an anchor against insanity, almost breaking the hold of the Dark Side.
Vader's voice lured him back.
Then, at the edge of his vision, he saw Wedge breaking free, starting towards him, getting only a few feet before being brought down by the stormtroopers. His attention was drawn to the struggling figure on the floor.
He took an uncertain step towards Wedge, but his legs finally gave way and he crumpled to the floor, crying out as pain and nausea battered at him. Darkness pushed against his consciousness and he let it flood over him, no longer able to fight the power Vader wielded against him.
It was over, all over. Yoda and Ben had warned him, but he had known better, He had been their only hope and he had failed them.
There was no strength left to resist the Dark Side…
Vader had won…