Chapter 1: Fall of a Son

"All craft prepare to go into hyperspace on my mark!" The Mon Calamari admiral's mouth tendrils were squirming with anxiety. The tense atmosphere aboard the Rebel command ship Home One was practically tangible; the Rebel Alliance was preparing to launch their largest offensive yet against the Empire.

The Empire's newest technological terror, a second Death Star even larger than the first, was being secretly constructed in orbit over the Forest Moon of Endor. The moon was a sanctuary, a protected wildlife preserve. The Empire's decision to despoil it with devices of war was despicable; the horror of waging battle above such a peaceful world was not lost on Alliance leadership. But the presence of the Death Star was too great to overlook. The new battle station had been heavily upgraded from the original design; at over nine hundred kilometers wide, it dwarfed the original battle station. Its thermal exhaust ports, the terminal flaw which had led to the destruction of the first Death Star over Yavin IV, had been replaced with micro vents placed in millions of locations around the station's surface. A newly designed superlaser would permit the monstrous battle station to fire its primary planet-crushing weapon with greater accuracy and with significantly shorter rest periods between shots. Once complete, it would be virtually invulnerable to any attack.

As well as the second Death Star's current location, Rebel spies had also learned that Emperor Palpatine himself was personally overseeing the final stages of construction. This would be their best and last chance to destroy the Empire once and for all. Whatever happened, the Battle of Endor was going change the face of galactic history for generations to come.

As the Rebel fleet emerged from hyperspace, the admiral knew something had gone terribly wrong.

Earlier, aboard Death Star II…

He would continue kneeling with his ebony gaze directed at the floor until his master acknowledged him. His discipline, and in no small part, his artificial limbs, allowed him to wait in this position for hours. His master taught him such patience. And little else. The Emperor stood with his back to Lord Vader, staring off into the void of space in deep meditation. His distorted image was reflected in the black soulless eyes of a plasteel helmet.

The shriveled, ancient human standing before him had turned his immeasurable power inward, seeking to untangle the lines of fate and see what was to come. Through the Force, Palpatine could see the future, the outcome of battles. Even now, Vader knew he was having a premonition.

"The time has come, my friend," Palpatine croaked, finally turning to face his apprentice. His voice was like old paper, dusty and crumbling. "Very soon we may expect to have company. I foresaw a hodgepodge Rebel force joining us; they have taken our bait. They will send a smaller force to penetrate the deflector shield and land upon the surface of the Sanctuary Moon. They mean to destroy the shield generator. You will send a detachment down to intercept them. The Rebel Skywalker will be with them." The Emperor carefully noted Vader's reaction to the last piece of information.

Vader snapped his head up at the mention of his son, unable to hide his surprise.

"These next hours are critical, Lord Vader," the Emperor warned as he sat himself down on his throne; he gazed down at his faithful servant. "You must not question my orders," he commanded. "We will finally crush this pitiful 'rebellion,' my friend, and order will once again befall the galaxy."

For a moment, Palpatine stared down at his apprentice in silence. Vader said nothing; the rhythmic sounds of his cybernetic lung echoed in the cavernous room.

As the old Sith sat on his throne atop his tower aboard his Death Star he knew that his apprentice intended to betray him; it was the way of the Sith. There comes a time when a confrontation between Master and Apprentice must take place. However, regardless of how he once felt about Vader, Palpatine had no intentions of allowing the broken creature before him to succeed him as reigning Dark Lord. Vader's consideration for that Master's mantle had been lost in the fires of Mustafar, along with his three remaining limbs and fully half his power in the Force.

I have taught him what I can, he mused inwardly. He cannot hope to master the rest. I require a new Apprentice, one who can master the Force as I have, one who has no such physical imitations. If the son of Skywalker can be turned, he will make an apt pupil. He knew he would have to be on guard at all times during Skywalker's journey toward the Dark Side. If Vader sensed the boy had turned, he could harness his son's newfound power and use it against the Emperor. Vader's only hope was to unite with his son's power; together, the pair would pose a significant danger. The Emperor knew he would need to be prepared to eliminate his apprentice the instant this happened. Perhaps, if he could manage it, he would have Skywalker kill Vader for him. What better act to consummate one's embracing of the Dark Side was there than to kill one's own father?

"This insurrection has continued too long, Master." Vader finally broke his silence, his deep artificial timbre reverberating off the high walls. "We will triumph." But you will not live to see the end, old man. "The Rebellion grows weak. Its defeat is inevitable. This attack is bred from desperation." He was anxiously anticipating the coming conflict. The Rebellion had been destructive and chaotic. Order would again be brought to the galaxy after nearly two decades of dissent, but with Vader as Emperor and his son ruling by his side. Palpatine would die along with the Rebels.

When he imagined confronting his son again, he was briefly touched by the faintest glimmer of joy. He quickly suppressed the emotion; all joy was kept locked away deep in the darkest reaches of his soul, where the dimmest light still shone. For years, he had tried to extinguish that light but to no avail. It was the part of Obi-Wan that he knew would never leave him. If the Emperor ever learned of this light…As important as he may be to the Emperor, he was hardly indispensable.

The Emperor had turned round and was gazing back at the stars when he spoke again. Vader continued to kneel. "You will go to your flagship and wait for a shuttle to request ground clearance. You will not stop them. I want you to go to the surface and take care of them personally. They will be arriving shortly; you needn't wait long." It was clear that Vader was being dismissed.

The Emperor's eyes seemed to pierce Vader's armor as the hulking Sith Lord rose to his feet. Does he suspect my treasonous thoughts? wondered Vader. Of course he does. But what is he waiting for?

"As you wish, my Master." Vader turned on his heel and marched back to the turbolift, his cape flaring out behind him. As the lift doors closed, Vader could see the Emperor still turned toward the stars in meditation.

As the Emperor predicted, an Imperial shuttle requested ground clearance shortly after Vader arrived on the bridge of the Empire's flagship, Executor. The crown jewel of the Imperial Starfleet, she was the first of the Executor-class Star Dreadnoughts.

"Where is that shuttle going?" Vader inquired of the commanding officer, a gaunt man with a long face and sagging cheeks. He felt a subtle disturbance in the Force coming from the shuttle.

The commander, Admiral Firmus Piett, bent down to speak into the comm. "Shuttle Tyderium, what is your cargo and destination?" he demanded.

"Parts and technical group for the Forest Moon." Vader turned to Piett, instantly recognizing the voice as that of one-time smuggler and Rebel general Han Solo. All at once, the disturbance became clear. Luke! He sensed that his son was anxious, afraid. Fear gnawed at the boy like a parasite. That was good. Fear could be turned into anger, hate. Fear was a path to the Dark Side.

"Do they have a code clearance?" the Dark Lord asked, not that it mattered. He had his orders from the Emperor himself to allow them passage.

"It's an older code, sir," Piett admitted, standing up straight. "But it checks out. I was about to clear them." The Admiral knew it was impossible to lie to the Dark Lord and that those who did rarely survived to repeat the offense. "Would you like me to hold them, sir?"

"No," Vader said sharply. "Leave them to me. I'll take care of them myself." Without further explanation, he lumbered off the bridge leaving a stunned crew in his wake to exchange puzzled glances.

Palpatine sat in quiet contemplation, listening to the gentle hum that issued from the heart of the massive battle station. His throne was turned to the tranquility of the stars, which passed by slowly with the Death Star's geosynchronous orbit around the Endor Moon. Each one of them, loyal to me, he ruminated with a grin. The expanse of the galaxy belongs to me. Yes still I desire more.

As much as he had, he wanted more. From his days with the Old Republic Senate, he had ambitions of absolute power, of direct rule of the galaxy. Now that he had it, he wished to expand that ruling further beyond any who reigned before him. At that very moment he had agents exploring the Unknown Regions, as well as the turbulent space along the galactic rim. He aspired, perhaps romantically, to become the first ever to exert influence beyond the confines of the known galaxy. The very universe could someday be at his withered fingertips.

Unexpectedly, he sensed his apprentice approaching; he knew instantly, of course, the reason for this interruption. "Still that child the Jedi found on Tatooine," he muttered in annoyance.

"Master," Vader called out as he marched past a pair of Red Robes guarding the turbolift. He slowed his pace as he approached the Emperor. "A small rebel force has penetrated the deflector shield," he announced.

Aggravated that Vader felt the need to return to the Death Star to inform him of that which he already knew, Palpatine spat, "Yes, I know."

The armored Dark Lord could feel a wave of his master's ire pour over him. "My son is with them." The Emperor feigned a subtle look of surprise.

"You're sure?" he asked his apprentice. His feelings for the boy are too great, Palpatine decided. His betrayal may come sooner than expected. He may not bring him before me. That would be a grievous mistake.

"I have felt him, my Master," answered Vader. Of course I'm sure. He's my son!

"Strange that I have not. Are you sure your feelings on this matter are clear, Lord Vader?" Certainly Palpatine had detected the boy's presence, but he needed to get a sense of just how attached Vader was to him. He had his answer and it was the one he expected. Betrayal was soon to come.

"They are clear, my Master." If possible, Vader's words were even icier than usual. Even his breath sounded more menacing.

"Then you must go to him. In time he will seek you out." The Emperor pretended not to notice the sizable ripples Vader was making in the Force. He needed to ensure he came off as ignorant and unaware of Vader's intentions despite the blundering fool practically screaming them out for all to hear. Vader was always as subtle as a turbolaser.

"He will come to me?" echoed Vader, clearly skeptical. What else does he know that he's not telling me?

"I have foreseen it." Without another word, the Emperor turned again to the blackness of space, leaving Vader in silence to carry out his instructions and plan his next move.

"Prepare a shuttle for immediate departure to the surface." Vader went directly to the nearest shuttle bay and had approached the first pilot he saw.

Without a word, the young man hurried to a shuttle and began prepping it for launch; within five minutes, the Sith Lord was rocketing toward the tree-strewn surface of the moon. Vader observed wispy white clouds gathering cyclonically around the northern hemisphere, the beginnings of a very large storm to be. There was an expanse of mountains and desert that Vader had failed to notice on previous flybys. He saw very little growth so he stretched out with the Force and felt almost no life at all. It reminded him a little too much of home.

During the short flight Vader contacted the garrison commander, who was in charge of security for all Imperial activities on Endor. He highly doubted many precautions had to be made, but the Rebels had proven themselves repeatedly to be skilled at striking when the Empire least expected it. The tiny figure of a man appeared on the comm's holoplate.

"Commander Yorik," Vader boomed. "Inform only your top officers of my presence and have security tripled. I don't want any mistakes made or I will hold you personally responsible, Commander." For good measure, he gave the man's throat a quick squeeze across the void.

"Y-yes, sir. Right away, sir." Before he could say anything else, Vader cut the transmission, leaving a stunned garrison commander rubbing his molested throat.

The commander was young, probably fresh out of the academy, still shining his boots and starching his collar. Still loyal. And now he had a taste of what would befall him should he fail.

Within moments of the short conversation terminating, the shuttle set down on the tall quadrupedal landing platform. The ramp lowered with a whine and coolant steam gushed from vents to either side. Vader marched down, stepping onto the paved surface of the platform; gravel crunched beneath his boots and a soft breeze licked at his cape. It was dusk now and he looked off toward the horizon where the sun was setting, painting the sky with brilliant streaks of red and purple and gold. The gas giant that was the moon's namesake was beginning to rise in the dark west, casting a dim greenish light over the forest. As he inspected his surroundings, he knew the hunters would soon be out to feast. He was merely the first.

Night on the Forest Moon was full of sound. Far off in the distance, Vader's cybernetic hearing picked up a strangled cry which was abruptly cut off. Much closer, he saw a large dragon-like creature flying low over the trees. A moment later, a massive fur covered hand shot out of the leaves and snagged the flying reptile in its claws, dragging it down into the canopy to its death with a short squawk of protest. There's always a bigger fish, he thought to himself.

The pristine forest stretched on and on for kilometers in all directions, broken only by the enormous shield generator dish five kilometers away. Flora had closed in around the compound almost as fast as it had been cleared away. As the planet rose higher in the sky, its light grew more intense and the radiation it threw off dispersed in the upper atmosphere to create brilliant dancing auroras of green and blue. The shadows themselves seemed to come alive as wind brushed by the trees. The Sith Lord's mechanically enhanced vision picked up several sets of shining eyes peering out from the forest, dotting the trees.

He stood at the railed edge of the enormous landing pad that thrust up twenty-five meters from the forest floor, surveying the landscape. Floodlights on the platform shone brightly into the trees and the animals of the forest knew to stay away. Vader craned his neck to peer down and saw the carcasses of several large creatures, carnivores, shot by soldiers and placed to deter any further encroachment by other animals. Even through all the filters in his mask, the scent of death was sickly sweet in his nose.

He felt Luke's presence nearby, off somewhere to the south but drawing closer. He was alright, frightened, but he attempted to hide it. Vader could also sense a deep sadness in his son. And something else he couldn't quite pin down. Anxiety? Yes, but not about his confrontation with the Emperor. It was something else, something elusive. Perhaps he'd get a better read of his son in person. It wouldn't be long now before he was reunited with his son. The realization brought a faint smile to the disfigured face locked inside its ebony prison.

Then we can destroy the Emperor and rule as father and son!

"Lord Vader?" A young man with a commander's bars called out, breaking into Vader's thoughts. The commander's anxiety was palpable; the man practically reeked of fear as he approached the black-clad Sith.

"Yes, Commander?" Vader growled, not bothering to mask his annoyance at the disturbance. He briefly toyed with the idea of killing him but ultimately decided against it. It was a pointless waste of a loyal Imperial officer. There seemed to be fewer and fewer these days. Besides, whatever satisfaction he would gain would be fleeting at best. "Mind you, I do not like being disturbed for trivial matters. This had better be good."To emphasize, he raised his fist and tightened it in a threatening gesture. The man, knowing Vader's reputation, instinctively put a protective hand to his throat.

"My Lord," he started meekly. Making a conscious effort to ignore Vader's clutched fist, he slowly lowered his hand from his neck. "A Rebel has surrendered to us. Lieutenant Kavil is bringing him as we speak, sir. They should be here in moments." Vader dropped his hand back to his side and turned his head slightly to scan the forest. Off in the distance, he heard the heavy footfalls of the advancing AT-AT.

"That's good news, Commander. I will meet them personally when they arrive. Return to your post."

"Right away, sir." He gave Vader a short bow and left as fast as his standard issue boots would allow. Vader noticed the relief on the man's face when he was dismissed. His gnarled lips parted in a grin. He still enjoyed bringing fear to those weaker than he. He much preferred fear over respect. It was the only way to ensure total compliance.

Vader turned back to the night and gave a barely audible sigh. The time is come when we shall meet our destinies, he thought to himself, remembering the old saying. He gave one last glance over the forest, the wind kicking up the edges of his cape, and moved to the nearest lift.

The AT-AT's whining hydraulics droned loudly as it made its final preparations before docking. While the walker docked with the platform, Vader instructed several stormtroopers to follow him down to meet the passengers. The Sith Lord and his entourage were greeted by Lieutenant Kavil, who was trailed by Skywalker and a backing of three stormtroopers of his own. Luke looked solemn, clothed entirely in black. His hands were in binders. He looked directly at Vader's face, somehow bypassing the plasteel lenses to meet the eyes behind them.

"This is the Rebel that surrendered to us," Kavil reported proudly. "Although he denies it, I believe there may be more of them and I request permission to conduct a further search of the area. He was armed only with this." He produced a cylindrical object and placed it in Vader's large gloved hand.

"Good work, Lieutenant. Leave us. Conduct your search and bring his companions to me."

"Yes, Milord." Kavil gave a curt nod and returned to the bowels of the walker.

"The Emperor has been expecting you," Vader announced. He did not look at his son as they walked.

"I know, Father." Luke's words carried no emotion; his face was devoid of any expression. The Force told a different story, however. Beneath that calm exterior was a frothing sea of apprehension.

"So, you have accepted the truth." Vader could not deny that he found himself pleased.

"I have accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father," Luke countered.

"That name no longer has any meaning for me!" Vader barked. The sound of his own name let loose a flood of rage that washed over him. It reminded him of the weak, pathetic man he once was; it was a name from a time he would sooner forget. It reminded him of her. He gnashed his teeth in anger.

"It's the name of your true self, you've only forgotten! I know there is good in you," Luke pressed. "The Emperor hasn't driven it from you fully." He turned and moved slowly to the guardrail, staring out at the dark forest. "That was why you couldn't destroy me." He went on, resting his bound hands on the railing. Vader took note of the black glove covering Luke's right hand, the hand lost during their last encounter, the hand he himself had severed on Cloud City. His mind wandered briefly to his own right arm, to the events that led to its loss, the first time, and how it had likewise been at the blade of a Sith Lord. "That is why you won't bring me to your Emperor now," Luke finished, bringing Vader back to the present.

There was a familiar snap-hiss behind Skywalker; he stole a quick glance over his right shoulder and spied Vader holding his now active lightsaber, its emerald blade humming.

"I see you have constructed a new lightsaber," Vader said as he examined the hilt. There was a subtle note of pride in his voice; it the pride that a father has for his son. "Your skills are complete." He deactivated the weapon and began walking away. "Indeed you are powerful, as the Emperor has foreseen."

"Come with me," Luke pleaded abruptly. He saw Vader hesitate a moment, stopped in his tracks.

"Obi-Wan once thought as you do," Vader responded, keeping his back to his son. Turning around, he addressed his son with a more forceful tone. "You don't know the power of the Dark Side. I must obey my Master!"

Luke's plea turned then to defiance. "I will not turn and you'll be forced to kill me."

"If that is your destiny," said Vader coldly. Fool! he raged internally. Why do you insist upon fighting it? It will be easier to give in to your feelings.

Luke refused to concede defeat, however hopeless it seemed. "Search your feelings, Father. You can't do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate!"

"It is too late for me, Son," Vader responded softly. The sadness in his voice caught Luke off guard. A small tremor seemed to pass through Vader, as if he was waking from a trance, and he motioned for the stormtroopers. "The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force. He is your master now." For the time being, he added silently.

Luke accepted defeat now. "Then my father is truly dead." The stormtroopers escorted him to the turbolift, where he would then be taken to a holding cell until their departure the next morning. Father and son shared one last fleeting look before the door slid shut and Vader was left alone with the night.

Vader entered the communications center and immediately contacted the Emperor. "He surrendered just as you predicted, Master. He was captured not an hour ago. We will depart for the Death Star at first light. There is… much fear in him. I believe that he can be turned."

"Yes, very good, Lord Vader." The old man's horribly disfigured face flickered with static. "He is powerful. It will take us both to turn him." To Vader, he was but a meter tall disembodied head floating above the projector. "I sense something troubling in you, a certain uneasiness. Are you willing to kill him if need be?" the Emperor demanded.

"If that is his destiny," Vader said, echoing the words he said to Luke.

"I wonder if your feelings on the matter are clear, as you so adamantly assured me earlier," the Emperor scoffed. "You are not so important to me that I will put up with insubordination. Never forget that, Lord Vader. You are my tool. When a craftsman's tool wears out, he replaces it." Before Vader could assure his Master that he was not a worn tool, Palpatine ended the transmission.

After speaking with his Master, Vader was left with a decidedly bitter taste in his mouth. He retired to his quarters and meditated until sunrise, clearing his mind and organizing his thoughts for the coming events. He was brought out of his Force-induced trance by a chime at his door hours later. "Enter," he boomed. He knew it was Kavil informing him that it was time to depart.

"Lord Vader, it is time," the lieutenant informed him. "The Emperor requests your audience immediately." This made Vader smile for the third time in two days. The Emperor does not request. The Emperor commands. The Emperor takes.

Lieutenant Kavil remained in the doorway a moment, waiting for a response. When he received none, he backed out into the corridor and strode off.

Vader stood, buried all of his anxiety, and walked out to face his destiny.

Luke was already seated onboard the shuttle when Vader marched up the ramp and strode into the passenger cabin. He did not look at his son as he passed by to take his seat. It was Skywalker who broke the silence. "Good morning, Father."

"I do not notice such things." Anakin had not appreciated the beauty of a sunrise in over two decades. "You will soon be with your new master," Vader said. "Be warned, he is not as tolerant as I. Do not do anything…foolish." That was the extent of the conversation during the twenty minute flight. Vader glanced over at his son several times, pleading silently that he would make the smart decision and not get himself killed. He had thought his child died with her…He couldn't bear to lose him a second time, not so soon after learning that he had survived.

The immense structure of the unfinished Death Star loomed ominously in the front view screen, growing ever larger as they approached. The shuttle was heading for a nondescript bay at the equator of the station. As the Death Star drew closer, the seemingly smooth surface flattened out to reveal its vast, rough network of skyscrapers and towers that rivaled even Coruscant. The anticipation swelled in Luke as they glided through the protective field closing off the bay from the cold vacuum of space.

As the shuttle set down on the deck of the hangar, Luke felt a powerful dark presence that could only be emanating from the Emperor. It felt like a fog over his head, dulling his ability to focus and feel the Force flowing through him. For him to have such a marked reaction from such a long distance away would require a darksider of staggering power. It would be difficult to resist that level of power. He was barely able to suppress his shudder.

Luke and Vader departed the shuttle, which took off immediately after the two were clear of the bay. It was making way for another fast approaching shuttle. For a moment, Luke thought he sensed something. He tried to concentrate but the dark energy infusing the entire station was dampening his abilities. He couldn't trust anything he sensed until he managed to clear his mind and get his focus back. He needed to prepare himself for the mental battle he was about to face.

As they walked, Luke's mind raced with fear and anxiety. Visions of himself bowing to the Emperor crept into his head, playing out in the back of his mind. The images were so clear, so complete down to the tiniest detail that he could almost reach out and touch the figures. He saw them as clearly as if he were recalling a memory; this was no memory, however. His head swam as he contemplated the possibility of his failure, as he imagined the consequences should he succumb to the Dark Side. Vader was nowhere to be seen. He saw the Emperor smile at him. Though he had only ever seen the Emperor a few times on grainy holonews feeds, his wrinkled, disfigured face was clear. The old man was draped in heavy black robes; one deathly pale hand reached out and rested on Luke's shoulder as he kneeled. Luke saw his own lips move. He could almost hear the word "master" whisper faintly in his ear. That startled Luke back to reality. He took a deep breath as they passed through hallways and corridors, steeling himself against the darkness that bled from the very walls. He hadn't failed yet and dwelling on other possibilities only served to distract him from his mission.

Vader led them through a complex series of corridors and lifts. Luke could feel the Emperor's presence growing stronger as they drew nearer. They finally arrived at a turbolift protected by two menacing red-clad guards who stood sentinel on either side of the tube. Both guards had a long force pike slung over his shoulder. Their helmeted visage was menacing to the extreme; their black faceplates stared forward, unmoving, always at attention. These were the Royal Guards, personal protectors of the Emperor, stormtrooper elite. They were trained in the art of hand-to-hand combat. They were the most lethal force the Emperor had besides his own mind. Rebel Intelligence had never been able to discover where they trained or even how many there were. There could be eight, eighty, or eight thousand for all anyone knew.

Vader motioned for Luke to enter the turbolift. He followed his son inside and after the door closed, it took the lift a handful of heavy heartbeats to reach the top of the one hundred story tower. When it came to a stop, Luke felt the dark presence stronger than ever radiating from the room. It was very nearly unbearable.

Silently, the door slid open to reveal an enormous room, dominated by a large central platform. A giant transparisteel window took up one wall, opening to the blackness of space. On the platform sat a lone object: the Emperor's throne, its back turned to the two figures who were crossing the room. The room was sparsely lit and foreboding with deep shadows in the myriad corners and crevices. The Dark Side was strong in this place. Luke hadn't felt anything like it since the tree cave on Dagobah. Off to one side, a huge pit seemed to drop into oblivion, going down into the thrumming core of the battle station. He was reminded briefly his recent encounter with the Sarlacc, staring down into its seemingly bottomless maw.

Without warning throne rotated dramatically to face them. A frighteningly familiar sight stared back at him with evil eyes that gleamed yellow from the shadows of its hood. The figure seated before him may have been human at one point; his skin was sickly pale like that of a cadaver and his face was utterly ravaged by time and the unimaginable darkness housed within his withered body. He was shrouded in heavy black robes which gave him the appearance of an amorphous shadow, further adding to the already deep mystery surrounding him. Despite his aged appearance, he carried an unmistakable air of great power. He was not one to be underestimated and was without question the most dangerous being in the galaxy.

"Welcome, young Skywalker. I have been expecting you," the Sith Master purred. The old man's voice was ancient but powerful. It radiated authority. "You will no longer need those," he said, looking to Luke's bound wrists. With a wave of his hand, the wrist binders clattered to the floor. He directed his attention over Luke's shoulder to the far side of the cavernous room. "Guards, leave us!" The Red Robes filed out without question. He looked back at Luke, his penetrating gaze seemingly taking stock of every atom in his body. Vader and Skywalker climbed the steps to confront the Emperor on level ground. "I look forward to completing your training. In time, you will call me 'Master'."

Luke mustered up all of his courage. "You are gravely mistaken," he proclaimed defiantly. Vader was shocked by his audacity. "You won't convert me as you did my father."

"Oh no, my young Jedi," Palpatine responded calmly. He stood and moved towards Luke as he spoke. "You will find that it is you who are mistaken, about a great many things."

"His lightsaber," said Vader as he presented the trophy to his master. The Emperor took it in his hands and examined it much as Vader had done. He ran his fingers over its surface the way one would examine a piece of art, as though he was trying to detect some flaw in its construction. Luke was disgusted to see his precious weapon in the pale bony hands of the Sith Master.

"Ah, yes. A Jedi's weapon, much like your father's. By now you must know that he can never be turned from the Dark Side. So will it be with you." He seemed to be daring Luke to argue, to be bold and speak out against him again. He was not disappointed.

"You're wrong," said Luke. "Soon I'll be dead and you with me." It was from this place, he realized, that he drew his strength. He knew that regardless of happened between him and Vader and the Emperor, however the events in that room played out, it would all be over in a matter of hours when the Rebellion destroyed the Death Star and the three of them along with it.

The Emperor chuckled at Skywalker's bold claim. It was the most disturbing sound Luke had ever heard. It was dry and…evil, a hateful cackle, and it sent a shiver through Luke's core.

"Perhaps you refer to the imminent attack of your Rebel Fleet." Palpatine chuckled again as Skywalker's eyes widened. "Yes, I assure you, we are quite safe from your friends here!"

"Your overconfidence is your weakness," Luke stated calmly, trying to suppress his surprise and utter horror that the Rebel's plan, which counted so much on secrecy, was already discovered.

You cannot challenge the Emperor and win, thought Vader, who remained silent during the exchange. This whole battle of wits between his son and his Master worried him. It was getting out of hand. A confrontation would break out soon and he knew who would emerge from it victorious.

"Your faith in your friends is yours!" retorted the Emperor with a disgusted sneer.

Luke knew he had struck a chord. He could feel Palpatine's rage growing like a whirling storm gaining strength with every passing second. The sensation was enough to frighten away whatever self-satisfaction he may have felt.

"It is pointless to resist, my son." Vader did not want his son to be destroyed and he could sense the Emperor losing his patience with Luke's insolence. The boy will get himself killed, thought Vader. If that happens then the old man will die.

The Emperor sat back down on his throne and, to Luke's astonishment, actually smiled.

"Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design. Your friends, up there on the Sanctuary Moon, are walking into a trap. As is your Rebel Fleet." He smiled malevolently, baring his crooked brown teeth. "It was I that allowed the Alliance to know the location of the shield generator," he boasted. "It is quite safe from your pitiful little band."

With each word, Luke lost more and more hope for success. The entire plan had relied solely on catching the Empire unawares. The fleet was going to be wiped out and Luke could do nothing to stop it. He couldn't even get a message out to warn them away. The well from which he had been drawing his strength had run dry and left a gaping hole of despair behind.

"An entire legion of my best troops awaits them," Palpatine proclaimed. "Oh, I'm afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive." He gave Luke a condescending smirk. The Sith Lord was positively drinking in Luke's misery.

Luke glared at the little man who sat smiling before him, taunting him, feeding off his pain like a parasite. He felt anger unlike he'd ever felt before; he wanted to grasp the evil old monster's throat and squeeze as hard as the Force would allow. He wanted to hear the bones of his neck shatter. He wanted to constrict his withered heart until it stopped beating.

He wanted his—

"You want this, don't you?" asked the Emperor, patting the lightsaber resting next to him. "I can feel your anger." The Emperor had his eyes closed now, basking in Luke's fury. "With each passing moment, you make yourself more my servant. Take it. Use it. I am unarmed. Do what you came here to do. Destroy me!"

Luke let the anger fill his blood and fuel his next actions. He reached out with the Force and ignited his saber, which flew to his outstretched hand. He struck. In a heartbeat, Vader had his own saber lit and in place to block Luke's blade. Energy crackled and hissed as red and green fought for dominance. After a short struggle, Luke deactivated his saber. The Emperor seemed very pleased at the reaction he was able to incite in the young man.

"Give in to your anger," the Sith Master pressed. "Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the Dark Side will be complete! Channel your rage and strike!" He barked the last word and Luke complied.

The Dark Side filled Skywalker's veins like a drug, fueling his strength and clouding his mind of everything but his hatred. He struck again at the man and again, Vader's crimson blade was waiting to shield his master. However, this time Luke did not draw back. If he could not kill the Emperor, he would kill his guardian, the man who had betrayed everyone he ever loved.

It was as though his actions were being controlled by some outside force. His movements were fluid and perfect. Block, strike, parry, block, block. It was a complex ballet he danced with the Dark Lord as they battled down the stairs away from the Emperor; their glowing blades cast constantly moving shadows as they whirled and clashed.

If Vader ever held back in the past, he wasn't now. He was using all of his skill just defending himself, so aggressive was Luke's attack. Vader dodged a slash meant to separate his torso from his legs; Luke's saber dug a deep gouge into the paneling behind him. Sparks flew as circuitry vaporized and wires turned to slag. Molten metal oozed down the wall, dripping to the floor and casting an eerie glow into the shadows. The smell of vaporized plasteel hung thick in the air and smoke wafted gently upwards, only to be disrupted by another sidestep by Vader. Luke's next attack singed Vader's cape, the fine material shriveling and smoking, leaving an acrid scent in the air.

They fought their way back onto the Emperor's platform with Vader pressing Luke backward up the steps. But as they reached the top, a well placed kick sent Vader tumbling back down.

The Emperor applauded. "Good, good!" The old man was practically giddy. He cackled. His pale lips curled up in a twisted grin that exposed his brown, rotting teeth. Luke froze in place as he realized that he was just dancing to the Emperor's tune. He glared back over his shoulder at Palpatine with a look of rage, but even as he did so, his felt his head begin clear and his bloodlust fade. Skywalker deactivated his saber, breathless, and turned to Vader as he climbed to his feet.

"I will not fight you, Father," he called down.

Vader, weapon still lit, began to ascend the steps to meet his son. "You are unwise to lower your defenses!" Vader cried as he lunged at the boy.

The Sith Lord struck fast and Luke barely managed to ignite his saber to block. This time, it was unquestionably the Dark Lord who had the upper hand. With lightning speed, Luke deflected each of Vader's attacks; at one point he leapt into a ring of computer consoles in order avoid a particularly close swipe. Vader slashed between consoles, furiously attacking like a mad quarra after a scrap of meat. Luke back flipped onto a catwalk some three meters up and landed with feline grace. He deactivated his saber once again and, for a moment, just stood staring down at his father.

"I will not fight you, Father," he repeated, his breathing ragged. His chest heaved and his muscles screamed, unaccustomed to such vigorous use.

"Then you will meet your destiny!" Vader hurled his lightsaber up at the catwalk; it spun through the air, a glowing red disc of death. Guided by the Force, it sheared through several support bars and a section of mesh decking and sent a five meter span crashing to the ground below the Emperor's platform. The hewn edges glowed red hot, dripping molten durasteel like candle wax. The impact was deafening, reverberating throughout the cavernous throne room. Luke had disappeared, his lightsaber thrown to the debris-strewn floor. The armor-clad Sith casually opened his hand and snatched the weapon with the Force before retrieving his own.

Vader marched off in search of his prey with Luke's retrieved lightsaber clutched tightly in his fist.

Palpatine chuckled wickedly. "Good, good!" he called out, "Your journey is almost complete, my young apprentice. Release your hatred. Lash out with your anger. Perhaps I was wrong about you. Perhaps you are not the one I seek. Perhaps it is your—"

"Sister," said Vader, as if reading the Emperor's thoughts. Just as the Emperor had, Vader sensed Luke's greatest concern at that moment, the thing that occupied his mind even more so than his confrontation with the Sith. It was his love that betrayed him. "So, you have a twin sister," Vader said. "Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me. If you will not be turned, then perhaps she will."

"NEVER!" Luke roared. Vader's taunting words had hit their mark, pressing Luke to reveal his presence in a fit of uncontrollable rage. He extended his hand and tore his lightsaber out of Vader's grip. He attacked the Sith with a ferocity that astonished even the Emperor. There was no form or style, just raw, brutal emotion. Luke's saber bashed against Vader's again and again. They crossed the room, blade beating blade, until they reached the giant ventilation shaft, a gaping maw that plunged down seemingly forever. Vader was pressed backward onto a step. Stumbling clumsily, he found himself pinned against a guardrail, Luke raining hit after hit down upon his crimson blade. With each blow his right arm was forced farther out over the chasm. Luke pummeled his father's saber with his own over and over again, savagely, relentlessly, driven by hate and anger and grief for the friends he knew would surely die in the coming attack. With a final downward slash, Luke's blade burned through Vader's wrist, leaving a sparking stump of fused wires and smoking alloy bones.

Luke arrested his attack as his father groaned in defeat and simulated pain. He glared down at the ruin of his father's wrist and held up his own mechanical right hand, clenching his fingers into a fist. The leather squealed as his fist tightened. He found Vader's gaze. Gripped now by the Dark Side, Luke was furious; he was furious at his father for being so weak, furious at the Emperor for provoking them, furious at himself for being too weak to realize he was being manipulated by everyone his entire life; Uncle Owen, Obi-Wan, the Rebellion, and now Vader and the Emperor. They all used him to suit their own needs.

"Finish him," commanded the Emperor. "Kill him. Take your father's place by my side." He wasn't bothering to hiding the pleasure in his voice. "Destroy Lord Vader. A Sith does not show mercy to his enemies."

"No! I am Jedi!" Luke bellowed as the anger that simmered beneath his breast suddenly boiled over. Blue energy arced between his fingers and crackled in the air. "I am JEDI!" Electricity sizzled and ozone burned as the devastating Force lightning leapt from Luke's outstretched left hand and tore into Vader's prone form.

Vader struggled against the assault, writhing in agony. Sparks flew as delicate electronics were vaporized. Smoke poured freely from half a dozen mechanical injuries, any one of them mortal without immediate repair. Vader's pained groans became cries of anguish as Luke intensified his attack. The Dark Lord had withstood the Sith lightning before, but never to such a degree.

The smell of scorched ozone was strong. Stray bolts blackened the floor where they hit. Vader's armor began to bubble and melt. The duraplast sizzled and smoked. Luke finally relented and the crackling energy bolts ceased. He wasn't finished with his father, however; reaching deep within himself, he tapped fully into the raw power of the Dark Side and violently wrenched Vader's helmet off his head from three meters away. The terrible face of Vader that had brought death and fear to so many, that had been countless beings' final frightening vision, was sent flinging across the throne room where it crashed into a bulkhead with a loud echoing clang, reduced now to just another bit of rubbish. He lifted his father's form from the ground and held it suspended in an invisible grip. The Sith Lord tried to fight back but his son's power, augmented by his anger, was too great.

"This isn't what you wanted, is it, Father?" Luke demanded. His face was contorted with the hot rage coursing through his body. "I don't think it is. You wanted me for yourself, isn't that right?" He tightened his grip. Vader's scarred face was distorted by a pained grimace as his body was crushed. Luke was reminded of the guards in Jabba's Palace, of crushing their throats. In retrospect their deaths had been unnecessary. He could have easily used a mind trick to sneak past them, but he recognized now that he had gleaned a measure of satisfaction from squeezing the life out of them. Having grown up as nothing, he enjoyed the power that the Force granted him over ordinary beings; he liked being a god among men. Now he realized that he had been heading down the Dark path for some time, ever since the first time he'd seen Ben use the Force to dominate the mind of a stormtrooper in Mos Eisley. He had been certain they would be captured, but the old man twisted the trooper's thoughts and planted new ones and they were let go. He wanted that power; he craved that power.

Luke took careful note of his father's mechanical breathing. He didn't want it to give out too soon. He wanted him alive for as long as possible. "You are a traitor, Father," he spat with disgust. "The moment you turned me, you were going to betray your master so that we could 'rule the galaxy as father and son.' Those were your words, weren't they? You just can't seem to remain loyal to anyone, can you? The Jedi, Obi-Wan, the Emperor, you've betrayed them all."

Palpatine had remained silent during Luke's sudden turn, watching anxiously as the boy teetered on the edge of the Dark Side before crossing over fully. But now that Skywalker had turned, the Emperor needed to corral him, to rein him in so that he served the Empire, served him.

"You now see the power of the Dark Side, have tasted the possibilities that await you. You desire more; this I can clearly sense." His tone was different now. No longer taunting, it was the voice of a teacher, a mentor, to a student. "Join me and you will find no limit to your potential. Take your father's place as my apprentice and I can teach you the true nature of the Force." Luke's swift transformation had surprised the Emperor, and impressed him. There was no doubt now; the son of Skywalker would be his most powerful apprentice yet. Now was a critical time in the boy's training. The Emperor would need to tread carefully lest he undo it all. "Your anger toward your father is great, as it should be. But it should be greater. You deserve to know the truth about Anakin Skywalker." The Emperor closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

There was a deep rumbling explosion. Luke jumped, dropping Vader back to the floor. Had the Rebels finally arrived? Were they attacking the Death Star? He looked around but saw nothing out of place; there were no flames or smoke and no alarms rang out. There was nothing to explain the sound. From out of nowhere a hot breeze swept across his cheek and burned his eyes. Another phantom explosion nearly knocked him flat.

The throne room dissolved around him and he found himself somewhere else. This was unlike any Force vision he'd ever seen; when he saw his friends captured and tortured on Cloud City, it had been images, flashes of fear and pain; when he had confronted the spectral Darth Vader on Dagobah, the whole event played out like a dream. But this…this was different somehow. This felt real.

He found himself standing on some sort of large outdoor platform. Violent gouts of lava erupted all around and a searing wind burned his skin. Luke surveyed the hellish landscape; as far as he could see, mountains spewed showers of red hot magma high into the ash-choked sky. Rivers of liquid rock raged, splashing lava sometimes dozens of meters in the air. Small droids flew just above the surface, collecting the volatile liquid by the bucket full. Volcanic gases choked his lungs and he found it hard to take deep breaths.

Luke stood beneath the wing of a small ship, a personal yacht by the looks of it; the mirrored surface of its organic curves reflected the orange light of the seemingly endless volcanic eruptions. A man was running towards the ship, its boarding ramp already lowered. A woman sped down the ramp and into the man's arms. She was crying.

They spoke, but their words were drowned out by the constant eruptions. Luke studied the man, taking in as much detail as he could from his position; he wore the robes of a Jedi and light glinted off the silvery hilt of the lightsaber that hung from his belt. A cruel jagged scar snaked its way down his right eye. Luke noticed one hand was encased in a heavy glove. Subconsciously he flexed his own gloved hand. Why was the Emperor showing him this?

The Jedi and the woman continued to speak, their conversation growing visually more intense. He heard the occasional word carried to his ears on the scorching wind. The woman spoke of the Dark Side and "younglings." The man responded with, "He's trying to turn you against me." The rest was too garbled to make out, their words lost in the violent explosions all around. Their body language suggested they were both upset, though the man appeared to be growing angrier while the woman seemed to be pleading with him about something. As the wind licked at the Jedi's robe, it momentarily revealed the lightsaber in full detail. It was the very lightsaber Obi-Wan had presented him with four years before on Tatooine, the day his aunt and uncle had died; it was his father's lightsaber. Realization hit him like a ton of duracrete blocks. He was in the past and these were his parents.

"The Jedi turned their backs on me. Don't you turn your back on me!" Anakin cried, his voice carrying over the constant noise. Luke was amazed to see how young he looked, younger even than Luke was now. He could hardly believe that this man became the black-clad monster that was Darth Vader. It was obvious that the scene playing out before him took place before whatever accident had robbed Anakin of his limbs, forcing him to live the rest of his life confined in life-support armor. Given the hostility of whatever planet this was, Luke couldn't help but wonder if the event didn't happen right here.

His mother backed up suddenly. Her words drifted lightly to Luke's ears as there came a momentary lull in the constant thundering eruptions. "Anakin, you're breaking my heart! You're going down a path I can't follow." She sobbed into her hand. Luke's heart skipped a beat when she turned slightly and he saw her distended belly. There we are, he thought. Leia and me.

The two went back to low conversation. He strained to listen until his father screamed "Liar!"

She staggered back a step, seemingly out of fear. "No," she gasped softly, shaking her head.

"You brought him here to kill me!" Anakin raised a hand and Luke's mother clutched at her throat.

Brought who here? He's killing her! Luke wanted to leap from his hiding place and stop Anakin but held back. He wasn't sure how he was seeing this, but the Force was telling him to stay put.

"Let her go, Anakin!" commanded a new male voice issuing from inside the ship. Though Luke was sure he'd never heard it before, it sounded almost familiar.

Anakin glared up into the ship at the as yet unseen speaker. Luke heard footsteps descending the ramp.

"I said let her go!" the unseen man commanded again.

Anakin released his grip and the woman fell to the ground, unmoving.

"You turned her against me!" yelled Anakin.

"Your greed and lust for power have already done that." Luke finally saw the second man. He felt like he'd been doused in cold water. Though far younger, he would recognize the man anywhere. It was his late master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. This is it, Luke realized. This is where Anakin lost everything. This is where Vader was born. Though Obi-Wan had never spoken about this confrontation, history led Luke to only one conclusion.

Obi-Wan stepped over to the still figure of the woman lying prone on the ground and checked her pulse. Anakin turned away from him, facing the direction where Luke crouched. For a moment he was certain Anakin had seen him. But he remained perfectly still, not even daring to breathe, and his father didn't seem to take notice.

"I'll not betray my new Empire," Anakin said simply. Luke stared directly into his eyes, which were hard and cold. New Empire? Palpatine must have just crowned himself.

"Your new Empire? Anakin, my loyalty is to the Republic! To democracy!" Luke had never seen Obi-Wan so upset. The old man had always been so calm and collected. Obi-Wan's face was in full sight now and Luke was still taken aback at how young he was, how young both of them were. This scene would have to have been twenty years before their fateful encounter on the Death Star. The twin suns of Tatooine had aged Obi-Wan considerably.

Anakin called out over his shoulder, "If you are not with me, you are my enemy."

"Only the Sith deal in absolutes." Obi-Wan reached for the lightsaber hanging from his belt, the same one Luke would see him use years later to sever the arm of a cantina patron in Mos Eisley. "I will do what I must."

Anakin gave a sneer only Luke could see. "You will try."

Luke abruptly found himself back in the throne room as the volcanic world vanished around him. He looked around, dazed. Gone were the hot winds and the booming explosions of magma. The whole event had been intense. He found his father's eyes; he could see from Vader's horrified expression that he had been dragged through his past along with Luke. Anger welled up in Luke, anger at having to see the last moments of his mother's life, knowing that she died because of him, the pathetic and broken man lying on the floor before him. He felt the overwhelming urge to avenge his mother's death, along with the deaths of all the untold millions whose blood dripped from Vader's gloved hands.

"Yes," the Emperor's voice broke into Luke's thoughts. The Sith Master's voice was weak, winded. He had expended a terrific amount of power showing young Skywalker that vision in such vivid detail. "He killed your mother," he confirmed, gesturing weakly at the figure that lay dying on the cold, rumbling floor. "But he does not bear sole responsibility."

"What?" Luke had seen Anakin kill her with his own eyes. How was he not responsible?

"Oh, do not misunderstand," Palpatine explained quickly. He seemed to be gaining some strength back now. "Anakin was physically responsible for Padmé's death. But," he said, raising a gnarled finger, "had Master Kenobi not stowed aboard your mother's ship intent upon confronting and destroying your father, Anakin would not have assumed she had betrayed him to his former master and rival. Kenobi had learned of their relationship; he knew of Anakin's inability to control his emotions. Indeed, he knew him better than anyone. How could he have not known how his former Padawan would react to such a confrontation?"

Luke's head swam. "Obi-Wan? It was—it was Obi-Wan's fault?" A tear rolled down his cheek. His world had been torn apart yet again. Had anyone ever been truthful with him? He'd always assumed that Obi-Wan had been present for Anakin's death, and later, when he discovered the truth, he knew Kenobi must have had a hand in Vader's injuries. But why had the old Jedi never mentioned Luke's mother? Was it guilty conscience, as it had been when he withheld the truth about Vader? Did the shamed Jedi Master ever intend to divulge the truth, that he had been personally responsible for the loss of both of Luke's parents?

The Emperor nodded. "Indeed. He felt it was his duty to destroy the Sith. He was jealous of your father's power, and afraid of it. He didn't trust him. Or your mother, apparently."

"D-did you know her?" Luke asked hopefully. This was the first he had ever heard of his mother, though he had fantasized of her often as a child.

The Emperor nodded again. "I knew her for many, many years," he told Luke. "We come from the same world, in fact. I represented it in the Senate and she, well she led it. When I met your mother, she was the queen." The Emperor allowed Luke to absorb this new information before continuing. "After her term as queen ended, she replaced me in the Senate. You may be surprised to learn that she belonged to a group of senators who later went on to found your Rebel Alliance."

"It's not my Rebellion anymore," Luke said, staring at the floor. It was all he could do to stay on his feet; he felt lightheaded after all of this new information, dizzy, like the floor was made of gelatin. His knees felt weak. He didn't know what to do, what to say, what to think.

The Emperor smiled. "You know," hr began slowly, "had you been in my possession all this time, this rebellion would have been crushed years ago. Fewer people need have died fighting for such a feeble cause." The Emperor glanced out the window. Something seemed to catch his attention and he gave a triumphant smile.

"Never mind that now," he said suddenly. "It will all be over in a matter of moments." He walked over to his throne and spoke into the armrest comm unit. "Commander?"

"Yes, sir?" answered a man's voice. It was full of anxiety and trepidation; he was speaking to the ruler and ruiner of worlds.

"Prepare for the micro-jump to light speed," the Emperor ordered. "We are about to have guests. The moment the Rebel Fleet comes out of hyperspace, you are to jump to minimum safe distance, then wait for my signal."

"Yes, sir!" The commander sounded excited about something.

The Emperor turned back to face a confused Skywalker. Vader had somehow managed to get back to his feet but his breath was ragged and shallow without his mask. His cape hung limply from his shoulders in tatters and his quilted leather body suit was burned away in placed, revealing the mechanical limbs beneath. He leaned heavily against a piece of softly whirring machinery for support. Luke was ignoring him for the moment.

"'Minimum safe distance'?" Luke asked. "What's going on? What is that?" He didn't like being in the dark. When the Emperor didn't immediately answer, Luke shouted, "What is it?"

Palpatine's tone changed from pleasant to grave after Skywalker's command. He narrowed his eyes in anger. "Do not presume to demand answers from me," he warned severely. "Like your father, you are not so important to me that I will tolerate insubordination." To emphasize his point, he raised a cupped hand of crackling blue energy.

"We have seen how well you conjure this most ancient Sith spell," he said, glancing from the plasma pouring from his fingertips back to Luke. "Do you wish to see how well you withstand it?" He gave a chuckle and lowered his hand and the energy was quenched. "You will soon learn your place, young one. I will tell you what 'minimum safe distance' is. It is the end of the Rebellion.

"You see, the instant the fleet exits hyperspace, the Death Star and the Imperial Fleet will make a micro-jump away from the Sanctuary Moon. We will come out of hyperspace at minimum safe distance," he emphasized those three words, "and destroy it, along with the enemy fleet." A faint smile parted his thin cruel lips as he imagined the Rebel fleet vaporizing in a sudden, blinding flash.

"What of your legion?" Luke asked desperately. "You said they were your 'best troops.' You would leave them to die?"

"Yes, I would," the Emperor said simply. "However, I needn't this day," he assured Luke.

"Because there never was one," Luke realized aloud as it dawned on him that he and the Rebellion had been well and truly played for fools.

"Just so," Palpatine said with a nod. "A small complement of troops was sent to the moon to deal with your team but has now been recalled to their command ships. You see, I received word shortly before you and your father left the surface that your friends had been located. By the same company that found you, I believe. They were taken into custody and brought here immediately. I was given confirmation that they landed just moments after you and Lord Vader arrived. Perhaps you saw their shuttle come in?"

Luke's heart jumped as he remembered the approaching shuttle; he recalled the strange twinge he felt as it neared the bay.

"—of your team was killed and the surrounding area was razed to the ground to be certain no more were hidden in the forest," the Emperor was saying when Luke came out of his own thoughts. "All hope is now lost," he heard the old Sith say. "Your insurrection has come to its end. The Light has failed you, young Skywalker. It is the Dark path that holds the answers you seek. You've no other direction to turn."

Luke looked back toward the shabby wretch that was his father, still leaning heavily against a cylindrical machine, sad and pathetic. Anakin's ice-blue eyes looked deep inside Luke, silently pleading. No longer was this the gaze of Darth Vader. It was the gaze of a broken and penitent man. It was the gaze of Anakin Skywalker. But none of it mattered anymore. Luke hated him; he wanted to kill him!

A voice sounded from the comm unit in the throne's armrest. "Your Highness, the Rebel Fleet has just exited hyperspace. We are now making our micro-jump to safe distance." The station shuddered slightly as the great vessel leapt into hyperspace. The stars in the giant viewports elongated and formed a tunnel, only to immediately snap back to pinpoints a second later. The Emperor smiled and bared his crooked teeth.

Do it, my Apprentice, the Emperor coaxed silently, penetrating Luke's mind and pointing to the arm of his throne. "Give the command to fire," he said aloud. "Destroy the rebellion that has brought so much pain and suffering to the galaxy and you will be reborn."

"Your Highness," called the commander's voice from the throne. "We await your order to fire." He sounded both tense and excited. "Your Highness?" he called again when he received no response.

"They are waiting, young one," Palpatine urged Skywalker. "With this act, you open yourself to a new universe of wonder and power. Give the order; it is your destiny." With a flick of his wrist, the Emperor used the Force to open the comm channel and waited. Should the boy prove incapable of performing this sacrifice, he may have to be destroyed.

"Commander," began Luke slowly. He closed his eyes tight against the tears which threatened to flow freely. "Fire," he gasped at last. He took a position at the observation window and started blankly out at the soon to be annihilated moon. He could just make out the faint glittering of starship hulls in orbit over the blue and green globe.

"Your Highness?" asked a confused commander.

"You have your order, Commander," said the Emperor, who broke the connection and moved to stand beside his new apprentice. He had a broad smile on his old, withered face. Good, he thought. His transition is complete. He will serve me well.

The Emperor fixed his gaze on the small green orb hanging serenely before them some eight hundred thousand kilometers away. They both stood watching in anxious silence as a beam of green fire lanced through space from somewhere below and struck the moon a fraction of a second later. There was an eerie silence. Everything seemed calm, peaceful, frozen. A half a heartbeat later, the moon disappeared in a fantastic explosion. What wasn't instantly vaporized flew away in every direction at thousands of kilometers per second leaving fiery streaks of molten rock streaming out into space. The first fragments of debris reached the Death Star in seconds. They seemed to vanish in a brief flash about three kilometers from the station's surface.

Luke scoffed. "This is what you meant," he said as everything became clear. "This is the deflector shield you said would be operational. The station had a working shield the whole time. The generator on the surface of the moon was a ploy." With no other option open to him anymore, Luke kneeled before his Emperor to swear his fealty.

"I shall enjoy training you, my Apprentice," Palpatine said in response. He reached out to set a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Do you pledge yourself forevermore to the teachings of the Sith and to the everlasting prosperity of the Galactic Empire?"

"Yes, Master," Luke swore; his father watched in horror from across the room. "Train me."