Here I am embarking on a journey with a new fandom. After a few years of lurking, and writing a whole lot of nothing, here I am. So enjoy, and feel free to drop me a line. I'm out. (Update 2/6/14: just fixed a few errors that were glaring at me, had to be done!)
It starts with Leia.
Decades, even centuries later, when she and anyone still troubled with her memory are long gone, they will say it started with C'baoth. But they know nothing past the cleverly-connected guesses labeled "history" and placed on the shelf as truth.
C'baoth was everything that they said he was, but it doesn't start with him.
(They're not wholly wrong, but they are certainly not right.)
Mara learned long ago that chaos had a way of lurking, of waiting in the shadows, striking when your back was turned. She had a plan, she was fighting – fighting – and she almost made it. It almost worked. She almost won. They almost won.
But Mount Tantiss held many shadows.
The death of the clone at her hand is too much for C'baoth – unbalanced, powerful, enraged C'baoth. She is close, much too close to the Dark Jedi Master when he loses control, and not even Skywalker could stop the wave of energy, of pure tainted strength.
Walls, steel, and stone come down. Barriers everywhere, and no time to waste; Calrissian made quick work of blowing the place to hell. (Solo has to drag Skywalker away from the rubble, lest they all share her fate.)
Chaos finds its rhythm.
Thrawn murdered by his Noghri bodyguard, their homeworld in revolt. The mountain destroyed, facilities left in ruins. A weakened Skywalker, Organa, and Solo limping back to the New Republic. C'baoth fleeing to parts unknown. Karrde, the forgotten party in this whole mess, vanishes. Pellaeon the leader of the Imperial Fleet.
And Mara, prize prisoner on his new ship.
(Pellaeon is no Thrawn, but he is no fool either, and for weeks the only thing she is capable of comprehending is the burden of emptiness from the ysalamiri surrounding her.)
She can't feel the Force.
Can't use it. Can't learn from it. Can't heal from it.
Trapped, helpless, with barely enough bacta to make it through the nights alive. C'baoth did not leave, or escape, or whatever, without imparting his wisdom, which without the unwanted connection of their minds she would not have heard at all.
Your power can set you free.
It's like poison that can't be purged, because it comes from her own mind, and it wasn't long ago when she had power but no freedom, turned to freedom but little power. And within her four walls of captive solitude, she has neither.
Skywalker warned her about anger, not long ago, but it's all she has to protect herself against the poison. And what did he know about it anyway?
He is long gone.
She is alone, as alone as day one. To think otherwise would only hasten her death.
Your power can set you free.
(She becomes acquainted with the wrong end of a stun baton at least four times before learning that she can't brawl her way off the Chimaera, and that is perhaps not what he meant.)
Days bleed into weeks. Weeks bleed into months.
The poison spreads, slowly, curling into her veins as she watches her efforts waste away.
She tries every weapon in her arsenal – violence (repaid in kind), money (though she has none), the Force (still blocked), begging (she hates every second), sex (almost works), information (now useless) – but she remains at the mercy of the Imperials she once ruled, indirectly.
At her offer to reprise her former role in the Empire, Pellaeon visits her personally to inform her that she has been slated for execution.
(If he wasn't afraid of her before, he certainly is after, because her hands find his throat much faster than the baton finds her, and he is only a few seconds away from learning a thing or two about personal execution.)
When C'baoth finally comes for her, he makes quick work of the Chimaera.
All it takes for the submission of the crew is the destruction of both their leader and the detention wing in a matter of minutes.
With the ysalamiri gone, she is suddenly and overwhelmingly aware of two things. One, the terrible amount of fear whispering about the ship, indiscriminate of rank, soon to seep through to the core of the Empire. And two, the cold and passionless satisfaction this brings to the Dark Jedi Master.
She knows her own anger and confusion leave her vulnerable to his ministrations, for he seeks to teach only for his own gain, but her position leaves her with no survivable choice. She would be dead without him, and with him she may recover the strength she once had.
But as knee grazes ground and Master leaves her lips, she vows that she won't be in his service a second longer than necessary.
A twisted smirk flickers across his face when he senses her conviction, believing that her resentment will only turn her faster.
(No one was ever around to warn him about arrogance.)
The other side hears rumors, but it is already too late.
The Outer Rim falls within a matter of weeks, and shaky relations with the New Republic aren't enough to keep so many of the Core systems from lining up with the new military terror in the galaxy. There are whisperings about the return of Thrawn, but C'baoth is quick to clear that up – it takes only a short visit from his new apprentice to start new whispers.
His government may be stagnated by bureaucracy and nameless fear, but Skywalker does not need to guess who the "she" is when he hears reports of a mysterious rogue Jedi doing the bidding of Emperor C'baoth and his new fleet.
Others have trouble believing that the smuggler Mara Jade is miraculously not dead and in the service of the Empire, but they don't know about her life before Endor. They don't know about her skill in the Force. They don't know about Tantiss.
But with reports of an impending attack on Coruscant, it becomes irrelevant. They just know she exists.
(Luke wonders if she may be a clone, created in secret like his own, until he learns that she needed no weapon – Force or otherwise – to kill a New Republic commando that crossed her path. Then he stops wondering.)
It wasn't the planet the Empire was after. Or the Senate. Or even the New Republic at all.
Post-victory, alone aboard the Chimaera, Mara strides into the briefing room that holds the elite strike team responsible for the brunt of the operation's success. Dutifully, she congratulates them on their military prowess and their triumph over the New Republic forces, and reminds them that Master C'baoth expects their continued loyalty.
They nod stiffly, as soldiers do when praised, and relax their manner at her request. Seated, with all focus on her, she barely has to lift her eyes for the various assistants to leave the room, the door sliding shut quietly behind them.
She remains standing, radiant. Powerful.
For over an hour they give their report of their victory, proud, yet impassive. Their men did everything right: sabotaged the planetary shield from the inside, infiltrated the Palace as the Jedi Skywalker led the counterattack in the air. Raided his new Temple as it was left unguarded, using ysalamiri to render anyone inside unknowingly defenseless.
(Only one that mattered, though. Only one.)
Councilor Organa Solo.
The news leaves Mara brooding, cold, breath catching in a way she had not expected. They are blind and ignorant to the Force, but no one moves from their seat.
"Is she dead?"
And the words felt strange, even as they left her mouth.
Their leader shifts, sharing a glance with his comrades, a blur of painlustpridedutyhate. Grim, lip twisted just slightly up, all humility is absent when he coolly delivers his non-answer.
It is enough to make her stomach tighten dangerously. A pause, like that tiny breath of surprise that had thrown her so off-guard. And then her hand is clenched in the air and he is clawing uselessly at his throat before anyone can protest. When she snaps the next one's neck, the scrambling starts. The hiss of her weapon stops it.
She murders an entire squad, and doesn't feel a thing. Except a lingering sense of loss that shouldn't be hers, because what was Organa to her, anyway?
(Nothing. Nothing at all. Just someone who might have understood her, once.)
Her descent is swift and agonizing.
C'baoth manipulates her. The Empire follows her. The New Republic hunts her. The entire galaxy fears her. Yet she seeks only one thing – Karrde.
(There are things he has to know. Debts to repay. She will find him. She must.)
And so she searches.
In the solitude of her ship, she constructs a new lightsaber. Not blue, or green, or even red. But yellow. Like the blazing suns of Tatooine the day her world changed. Like her irises when the light is gone.
Months and months and months, and it turns into years, until hundreds of systems have witnessed her rage, have felt her passion, have fallen into her traps. Until every system knows not to lie to the woman they call the Isfar, when they whisper.
No one remembers that she once had a name. Mara Jade becomes nothing more than a ghost.
(She moves as neither light nor dark, Sith nor Jedi. Simply a human being desperately out of control.)
Intelligence keeps tabs on those that might seek to confront her.
With their central system under Imperial control, the New Republic has even less influence in the galaxy than during the days of the Rebel Alliance. They wouldn't dare launch an assault without risking total annihilation. They pose no real threat, and they know it.
But she still has enemies.
Solo floats in and out of the Outer Rim, spending most of his time and all of his credits in bars and cantinas. But he has his own enemies, and he never idles in one place for long. It was rumored that the Wookiee stayed for a while, but eventually left Solo to drown in his grief alone – life debts can't stop self-destruction.
Calrissian returned to mining or shipping or privateering or some other quasi-legal industry.
There are no reports of Skywalker and the Solo children, but she doesn't need them. She knows they are somewhere far from the Empire's grasp, keeping their last hope for the galaxy alive.
As if the galaxy they're fighting for isn't already long gone.
(When the time comes, she won't need to seek them out. Confrontation seems to be a Skywalker rite of passage.)
Years after the Chimaera, years after Leia, her search comes to an end.
C'baoth doesn't know that his apprentice somehow learned the truth, perhaps because he was blinded by arrogance, or his mind too damaged. He only senses her perpetual darkness, her natural power.
Not the calm. Not the unflinching coldness.
He is pleased, in his twisted way, when she stands behind him in the shadow of his throne. He waits for her allegiance.
Instead she runs her blade straight up through the back of his heart.
(Burning volatile eyes say more than her words, and she wants him to know what it feels like.)
Her apathy is all-encompassing.
Since learning of Karrde's death at her Master's hands, nothing has touched her. Nothing has burned. Nothing has wounded. Nothing has stirred her passion, nor frozen her fervor, nor wrenched at her gut. She feels no sorrow, or loneliness, or even true anger anymore. Her command of the Force is stronger than ever, but she gains no pleasure or comfort from it.
All she carries is a deadweight, knowing that if she let it go, she would simply float away.
Systems fall, soldiers obey, and people kneel before her, but it only leaves her craving more. She cares nothing for the millions of people she rules, save only as an outlet for her unwavering fury.
On and on she pushes, silhouetted on the bridge of her ship, head bowed against the silence of space.
(Alone, she doubts – is this what Vader felt?)
Skywalker feels the change in the Force light years away. C'baoth dead, Empire shaken. He makes his move.
His protégé – Jacen – the Solo boy, follows. He is younger than his uncle was at his first duel, but taller and physically stronger too. Years of training have served him well, and she is impressed with his skill. But he is too noble, too complacent in the light. He fights fair.
Still, two against one is no cakewalk.
Skywalker is more tenacious, more unpredictable. Hardened by age and loss, he fights like he has nothing to lose (he does, of course he does). He singes her, once, and that marks the end.
She strikes down the boy cleanly, without hesitation. Skywalker tries to endure but he loses focus, energy consumed by the death of his nephew. He falls to the ground, breathing uneven as she crouches beside him, aurulent gaze piercing.
Her blade hovers over his chest.
Her voice is soft, lifeless. Cold and soothing.
"Remember what I asked you?"
He remains silent.
"You should've killed me. Then. I would rather have died."
His jaw is tight, eyes shut against her words.
"I want you to remember. So when you grieve for him, for all of them, you grieve for me too."
He meets her gaze, and the calm meets the silence.
And he meets his end in a flash of gold, beautiful and dark.
(Had she not so thoroughly blocked their connection, she might've felt his mind brush against hers. I mourned you a long time ago.)
Time passes. The New Republic still crumbles. No Jedi, no unity. No strength.
There are few challenges left for her anymore.
But occasionally, one will sneak up on her. A clandestine operation, an untrained Force-user, a rogue commando. This time – a little of all three.
He is bound, bleeding from the blaster wound in his shoulder. The troopers have already pumped him full of chemicals, and it's likely only the stun cuffs keeping him awake.
Her arrival signals the guards' departure, and she is left alone to deal with their newly captured prisoner. The locked door slides open with a wave of her hand, and she faces him.
The shock is so sudden, so purely visceral, like the wave of Force energy that almost killed her. It brings her completely to her knees, breath caught in her throat, golden eyes blurred. Some sort of noise must escape her, but no words. There are no words.
Palpatine never told her…
This man, this captive, he must have felt it too, because she's never ever had anyone look at her like that before. It's fear, but it's more. It's more.
His voice is little more than a croak.
"You…you're the Isfar?"
She can almost see it now. His hair, darker. His eyes, clearer. Not twisted, not changed. Weaker, younger, yet clear. She can almost see it.
He turns his head away from her, struggling against himself. He can't stand to look at her. She can feel his despair, as clearly as if it were her own pain. His heart is tearing itself apart, enhanced by the Force and the drugs. He is in unbearable pain.
"I thought they killed you," he manages, voice cracked. "I thought they killed you when they killed our parents."
It is impossible to distinguish her agony from his, and there is no joy at all in this reunion. Nor any doubt. She can't find a single word for him, because every vein, every nerve is on fire with things she has not felt in so, so long.
When she finds her feet again, she senses, dully, that his will has diminished. He will not face her. He knows there is nothing left at all (she has to end it, she can't stand this, she is dying dying dying –)
When it's over, she screams her rage until the fire burns out, and his body goes cold.
(She buries him, nameless, on Myrkr, where she does not have to feel the tremors in the Force.)
Isolation haunts her.
The entirely stable Empire rules itself, and she communicates when she has to. The rest of her time is spent in solitude, all alone in her makeshift temples. Caves, abandoned palaces, hollowed woods – it doesn't matter. Anywhere with silence.
She wanders, watches. Waits.
She meditates. For hours, days. Sometimes weeks go by without memory of their passing.
Now when they whisper they speak of the Isfar as a shadow, on the edge of their vision, hiding in places they cannot go. She never makes a sound, but they feel her presence like a shroud.
(Like maybe she has something to fear, too.)
In her seclusion, only the Force surrounds her. It binds, and releases.
She learns things. Hears things. Sees things.
When she sees the son she might've had, in another life, the deadweight drops.
(His eyes are neither deep green, nor burning yellow. Bright blue, like skies and water and the starlines of space. She wonders.)
Jaina Solo comes alone.
She is afraid, and less skilled in the Force than her brother or uncle ever were. Yet, stronger.
Her quarry sits in silence and allows the girl to approach, weapon still holstered against her side. She won't touch it. She won't have to.
Jaina is neither wholly patient nor blinded by impulse, but she senses the fight was over long before it began. She ignites her saber, vibrant green illuminated against the pinkish red of the setting suns. Humming with the desert wind.
She doesn't ask if her opponent chose this planet, like she somehow knew. The answer seems clear enough.
The last of the Jedi raises her blade to strike, and the Isfar floats away.
(She did choose Tatooine, but the pure blue of the sky burning bright makes her feel like maybe it was the other way around.)
One with the Force, in the next world, she finds Leia in a place she does not recognize.
Rivers, trees. Life.
She is pale, glowing. Emanating strength and beauty. Luminous. She joins Mara in her vigil.
"You let my daughter live."
A pause, a glance without seeing.
"She is who we should've been."
Leia nods, pride warming her face.
A silence stretches on, without measure. Then –
"Luke's waiting for you."
No sun or moon, but the light wraps around them.
Leia's presence shifts.
"What changed you?"
And she finally meets the gaze of Organa (someone who understands her, now).
The princess still has fire in her voice, even here.
"It all goes back to Palpatine. He lied to you, he lied to everyone. Your life was laid out for you by lies and hate. Nothing more. You must know that. It was Palpatine that destroyed your future."
Mara smiles, not a trace of happiness on her face, thinking of skies and water and the starlines she will never see.
(She whispers –
"No. I did.")
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