Author's Note: response to a challenge, of sorts. This piece is written as accompaniment to Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings.
It opens before him like a basin: vast, hollowed by the scouring hand of wind and time, full to the brim of nothingness. Empty space laps at its shores, coiling mutely about his scuffed boots in little rivulets of dust, the tidal pulse of the desert.
Far, far out upon the blank wastes, the two suns are reflected upon the void, the twin mirage rippling faintly, riding the effluvia of its own heat like the mining droids upon Mustafar's liquid fire-rivers. A pair of jaundiced and red-rimmed eyes, the inverted stars glare at him, accusatory, agonized.
I hate you.
The answer wells up, from his marrow, from his very bowels, clotting his throat with turgid emotion. It, too, is an accusation, an agony of protest against the cruel Force. I loved you.
But his love has always been the kiss of death to those upon whom he has bestowed it; why then, is he ever and again shocked, disbelieving and unmade by each successive betrayal of fate? His love kills what it lights upon, like the despairing tyrant of mythology who wished for an aurodium touch and ended by destroying all his kingdom.
He will remain aloof here, touching nothing. Loving nothing.
Before they parted, Yoda had showed him how to commune with one who had passed, long ago, into the Living Force itself.
He was shocked, appalled to learn that the path to immortality was paved with the stones of compassion – of love. He rebelled against it, even, still burning inwardly from volcanic fallout, sparks smoldering through tunics into flesh, invisibly present a full day later.
"Ready you are not," the ancient one had sighed.
He would never be ready for that – the road seemed to close before him, narrowing to a forbidding trail he would not climb. Never again. Never at such a price.
Not even for the one so long gone.
He remembered a deep-throated sigh, the skim of hoary fingers across his head, and the retreating stump of the master's gimer stick before his shoulders began to quake in earnest.
But that had been a moment of weakness. Here, he has the desert, and its antediluvian strength. He will not grieve.
It opens before him like an abyss: fathomless, fraught with treacherous will-o-wisps of joy, enticing siren lights that invite the unwary to plummet into its depths and be drowned. Those fluttering lanterns of false paradise beckon, taunting him with what is lost, seducing him into the easy surrender of nostalgia.
He peers over this impalpable brink, heart pounding against ribs that still bear the scoring bruises of that last duel. In memory there are immeasurable avenues of forgetfulness, deeps into which he might sink and never rise again. The allurements of the past, of what might have been- these are like the blandishments of those deep-sea predators, the ones who draw in their victims with mesmerizing lights.
His past has barbed teeth and an open maw. If he followed the beacon lights down, into that morass, he would be eaten alive.
Regret lurks at the bottom of his soul, vigilant and hungry.
He will remain here, in the cruelly circumscribed present. Remembering nothing.
In first days, the Force itself had gathered in portentous thunderheads, laden with memory. Deep memory, bone deep, rooted in childhood and longing.
He heard a voice that was not there, and he deliberately ignored it, pitiable need rising like a flood only to be dammed again behind a will forged by the same indelicate hammer that had crushed him flat. He was as rarefied and unbreakable as a 'saber's blade, a thing honed to a peerless edge, the razor's thin boundary between sanity and this other place.
If he had once been young, and loved, loved without reserve or fear of killing that which he touched, he had learned better. He closed his ears to those whisperings, to that melodious overtone, until the sound dwindled into the susurration of his own blood and breath.
He closed his hands into fists and exhaled. Release. That way no longer was.
Here, there was only directionless space- no path, no seeker, no saint. Only peace.
It opens before him like a clean tablet: bleak and featureless, unscarred perfection challenging rash youth to scribe its first damning mistake across unsullied pages. To live is to slowly mar the telling of one's own personal history, every act a twisting of this blank perfection into a tortured realization, a caricature of what should be.
His own mind is a palimpsest. The calligraphy of a tradition older than memory lies beneath the subsequent commentary and exposition: crechelings' song beneath mantra beneath Master's soothing voice beneath budding rational thought beneath wordless submission beneath oath and vow beneath authoritative edict, magisterial dictate. This psychic hide is thicker than his own battle-marked skin, and it has been flayed apart layer by excruciating layer until his viscera, the mewling infant that first was presented - tabula rasa- to the Force's art, here shudders for want of cover.
He pulls his cloak tight over his sore body, despite the heat.
He will add nothing to this travesty of wisdom. He will remain silent here, teaching nothing.
But you still have much to learn.
The words must be the echoes of his own conscience, for the words of the Code, the deepest glyph of all upon his soul, have never been clearer than here, seen in the stark clarity of desert light. There is no death; there is the Force. In other words, the Force is death. It raises all things, its servants and foes alike, unto life that they may taste destruction.
Extinction is the consummation of life; Being of becoming, nothingness of abundance. Here, in the desert, he dwells on the borders of that enviable nirvana, so close to final extinction he would surely hear the voices of the dead, if they could speak.
But they cannot. And when they do, they only scream: I hate you.
He is cold, although Mustafar's embers are still burning their way through his heart.
My Padawan. You still have much to learn.
It opens before him like the molten corridors of hyperspace: place and time and striating light fusing into a bleeding wound in the plenum, a saber's thrust piercing the continuum, joining here and there, then and now, with a single ruthless stroke. His soul is not unmarked; though he might refuse to read that which is written therein, forty years of training cannot be undone by as many days of exile. Nor can ossified memory be so easily eroded by the desert's slow caress- it will take this and ten times again to so much as blunt the hard-edged contours of his history.
And, thus etched into stony permanence and laid bare by circumstance, his spirit is like the majestic towers of sandstone that dot the desert floor – beautiful in their stoic endurance of time's agony, their strata like whiplashes about contorted forms, shapes impossible to achieve without a lifetime's training. They stand in solemn procession, frozen forever in the simple dance steps of a tragic kata.
He watched them as they do not move, and his spirit flows into the same rigid stance. He will never flow again without breaking, without crumbling to dust. He will remain here instead, motionless as the ancient stones. Doing nothing.
Soresu is like this, too. He has long since ceased to learn from the form. He embodies it, he defines it. It is his form, his shame made visible. For the Eye of the Storm does nothing. In motionless defense it abides, while all hells fall and rage about it. The wielder of the blade remains untouched, unmoving as sculpted stone while world and Force churn in maelstrom about his still center.
At that fulcrum point of defense, he is perfectly closed. He is unassailable. Even the Force cannot overthrow a defense woven of its own elusive Light, its own fortitude and patience.
The Master of Soresu is a master of defiance. His circle cannot be broken, his gates breached. He is inviolable in his despair.
He begins to perform the kata weaponless, because he no longer needs a blade. He has achieved stasis, the closing and ending of a circle.
Some deep, hidden part of him still listens, wishing perhaps that the Force has the high ground, that his perfect defense will somehow miraculously fail.
And that he will be cut down.
It opens before him like the night's canopy: painted dark, smooth and flawless, a river stone's concave surface, fretted with a passionless nebula, worn smooth by measureless aeons. There is infinity enough in that vastness to swallow any sorrow, to diminish mere mortal failure to absurdity. If, against the laws that bind gross matter to its lumpen center, he should fall upward, into that boundless expanse of dark, he might taste in his last moments a freedom like no other. He yearns, for a moment, to break the invisible chains that bind his laboring soul to this its prison – but his sense of justice is too loud a plaintiff, too able a prosecutor.
He deserves his punishment, the slow penance of months and years. He will not cry out, nor attempt escape, nor plea for respite or a kinder sentence.
He will remain here, patient beneath the ceaseless scourge of days, hoping for absolution.
And in that resolution, he has forged the terms of his own defeat.
For if there is chastisement, then there is one to deliver it. The Force merely is, a long-ago, forgotten voice tells him. And yet it is more, too. It meets him reluctantly, filling this strange need that lies rooted at his core. It speaks to him with a soothing voice, and lays the long rod of days and hours against his willingly bent back until he is beyond mere emptiness. He endures until he has outlasted even himself, and then he breaks.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, he sobs, like a harshly disciplined youngling, crying out into the Force, into the desert's void. I failed!
He has failed. All he has taught, all he has done, all he has bled for – this has been reduced to indifferent dust and the ephemeral flame of a thousand-fold pyre.
All that is left behind is the penumbra of the Dark and the ashes of the old order. And the voice he can no longer shut out.
Yes, you have failed. Now surrender up that failure, as you call it, and let us make a new beginning.
He closes his eyes. "Yes, Master."
There is much to do, and teach, and remember. But above all, there is much to learn.
It opens before him like pale daybreak: Light streams innocent in the dome of heaven, wonder dawning in infant-blue eyes. Dew settles like ethereal fire, so subtle many doubt its existence, and breathes another day's life into the interstices of emptiness, the rifts in nothingness where abundance still dares to clamor. Hope, a desert succulent, greedily consumes the celestial offering and swells in hidden places, clefts in the stony edifice of the bygone and the ruinous past.
He shudders, as the timeless rock must when Life's tenacious roots pry at its hardened marrow, seeking purchase for the future in the aching detritus of the past. Shall he reject those seedling tendrils and lie fallow forevermore, or shall he suffer this new humiliation, the crushing and grinding of despair beneath the merciless grip of new hope?
What shall be feeds upon his gutted heart, and grows stronger on that sustenance; and soon some foreign and unforetold purpose has penetrated him, a painful suffusion of Light into places long abandoned to the soothing numb of emptiness. It suckles itself upon his memory and his knowledge, upon patience and wind-carved wisdom, until his inner desert is abloom with desperate, impossible life, and miraculous rain darkens his horizons, sweeping away the world that was, leaving only the miniscule ark of his resolve afloat upon the currents.
And when the waters subside, he is high and dry atop the mountain, amid the Dune, a stone hovel within sentinel's distance of the tipping point, the precarious edge of destiny.
He wipes the last vestiges of the storm from his face and looks out across the empty world.
It opens before him.