This is the beginning. Though the Force has nothing to say on that matter, I already know this. Everything that was is at an end, and what will be is just about to appear. The threads that make up the universe have been twisted and tangled into enormous knots ever since Palpatine brought about the downfall of the Old Republic. But now those threads are smoothing themselves out, evicting the one who caused such an upset.
I stare at myself in the mirror that covers the wall before me. The sleeveless bodice covers me from neck to dropped waist like a glove, if I do say so myself. The loosely flowing skirts sweep down to the floor in a whisper of silk. The dress is shimmering and unyielding black. There is even a black ribbon interlaced in my auburn hair, which has been swept up in a tight braid. The only color on my person is a scarlet ribbon that is knotted at my neck - one loose end falling down my bare shoulder, the other down my back.
Black and red. Mourning and vengeance.
I smile slightly at the connection. In my case, vengeance had been served. My vengeance had allowed the universe to right itself. My smile fades. But that vengeance had a price. A price that, had I known, I might not have been willing to pay. I'd paid so much before; why must that be expanded upon?
I close my eyes and permit my mind to drift.
Nearly everyone has arrived. They're waiting in the throne room. I can feel their uncertainty. They are unsettled by the presence of the woman who was trained as a Sith, but raised by a woman who was famous for the apparent madness in almost her every feature.
I hiss involuntarily. They should know by now to mask their thoughts. Being ruled by Palpatine should have taught them that. I will hear absolutely no disrespect towards Padm?. None. Of course I am well aware that she was considered insane. But most people thought that it was a genetic trait.
I fight to suppress a long-carried fury. I doubt that it would be considered good policy if I stepped into the throne room and promptly had everyone strangled. That was what Palpatine would have done, and a womprat of Tatooine had more sense than he did. I will not lower myself to his level.
Padm? carried such a grievous pain within her. I saw it often when I was a small child, sitting contentedly in her warm, safe arms. I saw it when she stared out over the city-planet where she was considered the highest lady in the Empire. I experienced her pain when I often heard her cry during the nights. Not loud, bemoaning wails. They were just soft, heartbroken cries.
It wasn't until years later that I discovered why she cried so much. Or that I began to appreciate how brave she was and how alone she must have felt at times.
Vader trained me as a Sith and treated me as a valued apprentice, but Padm? treated me as a beloved daughter. She always exuded the frantic love that a mother has for her child. I always felt that, especially the desperateness that tinged it.
After she died, it was Vader that told me the truth. To this day, I'm surprised that it sunk in amidst the raging waves of bitterness, grief, and hate that were flowing through me at the time.
Not long after the two of them had secretly married on Naboo, Padm? had discovered that she was pregnant. Frightened of Palpatine's growing influence over her husband, she secretly contacted Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. They too had seen how the young Jedi was slowly drifting away from them and had advised her not to tell him of her pregnancy.
Padm?, at first, listened to their advice. She could see her beloved spouse slowly changing into a stranger. And with the clone war that was scouring the Old Republic, much knowledge was lost or kept secret. But in the end, when Vader asked his wife to come with him, she found that she could not refuse. The Republic she had known and fought to protect was gone, but she hoped to continue to be a voice of reason within the new establishment that was slowly rising from the rubble. She also believed that she could keep her husband from reveling too deeply in the Dark Side by keeping him close to her and their children.
Obi-Wan Kenobi, desperate to 'save' the wife and children of the Jedi Chosen One, met with Vader on Malastare. They dueled against one another in a fierce battle, which ended only when Kenobi pushed Vader into a pit of lava, nearly killing him. But for the sake of his fragile wife and unborn children, he fought to survive; landing himself in a suit that kept him alive.
Over the next few months, the Jedi were slowly decimated by Palpatine's New Order, which blamed them for the bombed out worlds, for the piles of dead. Things eventually calmed as the few remaining Jedi went into hiding. And in those days, the son and daughter of the Chosen One were born quietly in their parents' private quarters, attended only by a few doctors and midwife droids.
Both Vader and Padm? were overjoyed to have their children, but that happiness did not last. Fearing the immense power that radiated from them, Palpatine visited the new family one evening. Staring down at the sleeping infants, he suddenly lashed out with lightning volts from his gnarled hands.
Vader told me how Padm?'s anguished screams fought for dominance over the agonized wails of the two innocent children. How he tried to push his master away from them, but to no avail. Soon enough, Palpatine stopped his attack and turned to the distraught parents. He warned him that any children they bore were a threat to his place as Emperor and could not allow them to live.
He then left, leaving a hysterically raving Padm? and a silently enraged Vader behind.
Padm? was never the same. She closed herself off from her few friends that had survived the Clone Wars, her two handmaidens - one of which had been her friend since her days as Queen of the Naboo - Rab? and Dorm?, and even Vader himself. Whenever one searched for her, they could usually find her in the nursery that both she and Vader had painstakingly created, standing over the still-scorched crib.
It was then, Vader had recounted to me, that the stories of Mad Lady Vader began to circulate amongst the courtiers of the Imperial Court. They whispered in dark corners of how she supposedly started laughing gaily for absolutely no reason at a state dinner, surprising the guests. When asked if she would let them in on what she found so amusing, her apparent good cheer vanished, leaving behind a cold-eyed harsh creature. She calmly stated that she was merely amused that the Emperor could be offering them a glass of wine one moment, then ordering them executed the next.
There were other stories, far worse ones, I'm sure. Most likely, they were exaggerated. But, sadly, they probably had a ring of truth to them. And the stories, sadly, probably continued on until Padm?'s death.
For two years, the two of them lived separate lives. Padm? stayed in their private palace, rarely coming out. Her sister and two nieces even came to stay with her for a time, hoping to provide her with some comfort, but to no avail. After about a year, they dejectedly returned to Naboo.
Vader spent much of his time on his military duties, which took him to many diverse places. He could be seen visiting the Alderaani cities that floated over the sweeping fields, or travel to secluded places such as the moons of Endor. He even made a voyage to Tatooine to visit his mother's grave.
It was on the remote world of Ventais that he encountered one of the few remaining Jedi Knights. The law that Palpatine had passed ordering the extermination of the Jedi was still in effect, so Vader's response was immediate. He quickly engaged the Knight in battle. She was no match for him of course; the battle ended quickly and effectively.
But Vader discovered something amongst the Jedi's possessions - a small, red-haired, green-eyed infant who shone with the Force. He was immediately faced with a dilemma. He knew he should just destroy the child, as she was a threat to the Emperor.
Those thoughts had, without delay, brought a wave of intense hatred into him. The Emperor had taken everything from him, everything that had mattered to him: the lives of his innocent daughter and son, his precious wife's sanity. He'd all but destroyed his marriage. Why should he stoop to his level and kill a blameless infant?
That had sealed it in his mind. The child would live. He would take her home and raise her himself, along with Padm?. Perhaps the girl would bring back the woman he had known just a few short years ago, before everything had crumbled around them.
But how to go about it, he thought. He would still need the Emperor's permission to raise the girl. If he saw the child's talent in the Force, he'd promptly kill her. And most likely him as well, citing that he would have used the babe to overthrow him. With no alternative, Vader placed a block on the Force talent of the child.
He also gave her a name. Mara, which, in the Nubian language, meant 'bitter.'
I don't know if the Jedi Knight was my mother. It was said that the Jedi were forbidden to marry or bear children. But Vader had been a Jedi and he had completely disregarded that dictum. Could other Jedi have done the same? By that time, the Jedi Order was all but gone. Only a few stragglers remained. Could they have given up the constraints that the tyrannical Jedi Council had imposed on them?
But the ruse worked. Palpatine immediately dismissed me as of no consequence when Vader presented me for permission to be placed in his household. Once this was granted, he whisked me back to the palace where Padm? lay in wait.
Vader was slightly vague on Padm?'s initial reaction at being handed an infant to raise. She must have been hesitant, but I do not recall it. I only remember hugs, kisses, and bedtime stories during those early years.
That story explained much to me, but its true value never truly sank in. At least, not until today.
At the age of seven, Vader began my training as a Sith. I remember reveling in the feel of the Force flowing through and around me. I also recollect the satisfied smile on Padm?'s face when she came to watch me train. At the time, I thought she was proud of me. And she was. But for her own reasons as well.
Both Padm? and Vader had taught me from an early age that Palpatine was a virus that was slowly destroying the galaxy. They never censored the information I read or the images I saw. I was privy to the massacres that Palpatine ordered on far away worlds, I saw the alien slaves that worked in the Imperial Palace.
My anger and indignation grew.
Of course, that rage was merely a small flicker of what was to come.
For the past fifteen years, Palpatine had apparently watched Padm? gradual ascent from the madness that had engulfed her. I assume that he saw the fiery woman that had helped him to rise to the office of the Chancellor of the Senate, so long ago. That alone would be enough to make him fear.
But he must have also seen the growing influence that she had on Vader. The woman of old was returning, which made her a threat.
One day, when I was doing my academic lessons, assisted by Padm?'s handmaidens, whom I had always referred to as Aunt Dorm? and Aunt Rab?, a platoon of stormtroopers burst into the palace. Their leader immediately informed them, along with an infuriated Padm?, that they had been charged with treason against the Emperor. Promptly, the three were dragged off to a detainment center.
Vader was on his flagship, the Executor, at the time, but they were in the Coruscant system. I instantly sent a message to him, urging him to return to the palace and that Padm? and the handmaidens had been arrested and hauled out of the palace like common criminals.
He was back by the end of the day, but it was of little use.
Palpatine had gleefully informed the both of us that his agents had found evidence of Padm? and her companions conspiring to overthrow him, high treason. And like in any other dictatorship, treason was punishable by death. Vader could do nothing.
The next day, the three were brought before a firing squad. Palpatine had made the execution public and had also forced Vader and me to attend. As a warning, of course.
Padm?'s eyes were riveted on our forms, which had been soaked by the torrents of rain that had fallen that day. Her eyes were peaceful, which had always been a rarity. Mayhap she thought that was going to be joining her two children, the ones who had never had a chance to live their lives. I presume that the thought was a comfort to her.
I often wondered if Vader had ever thought of killing himself, to join his wife and children. Perhaps he did. And perhaps he stopped himself for my sake. I'll never know. I'm just grateful that he did not leave when he was needed most.
I suppose I was half-mad with grief when Padm? and the handmaidens were killed. I tore the training room to pieces in my rage, nearly killed any stormtrooper that came within my sight. To calm me down, Vader told me the story of what had happened to lead up to her death.
After that, the flicker of hatred that had burned dimly in my heart rose into a fierce fire that tore into my very soul, assuming I still had one at the time.
I open my eyes and squint slightly. I must have kept them shut for longer than I'd thought. But the recollecting continues in my heart. I started by inching the floodgates open, and now they have broken open completely. There is no stopping it now.
I trained vigorously. Harder than I'd ever done before. Training myself turned into an obsession. I would go on for hours, stop for a short while and revitalize myself, the start all over again. And while doing this, I also worked with Vader to build up our power base within the Imperial Senate, as well as the Navy. The Executor, captained by Harold Piett, became our base of operations. Our spies spread out all over the galaxy, gathering information, recruiting people for our cause, and many other duties that we assigned to them.
By the time I was twenty, it was time to move. We had half of the Imperial Navy at our side, along with a good two-thirds of the Senate. We had the political leverage, along with the military might to back it up.
Civil war erupted throughout the galaxy.
For the next four years, people fought in the streets on their worlds, battles waged in space, in deserts, in forests, everywhere. Brother fought against brother, father against son. By the end of the war, practically every family had lost at least one person. The death tolls were staggering.
I think Vader had planned to confront Palpatine for a long time. Perhaps he had even begun planning it the day Padm? and the handmaidens were killed.
But the plans for what has become known as the Battle of Coruscant had to come first. We had out-witted Palpatine's forces with the help of Grand Admiral Thrawn, deceiving them into thinking that we were going to attack their main holdings on Corellia. Leaving only a skeleton guard at capitol, they immediately created a web of ships around Corellia to wait for an attack that would never come.
Lead by the Executor, we threw the entire fleet at Coruscant. It was an absolute victory for us. Later generations may call it either a slaughter or genocide. While the crew cheered, Vader told Captain Piett to have a shuttle prepared. My eyes riveted on his black form. There was sure to still be fighting in the streets. There could only be one reason that would get him to descend into that hell.
He stared right back at me. He knew that I knew. When Piett informed him that the shuttle was ready, Vader gave me one last look, almost as if he were trying to memorize my every feature. Then, without a word, he turned on his heal and left the bridge.
It was his retreat that pushed me forward and I hurried after him, barking an order to Piett that he was in charge. I didn't catch up until we had reached the hangar. I used my 'giving orders' tone of voice that could make even the bravest pause. Vader, on the other hand, just kept going.
Finally, out of frustration, or perhaps even fear, I begged him to stop and tell me what he was doing. I begged. And he froze in his tracks. I'd shocked him.
Though he'd come to a standstill outside the shuttle, Vader still did not speak. We both knew what he was going to do. I told him I was going to come with him. He was my master, the closest I'd ever come to having a father. I would not abandon him to the monster that awaited him on Coruscant.
He refused to allow it. This was his battle, not mine. And I must stay on the ship to command the troops. He would deal with the final threat to them.
Vader assumed that I'd follow his orders, just as I'd always done in the past. He nodded in farewell to me and boarded the shuttle. I stepped back behind the shields and watched him take off and begin to descend into the atmosphere.
I did not stay there for long. I raced to another nearby hangar, where my Interceptor laid waiting. I sent a message telling Piett that he had command of the fleet until Lord Vader or I returned, then fired up the engines.
I would not abandon my master, the only family I had left in the galaxy. It was the longest five minutes of my life, waiting for the engines to be heated enough to take off into the cold depths of space.
Future Sith will doubtless consider me weak, risking my life to save my master. It has always been our way to let the Master die so that the Apprentice may take his place. And there I was, flying after him in an attempt to save him.
As I darted through the atmosphere, I could see the fires that were ravaging the surface. The fighting must have been fierce down here. This was the center of Palpatine's Empire, but they had also seen, first hand, the cruelties that had been committed at his instigation. So it was common sense that the people be extremely divided on whether to support Palpatine or Vader.
The fires barely registered in my subconscious as I concentrated on landing my shuttle near the Imperial Palace. I managed to get into Vader's private hangar, which still had room for my ship. Just before I left the cockpit, I spotted a group of stormtroopers racing towards the ship.
I came flying down the ramp, slashing left, feinting, deflecting their bolts back at those that fired on me, and choking as many as I could touch with the Force. Within minutes, at least three dozen men had joined the men that Vader had already disposed of when he arrived.
I knew he'd carve a path to the throne room, where Palpatine would wait for him. In his supreme arrogance, the old man wouldn't back away from a fight with the man he had trained in the ways of the Sith. I also knew that it would take me too long to take a direct route to the throne room. I would have to find another way up there.
I wasn't aware of the locations of all the secret passages that had been incorporated into the designs of the Imperial Palace, but I did know where a few of them were - enough to get me fairly near the throne room so that I could make it there in time.
I raced through many dark hallways, barely lit except for a few scattered lights. Most of my journey through the different levels was a blur of motion, anyway.
When I reached the throne room's entrance, I found the burnt out corpses of the Emperor's elite guard. Their usually impeccable crimson uniforms were now stained with a darker red: their lifeblood, which still leaked from their gutted chests.
Inside the throne room, I could hear the clashing of lightsabers. I moved to enter, when I felt the Force stir slightly. It was only for a brief moment, but I would have sworn that I felt a sense of... I don't know, resignation, perhaps even sadness. I got the feeling that things were turning out differently than had been expected.
I shook off the feeling and crept through the slightly ajar doors. At once I spotted Vader and Palpatine, engrossed in a duel to the death. Both were moving quickly, slashing, retreating, feinting, everything that I'd been taught during my training. It was fast and furious. Both reeked of rage and were fully immersed in the Dark Side as they fought.
And, though I knew that the Dark Side would help Vader triumph, it still felt... wrong somehow.
I had no time to ponder this when suddenly, Palpatine managed to strike down on Vader's mechanical wrist, severing his hand from his body. Vader fell, a synthesized scream echoing from his obsidian helmet. I reacted on instinct and used the Force to all but throw myself to their location.
And I made it just in time, as well. Palpatine had raised his lightsaber to deliver the final blow when my blue blade met his ruby one. His yellow eyes landed on me, and something inside of me quailed. He was furious, and that fury was now being solely directed on me.
He hissed something at me, but, even now, I cannot recall what. The roaring in my ears was too loud. Instead, I calmly told him to back away, or I would slice him limb from limb and place his head on the highest tower on Coruscant.
He cackled and began to push me back, attacking me with a mad frenzy of attacks. I managed to parry all of them, and he backed away slightly. He knew he wouldn't be able to defeat a fresh opponent in direct battle. And he most certainly knew that I knew.
I blinked in confusion when he dropped his blade to the floor. What was he doing, I'd wondered? That distraction, however brief, would cost me dearly.
He raised his hands, and in probably in the same manner he'd done with Vader's children, he released a barrage of lightning upon me. I tried to block it with my lightsaber blade, but they just came too quickly. I went down in the hail of electricity.
The agony was all encompassing, filling my every pore. I twisted violently, trying to find some position that would take away at least some of the pain, but there did not seem to be any such thing. I think Palpatine may have been speaking again, but I cannot be sure. The pain was the only matter that I could focus on at the time.
I screamed as more bolts rained down upon my convulsing form. I begged the Dark Side, the Sith, even the spirits of Padm? and the handmaidens to help me. Perhaps I even shrieked for the parents I'd never known.
Then, as quickly as it had begun, the pain eased when the lightning had ceased. For a moment, I lay there, unmoving as I attempted to regain my bearings. It was then that I noticed that someone was screaming.
Vader was physically carrying him towards a shattered window. I didn't move as the two lightning-covered figures staggered towards the broken window. I just stared. It was all I could do at the moment.
Abruptly, Palpatine was gone, his scream fading as he fell into the depths of Coruscant. Vader slumped to the floor, his burst of strength having subsided. Slowly, I crawled towards him and pulled him back into my arms.
We sat there for several minutes. The only noise was his labored breathing. The helmet had been damaged, and badly. Slowly, I started to rise to help him out of the throne room. That turned out to be a mistake. The moment I tried to use my body to help him up, we both toppled back down.
I shake my head. This remembrance is hitting to close to home. Let it end, I scream within my mind. But it is no use. I am going to relive this. It is the will of the Dark Side. Perhaps it believes that I will come out stronger in the end.
Slowly, Vader ordered me to help him remove the mask. I protested. In the shape he was in, exposure to the unclean air would kill him. But he insisted. He wanted to look on the world with his own eyes one last time.
For a brief moment, I continued to resist. But he nudged me gently with the Force, making it an order from my master. Resigned, I did as instructed.
The helmet was only slightly damaged, but the mask itself was melted and twisted. It had to be a miracle that it hadn't been fused to his skull. But I managed to pull off both of them, revealing an old man.
An old man. Underneath the mask that had invoked terror into the hearts of billions, was an old man. A man who had lost his children, his wife, everything he'd ever cared about.
To my surprise, Vader did not look around at the smoking ruins that surrounded us. Instead his eyes ? blue ones, I noticed faintly ? glued themselves to my exhausted face. Emotions flickered through those orbs, many of which I could not identify.
After a timeless instant, he whispered in a voice that was weak with fatigue for me to leave him there and go. Again, I objected. I couldn't leave him behind. The galaxy still needed him. I still needed him.
Much to my shock, he smiled slightly at me. In his thin voice, so different from the deep one that I had known my entire life, he told me that it was my time now. My time to build, to create. My time to bring the people up from the ashes of the fires that had raged for so long. Then he closed his eyes and let go.
I stared at Vader's body. He was dead. The only father I had ever known was gone.
I quickly shoved my growing anguish behind a shield. Now was not the time. I had a million and one things to do and little time to do them. I carefully rose, turned on my heal, and left, not even bothering to grab my discarded lightsaber. I knew that if I stayed in there, I would break, which could not happen.
For the next year, I lived with, at average, five hours of sleep. I had Palpatine's remains found and buried without pomp or ceremony, while Vader was given a private funeral, attended by the leaders of our fleet. I then gathered the remains of Palpatine's forces and mine on Coruscant to work out a treaty. Though the two sides disagreed on many things, there was one they did agree on. Who should be the one to sit on the throne.
They had chosen me.
At first, I was reluctant to accept. I had no desire to rule. I was a warrior, not a damn politician. But I could see their reasoning. Everyone had always considered Vader as Palpatine's successor if he died without any heirs. Now both of them were dead, along with Vader's blood heirs. I had been trained by the man and considered a daughter by his wife. I was the only 'royal' left. I could see their need for some semblance for normalcy, as the events of the past years had thrown them into an ocean of uncertainty and doubt.
So, I accepted and continued the plans to rebuild the government.
But in the meantime, I also began plans for my rule. I was going to create a dynasty. Each generation would be carefully cultivated to rule. Palpatine had ruled through deceit and fear, quickly losing the people's confidence and trust. Those that followed me would do no such thing.
But the first step that was required would be to find a suitable mate. The man had to be able to rule as my consort. Never under my watch would a tyrant, especially a Force-sensitive one, govern the people. So, I scoured the galaxy and settled on a single man: the Hapan Queen Mother's son and heir, Prince Isolder. With him would come the Hapes Cluster, which would probably be inherited by our children or grandchildren. I doubted that I would ever rule it, but that mattered little. All the counted, all that I did, was for the future.
And so, with my mind made up, I sent two men of my Council, Grand Admiral Thrawn and Grand Moff Tarkin, to Hapes. With them went a fleet of four Star Destroyers. That would show them I was serious about this, and give them the underlying hint that it would be unfavorable for them to refuse me.
Who knows, if the Hapans do put up a fight, there was always a chance that Tarkin could be killed in the ensuing battle. I wouldn't miss him. He was far too ambitious for my tastes, and had the air of a swamp snake of Dagobah, ready to spring a trap at the first sign of weakness.
I shake my head. Thoughts of Tarkin, Isolder, battles, they could all wait. I glance over my appearance one final time before leaving the room. My handmaidens, all recently appointed, fall into step behind me as I begin to make my way to the throne room.
Vader, Padm?, her two handmaidens, they had all given me something precious. They'd given me the knowledge and the power to rule and to build something that would endure for a thousand years or more. And as I step into the throne room and everyone bows or curtsies deeply to me, I know that they will watch and see how I use what they have bestowed upon me.
Original cover by Julie. HTML formatting copyright 2002 TheForce.Net LLC.