Lady Obscura: Little More Than a Shadow

Chapter 28

“You cannot hide forever, Luke,” Vader intoned even as he searched for his son amid the darkness that permeated the space beneath the platform upon which the Emperor’s Throne sat.

“I will not fight you,” Luke’s disembodied voice drifted out from below the Emperor’s platform, sounding deceptively calm. Just as she could feel Vader’s conflict, she could now feel her Farmboy’s. It was as she had feared; her sudden appearance had unsettled him. Seeing her at the mercy of the Emperor’s power had shaken his control and he was now fighting to get it back.

“Give yourself to the Dark Side. It is the only way you can save Athara,” Vader’s voice was soft and distressingly genuine. Athara felt her chest tighten at what he was trying to do, how he believed what he was saying in that moment. He had convinced himself that, if Luke would only submit, the Emperor might show mercy. “I know you love her, Luke.” She felt Luke’s shock and distress at the blunt way Vader spoke. Her own dismay that he had chosen to use their feelings against his son crushed all remaining breath from her. Anger began welling in her again, and she was of half a mind to let it. If it hadn’t been for the delighted satisfaction she could feel pouring off Palpatine in waves, she just might have given in. But he wanted that, and she couldn’t let him have it. That didn’t halt the alarm growing within her at the way Luke was beginning to waver, his fear and anger beginning to get the best of him.

“No, please…” the plea was past her lips before she could stop it. She didn’t know who it was aimed at, Luke or her master. She wasn’t even sure at first if either of them had heard her, her voice had been so weak. Yet they did. She could see Vader had turned, his fathomless gaze on her as a flash of pain went through him. But he quickly shunted it aside. Luke, on the other hand, seemed to take strength from it, his resolve bolstering as he redoubled his efforts to regain control over his emotions. Vader, though, pressed on, sensing that his words had been having the effect he was after. Struggling push aside the pain still washing through her from slamming into the wall, Athara pulled herself up until she was almost sitting, though her attention didn’t waver from her Master.

“You think either of you can hide it from me? I raised her from a child; she can hold no secrets from me. Nor can you. Your feelings for her are too strong to deny. Only if you join us can you hope to save her…and your friends.” Vader paused amid the supports and consoles that littered the underbelly of the Emperor’s platform, turning slowly as though something had caught his attention. Athara grimaced; she could feel Luke’s control unraveling as Vader prodded at his son’s thoughts. “Yes, your feelings for them are strong. Especially for…Sister!” The shock that went through Athara had all the potency of a lightning bolt. Though he gave no outward sign of his own shock, she could feel that her Master was almost overwhelmed at the revelation. But the part of him that marveled that he had another child was almost completely subsumed by the Dark Side. The Darkness in Vader surged forward, latching onto Luke’s anguish at betraying this last secret.

“So, you have a twin sister. Your feelings have now betrayed her too. Obi-wan was wise to hide her from me. Now his failure is complete. If you will not turn to the Dark Side, then perhaps she will.”

“Never!!” Rage exploded within Luke and before Athara even grasped what had happened, he had attacked Vader, his green-bladed lightsabre flashing as he slashed at his father, driving him back.

“Luke!” she screamed, but he paid her no attention. The pervasive Dark haze that was the Emperor’s presence had pressed in around her Farmboy, driving him on and inflaming his rage further. In an instant she was on her feet, forcibly ignoring the way her head was spinning. But she could only watch in horror as Luke’s frenzied attack pushed Vader back toward the turbolift shaft and gantry, the sheer force of his rage too much for Vader to rally against. She bit back a cry when her Master fell to his knees under the strength of her Farmboy’s assault and nearly screamed when Luke’s emerald blade sliced through her master’s wrist, choking instead on her anguish. With a cry of his own, her Master collapsed to the ground, his remaining hand raised in entreaty as he audibly gasped for air. Luke’s lightsabre was leveled at his throat.

“Good!” Beginning the descent from his dais, Palpatine was practically vibrating with excitement, clapping slowly as a wide smile stretched across his distorted features. “Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny and take your Father’s place at my side!” Luke’s vivid blue eyes stood out against his pale face as the realization of what he had just done closed in around him.

Feeling her own rage growing, Athara took a hasty step forward. Without realizing it, she called her own lightsabre to her from where it still sat, tucked away and forgotten, on the Emperor’s throne. The instant her fingers closed around it the blue blade sprang to life even as she sprang toward the ecstatically grinning Emperor. He didn’t even gesture this time as his thoughts wrenched her lightsabre from her grasp and pitched her back again. Her face stung as though she had been backhanded. She was on her feet again almost immediately, though the horrified look on Luke’s face as he looked from the Emperor, to her, then to his father and down at his own hand was enough to stop her in her tracks. An understanding she was not privy to bloomed within him, causing Athara’s brow to furrow with bewilderment. A sudden firm resolve came over his features, a deep calm settling around him that banished the darkness. Straightening as he stepped back from Vader, he turned, shooting her a brief reassuring glance before fixing his eyes on the Emperor. Athara gasped involuntarily as fear shot through her, but Luke’s consciousness brushed against her mind, imploring her to trust him.

“Never,” he said quietly, the shadow of a smile coming to his lips as he spoke. With a single, light gesture, he tossed his lightsabre away. “I’ll never turn to the Dark Side.” Athara was frozen, though her eyes were drawn from her Farmboy to the Emperor where he stood on the stairs. His twisted face was impassive as Luke stepped slowly toward him, his gaze unwavering. “You’ve failed, Your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” Palpatine’s face remained almost expressionless as Luke spoke, though a deep fury was growing in his eyes. The haze that surrounded him roiled and thickened, fueled by the Emperor’s black rage. But Luke stood firm. Something clicked in Athara then, something similar to what she felt growing in Luke. It was a feeling she couldn’t name, but she trusted it.

Taking a deep, shaking breath she too stepped forward, coming to stand beside her Farmboy facing the Emperor. His venomous yellow eyes glanced over to her but she met it without flinching, just as Luke had.

“As am I,” she added softly, her fingers moving to lace with Luke’s, “it’s over, Palpatine.” A trace of a sneer appeared on his face.

“So be it…Jedi,” he murmured scathingly. He was too calm, especially given the way the Dark Side churned about him. Athara’s fingers tightened on Luke’s as Palpatine’s hand rose, pointing menacingly at them both.

“If you will not be turned, you will be destroyed.” Her heart nearly stopped as bolts of vivid blue Force lightning erupted from his fingers, ripping into Luke and sending him crashing back toward the chasm behind them, tearing his hand painfully from hers. A strangled cry rose in her throat, but before she could react further Palpatine had turned to her.

She had already suffered an assault of his lightning, but she realized now as the blinding bolts surged through her again that the Emperor had been holding back their full intensity before. An excruciating pain such as she had never experienced tore through her body, every muscle wrenched taut as she writhed in agony. Her skin felt like it was boiling and burning as she was thrown to the floor, her body arching and jerking with every renewed bolt. She couldn’t make even the smallest sound as the Emperor’s lightning ravaged her senses, the very breath crushed from her lungs. And then he relented.

“Young fools,” Palpatine said with a tone that sounded jarringly regretful, “only now, at the end, do you understand.” Athara’s vision wavered and threatened to blacken, the flickering residual brightness of the lightning still streaking across her vision as her racing pulse roared in her ears. But the respite didn’t last. Another burst of lightning coursed through her body, as though to punctuate the Emperor’s words. This time a shriek that perfectly vocalized her agony managed to escape her throat before the onslaught ebbed. A pained moan escaping her as she struggled to regain her feet, she caught a glimpse of Vader’s shadow passing her as her Master staggered over to stand at the Emperor’s side. Another stream of lightning erupted from Palpatine’s outstretched hands, throwing Luke back as he too tried to regain his feet.

“Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Dark Side.” Palpatine had finished descending the stairs, looming over Athara and Luke. There was nothing but contempt in his voice now.

Palpatine renewed his attack on Luke, sending him tumbling from the canisters he had been clinging to down to the cold durasteel floors. He was only an arm’s length away. She could see with horrible clarity the way his face twisted and spasmed as the lightning licked over his body. The sharp scent of burnt ozone clogged the air, making the already difficult task of breathing harder still.

“You have paid the price for your lack of vision,” Palpatine was still steadily approaching them, Vader close by his side. As her master’s cloak passed by her outstretched arm, her fingers somehow managed to close on the fabric, tugging at him with what little strength she had left. The black cloth pulled from between her fingers without any real trouble as he moved, though Vader did pause, looking down on her from behind his expressionless mask. Palpatine’s lightning threw the harsh contours of his mask into sharp, terrifying relief, but Athara felt nothing of what was going on behind it as she looked up at him. She was too numb from the pain.

At her side she faintly heard Luke pleading for his father to help them. Her master’s gaze shifted, taking in his son’s writhing form. The blackness of unconsciousness threatened at the edge of her vision, but she fought against it, no matter how tempting it was to allow herself to slip into a painless oblivion. A scream echoed beside her as Palpatine’s lightning continued, unrelenting, in his attack on Luke. Then it was surging through her again.

She didn’t know how much more she could take. She could have sworn she felt her heartbeat faltering as deadly bolts continued. She was gasping weakly for air when the lightning faded, the room going silent save for her and Luke’s labored breathing and the faint sound of Vader’s damaged respirator.

“Now, young Jedi, you will die,” Palpatine intoned softly, gratification bleeding into his voice. Somehow she managed to turn her head just enough that she could see her Farmboy’s face. He was watching her, the same love that she felt surfacing through the pained-fogged look in his eyes. With what felt like a monumental effort she reached for him, meeting his own fingers even as he reached for her, oblivious to the way the Emperor’s victorious expression was melting into one of twisted rage. A faint sigh escaped her lips as her Farmboy’s hand met hers.

Their fingers had barely touched when the lightning exploded over them again. They were close enough now that Palpatine didn’t even have to alternate between them anymore. Another desperate scream tore from Athara again, echoing a similarly agonizing cry from Luke as they both writhed and thrashed under the mercy of the vicious bolts. But she refused to let go of his hand, gripping it tighter even as he did the same. It didn’t seem possible, but the power of the Emperor’s Force lightning intensified. If it had been excruciating before, there were no words to describe it now.

And then it was gone. But she could still hear the terrible crackling shriek of the lightning and see its eerie flickering glow throwing dark shadows all around her. Beside her Luke managed to prop himself up, looking toward the Emperor with bewilderment. Though it took her more effort, Athara managed to pull herself up as well only to be utterly shocked at the sight of her master hoisting Palpatine up and over his head.

The vibrant blue lightning seemed to cling to Vader’s towering black form as he stumbled toward the turbolift gantry. With a final, heaving effort, he hurled the Emperor over the railing that stood on the edge of the abyss-like shaft below before collapsing against the canisters nearby as an explosion down in the chasm below reverberated up the tower. Great roaring gusts of wind surged up over the gantry, tugging angrily at Vader’s cloak.

Even as the wind tore at her, a gasp broke free from Athara as her Master collapsed and she struggled to her feet, fighting against the gusts toward him. She reached his side as they died down. The way he wheezed painfully, his respirator barely functioning, sent a bolt of terror through her. Taking hold of his broad shoulders, her fingers burying themselves in his cape, she struggled to pull him back from the edge of the chasm. He was too heavy and she was too weak. It wasn’t until Luke appeared at her side that together they were able to pull him back, laying him gently down on the durasteel.

The tower around them shuddered as Athara’s practiced eye flew over the readings on her master’s chestplate and the function boxes on his belt. What little that was still operational told her that her Master was in a really bad way. She could feel him slipping in and out of consciousness. His suit was failing, and if it failed, she knew he would die. Immediately she began fiddling with the system controls, desperate to do anything that would keep them working, ignoring the way her master was weakly trying to push her hands aside with his mutilated arm.

“Athara,” Luke voice was gentle but urgent. She almost didn’t hear him she was so intent on trying to get one of the panels that regulated his respirator working again. He captured her hands, not letting go even when she struggled to pull away, “Athara, we have to get out of here.” Panic flared within her, her eyes going wide.

“I can’t leave him,” she blurted out, too distressed to think on what she was saying, “he’s the only family I have.” A faint reassuring smile appeared on Luke’s face as he reached out to cup her cheek for a brief moment.

“We’re not going to,” he assured her, “but the deflector shield is down. The fighters sent to destroy this station may already be inside the superstructure. We have to go.” She only barely understood what he was saying, but she went along with it, helping Luke pull her master to his feet.

All three of them were weak from the Emperor’s lightning, but somehow they all managed to stagger into the turbolift, pausing only to collect Luke and Athara’s lightsabres. From there, it was a harrowing journey through the maze of halls to one of the few completed hanger bays that littered the station. Thankfully, Athara’s memory from the first Death Star, Luke’s memory of the route by which he was brought to the Emperor and the odd instruction from her Master kept them from getting horribly lost.

As they trekked through the Death Star, her senses slowly recovered and her mind cleared. Athara was soon very aware of the fact that they were running out of time. The battlestation was in chaos; officers, workers and Stormtroopers ran about the corridors in a confused panic while everywhere alarms and warnings screamed. The sound and feel of explosions echoed through the hallways. The air was thick with the smell of charred electronics and the sour scent of desperation and terror. At one point, shortly after the three of them had exited the turbolift, a huge shudder went through the station, followed immediately by the reverberating roar of a massive explosion. Luke and Athara both froze, afraid that it was a herald of an even larger explosion that would rip the entire station apart.

“It was from the surface,” Athara finally concluded, judging from some of the smaller explosions that followed, “not the core.”

“We still have time,” Luke breathed gratefully. Though relieved that they weren’t out of time yet, there was an added urgency as they finally reached the hanger. As they passed through the bulkhead into the Hanger, Athara could feel the last of her strength waning under her master’s deadweight. He was supported between her and Luke. But he was barely able to do more than stumble along with them, so the bulk of his weight fell on Luke and Athara, both still severely weak themselves. Luke let out a wearied sigh of relief when he caught sight of the Imperial shuttle left in the Hanger. It looked undamaged and unguarded with the boarding ramp already lowered, all of which were encouraging.

As they began their struggle to ascend the ramp, just as Athara felt the last of her strength sapping away, her master’s legs went out from under him, his own strength gone. Athara couldn’t even make it the last few steps up the ramp before she crumpled herself, the three of them collapsing halfway up the ramp.

Knowing she didn’t have the physical strength left to help Luke pull her Master’s form from the half prone position he had landed in into the shuttle proper, she pulled herself to her feet and dashed for the cockpit, starting up the shuttle with long practiced instinct more than intentional thought. With primary systems blinking to life and the Stardrives humming as they came online, Athara was out of the pilot’s seat again, determined to check on her Master and help Luke if she could. Another flash of panic went through her at what awaited her.

Luke was kneeling beside his father, still on the ramp, supporting him as he leaned in close. Her master was barely conscious. His helmet lay forgotten at his side as his blue eyes focused for the first time on his son.

“Go, my son. Leave me,” it was little more than a gasp his voice was so weak. Athara choked with grief at the sound. Hearing him like this, barely strong enough to gasp out a few words, left her feeling hollow and shattered. Luke shook his head, a determined light in his eyes.

“No. You’re coming with me. I’ll not leave you here, and neither will Athara. We’ve got to save you.” Athara was clinging to the frame at the head of the shuttle’s boarding ramp, fighting back her grief. A weak smile came to her master’s face.

“You already have, Luke. You were right about me, both of you. Tell your sister…you were right.” Athara bit back a sob; she could feel her master’s life force dimming. She stumbled down the ramp, all but collapsing at his side. Luke barely registered her presence, his hands tightening on his father’s shoulders as the last of his father’s strength ebbed away, his rasping breath growing shallower with each passing moment.

“Father,” her Farmboy’s voice wavered, “I won’t leave you.” Another blast rocked the station, momentarily distracting Athara as, at the other end of the hanger, a large section of superstructure gave way with a crash. Athara gritted her teeth, tearing her gaze from her Master’s face to Luke.

“Help me,” she said, with a voice that was steadier than she felt as she took a firm grip under her master’s arm and shoulder. Though it took him a second to realize she had spoken, Luke immediately understood, taking a similar grip on his father’s still form and helping Athara drag him the rest of the way into the shuttle.

As soon as they had him laid out on the floor of the shuttle, Luke was off to the cockpit. Athara, meanwhile, knelt beside her master, the only father she had known. After a moment, she reached out, laying a hesitating hand against his pale, scarred cheek. As she did, she realized with a pained jolt that this the first time she had truly seen his face. She had caught glimpses in the past, yes, but her Master had always been careful to shield her from ever really seeing him without his mask. Below them, she could feel the shuttle’s engines coming to life as the ship lifted off from the hanger.

At her touch his eyelids fluttered, opening slowly with a great deal of effort. Somehow she managed a wane smile. With a heavy sigh her master tried in vain to lift his own hand to reach hers. Fighting back another wave of grief, Athara clutched his remaining hand in hers.

“I’m sorry, Athara,” he whispered, his strength all but gone, “I failed you.” She fought back the tears that threatened to come to her eyes with mixed success. Slowly she shook her head.

“No you didn’t. You kept me safe all these years. You protected me. You loved me. That’s why I knew there was good in you; you wouldn’t have done that if you were truly lost.” A tear wound its way down his marred cheek as he looked up at her.

“That does not make up for what I have done, what I have taken from you.” Athara had to bite back a flicker of resentment at the undeniable truth of his words. But she was tired of loathing him. The man looking up at her was not the same man who had done those horrible things, no matter how responsible he felt. She merely shook her head again.

“What’s done is done,” she said firmly, her grip tightening on his hand. Though unfocused, his eyes were still fixed intently on her.

“I know I have no right to ask for your forgiveness—” Athara began vehemently shaking her head at the finality of his tone, cutting him off before he could go any farther.

“No. No, don’t say it like that. You cannot die, Master. We’re finally free, Anakin! We’re finally free of him!” The already faint light in his eyes was beginning to fade as she spoke, though the sound of his name renewed that weak glimmer, “What about your son? He’s only just found you. And what about your daughter? You’ve never even met her. Do you not want to live for them?!” A haze that Athara recognized had come over his dimming eyes, and when he spoke his voice was far away.

“My son…my daughter…I knew we were going to have a girl…I always dreamed she’d look like her mother…” Athara seized on that.

“They know nothing of her, nothing of their mother. You need to tell them of her. Please, Master. You can’t give up!” His eyes came back to Athara, though part of her knew he no longer quite saw her. A spark of grief-driven desperation went through her then.

“What about me?” It was little more than a whispered sob, “you can’t leave me now.” The ghost of a smile crossed his lips.

“Look after my son; he loves you as I loved my angel. It is too late for me. Let me go.” With a soft sigh his eyes closed. Athara only watched in stunned silence, not willing to believe what was happening.

“No,” it was a frightened gasp first, but then her voice strengthened, now determined as resolve flowed through her, “no.”

She let go, letting her feelings guide her. Her hand dropped from where it had rested against his scarred cheek to his chest, where her fingers rested on the thick metal of his breastplate, as close to his staggering heart and withering lungs as she could manage.

As her eyes slid shut, she gathered what she could of the Force around her, coaxing it into her own body, before letting it flow down her arm and through her fingers into her master’s still form. Beneath her fingers his heart fluttered weakly, and shallow breaths fought in and out of his battered lungs. Everything she had she channeled into him, willing his body to strengthen, his heart to steady and his lungs to heal. The shuttle shuddered around them, buffeted by the immense explosion that she didn’t even register. She begged the Force for him to live.

As the last of her own wane energy was spent, Athara tipped slowly sideways, falling against her master, her hand still pressed against his chest as her world went black.

The last thing she remembered was the feel of a fleeting touch on her cheek, a final, loving farewell.

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