Dark Angel: Scarlet Dragon

BY : IvyLiegh
Category: Star Wars (All) > AU - Alternate Universe
Dragon prints: 3266
Disclaimer: do not own the Star Wars movie series, nor any of the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

Dark Angel: Scarlet Dragon



Date: 21 ABY

(21 Years After the Battle of Yavin)

Imperial City, Coruscant

The red-clad Imperial guard blinked his watering eyes behind his mask. The stench of the place was disgusting, with drops of stagnant water from the slimy ceiling splashing on his boot. These cells hadn’t been used in centuries, having only been recently discovered and reinstated by the Imperial Regent’s command. This place wasn’t fit for the worst vermin of Coruscant’s underbelly, much less for a prisoner of such infamy. The guard wondered why he was there at all, since there was absolutely no way the prisoner could escape. Then again, the Regent wasn’t known for subtlety. Whatever point the Regent was making, the guard thought, it had to be working. Or the prisoner was a better fool than a criminal.

The grinding of the stone doors from the far end of the corridor snapped the guard to attention, as it did his comrade on the other side of the cell door. They snapped straight, leveling their ceremonial spears across their chests as the Regent’s party stepped through. Their resplendency was a sharp contrast to the murk of the place, and he could smell the scent of priceless perfume through the slits of his helmet. After hours of breathing in muck, he was thankful for it.

His heart thumped beneath his armor. The Regent’s volatility and ruthlessness were legend. Whatever was planned for the prisoner inside, it was undoubtedly going to be terrible. He almost felt pity for him.

Almost.

______________________________________________________________________

Searing light woke him through his closed eyes. It blazed outside his lids, intensely, making him wince. Blinking, he tried to open them slowly, to protect them from the onslaught. He only managed to open one. The other was crusted shut.

Gradually, his other senses stirred. There was no floor under his feet or pallet under his back, and he realized he was floating. But the sensation was hardly pleasant: It felt more like millions of microscopic barbs were hooked into every pore of his skin. It hurt worse than any high-noon burn he had ever endured. He did feel movement, however, like he was being turned in a slow, measured circle. Like a carcass over a spit.

The pain of his flesh was quickly overcome by the pounding agony in his skull. It was then when fractured memories of how he came to this place made themselves available; the unrelenting fight, the stark lines of his assailant’s mask, and finally, the blow to his head from the butt of a blaster rifle. He now understood why he couldn’t open his other eye. It was glued shut with dried blood. He tried to raise his hand to pull it open. He couldn’t. He couldn’t move at all. He couldn’t smell anything.

He couldn’t feel anything.

“No,” he whispered. He tried to reach out, straining his mind, tried, tried to touch it…

Nothing. The vibration of life, of everything, of existence itself was shut off from him. He was, for the first time in over twenty years, completely and utterly alone.

But panic was stifled by the screech of stone against stone. He squinted through the light that enveloped him. The noise was coming from behind him, and he guessed it was a heavy door, the kind that used hinges and had to be opened manually. Wherever he was, it was ancient. He heard voices behind him, even through the electronic hum of the force-field that enveloped him and blocked him from the Force.

One voice in particular was familiar, agonizingly so. He had heard it hundreds of times over the last two decades, either through public holonet channels or through secret recordings given to him by various spies in the past. But he had heard it in person too: It had been that awful day, when providence had turned her back on him and everyone that he had ever loved. The voice was quiet yet severe, silken yet cold. And female.

“Has he been given medical attention?”

“No, your Grace.”

“Any food or water?”

“No, your Grace.”

“Good. Surround him.”

Judging from the way the sounds and voices echoed, he surmised the room he was in was large, circular in shape, and many kilometers below ground. He heard the stomp of hard boots all around him and the clink of plasteel armor and, if he wasn’t mistaken, the hiss and hum of lightsabers igniting.

More steps, just one person, came toward him. He heard a rub of leather, the clicks of needle-thin heels against stone, the clink of heavy jewelry. “If you promise to behave yourself, that you will not use the Force or try any attempt to escape or harm me or my personal guard, I will release you. Do you promise?” He attempted a nod in his immobile state, but it obviously failed. He heard a sigh of exasperation. “Out loud, please.”

“Yes.” It scraped his throat.

“Yes what?”

He swallowed. It felt like sand going down. “Yes, I promise.” But he dared a moment of defiance when he growled, “Your Grace.”

“Very well. Release him.”

The force-field evaporated, and he dropped, hard, onto his shoulder. He screamed through clenched teeth. He lay panting, choking in air and trying to send it to his shoulder, as if it could take away some of the pain. It didn’t. Even breathing proved excruciating. He obviously had ribs broken as well.

But it was there, trickling into his conscience. He reached for it, for its healing touch…and was kicked in the back by one of the guards.

She waited for his screams to stop before asking, “What did I say about using the Force, Luke?”

The blinding light was now replaced by complete darkness, but he lifted his head and waited for his vision to adjust. Soon, he could make out shapes; dark figures, human figures, illuminated by their lightsabers. Details emerged, pale faces set with black eyes and framed by black hair, with red light glinting off black armor fluidly designed to accommodate the statuesque women who wore it. So, he thought, the rumors were true. The Regent used genetically altered Force- strong Dathomir witches as her personal guard. And if the rumors were further true, then their fiery natures had been tempered and their loyalty gained through partial lobotomy. He finally rested his eyes on his captor. Still steeped back in the shadows, he couldn’t make out her face. He didn’t have to. He knew all too well who she was.

“Give me more light. I want a good look at him.” Her command was obeyed. One of the guards pulled a small illuminator from her belt and stuck it to her breastplate. A yellowish hue filled the dim murk until he found himself staring at the Imperial Regent, the Baroness Lylla Sa’thraxxx and the Lady Vader, the Scarlet Dragon herself. Her eyes blazed as white and remorseless as Hoth at high noon.

“Hello, Luke,” she murmured. “It’s been a long time, my son.”

“Don’t you DARE call me that,” Luke Skywalker spat. The effort caused him to hack bloody spittle. “I am… not your son.”

Lylla clucked her tongue against her teeth. “Well, if you’re going to be preoccupied with technicalities….” As she stepped closer, Lylla got her good look at the naked, beaten, half-starved man lying before her. She remembered his hair from all those years ago to be blonde and neatly trimmed, but now it was a soiled brown and silver tangle that stuck to his sweat-slimed shoulders. He was scarred, filthy, and, finally, broken.

Luke examined his captor as well. Although she was not Empress in title, she was nothing less than the opulent dictator in appearance. Dressed in her dual colors of scarlet and black and, judging from the light scent of rose that wafted from her, he guessed the skin of the coat was that of the endangered Unniriariin, a creature native to decades-dead Alderaan. Cinched at the waist and high collared, it was a style that she had created, and very few women could successfully imitate: Its cost alone would feed his meager band of Jedi for a whole year. She peeled it off and deftly handed it to one of her guards, exposing the matching leather bodysuit underneath. Her sinuous figure was that of a woman half her age, and her ivory skin showed absolutely no sign of wrinkle or wear. The only indication of her actual years was her hair, or what little he could see of the one long braid that snaked out of her black skullcap: The black streaks that had coursed through her scarlet locks had blanched as white as her eyes. She was a monster, yes, but a beautiful monster. He now understood how she could have snared his father’s eye.

You traded your soul for eternal beauty, Luke thought sullenly.

“Amongst other things,” she replied. “I rather think of it as a long term investment.”

Luke shot her a stunned look. His various agents over the years had all but confirmed that the Baroness was Force-blind. Then he realized that she was using one of her Dathomir guards to read his mind and path his thoughts back to her. He wasn’t allowed to use the Force, so he couldn’t block them. Clever.

She came a step closer, and folded her hands in front of her. “I am sorry for your mistreatment, Luke. I gave order that you be handled with care…but it seems you put up more of a fight than expected, even when surrounded by three ysalamiri.”

He shuddered at the mention of those abominable creatures. Native to the planet Mykyr, they were hard-shelled rodents that had a type of anti-midicholrians in their blood that blocked the Force from any user. He had to fight with nothing more than skill, and he almost succeeded. But his opponent was better armed and armored, and far more brutal. And healthy. “Seems Boba Fett hasn’t lost his touch.”

“He is the best, even after all these years,” Lylla concurred. “And he only seems to get better with age. Of course, his loyalty doesn’t come cheap…but he has served the Empire well over the years. He is well worth the price.” She began to walk around the contraption he lay in. Running a hand along the control panel, she said, “Remarkable, isn’t it? A lost technology which was found in the Imperial Technical archives, dating back to the Clone Wars. A man named… Dooku, I believe…developed it precisely for the purpose of rendering a Jedi completely impotent. Far more efficient than an ysalamiri and far less offensive.” She crinkled her nose. “I could never abide the smell of those things.”

“Spare me the technical lecture, Lylla,” Luke growled. Another boot to the back reminded him of her proper title. He struggled to get back onto his knees. “If you’re going to kill me, then kill me. Unless you enjoy drawing out a man’s execution.”

He dared to look into her eyes, but was surprised by what he saw there—or what he didn’t see there, to be more precise. He expected that frigid glare, the sadistic amusement, but instead he saw what could only be construed as a touch of sadness. “I’m not going to kill you, Luke,” she stated softly. “I wouldn’t dream of murdering my beloved husband’s son.”

“No. That privilege was for his daughter.”

The guard raised her boot again, but Lylla threw up her hand, commanding her back. She looked down on him. “That was…an unfortunate accident,” she said. “I had no intention of harming her. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“You LURED her to that place and time!” Luke snarled. “You tricked us with the promise of a truce you had NO intention of offering—“

“We extended our hand in peace!” she shot back. “We offered her the Birithi serum, medicine, technology, ships, food. We offered her EVERYTHING!”

“And all you wanted in return were her CHILDREN!”

That’s when Lylla’s stare grew frigid. “I didn’t get them, did I?”

Luke’s rage began to stir. “You shot her in the back.”

“I didn’t shoot anyone. A soldier killed your sister—“

“While she was running away, while she was holding her infant son, you shot her in the back. You killed them both.”

Lylla paused. “The trooper who killed Leia and Jacen was immediately put to death,” she finally said. “We gave the strictest orders that she come to no harm whatsoever. That trooper was careless, and didn’t switch his weapon from to stun. He died for his stupidity.”

“So sorry you lost a stormtrooper,” Luke muttered. “That certainly makes up for the murder of Leia Organa.”

Lylla slapped her hands onto the device’s rim and leaned into him. “You think I didn’t grieve? You think I felt NOTHING? I wanted to bring all of you here, with us, so we could be a family. A REAL family.” She met his eyes. “Your family, Luke.”

Luke punched every word. “You are NOT my family. You are a despot and a liar and a murderer—“

“Luke!” Lylla exclaimed, throwing up her hands like an annoyed mother. “Why must you always focus on the means? Why can you not see all the good we have done for you?”

“For ME?” he shouted.

“And for the whole galaxy, of course. Didn’t we cure the Birithi plague?”

“The plague YOU unleashed!”

“Even if you could prove that, Luke, who would listen? The thousands of races we saved from extinction? No, see, you burned your bridge to the hearts and imagination of the galaxy when you and your Jedi destroyed the main serum manufacturing plant on Ingramam.”

“You know damn well that plant wasn’t making serum, Lylla.”

“Does it really matter what they were making in there? The only thing that mattered to the people was that you destroyed something that was saving their lives and those of their children.” She sighed. “You were their hero, Luke, the New Jedi, the great crusader. Palpatine was dead, Xizor, Thrawnn, the Hutt, all dead. And the galaxy rallied around your cause, proclaiming Leia Chancellor of the New Republic. And you began to rebuild the Jedi Order.” She laughed a little. “You almost believed it, didn’t you? You thought, for a while, there truly could be a ‘Happily Ever After’.” Her eyes narrowed. “But then the Birithi plague hit. It started at the Outer Rim, and spread rapidly until it was threatening the Core Worlds in just a matter of months. All resources were poured into finding a cure. And you couldn’t.”

Despite his awful pain, Luke chuckled. “And that’s when you miraculously appeared, Lylla. You and the entire Imperial Remnant. Just jumped out of hyperspace right into Coruscant’s atmosphere from wherever the hell you were hiding for three years. Your timing was flawless. As in every scheme you hatch.”

She clucked her tongue. “You’re still angry that we found the cure first.”

“No, I’m angry because you always had it.”

“Believe what you want, my son. But we won the war that day. And we ended it peacefully.”

“PEACEFULLY??” Luke roared. He doubled over and strangled a scream. “You killed seven trillion people!”

“We saved thirty trillion!” she snapped. “That’s all anyone cared about. We became the saviors of the galaxy that day. We retook Coruscant and marched into Imperial City without firing one shot.” She came upon him and set her hands on the rim. “The Old Empire was dead, and the Sith Galactic Nation was born. And the people implored you and your sister to surrender the Republic and join in a new era. And you betrayed them.”

“I was trying to save them!” he shouted.

“We beat you to it.” She let him dwell in his emptiness before changing the subject. “What about slavery, Luke? We have abolished slavery. Isn’t that a noble thing?”

He coughed out a sullen laugh. “That won’t go into effect for another twenty years.”

“Well, what should we have done? Emancipate every slave at once and watch the galactic economy collapse? Even you can’t be that naïve.” She folded her arms. “One standard generation should be enough time for star systems to accommodate the change from a slave-based economy to a free economy. But the trade of sentient cargo has been strictly regulated and will decrease by twenty percent every year, and all offspring, as of this standard year, born to current slaves are born free citizens. It’s not exactly utopian but,” her voice became softer, “It is more than your father or I ever had.”

Luke looked at her through the tangle of his hair. “You were a slave?”

“A pleasure slave.”

He winced. Slavery itself was evil enough, but to be forced into acts of sexual depravity… “I didn’t know. I’m sorry that happened to you.”

“Are you now?” It was her turn to chuckle. “Does it change your opinion of me?”

“It gives me an insight to your rage and your hatred and why you’re making the entire galaxy pay for it—“

“Don’t!” she bit out, her eyes flashing dangerously. “Don’t you dare play the sensitive Jedi Master with me. You have no idea why I do the things I do. You can’t know because you can’t see past your own silly pride and your obsolete morals. You know nothing, and your vision of a fair and civilized galactic paradise is myopic and unrealistic.” With a bitter huff, she added, “Just like your mother’s.”

To hell with this! Luke pulled the Force into his broken body and let it surge through his limbs. He lunged at Lylla—but was caught in mid-air and hurled against the wall by one of her Force-strong guards. The other guards were upon him like raptors. One kicked his leg out from under him as he tried to stand. Another kicked him high in the gut.

“Enough,” Lylla snapped. She adjusted her gloves. “He can’t take anymore.” They jerked him up, dragged him over to her and held him on his knees. “Is it really so easy to bait a Jedi Master? Just say nasty things about his mother?” She blew a sigh. “How you eluded us for thirteen years is beyond my comprehension.”

“You have no place saying anything about my mother,” he hissed at her. “My mother was a queen, a warrior, and an angel. You are a sadist. You are a fiend. A demon from hell!”

Lylla threw him a strange look, a look he couldn’t place. And when she spoke, her voice sounded miles away. “Oh Luke, if you only truly knew what you were saying.”

“What do you mean by that?”

A small, odd smile. “In time.”

“Where are all the Force-sensitives, Lylla?”

The smile melted a bit at the abruptness of the question, and her eyes dimmed. “What are you talking about? The Imperial military is crawling with Force-sensitives—“

“With SITH,” he growled. “The military is crawling with Sith.” He shook his head. “You even broke The Law of Two. One master, one apprentice. The code goes for Sith too.”

“Your father was going to break it anyway,” she said. “After all, he had a family to train.” She watched Luke visibly shudder at the word “family”. She waited for him.

“I want,” he finally said, “to know what’s happened to all the Force-sensitives. Not Sith or Jedi. Raw untrained Force-sensitives. Where are they?”

She glanced back at him. “We haven’t found all them yet.”

“You’re lying. You’re killing them.”

Lylla sighed impatiently. “What possible good would it be for us to kill what has become the Empire’s greatest asset? We lifted the death sentence on Force-sensitives years ago, which is another thing you should be thanking me for.”

The woman’s narcissism knew no limits. “Then what happens to them?” he asked.

She regarded him for a moment before walking to the trapping device and sitting on the edge and crossing her long legs. “At first they are offered a very generous position in the Imperial armed forces. Force-sensitives graduate as officers, some even being given their first commission right out of the Academy. And, of course, if they wish to continue their training and pledge themselves fully to the Dark Side of the Force and the Sith, they may train for the title of Darth.”

“Sith Lords, dozens of them,” Luke muttered.

“All admirals, generals, governors. There isn’t a ship in the fleet or a battalion on the ground that is not commanded by a Sith. Trust me, they are hardly mistreated.”

“No, just damned.” The pride in her voice made him sick. “And what about those who aren’t interested? Like some of my Jedi you kidnapped?”

“Those who fit our needs but are unwilling to pledge fealty to the Sith Galactic Empire are put through reprogramming.”

“What do you mean, ‘reprogramming’?” Lylla led his eyes to her personal guard with her own, and then saw his disgust. “You mean lobotomy.”

“Lobotomy is an ugly word. It is a minor surgical procedure. They are in no pain, I assure you. Of course, we don’t allow them the same level of intellect or sense of independence as those who joined us freely. They are assigned directly to the Imperial Armed Forces. Not as stormtroopers, of course—we wouldn’t waste such Force talent. They are division commanders, technical officers, tacticians, pilots…and all of them forever and fiercely loyal to the Sith Galactic Empire.”

The thought of his Jedi made into mindless killers…Kyp Durron, Corran Horn, Kyle Katern, Alema and Numa Rar…

He felt bile crawl up his throat.

No, no, he refused to believe it. They were too strong in the Force. They were Jedi Knights.

“What happens to the strong ones?” he growled. “The ones you can’t bend or stupefy? And don’t tell me there aren’t any. There are. Like my Jedi Knights.”

Lylla looked at him, strangely, then walked over to him on the floor. She crouched down to meet his eyes. “We send them home, Luke.”

“LIAR! You never sent my Jedi back to me—“

“I didn’t say whose home,” she said. She put up her hand before Luke could lash out again. “We send them back to THEIR homes, where they originally came from. Safe and unharmed. They live out their days as they see fit.”

Luke bowed his head, shaking it back and forth. “You’re lying. I know you’re lying.”

Lylla narrowed her eyes, then barked at her guards, “Lower your shields. Now.” They obeyed, and Luke was suddenly flooded by the Force around him. Lylla leaned into his face. “There, no blocks, no shields. Now tell me I’m lying.”

He didn’t want to touch that psychic wasteland in her head, but he dared. He sighed. “No, you’re not.” He glared at her. “But you’re not telling the whole truth. You’re hiding something.”

Lylla leaned her elbows on her knees, dropped her head, and blew a sigh of aggravation. She then stood up, and put out her hand. “Captain. Your lightsaber.” The captain of the guard stepped forward and set it in her hand. She then stepped back two paces and tossed the saber on the floor, directly in front of Luke. “Leave us.” She turned over her shoulder when she was not immediately obeyed, and saw the unease on their faces. “I said leave.” She was obeyed.

As the last guard left the cell, Lylla turned back to Luke. She straightened herself to her full height and loomed over him. “This conversation is growing tedious, and I won’t continue it any longer. Because this war between us ends, today. Right now.” She stepped back and gestured to the lightsaber. “There. Take it. My guards are gone, I am entirely unarmed and Force-blind, and I have no idea how to use that thing.” She smiled a bit. “Take it. Kill me.”

Luke gaped at the weapon in front of him. Lylla watched his hands shake and his lip tremble. She reached up behind her head, and began undoing the fasteners of her skullcap. “Take it,” she repeated, starting a slow circle around him. “You’ve dreamed of this moment, haven’t you, Luke? You never even hoped to have an opportunity like this. And you’re hesitating?” Her voice grew softer, darker. “I took everything from you. I killed your beloved sister. I killed her son. I hunted you down like an animal for thirteen years. I kidnapped your friends. I unleashed the plague that killed the Wookiee Chewbacca and his entire race. And I drove your sister’s husband, your best friend, to drink himself to death in a rat hole on the Smuggler’s Moon. That’s what you’ve told yourself over the years, that’s what you believe.” She stopped before him. “And I was the one that kept your father trapped in the darkness. I seduced him, I sank my claws in him, and then I used him. Isn’t that what you think, Luke?” She peeled the skullcap off her head and neck, and adjusted her one long braid. She crouched down, then forward to her knees, then onto her hands, until her face was just shy of his. He noted the wisps of hair that had loosened under the hood, how they framed her face, and that scent of rose filled his head. “Take it, Luke. Cut off my head. Avenge them all.” She leaned in even closer and whispered, “The Knight will never have another chance to slay the Dragon.”

His thin tether of control snapped, and Luke was on her like a starved predator. Grabbing her by the throat, he threw her on her back and jumped on top of her. The lightsaber shot from the floor to his hand. He held her down as he ignited it, holding it high and pointing the tip right at her throat. She didn’t even try to fight him. His hand shook. He looked her in the eyes. The reptilian slits of her pupils widened, slowly, into a normal circle, then expanded further until her eyes were black as…The Dark Side. It was there, in those bottomless pits.

“Luke,” Lylla whispered. With one hand she covered his hand around her throat, and reached up and touched his cheek with the other. “Why do you keep fighting it? What do you possibly have left to fight for? It’s over.” She lifted her other hand and cradled his head, all the while ignoring the laser’s tip at her throat. “Please. Come home. All will be forgiven.”

It spoke to him, wrapped around him. “Don’t do this,” he pleaded, his hand trembling even worse.

“What am I doing, Luke? Voicing the truth? Telling you something you’ve known for years, only you were too proud, too stubborn to accept it?” She ran a thumb under his eye. “This is your father’s vision, come to life, HIS Empire, all of it. You are a part of this; it is your birthright, your destiny…”

He swore he could hear, in an eternal distance, the voices of angels raised in dark song…

“This isn’t the way it was supposed to be,” she said, a catch in her throat.

Oh Force, Force…please…

“The blood of Vader belongs in the House of Vader.”

Stop calling, stop singing to me…It hurts…

“He didn’t want it like this.”

“SHUT UP, LYLLA!” he yelled. He switched off the lightsaber and leapt off her and scuttled away. But then he looked down, and saw the beginnings of an erection.

Lylla flipped to her hands and knees, and crawled over to him. “It’s not what you thought it would be at all, is it? You expected your mind to be filled with horror and screams and fire. But that didn’t happen. Quite the opposite.” She stopped before him. “It’s beautiful, Luke. You felt it. It manifests itself differently with every person, molds itself to you. It knows your wants, your desires, your needs, and offers you all of it. And the power? It’s…” Her eyes fluttered shut for a moment before she snapped them open. “The Dark Side has been waiting for you, Luke. And you ran from it, shunned it, when all it wanted was…to love you.”

He pulled his legs in front of him to hide his privates, and clutched his knees. He couldn’t stop trembling. “You’re repellant.”

She ignored it. “I could tempt you with power, riches, entire armies at your command. But those things never meant anything to you. So…” She tilted her head. “I offer you something else.”

“What?”

“Comfort. I offer you comfort. A soft, warm bed. Food, anything and everything you like, whenever you like. Warm clothes. Medical care. Simple things, things everyone takes for granted, until they no longer have them. Like you haven’t for the last thirteen years.” She tilted her head. “Have you ever been in love, Luke?”

He looked at the floor, and ground his teeth. “No.”

“I could give that to you.” He recoiled, and she slit her eyes when she saw the revulsion on his face. “Don’t flatter yourself. I have no intention of taking you to my bed. Regardless of what you think of me, even I have limits, Luke Skywalker.” She shifted to sit on her hip, lifted a knee, and set her elbow on it. “I can give you any woman in the galaxy. Anyone. Anyone you want, from a princess to a lowly bar dancer. Flesh, sweet and supple. Warmth. Beauty. Someone to fall into every night in that soft, warm, clean bed…the ultimate comfort.” She sighed. “What man in your predicament, or in his rightful mind, would refuse?” She watched him intently, and her stomach fluttered with excitement as she watched his face change from desolation to…consideration.

“What about my Jedi?” he asked.

The bait was cast. “They are welcome, Luke. Perhaps as your personal guard?”

“Now why would I need a personal guard?”

“Because it is only fitting that the Emperor’s Second and Supreme Military Commander have one.”

He gawked at her for a moment, then laughed. “I thought you weren’t going to offer me power.”

“I’m not. I giving you a job,” she said, toying with her long braid. “You didn’t think I would let you have all of this without you working for it, did you?” She began to rise. “After a while, you may even come to enjoy it.”

“After you’ve seduced me to the Dark Side, is that it?”

She came to her feet, and regarded him for a moment before saying, “My seduction is finished. You are already standing at the threshold. All you need to do is…fall.” She came toward him. He watched with tired, desolate eyes. Lylla bent before him, and cradled his face once more. “Stay here with us. Take your rightful place.” She traced a fingertip along his eyebrow. “The Emperor…he longs for you, Luke. Longs for your guidance and wisdom in the Force. Let him…know you.”

“HE’S NOT THE EMPEROR!” Luke yelled.

But Lylla didn’t flinch. “Not officially. But in a few hours he will be.” He watched her lip tremble. “You show such hatred, such venom for your own flesh and blood, and you still think you aren’t already touched by the Dark Side? Please Luke. Let’s be a family, the family you never had, the one you have craved all your life. You think us cold, ruthless, calculating. But we have hearts too.” She bit her lip, controlling the emotion now welling within her. “It was for you, Luke, all for you. And him. Please. Come home.”

He looked at her, his face twisted, until he could no longer hold back. He flung his arms over his face and dropped his head into his knees, and sobbed. Lylla adjusted to her knees, and slowly wrapped her long arms around him, cradling him against her chest. “That’s it, Luke,” she sang into his filthy hair. “Just let it go. Come to us. Just fall…just fall…” She continued to rock him like a child, feeling his body shake with sobbing…no, not sobbing.

Laughter.

The smug contentment melted off her features, and she pulled back and looked at Luke, who giggled, disturbingly, while his crystal blue eyes bore into her skull. “Oh, Lylla,” he finally said through pained breaths, “You’re good, I’ll give you that. But you’re not that good.”

He didn’t know what he had exactly said to provoke such a reaction from her, but she recoiled from him as though he were on fire. She seemed on the verge of losing control, and he relished every second of it. “What is this?” she hissed.

“It’s me, Lylla. Anakin Skywalker’s son.” He spoke through his laughter. “Did you really think it would be so easy? Do you really think I don’t know you?” He began to get on his feet, regardless of the agony. “You don’t love me, Lylla. You hate me down to your rotten soul. And don’t EVEN try to convince me Leia’s death was an accident.” He limped toward her. “You marked her the second you discovered who she was. Because then it became clear to you. Then you understood why her very presence filled you with such terror and hatred, you understood why every time you saw her face, it made you insane with jealousy. Because she was the very image of her mother.” It was his turn to loom over her. “You never had the pleasure of killing Padme Naberrie, but you could kill her daughter. Your own husband’s child.”

Rage mottled Lylla’s porcelain skin. “That little BITCH was NOT Darth Vader’s child!” she hissed. “She was…” Her face twisted, “hers.”

“And I’m hers too.” Again, a sardonic chuckle. “You could kill Leia and destroy her family. But me? No, you can’t kill me, no matter how much you want to. You had to turn me, seduce me, bend me to your will, completely and totally break me. THAT would have been far more satisfying anyway. Your revenge against a woman you never even met.” He laughed a little. “A woman who’s been dead for forty years.”

With startling speed, Lylla came to her feet, stepped into him, and slammed the back of her closed fist up and across his jaw. Luke reeled back, but did not fall, catching himself on the wall. Laughing again, he ran his hand across his mouth, and looked at the blood. “You’re pathetic, Lylla.” She answered him by shoving him against the wall and pinning her elbow across his throat. Raising her hand in front of his face, she made sure he had a good look when she flexed her palm and five durasteel claws sprang from her gloved fingertips. She reached down, and Luke felt the unmistakable prick of sharpened talons cupping his scrotum.

He waited. Lylla was breathing heavy, almost panting, her mouth smeared in a snarl, her white eyes blazing, furious. She squeezed a warning. Luke didn’t flinch. “Go ahead,” he whispered. “Do it. If you can’t turn me, you’ll mutilate me, is that it? You tried to buy Leia through deceit and manipulation. And when she wouldn’t give you Jaina and Jacen, you killed her. That’s the way it always is with you, Lylla. Give with one hand. Stab with the other.” Lylla let out a furious shriek, jabbing her arm even harder into his throat, and the talons punctured a little further. In spite of this immediate danger, he coughed a laugh. “Go ahead. But don’t you dare take your eyes off me while you do it. Don’t you dare look away while you’re castrating his son.”

Lylla’s hand began to shake against his testes, and he watched a thread of saliva drip from her bared teeth. With an anguished yelp, she lurched off of him. She stumbled over to the Jedi trap, and slammed her fists into the console. She fought for every breath she took as her heart hammered in her chest.

Luke fell back onto the wall, catching his own breath. He pulled the Force into his body, easing his pain, and lightly touched his privates, checking for damage. He watched her for a moment before he said, “We can never kill each other, Lylla. That’s his covenant with you and me. You know that.”

She sighed through her heavy breathing. Eventually, she straightened up and turned over her shoulder. “I cannot turn you, and I cannot kill you. Then we are at an impasse, it seems.”

Luke nodded. “So it seems.”

She nodded as well. “Very well.” She turned to face him, and folded her hands before her. A moment passed before she said, “When you mentioned revenge before. Yes, I want revenge. But you were only half right.”

“In what way?” he asked.

“You said I wanted revenge against your mother. But she’s not the only one.”

“Then who else?”

“You.”

He frowned. “I think I already know that.”

“No, you don’t.” She walked toward him. Not threateningly, casually. “You think I hate you simply because you are Padme’s son? Please, I’m not that shallow. No Luke, I hate you because…” She stopped in front of him. “You took him away from me.”

He blinked. “What?”

“You took him away from me,” she repeated, emphatically and bitterly. “You sent him away, and replaced him with…a stranger.” She looked at the floor to hide her moistening eyes. “And I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”

Luke gawked at her, his jaw slack. “Is that why? All these years, everything you’ve done…that’s why?”

“That’s not enough?”

“You…you really did love him?”

She looked back up, glaring at him from under her brow. “You think of Sith as evil. You cannot let yourself believe there are shades of gray, even within the dark. You Jedi think you know everything about perfect love, but you’ve never even come close.” She bore into his skull with her frigid eyes. “I built an Empire in his name. I killed trillions of people for the sake of his legacy. And before that…I did things that would have given the sturdiest warriors nightmares for years. All of it for HIM. And long after I am dead, House Vader will rule the Sith Galactic Nation for millennia.” She sniffed. “So yes, that is why I tormented you for thirteen years. That is why I destroyed everything you loved. You took him away from me. So I took everything away from you.”

Luke pressed himself further into the wall. “Lylla. You’re a monster. You’re not human.”

Her lids fluttered. “You just figured that out?”

He limped toward her. “How do you do it?” he rasped, squinting at her. “The Dark Side…it’s all around you, but…you can’t use it. But you can…draw it…it doesn’t seduce you—“

“I seduce it, you mean?”

“Yes.” He swallowed. “What are you, Lylla?”

She stared at him, strangely, and he once again saw the slits of her irises ripen wide for a fleeting second. She then set her palm on his chest and murmured, “I am your angel of mercy, Luke.” Leaning in, she softly kissed his filthy cheek, then stepped back. She picked a thin comlink out of her glove. “Bring the med team in.” The stone doors screeched open again, and Luke watched Lylla’s guards accompany several med techs pushing in a repulsor med-bed. Still looking at him, she ordered, “Tend to him.”

Luke didn’t fight when the techs assisted him onto the bed. In spite of himself, he sighed in relief and exhaustion as his head hit the pillow. Surgical-gloved hands roamed over him, inserting needles and attaching tubes to his limbs. He scarcely noticed as the softness of the mattress drove him to distraction.

Still, he forced his eyes open. “What are you going to do with me, Lylla?” he whispered.

She came to the side of the bed, and laid a palm on his scarred brow. “I’m going to mend your injuries. Then I am going to serve you a feast, more food than you have seen in thirteen years. Then I will give you a ship. And then…I will send you home, Luke.”

“Home?” he rasped. “What do you mean ‘home’?”

“I mean wherever you want to go. Anywhere. Once you leave Coruscant, you are free, and you will never see me again. I will even provide you any amount of credits you will need.”

“I don’t want your money.”

“Very well. But the former is satisfactory?”

Luke blinked a few times, trying to keep focused, but the sedative dripping into his vein was already taking affect. He was just tired, period. “Yes, it’s satisfactory.”

Lylla gazed at him. She tenderly brushed stray hairs of his slick brow, and nodded. She then stepped back and nodded to the doctor. He stepped forward with a hyposyringe in his hand.

Luke recognized it, even through his blurry vision. “What is that?”

Lylla sighed, “Unpleasant.”

Luke struggled, but realized that in his stupor, he hadn’t noticed that he had been strapped to the stretcher. He grunted in protest as the doctor sank the syringe into his arm.

At first, nothing. But then…came the nothingness. A silent plague, slow and black and heavy, oozed through him, and he felt death…but not his death. Then cries came…billions of them, and yet just one…screaming through his limbs and body, dying…but he was not dying…

The Force was.

“Lylla!” he shouted hoarsely, fighting with everything he had left against his restraints. “What are you doing? What’s happening to me??” He was met with cold silence. “LYLLA!”

She waited until he tired himself before she answered him. “Scientists had worked for centuries trying to isolate the genome of the ysalamiri that rendered a Force-user powerless. They came up empty-handed every time.” She shrugged. “Seems they just weren’t looking close enough. They only looked at a biochemical level. They didn’t think to look sub-atomically. Until now. We cracked the code.”

What little color Luke had in his face blanched away. “No…no…you can’t do this, Lylla. You can’t do this!”

“I’m freeing you. Freeing you from a destiny you never wanted. Freeing you from the very name of ‘Skywalker’ itself. Freeing you from…all of it.” She tried to touch his face, but he jerked from her caress. She went on anyway. “At this very moment, the remainder of your Jedi are undergoing the change as well. And like you, they will be given ships and supplies to take wherever they wish. But unlike you, their minds and memories will be erased.” She stepped closer into him. “I told you the war between us ends today. I cannot kill you, and I cannot turn you. So this is the only way. You give me no alternative.”

He struggled, then sobbed as he felt the last connection with the Force seep away. It felt as though he was breathing through lead. “Lylla,” he rasped, “you’ve taken everything from me. Don’t take this away. Please don’t take the Force.”

She laid a hand on his chest. “It’s already gone.” Luke screamed in despair, pulling against the restraints, but slumped back on the mattress when the effort proved too much, and cried. The sound echoed throughout the cell. Lylla leaned down to his face. “This is the way it has to be, and I’ll tell you why. The prophecy of the Chosen One must be fulfilled. That is why I am here, Luke. I was sent here, sent to set destiny straight.” She brushed his brow. “Your father did bring balance to the Force. The Jedi ruled the galaxy for five thousand years. Five thousand years of Jedi. And now…five thousand years of SITH.” She turned away, and lifted her arms at her sides. A guard came forward and slipped her sumptuous coat on her.

“Your orders, your Grace?” the captain of the guard asked.

Lylla straightened her coat onto her shoulders. “Take him to the infirmary and mend him. Then put him in a suite overlooking the Imperial Square. Feed him whatever he wants.” She stepped back and looked down on the broken man on the stretcher. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a coronation waiting.” She paused. “You are invited to sit with the Imperial Council or…you may watch from your window at gunpoint. Your choice.” She turned away and stepped to the door when she heard Luke mumble something. “What did you say?”

“I said,” Luke murmured, turning his head to her, tears still glistening in his eyes, “that I forgive you, Lylla.”

The med team and her guard watched the Imperial Regent intensely, dreading her reaction. But she showed none. She glared at him before simply turning and walking out of the cell. Her guard followed, leaving the med team to prep Luke for transport.

The red-cloaked Imperial guards stepped to each side of the door as The Baroness came through. She looked up to see Grand Chancellor Wrenga Jixton come toward her.

He tucked his hands into the voluminous sleeves of his formal robes. “You’re letting him go?”

Lylla regarded him for a brief moment before brushing past him. “We’ve discussed this.”

Jixton fell into step beside her as they strode. “It’s a bad idea.”

“And what would you do, Chancellor?”

“Lock him up and throw away the key-chip.”

“He’s Forceless now.”

“That doesn’t matter, your Grace. There are still Republic sympathizers out there. He’s a symbol, an icon.”

“A dead icon.” She stopped and saw the look on Jixton’s face. “Luke Skywalker’s execution was broadcasted to the galaxy three hours ago.”

Pause. “A body double?”

“A petty speeder thief. The resemblance was actually quite remarkable. And without his Force powers, who will believe him when he says he is Luke Skywalker?” Her eyes slit. “Trust me, Jixton, he is no longer any threat to us.”

“You’re certain of that?” Jixton asked, the dimness of the hall shadowing his brow.

Lylla said nothing, when her waiting lady Palissa came up beside her. She set her hand on Palissa’s shoulder and turned back to the chancellor. “I’m already late, Chancellor. The matter is closed.”

He sighed through his nose. “Understood, your Grace.”



The Regent and her entourage traveled the numerous lifts back to the docking bay where Lylla’s armored speeder awaited. Her guards mounted the speeder bikes surrounding it as Lylla and Palissa stepped in.

They rode the trip to the Imperial Palace in the upper levels of Coruscant in silence. Lylla’s face was as impassive as any stone, but Palissa knew her beloved Baroness’s anguish just from the desperate grip of her hand in hers.

When they reached the Palace, she followed her mistress through the sweeping black corridors, matching her fierce stride, one step behind her. As they passed, officers and guards snapped to attention and saluted while servants dropped to their knees in deference. As they came upon Lylla’s private manor, her army of dressers, coiffures, and beauticians as well as various dignitaries and Imperial officers awaited her. The enormous onyx doors swept open, wide and silent.

Lylla stepped through, but Palissa stopped in the doorway and turned to face the oncoming crowd. Her eyes were gray steel when she snarled, “The Baroness will call upon you when she needs you. She is no mood for your bootlicking at the moment.”

“Forgive my forwardness, Lady Palissa,” interjected Lylla’s head dresser in a fey, condescending tone, “but the coronation is in just a few hours, and her Grace must be--“ However, when Palissa shot him a threatening look, her grey eyes as sharp as steel, and put her hand on the vibro-blade at her belt, he fell silent. Satisfied that he had gotten her intent, she turned the heel of her stiff boot and strode through the closing doors into the sweeping great room of Lylla’s private chambers.

As soon as the doors were closed, she stopped and regarded her mistress. The Baroness’s dark and severe clothing was a sharp contrast to the soft ivory décor of the place, with its sweeping ceilings, open skylights, crystal chandeliers, and rare fur rugs on the marble floors. She watched Lylla slowly remove her coat and lay it on a divan, then her skull cap. Then she watched her sink to her knees in the middle of the floor and begin to cry.

Palissa stepped forward. “Lylla?” she asked softly, worriedly.

Lylla cradled her head in her hand. “Oh Palissa…it…it was just so hard…I didn’t think…it would be like that…”

Her body servant and trusted confidant came up behind her mistress, knelt down and wrapped her arms around her. “I know.” She pressed her cheek against hers. “Despite what Jixton thinks, I believe you did the right thing. You showed him mercy, more than he deserved.”

“I truly did want him to…stay with us. Just…” She paused, then took a deep breath before she blurted, “Just so I could see those eyes every day again.”

“My Lady,” Palissa said softly in her ear, “please forgive my bluntness but…he is not his father.”

“No,” Lylla muttered, “he isn’t.” She said nothing after that.

Palissa held her mistress for a few more moments before she pulled back. “Shall I draw your bath, Baroness?” Lylla nodded. Palissa rose and began to walk to the bath chamber when Lylla called out, “Palissa?”

“Yes, your Grace?”

“I need you…to take this pain away.”

Palissa hesitated. “But the coronation—“

“Do you think they’ll start without me, Palissa?”

“Of course not, Madam. But the Emperor…he’s been waiting for you.”

Lylla slid her gaze to lock on her trusted servant. “He’ll understand.”

Palissa sighed. She walked back to her mistress and helped her to her feet. Touching Lylla’s face, she murmured, “Go prepare. I’ll be there momentarily,” and, standing on her tiptoes, softly kissed Lylla’s lips. She watched her lady loosen the buckles of her bodysuit and peel it off her skin as she made her way to a chamber only the two of them were allowed to enter.

Palissa went through the arch to her mistress’s bedchamber. She came upon a carved and jeweled case on a table, and palmed the lock open. She reached in and pulled out a long, thick leather whip. Unfastening the catches on the military-style jacket she wore, she returned to the great room and strode to the private chamber.

The room was circular and dark. Lylla stood in the middle of the room, her back to the door, head bowed, naked. Palissa peeled the jacket off her arms, leaving her in her white shirt and black breeches. She murmured, “Move your braid to the front.” She did. Palissa said, “Raise your arms.” As Lylla lifted her slim arms over her head, Palissa touched a control on her belt. Two chains snaked out of the ceiling, and leather straps cuffed around Lylla’s wrists.

Palissa came around to Lylla’s front, and met her lady’s gaze. She touched her face. “My beloved Baroness,” she whispered.

Lylla smiled softly and answered, “My treasure.”

Palissa smiled back, then touched another control. The chains shot upward and jerked Lylla up until her toes scarcely brushed the floor. She walked several paces behind her lady, dropped the length on the ship to the floor, lifted it over her head, and threw a lash down Lylla’s back with all the strength she could muster.

She watched Lylla convulse and twist, and waited until she hung limp before striking her again. And again. And again. Even in the dim halogen light, she saw the stripes on her back and buttocks seep red, saw the drops beginning to pool beneath Lylla’s feet.

But her mistress didn’t scream, didn’t cry out. She never did. Because pain was something very different to her Baroness. Most beings did everything they could to avoid pain. But to Lylla, it was a drug. It was the only thing that could distract Lylla Sa’thraxxx from the anguish in her heart.

And Lylla drank the ambrosia of the agony in. Her back burned with fire and blood. But the bliss of it, the sweet blindness it could bring, the symphony of roaring blood within her ears, was not coming.

“I have failed you,” she whispered.

The lash cracked off her back.

“I tried…”

Crack.

“He wouldn’t…”

Crack.

“Forgive me, my love.”

Crack.

“Forgive me…”

She tasted the salt tears on her lips, felt the blood drip from her back, heard the crack of the whip ricochet around the walls, embraced the pain that sliced her flesh with every lash…but those eyes still burned behind her closed lids, that incandescent blue filled her mind’s eye, the eyes she had longed to see for twenty years…

And despite the pain, the blood, the chill of the air against her sweating naked skin, and the noise of the whip, none of it could distract her from the memory of that first day she discovered the existence of Luke Skywalker…

To Be Continued.



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