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Untitled Document

Before The Altar.

Before the Altar, bowed, he stands
With empty hands;
Upon it perfumed offerings burn
Wreathing with smoke the sacrificial urn.

Before The Altar by Amy Lowell (1874-1925)
From A Dome of Many Colored Glass.

Part 36: Myself the Sacrifice.

There were two funerals which took place in Theed that day. The first was a short ceremony, no parade, no ritual burying, only words and mourning. For there was no body to cremate or crypt, only a life to remember, to eulogise, to martyr. A sad affair, for the death of one so young was to be pitied, considered a waste of potential. One much regretted by the new Supreme Emperor, who viewed the death with considerable anger, not only in his inability to prevent it, but for the task which it presented him with.

He had come too late to Mustafar, arriving at the sight of Anakin's death to find only the smouldering remains of an artificial arm. The brilliant boy whom he had manipulated from the moment of his birth was no more. Anakin helped him achieve revenge on the Jedi Order, he helped overthrow the Republic, but he was not here now to ensure the survival of the new Empire. The apprentice to whom he could delegate the evil duties to, trusting that he would carry them out to the best of his ability was nothing more than a decomposing burned corpse. Palpatine would have to find a new apprentice now, and train him into the bargain, which would take time he could ill afford. The honour and duty of tyrant would have to be his for the foreseeable future.

Anakin Skywalker's funeral could have taken place on Coruscant or Tatooine, but Naboo requested for the honour to mourn the young Hero with no Fear who had done so much for their planet. Palpatine granted the privilege, attending the ceremony himself, along with crowds of citizens from every walk of life, and almost every planet that Skywalker had visited. The task of delivering the eulogy fell to the Supreme Emperor, who spoke eloquently and powerfully about the life of this young victim of the Jedi Order, whom he had mentored from the moment he encountered him, after his heroic achievements in the relief of the Blockade Crisis. A plaque was placed on the walls of the hanger in Theed Palace, and a monument was erected in the National Memorial gardens, close to the Royal Crypts.

The second funeral was carried out with more fanfare and more people. A stasis coffin contained the body, which was escorted on a gun carriage, towed by Royal Nubian steeds, as befitted the victim's office and station in life. Behind the transparisteel covering said victim appeared composed, peaceful, free of the many burdens and responsibilities upon which so many depended. Infront and at the back a parade of relatives and officials escorted the carriage, their attire purple and black, the weeds of mourning properly observed.

Palpatine was once more a guest of the proceedings, his solemn face concealing a wealth of interesting emotions, which if any Jedi still surviving had dared attended the funeral, would have found most intriguing to analyse. He was saddened and pleased, grieved and relieved, shocked and gleeful. Throughout their life the victim had done many things to both thwart and ensure his eventual succession to Supreme Emperor, earned his respect for possessing superior intellect and skill, as well as a reputation which despite all, would become a legend across his new Empire. If he could have counted on their future loyalty, the victim would have made an helpful ally, had they lived to see the dawn of his crowning achievement.

Like Anakin, the victim could have been buried on Coruscant, but Naboo once more requested for the privilege of their National Memorial Gardens as the location of the body's eternal resting place. Due to this, much of Coruscant's citizens had made the journey to Theed, along with almost the entire Senate, barring those whom Palpatine had chosen to release from office for questioning, on charges of treason. Other citizens from other planets also numbered within the guests, from all walks of life and species. Among the attendants in the solemn procession was a lone astromech droid, who beeped mournfully to itself everytime its optical receptors happened catch sight of the body with the stasis coffin.

Queen Apailana opened the ceremony, her speech an eloquent and powerful hail of all the victim's achievements, in life and in death, their skill and intelligence, the respect they earned throughout the Empire, and lastly, attempted to capture the essence of the grief which all those present carried within them at this loss of life.

"I now give up the stage to the victim's family, who have lost a person that can never be replaced. For the Empire new legends and names will rise, while the old legends endure, but the family will never find another so worthy relative." She turned to her left before adding, "Senator Amidala, will you be so kind as to take the stage."

Padmé Amidala, once Queen of the Naboo, now Senator and Leader of the Opposition, bowed before her sovereign, relinquished the hand of her daughter to her sister, then took the Queen's place before the crowds present and above the stasis coffin which carried her husband, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

"Honoured Citizens of the Empire," she began, "we are here today to mourn a hero of our universe; Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. I am here to mourn not just a member of that ancient Order, but a man, a husband and a father. He has been the love of my life for thirteen years, and I know not if I shall ever encounter his like again, either in this world, or the next. I come before you not to speak of the Council Master, but of the man, who many here were privileged to know. Obi-Wan was kind, generous, and selfless. He was a gentleman to all, elegant in his manners, eloquent in his powers of persuasion. I do not know much of the Force, but I know he was not just a Master, but one who was respected and regarded as such, both in combat and in negotiation. He was a loving husband and father, one whom I hope my daughter shall remember not just from my memories, but from her own as well.

"Obi-Wan was a hero of our Empire. But he was also a victim." Padmé paused here to let the startled gasp echoed by the crowds slowly die out. "A victim of an Order who manipulated him into using his ability in the Force for the nefarious act of treason that threatened our noble Emperor. A victim who sacrificed time to experience and enjoy the early years of our marriage and his daughter's life, to fight in a needless war. Obi-Wan hated to take lives; he regarded every part of nature as sacred. But he was a servant of this Empire, who performed his duty without question. Each time he was called to the field, he was forced to become someone of note; a general, a negotiator, a warrior, a hero. He much preferred a life of quietude, with his daughter and wife. We have lost a King amongst men, and I have lost the Emperor of my heart and soul."

Padmé stepped from the pulpit into a respectfully silent crowd, inwardly shocked by her speech. As Leader of the Opposition she had always been a strong advocate not just of peace, but of the Jedi Order. To denounce them so publicly, and on such a day as the funeral of her husband, convinced those who previously were wavering in their loyalty to the new Empire. Others silently mourned that they had lost a potentially valued member of the old ways and the Senate, who could have feasibly led and overthrown the darkness which now settled upon their Republic.

Emperor Palpatine was both amazed and pleased by his former sovereign's transformed loyalty to his cause. He feared since her marriage that he would loose her support and naive respect for those opinions and values he always proclaimed to hold. That the death of her husband would anger her, propelling her into the figurehead of the rebellious souls who would doubtless rise against his government in the days and years to come. To have her public assurance of alliance was a blessing he did not expect nor hope to achieve.

Ceremony over, the parade of Naberries, Senators and citizens who counted themselves close to the Jedi Master encircled his coffin once more, as the gun carriage conveyed his body away from the grand central plaza, towards Theed's National Memorial Gardens. Obi-Wan Kenobi was to be laid to rest in the Naberrie family crypt, where, as customary, his wife and daughter would spend the night watching over his resting place, before departing at dawn for Varykino, where Senator Amidala would take her solitary mourning period until she was permitted to return to the Senate.

The crowds accompanied the solemn procession to the Gardens, silently admiring how well the flowering blooms looked in the night which had settled over Naboo's capital many hours since. Inwardly their hearts grieved for the daughter who had lost her father so young, and for the wife, their Senator and former sovereign, both attired in their weeds of mourning, a beautiful harmony of purple and black. Silently they observed the two women, accompanied by the family's faithful astromech, descend the stairs down into the crypt behind the floating stasis coffin, until the sculpted stone door slid shut, sealing the end of the funeral.

One by one they dispersed, departing the planet for their homeworlds or Coruscant, leaving what was left of the Kenobi family to continue their mourning in private.

Inside the Naberrie family crypt, a nervous period of waiting ensued, with Cordé and Artoo watching Padmé as she paced the length of the tomb, the veil thrown carelessly from her face, resting slightly askew across the elaborate hairstyle that contained her dark brown tresses, her eyes moist from long ago shed tears at the words she committed herself to speak during the ceremony, seemingly betraying both her beliefs and her principles.

When the door slid aside once more, she did not start in alarm, but turned in relief as the comforting sight of a cowled Korun entered the holy resting place. Mace Windu lowered his hood after the door closed, and silently nodded to her, the prearranged signal which meant that she could proceed as planned.

Padmé dashed to the stasis coffin, her fingers feverishly pressing the button which released the transparisteel. As the clear half cylinder slid aside she touched the cheek of her husband with a shaking hand that carried the ringed symbol of their love and commitment to each other, stroking the skin in a tender caress.

"I love you, Obi-Wan," she uttered, in a surprisingly calm voice, while her heart pounded beneath her chest, anxiously waiting for a reply.

He opened his eyes, their blue green grey gaze moving instantly to her brown one, and a relieved cry escaped her mouth before she bent her head and pressed the closed lips to his. Willingly he returned the kiss, his hand moving from his chest to return the caress on her soft cheek, his tongue parting her red lips to duel passionately with hers.

Mace withstood their reunion for a good five minutes before politely coughing to remind them where they were and who they were with. Obi-Wan smiled against his wife's mouth, then let go of her so she could straighten herself, allowing him to climb out of the coffin to greet Artoo and gather his daughter into his arms.

Out of the shadows that covered the foremost wall of the crypt emerged Bail Organa and Darred Janren, carrying between them a dead clone of Obi-Wan, which was to take the resting place in the coffin, just in case Palpatine or any one of his minions became suspicious of this carefully orchestrated concealment. The being had been engineered on Kamino, along with all the others of the Temple bound Jedi Order, designed to confuse those who wished to murder them.

"The twins?" Obi-Wan asked his wife.

"Safe with their grandparents, cousins and Aunt," Padmé replied. "We'll collect them on our way to the Lake Country." She ran her eyes up his figure, from the brown booted legs to the red gold strands of hair. "How are you?"

"Well, all things considered," he murmured, his free hand reaching out to caress her soft cheek once more. "And you? I had the easier part, while you spoke those words which went against all you ever fought for."

"It was hard," Padmé confessed, "but necessary. And don't forget, this is just the first occasion. I shall have to continue professing my new allegiance in the Senate during the years to come." She paused before adding, "I pray the Force will not allow many to pass before this Empire is swept away and the Republic is restored."

"As do I," he murmured, before drawing her into his embrace. His hands drifted round her hair, fingering past the veil to tangle briefly in the brown curls before moving down the slender planes of her back to a waist still burdened by the aftermath of her concealed pregnancy. In hindsight such a move had been fortuitous, protecting their children from wave of mass murder which swept over not just those members of the Order, but anyone who showed the slightest hint of Force sensitivity.

"We had best go," Mace reminded them all. "It would not do to observe the usual ritual of waiting until the dawn, just in case he has watchers in place."

"There's a secret passage we can use," Padmé informed them, pointing towards a shadowed corner at the other end of the crypt. "It will take us into my family's home, and from their you can depart to your ships."

"What will you do now?" Bail asked.

"The Order shall disappear," Mace answered. "To the sanctuary planet where we shall reform and wait until the time has come to act."

"And you, Padmé?" Bail inquired.

"You shall see us on Coruscant, when the mourning period is over," Padmé replied, causing another startled gasp to escape from his mouth.

"Such a move is too dangerous, not just for yourselves, but for all of us. How shall you avoid detection?" he asked.

"I can cloak myself and the children, or wear inhibitors," Obi-Wan explained. "We shall keep to the apartment. But if the risk becomes too great the children and I will either return to Varykino or the sanctuary planet."

"We'll make contact only when necessary," Mace added. "May the Force be with us all." He pause to bow before everyone present, then gestured to Padmé. "Senator Amidala, if you would be so good as to lead the way."

Padmé nodded and with her husband and daughter following, walked to the shadowed corner of the crypt, where she gently turned one of the sculpted mythical beasts that adorned the walls of tomb, commanding the secret entrance to reveal itself. Then one by one they stepped into the dark passage.

Soft candlelight emanated from the house at Varykino, guiding the way for the small gondola which floated along the lake the Naberrie estate bordered, carrying the Kenobi family to what would be their undisturbed sanctuary for the next few months. Dormé had gone ahead of them to prepare the villa for their arrival, stocking the food cupboards, undertaking the few housekeeping duties required to make the place clean, before she joined her family on Naboo. Though no one was about to observe the occupants of the slender craft, Obi-Wan had donned the gear of a gondolier to escort his family home, while Padmé kept her veil covering her face, Cordé similarly attired and seated by her, the twins were resting in a bassinet in her lap. Not a word passed their lips, or a beep from Artoo, whose mini repulsor rockets carried him alongside the gondola, his weight would have capsized the craft if he placed himself inside it.

Obi-Wan drew the boat into the dock, a swift flick of the Force causing the rope to fall into his waiting grasp, then he set about securing the boat, while their faithful droid entered the villa, his optical receptors sweeping about the place in a quick but thorough security and surveillance check.

With the help of her husband Padmé climbed out of the craft, carrying the twins in her other hand, while Obi-Wan saw her safely on the dock before bending down to lift their daughter out of the craft. Artoo uttered the all clear, and they entered the villa.

After putting Cordé, Leia and Luke to bed, they walked into their own room, where they removed the cumbersome articles of clothing the funeral masquerade required them to don. Obi-Wan was the first to finish, and he stepped behind Padmé to help her from her elaborate gown, until every inch of her glorious flesh was revealed to his tender loving gaze. He drew his arms around her waist, pulling her flush against him, and laid his lips on her neck.

Padmé closed her eyes as his mouth worshipped her skin, tilting her head until her dark brown curls rested upon his board toned shoulders. When his lips moved to caress her face, she turned her mouth to meet his, before turning in his arms. Her hands came up to explore the smooth planes of his chest, and one of his restrained a wrist, the tips of his fingers brushing the soft rise of her breast, his mouth moving to the roof of her eye, kissing the edge of her forehead.

Obi-Wan gently moved them to the bed, where he pulled her down upon him amongst the sheets, the small flames on the candles which surrounded them flickering amidst the slight current of breeze their movement created. He bent his legs to press his knees against her back, as she knelt about his hips, kissing his chest, writhing in pleasure as his eloquent hands worked their magic inside her.

She let him guide her into bliss, then manoeuvred upon him, rising to rest her back upon his thighs as they became one. Her eyes opened as he contorted his back, his hands splayed out on the bed behind him, so his mouth could capture her nipples, lavishing attention on both of them until they cried out each others names upon their release.

In the heady afterglow he fell back against the thick duvet and gathered her into his arms, his hands tenderly caressing her abdomen, which still displayed the hint of post pregnancy they worked so hard to conceal. She rested her face within the crook of his neck, as her fingers worked to release her curls from the elaborate hairstyle they were still contained within. When her hair was freely flowing down around them, he turned his head to press a kiss to the dark brown tresses.

"Tell me what happened on Mustafar," she asked quietly, for this was the first chance since they left that volcanic planet to come to terms with everything that took place there.

Leaving no detail out, he related to her all that occurred from the moment she lost consciousness when Anakin reluctantly let her go from his Force choke hold upon her neck. At times his voice shook with emotion, or his words failed him for a minute, but not until he reached the moment where the med-droid ushered him from her side on Polis Massa did Obi-Wan break down, whereupon she held him until his grief was spent.

After she gave birth to the twins, the med-droids ushered Obi-Wan out of the room in order to undertake the delicate operation to repair the damage to her neck. By the time she woke, his concern faded to relief as he held the twins beside her bed, until she regained the strength to take them into her arms.

Over the next few days, as she recovered from the labour, they met with Masters Windu and Yoda, and Bail and Breha, eventually conceiving the plan to fake Obi-Wan's death, enabling Padmé to transform herself into one of Palpatine's fervent supporters, her deception designed to confuse the Emperor, while secretly she and her husband involved themselves in the newly formed Alliance to Restore the Republic, whose members were the survivors of a committee who once met regularly at Cantham House.

When she was fit to travel, they erased all traces of their presence from the medical centre, forging a false record of Obi-Wan's death there before departure; the Organas to Alderaan, Master Yoda to the remains of the Order on the sanctuary planet, while the Kenobis and Mace travelled to Naboo, the Korun Master hiding himself within the Naberrie crypt in time for the masquerade funeral of his Coruscanti colleague. Obi-Wan then set himself into a deep Jedi trance, the kind which instilled the appearance of death upon him, vulnerable only to a preset voiced command, entrusted to his wife, with Mace's presence a backup if Padmé's words failed to revive him.

Padmé held her husband as he slept, his grief over Anakin temporarily spent, silently reflecting over these events. Many more such deceptions were to be carried out in the future, for it would take years, building up the Alliance until it was in a position to overthrow the Empire. She recalled the vision she experience during their wedding, how prophetically the symbolism portrayed future alliances, along with the storm of the darkness that now settled over the Republic, resting upon the horizon.

She prayed to the Force that they possessed the strength to endure what was to come.

Part 37: Forever.

Padmé entered the penthouse Senatorial Residence for the sovereign system of Naboo in absolute silence. A motioning hand signal from her handmaiden indicated that the surveillance system was deactivated, before Dormé stepped forward to help her mistress out of the elaborate trappings of an imperial Senator. Layer after layer was carefully removed until a Nubian silk slip was all that remained, clinging to her slender figure. Padmé thanked her handmaiden with a nod of gratitude before walking from the living room through her bedroom and into the expansive ensuite fresher.

She switched the shower from sonic to water, turning the temperature up to an almost burning level of warmth. Her hands reached into her dark brown hair and removed the pins and combs which supported the buns and plaits, then she slid the silk slip down her body until it pilled in a heap around her feet. Closing her eyes, her hand went to the nearby entertainment system, and to the sound of soothing Nubian melodies she placed herself under the pouring hot water.

The pounding droplets hailed down her body, a comforting balm to her troubled soul, burdened by the daily deception she willingly placed upon herself. Everyday in the newly named Imperial Senate, a governing body fast becoming unnecessary in the wake of the Emperor's regional governors exercising brutal control over every planet within his tyrannical grasp, she would present herself as the loyal supporter of Palpatine, unquestioning and obedient to his every whim or rule. A cover designed to guard the Alliance to Restore the Republic, to deceive Palpatine from noticing the secret actions of her colleagues on the former Loyalist Committee, or the operations of her system's citizens, in their systematic sabotage of the Imperial weaponry and transport.

Her speeches, once proud, powerful, eloquent words about liberty, truth and justice, were now merely echoes of the Emperor's, his own form of twisted morality. Her dress was sombre purple and black, a permanent memorial for the Republic she secretly aided to restore, and the husband whose death she had faked. The social networking functions were a constant torture in studied avoidance, as she graciously refused matrimonial proposals from the toadies of her former Senator. Each of them, much to her disgust, failed to grasp the concept of her disinterestedness and loathing for their manners, characters and the methods they used in abusing the power Palpatine bestowed on them for their numerous acts of tyrannical torture.

Condensation began to steam the mirrors, the almost extreme heat of the water creating a cloud around her, but Padmé noticed none of it, so preoccupied in letting the balm work its magic on her body. Her constant fear was that the Empire would last beyond her strength to deal with the deception. Abruptly she stilled, pressing her forehead against the tiles, singing part of the melody which came from the entertainment system. Such lyrics, the work of a notable Nubian artist had always been a comfort to her. While not as good as her husband's, her voice smoothly adjusted to pitch and tempo of the song, lingering over the symbolism behind the lyrics reverently.

When she stood upright, two strong arms tenderly snaked themselves around her small waist, pressing her against his muscular compact figure. She did not jump in horror, for she knew of only one warrior who attempt such a potentially reckless manoeuvre. Obi-Wan pressed kisses along the length of her shoulders, upwards against her neck, then across her cheek until she turned to let their lips meet. Each time he visited her on Coruscant he ran the risk of the Emperor sensing him, but he'd learned a way to become an invisible void within the Force, undetectable by any who sought to track him.

Padmé turned round in his arms and caught his lips in a powerfully passionate kiss, her movements suddenly frantic. Sensing the turmoil in her mind, Obi-Wan responded with equal energy, lifting her into his embrace, opening his mouth to let their tongues duel in a sensual foreplay of what was to come. His hands clasped the soft skin underneath her hips, supporting her as he thrust himself inside her, obeying the silent urging of her thoughts; harder, faster. Blue green grey eyes met dark brown ones as their lids parted to let black pupils meet, Padmé raising her head as he pressed her against the tiled wall, the water raining between them as they cried aloud in reaching bliss.

In the heady afterglow they assisted each other's ablutions, massaging away the physical and mental aches caused by the trials of the day. Wrapping a towel around themselves they left the fresher to rest upon the bed. Obi-Wan quietly took her into his arms, her slender form resting across him as he let her hair caress his bearded chin. His eyes travelled towards the ceiling, but let the sculpted flourishes bypass his senses. Feeling her fingers fiddling with the limits of the towel wrapped around his hips, he stroked her the soft skin of her upper arm until the movement calmed itself.

"How are they?" She asked at last.

Obi-Wan smiled, then quietly told her about what she had missed in her children's lives. Cordé had just entered schooling, while Luke and Leia were receiving basic instruction of the Jedi life which had framed their father. Their eldest's training was a little more in depth, though oddly, she was not as powerful in the Force as her younger brother seemed to be. While Leia and Cordé held considerable potential worthy of any Jedi, inherited genetics be damned, Luke had something which one day would become the equal of his father's. Surrounded by adoring grandparents, Aunt, Uncle and cousins, their three children were protected from the horrors of the Empire in which their parents unwillingly lived. Padmé and Obi-Wan had both decided long ago that their offspring would not come to Coruscant until the Republic was restored.

"I miss them," Padmé murmured, the words unnecessary, but stated nevertheless. She returned to Naboo during every Senate recess, but just one second absent from her children was too much for her peace of mind.

Obi-Wan said nothing in response. Instead he bent his head to allow his lips to brush her hair, smiling as she nuzzled her face against his chest in reply. A moment later he changed the subject. "So, how angry is he?"

"Almost Sithly so," Padmé replied. "He cannot account for the mechanical failures, nor find any evidence of sabotage. Each time the project advances a step forward it takes at least four back. It is no closer to finishing than when we discovered it two years ago."

"Such a shame," Obi-Wan murmured innocently, causing her to chuckle.

Two years ago, during a regular patrol of the Imperial dockyards, one of their teams had discovered the construction of a large spherical craft, the size of a small moon. Calling on the aid of their Bothan spies, the Alliance soon discovered it was being built in mind of wiping out entire planets. Outraged at the future existence of such technology, the Alliance began to employ a series of undercover operatives in missions of sabotage upon the vessel, successfully thwarting the Emperor's plans at every turn. Her husband had been placed in charge of planning these mechanical failures. It was a continuous source of amusement for those Senators who knew of the sabotage to see the Emperor attempt to control his reaction every time fresh reports concerning the latest mechanical failure was given to him while the Senate was in session.

"What about that the search?" Padmé asked tentatively, for the other sabotage tasked to the Order was a difficult and disturbing one, not just for the Order and those belonging to the Alliance to Restore the Republic, but for Obi-Wan and herself.

Obi-Wan stiffened underneath her as he always did whenever she ventured to inquire about the Order's efforts to sabotage Palpatine's quest to find another apprentice. The task involved a visit to Mustafar to confirm official Imperial reports of Anakin's death, causing Obi-Wan to admit his less than merciful emotions as he took Mace to the place where he stood and watched as the Chosen One breathed his last.

Mace remained silent throughout the briefing of the duel, choosing to just glance at him in sympathy, then clasp his shoulder before leading him back to the craft which brought them here. Obi-Wan had almost glared in reply. Empathy he did not need, the guilt and self recrimination were still too fresh then. He wanted someone to yell at him, to blame him for the mistakes he made with Anakin. For he had failed the boy, by allowing the tension between them, blinding himself to the relationship with Palpatine, distancing himself from his apprentice, ignoring the boy's visions, instilling the strict discipline he learned from Qui-Gon's treatment of him, such methods he previously swore he would never use with a Padawan until then. Choosing not to resolve the conflict between them concerning Padmé. He continued to examine every argument with Anakin or Qui-Gon over their teaching methods until he naively came to believe that he alone was responsible for the boy's fall.

Someone finally chose to fulfil his selfish desire. Padmé yelled at him after a particularly tiring day with their twins, who picking up on his emotions had screamed and cried until she lost her temper, telling him that if he continued to blame himself for Anakin's defiance against his good instruction, for the Emperor's manipulative and merciless seduction, then he would let Sidious win, by destroying their love and destroying the twins. Her words, though deeply regretted afterwards, were much needed to quench the arrogance which lay in assuming such guilt, in daring to believe that he held a greater power over beings than that which belonged to the Force. Obi-Wan realised in his quest for someone to blame, he had forgot the wisdom of his elders, along with the Code. Slowly he began to accept all that occurred with Anakin.

Then he let it go.

However, the incident still haunted them, for with confirmation of Anakin's death brought Palpatine's wish for a replacement, and the task of sabotaging that desire fell under the jurisdiction of the Order. It forced them to examine the Emperor's methods of seduction and manipulation, to realise - much to their mutual terror -how quickly the conversion from Jedi to Sith could occur in uncertain times such as these.

It haunted Obi-Wan and Padmé every time Palpatine inquired after Cordé, or when they had to move the children from Naboo into hiding on the Jedi Sanctuary planet, because the Emperor had decided to visit his homeworld. Obi-Wan and Padmé were frightened by the possibility of the Sith getting his hands on their children, and for a Jedi to endure such emotions was disturbing, not just to the Order, but to himself.

"He tries," he answered her at last. "But that is as far as Yoda will let him succeed."

Padmé nodded, her still wet brown curls tickling his chest in the movement. Then she asked the question she dreaded to voice, for these visits were more precious to her than the ones they were granted during the Clone Wars, when they had the luxury of openness if someone happened to disturb their hard earned privacy. "How long do we have?"

Obi-Wan wanted to answer forever, but he had never been able to promise her that. This was worse than the brief interludes they were given during the Clone Wars for at least they lasted longer than these indulgences, conducted openly rather than in constant fear of discovery and death. Then she was allowed to mourn his absence, as opposed to removing all trace of his existence from the apartment when he left.

"As long as the Sith allows," he uttered.

Padmé adjusted herself to lie fully upon him, the towels shifting as she raised her slender figure to level his face with her own. "Not long enough," she murmured before kissing him.

His hands came around her, tangling themselves in her drying dark brown hair. "Forever would not be long enough, my love."

Part 38: Enough.

Fingernails cut into skin as the mind commanded the fist to squeeze itself even tighter. Across the room a throat struggled to survive as its supporting skeletal structure was crushed very very slowly into thousands of minuscule pieces. The odds of drawing another breath however were soon rendered impossible. Body and soul surrendered to the illusory light which beckoned them into the Force.

Supreme Emperor Palpatine watched the body fall to the permacrete without uttering a word. Not even the simple pleasure of choking a being to death quelled his frustration now. The punishment of a subordinate usually fell to a Sith Lord's apprentice, but the trouble was that he had no apprentice. He lost his apprentice nine years ago. An apprentice in whom he spent over a decade of manipulation and seduction upon to ensure that his full to the dark side would last a lifetime.

One cannot wait for the dark side to simply take hold of a being. Especially if said being has lived under the influence of the Jedi Order as Anakin had, albeit from the age of nine. A Sith Lord had to nurture the darkness inside the being, stoke the fire of negative emotions, of doubts, insecurities, and fears, until the animal within breaks free of its Force restraints, takes over the rationale and rules that apprentice unchallenged. Only then is the conversion permanent, the anger and fear unending.

Palpatine had converted Jedi into Sith before, he even turned those Force sensitive beings undiscovered by the Order to the dark side. But never had he experienced the satisfaction he felt with Anakin's conversion. Never did the transformation feel so sweet or his pleasure so complete. In one moment he achieved all he worked so hard to gain; the end of the Republic, the end of the Jedi, and the end of the Chosen One.

Then he made a fatal mistake. One order which changed everything he planned to unfold in the future of his new Empire. He sent Vader to Mustafar to deal with the Separatist leaders. In hindsight this was the equivalent of sending a Rancor after a Twi'lek; too much of a superior force against defenceless, cowardly beings. A squadron of clones could have easily despatched the Separatist leaders, he had not needed to send Vader to do so.

But he did. He grew complacent and overconfident in his moment of glory, and in that moment, he lost sight of the possibilities. Of two Jedi surviving their assassin squads. In sending Vader to Mustafar, he failed to realise that the Jedi might endure to face them both.

And kill either of them.

Obi-Wan Kenobi. Yoda. The two names haunted his mind even now, when he had heard no trace of them for nine years. Yoda, the little annoying troll, he could dismiss easily from his thoughts, usually in the simple action of choking a lackey to death, but the name of the other Jedi was a source of anger which nothing could diminish. For he was the cause of the nine year absence of an apprentice by his side. He left Darth Vader to burn to death on the shores of a lava river. If he had not felt so strongly for the boy he spent a decade and more training, Palpatine would have pondered the possibility of turning to the Jedi Master who resisted a merciful end for his fallen apprentice.

That would have been an interesting prospect. But Kenobi was too firmly entrenched within the Light, even then when he turned and walked away from his fallen apprentice. Even when he died, Palpatine could feel the light side of the Force beckoning Kenobi to come and rest in peace within its torrid goodness. By the time he calmed down to contemplate the possibility of training him, death took the last Jedi away.

Well, that was not quite true, Palpatine reflected, as he turned his Force aided gaze on the signatures walking past his office. There were still Force sensitive beings in the world, including one trained by a Jedi, albeit for just the first years of their life. One such fine specimen was walking past his office walls at this very moment.

In a flash of movement which belied his general aged appearance, the Emperor rose from his throne and walked towards the double door entrance of his office. He exited the room in time to cause the two figures to come to a halt, ensuring that a necessary exchange of civilities took place.

"Your Majesty," they chorused, bowing slightly.

"Senator Amidala, Miss Naberrie," Palpatine returned. "What a pleasant surprise it is to run into the two of you. I was just thinking of getting myself a late supper, and I would dearly love you both to join me."

"Thank you, Your Majesty, but perhaps another time," Senator Amidala replied. "We have had a long day and my handmaiden has laid out a quiet meal for us at our residence."

"Are you sure?" Palpatine persisted. "Young Miss Naberrie would appreciate the sights of the capital at night."

"I agree, Coruscant by night is beautiful," Miss Naberrie answered. "But I have been working very hard, Your Majesty, as has my mother, and I beg you to excuse us."

"Of course," Palpatine replied, his face broken by a smile. Inside his mood was anything but serene. He watched the two women walk further down the corridor with something approaching a growling sigh, yet the sound did not escape his mouth. Another attempt to begin the process of recruitment only to be rebuffed once more. He was growing tired of Cordé Amidala Naberrie's excuses. If her mother was not such a powerful aide in the Senate, he would have taken the girl by force long ago. Seducing Kenobi's daughter to the dark side would be the ultimate revenge.

Yet he could not achieve it.

Perhaps that was why he found the substitute wanting, even though they did everything asked of them. By a startling coincidence, the being was nine years old, the same age Anakin was when he first made his acquaintance. There was all the challenge of seduction and manipulation, a chance to feed the ego and betray the parents, with the added nostalgia of symmetry. But that nostalgia tore at his heart, for it only served to remind him of what he had lost at the hands of Kenobi.

He watched Senator Amidala and her daughter turn the corner, disappearing from his sight. A part of him still wondered why both stopped using the Kenobi name a year or so after the Master's funeral on Naboo. The reasons Senator Amidala gave at the time were perfectly sound and logical; she wanted to ease her daughter's sufferings until she was old enough to deal with the way her father died, that Amidala was memorable for the Blockade Crisis, and therefore his own rise to the throne, the beginning of the Empire. But still he wondered if perhaps they thought such public use of the name would torture him as the memory of it did.

No matter, now. Palpatine took a breath and turned in the other direction, heading for his private hanger bay. His thoughts turned to the other nine years old project that was constantly failing as well. The reason he choked a being to death in his office just now. A project few knew about except himself and, in his personal opinion, a rather less than dedicated team of engineers.

It was conceived on the eve of the Clone Wars after the battle of Geonosis, although construction did not begin until he established his Empire three years later. One of those talented engineers handed the plans for the project to his apprentice at the time, who handed them to him after he barely escaped with his life from a duel with Kenobi, Yoda and his future, albeit brief, apprentice. Sending Dooku to his death was a lot easier after that event, though in hindsight it would have been better to keep the man alive just in case Vader was killed on a volcanic planet. But that was the past, only the present could occupy him now, and that present was the latest trouble with the three dimensional result of those plans Dooku handed him twelve years ago.

The Death Star. Even the name sang with Sithly satisfaction in Palpatine's mind, providing he could ignore the countless data pads piling up in upon the desk in his office, full of systematic failures. One by one they cropped up, no matter how many he assigned to conquer the problem, or how many he punished as an example to the rest. It was almost as if the little moon did not want to be finished, which of course, it wasn't going to be, if the failures continued to occur. He was just thankful that news of the latest one was not given to him in the midst of a Senate session. He had no desire to loose another representative from that body of politicians, however symbolic he may have rendered them lately. If he wasn't so sure that none of the Senators knew of his project, he would have suspected most of them to be laughing at him now, except when his temper got the best of him and decided to kill a member of their body.

Clearly, this project now required his personal attention, and that meant leaving Coruscant for a time. A message would be sent to Senator Amidala in the morning for her to take over some of his usual duties. Not executive powers, but the usual meetings and paperwork that took up his office days. Meanwhile he would travel to the shipyards where the space station was resisting construction, and see the extent of the damage for himself.

He was also going to take with him his substitute, his apprentice in all but name for no one would take what was to have been Vader's role within his Empire. Nine was a young age to learn the ways of the Sith, but the being was a bright and willing child and it was time he recognised that potential.

Palpatine halted in his walk mid way down the corridor, outside one of the many Senatorial offices which lined his route. Raising his hand to press the panel beside the door, the long ebony-coloured cloak fell from his wrist to reveal the wrinkled skin caused by his last but one lightsaber duel all those years ago.

The panel turned green and the doors slid back, granting him admittance. He stepped inside, his careful yellow eyes taking in every particle of the room, from the elegant decor to the young receptionist who jumped rapidly from her chair as she realised who was visiting her Senator's offices.

"Your Majesty, this is an unexpected pleasure," she murmured in a lyrically light tone, brimful of so much sickly goodness Palpatine almost stumbled in the face of it. "The Senator will be happy to see you, I'm sure."

"Thank you," Palpatine remarked. "What is your name, young one? I don't believe I have seen you serving the Senator before."

"Ahsoka Tano, Your Majesty."

"Honoured to meet you, Mistress Tano," Palpatine inclined his head deferentially and was just about to exchange further civilities, when the door of the inner office slid open and the Senator entered the room.

"Your Majesty, it is a pleasure to see you," the Senator remarked after performing a small bow. "How can I be of service to you at this late hour?"

"I was about to take a journey to one of the shipyards, Senator Organa," Palpatine replied. "And I was wondering if your eldest would like to accompany me. You mentioned sometime ago that she has expressed an interest in flying."

"Why, thank you, Your Majesty," Bail replied. "As luck would have it, she and her sister are with me now, I was just showing them the duties of a Senator." He turned his head and called them out. "Mara, Noémié, come here, please."

The two girls rose from their chairs and exited the room. Their father stood aside to let them pass and take their bows before the Emperor, who regarded them with deceptively concealed curiosity.

"Mara," Bail continued, "the Emperor has asked if you would like to accompany him on a journey to the shipyards. Would you?"

"I would like that, father, if I may," Mara replied.

"Then it is settled," Palpatine decided, smiling at the young woman. "I shall meet you at the hanger, young one."

He bowed before exiting the room, continuing on to his private dock with an decidedly evil smile upon his face.

Inside the office for the Senator from Alderaan, there was a moment of silence, as the four beings within waited for the last traces of the Emperor's evil signature to fade from their notice. At Ahsoka's signal, the surveillance devices were switched off, along with the timer to erase all traces of the following conversation.

Bail turned immediately to his eldest. "Mara, are you sure you are ready for this?"

"I am, father," Mara replied. "Master Yoda warned me during our last visit that this was coming. He has done all he can to prepare me. The rest lies in the will of the Force."

"In that case, I hope it is with us, my child," Bail remarked. "And not with that Sith ridden being who will be by your side from now on."

He drew his daughters into an embrace, thankful for the day Breha told him she was quickening once more, thankful for the moment the med-droid placed them in his arms. It was not until his dinner with the Kenobis that he and Breha learned of their children's extraordinary gift in the Force, and grew to be wary of the Emperor detecting such potential. It had taken nine years of training under Master Yoda to lead them to this planned moment, but even now, Bail still feared for the safety of his fearless red hair eldest, knowing what happened to the last nine year old who had the misfortune to meet with Palpatine.

Senator Organa held his girls tightly, and prayed the same fate would not fall upon them, for so much more depended upon the success of their plans.

The fate of restoring the Republic.

Part 39: Rebel Alliance.

The night before their plans were set in motion, a dinner was held at one of the private villas in Varykino, Naboo. It was attended by a select number of guests; three Senators, their significant others and their offspring. A informal affair, the event was unusual only in the conversation, for the villa was one of the few Senatorial residences to have no surveillance employed by the Empire, as the Emperor was under the impression that the Lake Country villa was no longer used, due to Senator Amidala's grief in losing her husband. He had no idea that Obi-Wan Kenobi was very much alive, living there with the children when danger did not require him to hide on the Jedi Sanctuary planet, or when he decided to risk detection by visiting his wife on Coruscant.

After travelling through hyperspace on deceptive routes, doubling back, and employing false destination evidence, three unmarked Senatorial crafts touched down at the Lake Country's spaceport. Each vessel carried nothing that could be traced to the correct planet of origin, and every craft was designed to erase the travel records should someone attempt to board them unlawfully.

One particular vessel was the last type of ship that anyone would consider belonging to a Senator. Devoid of theme or artistry in appearance, it was littered with a crawling mass of unique upgrades that naturally, when dealing with such complexity, often required frequent and detailed repair. A hybrid of the YT thirteen hundred, it was equipped with a larger hyperdrive than the standard of that class, and two heavily modified Girodyne SRB42 Sublight engines. Most of the ship was testament to the phrase heavily modified, which while giving the craft an unusually fast speed, also led to almost continuous unpredictability.

Those who saw the vessel whether in dock or during flight, called the ship a hunk of junk and admired anyone's willingness to book passage inside the craft, let alone fly the ship. Its proud owner called it the Millennium Falcon.

Senator Garm Bel Iblis turned to observe this young man now, as he powered down the ship, reflecting over how long it was since he first assigned him as his aide. Han Solo was more than a competent pilot, or an intelligent young man, he was like a son to him. As his courier, Han gained access to some of the ugliest sights of the Empire, but not once did he flinch or waver from his duty in keeping their efforts to restore the Republic a secret. He made his disgust at what he saw known to the Senator, and Garm would ask his advice on how to handle such matters when they were in a position to deal with them discreetly. Injustice could be fixed within the Empire, as long as it was swift and quiet.

Because of his hard work and ability to escape detection, this was the first time Han had accompanied him to dinner with the Kenobis. Garm wondered what he

would make of them. In public, Senator Amidala and her daughter were every inch upstanding members of the Empire, Palpatine's strongest vocal supporters in the Senate. In private, every member of the Kenobi family were active members of the Alliance to Restore the Republic. Until tonight, Han's contact with them was nothing more than in passing during the Cantham House meetings, and occasionally when Garm needed him to act as courier to deliver something on Coruscant. He had never even met the youngest Kenobis, who were a year into their jedi training as their father's Padawans. Raised in secret, they spent their time on Naboo and the Jedi Sanctuary, under the watchful eye of the Order and their parents. Luke and Leia were the best kept secrets of the Rebel Alliance, biding their time until they would follow in their parent's footsteps.

"Senator?" Han spoke, causing Garm to emerge from his thoughts.

"Yes, Han?" He remarked, turning the copilot's chair to face the aide.

"Do I have to come tonight, sir?"

The Senator from Corellia frowned. Han was rarely formal, unless he was asking something he expected to be refused. "Han, you do remember what Senator Amidala was like before the Empire, don't you?"

"During that one and only meeting when I was seven? Sure."

Garm heard the sarcasm in the youth's tone and inwardly smirked. "I promise you, Han, the Senator you know today will be completely different tonight. Padmé is Palpatine's most vocal supporter for one very good reason; she agrees with absolutely none of it."

"She lies that well?" Han shook his head. "I don't believe it."

"Trust me, you will after tonight," Garm replied before rising from his chair. His young aide followed suit and together they disembarked from the Millennium Falcon.

A brightly cloaked figure awaited them at the end of the ramp. "Greetings, Senator, Captain Solo."

Bel Iblis frowned. "I apologise, milady, but which one are you?"

The handmaiden smiled. "Eirtaé, Senator. Dormé, Ellé and Moteé are still on Coruscant." Infact, Dormé was playing decoy for her mistress in order to confuse the Emperor as to her real location, for it would not do for all the Senators invited to be noticed in their absence from the Core at the same time.

"In that case, it is a pleasure to meet you, Eirtaé," Garm remarked, turning on the Corellian charm, as he took her hand and raised it to his lips.

Eirtaé refrained from rolling her eyes for she was no stranger to such flattery from politicians, having served her mistress for many years.

"Please, follow me."

She took them through a maze of alleys from the space port, turning this way and that, down so many blind corners until Han wasn't sure which way to take to lead them back to the ship. Then they emerged into a rural area where trees replaced houses and cobblestones the permacrete. He raised his gaze as they came into the clearing, catching sight of the curved roomed villa. Placed on the shore of one Varykino's many lakes, the villa seemed like a beautiful lighthouse in a peaceful, isolated idyll. The two of them couldn't help but exchanges smiles with their guide as their breath was taken away by the sight.

The handmaiden led them up the steps, pushed open the door, then through to the living space where everyone was gathered. Despite the impressive speed of the Millennium Falcon, they were the last to arrive, due to the deceptive routes everyone employed before laying in a course for their true destination. Eirtaé's mistress was in conversation with Senator Organa, and standing beside her was a man Han could not remember seeing before, his arm resting around the Senator's waist. They turned as the trio of arrivals drew nearer, causing Han to catch sight of their faces. His mind felt a flash of recognition and he was quietly searching through his memories by the time Eirtaé presented them.

"Garm," Senator Amidala uttered warmly as she took his hand, leaning forward to allow the Corellian to return the greeting in the traditional Nubian fashion. "Did you have a good journey?"

"Yes, thank you," Garm replied. He gestured to the man beside him. "You remember Han Solo?"

"Of course. Han, it is nice to have you here, in the freer surroundings of my home," Padmé remarked. "Like the days spent at Cantham House."

The Committee. Han remembered some of those days, despite his sarcasm regarding his youth to Bel Iblis inside the Falcon. Which was why he was able to finish Senator Amidala's introduction as she asked him if he recollected her husband, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

"Han, it is good to meet with you after so long," Obi-Wan replied, taking his hand. "Garm was telling me about the new ship you've acquired the last time he was here. He said it was the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy."

"She doesn't look like much, but she's got it where it counts," Han replied, accepting the legendary General's opening overture of conversation, allowing himself to be guided to another part of the room while the Senators talked politics.

He delved into describing the Falcon's specifications, oddly pleased that the Jedi Master actually seemed interested as opposed to being merely polite. As he slowed his pace down to match Kenobi's change of speed, he saw that they were nearing the younger generation of people gathered. Han realised now that he was older than all of the children who were here but younger than the Senators and their significant others.

Han could identify three of the four women and one boy who were gathered in this area of the room, having seen most of them during his courier work on Coruscant. The eldest he knew was Cordé Amidala Naberrie, though he supposed he should now add Kenobi on to that trio of names. Standing near her were two other young women he recognised, the twin daughters of Senator Organa and Queen Breha of Alderaan; Mara and Noémié. The latter was the image of her parents, dark hair, dark eyes, while Mara was a spitfire of green eyes and red hair. Beside her was the only guy in the group, with fair hair and blue grey eyes, which rarely strayed from the eldest Organa. Lastly was another woman, also unknown to Han, but one whom immediately captured his attention. She was a vision of dark brown hair and eyes, slender and petite. No longer did he feel slightly annoyed with Kenobi for bringing him to the teenagers group. He wanted to learn everything he could about this woman.

"I believe you have met Cordé, Mara and Noémié," Obi-Wan remarked, causing the conversation between the group to stop as they turned their gaze on the newcomers. "But you will not have met my youngest two before. Leia, Luke, this is Han Solo."

Perhaps it was uncharitable for him to still find amusement in the situation, but he did. Obi-Wan took another glance at the sight which was the source of his humour, allowed himself to chuckle inwardly, then rebuked himself a little once more. Uncharitable, and ill befitting of a father, who probably should be protecting his youngest daughter from the suitor he introduced in the first place. If it wasn't for the fact that Leia was quite capable of defending herself, and ably displaying such methods at this moment. The young pilot took the matter equally seriously, yet his face could not conceal the glint of amusement and affection in his brown eyes, for a woman ten years his junior, yet proving herself to be his equal if not his superior in intellect as she eloquently and soundly defended her cause. Han had given up the battle sometime ago, only his stubbornness and attraction still endured.

Obi-Wan turned his observation away from them, remembering his own desires during such a time as Han and Leia were experiencing now, when he met his love; twenty-seven years ago, not far from this very villa. He would have given anything for the harmony and liberty that existed around his daughter to encircle his own first day with Padmé, but the Force determined otherwise. It was not the way of a Jedi to dwell on the past, or to regret the nature of it. Peace and acceptance came a long time ago, leaving only stray, wandering thoughts at what might have been. He brushed them away and returned to the here and now, as his late Master once taught him.

Intimate, free conversation had given way to a part of time for eating and drinking, the traditional perquisites of a dinner party. Not since the days of the Republic had they time to gather with such friends and family that surrounded him and his family now; the Organas, Mon Mothma, Garm Bel Iblis and Han Solo. A partial reminder of the days spent at Cantham House, though with a larger group than was here now. He recalled some of the members; Finis Valorum and other signatories of the petition of the Two Thousand, most of the Council of the Order and Qui-Gon Jinn when his health permitted.

Talk back then consisted of strategy, politics and debate, constant forward planning and rethinking of ways to prove and expose a Sith's guilt, before removing the man from the highest elected office in the galaxy. A contrast to the dinners before now, taken place during the early days of the Empire, when conversation slipped into the realms of therapy and mourning, as they struggled to cope with all they had lost. When acceptance came, the occasions reverted to the meetings of Cantham House, as they changed their tactics and adjusted their plans to include the new possibilities now open to them.

This dinner however, was to be unique and for that memorable. Gone was the time for strategy, politics and debate. Such topics were long past the stage of exhaustion and priority. It was time now not for words but for action, and this evening was the calm before the storm which they planned to erupt on the morrow. Even now however, they had to be careful, the reason why he was the only Jedi Master present. Palpatine's rule turned bigoted and racist a long time ago, making the non-attendance of beings like Master Yoda and Chewbacca a wise precaution. Rarely did the Order break orbit from the planet which was their Sanctuary, and neither did those races who could not pass for human travel beyond their native planets.

On Naboo the Gungans retreated into their oceanic realms, while the Nubians strove to continue their way of life as much as they could under the tyrannical overlord of a man who was once their Senator. In public they supported their new voice of the Senate, grateful that their young Queen could still endure in the face of so much injustice. Privately they protected her and her bloodline, along with those allies who risked their lives to visit, voice, and vision as they waited for the day when the Rebel Alliance would break from the secrecy that guarded their lives previously.

And that time was tomorrow, a day which this evening was to mark, just as it served to honour all which came and went during the days before. Obi-Wan glanced down the dinner table, taking in each and every face present, remembering what brought each of them to this evening. Firstly, Senator Mon Mothma of Chandrila, a great friend of his wife, and a powerful voice in the dying days of the Republic. It was she along with Senator Organa who sought to form the group of resistance against the Chancellor. Without their resources, Obi-Wan doubted that most of those present would still be here tonight.

Next to her sat Senator Garm Bel Iblis, often caught on the opposing end of many of Mon Mothma's debates, as the politician warred with the Corellian within. He often urged for a public rebellion instead of the stealth tactics they employed against the Empire, at first convinced such actions would bring about a quicker end to the injustice currently inflicted upon the galaxy. As the years passed however, he was soon persuaded to relent, when he came to realise the lives that would be lost in fighting a superior force so openly.

Beside him were Breha and Bail Organa, Queen and Senator of Alderaan. During the dying days of the Republic they were prepared to fight using the same methods as Garm, but their realisation of the impossible odds was accepted far sooner. This was further compounded when they learned of the special gifts the Force chose to bestow on their children. Mara and Noémié were born only months after Luke and Leia, in a labour as almost as stressful for the Organas as the latter's was for the Kenobis during the last day of the Republic; the first day of the Empire. Time and time again in the past Breha found herself quickening, only for her and her husband's hopes to be dashed tragically and suddenly. Such stresses bore heavy tolls upon the Queen's body, making the possibility that another attempt could kill her or the younglings ever more likely. Yet Breha prevailed and so did her beautiful daughters and perhaps for the very reason of their sensitivity in the Force.

Mara Jade Organa's midi-chlorian count was strongest of the two, and the Force had placed a hard and dangerous course before her to ensure the freedom to use her power for the greater good. As soon as her existence was known by Palpatine, the Sith lord coveted her, seeking to seduce the purity of light inside her into a darkness approaching his own. But the Force alerted her parents long before the danger could make itself known, preparing them and their daughter for when the time came, so they could use that desire within the Emperor, and twist it into their own selfless motives. Mara was a double agent, deceiving Palpatine almost from the first moments spent in his company. She took her instruction from her parents and Yoda, used her resourcefulness to assist the Alliance by manipulating the Chancellor into believing that she could someday replace the apprentice he once lost.

Noémié Jaiet Organa was just as talented in the Force as her sister, but her strongest ability lay in following the footsteps of her father. When Bail felt she was ready, he would let her take control of his post in the Senate, which, Force willing, would be under the restored Republic. For now she shadowed her father as Mara shadowed the Emperor, learning to walk the fine line of deception, a skill every Senator still loyal to the old ways needed to acquire in order to survive for the day when such lies when no longer necessary.

In between the twins sat his son, Luke Benumi Naberrie Kenobi. At fourteen, he was a year into his Padawan training, though since his birth Obi-Wan took care to teach his son the ways of the Force. There were days when such lessons felt to beyond his capabilities, the nature of Anakin's fall weighing upon him. Careful guidance however, and some times a strong word to 'buck up his ideas' as his wife once put it, would cause him to accept the impossibility to alter the past, to learn from it instead and use it skill to change the future.

Luke was not Anakin, who had been like a brother to him, he was his son and he could not compound the darkness by letting another child fall into its lingering shadow. So he learned from his mistakes and Luke grew into his abilities with the Force, never allowing the darkness to taint him, no matter how much he might one day have to encounter it. In return the Force nourished the boy with the same affection that it showered upon his siblings and his father, though all possessed the humility not to realise this.

Between Noémié and Leia was Han Solo, Garm Bel Iblis' aide and protégé. Obi-Wan had not seen the man since the dying days of the Republic, when he was youth of seven and Garm's courier for the meetings at Cantham House. He knew from the Corellian Senator's visits to Padmé that Han had earned his military training and pilot certificates on Corellia, acquiring the Millennium Falcon during a Sabacc game while he was working undercover for Bel Iblis. Garm always spoke highly of the young man he discovered during a scholastic tour of lectures, and Obi-Wan found no reason to disagree with him from his own conversation with Han this evening.

Then the aide caught sight of Leia and Obi-Wan had another reason to learn more about the man as the Force whispered to him the significance of this meeting. He wasn't shocked by the words, indeed there was a curious symmetry to them, for he and Padmé were about those ages when they first set eyes on each other, not so long ago. He could only hope that Leia and Han would have a happy courtship, if indeed this evening led to such, future being in motion and all that, possibly taking less years to accomplish what he and his wife had now.

Leia Breha Naberrie Kenobi was proving to be the image of her mother, in both looks and character. She joined the Apprentice Legislators as soon as she was able, adopting a false name, rising to become a notable, if discrete star of Naboo's local governance, for they were careful to keep her from Palpatine's notice so far. The Nubians guarded the offspring of their beloved Queen Amidala faithfully, alerting them as to when the Emperor decided to pay a visit so the twins and their father could escape to the Jedi Sanctuary for a time, for she and her brother had yet to learn their father's ability to cloak himself in the Force.

After this evening's dinner, she was to play a vital role in the plans of the Alliance, one she had fought for as eloquently as Mara Organa had for her own dangerous position. Like her brother she was strong in the Force, but her focus was drawn more to her mother's interests, something with which Obi-Wan wisely chose not to interfere. For now she was in conversation with Han Solo, regarding the man's apparent fascination with her as something approaching impudence and arrogance. But she was still enjoying his company, laughing and responding to his teasing in kind. Obi-Wan's eyes lingered fondly upon her, for it was rare his children allowed their youth to come to the fore, anxious to prove themselves worthy of inheriting the responsibility of their parents, a trait of their characters which they obviously inherited from their father, despite all his efforts at prevention.

Cordé Amidala Naberrie Kenobi was likewise prepared for a prominent role within the future events due to begin on the morrow. She had inherited a combination of looks from both her parents, with her father's sea coloured changing eyes and reddish blond hair including flecks and strands of a shade resembling her mother's dark brown colouring. Her personality was likewise an equal joining; with her mother's keen political sense and her father's easy charm and diplomacy. Humility, modesty, intelligence, all three Kenobi offspring possessed, as well as the Force, and she wielded the ability just beyond the level of her brother's current skill.

With her sensitivity came the risk Mara and Noémié ran, for unlike her siblings she could not be hidden from the ugly gaze of the Empire, her existence no secret to the Senate. From the earliest days of the Empire her father taught her to hide the ability the Force bestowed upon her, concealing its true wealth from those who wished to use it to cause pain. Unlike her brother and sister she still held vague memories of the time when she was free to display these abilities, before others and the kind little oddly spoken creature she only understood later to be the head of the noble Order her father served so loyally. These memories enhanced her determination to help her the elders in restoring freedom and justice for all.

Obi-Wan turned to the figure sitting between himself and his first born, the woman who had blessed him with her love and those three wondrous children. Padmé Amidala Kenobi grew more beautiful in his eyes with the passing of every year he came to know her. This, together with her strength, intelligence, sense, passion and countless other aspects caused him to endure when at times all seemed lost. In her own way she was still a Queen, not just of his heart but of the Alliance, the group she helped form and persuaded to include the Order, bringing about a partial survival. During these dark days of the Empire she stepped into her dangerous new role of deceiving Palpatine, pretending to be his strongest supporter just as he had once deceived her thus in order to gain the post he held now.

She pretended he was dead whilst she was on Coruscant, or in the presence of their enemies, continuing a deception they engineered to achieve the plans they would unleash tomorrow, as well as the sabotage of the Emperor's prize weapons. He knew the strain it put on her, the hurt caused in having to hide all trace of his existence whenever he took to visit her, to part herself from their children when the Senate demanded her attendance. That she had not surrendered was testament to the love they found, and to her strength of character, the very thing which placed such a burden upon her in the first place.

What about himself? At last he paused to reflect upon his survival since Mustafar, the imposed self exile he endured to protect his children and his wife, followed by the Order and the Alliance, as he engineered the sabotages against the Emperor's prized weapons. Even now, though fourteen years had passed, the memory of Anakin served to make him cautious, to make him laugh or cry. He rarely gave into the despair of guilt at failing him, Padmé had put paid to that years ago.

He accepted that he could not change the past, but he was still in the mourning stage for his first padawan, and he did not believe he would fully pass it until the Empire was at an end, and Palpatine was one with the dark side of the Force. Not that he desired to avenge the slow insidious manipulation of his friend and brother, but he knew that justice would go a long way to heal the parts of his soul injured on Mustafar. Only then could he accept the role Yoda and Mace wanted to bestow upon him, without feeling that someone else deserved it more.

He looked around the table a final time, wondering if they would all gather together a year from now, on Coruscant after the Empire's end. The future was always in motion, yet they essentially ignored the possibility of defeat in their plans which would begin upon the morrow. It was a concern, the likelihood that not all of them would survive the days to come. Preparation only accomplished so much, they could anticipate the Emperor's response only so far. Time had passed, too much in the opinion of some, not enough in the minds of others. Release was up to the same generation who were forced to surrender fourteen years ago.

Older they may be, wiser perhaps, but capable of victory this time was equally as much a matter for debate at it had been then. None of them were getting any younger after all, and the stresses of living under the present rule, especially with so much of the dark side clouding the true light of the Force, caused considerable strain. But further delay was out of the question, not just because of their children, or the lives enduring and lost through the Empire's harsh reign, but because the longer their deception went on, the greater the chance of the Emperor coming to suspect what they had in mind to unleash upon him.

"To the morrow," Padmé spoke, raising her glass and her voice, causing everyone within the room to fall silent and acknowledge this heartfelt prayer. "And may the Force be with us all during our endeavour."

Beneath the table, Obi-Wan clasped her hand, as he silently hoped that the future would prove the truth of conviction in her words.

Part 40: Eligere.

Elections. Palpatine had come to view the word and the period in the year as one of the foundations of his long, illustrious career. Votes had seen him rise from a lowly government post on Naboo to Senator, then Chancellor, and finally Emperor of the Galaxy. He was a master of campaigning, charming people to his whims until they regarded him as a god. Which, in a sense, he was. The dark power of the Sith was strong inside him, he held the life and death over every creature within his grasp. Now that he had risen to the highest position within his universe, he need never hold such polls again, nor run for something he had already earned.

The underlings below him though, held no such luxury. For them, government positions came in cycles, determined constantly by the will of the subjects they served. Life appointments did not exist for them, no godly powers could determine the length of their reign. If he deemed such action necessary, Palpatine could intervene on the Senator's or Governor's behalf, manipulate their planet's citizens into believing he or she was still capable of representing them in the Senate. But rarely did the Emperor find such action justified or necessary. Afterall, that body of politicians had little impact in the grand schemes of things now, not since they handed him executive powers during the Clone Wars. They were the last vestiges of the Republic. Relics, long past their time, even their symbolism.

Perhaps not however, their illusion. While he held names like Organa, Mothma, Bel Iblis and Valorum in contempt, the subjects who voted for them in droves still believed that the persons who bore these names could work miracles. Even Amidala, firmly entrenched as the voice of his propaganda, was still loved and adored by the Naboo. Five exceptional names who could possibly hold their positions for life, just as he intended to rule long after they faded away into the ashes of history. Despite their questionable ideals, they were as canny as the political despots they secretly loathed, rarely putting other names forward for contesting their seats when that time of year came round.

As a matter of courtesy, Palpatine was given a list of every seat up for re-election, along with the names of the persons who considered themselves eligible for the positions. Usually such a document would barely hold his attention for more than five minutes, as most of the aides were in his pocket, enabling him to obtain the names before they announced that they intended to run. Today, however, he had reason to for his yellow Sithly eyes to suddenly halt midway down the piece of flimsi, as he read the words which were liable to cause considerable shock to his beleaguered brain cells.

Senator from Naboo.

Their existence within the document caused Palpatine to blink in disbelief, for he had no idea that Amidala had decided to retire from the Senate. Despite being a favoured citizen of Naboo, her aides, along with those who names he held in contempt, were not in his pocket; invulnerable to all of his attempts at bribery or corruption. When had she determined to withdraw? What possible motive could cause her to take this piece of action?

Hurriedly he ran his eyes down the names considered as likely candidates to run for that office in contention. One caught his eye. Leia Skywalker. Leia Skywalker? Palpatine blinked, convinced he read the flimsi wrong. But no, a second, then a third examination revealed the same name. Who was Leia Skywalker? He had never even heard of her before. Letting the flimsi fall to the surface of his desk, he leaned back into the confines of his chair and considered. Skywalker was not a Nubian name, though Leia certainly was. The conclusion was obvious. At some point, without his knowledge, his late protégé mated with a Nubian and begot a daughter. Darth Vader's heir was contesting the Senate seat for Padmé Amidala. It was almost too good to be true.

Was she aware of the legacy? Palpatine concluded that she had to at least know of her father's heroic efforts during the Blockade and the Clone Wars, though obviously not Vader's dark end on Mustafar. Turning to the holo centre on his desk his wizened hands tapped out her name into the search engine. Moments later her likeness stared back at him from the frame beside her brief bio. Fourteen, the same age as Amidala when she began her career. Varykino, her county of origin. Mother unknown, father, Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight. Palpatine grinned at the opportunity which this presented him with. If Leia inherited anything from her father, the Force was sure to be strong within her. His search for a suitable apprentice might now be ended.

For a time his eyes were drawn to her likeness, as he noted the strong resemblance she bore to Padmé Amidala. One of her handmaidens could be a plausible contender for the girl's mother, as Anakin would have met them during the Blockade and when he protected the Senator ten years later. Palpatine wondered how Vader had found the time for such a secret relationship, right under his nose and without he or the Jedi Order getting wind of the union. But then Kenobi found the time to marry Amidala, so perhaps it was not so inconceivable that his apprentice had secretly followed his example.

Returning to the flimsi, the next position under Senator of Naboo caught his yellow eyed gaze. Sovereign of Naboo. How time flies. Since Amidala illustrious' reign, her successors rarely won a second term, the Nubians still searching for a worthy monarch to continue her enduring legacy. He ran his eye down the list of contenders. Again, one name caught his attention, though unlike the last, it was by no means a surprise.

Cordé Naberrie.

Now the reasons for Padmé's retirement were no longer so mysterious, she intended to help her daughter when she took the throne, as being of Amidala's blood, she undoubtedly would. Sixteen was no barrier to the post, but he was puzzled as to why this had not occurred earlier, after all her mother had served two years in that office when she was the same age.

The timing of these elections was fortuitous, as it gave him the perfect excuse to visit his homeworld, officially to preside over the election and ceremonies which would follow, unofficially to seduce the daughter of his protégé into the ways of the Sith. Whether Leia won her seat in the Senate or not, she would become his apprentice, and a force to be reckoned with throughout the Empire.

She would join him, or die.

Having ensured that the governing of the Empire would continue despite his absence long ago, Palpatine departed from Coruscant the moment the Senate closed for the election recess. Deciding not to travel directly to Naboo, he stopped off at the Imperial shipyards to hear from his Hand how construction of the Death Star was progressing. Since his decision to use Mara Organa as his overseer, the levels of system failure and power shortages had lowered considerably. There were still some difficulties, the occasional problem cropping up now and again, but otherwise work on the small moon was proceeding smoothly.

Palpatine gazed at the half finished space station now, hovering amidst the Imperial Star Destroyers and Battle cruisers; presently half their size yet infinitely superior in both fire and man power, when she was fully operational, that is. Smiling at the depth of evil concentrated in just one small sphere, he recalled the moment when the plans were presented to him, as the Republic welcomed the clones which would signal theirs and the Order's end. Count Dooku paid for the role of the courier for such plans with his life, but then that apprentice was only a stop gap in the wait for Anakin's fall. Palpatine had been fully aware of Dooku's desire to switch sides if the opportunity was presented to him and made worth his while. If Master Kenobi had been a little more clear headed on Geonosis his insidious scheme would have collapsed before the Clone Wars ever began.

Turning his gaze upon his red haired young apprentice, the Emperor allowed his thoughts to drift and settle on her, admiring the way she carried herself, the authority she conveyed despite her youth, the passion contained behind her lithe form and beautiful features. Looking at her often made him regret that he did not find the time during his younger days for a wife and family, thereby ensuring his succession. Of course, if he had, his offspring might have betrayed him before he reached the role of Senator. It was the way of the Sith, and he would have expected no less. Just as he would welcome the day when Mara decided she was strong enough to challenge him.

The girl was feisty, a formidable warrior with an intelligence to match and a grace about her movements which turned every lightsaber duel into an elegant dance. None of that could be suspected from her current position, as she stood talking with one of the many engineers assigned to construction. She had already learned the ability to mask her skills, her devious nature almost a match for his own. Palpatine contemplated what her reaction would be if she knew that one of the first planets he would threaten to use the Death Star on was Alderaan. Despite all her training she was still steadfastly devoted to her family. Bail Organa, for all his public loyalty was a constant thorn in his side that he would not hesitate ridding the Empire of, and his daughter would learn a vital lesson.

Before him stood his greatest creations; his apprentice Hand and the Death Star. Both half completed, bursting with potential, and unfinished evils eagerly waiting to be let loose upon an unsuspecting galaxy. Palpatine could feel the anticipation within the Sithly Force, a strong tingling sensation, highly addictive and equally intoxicating. The temptation to let them loose upon his Empire, to delegate the ugly tasks upon their shoulders was almost overwhelming, but he had not got where he was today without patience, one of the most difficult skills for a Sith to master. No, he would bide his time, wait for the moon to be finished and invulnerable, only then would he unleash it upon an unsuspecting galaxy. How many planets would remain after his launch, he wondered? Silently he ticked off the ones he planned to destroy purely on principle. Alderaan, Mon Calamari, Kashyyyk, Hoth, Dagobah, and all the other worlds full of insignificant creatures, inferior to humans. The citizens of the Empire would learn from the past mistakes of the Republic, or their planets would risk similar destruction.

"Are you pleased, Your Majesty?" Mara asked him as he came down from the dais to join her at the construction view port.

"You have done well, my young Apprentice," Palpatine replied, clasping her slender shoulder with one of his wizened hands.

He stood admiring the small moon for a moment longer, watching as one of the outer armour-plated durasteel panels was fastened to its neighbours, concealing the vulnerable internal structure from space.

"I must go," he murmured, causing her to turn. "I have a meeting to attend on Naboo. I shall see you in a few days."

Mara dropped gracefully to one knee as his hand left her shoulder to caress her red hair in benediction. Discreetly, she watched him walk away, remaining still until the doors hid her from his presence. Then she rose to her feet and walked to the workstation nearby, where she called up the monitors covering the departure dock. Silently she watched his ship exit the Imperial yards.

"He's gone," she murmured into the small comlink concealed about her wrist. "Prepare yourselves for his arrival." She waited for the thanks and farewell reply, then uttered her own blessing upon the journey. "May the Force be with you."

She turned from the workstation and called the chief overseer to her side. "Begin evacuation," she ordered, and he inclined his head in acknowledgement. "I want everyone off this station and all the cruisers departed from the nearby shipping yards before this thing self-destructs."

And this time, Force willing, there would be nothing left of the Sith to report news of this fatal sabotage to.

Across the galaxy, Naboo emerged from the brilliancy of space, as if it were a precious gemstone enclustered by thousands of diamond stars. Before the large Imperial Battle Cruiser which had just exited hyperspace, it appeared dwarfed and vulnerable. Home world of the Emperor, it was one of the few planets guaranteed survival from the Death Star, despite the existence of the Gungans. Yet still it felt the danger others experienced, the fine line between life and death, loyalty and rebellion. Naboo had never been indifferent to the suffering of others, it was not her way or nature. Blessed with the gifts of wealth, health and an ecologically sublime weather system, it endowed its citizens with generosity and compassion, with the need to help other worlds less fortunate than they.

Palpatine was the exception to that rule, his nature was generous only so far as his own needs were involved. He'd often wondered if those who gave him life were not native to Naboo, but research proved otherwise. A mutation was he, set apart from the rest, to lead his people into a better way of life. The next spark on the evolutional chain, endowed with powers which if used well, would enable him to rule the galaxy forever.

He used his personal craft to breach Naboo's atmosphere, the small, sleek silver skiff, spearing the clouds and blue sky like the crest of a wave upon a limitless sea. Despite his advanced ageing, a result of his last but one battle with the remnants of the Jedi, he was a capable pilot, requiring no one, not even his bodyguards to escort him about his homeworld. Signalling the hanger controls, he waited for the entrance doors to slide back, then flew into the landing dock of Theed Palace.

There was no ceremonial escort awaiting his arrival, no sign of a welcoming committee. But then his visit was unexpected, a surprise for the hopeful candidates for the role of Princess of Theed. Still, a part of him had wanted some notary to suddenly enter the hanger, coming to a breathless halt, bowing and apologising profusely, exclaiming what a pleasure this visit was, how honoured the people would be by his presence.

Exiting the craft, he descended the boarding ramp and touched the stone floor of the hanger, his eyes surveying the yellow ships clustered around his silver craft, and the larger craft which belonged to the Queen. One of those carried his apprentice once, when his brave actions in destroying the control ship of the Trade Federation brought him to his attention. Palpatine indulged his emotions for a moment, searched and found the signature remnants Vader left behind.

He wondered if the daughter would be just as impressive.

Turning from the ships, he walked towards the doors leading the numerous corridors of the Palace. Abruptly, before his feet had even neared the proximity, the wooden barriers slid apart, to reveal a cloaked figure.

Instantly his senses went on full alert, as his yellow sithly eyed gaze rose to meet those of the cowled figure.

A man he whose funeral he thought he had attended fourteen years ago.

With a wave of his hand, Kenobi let the brown cloak fall from his shoulders, pooling into a circle around his booted feet. A small cylinder of durasteel slipped into his hand, the saber igniting into a shaft of brilliant blue.

Palpatine had to admire the boldness of this trickery, the years of deceit and deception this Jedi endured until this moment. But Kenobi was no Windu, nor was he Yoda's equal.

This would be an easy victory.

He stepped forward, and a brush of wind ruffled his cloak from behind, causing him to turn. From the corner of his gaze he caught the arrival of another figure, also attired in desert Jedi shades, a long thin plait gracing one side of his features, which were a stunning combination of his mother and father.

"And who are you, young one?" Palpatine murmured aloud, though inwardly, his quick mind could already guess the answer.

"I am Luke Kenobi," the youth replied. "A Jedi. Like my father before me."

Part 41: Ordæl bi Szablya.

"Good Senators of the Empire, I come before you today, not to formally announce my intention to rescind another term of office, but to confess before you all a grievous sin. For many years now, I have lied. I have spoken false truths, given voice to treasonous acts against humanity and all good races who reside in our once noble galaxy. In doing so I have betrayed those who looked to me as the voice of truth, peace and justice throughout the Republic.

"Until now, my reasons for committing such an act needed to be concealed from you, for your own protection as well as that of myself. The time has come however to release myself from the silence imposed upon me from the day I first spoke such lies, on the eve of my husband's funeral. What none of you knew at the time, what I have taken such care to conceal, was the illusion of that entire ceremony, from first to last. A necessary deception, as elaborate as the plot I will also bring forth into the open now. A plot against every being within the Republic, and most importantly, a plot against the Jedi Order."

By now, Padmé had everyone's attention. In each pod, the Senators and their aides were sitting upright, their eyes wide and alert, fixed on her figure as she stood in the place where Palpatine usually did, having been charged with assuming the authority of his position during his absence, when she pleaded an excuse for not joining him in a visit to their homeworld. The excuse was nothing short of a barefaced lie; her real intention was to stay behind all along, to deliver this speech in his absence to the Senate, using her eloquence and influence to cause them to rise up against the Emperor's treachery, while simultaneously, Mara Organa would be overseeing the explosion of the Death Star, and her husband and son were duelling with Palpatine in the reactor room of Theed Palace.

"This plot began, I am ashamed to say it, on my homeworld of Naboo. By a man who I trusted, who had been my mentor from the earliest days of my election as Princess of Theed, then Queen. He seemed a good, kindly, old man, who dedicated his life to politics out of a deep seated need to help people, as all Nubians do. At fourteen, perhaps I can be excused for placing my trust in such a front and font of deception, but on my world, youth is no shield for accepting responsibility. He took advantage of my naiveté, of my desire for peace and justice, by insinuating himself into the good graces of the Naboo, and the Senate. Behind our backs he called the Trade Federation, and manipulated them into issuing a blockade against my world, knowing that the Republic would send the Jedi. Once he heard of my survival and escape, he persuaded me to issue a vote of no confidence, enabling himself to take the position of the highest office in the galaxy. Then he sent his apprentice after the Jedi.

"Perhaps he underestimated the strength of the master and padawan team, or perhaps he calculated for precisely such an outcome. Whatever thoughts were in his mind during that time, I am not certain. To acquire the office of Chancellor was his primary goal, and that he secured effortlessly. His new title afforded him the authority to direct the actions of the Republic, to conceal his true intent from the Republic, and ultimately, to revenge himself against the Jedi. After searching and finding a new apprentice, he sent the man to Kamino, where an order was laid out for an army of clones. Officially prepared to protect the Republic in a war which he would first engineer into being, their real task was something far more insidious. Within their code of battle was a unique order, authorised by their ultimate General, the Chancellor. Entitled Number Sixty-six, once sent it would cause the clones to turn upon their commanders in the field, their Jedi superiors, and murder them."

Padmé took a breath and continued. "The Jedi never rebelled against the Republic, nor did they plot a mutiny. Instead the Emperor persuaded mistrust and suspicion to grow within the soul of the brightest of their ranks, the prophesied Chosen One, until the boy led the army in a massacre upon the Temple."

They had prepared for this moment for many years. As soon as Luke was old enough to hold a saber, his father took him to the room where he fought his first Sith, led him through the fight step by step, until every inch of the place was known intimately to both father and son. Nothing was a better teacher than experience and Luke came to know every pitfall, every raised walk way, every feature of the cascade shielding.

Obi-Wan had faced Asaji Ventress alone, faced Grievous alone, faced Anakin alone, but those battles were fourteen years ago and more, and though he and Padmé were loathed to expose their son to the dangerous influence of the Emperor, they also realised that Luke could be a vital key to defeating him. For Palpatine would not be expecting to face Master and apprentice, and assume, once he adjusted to this, that the son would employ the same saber techniques that had defined the father's reputation as the Negotiator.

Not so. Luke learned from Obi-Wan, but he also studied under Mace Windu, and Master Drallig, the sword master of the Temple, and Yoda, until he understood their fighting styles enough not just to imitate, but to combine and adapt into a style uniquely his own. At fourteen, he was the leading swordsman of the padawans yet to graduate to knighthood who were saved from the massacre at the Temple. Unaware of his full potential, the boy would become the rising star of the Order, brave yet humble, like his father. Luke still insisted that there was much he had to learn, yet, if truth be told, Obi-Wan had little left to teach him. If he continued to progress as he had done, he would become the youngest Knight of the Order.

And before him stood his first trial.

Palpatine was caught off-guard, but not for long. Quickly he adjusted, turning a mocking gaze from the son towards the father. "So that was what your wife was hiding under her heavy gowns. Twins strong in the Force. You did well to hide such prizes from me, Kenobi. This a visit full of surprises."

"Luke and Leia are the first of many," Obi-Wan replied, smirking at the Emperor as he waited for him to ignite his red blade and strike. "A pity you will not live to see the rest."

"Such is the will of the Force," Palpatine mused. "Think you and a puny boy can defeat me so easily?"

"Think you can defeat us so easily?" Obi-Wan countered. "Come on, old man. Give us your best shot."

Palpatine laughed and as if from nowhere, a silver cylinder appeared in his hands, the red blade ignited to meet Obi-Wan's blue one. He parted his hands, twisting one behind him to send a sliver of lightning to Luke, but the boy caught the potentially painful shafts with his green lightsaber, just as his father had done many years ago. In front of him Obi-Wan reversed the opening strike of the Emperor's blade, the clash of lights echoing throughout the expansive, quiet room.

"So be it," the Sith murmured, and abruptly shifted grip of the silver cylinder within his hand. Another red blade shot out of the end, to deal with the dual opponents of master and padawan, just as his first apprentice had done, twenty-seven years ago. Flicking the blades outward, he struck both of the opposing ones simultaneously, causing Obi-Wan and Luke to respond, their movements easily flowing.

They had prepared for this as well. Remembering the methods of Darth Maul, it was not unlikely to suppose that the apprentice had learned to use the dual blade under his master, so ensuring Luke knew how to deal with such a weapon was a priority. With the help of the surviving masters, they constructed double headed sabers and practised with them in this room, against Master Windu, whose style with the sword was designed to deal with darkness within himself, as well as to channel that which flowed through his opponent. Obi-Wan and Luke dipped into Vaapad now, using their power in the Unifying Force to channel the vast evil they faced in the Emperor.

Sidious directed them through the entrance into the narrow cat walks of the reactor room, as they fell into the movements of a battle conducted there twenty-seven years ago, when the Jedi were still innocent of the darkness they had yet to encounter.

"The Jedi were aware of the growing dark side rising against the Force, more aware than any of us ordinary beings could understand. With the appearance of the Sith on Naboo, they knew that another would soon make themselves public, for there are always two; master and apprentice. At first they were not sure who was conquered on Naboo, but soon they came to realise that it was the apprentice, and that the Master was insidiously working behind the scenes in order to pull the Republic apart with civil war, and amass an Empire of his own making within its place.

"Realising his wrath would be directed against them, they looked towards ensuring their own safety, while trying to defend that which belonged to the Republic. Despite their powers, they were not utterly omnipotent, research and discovery could aid or hinder a survival, one dependent on the good favour of the Republic they swore to protect. Offering of service was their choice alone, a hermit lifestyle just as easily suited them, the quiet communion with the Force. If we rejected them, to that solitude they would retreat, without regret, if perhaps understanding.

"For years the Master of the Sith spread rumours and half truths about the Jedi across the Republic, encouraging the fear and illwill towards them. Growing the ideas of their tendency to take control, to assume absolute authority, until it was all too easy to believe that they could engineer a mutiny against the Republic.

"Then he took one of their padawans under his wing, manipulating him until he distrusted the Jedi, until he embraced the dark side to become the very thing he feared. With the help of the clone army he laid waste to the Temple, believing as we all did, that the Jedi wished to seize power for themselves. He slaughtered men, women, and younglings, while his Master secured his role as Emperor.

"In slaughtering these innocents, the apprentice is not wholly to blame. Manipulated into surrendering to the darker side of his nature, to the fear inside him, guilt also lies with the Master of the Sith. Palpatine has laid waste to our Republic for years, tormenting our citizens, torturing non-human races, killing Force sensitives. And we have let him. Fear has consumed our sense of morals, of truth, justice, peace and freedom. Thousands of beings have paid a terrible price for our fear. No more, I tell you, no more. We must rise against the tyrant who has caused such terror amongst our citizens. I urge you all to stand up and declare a vote of no confidence in Emperor Palpatine."

Padmé drew breath and waited. The silence was brief, and when it ended the explosion was sudden and violent. Voices cried out, crying for the restoration of the Republic, for a new Chancellor. Dimly she tried to sort through the mess, the noise almost overwhelming her. Names were proclaimed across the floor, people she could put her faith in, some whom she had worked beside for fourteen years, trusted with her secrets.

Not surprisingly, though to herself it was, one of them was her own.

Palpatine had not shed his cloak, but the swirling black garment did nothing to hinder his movements. He alternated between his opponents, striking first at the father, then the son, in a calm measure of their skills and style. Obi-Wan and Luke were also calm, responding to him, never advancing first, letting him believe he was dictating the field of battle, when in reality it was actually the other way round.

Sometimes the red blade crackled with lightning, the blue light fusing into the red to produce a strange colour, the dark force splintering off the blade as it struck the opposing blue and green. Humming echoed throughout the reactor room, sound waves bounding off the clashing blades, ricocheting into the walls and back. The sound altered in cadence with each swing of the saber, or movement of the owner. Despite his aged appearance, the Emperor was not out of his depth between his two opponents, his moves young and energetic. Around him the dark side of the Force swelled, as if a fearsome invisible black cloud, the stench of evil so pungent as to be almost suffocating. Even with the combined Light from father and son, the darkness stood triumphant in all its superiority.

But the Light was not going to let it win. It resided strongly within Obi-Wan and Luke, shown by each move they made, balanced along the battlefield they knew so well. Their opponent was not out of his element here either, but that was to be expected, after all he was a native to Naboo, and a resident of the Palace during his long political career.

They traded blows back and forth across the catwalks, blade to blade, with the occasional use of Force Lightning. No fists from this Sith lord, his hands continually swapping grip of the silver cylinder carrying his red blades, as he struck first at Obi-Wan, then Luke. Waiting for one or the other to tire, the old man or the young youth, but neither granted him such pleasure.

He would have taunted them, testing the stability of their emotions if he had the breath to do so, but a swift scan of their Force sense soon erased the possibility of seducing one or the other to the dark side mid battle. Obi-Wan was still firmly adored and protected by the light, a bright beacon of all its goodness, and Luke had clearly inherited his father's warrior-like serenity.

He wondered how they managed such a feat of faith, willingly surrendering themselves to the Force, letting the ancient power dictate the outcome of the battle, uncaring if they lived or became one with the being. Yet somehow it imbibed a sense of survival within them, as he used the blade to strike at their booted feet. The Jedi merely jumped over the saber, landing securely on the cat walk once more. Changing tactics, he directed more blows to the body, making it difficult for them to block, their sabers forced into odd, uncomfortable grips, dangerous angles, the points often meeting the shiny surface of the durasteel floor. Using the double headed blade in this way enabled Palpatine to draw the halves towards different limbs simultaneously, causing his opponents to adjust their balance as they bent to swerve their bodies away from the saber, rendering their ability to remain on the cat walks severely untenable.

Luke was the first to fall, caught off balance in leaning to avoid the red blade, his bend placing too much pressure on his spine and feet. The latter slipped and he fell from the catwalk. Reacting quickly, he kept hold of his lightsaber, shutting off the green blade and letting the Force land him somewhere safe.

Obi-Wan felt his son fall at the same time as his blue green grey eyes caught sight of the actual event. Abruptly he flipped his saber and jabbed an elbow at the Emperor, knocking him from the walkway too, then jumped down to where his son had just landed.

"Why didn't you go on ahead?" Luke asked him.

"Because that's not the Jedi way," Obi-Wan replied. "We do this together."

They looked about for the Emperor, and quickly found him, executing a Force aided leap to the cat walk which provided access to the melting pit. Calling the light side of that ancient being to them, father and son followed, making sure to keep up with each other, as they both knew that getting separated by the shields was not a wise move.

As soon as Palpatine entered the melting room, he felt the faint echo of the death of his first apprentice. Darkness still hung over the area and while he waited for the Master and Padawan to join him, he indulged his senses for a moment. What he deduced from the place surprised him. He could feel anger not just from Maul, but also from Kenobi, the negative emotion the boy left behind when he first witnessed his Master being mortally wounded, then used in defeating the Sith. The Negotiator battled with the darkness within himself in this chamber, and conquered it to defeat Maul. Palpatine never knew this, for such information was not revealed on Palace surveillance. To conquer such emotion, then defeat the Sith and heal his Master was quite an extraordinary feat. Again he experienced the regret of not going after Kenobi as an apprentice, paving the way as it would for a dynasty of Sith.

Then father and son were upon him, and he had no time for further thought, or even the will to sweep down the shields with a wave of the Force, for the Kenobis were using their own power to disable the cascade mechanism. Rushing towards him, Luke leapt into the air and landed behind him with a strike of his green saber, so fast that the Emperor barely managed to respond, repelling the weapon away with a red blade of his own. Obi-Wan was just as quick to face him, striking out as soon as Palpatine met the move from his son, and the Emperor was unable to prevent the impact. The blue blade cut through the black fabric of his cloak, down through the equally dark tunic into the flesh below.

Uttering a harsh growl, Palpatine let loose his anger on the elder Kenobi in a flurry of rapid saber movements, ignoring the boy behind him. Obi-Wan had faced such speed with the blade before, when duelling with Grievous, and calmly upped his own pace with the blade, allowing himself to consume the whole of the Sith's attention, so Luke could strike with impunity.

Which the padawan did, a long cut across the Emperor's back, causing another growl and the rapid saber moves to falter. Palpatine reared out his chest, allowing Obi-Wan a chance to wound him there too, causing him to growl again and double over in pain.

Granting him a moment to recover, the Jedi stood waiting.

Palpatine dropped his weapon, the red blades withdrawing on impact with the durasteel, to clutch at his sides. Dimly he examined the wound he could see, narrow and long, spread across the upper half of his chest. Given the amount of pain his mind was suffering, it was fair to imagine that the cut upon his back was the same. Annoyed that he had been given two such wounds and one by a youth barely into his padawan training, the Emperor saw red. Summoning the dark side to his beleaguered body, he reached out and grabbed the cause of all his defeats, all his present suffering and hurled him into the pit behind.

Obi-Wan grabbed back, determined to take the Sith with him, and Luke was forced to dart aside hopelessly as he watched his father and the leader of the Empire disappear down the shaft. Shutting off his blade, he advanced cautiously towards the perimeter and peered worriedly into the hole.

"Dad?" he called out.

"I'm here son," Obi-Wan replied, and Luke breathed a sigh of relief as he saw his father holding fast to the same round nodule which saved his life twenty-seven years ago. Below him the shaft crackled with aftershocks of Force lightning, a sign of the Emperor's demise. "If you'll give me a minute to catch my breath, I'll be right with you."

And sure enough he was, using the same move as he did years before, flipping over his son to land behind him. Luke waited for his father to stand, then checked him over, noting only one sign of damage.

Smirking his held up the hilt of his own saber. "This weapon is your life, father."

"I can always make another," Obi-Wan replied, returning the smirk before pulling his son towards him for a hug. "If we ever have need of one again."

Author's Note: Here we are at the end of the story. I have enjoyed every moment of writing what is I hope to be the first of many in this fandom. I would like to take this moment to thank everyone who reviewed the story; among them Barbwire Rose, Noobian Rose, LupisNoctis, November9Noir, Storykeeper, Kenobifan, Briseis, Tiernery Beckett, Valiowk, Valariy Scot, HighCentaur-Lord Chorion III, Kicho14, spiritp, and many many others. I am more than grateful than words can say for your kind compliments, constructive criticism, and encouragement, as well as your constant inspiration and welcoming into this fandom.


Part 42: Long Ago......

"Tell us a story, please Grandpa."

Obi-Wan Kenobi looked up from his work into the big brown eyes of his eldest grandchild, Jaina Kenobi Solo. Her twin brother Jacen was standing on one side, and their younger brother Anakin on the other. In front of them were their cousins; Jinn and Cerasi Kenobi Kismavar and Ben and Padmé Organa Kenobi. All gazed up at him pleadingly, and as usual when confronted with such expressions, he found the request impossible to resist.

"Very well," he laid aside his work and rose from his chair, leading them into the living room of the house at Varykino. Gathering them around a comfortable sofa, he leaned back into the confines of the nerfhide and began. "Not so long ago, and near to home, there was a young being who....."

"No, Grandpa, you're telling it wrong!" Jaina cried.

Obi-Wan affected innocence. "Am I?"

"Yes!" the grandchildren cried in unison.

"I'm terribly sorry," he replied, changing his look to one of pathetic confusion. "I'm an old man, you know...."

"You're not old, Grandpa!" Jaina insisted.

"I'm not?"

Jaina nodded her head vigorously. Of all the grand children, she was usually the most vocal and outspoken. A natural leader, like her mother and grandmother before her.

"Okay, I'll try again. Once upon a time, there was a young woman who......"

"That's not it either, Grandpa!" Jaina cried.

"Isn't it?" Obi-Wan frowned. "I was sure that was it." He put his hand to his forehead and massaged the temples. "I must be getting old to confuse stories like this."

"You're not getting old, Grandpa," little Padmé assured him solemnly. With her mother's red hair and her father's,- and consequently her grandfather's -blue eyes, she was a complete contrast to her namesake, but when she spoke, it was as if her grandmother was in the room.

"I'm not?" Obi-Wan asked her in the same solemn tone.

"No, you're not," her namesake uttered now, causing the Jedi Master to look up as Senator Amidala walked into the room. Coruscant's governing body was currently in recess, allowing for the great leaders of the Republic to return to their home planets and spend time with their family. "But that doesn't mean you, Cerasi and Jaina can feed his ego. Your grandfather has enough beautiful women following him around as it is."

"Really, milady, I see only one beautiful woman, and I follow her around," Obi-Wan returned smoothly, causing his wife to blush before shaking her head and pointing her finger at the group imperiously.

"You owe our grandchildren a story, Master Jedi," she reminded him, before joining the group, taking a seat beside her husband. He lifted his arm and let it fall about her shoulders, smiling as she rested her head in the crook of his neck.

Outside the rain continued to pour down, clothing the lush green grass and stone walkways, denying the children the privilege of playing outside, and their grandparents a moment to themselves. Despite the recess, their parents were detained by duties; Leia in her capacity as Chief of State on Coruscant, her husband on Corellia as part of his Senatorial lecture tour, Luke and Mara at the Jedi Temple in their teaching classes, Cordé and Nwaé at Theed Palace advising the present Queen of Naboo. Obi-Wan and Padmé were the first to be freed from their duties to the Jedi and the Republic, and they took the kids off their parents' hands to spend some time in the Lake Country.

Many years had passed since that fateful day when the Emperor met his death in the reactor room of Theed Palace. The Republic had been restored to its full glory, somewhat less tarnished than it was before, with first Padmé, then Mon Mothma and then Leia as Chief of States. Gently each had guided the Republic away from the tyrannical tendencies of the Empire into the peace, freedom and liberty it stood for now. The Jedi Order was flourishing, restored to the Core Temple, and, though it exercised more independence than in the days of the Old Republic, it still served the new body of that name with the same unswerving loyalty as before. Jedi marriages were more of a common practice too, with initiate intake age varying from crechling to youngling, even to teenager in some cases.

As for the Kenobi family, they too flourished under the new regime. Padmé retained her seat in the Senate, while Obi-Wan rose to- as far as he was concerned -the astonishing height of leader of the Order after Yoda's passing. Cordé was a important member of the Nubian government, after working in the legislature, where she met her husband Nwaé, who would one day run for governor. Luke did become the youngest knight of the Order, rising to a position on the Council and a teacher. Despite knowing each other since their youth, he and Mara endured a long and sometimes rocky courtship before marrying a few years ago. Leia and Han were the first of the family to grant grandparent-hood upon Obi-Wan and Padmé, marrying when Leia was twenty-eight. Leia reigned as Queen of Naboo for two terms before joining the Senate as the junior Senator from the Chommell sector, where her husband, much to the surprise of all concerned, soon joined her when Garm Bel Iblis suggested his name for the junior seat from Corellian System.

Noémié Organa was expected to succeed her parents, but for now she was the junior Senator for the Alderaan sector, while Mara pursued her Jedi ability as a teacher and Councillor of the Order. She was still a prominent member of Republic Intelligence, although now her time was more focused on Padmé and Ben, whose gift with the Force was a stunning combination of their gifted parents. The Force ran strong in the Kenobi family Yoda had once said, and each generation was continuing to prove this rule, with Anakin's namesake the most advanced in his training.

Anakin. Obi-Wan still grieved for the boy, although a great deal less than he used to. He held a special place in all of the family's heart, even though only Cordé had known him, and barely remembered him at that. Leia and Han asked for his and Padmé's blessing to name their youngest son, just as Cordé and Nwaé had regarding Jinn and Cerasi. The prophesy of the Chosen one had been fulfilled, though there was still disagreement over his identity. It was no longer a fiercely debated topic of the Order however, for the Sith were gone. No new dark apprentices or masters had emerged from hiding for years, and the cloud of darkness which hung over the Order as long as Palpatine was alive dissipated with his death. The Jedi were wary, but relieved that no such darkness threatened their existence anymore.

Qui-Gon Jinn. Obi-Wan couldn't help but wonder sometimes what his mentor would make of the Republic now. He died as the old one died, fighting amid the clones they engineered to save the Order. Chances are, he would not have lived to see the death of the Empire, his illness was determined to be in its last throes, and his master had never been one to accept death quietly. But there were times when he could hear his voice, almost see his eyes looking fondly upon him, and the life he lived and shared with his family. Before Yoda became one with the Force, he mentioned of teachings, a way to commune with one who has passed from the land of the living into the realm which belonged to that ancient and revered being. He was the last of the old, Mace dying some years before him, the last living key to the old wisdom. While he was head of the Order, Obi-Wan would seek to keep the memory of all they taught him alive, for it made the Jedi what they were now.

The future was before them, one content to remained shadowed, the Force assuring the being it adored that there was nothing to fear from it. Obi-Wan trusted the answer, but it did not stop him from questioning, the Unifying sense strong within him. The ancient being allowed and accepted the inquiry, for it had made the man this way, and held no desire to change him now. He was content to wait for the future to unfold in its own way, the philosophy his mentor once taught him applied to so many aspects of his and his family's life. Conclusions were there to be drawn; his grandchildren would continue to grow and flourish under their family's, the Order's and the Republic's teachings. Eventually they would reach knighthood and marry, granting him and Padmé the title of great grandparents, if the Force allowed them to live that long. Or perhaps they would see them as Qui-Gon or any of the other old Jedi now one with the Force did.

From above, looking down below, with blessing.

He glanced at his wife, knowing she would speak to him soon, prompting him into telling the story he had pretended to begin telling their grandchildren. A life time and more had passed since they first met each other on this very planet, when he leapt out of a raised cloister above an archway and saved her life. Neither of them had known back then how many times they would be called on to rescue one another, to deepen a relationship of kindred spirits, seeking pieces to themselves they did not know were missing. Countless things had brought them together, and just as many could have easily led them down another path, away from the joy they would find with each other. Obi-Wan did not care to wonder what would have happened to either of them had they ignored their initial attraction, along with the whisperings of the Force, prompting them to take note of one another, to realise a future union and what bliss awaited them from following through in such a proposed motion. Sadness lay that way, and he would not wish that upon their lives, when so much joy surrounded them now.

"A long time ago," he began, in a richly cultured voice, "in a galaxy far far away......"

The End.

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2021. All rights reserved.