Chapter 62: Duel of the Avatars
Just when Vader had thought the worst was behind him, one more challenge rose up to face him.
It was his son, but different this time, joined with the spirit of his enemy. It was similar to his own union with the spirit Vaatu, yet from what Vader felt in the Force it seemed that this combination could still be undone. It was a personal disappointment for Vader, since this would require him to kill Luke, something he had wanted to avoid. He had truly wanted Luke to join him in ruling the Empire as father and son, to forge a new bond between master an apprentice, one that would not succumb to the flaws of the Rule of Two.
No avoiding this now, Luke had chosen to reject him in every way possible, and now he had chosen death as well. Vader called upon the Avatar State once more, eyes glowing bright red, just like Luke's eyes that glowed bright blue. He leapt from the top of the crashed rebel ship, soaring through the air on the Force, recreating the rings of fire, lightning, and scrap metal along the way. Luke was flying on the Force, faster with the wind at his back, bringing the other elements with him. High above the landscape they collided, elemental rings crashing together, lightsabers brought to bear.
Four lightsabers came together, Vader's red and blue to Luke's green and purple, and the light of their contact was nearly blinding. Their elemental rings were colliding around them, while they swung their lightsabers again and again, clashing at various angles. Luke's swordsmanship had drastically improved, aided by the experience of Aang's past lives, some of them being excellent swordsmen. It allowed Luke to match Vader move for move, blocking each lightsaber swing aimed at him, yet each attack he made was blocked as well.
At one point the weapons were locked, both combatants pushing against each other, and Vader could look at Luke in his glowing eyes. "This changes nothing. You will not defeat me."
Luke leaned forward, his face framed in the glow of his lightsabers. "We'll see about that."
Vader breathed fire at Luke, being at point blank range. Luke in turn blew wind at Vader's face, diverting the flames upward, feeling the heat but not being burned. The flames obscured their view, and they swung their lightsabers some more, relying on the Force to guide their hands while they could not see. Luke backed away, the flames between them dispersed, and he brought the four elements together around one hand. He thrust that hand forward, unleashing the elements on Vader, who in turn hurled his fire and lightning at Luke, the attacks colliding in the middle.
During all of this Toph had raced across the battlefield, picked up Katara, and made a mad dash for the crashed ship. "Hang on Sugarqueen!"
The moving mound of earth they rode on suddenly became a slanted pillar of stone, which launched Toph and Katara high into the air. Toph had timed it just right to put them on top of the ship, though they tumbled upon the hard landing. From there they ran across the dorsal hull of Home One, making their way to a spot near the front of the ship, where Aang's body lay prone in a narrow groove. Katara summoned all the water she had left, enough to coat her arms and glow with the healing power of waterbending, and she kneeled at Aang's side to get to work.
Katara didn't dare move Aang yet, instead applying her healing gift to his torso immediately. "Oh man, Aang, how in the world are you still alive?"
Despite no medical training whatsoever, Toph had a good idea just how bad Aang's condition was from the vibrations she felt. "Oof, yeah, that is very bad."
Between the broken bones, deeply bruised skin, and considerable internal bleeding, Aang's body was damaged in nearly every way conceivable. It was a wonder that he had survived, so close to death yet still lingering on. He was on the knife's edge, and one wrong move could push him over. As such Katara focused on healing Aang's organs first, pushing the glowing water deep inside to touch his heart and lungs, to keep the essentials functioning. It required a gentle touch, avoiding the worst of the damage at this delicate stage, so that she wouldn't make it worse.
"Stay with us Aang…" Katara muttered, determined to keep him alive no matter what. "We've gone through too much to lose you now."
Of course, Aang didn't hear her, since his spirit was occupied with Luke's endeavor against Vader. Such as enabling him to redirect the Force Lightning that Vader fired at them, drawing it into Luke's body and then sending it back up the other arm. Vader in turn caught the Force Lightning, dissipating it back into the void from whence it came. As such redirection would only protect them in this fight, but could not harm Vader while his focus was on them. That didn't stop Vader from using lightning of both varieties, for Luke or Aang only needed to make a tiny mistake for it to hurt them.
After redirecting more lightning, Luke thrust a hand forward and pushed with the Force, amplifying it with the Avatar State. It slammed into Vader and hurled him away, tumbling end over end through the air. He recovered quickly, and responded in kind, pushing with the Force to slam Luke down. He fell all the way to the ground, landing on his feet and softening the impact with earthbending. Vader quickly pursued, hurling fire and lightning down at Luke, only for him to leap to one side at speed and let the attacks hit the ground.
When Vader was close enough Luke stopped and planted his feet, arms spread wide as he called on the earth beneath him. Twin mounds of rock and soil rose upward, manipulated by both earthbending and the Force, taking the shape of enormous arms that reached at Vader. The hands of those arms slammed together around Vader, but Luke knew that wouldn't hold him. He created massive plumes of fire, similarly shaped by the Force into arms, which grasped the clenched stone hands to bathe in heat and flames, to bake Vader inside.
Vader unleashed a shockwave of the Force, to shatter the stone hands and disperse the flames. He leapt away from the stumps of stone arms, only to be hit by intense winds that pushed him back toward the rock. It held until Luke had drained the local aquifer of all its water, and sent it at Vader as a torrential river. Vader threw his lightsabers left and right, crossed his arms, and the water slammed into him and then into the rock behind him. The Force shielded him from the worst of the rapid water, while the rock was worn away by the fierce current.
The thrown lightsabers went around the rushing water and converged on Luke, guided by Vader to reach the target. Luke raised his lightsabers to block the thrown weapons, but that required him to stop the waterbending. Vader was released from the rushing water and soared toward Luke, swinging his lightsaber with the Force in the meantime. Up close he took hold of his weapons and wielded them properly, bringing them together and swinging at Luke's head. He missed when Luke ducked, and the other lightsabers swung up at him.
The green blade hit the red lightsaber's handle, cutting it in half, along with half of Vader's fingers.
Vader screamed in pain and anger, with half of his right hand cauterized, the lost fingers already forgotten. He dropped the broken half of his lightsaber, clenched his left hand around the blue one, and blocked the green and purple blades with it. But now he was on the defensive, holding back the two lightsabers with his remaining one, and was being pushed back in the air. His wounded hand wasn't entirely useless, still having a thumb and two working fingers, and he pointed them at a target behind him.
A plume of fire shot from those fingertips, aimed down to strike at the crashed ship. Katara saw it coming right toward her and Toph, not to mention Aang's motionless body. She had to stop healing, pull the water she was using back out of Aang, and draw what little water she could out of the air, putting it all together for a liquid shield. Toph reinforced it with every bit of dirt and rock she could find, responding to Katara's movements to a threat she could not see. Their defense held against the fire, but all of the water had evaporated, and it slipped away into the dry air before Katara could reclaim it.
Katara turned back to Aang, realizing that she didn't have any water left for healing. "Crap-Crap-Crap! Toph! Help me move Aang! Now!"
Toph immediately grabbed Aang by the soldiers while Katara went for the legs. "Where we going?"
"Anywhere there's water!" Katara answered. She and Toph picked up the pace, taking Aang across the hull of the ship. "And away from the fire!"
The blue glow in Luke's eyes flickered, and the power he wielded fluctuated with it, until the glow returned to full strength. "What?"
The momentary lapse in power was enough for Vader to reassert his advantage over Luke, his single blue lightsaber pushing back against the other two. "You've united, but the connection is weak, and easily severed!"
A powerful push of the Force shoved Luke back, his lightsabers spread apart, and Vader swung his blue blade down the middle. Luke let go of the purple lightsaber, guided it with the Force to put it in position, and blocked the attack at the last second. The blue lightsaber slid down the length of its purple counterpart, until it hit the handle and split it in half diagonally. By then Luke had his green lightsaber back in position to block, and while holding it in both hands he held back Vader's attack. It was closer to his face than he liked, and slowly getting closer.
Luke took a deep breath and blew a powerful gust of wind, right in Vader's face to push him away. In the moment that bought him Luke made the winds twist and turn around his lightsaber, like a miniature cyclone around the green blade. Water, rocks, and flames quickly followed, joining the wind to create an elemental sword with the lightsaber core. Vader closed in, and Luke swung the elements at him, clashing with the blue lightsaber. Some of the elements were vaporized on contact, but the rest got past the blue lightsaber, getting dangerously close to touching Vader.
Not to be outdone, Vader ignited flames around his lightsaber, along with Force lightning. The violet electricity twisted and coiled along the lightsaber's containment field, and spread to the other lightsaber on contact. The elements clashed with the fire and the Force lightning, scattering rocks and steam and smoke in every direction. The Force lightning continued on from the clashing lightsabers, arced to Luke's arms, and delivered a nasty shock. Luke screamed in pain, unable to redirect the lightning while in this position, having to endure it as best he could.
But then the glow in his eyes flickered again, and his power fluctuated with it. "Not again…"
By now Katara and Toph had gotten Aang through an airlock and into Home One, and had followed signs that pointed to sickbay. Once inside they had met some of the crew, and they had procured a hovering stretcher to put Aang on for safer transport. Katara was pulling water from every source they came across, even though the pipes had drained into the lowest decks already, leaving only drops this high up. Toph was keeping a hand on the hovering stretcher at all times, needing it to keep the vibrations coming to her, and monitored Aang's condition while Katara worked to heal with what little water she had.
"We're losing him!" Toph shouted.
"Working as fast as I can!" Katara yelled back. She had her hands on Aang's chest, concentrating her healing water on his heart and lungs. "No-no-no!"
"Heart's stopped!" Toph screamed. She slammed a fist on the stretcher, not knowing any other solution but to hit the problem. "Do something!"
The blue glow left Luke's eyes altogether, and he fell from the sky just as Vader was about to take his head off. The fall took him away from the Force lightning that had been shocking him, and once freed from that pain he could then scream about falling to his death. The elements were not responding to his commands anymore, and the rocks and water that used to orbit him were now falling alongside him. Vader was in pursuit, as always, and Luke had to use the Force to fall even faster, which only traded one imminent danger for another.
Luke didn't see the ground coming up, since he was facing up to keep his eyes on Vader. "This is going to hurt so much."
Vader was getting closer every second, certain that he would reach Luke first. "I have you now."
Katara made that claim with her right hand over Aang's chest, fingers curled and flexing in and out, concentrating her waterbending into the smallest space possible. It was necessary to achieve a usually time-sensitive application of waterbending, and to cross a line Katara never wanted to cross again. Bloodbending, meant to usurp control of another person's body, and now she would use it to save a life. Katara made Aang's heart move with her fingers, squeezing and relaxing in a rhythm to simulate a natural heartbeat, forcing his blood to flow though his body.
A sudden deep breath from Aang was an enormous relief, and Katara could release her grip on his heart. "That was too close."
The blue glow returned to Luke's eyes, and the Avatar State's power returned with it. "We're back!"
He flipped to put his feet beneath him, and pushed with the Force just before Vader would have reached him. That put him a second away from hitting the ground, and used earthbending to compress the terrain and soften the landing. A small crater formed beneath him, and he came to a stop at the bottom. Luke raised his arms made the rims of the crater rise up around him, and then converge directly above him. Vader was passing through that spot, and the walls of rock and soil closed in from all sides.
This new dome of earth only lasted a moment, until Vader shattered it with the Force. It was enough time for Luke to leap from the ground and unleash of plume of flames straight up, close enough to point blank range. Vader diverted the flames around him, sweating as the heat seeped into him, until he saw Luke emerge from within the flames. There Luke swung his lightsaber, wreathed with the elements once again, aimed at center of mass. Vader brought up his lightsaber at the last second, its flames and Force lightning clashing with the elements, barely keeping Luke's weapon from meeting its mark.
Luke took in a deep breath, but then saw Vader preparing for anything he might blow in his face. So he turned his head and blew fire down instead, right for the hilt of Vader's lightsaber. The flames scorched Vader's hands, delivered fresh pain through his arms, and weakened his grip on the weapon. Luke twisted his lightsaber behind Vader's, pulled hard, and pried it free from burned and bloody fingers. He caught the blue lightsaber in his other hand, swung it in tandem with the green blade, but Vader pulled away to avoid the swings.
With the blue lightsaber in one hand and the green lightsaber in the other, Luke crossed the blades. "You never deserved to get this one back."
Vader hovered in the air several meters away from Luke, his burned hands spread far apart. "I don't need it anymore."
Force lightning erupted from Vader's hands, though none of it was aimed at Luke, or anything in particular. The lightning quickly receded in length but not intensity, all the myriad arcs of electricity uniting into a pair of bright purple lines. The concentrated electricity transformed into plasma, just like that of a lightsaber, but contained by the Force instead of a magnetic field. Held in the palms of his burned hands, these hilt-less blades seemed like extensions of Vader's arms, and he wielded them as such.
Vader dashed toward Luke, swung both blades at him, and they clashed with the blue and green lightsabers. Luke pulled back, enveloped his lightsabers in the elements, and struck again. Wind and water around the blue blade, earth and fire around the green blade, the elements assaulted Vader's Force-generated lightsabers. Luke could see the strain it put on Vader to maintain these weapons, yet it was not enough to hinder him. After several swings the four blades locked together, both men unable to pierce the other's defense.
When their glowing eyes made contact, Vader smirked.
The Force lightsabers erupted with lightning, enough to fill the air all around Luke. Some of it was drawn to Luke's lightsabers, but far more Force lightning went around the weapons and struck his body. Luke screamed in agony as the Force lightning surged through his flesh, the pain worse than anything he had ever felt before. At times it seemed like his skeleton could be seen through his flesh, though only Vader was close enough to see that. It took all the concentration he could muster to hold his lightsabers in place, keeping the source of the lightning from cutting him to pieces.
Just when Katara and Toph had almost reached Home One's sickbay, Aang's body began to jerk and shake randomly, and nearly fell off the hovering stretcher. Toph grabbed both of his arms and held him down, a rebel crewman did likewise with the legs, and they kept Aang in place during this sudden seizure. Katara was busy with healing on the go, but with Aang shaking like this she had to stop to avoid fatal mistakes. They barged into sickbay, where doctors and droids were busy with crewmen injured during the crash, and were immediately the center of attention.
"Need some help over here!" Toph yelled. She was still holding Aang down when the stretcher stopped, and she turned her head toward the nearest doctor. "Right Now!"
That doctor hurried over, and he injected Aang with a sedative. "Over here, quickly!"
"Aang has to live no matter what!" Katara said. She helped move Aang over to one of the beds, where the doctor could hook him up to medical equipment. "If we lose him, we will lose Luke, and then-"
Toph interrupted and pulled Katara down to the floor, away from Aang's good hand. "Duck!"
That arm stuck out, away from the rest of him, two fingers pointing at nothing in particular. Electricity erupted from those fingertips, the dark purple of Force lightning, drawn through the connection between body and spirit. It went straight into the nearest medical equipment, and some droids, shorting out all of the electronics within them. All of the lights exploded in showers of sparks, and lights outside sickbay likewise burst apart, following the path of power conduits ruptured by the Force lightning.
For Luke the pain was subsiding, though not entirely. The Force Lightning was drawn into him, shunted through the Force along the spiritual connection between him and Aang, redirected to the other body and expelled there. The flow of Force lightning accelerated once the release was open, and to Vader it looked like the lightning was simply disappearing into flesh. Then the Force lightsabers began to lose cohesion, their plasma reverting back into the Force lightning that had forged them, and drawn into Luke with the rest of it.
The Force lightsabers lost their edge, and Luke's weapons swung forward without resistance. They struck Vader's hands, sliced them in half, and then went up the length of his arms straight to the middle to the shoulders. Half of each arm fell away, while Vader screamed bloody murder, and Luke held his lightsabers above his head. Luke swung them back down, but hesitated to strike a final blow, and struck the shoulders instead to remove what was left of Vader's arms. The rest of him fell away, before Luke could swing again, and dropped toward the crashed ship beneath them.
Inside that ship the electrical discharge ceased, but the damage had been done. All of the medical equipment in sickbay had been destroyed, save for the few droids that had been standing in the opposite direction of the redirected Force lightning. As such the doctors were removing everyone stable enough to leave, as any further treatment would have to be done in makeshift facilities elsewhere. Only the patients in critical condition remained, the ones where movement risked their lives, which included the now-limp Aang.
"Well now what do we do?" Toph asked.
"We go for broke," Katara said.
She pulled water from every source within reach, from the dripping puddles to the steam in the air and the pipes that ruptured all around her. Many gallons flowed into the ruined sickbay, and she completely enveloped Aang in all that water. Katara stuck her hands into the water, making all of it glow with the healing light, putting everything she had into her bending. Bit by bit the water was consumed, until a thin sheen remained around Aang. The light faded away, leaving Aang damp but still breathing, and Katara collapsed at the side of the bed.
"That's everything I had," Katara said, out of breath and barely moving. "It better be enough."
Toph reached in and grabbed Aang's arm, getting a better feel for the vibrations within him. "Heartbeat is weak, but steady. He's breathing well enough. Most of the bruises are gone. Bones are still cracked all over the place, but holding together. I think you did it Sugarqueen. Twinkletoes should make it."
Katara let out a sigh of relief. "Great. Keep watch for me. I don't think I can…"
She tipped over, and Toph had to catch Katara before her head could hit the floor. "Nighty-night."
Meanwhile Luke slowly descended toward Home One, his gaze set on Vader, who had fallen onto the hull of the crashed ship. He let the elements fall away as he approached, but kept his lightsabers active, not entirely certain this was over. Vader may have been literally disarmed, but if he still had the strength to fight he would remain a threat. And yet Vader wasn't moving, simply laying there at the edge of the hull, his head hanging off the side and looking up at the sky. Luke landed on the hull to approach on foot, and he expected an attack with every step.
It didn't happen, even when Luke had his foot planted on Vader's chest, and his lightsabers crossed just above the neck. "It's over."
Vader only looked up at Luke, and the red glow of the Avatar State faded away. "What are you waiting for… Jedi… Finish me… and embrace the dark side of the Force."
Luke simply met Vader's gaze, hesitating to deliver the final blow. Through the Force he felt Vader's power receding to nothing, drained away by the wounds that had removed his arms. Even this pain was too much for a Sith to withstand, and the dark spirit within him could not overcome the loss. And this was still his father, dark spirit or Dark Side of the Force be damned. Vader may be beyond redemption at this point, but Luke still couldn't bring himself to kill the man that should have been there to support him throughout his life.
Letting the Avatar State subside, but with Aang's spirit still within him, Luke pulled back his lightsabers just the slightest bit. "You could have stopped at the Emperor. Instead you tried to kill Aang, his friends, and me, all because you merged with a dark spirit. You weren't going to stop there. You were going to take the Emperor's place and rule the galaxy. And yet you expect me to believe that ending all of that is the path to the dark side?"
Vader closed his eyes, heard the hum of lightsabers grow louder, and then the sound of them cutting something. But his head was still attached, and he opened his eyes to see the lightsabers stabbing the metal beside him. "What?"
"Surprised, don't be," Luke said. He took a step back, removed his lightsabers from the hole he'd cut into the hull, but kept them pointed at Vader. "If your spirit is anything like Aang's, you'll reincarnate upon death. The dark spirit within you will be loose, and impossible to find before it becomes too powerful to contain. Better to keep you alive and restrained, as a living prison for that spirit."
That fate was unacceptable, for both Vader and Vaatu. "You could never hold me."
He pushed with his legs, and sent himself over the edge of the ship. He fell head over heel at first, until he used his dwindling strength to call on the Force one more time. It slowed his fall, reoriented himself to drop feet first, and he could look up at Luke watching him fall. All Vader had to do from here was find a safe place to rest and recover his strength, reach the nearest imperial facility that could provide new mechanical arms, and then resume his power grab over the galaxy. One day he would return, stronger than before, and finish-
Lightning struck, and Vader fell faster.
Startled, Luke searched for the source of the lightning. He quickly found Azula, fingers extended after firing a lightning bolt, smoke still rising from her fingertips. She had spotted an opportunity and did not hesitate to exploit it, having the killer instinct her allies lacked. The lightning bolt had struck Vader in the back, exited through his foot, and cooked everything that the metal within him touched. Azula watched Vader fall all the way to the ground, with a satisfied smirk when she heard the loud thud on the dirt.
Luke stood at the edge of the hull, looked at where Vader lay, and felt nothing in the Force. "Goodbye."
Within the hour, the battle for Earth had come to an end.
The imperial formation collapsed under the assault of Mon Mothma's reinforcements, along with the sudden realization that this planet wasn't worth fighting over. The general vibe was 'every man for himself,' and the captains of every remaining Star Destroyer made the call to retreat. Granted, the rebel fleet wasn't in much better condition, but it didn't matter when the Star Destroyers made the jump to hyperspace. Mon Mothma's ships were in the best condition, while Admiral Ackbar's ships were adrift but salvageable, and nearly all of Leia's ships had been destroyed or damaged beyond repair.
In the aftermath of the battle there was the cleanup to deal with, as a lot of debris had been created and scattered into orbit over Earth. Escape pods were recovered, both imperial and rebellion, their occupants dealt with accordingly. Tractor beams pulled debris away from the planet and placed in high orbit, where it could remain in the short-term while the rebels salvaged anything of value. Only the smallest bits of destroyed ships remained close to Earth, which would safely burn up on entering the atmosphere.
Leia was briefed on this from what was left of her office, in general disarray after the crash, before her meeting with Mon Mothma. "I have to thank you again for the save back there. We wouldn't have been able to pull this off without it."
Due to being on emergency power, the hologram was choppy and there was some static in the audio. "Just remember it when we rebuild the Republic. Your support then will go a long way."
"Of course," Leia said, nodding in understanding. "I'll admit, you aren't my first choice to lead the New Republic. But after everything, you've earned it."
A second hologram displayed Admiral Ackbar, and due to damage on his end the resolution was worse. "This is getting ahead of ourselves. The Emperor and Vader may be gone, and the Empire rendered leaderless, but their armies and fleets are still very much intact."
"The Emperor controlled them through fear of his wrath," Mon Mothma said. She sent over a summary of likely scenarios for the fate of the Empire, based on reports from spies within the imperial ranks. "Unless someone else can replicate that fear, it's likely all the Grand Moffs and all the admirals will start fighting amongst themselves over who gets to lead."
"True, but there is still a lot of work to be done," Ackbar said.
"Indeed, this war is far from over," Mon Mothma admitted. She had a smug smile, clearly enjoying the victory for all it was worth. "But the end is in sight. Once word of our victory today spreads, more and more systems will join our cause. The momentum is ours, and we will prevail over the Empire."
"You're right about that," Leia said. "We just have to see it through."
News travelled quickly across the galaxy, celebrations quickly followed, and gave way to revolution.
It began on worlds with light Imperial presence, where resentment and frustrations were barely contained on the best of days. Celebrations began when the few Star Destroyers in orbit left their respective systems, and the populace quickly overwhelmed the Imperial facilities that remained on the planets. Effectively abandoned by the Empire, the Imperials left behind either abandoned their posts or perished when local militias came for them. These worlds returned to the governance that ruled before the Empire took them, from democratic governors to totalitarian dictators and everything in between.
Closer to the galactic core, where planets still had Star Destroyers present, the people still celebrated the fall of Emperor Palpatine. The moffs that ruled these worlds did not crack down on it, and some even encouraged it with officially sanctioned fireworks displays. Those moffs had long chafed under the Emperor's rule, and sought to turn the will of the people to their own personal advantage. Statues of the Emperor were toppled, his loyal supporters rounded up and executed, while those that were loyal to the moffs worked to rally the people behind them.
Even on worlds like Coruscant, where the Empire was at its strongest, the people still rose up against the leaders that remained. The military cracked down on the riots, but after so many battles fought in vain and so many resources diverted to enormous battle stations, there simply wasn't enough military might left to crush resistance on every corner of every world. Some military leaders even questioned why they were fighting to support a dead emperor, and those that saw no point in such actions took their ships and left altogether.
The Empire was fractured and crumbling, but there was one man that could envision a path to bring it back together. Grand Admiral Thrawn stood on the bridge of a Super Star Destroyer, observing the chaos that consumed Coruscant. "Take us out."
One by one the ships under his command made the jump to hyperspace, departing for a more secure system elsewhere. Between the battle that had decimated the orbital fleets, the subsequent damage on the surface, and the uprising populace, Coruscant was no longer a suitable place to run the Empire. Thrawn was not one to waste men and resources defending a symbol, and recognized the fact that there were better places for a central base of operations. He could always come back and reclaim Coruscant at a later time, once the rioting naturally subsided and his forces were consolidated.
During the trip Thrawn reviewed every report from ships that would be meeting him at the rendezvous point, to better know the admirals and captains that would be serving under his command. They would be coming from all over the galaxy, some that had been en route to Coruscant after the attack, others having abandoned irrelevant planets when the collapse began. Some had even come from the battle at Earth, with direct reports of what happened to the second Death Star, and had been in orbit above that world when both the Emperor and Darth Vader had perished.
Those reports had a subordinate officer approaching him now. "Sir, permission to speak freely."
Thrawn turned toward the officer. "Granted."
The officer stood proud with his hands behind his back. "When are we going to take the fleet to Earth?"
Now that was a question Thrawn expected to answer again and again, with each fragment of the Empire that joined his faction. "By the time we are ready to take the fight to the Rebellion, their fleet will have left Earth far behind. As for the planet, not only is it far too remote for any strategic purpose, it's only unique resource is unreliable at best and only worthwhile in highly specific locations."
"It is where the Emperor died," the officer reminded him. "That demands a response."
"The target of that response is beyond reach," Thrawn said, reminding the officer of the death of Darth Vader. "And we will deal with the Rebellion in due time. But we will not be going to Earth. That planet has been nothing but trouble and is simply not worth the effort of conquering it again."
"So we will simply leave them be?" the officer asked.
Thrawn accessed some files on a pad and handed it to the officer. "This is compiled from historical texts and my analysis of their artwork. One unmistakable pattern is the cycle of violence among Earth's people. It is only a matter of time before peace breaks down and war consumes them."
The officer skimmed through the files, and could understand Thrawn's position, even if he didn't agree with it. "Understood, sir."
The rest of the trip passed by in silence, until the fleet arrived at its destination. Ships emerged from hyperspace above the volcanic wasteland of Mustafar, its mostly-molten surface rich in raw materials to forge into new starships. Other ships had arrived already, and their crews had already begun to repurpose the planet's mining equipment for their own needs. The lead ship here hailed the arriving Super Star Destroyer, and Thrawn answered immediately. A hologram of a human captain appeared before Thrawn, one that he recognized from service elsewhere.
"Captain Pellaeon," Thrawn said, pleased that he survived. "I see you have gotten started without me."
"I hope I have anticipated your needs correctly," Pellaeon said. "How may I be of service?"
Thrawn was pleased with the progress made so far, but there was still more to do. "My first order…"
When night fell on the continent, Luke had one task left to carry out.
The remains of Darth Vader had remained where he had fallen, and no one had dared to approach the body yet, not even wild animals that would otherwise devour fresh meat. Luke chopped down some trees with his lightsaber, used the Force to assemble the logs into a pyre, and placed Vader's body on the pyre before he set it ablaze. He was alone here, understanding that no one else would care. Well, no one still alive, for both of his teachers were here in spirit. Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda were present as Force ghosts, the latter's presence confirming that he had passed on, and they stood there in silence.
The flames were at their peak when Leia approached, concerned for Luke's wellbeing when he should be resting. She stopped just out of earshot, when she saw something in the corner of her eye, two people that should not be there. Leia closed her eyes, shook her head, and looked again to find nothing there. She dismissed it as a trick of the light, wanting to believe that she hadn't just seen a pair of ghosts. Leia continued on and walked over to Luke, stopping just behind and to the left of him, where she could see the metal components that survived within the pyre.
"Are you going to be okay?" Leia asked.
Luke gave her the slightest nod. "I think so. I just wanted to make sure this was done."
Leia nodded in understanding. "Yeah, this is for the best. How much longer do you think it will take?"
"The fire will burn for a few more hours," Luke said. He turned toward Leia. "It will be fine from here. I don't expect anyone to bother with it now."
"Good," Leia said. She put an arm on Luke's shoulder. "There's a party going on and I cannot let you get away without making an appearance."
Said party was on the other side of the crashed ship, where the rebel crew had prepared a celebratory feast. They were supposed to be unloading everything of value from the crashed ship, so that it could be loaded onto cargo haulers and delivered to other ships in orbit. Instead they had brought out all the foodstuffs and cookware they could find, set up a last minute outdoor cookoff, and had started preparing a banquet. Victory had put them in a celebratory mood, even with the loss of the flagship, and this would result in less work for them when the cargo haulers would arrive.
After a long and well-deserved rest, Sokka and his friends took part in the festivities. He was piling a plate with samples of every food he could reach. "You know… I never realized… victory tasted so good!"
Toph was ahead of him in the buffet line, likewise stuffing her mouth but being far less discreet about it. "I could be mean, about your part in it, but I'm too happy to spoil the mood."
"Hey, I chipped in," Sokka said. At this point he couldn't fit any more food without spilling some, and he followed Toph to one of the tables nearby. "Granted, not as much as you or Aang or Katara… or Luke or Leia…. or Azula or Zuko… and I'll just shut up now."
Waiting for them at the table, Haru was in the middle of eating his meal when he overheard that last part. "Oh, please continue. I want to know where we rank on that list."
Suki was sitting next to him, and she stopped eating to listen. "Yeah, don't stop on our account."
"Go ahead, laugh at my expense," Sokka said. He and Toph sat down across from them, and he started eating the biggest piece of meat he'd taken. "I'm in too good of a mood to care."
"You know it's all in good fun," Suki said. "We don't actually mean any of it."
At this point Toph figured it was good idea to chance the subject of their good-natured insults. "Hey, at least you're not in Aang's sorry shape right now."
That drew Sokka's attention to the next table over, where Aang and Katara were sitting side by side. Aang was bound in a full body cast, except for his right hand, ironic that the artificial limb was the only part of him left undamaged. He should be getting bed rest, but didn't want to miss out on the celebrations. Katara was making sure he didn't exert too much effort and break something, given that his body was very tender after his close call with death. The doctors were certain Aang would make a full recovery, as long as he didn't miss any healing sessions.
Katara put a plate covered in various fruits and vegetables within arm's reach for Aang. "Here you go. This looked like the good stuff."
"Thanks," Aang said. Fortunately he could still use a pair of chopsticks, and it seemed like his new hand was better at it than the one he'd lost. "I think I got it from here."
"Good," Katara said. She got up and turned toward the buffet line. "Because I am starving!"
As she went back in line to get her own meal, Sokka made his way over to Aang. "You know, for someone that took a space ship to the face, you're looking pretty good."
Aang smiled in between bites. "I'm probably going to be feeling that for the rest of my life."
Sokka picked up a glass of blue milk, put another in Aang's hand, and held his glass up. "Here's to a long one, and to a life worth living."
"And one where things get back to normal," Aang added. He tapped his glass against Sokka's and downed half of the blue milk. "I don't know about you, but I have a good feeling about this."
"Is that your Avatar stuff talking?" Sokka asked.
"Nah, just a gut feeling," Aang answered.
"I am a fan of gut feelings," Sokka admitted. He put his glass down and went back to his food. "And hey, if things go as they seem to be, this may actually be over."
That was when Luke and Leia arrived, and Aang waved for them to come over. "Hey guys!"
"Sorry we're late," Luke said. "Had something to take care off."
"I won't pry into what that was," Sokka promised.
"Appreciated," Luke said. He saw Leia go to the buffet line, and noticed a particular scarred young man follow her. "I think I'll wait until they're through before I take a turn."
Leia was surprised when she realized who it was behind her. "I don't believe we've ever met before."
Zuko nodded, and his sparse selection of food made it clear he had other matters on his mind. "It's Zuko. I'm told you're the person to ask about anyone leaving Earth."
"Are you looking for a shuttle?" Leia asked.
"No, I'm fine staying here," Zuko answered. He glanced past Leia, as if expecting someone to appear. "I wanted to know if Azula and her friends have left."
"They were on the first shuttle out," Leia said. It was part of her job to keep track of persons of interest, and she had an obligation to keep for this one. "They should arrive at Tatooine by the end of the week."
Anyone looking could see the mountain of relief that hit Zuko, though the smile was still very hard to notice. "Can I ask for a confirmation when she gets there?"
"I'll have someone send that message," Leia promised. After all, it was a minor thing to do. "I'm sure she will be as happy to get there as you are to know she's gone."
Zuko nodded, and now he seemed interested in enjoying himself. "Thank you."
Meanwhile Luke was watching other people enjoying themselves, until Katara came back with a full plate of food. "I'm told I have you to thank for keeping him alive today."
"That's right," Katara said. She sat down next to Aang, and took a few bites before looking Luke in the eye. "It took everything I had. So for everyone's sake, don't put him through that again."
"Seconded," Aang said. "I'd rather not almost die again, thank you very much."
"Likewise," Luke agreed. "I'm fairly certain we will not have to do that again."
"Is that a promise?" Sokka asked.
"It is," Luke promised. Still, there was one other thing he wanted to ask. "During the fight, we had a lightsaber I didn't recognize. Where did it come from?"
"Oh, the purple one," Aang said. That was a reminder that he didn't want to deal with, but couldn't avoid forever. "It was Mara's. She wanted it used against Vader, even if she couldn't do it herself."
"I don't see it on you," Sokka said. "What happened to it?"
"It was cut in half, and I lost track of its pieces," Luke admitted, remembering when that lightsaber had been destroyed. "Do you want to apologize for that, or should I?"
"Toph tried to earlier," Aang said. "But she was long gone."
"Now that isn't unsettling in the slightest," Katara said. "Where would she go?"
At the end of the week, Azula was glad to be back on Tatooine.
Her little domain had remained exactly as she had left it, and as far as the general public knew she had never left in the first place. Only now, with the Empire breaking further apart with each passing day, her position in galactic politics had substantially improved. Tatooine was now a bastion of prosperity in a neglected region of space, and in a position to fill the power vacuum. Already the local governments of adjacent systems were petitioning Tatooine for cooperation, all but asking Azula to spread her influence and help them grow more powerful together.
Back in her throne room, Azula was looking at one potential new asset to add to her growing list of enforcers. "So… you worked for the Empire, reported directly to the Emperor himself, can confirm that he is dead, and are now free from his commands."
With one knee and one fist on the floor, Mara Jade did not contest that description. "I was his backup apprentice. Someone to fill a spot after Vader went rogue and before he could claim Skywalker."
"And you witnessed the battle between them," Azula continued. She leaned forward in her throne, putting a hand beneath her chin. "Including the part where I took the kill. And then you stowed away on the same shuttle my friends and I left on, all the way back here."
"I did not wish to linger on Earth," Mara said. She looked up to meet Azula's gaze. "My place in the Empire is gone, and the Rebellion would see me executed. And I couldn't hide on Earth, not with Aang still mad about me betraying him."
"Oh you're not the only one on his bad side," Azula said. "Now, what do you expect to gain from a position in my service? From what I understand you could take on any role you wish."
"I'm still figuring that out," Mara admitted.
A proximity alarm interrupted the interview, and Azula turned to her closest friends. "What is it?"
Mai was standing at a control console, which displayed the cause for alarm. "A Star Destroyer just emerged out of hyperspace."
"Only one though," Ty Lee specified. "Is that supposed to be an insult?"
"Apparently so," Azula said. She stood up and turned toward them. "Ready the defenses and arm all anti-orbital weapons. If they want a fight-"
"Wait!" Mara interrupted, standing up and holding up her hand. "It's not an attack."
Azula turned back toward Mara. "How do you know?"
"It's hailing the palace," Mai reported. "Given the lack of an orbital bombardment, I'd say they want us to surrender without a fight."
"Keep everything on standby," Azula ordered. She sat back in her throne, as there was a holographic projector between her and Mara. "Send it here."
"On it," Ty Lee reported.
A hologram appeared before Azula, and it was not the imperial officer or stormtroopers she expected. Instead it was two casually dressed men, a wookie, and a droid. "Well what do we have here?"
"Apologies for any alarm we may have caused," Lando said, respectful and courteous to the leader of a planet. "We're still figuring out how to make it obvious this ship isn't imperial anymore."
"I see that," Azula said. She barely knew one of those two men, but did recognize the droid. "R2 I know, but the rest of you are strangers. Care to tell me who is in command."
Han nodded. "This ship is unofficially under the command of Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, and Chewbacca. The imperial crew was jettisoned a few days ago, and we currently have a skeleton crew of rebels manning the ship."
"Which is why we came here," Lando said. "We're looking to make a deal. We need a full crew, and I'm sure you could use a Star Destroyer in your plans for expansion."
"I certainly could," Azula admitted, her smirk making it obvious she was intrigued. "You should come down here so we can negotiate the terms in person."
"It would be our pleasure," Lando said.
"Looking forward to it," Han said. His hand moved to end the transmission. "Millennium Falcon II, out."
The hologram vanished, and Azula turned her gaze back on Mara. "How did you know?"
"Call it intuition," Mara answered.
Azula figured she was lying, but that was beside the point. "I think we will get along just fine."
A month passed since the battle of Earth, and still no sign of imperial retaliation.
Every imperial stronghold on the planet had been cleared out, and control of the planet had been returned to its native inhabitants. They got to keep the facilities that the imperials had installed, in whatever condition they had been in after the battle, and given instruction in how to use them. Enough anti-orbital defenses remained to keep a small fleet at bay, which would be enough to deter smuggler rings from coming here to abduct any of Earth's bending population. The earthlings would have to take care of defending themselves, for most of the rebel fleet had departed and the rest would soon follow.
But not before a formal celebration of victory.
The upper ring of Ba Sing Se was packed with people, locals and rebels alike, mixed so thoroughly that there was no distinction between them. The palace of the Earth King had been rebuilt, and the top of the enormous stairs was the focal point of the celebration. Leia stood at the top, representing the Rebellion, with a set of medals in her hands. At her side was C-3PO, behind her were various officers of the Rebellion, and along both sides of the stairs were local resistance fighters, while the heroes of the battle walked up the stairs in full view of the crowd.
Aang had recovered enough to only need his staff for support, and he hid that need well as he climbed the stairs. Luke was beside him, both lightsabers holstered on his belt. Katara and Toph were behind Aang, Sokka and Zuko were behind Luke, while Suki, Haru, and Kori brought up the rear of this procession. They smiled and waved to the crowd, basking in the cheers from all around them, barely hearing the music being played in the background. They stopped at the top, saw Leia smile, and she had a medal for each and every one of them.
"For courage and determination above and beyond all expectations," Leia said. She started with Aang, placing a medal around his neck. "The Rebellion thanks you for your service."
"Well we wouldn't have survived without you," Aang said. "So the feeling's mutual."
Leia passed out medals to everyone else one by one, recognizing each of them for their contribution to the cause. Not everyone that deserved one was here, as Azula and her friends were long gone, but Leia promised to have them delivered as soon as possible. Once everyone here had their medal they turned to face the crowd, and a round of applause assaulted their ears. Fireworks went off in the upper atmosphere, so bright they were visible during the day, and the cheers only got louder with each passing second.
Aang used some airbending to make a bubble around his friends, to muffle the sound enough to hear his own voice. "So… I guess this is goodbye."
Luke nodded, but still gave him a smile. "Hey, if anything happens, we'll be a hyperspace jump away."
"I'll hold you to that," Aang promised. He held out his hand toward Luke. "I hope you'll look out for us out there."
"Of course," Luke promised. He reached toward Aang. "We'll be gone, but you won't be forgotten."
Their hands clasped, one last time.
A/N: It's finally over.
I hope this was a satisfying ending. There were plenty of mistakes made along the way, things I would have changed if I had been planning this from the very beginning, plot threads that went in different directions than first imagined when I reached them, and so on. Still, I like to think it all worked out in the end.
Since it took so long to complete this story, and my interests shifting to other things, I will not be making another story in this shared DBZ/Avatar/Star Wars universe. If anyone is wondering where this universe would have gone from here, the next installment would have gone to Dragon Ball Super. Basically the Tournament of Power, but with Aang and Luke on the Universe 7 team. Anyone that wishes to write this story is free to do so.