And now, the officially most-action filled chapter of the story. Enjoy the ride!
Luke was running. Violently. Seemingly oblivious to the even more violent wind gusts and rain torrents beating on his face. Lightning was striking close and bright, revealing the expression of unprecedented panic on his face. But this panic was not propelling him to run away. He was running to. Running to save.
Even on the way to Corellia a few hours earlier, in his dead-calm X-Wing cockpit, Luke had sensed that the Force was summoning him to the planet for a fateful occasion. And now, while down, he was frightened to the bones. That storm was looking so unnatural. An eerie carmine-colored light glowed dimly inside the cloud, making it possible to discern its monstrous shape through the rain curtain. It was devouring the mountain like a beast not fed for a thousand years. And he knew. He knew his apprentice was there.
"Thank you, citizen. You will be compensated and your service noted," Luke promised, taking time to look him in the eyes, though he certainly didn't ask for permission to take his speeder bike. The leather-clothed man was baffled by this genuine-sounding pledge, and the swear words that were on the tip of his tongue came out as words of goodwill, "Watch out. This storm's behaving weirdly. Came from Tyrena, landed on Malal and now comes back."
"Thanks," Luke acknowledged as he swooshed down the avenue, quickly leaving the emptied streets of Coronet for the rivers-filled wilderness of Suntir Plains. Though it was dark, this stretch of water-veined lowlands shined like day from incessant lightning, revealing the imposing silhouette of Dregan's Pike that was announcing the Malal Mountains. He tried earlier to approach them by his X-Wing, but merciless air vortices wouldn't let him, so he landed on the eastern outskirts of Coronet City and 'borrowed' the bike. His only chance was in staying below the off-the-charts winds that dominated the flying space, moving in a small fast vehicle with the least possible drag. Wings wouldn't help in this situation.
Thoughts tried to surface in Luke's worried mind. Thoughts like, Why did he come alone? Why didn't he call me? Surely I would go enjoy some Corellia time with him! What in the universe is this storm and why did it have to come upon the mountain at the precise moment Ben was there? But the thoughts stayed in the recesses of his mind. He denied entertaining any of it, whether because he was too focused on getting to the mountain as fast as the physics allowed or because he sensed there was something more to this, something darker – which made him unwilling to unroll the chain of thoughts. All the thoughts gave way to one thought: I have to get to Ben now. And all the moments merged into one long moment of getting there.
And it just became even longer. A fierce hurricane-force gust of wind blew the bike off its path, Luke jumping off, while it crashed and exploded half a mile behind him. Instead of landing down on his four like a deft Jedi he was, he found himself tossed around in the air by high-speed winds, caught in some kind of a vortex. The only good he saw in all this was that the vortex was taking him closer, not farther from the mountain. But it wouldn't do much good if he ended up there knocked dead on a rock like a maze-fly.
Now or never. Luke closed his eyes and breathed deeply, lulling himself into Jedi meditation, until being tossed in the whirlwind felt like being swung on a carousel. Suddenly, a very uneasy presence felt eerily close, and Luke found himself fainting, losing all power in the Force. But then a presence of light set itself up between him and this dark presence, and he thought he could hear it saying, "Depart! He will know soon." Luke felt himself regaining strength, even gaining more than he had before. Now or never! He pushed himself against all the air molecules, dust and debris he could find with the Force, and thus freed himself from the wind vortex, finally landing on the ground on his four, like a deft Jedi he was.
Without a pause, he proceeded to run uphill. His pounding steps left stones rolling down for hundreds of meters. He jumped over the rocks, bouncing off the green grass, but so low he surprised himself. Why do the Force jumps not work so well at this crucial moment? He continued without delay, though, determined to spend the last atom of energy in his body to get there.
All of a sudden, the storm began to abate. He stopped running for a moment. He still heard the wind blowing hard some hundred meters behind him and also began to hear it blowing before him, similarly hard but less loud – it was half a mile before him. The eye of the storm, he told himself, trying to ignore the unnatural carmine glow in the clouds above that was so unsettling.
Then Luke saw him from afar. Ben was descending downhill like a whirlwind of its own kind. "Ben!" he yelled as he started sprinting, catching just enough breath to cry a wobbling, "I'm coming!" Tripping on the rock, he pushed himself back up by one hand and continued straight forward. He thought he saw something red in Ben's hand. No, that's just that eerie carmine glow in the clouds playing games with my eyes, thoughts were discussing in his brain almost without him being aware as he darted uphill.
But Ben didn't play games. When Luke finally got to him, he readily fended himself with his red cross-bladed lightsaber, though no one attacked him.
Luke halted his sprint, sending a shower of pebbles before Ben's feet. He was silent. Breathing heavily. Looking at his apprentice. Caught in another moment that seemed like eternity.
Ben was also silent, standing still and holding his blade in a guarded position. Finally, he was the first to speak. "Master, we must not let them get us."
"Who is after you?"
"The Sith!" he responded readily.
Though he sensed a considerable amount of the dark side, Luke honestly couldn't sense the Sith, or any other individual on the mountain, for that matter. Nevertheless, he wouldn't argue about it right now. "Ben, let's get out of here."
"I was getting out of here before you came!" Ben blurted.
"Alright. Let's just continue." Luke was trying to calm down both Ben and himself. He didn't know what sorcery was happening here, and what kind of a mental struggle Ben was obviously going through. But he wanted him out of this place, back in the calm corridors of the Academy, where they will try to sort out what occurred here. Where he would chide him for making a lightsaber without his master's assent.
"You don't believe me, do you?" Ben spat out in angst and, before Luke could think of a diplomatic answer, continued. "You never did. I was trying so hard to impress you. To live up to my family heritage. But whenever I reached out to my true power, instead of commending, you chided me."
"You know I'm right! I could have been so much more. I wanted to be so much more," he paused and then started a slow pace, looking intently at Luke. "I was afraid before. But now I know it's the only way. The only way if we would beat them. I must reach for my full power," He lifted up his red lightsaber and waved slowly. "Look what I've done. All by myself."
"Impressive." Luke was accommodating before giving a lesson. "But why the red one? Aren't you worried? You know that red crystals are not found in nature. They are synthesized, bled through violence imposed upon them through fire and dark side arts. Often they used to belong to the Jedi murdered by the Sith who took away and corrupted the crystals."
"Nonsense. Once again it is confirmed I can find a better education in independent study. Haven't you heard of the naturally grown red crystals of Dantooine?"
Luke sighed, eager to get off the mountain. "Yes, but they were found in kinrath eggs, and we both know which side of the Force abounds in those creatures."
"Or the crystals of the Qixoni nebula?" The apprentice was unmoved.
"Ben, look around you! You're not in a planetary debris field formed by a supernova," Luke shot back, immediately realizing his tone of voice was to a degree too biting. "I'm sorry."
Ben frowned. "You will soon want to listen to me, master. Our Order is dangerously close to its ultimate end. The passivity of the Jedi tradition, reflected even in the avoidance of synthesizing a lightsaber crystal, will prove its undoing," he paused for a moment. "But you know better, uncle. Hadn't you synthesized a crystal for the first lightsaber you constructed?"
"Yes, before I learned of the places where crystals grow naturally," Luke answered calmly as he scanned for the approaching storm wall. "And it was green, not bled to red as this one," he said, pointing to the blade Ben was holding. "You know what that means. A Sith used the dark side to make it red. I don't know how it ended up here, but if I were you, I wouldn't have anything to do with it."
Ben stomped. "How long before you get it?! Don't you see? How were the 'natural' crystals made? Wasn't it by the fiery geological processes that were all but passive? Your inclination to use power as the last resort will, in the end, leave you stripped of it", he emphatically shouted the last few words as he slashed in half a large passing stinger butterfly. "The Sith wait for it. In fact, they will persuade you to do it yourself. If you do not listen to me now, you will be so deceived that you will lay aside your power willingly."
Luke still couldn't sense a Sith presence. But he clearly sensed some dark presence over the mountain. And this carmine glow continued to send shivers down his spine. "Then let's get out of here right now. And you should throw off that lightsaber now," he commanded, turned around and prepared to run downhill, expecting his apprentice to follow.
"No," Ben replied in a low voice, standing still.
Luke turned back. He looked at his nephew. Something was different about him. He was always tempestuous – a hereditary gift from both of his parents – yet he also got humor and a kind heart from them. He was warm toward his closest ones, no matter how hard he argued with them at times. But now, he seemed cold. Tempestuousness wasn't tempered by affection. He didn't even seem to care to win his master over to his side of the argument as he so often tried. He was a strange mixture of unrest and dead calm. And it was frightening for Luke to watch it. "Please, leave the lightsaber. It augments the effects of the dark side." Trying to sound encouraging, he said, "You will make another one, a stable and a far better one."
"This one is good enough! As you know, my blade is more powerful than yours, and as you see, the stability is controlled through vent irises."
"Ben, you're not thinking clearly. It affects you. Throw it immediately," Luke urged as the storm wall was getting closer. "Do it now!"
"No. This is the pinnacle of my own power! It marks a new chapter for me," he shouted with a glare.
Luke saw that reasoning won't do it at this time and place. Something was seriously clouding Ben's judgment. He must take him by force and sort it out later. As he stepped toward Ben, not exactly knowing what was he planning to do – nudge him, take him by hand, knock him unconscious? – his apprentice helped him decide. Luke turned his blue lightsaber on, just in time to block Ben's attack blow.
"I have to defend myself, master. Even from you," he said as their lightsabers clashed. "Even though it breaks my heart," he said with a broken voice.
Luke sensed a conflict in Ben's heart as he looked him in the eyes. They seemed hesitant, as if trying to flee. He was just a young lad. His dear nephew. And then Luke got the impression that the light side of the Force was actively trying to win Ben over, acting almost as a distinct personal unit. He didn't quite understand it, but he felt compelled to cooperate. "Ben, my dear nephew," he said with pathos, "you know I love you. You know I would never do anything to harm you. Whatever is troubling you, we can sort it out together. As master and apprentice. As uncle and nephew. As friends. Please, let me help you."
"No!" He pushed away and covered his ears. "Stop that voice! It will take our power away!" He began pacing around as if searching for a place to hide or for a solution. Then he said, "I will save our Order if you won't. I will not let them take our power, even if it would mean expelling the last jot of Jedi philosophy from the Academy."
"What are you talking about, Ben?!" Luke cried out. "There is no Jedi Order without Jedi philosophy!"
"Well, then there won't be a Jedi Order! We'll make up a new name. Whatever it takes for us to stop being so passive!" he shouted as he walked around. "We have to stop being afraid to take full hold of our power!" He clenched his fist as he said it, to which several stones around him imploded.
Luke was appalled both by the audacious words and the dark side powers so quickly rising in his apprentice. A sudden rush of ominous feelings crushed his soul.
"Will you help me, master?" Ben was pacing back and forth, fixing Luke with his eyes. The storm wall approached from behind, sending a gust of wind that blew Ben's hair and cloak toward Luke, as if joining the frightening call.
Luke wasn't prepared for any of this. But he was uncompromising. "You don't know what you're talking about! You're giving in to the dark side." He got up. "I'll never join you in that."
"I am doing what has to be done," Ben shouted while thunder rumbled with an almost unbearable intensity. "I am saving the Order. And if you won't help me," he continued with a dark look on his face, "my grandfather will." He paused for a moment, a facial tic preceding the words he was about to shout. "Vader lives!"
Luke's eyes widened in shock as he heard the famous motto that was once being tagged all over the walls of Coronet by the Acolytes of the Beyond. Anger started building up in his chest. He battled it hard as he muttered, "My father ceased to be Vader long ago... Is that the wisdom you gained in your independent study? Ramblings of terrorist fanatics?" The wind became wet with rain.
"You know nothing! And you are so arrogant that you do not even try to consider what I'm saying. When the Sith come for you and cunningly take your power away, you will remember my words with bitter remorse." He looked long into his master's eyes. "I am going to find allies. If you ever reconsider and decide to join me, I will gladly welcome you at my side. But I will save our power, with or without you. May the Force never depart from you." At this word, he turned around and started sprinting downhill, toward Bela Vistal.
Luke was staring after him, heart-broken. Whipping rain hid his figure in an instant. What should he do? Just let him go? Let him be at the mercy of the dark side he came so close to? He could never do such thing. The only hope was knocking him unconscious and let him get to his senses when he wakes up.
Luke began to run. Violently. Seemingly oblivious to the even more violent wind gusts and rain torrents beating on his face. He still couldn't Force jump properly. But love was propelling him down. He saw him. Descending like a whirlwind. Looking so confident and lost at the same time.
Cutting the path short, Luke jumped off a cliff. As he was about to knock his apprentice down, he felt a strong push of the Force hammer him down, followed by a lightsaber blow he blocked at the last moment.
"So you decided to turn against me?" Ben cried out as their lightsabers clashed. "How could you?"
"You got it all wrong, Ben. I'm trying to save you," he tried to use Force push to knock him down, but the Force would not obey him. So he slipped out from below the cross-bladed lightsaber and turned back to knock Ben out by his lightsaber hilt. But Ben blocked the blow, and they started dueling.
Lightsaber and lightning flashes were revealing Luke's aghast face – not due to duel with his nephew, disheartening as it was. No, he was utterly confused about his relationship with the Force. He could still feel the connection with it. Only it wouldn't obey him. It had a will entirely of its own, almost like it was a distinct personal unit. And one that was acting on behalf of Ben and against him. Not neutral at all.
Ben saw something was happening. "You are trying to save me? You can't save yourself! The Sith are taking your power away!"
Their lightsabers were dancing in the dark – red, blue and yellowish white playing reflections on the wet rocks and rain torrents. It was a beautiful art, just like Luke's lightsaber moves. Ben's less so. He was very inexperienced in wielding a lightsaber. He waved hectically, without much precision, yet Luke couldn't outmaneuver him. Every time he would get a clear hilt blow on the neck, some invisible power would redirect his hand.
"You don't need to save me," Ben said, hitting hard Luke's lightsaber and then backing off. "It is you who got it all wrong. I'm trying to save our Order," he paused, "and if you don't want to help, don't stand in the way."
"Ben, I cannot decide for you, but I can tell you this: you've set both feet on a dangerous path. If you continue in it, it will lead you to do such terrible things you would never think possible for you to do."
"No!" Ben uttered in panic as he covered his ears. "That voice again!"
Suddenly, there was a short but violent earthquake – or more like a stupendous punch upon the ground – after which an immense rock some fifty meters above Luke broke off, starting to fall right toward him. He wanted to run, but an invisible force caught his leg, causing him to trip and fall.
It wasn't Ben. He was having a battle of his own, trying to shake off voices, or so he thought. "Who are you? You're not the One! I don't want any voice! Go, all of you!" He was spinning around with one hand on his ear, and the other waving a lightsaber against invisible enemies.
Luke could sense the air becoming hot and thick with some kind of a presence. It was holding him down. He tried to use the Force to steer the rock away, but it still wouldn't obey him. As the rock was about to crush him like a maze-fly, he felt a presence of light moving in between him and the rock, freeing him just in time to roll over. The rock fell beside him, smashing into many big and small chunks. One of them hit him hard in the leg, drawing out a painful groan from him. But it was just one smaller chunk. His life was miraculously spared. He looked over to Ben.
He was kneeling, hands clasped, lightsaber turned off and attached to his belt. When he saw Luke watching him, he got up, his face betraying a mixture of relief, surprise, and confusion. "I didn't do it. It was not my power."
Luke did not understand what was going on, but he knew it was somehow connected to his escape from death just a moment before.
"No. This is insane," Ben said, pacing nervously. "Don't follow me. I don't want any of you to follow me. Go away. Go away!" With these words, Ben turned and ran away, continuing his descent.
As Luke got up to follow him, he immediately fell down, his leg not ready to support him. He sat and looked it up. It wasn't bad, but he needed to put a bandage to stop the bleeding and swelling. He got out one from the slim first-aid pocket in his undershirt and applied it to the injury.
Then he just sat, in complete silence of his thoughts. There was nothing going on in his mind for several minutes. Not even a bewildered, What did just happen? Seeing Ben like that and parting with him was just too painful for any attempt to process it. Shock took hold of Luke's sensitive soul.
At last, he reconnected – with the world at least. He noticed that the storm cloud descended in the same direction Ben went, as if it was his companion. Rain stopped, thunder was not so loud anymore. The wind was still blowing but not violently. It looked as if it continued to blow only to clear up the mess the storm left.
It was so peaceful compared to minutes before. And the retreating clouds revealed that it was not yet night, though it seemed so earlier under the impenetrable storm cell. It still loomed over the area but was not so dark anymore, having emptied itself of the densely packed water. The carmine-colored light was gone. Maybe that glow was the last remnant of daylight coming through those thick clouds.
Suddenly, the setting Corell sun peeked under the clouds, flooding the surrounding mountain peaks with beautiful yellow light and revealing gold beaches in the distance. Sea was looking equally golden under that embellishing light, dark clouds of the abated storm above only highlighting its fairness. As the cloud moved, sunlight reached the ground Luke was sitting on. It caressed his tired face, as if trying to melt his anxious shock away and heal his broken heart. But that was not going to happen anytime soon.
Yes, though beautiful, this moment was so sad. Luke's hope for the future of the Jedi Order descended on his own path. His nephew. His friend. What would become of him? How far will the dark side lead him? How to tell Leia and Han such horrible news? He began reconnecting with his mind.
But there were even more troubling questions looming over his head, such questions that threatened to unsettle the faith in his capability to lead a Jedi Order, even to be a Jedi. And not just that. They threatened to unsettle his very view of reality he held for so long. Never in his whole life did he experience the Force behaving in such a way. So unpredictable, so unbending to his will.
He was more confused than ever in his life. More than when Obi-Wan first taught him about the Force. More than when he landed on Dagobah and trained with Yoda. More than when he learned the truth about his father.
But he knew something.
He got up and looked toward the sunset.
He knew that he was always looking over the horizon, always trying to discern if there was something more to life.
Maybe this is a moment to become a young lad of Tatooine again. The lad that couldn't spend a day without sensing, or at least hoping, that reality was so much bigger.
But that was as much optimism as he could muster. He lowered his head and looked to the side, to the ground where Ben kneeled before descending. Then he looked over to the chunks that were once a huge rock that almost killed him – a Jedi who could not move himself, let alone steer the rock with the Force.
He lifted his head back up and looked one last time towards the setting sun. Then he looked at the mountain path leading off the mountain.
And he began his descent.