Not a day went by where I was not in pain. Whether it was the dull ache of my cybernetic arms and legs, constantly under threat of failure, or the sharp pain each breath brought me. Even the power of the Force could not ease my suffering. My only companion throughout the years of service as the dark enforcer of the Empire. On a good day, my neural link with my armor was able to numb it. On most days, it amplified the pain and raw touches to amplify my connection with the Dark Side of the Force. That was why I was in such shock, lying on the ground without a single nerve ending burning. I could hear the echoing rasp of my respirator still, but not with the pain that accompanied it. The heavy weight of my durasteel plated armor felt different, oddly distributed where it used to drag down my very bones.
I kept my eyes closed, trying to pull back the memory of those last moments upon the Death Star. I could recall the duel with my son, losing my hand. How the Emperor tried to turn his bright optimism and faith in his friends to a cruel end, just as he had done to me at the end of the Clone Wars. Luke was stronger than I ever was. He had fought against the Emperor, getting electrocuted by Sidious' Sith Lightning. And… yes. The ultimate sacrifice. I had finally overcome decades of conditioning for one that I loved. I had lifted the vile man who had put me under such torment, and thrown him into the reactor core of the Death Star itself. My suit had begun to malfunction from the impacts of the lightning into critical systems, and Luke had dragged me to the ramp of the Lambda Class shuttle, and it was there that I'd finally convinced him to leave me. I had gotten one last look at the true Chosen One who had finally brought balance to the force, and peace to the galaxy, without the mask filtering out all detail.
When I finally let go, I'd thought that would be it. I would become one with the Force. I could be free of the things I had done, the burdens of a long and horrific life. Instead, when I finally opened my eyes, I'd been greeted with the smile of Obi-wan Kenobi.
"Oh, Anakin. What the years have done to you," He smiled sadly at me, clad in the robes of a Jedi Master he'd been so proud of. My perception of him switched back and forth between the visage of the wizened old man he'd been when I'd killed him, and the Clone Wars General that I'd last seen before the suit.
I licked my lips, enjoying the fact that I could feel unblemished skin for the first time in 26 years. I took my time in answering, just letting the Force flow through me. It was an odd feeling, having a working body. Even if the body came with many questions, including how, why, and where am I? What I'd thought had been my armor was in fact rings of darkness, holding me in a kneeling position.
"Obi-Wan. I… have much to apologize for. I'm sorry, Master. I thought I could hold it all, I thought I knew best. I was wrong. I was so, so very wrong."
"Old friend, I'm not the one that you have to apologize to." Obi-Wan waved an arm out and the blank space behind him began to fill with figures. Some in Jedi robes, some in the various outfits of the Rebellion, others still in the states of dress they'd been in when they came across the 501st. There were no marks to indicate how any of the figures had died but I could feel the pain they were in from their unjust killings. The Force was trying to bring peace to them, but from the Dark Side I had always drawn from their pain and suffering.
"You have to let go, Anakin. You're only a few steps from the peace you deserve, but you have to let them be free of you."
I could feel the dark chains of hate in the Force, restraining me. I traced them mentally and instead of embracing the power they gave me or shying away from the memories, I accepted them, and the bond of my hurt begin to release as I let the memory flow through me. Recent rebel soldiers I'd cut down were mere flashes of discomfort. The Jedi I had hunted in the years after Order 66 had a slightly larger impact, knocking the breath out of me as I felt a heavy weight begin to lift from my very soul.
As the ranks began to thin out, I recognized more and more. Jedi Knights I'd fought alongside, men and women I'd once called friends. Mace Windu stood staring at me as I recalled his last moments. He'd believed in his righteousness until the very end, right until my lightsaber had carved through his hand. I wonder which of us was more surprised by that decision. The old Master of the Order still looked as severe and disappointed in death as he had in life. He began to speak.
"I knew that you were never the Chosen One. I knew that we should have sent you out of the doors of the Temple that first day. If we had-" Mace's voice grew in anger throughout, before being cut off by Obi-wan.
"The past cannot be changed." He lowered the hand he had used to get Mace's attention, as I began the herculean effort of letting go of all the feeling I had attached to Mace Windu's smug face.
"Always in motion is the future." That was a voice I had not heard since the days of the Republic. Grandmaster Yoda sat in front of me, next to what looked like a pool of blackened water. The first landmark in the otherwise empty white space. If I could release the last two large chains, I could crawl forward and have my first drink of water in decades.
"I couldn't make it through this afterlife without seeing you, then?" I queried, trying to figure out how to adjust my tone to reflect sarcasm again. The time spent behind the mask had dulled that ability, having no need. My vocal modulator didn't have much variation in tone, even in the chance that I was speaking to a person who would value the wit.
The little gremlin had the nerve to laugh at me.
"Look to yourself, you should. Hrm hm. Here first, I was."
He had cracked further since the last time I'd seen him. Whatever he'd done to avoid the Empire had clearly taken its toll. I could fill a thousand moons with the toll the Empire took on all of us. Obi-Wan's aged form and my suited abomination was a physical representation, Yoda's mind was hurting more than ever. I shook my head, banishing the thought as Mace Windu disappeared from this middle zone. I probed mentally against one of the strong chains holding me still, as if it was a sore tooth from when I was a young boy on Tatooine.
A vision flashed before my eyes of fire and ash, a crying woman and my hand reaching out- the Force reaching out- to punish betrayal. I shied back, leaving that binding in place.
"Anakin. What I said earlier was true… from a certain point of view. You are a few steps from the peace you deserve, and through the gate you will find it. Let go of your conscious self, and reach out on with instinct. What do you see," Obi-wan asked. He had settled for a moment as the Old Master, who I had killed on the Death Star. Now that I could see him without the mask, I could see the way that his sun beaten skin was wrinkled beyond his years. I felt a pang of sorrow for the way that life had led us astray.
I did as he asked, sinking into the form of meditation that had worked best for me. An amalgamation of letting go of emotions just as the Jedi had taught, and pulling the Dark Side to me with emotions, as the Sith did. I let go of the confusion and regret I was feeling, pushing it towards the Force. When it started to disperse, I threw the weight of my Force Presence onto it, and was pulled into the Force that way.
Immediately I felt something wrong. What should have been like sinking into a cool pond of water felt instead like shaking in turbulent winds. That feeling you get when you're sick, where your stomach cramps up and feels like it is about to rip itself apart. That was what I felt but outside of myself. In my Force Presence, one of the only things that remained constant in my life. I immediately dropped out of the force and looked down.
"Luminous beings are we. The Dark Side's shroud gives power… but take from your soul, it does."
Yoda's words were right. The remaining bindings were slithering like overgrown snakes across me, as gaping holes in my body gushed a dark smoke. The chains I had removed had left a lasting mark, and it was draining me.
"Perhaps I was too hasty to say that I had killed you, to Luke. He was right to see good in you Anakin. Vader may be gone, but I'm sorry to say that your journey is not yet over. You have brought balance to our galaxy, but there are still people who need your help," intoned Obi-wan, somberly.
I was still in shock, reaching out my hands to wave them through parts of my very soul leaving me. It took a moment to register, and when it did I grew angry. This caused the darkness to flow faster from my Force-wounds, causing me to panic more.
"How can you say this? I destroyed the Jedi. I was a scourge to the galaxy for years. I killed YOU! The only good thing I have done for a long long time killed me. I am not the saviour you want."
Obi-wan's voice was urgent, but calm. Just like always.
"You will be enough Anakin. Trust in yourself, and the Force will guide you. You must throw off the last of the chains and step through to the other side."
I tried, but all the clarity I used to have had been thrown off. The rage of Vader would not help here, and I had not been Anakin Skywalker for so long that I had forgotten how. I reached blindly out in the Force, trying to ignore the pain, and felt that painful tender spot that was-
I had blacked out for a moment. I could taste the ash of Mustafar on my tongue but I didn't remember anything of the last few seconds. I was on the floor again, Yoda and Obi-Wan standing over me holding out their hands towards me with glowing palms.
"A temporary block, this is." Yoda was looking down at me, the two foot tall menace he was.
"But better than nothing. Anakin, you must go. The Dark Side will be something you must remove on your own, and when you do the Force will be free to you again. This is the only gift we can give you."
The Jedi Masters were beginning to become translucent, losing all shades of color. I began to crawl, pulling myself hand over hand towards that singular small pool. I saved my breath to fuel my movement. Obi-wan took the last chance to impart final wisdom.
"The people of this land will need hope. They will not know it immediately, but they will need you. These are a medieval people, without technology but with strange applications of the Force. You will adapt, you always do. There will be much hardship before the end but it will be worth it. I promise you Anakin, I will not fail you again. We will be with you, always."
I rolled all of these statements over and over in my mind, as I gazed down into the pool. Reflected in it was my damaged face, then the image of the Hero with No Fear. My eyes were finally blue again, instead of the burning orange I had become used to. Finally, the last statement clicked. They'd be with me. Both of them. Including Grandmaster Yoda. I looked up in shock, about to release my scathing reply to this idea, but I received a none too gentle push into the "water."
Immediately it was clear that this was not water. It was a syrupy and warm liquid that filled the lungs like air. If there was a physical personification of embracing the Force through meditation, this was it. A song filled my ears, and I felt my spirits lift with unnatural joy. I sunk down into it, listening to the song. Even as I listened, the song grew more complex. Other voices began to lift in harmony, adding up towards an ever greater crescendo. I was at peace for the first time in a long time. This was of course when the Skywalker luck hit and there came a note of a single independent voice. The melody faltered for a moment, before resuming, with a sense of urgency. The independent voice was starting to draw supporters, changing the song entirely. A voice joined the chorus, ringing with power that I had not seen since Mortis.
I heard not what came next, as I was abruptly dropped onto my back on a cold stone floor, with nothing but a searing white light to remember that divine song. I could hear a strange rumbling voice singing a song nearby, but simply tried to recuperate. I was beginning to tire of constantly being quite literally dropped into things. A glance at the roof above me revealed an intricately carved stone roof, with some golden symbol put into the support pillar. It was one of the finest things I had seen in my life. I seemed to be in a child's bedroom, by the size of the bed carved into the wall. There were small metal pieces lying around on the floor, and I was lying on a red rug. The room was lit by real fire light, much more archaic then I was used to. An engraved doorway led out towards the sounds of a living creature. I rose, and prepared to greet my new host.
Please leave reviews, even if they are just your thoughts on what you read. It helps to know what I can work on, and what is doing well, or even if people are seeing what I do! I hope to see you all in the next chapter!