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Ashes and Diamonds

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How do you tell a child why you weren’t present for the first fourteen years of their life? How do you explain to someone who knows no evil and no malice that you were a cruel tyrant, a shell of a human life scouring the bones of the galaxy clean like the unkind suns?

Ani considered these points as she mulled telling her daughter about the things she had been doing in the time before their reunion. Would Lukka still… want to accompany her? Would she still want to be trained as a Force sensitive, or would she reject it wholesale and demand to be returned to the Lars homestead? The idea of her daughter wanting nothing to do with her filled Ani’s heart with anguish, and no small part of rage.

Ani took a deep breath and let the rage pass. It would do no good to be angry for this. Save the anger for those who deserve it. Jabba paid for his sins, and so will Palpatine. She and the dark side would cleanse the galaxy of the tainted rot that seeped so deep into its very fibers. It was the will of the Force.

“Lukka,” she said, poking her head into the young girl’s quarters. “You and I need to talk before we get to Dagobah.”

“Sure thing, uh… what should I call you?” Lukka asked uncertainly, tucking a strand of blonde hair behind her ear.

“For now, you can call me Ani,” Ani said, grimacing. “After we have this conversation, you may want to call me something else, or not. It’s up to you to decide those things,”

“I’m sure you must be wondering where I was for the first fourteen years of your life. As far as you’ve ever known, your father was a spice freighter captain that got killed in the Clone Wars– and it being a very rough shock to learn that I was, in fact, at one time, a Jedi.”

She took a deep breath and began to retell her daughter the story of how she’d become a Jedi in the first place– starting with the things Lukka had sort of known (“I remember hearing once about how a human kid won the Boonta Eve Classic. People have been trying to do that for years! Aunt Beru never let me enter, though. She always said it was too dangerous.”), to things that she absolutely had not (“The Jedi never came back to free Grandmother? Why?”)

“Attachments are dangerous– or at least, that is what the Jedi doctrine is,” Ani said gently.

“Attachments were the primary reason we’re in this mess to begin with,” came the voice of Obi-Wan from the doorway. Ani frowned and glared at her old master.

“You are entitled to your opinions,” Ani said firmly. “I have had a very long time to think these matters over, Obi-Wan. My attachments were, in large part, what allowed me to be as effective of a fighter as I was. My attachments to Padmé and Ahsoka and you were not problems by themselves. They became problems because I was trapped between dogmatic traditions and a manipulative, evil Sith Lord.”

Her lips then twitched. “And unless I’m mistaken, Master Kenobi,” she said playfully. “Your attachments and emotional feelings for me played a big role in the events which followed our little spat on Mustafar.”

Obi-Wan merely glared at her before sighing. “Alright, perhaps you have a point,” he conceded.

“I know I have a point. What do you think I’ve been doing for the last year– or longer, depending on the perspective?” Ani asked, throwing her head back. “I’ve been communing with the Force and all the people who’ve passed into it. From Qui-Gon all the way to Dooku and then some,” she said, before turning back to Lukka.

“Right, so. Where were we?” Ani asked softly.

“The Jedi wouldn’t free Grandmother,” Lukka said.

The rest of the story of Ani’s time as a Jedi came forward, this time with Obi-Wan frequently chiming in with helpful perspectives. Ultimately, after lightly covering the Clone Wars (“You’re fourteen– which is the same age Ahsoka was when she first saw combat, but that is a very long sordid story that we don’t have time to cover right now”), Ani arrived at the relevant parts.

“I’d grown very close to then-Chancellor Palpatine during the Clone Wars,” Ani said. “Where the Jedi Order frequently treated me with thinly-veiled disdain or otherwise refused to depart from their ideological positions on certain things– like death, he seemed to always have time to talk to me about what was bothering me.”

She took a deep breath. “You have to understand that the visions I had of my mother’s imminent demise came true, so when I started seeing your mother in the throes of death, I began to sleep less and grow more desperate by the day to prevent it from coming to pass,” she said quietly, looking pensive.

She swallowed a painful lump in her throat and continued. “Master Yoda, as wise as he was, merely told me to celebrate death as joining with the Force, and let those emotions go. I couldn’t… tolerate that. Palpatine though, told me he knew ways to keep loved ones from dying. The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise.”

“Darth Plagueis?” Obi-Wan asked, eyebrows raised.

“Darth Sidious’ master,” Ani responded. “All lies and bantha-shit. Sidious killed him a couple years before he became Senator of Naboo.”

She shook her head. “Ultimately, he revealed himself the Sith Lord, and begged me to use the power he had to save Padmé’s life. I… did the right thing and reported him to Master Mace Windu at the Jedi Temple. But my nerve got the better of me, and I went to the Chancellor’s office, only to find Windu and Sidious deadlocked in battle– lightning versus lightsaber. Both appealed to me to… do the thing they wanted me to do. Who was the traitor? Who was the victim? Who would save my wife, who would condemn the galaxy?”

“I chose poorly,” she said simply. “I sided with Sidious, severed the hand of Windu, and the shock of that and Sidious’ lightning sent him flying out of the window. I pledged my loyalty to him, as Darth Vader.”

“Darth Vader,” Lukka breathed. “I’ve heard of him– er, you!”

“Yes. My hands are coated in the blood of… far too many,” Ani said distantly. “Then, I lead the march on the Jedi Temple. I cut down scores of Jedi Knights and younglings. Mere children. When I was done, I was sent to Mustafar to kill the Separatist leadership. It was there that Padmé and Obi-Wan found me.”

“In a fit of anger,” Ani said. “I choked your mother, and hurt her. Obi-Wan and I duelled, and in my arrogance, I overestimated my power, and had my three remaining organic limbs severed. I dropped to the shores of the lava river we’d been fighting on, and burned alive as Obi-Wan took my lightsaber and walked away, unable to bring himself to extend mercy.”

“You… burned alive?” Lukka asked, aghast.

“The suit I wore as Darth Vader was not merely for aesthetics, Lukka,” Ani said wryly. “For thirteen years, my life was little more than that of a droid. Requiring all sorts of machinery and wires to merely exist. It was hell.”

Ani finished the story of finding the Temple in Wild Space, and her recovery to who she was now. Lukka had contemplated all the information before nodding and speaking.

“You were never not a slave,” Lukka said. “Saying the Jedi were slavers is… uncharitable, sure, but I mean, did they never think of the optics of having an ex-slave kid call someone Master?”

“In my defense, I… never considered that,” Obi-Wan said, looking embarassed.

“When we get rid of Sidious, and establish peace again, we can fix those things,” Ani said. “The dark and light can co-exist and balance within themselves.”

“If it’s that easy,” Obi-Wan said darkly.

“It doesn’t have to be easy! The Force wills it, and so it shall be done,” Ani said firmly.

Ani took a deep breath. “I understand if you may not want to associate with me, Lukka. Should you wish, I can allow Obi-Wan or someone else to be in charge of your training– or I can take you back to Tatooine.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Lukka said, crossing her arms. “You clearly have remorse for what you did, and you were the Emperor’s slave. I think you deserve a chance to make things right and put good back into the galaxy.”

Ani laughed. “You’re too good to me, little Lukka.”

“I want you to close your eyes, and listen to the hum of the engine. Listen to the harmony that resonates from it into space. The flow of light as it passes us by in hyperspeed. Breathe, and listen,” Ani instructed gently, sitting in a lotus position across from Lukka.

The young girl closed her eyes tightly and took a deep breath.

“Feel my heartbeat, my presence, my breathing. Feel mine and your emotions and how they twist and bend like strands of ribbon. Listen to the harmony.”

She could feel Lukka’s tenative presence in the Force, flickering with self-doubt and uncertainty. Her daughter had serious anxieties, feelings of inadequacy, and the continued inner turmoil over just how to feel about her father-turned-mother who had returned from a near fifteen year absence.

“Allow all that ills you to filter through your fingers like the sands,” Ani instructed. “Grain by grain, all rejoins the sand eventually.”

She could feel those self-doubts and worries began to slip into the Force, weaving small strands of darkened colors.

“Good,” Ani murmured. “Now cast your senses out. Look not with your eyes but with the Force.”

“I feel… tension,” Lukka said wryly. “Worry. Fear.”

“As a Force sensitive, we have a natural… shall I say, empathy,” Ani explained gently. “We can often feel the emotions of others. It is what made the Jedi such talented diplomats, their ability to pick apart lies and falsehoods while revealing nothing of their own. The Sith are just as talented at hiding their lies, creating smokescreens and pretending to be what they are not. The Emperor hid his true self for decades, and fooled some of the wisest masters to have ever served the Jedi Council.”

“The Jedi and Sith,” Lukka asked, opening her eyes. “How can they be complimentary and yet enemies?”

“That is a good question,” Ani said wryly. “Something that neither you nor I learned as children is how… rigid Core Worlder morality can be. What is dark but the absence of light? And what is light but the scouring of the suns over every shadow? However, the fault is the philosophy that being dark means you must be evil.”

“You’re dark and not evil,” Lukka said.

“Correct,” Ani said with a nod. “Darkness is the friend of the slave who flees from the Depur– Darkness is the refuge of the exile, hiding in the caves to avoid the binary suns. It is not a matter of light or dark that defines good or evil, but merely how one applies those powers. Let us walk through the two codes, and we can talk about which one seems more sensible.”

Ani gently took Lukka’s hands in her own and took a deep breath.

“The Jedi code, passed down for generations from Jedi to Jedi, is that there is no emotion, there is peace. There is no ignorance, there is knowledge. There is no passion, there is serenity. There is no chaos, there is harmony. There is no death, there is the Force.”

“That seems…” Lukka started. “vague?”

“It can be vague, yes. Emotion allows for us to care about the plight of the oppressed, but we must not allow emotion to control our very existence– we must be at peace with ourselves to ensure peace for others. The Jedi before their fall were firm believers that they had ascended to higher purpose, and existed above petty squabbles. A fact long forgotten by the time I was a Knight, fighting on the front-lines of a pestilential war.”

Ani shook her head and took another deep breath. “What do you think the second line means?”

“There is no ignorance, there is knowledge,” Lukka repeated. She hummed and looked thoughtful. “The Jedi were knowledge-seekers. Aunt Beru used to tell me that learning was always important, that knowledge was what allowed us to help the slaves and stay free. That knowledge and cleverness were important tools to have if I was ever in trouble.”

“Aunt Beru is quite wise,” Ani said with a nod. “The Jedi Order, before Order 66, had some of the largest, most complete archives of knowledge in the galaxy. Holocrons and datacores of books from every corner of the galaxy under the stewardship of one woman, Jocasta Nu. If it existed, it likely had some reference in the Jedi archives. I’m afraid I do not know what happened to the archives after Order 66. By the time I returned to the Temple to look into it, the archives were gone.”

Ani shook her head. “Anyway– the Jedi believe that by expanding one’s knowledge, one becomes closer to enlightenment in the Force, and strays from ignorance that leads to the Dark Side– though that philosophy can be disputed because the Dark Side is not rooted in ignorance, but passion. Which is another point the Jedi dispute. As they believe they are ascended to higher purpose, they disdain passion, preferring to root themselves in serenity only.”

“But surely you can’t be passionate all the time?” Lukka asked.

“Passion can be dangerously intoxicating, but it is not a sin. The Jedi frequently took their idea of serenity and harmony to dangerous levels, going so far as to completely discard normal emotional intelligence in favor of an absurd sternness that lead to psychological harm and mental health problems. My master who was forced to watch his master die before him suffered from that trauma and never sought help– and his emotional distance and inability to process that did not help me in my trauma, which did not help when I fell.”

“Cause and effect– by not allowing yourself to show emotion, lots of bad things can happen,” Lukka clarified.

“Correct,” Ani said with a nod. “That isn’t to say it’s Obi-Wan’s fault for anything, the Jedi Order failed him– failed us more than anything.”

“What about the last line– something about there not being death? Of course there’s death, I’ve seen what happens if you can’t get the slave chips out before…”

“Yes,” Ani said, bowing her head. “This is probably the most important crux of the Jedi philosophy. They do not view death as you or I might.”

“They don’t?”

“The Jedi do not view death as final. They believe that when someone dies, they rejoin the Force and become one with it and live again there. Death is not eternal, the Force is all there is and all that shall be. Much like the sands, everything returns to it eventually.”

“What about the Sith?” Lukka asked.

“The Sith,” Ani began, before stopping and grimacing. “What you must understand is that there is no central Sith Order, or One True Way of being a Sith Lord. When I was Darth Vader, my master was Darth Sidious, who was the apprentice of Darth Plagueis, so on and so forth going back to Darth Bane.”

“Darth Bane was the sole survivor of the old Sith Order, the legion of Dark Side practitioners who were locked in a constant state of war with the Jedi and the Old Republic over a thousand years ago. After the end of the war, Darth Bane realized that the Sith could not survive direct conflict with the Jedi constantly. So, he created the philosophy of the Rule of Two.”

Ani took a deep breath. “The Rule of Two: there can never be more than two Sith. One master, one apprentice.”

“You were the apprentice,” Lukka said.

“I was Sidious’ third apprentice,” Ani said. “His first was a Zabarak named Maul. Darth Maul was his apprentice when I was a child, when the Trade Federation invaded Naboo, like I told you. After his supposed death on Naboo, Darth Sidious sought a new apprentice. He found one in the form of the disillusioned Jedi Master Dooku. As Darth Tyranus, he ruled the Separatist movement and helped Sidious orchestrate the Clone Wars to prepare the seeds for the rise of the Empire.”

“Then, there was me. Pushed and pushed and pushed until I fell to his sway. To save my wife, your mother– to preserve the Republic under siege. I chose the chains again, for they were all I knew,” Ani said gently. “and I came to regret it every day of my life from then on.”

Ani took a moment to breathe through her emotions, processing them. Guilt and regret still stung in her chest and stomach, but she knew she was working to fix the problems she’d created. Penance would be paid, and the galaxy would be free from the chains that bind.

“The Sith Code, as it was taught to me,” Ani began. “Peace is a lie– there is only passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain Power. Through Power, I gain Victory, through Victory, my chains are broken and the Force shall free me. On the surface, it sounds like an impossibly perfect idea? Strengthening yourself and breaking the chains?”

Lukka nodded before Ani frowned.

“It is a trick. Designed to lure you in and trap you in your own misery. You cannot live your entire life jumping from one passion to another. You will find yourself addicted to the adrenaline, the rush of battle, and become dependent on it. The Dark Side is not to be abused and mistreated. It is to be given proper respect and consideration, and to never be taken advantage of. Terrible things can happen to those who abuse the Dark Side for their own gain. They become twisted, broken shells of their former selves.”

“How do you stop that from happening if you use the Dark Side?” Lukka asked.

“You have to learn to process your emotions. Comprehend them, and then either use them to drive you to fulfill your goals, or let them go. It depends on what emotion it is, and if it is a useful emotion or not. You must learn to guide your emotions, not let them guide you. Does that make sense?”

“A bit,” Lukka replied hesitantly. “It sounds like the Dark Side is really dangerous.”

“Make no mistake, princess– it is,” Ani said with a sigh. “It takes discipline and willfulness to balance yourself on that knife’s edge. I think that’s enough Force philosophy for the day. I want you to think on what we’ve discussed and come up with your own conclusions. You can talk to me about it any time if you want some clarifications– or talk to Obi-Wan. I’m sure he can tell you the Jedi point of view better than I can.”

“Sure,” Lukka replied, still uncertain. “Um, could you tell me a bit more about Mom?”

Ani grinned at her daughter and straightened her legs out before leaning back. “Your mother… where do I even begin?”

“Lukka asked me many questions about Jedi philosophy,” Obi-Wan said idly as he and Ani sat down for tea. They were still awkward around each other, weary of the time that came before, but a silent relief to have each other again. “I must profess that it took me rather off-guard. I wasn’t expecting her to have such… articulate questions. I suppose I half-expected you to completely slander the Order.”

“I’m willing to admit where the Jedi Order worked. But it had glaring issues that nobody was going to solve. The Dark cannot exist without the Light and vice-versa, and I told her that.”

“It made a frightening amount of sense,” Obi-Wan observed, sipping his tea. “Perhaps you have a point.”

“It’s good that you see my point, but I can only imagine that not many other of the remaining Jedi will agree,” Ani said simply.

“I haven’t spoken to Yoda in fourteen years. I have no idea what his viewpoints may or may not be after over a decade of exile to Dagobah, to say nothing of the other few Jedi who might be drifting around the galaxy like stubborn ghosts.”

“I was thinking of giving Lukka my Jedi saber,” Ani murmured, gently hefting her old blue blade in her hand. The blade she’d built with the help of Lo’reth was much more strongly attuned to who she was now. All her last Jedi blade gave her was the distinct feeling of guilt and anguish.

“I was planning on giving it to her someday,” Obi-Wan said lightly. “It is her birthright, after all.”

“Either her or Leia,” Ani said with a hum. “Though if she was left with the Organas then she’s probably not even aware she’s a Force sensitive.”

“She’s been well-hidden from the Inquisitors, I know that much,” Obi-Wan commented wryly. “Leaving them together was too difficult, so it was just a matter of who goes with whom.”

That next morning, after a breakfast of slightly dated rations was cleared away, Ani decided it was the right time to do what needed to be done.

“Lukka,” Ani said gently. “I would like to give you something.”

The fourteen year old looked at her curiously, and Ani reached down and unclipped her old Jedi lightsaber from her hip. Flipping it end-over-end and clasping it in her gloved hand. She extended it to Lukka.

“This, my dear princess, was my lightsaber once. I am not the same person I was all those years ago when I built it. I have a new one now that suits me far better– and so, I want you to have it.”

“Me?” Lukka asked in awe, gently grasping the hilt in her hand. It was a little big for a girl her size, but it worked. In an instant, the bright blue blade sprang out from it, before disappearing again. The young girl looked like she was going to explode in delight at the very idea of having a lightsaber.

“Keep that with you– your lightsaber is your life,” Ani instructed. “Tomorrow, we’ll begin practicing with it– and I promise I– we will help you fulfill your true potential.”