After We Won and Before It Went to Hell (full text)

Fantasy/thinly-veiled fan-fiction, 2,000 words. The empire is smashed. The Dark Lord is dead. The rebellion has won. Now, the leader of the rebellion, who only just learned that the Dark Lord was her father, must lead the reconstruction, and reckon with the eldritch power she inherited.

Shadows wheeled and whirled across walls and shelves, thrown by breeze-bothered candles. Her brother Lucerin would see omens in the interplay of shadow and light, but Alie Okarna, her quill poised over paper, found only annoyance. She scrawled her signature, large and bold, at the bottom of an order that could starve thousands. It would also pressure the former imperial capital to end an economy propped up by slavery.

Those enslaved will starve first.

Peace is only war under different terms. The stakes are no smaller. Remember why you fought.

Of late, Alie second-guessed the voice in her head, the voice she’d always assumed was her own. It irked her to doubt herself. The stakes were just as large, and remembering why she fought was always good advice.

The state of the Hundred Kingdoms, fragments of the empire her rebellion had smashed, felt as volatile as the flickering candlelight. Were she her father’s daughter at heart, the Kingdoms would have been one great Queendom by now, the negotiating and squabbling finished. But Alie was neither her brother nor her father, and independence had always been the point of these last bloody years. It wasn’t enough to bring down an empire. She must build something better to replace it.

Something to outshine your father’s works.

I already outshine my father. I broke his empire, and Lucerin killed him.

At the edge of her awareness, the Essence called to her. It always had, in the quiet moments, but she had only recently learned its name, and an inkling of its nature. She couldn’t quite believe that her inner voice, the voice that answered the questions she asked herself, was something other than herself. The Essence was steeped in superstition and myth to the people of the Hundred Kingdoms. Alie had not yet sorted what she believed. For now, the Essence was a distraction.

A mountain of scrolls awaited her. Alie had led the rebellion against the Dark Lord, so this confederation of treaties, with every ruler grasping for pieces of a fallen empire, was her hard-won prize. She fought, killed, and led soldiers to their deaths for this, a chance for the kingdoms to openly bicker without fear of being crushed. She should appreciate this minor chaos.

She needed friendships and alliances to secure the future. Stability and continuity. Each of the scrolls was a brick in the castle she was building: walls to protect the nations that would learn to live and work together, to keep out what the rebellion fought so hard to eradicate.

There’s too much. I’d trade it all for a straight fight.

Attend to one thing. And then to the next.

She focused her gaze on a flickering candle until it stabilized into a tall lick of orange, giving calm, steady radiance. The room grew just a bit brighter. One light at a time, until she banished the shadows entirely. A bright rule to replace the Dark Lord. That was the work. Stability and continuity.

Rebellion was different from nation-building, but Alie was cursed with a talent for both. General Okarna became High Counselor Okarna before the dead were even burned. She already wielded the power she’d need for this work–her own political savvy. Yet there was the Essence, like a solution in the back of her mind, looking for a problem. A blade wanting a throat. Not now.

Not yet.

Alie hadn’t known the Dark Lord was her father. Nor that the backwoods wizard who killed him was her brother. Would knowing have changed things? A frivolous question. Alie wasn’t frivolous. This newly-revealed pedigree, and the power that came with it, was a weapon in her arsenal–but it wouldn’t serve her now, so soon after the Dark Lord’s defeat. She had to distance herself from her father, and possibly her brother, too. Wielding the Essence set them apart, and she could not afford to appear “apart” from the coalition she’d built.

But no one is watching right now.

She reached through the Essence, and a scroll floated into her hand. Commanding the Essence was the Dark Lord’s legacy, one she had only discovered on the eve of her victory. A new muscle to be strengthened, but discreetly. She unrolled the scroll. What trade advantages had First Minister Veylor hidden in the florid language of his treaty?

There is a way to find out.

Touching the Essence, Alie could hear its call more clearly. It was an energy of mind and consciousness, but she sometimes wondered if it was a mind itself, something that yearned for a mouth to speak through. For fingers to touch the world. It seemed to want to impart its secrets to her. Like how she could use it to reach through the ink on the scroll, crossing time and distance to hear Veylor’s voice as he dictated to his scribe. She caught the hesitation in his voice as he revised the terms of trade with circuitous language, obfuscating the thoughts that Alie could  clearly sense through the Essence. A bit more effort, and she thought she could look through the man’s eyes, right at that moment. No secrets would be hidden from her. Perhaps this was the power she needed now.

It is.

Alie jerked her head when Rayk came silently from behind to kiss her. He bit off a curse, his lip split, but the wine cup he gave her was unspilled. She almost apologized, but that would be like a chink in the dam she needed to hold firm, all the time.

Regret nothing.

Rayk understood. My husband. That still felt strange. She knew now that marrying a smuggler had been a tactical error when her marriage could have forged an alliance. But she refused to regret something she did for herself, when so much else would be for the realm.

“Still working?” He sucked the blood from his lip.

He misses you.

He understands. The kingdoms must be settled first.

It was long past midnight. There’d be more candle stubs before she was done. She rubbed her temples and took a sip of wine. It was different. Exquisite. Where did… “Where were you?”

“Out with Kiidu,” Rayk said vaguely. “Getting that wine. What do you think of it?”

He’d been smuggling again. Violating trade agreements she’d signed or had yet to sign. Her rebellion no longer needed an admiral, so he’d fallen back on old ways, thinking she didn’t know. 

It won’t do.

The kingdoms aren’t all that need settling.

“It tastes foreign.” 

He shrugged and smiled his crooked smile. She’d found it attractive, once. “Your brother said he’s opening a school,” he said, changing the subject.

He’d seen Lucerin? “What kind of school?” She knew, of course. Lucerin was building a legacy of his mysticism. In the way of the old order of wizards, Lucerin eschewed attachment. No wife. No children. She and Lucerin had been but two of their father’s many “sins.” Even so, Lucerin would mold future generations by sharing their birthright.

The irony. I didn’t forswear a family.

It’s your birthright as much as his. Your future to mold.

“For that thing you do.” Rayk was uncomfortable with her power. He trusted his knives. Kiidu. He trusted her. But the Essence of life, half bathed in Light, half cowled in Shadow? That was beyond him. “He found students.”

“Did he?” Lucerin could have been a political force. Not a ruler–he’d mastered a power only the Dark Lord had openly wielded–but he commanded respect and fear that amounted to leverage. Now he planned to give it away to strangers. He had his reasons. He’d read the portents. Were the Essence to be held only by the powerful, he said, a great darkness would overwhelm the new light of the liberated kingdoms. Lucerin’s power was tangled in his peculiar notions of good and evil, light and dark. To Alie, a blade had no innate morality beyond its use. But to Lucerin, the Essence wielded the wizard as much as the wizard wielded the Essence. Muddled motives let the shadows in.

Rayk caught her mood. “He wants you to train with him too.”

“Of course he does. And leave all this–” she flung a hand at the scrolls “–to whom?” She had administrators she trusted. A chain of succession.

But only a paper legacy.

What she had was because she worked, day and night, organizing her nation and cajoling other heads of state to work with her because she’d won them their independence. At best, it would last as long as she did. She needed a legacy of her own.

Yes. Of your own.

The table began to tremble.

Lucerin wanted her to drop everything, abandon everyone, to learn the Essence–like he did in the middle of the war.

Scrolls, candle stubs, and her wine cup tumbled onto the floor.

What would her father have done if he’d known that he had heirs?

“Lucerin should come to me,” she said.

The metal cup crumpled like paper.

Rayk backed away, his eyes wide. This reaction, even from your husband. This was why she couldn’t be seen using her birthright.

Alie released the Essence and slumped in her chair. She pressed her palms to her eyes. Rayk was back behind her, holding her. She leaned into him.

He whispered into her hair. “He’ll come if you ask. But honestly? He has nothing to teach you. You’re the strongest person I know, Alie. You can do anything.”

That was the problem, but she didn’t mind hearing it.

The burden of high expectations.

She was strong. But Lucerin had teachers. She could use one. But this broken empire needed her as a ruler, diplomat, and symbol to remind all the petty kings and queens of their proclaimed ideals. And, if necessary, it needed her to crush any new ambitions of empire. She needed to make her work outlive her. The Essence whispered unceasingly.

Continuity. Succession. Pedigree. Legacy. Heirs.

“I want a baby, Rayk.”

The words slipped out. Some notions evaporate when spoken aloud. This one didn’t. Children always seemed like a topic for later. After we marry. After we break the empire. After we settle the kingdoms. This is how “later” becomes “never.” Having a child was pragmatic: a continuation of the pedigree and power she didn’t dare use–for now. It was also personal: something just for her. In spite of everything, she wanted her long-fractured, newly-restored bloodline to continue. Her father had been cowled in Shadow. Her child would be bathed in Light. How not? The Dark Lord sought to dominate. She and Rayk were liberators. Despite all his omens, even Lucerin would see that.

A baby.

Rayk’s breath caught, but then he said “Tonight?”

That crooked smile.

“I want all this to mean something.”

“It does.”

“I want the future we build to be for someone… special.”

Rayk knew less of his father than Alie had. She’d grown up with kind, adoptive parents. Rayk had survived alone, fighting and stealing to live. He had no idea what fatherhood meant. It terrified him.

Still, he said it. For her. 

“I do too.”

The Essence stopped whispering. It seemed to be listening. Expectant.

Tenderly, Rayk helped Alie from her chair. She slipped her hand into his, and he squeezed. The future already felt lighter, lifted from her shoulders as if by a storm of the Essence. A child of Imperial blood, but born of the great rebellion, could solve so many problems. The Hundred Kingdoms’ memory of empire was red with blood now, but in a generation? They would remember only the efficiency. The order. The Essence seemed to gather itself.

On their way to bed she snuffed the straining candles. Darkness cloaked them both.

Author’s Notes

This was the one story from the Codex Writers’ Weekend Warrior 2022 flash fiction contest that I couldn’t sell. Too boring, too much back-story and not enough action. But that’s instructive. The original prompt was: Choose a cliché trope. Find a new way to go with it. (“The rag-tag rebel army/fleet struggles valiantly to overthrown the Evil Empire.”) I’ve been fixated on the endings of epic tales, so this seemed an opportunity to write another epilogue.

Of course, there is already George Lucas sequel fan fiction branded as official Star Wars canon. One of the things I thought Episode VII: The Force Awakens did right was to show that Han and Leia didn’t work out. He was a rogue who assumed responsibility during a crisis. She was a rebel leader since childhood, has a sharp tongue, and is used to social strata much different from Han’s. Their relationship was probably a grand adventure when they were at war, but in times of peace? As an adult, I became dubious about how well their relationship would hold up. Learning that they had a son who went Dark was not surprising. The movies attribute it to Luke’s failure, but in my mind, Ben’s gothy fascination with his Dark Lord grandfather began with bad parenting and marital strife.

So in this thinly-veiled fan fiction, I tried to show Leia (“Alie”) and Han (“Rayk”) having a child for the wrong reasons. As the story developed, unless I wanted to show the whole history of bad parenting and neglect (which I didn’t know how to do in a 750-word flash story), I’d have to add an accelerant to the darkness that would manifest through Alie’s and Rayk’s child. For that, I went back to Star Wars canon and the start of this strange Skywalker bloodline, where the Force itself immaculately incarnated as a child with no father. Not wanting to deal with Darth Sidious and midi-chlorians, I re-imagined the Force itself as a consciousness, and when it incarnates in a human form, it starts hewing to the principle that power corrupts. In the world of this story, the wizards (Jedi) use the Essence (the Force) only through strict mental discipline, because the Essence incarnated has an impulsive desire to brandish its own power, and creates tyrants and Dark Lords.

Ultimately, this story fails because it’s too internal (all world-building and back-story, no action), and even at 2,000 words, it’s too short. It doesn’t address why Alie and Rayk are a bad match in peacetime, and it doesn’t address the consequences of their having a child. The only suggests that this is an ominous event; you have to know Star Wars to understand that they’ve just conceived a new Dark Lord.

This could possibly work as a longer piece, maybe a novella, where antecedents and consequences are shown, not implied. But that longer piece will look much different, so I thought I’d toss this onto the blog as a fun, but failed, writing experiment.

Also, for no reason at all, I started and ended this story with a haiku.

EDITED TO ADD: It looks like the canonical Star Wars universe is starting to look into how the seeds of the First Order existed in the New Republic. This story could easily fit in the world of After the Rebellion.


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