(sounds of quick, shallow breaths; footsteps recede into the background; moments of silence; footsteps approaching…)
(Q’ayla reaches her bed, dressed only in her nightclothes, a glass of water in her hand. Kneeling onto the bed, she turns around and sits with her back against the wall. She takes a long drink of water, then tilts her head back, leaning it against the wall. One leg straightens out while the other bends at the knee; her hand holds the top of the glass absently as she speaks)
Not the same as last time. No Trasa, no Irsin. No Q’aleane and no rancor. But the same intensity… I could have sworn it was real, and this now the dream.
(a deep breath and heavy sigh)
I came to choking on thick smoke. I could feel heat on my face, sweat beading and sizzling on my skin. As I pushed up off the ground, I could see the remnants of the warehouse bathed in flame. It was Bespin, of that I’m absolutely sure— I’d never forget that place.
Of course, my first thought was of Q’aleane, but I couldn’t see her anywhere. I struggled to my feet, trying to get a better view but… no, she wasn’t there. And neither was Master Tahl. Just an ocean of smouldering rubble between me and…
Yes… it was him, pinned to the wall, injured by the blast. I called out to him— at least, I thought I did. I can’t remember… but my body was already moving, dragging me towards him. The crackling of flames was everywhere, but I was still aware of my lightsaber igniting. Closer and closer he came— what was I doing?! The really strange thing is… I think I knew exactly what I was doing.
(she shakes her head hard, then takes another sip of water, drawing her other leg up and bringing her knees together)
When I made it to him, I could tell that he was in a bad way – lots of wounds, he could barely keep his feet. But he might as well have been Navik, because I drew back my saber, preparing to strike. Feeling the Force surge through my body, I sprang at him— and my blade was blocked…
Gods, now it seems so like the experience on Wayland… but again, not exactly the same. Because it wasn’t Master Tahl standing between us…
… it was Yevra.
I don’t know how she was able to deflect my attack, but there she was. And filled with fury… all those feelings I sensed in her at the clinic, but magnified a hundred fold. She came at me like a rabid vornskr, all flourishes and velocities – but I didn’t recognize her form at all. So unorthodox… and ferocious. It was all I could do to keep my defense up, and she pressed me back into the flames— soon we were both badly burned, but she kept coming. I took a gamble, dividing my concentration, and a piece of debris hurtled towards her. In her state, it broke against her blade like waves on a beach…
…but it also broke her concentration long enough for me to get an attack in. She screamed – deafening – as her sword-arm fell to the ground, the wound bleeding uncharacteristically for one made by a lightsaber. She fell to the ground, still screaming, and just stared at me— stared through me. I was only tangentially aware that we had moved in space until I finally pulled away from her penetrating gaze and saw Master Darach looking at us; we were only ten feet away from him again.
And when I looked back down at Yevra… (several deep breaths) …my gods, it’s coming back to me now…
I had taken her sword-arm— it was self-defense! But now… now all of her limbs were gone. She was just head and torso, writhing on the ground… her screams were garbled and grotesque. But her gaze… that hadn’t changed at all. She was still staring into my deepest places – when her eyes weren’t rolling into her head.
I remember screaming, but then an odd sort of calm permeated my mind. I knew what I had to do… there was no other choice this time. Lightsaber still blazing in my hand, I stood over her and then…
Then I took her head off.
It bounced away, two… three times, and then I think— yes, it came to rest in the fires, and burned away almost instantly.
I looked down at the mangled corpse on the ground, and found I couldn’t pull away from it. Maybe I’d still be staring at that horror if I hadn’t heard it; rising above the sounds of destruction around me, I could hear it clear and strong.
Laughter… again, the laughter. Last time, it was… (deep sigh) …his; this time, it came from Master Darach. He was laughing. Hysterically. I remember feeling… anger, rage at him then. I demanded to know why he would laugh at such a horrible tragedy, but he wouldn’t answer me. He just kept laughing. My anger turned to despair, and I wept – wept for Yevra. I must have dropped my lightsaber then… that would explain why I didn’t have it later…
Saber or not, I stalked towards Master Darach – I was going to make him pay for his awful laughter. I got to within arm’s reach when he changed. His eyes had been closed as he screeched, but when he opened them to glare at me, they were bright green and glowing— just as Q’aleane described them! I tried to move – tried to look away – but I was frozen. He started chanting something… what was it?!
…I can’t remember now. Whatever it was, my body went rigid, and I felt myself turning in place, facing away from him. Facing what was left of Yevra. What happened next…
(her other leg straightens out with a soft ‘thud,’ she drinks again from her water)
Ashla, how can I even describe it…?
Darach’s voice grew louder, and his chanting faster; Yevra’s corpse contorted suddenly and violently. The dismembered torso shook and rolled in front of me – I must have been screaming… I must have been. From behind me, I could hear the terrible chanting, and felt an equally horrible energy growing. Then these… tendrils of green energy streaked past me, and slammed into Yevra. The corpse was lifted into the air, and then… with these horrendous squelching sounds, limbs of rotted, dead flesh ripped their way out of the torso into existence… that green energy swirled around the neck wound, and a head… yes… it was her… it was Yevra, but changed… dead and corrupted…
Once the… ritual— it’s all I can think to call it… once it was finished, Yevra landed on the ground in a heap, and then stood up, unnaturally, and began to stalk towards me. When I was face-to-face with it, its mouth opened wide, and a shriek both frail and filled with power poured out from it. I struggled against my invisible bonds, but I couldn’t do anything…
Then Yevra – or whatever she had become – took its clawed hand and shoved it hard into my chest.
I felt pain like… can’t describe it… and when the thing pulled its hand out again, I beheld my still-beating heart there before my eyes. It held it before my face, then the clawed fingers pressed in on themselves, and it died.
And I died.
And I woke.
(she shifts forward, bringing both of her legs off the bed, her feet resting on the floor. She takes a last long drink of water, then places the glass on her bed-side table. She puts her face in her hands, then slides them up into her hair and holds there for several moments. Then, quietly…)
Ashla, what’s happening to me?
Why am I having these vivid, horrible dreams? Is it just Dathomir? Is it what I did to Shado? Is this the cost of taking a life in cold blood? …And, after what I saw in the jungle— the rancor and Q’aleane’s tears of blood… what part of this nightmare will come true?
Gods only know… well gods, and maybe Irsin.
I wish he was here right now. Maybe I should— no. No, he’s probably busy. Working on his hacking – and he needs to get it done, so we can find his mother. And besides, I’m sure he’s had enough of crazy, messed up Q’ayla. I’ll feel better in the morning, I just need to get some sleep.
(she lifts her legs and, turning, slides them under her sheets and lies down on the bed)
Just some sleep… then I’ll be better.
(Q’ayla is laying in the same position as before; one hand wipes at her forehead then slumps back onto the mattress.)
…I can’t get the images out of my head. Yevra, Master Darach…
—Got to stop thinking about it. I’ll never sleep again if I keep thinking about it.
How about some good thoughts, huh Q’ayla? It’s not all nightmares and crazy, cursed planets. Right? Heh.
Well, I did have a wonderful talk with Q’aleane earlier today… well, yesterday now. She doesn’t remember much more of her experience in the jungle, but I’m sure it’ll come back to her. If there’s anyone out there who can master their own mind, it’s Q’aleane. Though, I have to say, I think this experience has changed her somehow. She kept acting… strangely while we talked. There were awkward pauses, and feelings of discomfort at certain subjects— things I wouldn’t associate with her. Not quite sure what to make of all of it… once we’re off Dathomir, and once we… well, figure out what we’re doing, I’ll have more time to dedicate to helping her. Heh… it’s funny, really. I never used to think about Q’aleane needing help – she’s always been stronger than that. Stronger than me. Spending all this time with her since our knighting, it’s made me realize how much more alike we are. It’s … nice… in a way, that is. I mean, I don’t want her to feel all the bad things. But erasing some of the mystique has, I think, brought us closer. We’re learning more about each other, and we’re becoming stronger for it.
And we’re talking, instead of just using our link to infer everything. Good example— she thought that Irsin and I were angry at her for… deadening?… our emotions back at the clearing. As I said to her, it’s not that I was angry; it was just a shocking experience for me. And Irsin may have been mad at her, but I’m sure he’s over it. And yet, I hadn’t even considered before that our feelings would hurt her. I wonder if I didn’t always feel like Q’aleane lacked an emotional response… but I know now, and I’m going to be more aware of it. That’s a promise.
I also got to finally tell her about what happened the other night at the camp. About how my views of the Jedi Order – and my place within it – are changing. More than ever before – more than I ever thought I would – I’ve got my sights set on a new path, and Q’aleane was right there with me. What was it she said?
“I think it is time that we no longer claim the title or the burden of what they call Jedi. Instead we take on ourselves the mission of peace that the Jedi should be doing.”
(Q’ayla smiles, the smile turning to a grin.)
I want to be out there, doing good works – making peace in the galaxy – without having to constantly repress myself. I don’t need to be a Jedi to do those things… to be something to someone… do I?
No. No, I don’t think I do.
I may never be a Battlemaster… may never teach Padawans in the Coruscant Temple…
…but maybe I can be something more than that. Something more important than passing on the art of the saber.
(she shakes her head slowly, pushing the thought away)
I don’t know… we still have to get out of this mess – have to help Yevra, and find Master Darach – so it doesn’t do much good to think ahead like that. What’s important is that Q’aleane isn’t disappointed in my ideas and decisions; not only that, she’s thrown in her lot with me. (smiling) Sisters forever.
And then I told her about me and Irsin. I didn’t tell her everything… not about Irsin and Trasa and all of that. I’ve still got processing to do on that front. I mean, I’ve forgiven Irsin for not telling me. But…
…but I told her about how we kissed, and how I’m feeling like a rookie schoolgirl when it comes to… this.
Is that was this is? Could it be?
“The crystal, the blade, the Jedi.”
“We are one.”
(almost a whisper)
(hands slowly rubbing up and down arms crossed against her chest, Q’ayla lies in silence for several moments)
(still at a near-whisper)
I… I understand now, Alema. Why you made your choice. What you would do for him. Anything.
(Q’ayla sits up again, propping her pillows up against the head of her bed)
And… Q’aleane was okay with it. Things aren’t weird between us. She’s happy that I’m happy.
And I am happy. Happier than I dare to be. There’s still so many questions and unknowns, but…
Right now… on a planet consumed by darkness… gods help me, I am so h—
(There is a knock on Q’ayla’s door)
(slightly louder now) Who is it?