(A heartbeat ago, Q’ayla’s mind was touched with Irsin’s, and they each begged the other to allow them to take the terrible bargain in Q’aleane’s place. The small, strange creature – could this impish little thing truly be Bogan? – and her sister still bandy words back and forth, but it is becoming hard to keep track of their bargaining over the rising tide of fear, doubt, guilt, and anger swirling inside Q’ayla.
Then, there is a transition. She’s not sure exactly when it started to happen – like so much that has happened in this place, it seems almost as if she remembers the change without it having actually taken place – but the voices of her sister and the dark thing have faded away. A part of her still sees them – and Irsin – there beside her, but the greater part of her is alone on that blighted plain, with the twisted jungle at her back. No…not alone. There is another there before her, risen up dark, and glorious, and terrible. He is robed in midnight and blood, his skin as pale as death, and his shadowed eyes burn like coals, gazing impassively down at her from a height of nearly two meters.)
So, Jedi Knight Q’ayla Ren. You would treat with me to preserve your sister’s… purity? Very well. Speak, and I shall listen. And fear not, your companions may not eavesdrop upon our conversation now, either with ears or minds. You may speak… freely here.
(His voice is deep and resonant, somehow echoing in this empty place it rolls over Q’ayla and through the vaults of her mind. She can hear his words with her ears, as any other, but woven around and through them, she can feel the strength, a naked power like none she could imagine, restrained by iron control – by a will of such force it makes her mind quail back from its immensity. She realizes it is like a dark mirror of the voice atop the great tree.)
(Q’ayla, quivering, falls to her knees in the presence of this being. She averts her gaze, turning her head down and to the side, tears already beginning to form at her eyes)
It… it is you…
I am called thus by some, yes. I am beyond names.
I’m… forgive me, Bogan. I just— how can one ever prepare herself for something like this?
My people revere you. I have revered you from childhood.
I don’t know where to begin…
You – and your people – do not revere me. As I said, speak freely here. You FEAR me. And you are wise to do so. Power is not safe. And I am nothing, if not POWER. In the end, that is what you ask of me, after all.
(She visibly shudders at his voice – and what lies behind it – before continuing)
It’s true… I do wish to spare Q’aleane this thing that she does not understand. She doesn’t know what your presence feels like. Not like I do. Apparently, she’s given up the old ways of our people… she’s found solace elsewhere—
Do not presume to know what your sister would feel if she accepts my offer. As I told her before, my influence is felt differently. You have tasted – slightly – of what you call the Dark Side can offer one with the will to seize it, but that does not make you wise in all the ways that can manifest.
I know about the necessity of you and your… twin sister. I’ve had to hide my beliefs and play a part for so many years now. And you must know about the impasse I’m approaching. You are in all things, and are in me. I want to protect Q’aleane – and Irsin – from something that they don’t want. Not really, anyways. And yet…
There are… things… that I want. I want purpose. I want to be myself in all things, not what I have become— what I have tried to be. I want to love, and be loved.
Can you give me these things?
(His expression grows, somehow, colder and more remote than it already was)
You already know the answer to that, foolish girl. Those are all things none can give you but yourself. What I offer is the strength to find them, if you are willing to take it.
(She looks up at him for the first time, though still somewhat hesitantly)
And in return?
For the strength I offer you? In your terms, I require little. Only that you USE that strength. You are right to have lost patience with the puling, vacillating weakness of the Jedi. They are afraid of the power they can wield, and let that fear limit them. If you would take what I have to give, you must leave such weakness behind. You must embrace the strength that is inside you, accept who and what you are, and act accordingly.
(She slowly nods at his words about the Jedi, and rises up onto her feet again, staring up into his cold visage)
And if I do this thing – if I allow you to suffuse me and give me strength that no Jedi dare wield – you will help my sister resolve the conflict on Dathomir? And you will withhold the strength from each of my companions, though they may demand it of you?
They will try to protect me… to shield me… from my true potential.
(His eyes narrow, and his lips tighten. Though he gives no other sign, she gets an impression of towering fury, only barely contained)
Just as you cannot demand that another give you purpose, or identity, or even love, you also cannot control the choices of others. Your companions must make their own decisions, for themselves. You may not dictate terms to ME on their behalf.
I give power to those who ask, and are willing to use it. I do not withhold it.
If you wish to make sermons and demands for RESTRAINT and CONTROL, speak to she of the tree, if you can. Or he of the tower, if you can even get his attention.
I do not wish to displease, I assure you. With respect, I mean only that their intentions are not to use the power you offer. Irsin’s plea will come from his love of me… a love that we share together. He turns his back on the power his upbringing has given him… for me. Likewise, he wishes only to protect me. And Q’aleane… I’m not sure she would know how to use your offered power. She’s curious – and her curiosity continues to get us in trouble – but that’s where it ends. I offer more than that to you, Bogan. I offer… no, pledge to use this power to ends that will help shape my galaxy. I will not waste it as they will – not for love, and not for curiosity.
(She seems to become somewhat more confident, even despite the rage she can easily sense building within him)
(Abruptly, the tension drops away from him, and he begins to chuckle, low and quiet, though the subtle echo of it in her mind is…disturbing. It is not a kind laugh. At all.)
You underestimate your companions, if you truly believe such things about them. I told you before, “the Dark Side” is different for each of you. I care nothing for the rituals and dogma your kind couches it in. It matters to me not at all that your lover has left behind the trappings and structure of the Sith Order. Nor is it important to me that your sister is unlikely to become an engine of destructive rage. If they wish to deal with me, I will do so, as fairly as I do with you.
(Abruptly, he goes cold again)
And you will NOT attempt to instruct me otherwise.
(She nods slowly, a tinge of resignation passing over her face, despite her attempt to master it)
My earlier question remains, however. Will my offer purchase Q’aleane the information and assistance she requires to end the crisis on Dathomir? With respect, I cannot acquiesce on that point.
You speak as though you will deal with me, and vanish from the universe. Are you not also concerned with matters on that world? Or do you imagine that once you let me further into your heart that you will suddenly become a monster that your friends will destroy?
(She looks away for a moment before returning to his gaze)
…The thought had occurred to me that they may kill me for making this bargain.
I do care about what happens to Dathomir— to Yevra, and to Master Darach. But Q’aleane is the one equipped to truly deal with these Dathomiri and their culture. Her most effective weapon is her words, and to fuel those words, she needs information and guidance. She will then guide her other instrument of destruction— me. It’s what I’m best at, and I make no illusion to the contrary. She needs your help, and I need to know whether she will receive it— whether the price will be paid in full.
Ah, so it is me that you take for a fool, then.
No, no, not at all—
You imagine I am so short-sighted that I would transform you into a marauding beast instantly. Were you not paying attention before? Your philosophies fail to encompass the complexities. The tales you read of Sith ravening across battlefields, slaughtering at random, are not MY influence at work. I do not deal in MADNESS, girl.
Of course not… despite what I’ve been told… been taught. As I said, you are necessary if life is to exist. I meant only that they may not understand, or find me no longer palatable… I don’t know— I just don’t know! It doesn’t matter, I am willing to do this thing. To allow you to give me such strength… all I ask in return is that Q’aleane be given what she needs. That is all. Once we are off Dathomir, and broken from the Jedi Order, I will find my purpose – with your help – and I will fulfill it until my dying breath. Is that not enough? Is there still more you desire of me?
Simply name your price— you know now that I will comply willingly.
I have already told you my “price,” but you seem not to have heard. I deal in power. And knowledge, yes, for it is the same thing. But each bargain I make, in this place, is a thing itself. I speak with YOU here, at this time. The knowledge your sister has asked of me is her own to win. If you would have it in her place, that is well enough. But know that knowledge alone is… unlikely to be enough. Your sister is skilled with words, but information alone will merely allow you to ensure your collective destruction is brought about efficiently. When the time for words is done, then is the time for action. Your time.
You have begun to see the true face of what you oppose. You have started to understand the force arrayed against you. Your sister will not be able to TALK your enemies away. And you are not strong enough to defeat them.
(She nods again several times, hanging now on his words)
I know… I’ve been feeling it for days now. We will not be enough to stop the Nightsisters and save Master Darach.
But… with your help…
I will be as the mountain here, and my blade with devour my foes. In the darkness where they hide and plot, they will fear me… just as I fear you.
You begin to see. But be wary. I can aid you, more than you know, but there are limits. You have seen the state of affairs in this place. From your perspective, think of this as a reflection of matters in your own realm. You oppose a powerful force, with many advantages, in an entrenched position. Do not imagine that just because you will have made a deal with what you see as a god makes you unstoppable. That way lies your doom just as surely as your fear of losing yourself in rage. Part of the use of power is knowing HOW to use it.
Then I will discover – with your guidance or no – how to use it best. I must and I will master my rage, and this as well. I am not afraid of these challenges; by overcoming them, I will become even stronger.
(He smiles slightly)
Perhaps there is hope for you after all, mortal.
Is there some way I should begin to ruminate on and come to understand this power? Though you will be with me, I would welcome any guidance that you might offer as I begin this new journey.
(She quirks her head slightly)
Heh… I’ve never been a very good student…
Yet… this feels wholly different.
Maybe because it’s finally, really, me?
(She shakes her head quickly and looks back up at him)
I apologize for going on— please, continue…
You are right that this will be different than the sort of training you are familiar with from the Jedi. And you also see clearly when you say it will be more YOU than anything you have learned before. That is because I shall be unlocking potential within you. It will be up to you to give it direction and focus, to find the paths you can use it best. Yes, I will be with you, as I am with all mortals, but you will not need to speak to me, as we do now, to manage this. You will find what you need within you, when the time comes.
I understand. And…
…I am ready.
We shall see.
(And with that, this other, stronger place is gone from Q’ayla’s awareness, and she is fully back again beside Q’aleane and Irsin. She tries to tell if she feels any different, but she can’t be sure. She feels the same as before. She almost could begin to wonder if the experience was real at all, but then she remembers those hooded, glowing coals in that alabaster face, and she knows it could have been nothing else.)