Posted by Darth Krzysztof
Twenty-one years before the Battle of Yavin
Her war on the poison took Zeva beyond all knowledge of space or time. Her world became a kaleidoscope of nightmares; the only mercy was that she had no time to comprehend each horror before a new one took its place.
She finally reached some sort of lucidity behind a control panel in the Argo Ecliptic’s cargo hold, where she heard something scraping inside a cargo container. She went to look, and saw the same bomb she’d seen before – but this time, Master Tulu was arming it.
“Master?” Zeva said. “What are you doing?”
And the bomb went off.
- – - – -
Zeva’s eyes snapped open to the sight of the lake. “I’m alive,” she said – or tried to, her voice cracking on the words. She was parched – and starving. How long had she been out of it?
She pulled her right arm out of the bedroll. It looked worse than it felt – scabby, and bruised almost black, with darkened veins spread nearly to her elbow. Shifting around reminded her of half a dozen other cuts and scratches, only barely mended.
But I feel rested, she thought. Not great – not even good – but still, much better than before. And I can feel my fingers again, even if they are still shaking.
She ate her last food pack, but it wasn’t enough to curb her hunger. She would have to take what she needed from the jungle.
- – - – -
Zeva carried on in this manner for a few days – gathering food and hunting, trying to stay active without working too hard, trusting in the Force to heal her body. Her fever and tremors ebbed, and the vivid colors of the blood vessels in her arm began to fade – but none of the symptoms went away entirely. She knew that the bite mark itself would scar, without bacta or other proper medical treatment. It was a small price to pay to stay alive – to continue her mission.
As she recovered her strength, Zeva explored more of the jungle, drinking in its beauty, ever mindful of its danger. She felt that she understood why the animals avoided the lake, though she couldn’t put it into words. Something was wrong here… something that chilled her blood, even in the oppressive heat, and caused her hairs to stand on end.
That unease stole into her dreams every night. Zeva endured it as best she could – she had Jedi discipline on her side, and it was still better than contending with the hunters – but the nightmares only grew worse…
- – - – -
Zeva realized when she awoke that the jungle’s sounds seemed muted. She found herself in her bedroll, inside the escape pod. She saw the lake, shining in the light of day, through the open hatch. How had the pod ended up here, on the shore? She couldn’t recall…
She was still exhausted, and the urge to stay curled up in the bedroll was overwhelming, but she had to know what was going on. Zeva pulled her boots on and stepped outside, where the harsh brightness kept her from seeing the figure approaching until it was almost upon her.
Sloppy, she thought. How could you let someone sneak up on you like this? And where was her lightsaber?
“Stop right there,” Zeva shouted, balling her hands into fists.
“Relax, Vigil.” The man’s voice was calm, and vaguely familiar.
She tried to blink her disorientation away. “I said stop! Who are you?”
“I’m Anakin Skywalker. I’m here to rescue you.”
He moved out of the sunlight so Zeva could see his face. It was him – Anakin Skywalker, the man in black, the Hero With No Fear, the so-called “Chosen One.” She was saved…!
“How did you find me?”
“Your emergency beacon.” Skywalker motioned toward the escape pod. “I pulled the pod out of the lake and… well, you were too tired to move, so I decided to let you sleep while I had a look around.”
“Oh. Um, thanks.” Something in the way Anakin looked at her made Zeva very conscious of her half-dressed state. “So we can leave?”
Anakin nodded and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. Closer to the shore, Zeva saw his red Delta-7, and the astro-droid in the interceptor’s socket. She remembered the tricked-out blue fighter he used to have – that he’d claimed for himself, that he owned, in flagrant defiance of Jedi asceticism – but she pushed it out of her mind.
“Good. I have information that may lead us to a Separatist spy on Prazhi.”
“What’s your hurry?” An odd smile crossed Anakin’s face, and he turned toward the lake. “I told you, I had a look around. Don’t you want to know what I found?”
Zeva puffed indignantly, blowing her bangs out of her eyes. She barely knew Skywalker – had only met him once or twice before – but she knew his reputation all too well. He had the air of arrogance, and she’d heard that it was true. Others called him contemptuous of the Jedi Council’s authority; he certainly had no friends in the Order apart from his master. And everyone called him the Republic’s first, best hope for peace – and no one seemed to believe it more than Skywalker himself.
He’s probably used to people indulging him, she thought. And she was too weary to argue. “All right,” Zeva sighed. “What did you find?”
“Freedom,” Skywalker said, still turned away from her. “I found freedom.”
“I don’t understand.” Zeva moved to his right side, but the Hero With No Fear didn’t even spare her a glance, his gaze fixed on the lake.
“Don’t you ever get tired of their rules? Their need to control you?” He reached out to her shoulder with his gloved hand, and Zeva shivered, knowing that he’d lost that arm at Geonosis. She couldn’t feel any difference between the mechno-arm and a real one, but merely knowing about it – knowing that Anakin’s humanity had been diminished in that manner – made her skin crawl.
“If you mean the Jedi Order, then no, I don’t. They’re my family.”
“Your family abandoned you here. You could have died waiting for them.”
If Anakin was here to rescue her, wasn’t he still part of that family? “It’s because of my Jedi training that I am alive, Skywalker. I owe them everything. And so do you.”
That weird smile played around Anakin’s lips. “You only say that because you’ve never explored any… alternatives.”
“I know a little about Force adepts,” Zeva said, “but I doubt that’s what you mean.”
“You know exactly what I mean. No one else can help you here. You have nothing to rely on but your own strength and passion.”
She always found that last word shocking. “No,” she said automatically.
“You’re not a fool, Vigil.” Anakin’s eyes were still locked on the lake. “Your feelings are strong, no matter how you deny them. Why not turn that into real strength? Real power?”
If Anakin was here on the behalf of…. someone other than the Jedi, then playing along might be her only way off this planet. I’m not a great liar, but telling Anakin what he wants to hear still might work. “And how do I do that? Will you teach me?”
“No,” Anakin said. “Not me. Someone else.” Anakin’s hand tightened on Zeva’s shoulder to the point of pain, and he finally turned to look at her. His eyes seemed to have a yellow hue in this light. “But something tells me you’re not ready to share my faith.”
Not a great liar. “Truthfully, I find your faith disturbing.”
“I thought you might.”
“Let go of me.”
He did not. “Try to understand, Vigil. This power can be an ally to you… or an enemy. If you choose to make it your enemy, then it’ll destroy you.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
He finally released her – and brought his hand up between them. “You never stood a chance,” Anakin said, bringing his thumb and index finger together. Zeva heard a dreadful rumbling in her ears, and her throat seized up. With no air in her lungs, she flailed out at Skywalker, but he easily sidestepped her, and she fell to her knees as blackness crowded her peripheral vision.
The last thing she saw was Anakin’s odd smile.
- – - – -
Zeva awoke with a start. She rubbed her neck anxiously – and realized that her hand had already been at her throat.
She was still in her bedroll. There was no sign of the escape pod, no Jedi interceptor. She would never recover while these nightmares continued to plague her – and they were getting worse every time she slept. It’s not just my fevered mind, she thought. Something else was at work here… something that was preying on her fevered mind. She was under attack, and she had to end it to have any hope of surviving.
She sat up, closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Her consciousness stretched out as far as she could reach, regarding everything she touched as she drew her attention back to herself… and the familiar unease crept back over her as Zeva considered the area around the lake. She wondered how she could have missed it before, even though she hadn’t known what to look for.
Somewhere below the water, she sensed a presence… a cold, dark place, like a scar on the living Force. As soon as she found it, she felt it call to her, and it sounded like death.
Zeva opened her eyes and thought: That’s why Anakin – or whatever wore his face – was looking at the lake. Because of what’s down there. You’ll never know peace until you confront whatever it is.
I might die down there.
“There is no death,” Zeva told herself. “There is the Force.”
Nodding, she put her lightsaber back in the waterproof box and carried it toward the lake. She stopped when her naked feet found the water, took a deep breath, and dove in.