The Sidori Gambit

Trial of the Spirit

Posted by Darth Krzysztof

Twenty-one years before the Battle of Yavin

Zeva found the underwater tunnel, and surfaced for one last deep breath before following it. The passage led deep beneath the lake, suddenly turning back up before it opened into a larger pool. Unable to hold her breath any longer, Zeva swam upwards, breaking the surface and sucking in great lungfuls of muggy air.

She found herself in a pool within a cave, its vastness suggested by patches of glowing fungi clinging to the walls. Once her breathing returned to normal, Zeva made for the shore, so grateful to get the bottom beneath her feet that she ignored the unpleasant mud between her toes. Strange, she thought. I never thought I’d miss boring diplomatic negotiations…

She left the pool and reached out into the Force for a better sense of her surroundings, but pulled back at once when she sensed something unlike anything she had ever encountered before. As curiosity overtook fear, she walked deeper into the cave, not noticing the bones buried in the muck, drawing closer to a stalagmite as high as her waist. As Zeva approached, a ruddy, unearthly light appeared at the top of the formation. She closed to within three meters, and the light became too bright to look at. It seemed to radiate from some sort of crystal…

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” someone said. Zeva looked over her shoulder to see a human woman clad in a robe, cloak, and hood of black… a woman with Zeva’s own face. No stranger than anything else I’ve seen lately. Still, where’d she come from?

“Yes,” was all Zeva could think to say. The waterproof case seemed very heavy in her hand.

“I’ve been waiting for you, Zeva,” the woman in black said, coming a little closer with precise, graceful movements. “I’ve been waiting for so long.”

“And who are you?”

The stranger laughed, as if the answer was obvious. “I’m you, of course. Or perhaps I should say, I’m the you that should have been. That still could be. That will be.”

“You… you’re the reason I’ve been having nightmares.”

“I only sent you dreams. Your own mind, and the hunter’s venom, made them nightmares.” Once she’d come within five meters of Zeva, the stranger stopped. “If you’d accepted my aid, like I suggested, you never would have been poisoned in the first place.”

“Your aid… you mean the dark side of the Force.”

The stranger nodded. “You must not think of the light and dark as opposites, Zeva. They form one thing with two sides. You can never achieve understanding of something unless you’ve perceived it from every angle.”

That was true enough, Zeva thought. Maybe there was something to the words of this woman who wore her face. She had survived this planet for days, now… she was strong. Strong enough to look upon the other side of the Force, surely. It would not hurt to look.

“Show me,” Zeva said, and the woman gestured toward the crystal atop the stalagmite. Zeva walked up to the crystal, close enough to touch, and stared into the brilliant light that poured from it. “It’s so chaotic,” she whispered.

“Of course. Peace is a lie,” the stranger said, moving out of Zeva’s vision. “There is only passion.”

“Not in me.” Zeva’s heart raced as she considered whether her words were true, even as she spoke them. “I’ve never had a… a passionate moment in my life.”

“Then you are long overdue. For through passion, I gain strength.”

Zeva could feel that strength, electric and alive, just beyond her reach. If she was never to be rescued from this miserable planet, then why shouldn’t she rule it? The Order had forsaken her, after all, and the means lay before her. “Yes… strength.”

“Through strength, I gain power.”

“Power.”

“Through power, I gain victory."

How many defeats had Zeva suffered? With power such as this at her command, Zeva could not fail…. would never fail again. The light captivated her attention, told her what to say next. “Through victory, my chains are broken.” She thought of all the chains she wore – her Order’s, her Republic’s, even her dead Master’s – and the idea of freedom, true freedom, made her heart sing.

She couldn’t see the woman who wore her face, but knew she was smiling. “The Force shall set me free,” the stranger said.

“Free,” Zeva said, barely hearing her voice over blood hammering in her ears. “I want to be free.”

“I know.”

“What must I do?”

“Touch the crystal, Zeva. The rest will follow.”

Zeva set her case down and carefully reached both hands toward the light. She could feel the energy humming within it, rising up to meet her… she sensed its need, its hunger… it had been trapped here since time out of mind, waiting to be found… waiting to be free…

It was alive. It was evil. And Zeva knew that touching it would allow it to take over her body.

Your suffering will be at an end, the presence told her. No more loneliness. No more pain.

“But I’ll cease to be,” she said aloud.

“We will be one,” the stranger said behind her. “You that is, and you that will be. One.”

Zeva tore her hands away from the crystal and spun around to face the stranger. “No,” she gasped. “I can’t. I won’t do it.”

“It’s already happened,” the stranger said, lowering her hood to reveal a head of shining white hair. “I’m already inside you. You should embrace me. Fighting the unavoidable is a waste of your time and mine.”

“If you know me so well, you must know that I can never do that.”

The stranger pouted, a gesture Zeva had never seen on her own face. “So it seems. I told you before, though. If you choose to make me your enemy, I will destroy you.”

This was her last chance, Zeva knew. If she defied this creature, there would be no turning back. “Do it,” she said at once. “That way, neither of us will ever leave this cave.”

The stranger’s lips curled into a sneer, and she raised a hand to point at Zeva. “Accursed Jedi,” she snarled. “Even after all this time, you’re all the same.”

A bright arc of Force lightning erupted from the stranger’s fingertips; Zeva dove out of the way, rolling toward the waterproof case. She grabbed it and dashed behind a rock pillar, raw power crackling in her wake. As the lightning subsided, Zeva fumbled the case open and pulled out the lightsaber, igniting it as she stepped back into sight and moved into the first posture of the Soresu form.

“Really?” the stranger said, laughing. “You want to fight me?”

“No. But I seem to have no choice.”

A gleaming cylinder appeared in the stranger’s hand, and a shimmering blade of bright red came into being with a familiar snap-hiss. The stranger charged Zeva with a shriek, driving the Jedi back under a flurry of blows. Zeva blessed Master Tulu for making Soresu the focus of her education; at the moment, the style’s defensive focus was all that was keeping the Jedi alive. She quickly formed a strategy: stay on the defensive, hope that the stranger wears herself out, and make the most of any mistake her foe might make.

Finally, the stranger lunged too far, allowing Zeva to strike the back of her head with her saber hilt. As the woman in black fell face first in the mud, Zeva turned her Jedi weapon off, and went to hide on the other end of the vast, dark cave.

The stranger rose to her knees and wiped dirt from her eyes. “Fool,” she growled. “You should have killed me.” Zeva realized that she could have – and why hadn’t she? – but knew better than to reply. The stranger stood up and began her search, her lightsaber still lit. “I know you’re here, Zeva Vigil… I can smell your fear. You may be able to control it, but I smell it all the same.”

Zeva smiled. At least she did have it under control. No one had ever tried to kill her with a lightsaber before, and she was still alive. Don’t get cocky, though.

“But my rage will crush your discipline,” the stranger announced, stalking straight past Zeva’s position. “If you cannot match it with your own anger, you will die here, alone.”

Don’t be stupid, Zeva told herself, using Master Tulu’s voice so the message would stick. She’s just trying to open you to the dark side. You’re smarter than that.

All right. I don’t know how I can beat her, though.

You could use her anger against her.

Zeva tried to remember what she’d heard about Dun Möch – a method of exploiting a foe’s weaknesses through taunts and insults. She’d dismissed it at the time, since the technique was so closely associated with the Sith… but Dun Möch wasn’t a dark side discipline, strictly speaking, and she couldn’t think of anything else to try.

She remembered a trick that Master Yoda had once shown her, and pitched her voice to echo throughout the chamber, to hide her position. “You’ll never see my anger,” Zeva said. “And you will never overcome my discipline. When you face me, you face the strength and wisdom of a thousand generations of Jedi Knights. I am never alone.” She felt the effect of her words on the stranger, who spat and cursed in a language she’d never heard before.

“If you love the light of the Force so dearly,” the stranger said, “then come out, and I’ll send you to join it.”

Zeva stepped back into view and lit her saber once more, resuming her defensive posture. She drew breath for a retort, but the stranger dashed toward her, lightsaber swathing deadly arcs of crimson through the darkness. Zeva parried each attack, eyes locked with her foe all the while. The stranger tried to throw her off with wild punches and kicks, but the blows were born of power, not control, and easily avoided or countered. “Is that the best you can do?” Zeva asked, unable to help herself.

The stranger howled and threw herself at Zeva, who rolled onto her back and used her knee to throw her foe over her head, just as she’d done to the hunter’s pack leader. The stranger’s back came down on a pile of jagged boulders; she yelped in pain, and her lightsaber slipped from her grasp, rolling away from her. Zeva reached out and brought the weapon to her free hand through the Force, running up to the stranger and holding the blade of her own saber over her foe’s chest.

The stranger glared at Zeva with an upside-down grin. “Do it,” she rasped. “Kill me.”

“No,” Zeva said, but she didn’t lower her weapon.

“Once I catch my breath, we will begin again. And you’ll tire long before I do. I won’t give you another chance like this.”

“It’s not the Jedi way… to kill a defenseless opponent.”

“Even when she will destroy you? You’re a slave to a thousand generations of foolishness, Zeva Vigil.”

Zeva considered her position and knew what to do. “Then let this slave set you free,” she said as she raised her own lightsaber – and threw it at the glowing crystal atop the stalagmite.

“NO!” shouted the stranger, too late.

The crystal flashed like a star going nova, and Zeva’s world plunged into blackness.

- – - – -

“… unable to determine the cause.”

The voice was calm, soothing. Mechanical. Familiar. A medical droid.

Zeva slowly opened her eyes. She was on a Republic ship, the only patient in a spacious sick bay. A 2-1B droid with its back to her talked to a man in Jedi robes, a man she recognized at once.

“Master Windu?” she said – or tried to. She found her voice croaky, uncooperative.

The Jedi Master leaned around the droid to look at her. “Vigil, “he said. “Good. How do you feel?”

“Hurts,” was all she could think to say. “Are you… is this… am I really here?”

“Yes.” If Windu thought it was an odd question, he gave no sign. The man was damn near impossible to read. “You’re on board the Resolution. We’ve already dealt with the smugglers that the Argo Ecliptic was sent to investigate. We’re still searching the system, but you seem to be the ship’s only survivor.”

Zeva shook her head. “You won’t find anyone else. I felt them die… felt them all die.”

“I see. Do you know how the ship was lost?”

“Sabotage. A droid, reprogrammed… Master, did you find my camp? Did you get the memory core I had there?”

Master Windu nodded. “We have technicians analyzing it now.”

“Master Tulu thought we could use it to find out who altered the droid. On Prazhi.”

“We’ll see.” The Master’s flat voice made Zeva wonder if he doubted her story.

“She’s dead, too. Master Tulu, I mean.”

Windu nodded. “She was a good Jedi, Vigil. Never forget what she’s taught you.”

“I… thank you.” This was as close to sympathy as she could expect from the Jedi Master. “I never would have survived without her training.”

“Seventeen days is a long time to be stranded.”

Had it been that long? “How did you find me?”

“Your emergency beacon led us to your general position, though I’m not sure how you managed to end up in that cave.” He took a seat next to Zeva’s bed and steepled his fingers. “Perhaps you should tell me everything.”

She did. Master Windu listened to every word, not interrupting or asking a single question, never taking his eyes off of her. When she finished, the Jedi Master considered the story. Finally, he said, “You encountered a Force spirit… someone so attuned to the dark side of the Force that their essence continued after death.”

“That would explain a great many things, Master. I knew that couldn’t have been Skywalker.” Reckless or not, the Hero with No Fear had a master with enough sense to keep him away from the dark side.

“No, he’s on the other side of the galaxy right now. I expect the spirit was using your own jealousy of Skywalker against you.”

Jealous? Of him? Wait… I am, aren’t I? She couldn’t help but felt disappointed in herself.

Windu continued. “I saw what was left of the crystal you described. And I sensed the remnants of dark side energies in the cave. I understand your reasons for confronting the spirit, but you must realize that it could have killed you… or possessed you. But it doesn’t seem to have left you with any lingering effects, other than what’s happened to your hair.”

Zeva blinked at the Jedi Master. “What do you mean?”

Master Windu held up a hand mirror, allowing Zeva to see that her hair had turned white. She gasped.

Windu moved on, saying, “Once we’re done salvaging what we can from the Argo, we have business in the Krann system. It may be some time before we can get you back to Coruscant and assigned to a new Master.”

“A new Master? You mean… start over?”

“Not all over, no. Unless you’ve forgotten your training to this point.”

She blushed. “No, Master. I respect your wisdom, of course. If that is the only way I can become a Jedi Knight, though, then that’s what I’ll do.” She couldn’t keep her disappointment out of her voice, even if she’d wanted to.

Mace Windu stroked his chin. “There is another possibility. The ordeal you faced on Kira IV was much like the missions we send Padawans on for the Trials of Knighthood.”

“Was it?”

“Yes. I must confer with the Jedi Council soon anyway. I believe I can persuade them that you’re now worthy to be a Jedi Knight.” He fixed his stern gaze upon her. “Unless you don’t feel ready. In that case, I won’t bother.”

“I am ready,” Zeva said, and she felt it was true. How much could Master Tulu have had left to teach her, anyway? Her training had carried her through Jedi Trials – trials other Padawans may not have survived. If she was not ready now, she would never be.

“Very well.” Master Windu stood up and gave a solemn nod. “If the Council agrees, then you’ll be knighted immediately. I’ll have need of you when we get to Krann. She’s all yours,” he told the medical droid as he left the room.

“I must still be dreaming,” Zeva muttered as the 2-1B moved to her bedside.

- – - – -

Zeva Vigil lost her Padawan’s braid and became a Jedi Knight in the Krann system, where she received a special commendation for single-handedly rescuing a group of important scientists from a party of super battle droids. The data recovered from the droid saboteur led to the arrest of the Separatist agent who’d programmed it, throwing their entire spy network into disarray throughout the region. For a brief, shining moment, Zeva became a hero of the Clone Wars.

But her first solo mission on the Jedi Council’s behalf turned out to be her last…

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DarthKrzysztof

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