She was being followed.
She paused and wiped a damp wisp of yellow hair from her forehead, touching in passing the scars that marked her as a member of Domain Kwaad. Her green eyes scanned through the many-legged gnarltrees, but her stalkers weren’t yet showing themselves to the usual senses. They were waiting for something—reinforcements, probably.
She hissed a mild shaper’s curse under her breath and started off again, picking her way over moldering logs, through sluggish mists and dense brakes of hissing cane. The air was a wet fever, and the chirps and trills and bubbling gulps from canopy and marsh were oddly comforting. She kept her pace the same—there was no reason to let them know she was on to them, not yet. She did alter her path subtly—no point in going to the cave until this was dealt with.
Or I could lead them there, she mused, attack them while they deal with their inner demons . . .
No. That seemed somehow like sacrilege. Yoda had come here. Luke Skywalker had, too, and so had Anakin. Now it was her turn. Tahiri’s turn.
Anakin’s parents hadn’t very much liked the idea of her coming to Dagobah alone, but she’d managed to convince them of the necessity. She believed that the human and Yuuzhan Vong personalities that had once shared her body had become one seamless entity. It felt that way, felt right. But Anakin had seen a vision of her, a melding of Jedi and Yuuzhan Vong, and it hadn’t been a pretty vision. She’d thought at first, after the joining that had nearly driven her mad, that she had avoided that outcome. But before she moved on, before she put those she loved at risk, she had to consider the possibility that the fusion of Tahiri Veila with Riina of Domain Kwaad was a step in the fulfillment of that vision.
Anakin, after all, had known her better than anyone. And Anakin had been very strong.
If the creature he had seen was lurking in her, the time to face it was now, not later.
So she’d come here, to Dagobah, where the Force was so strong it almost seemed to sing aloud. The cycle of life and death and new birth was all around here, none of it twisted by Yuuzhan Vong biotechnology, none of it poisoned by the machines, greed, and exploitation all too native to this galaxy. She’d come to visit the cave to explore her inner self and see what she was really made of.
But she had also come to Dagobah to meditate on the alternatives. What Anakin had seen was all of the worst of Yuuzhan Vong and Jedi traits bundled into one being. Avoiding becoming that was paramount, but she had a goal beyond—to find the balance, to embody the best of her mixed heritage. Not just for herself, but because the reconciliation of her dual identity had left her with one firm belief—that the Yuuzhan Vong and the peoples of the galaxy they had invaded could learn a lot from each other, and they could live in peace. She was sure of it. The only question was how to make it happen.
The Yuuzhan Vong would never create industrial wastelands like Duro, Bonadan, or Eriadu. On the other hand, what they did to life—breaking it and twisting it until it suited their needs, wiping it out entirely when it didn’t please—was really no better. It wasn’t that they loved life, but that they hated machines.
There had to be some sort of common ground, some pivot point that could open the eyes of both sides and end the ongoing terror and destruction of the war.
The Force was key to that understanding. The Yuuzhan Vong were somehow blind to it. If they could actually feel the Force around them, if they could feel the wrongness of their creations, they might find a better path, one less bent on destruction. If the Jedi could feel the Yuuzhan Vong in the Force, they might find—not better ways to fight them—but paths to conciliation.
She needed more than that, though. It wasn’t enough to know what was wrong—she also had to know how to make things right.
Tahiri had no delusions of grandeur. She was no savior, no prophet, no super-Jedi. She was the result of a Yuuzhan Vong experiment gone wrong. But she did understand both sides of the problem, and if there was any chance she could help Master Skywalker find the solution her galaxy so desperately needed—well, she had to take it. It was a role she accepted with humility and great caution. Those trying to do good often committed the most atrocious crimes.
They were gaining on her, getting clumsier. Soon she would have to do something.
They must have followed her to Dagobah. How?
Or maybe they had known where she was going before she left. Maybe she had been betrayed. But that meant Han and Leia—
No. There was another answer. Paranoid reflexes were a survival trait growing up in a crèche, but even deeper instincts told her that her friends—adopted parents, almost—could never do such a thing. Someone had been watching her, someone she hadn’t noticed. Peace Brigade maybe. Probably. They would imagine they could curry a lot of favor by turning her over to Shimrra.
She twisted her way through a maze of gnarltrees and then clambered quickly and silently up their cablelike roots. They had once been legs, those roots, as she’d learned when she came here less than a decade and more than a lifetime ago. The immature form of the tree was a sort of spider that lost its mobility in adulthood.
She’d been with Anakin, here to face his trial, to discover if having the name of his grandfather would bring him the same fate.
I miss you Anakin, she thought. More now than ever.
About four meters off the ground, she secreted herself in a hollow and waited. If she could simply avoid them, she would. At one level her instincts cried out for battle, but at a deeper level she knew that her Yuuzhan Vong fighting reflexes had inevitable connections with fury, and she was here to avoid becoming Anakin’s vision, not embrace it. There was a part of her plan that she hadn’t told Han and Leia about—the part where, if the cave confirmed her worst fears, she would cripple her X-wing beyond repair and spend the rest of her life on the jungle planet.
Perhaps, like the spiders, she would sink her limbs into the swamp and become a tree.
She reached out with the Force, to better assess her pursuit.
They weren’t there. And she suddenly realized that she hadn’t felt them in the Force, but with her Vongsense. It had come so naturally she hadn’t even questioned it.
That could only mean her pursuers were Yuuzhan Vong, maybe six of them, give or take one or two. Vongsense wasn’t as precise as the Force.
She reached for her lightsaber, but didn’t unhook it, and continued to wait.
Soon she actually heard them. Whoever they were, they weren’t hunters—they moved through the jungle clumsily, and though they pitched their voices low enough that she couldn’t actually understand what they were saying, they seemed to be gabbling almost constantly. They must be very confident of their success.
A dark shadow glided soundlessly through the undergrowth, and she snapped her gaze up in time to see something very large blot the fragments of sky not occluded by the distant canopy.
Native life, or a Yuuzhan Vong flier?
Pursing her lips, she waited. Soon the distant muttering became coherent. As she’d thought, the language was that of her crèche.
“Are you certain she came this way?” a raspy voice asked.
“She did. See? The impression in the moss?”
“She is Jeedai. Perhaps she left these signs to confuse...