The Jedi took half a step back. Wobbled. Collapsed to her knees. The mud
beneath them squelched and began seeping into the fabric along her shins.
Her shoulders and back ached; her chest heaved, drawing in steamy air that
seemed unduly short on oxygen given the amount of plant life surrounding her.
Dagobah's humid air bathed her face, and the sweat ran down into her eyes and
mouth. She gagged on the taste of salt, raised a hand toward her mouth, saw the
blood on her fingers, and spat instead. Her saliva was dark with blood too, and
the light blurred and swam before her eyes as she watched it sink into the mud
and start to clot.
There were tears running down her cheeks, too. She was not sure whether they
were from the sting of sweat or if she wept for her enemy.
He had been her brother, in the Force, though they were different species. He
had trained beside her. He had been good at lightsaber work, and at persuasion.
He had been persuaded. He had fallen, lost.
Lost years ago.
He had been expert at lightsaber work. Her blade had never touched him,
though she had felt his repeatedly and the sweat burned into its marks. There
were no burns on his corpse. There was only the line across his throat, spilling
red, where the razorbug's web had caught him.
The razorbug had retreated to a corner of its web and was regarding them
balefully. The Jedi wasn't sure how long she had sat here, drained of herself
but sustained by the Force, but the razorbug had not moved either. She thought
the sun had changed. It might have been night once.
Her panting breaths hitched; something caught in her chest and throat, and
after she had choked on it she found it was a sob.
She wept for him.
In the tears she poured out the anger and frustration and railing at him and
at what he had done, letting go the storm to keep from following him in his
fall; she poured out his anger and frustration and railing too, and the pride
and the fear and despair that billowed out like a poison cloud from his
She had wanted to bring him home.
Pain stabbed at her heart and lungs, under her ribs.
A crunch-squelch off to her left brought her head up and around, and she
forced herself to her feet. The Force flowed through her easily here; Dagobah
was rich in life, and when she opened herself to it, even exhausted muscles
seemed to float in the heavy air.
An enormous white stalk-like leg stabbed out from the foliage screen that
hung between two trees, piercing a foot into the ground where it landed. She
wasn't sure whether the leaves belonged to the trees or were part of some
parasite or symbiote attached to them; she didn't particularly care.
Her lightsaber hissed to life again, but another leg appeared, then another,
another, and yet another, and the Jedi backed away as she saw the full form of
the creature approaching her.
It was certainly alive, but did not seem to have much mind, or at least not
the type she could sense or touch readily. It felt more like a plant than an
animal. She counted at least two dozen legs before she lost track of them, and
they all moved without apparent organization, some digging into the ground, some
merely tapping at it and bearing little or no weight. Some were spiked on the
ends, others almost feathered. She wasn't sure if it had a head or body, but the
center of it where all the legs sprouted did have a sort of green tuft at the
Gnarltree, her mind supplied suddenly. There was a type of tree on
Dagobah that had a mobile phase in its youth. It would roam until it found a
place to plant itself, where there was rich soil and access to sunlight, where
it could grow unhindered.
Those were roots then, not legs, that it was walking on. They grew from the
trunk, and at the top rose the start of branches and leaves. A questing white
root touched the corpse.
The Jedi looked around herself in awakening horror. The ground here was
moist, but firm. Their battle had created a clearing, open to the sky, and much
of the debris around them was half char and half ash. The Dark Jedi's corpse was
beginning to decay in the wet, bacteria-laden swamp. (How long had she been
mourning?) It would look like rich food to the tree. But it would be poison. Not
to the body of the tree, but to its spirit, to the powerful presence in the
Force it would one day be.
She thought of this, and dread fell on her.
She leaped forward, waving her saber and shouting, trying to scare it away.
It kept coming, its movements ponderous and unhurried, but unhesitating too.
Unwilling to strike out at it, only a young thing seeking sustenance, she
fell back (not toward the razorbug's web) and dropped to one knee, stilling and
centering herself, reaching out into the Force.
"This is not good food for you," she whispered into the moist air. "This is
not a good place for you. It is... the sunlight is darkened." Those were the
only words she could find for the Dark Side, here and now, with her mind
stretched and strung on the branches.
The white roots hesitated.
She bent her will on them, leaning.
Not good, not good. Darkened sun. Illness, disease. Go, go.
The gnarltree stretched forward again. She could feel it tasting the air, and
the ground, and the light, and the rotting organic matter that would become
These things all seemed very good to the tree, and it pressed onward against
the mysterious suggestions and feelings otherwise, and her will broke like the
flimsy webs of arachnids on other planets, whose silk couldn't slit your throat.
She wobbled, even though she was kneeling. She fell backward, barely catching
herself on weakened arms. The Force coursed through her, but she barely
recognized it. Malice she had understood, had felt and fought. The strength
ascendant here was dangerous in another way, healthy and mindless and brutal.
She had thought of the Force as nourishing. It had not occurred to her that it
must also be hungry.
The gnarltree moved its long gangly roots in a leisurely way, ambling
angularly to center itself in the clearing.
To center itself over the corpse.
It stood for a moment, gathering itself, the weight-bearing roots sinking
gradually into the ground.
Then it rose up, straightening its joints, and drove down again. Its taproot
stabbed downward and pierced through the Dark Jedi's abdomen, driving the
remaining air out with a groan, matter spilling out to mingle with the mud.
The living Jedi leaped to her feet with a shout, then sagged forward again
and fell to hands and knees, weeping. She did not rise again.
The tree sank comfortably further, deepening its root system. The tops of the
joints angled up out of the soft earth like knobbly white knees.
After a time the Jedi lay full length on the ground.
When she had lain still for some days, a white root that had been growing
dragged itself free of the mud next to her side. It fumbled over her, patting
her gently across the back, the head, and the legs. Hairlike tendrils quested
wherever they found openings through cloth and skin.
Satisfied with what it had found, it hooked itself over her and dragged her
closer through the mud. She kept sinking deeper, digging a small shallow trench.
The root gathered her underneath the tree, next to her friend and enemy.
Leaves spread to the sky.
Original cover by Persephone Kore. HTML
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