Gnarltree (PG)

By : Persephone_Kore

Archived on: Monday, November 26, 2007

"[I]t is believed a dark Jedi died on Dagobah, and the local flora absorbed his twisted energies." --Star Wars Databank entry on Dagobah

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.

Dark Jedi.

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 departing spirit.

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 top.

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 soil.

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 formatting copyright 2007 TheForce.Net LLC.