Star Wars: Aberrant Cause

Chapter 23

With the utmost care, Sheon was carried out of the foul complex and into the dry, lifeless air of the planet. Saz had remembered when he carried Aveyla from the pirate ship so long ago, and the battered Jedi felt almost as weightless and fragile, as if she would simple shatter at his touch. Aveyla had been circling them like a vulture, frantically making sure Sheon was okay or that the fortified vehicle stall he had chosen for her was adequately prepared. After putting her in the stall, Saz used the medical kit from the Peripheral Muse and his basic military medical training to address as many of her wounds as possible, but even his rudimentary knowledge told him how dire her situation was.

He did not share that with Aveyla.

After making her as comfortable as possible, he left the two alone and returned to monitor any Daunkk activity from the Muse, realizing that what little time should be spent between the mentor and student.

Aveyla knelt by Sheon for hours, keeping her wounds dressed and trying to dull her pain. She tried to speak to her many times, but the woman drifted in and out of consciousness. The frustration was compounded by a throbbing headache and the illusion of voices behind every shadow, sometimes making the Twi'lek leap up with her shoto ready, only to find a passing wind bothering the dust. Her expectations of being reunited with Sheon were destroyed and she was at the mercy of her heart.

"Aveyla," Sheon finally managed, her washed out eyes opening to a gray sky.

"Yes. Yes, I'm here," Aveyla replied quickly, leaning forward and taking her hand.

The touch comforted the woman and all pain seemed to flow out of her. "My heart warms at your presence, child. It has been too long," she said, a serene smile taking over her face.

Aveyla suffered a sob, rubbing her hands over the woman's, as if trying to keep it warm, though the air was not cold. "I'm here now, Master. You're safe," she replied.

"You've grown strong, Aveyla. I can feel the Force in you," the woman said proudly.

"Yes, thanks to you and Master Xe…" Aveyla began, then winced at the thought of Xerros's fate. It was one of the topics that frightened her, especially in light of Sheon's possible reaction. She was not even sure she could tell her of the encounter with the holocron of Darth Malgus, of fear it might repulse the Jedi. "Master Xerros is dead."

Sheon nodded weakly, as if knowing the confession. "I am sorry, child," she admitted, for she had known that the Jedi Master was frightfully close to the Dark side and that leaving her with him had been one of the most difficult decisions she had to make, but she had put her faith in the Force and the Jedi code that both she and Xerros had sworn to uphold, a faith that had obviously been betrayed. "No one is immune to the temptations of the Dark side, not even a Jedi Master. In some ways, it is even more seductive for those who command the Force with great expertise. It is more important that you are here and did not follow him down that dark path." Aveyla said nothing to this, but squeezed the woman's hand. It was enough that she had focused on her survival, and did not dwell on the scandalous death of a Jedi Master.

"Do you fear the Dark side, child?" Sheon asked abruptly, staring lifelessly up into the sky.

The question caught Aveyla off guard and a shiver ran through her, clutching the woman's hand tightly. "Sheon?" she asked breathlessly.

"What irony, that the path to Dark side is paved with the very fears we instill in ourselves of it. A Jedi must always be vigilant of the Dark path, forever aware that it could consume them. Would you not call that fear?" the Devaronian replied, though it almost felt rhetorical.

Aveyla had never seen Sheon like this and her heart was racing. While her logical self accepted that woman had been broken and torn by her captors, she wanted her to remain that heroic figure that had saved her from a cell on Nar Shaddaa and gave her the chance to lead her own life.

Hearing the Jedi Knight speak like this was her definition of fear.

"I do not fear the Dark side, Master, only what I may do in its name," she replied, though she imagined a trained Jedi would have a much stronger, more resolute answer to satisfy her. Part of her conversation with Saz had emboldened her in her opinions, knowing they would not be agreeable to her Jedi mentor. As much as she wanted to please her, she found it difficult to simply regurgitate the Jedi doctrine.

She was remarkably stubborn about certain things.

"You must never underestimate the allure of the Dark path, child. But even as I found you on the Smugglers Moon, I could sense an unnatural resilience to those temptations. Even now, they are but a trickle in your mind, in this dark place?" Sheon said, turning her dead eyes to the young woman.

Aveyla shivered. "This place? What do you mean, Master?" she asked, fearful of the answer.

"This world bears a tomb. An ancient darkness rests here. A Sith Lord whose name is long forgotten, but whose power drinks all life that touches its surface," she explained, feeling a flash of terror course through the young woman her words left her lips.

"A Sith Lord?" Aveyla gasped.

"These…creatures are resilient, but they crave her power. They could not breach the tomb, and wished that I could. But they do not realize that the world is her tomb, and that they could not hope to wield her power. One day, even they will fall to dust and become hers, just as I…" she explained, but then inhaled sharply in a frightened bark.

Aveyla was overcome with anxiety and stared desperately into her face, trying to grasp at her meaning. "Sheon, what is it?" she asked.

The Jedi turned her head slowly back to her and tears streamed down her face, a strange smile strangling her features. "She called to me. She took my strength and took my eyes and beckoned me to her. The world would have swallowed me," she cried, her weak hand gripping as tightly as it could to Aveyla, "if not for the single, precious thing that kept her seductions at bay. It is you, my child, the light that saved me from the darkness. She could not have me while I had you."

As if to protect the woman, Aveyla leaned forward and cradled her head against her, her weeping just as uncontrollable and her devotion just as deep. She had no knowledge of Sith Lords and entire planets being devoured by ancient powers, but she did know of her desire to protect her mentor. No Sith Lord could pry her from her arms and no dark magic could tear her away. She had tasted the dark forces seeping out of the planet, but she did not care, nor would she hear the whispers that prevailed in the shadows.

All she knew was the love she felt for this woman, and the lengths she would go to for her. If needed, she would hold her forever and deny the world for her. As long as it took, she would see Sheon freed from this terrible pain and the woman returned to the majestic angel that had saved her so long ago, even if the world had to burn around them.

Saz found himself drawn to the quiet of the camp, leaving his link with the Muse open so N4 could alert him to any movement nearby. It had been hours since leaving Aveyla and the Jedi alone. The Daunkk had been quiet since the raid on their camp, but he found them unpredictable and stubborn. Those facts, coupled with the poor sensitivity of his ship's sensors, made his posture tense and his pace cautious.

As he approached the fortified stall, he found that Aveyla was nowhere in sight, and his anxiety instantly rose. Approaching the sickly Sheon, he had his blaster drawn and was looking around the area for the absent Twi'lek. It was not the situation he had hoped to find.

"Be calm, human. I can feel your apprehension," Sheon suddenly said, startling him.

Saz could not follow her advice and looked around again. "Aveyla?" he asked tersely.

"I have asked her to check for the enemy, to make sure they are occupied with other things and will not seek us out," she replied, but that only made Saz more concerned.

"Don't you think that's sort of a bad idea? She's not exactly stable right now and pretty much hates those guys. What makes you think she's not going to go pay them a visit because of what they did to…" he said sternly, but did not finish his sentence. Every time he looked at the woman, he was overcome with anger and pity.

Sheon had a calm look on her face. "She won't," she replied.

"I would," he said with a smirk. "You're awfully trusting of her good side."

"Yes. Curious that you are not," she noted with an edged tone.

Saz felt infuriated by her point, but also sensed her supreme confidence in the Twi'lek. Perhaps it had been some mystic Jedi training that would allow her to pardon the Daunkk, but every bone in his body wanted to bomb them off of the face of the planet, and then go pluck every decrepit ship from orbit and scatter them across the atmosphere, burning and dead.

Inwardly, he admitted that he would not make a very good Jedi.

"Fair enough," he replied, stabbing his blaster into its holster and sitting heavily in front of the fire, his eyes drifting around the camp to find any sign of Aveyla's return.

Silence pierced the air. It was strange being on a world with no native life. Saz had overheard of the sealed tomb and the dark energies that flowed from it, but he had a difficult time accepting that an entire planet had been sucked dry by a single person, even if it was some supposedly ancient Sith Lord. He could not deny that a strange energy field perforated the world, and that he felt strange being there, but there was no way he would admit that these legendary Sith monsters could be so powerful, that even in death they could destroy entire worlds.

"You are troubled, human," Sheon said suddenly.

Saz looked to her and was surprised that she wanted to strike up a conversation, considering her condition. He also felt he had little to say to someone that Aveyla regarded so highly, and being alone with her was very awkward for him. "Yeah, I thought we covered that. Sending Aveyla to…"

"I refer to your troubled heart," she interrupted, reaching up and tapping her clawed fingers over her heart.

Saz furrowed his brow. He had no desire to be analyzed by a dying Jedi, though he did feel sorry for her. A small part of him decided to humor her. "We're all troubled. The galaxy is nasty place," he conceded.

"You lost something. It wounded you, and you carry it with you like a yoke. It is a terrible burden," she continued, her faded eyes staring upwards into the night sky.

Saz instantly regretted engaging her and made a mental note to shoot that adventurous part him. His eyes fell onto the smoldering fire. "Like I said, the galaxy's a nasty place," he remarked, losing himself in a moment of memory. "But I won't complain, compared to everything Aveyla has gone through."

Sheon retained her focus on him. "Why would you not complain? Her life has been dark, but her trials are her trials. I am far more concerned about you. This regret you carry is destructive, human, as much to Aveyla as to yourself. Such a love would be more dangerous than you realize."

"Whoa whoa whoa. How did we go headlong into who loves what?" he objected, nearly rising to his feet. "I think you're getting the wrong idea here."

"Your feelings are as obvious as hers. My eyes may be dulled, but I see you two deeply connected. Such things are dangerous for those attuned to the Force, as I fear you will discover in time," she explained.

"Let's not go jumping onto the holonet with claims of forbidden Jedi love. You don't know anything about my connection to her," he leered angrily. Saz was offended by her accusation, despite any of its merit. The subject of love was precarious for him, for he had constantly argued with himself that his relationship with Aveyla had been friendly, but not the same as his relationship with Alexis. He had been playful and affectionate with the Twi'lek, even pushing so she would ride in the cockpit of the Muse as he had always planned for Alexis, but he could never bring himself to acknowledge his feelings for the young woman.

His feelings for Alex would not allow him.

"Are all Jedi so presumptuous to people they've never met?" he snorted, annoyed by her further silence.

"Insight, like the lightsaber, is the tool of the Jedi, and is as equally able in cutting through to the heart of the matter," she replied.

A part of him admired her for her smooth tongue and obvious perception, but he did not like being the subject of either. "Well, keep your insight to yourself. I can handle myself and if I wanted to be mothered, I'd go back to Corulag."

Sheon was not discouraged. "I do not believe you can handle yourself when it comes to Aveyla. I love her dearly, but my time is near and I cannot leave her to one who cannot take care of her," she said bluntly, much to his continued ire. "I sense much fear and anger in you, human. That fear and anger may easily infect her. Such things are the Dark side, and Aveyla must not walk that path."

"You know, I hear a lot about the Dark side and how dangerous it is, but I've heard what Aveyla says about your all-powerful Force, and I think she's got a pretty good handle on things," he said indignantly.

Sheon sighed. "The child's views are unorthodox, but you must never underestimate the allure of the Dark side. She is strong, but not immune. No one is. Even the wisest, most powerful Jedi have discovered this, to disastrous effect."

Saz saw the rift between the traditional Jedi indoctrination of Sheon and the more progressive understanding of her student. He knew that Sheon's primary concern was Aveyla's well being, and that comforted him. Despite that, he would defend Aveyla's right to discover the Force for herself, even if that was against the mentor she loved so dearly.

"So you'd have her follow you? To become a Jedi?" he asked.

Sheon's eyes opened again, her face grim. "My mind tells me that only the Jedi way can protect her, but..." she said, hesitating, "my heart wishes her to follow her own path, as dangerous as it may be."

He thought about that for a moment. "What does the Force tell you?" he asked.

Sheon seemed surprised, and then smiled. "A wise question," she admitted. Saz had found that being intentionally vague while speaking of the Force was the easiest way to appear wise concerning it. Maybe he would make a fine Jedi after all. "The Force tells me that she will become something special, and that she will suffer greatly because of it. That is why I must know that you will support her, through all of her pain, and guide her heart, as fragile as it may be," she said, looking to him with her faded eyes, as if they could still see the torment in his face.

"I…don't know what you want me to do," he admitted.

"Understand, human, that what I ask of you violates everything I have ever believed in. You must love her, comfort her and support her. You must do this with no regard to your life, and against my better judgment," she demanded, mustering all of her strength to impress it upon him. "You must do this, human, because she desperately loves you, and will perish without you. The Force is a dangerous thing when shackled to chaotic passion, but a part of me wishes to see her loved as no one has ever been loved, and to wash away her painful memories of life. I realize this is a selfish wish, and that you may suffer as equally for it, but this is the dying wish of a woman who loves her as the child I never knew, and I must trust in her heart's choice for the future."

Saz clenched his fist. This was not the idle conversation he had expected when strolling into camp and her demands on him felt unwarranted. He had not even thought of these things seriously himself, but to gift her some final assurance when he had none felt like a disservice to all parties involved. He had no idea if he could love her as Sheon wanted. He had no idea how he truly felt about her. All he knew was making him decide at that very moment was impossible and that he could not possibly quantify how much he despised the Jedi at the moment.

Then, to his utter shock, the woman's eyes closed and her body fell limp, succumbing to the ordeals she had endured. It should have come as no surprise, considering just how grievous her wounds had been, but the greatest injustice was that she left him in such a state of chaos, not granting him an answer to his uncertainties. Her death was abrupt and he was not even sure what had happened before his eyes. For a moment, he thought someone was playing a joke on him.

"You've got to be kidding me. Not even a Jedi would have such a sick sense of humor," he said in disbelief, leaning forward on a knee to try and stir the woman awake.

"Sheon?" Aveyla called, trotting into the camp only moments after Sheon's final breath. Her appearance startled Saz and he shot his hand behind his head, looking strangely guilty. He cursed the woman's timing even more.

The Twi'lek ran over to the woman and dropped next to her, trying to rouse her as Saz looked on. He had taken a few steps back and pursed his lips, not liking where their conversation had ended, but something distinct in the air had told him that he should not expect the Jedi to wake up again. Part of him was relieved that she was no longer suffering from her wounds, but he did feel sorry for Aveyla and the loss she would feel.

He was also infuriated about the Jedi's last action, which was to bind him solely to her last waking requests.

Aveyla was motionless, curled around the dead Jedi and suffering spasms of grief. Her sobs were muted into the body. Oddly, the world around them seemed quieted, so much so that Saz noticed and looked around. He almost called into his link to ask N4 to scan for enemies, realizing most animals quieted when predators were around, but a realization froze his interface a breath away from his lips.

There were no animals on Vharna V.

Uneasily, Saz looked around and took a few steps back towards the grieving Aveyla. He had a very bad feeling. "She's gone, Aveyla, and the sooner we get off of this rock, the better. We'll take her with us in the Muse," he suggested carefully, though she did not move. Her lack of response was only adding to his anxiety and he soon noticed an unnatural breeze picking at the dust in the camp.

A small stone struck him across the cheek. "Aveyla?" he repeated, now approaching her in growing concern for the electric atmosphere.

Without warning, a dull force struck the entire front of his body, throwing him from his feet and backwards into the dusty ground. His entire body was numb and he hacked raggedly, rolling over to his side and trying to focus his eyes. A pool of blood was growing under him and he realized it was pouring from his nose. He had never felt such a strike before and it took a few moments to recover, realizing he had been knocked back even further than he had started.

As his eyes finally focused, he looked to Aveyla and found her engulfed with a shell of wind, dust and scrap from around the camp. It was violently keeping everything away from her and he could barely see her hunched form in the middle, still cradling the body of Sheon.

Even his voice calling to her could not be heard over the roar.

Aveyla's eyes were alive. She stared past the body of her dead mentor and into the dust beyond. The center of the vortex was calm, but filled with the roaring anger of her heart. Her hatred for the Daunkk had flared into a biting desire to seek them out and destroy them, cutting them to pieces with her lightsaber and crushing them with the Force. There was no dilemma behind it.

It was right.

Behind her, a dark shadow lingered and laughed softly in her ear. It reveled in her hatred. "Yes, now you see. Hate and anger. See the power they give you. Crush your enemies with the power. Quench your heart's desires!" the voice cried, only fueling the vortex. Aveyla's dark smile was unnatural on her twisted face.

The embrace of the Dark side felt like an eternity. Aveyla's agony continued to tear apart the camp and sent a column of brown dust high into the air. The logic of the Dark side had never been clearer to her and she had never felt so energized with raw power. Despite her expectations, she did not feel fear or dismay at the destruction she would cause, but rather simple satisfaction in knowing that she possessed the ability to hurt those that had hurt her.

It was a pure and wholesome understanding.

But it was interrupted by something in her mind. A tear formed in her perfect sphere of rage, making her look up from the broken body and look over her shoulder to find a shadow pressing through her barrier. It was distorted and thrashed by the force of the wind, but soon came into focus as a single man trying to force his way through the torrent of dust and steel.

After a moment, she could even hear his voice.

"Aveyla!"

Knowing the voice, the glow of rage in her eyes subsided slightly and she could see him clearer. It was Saz and he was reaching out his hand to her, through the pain and through the destruction. The power she had just embraced was tearing his flesh apart, breaking his arm into pieces and adding it to her vortex.

Despite this, he continued to push it through and call to her.

The sight of him being torn apart terrified her. That same, familiar power that had just so recently felt pure now seemed repulsive, as if it were wielded by another. It would have been easy for her to find the villain and use her strength to stop them, but the haunting realization was that she was the villain, and that demonizing her power was the most wicked course she could take.

She was hurting him, and she could not stop.

Finally realizing the true danger of the Dark side, she cried out to him, her heart overwhelmed and her eyes losing the ominous glow. As soon as his name left her lips, the vortex burst into the atmosphere, dropping all of its possessions into the dust around them and scattering a haze into the area.

Aveyla was shocked by this, as if it had not been her that stopped the maelstrom.

Released from the vortex, Saz collapsed forward and doubled over, groaning in agony as he cradled his decimated arm, his blood pouring to the dusty ground below him, sucked into the dust as ugly, clumpy clods. Aveyla was frozen in place, holding her dead mentor in her arms and unable to go to him, for her fear had returned in exponential form, and in spite of the previous confidence in her ability to conquer it. It had been so easy to ignore the dangers of the Dark side. She was confident she could control her powers, but she paid a great price for that arrogance, as did one she loved.

In regret and fear, her screams resonated throughout the entire world.

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