Jedi Destiny I: Hate of the Jedi

Chapter 28

Luke was almost to the building when Jaina caught up with him. She’d recovered quickly from Brakiss’s attack on her. Though he sensed she was mentally shaken from having faced him, she was also determined to catch up to Zak. He stopped and turned to face her, frowning with disapproval.

“Back to the ship with you,” he commanded.

“Not a chance,” Jaina said, shaking her head vigorously. “Where’s Zak?”

“Jaina—” Luke began. He knew it was futile to argue with his niece in this matter.

He had already sensed that she and Zak had formed a bond—if not as passionate … yet—very much like the one he and his wife shared. He couldn’t say he was surprised. Five months in captivity with only each other for acceptable company and support, and at least two failed attempts to rescue them, feelings were bound to arise in some shape or form.

For the most part, he was pleased that she hadn’t completely closed herself off to the possibility of romance since Zekk, but he was also worried. Zak had a reckless side to him.

Twenty years ago, if there had been the chance of them being together, Luke might have objected. Zak had been too wild back then, too prone to attracting trouble in one form or another. Too … childlike? But it seemed that in the years since their last entanglement, and the year spent on GemDiver, he had grown up quite a bit. So much so that Luke had nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for what he could one day become.

“Where is he?” Jaina demanded again.

Luke sighed. “The last time I saw him, he was heading towards this building, with Brakiss in pursuit.”

Jaina directed her gaze at the building they were headed towards and her eyes shot open. “Isn’t that the old Tarvon building? The one that was bombed by Imperial spies when the Shadow Academy came to Coruscant?”

“It is,” Luke replied with a nod. Seeing as he wasn’t likely to convince Jaina to return to the ship, he continued onwards, allowing her to follow beside him. “I gather that Zak was planning to use the building’s current condition to his advantage.”

“To hide?”

“I entirely doubt that,” Luke said grimly without explaining further.

While still at a loss to explain why the young man had turned on him, had shown such open anger and aggression against him, he had felt the power behind his attacks. Zak was not yet an expert duellist, but he had the potential to be great, and he had become very skilled in his time in captivity.

The raw strength he put behind every blow had knocked Luke off balance more than once, and he doubted very much that Brakiss would have any better luck. “I would guess that he plans to ambush Brakiss.”

Jaina nodded.

Something shattered above them, the sound echoing down towards them and out into the street.

Luke looked up to see falling glass and debris, and a streak of electricity zipping across the sky. He followed it with his eyes, watching as it slammed into the next building harmlessly, then raised a hand to put up a Force shield above them to stop the debris.

He reached out with his senses, trying to find out who it was that had done that; Zak or Brakiss? His first immediate thought was Brakiss, but he could not deny that Zak’s expressed aggression, and his ability to learn at an incredible pace, could very well give him access to powers of the Force he should not have

“That can’t be good,” Jaina said.

“I agree,” Luke said. “Get back to the ship, now. No arguments, please.”

“I’m not going back to the ship until I know Zak is safe!” Jaina said heatedly.

“Jaina now isn’t the time to be playing the concerned betrothed,” Luke said. Jaina blinked, clearly taken aback by the accusation. “I’ll ensure his safety,” he added.

In truth, he didn’t know what he could do. With Zak so angry and wild, and out for vengeance, Luke couldn’t be sure that even he wouldn’t again become a target. If he got in the way again, when all his senses were telling him at the moment that Zak was calm and collected and in control of himself, would he attack him again? He couldn’t be sure.

The darkness he was sensing in Zak disturbed him greatly. Just when things had been looking up; they had both gotten away from Brakiss in one piece and made it to Coruscant. But Brakiss had followed them and attacked Jaina, and perhaps that had been what had set him off on this path. He only hoped that the young man wasn’t too far gone.

In fact, he considered, he would try to save him even if he was too far gone.

“I’m coming with you!” Jaina insisted, and then stormed out of the protection he was providing and into the building’s lobby.

Luke followed her with a frustrated sigh, letting the shield down when he was under the safety of the building. The glass and debris smashed against the ferrocrete floor harmlessly, spraying off in multiple directions.

As they ascended the stairs, Luke’s instincts kicked in and he pushed in front of his niece and activated his lightsaber, allowing the comforting glow light their way as they took each step slowly, carefully, quietly.

At last, they reached the level where he could sense Zak’s presence, and they stepped off the stairs and into a large open room. The room was mostly dark, save for the glow of his lightsaber lighting his and Jaina’s features.

At the far end, against the outer wall under a recently smashed window, lay a corpse. He knew it to be a corpse for it was humanoid in shape, and yet he could sense no life force emanating from it. The life had already drained from whoever it was, though the Force could not tell him how recent it was, so he could not assume that it was Zak.

In front of that corpse was the silhouette of a person on their knees, as if praying. But Luke couldn’t tell from the distance who it was, and his attempts to find out through the Force were meeting nothing but empty space. Aside from the even breathing of Luke and Jaina, the only sound he could hear was that of laughter—shrill, chilling laughter that made him shudder at how much like Palpatine it sounded.

“Zak?” Jaina called out, uncertain.

The laughter stopped suddenly, and the person ahead of them got to their feet and turned to face them both. In the dim light from Luke’s weapon, he could make out Zak’s youthful features, seemingly hardened by months of captivity. And yet, that hardness was somehow less from the smile on his face as his eyes came to rest on Jaina; eyes that glowed yellow and red in the dark.

Zak’s eyes were usually brown.

“Jai—” Zak started. He looked at Luke, and the smile was gone, the cheerful expression turned to one of irritation, perhaps anger.

Jaina tried to take a step forward, but Luke threw his arm out to bar her way. He knew then that Zak was still not quite right. He was still going to attack the elder Jedi, even though he was no longer in the way of his vengeance. He tried to puzzle over that in his mind. If Zak were here, alive, the corpse against the window had to be Brakiss. That in itself might have floored Luke in less dire circumstances. But with Brakiss dead, what could possibly be threatening—

And then it hit him, like a slap in the face. He turned his head to look at his niece, who neither tried to resist his restraining arm nor looked happy about the fact that it was there. She was looking right at Zak, impatience clear on her face.

“Stay right here,” he warned her harshly. He knew that despite what comradeship she felt for Zak, the tone in his voice would emphasise that he expected to be obeyed in this instance.

He took a few steps forward, holding his lightsaber semi-defensively, uncertain of how events were going to play out from this point. “Zak?”

“Master Skywalker,” Zak replied, his tone somewhat hostile, but also cautious.

“Where’s Brakiss?” He took another step closer and began to circle slowly to the left. He already suspected the answer, but he needed to have it confirmed.

Zak turned with him, watching his every movement like a terrahawk watching its prey. But he did incline his head to his right, at the corpse against the wall.

Luke chanced a look at it, but even lit as much as it was by the glow of his weapon, there was no resemblance to the man he knew as Brakiss. The body had been charred beyond recognition; all clothing stripped away by fire—or electricity, now that he thought about it—and the flesh melted away. The muscles and tissue beneath were burned beyond anything that could be called human.

“Oh, Zak,” Jaina gasped from nearer the stairs as the realisation hit her.

Zak’s hand dropped to come to rest lightly on the end of the lightsaber that hung from his belt, a lightsaber that Luke saw in Jaina’s thoughts had been constructed in secret by Zak while in captivity. If the situation weren’t so precarious, he would have praised Zak for the feat. He hoped that he would still get the chance.

“Don’t do it,” he warned the young man.

He did. “I’m sorry, Master Skywalker. You’re in my way!” Zak snarled as he yanked his lightsaber from his belt and activated both of its deadly plasma blades. He brought his own lightsaber up in defence and stood still, ready for attack.

“Zak!” Jaina exclaimed. “What are you doing?”

“Jaina! Get back to the ship!” Zak and Luke both said to her. Zak glared at Luke, and then jumped forward.

Luke brought his lightsaber around to defend, but not to injure. He saw that while Zak’s strikes were imbued with much strength, it left weaknesses in his defensive circles.

He found himself unwilling to take advantage of it and hurt him. While he could sense nothing but anger and determination in the young man, he mistrusted it. They were traits of someone more interested in their own wants, traits of someone who was dark. Zak was incapable of such selfishness.

From what he had been told by Tash when they had first arrived, Zak was the only witness to his shape-shifter uncle’s murder on Sullust, and even then with how close the children had become with the man, he had not sought revenge. Even after all he had done for them, their only reaction had been grief, not rage.

Despite whatever feelings Zak harboured for Jaina Solo, their captivity could not be enough to set off such a drastic change in him. Luke was sure something else was at fault here. It was the only thing that made a sliver of sense.

One thought struck his thoughts over and over like a repeating chord; he had repeatedly failed Brakiss, he would not fail Zak—not even just once.

He battered Zak’s lightsaber away harmlessly and ducked around a second and a third strike to manoeuvre himself into a better position, putting himself between his old friend and his niece.

He sensed Jaina back away from behind him, urged on by his silent insistence in her mind that the situation was fast going beyond his ability to control. Zak was a proven threat right at that moment. Whatever was affecting him … whatever had made him so angry, it was also clouding his judgement. There was no guarantee that he would not strike out at Jaina … even by mistake.

Zak charged forward again, and Luke did the same to meet him, batting away again and again at Zak’s attacks to keep himself from being harmed, but in no way trying to harm the young man in the process. There was something almost desperate about the way he moved, is if there was some purpose he was trying to fulfil that Luke was keeping him from.

They both spun, reversing positions.

Luke frowned. Zak was now closer to Jaina, and he further away. It was an unintentional, but also unacceptable situation. He thought of ways to reverse it again while slashing his lightsaber backwards and forwards against Zak’s unrelenting attacks.

Zak spun, and Luke kicked out at his back, his foot landing squarely and hard. Zak stumbled forwards, dropping his lightsaber, and crashed hard against the closed door of the non-functional lift tube. He stayed down for several moments, breathing hard and fast, and then stopped, clutching at both sides of his head as if he were in the throes of some deep, mental pain.

“Zak?” Jaina said.

Luke kept his defences up, expecting deception. Jaina ignored his silent warnings and rushed over to Zak, dropping to her knees in front of him and resting her hands gently against the insides of his arms.

“Jaina …” Luke warned her.

“Zak? What’s wrong?” she asked Zak, ignoring her uncle entirely.

He stepped closer, lowering his lightsaber but not deactivating it.

Zak lashed out at her. Not in the form of a strike, but in the form of clutching the sides of her head much as he had been clutching at his.

Luke bent low, scooped up Zak’s lightsaber, and rushed over to pry the young man’s hands away from Jaina. Jaina’s hands shot up to his wrists and she tried to pry him away, but to no avail.

Luke deactivated his lightsaber and dropped to his knees beside them, attempting to lend Jaina some form of aid. Zak’s right hand shot out and clubbed the side of Luke’s head, sending him crashing to the floor a few meters away before the hand returned to its spot on Jaina’s head.

When Luke recovered, he looked over at Zak and saw him open his eyes, the familiar dark brown eyes that belonged to him, and look up into Jaina’s, which were now threatening to overflow with tears she fought back.

“Help … me,” he breathed.

And then he collapsed.

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