It had been two weeks since Thyferra and a week since Zak regained consciousness. The battle had been hard fought but apparently, the combined efforts of his own and the Sith Draudr, alongside the firepower of the ISC military laid the insectoid Queen low. Zak had been relieved to hear that his efforts had not only protected the Bacta but also likely saved countless lives. Knowing that what he did mattered made the cost of his sacrifice bearable, he had protected not only the people of Thyferra but the President of the ISC as well.
However, as Zak thought back onto the battle in the last few days, new and worrying concerns pressed onto his mind. The presences he had sensed were overwhelming and all three unique. Two of these presences he was fairly certain that he understood, one being the wholly alien presence of the Queen and the other was the hidden power of Draudr, unveiled for a moment of triumph. However, the third unknown presence haunted Zak into his very dreams.
Hospital staff reported Zak as having an increased pulse, sweating, and even at times screaming in fear has he slept, all symptoms of night terrors. Worried for the mental health of their patient, the staff questioned Zak about his dreams and his responses only intensified their concerns. It was quickly decided by the healer over the installation that a representative of the Jedi Council should likely speak with a debrief the Togruta. As such a request describing the situation, issue, and symptoms were sent up to be reviewed by whomever answered the plea.
All of this was unknown by Zak, who currently hung in a harness which held him in place and submerged him in the bacta tank. A tube fed oxygen into his lungs and a device on his throat allowed for him to speak through a set of speakers set to either side of the tank. While much of the internal organ damage had been healed, more structural bone fractures and splinterings had not. This meant daily bacta baths were required for a few weeks longer before he could even think of returning to a “normal life”.
As he floated, Zak thought about Luci, the empty leather bag she had left behind, and the vase that contained a wilted flower from the rainforests of Shili. She had gone back to his homeworld without him, she had built her first lightsaber without him, and she had gone to war without him to guide and comfort her. It caused sorrow mixed with fear for his Padawan to ripple through him.
“Emotion, yet peace.” He whispered to remind himself. The device on his throat picked up his attempt to speak and flooded the room with the excerpt from the Jedi Code.
This was only temporary and soon he would be guiding Luci’a training once more. Or at least he hoped he would.
Alex’s feet pounded the floor in her office. Back and forth, back and forth. Her robes whisking by her ankles. She stopped to stare at the wavering holo-image. Her hands involuntarily finding her hips. “I am sorry, Grandmaster. That is all the information we have.” Alex tried to soften her tone. Tried to often her gaze. She wasn’t sure it was very effective. “The Jedi Order has existed millennium and we have nothing else.” The archivist simply shrugged. “Much has been lost over the years and the Killik were scarce even before their disappearance. We will keep looking but we may be better served with new information.” The Morellian Jedi sighed and shook her head. “Good enough, Cailen.” She turned to flick off the images. “And I’m sorry for pushing. We simply have no other choice.” The elderly archivist simply nodded. “We understand, Grandmaster. Times have strained us all.” Alex nodded before turning off the holo.
She sighed. The weight of the Order pressing down on her again. There was no time for rest. Her commlink buzzed. The voice of Alana coming through. “He is awake.” She quickly picked up to speak into the receiver. “I’m coming.” Those same restless feet carried her swiftly to the medical bay. Zakrym was perhaps their best source of direct information about Thyferra. Unfortunately, he had been unconscious for most of his return. That seemed to be at an end.
A wave of her hand sent the doors to the bay open. She flowed into the room. Her eyes immediately falling on the Jedi Knight. “Take him out.” The air of command palpable in her words. The healers quickly removed Zakrym from the bacta tank. They offered him towels and a robe to wrap himself. Alex took a few steps forward. “I wish we had time to give you. Time to let you fully heal. Time to let you understand what you experienced…but we don’t. I need to know everything you remember from Thyferra.” Alex styled herself a counselor of sorts. A Jedi well versed in healing the wounds of others. There was simply no time for that.
Zakrym felt the Grandmaster before she entered the room. Through the Force he could feel the currents swell and wrap themselves around here. The depth of her understanding and relationship with the Living Force caused him to feel her as an aspect of the tide itself. He felt the grandmaster call out to the wellspring of the Force, it was as casual and second nature to her as breathing but the Force rushed to her to aid in enacting her needs.
The door to the medbay slid open quickly, yet smoothly and allowed the Grandmaster to flow into the room with urgency, yet grace. Zak gazed at her from within the cool confines of the bacta tank, he watched her blue tinted form with curiosity for a moment. He saw her head turn as she gave a command to a nearby attendant, while her words were muffled and unclear, the intent was written by the immediate action of the medical staff. Zak’s eyes followed the staff as they gathered towels, robes, and a wheelchair for him to sit in while he spoke with the Grandmaster. Once these things were gathered, Zak would feel the tug on his harness as he was dragged upwards and out of the cool healing bacta gel and back out into the temperate cool.
The attendants quickly and gently removed the breathing tube, towel dried his body, wrapped him in a robe, and placed him into the wheelchair. Zak winced slightly as his left side touched the seat and shifted his weight to favor his right instead. He listened in silence to the Grandmaster’s request before giving her a slow and understanding nod. Zak cleared his throat before he began to speak.
“Of course Grandmaster, however I can be of service.” He replied in a hoarse and tired voice.
Zak would go on to describe the many horrors and misshapen creatures he had encountered from the killiks, including the twisted dragon the combined effort of Jedi and Sith had brought down. When he described these creatures, he mentioned the agony he felt through the Force at their very existence. He likened them to the legends of Sithspawn and abominations of the Dark Side. Eventually, Zak would hesitate for a moment before the most key portions of his story.
“Grandmaster, they can use the Force.” Zak stated in a voice barely above a whisper. “I felt their queen, their general call upon it in a way I had never felt before.” He continued in almost a trance. “It was like a thousand thousand wills all grasping at the Force itself drawing it into their Queen and binding it’s power to her own.” He explained. “But that’s not all, Grandmaster.” He stated, his voice taking on a more hardened edge. “I felt the presence of a powerful Sith, one Zabrak named Draudr, he concealed himself from me until we struck out at the Queen together. Only then did I sense his strength and corruption, it was almost unbearable.” He explained.
Another hesitation as Zak tried to find the words for that final presence he had felt. The one that drew him in to save the President initially. The one that made the Force scream in pain as it bent it to it’s needs with nothing but whatever alien will it possessed. Something so evil, so vile, that even the Force trembled in its wake. He couldn’t find the words, instead Zak would just show the Grandmaster.
He closed his eyes, turned his right palm upwards for her to take, and opened his mind to her. If she accepted his invitation to his mind, his memories, she would experience what he felt shortly after the death of the Killikdragon. She would feel the Force itself cry out as the currents it flowed through froze in the grasp of an unnatural will. She would feel that same uncaring grasp bend those channels to its desires as it shaped the Force to whatever suited it. She would feel Zak’s revulsion at this wholly alien and unnatural presence. As this wave of freezing iron will rushed outwards, Zak pulled back, snapping them both free from his mind just as he had done on Thyferra.
Back in reality Zak panted with exertion, anxiety and fear infested his presence in the Force. It took him several long seconds to recompose himself before he could speak again.
“Something else was there Grandmaster. It wasn’t the Killiks, it wasn’t their Queen, and it wasn’t the Sith.” He explained. “I can face the Killiks again, if needed I gladly fight one of their queens, and when needed I will oppose the Sith as well.” Zak stated with some measure of confidence. “But whatever that was, whatever did that to the Force.” He continued “I never want to encounter that again.” All pretext of confidence, all tones of joy or hope completely faded from his voice as uttered those words.
The only thing that remained in his voice was fear.
She pushed hard. She knew it but there was nothing else to be done. A flick of her wrist called a chair. Alex sitting down opposite Zak, her elbows finding her knees when she leaned forward. “I know Draugr...” Or Draudr or whatever he called himself. “He spent a lovely time in prison on Dantooine.” In fact, he remained one of the reasons her opinions on death changed. The constant cycle of catch and release. Death was a far more permanent solution. She focused her mind to present. Listening as Zak poured over the details, eventually joining her mind to his.
The Grandmaster was unparalleled in her control of the mindscape. Thought was her greatest weapon. Still…the images that flashed through her mind chilled Alex to her core. She withdrew from the connection, leaning back in the chair. “I do not know where to begin.” She shook her head silently. “The Killik wielding the Force is not unexpected. They sought to take any Force users on Ruusan…I suspected the hive mind might grant them power we did not fully understand.” Now, more than ever, Alex was convinced the galaxy at large could not defeat this threat. Her feet firmed on the path. This tasked would fall to her. She knew it.
“This should concern us, but it changes little until we find a way to break the hive mind.” A mystery Force user capable of generating power on par with her own was far more dangerous. Raze and Andruil were finite powers. Dangers she understood. An unknown greatly complicated the problem. “Who were you with that could produce such power?” Alex ran a hand through her short hair. “Zak, there are three…maybe four beings in all the galaxy capable of such a display. Andruil, Raza, maybe Anaris…and me.” It was not a boast but rather the truth. “None of them were with you which means there is fifth. A fifth we do not understand which makes them dangerous.” She did not need another player. Not now.
Zak winced as he slowly shook his head from side to side at the Grandmaster’s reply. There wasn’t five, the Zabrak, Draudr had hidden his power from Zak when they fought the Dragon. Including him, there was six.
Zak would impress this upon the grand master by allowing her to feel what he felt. He showed her the heat of the Sith’s power as he unleashed his full might on the Nirn Queen. Even the Nirn Queen herself was just as powerful as the Grandmaster, something he didn’t fail to press against her senses as well. The playing field had been expanded beyond what any could imagine.
“There were countless that surrounded me Grandmaster.” Zak replied to her question. “This unknown party clearly didn’t want to be found.” He continued. “So it could have been any of the soldiers or civilians in the battle.” He explained. “I couldn’t tell you anything else with any certainty.” Zak paused at that. “I’m sorry to be the bearer of such bad news Grandmaster.” He stated finally.
Alex scrunched her face. She was tired. The images from Zak’s mind not quiet fitting together. She quickly looked around the room. “Leave us.” The healers looked mildly shocked…ready to protest when she spoke next. “I will make sure nothing happens. Or have you all forgotten where I come from?” Too long ago, Alex had been one of the Order’s greatest healers. Those talents were applied to more lethal task now. The doors slid closed so that she could refocus.
“This is not your fault. None of this makes sense.” As if there were not enough concerns pressing on her temples. “The balance does not shift so easily. There are always signs…ripples to look for…I have felt nothing.” Alex sighed. “But there is little we can do now. The Killik are the great threat. We must find a way to challenge them, and this latest news only confirms it will the Force the leads us to victory. Martial means alone will not be enough.” Her strength alone would not be enough. She knew that. Where could she find another to join that path.
“There was another matter you wish to discuss…was there not?” Zak had come home for more than a battle report. Greater weights pressed settled on both of them.