(Note: Dr. Erec Ransome is an NPC I created ages ago for an RP that didn't get far enough to use him. Rudra is an NPC Jedi Healer, and can be used by anyone who wants. I'd prefer that no one kill off Erec, though.)
(Timemark: A few weeks after Turim's spectacular collapse in front of the Jedi Council when Palpatine did a nasty mental attack.)
"Any change, Erec?" The Healer dropped into the chair next to the tired-looking man at the observation station.
The older human medic glanced at the monitor and shook his head. "No, Toola, I'm afraid not. He's still alive but the readings don't look terribly good." He pointed towards a flickering display. "If he's in there, he's awfully deep, and the longer he's comatose, the less likely his body is going to recover either. It's been what? A couple of weeks?"
She took a sip from the cup of steaming caf that she held and nodded. "He's got to be in there somewhere."
Dr. Erec Ransome sighed. "I hope you're right. Are you going to try going in again? I can monitor you."
She nodded, moving to sit on the edge of the bed. She took a moment to center herself and then reached out to lightly rest the tips of her fingers against Turim's temples, reaching out and then inward with the Force.
The other medic watched her carefully, glancing back and forth between her and the monitor screen.
* * * * *
Laughter still echoed in his mind. Turim fled deeper into himself, trying to get away from the insidious fingers of Darkness that seemed to follow after him, faster than he could build walls against them.
*So tired* He cringed as another mental construct he'd struggled to place between himself and Palpatine's influence began to crack. This time, instead of waiting for it to fall entirely, he ran--ran into gray mist that gradually lightened and brightened around him. He stopped, gasping, and dropped to his hands and knees in the mist, unable to go further. *Where am I now?* he wondered.
Turim rolled onto his back and stared up into the nothingness that gradually became the pale bronze sky of his boyhood homeworld. He closed his eyes, wishing that things were once more as simple as they'd been when he'd been a youth, before a Jedi had invited him to learn a new path, back when all that had mattered was the satisfaction of fine craftsmanship, and enjoyment of the beauty he could produce from the gifts of the earth: gold, silver and gemstones.
The surface below him took on the shifting firmness of sand and dust, and the air filled with the odd scorched scent of desert mixed with the sharp moistness of a planted oasis.
When he sat up, he saw ahead of him the glimmer of a small pool edged by desert flowers and the succulent trees heavy with sweet fruits. They looked real enough to eat, and his stomach rumbled.
There was no sign of Darkness around him, he saw, only the bright light of the sun on the sands, and he moved into the oasis, wondering gratefully at the refuge he'd found.
* * * * *
The exterior levels of Turim's mind were criss-crossed with slashes of black and tarnished silver, as if clawed fingers had left marks on the thoughts and memories, but there were still areas that were untouched, and a convoluted path could be made to the inner layers by one careful enough.
Toola worked carefully, picking her way between the tangled mess of her former teacher's mind, trying to find some trace of him. Suddenly a streak of Dark shot past her, barely missing her as it closed off one of the narrow tunnels of light. Palpatine obviously hadn't left his one-time captive Jedi.
Toola quickly brought up her shields and drew the Light tightly around her. She steeled herself to defend Turim's mind. The trail left by the Dark seemed to quiver with amusement, as if the Emperor found pleasure in the sporadic torment he was administering to Turim. The maze of light and dark gradually quieted, leaving still a few places that led to the inner levels. Toola pushed forward, she had to find Turim.
* * * * *
The water was cool and pure to his mouth, and Turim sighed as he let a handful of it trickle over his face and hair. There was nothing else in sight other than the dunes and the plants of the oasis. The horizon, when he looked for it, seemed to recede into bronze mist. He felt disturbed by the distant haze and focused on the pool once more.
"I wonder how long I'll have here before I have to run again." He folded his arms on his knees and rested his head on them. "I know he's not going to give up until I'm either dead or on his side."
* * * * *
Toola moved first right then left. It seemed as if once she found a path it only doubled back on itself. She felt like she was going in circles, but she pressed on. There had to be a way in. A way to find Turim.
* * * * *
Erec was reassured by the familiar serene appearance of the Jedi Healer, but he frowned as he watched the life-sign monitors. Turim had been on life support briefly right after his collapse in the Council chamber, but had been successfully resuscitated. Suddenly, the levels dropped drastically.
* * * * *
Toola felt things shift around her, drawing her downward. She started forward, thinking this was a way in, but something didn't feel right. She tried to slow the decent, but it just keep pulling down on her. She worked desperately to break free.
The darkness that soiled the mindscape had changed texture as she moved on, becoming three-dimensional and thorn-like, emitting a scent that faintly reminiscent of the nectar of a Morringian Pitcher Plant--one of several varieties of carniverous vegetation that grew in the jungles around the Jedi sanctuary. Yet still, light beckoned from further in. The Dark hadn't taken all of it.
The barbs prevented her from backing out, but there were places where the barrier was thin and sparse; light beckoned off to one side through a gap just barely big enough to get through. She squeezed through the passage, the barbs raking her as she did so.
Blinding light was the first thing that greeted her, and she blinked through stinging tears until her eyes adjusted. She stood mystified at what she saw. She was on the edge of a plain that spread out for kilometers in all directions. The sand was almost the same color as the pale bronze sky, only shadows from the shallow ridges giving it any definition. In the distance there was a suggestion of color, half-obscured by heat shimmer. Yet the temperature seemed no warmer than that of the hospital room in which her body sat.
Toola caught herself smiling. She had forgotten how much she missed the deserts of her homeworld. She set off walking toward the faint trace on the horizon.
* * * * *
Another alert went off on the observation station and Erec immediate hit the keys that would send a stimulus to Turim's body, commanding it to continue to breathe. A few seconds later, there was no response, and he cursed, leaping to his feet to pull the external respirator into place, trying to work around Toola's still form.
The alarm quieted as the device took over the rise and fall of the Jedi's chest, and he was relieved that the circulatory alarm hadn't gone off--at least not this time. "Damn, you really are in deep trouble," he muttered to the still body on the bed.
* * * * *
Turim let the peacefulness of the oasis sink into him. For the first time in a long time, it seemed, there was no threat and it felt so good to just let things go and relax against the bole of one of the fruiting trees. He trailed his fingers through the sandy soil and let it trickle back to the ground.
He'd been running forever--or at least it seemed that way. His past was obscured by the Dark. All he could remember was fighting a lot, but almost always in defense and retreat. And always alone. "I'm tired of being alone." The words echoed around him and seemed to reverberate across the desert beyond the greenness he nested in.
A slim red figured crested the rise.
Turim blinked as he saw the red-skinned figure slowly come into focus through the heat shimmer. He shielded his eyes from the sun-glare and peered at the approaching person. Cautiously, he got to his feet--and realized that he was not armed. No saber swung at his belt.
Toola paused at the edge of the pond, watching Turim.
He pushed back the frisson of unease the realization gave him and looked carefully across the expanse of shallow water at the visitor. *I know you* The thought send was almost automatic.
*You do. We are friends.* She smiled. *You taught me.*
The name came to him along with a wash of memory. *Toola. How did you get here? The Dark...* He said the last phrase aloud, his voice echoing across the sand and water. Turim shuddered as he spoke and reached for the support of the tree he'd leaned against. "It wasn't easy, but I found you." She paused. "You need to come back with me."
"I can't get through the Dark. He's closing in on me, and whenever I think I've found a way out, He's there." He looked at her, his dark eyes troubled. "I can't get rid of Him by myself."
"And I will help you, if you let me, but you can't stay here." She looked across the pond to him. "If you stay here, you will die." He laughed briefly. "What is death compared to life trapped by the Dark Side? He tried to convince me that its power was not evil, you know, even as I could taste the evil wrapping around me."
He slid down to sit against the tree once more as his legs suddenly threatened to give out on him.
"Let me help you fight him. Let the other Healers help," Toola pleaded. "Turim, think of your wife and child. They need you. We all need you."
"He toys with me." His fingers crept up to the scar on the back of his neck. "He sits and lurks and comes through the gate and blocks everywhere I turn." He looked up at her "I don't know how to destroy the gate He uses."
Toola moved around the pond and knelt behind him. "Can you show me?"
He tipped his head forward so that his curly black hair fell away from his neck, revealing the vertical scar along the neck vertebrae. A rounded square of thickened flesh rested just at the nape of his neck, centered under the scar--the neural bridge that allowed his brain and body to connect across the damaged nerves.
"No matter the walls I build, Toola, he finds way to creep through the cracks under and around the gate, or through a crevice in the stone and brick--like a strand of creeper vine."
"No," Toola said gently. "Show me here," she said, lifting his chin then tapping his forehead gently.
He closed his eyes and opened his mind to her trustingly, desperate for aid.
They found themselves in a walled garden as envisioned in Turim's mind...
The trickle of water from a fountain was the only sound, and the place was lush with greenery and blossom--except, as they turned to survey it, black, thorny creeper vines were visibly, rapidly, twisting around the interior walls, smothering the flowers and shrubs, choking off the Light that fed the garden.
"The gate is over there," Turim showed her what looked like a choked mass of black thorns and poisonous-looking leaves from which the vines twisted. Some of the branches looked scorched and hacked as if they'd been cut. And in the open area before the worst of it lay the silver and black cylinder of a lightsaber hilt.
Toola frowned and closed her eyes. She reached out drawing the Force tightly inside herself and channeling it to Turim. Her brown furrowed in concentration and the tips of her lekku twitched in effort. The dark clouds glowering down at them parted and the thin stream of light streamed down to pool around the lightsaber hilt.
"I just didn't have any more energy to fight it. The more I cut, the more grew." His voice sounded suddenly weary.
* * * * *
Erec chewed on his lower lip as the monitor readings grew less and less promising. Turim's body was on full life support now, and the Jedi Mind Healer had not moved save for the shallowest breathing and minute twitches of her lekku.
He glanced at the chronometer and noted that it was nearly midnight. He made a decision and tapped the commlink on the observation station. "Kelsiana A'bon."
A sleepy voice answered the call. "Yes?"
"Ms. A'bon. Please come to the Medical Center at once."
"At once, ma'am."
The medic cursed again as Toola's body began to sag. A glance at the monitors showed that her life signs were paralleling Turim's--heart beating at the same rate as the heart-lung actuator kept his beating, her breath an exact match for the respirator. "This just isn't good."
Belatedly, he closed the com call and went back to his patient and the Healer.
* * * * *
Toola opened her eyes and looked at Turim, pulling free her own lightsaber, the emerald green blade springing to life. "We must not fight the limbs but it is the root we must find."
Turim stooped and slowly picked up the saber, his eyes still on the mass of thorny growth. He moved until he was side by side with her and ignited the blade, which seemed to flicker alternately between a warm amber gold, and an icy, obsidian black.
Toola stepped forward, her lightsaber held loosely in her hands, her yellow eyes alert.
A strand of the creeper curled towards their feet, twisting obscenely over the green grass that died at its touch. Toola brought the tip of her lightsaber toward the creeper.
As the glowing blade approached, the moist-looking leaves began to shrivel back from it, and the stem began to vibrate. The quiver moved back along the growth into the shadows and suddenly the cracked voice of the Emperor emerged from the darkness. "I will have you Turim. You can't fight forever, and no matter where you run, I'll follow." Another cackle. "You will bow to me and accept me as your master!"
"NOOOOOOOO!" Turim began to flail at the vine with his weirdly glowing blade, but the blows seemed slide ineffectually off of the plant.
"You can not have him," Toola called out sternly. "You are not his Master. His Master is the True Light of the Force."
"Turim, believe that your blade will cut them," she said more quietly, encouragingly; stepping in to slice vines away that were writhing toward him.
Her blade sizzled as it slashed through the growth, cutting the vine away from the root mass. The base of the damaged vine snapped back away from them, then toward Toola, as an elastic band rebounds toward the source of tension. Along with the thick stem came a flash of Dark energy that was powerful enough to lift them off of their feet, flinging them backwards.
Toola shoved herself back to her feet, muttering under her breath in Twi'lek. She advanced on the vines again. If these things were going to come back on her, she was going to make it worth her while.
"Turim, stay back," she said, taking a moment to collect herself.
Somehow Turim managed to retain his grip on the saber he held and he grimly, slowly, scrambled to his feet. Pain filled his body, but he moved in her wake, despite her warning.
Then, something made him glance back at the fountain at the center of the garden, and he sucked in a breath of horror as he saw that in the moments of their face-off with one of the visual representations of Palpatine's malice, the Dark vines had continued grow around the garden's perimeter and the life-giving fountain was under threat from another direction.
He staggered away from Toola and her target, bracing himself to force the Dark away from the very center of Light in himself. He gave his former student a quick glance over his shoulder then continued his painful assault on the threatening strands that tried to choke out Life. He was grateful she'd come to him, because there was no way he could destroy the root at the same time as defending against the persistent tendrils of evil that sought to smother him completely.
* * * * *
Toola pulled the Force tightly around her and then focused outward, searching for the source of the vines, the root. She could feel the darkness pulsating just beyond the gate. She thread her way quickly between the vines driving for the source. She slashed the vines that sprung out to stop her, but she kept moving, the vines shredding her clothing and then slashing her skin, but she kept her focus on reaching the root and freeing the beleaguered Jedi.
She finally reached the center and the dark heart of the vines. It appeared to be more machine than plant, forged from the very stone of the wall. She glanced back over her shoulder to see Turim slashing at the vines creeping toward the fountain and then she dove forward, driving her lightsaber deep into the heart of the plant, slashing and thrusting it as deeply as she could, trying to cut it out.
The vines shook with rage and pain as she forced her way deeper, but Palpatine's voice echoed through them once more. "You can't excise me, Jedi! I will return and he will still be unable to withstand me!"
Toola drove her lightsaber deeper, slashing vines off at their source and chipping away at the stones around the heart of the beast. She kept slashing, hoping she would get the root of the vines holding Turim.
Toola kept hacking.
"You will NOT escape me!" Palpatine's angry cry faded away as the dark vines finally vanished away entirely, leaving only the place that they'd emerged from glimmering sullenly in the Light that was increasing by the second.
Toola stopped a moment to catch her breath and the she drove her lightsaber directly into the unnatural blend of machine and stone. It crackled and steamed and groaned as it ceased to move, then went utterly silent and still. She pulled her lightsaber freed and staggered back from it.
* * * * *
Turim let out a choked cry as a tendril of Dark vine snaked past his flashing saber and coiled around him, the slime on the leaves leaving acid-like burns on his skin, and tightened to close around his neck.
He continued to wield the weapon one-handed as he clawed at the choking hold.
Then, just as he thought that all was lost, the vine relaxed, and fell away, shriveling. He lurched forward, gasping for breath and staring wide-eyed as the encroaching tentacles of evil collapsed, to dry out and blow away into dust and ash, gradually leaving the garden empty, but scarred with death and painful maiming.
The Jedi dropped to his knees by the edge of the fountain, so tired that he doubted that he could stand up again to save his life, but suddenly unburdened and relieved of the weight that he'd carried for so long. His face was lined with exhaustion, but he couldn't keep a smile from his lips when he turned his eyes upwards into the Light that welled up around him.
* * * * * (TBC)
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