A mynock flies from one branch to another. As it lets out a cry, other mynocks respond. It’s as if all of Dagobah is full of animals crying out to one another. But through the chatter of animal calls, the tranquility of the swamp is soon broken as a Y-Wing fighter flies over the trees and lands in a small clearing. As the ship landed, Barriss and Zonia walked out of their tiny vessel and looked around. Barriss tried to feel the remote world through the force. It felt strange, yet oddly familiar. “What is it master?”, Zonia asked. “I sense a presence”, said Barriss, “a presence I haven’t felt since…”. “Since what?” asked Zonia. “Never mind”, said Barriss, “it’s probably nothing”. As they walked through the swamp, Zonia looked around and saw all of the animals, with their eyes focused on her. Even the mynocks hanging from the branches didn’t glance away as they walked by. “Barriss”, said Zonia, “what are we doing here?”. Barriss didn’t respond. She turned back to look at her apprentice, and could still see the terrified look on her face, and then kept walking. “Barriss”, said Zonia, “I need to know”. “Back on Miranda”, Barriss explained, “you made a dangerous connection to the force. I thought I lost you to the dark side”. Barriss paused for a bit, finding it difficult and painful recalling everything that happened in the wreck of the Matalan. “I need to know if you’re truly meant to be a Jedi”. “What do you mean?”, asked Zonia, “I thought you knew if I was? I even thought Ahsoka knew I was meant to be a Jedi”. “Ahsoka and I could both be wrong, Zonia. I brought you here for a test. A challenge. To see if you truly are meant to be a Jedi”. “What kind of a test?” asked Zonia. Soon enough, they arrived where they needed to be. Everywhere where there had been swamp, now before them, stood a cave. A cave that was darker than anything Zonia had ever seen. “What is this place?”, asked Zonia, “I feel so, cold”. Barriss closed her eyes and reached for her pocket. “That cave is strong with the dark side”, Barriss told Zonia, “you have to go in”. “Me? Why?” asked Zonia. “It’s part of the challenge”, said Barriss, “but before you go, take this”. As Barriss pulled her hand out of her pocket, she gave Zonia the keycard for their Y-wing Starfighter. “I don’t like this”, said Zonia, “you know we can’t take off without this thing. What if I don’t come back?”. “Then I guess I’ll have to stay here until you return” said Barriss. “I really don’t like this Barriss, you’re putting your life in my hands”. “You put your training in mine Zonia, it’s only fair that I put something as important in yours”. Zonia looked away from her master and into the darkness of the cave. The darkness was so overpowering, a feeling of fear ran down Zonia’s spine. “How do you know about this place?” asked Zonia. “I saw it in a vision”, said Barriss. “Did you go in too?” asked Zonia. Barriss didn’t respond. She held down her head and lightly nodded yes. “What is in there?” asked Zonia. “Only what you bring with you”, said Barriss, “but be cautious and mindful of your thoughts. Picture whatever you fear most in that cave, and it will reveal itself to you”. Zonia looked inside the darkness of that cave. Everything about the ominous nature of that cave seemed to scream at her to back away. But Zonia couldn’t do it. She gulped down, closed her eyes, and walked into the cave. As Barriss watched her apprentice slip into the darkness, she kneeled down and began to meditate. As she was meditating, she tried to reach out for Ahsoka from afar. While Ahsoka was in some ship, elsewhere in the Outer Rim, she could sense Barriss trying to reach out for her. Not only could she sense Barriss, she could also sense what Zonia had begun to undertake. She was fearful at first, but knew how important it was for her to do it.
As Zonia went deeper and deeper into the cave, she felt the darkness grow stronger and stronger. As she kept walking, all the chatter of animals from the outside began to cease, and all she could hear was the ominous silence of the cave. The only sound was her soft breathing. It had gotten so dark, she could barely see where she was going. She only had the Force to guide her. As she was walking along, she saw a presence in the darkness. As she walked through the gloom, she at last saw who it was. It was another nightsister. The first time she had seen another one of her kind since she was a child. Zonia could not believe her eyes. “Karis?”, asked Zonia, “Is it really you?”. Karis looked at Zonia without saying a word. But before either of them could respond, Karis was suddenly impaled by two lightsabers right through the back. Zonia covered her face at the sight of the horrendous scene. Suddenly, she heard maniacal laughter coming from the darkness. As she looked back and saw Karis lying dead on the ground, she saw the Droid General Grievous step over lifeless body and stare at Zonia with his evil yellow eyes. “So youngling”, Grievous told Zonia, “I believe it is time to finish what I started!”. Suddenly, his arms split into four and he grabbed two more lightsabers from belt. Trophies he had taken from his vanquished foes. “Get away from me! Leave me Alone!” Zonia cried out as the droid general moved in closer and closer. Zonia finally couldn’t take it anymore. As she ran back to the entrance of the cave, she suddenly tripped over a tree root and found herself looking at his evil yellow eyes. She was petrified by his maniacal laughter. As if the very action of terrorizing her and filling her with fear pleased the droid general greatly. Finally, he swung two of his lightsabers towards Zonia. Zonia rolled out of the way and dodged the General’s menacing strikes. He struck again, and Zonia managed to roll out of the way again just in time. Finally infuriated, the general attacked with all four of his sabers, Zonia barely missing his ruthless strikes. When Zonia finally got back up, she extended her hands and tried to force push him away, but nothing happened. She tried again, and again. But it was no use. It’s as if she had lost her ability to use the Force altogether. She started running again. Running for her life. But as she ran for the exit, she lost her way. She thought she had kept track of where she was going. But instead of finding the exit where it was supposed to be, she came across a dead end. With nothing between her and the sociopathic general. As the droid general prepared to strike a killing blow, Zonia found herself falling through the darkness. As she was falling, she suddenly met herself landing on a hard surface, with the wind knocked out of her. As she struggled to get up, she saw Barriss in the darkness. Gagged and with her hands cuffed behind her back. “Barriss!”, Zonia cried out. As she worked to free Barriss from her bonds, Barriss tried to speak. “Zonia, listen to me, you have to get out of here”, Barriss told her. Suddenly, a rush of cold filled Barriss and Zonia as the sound of a lightsaber igniting caught their attention. Barriss and Zonia looked slowly towards the dark presence. Through the darkness, they couldn’t see anything but a red blade floating in the darkness. Both Zonia and Barriss looked on in fear. “Zonia”, Barriss whispered, “you need to get out”. Suddenly, the dark presence finally revealed himself to Barriss and Zonia: it was Galen Marek.
Barriss stood back her feet, and immediately ignited her purple-bladed lightsaber. As Zonia looked on in fear, Barriss put herself between Zonia and Marek, refusing to let her get near him. But as Barriss assumed a defensive position, Marek simply force pushed her away. Zonia tried reaching for her own lightsaber, but found it no longer fixed to her belt. As Marek approached, she refused to show any fear. “Interesting”, said Galen, “I was hoping to take you to my master to truly teach you the ways of the Force”. “Whatever it is”, said Zonia, “Forget it. You have nothing to teach me”. “We shall see”, said Galen as he turned around and immediately started for choking her. As Zonia collapsed to the ground struggling to breathe, Galen approached her calmly. “Well I guess if you won’t join the dark side, I guess I’ll have to kill you right here”. At hearing this, Barriss immediately, got back up and angrily force pushed Galen away from Zonia, allowing her to breathe again. “NO!”, Barriss cried out, “I’ll die before I let you hurt her!”. “Sounds reasonable to me”, said Galen as he ignited his second lightsaber and charged at Barriss. As Barriss and Galen fought in the dark cave, Zonia could only watch. With no way out, watching her Master and her worst enemy fight was all she could do. As they fought, Galen began to gain the upper hand, forcing Barriss to keep stepping further back. As Red and Purple lightsabers clashed, Galen began increasing the frequency and strength at his strikes. As Barriss struggled to keep up, she kept stepping further back. Even tapping into her dark side was proving to not be enough. Finally, Galen found an opening, and made Barriss pay for it. With the swift strike of his blades, he managed to graze Barriss in the arms and legs. As Barriss lay on the ground in pain, Galen picked up both of his lightsabers, and impaled Barriss, finishing her off quickly. All while Zonia watched. As Zonia covered her face and saw her master lying dead on the ground, she looked at Galen angrily, with tears building up in her eyes. “You’ll pay!”, shouted Zonia, “I swear you’ll pay!”. As Zonia rushed over to pick up Barriss’ lightsaber, it would not ignite. Galen did nothing but laugh as he watched Zonia desperately try to reignite her master’s lightsaber. “I can see your master taught you nothing”, Galen mockingly told her, “and never will”. Suddenly, Zonia found herself falling through the void again. Falling through the darkness, traumatized by her Master’s demise. Soon, she found herself on the floor of the cave. As she lay there, she began to tear up. Mourning. In grief. All alone. She had come so far and struggled for so long, only to watch her Master die at the hands of the enemy she had once planned on serving. As she lay weeping on the ground, the sound of a lightsaber activating caught her attention again. It was Galen Marek approaching her, with both of his lightsabers ignited. As Zonia stood back up and looked him in the eye, she saw that he had no intentions of bringing her back to the dark side. “Are you ready to become ‘one with the force’, Jedi?” Galen asked her. Zonia simply looked at him with disgust and hate. She wanted nothing more than to have her dead. As Galen approached her, he could sense her hate. “Good, good”, said Galen, “unleash your hate. Let it fill you. Let your hate for me, your Master’s last moments, fill your mind as I strike you down”. As Zonia looked to him, she suddenly remembered everything that Barriss had taught her. And of all the things she had taught her, the one that came most to her mind was that Hate was not the Jedi way. She looked back at Galen, with her silver-blue eyes starring at his dark yellow ones, and stood up straight. “I’m not afraid” she told him. Galen looked to Zonia in confusion, then in anger. He raised both of his lightsabers overhead, and prepared to strike the killing blow. But as the blades came down, they flew right through Zonia harmlessly. When Zonia opened her eyes, she saw Galen’s silhouette drift away. She finally collapsed in tears. Relieved that everything she had gone through was fake. Nothing more than a test to her will. As she lay crying, she felt a strange but familiar presence approach her. When she opened her eyes, she saw the silhouette of a female approach her. She couldn’t see any more. After spending so much time in the dark, she at last saw some light. As she stood up and looked at the strange presence before her, she suddenly extended her hand towards Zonia. “Do not be afraid”, she told Zonia, “come with me”. As Zonia took her by the hand, she suddenly drifted away with the strange presence.
Meanwhile outside the cave, Barriss was starting to lose patience. She had been in there for hours. How could she not have returned? As Barriss prepared to go into the cave herself, a tree branch came out of nowhere and tripped her before she could enter. “Patience”, a mysterious voice told her, “A journey for your apprentice this is. Interfere, you must not”. “Master Yoda!”, Barriss cried out, “is it really you?”. “I it is”, said Master Yoda, “I’ve been wondering, why are you here?”. “I’ve taken on a Padawan learner” Barriss told him. “Padawan, have you?”, asked Yoda, “now, a Master are you? Ready are you for the responsibility?”. Barriss looked down, unsure of how to answer the Jedi Master’s question. “Honest in this decision, you must be” said Master Yoda. “We had a small bump in our time together”, said Barriss, “I almost lost her to the dark side. I don’t want to lose her again”. “Fear of loss”, said Master Yoda, “attachment that is Barriss”. “I won’t let her lose her way”, said Barriss, “not like I did. I won’t let her make the same mistakes I made”. “Learned from your mistakes, have you?” asked Master Yoda. “Yes”, said Barriss, “I have. I betrayed the Jedi Order. I betrayed Ahsoka twice. I finally have a chance to make things right”. “Hmmm”, said Master Yoda, “your last chance, this is”. “I won’t let her become the monster I allowed myself to become”. Barriss looked at her reflection in the water. As she looked, she saw her reflection shift from her teen appearance, to the appearance she has now. “And for once, I am finally doing the right thing”. As Barriss looked around, she tried to look back into the cave. To see if she could get a glimpse of her missing apprentice. “Where are you?”, asked Barriss, “I sense you are near, but I can’t see you”. “Far away, I am not”, said Master Yoda. “Where are you?”, asked Barriss. “Here I am”, said Master Yoda. Barriss looked away and saw the ancient Jedi Master sitting behind her. “Greetings”, said Master Yoda as he giggled. Barriss stood up and looked to him in shock. She couldn’t believe her eyes. “M-Master?”. As Barriss looked to her Old Jedi Master in shock, Yoda closed his eyes and bowed down to her. Barriss soon did the same, albeit very sloppy-like. “Wh-why are you here?” Barriss asked Master Yoda. “My new home this is”, said Master Yoda, “but why are you and your apprentice here?”. Barriss thought long and hard about what to tell him. But she didn’t need to explain. Master Yoda knew it all. Nothing happened on this world without him knowing about it. “A dangerous time this is, both for you and for your apprentice”. “I know”, said Barriss, “that’s why we came here. I need to see if we’re both fit to be Jedi”. As Barriss explained to Master Yoda the nature of their mission, he went into deep thought.
While Barriss talked with Master Yoda, Zonia kept exploring the cave with the strange presence she encountered. Finally, the strange spirit led her to a large opening within a cave. A terrarium almost, deep underground. As Zonia looked around in wonder, she saw all the mynocks fly through the branches, and a waterfall pour into the terrarium. “Amazing”, she said. Finally, the strange spirit turned her attention on Zonia. “Who are you?” the strange spirit asked her. “Zonia”, she replied, “my name is Zonia. Who are you?”. Finally, the strange spirit finally revealed herself to Zonia. She took off the veil that concealed her and from the bright light, a woman stepped out. Zonia covered her eyes so she wouldn’t be blinded by the light, but when she opened them, she was astonished by what she saw. She looked like a Mirialan. Just like Barriss. “I’m just a guide for now”, she said, “but in life, my name was Luminara Unduli”. “Were you a Jedi too?” Zonia asked her. Luminara nodded yes. “How are you here? I don’t understand”. “Here, I can manifest myself freely”, said Luminara, “this planet is very strong with the living force. Oases like these, I am free to manifest myself for a little while”. Zonia looked at Luminara. A strange halo of light seemed to completely surround the long-departed Jedi Master. “But why are YOU here”, Luminara asked Zonia. “For a test”, said Zonia, “I almost lost myself to the dark side not too long ago. My Master thought it was best for me to undertake this test. To see if I was truly meant to be a Jedi”. “And your Master”, said Luminara, “does she treat you well?”. Zonia smiled at Luminara. “Yes, I think she’s doing her very best to teach me. She’s taught me a lot, and she’s taught me well. But I still have much to learn”. Luminara smiled. “The path of the Jedi is not an easy one young one”, said Luminara, “It never has been, and it never will be”. “I know”, said Zonia, “I know it won’t be easy. But I know it’s the right thing”. “Then tell me”, said Luminara, “why do YOU wish to become a Jedi?”. Zonia went into deep thought. For the most part, a lot of the major decisions that have affected her life she had no say in. So when she decided to take up the oath of a Jedi, why is she making such a difficult decision? “For the nightsisters”, said Zonia, “to avenge them. Had the Sith never come to Dathomir, I would never have wound up so alone in my life”. “So the way of the Jedi is revenge?”, asked Luminara, “did your master teach you this?”. “No, she didn’t. She would never”. “Then why do you look for revenge?”. “I’m not. I’m doing it so others don’t have to go through what I went through. It was difficult enough for me. I don’t want to see others suffer the same fate. I know my Master did some bad things in the past, but that doesn’t make her who she is now. She offered to train me, to teach me how to do good. Things I had never done before I met her. Thanks to her, I’ve finally done good in my life”. Zonia started to tear up a little. “I finally know how it feels, what I feel when I finally started doing good at her side”. “What did you feel?” asked Luminara. “I felt”, Zonia, started tearing up more and more, “I felt alive. And I felt good inside. After a lifetime of feeling anger and hate, I felt compassion and goodness. Things I would never have felt if it weren’t for my Master. Whoever trained her, sure did a good job at it. Because she’s doing a good job at passing that training on to me”. Luminara smiled at Zonia, and looked at her silver-blue eyes. “Will you keep training to be a Jedi no matter what?” Luminara asked her. Zonia closed her eyes. “Yes, I’ll never stop”. “Your future is clouded, Zonia Landala, but there is hope for you nonetheless. A Jedi, you may yet be…”. As Luminara’s voice departed, Zonia saw a tiny green light float from the top of the cave moving closer towards her. Zonia looked at the light in awe. She had never seen anything like it. As it moved closer and closer, Zonia reached out and grabbed it. When she looked into the palm of her hands, she saw a tiny green crystal, sitting delicately on her soft, grey hands. Soon, she heard Luminara’s voice again. “The Crystal is the heart of the blade. The heart is the crystal of the Jedi. The Jedi is the crystal of the Force. The Force is the blade of the Heart. The Crystal, the blade, the Jedi. We are one”. Finally, Luminara’s voice and presence parted ways with Zonia. Zonia was ecstatic. Soon, she started to head on her way out of the cave.
As Zonia exited the cave, she saw Barriss standing there, with a relief on her face that spoke a thousand words. “Zonia!”, Barriss cried out as she ran up to her, “are you OK?”. “I’m OK”, said Zonia, “actually, I’ve never been better”. “Did you see anything in there?” Barriss asked. “More than I could ever tell”, said Zonia, “I found this too”. Zonia opened her hands and showed Barriss the crystal. Barriss gasped at the sight of the crystal. “I don’t believe it”, said Barriss, “Zonia, do you know what that is?”. “A souvenir from my journey?”. “Zonia, that’s a Kyber Crystal”. “Oh wow”, exclaimed Zonia, “what’s it for?”. “It’s a lightsaber crystal” Barriss told her. Zonia gasped. She could not believe what she was holding in her hand. That tiny crystal, holding so much potential. As they made it back to the Y-Wing, Zonia climbed into the gunner’s seat. Before Barriss climbed back into the ship, she looked back into the swamp, and saw Master Yoda standing on a boulder. Master Yoda smiled at Barriss, and bowed down to her in farewell. Zonia saw Barriss bow to Master Yoda in return. “Barriss, who is that?”. Barriss turned around and looked to Zonia. “That is Jedi Master Yoda”, he trained me when I was still a youngling. “Master, I’m sorry for asking you this, but what was the name of the Jedi who trained you?”. Barriss looked away for a bit and thought long and hard about what to tell her. “Luminara”, she told Zonia, “her name was Luminara Unduli”. Zonia’s eyes widened at hearing her say that. When Barriss saw her expression, she wanted to know why. “Why do you ask?”. “The crystal is the heart of the blade…”, said Zonia. Barriss’ expression soon changed from happy to sad. “The heart is the crystal of the Jedi”, said Barriss. “The Jedi is the crystal of the Force”, said Zonia. “The Force is the blade of the heart”, said Barriss. “The Crystal, the blade, the Jedi”, said Zonia. “We are one”, said Barriss with tears filling up her eyes. It finally became clear to Barriss. Her apprentice had met her long-departed Master. Barriss looked up to Zonia and smiled. “Let’s go home”, she told her apprentice.
Almost as soon as they arrived back on Miranda, Zonia stepped out of the Y-Wing and showed Jaspar her Kyber Crystal. As the two were talking, Barriss went back into her quarters on the Trailblazer and started up her holo-transmitter. “Fulcrum, this is Wild Card. Come in”. “Wild Card, this is Fulcrum reading you loud and clear, over”. “You’ll never believe what just happened”, said Barriss. “What is it?”, asked Ahsoka. “I sent her into a cave on Dagobah strong with the dark side, to test her”, said Barriss. “Did she pass the test?” asked Ahsoka. “I think she more than passed”, said Barriss, “she walked out with a Kyber Crystal”. Ahsoka felt a sense of astonishment and pride. Zonia was growing, not just as a person, but as a Jedi. She knew she had accomplished a critical task of her Jedi training. While Barriss and Ahsoka talked on the holo-transmitter, Zonia and Jaspar talked in the galley. Zonia told Jaspar everything that had happened while she was in that cave. When Zonia mentioned seeing Galen Marek in that cave, a feeling of fear came over Zonia. When Jaspar felt her shivering with fear at the mention of Galen Marek, he didn’t say a word. He simply reached for her hand gently and held onto it softly. When Zonia looked up, she found herself mesmerized once again. She reached for Jaspar’s hand as well. As they held hands, Jaspar reached her arms out for her and hugged her. Zonia breathed out a small sigh of relief, feeling safe in Jaspar’s arms. As she looked back up to his eyes, she felt that same feeling of love and butterflies in her stomach that she had felt since she met him. Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. She let her guard down, closed her eyes, and kissed him. She had finally felt safe for the first time in days. Since her encounter with Galen Marek in the Matalan, since her journey in the cave, she finally felt safe. As the two departed, Zonia went into her quarters, with her Kyber Crystal in her hand. Little did she know that Barriss, once again, saw the whole thing. Barriss knew that attachment was not the Jedi way, and as much as she could put it off, she would eventually have to teach her apprentice to let go.
Days went by, and there was no sign of Zonia ever leaving her cabin. Barriss, Jaspar, and a few other crew members of the Trailblazer crew met sat in the galley to pass the time. The Empire had not conducted much activity recently, so there was no reason to go out on raids to sabotage Imperial equipment. As they sat in the galley, Zonia at last walked out of her quarters. When she approached Barriss and Jaspar, she pulled a polished metal hilt out of her bag. Barriss gasped at what Zonia had shown her. It had been years since she saw one that didn’t belong to her, Ahsoka, or an enemy. “I thought you might want to see it first”, said Zonia. Barriss grabbed the lightsaber. As she saw it, she saw that it had a curved hilt. Not bent in angles, but a smooth curve running down the end of the Hilt. “Well”, said Barriss, “It’s unique. But then again, that seems perfect for you”. When Barriss handed Zonia back her lightsaber, she held it away steadily but firmly in her hands. The smooth grip fit in her hands perfectly, as it was suited for her, and her alone. Finally, Zonia hit the ignition switch, and all looked in awe as they saw a green blade spring out of the hilt. Barriss looked at Zonia with pride. She had advanced to the next stage in her Jedi training.
Check back next Tuesday for another chapter of Jesus Armenta's ongoing fan fiction saga!