Gray Jedi Ch. 07

byauguy86©

Malik struggled as best as he could, but the reflexes of the krykna spiders were too great. Every move he made to try and escape was stymied by the pinching beak of a nearby spider. Deeper and deeper they carried him into their lair, yet all the while Malik pondered the strange specificity of Bendu's previous wording. He had called this a puzzle, one that they had to solve without the use of violence.

Soon, they brought him to an expansive den, the cavernous size of which surprised Malik a bit. Before he could try and comprehend what was happening, the group of spiders released him, placing him back on his feet and backing away from him immediately. This turn of events gave Malik one more reason to stop and ponder the situation at hand. What was their intention for him? Surely they could devour him at any moment they wished, yet had now released him, feeling that he would not retaliate against them.

Malik saw that the group of spiders had moved to block the only exit to the den, making him rather nervous. Maybe they had something special planned for his demise? Still, all this seemed to fit into Bendu's description of a puzzle. Seeing no other choice, Malik crept further into the den. Though the darkness was thick, Malik had long since trained his senses to allow him to effectively "see" in total darkness, using the Force to enhance his hearing and detect incoming threats.

Ahead of him, Malik could sense the presence of a large creature. There was no other way out that he could find apart from the way he had come, but he was not under attack yet. He pressed on, seeing a faint beam of moonlight shining in through a hole in the ceiling. At last, as he approached the illuminated area, he saw it: a massive krykna spider easily twice his size. Malik surmised that this had to be their queen. The creature saw him at once, but made no movements towards him. Likewise, the group of spiders had not budged from their guard station at the entrance.

As Malik moved closer to the queen, he could sense that something was not quite right. The creature did not appear to be that old, as some hive monarchs were. There were not the numerous battle scars from fending off challenges that an elderly queen would have had. Still, Malik could hear that the creature's breathing was ragged and labored. He reached out with the Force, trying to find some way to connect with the poor being. The queen seemed to respond to this, tensing up at first, but then bending down low and relaxed, coming to eye level with Malik. As they finally connected through the Living Force, Malik began to realize the truth.

"You're dying, aren't you?"

*****

"Malik? Malik, can you hear me?"

Serra heard no reply. The spiders must have taken him deeper into the cave, and so her path was set. Quieting her mind as best as she could, Serra reached out to try and sense her husband's presence. It was faint, but she could feel him in a distant part of the tunnel. Still, the cave branched out in several directions, leaving her stumped as to which was the path forward.

Taking a deep breath, she chose a path, shining her flashlight at the ground ahead of her. As she came upon a dead end, one of the spiders made its presence known with its feral hiss. Serra tensed up for a moment, but as she gazed upon the creature, she saw that he was quite tiny as compared to the others, only reaching as high as her knees. The rest were at least as tall as she and Malik. Serra surmised that this must be a juvenile. She at first did not want to turn her back to the creature, but soon began to notice something more. It was swiping and biting at the air with its arms and beak, yet these actions seemed to be based in fear and apprehension more than anything.

"Well, here goes..."

Attempting a technique she had never been strong with, Serra reached out to the spider with the Force, attempting to make some sort of mental contact. At first, the creature's behavior did not change, but after a few moments, Serra locked eyes with the spider, and they seemed to come to an acceptance of each other's existence. It took a step or two forward, approaching the human with caution. She took a deep breath, deciding to go for broke.

"Where is the other human? I need to find him. Can you help me?"

The spider did not budge at first, but soon scurried between Serra's legs and down another corridor. She followed right away, trusting the Force that this path would lead her to Malik. After what seemed like ages of twisting and turning, the path began to widen, seeming to lead towards a large cavern. Upon arriving, Serra tensed up at seeing the group of spiders that had carried Malik off. They turned, sensing her presence, and appeared ready to attack her. Before they could, a voice from around the bend up ahead sounded.

"No! Wait!" Malik stepped around the corner, locking eyes with the creatures. "She is a friend. She will not hurt you. I need her. Please, let her pass."

To Serra's surprise, the spiders parted, forming a path through which she could enter the cavern. After walking carefully through the mass of spiders, she rejoined her husband, wrapping him in a tight embrace.

"You ok?" she asked him.

"Yeah, I'm fine." He gestured around the bend. "Come on, there's something you need to see."

Serra gasped at seeing the massive queen ahead of them, and was further surprised at the casual manner in which Malik walked up to it. He ran his hand along one of the spider's legs, seeming to calm the creature somewhat.

"This is my mate," he said to the queen. "She's going to help you; we both are."

As the queen made a gesture of acknowledgement, Malik beckoned Serra to join him. She did so with great caution, yet was eased by Malik's confidence throughout the situation; he seemed to know exactly what he was doing.

"Here, place your hand on her leg and reach out with the Force," Malik instructed. "You need to see what I've seen."

Serra reached out a trembling hand to touch the spider, calming herself through the Force. Soon, she began to see into the creature's memories. She saw that the spiders were indeed carnivorous, but were forced to adapt to the barren planet, devoid of most sources of meat. Thus, the queen had developed a means of producing food from within her body, enough to feed her entire colony. This ensured the survival of their species for many years, but the tainting of their only water source recently jeopardized their way of life. Much of the colony died within hours of drinking the poisoned water, though the queen has managed to endure for several weeks. Still, as the poison remains in her body, she is unable to feed her children, causing the entire colony to slowly starve to death. When the queen dies, her children will be too week to be able to anoint a new queen as per usual, and the spiders would likely go extinct.

"You poor thing... you've suffered so much," Serra cooed. "Malik, we have to help them."

"My thoughts exactly. I can draw the toxins from her body, but I need you to keep her in a calming trance, as well as monitor her vital signs. If she dies, I doubt her children would treat us with much understanding."

Serra swallowed hard, catching his meaning. Saving the queen was their only chance of walking out unscathed. Kneeling down on the rocky ground, Serra continued her meeting of the minds with the spider. They locked eyes for a moment, and she began to hum a soothing, wordless melody. As she continued, the queen's breathing slowed, helping to stabilize her vital signs. This allowed Malik to begin his work.

The healer opened his mind and began to analyze every inch of the krykna spider's anatomy. Sensing that the creature's stomach was located at the top of its large, bulbous head, he began his explorations there. It was not long before he was able to detect the presence of a foreign substance in the stomach. Though it had spread to most other parts of the queen's body, the concentration was such that eliminating the poison in the stomach would trigger a chain reaction that would cleanse and purify the rest of the queen's internal organs.

"Please stay calm, my friend... this is going to feel very strange for you," Malik whispered to the spider.

Malik focused and targeted the molecular structure of the foreign substance, determining that it had mixed somewhat with the spider's blood. Rather than be discouraged by this revelation, he decided to use it to their advantage. Bit by bit, he was able to alter the foreign substance's makeup to make it more and more like the spider's blood. It took almost an hour of intense use of the Force, but Malik finally managed to eliminate enough of the toxin's strength that the queen's natural bodily fluids overtook it, purging the poison from her once and for all. With a heavy sigh, he backed away and gazed at his patient.

"How is she, Serra?"

"Doing very well," she replied with a grin. "She's growing stronger with every passing second. You'll be ok now... you all will."

Serra released the queen from her trance and joined her husband, waiting for some acknowledgement from the spider. The creature appeared dazed for a few moments, but soon regained awareness and focused her gaze on the two humans. Hearing a strange sound, the pair turned to see the rest of the colony gathering behind them, blocking their way. Serra was apprehensive at first, but the queen soon gave a commanding hiss, causing the colony to part for the humans.

*****

"Well done, my friends," Bendu said as the couple exited the tunnel.

"Thanks to you," Serra replied. "If you hadn't taken away our lightsabers, we'd have missed the entire point of that journey."

"My methods may seem strange, but they are never without purpose."

"Bendu, what about the spiders' water source? We can't leave until we've cleaned it up," Malik said.

"Fear not, for I have long since purified their watering hole. This was quite a simple task for me, but I was unable to help the queen at all. As you can see, I am far too large to enter their home, and she was too weak to even be carried out to see me. But I knew your arrival to be the will of the Force. A pair of Jedi in love and as in tune with the Force as you would surely be able to save those poor creatures. Now then, what did you learn in there, Serra?"

"I... connected with them. I've never been strong with the Living Force, always had trouble befriending animals, but in there... it was easier than it's ever been before."

"And why was that?" Bendu asked with a smile.

"Because... I love Malik. I'd do anything to save him, and in those moments, my difficulties with the Living Force hardly crossed my mind. It was what I had to do to reach my husband."

"Yes... because you embraced love, believing it to be the will of the Force, you became a stronger Jedi than you ever would have otherwise. The stubborn teachings of the old Jedi Order would not have brought you to this level; only your love for Malik did this. Such as it is with the path of the Bendu. Now tell me, what do you know of the middle way?"

"Only a little," Malik replied. "We've begun researching the Gray Jedi and their belief system. Much of it makes sense, but some parts seem to be at complete odds with the goal of peace and justice in the galaxy."

"Such as?"

"There were several lines in the Gray Jedi creed that worried me," Serra chimed in. "It talked about there being no good without evil. Is that to mean that evil can never be defeated?"

"Unfortunately, yes. Evil is not a tangible being; it is a state of mind. As long as there are hearts and minds susceptible to it, there will be evil. The only way to eradicate it would be to alter said hearts and minds."

"Which would amount to the removal of free will, something we Jedi have fought against for millennia," Malik finished.

"Indeed. As long as sentient beings have the power to choose their own path in life, some will choose good and some will choose evil. But in the interest of the middle way, this is still better than the alternative," Bendu said.

"There was another part of the creed that caught my attention, about maintaining the balance between good and evil and being a soldier of balance. That doesn't sit right with me, because it implies that a certain amount of evil must be done to ensure that the balance is maintained. Am I interpreting this correctly?" Malik asked.

"Hmm... I suppose some could interpret it in that way. However, I prefer to think of it as a statement of acceptance, rather than a goal. By the wording you just used, there is nothing to suggest that a Gray Jedi does not align himself with good, but he does accept the fact that evil cannot be eradicated, only kept in check. Thus, as a soldier of balance, maintaining the balance would mean working to keep evil in check so that it does not overrun good," Bendu replied.

"Does that explain why Gray Jedi draw upon the powers of the Dark Side without being consumed by it?" Serra wondered.

"Indeed. While the Jedi use the terms 'Light Side' and 'Dark Side' as synonymous with good and evil, the truth is far different. Devotion to the Ashla does not in itself make one good, and drawing on the Bogan does not make one evil. The Ashla and the Bogan are differing philosophies in the Force, whereas good and evil are dependent upon our actions and choices."

"Like Malik using Force Lightning to save lives," Serra replied, beaming at her husband.

"Precisely," Bendu agreed. "As you journey forward in your lives together, I would advise you to focus not on the Jedi philosophy you are so familiar with, but on doing good and keeping evil at bay. Help people. Disrupt the Empire, if you can. You may find many situations in which the ends justify the means. Of course, sometimes the ends cannot justify the means. You must decide for yourselves if seemingly dark actions will serve the greater good. The answers may not always be clear, but trust in yourselves and each other. If you do this, my friends, there is no limit to the good you can do in this galaxy."

With that, Bendu curled his body up and began to sink back into the sand. His boulder-like hide was now the only part of him that remained visible. Soon, all was quiet, and Malik and Serra were once again alone.

"Wow... lot to think about, huh?" Serra remarked.

"Yeah... I know what he means about the ends justifying the means. Still, I don't think we should strive to edge too close to the Dark Side unless absolutely necessary. We're better than that."

"I agree. But I wouldn't be surprised if a situation with a horrible ethical choice arises at some point. We need to be prepared for that eventuality. If we have to act decisively-"

"Then we will," Malik said with conviction.

*****

The pair arrived back in the rocky clearing to find their ship undisturbed, all quiet in the area. As they approached, the main entrance ramp opened, and Rex stepped out towards them.

"Oh, it's you!"

"Everything ok, Rex?" Malik asked.

"Oh sure... aside from the gigantic spiders that came by while you were gone!"

"What happened? Did they hurt you?" Serra asked with concern.

"Nah, I managed to get back inside and seal the ship up. Still, I had the weapons powered up and ready to go, but right when I thought they were gonna attack, they stopped, turned around and left altogether. I dunno... it's like they were called off or something."

"Huh... never can guess how wild animals will act," Malik said with a knowing grin. "Anyway, I'm famished. How 'bout some food?"

"Sounds good to me," Rex agreed.

The trio made their way inside, and the Jedi were surprised to find the food already waiting for them at the table.

"What's this?" Serra asked as they sat.

"Ah, it's the least I can do after you saved my ass before," Rex chuckled.

"Anytime, Rex," Malik replied, digging into his rations.

"Oh, forgot to mention this. While you were gone, I managed to intercept a transmission, encrypted of course. I've been working to try and decode it, but haven't had any luck. It's got some security protocol I've never seen before."

"Hmm... what sort of protocol?" Malik asked.

"I don't really know how to describe it... where there would usually be a password input screen, there was just a bunch of floating triangles. They looked to be moving at random, but there might be some sort of pattern I haven't noticed. What do you think?"

"No way... I've seen exactly what you're describing!" Serra realized.

"Where?" Malik asked.

"That security protocol was developed by Anakin Skywalker himself. He designed it so that only a trained Force-user could access the files it protected. It was never widely used by the Jedi Order, but several individuals have used it, so it's plausible that this transmission could be from a Jedi."

"Think you can decode it?"

"Gimmie a crack at it!" Serra said with a grin.

Their meal now finished, the group made their way back to the cockpit and got to work on the transmission. Serra pulled it up on screen, discovering that it was just as she remembered Anakin's security checks being. As she reached into the computer with the Force, the floating triangles began to become less random in their movements. She worked them for several minutes, until she had finally pieced them together into a rough image of the Jedi Temple. With that, the image disappeared and a holographic message began to power up.

"See? Nothin' to it!" she said with pride.

"Nice!" Malik replied. "Ok, there's a message in here. Let's see..."

"To any Jedi that receive this message, this is Topal Blut, Jedi Knight and the last survivor of the Jedi Temple guards. I am being hunted by... something. Please, if any are still alive, I need your help. The attack on our home was awful, but I know there are still some of my brothers and sisters alive. I am hiding in the deepest floors of the Jedi Temple. Hurry."

Malik rubbed his chin as the image of the Pau'an Jedi began to fade, pondering his message.

"Hmm... I'm having trouble thinking in here. Conference room," he said.

The group adjourned to the meeting area down the hall from the cockpit, sitting around the circular table.

"Ok, will you play that message again?"

Serra activated the message once more, playing it in its entirety. As it ended, she stared at her husband for several long seconds.

"What are you thinking, Malik?"

"I'm not sure..."

"Malik, I know he's your brother, but going back to Coruscant would be nothing short of suicide," Rex stated. "We wouldn't survive the landing, I'd wager."

"But Rex, we can't just leave him to die!" Serra protested. "In these dark times, we Jedi have to find a way to stick together."

"I've lost enough friends in this war, I don't want to lose anyone else!" Rex fired back.

Serra's brow furrowed in disgust. "I had no idea you were such a little-"

"That's enough, Serra," Malik cut her off. "Fighting amongst ourselves isn't going to get us anywhere, and especially if we delve into name-calling." He took a deep breath and continued, "I see your point, Rex. There's no disguising the danger we'd be in if we do go back to Coruscant. But as Serra said, we Jedi have to stick together to survive the Empire. If Topal Blut is really in trouble, then we have a duty to render aid. Of course, there is a third possibility..."

"What do you mean?" Rex inquired.

"This message could be a trap in and of itself."

"Huh? A trap?" Rex replied in confusion.

"Malik..."

"Serra, he's going to find out sooner or later." Malik turned back to Rex. "There is something most people don't know about the Empire, Rex. You've heard of Emperor Palpatine's new right-hand man, Darth Vader, yes?"

"I have. He's supposed to be as deadly as any Jedi."

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