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Nen Yim had been gone for hours, and Yu'shaa hadn't returned either; Tahiri knew it wasn't just her Yuuzhan Vong paranoia that made her suspicious of the circumstances. The whole incident with the qahsa that had knocked her out for a while could have just been a ruse. So she went looking, drawing on both her Jedi experience as a tracker and her knowledge of Yuuzhan Vong strategies to retrace the shaper's route; above her, the sky was darkening with clouds as the wind whipped up, and the scent of electricity and resin hung in the humid air.

A trail of blood a few meters long led her to Nen Yim, collapsed in a small clearing with her head a horrible, pulpy ruin and her one remaining eye still open, if unfocused. Her breath came in short wheezes as Tahiri dropped to her knees beside her and demanded, "Who did this?"

"Prophet," Nen Yim managed weakly. "He's not . . ." She took another breath, and her whole body shook. "Nom Anor."

"Nom Anor?" Tahiri's hand went to her lightsaber in a split second. He'd tried to kill them -- her, Anakin, and Corran -- at Yag'Dhul. He'd tried to capture Jacen and Jaina. And he'd been right under their noses this entire kriffing time. Nen Yim shivered and gasped, and Tahiri pushed aside the wave of nausea that ran through her. "I have a medpac back at the camp. Just hang on, and I'll be back."

"No," Nen Yim insisted. "I've stayed too long already. He thought I was dead. He's going to kill Sekot. You have to stop him."

Tahiri ran through every obscenity she knew in three languages in her head. "Kill Sekot?"

Nen Yim coughed wetly.. "Has my qahsa. I brought protocols, in case Sekot was a danger to us."

"Where's he gone?" Tahiri demanded, wincing at how pushy she sounded.

"He will seek -- drive mechanism. The center that controls it can be sabotaged to make the drive fail cataclysmically. Probably made-thing drive, if the ship is an example. Stop him."

So they knew about the hyperdrive. "Of course I will. But you have to help me."

"No." Nen Yim's hand came up. "Leave me here. Let me become a part of this."

She wasn't going to cry, she wasn't . . . she was crying. "You are a part of this," Tahiri replied quietly.

"So are you. And part of me. Don't forget." Nen Yim gasped, twitching in another convulsion. "Wanted to tell you about Sekot. It's what . . ." No more words, then, just the silent working of her mouth for another few moments before her pulse stopped.

She never would have expected to be grieving over the death of one of her captors, but Nen Yim had been right: by virtue of their shared memories, she was a part of Tahiri, who stood grimly, anger and grief coursing through her. Jacen had told her once that you could draw power from anger without turning to the dark side. That evil was praxis, not the emotions that drove it.

And Jacen in some future would try to turn her to the Dark Side. As much as she wanted to carve the Prophet's -- no, Nom Anor's -- heart out with her lightsaber, she was not going to succumb to the temptation. She wasn't going to let what Jacen had said justify that action.

But she was going to go wherever Corran and Harrar had gone, because wherever they were had to be where Nom Anor was headed.

***


She caught up with Corran halfway between the camp and the ridge where the hyperdrive unit was, her lightsaber out and ignited and the anger that she couldn't completely damp down probably broadcasting on a wide Force frequency. When Corran called her name it cut through some of the red haze, but when he asked her what happened her answer still came out in a voice as flat and heavy as duracrete when she explained what had happened.

The news that Nen Yim had been killed by Yu'shaa stunned both Corran and Harrar, and they had to keep asking questions all through her explanation, which was not helping Tahiri calm down much.

Corran wasn't much more thrilled than she'd been to discover the Prophet was really Nom Anor.

"I don't see at all," he protested. "Nom Anor was the agent behind half the Yuuzhan Vong invasions in this galaxy. Why would he be a Prophet of the Shamed Ones?"

Harrar had the answer to that. "Because he failed too often. After the disaster at Ebaq Nine, Shimrra called for his sacrifice -- after which he vanished."

Tahiri nodded, more lessons from Ghanima's classes slotting into place in her mind. "And became the Prophet of the Shamed Ones, maybe in a bid to take the throne by revolution."

A few more minutes of discussion, during which she gritted her teeth to keep from snapping at both men, until finally Tahiri jumped in, declaring, "We have to find him fast. So what are we waiting for?" Sorry, Jaina, I know that was your line . . .

"For you to calm down, for one thing," Corran said firmly. "I'm not having an apprentice of mine run into battle in your state."

She shot him a defensive look. "I'm okay."

"No," he insisted, "you're angry. Remember our deal. Especially the part where you have to do what I say."

She nodded, then took a deep breath. "I'll try. It's hard."

"The Yuuzhan Vong belief in revenge is very strong," Harrar offered in her defense.

"I'm aware of that," Tahiri said, not wanting or needing his help with this. "Sometimes it doesn't feel right to fight it."

"Anger always makes you feel good at the time," Corran said. "Makes you feel bigger than yourself, makes you feel that everything you do is justified. But it's a trap."

She knew that, intellectually, but keeping sight of that knowledge was hard when she had to balance out two opposing points of view on how to deal with it, even when she knew one of them was wrong; Tahiri closed her eyes and took a deep breath, drawing on the Force for calm. "Thank you," she said; hearing the reminder from Corran had made finding that balance much easier.

By the time they made it back to the hyperdrive assembly it had started to rain, so Tahiri and Corran kept their lightsabers out, but powered down. No one was around the entry level, but the turbolifts were jammed. That was more than enough of a clear sign. They couldn't wait around, and there was really only one way to find out what Nom Anor was up to.

Corran peered down the shaft. "There ought to be a manual way down, in case the power cuts out, but I don't see anything."

"They probably use some sort of flitter or hoverlift," Tahiri pointed out. "That's too far down to go by ladder."

"Yes, it is," Corran said, still peering down the shaft. "But I think I do see a way. It's just not one I like."

She sighed. "You're looking at that superconductor cable, aren't you?" The one that was ten centimeters away from the wall, and just small enough to wrap two hands around.

"Yes."

"I'm game," she said immediately, but he nixed that plan; someone needed to stay up here in case Nom Anor heard him coming, and keep an eye on Harrar besides, since they hadn't yet been convinced that the priest wasn't in on this. Tahiri realized it left her in a potentially bad position, but they didn't have a choice. "Be careful. I'd hate to have to explain to Mirax what happened to you."

She meant this Mirax, of course, but the thought of telling the younger one in Fandom occurred to her, absurdly, and she couldn't suppress a tiny snicker. Corran looked at her funny for a moment, just before he wrapped his jacket around the cable to protect his hands and dropped down the turbolift shaft.

It was only a few minutes later when Tahiri, straining to hear any sign of combat, heard the turbolift doors open behind her and spun to face a smiling Nom Anor, holding his hands out.

"Stop right there," she commanded.

"If I don't, will you cut me down?" Nom Anor asked. "I have no weapons."

"You wouldn't use them if you had them," Tahiri snapped. "Coward. You wouldn't fight Anakin at Yag'Dhul."

Nom Anor shrugged. "True enough. How is the young Solo brat? No -- didn't I hear he died? Yes, that's right, he did. And you two were close, were you not? What a pity."

He was trying to get to her, but it wasn't going to work now. She'd always miss Anakin, but she'd finally learned to accept that the time for grief was past -- and like Tenel Ka had said back on the escape from Myrkr, Anakin was beyond insults now. "Nice try," Tahiri told him, "but it isn't going to work."

Harrar picked an awful time to jump into the conversation and yell, "Kill him!"

Tahiri shook her head. "He's not armed. I won't murder him." I will not become that person. Not Anakin's vision, not Ben's future. I won't.

"No!" Harrar cried out and jumped forward, distracting Tahiri -- but not before she noticed one of Nom Anor's pupils dilating, and realized what he'd been trying to tell her. Stang, oh, stang, the plaeryin bol. Leia had warned her that Nom Anor's false eye spit venom, and she should have known. Should've seen that coming. She leapt aside to avoid it, but hit the guardrail she'd forgotten about and that was one more thing Corran could yell at her for later. The pain of impact was sharp enough to throw her off for just a moment. Long enough for Nom Anor to land a vicious kick that drove the wind from her lungs, knocked her lightsaber from her hands, and sent her tumbling down the turbolift shaft.

And then she was falling through empty space, knowing Harrar was probably doomed, knowing she had nothing to break her fall --

Except that superconductor cable. She reached out and tugged on it in the Force to angle her descent toward it, then wrapped both hands around it. Without anything to stop the friction it felt like she'd just stuck her hands straight into a turbolaser beam, and she wanted to let go, but if she did she'd fall, let Nom Anor get away, let the planet die, let Corran down, and not get back to Fandom. That wasn't an option.

As any Yuuzhan Vong would do, she embraced the pain and focused beyond it; as any Jedi would do, she drew on the Force to slow her fall. It was a hundred meters down before she got the better of gravity.

. . . at least her bloody, blistered hands had a better grip as she climbed back up. Luckily Corran, who'd caught a turbolift back to the surface, hauled her back the rest of the way.

"Well, at least you got to slide down the cable," he said as he inspected her hands, which were a mess of friction burns that had, thank the Force, not damaged her tendons. The scar from her amphistaff wound had ruptured and was leaking again, but she thought she'd gotten off pretty easy. "Was it as fun as you imagined it would be?"

Tahiri snorted. "That and loads more."

He grilled her for a few mercifully mild minutes on what had happened, and actually didn't yell at her for screwing up. There was just the problem of trying to track Nom Anor in what was now a shrieking storm.

"I have my Vongsense," Tahiri said. "If he hasn't gone far, I might be able to sense him."

It took several hours, and dawn was breaking, and Vongsense wasn't accurate or exactly trainable (and she wasn't asking Jacen), so Tahiri lost track of Nom Anor several times in the meantime. The sonic boom of a ship entering the atmosphere, though -- a ship they were certain was coming for Nom Anor -- might as well have been a gaudy neon sign on a Coruscant tapcaf. When they caught up to him, Tahiri felt no compunction about taking him down with a flying kick to the face and getting her lightsaber back. The urge to hurt him badly welled up again, but she fought it down before it got the better of her.

It was only a few seconds later when they realized they'd been too late, and Nom Anor had managed to do something to hurt the planet's living intelligence after all -- being knocked to the ground by an explosion of Sekot's pain, pouring into both Jedi through the Force, wasn't fun.

Neither was finding out the ship Nom Anor had been waiting for had arrived.

With backup.

And now they were surrounded. Great.

[OOC: NFI/NFB/OOC-okay, ad nauseam. Still adapted from The Final Prophecy by Greg Keyes, and holy crap this one is long. Adapting starfighter battle campaigns may be a pain, but I maintain [livejournal.com profile] trickster_twin has it easier. You try getting stuck with the long, drawn-out ground infiltration missions all the time. One more late tonight to finish this book, so sorry for the spam . . .]
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Tahiri Veila

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