Princess Leia Organa woke with a start from the shuddering thralls of a nightmare she couldn't remember. Reaching beneath her pillow for the blaster she kept hidden even while secure in a stronghold of the Rebellion, she searched the room un easily, almost admitting to herself that she wished she had relented to Luke Skywalker's bashful, self-conscious flirting and invited him to spend the lonely night with her. Satisfied that it was only a dream, yet still unable to entirely shake the fright away, she wrapped herself in a blanket and padded down to the cafeteria in search of some soothing drink.
She was surprised to find that a light was on and the sweet sharp smell of Alderaani dinkleberry tea wafted down the corridor to her. To her further chagrin, it was the farmboy-turned-hero she found huddling miserably with the tea.
She raised an eyebrow questionably at him
"Bad dream," he replied cryptically, waving a steaming pitcher at her. "Tea?"
Nestled contentedly against Snyder, Mara Jade suddenly woke to a dream in cold sweat. Snyder had always wakened before to console her during the feverish nightmares in the weeks since STRC's break from the Empire, but no matter how she tried now, she could not move a muscle or call out for help, despite her knowledge that she was only dreaming again. Always somewhat claustrophobic in her own body by nature, Jade struggled against panic, searching for her center of calm against the sudden inexplicable creeping of darkness. She thought she heard someone call out it the distance, but the sound was muted and unrecognizable in the howling of the windstorm. Snyder and the squad's comfortable retreat on Tinos IX were gone, and Mara found herself tossed about in the midst of a pitch dark empty whirlwind.
"Mara..." the voice called again, and with a defiance that shuddered through her entire psyche, she recognized the voice despite its new oily smoothness. "Did you really think you could hide, my pet? That I would forget you, not come for you?" The voice cackled gleefully as a smug face and body congealed from the darkness. "Did you think I would actually die so easily? I've come to take you back, Mara, with no hard feelings between us. You have my promise that this time will be dif ferent." The young man held out his hand in beatific reconciliation. But the smothering darkness remained, and with her untrained yet unfettered Force sense, she could see the powers of the Dark Side writhing beneath his skin, wreaking havoc already on the weak flesh feeding from it
"Never again, Palpatine!" she shouted hoarsely, desperately trying to wake herself from this awful nightmare. "You're gone and have no more power over me. I'll never join you, not even in my dreams!"
The smooth lovely face twisted in sudden awful hate. "We shall see about that!"
Jade gagged on the presence that suddenly seemed to invade every pore of her body. She immediately lost her senses, and could see herself only from an external perspective through the Force. Inexplicably, she felt her lungs begin burning when she could not draw another breath, despite the fact that she could not feel her own hands or pulse. With blossoming horror, she saw the other Jade's eyes flicker open, a horrible sickly yellow, forcing malevolent eye contact with her. Once the Jade who was not Jade made sure her attention was fixed, it turned away and snapped Snyder's neck in a swift motion.
"Did you really think you could kill me?" her not-self whispered in the ear of the dead trooper, despite the fact that she could not draw breath for the words.
"You won't be needing him when you're with me, Mara," she heard as her consciousness was forced dormant.
Mara next woke standing obediently beside the young Palpatine seated at his throne on Coruscant before a kneeling, obeisant Darth Vader. She still could not breath, and still witnessed the event from afar. She had no concept of the time tha t had passed; it could have been seconds or years.
"You failed me, Darth," the Emperor was raging continuously. "I trusted you as I trust my own right hand." Jade inexplicably felt the urge to explain that no, she was the hand of the emperor, not Vader. "But you let the rebels go, lost my Death Star, and took in under your wing the one who would kill me. Give me your saber."
Vader handed the light sword unquestioningly to Palpatine. The Emperor took the saber in his left hand, holding fast to Vader's hand with the other.
"Pledge to me your loyalty, Darth. That Anakin is truly no more," he demanded, handing the saber to Jade without looking at her. Recoiling with repulsion, she realized what Palpatine demanded, and penetrating the gargoyle's mask with a small measure of the Force Palpatine allotted her, she could read in Vader's face that he knew what was coming, and would never forget her, in spite of the Emperor's command. Despite her resistance, her body took the saber and activated it without hesitation, holding it high to strike as Vader spoke a pledge she could not quite understand.
With a crackling whoosh, she swung the searing red blade down cleanly through Vader's forearm.
Only a slight rasping moan emerged from the dark lord, who bowed his helm in obedience and acceptance of his punishment. When the Emperor pried the saber from Jade's unfeeling grasp and returned it to Vader with a gentle murmur, Vader rose a nd glided from the room. In her last personal insight through the Force, she realized that with the daily pain the dark lord lived through from his injuries, the severed hand hurt Vader far less than the acknowledgment that he had failed his Master. Then her Force sense blinked violently into nothingness.
Palpatine allowed Jade to kneel at his side and rest her aching head in his lap. As he began to stroke her red-gold hair gently, she woke from the dream with a searingly painful breath, the world slowly returning to her. The sickly stench of Vader's seared arm burned her nostrils and disturbingly made her stomach rumble in hunger.
"Welcome home, Mara," Palpatine murmured leisurely, still running his fingers through her hair. "Yes, this time will be different. It's so good to have you back."