But as the weeks turned into months and a conscious sense of the Force still eluded her, she saw Aayla start to grow worried, though the latter tried to hide it. Padmé's daily meditations became exercises in trying to keep anxiety at bay, because she knew that would only block it. Getting Aayla to admit that Force-sensitivity in normally non-Force-sensitive pregnant mothers was one of the least reliable things in the galaxy did not help matters, even though Aayla insisted that they had detected the proper reactions and growth in Padmé.
Meanwhile her physical training continued, and that, at least, showed obvious comprehendible results. She was getting to the point that when she and Aayla went on one of their obstacle courses through the swamp, climbing and swinging through trees and running over treacherous marsh, she could more or less keep up with her and still have sufficient energy afterwards to defend herself should Aayla abruptly attack her, which she often did.
Aayla usually won the resulting match though. She won this time, pinning Padmé against a colossal tree root and letting her go only when Padmé body and limbs had sagged completely. “Getting closer,” she commented.
“You always say that,” Padmé pointed out.
“But it’s very good that you’re still moving forward, considering...you’re working with the Force. I don’t know why you can’t feel it.”
She flopped down onto a nearby root as she spoke. Padmé pulled herself into a better sitting position, and focused on breathing normally.
But no sooner had her breath become sedate and smooth, than she suddenly felt something new creep up her spine and generate a chill in the back of her neck, and her head turned away towards the sight of one of the largest trees she'd seen on that planet yet, dissolving into the entrance to a cave.
When Aayla saw what she was looking at, she remarked with a little astonishment, “The cave. I didn’t realize we were so near it. We believe a Sith crashed-landed on this planet there sometime in the past, centuries or possibly even millenia ago, and was killed in the crash. I was going to send you into there when you finally connected with the Force, but now...I think....perhaps you should go in now.”
“Why?” Padmé noted her fear, then placed it aside, as she’d been taught to do. “What’s in there now?”
“Only what you take with you. I think this will not be the normal test. You won’t need the lightsaber.”
There was something about this last sentence that made Padmé unstrap her weapon and carefully position it on the tree root as she stood up. The cave loomed in front of her, and Padmé wondered if her entire destiny would be decided right there.
As she first passed into the caves’ depths, her feet and ankles soaked from the water at its entrance, she noticed only that she felt very cold, though she did not shiver. Her mind still and calm, she walked on into the darkness. The path was straightforward; she did not need too much light to navigate it. She could hear the croaking of amphibious creatures.
They made her feel as if this was just a cave, like any other. Those creatures did not care who might have died here so long ago. They knew beings had died here; they had everywhere. Death was part of the cycle of life. Ultimately, how much was it worth remarking on?
When she stopped walking, for a moment she was not sure why she had done so. Her heart started thudding in her chest, and its shudders seemed somehow to echo through her body.
Then suddenly she was struck down by a feeling of grief so strong she couldn’t think, couldn’t cry, couldn’t stand up, couldn’t even breath. Couldn’t do anything besides fall to her knees and shake as her heart cracked in two.
Death, something whispered into her ear, and then something else whispered also Death, but somehow she felt they were not talking about the same thing. She got to her feet and tried to look around, but she could no longer see the cave walls; her senses had stopped answering her.
No, her heart protested. She felt somehow that she must accept this, but it was more than she could bear. Her heart stubbornly stopped beating. She felt it literally stop; she knew she preferred to die than face this.
With that path, there will be death, the first voice whispered to her, and she knew, without being told, that if she died here, or simply did not do what she had come into this cave to do, whatever the second voice spoke of would not come to pass. And somehow, that was almost enough to send her gladly to death, because it was hearing the second death that had caused her heart to stop.
Almost, but not quite. Because while the second hurt more, she knew that it was the first that she truly revolted against. She did not know what either would truly bring; she was not allowed to know that. But she knew enough to make her decision.
Death, she thought, and she embraced it, her body shaking, her stomach roiling, and her limbs cramping up for lack of oxygen, but suddenly all that was gone, as around her she felt the Force sweep in, and she could sense it coming out of every nook and cranny of the cave, and even more so out of all the living things around her, and even within her, and then the presence of every last creature on Dagobah came rushing into her senses, and she tried to find Anakin, but he was but another drop in an endless sea of life, no more significant, in the end, than the tangled roots she stood on top of, and at any rate, she could not control her senses, only feel, and feel awe.
She commanded her heart to beat again, knowing it would obey her, and she felt it hammer again against her ribs even as she swooned onto the floor of the cave.
When she woke hours later, she first felt mildly surprised that she hadn’t miscarried. But she knew better; her children could take care of themselves. At least to a certain extent anyway.
The cave was indeed strong in the Dark Side, but that didn’t frighten her anymore. It had been weaved into her temptation, and she had passed that trial without even noticing. Remarkable, really.
Her back was covered in mud and her hair was now so matted it would probably have to be cut off. She might want to find a stream and do a little washing. If there was one on Dagobah which wasn't too filthy for that.
She left the cave and found Aayla waiting anxiously. “You were in there all night,” she told her. That wasn’t surprising, though. Connecting with the Force like she had could make hours and hours pass by in only a moment; Aayla had told Padmé that already.
“I’ve done it,” she answered. “I can now feel the Force.”
“So it worked then. But we’re running low on time. I’ve going to have to teach you control as quickly as possible, and then you can start working on your lightsaber.”