Korriban – The Valley of the Dark Lords
Inside Marka Ragnos’ Tomb
Novae’s saber clashed against Rathus’, the resonating sound of the two weapons colliding filling the air. It was a less than optimal situation - fatigue sapped both his physical and mental strength. Worse yet, Novae seemed more than a match for him. The two seemed at first to be a perfect match at first glance, both moving in elegant duelist’s style, their movements without waste in an elegant flow and ebb of battle, their skill at Makashi mirrored. But Rathus could tell that he was losing, each little misstep, each slightly sluggish movement slowly leading to his doom. He knew he would need to hold out long enough for Howlader to intervene - he just hoped that he had that much time.
Across from him he could see Grey and Howlader’s white-bladed sabers clash, Grey’s smaller shoto still proving formidable against his foe’s normal saber. Their sabers hissed as they locked, remaining there as they struggled - and then without warning Grey jumped backward, riskily disengaging and leaving the Taldrya to seemingly sluggishly reacting to the sudden change in pace. Grey dropped his hand to his belt, hands wrapping around his pistol’s grip, snatching it from its holster in a smooth motion.
It was a motion he never got to finish. Howlader’s pull on the Force was far faster. Purple lightning arced from his outstretched hand, striking the man squarely in the chest, his body quivering from pain and weakness as it channeled through his very essence. With a gasp of air his slugthrower clattered to the ground, followed by his saber as it sputtered out. The weapons had only just hit the ground before Grey himself collapsed into an unconscious heap.
Rathus wasn’t the only one to notice the shift in the tide. Novae made her own move to disengage as Howlader turned his focus toward her, proving far more successful at the maneuver than Grey. Rathus took a half-step forward, angling his body toward Novae in a typical duelist fashion only for Howlader to block his path, his back to his ally.
“Rathus, we don’t have the liberty for us to both waste our time here. I’ll hold her off. Don’t stand there and gape - go find what we came for!”
Rathus bit back the urge to protest before acquiescing to the truth of his senior’s words. He knew Howlader wasn’t as well-trained a duelist as he, but the man had far more experience.
He fought the urge to sprint and carelessly root through the multitude of musty tomes and ancient tablets throughout the tomb - too many traps and diversions laid in wait for the unsuspecting and reckless. Instead carefully, and slightly awkwardly, especially given the sound of grunts and clashing sabers behind him, he scoured the area. Despite the ridiculousness of the thought at the given moment, Rathus couldn’t help but take a small moment to mourn their lack of time and their situation. Several of these works were truly ancient, and though not particularly related to the Ritual, their secrets would be worth treasuring. Rathus felt particularly wistful as he was forced to toss aside a manuscript of ancient methods of Sith Alchemy.
While paging through a work on the nature of immortality, a ripping noise echoed throughout the chamber. Glancing behind him he could see Howlader’s robes sliced from his now exposed chest, the pallid woman wielding a rather wicked looking knife now. Howlader glanced upward to meet eyes with him. “I’m not putting on a show you know! Sometime before I get killed, if you would!”
Briskly Rathus twisted around to his work. He had perused nearly all the tomes by now, and several of the heavy stone tablets, but nothing pointed to what they were after. Nervously he clenched his hands against the stone wall where the tablets sat on their own ledges. Leaning against the wall in thought he fought the urge to zone out, his sweaty hands slipping against the pristine flat surface.
And then he noticed something off, something nearly imperceptible in the wall as his hands slipped down it: a tiny engraving. Leaning forward Rathus struggled to read it in the poorly lit chamber, before realizing just what it was - simply the symbol for ‘life’ in Sith. Rathus groaned - not the breakthrough he was looking for. It was ridiculous anyway, to inscribe the symbol for life in a tomb - though he supposed it was fitting enough to put the symbol for life in a tomb that would prove to hold the power of a ritual that could lead to immortality - at the cost of life. Death traded for immortality. So much blood would be-
Rathus leaned forward again, an uncharacteristic grin dancing across his face. It wasn’t just ‘life’. It could also be read ‘blood’.
With more that a little gnashing of teeth and regret, Rathus sntached up one of the stone tablets, hurling it against the stone floor with all his strength, sending shards flying. Without missing a beat he dove down, picking up a rather wickedly sharp fragment and with far less contemplation than warranted, sliced into his left palm. With grit teeth he set his palm against the ancient walls, and for a painful, embarrassing moment it seemed nothing would happen.
But then Rathus felt fear clutch at his heart again, joined by anger and shame and regret, negative emotions suffusing him while flooding him with power. Before him a fissure appeared in the black stone, separating a chunk of it from the wall as etchings manifested themselves upon it, glowing a dark red as the script wrote itself.
Each passing moment filled Rathus with more anger, fear, and rage, alongside visions and memories and regrets, and yet it was not a torture - no, it was cathartic, as if spurring him toward a final release of anxiety, of the culmination of it all into pure unfiltered power.
But as soon as it came it went, leaving a strange emptiness, a craving for more. In the back of his mind something screamed to cut the ritual’s flow to himself.
Rathus only faintly heard Howlader’s exclaimed curse, the rustling of a cloak behind him like the faintest of whispers, as if a concern so unimportant and far away that it was like a god caring for the actions of ants. He turned casually to see Novae dashing for him now, her blue-streaked face lit with the purple glow suffusing the chamber. The way she desperately flung herself forward made Rathus think of a moth to flame.
Unbidden his hand stretched forward, no longer feeling wholly his own as the dark side rippled throughout the chamber, the focus of its power gripping the woman mid-leap. And then Rathus could feel her anger, her fear - her very essence. It drained from her now, channeling through him like a conduit as it flowed to the words etching upon the tablet. Midair Novae spasmed and gurgled, not strong enough any longer even for a scream, convulsing as the final bit of her was drained away. Rathus could feel that the Ritual wanted more – demanded, more – but he was at his limit and he knew it could not be allowed to go further.
Rathus only truly snapped to his senses as Howlader shook his shoulders, his voice faint at first “… out of here!”
“We have to get out of here!”
Around them the walls trembled, the tomb resonating with the dreadful sound of shattering stone. Rathus turned to grab the tablet only to notice that he had been clutching it with his left hand to his chest for some time, so tightly that the impressions were partially indented into the base of his neck.
Numbly he followed after Howlader as they made their escape, only faintly noticing as Howlader grabbed the limp form of Grey by his collar, dragging the gaunt man along behind him.