Five figures emerged from the spacecraft Captain Aviana Starstrider had organized for them.
Fields of golden grass stretched out into the horizon in front of the Arconan company. The warm wind swept over the steppes, with several short hills varying up the planar landscape.
Three standard speeders were provided for them by Vance Kordall. Only Karran Val’teo and Eilen Jath brought their own with them.
“This should get us there swiftly. We should stop once we approach the temple mentioned in this so-called vision,” Emere Galo suggested to the party.
The half-Selonian noticed Alaisy Tir’eivra wrestling with her supplied Starhawk, the bike clearly wasn’t configured for her tall figure and her heels were having trouble staying off the ground.
“Hey, uh… y-you want me to make some modifications to your Starhawk, Alaisy?” Eilen quietly suggested, pointing to her own makeshift bike.
The black clad woman gave Eilen a nod and stepped off the bike.
“I’d appreciate the help. I’m sure you’re well acquainted with these struggles.” Alaisy grunted as she courteously motioned for the half-Bothan to do her thing.
“We should get going soon, I am curious if these Avian predators got to the Collective.” The Galerian Zabrak pointed out calmly. While sitting on his T-85 he was scoping out the area with his Electrobinoculars.
“Gonna find out when we get there. It may very well have been something from inside the temple itself.” Scarlett replied.
A quick fix, some adjustments on the pedals and an extension of its frame did the job for Alaisy’s supplied speeder bike. Eilen dusted her hands off, “Should be good now.”
“Let’s go then. Get off your speeders when we get close. I’ll give the mark.” Emere said as she let out a sigh.
Zipping across the steppes, the wind rushing past them as the surrounding vista became a blur of speed, the group of treasure hunters set off towards the distant temple ruins.
The trip to this distant world had proven uneventful thus far, a fact that was much appreciated by the eclectic cast of malcontents sent on this expedition. They would need to conserve their strength for whatever trials lay ahead of them.
Arcona had extended their services to the Imperial Reclamation Society as a token of goodwill, hoping to strengthen relations with the Brotherhood institutions and provide whatever aid may be necessary to gain an upper hand over the forces of the Collective terrorists.
Appreciative for the bodies in these trying times, the Society had entrusted upon them the mission of obtaining an ancient holocron amidst the ruins of the world upon which they now stood. Through visions led by the Master Archivist, the Collective’s plot to uncover the relic was discovered. Eager to deprive their enemies of anything they may be seeking, it was now up to the Arconans to succeed where they had failed.
Though no information about the contents of the artifact itself would be revealed, it was mysteriously insisted by the highest authorities involved that the holocron be returned to the Master Archivist at the Grand Academic Ball within the heart of the Shadow Academy’s prestigious halls itself.
As the speeders continued blaring down toward the quickly approaching sepulchre, no signs of the hostile mastiffs could be seen. Suspicious and wary, the bikes came to a halt a short distance away from the temple. Dismounting, the team began the approach towards the open entrance. A few bodies littered outside the doorway, ravaged and devoured their remains lay basking in the sunlight.
Stepping off their bikes in quick unison, the team approached the entrance, keeping their eyes peeled for danger. The smell of rotting cadavers was foul, clearly some time had passed since their demise.
“Well, ain’t that just lovely” muttered Scarlett, curling her nose in disgust.
Before anyone could reply, a large rustling sound burst through the underbrush. In but a moment a large feathered beast had burst forth with a loud and fearsome cawing. It plunged towards the ensembles party, sharp teeth lined beak poised to tear and rend.
As the massive predator charged the group, Karran and Scarlett bolted towards the beast to intercept it and give the rest of the team some room to breathe. Two red blades ignited as they approached, their weapons drawn back and ready to strike when they were within range. As the two Force users got near the creature it lashed out with an almost unnatural speed, striking the Zabrak in his left arm. The razor sharp claws cut through the fabric of his robes, into his muscle and knocked the Sith to the ground, lightsaber falling out of his grip and sliding away.
Scarlett swung her lightsaber at the beast, causing it to recoil away. It reared back and turned over itself, skulking in a circle around the Echani woman. The mastiff squawked at her aggressively, baring its teeth and snapping in her direction. Scarlett held her saber in front of herself in a defensive position to discourage any further attack.
Emere had watched as the two had charged forward. She had drawn her blaster, but couldn’t get a good shot. But when the beast began circling Scarlett, it exposed it’s back to her. She leveled her blaster and fired off a shot that hit the mastiff square in the rump. In reaction to the sudden pain, the avian turned and squawked at the source of the shot. Emere took a step back, realizing that this creature was now intent on making her its next meal. From behind her, the grass parted and another mastiff emerged. Bounding towards Eilen.
With the first mastiff’s attention pulled away, Scarlett took the opportunity and struck out again with her lightsaber, quickly decapitating it. The head dropped to the ground, followed by the body. Blood pooled out and around the fresh corpse.
Karran stood up, blood running down his left arm, the sleeve of his outer robes soaked in it. He summoned his saber to his hand. He began sprinting toward the party to deal with the second mastiff. He flinched every time he had to move his wounded arm, but gritted his teeth and pushed through it.
Alaisy turned to face this new mastiff and drew her whip. She lashed out with it. The end of the whip wrapped around the rear leg, and she pressed the activation button on the handle, sending a jolt of electricity through the whip and into the body of the beast. The sound that came from the mastiff was something between a howl and a squawk. It’s body stiffened and then convulsed. As the shock ended, the beast kicked and pulled its leg, trying to free it. Alaisy attempted to hold onto Persuasion, but the beast’s leg was too strong and pulled her to the ground. The mastiff was now intent on the prone, black-clad figure.
As the mastiff was bearing down on her, Eilen backpedaled away, reaching for a grenade on her belt. As Alaisy was thrown to the ground, Eilen threw a C-10 stun grenade. The smooth metal sphere landed next to the mastiff and detonated. As the blue ring expanded from the device, the beasts eyes went wide and the body stiffened once again, before it fell limp.
Finally, the Zabrak juggernaut returned to the party in time to see that the second threat had been neutralized. “Is it dead?”
“No, that was just a stun grenade. It’s still alive.”
Karran took a few more steps towards the feathery creature, activated his lightsaber, and decapitated the mastiff. “Not anymore.”
The creature’s head rolled from its body and off to the side. Everyone seemed to be fine, minus Karran, who sustained an injury, which he seemed to be taking with strides.
Emere looked towards their destination, now just noticing a few bodies from the technocratic faction strewn about before the temple. Lucky for the Collective, they had met their end from the beasts and not her own hands. She wouldn’t have been so nice.
“Check for anything valuable,” the Captain said to the group, making her way to her nearest target. She knelt in front of the body, a look of pure disgust shifting her features. It was a middle-aged Togruta, male. The creatures had certainly left their mark, leaving the bastard in a pool of his own blood.
Gloved hands searched for anything of use. Nothing.
Karran took a moment to nurture his wounds as the others began their search. Almost everyone came up with nothing except Eilen who raised a datapad in her hand. “I found something! Not sure what’s on it… It seems uhm… Encrypted… eheh. I can definitely scan it for info though.”
“Save it for later, it might be useful.”
The half selonian gave a half nod of affirmation before storing the device away in her pouch.
“What’s next?” Alaisy asked as the body she held hit the dirt. “Hide the speeders? Don’t want the Collective on our trail.”
Emere gave a nod then looked over to Scarlett. The Echani seemed to be quiet. “Doing alright?”
“Yeah… just have a bad feeling— or good, depending on where you’re standing.”
“Care to elaborate?”
“There’s gonna be a real fight coming soon.” An ominous smile stretched the pale woman’s lips. “You like fights, don’t you?”
Emere nodded carefully, trying to figure out where Scarlett was taking this. “Any idea who or what? Or exactly when?”
All she offered was a shrug. “Just a feeling. Might be wise to keep your weapons ready.”
The Captain turned from the Knight, figuring it was some weird Force-voodoo that was happening. She was ready for a fight either way. Dropping the Collective’s foot soldiers like flies was one of the top things on her list. She still wanted revenge for the crap they had done to her and the hell they had been giving the Brotherhood.
Once the speeders were off, well hidden in the lush plains the planet offered, the team rounded up, making a swift path to the temple; none of them wanted to be lunch for those damned Mastiffs. The structure was large and hard to miss, constructed by materials they no longer used— which was a good sign. That told the soldier they were in the right place.
Vines stretched up and wrapped around cylindrical pillars that were the support of the entrance, which was dark and… unwelcoming. The green vines continued up the sides of the structure. Instinctively, Emere drew her blaster, activating the light that would be blinding to anyone on the receiving end of it. The dark-haired woman took the first steps into the dark space, her light targeting the seemingly empty space. A few more steps forward and the temple began to rumble, braziers igniting on the walls of the space they were in.
An audible gulp could be heard from the Captain. Not much phased Emere, but anything relating to the supernatural made her very uneasy.
“Uh oh…” Eilen said quietly as the temple seemed to move more, shaking free what was probably centuries worth of dust and debris. This was not good.
As the dust filled the air, then slowly began to settle once more, everyone took a moment to gather themselves or prepare for whatever unknown dangers were lurking in this place. Nothing jumped out, though. Nothing seemed to approach or try to ward them off. The crew all exchanged glances, waiting for something, anything. Eventually, the haze of the dust seemed to fade, and only the room itself was left before them.
And yet, there was a tingling feeling in all of their backs, something the four Force-users among them might have felt before.
With the dust faded, the light from the braziers unveiled the far end of the room, with only a sprawling hexagonal patterned floor between the team and what appeared to be a doorway further in. A few statues lined the walls, but the place was otherwise mostly empty, save for a large object hanging down from the ceiling. To call it an ornament might have been an understatement, but it was large and intricately decorated in a Yin-Yang-like pattern. Karran, Eilen, and Alaisy found themselves staring at it for a moment, while Emere began stepping forward.
“I don’t like this place,” the Captain stated almost firm enough to conceal her growing concerns. “Let’s get this over with.”
Scarlett’s senses suddenly shrieked danger. “Wait!”
No sooner did the word leave her mouth than the hexagonal floor panel Emere stepped onto dropped out from beneath her. The Echani barely grabbed her by the arm in time to yank her back before she fell with it.
“What the hell?!” Emere shouted, her heart pounding at the surprising spring of the trap.
With everyone suddenly on edge, Alaisy slowly stepped over to peer down at the new six-sided hole in the floor. Her eyes squinted, hardly able to even tell that there was a floor, far deeper down than any deathtrap would have needed. She might not have been able to tell it was there, if not for the miniscule glint of shining equipment from two corpses at the bottom.
“Well, this complicates things,” she said, turning back to the group.
Emere sucked in a deep breath to try and ease her beating chest. She grumbled, then stepped toward the start of the pattern on the floor again. “Wait a minute…” One foot gently prodded forward, putting pressure on another six-sided tile, which promptly dropped down as well. The soldier recoiled instantly. “Damn it!”
“There’s gotta be a way across,” Scarlett stated, more to herself than the others.
“Ah crap,” Eilen muttered, shrinking a bit where she stood and looking around the room for any alternative routes. Suddenly her ears perked. “Waitwaitwait, th-there might be something… here.” Her voice grew quiet as she brought the looted datapad back out. “Maybe like, logs or notes or something…”
As the half-Selonian sat on the floor to pull out her decoder, Karran stood still beside her, focusing on healing his injury. Emere put down her gun and flattened herself on the ground in front of the hole in the floor, trying to see if there was anything under the other tiles. Meanwhile, Scarlett began pacing along the edge of the hex pattern, squinting at every tile for some sign of a clear difference. Alaisy rested a hand on her hip, with few ideas to go on other than trying to sense out the area.
The tile Emere initially stepped on suddenly lifted back into place. With a frustrated grunt, she looked to where the second had been. It returned shortly after as well. “This damn artifact had better be worth it. Anyone see anything?”
Eilen’s ears flickered, and she looked up from the devices in her hands. “Uh, actually–”
“Yes,” Alaisy interrupted. A shining arm raised to point to a tile near Scarlett. “That one.”
“What makes you so sure?” Scarlett asked, preferring not to risk her life without full certainty.
“It’s faint, but I can sense the vines growing beneath this place. A small bundle is stretching along a path, there.” Alaisy’s latex-covered finger traced a path in the floor in front of her eyes.
With a deep breath, Scarlett gently prodded her foot against the first panel her fellow Sith had indicated. Nothing happened. She slowly leaned her weight further onto it, but the panel held. “Okay, let’s move.”
Alaisy stepped behind her, pointing out one hex at a time which was next, as Eilen leapt back to her feet, technology still in her hands. Emere stepped after her, and looked back to Karran.
“You good?” The Captain asked.
“I will survive,” Karran said with a nod. “Go, I will be right behind you.”
The crew slowly and deliberately made their way across the hidden path as Alaisy indicated it. Scarlett soon began stepping forward on her own as she let her senses guide her as well. Eilen followed close, but was more engrossed in her decoder than anything else. She almost stepped too far to the side at one turn in the hexes before Emere hooked an arm forward to redirect her.
“Eyes up, fur ball,” she demanded.
“Right, yeah… It’s just, I, uh… I think the guys outside - they found some sort of cypher. There’s a bunch of codes stowed away, and some reports and files and stuff.”
“Yeah, and what’s that gonna get you?”
Eilen turned to peer around the room again, her eyes focused on where the floor met the wall. After a few more steps, she spoke up again, “I think it gets me a… well, a map. Of this room. I think… Maybe other rooms, too.”
“Isn’t your Force power crap good for that?”
“On the contrary,” Alaisy spoke up, “We might well need it. I can feel a gap in the vines, up there.” She indicated some tiles further ahead.
“Ohh dear,” Eilen muttered, looking back at her decoder. “…I, uh… I need just a minute.” Her jittery fingers began keying in math equations as they carefully stepped forward.
Eventually, Scarlett stopped, and turned back to the half-Selonian. “Better be right. It’s here.”
She and Alaisy made room for the lithe girl to step ahead of them. Eilen checked, re-checked, and triple-checked her work, her fidgeting fingers pointing out at the tiles as she muttered to herself. “…Ah crap, here goes.” All her muscles clenched as she gently set a foot forward. When it didn’t fall, a wave of joyful success shot up through her entire body. “Ahah! Onward!”
Their pace slowed as she continued keying into and checking her decoder and the apparent cypher she’d found, but one panel at a time, they pressed forward.
The troupe moved carefully along the hexagonal pathway, Eilen’s guidance and the senses of the Force users keeping them along the route of safety and away from the jaws of death waiting to engulf them with a single wrong step.
After minutes of careful maneuvering they finally made it to the end. As the digitigrade feet of the half-Selonian touched down upon the last hexagon at the end of the hallway, the floor plating depressed slightly into the ground. At the same time, a bright fixture seemed to open up from above, casting light into the dimly lit corridor. After a moment, the light coalesced into a singular beam emanating from a glowing crystal held aloft from the ceiling, shining directly into a hole above an open archway leading down a flight of spiral stone steps.
“So, who wants to follow the magic glowing light into the ancient death trap?” Scarlett quipped, her eyes squinting as she gazed into the open passage for more signs of danger.
“It appears we do not have a choice.” Karran responded, descending down the staircase. The metallic scent of blood and charred flesh hung heavily in the air as the other followed.
“Eyes open, all of you.” Emere commanded, sending a stern glance to the half-Selonian who’s eyes had remained glued to her datapad. She quickly looked up and gave a nervous laugh.
“R-right, sorry. Was just giving uh, another look over this data. Looks like I got something here, something about the number of steps? Gah, hang on.”
“You know we really don’t get paid enough for thi-”
Before Scarlett could finish her thought, she found herself pushed backwards as Karran’s body leaped back into her. The spot where he had just stood now was blasted with scorching fire blazing out of the walls. He had sensed the danger in a fraction of a heartbeat, leaping back to just barely save himself from an agonizing death.
“Frak! Of course it had to be karking fire.” Scarlett exclaimed, dragging her and Karran back up the steps away from the heat. After a few moments the flames seased their onslaught and the stairwell grew dim once more.
“What do you have?” Alaisy asked, looking over at Eilen who was furiously tapping away through the datapad. Her eyes scanning over lines of code and files.
“Hang on uh, w-well I uh, Aha! There we go! Looks like there’s an order to this. At this interval and every five steps after it, we need to step forward once, then back up two steps, then skip a step to stop the defenses from activating.”
“Who even builds this kark?” Scarlett complained, eyes rolling.
The team proceeded with Eilen’s guidance, making their way down the rest of the stairwell. Scorches on the wall and the desiccated remains of Collective soldiers marking the graves of those not as fortunate as themselves.
Finally, the end of the descent came into sight.
The path opened into a sprawling room as large as the first. Just like it, an enormous decorated sphere hung from the ceiling, its patterns detailed in completely contrasting bright and dark colors, but there was no set of hexagons on the floor. Instead, several statues formed a wide circle on the ground below the high-strung fixture. As the group took in the sight, they could see the beam of light shining down from the first room was pointed directly into the intricate object overhead, creating a glow from the inside of mixed gold and purple shimmers.
“Well, isn’t that elegant?” Alaisy muttered.
Scarlett turned to Eilen. “Right, so what’s the gimmick here?”
“Uhh…” The half-Selonian looked back down at the datapad, drawing out her voice while she waited to find something. Her fingers moved faster as nothing seemed to come up. “Umm… Wait…”
Meanwhile, Emere inched carefully around the edge of the room, staying out from between the statues for fear she might trigger some other superstitious crap-trap. Her brow furrowed as she got a better view of the far wall.
“Hey,” she called back to the others, “where the hell are we going next? There ain’t another door in this room.”
“There has to be,” Karran said, starting to walk around the other side of the room “There is nothing else here.”
“Unless there was something else here,” Alaisy suggested with a grim look, glancing between the glowing fixture above and the empty circular space between the statues.
Scarlett shook her head. “No, it couldn’t have been that easy. Two deathtraps and then a freebie? I don’t buy it. Plus, we’d have found this artifact with the bodies outside if they got it.
“True,” Alaisy replied, “unless they did get away with it. But, that doesn’t seem to be the case, given the vision that brought us here to begin with.”
Eilen raised a hand without looking up from her datapad. When no one answered, she looked up and around, realizing they were waiting for her to speak. “Oh, uh… I’m looking for some sort of key to this place, like the others, right? B-but I wasn’t seeing anything yet, so I started skimming their logs.”
Emere began stepping back. “And?”
“Well…” The half-Selonian re-opened the logs. “The Collective guys back there - they figured it out part-way, but it looks like they didn’t… uh, I guess, have the means to do it.” That sentence almost sounded like a question rather than a statement. “But that’s the problem, actually: I think they were waiting on more Collective people to show up with more equipment.”
“More are coming?” Scarlett asked.
The look on Emere’s face grew more tense than usual. “Son of a…”
“Did they say what they needed?” Alaisy asked.
Karran raised a hand. “Something they didn’t have… but perhaps we do?” Heads turned toward him. “The Force is with us, but not with them,” he explained.
Emere didn’t look impressed. “And that helps us, how?”
“It’s helped us so far,” Alaisy quipped.
Scarlett looked between all of them. “So what’s the trick, then?”
Eilen went back to skimming through the logs with a concerned grunt.
“…Hey. Think it’s these statues?” Emere gestured to one near herself with her gun. “They damn sure don’t look like they’re just here to be pretty.”
Eilen looked up from the datapad, then back down to the screen. “Maybe…” She continued tapping over it, and poked at a few more keys on her decoder.
Scarlett began walking around the statues, and stepped between them to get a better look from the center space. “What’s up with these things anyway? The ones across from each other are the same.”
Back by the door, Eilen’s ears shot up at that thought. “Really? Waitwaitwait…” After a bit of frantic poking around on the datapad, she hurried forward and joined the Echani at the middle of the room. “…Yeah! Check it out, it’s like… mirrors on each side, or something.” She looked up at the fixture in the ceiling, suddenly realizing its contrasted shimmers were opposites on the color spectrum. “There’s a thing in the logs that match part of the cypher, a thing about twos, like two sides of a thing, or–”
“Two sides with the statues?” Emere interrupted.
“Two sides of the Force,” Karran thought.
Alaisy stepped into the middle of the room with the others, her eyes scanning each set of mirroring statues. “That lines up too well. So, we’ve solved the mystery, but how does it unlock the room?”
Karran approached one of the statues. The figure on it had its fist raised in a powerful stance. Always one to solve problems more with his hands than his head, he gave the statue a good shove. It budged, not much but barely enough to detect. “…I’m not sure what I expected,” he mused, then put his full weight against it. Nothing further happened just yet.
Emere gave him a slanted look. “The hell are you doing?”
“It moved, I felt it.” The Zabrak shoved harder, to no avail, until suddenly he tried to gain some upward leverage. The statue didn’t slide across the floor, but it did rise an inch.
Half the crew’s heads turned as the sound of stone grinding on stone was suddenly apparent both in front of them and behind. The mirroring statue across from the one Karran was moving had sunk about an inch into the floor.
An obvious wave of excitement shot up through Eilen. “Aha! Progress, good progress!”
“It’s something,” Alaisy said. She glanced back up at the spherical object overhead. “How high does it go?”
“It might take a while to find out,” Karran grunted, trying to gain further leverage with it. His chosen statue wasn’t moving up very fast.
“There’s more than one way to lift, you know,” Scarlett suggested.
“Oh!” Eilen hurried to his side, raising her hands. “I can help with that. Come on, we got this!”
With a relieved groan, Karran dropped it. “Very well.” He took a moment to catch his breath, then lifted his hands to help.
The others watched as powers combined between the stocky man and the furred girl. The statue slowly lifted once more as an invisible force began pulling it up, unveiling a full supporting pillar of stone beneath its base. As it rose, its mirroring twin sank, until one was completely beneath the floor, and the other as high as the decorated fixture.
“Damn it,” Scarlett muttered.
“Well, it reaches high enough,” Alaisy commented. “Now, about its twin… and these other statues.”
Emere looked between the lifted statue and the fresh hole in the floor. “Can’t figure out some way to lift them both at once?”
“Don’t tell me it’s some sort of Master-Apprentice thing,” Scarlett quipped, unamused by the seemingly never-ending tradition.
“Seems appropriate. I’m not sure how they’re secured, but it’s worth a shot.” Alaisy pointed to the raised statue. “Let it down, and we’ll try that.”
While Eilen and Karran gently brought their statue back to the floor, the rest of the team began sizing up the other statues. There were ten in total, and with each having a mirrored twin, it made for five different poses between the figures. While the pair affected by Eilen and Karran’s efforts resembled a figure in a position of power, another had the look of giving itself to some purpose. One set seemed to be offering a hand in diplomacy, while the next appeared rather aggressive. The fifth mirroring statues stood in a symmetrical pose, and held its hands as if it were balancing scales.
Alaisy turned to Eilen and Karran as they stepped back from their statue. “If it’s any singular pair that’s right, it’s got to be these.” She gestured to the last set of statues. “With all of the contrasting and mirroring symbolism going on, balance is the most likely key, here. These others are very Sith or Jedi, one or the other.”
“I believe it,” Karran said, catching his breath again.
Scarlett pinched her brow. “Well, worst-case scenario, we try them all, right?”
“Unless another hellish trap springs up,” Emere suggested, trying once again to hide her growing concerns about the temple. “Let’s move. Between this and more Collective probably on their way, I want us to get the hell out of here, asap.”
Karran and Eilen each approached one of the balance-resembling statues and got to work. Both quickly found that without the help of whatever countermeasures were shifting these things up and down in unison, they were quite a lot harder to move. They may have been the best telekinetics among the team, but it was going to take more.
“Alaisy, gimme a hand?” Eilen asked, strained.
As the latex-bound woman approached her furred friend, Scarlett immediately joined Karran. Between the four of them, the two statues began to rise, their pillars below sliding upward into view. As they did, the other eight statues in the room began to sink all together. Far heavier sounds beneath the floor were going on as the statues all shifted, until finally, the two statues of balance reached their peak.
Between them, the ornamental fixture in the ceiling suddenly began to shift its various parts around, refocusing and redirecting the multi-colored light refracting within it. When it finished, a gold beam shone onto one statue, a purple onto the other, and a singular white beam emitted out to the back wall of the room. As everyone held their positions, the beam seemed to burn something into the wall.
The mechanical noises going on below suddenly stopped, then began ticking and grinding in completely different patterns. The lights vanished all at once, and the back wall suddenly shook, revealing a hairline break down the center, which slowly spread as the wall split into two and began pulling aside.
The four Force-users released their statues, which began slowly sinking toward the floor to join the rest. Emere, still at the center of the room, pointed her gun at whatever she was going to find beyond these opening walls.
The walls opened slowly, revealing a dark, descending hallway.
“More frakking hallways?” Emere lowered her weapon and turned to look at Eilen. “Any ideas for this one?”
“Ah… I, um…no.” the half-Selonian looked down.
“I do not believe we have anything to fear from this passage.” Karran began to walk towards the opening.
“Do you have anything to back that up?!” The captain called after the Sith, she looked incredulously at the others in the party.
The Zabrak stopped just short of the passage. “The Force guides my hands and feet, I am but a tool in the service of its will.” He whispered this as he took a deep breath and put his foot across the threshold.
The rest of the team watched this, holding their breath, not feeling the tightness building. They watched as the Knight lift his foot and step into the passageway. Val’teo set his foot down on the smooth, ancient stone. The sound of his footstep echoed down the passageway, growing more distant and faint before disappearing entirely. The entire party listened for the sound of traps activating, stones crumbling, or any other sign that they should be turning around and running, but none came. They exhaled a sigh of relief.
Karran turned to face the rest of the party and nodded. “The force guides my hands and feet.”
The motley crew descended down the passage, following the slight twists and curves until it opened up into a massive circular chamber. Ten shining black pillars of obsidian circled a platform in the middle of the room. Their prize sat on a dais at the center of the platform. The holocron was a deep shade of blood red, shaped like a pyramid, with the corners tipped in gold, and etched in black. Each of the force users felt a dangerous disturbance as soon as they stepped into the room. It seemed to emanate from around the holocron. Finally, they noticed the old, charred bones that surrounded the dais.
“Something is wrong. Those bodies were not killed by weapons. But, I cannot tell what did kill them.” The Zabrak looked around the room. “Do you three have any idea?”
The other three force users gazed around the room each of them focusing on a different aspect.
“I… I think that if we touch the, ah, holocron, something bad will happen. Probably best we don’t, um… go up there.” Eilen stared toward the dais, like she was looking through it.
“There must be a way to retrieve it without touching it.” Alaisy circled the platform, observing it from every angle.
“The thing’ll blast anyone it don’t like who tries to take it. Figure it’s waiting for a Sith Lord to come for it. Or someone about as strong.” Scarlett reached a hand out towards the treasure and attempted to pull it toward her. One corner of the pyramid tipped up just an inch or so before she could no longer hold it and released it. “There is something holding it down.”
Karran walked over to Scarlett. “Perhaps this object was meant to be only retrievable by a true master.” He reached out toward the object as the Echani had, to the same result. “Perhaps…the four of us combined will equal a true master.” The Zabrak looked out of the corner of his eye at the woman next to him.
Scarlett looked back at the Juggernaut and mirrored his pose. As they both reached out, a single corner of the pyramid lifted, and then another, before it dropped down again.
Emere watched this as she scanned the room. She didn’t know much about this hokey Force stuff, but she left the rest to their theories. She held her blaster at her side, prepared for anything that might jump out.
“Eilen! Alaisy! Come over here, I think this will work!” Scarlett waved the others over.
The two women joined them at their sides. They stood in a line as they all reached out with the Force. First a single corner lifted, then a second, then the third corner lifted from the dais. The holocron hovered in the air for a moment, before it began tumbling through the air, slowly, towards the party of Force users, before it finally was within their reach. Karran stepped forward and put his hands on it. As he did, he heard a cackling laugh inside his mind and saw a vision of a pale old human in loose, flowing robes. The vision had yellowing teeth and reached out with both hands before unleashing a torrent of lightning. Finally, his vision went dark.
Scarlett, Alaisy, and Eilen watched as their Zabrak ally took the holocron in his hands and went very still. He turned to face them, and as they looked at him, they saw that his normally soft brown eyes were an eerie shade of bright yellow, an unnatural smile scrawled across his face, illuminated by the soft red glow of the relic in his hands. As soon as they saw this strange transformation, it was gone, and their Zabraki friend was back to normal.
Karran blinked his eyes as his vision returned, and he saw his allies staring at him warily. “This is a…very powerful object. Best to not hold onto it too long I believe.” the Knight put the holocron in his bag.
“Um…perhaps one of us should-” Karran cut Eilen off with a hand.
“I will be fine. It is time for us to leave.” Karran started walking toward the exit, “Captain, we have what we came for.”
“Good, let’s get out of here. Let’s move!” Emere waved for the others to join them.
As the team made their way out, they faced none of the hurdles they had overcome on the way in. Finally, they came through the room with the pattern of hexagons on the floor. After a moment of consideration, they chose to retrace their steps back across.
The small company emerged from the temple, minus the hairs that still stood the back of Emere’s neck, they were all unscathed. Although the temple was enough to leave her on edge, she didn’t show it— she was just glad they were out of the hell-trap. Her eyes scanned through the plains and trees as they stepped from the entrance. Everything seemed eerily quiet, well until she heard a shuttle in the distance, dark eyes searching the sky.
“Great.” She muttered, a Collective shuttle appearing in their view, and from behind thick bushes emerged more of the mastiff phalones, though this time it was more than two. She easily counted five, but there was no telling how many were hiding within the plains and tall grass.
“What I tell ya?” Scarlett said with an excited grin on her face.
“…could have sworn I sensed something,” Alaisy muttered.
Her mention of a ‘fight’ had eluded Emere when she was almost made into a human pancake. She assumed it had something to do with some internal fight inside the temple. None of this. She shook her head grimly, aiming her blaster toward the creatures.
“I-I think maybe we should, uh, make a sprint for the speeders and try for an escape,” Eilen suggested, clearly uncomfortable as the beasts were closer and closer every second.
As much as she hated running from a formidable fight, one with The Collective at that, they had a mission and that was to deliver that damned holocron.
“There’s no way in hell we’re out-running those things! One quick stride and they’re on our fraking heels, let’s stay and take our chances—”
“There’s no time for bickering,” Karran interrupted Scarlett. “We have to—.”
“Move,” Emere echoed the Zabrak, firing off a few shots at a single Mastiff. They hit, but were not enough to take down the tank, only seeming to upset it. The dark-haired woman felt more in her element now, her weapons could take care of this. Not whatever the temple had threw at her before. Sure a few more well-placed shots would be able to take it down, but then there was the issue of the others following behind it closely. “These things eat projectiles as meals, which I’m sure none of you want to be. Speeders. Now.”
The group all began swiftly moving in one direction towards their escape vehicles, the mastiff phalones picking up their pace accordingly. Even at their full sprint, the monsters were swiftly catching up. Eilen, never slowing a beat began fumbling around on her belt and grabbed her CryoBan grenade.
“Alaisy, you have an impact grenade, right?” The half bothan asked the tall human.
“Great! Get r-ready to use it then.” Eilen, determined, quickly turned and tossed the grenade into the pack of mongrels. Once the grenade hit the ground in front of them, most of the pack was frozen still, Alaisy tossing her Impact grenade not a heartbeat later.
The combined effects of both grenades took out three of the mastiffs, including the one Emere had wounded. That still left two of the things still standing and fast approaching.
Projectiles coming from the Collective shuttle wisped past them, while snarls and growls were hot on their tails. Buch of excerebrose idiots, Emere thought, a bit of relief washing over her when the speeders came into view.
“Alaisy, Scarlett, take care of the beasts. Karran, Eilen and I will defend the speeders,” the air in her lungs burning. She was starting to wish they’d have left the speeders in front of the temple.
Scarlett, lightsaber already drawn, stopped in her tracks to face the beasts, Alaisy following suit. Karran quickly drew his lightsaber to deflect projectiles headed their way as they made it to the speeders. Emere fired at the shuttle, silently wishing she’d brought a bigger gun. Eilen also drew her lightsaber, also deflecting the returned fire from the enemy shuttle.
Meanwhile, Alaisy and Scarlett were dancing with the animals, so as to avoid getting mauled. Their massive size and aggressive behavior made them difficult targets but not impossible. Scarlett, still dodging the creatures, began drawing on the Force for lightning. A moment later her free hand extended to both phalones, before lightning came and struck one, its massive body tumbling to the ground.
This left one, its big teeth bared and hair standing on end. The pair carefully circled it slowly before Alaisy stepped forward and swung her blade at its head. The lightsaber sizzled as it always did when it came into contact with flesh, the creature’s head falling before the rest of its body did.
“Hungry?” Alaisy asked the other knight, clear jester in her voice.
“Hah, I’m pretty sure I haven’t tried mastiff phalone before…”
“First time for everything,” the Sith jokes once more before nodding her head towards the others. “Come on. They probably need us.”
The other three had been defending the speeders the best they could. The Collective reinforcements had thankfully landed their little shuttle to, what they assumed, avoid further damage to the hull.
“'Bout time!” Emere said as she saw Alaisy and Scarlett emerge. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
The five all hopped onto their respective speeders and headed towards their destination.
She had had enough of this planet. No more temples. No more ugly mongrels. No more Collective. She just wanted to go back to the Voidbreaker, have a hot shower and a cold drink.
Shadow Academy Gala
The coterie made their way to the gala all attired fancifully. Scarlett was wearing a long red dress that complimented her toned body well. Eilen in turn wore an endearing and well fitting sapphire dress that only she could pull off, the amaranth shawl around her neck added an extra layer of lavishness.
Emere had her hair tied neatly into a bun. Her black smoky uniform looked immaculate and formal. She looked ready to finish this nonsense.
The mighty Zabrak Karran was dressed in ebony robes that covered only what to him needed to be covered. His muscled arms and most of his torso was left uncovered. Around his neck there was a single pendant carved from bone. The rolling black lines that made up his tattoos decorated much of face and body.
And finally Alaisy had her hair pulled up high into a ponytail bound together by leather straps with silver jewellery coiling around it. She wore a very provocative short black latex dress, with thigh high boots and opera length gloves. Her overbust corset was adorned with dragon opal, while her neck corset had been embellished with rainbow topaz stones.
As they approached the main hall they could hear the pretentious music seeping through the doorway. The receptionist double checked each of their invitations before she let them pass through the elegantly decorated entryway.
The artifact itself had already been delivered to the honey brown-haired Master Archivist Deandria Clery for display. However as formality demanded they were obligated to attend the prestigious event.
Once past the lobby a servant droid awaited them with a tray of refreshments. Further ahead there were groups of elegantly dressed guests clearly waiting for some type of grand reveal.
Emere looked back at the members of the party, counting only three of them. Alaisy seemed to have gone missing.
“We’re going to be late if we have to go looking for her, let’s find Deandria already!” Emere said with frustration in her voice.
The visitors looked up at the group with both judgement and admiration. “I… uh, hope we, ah, are done with this soon.” Eilen said nervously as she walked in between Karran and Emere, still towering above them.
Scarlett was clearly unimpressed by the glamour, the job was already done and the rest was just needless fluff.
Karran however seemed to be pretty confident about the looks they gave him, he took the blows in their party and everyone came out alive. His wounds had healed fairly well after the treatment he received on their way back from Maridun.
A representative of the Master Archivist presented himself before them, the Chiss had cerulean skin with his black hair slickly pulled back. “Madame Curator has been expecting you, however I was told there would be five of you attending the event.”
“There should have been five, yes, does it matter? Carry on.” Scarlett muttered.
“Very well then, please follow me. The holocron you’ve presented the Shadow Academy will be receiving the spotlight tonight. I do hope the Collective or the beasties haven’t given you and your companions too much trouble?” The Chiss asked in a painfully snobbish voice.
“Nothing we couldn’t handle.” Karran announced stoically, proudly pointing at the remnants of the wound on his left arm.
“Lead on then, I’m sure Deandria wouldn’t want us to keep her waiting.” The Captain near commanded the envoy. The Chiss inclined his head at the crisply uniformed woman.
He led them to the bustling center of the gala where a large crimson curtain was waiting for them. Not soon after, a frail looking woman presented herself before the group. The old woman’s pale and wrinkled skin seemed to contrast her long purple hair, which she wore in a tight bun.
“I hope you are all ready for the big reveal, myself and the rest of the Shadow Academy have been quite thrilled with your find. Oh, but… Where’s your fifth member?” The aged lady asked looking at the group.
All of the sudden the music stopped, a slightly muffled scream was heard and as the party and visitors looked in the direction of the band they noticed Alaisy had just pushed the vocalist aside, taking the holo-mic for herself. The Sith was seen making some hand movements towards a member of the band and the rest seemed to comply with her will. Music started playing again, with a much more lively beat to it this time around.
The tall woman threw her cocktail at the nearby table, splashing her drink on the guests sitting at their table. She then started singing and dancing in her seductive attire, varying her vocals from soft to screaming to get some party spirit flowing during this dismal charade.
Some of the party’s guests seemed outraged, while an equal number felt visible happy the droll acoustics had finally ceased.
The Master Archivist had a confused expression on her face. In an alarmed tone of voice she asked Emere, “Oh my, that’s the fifth member of your group isn’t it?”
The Captain couldn’t help but plant the palm of her hand over her forehead. “Out of my jurisdiction, that one.”
Madame Curator scoffed at the inappropriately dressed partying Sith, but did her best to ensure the rest of the event continued uninterrupted, ordering some of her lackeys to keep the guests pleased.
As planned the curtain revealed the deep blood red pyramid shaped holocron. It seemed more dormant than before and it no longer seemed to glow. Perhaps the archivists found a way to operate or extract whatever was inside the artifact.