Jon and the others followed behind Agate as the Jedi wended her way through the labyrinth. Her eyes were closed, but her steps were certain. It was odd; Agate ambled through the twists of this “trial” seemingly at random, occasionally stopping for a second as though making up her mind, but never once opening her eyes to actually look where she was going. To the captain, she seemed like she was in some kind of… trance? Was that even the right word for it? Karabast, what was he doing here? Jedi? Ancient artifacts and legendary heroes? He was in deep with this one, and he wasn’t sure how to –
“Careful,” Kasulla said, gripping Jon’s arm. The captain stopped, looking down at the ground. There was a pressure button on the floor, just below where his boot was about to set. “Watch your step, Jon,” she told him.
“Right. Thanks,” he replied, absent-mindedly. Self-analyze later, he chided himself. Mission now. Identity crisis when we’re not trapped.
“How do you think they’re doing up there?” she asked, glancing at Agate as the four of them wandered their way through the underground maze.
“I have no idea,” he answered honestly. “But the girl with magic powers says they’re getting help from ‘a friend.’”
“Any idea who this ‘friend’ is, Jon?”
“Oh, one or two.”
“Force dammit, Silvon,” Vez hissed under her breath. “What the hell are you and your bunch of jet-jockeys doing here?”
All she had been interested in was relieving herself of these visions – ever since she had discovered, somewhat unwillingly her own newfound Force-sensitivity, the dreams and flashes of insight that had plagued her throughout her life had been coming faster, and with greater clarity than they ever had before.
They were still Force visions though, and of course the Force could never be clear about a damned thing. So when the same dream – an ice moon, a dark pit, a winding path, a black bird against a blood-red background, a brilliant multicolored light that – woke her up every night for a week?
She finally gave in, and decided to see where they were taking her, setting a course for the only ice world in the Kiast system. Wouldn’t you know it? She landed herself right in the middle of an aerial battle.
Ok Force, whatever this is, not worth it!
She angled her fighter, trying to get a glance at what was down on the surface through all the laserfire and snow. The ominous fortress leading into darkness did not look particularly appealing to her eyes, however.
She prepared to bring her ship up to fly away, when caught sight a familiar, run-down old scrap heap of a YT-1000 parked on the ground, and her eyes widened.
Oh, what is that nerfherder gotten himself into this time!
Her fighter was shaken, knocking her out of her thoughts as alarms started blaring through the cockpit. Blast it all to Hell! she thought, pulling on the controls to level herself back out.
Vez pulled her fighter around sharply, bringing herself face to face with the pitch-black Agressor with its blasters trained squarely on her.
Last chance to bolt, she thought to herself.
Vez grit her teeth, and armed her weapons.
The winding labyrinth was long, but Jon could tell they were moving, however gradually, forward. The trap that Kasulla had prevented him from triggering was far from the last, unfortunately, and the trio had to watch their steps to avoid them more and more as they went through, following Agate’s lead.
That’s good thought, Jon thought to himself. More traps means we’re going the right way. I think.
Agate, on the other hand, never seemed to need to be stopped. Despite her eyes remaining closed, she never triggered one of the traps – though there were a few close calls.
“How long can this thing possibly go?” Yvera asked no one in particular.
“Did you miss the part where we ran twice as long back as it took us to get down here and didn’t see a thing?” Kasulla replied. “Whatever this place is… I don’t think space works the same down here.”
Pleasant though, Jon mused, but kept his silenth. He didn’t much care for the idea of being stuck wandering these caves for the rest of his natural lifespan, and for all they knew that was a very real possibility.
Jon said none of that though. Leaders were supposed to show no doubt. Probably. He was still new to this, but that sounded… leaderish.
Slowly, Jon walked up behind Agate, and gently touched the young Jedi on the shoulder. She didn’t open her eyes, but her head tilted back to face him, so he took that as a sign he had her attention.
“So, uh… any chance the Force is telling you how close we are to the end of this thing?”
“That’s… not how the Force works, Captain.”
“Ah, yes, of course… uh, carry on then!” Jon said awkwardly, turning back around. Of course it couldn’t be that easy…
“Jon,” Agate said quietly enough that the others wouldn’t hear. “I know you’re worried. But I know we’ll make it through. I trust you.”
Well that definitely makes one of us, Jon thought. Outwardly though, he grinned his best grin.
“I trust you as well, Agate. Not to worry!” Jon said, racking his brain for some kind of plan… “Remember whoever built this place wanted us to --”
“Jon!” Kasulla snapped at him. “Turn around you idiot.”
Jon about-faced, and saw… Ok, now this place is just taunting us. That wasn’t there a second ago!
Where a second ago had been more twists and turns, now there was a vast chasm, a gap in the ground leading down into… well, he couldn’t see the bottom. But he could see what was across it. Specifically, a tall statue of a woman in what superficially resembled the Empress’ robes. There were subtle differences however, that gave it an… archaic sort of feeling to it.
“I’m getting more and more curious about the people who built this place, you know,” Kasulla intoned.
“I’m more concerned about what the next trial will involve,” Ysera replied.
“What do you say we just focus on solving this one first, yeah?” Jon said, walking up to the edge of the chasm. The sapphire light from up above shone down, but it illuminated nothing.
“What do you suppose these are?” Kasulla asked, walking up next to him. She pointed to a series of pillars, two on each side of the chasm, each with a hole burrowed through the center.
“Well it looks like the place where a bridge would be located, but…” Jon gestured to the chasm in front of them.
“Yeah that’s inconvenient,” she said, tilting her head. “So… we solved the maze. Or rather, Agate solved the maze. Doesn’t that mean the trials’ over?”
“It’s not that straightforward…” Jon mumbled. “Nothing so far has been.”
“Ok, so… what’s left,” Agate asked. “What have we had to do so far?”
“For that matter,” Kassula asked, “What are we even being tested on? Our ability to solve a maze? Did the people who built this place not know about the Force?”
“Giant floating Khyber crystal,” Jon reminded them, pointing upwards. “Before we came here, I found similar ones in some Vatali ruins. They definitely knew about the Force. Maybe even had contact with the early Jedi.”
“Then why would the first trial be a maze?” Agate asked. “They had to know there was at least a chance that a Force sensitive - maybe even a Sith - could’ve blown through it.”
“Like we more or less just did,” Ysera commented.
“…Unless the maze wasn’t the test,” Jon whispered. “It’s something else. Something we did that… Agate! What were we doing right before all of…” he gestured vaguely towards the scene before them. “This! Happened?”
“Talking?” she said uncertainly.
“Talking about what?” Kassula stepped in, catching his train of thought.
“I… we said we trusted each other?” Agate said finally. “I don’t get it.”
“I think I’m starting to,” Jon said, running to one of the stone pillars, and looking inside. “And if I’m right…” he trailed off before running to the second pillar and looking inside again. Each one had a crystal formation inside in the shape of a handle.
“Trust,” Jon said. “That’s something heroes need, right? They need to trust each other?”
“Not just heroes,” said Ysera, walking up next to her sister. “Nobody in this galaxy gets very far without someone they can trust.”
“I don’t follow,” Agate said. “The maze ended because we said we trusted eachother?”
“Not just the maze,” Jon said, looking out over the chasm. “Remember when we were wandering around in the dark up there? That only ended after we trusted the rest of the Squadron to hold the line for us.”
“So what’s this trial?” Ysera asked.
Jon gestured to each of the two pillars. “I need two people to place their hands in these, please.” When they looked at him increduously he grinned and said “Trust me?”
Kasulla scoffed. “That was your worst one yet,” she said, walking up to the right pillar. After a second, Ysera followed her and walked to the left.
“Alright,” Jon said quietly. “On the count of three.”
“Do you know what’s going to happen when we do this,” Ysera asked, her hand hovering just outside.
“One,” he said.
“Two,” Kasulla continued.
Both twins stuck their hands into the pillars. For a second, nothing happened. Then, there was a rumbling sound, and for a heartbeat Jon was terrified they’d triggered some kind of booby trap.
Then, the blue crystal above them began to shine even brighter, bouncing off the blue rock and illuminating even further into the chasm beneath them. Both stone pillars began to radiate with their own inner light, and Jon watched in amazement as the way forward was revealed.
A bridge of translucent blue, almost like it was made of light itself, began to form, crossing the cavern. The second it reached the foot of the statue, all at once, everything became still again.
“Well that was… unnervingly easy,” Kassula said, and began removing her hand.
“Wait!” Jon called. The second she lifted her hand, the light from the bridge started to waver and fail. “Back, put it back!”
She immediately did so, and the bridge instantly righted itself again.
“Ok,” Agate said, walking up next to Jon. “So… we need to trust them not to drop the bridge while we’re crossing it?”
“I… really doubt it’s gonna be that simple, Agate,” Jon mused, edging his way up to the start of the bridge. “It seems almost too easy for a final challenge. But it’s a start.”
“Just get moving,” Ysera called. “My arm is already getting tired.”
“Right!” he declared. “Agate, you’re with me. You two… keep doing what you’re doing.”
“Oh yeah,” Ysera chuckled. “I was just thinking of taking a caf break.”
Jon didn’t dignify that with a response. Instead he slowly began working his way across the bridge. On the bright side, the gaping dark chasm under his feet almost made it look like the bridge he was crossing wasn’t mostly transparent. Small mercies, Jon, small mercies.
When they had managed to inch their way to the midpoint, Jon actually started to believe, flickering, that they were going to make it without any further difficulties.
“So far so good,” Agate whispered.
“Don’t jinx it Ag-” Jon was interrupted by a rumbling sound from above them. “There now, see what you’ve done?” he groused, turning to look at Agate. She, bless her, at least had the good courtesy to look sheepish.
“Jon!” Kasulla called, “We’ve got company!”
“Wonderful,” Jon called over his shoulder. “Lay out the tea and cookies for them!”
From out of the labyrinth, over the walls and around the corners, and even climbing up from the abyss itself, a horde of primitive looking droids were emerging, lumbering forward. Their metal was rusted, and thick wires and chords hung about on them, and in place of hands they had a pair of bulky, oversized blasters, all of which were trained squarely on the twins.
Ysera, reflexively, moved to pull her blaster free from its holster.
“Ysera, no, the bridge!” Kasulla called, and Ysera just barely stopped herself from pulling her hand out of the pillar, and damming Jon and Agate to a very long drop.
“Guys, we have a problem here!” she called, watching the droids advance closer, slowly but never altering their pace. “We can’t fight these things and hold this bridge! Get across,” she ducked under a blaster bolt that nearly took her head off, “Now please!”
Jon looked back and forth quickly, trying to calculate whether or not he and Agate could make it across the bridge before the twins were –
“Go, Jon, I’ll take care of this!” Agate shouted, snapping him out of his thoughts. By the time he looked over, she was already dashing across the bridge, lightsaber out and blazing.
“Well ok then,” Jon mumbled, turning the other way and dashing across the bridge. He didn’t have time to worry about heights right now, so he focused all his attention on the statue ahead of him and barreled forward as fast as his legs would carry him.
Agate didn’t stop to think about what was happening around her. There wasn’t time enough for that, not now. Instead, she remembered Master Sa’s training.
Immerse yourself in the Force, child.
She let go of her senses, her thoughts.
Let it flow into you, and then out at the world around. You are a conduit for the power.
Her ‘saber in one hand, and her blaster in the other, she descended among the droids, planting herself between them and the twins.
The Force will see you through whatever battles come, child. All you need to do…
Agate saw the droids hesitate in what might have been confusion.
…is trust it.
She smiled. Appropriate.
Nijalah’s scyk fighter dodged out of the way of yet another flurry of blaster bolts. She immediately came about, returning fire on the TIE that was on her tail.
“Tarvitz!” she called over the channel, “They’ve been down there without contact for too long. How much longer are we supposed to wait?”
*“Until they come back up, Nijalah. We’ve got our orders,” the colonel responded.
“I wouldn’t worry too much, girly,” the mystery woman who had swooped in midway through the battle replied. “Jon has this habit of showing up when you least expect - or want - him.”
“So you are from Odan-Ur,” Talis responded, curiosity in his voice. *“What brings you to our neck of the stars?”
Their conversation was interrupted by another flurry of shots, and Force-dammit how many TIE’s did these pirates have?
“How’s about we save the conversations for later?” the woman replied; the strain of keeping her fighter under control was evident in her voice.
“I second that!” Nijalah groused, banking hard to avoid more fire.
“You know, I was expecting a bit… more,” a deep voice echoed over their comms, and Nijalah frowned. “From the fabled Jedi, that is.”
Ninjalah heard the woman mutter something that sounded vaguely like Not a blasted Jedi, but the static made it hard to tell, and she had bigger things to worry about. That was the same voice that had come through earlier, mocking Tarvitz.
“Am I correct in assuming you’re Rhon Ya, then?” Tarvitz asked. Rhon Ya the pirate captain, Nijalah recalled. The leader of the Sea Raven Raiders. The man working with the backing of a rogue Inquistitorius, if their intel was to be believed.
“My reputation precedes me,” he said with what sounded like honest glee. Ugh. “Than surely you know what is down there is my property. I wish only to claim it.”
She opened her mouth to respond to that but… something was tickling at the back of her mind.
“Talis, did you feel that just now?” she asked.
“I did,” he replied. “And you our mystery friend?”
The woman didn’t respond, but there was a very annoyed sound. Or maybe that was just the interference.
*“Well something is happening down there,” Tarvitz said, and Nijalah angled her scyk to get a better view of the structure below them.
There was… a light. A bright blue beacon shining through the ice out of the dark within. It grew brighter and brighter, until it inexplicably burst like a cannon, shooting up into the sky, throwing their adversaries into chaos.
“Well that’s definitely something I’d say,” she commented, taking the opportunity to shake the TIE that had been tailing her, and circling back around. “I’m going in for a closer look.”
*“Careful, we don’t know what to expect,” Tarvitz said, pulling his ship around to fire on a straggler.
Nijalah flew low enough to get a clear view while still maintaining her altitude. Between the bright light and the snow, she couldn’t get a clear look, and the scanners couldn’t pierce the blizzard. Thankfully, she wasn’t limited to such mundane means of detection.
The Jedi closed her eyes, trusting in the Force to guide her hands as they piloted her scyk fighter for her. Instead, her focus was on what was below, reaching out through that great universal energy field to see things far beyond her eyes. What she saw made her smile, and she was the only one caught off-guard when a familiar voice echoed over the communications.
Jon didn’t have time to feel relief when his feet were finally back on solid rock. He didn’t even have time to take in the sight of the enormous statue and its magnificent carvings, so smooth and detailed one would almost expect it to come to life.
No, his friends – up above, and down here in the dark – were fighting for their lives, and he needed to finish this race already.
Jon scanned the area with his eyes, deliberately tuning out the sounds of battle the way his grandfather had taught him. There wasn’t, as it turned out, much to see. Just the monolithic statue, standing atop a narrow cliff over the dark below.
What was he even supposed to do now that he was here? Jon took the map out from his pack, hoping maybe the thing that had started this whole mess would offer some kind of clue. He held it up to the statue. Nothing. He tried shifting the panels around the way Bokk had shown him back in that hospital room. Nothing.
He didn’t let himself panic, didn’t let himself get frustrated.
He started looking to the statue. Parts of it, especially at the base, were covered in some kind of blue cave moss. Carvings and etchings peaked out from under them… wait.
Jon got down on his knees, and started brushing portions of it away, and grinned. Hidden beneath the moss was a perfectly carved space, half a sphere, and exactly the size of the map. He took the map in hand and –
“Agate, look out!” he heard one of the twins call, and spun around. Agate was fighting off the droids admirably, but doing so while defending the twins? It left gaps in even a Jedi’s defence, and one of the droid’s was about to take advantage of it.
Jon didn’t even think about what happened next. One minute he was watching the scene play out, the next the droid inexplicably had a dagger sprouting from its oversized head.
Agate turned to see Jon, one arm outstretched from across the chasm, where he stood at the base of the statue. Turning around, he took out the spherical map, and slammed it down into a half-sphere opening in the statue’s base. It fit perfectly.
As one, the remaining droids froze still, like statues of a battle.
Well done, heroes. a voice boomed throughout the cavern. It was deep and melodious, undoubtedly feminine, like a smooth song being sung though there was no music.
You have passed the first Trial. It seems the Light is needed once more. You have shown trust, in yourself, in your allies, and in each other. Go forward with my blessing, and onto the next Trial.
After that, the crystal above them blinked out, and everything was plunged into darkness.
“Jeez,” Talis heard Jon say over the channel. “I leave you guys alone for an hour, and this is what happens? Can’t take you all anywhere, I swear.”
“Cut the chatter Silvon,” Tarvitz snapped, breaking off his pursuit of a TIE to focus on the conversation. “You get what we came for, or what?”
“The answer is yes,” Kasulla replied. “And no, it wasn’t easy. We’re fine by the way, thank you for asking.”*
“It sounds,” came the slithery voice of Rhon Ya again. “Like you have something that belongs to me.”
“Tarvitz, who’s speaking?” Jon asked casually.
“The pirate guy you warned us about,” Talis responded.
*“Funny you call me pirate,” Ya shot back. “When you are running around with something stolen from my own ship by a traitor.”
*“Traitor?” Jon quipped. “Why, mister Bokk seemed like a perfectly trustworthy --”
“Ok, Jon?” the woman responded. “As entertaining as this is, there is a dog-fight going on up here. Can we deal with that first? Thank you.”
“Ah, Vez!” Jon replied. “I was hoping it was you!”
“Banter later,” Nijalah finally snapped, pulling her scyk up to rejoin the battle. “Fight now!”
“Agreed!” Jon said, right before The Carnival rose up from the ground to follow her, accompanied by Agate and Kasulla’s vessels.
“Alright Tython Squadron!” Jon said. “Let’s show them what we’ve got!”