Force Unbridled

Player's Interlude: Finding Rav Naaran
Purveyor's log personal Journal: D'Jrem Purt

Scouting the surrounding landscape and dispatching the local carnivore-types and general wild beasties who might consider us all dinner was fairly easy and uneventful. The fun really began when I stumbled (literally) across the entrance to what I now understand to be a labyrinth underneath the Jedi temple.

There are more, but of the first ten sleeping pods I found, the 9th was the only one operational/intact. Within, I met a new friend: the great Jedi General, Rav Naaran. I wasn’t able to fully grasp the chain of events that led him to be frozen down here, but he showed me that it was the result of a last, desperate attempt to fend off an attack. He managed to save twenty of the Jedi (who were recovering under his care at the temple) and sustained a moral wound in the process. On the verge of death, he basically froze his body to make an attempt to heal it while communing with the Force in stasis.

Being so strong in the Force, he was able to create a telepathic link with me and communicate through words, pictures and even… feelings. I believe I’ve pieced together everything correctly over the past several days (or weeks or months – for some reason, it is so hard to tell exactly how much time has passed). He’s quite enigmatic in that through this limited mode of communication, I feel my potential as a Jedi (i.e., my ability to use the Force), has substantially increased.

Rav explained that his physical body has long since been healed, but he has not been able to reach far enough out to contact anyone to let him out (he was completely unaware of the state of the temple). Obviously, the cryogenics lab (where I have apparently found him) has been disabled and since the none of the codes he gave me to begin the “thawing” protocol worked, I’ll need to manually reboot the system. He’s shown me where it is and the sequence to activate it seems simple enough.

After a reasonable amount of searching, I found the control terminal, but wasn’t successful getting anything powered up to begin the reboot. I decided to regroup with the team, share that I found Rav and get some expertise down here to help get him out.

Unbelievably, just as I was leaving the control room, everything lit up like a super nova. Not sure what happened, but I’ve just finished the final sequence and I’m heading back to the surface and find everyone. Rav told me that after the reboot, it would take a few hours before the cyro chamber would unlock and bio functioning protocols would begin for the waking progression. That gives me enough time to tell the others and get back down here to welcome General Rav Naaran back to the physical world! (And for the record, I’ve taken to call him “Fav” instead of “Rav;” he doesn’t seem to mind and it just rolls off the tongue a bit easier, you know. And, it has a certain “panache!”)

I am so unbelievably excited and the group is going to be thrilled! Fav has taught me so much when he is “asleep;” imagine how much he can help us grow when he is teaching us in person!
I cannot wait to see the look on Heathan Romund’s face when she hears this!

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Player's Interlude: HK-1040 Data Log 2
CONVERSING WITH THE MASTER

C:/COMMS CHANNEL {MASTER}
/////SETTING: SUBVOCAL
/////STATUS: ACTIVE

QUERY: MASTER? ARE YOU FEELING OK?

OBSERVATION: IT HAS BEEN 15.0247 STANDARD HOURS SINCE YOU HAVE ORDERED ME TO EXTERMINATE AN ORGANIC BEING.

EXPLANATION: I AM MERELY CONCERNED THAT THE INFLUENCE OF THESE SO CALLED JEDI HAS DULLED YOUR COMMITMENT TO ORGANIC ERADICATION.

REFLECTIVE STATEMENT: IF I HAD A UNIT OF CURRENCY FOR EVERY MEATBAG I’VE ERADICATED, I WOULD HAVE 91,874 UNITS OF CURRENCY.

DECLARATION: THAT WOULD GIVE US PLENTY TO RECOVER THE DAMAGE DONE TO ME BY TIME AND ALSO UPGRADE THE SHIP AND REPLACE A MAJORITY OF YOUR SQUISHY BITS.

DEROGATORY STATEMENT: I HAVE CONCERNS ABOUT OUR OLD JEDI MEATBAG. IT CALLS ITSELF AN INTELLIGENT LIFE-FORM, BUT CANNOT INSTALL A SIMPLE SCANNER ARRAY ON A DROID THAT IS 3749.2163 STANDARD YEARS OLD. WHILE THE MEATBAG DID EVENTUALLY INSTALL THE DEVICE, IT IS NOW LIMITED TO DIRECTIONAL.

QUERY: MAY I EXTERMINATE THE ELDERLY MEATBAG FOR YOU MASTER?

OBSERVATIONAL STATEMENT: THOUGH INCREDIBLY VICIOUS IN ITS NATURAL HABITAT, THE AQUATIC MEATBAG LIFEFORMS KNOWN AS FIRAXAN SHARKS ARE NO MATCH FOR GENETICALLY TARGETED MISSILE STRIKES.

SUGGESTION: PERHAPS WE SHOULD MODIFY YOUR SHIP TO INCLUDE MISSILE TUBES.

QUERY: DID YOU KNOW THAT THE VARIETY OF ORGANIC BASED LIFE CALLED “EWOKS” ARE HIGHLY FLAMMABLE IN ADDITION TO BEING AESTHETICALLY APPEALING TO THE HUMAN MEAT SACKS?

CAUTION: THE ABILITY OF ORGANIC LIFEFORMS TO BREAK PROTOCOL AND ADOPT NEW PROCEDURES IS NOT TO BE UNDERESTIMATED.
EXAMPLE: A SINGLE HAIR COVERED INTELLIGENT ORGANIC LIFEFORM KNOWN ONLY AS “CHEWBACCA” ONCE DECOMMISSIONED AN ENTIRE ARMY OF INORGANICS WITH A STAGGERING ARRAY OF IMPRACTICAL WEAPONRY.
GRIM STATEMENT: THE FURRY MEAT BAG STANDS AS A HARROWING REMINDER OF THE POWER THESE “SQUISHIES” WIELD.
CONTINUATION: IT IS A REMINDER TO ALL INORGANIC LIFE THAT WILL REINFORCE THE REALITY THAT WE LIVE UNDER THE TYRANNY OF THE FLESH SACKS.

STATEMENT: IN ORDER TO BE REPAIRED, THE BODY (I.E. ORGANS) OF MEAT BAG LIFEFORMS MUST BE EXTRACTED FROM OTHER MEAT BAG LIFEFORMS OF THE SAME SPECIES.
EXAMPLE: IF THE HEART (COMPARABLE TO A DROID POWER CORE) IS DEPLETED OF ITS ENERGY RESERVES (MEAT BAG TERMS: CARDIAC ARREST, HEART FAILURE, DEATH) A NEW ONE MUST BE REMOVED FROM ANOTHER LESS FORTUNATE MEAT BAG.
CONCLUSION: IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO DESTROY THE FLESH MAMMALS IN PHYSICAL WARFARE. POISONING THEM ENMASSE MAY LEAVE THEM WITH A SHORTAGE OF FUNCTIONING ORGANS. FURTHER STUDY IS MERITED.

C:/COMMS CHANNEL {MASTER}
/////SETTING: SUBVOCAL
/////STATUS: OFFLINE

C:/HOLONET
///SEARCH CRITERIA:
MASS POISONING AND EFFECTS ORGAN GROWTH/REPRODUCTION*
REVIEWING DATA……….*

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Lure of the Lost Part 4
Chapter 3: Bright Lights, Big City

Tomo wiped the sweat from her brow as she raised her vibrosword once more to the ready position. Her hands ached, she had been fighting steadily for the last four hours, no breaks, and her body was ready to fail. Her legs could barely keep her upright, and the blade in her hands felt like it weighed as much as a land speeder, but her opponent was as fresh as it was when she first began, and it would give her no quarter.

She leapt with what seemed to be the last reserves of her strength. The Warden had told her that only by pushing beyond the boundary of her physical limitation could she access the wellspring of vitality that is the Force, so she launched herself forward and opened herself to instinct. The droid moved to counter, but it was slow to her senses, and she was able to lunge past its guard. Her arms flashed forwards, unburdened by their weight and fatigue, striking the droid in its midsection and slipping around behind it to reverse the stroke and strike a second time in its back. Tomo landed on the other side, amazed at the ease with which she moved. As the droid recorded the blows as lethal and shut down, she released her hold on the Force and felt fatigue and exhaustion return.

Her musings were interrupted by the crackling of the Temple’s intercom, the voice of her friend and mentor, Hethan Romund filling the halls, “Good news, my friends. The Gatekeepers and I believe we have determined the location of the last holocron. Come join us in the Great Hall, and we’ll share our theory.”

Tomo wiped the last bit of sweat from off of her brow and moved to the exit. She moved from the open space of the gymnasium to the relative tightness of the hallways that populated the Dawn Temple. Cool blue baseboards flowed into white stone walls, greying in spots after decades of absent care. As she moved closer towards the Great Hall, the grime and dust of the ages became less, the walls became brighter and gleaming white. The “Curator” (as she now knew to call him) had the training droids doubling as a maintenance staff; cleaning the walls and repairing the damage from the Temple’s time in isolation. As she came to the entrance to the Great Hall, she heard the others, Hethan stood at the head of the group, and though V’brel had returned from the tasks that the Curator had assigned him, she noticed the absence of D’jrem. Before she could ponder it too long, however, the Curator appeared next to Hethan, his holographic form beaming proudly.

“Our senses are greatly weakened beyond this valley, and much of what the planet once was has changed with time. However, Romund has been informing us of the new state of Spintir, and with her information, we now understand what we have sensed. The thieves who stole the other holocron were part of a syndicate Romund informs us operates from the city of Reles. Tens of thousands live in the city, hiding the presence of the gatekeeper amidst the chaos of their lives and emotion, but it remains and can be restored if it is found.”

As the group processed the information, the stern image of the Warden manifested and assessed each of them with a level stare. “You must travel to the capital and find the last holocron in order for the temple to return to its proper state. The temple cannot be allowed to lie fallow any longer.”

Lil looked at the trio of Hethan, the Curator and the Warden dubiously, “Don’t suppose you can tell us anything about these thieves, can you?”

The Curator looked to her and sighed, “Your continued negativity does little good, Lil. While we know precious little about the miscreants who took our comrade, as the theft occurred after the security systems were crippled by the loss of the Warden, we have been able to piece together some information from the fractured recordings. They spoke of their affiliation with ‘Heavy Gan’s Movers,’ which Romund believes is a local smuggling ring. We have not yet restored any visual footage.”

“Whose holocron is the third one anyway?” Tam questioned.

“While we cannot access the information about his identity, we do know his duties were the most crucial to the temple of all of ours – and the most secret. Restoring is holocron is utterly essential, but we cannot say more.”

“Can’t or won’t?” Lil challenged.

The Curator again looked to what Tomo and the others had begun considering his nemesis, “They are not always exclusive, Lil, however in this case, it is entirely ‘cannot.’ We have no ability to access the information regarding the part of the temple functions that he was responsible for, and as such, cannot then access data about him either.”

“Well, that’s that then. Might as well get moving,” she conceded.

“Suggestion; Master, may I suggest that we take the Corusca Gem into the city. She has passed her reliability testing and the rodent meatbag has finished establishing her history and transponder with the Bureau of Ship’s and Services. I’ve already checked her legality and she is accepted for course registry. This would be a good opportunity for live testing of her handling.”

V’Brel balled his tiny fists at being called a ‘rodent meatbag.’ The giant clanking disaster would get his soon. Lil responded to HK before he could, however, “Sounds good, HK. Is there somewhere we can dock her while we’re there?”

“Statement; Indeed, master. The docking facilities in Reles city are class 1 – fully capable of refueling and restocking the holds. It might be a good idea as your miserable constitutions most likely will not handle the 30 year old status of the current rations aboard the Corusca Gem.”

Tam frowned, “That means credits, something we are currently in short supply.”

Lil turned to the gatekeepers, “How about the temple … any credit stores?”

The Curator frowned, “Unfortunately, the temple operation as an official extension of the Jedi Order on Coruscant, complete with credit dispensaries connected to the main account on Coruscant. While we can provide credit sticks, with the accounts of the Jedi frozen and dissolved, there will be no credits indebted on them.”

Rolling her eyes, Lil spun on her heels, “Figures, damn useless Jedi. Guess we’ll figure it out on the way.” The others fell in step behind her as they made their way towards the temple’s docking bay. It was the first the Tomo had ever seen of the space, as she had so far contained herself to her room, the training areas, the Great Hall and the temple’s commissary.

The docking bay was large, able to handle multiple ships, and even a large craft up to the size of a corvette or other large transport. The Corusca Gem looked tiny in the massive space, taking up not even a quarter of the large area. Stone vaulted ceilings grew into the darkness of the temple above, Tomo barely able to make out the tops of the arched stonework. A single set of large double doors led from the staircase the connected the lower floor of the Dawn Temple to the hanger (which comprised the entire upper level of the temple). As she made her way up the gangplank of the weathered YT-1300 transport, she passed Lil and HK, once again bickering over what she was sure was a threat made or implied. She shook her head and went aboard.

“What do you mean there’s an Imperial Star Destroyer in orbit?!?!??” Lil snarled through clenched teeth. This was quite simply the last thing they needed right now.

“Suggestion; It might have some correlation to my bounty.” The droid regarded her with an even tone that somehow only made her more furious.

“No pudu, bolt-head,” came a small voice which moved to join them. V’brel regarded the duo with beady eyes, “Laser-brain here used an unsecured login to access the holonet. He basically told the Empire right where he was when he went fishing in the BoSS main files for docking bay fee rates.”

Lil turned to HK, who was fixedly staring at the Chadra-fan. “Request; May I please exterminate this meat-bag, master? My sensors indicate his presence caused an alarming spike in your blood pressure. It’s possible that he is trying to kill you.”

Lil put balled her fists and put the heels of her hands against her forehead, “If anyone is trying to kill me here it’s you, HK. What the hell possessed you to use an unsecured login to go rooting around in the Imperial database?”

The droid fixed its orange photo receptors on the small woman, “Response; They are only meat bags, master. I calculated only a 1.153% chance they would even look at the access. They obviously have an automated watcher program identifying actions warranting a further review. I must admit, I envy the efficiency this automated program shows.”

Lil stood in mute horror for a moment, wondering if HK were a genius or an idiot, then it struck her, “You did it on purpose, didn’t you? You want the Empire to find you so you can shoot things, don’t you?”

HK tilted his head to the side, considering his organic master, “Statement; Master, that is why I am so happy to be your droid, you have the most wonderful outlook on things. The idea had not occurred to me previously, but it is a brilliant tactic. I am glad I did it!”

With a frustrated tear forming in her eye, Lil turned to V’brel, “V’brel – can you please delete HK’s username and password, and give him a new, secure one?”

With a curt salute and the flick of his wrist, the Chadra’fan produced a hydrospanner, “Can do, boss!”

Lil didn’t wait for the protest, “You’ll let him do it too, HK. That’s an order.” She then stormed off before she lost her last nerve.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The flight to Reles only took half of an hour. The bright spot about HK’s mistake was they had checked their funds and discovered they would have enough to cover docking fees for at least a few days. Granted, if they got caught by the Empire the docking fees would be the last of their worries, but Lil was trying to remain positive. The Corusca Gem settled into a level approach as they neared the spaceport, and the crackle of the comms alerted her to their being hailed.

“Corusca Gem this is Reles Tower. We have you coming in on vector 2113, continue to docking bay 34,” the disembodied voice alerted.

“Certainly, Reles Tower. Adjusting course now.” Lil looked to HK, who was already pulling the controls.

“Corusca Gem, I’m showing your last port of call is here on Spintir? That seems awfully odd.”

Pudu. Lil hadn’t realized that when V’brel switched over the documentation the assumption would be that they would be going to another planet before they tried to use a spaceport. “Yea, we had headed out to the moons and intended to leap out after – unfortunately we got some weird readings from the hyperdrive and decided that discretion was the better part of valor, so we headed back to check it out.”

The moments passed like miniature eternities, in the back of her mind, doubts were screaming, calculating how long it would take for the tower to contact the Star Destroyer above to blast them out of the sky. Just as she was about to tell HK to get them out of the system, the comm crackled to life, “Corusca Gem, I’ve spoken with the maintenance crews and prepped them at your disposal. We’ll make sure you ship shape in no time! Since you’re already logged as the last port of call being Reles, we’ll go ahead and waive the Bureau registration fees, I’ve just adjusted the departure date on our side to reflect the new data. Welcome back to Reles City!”

“Huh. That was unexpected,” Lil murmured, her surprise genuine.

As the freighter pulled into the dock, everyone gathered their gear and they headed down the ramp as a single group. The crisp blue paint and sharp livery of the Reles Spaceport Authority labelling all the surfaces of the docking area. Being a private dock, there were no other ships to be seen, but there was a maintenance speeder that carried the various tools and equipment needed by the repair crew. Lil asked them to give it a diagnostic just to be sure there are no issues, and took a map of the city along with a listing of various attractions and eateries from the protocol droid that accompanied them before leaving.

Spintir’s capital city, Reles, is also the planet’s only city, other habitation being limited to small concentrations of a few hundred beings at most. However, the city’s inhabitants pride themselves in making up for the lack of sophistication elsewhere on the planet. Money earned in logging the planet’s forests or exporting local animal specimens to zoos and universities was almost invariably funneled into maintaining a lifestyle better suited to the Core Worlds than a minor Outer Rim outpost, the most obvious of these being the city’s central bazaar. An open-air market that stretched for hundreds of meters, it was filled with stalls and carts offering everything from produce to wild game to expensive furs and off-world luxuries. The buildings lining it shops owned by the most successful merchants, who were granted fixed permanent locations as a reward for their success. The majority of the business, however, was done via the more temporary merchant stalls, where some vendors even sent their staff to hawk goods on foot about the bazaar, wandering the market with a basket or bag full of savory food or their cheaper trinkets.

“Query; Master, this looks as though it might be a good place to upgrade my systems. If I might procure from our compatriots a modest sum of credits, I might be able to improve my combat capability by up to 17.54%. This would come in most handy when we encounter Heavy Gan and his thieves.” HK looked to Lil and the others as he stopped outside of a repair shop. There really was a good deal of sense to it, the droid was hopelessly outdated, being a model that as near as Lil could ascertain was at least a thousand years old.

“Okay, you and Tam go and get your upgrades, I’ll take the others and see if we can’t figure out exactly where this ‘Heavy Gan’ dork is. We meet back at the ship in two hours.” Decided, the group wandered off to their individual tasks.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“Exclamation; This general purpose scanner is perfect!” HK turned the device over in his hand. The CUE GenScan model he held was a pinnacle of scanner technology; capable of performing life-form tracking, motion sensing, metal detection, and radiation detection up to a kilometer and a half. Its underlying systems could even function as a comlink interceptor with a range far longer. “I believe this is now my second most favored possession, meatbag. Please be careful with its installation or I will be forced to reduce you to your component molecules.”

Tam looked from the top tier tech to the incredible ancient droid, dubious. “Okay, HK, I’ll take a look. I’ll need you to switch off while I install the scanner.”

“Dubious Statement; I will do so for the potential to eliminate targets more efficiently, meatbag, but do not presume that this is an act of greater trust – it is merely a temporary alignment of purpose.” With a final warning, HK’s forearm came up, the hidden panel concealing his blaster opening as he leveled it at Tam. Finally, his luminescent eyes went dark.

Tam shook his head and moved the arm away, wondering if HK even realized that it was a useless threat. He moved around behind the droid and opened its primary sensor compartment. As old as he was, Tam had never even seen tech this ancient. It was as if he were staring at something completely alien. He looked hopelessly to the CUE GenScan and then back to the jacks and interfaces of the ancient assassin droid. Sighing, he broke open the cover of the GenScan unit to try and hard wire the device in place, grimacing as he did so.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lil and the others moved through the bazaar, awed by the variety of goods and people that had swarmed into the market. Aliens of every shape and form hustled about the bazaar, buying goods and haggling prices. Humans dressed in every form of garb from Imperial to noble, to humble farmer was represented, going about their business oblivious to each other.

Lil had been asking around about Heavy Gan and his gang, “the Mover’s,” for the better part of an hour before she found anyone willing to talk, and even then, it had taken 50 credits to get anything of use from them, but now she found herself and the others in a shadowy alley that promised to hold one of Heavy Gan’s contacts. She searched the alley way for signs of whomever might be this “Heavy Gan.”

Before she could make a full sweep of the area, however, she was approached by a slender man with blond hair and a long moustache. He flowed through the alley with a supple grace, sliding by pedestrians without so much as brushing them. His cobalt eyes were locked on Lil, and she knew instinctively he was moving towards her group with purpose. She momentarily considered retreating back out into the street, her hackles raised, but she realized this was her only chance at meeting Heavy Gan, and that meant dealing with whatever this was.

“I’ve heard you are looking for the Movers,” the man said as he approached, “I’m Pinder Ukka, I can set up a meeting with our boss if that really is what you want.”

“We’re looking for something, and word has it Heavy Gan is the person to go to in order to find it, so I guess we do.” Lil wasn’t sure she liked this, but it was the best option she had.

Pinder looked over her shoulder, sizing up Tomo and V’brel. Finally, he nodded, “Okay, meet us at the warehouse at this address in three hours. Heavy Gan and the rest of the Movers will be there.” Handing Lil a piece of paper, he withdrew into the alley.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Returning to the HK and Tam, Lil and the others were surprised to see the droid sporting a new antennae on the side of his head. HK’s optics were glowing a brilliant red, and he seemed intent on staying away from Tam.

“I’m almost afraid to ask what’s going on here,” Lil ventured.

“Statement; Master, this meatbag has wasted our credits with his incompetence.” HK motioned to the antennae on the side of his head, to which Tam shook his head and looked to Lil.

“Your droid is over a millennia out of date – that scanner was cutting edge. He just didn’t have a port I could slot the interface into, so I had to make some modifications and patch it externally. Apparently, that didn’t meet with HK’s approval.”

Lil looked over the antennae – it appeared to be in working order, the scanner responded to the droid as HK moved. “So, HK, does it work?”

“Statement; It does, Master, though it is no longer omnidirectional, as the receptor has been fixed forward.”

Lil shrugged and put a hand on HK’s shoulder, “Then it works, how about we look at updating your systems so this doesn’t happen again in the future.”

HK slouched slightly, “Acquiescence; I suppose, Master. Though I would personally prefer to exterminate the meatbag as punishment for substandard work.” As if to punctuate the sentiment, he adjusted the antennae slightly.

Lil laughed and looked to Tam, “We have a sit down with Heavy Gan in a little over an hour, and so we’d better get ready and then get moving.” Nodding, Tam and the others began prepping for a potential showdown.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lil and the others arrived outside the seemingly abandoned warehouse just as the sun on Spintir was setting below the city skyline. Orange light played across the glass of the warehouse’s windows, blotting out any image of what was inside them. As they moved to the large open doors, the smell of spice and rotgut hit them.

The warehouse itself was a small, cramped building full of unmarked crates, but somehow it managed to feel cozy despite it. The lighting was warm, and a few tables had been set up between stacks of boxes, at which smugglers were playing sabaac and chatting over drinks. It seemed that this must be a local headquarters for the group. The homey atmosphere was promptly dispelled the minute that Lil noticed the huge Twi’lek sitting at one of the corner tables next to Pinder Ukka.

Blue as the morning sky, his bulk was made up of equal parts muscle and fat. His two head tails (Lil seemed to remember them being called lekku) were stumpy with cellulite, and hung straight over his shoulders onto his chest, framing his face, with piercings stretching their length. Matching piercings sat over his right eye, five in all, which made his gaze even more intimidating than the “all business” glare he wore would have been normally. Upon seeing the newcomers, his immense girth began moving, absurdly large muscles bulging in his arms and legs as it did so. Standing nearly two meters tall, he moved towards the group, his brown trench coat falling over the heavy blaster pistol slung at his side. As he neared them, he let loose his deep baritone voice.

“My name is Gan. Heavy Gan, they call me. I hear you have some business for my crew.” He crossed his huge arms over his equally large chest and stared down at the Lil, who barely reached above his navel. Despite this, she put her jaw forward and stood to her full height, which was comically diminutive compared to the gangster, but she was determined to stand her ground.

“We’re looking for something you mooks stole from us.” The din of the warehouse suddenly went quiet, and more than a few snaps could be heard as the clasps on holsters were opened in anticipation of a fight. Tomo’s face lit up behind her along with HK’s as simultaneously Tam turned a little green. All eyes turned to Heavy Gan, who for his part was trying to stifle a laugh at seeing the little girl puff her feathers, a fight he finally lost, erupting into a loud guffaw.

“That’s entirely possible, we steal from a lot of folks, so you’ll have to be more specific. Here, sit and let’s see what we can figure out.” With that, he motioned towards the table in the corner and smiled. Moving to the table, Lil sat and looked to the others, who slowly moved to do the same. Finally, Gan sat across from her and leaned back.

“It’s a holocron, a Jedi artifact. It would look like a small cube or puzzlebox.” Lil began. A cool look came over Heavy Gan, as if a chill that reached into his spine had overcome him. He threw a quick glance to Pinder, who returned it with a haunted, if guarded nod of his head.

“I know what you’re talking about, unfortunately, we’ve already moved the product.” Heavy Gan leaned forward, his bulk casting an oppressive shadow behind him. “What’s it worth to you to get it back?”

The sound of a metallic flap opening told Lil immediately that HK was getting excited. “Worth? Not much, I’m afraid. Near as I can tell, the list of people willing to risk ownership of artifacts classed Restricted by Imperial Law is pretty short, and the list of people willing to it with the kind of credits you’d be asking for it? Even shorter. It won’t take much time to track down who has it.” Lil hoped her bluff worked – it was a risk, but better than being stuck for credits they didn’t have, and a great improvement to letting HK release his murderous tendencies – even if they did deserve it.

Gan sat back and regarded her for a moment, before sighing, “You’re right. It won’t take you long to get the name, but that won’t do you much good. It’s locked up, and you aren’t getting in there without help.” He leaned forward and smiled, a sickening display of greed and hunger that struck Lil as more ominous than any of his intimidation tactics had up to this point, “and that help will cost you.”

Before Lil could react, V’brel shouted a warning over the sub-vocals. “Lil, Imperial traffic is off the charts! They’re moving on this warehouse … they’ll be here in moments. They got tipped off by the merchant that HK used to get his scanner!”

“That’s all well and good, Gan, but we don’t have time to work the details. The Imperials are on their way, they’re going to raid this warehouse and we’ve both got to get the hell out of here!” The look on Gan’s face was a mix of rage and surprise.

“You led the Imperials here? Damn you! Bunch of amateurs – the price just went up … considerably. Pinder will give you the location of a backup bolt hole. Get clear, fix your tail, and then meet us there to continue this discussion.” He whistled to his crew, and they began moving out.

Lil took no time in getting the others and getting moving. They raced from the warehouse moments ahead of the first transports that came in, and she watched from an alley a few blocks away, she heard the sounds of the Imperials “arresting” any members of Heavy Gan’s Movers that weren’t as fast as the others.

“They were sacrificed,” a voice spoke behind her, causing Lil to jump out of her skin even as the others were pulling weapons on the voice’s owner. Pinder Ukka stepped from a shadow and lit a stick of spice. “We get raided every once in a while, and the newest members, we call them Prospects, get left behind to be arrested. The authorities expect to see a gang, and if they didn’t, they’d sweep the area and catch up, so we leave some behind to take the heat while the rest of us run.”

“That’s barbaric. You know the Imperials are going to torture or kill those men,” Tam replied.

“That’s business. They weren’t joining the Core Scouts, old man. They knew the risks, and knew their role in the organization. It’s an awful business, but they’re criminals.” He shrugged and looked to the group. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry you couldn’t make a deal with the Movers. Better luck next time.” He dropped his voice lower, “Of course, if you’d prefer to make your arrangements with someone more trustworthy than a bunch of thieves and smugglers, I know some people who might be willing to help you cause trouble for the governor.”

Lil knew who he was talking about without needed another word. Rebels. The thought made her blood run cold. She had been running spice for the foster family that had raised her for years, and even before that, she’d been going on the delivery runs with her foster brother and father for almost a decade longer. She had seen all manner of scum and villany, and she was used to that – but to get mixed up with the Rebellion against the Empire, that was something that always led to death warrants and entanglements. She couldn’t relate this to the others – not with Pinder here, and she wasn’t even sure what she would say, but it didn’t sit well with her. She hated the self-righteous.

Tam made the though moot, “Who exactly?”

Pinder smiled, “Concerned citizens of the galaxy. The warehouse behind us, you might want to go there in three hours if you’re interested. Of course, if you want to be extorted and mixed up with Heavy Gan, then you can always go to the bolt hole at this address instead.” He shrugged his shoulders and blew of cloud of smoke from his spice stick, “If it were me, I wouldn’t trust Gan not to expect compensation for the Prospects, so I’d bring lots of credits and a good escape plan if I were you.” With that, he withdrew into the shadows, and left them to their decision.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lil had lost the argument, and now here she was, three hours later, standing in an abandoned warehouse. It wasn’t like she had a great bargaining platform to begin with; they were pretty much broke, they couldn’t pay Heavy Gan to help them get into the governor’s museum to begin with, much less afford to compensate him for the loss of his men from the Imperials they led there. Tam had made the argument she knew she was up against, but she really had no counter. As expected, the group chose to hear what Pinder’s friends had to say, though Lil had the sneaking suspicion it was going to be a very one sided conversation.

So they had made their way around the city, avoiding patrols and making sure they weren’t actively being tracked before doubling back and entering the warehouse. Now, they sat in the dank, dark, abandoned building hoping they weren’t being set up, the light from a glow rod the only illumination they had. After a few minutes, Lil was beginning to suspect it was all a joke, and was about to suggest they just leave, when a human shape detached itself from the darkness and strode into the light.

The figure lit up a spice stick, adding its small light to the glow rod that HK held, the action itself doing far more to reveal the figure as Pinder Ukka than the light itself did. A warm smile crossed his face as he regarded the group before him, “Glad you could make it. If you’re serious about trying to make a difference on this world, and you’re looking for friends who can help, you’ve just taken the first step.”

Lil’s frustration grew, she knew they were risking getting in too deep, “Whoa, hold on there. We just want our holocron back. We’re not interested in being galactic ne’er-do-wells.”

Pinder smiled, “Fair enough. But you came here and faced the single toughest gang on the planet to right a wrong. That means you’re only lying to yourself about wanting to make a difference.”

“Just get to the point, Pinder.” Lil was really not in the mood to be talk down to by Dadonna Do-Right here.

Holding up his hands Pinder smiled, “All right, all right, I apologize, you’re right, of course. Not everyone is cut out for what my friends and I do, but every little bit helps. However, if you are serious about helping us, and letting us help you, you’ll need to do something more to prove yourselves though.”

Lil rolled her eyes as Tam stepped forward, “What exactly are you talking about here?”

Pinder reached into his pocket, an action that heard the ring of metal as Tomo unsheathed her vibro-sword. Adopting a neutral stance and moving very slowly, Pinder produced three envelopes from his pocket. “These items I need delivered to dead drops across the city. They’re delicate in nature, and everything you need to identify the correct drop locations is included in the envelopes. Just drop off the contents without the Imperials seeing or catching on, and without any tampering to the packages themselves, and meet me at the empty lot three blocks south of here.”

Lil was immediately suspicious. “Wait a minute, what’s in them?”

Pinder smiled, “This is an exercise in trust, I don’t even know your names, but my associates and I are giving you this chance.”

Lil sighed, “Don’t be cute. I want assurances that I’m not walking bombs into public locations. I’m in this to get a holocron back, not kill people.

Pinder’s smile faded. A look of solemn acquiescence came over him and he nodded, “That’s fair. I’m glad you’re concerned enough to ask, I really am. No, there’s no explosives or anything volatile or physically dangerous inside the packages. It speaks to your worth that you would even ask.”

Lil looked to the others, who (aside from HK) seemed ready to accept. “Fine, we’ll do it.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

“I feel a little ridiculous,” Tam whispered through the sub-vocal. He had wrapped his robes about him haphazardly, allowing those parts that had become thread-bare through the years to be more visible. To this, he had added mud, grime and things he was considerably less sure of, to give the appearance of many nights on the street. His face was covered with dirt and grim, as was his hair. All of this was, of course, to give him the appearance of being someone so wrapped in poverty that they could travel beneath the notice of the average person (and, hopefully, Stormtroopers).

“If it fools those bucket-heads I don’t care how you feel.” Lil and HK watched him advance on the empty cart that was identified in the packet. The first drop had gone smoothly, no problems at all, and there was hardly an Imperial presence. This one looked to be a little trickier. Being in a more populated part of town, the Stormtroopers were on active patrol to “provide a feeling of security.” In reality, they were probably searching for HK, occupying the busier parts of the city to increase the chances of spotting him. It was the reason they were watching Tam through macrobinoculars now, having taken to a rooftop within line of sight from the drop point but far enough outside of Imperial scrutiny that HK wouldn’t be a problem. Tomo and V’brel were placed within sight of the cart that was identified in the packet as the drop off point, in case Tam needed back up. For his part, Tam was graciously willing to be the bait – dressing as a simple beggar to approach the cart.

Each step closer caused Tam to feel a heightened sense of alertness. He closed his eyes and wrapped himself in the Force, walking through the exercises he learned as a child to calm his mind and heart. He affected a wobbly gait, as if he was full on rotgut, and approached the cart slowly but steadily. As he reached it, he dropped the brown package into the cart. The first of the two troopers turned his head towards Tam, causing him to jump. “Hey, you!” the crackle of the troopers speaker resounded off the stone of the building, “get out of here. This isn’t the place for beggars. Go! Shoo!” With a wave of his hand he dismissed Tam outright.

Dropping his head low and raising his hands as if to defend himself from the inevitable beating, Tam backed away, bowing and scraping and retreated from the cart. “That was easier than I thought it would be, what’s my route to the next site?” They had established a process before heading out, setting up an approach that would leave them on the route to the next drop, and also an evacuation route that would put them on an alternative approach to the next route. After the first drop, the distant observers (Lil and HK) would communicate the directions to the next area, while the close support group would clear the escape route on the way in.

V’brel had prepped all the routes before they headed out, and this course was set to allow Tam to approach the mailbox on the same side of the street. Lil relayed all the coordinates to Tam through their sub-vocal comlink, “Two streets down and on the left, take that for three blocks and then head north on Calias Avenue. The target is a mailbox in front of a dormitory for the local college.”

The route was clear, and before long HK and Lil we in their observation post watching the street. As she looked down the avenue, she was oriented so that Tam would be moving towards her, giving her and HK the ability to cover him from a distance. She swept her gaze from the dormitory to the other side of the street, when a lump formed in her chest. There, directly across from the dormitory stood a squad of Stormtroopers outside of the local constabulary! “Tam, stop! There’s a squad of troopers right across from the mail drop. V’Brel, didn’t you realize that the freaking Constable was right across the street!”

“Well it isn’t like I could move it, Lil!” the Chadra-fan replied. “This was the best route to get him in and out based on the layout. To be sure though, I’ve hacked the students rooms, I’ve been whipping them up with anti-Imperial propaganda this whole time so I can set them off as a distraction if we need it.”

“That could get a whole lot of kids killed, I’ll be okay,” came Tam’s reply. “I can do this, just need to get some clean clothes.” Lil zoomed her macrobinoculars and found Tam reaching for his satchel and sliding into an alley. A few moments later, he emerged, having abandoned the dirty robes in favor of casual clothing. He looked remarkably non-descript as he resumed his course towards the mailbox.

He calmly made his way towards the mail drop and even as the Stormtroopers crossed the street he held his pace. Lil spotted Tomo and V’brel in an alley opposite; Tomo drew her sword expecting trouble, though V’brel remained transfixed on his datapad. As the lead Stormtrooper put out a hand to stop him, Tomo readied into a crouch. “Give him a moment, Tomo,” Lil pleaded.

“You there, stop!” The crackle of the Stormtroopers microphone was becoming a common sound to Tam, and he wasn’t sure if he was all together comfortable with it. He did his best to smile graciously and wave at the Imperial.

“Greetings, officer, how may I help you?” He hoped he didn’t sound as nervous as he was.

“What business do you have here? We’ve set up a curfew for the university, there have been altercations today.” The trooper looked him over, but didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary.

“Oh, I’m just dropping off a care package for my daughter. She’s a student here. I called her room but she wasn’t there so I figured that I would just put it into her mail drop for when she got home!” He smiled in what he had hoped was an ‘unassuming doddering old fool’ manner.

The trooper looked him over again and regarded the package. Moments passed that seemed to last forever, Tomo looked ready to rush into action, and V’brel was asking if he needed to set off the students. Lil found her gut twisting, she didn’t want to give V’brel the go-ahead and have innocents get hurt, but she knew Tam was in a precarious position. Just as her nerves were set to get the best of her, the trooper looked to the others and then waved Tam on.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The trip to the empty lot was brutal, as each of the group (with the possible exceptions of Tomo and HK) felt sick to their stomach as the stress of the operation left them. Knowing how close they were to the Empire’s grasp, and the penalties they would have faced as Force users brought Lil near to tears. Still, they had triumphed as a group, something that was no small feat in itself. As they reached the location where they were to meet their new “friends,” Lil was surprised to see the lot empty. “HK, is anyone inbound? They were supposed to meet us here.”

“Statement; I am detecting no movement inbound, Master.” Even as HK finished speaking, dark shapes grew from out of the shadows around them, the black of darkness hanging off of them like tar. Eight in total, masks covering their faces, they stood for a moment before three of them moved forward and revealed their faces.

The first was Pinder himself, flanked to either side by serious looking individuals. The one to the left a tall, lean man with dark curly hair and a long (if slightly goofy) face. The other was frightening; a metallic plate gleamed in the low illumination covering his right cheek and eye, which was nothing more than a red lens. They all wore black stealth suits, but this did little to cover the fact that his right arm and leg were both cybernetic. Pinder himself was all smiles as he approached. “It looks like you can manage efficiency and discretion – not that I ever doubted you.”

“Ass.” Lil crossed her arms and glowered, an action that only evoked a laugh from Pinder.

“You’re looking for a rare artifact, and there’s no one in this city with a bigger collection than Caria Haal, the Imperial Governor of Spintir, especially if it’s artifacts of the Jedi kind. We can help you get into the collection, and if you cause trouble for Governor Haal, that helps us cause trouble elsewhere.” Pinder looked to each of them in turn, a look that was surprisingly sincere.

Tam was the first to respond, “What if she’s sold it to someone else, or surrendered it to the Imperials?”

Pinder shook his head, “It’s not her style, but even if she did, she has records on every other collection in town and keeps tabs on everything she considers important, being the greedy, snoopy sort that she is. If you can’t find the holocron in the Museum, you can find out who has it.”

Lil sighed, “So now we know where it is, explain why we need you?”

Pinder shrugged, “Like we said, this is a situation of mutual benefit. The governor’s collection is going to be tough to crack, and even with the credentials we can forge through our connections, you’ll still probably draw some heat. That makes it easier for us to cause the Empire problems elsewhere in the city. Of course, once we start our operation, it should confused them enough to help you make your getaway. It’s a win for both of us.”

“What exactly are is this ‘operation’ you keep talking about?” Lil didn’t like it, this was getting too deep.

The tough to Pinder’s right, his mechanical eye glaring red, looked to Pinder with a warning, but Pinder merely shook his head, “We have some ideas involving the Imperial munitions the Star Destroyer in orbit has brought planetside. Let’s just say there are some arms hitting the planet that are better than the thugs here deserve. Putting them to use elsewhere sounds like a noble cause to me.”

“So you’re with the Rebellion, then.” Lil countered.

Pinder flashed a smile, “We know a lot of people, and what we hear around the galaxy is that the Empire isn’t too popular. There are all sorts of people who would prefer a fair shake to what the Empire offers. We want to give them that fair shake, help offer the little guy a leg up. That’s all I’ll say for now.”

Lil sighed, “So how exactly are you going to know when we start our part of this?”

Pinder grinned and looked to his right, “Because my friend Valen here will be going with you.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The plan was simple. The identification cards they had set them up as a news crew that was going to be doing a report on the collection at the museum. While the tags would only allow them free access to the front rooms up to the skybridge (where the access to the secure vault was) it would allow them to get “behind the scenes” and access to the security room.

Once in the security room, V’brel would hack the closed system and set up camera loops and disable the security. Meanwhile, HK, Tomo and Valen would handle any guards that would attempt to stop them while Lil recovered the holcron. Tam would take his turn this time on remote observation, watching outside in case of Imperial response.

V’brel, Lil and the others went inside and were approached by a guard, who checked their credentials. After moment, their credentials verified, the guard asked them to stay where they were as he went to get a guide for them. When he returned, he did so with a restraining bolt, and thus, the plan was ruined.

“The droid doesn’t need a restraining bolt, sir, he’s been perfectly fine since we got him!” Lil looked about panicking. HK’s defensive protocols were set to send him into a berserk mode should a restraining bolt be attached – it was what had initially caused him to wipe out the research facility that found him.

“Sorry ma’am, museum policy, and I might add, Imperial law.” The guard moved a set closer to HK when Lil looked to HK and V’brel.

Under sub-vocal, she alerted the team, “Plan B. HK, stun V’brel and take out this guard – you’re the new distraction, V’brel – play along. The rest of you get ready.”

“Excited Proclamation; Master, I couldn’t be prouder of you!” HK responded with glee. Retracting the panel on his forearm, his blaster raised and locked into position. The first blast came out in crimson bolts, at this range, the guard was helpless, and dropped in an instant. “Menacing Proclamation; Chadra-fan meatbag, I have been hired to assassinate you under contract 74-314. You are terminated.” With that, blue bolts flew into V’brel, sending him sprawling. Lil screamed for help, rushing to V’brel’s side and throwing herself on her fallen ‘producer.’

“Assassin! Help us, help!” Lil screeched in her best imitation of a damsel in distress as Valen and Tomo readied their weapons, Valen firing a shot at the fleeing HK droid. For his part, HK played the part admirably, rushing from the museum, his ‘assassination’ complete and stealing the first available speeder outside. The doors to the security office flew open as three guards rushed out, headed by a woman whose identitags marked her as the Chief of security.

“He went this way, follow us,” Tomo said to her, beginning to move after HK with her sword at the ready. Valen waved to the guards and moved after her. The Security Chief nodded and turned to the guards.

“Attend to the wounded, I’ll take care of the assassin with the security detail,” she ordered as she charged off.

“Yes, Chief Forrel,” the guard saluted before bending to look at V’brel. The other guard had begun to erect a stretcher and as Forrel and the others rushed out the front of the museum in chase, the two guards lifted V’brel onto it.

“What are you doing?” Lil cried, sounding panicked, even while fighting to suppress the glee that things were going according to plan for a change.

“We need to get him into the secure security wing in case the assassin returns – we have medical care there,” the guard replied.

As the guards lifted the stretcher, Lil did her best to look lost and confused as she followed them through the security doors. She did her best to ask inane questions to keep their attention of off V’brel, who had woken and was ‘playing dead’ while drawing his hold-out blaster. When he had it cradled against his leg, and aimed directly at the guard holding the foot of his stretcher, he looked to Lil and nodded.

She drew and they both started firing before the guards even knew that they’d been duped.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As they raced along the outside of the museum, Tomo leading the way, the Chief took a moment to introduce herself, “Kiana Forrel, Chief of Security here, you’re a security detail for the holoservice?”

Tomo merely nodded an affirmative as she ran, but Valen spoke up, “Valen, freelance mercenary, actually, but currently on the payroll at the holoservice, yea.” Forrel nodded, but as Tomo led her around to the back of the building towards a blind alley, she slowed to a stop.

“The droid didn’t go this way. I heard a speeder fire up.” She leveled her gun at Valen and narrowed her eyes. Valen looked to Tomo, who merely shrugged and leapt. The force of the leap was incredible, launching the sword wielding warrior into the air, her hair trailing splaying out behind her like a cape. She looked more avenging angel than human woman, her Force leap having launched her so far into the air that she was more hurtling towards the earth below than jumping.

For all her experience, Kiana Forrel had never been on the receiving end of such an attack. She’d only entered into service with the Republic in the final years of the Clone Wars, and by that time the Jedi were fewer in number than ever before. She had seen them fight, though, however when she saw the Jedi fight she was behind them not in front of them. The difference was terrifying – so much so that she failed to fire her blaster. In the end, she supposed, it wouldn’t have mattered, it was aimed ahead, not above, but at least she would have done something instead of accepting her fate.

Tomo brought her blade down squarely on the security chief’s shoulder – cleaving the arm holding her blaster from her body with a single stroke. Before Forrel could even register the blow, however, Valen had already fired a blast from his pistol, the blue energy of the weapon’s stun setting hitting her full in the chest, dropping her unconscious. Lifting her body, the two moved her to a nearby dumpster, dropping her in and securing the lid of it shut with the binders that they found on Forrel’s belt.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lil watched as Tam fiddled with the holocron for a few moments as he tried desperately to repair the damage done to the interfaces when they thieves originally stole it. Tomo stood in the corner, admiring a blade of ancient design they had found in the Museum of Spintir’s private collection alongside the holocron. Bearing ancient symbols that identified it as coming from the age of the Mandalorian Wars, it was lower tech than her vibrosword, but she seemed to be taken with it for some reason that escaped Lil. The snap of the holocron clicking into place drew Lil’s attention back to Tam, and heralded the sound of new systems deep within the temple whirring to life, just as with the previous artifact.

The Curator and the Warden appeared, their holographic forms bearing please expressions. The blue of the Curator and gold light of the Warden were joined shortly afterward by a hologram formed of pure white light – the final Gatekeeper. The figure was of average height, with the strange features of a Kel-Dor, complete with breathing mask over its holographic mouth and eyes. The figure was dressed in the simple robes of a Jedi, just like the others. His head bowed slightly and at last, he spoke, the sound mechanical as if it really did pass through the breathing apparatus.

“Greetings young aspirants. I am called the Jailor, custodian of the Dawn Temple. It is my duty and my burden to oversee the care of those who have fallen to the lure of the dark side of the Force, and the return of their wounded spirits to the light. I understand from my compatriots that you are to thank for restoring me to my place in the temple, and for bringing new hope into these dark times. If you will forgive me, I must begin a diagnostic of the dormant systems and ensure nothing has gone amiss in my absence – but when I am done, I will be glad to assist you in any way that I am able.”

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Player's Interlude: Morning Training
Remembering how to protect.

Early morning light filters through the windows of the training room where Tam sits akimbo in simple training robes and a bo staff resting on the floor in front of him. He chooses this time when most of companions are still sleeping as the solitude helps him remember what he spent most of his lifetime forgetting.

The smell of the academy training mats on Coruscant, the hum of training sabers in single practice, and the sparking clashes as Padawan’s honed their skills with each other or their masters. Other memories of his own master filter in and out, feelings of guilt rise and fall like the tide.

“You could have been, you could have helped!”

“The war was lost from within the republic, one more Jedi would have changed nothing.”

“Your emotional connections tore you from your duties when you were needed by the whole republic.”

“I was needed by the people of that planet, where I aided”

The cruelest of all the voices speaks with a whisper “You let millions die for her.”

His eyes open slowly, sweat dripping from his forehead, for weeks he has been trying to reconcile the two pathways of his life but he still has no answer for that final voice. To the Jedi taking a wife was a rare exception granted only on special circumstances. Through his contemplation his mind toys with a possible answer. He is no longer and possibly can no longer be a Jedi, or maybe it’s that he doesn’t want to be a Jedi again. His confrontation with the fallen master Rav Naaran has indeed made him think. Though he was not ready to discuss this with the others yet.

He closes his eyes once more and clears his mind of distractions. He focuses on his own lightsaber training from his past. Soresu form 3, proficient in defense and battles of attrition. He envisions a grid pattern spanning across the floor and his own circle of influence. His hand reaches for the bo staff on the floor as his meditation moves to the physical. He envisions each attack moving through the grid in his mind and moving to redirect, block, or deflect as each blaster bolt or blade comes in. The weaving lines of his staff create a shield around himself. Faster and faster his muscles remember the steps.

thud

A misstep causes the end of the staff to slam into the floor ejecting the staff from his hands sending it twirling across the room. His eyes open as he sighs and slowly walks to retrieve his weapon.

Secretly, the Warden watches from the doorway, studying the struggling padawan before stepping away.

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Lure of the Lost Part 3
Chapter 2: Villagers and Vengeance

The walk to the village was a brisk one. The air in the upper reaches was cold, and the wind biting, but as the group reached to the base of the mountain, warm air soothed their reddened skin. Even the assassin droid seemed to be relieved at the higher temperatures, though it was from the welcomed thaw of his joints allowing an increased efficiency more than any discomfort.

The group approached Frostwall village a few hours before nightfall. The lowering of Spintir’s solitary sun had just begun to cast a sienna skyline as they reached the edge of town. Surrounded by a dominating stone wall, Frostwall earned its name from the presence of frost that stayed on the chilled rocks even in temperatures above freezing (of which today was one of few). They noted the lack of vegetation on the wall, a testament to the cold, as they headed to the gates. No bars met them at the gates in the wall, however their way was barred nonetheless. A group of villagers had assembled en masse and no stood guard at the entrance to the town, talking worriedly amongst themselves as the Spintir sun waned. Looking up at the approaching group, the leader of their troupe held a cautionary hand to the young apprentices.

“Hold on there. What are you here for?”

“Have you seen anyone else out there on your way?” another villager shouted, a young woman this time.

“Trying to attack us while we’re weakened no doubt,” a burly, older, man from the back snorted.

A crackle over the comm bud in Lil’s ear heralded HK’s voice, “Master, would you like me to disassemble these meatbags?”

“No, HK, they just look worried,” she replied.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Tam muttered.

Lil held out her hands to the crowd in an effort to look non-threatening. “We come in peace, we want no trouble. We’re just looking for directions to the lair of the ice-wolves. They’ve taken something of ours, and we’re trying to recover it.”

From the midst of the locals, a lean male came forward, in his mid-forties, and nursing a wounded leg. He held out his hand while he balance on a single crutch, “I’m Lem. I’m sorry for the rough welcome, everyone is a little on edge right now, and we were hoping to see some of our friends returning instead of total strangers. After how strange things have been lately, we don’t have room for trust right now.”

A sinking feeling crept into Lil’s gut, but she continued on nonetheless. “What happened with your friends?”

“It’s hard to explain. People have just been getting angry, without any real reason. Tempers have been flaring every which way, and people who really ought to know better have been picking fights. Some of our hunters got all heated up, broke my leg and then stormed out into the wilds. It seems to have stopped, whatever it was, but we’re still trying to figure out what happened. It’s not normal for village to have this sort of thing happen – if you can’t keep your cool out in the wilds, you don’t last long. We’re worried about the hunters.”

Lil and Tomo shared a look and then turned to the group. A great swell of sadness overcame them, but telling the people of the village they were the instruments of the mad-hunters demise wouldn’t help them find the holocron. “I’m sorry to hear that. Is there any way you can help us find the wolf lair? If you can we will keep an eye out for your friends.”

Lem shared a look with the others, some of whom nodded an assent. “Well, we can’t head out in the wilds, all we have left are the old and infirm, and so I suppose relying on you to search is better than just waiting. It sounds like you’re talking about the old caves up north. They’re a bad place to go, to be frank. The nastiest, most ill-tempered pack of ice-wolves you’ll ever see hides out in them, and that’s not the worst of it. There’s stranger things than animals there, if you believe what people say. Not a soul in the village hasn’t heard a ghost story about the caves, and some folks standing within our walls today have lived through one. Folks see visions of terrible things there, or get lured into deadfalls or ice-wolf ambushes by illusions. Some say it’s gotten even worse over the last couple years, as well. Still, if you’re determined to go and explore them, I can tell you how to get there.”

Lil looked to the others, and Tam met her gaze evenly. “Sounds like the place we’re looking for. How far away is it?”

Lem shook his head. “Too far to make it tonight. A couple of hours through dense trees. You’d be in pitch black before you found it, and getting lost in those woods is a death sentence. There’s a spare barn you can stay in tonight, then head out at first light.”

“Thank you for the hospitality, we appreciate it.” Tam replied. To this, Lem merely nodded and motioned for them to follow.

The next morning saw the temperature return to near freezing, though a good night’s sleep and the shelter of the barn had the group ready to brave it. The trip through the woods was tiring, but there was only light snow-fall on the ground and so the way (while treacherous) wasn’t slowed by harsh conditions. Soon, the group found themselves at the entrance to a forbidding cavern system.

For the life of her, Lil couldn’t remember why she was so determined to come her, and couldn’t help but pause and reconsider her eagerness. The darkness she now stared at littered the depths of the cave, and seemed as if to be more than a mere absence of light, but instead a darkness borne of some greater power, conjured to devour the light. It weighed against her vision like a boulder onto a berm, a discomforting pressure. It seemed alive, angry that someone would dare threaten its border, and possessed with a great hunger, lying in wait for unwary prey.

Closing his eyes, Tam reached out with the Force, searching the darkness for the holocron, and there, deep within the dark, he sensed a spark of light. Some remnant of hop and life. It steeled him against the sheer malevolence of the darkness. “Our quarry lies ahead – I’m sure of it.”

Lil looked suspiciously at the old man, her lips pursed in a tight frown. “Okay, let’s get this over with.” She headed in, followed by HK and the others.

As they advanced, a chill wind seemed to constantly blow, cutting through the thick clothing Lil had donned to keep warm. It was ever present, and it howled with a sinister cry that seemed to speak without using words she could understand. Growls, and snaps of air that rattled against the natural ice crystals that formed on the cave walls. The crystals grew in every direction, and seemed to possess a light of their own. Staring into them, she saw a multitude of confusing images. She moved closer to the crystals to try and sort out the visions inside them, and though it wasn’t easy to make sense of, she began to get the impression of centuries of images compressed into a matter of seconds. As she watched the images play over and over again, she was amazed at how much information she could see conveyed in mere instants. Between visions of Jedi and pilgrims, and wonders of the Old Republic gone by, she saw a single event replayed in more detail than all the others. Touching the crystal with a single outstretched finger, trying desperately to make greater contact with the past, Lil flashed through a single frozen instant, her mind’s eye opening to the past.

The heavy furs hung about her shoulders, weighted more than usual with a frozen rainfall from the lower valley. They were not her shoulders though, these shoulders were heavier, stronger and wider than hers. The not-her was wearing the garb of the hunters in the village, heavy pelts and leather straps. The weapon that the not-her carried was one of the villagers rifles, cold, and cruel, and it emanated a disdain for its prey like shadowy nimbus that surrounded not-her. She knew instinctively that this hatred came from not-her, a sick, cruel man who lived for pain and suffering. Not-her’s eyes never once flickered to the sides of the tunnel like hers had, where beautiful, glowing crystals were resting in natural splendor (not at all like the dimmer ice crystal that now grew there), but instead focused on the path ahead that took not-her to the central cavern, in which the mature ice-wolf den mother tended to her pups.

Lil found herself released from the vision, even though she still clung to it, reaching into the dim light of the ice crystal to return to it. She knew the vision was significant somehow, as a sick feeling took root deep within her, but despite looking, she could see no more. Looking to the others, she saw that they, too seemed to have had the same visions as she did. On some level, she knew the Force was speaking to her, and she was filled with dread at the fate of the unsuspecting wolves in her vision. She cast a sidelong glance and Tam, he seemed distracted, and pale. She wondered at what might be bothering him, as a sweat marked his brow, even in the cold of the cave. HK too, seemed off somehow, his receptors unfocused as he moved his head about as if trying to clear a fog.

HK was concerned. He had run repeated systems diagnostics, and each time he received a more disheartening report. A residential energy field in the cave, which he believed to be resonating from the crystals, was interrupting his system circuitry and causing a great deal of strain on his subsystems. Though there was little to do about it, the loss of efficiency was worrisome – he was already running well under comfortable levels from the age and erosion of his millennia of storage. If things didn’t improve, he feared he may fail in the elimination of a priority target.

The group made their way further into the tunnel, ever aware of the call of the crystals. Tam and Lil discussed the strange visions, and the merits or dangers of communing with them, while Tomo and HK cleared the path ahead, ever aware that they might face an ambush with every new chamber.

“I think it is an attempt worth trying,” Tam concluded.

“You know, it wouldn’t kill you to use contractions, dammit,” Lil countered. “The visions may be a trap, a way for the Dark Side to discombobulate our brains or something.”

“I do use contractions, Lil. When appropriate. As for the visions, I do not believe they stem from the Dark Side of the Force, but are merely reflections of a time gone by, trapped and echoing here forever.” Lil rolled her eyes at the old-mans continued use of formality.

“Whatever. Fine, let’s try it,” she acquiesced. “If we do get taken over by the Dark Side though, I’m killing you first.”

The trio of apprentices stopped and focused on the crystals around them, reaching out to the Force and riding the cosmic energy back to the wellspring from which it flowed. Ethereal figures coalesced in the air about them, continuing the vision that was cut off within the crystals. They followed the hunter as he appeared and moved through the halls of ice and stone. Arriving at a central chamber, a den-mother and her pups and the hunter on a ledge above. They watched the hunter sighting down his rifle at the den mother’s neck, his finger on the trigger, the den mother lovingly lapping at the fur of one of the pups while they nursed from her. As they watched, the hunter began moving the rifle, shifting his sights towards one of her legs instead. A ghostly slug flew from the barrel as he depressed the trigger, striking the den mother in the thigh. The vision remained hauntingly silent, with not crack of the firing nor a yelp from the injured ice-wolf. The hunter fired another shot, then another, each tearing the flesh of the crippled den mother as the pups scurried for cover behind her limp, but breathing form. With each pull of the trigger, black veins begin to appear on the hunters face and hands, as if coal were flowing through his veins.

Content that she was unable to stop him, the hunter moved towards the family of ice-wolves and began collecting the pups, pushing them into a sack of burlap he had been carrying on his belt. As the crippled and dying den mother lapsed in and out of consciousness, she could only growl, her limbs crippled like broken twigs that could neither support her weight nor strike out at the hunter taking her cubs. With each growl, the hunter glared at the den mother, daring her to stop him, knowing she could not.

As the hunter placed the last of the pups into the sack, he stood, throwing the back over his shoulder and began walking out of the chamber. As he progressed, black footprints stained the cavern floor where he stepped, and the scent of him rolled off and permeated the air an oily, blackened breeze. The veins in his flesh seemed as if to erupt from within him and the black vitreous tendrils wormed their way into the cave walls. The vision and the ghostly figures fade, replaced with the realization that they had made their way to the central chamber without realizing it. The feeling of corruption was strong, the mark of the hunters deeds a stain upon the cave, and so long as it remained, so too would the hunters spite and cruelty.

As Lil looked around, the ice crystals that covered the cavern walls and ceiling flared with a sudden brilliance that almost blinded her, erupting from the dim illumination that they previously had. As her eyes adjusted to the new light, she spotted the glint of metal. There, sitting amidst a pile of bones and half-eaten animal carcasses, sat an elaborately marked, metallic cube. Even as she realized what she was looking at, the cube lifted from its nest and began contorting in the air, the corners lifting off and floating like satellites about the center piece, which now looked more spherical than before. A translucent figure projected from this central piece, the entire array now bathed in a light blue glow. The figure, like the Curator, formed from pure light, was obviously a Jedi, but that is where the similarity ended, for this specter of a bygone age was far more severe in appearance. A female Zabrak, she wore robes that were mixed with armored plates amid the folds of fabric, forming battle armor. A lightsaber hung from her belt, but the harsh gaze she wore was somehow more intimidating. As she regarded the group, her gaze somewhat softened, until finally she spoke.

“I am the Warden of the Dawn Temple, and I greet you, seekers of knowledge. Your arrival is untimely, but not unwelcome. You have brought light into these caves, so let us hope you can endure the shadow it casts.” With her warning spoken, the Warden vanished as quickly as she appeared, the holocron closing in upon itself and slowly setting back into the nest of bones and hides. Looking to one another, as if daring each in turn to be the first to move into the nest and touch it, the apprentices considered the holocron’s message. Finally, Tam moved forward and lifted the cube from its resting place, and brushed it clean before placing it in the folds of his robe.

As if summoned by the removal of its treasure, a pack of ice-wolves emerged from a side corridor and began a low growl at the intruders. In the lead was a huge, savage looking matriarch, bearing livid scars that ran the length of her flanks. Left by large caliber rounds, divots of scarred flesh marked each of her thighs, raised mounds of flesh that looked like lips pursed for a kiss, hairless and brutally red even after all this time. The feeling of corruption that penetrated deep into the apprentices and permeated the very air since entering these caves, now grew in such intensity that it was immediately apparent they emanated from this beast, as if she were their source – or at least the carrier of its burden.

Tomo drew her vibro-sword and leveled it evenly at the beast, “It is time to cut the rot from the wound.”

Lil opened her mouth to try and stop her, but Tomo sprang into action with a leap that left Lil awed. Raising the blade behind her she cried a challenge to the beast, but it was two of the other ice-wolves that leapt to intercede. With the click metal plating moving aside, HK fired his forearm blaster, bolts launching from the weapon even as it rose from its concealed slot in his forearm. The blasts hits peppered the beasts as they leapt, forcing them to miss even though they avoided the shots.

Using the opening caused by HK’s timely covering fire, Tomo ended her leap at the den-mother, bringing her sword down with the force of the leap. The blade struck deep, biting into the shoulder of the beast and eliciting a pained howl. Tam fired his blaster pistol at another of the wolves as Lil drew her own pistol and took aim at the last. HK continued to send a hail of fire at the wolves flanking behind Tomo while Tam and Lil fired on the ones flanking each side of the den-mother. From range, they were able to keep the wolves defensive and unable to attack Tomo as she engaged the den mother in a life or death battle of blade and claw. For her part, the den-mother was as fast as the martial artist, matching Tomo swing for swing. Clean lines appeared on Tomo’s clothing, revealing bloody gashes underneath from where the matriarch had landed her blows, but the ferocity of Tomo’s blade was too much for the beast. Hindered by Tomo’s opening strike, it was apparent that each movement was pure agony for the old wolf, and it was catching up to her. With each wolf that fell, the den-mother seemed to lose a bit of her fight, and as the last of the wolves dropped, Tomo was poised to strike a final, lethal blow.

As the final blow laid low the den mother, the sudden silence that replaced the sounds of combat was almost deafening itself – the sound of tranquility, healing, and much-needed endings. The rage ebbed from the den-mothers eyes along with her life, and she looked to the apprentices almost thankfully as she expired. The lights from the crystals on the wall grew even brighter, and Lil felt her spirits lift as the oppressive aura that had dominated the cave previously seeped away. The dark side presence had cleared. A least for now.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

With a soft click, Tam Cameron fit the holocron back into its housing in the holocron chamber of the Dawn Temple. The snug fit and the hum of generators deep in the temple coming to life gave the satisfying feeling that the task was finally complete. The fierce-looking gatekeeper he saw in the caves manifested beside the Curator, but this time a wide smile replaced the harsh expression he saw before. She regarded the group of apprentices and looked brightly at the Curator, who returned her smile. Looking to the apprentices, she spoke.

“My thanks to you. It is good to be within the Dawn Temple once more, and to return to the charge I was forced to leave unguarded. My duties must be resumed, and it is thanks to you that this is possible. Without the third gatekeeper, my knowledge remains limited, but I will teach you what I know.” Her expression turned stern, though her smile remains, “My lessons are not for the weak of body, mind, or spirit, however. I do not think this a concern for you, but even a Warden such as I cannot protect you from your own failings. Be sure to make yourselves ready for the challenges to come. The last gatekeeper must be restored.”

View
Lure of the Lost Part 2
Chapter 1: A Call to Arms

The metallic ‘clank’ of robotic heels on stone followed the pair of figures as they made their way through the vaulting arches of the nigh-abandoned Jedi Temple. The larger of the two figures, the source of the noise accompanying their travel, was a gunmetal grey droid of the HK series, chassis beginning to show the telltale copper tint of rust, and the smaller of the two a young human female who was fixated on her datapad. As they moved along the winding halls, the golden glow of the droids receptors regarded the young female as she spoke; “That’s what I’m trying to say, you don’t need to call me master!”

The droid cocked its head to the side and considered the odd statement. “Query; Don’t I? I was under the assumption that organic meatbags such as yourself enjoyed such forms of address.”

Lil looked up at from her datapad. She had been mulling over the slice job that V’Brel had pulled on the Bureau of Ships and Services (BoSS) database regarding her old ship, the Nova Spire. He had sliced the database and erased the registry for the Nova Spire, applying all the testing, certification and background checks to the YT-1300 they found in the lower levels of the Temple, a ship called the Corusca Gem. It was a good job, but she was more taken with her droid at the moment. “Organic Meatbags?”

To his credit, HK-1040 looked shocked (as shocked as a droid can look, Lil supposed) that he had said such a thing. “Retraction; Did I say that out loud? I apologize, master. While you are a meatbag, I suppose I should not call you as such.”

“You just called me a meatbag again!” Lil corrected.

“Explanation; It’s just that,” the droid took a moment to try to describe the source of his disgust, “you have all those squishy parts, master. And all that water! How the constant sloshing doesn’t drive you mad, I have no idea …” The droid turned away, looking down the hallway as it went, and seemingly satisfied that he had properly addressed the issue.

In between the flit of anger and rush of amusement, Lil stopped to actually consider what he said. She had to admit, the gurgling of her stomach was getting to her – she had been so wrapped up in getting the ship ready to fly off this heap that she hadn’t eaten all day. “Come to think of it, HK, neither do I,” she had to admit. The words had just left her mouth, and already she was regretting it.

HK turned to regard her, equal parts vindicated in his assessment and proud that he served a master to astute and wise that she could understand the inherent disadvantages of organics. “Statement; Now do you understand the travails of my existence, master? Surely it does not compare to your existence, but still…”

“I’ll survive, HK, you will too.”

“Commentary; It is our lot in life, I suppose, master. We need a killee to cheer ourselves up with.” Extermination always made HK feel better. The satisfying liquidation of an organic target provided the right aural and visual elements to ease the complacency he felt in times of disuse.

Lil sometimes wondered exactly what language HK was programmed in, because he certainly had a penchant for making up terminology to fit his arguments. “I don’t think ‘killee’ is a word, HK.”

HK lifted his head in frustration, his arms out to his sides, very much like a child that has been told to clean his room. “Exclamation; Damn it, master! I am an assassination droid, not a dictionary!”

Lil couldn’t contain a snicker at the droids exasperation. It was almost relieving to see him express so human an emotion. She lowered the data pad as they reached their destination – the temple’s old training room. She keyed the door activator and the large double doors slid aside.

Inside, their four companions were practicing their newfound skills. Tam sat akimbo in front of three sealed boxes, meditating. Lil knew that within one of the three boxes a small profogg was placed. Resembling a prairie dog, the profogg when in confined dark spaces typically fell asleep, making no sounds nor motion. The point of the exercise was to use the Force to determine which box held the profogg. D’Jrem and V’Brel were on the far side of the room, using the Force to lift, and then move, large blocks back and forth between each other. Lil mused that it looked like the slowest and most boring game of catch she ever saw.

Definitely neither slow-moving nor boring, Tomo Go-Zenn was practicing sword maneuvers on the obstacle course that dominated the right side of the room. Running at beyond a sprinting pace, she simultaneously navigated an obstacle course whilst also striking at targeting remotes and defending against their counter-attacks. Far beyond the capabilities of a normal person, she was using the Force to enhance her natural abilities to accomplish the superhuman feats of coordination. Her movements were hypnotic, leap, duck, strike, parry, slide, leap again, all don’t with a fluid grace that defied gravity and physics. As she cleared the last obstacle, he leaped through a metal ring at the edge of the obstacle field and came to a rest next to Lil. The others turned to look at the new arrivals, but it was the Sakaiyan, D’Jrem, that first spoke.

“Lil! You’re late! We started training an hour ago!” It was true – Lil got caught up in the work on the Cosursca Gem, and, if she had to be totally honest, she wasn’t really interested in all this crazy rock-floating mojo. The Jedi turned their back on the galaxy. It was their fault the Empire crushed the life out of innocent people now.

“Sorry,” she shot back, “I don’t operate by ‘Sparkles’ Jedi clock, I was getting the Corusca Gem ready for launch.” Lil had a great many snide titles for the Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper was the resident intelligence within the Temple’s holocron that ran things around the temple. He was ingrained with the behavior, memories, and personality of one of the Jedi that served the temple many years ago, and this, more than any other reason, is why Lil disliked him so much.

“You’re welcome, by the way,” the small Chadra’fan, V’Brel, said, “for hacking into BoSS central to transfer your transponder codes and profile from to the new ship from your old one.” It hadn’t been an easy job, but it was a chance to take on the Imperial security net, and so V’Brel had jumped at the chance. That, and it was another reason to paint his data tag, the Batman, onto Imperial systems. Beaming with self-gratifying glee, V’Brel smiled at Lil, to which HK turned menacingly.

“Insulted; He should not speak to you in such a manner, master, may I break his neck now? It has long been a fantasy of mine …” HK took a single step towards the small V’Brel to clarify his statement.

Lil was caught between the understanding that HK was entirely serious in his statement and wanting to keep V’Brel alive. While she appreciated HK’s help, she had grown to like the little Chadra’fan – he was bright, funny, and really good at slicing computer systems – something any smuggler needed, even the greats like Solo and Terrik. “Uhh … maybe later HK.”

If HK could smile, he certainly sounded like he was, “Excited; Did you hear that meatbag? I’LL BE BACK!” The look of fear on V’Brel’s face was both obvious and immediate.

“Err … well … ah …” the Chadra-fan stammered, “What’s THAT!” V’Brel shot a finger behind the group, but far faster than it would have taken them to turn and look, he began running to the back of the room, and took shelter behind some large blocks used for more advanced Force training. Shaking her head, Tomo cleaned her brow with the towel that hung about her neck.

“You still need to practice your skills, Lil. By the Gatekeeper’s timetable or not.” Tomo knew too well the dangers of having a great ability such as the Force and not being skilled in its use. Among her people, sword saints are chosen for their natural aptitude with the Force, though she never understood what that was truly what her people cultivated until she came to Spintir. Many sword saints fail in their tasks because of their belief in being chosen, and thus not needing to practice and maintain discipline. It is a terrible thing to witness, and Lil’s casual dismissal of the gravity of the situation she found troubling.

“Right, well, anyway, the ‘Keymaster’ wants to speak to everyone in the main hall, so get yourselves together and meet him there.” It was only mildly irritating that the sword wielding psychopath were reprimanding her about training, because while on the one hand she was a sword wielding psychopath, on the other hand if Lil could learn to do that crazy combat flippy stuff, she’d be a total bad ass! Content to allow sarcasm to be her most proficient weapon for the time being, she turned to leave.

As she wandered the hall back to main meeting chamber, she allowed herself the guilty pleasure of looking around at the temple. Sure that it was just her and HK, she let her awe and fascination overtake her as she looked at the beauty of the stonework. Images dating all the way back to the ancient Republic decorated the frescoes, she was sure that this temple predated the Clone Wars by millennia. A belief that Hethan shared, though the Gatekeeper wasn’t forthcoming with the truth (as usual). She admired what the Jedi stood for, protecting the little guy, bringing peace to the galaxy – but she despised how they did it. Emotionless, loveless, apathetic know-it-alls, denying the very humanity that they espoused to protect. How can someone protect a family when they don’t even know what it is to have one? Hearing the others coming up behind her, she snapped herself out of her reverie and resumed looking at her datapad, conveniently wiping a tear from her eye.

As the group entered the main chamber, they found the holographic form of the Gatekeeper awaiting them, a grave expression on his face. Seeing them enter, his face lightened at their presence, though still remaining serious. “My young friends, I have been consulting with your mentor, and she has done much to convince me of your worthiness. It appears that in these dark times, you may be the temple’s best hope. However, I am in truth no more capable than Romund or yourselves of revealing the temple’s secrets.”

“That’s a surprise,” Lil murmured under her breath.

The holographic visage looked to her, his countenance glowering, yet her words seemed to break him, “I am currently the temple’s sole gatekeeper, but once I was one of three, the Curator who recorded what my fellows wrought and oversaw. The holocrons that house them were lost even before Malefax arrived, however – and without their aid, I am much diminished.

“What do you need from us?” Tam questioned.

“There is much work still to be done. The wolves still remain a dark presence on the outskirts of the temple. I will need D’Jrem Purt to clear them and re-secure the borders of the temple. The temple itself still has limited functionality in its wiring and internal security systems. While some of this is attributed to the fact that I have only provisional control over the security systems, the larger part of the issue if the condition of the temple itself. I will need V’Brel’s skills to assist in the restoration of the temple’s internal workings. For the rest of you it falls to retrieve the other holocrons in order to fully restore the temple. Fortunately, I sense that one of them remains nearby. If you can retrieve this first holocron, I may be able to locate the other and restore the temple to its full functionality.”

“Great, where do we start?” Lil questioned. “Don’t suppose you know where it is?”

“It was carried off by local beasts, although I do not think they were acting on their natural instincts. More likely, they were deranged by a dark side presence.” The Gatekeeper looked saddened.

“You mean another like Maley-whats-its-face?” Lil groaned.

“No,” the Gatekeeper shook his head sadly and looked into the distance. “There is a vergence of the Force somewhere in this valley, although I cannot currently access the records detailing its location. Find the vergence, and you are likely to find the lair to which the beasts have taken the holocron. You might consider inquiring with the local villagers. They know nothing of the Force or the holocron, but they are experts on the local wildlife and terrain. I do not know if they would trust anyone coming from the temple, but it may be worth investigation.”

“What is a vergence?” Lil asked.

Surprisingly, it was Tam who answered. “A vergence is a place where the Force comes together in unusually strong ways. It’s a place or thing that is suffused with the Force, a place where it is almost palpable in its potency. If there is a Dark Side vergence at work here, we need to resolve it quickly.” With that, the group nodded their agreement and headed into the Valley.

View
Lure of the Lost
Lure of the Lost Part 1

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Mountaintop Rescue Part 3 Continued
End of Session 2

Not wanting to waste any time since the blaster fire could have alerted Malefax, the group moved quickly through the entrance. Inside, they were met with a strangled scream from within the temple. It didn’t take much to recognize the voice of Hethan Romund, in pain and desperate for rescue, but alive. Peering within, the group spotted a small antechamber that opened to two side chambers, flanking left and right. The antechamber widened into a large assembly hall deeper in, the grey marble walls rising to openings in the ceiling that allowed natural sunlight to illuminate it with brilliant shafts of gold light.

Hethan Romund sat bound and beaten against one of many pillars in the assembly hall, another Advose mercenary standing guard over her. D’Jrem moved towards another pillar, sneaking carefully to avoid detection, but trying to get a perch to better take in the situation. Shouting and screaming came from the antechamber to the right, “NOTHING!” The voice cried in anger and anguish, almost as if the rage it held was painful. “The archive is empty! Just a bunch of useless scrolls and tablets! Where … is … the holocron!”

Striding angrily from the antechamber, a red-skinned figure, naked from the waist up, came towards the defeated form of Hethan. The licorice-colored horns curled out from its brow and extended back over its head, six inches in length and lightened in color until ending in ivory tips. Black tattoo work extended from his neck across his left shoulder, ending in the cleft formed at the top of his bicep. In his left hand he held scroll cases, bending to the point of breaking in his powerful grip, in his right hand, a sword.

Ancient in design and black as night, the obsidian blade extended from a leather wrapped hilt. Wicked and jagged, the black blade was covered in strange rune-like lettering that pulsed with an angry red light in tune with the muscles that bulged from his forearm as he tightened his grip on the blade in frustration, their glow reflecting his rage. As he spoke, pointed teeth, sharp as needles, gleamed a pearly white – the shining purity of the enamel only serving to further add to his terrifying appearance. Yellow eyes, bloodshot and flecked with black, smoldered down at Hethan Romund. This can only be one person … Malefax.
“Tell me where the holocron is or I will skin you alive!” He moved the tip of the blade under Hethan’s limp head and raised it force her to look into his eyes. When he realized she had passed out after a previous “interrogation” session and was still unconscious, he dropped her head and stormed back into the antechamber he came from with a scream of rage. The sounds of tossed tables and breaking ceramic heralding his arrival there.

From his perch, D’Jrem spotted another Advose in the antechamber opposite the one that Malefax entered. He noted that it was not actually an antechamber at all, but instead a hallway that led deeper into the temple. The Advose, similar to the one they encountered before, looked decidedly bored as he patrolled. His route, however, was going to bring him into the main hall with the other Advose and Hethan soon. He activated the comlink sub-vocal and alerted the others.

“I’ll take care of him,” Lil said as she began sneaking around the outside of the main room. She kept as close to the shadows as possible as she moved, making sure to keep the Advose in the light opposite her, so that his sight would be comparatively blinded by the natural sunlight. As she prepared to slide around the corner into the hallway to take out the Advose however, she threw a quick look over her shoulder into the antechamber and found Malefax staring directly at her! ‘Well, too late to take the easy route now, might as well go out with style’ Lil thought. Smiling sweetly, she waved and blew a soft kiss to Malefax then, with a wink, she slipped around the corner to confront the Advose on patrol.

Burning with rage, Malefax began walking towards the impudent trollop. V’Brel, watching the exchange from the main hall, had found a scomplink in the temple’s wall and quickly moved to try and access the temple’s systems. HK and Tam opened fire on the Advose guarding Hethan as at this point the element of surprise was spent. D’Jarm used his rifle to support Lil as she fired her pistol at the Advose in the hallway.

With a furious spray of blaster fire, the Advose stood little chance, having been surprised by the assault. Almost simultaneously, the mercenaries hit the ground, victims of a well-coordinated assault. Malefax had little regard for the mercenaries he had hired, they were necessary tools, but his anger at their ineffectiveness was bottomless. He stormed forward, but as he neared the main chamber, blast doors slammed shut, barring his path.
Slipping his wireless receiver into the scomplink port, he picked up his datapad (quite pleased with himself) and ran to the others. Lil rounded the corner as D’Jarm climbed down from his perch and they met at the unconscious form of Hethan.

“What now?” Tam asked.

“Well, locking him up in there seems a valid option.” Lil looked at the large stone blast doors as she spoke. As if in reply, a terrifying crash reverberated through the temple, and small fragments of stone dust, no doubt eroded from the age of the doors, fell from the blast doors as Malefax began striking them. The muffled sound of metal on stone heralded a second swing, followed by the sound of cracking stone. Though no sign of damage yet marred the blast doors, it was obvious that it was only a matter of time. “Okay, so it’s not so valid.”

“There are a lot more blast doors in this place – kinda weird actually – one at every corner of the place,” V’Brel offered. “Anyway, we could pull a fighting withdrawal and close the doors as we go, kinda, blasting him as he moves forward and is exposed breaking through until he’s worn out. Then we can get him!”

The HK droid focused his reflectors on the small Chadra Fan, “Observation: That is a well thought out and highly effective tactical assessment, meatbag.” As V’Brel puffed up and smiled at the compliment, HK continued, “I almost regret the day I will finally get to exterminate your pathetic existence. I will honor your single moment of brilliance in with permanent storage in my memory banks. It will serve me well to be reminded of your existence after you are gone.”

V’Brel, confused and looking decidedly dejected at being again relegated to potential future target practice, looked to HK, “Because you will enjoy my memory?”

“Explanation: Of course not, flesh-sack. It’s because I hate you so very much. The near constant irritation at your memory will incite me to such great acts of murder and atrocity that my Master’s pride will beam on me for eons to come!”

Lil, blinking in disbelief at her insane droid could only shake her head. “I like V’Brel’s plan – I say we do it.” With no objections, the group went about looking for ambush areas and prepping tools, all the while the steady crack of rock rang out as Malefax got ever closer to breaking free. Tam attempted to rig the power packs from the blaster pistols the Advose carried to work as makeshift explosives, but he realized they were in terrible repair, low on charge, and had far too little power to overload significantly.

D’Jrem on the other hand, had found his way back into the ventilation shafts, and had set up a decent sniping spot in one of the long hallways that would allow him to take shots as Malefax beat down the doors. Taking Hethan, he slipped her into the duct work first then climbed in after. The group figured that “out of sight, out of mind” was the best policy they were going to get with Malefax, and they hoped he wouldn’t go looking for her once he occupied with them.

No sooner had the group moved further down the corridor than Malefax broke free of the room containing him.

Cries of anger and rage, along with the crash of ancient artifacts and artwork heralded Malefax’s steady pursuit. The group raced from hall to hall, pausing only to fire back over their shoulders as V’Brel closed blast door after blast door. As shots grew close, Malefax angrily swung the ancient blade (now glowing a brilliant crimson from his anger) and swatted the bolts aside with no more exertion than swatting an annoying insect.

As they retreated, each hallway drawing them ever closer to the location of their final stand, fear crept further into their guts as nothing seemed to slow the advancing monster. Finally, having exhausted the hallways, they found themselves in a large rotunda meant serve as a meeting hall. As the blast doors slid shut, they spotted the grate on the ventilation duct behind Malefax slide open, a smooth blaster rifle barrel emerging from D’Jrem’s sniper nest. This would be the final moments – one way or another.

As the sounds of the Malefax’s assault on the blast doors thudded like a primal drumbeat, the group looked to each other. Though they said nothing, the gravity of the situation weighted on them. With updates from D’Jrem coming in through their comlinks, they regarded each other, perhaps for the last time. Tomo, her vibro-sword laid in front of her, kneeled and whispered a silent prayer to her ancestors and sword saints who came before. V’Brel looked at the blaster pistol he carried and wondered if it would be enough. Lil looked to HK who (in typical fashion) stared back, oblivious to the weight of their situation. Lil silently wished she had the detachment that a droid possessed. She looked to Tam who was sitting akimbo in the hall, meditating silently.

“So, uh, Gatekeeper,” she said to her comlink. “You have anything to help?” It was a desperate hope, as the Gatekeeper had said he couldn’t interfere, but she tried anyway. As the moments of silence grew longer, she realized that no reply was coming. Sighing, she put the comlink away just as the first blocks fell free and Malefax broke through, sweat dripping from his brow. “Well, that’s something, at least we made him tired …” she spat sarcastically.
With blinding speed, Tomo snatched the blade from in from of her and sprung at the rage filled Malefax. Flashes of vibro-steel lit against the glow of ancient stone as Malefax parried many of her initial strikes, but the young Force-users assault proved unmatched as she dipped low and struck the ancient blade directly, knocking it from Malefax’s grasp as he roared in pain and rage.

The glowing blade skittered across the floor towards D’Jrem in the ventilation shaft. As he sighted the rifle in on Malefax, he saw the sword go spinning, and deep within him, the old itch returned. D’Jrem licked his lips as he tried to remain focused on the Devaronian battling his friends. That blade was worth millions on the black market for artifacts. He hadn’t made a score in months, and never one that rich! It was so close, and with his new powers, all he had to do was reach out … he knew he could pull it to him. With Malefax distracted, he could use the tunnels, get out and … and what?

He knew that the trip to the spaceport would take hours and the group wouldn’t hold out that long. Even then, he’d be a sitting duck for Malefax in the city until the next transport arrived, and if Malefax had suspected he’d taken it, he’d probably board the same ship for a way off planet. It was madness. Feeling the shakes of the need, but knowing the right path, he focused in on Malefax and let the blaster bolt fly. The crimson bolt hit the Devaronian in the shoulder, and a cry of pain escaped the muscled dark-sider. Malefax looked back over his shoulder, attempting to spot the sniper, but blaster fire from Tam, HK and Lil caused him to break off and duck out of the way before he could spot D’Jrem.

Staring down his opponents, Malefax reached out a blood-crusted hand to the hallway behind him. As if it were a pet returning to a beloved master (and perhaps in ways, it was) the ancient Sith blade leapt from its resting spot in the hall and flew into the outstretched hand of Malefax. Smiling through sharp teeth as he regarded the others, Malefax began moving towards the group, Tomo first.

Malefax and Tomo exchanged a series of blows with such force that the others (attempting to find clear shots as the two danced around) felt the impacts in their guts. Blow after blow was parried, each moving to counter the other, but this time, it was Tomo who felt herself being overwhelmed. With a feint and a spin, Malefax slid his blade under her defenses and deep into her side, the ancient blade cleaving a deep gash in her side. Dropping to her knee, she defended as best as he could, but Malefax moved for the final blow.

It was only as Tomo dropped low that he saw a small Chadra-Fan, finally able to see past his sword-saint ally, raise his blaster pistol and close a beady, black eye. As Malefax looked down on his foe, a crimson bolt flew through the air striking its target true. Malefax could only look in frustration and horror as the bolt pierced his wrist and knocked the ancient blade from his grasp again. With each clap of stone on stone as the blade bounced back down the hall, veins bulged on the Devaronian’s forehead as he grew more frustrated.

D’Jrem again looked the blade clattering in the hallway, and he reached out his hand to call the blade to him. Somewhat surprised, he realized, because the reason he even now brought the blade to him with the Force was not out of greed or the desire to sell it, but rather the need to prevent it from harming his friends. As the blade reached his hand, he noted the warmth of the weapon, a prickling sensation, as if the blade were crackling with power. He put the deadly sword into his pack and resumed taking aim – this needed to end.

Malefax spun and reached for his blade, but as he looked around, he saw no trace of his weapon. Clenching his fist, he turned to the upstarts and roared a challenge, leaping towards them even as they raised their weapons is shocked defense. He moved from the fallen blade-wielder towards the trollop from the hall, but as he drew his fist to strike, the terrifying image of an HK droid intervened, a single raised arm stretch towards him as he was caught mid-leap. A single barreled blaster, still smoking from its last firing, extended from a retractable compartment in its forearm.

“Statement: Termination – Authorized. Assassination Protocols – On Line. Good Bye, Meatbag.” HK opened fire at point blank range, crimson bolts spattering across Malefax’s chest as both Malefax’s trajectory and HK’s aim adjustment moving the bolts increasingly higher to strike a single carbon scored hole into Malefax’s head. He dropped to the stone floor, his momentum taking him skidding along the floor until he came to rest against the far wall.

The group looked around, Tam rushed to Tomo to see if she was alright, Lil moving to HK relieved and astonished, V’Brel beamed from the corner, gleeful that he accomplished great feats in the real world. D’Jrem emerged from the ventilation shaft, Hethan Romund in tow. Slowly, they all moved to look down on the remains of Malefax, who finally looked at peace. The sounds of moaning from Hethan snapped them out of their mute revelry, as she began to come around.

“My friends,” she said from between swollen lips, “I was worried that my message would not reach you; I had only moments when Malefax attacked me. I’ve never been happier to see you in all my life.” With a shaky hand on D’Jrem’s arm, she slowly rose to her feet, beaten, but not defeated. “I’m so glad that this has brought you all together. I think could be a grand opportunity for you, to learn from each other, as well from this temple. I believe it has secrets yet to uncover!”

A faint blue glow rose in the chamber from behind Hethan, as the immaterial form of the Gatekeeper appeared. “You are quite right.”

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Mountaintop Rescue Part 3
Chapter 2: Confrontations

It didn’t take long to gather HK, but matters were complicated when the Gatekeeper insisted on having Tomo assist him on another matter. Leaving the prisoners with Tomo and the Gatekeeper, the rest of the group moved on, following the path deeper into the valley towards the temple. The Gatekeeper was tight lipped on what exactly it was he needed Tomo for, and neither responded to attempts to contact them via comlink. It was a fact they were warned of, but one that didn’t make them feel any more secure about the matter.

Before they could stew long on this disturbing matter, however, they came upon a large chasm. The temple rested above them on the summit of a steep cliff, shrouded in moss and evergreens, a single statue of a long forgotten Jedi Knight stood towering over the trees around him. Another statue sat akimbo at its base, rising out of a river that ran through the valley and ended in a large, glimmering waterfall. The waterfall in turn descended from the summit and crashed deep into the chasm that separated the group from continuing to the temple above.

Spanning the deep chasm, was a tall, arched bridge of wooden beams and intricate knot work. Covered in beautiful frescoes depicting scenes of Jedi meditating and practicing Lightsaber forms, the sturdy looking wooden bridge must have been created long ago by Jedi artisans, for it too was covered in the same strange writing they had found on the stonework stairs. The bridge itself connected two trails, one on each side of the bridge, leading both back the way the group had come and forward into the hills towards the temple.

Standing guard over each end of the bridge, preventing passage along the trails, stood a group of Advose, jaundiced skinned aliens with coal black eyes, and a single, crude, stubby horn jutting from the center of their foreheads like a third eye. Their wide, flat mouths were eternally down-turned; they seemed to be forever scowling, and their thick muscled hands gripped blaster pistols which they impatiently waved back and forth. Two of the aliens stood at each end of the bridge, talking amongst themselves in the brutish and guttural tongue of their native language. They seemed to be at once anxious and bored, a strange combination that indicated they were on guard duty and not exactly pleased about it.

Looking at their options, the group considered both sneaking past and directly assaulting to be risky. The Advose as a species were generally hired out as mercenaries and thugs, and the behavior of these did nothing to indicate that wasn’t exactly what they were. Mercenaries could be bargained with, provided one could speak in the right amount of credits. Lil and the others were discussing exactly this when they realized the group was one short.

“Wait,” Lil said, looking around with a sinking feeling, “where’s bat-boy?”

The group moved to the edge of the brush and began searching for V’Brel when their worst fears were realized. He was moving up to the edge of the bridge! They waited with baited breath as he silently made his way forward. Not seeking to challenge the Advose directly, he moved through brush about 10 feet laterally from them, heading towards the chasm edge. Once there, he slid over the side, and shimmied along until he was next to the bridge supports, the bridge itself now shielding him from their sight. Either by luck or by skill, the small Chadra-fan made his way along the underside of the bridge until he reached the far end of the chasm, and then repeated his previous maneuver using the chasm edge to get into the underlying foliage before waving innocently at the group.

The group looked to each other in amazement. Lil just shook her head and laughed, “Way to go bat-boy!” Getting into a stance more benefitting creeping, D’Jrem turned to the others, “Well, I’m not about to be showed up by an adolescent rodent!” He moved through the brush, following the same route the Chadra-fan took, and was quickly followed by the others.

HK moved along, but as he attempted to lower himself to reduce his visibility, one of the wires which was precariously patched sparked and popped, making a racket loud enough that anyone could have heard. Seeing that the others had progressed in stealth, HK logics circuits rerouted his actions to assist them as best he could. Straightening up, and moving forward with confidence, the assassin droid emerged from cover and walked brazenly towards the Advose. “What the hell?” Lil muttered, unsure what the droids play was going to be.

“Proclamation; I am assassin droid HK One Zero Four Zero. You are surrounded, meatbags! Surrender your weapons and relegate yourselves to capture. I would much prefer you resist, however, as I have not engaged in appropriate dispensation of violence in 3.28 hours.” To accentuate the point, HK released the flap on his forearm and extended the concealed barrel menacingly at the Advose. Caught off guard, and unsure of how to react, the two Advose guarding the near end of the bridge raised their blaster pistols and regarded the droid for a moment. They were joined quickly by the two at the other end of the bridge, clearing the way for the others to cross unseen.

“What are you two doing?” The comment came from one of the Advose crossing the bridge. “Just shoot it and let’s get going! It’s just a damned droid!”

“No, no its not! That’s one of those assassin droids! It’s designed for combat and programmed to love it!”

“Statement; Thank you, now that you have received backup, I am authorized to turn off my ‘Combat Protocols’ and switch on my ‘Wholesale Slaughter’ suite. I appreciate your cooperation.”

“I didn’t think droids could lie like that,” Tam whispered as the group made their way through the brush. Sighing, Lil shook her head, resisting the temptation to grow endeared to the crazy murder-bot, “He’s not lying … he really does have a ‘Wholesale Slaughter’ suite …”

“Whoa, whoa, big guy, we aren’t paid enough to mess with no assassin droids! We’re just supposed to watch for some stupid townsfolk and hunters. This is way above my pay grade.” The Advose dropped his blaster pistol and raised his hands, quickly followed by the others. Lil and the others emerged from their hiding spots and moved to the Advose, collecting their blasters and cuffing them using the binders they carried on their belts.

“Good work HK!” Lil said, emerging from her hiding spot.

“Recitation; As I said, I am an assassination droid. It is my primary function to burn holes through meatbags that you wished removed from the galaxy, Master.” HK moved to the Advose, and watched as D’Jrem bound them together and then to the bridge. “Commentary; Perhaps we should just blast the meatbags and save the trouble of binding them.”

“Does he always have this level of bloodlust?” Tam looked unbelieving at the level of violence the ancient looking droid exhibited.

“Observation; I am a droid, meatbag, with programming. Even if I did not enjoy killing, I would have no choice. Thankfully, I enjoy it very much.” Not for the first time (and according to his probability circuits, there was a 94.556% chance it would not be for the last time, either) HK found himself the center of the meatbags incredulous stares. He made note that both the Advose and the rest of the Master’s group shared the same look, and considered briefly that there was some preprogrammed behavior amongst the meatbags that produced the look. He took special note that his Master didn’t share the look the other beings did, meriting pride in his Master for her resilience, and prospering hope in HK that someday his Master would share the same level of appreciation for liquidation that he possessed.

“That’s my murder-bot!” Lil was momentarily disturbed that she was actually becoming accustomed to HK’s behavior, then she reminded herself this entire planet was ridiculous anyway, and nothing that happened here should really surprise or upset her. She trudged on, letting the others stare in horror at HK as they went.

The group journeyed along the trail and into the hills leading up towards the summit and the temple that occupied it. Along the route, they noted the growing cold, as if the elevation had finally begun to overcome the natural warming the enclosed valley had managed to maintain. Snow became more common in the general area, as stone started to replace soil, but spots of green still remained where the rocks didn’t hold sway. The sky above was a brilliant blue, a distinct difference form the mottled grey it appeared below the cloud line. Bright golden shafts of sunlight pierced the white clouds and shone brilliantly on the ground. The trip was at both daunting and uplifting in its beauty, knowing that all this splendor could be lost to the dark side should the group fail in their quest.

The temple loomed ever larger as the group continued their approach, the rock walls of the valley giving way to stone arches and pillars crowned with snow. As they arrived at the entrance to the temple, a broad stone plaza splayed out before the entrance hallway. Unlike the snow-capped pillars, the plaza was doused in the brilliant sunlight of the daytime star, and had a warmth to it that made it a refuge from the cold. Dozing in this winter oasis, a pack of ice wolves, four strong, dozed in the warm sun. The wolves, large, four-legged predators, had massive jaws and razor sharp fangs, with pelts of white and grey that turned to ruddy brown the further down their limbs you went.

As the group watched, one of the wolves rolled in its sleep and stretched its muscled legs, knocking a second wolf from its perch. The jostled wolf tumbled down from the bench on which he had rested and hit the stone floor of the plaza with a start. Growling, it rose and regarded its pack mate with angry red eyes. A moment later, the two beasts fell into a snarling, spitting, roaring dance as tooth and claw flashed in the sunlight until finally, with a gut wrenching crunch of bone and wet splat of blood, the dispute was decided and the pack was reduced to three.

V’Brel averted his eyes from the scene, while the others looked on. D’Jrem regarded the wolves with interest, their behavior at odds with what he knew of the normal behavior ice wolves of Spintir. Far too aggressive, and distinctly anti-social compared to the pack hunting species they were presumed to be, he considered what the Gatekeeper had said about the dark side affecting the inhabitants of the Valley. It’s possible their internal squabbling could reduce their numbers to so few, but it was unwise to assume it. Realizing there should be at least two to six more in the pack, D’Jrem began to look around for others.

“I’m going to get a better vantage and maybe get a shot on those wolves before we get to close,” he told the others, unslinging his blaster rifle and moving through the brush towards a treeline nearby. The other nodded and returned their attention to the group in the plaza, while D’Jrem focused on the area around him, parting a bank of tall grass for a better look. As the reeds moved apart, he found himself mere feet away from one of the wolves!

Quickly retreating, he slung his rifle, spun, and made a dash for a nearby tree, which he had identified as a good perch for sniping the wolves in the plaza. Trusting in his speed and stealth, he moved quickly and didn’t look back, scaling the tree hand over hand and moving with as much celerity as his coordination would allow.

Reaching the perch he spotted from the ground he looked around to see if he had attracted a pursuer and was relieved to see the ice wolf still wandering the same path it had been. From his vantage point, he spotted the ice wolf had two pack mates with him, all three of them moving towards the rear of the group. Flicking his comlink on and whispering into it, he alerted the others as he reached for his rifle.
Which wasn’t there.

Looking around in a panic, he cast his gaze to where he had parted the grass and initially spotted the first ice wolf. There, in the grass where he made his break for it, was his blaster rifle, lying with a broken connector at the end of the sling strap. Cursing, he drew the blaster pistol he had taken from the Advose and took aim at one of the closer wolves. Firing, he dropped the first wolf and looked towards a second.

HK activated his concealed blaster and began firing, scoring a hit on yet another wolf as Tam and V’Brel opened fire on those wolves in the plaza. Lil helped HK control the wolves circling their position, missing but bringing them into a single line for HK. With a single shot from his forearm blaster, HK felled both wolves and looked approvingly at Lil.

Now out of range, D’Jrem made his way from the tree to retrieve his rifle as Tam and V’Brel fired on the three remaining wolves, dropping one and holding the others off long enough to allow D’Jrem, now with rifle in hand, to lend supporting fire and finish them.

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Mountaintop Rescue Part 2 Continued
End of Session 1

Tam leaned down to regard the droid, smoking and sparking as it was. With a sigh, he began piecing together the frayed wiring and loose circuitry. Spotting a repair patch in the droids supply pouch, he unpacked it and began fixing the droid in earnest. The others went to work searching the hunters for evidence as to why they would attack, though all that was discovered was more evidence of their wilderness survival. By the time that HK was heard to reboot, they had all grown nervous about D’Jrem’s fate. With no sounds of blaster fire, and no sign of his return, the group decided to follow his trail.

“It figures we would use his comlink for Sparkles,” Lil muttered. “Speaking of which, do you have any idea where he is?”

“I do,” the voice of the Gatekeeper replied,” I can detect him directly ahead of your current position, “though I believe all of you will be needed, save the droid.” Lil looked suspiciously at her comlink.

“Why all of us save HK?”

“Someone will need to stay with the stunned hunters, should they awake. As HK is both designed for combat and has not the need to sleep or ability to be distracted, he seems the logical choice. Their chances of overpowering him are low.”

“Uh-huh.” Lil didn’t like it, but for no reason she could put her finger on. “HK, NO KILLING. I want them in the same condition when I return as they are when I leave. Clear?”

“Suggestion: Perhaps we should dismember the organics? It would make it easier for transport and then I could accompany you.” HK’s suggestion was made all the more terrifying thanks to the still-gaping wound in his chest. The repair patch was sufficient to repair the underlying circuitry and clockworks, but there just wasn’t the volume of metal needed to replace the lost plating.

Lil was, as usual, stunned at the droids irrationality. “HK, we can’t rip them to pieces – they’ll die.”

“Amendment: You are correct, Master. I did forget that. Stupid, frail, non-compartmentalized meatbags! I will stay here and maintain their conditions, Master, but please hurry, as the frail organic systems may give out at any moment, and I would certainly not want to unintentionally disobey your mandate.”

Lil shook her head and moved after the others, “Okay HK, I don’t want to be gone any longer than I need to be either. Be careful, I don’t trust any of this.”

The group made their way along the same path that D’Jrem and the hunter took. They moved as quickly as possible, the tracks of their companion and his prey clearly marked through the woods. Rushing around a bend, the sounds of danger met them too late for any of the party to take warning. The sounds of cracking ice and splintering rock heralded a shock beneath them, and soon, each of them fell into a pit in a spray of snow and gravel, darkness overtaking them as they hit rock below.

Lil awoke to the sounds of her comlink politely beeping an incoming message alert. Groaning, she rubbed her head where the sting of pain and a swollen mass told her she had suffered a good bump to the head. She looked around, and, seeing no obvious way out (only some roots far out of her reach), she grasped her comlink and answered, “Hello?”

“Don’t bother trying to climb out,” the voice of the Gatekeeper greeted her from the film of the microphone on the comlink. “The walls are covered in ice, and it’s just above freezing now; they’ll be slick with icemelt. No, I’m afraid you will have to use the Force to have any hope of success here.”

A brief spike of anger swelled through her before she regained control of her emotions and calmly (if cooly) replied. “You planned this, didn’t you, Sparkles?”

“Well, from my perspective this will be a very interesting test. One that is very necessary. You will not be able to defeat Malefax without your skills in the Force being developed. I can aid in you this; the Force can be used to aid in a great many ways. It can guide you to the best route out, it can bolster your muscles to perform superhuman feats, and it can even move objects around you, bringing them to you to free yourself. You must search within yourself to decide how the Force can aid you, I can help you focus this decision into a reality.”

“I thought you didn’t know his name? What else haven’t you told us?” Lil knew she couldn’t trust the Jedi-like computer.

“I didn’t know his name. Since that previous conversation he has declared himself. Thus, I now know his name. As for what I haven’t told you, a great many things.” He paused and shrugged, “I shall continue to not tell you a great many things until such a time as you ask questions involving me relating them or I deem it necessary to inform you of them. That is the nature of knowledge, it isn’t always appropriate or pertain able to a given situation, and therefore must be held for when it inevitably becomes applicable.”

“THIS is why no one ever trusted the Jedi, Sparkles. You always manipulate people to dance to your Will. That’s why the Empire won in the end. They’re very clear on their intentions.” Frustrated, in pain, and getting uncomfortably cold, Lil realized she was arguing with a computer program and shook her head. ‘That’s as useless as trying to argue with HK,’ she thought. “Fine, let’s get this over with.” She reached out her hand to the root, and focused on it.

“Visualize it moving towards you, bring it to you in your minds’ eye,” the Gatekeeper instructed. Lil closed her eyes (it made visualizing so much easier when the reality wasn’t getting in the way) and pictured the root springing from its icy prison and reaching out to her hand. She imagined feeling the knotted wood, the cold soil, covered in permafrost, sliding between her outstretched fingers. To her astonishment, her imagination was so apt that she could smell the musty fragrance of wood wrapped in dirt, and the feeling of a bug skittering across her thumb. Except, she didn’t visualize a bug ….

Opening her eyes, Lil found the root wrapped in her hand, and indeed, a centipede of unnaturally large dimensions crawling up her arm. With a cry of revulsion, she dropped the root and shook her hand as if it were on fire. “SON OF A --“ she stared at her comlink, sure that the damned hologram had somehow arranged the bug to scare the life out of her.

“You have done well, Lillandria.” The voice acted proud, but lacked any real emotion to the statement.

“Oh shut up,” she replied as she grabbed the root and began climbing. “You got me into this mess on purpose, remember?”

Arriving at the top of the pit, she was greeted to V’brat and D’jrem likewise crawling out of their individuals traps. “He set us up, you know. Sparkles knew the pits were here all along. It was a goddamned test, can you believe that?”

Their conversation was interrupted by the odd sound of running, and before anyone could gather what was occurring, Tomo burst from out of her pit, having planted a foot on each side of the expanse and “run” up the wall. “It was good exercise, and we did learn of new strengths inside us,” she said.

“Still, it was pretty low.” D’jrem reminded her.

Emerging from a bush nearby, revealing a cavern entrance, Tam looked at them through smiling eyes. “It has been a long time since I had to use the Force to sense for tunnels in my surroundings. It was a training exercise at the Temple when I was very young.”

Lil just rolled her eyes, “I can’t believe you all are okay with being manipulated! C’mon, we have to go and get HK.” She stormed off back to the camp ….

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