Part 2: Damsel in Distress
It seemed almost unnatural in the minutes that followed. Utter silence descended upon the small tomb and its array of cracked antechambers, countless symbolic claw-like pillars casting menacing shadows in flickering torchlight. Each of Na’sira’s steps was light and silent, and as she listened for the tiniest sound - even a distant tuk’ata’s growl would do - she could discern nothing. Only the shifting of the shadows counted for movement and the gentle crackle of embers provided a pitifully quiet soundtrack. For a moment she considered singing to balance it, but decided not to.
In fact she was possessed very suddenly by the realisation that she was hungry. A hardened nutrient paste bar was all she had but it would suffice as she sat beneath one of the torches and looked up at the wall. Though manically cheerful she still understood appreciation for age and culture – the ruins themselves were older than she could imagine and the inscriptions, though meaningless to her, carried a strange foreboding sense of warning. This was her second trial and both had already brought her into close contact with the intangible nature of many of the Force’s machinations. But none more so than this time around.
She closed her eyes and sighed, descending into a rare, peaceful silence. The blandness of the scarcely-to-be-called food in her hand was a great assistance in clearing her head. Though the serenity – the peacefulness – was highly contradictory to the Sith Code, she still liked it. If she couldn’t laugh, at least she could relax. However, she could do little that came close to relaxing. The stones of the tomb drew her attention again. She opened a single eye and smiled. It was a realisation she attained long ago that she was always going to be manipulated until she was above it, and thereby able to be the manipulator.
Whispers crept through the corridor. The crude stone statues that were symbolic of servants seemed to twitch and move, as if they were alive, even though Na’sira knew they weren’t moving. They weren’t twitching. And, rather unexpectedly, the voice became tangible. As if... She was being addressed. Directly. It wasn’t an ambient, ghostly whisper – but it was talking to her. It took some concentration to comprehend it, but she managed.
“I do love it when people know they’re being manipulated!”
For a fleeting moment, she actually considered raising an eyebrow in bemusement. And she did, but not before smiling broadly and setting her bar of tasteless nutrients aside. She spread her arms and bade the ghost welcome to her world. Perhaps they were kindred, mischievous spirits.
“Hello! I hope I didn’t make too much of a mess of your claw-chamber!”
Silence descended upon the corridor again. Perhaps she was just incrementally going crazier and suffering more-vivid-than-standard hallucinations. Or, as she believed with more conviction, it was a well placed silence by her new partner in the land of the dead to mess with her head. As if to confirm, another trace of audible, ethereal murmuring.
“Not at all. It’s a shame you’re leaving, though.”
Na’sira sprang from her position and grinned cheerfully.
“Ooh, I could sing something for you?”
“... Why do I have to find her anyway?”
The overseer folded his arms and stared the acolyte down. He was quite the upstart and the perceived safety the metal walls of the academy were giving him was doing him no favours. Na’sira wasn’t an incompetent acolyte even if she was an annoying one – if something killed her down there, it would dispose of this useless prat as well. And if he survived, all the more power to him. Survival of the fittest.
“It is your first trial. Find her or her corpse and bring something back to tell the tale of what happened.”
He twitched, snorted and bowed his head. Fists clenched he muttered through gritted teeth.
“... Yes, my lord.”
What had been described as a brief trip to the tomb turned out to be a titanic hike through an enormous labyrinth of awkward and unstable-looking walkways flanked by thoroughly cracked cliff-faces. It was, at least, devoid of tuk’ata and other notorious creatures as promised even if the path was long, hot and unforgiving. He was just an acolyte and he supposed that overseers only saw acolytes as minions to do their dirty work. At least none of them had asked him to make them a hot drink. Yet.
Then he rounded an abrupt and narrow corner that he’d half-expected to be a dead end to mock him – but it then fanned out into a field of jagged rocks that lay before a gigantic, trapezoidal entrance way – made of the same red stone it seemed Korriban was entirely composed of. For a fleeting moment he was awestruck that it was so well hidden for its size, but he pressed forward. Curiosity about its purpose reigned, but he would find out soon enough wouldn’t he? And likewise he had to be on guard – there was no telling what happened in there.
Crossing the rock-field went without incident. Many of the jagged rocks were fragile and the sharp points broke away under his weight. Others he swatted aside with the Force or a swing of his training vibroblade. No matter of his low opinion of Twi’leks, he was well aware that it wasn’t this petulant excuse for a natural hazard that would have killed this acolyte. He moved on forward into the grand shadow that was the entrance. He drew in his breath sharply.
It was pitch black. He could see flickering torches but they scarcely gave out enough light to make an illuminated circle on the wall they were attached to. It didn’t seem to make any sense considering that the fires in the torches were not small or petering out. Perhaps he had misjudged just how large the chamber was? He closed his eyes; it would be a good test of his senses. He reached out with the Force to find his way, sweeping his senses this way and –
He groaned and fell back onto the floor, resting a hand on his forehead. He had collided with the wall. He lashed out in anger, illuminating the chamber with a burst of force lightning. The brief lightshow revealed that the entrance chamber was in fact tiny. There was nothing but a shallow dome-like roof structure and rudimentary supporting columns of stone. He murmured his irritations and pressed forward into one of the darkened corridors.
The further he went in the less comfortable he felt. The darkness did not scare him, but there was something about this tomb. The silence and the unnaturally faded lights didn’t even seem to be the most noticeable factor. Every step further he felt less... Secure. Occasionally a loose rock slid down the wall and clattered across his boot and he jumped. But nothing compared to what he started to hear, stirring the air like a breeze. Gently, softly, in the background he could hear a voice. Female. It seemed to swerve around the corner to him and the echo was easily discernible as he approached it.
Singing. He recognised the Huttese lyrics, and the longer he listened and the closer he got to the source he was more bemused. They weren’t even vaguely relevant to the Sith. In fact, he’d heard similar songs being sung in a Red Light district on Nar Shaddaa. He grinned at the thought, but it was so out of place. Perhaps tomb robbers had been Na’sira’s downfall, and not some ancient dwelling power in the tomb? And as he sauntered through the corridor, stepping on a bar of hard nutrient paste as he went, the singer stood proud between two claw-like tendrils of stone at the entrance to the chamber.
Na’sira tilted her head to the left and stopped singing. She focused her gaze on the acolyte and gestured with a hand.
“Aw, did you come looking for me, dear?”
He twitched. Alien scum, always out for an easy lay or a quick credit. Even those gifted with the chance to be Sith. He flicked the switch on his vibro-blade, casting a faint yellow glow where he stood. He was one trial behind her – he was told this much – but it would still be a boost to him if he brought her in disabled or dead. What did a trial further than him mean anyway? Extra dreary lectures between actual challenges?
He started forward and scuttled back in an instant. Although he could see a ramshackle, probably self-made, sword-like weapon on her in the light of the chamber, he noticed she held something else. Something cylindrical. And as a beam of piercing yellow light leapt out from it with the iconic sound of a lightsaber he was possessed by fear; and rage. Second trial? She had a lightsaber! What sort of trick had the overseer pulled now? Surely this was a bit much for a first trial?
He mustered his rage and released it in lightning into the chamber at Na’sira. He struck an obelisk standing in the centre of the room with it, which promptly shattered into pieces from the impact. The Twi’lek was nowhere to be seen. Had he imagined it? Was the tomb playing tricks on him? Incomprehensible whispers crept about the room, luring him to the shattered obelisk. Three corpses, one that appeared to be of another acolyte, lay beside a stone well that was stained with fresh, wet blood.
He edged forward, remaining wary as the whispers grew louder, but no more comprehensible in their ghostly nature. He rested a finger in the stone bowl, testing the blood’s consistency. A reflection of light caught his eye and the room was silent all of a sudden. Not a footstep, not a breath, not the hum of a lightsaber. It must have been a trick, a hallucination. But the metallic object in the hollow was real. He asserted that the obelisk usually concealed it – perhaps he had discovered something important. Perhaps his realisation that he was being played and his refusal to give up was his trial; and this chip his reward?
It fit his own datapad just fine. As he accessed the auxiliary drive he eagerly fished through the data and found only two files. One contained the co-ordinates of the cave – the same set he’d been given – and the other was a text file. His eyebrow lifted as he murmured the words as he read them and he almost crushed the datapad in fury. That scummy alien, wherever she actually was, had gotten to it first! ‘Nasi was here’, what a child!
In the blink of an eye he felt weightless. His feet left the floor and a thick demicot silk sleeve crossed by his neck. Something blunt was being pressed into the small of his back and he tilted his head. He caught sight of Na’sira's face. She was smiling from ear to ear and humming a merry tune. Could he do anything but cringe away from this blue-skinned cretin who had so easily ambushed him? Perhaps he would play along and satisfy the filthy urges of this gullible fool up until there was a convenient time to kill her.
“I think it’s sweet that you’ve come to save the fair maiden from the dark, dark room...”
She released him. He wasted no time in swinging his vibroblade and cleaving thin air behind him. Not a trace. Gone again – another trick! He was sure the alien was responsible and his anger was mounting.
“You could always try to find the light switch... Or you could stay for tea! Go and put the kettle on!”
“Do you take sugar? I might slip in some venom, I hear it tastes divine.”
A laugh and a few claps of her hands echoed around the chamber.
“Oh, no thank you. I’m sweet enough.”
He growled; he had already had it with talking along to this running gag. He infused himself with his mounting anger and sprayed forked lightning all over the chamber. Very few appreciated being toyed with by children, and being toyed with by an alien child was infinitely worse. But as his malevolence and hatred boiled inside him, Na’sira had seized the opportune moment.
Giggling. Fits of giggling rebounded off every wall and bombarded his ears. The acolyte shook with fury as it turned to raucous laughter. The mockery! His passion, his strength and determination being mocked by some common alien slave-refuse! But what was worse... Whispers in the chamber became tangible at last. He snarled as he heard ghostly laughter. The shattered pillar’s pieces drew his attention as if a crowd of people cackled at him from beyond the grave. He snapped.
“Enough! Show yourself, alien wench!”
Suddenly even the torches were utterly devoid of sound. The laughter, the singing and the echoes were all faded as if distant memories. The Twi’lek stepped out from behind one of the outer rings of pillars with her lightsaber humming ominously. No other sound. Just an enormous, glowing-white-toothed smile, and her lightsaber. No malevolence, or hatred. He couldn’t even feel anger or frustration ebbing from her. She looked happier than a child who’d just been given an expensive present and he couldn’t help but be confused. What was he missing that was making her so happy?
Na’sira smiled. Oh, she smiled. Another human who just couldn’t get the joke. The chamber was perfect. Although the central obelisk was rubble, there were still the three circles of claw-pillars surrounding the structures in the middle. She scooted in between them, growing ever closer to the infuriated man.
The acolyte was a young man. Crew-cut brown hair and a mud-stained face were all that stood out in the low light. The human was shaking with anger and by now sprinting toward her; she had the lightsaber but vibroblades were built to withstand them. Never underestimate a danger.
The two blades met as he launched into unrestrained aggression. Each swipe of the vibroblade was a clumsy but vicious swipe that clashed against her inferior physical strength. But the sheer balance of Na’sira’s Niman form kept him from gaining an advantage. Every blow was parried and whenever there was an opening the slightest push of force or feint of the blade could keep him back. In her eyes she could leap back and fry him on the spot, but why not take the free sparring practice?
It was a lesson in recital, despite the lethal odds for failure. Form VI was one of innovation; a pathetically unsustainable combat form unless she could combine it with curious and new uses of the Force. And at last, she had a test subject. A very, very angry and rudimentary wielder of Ataru, this acolyte could be just the practice she needed to get started on her, ahem, ‘theory crafting’.
Following a high parry she threw her weight forward, pushing his vibroblade aside and swiping out with her free left hand. She had intended to punch him, but as she brought the lightning to her fingers she had another of ‘those thoughts’.
Lightning racked his form and he went into a spasm on the spot. Na’sira plunged the lightsaber into the acolyte, putting him out of his misery in one clean, abrupt movement. For a moment she regretted never knowing his name. But now new priorities took over as she grinned and slipped her lightsaber back onto her belt after deactivating it.
She withdrew the auxiliary datachip - the one she had originally left the message on - from the fallen man’s datapad. She placed it carefully in the exposed central hollow. She guided the obelisk’s shattered pieces back together and span around, arms wide – addressing her new ghostly partners in mischief.
“It’ll never get old, will it?”
She smiled and turned to leave. The joke was still on. As if nothing had happened.
End of Part 2