Chapter Two: Tombs
The students began to mumble and stir as they surreptitiously consorted with their companions, none willing to speak up. Their master meanwhile, let out one of his low chortles.
“It is understandable,” Syrosk stated. “Tash likely instructed his instructors to keep his students in the dark about anything beyond the boundaries of your halls. Even the normal students risk raising the ire of certain Sith if they go into a tomb unsanctioned. And with the war going on, getting students ready for battle takes priority over picking them entirely clean.”
“Are we planning to ‘raise the ire of certain Sith’ by going into these tombs?” Lorrik asked.
“Not quite,” Syrosk declared. “There are far too many groups interested in the tombs around the Academy. Not to mention the fact that they’ve already been sifted through. No, instead, we will be turning our attention toward more bountiful grounds. Grounds long since forgotten.”
“Sith rarely tend to ‘forget’ about anything that they could use to their benefit,” Arlia suggested.
“I suppose you are correct. ‘Abandoned’ would likely serve as a better descriptor,” Syrosk proclaimed. “Whenever a powerful Sith leaves something behind after their death, it is only a matter of time before someone seeks to claim it for themselves. However, here on Korriban, there rests an area untouched for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. A valley of forgotten lords.”
“Forgotten lords?” Isorr balked. “They mustn’t have accomplished much in their lifetimes then.”
“Select few have the privilege of having their names survive thousands of years,” Syrosk reasoned. “This galaxy is inhabited by forgetful peoples. And those who do remember, often see to it that no one else does.”
“There are those who actively seek the destruction of history,” Lorrik added. “But I never took the Sith to be amongst them.”
“So how do you know about them then?” Kar’ai questioned her master.
“Knowledge of these tombs isn’t that rare,” Syrosk clarified. “Anyone connected to or influenced by the artifact trade knows where to find them. Usually such places would have been picked clean by now, but that is not the case.”
“What’s keeping people out?” Ryloh inquired.
“The only thing capable of stopping a Sith… fear,” Syrosk detailed. “When a Sith passes on, they’ll often do everything in their power to prevent their assets from passing on undeservingly. Ancient droids, alchemical creations, old but potent defenses line the halls of any truly powerful lord to keep out anyone unworthy of their possessions. Only one of the tombs in this particular area was opened, and the surveyors were immediately wiped out. The Sith Lord who ordered the excavation sent more and more of his underlings to their doom, until he himself delved into the tomb. Upon clearing each and every chamber of its defenses, he had discovered that his efforts had been for naught. What he gained in a small allotment of mediocre artifacts could not have made up for the utter decimation of his dominion. None were willing to risk what he did delving the other tombs. And so they remained untouched. Until today.”
“So, just so I understand correctly. We’ll be trying to succeed where the combined might of a Sith Lord and his entire sphere of influence failed?” Lorrik hesitantly asked.
“All for what might end up being a worthless endeavor?” Arlia added.
“This shall be anything but worthless, should you succeed,” Syrosk replied. “Any artifacts or treasures you come across in these tombs will simply be an added bonus. The true benefit lies in the journey.”
“Ah, you’re not going soft on us now are you, master?” Kar’ai joked.
“There is a good chance you will die in these tombs if you are not cautious,” Syrosk admitted. “This isn’t a time for mind games, or wordy speeches about what you are supposed to learn…”
“That time comes when we all come back safely, doesn’t it?” Lorrik added, his previous worriedness tempered with a jocularity.
“Hmph,” Syrosk emoted. “If you do all return, then I can take solace in the fact that you’ve heeded my lessons until this point. But if not… as I said before, I have plans in place should any of you perish.”
“And it’s gets more refreshing each time you repeat it,” Lorrik mumbled.
“This is a trial, right?” Isorr asked. “That means we’ll be inevitably judged on something. So what is it going to be this time?”
“We’ll take a shuttle to the valley in a short while,” Syrosk detailed. “Each pair will enter a separate tomb, and be judged on what they bring back. You’re free to stay in the tomb as long as you wish, but the shuttle will return to the Academy six hours after we begin. Unless you intend to make another trek across the wastes, this time with no rations, I suggest you make it back in time. Any questions?”
The students had none.
“Alright then. To the shuttle”
The Sith Lord led his apprentices to a docked shuttle, the same one that once dropped them off in the wastes of Korriban. Although the silence of the previous trip had been replicated, the mood within the passenger bay had not. Each student kept to themselves, interrupting the quiet only for a brief aside with their partner now and again. Months ago, when they were eight acolytes preparing themselves for the dangerous trek that awaited them, there was a trepidation in their hearts.
But not this day. Within the shuttle’s seats, each student had a determined glint in their eyes. Nothing had changed, and yet everything had. They were not the eight students they were when they left for the wastes. And yet they once more found themselves being thrust into a life or death situation at the behest of their master. And each student knew of the dangers they might face that day. The lack of fear surging through their hearts was not made possible through ignorance, but the cultivation of strength, both physical and mental.
The shuttle flew for what felt like hours. For as much as they had advanced, spending time isolated in the drowning noise of the vessel’s passenger bay still proved uncomfortable for some of the students. The deprivation of their senses continued to burden the travelers. But even the most hotheaded of them managed to stay cool. Syrosk watched over his students from the rear of the vessel with his usual stern visage. Lorrik thought to speak at many moments, but held his tongue. He had chosen to mimic his partner, finding solace in meditation.
When the vessel finally arrived at its destination, the students exited the shuttle into a world between the light and darkness. The valley their master had described seemed more a fissure stretching deep below the surrounding terrain. As they stood looking up into the Korriban sky, they found there peripherals cut off by the jagged edges of suffocating ridges, much of the valley basked in shadows. The tombs Syrosk spoke of were carved into and out of the walls of these parted cliff faces. A series of structures lined the ridge walls to their left and right. One had shown signs of disturbance, the others remained remarkably clean, touched only by the abrasive winds that blew through the fissure.
“Students,” Syrosk spoke up. “The valley of forgotten lords.”
“Now I can see why they were forgotten,” Arlia commented. “Even the most ambitious of tomb robbers wouldn’t think to look all the way out here.”
“I don’t understand,” Isorr stated, scratching his chin. “When a Sith constructs a tomb, it isn’t meant to be something tucked away and hidden. It is to be a monument to their power. A grand display of their wealth and influence to their lessers, almost teasing them with what might lay behind their walls. Sith don’t waste resources just to fade into obscurity.”
“Maybe their status today was unintended,” Lorrik suggested. “A thousand years is a long time, maybe this area held more significance when these tombs were constructed.”
“Or maybe these aren’t our usual Sith,” Jresh offered, sternly panning his gaze between the tombs. The large entrances to each tomb offered little indication to the size and grandeur of what rest behind them. Formed entirely from stone, the structures were undoubtedly ancient.
“If these date back to the golden age, they might be more Sith than any of us could ever hope to be,” Lorrik confessed.
“Students,” Syrosk reigned in his apprentices, “as you can see, here lay six tombs, only one of which has been previously exhumed. That give you free reign to choose whichever one you like. As stated before, each pair will have a tomb to themselves. Crack it open, search its halls, and bring back something valuable. Your six hours start now.”
The Sith Lord abruptly ceased speaking amidst his unremarkable stance near the shuttle. The students puzzled for a moment, unsure of how to proceed, but realized time was of the essence. No one had heard of a tomb being cleared in a single day, let alone six hours. The eight apprentices split up, each pair darting off in separate directions. Each made their way to one of the towering gateways of stone and terrain that guarded the burial halls of long dead Sith.
Isorr and Arlia made their way to the tomb nearest the shuttle. Kar’ai lead Ryloh to the one built into the opposite stone wall. Nesk and Vurt meanwhile made their way further into the valley with utmost haste. That left Lorrik and Jresh to advance with a tempered pace. They had their eyes set on an unassuming structure a short walk away. Unassuming by comparison at least. The tomb entrances were something any archeologist would love to behold, but set up adjacent to one another, there were few distinguishable details available to the students.
They knew little of the structures’ true ages or purposes. Their knowledge of ancient Sith left them with little belief that someone of importance oversaw the construction of one of more of these tombs. They didn’t even know if they were six separate burial sites, or the strange execution of one strange Sith’s strange ambitions.
The human and Pureblood came to a stop in front of a large stone slab surrounded by pillars and eroded stone supports. The sand colored gateway was grandiose in stature if not design, stretching high and wide, its door a greater size than any humanoid. If it couldn't even be called a door. All the stood before the pair was a single, uniform slab of stone inlayed beyond the structural archway, no evidence of a partition or recess.
“So… how do we go about cracking open this tomb?” Lorrik asked his companion. The Sith silently made his forward until he stood directly in front of the solid barrier. Placing his hand upon the stone slab, he lightly felt the surface with the palm of his gloved hand.
“We make a crack,” Jresh stoically proposed. Removing his hand, he drew it in close to his chest, taking in a deep breath as he concentrated and closed his eyes. Lorrik tilted his head before taking a cautious step back. With a powerful exertion of the Force, Jresh struck the center of the barrier with his open palm. As his hand impacted against the stone, a shockwave radiated in the opposite direction, blowing away the nearby dust and sand and almost knocking Lorrik off his feet.
Steadying himself, the human watched as a fracture began to form beneath his companion’s hand. The crack traveled upward until it bisected the slab from top to bottom.
“Did… did that do it?” Lorrik asked, somewhat marveling at his partner’s work. Jresh looked up and down the surface, scratching his chin as he studied the newly formed crack.
“No. The slab’s still firmly in place,” Jresh admitted. “However, I believe its integrity has been compromised. Lorrik, come over here.” The inquisitor complied, standing by his companion as the two of them looked upon the stone barrier. “Looks like we’re going to have to push our way in.”
“Works for me,” Lorrik nonchalantly added. The two of them began to move in sync, concentrating their minds and their bodies. Together they focused, pulling their hands in close to their chests. The human and Pureblood shared a look and a mutual nod, before each taking a deep breath. A moment later, they exhaled and coupled it with the outthrust of their hands. The combined might of their synchronized Force pushes fully cracked the slab into two pieces which were sent flying into the tomb’s darkened interior.
Lorrik and Jresh turned and gripped one another’s hand in mutual respect and cordiality. The pair turned their gazes toward the shadowed hall and slowly made their way into the tomb. The structure’s interior possessed little in the way of visible flourishes. Only hard and uniform walls of stone on all sides. As the warrior and inquisitor passed the threshold of the archway, and with each step the intruding light faded to darkness. Lorrik unhooked the saber from his belt and igniting its blue blade. The light emanated from the saber and lighted the pair’s path. Side by side they advanced into the darkness, no torches or fixtures aiding their venture deeper into the tomb.
“It’s weird… I expected giant statues, or murals, or something like that to greet us,” Lorrik mused. “Isorr had a point, usually the only Sith to construct tombs are the ones trying to make a statement. This one doesn’t seem to be saying anything at all.”
“Sometimes silence is the most impactful of statements,” Jresh commented.
“Ever the warrior-poet, aren’t you?” Lorrik playfully prodded. “I just hope we manage to find something within these halls.” The path they traveled ended at a fork, splitting into two different halls. “Be sure to make a mental map of this place, I’d hate to be late getting back.”
The two made their way deeper into the tomb, traversing winding and branching halls, never coming across anything resembling a larger chamber. Looking back and forth, there was nothing but darkness to the front and rear of the pair. Just as caution was beginning to change to boredom, something caused the apprentices to freeze in their tracks. Originating from somewhere deeper within the tomb, a sound echoed through the halls. A harrowing sound. A dreadful howl.
“Uh… Jresh…” Lorrik muttered.
“Stay alert. We are not alone,” Jresh declared, retrieving and igniting his lightsaber. The red and blue glow of their weapons revealed nothing in the immediate area. Slowly they continued their advance, cautious step after cautious step. As Jresh took the forward position, Lorrik took up the rear. While the warrior pressed forward, an unfamiliar fear began to fester within the inquisitor. Unfamiliar, and yet something within him recognized it.
After making their way through countless halls for half an hour, the pair finally came across an open area. The passageway widened until it opened into a full-fledged chamber. Large stone pillars supported he tall roof, upon which sat crystal fixtures that glowed brighter and brighter as the two Sith drew closer. The budding light illuminated more and more of the room, but it wasn’t needed to see what rested in its center. Etched onto the ground in the middle of the chamber was a circle accompanied by a series of markings and runes, a brilliant red glow emanating from them. But as intriguing as the designs were, what immediately captured the attention of the two intruders was what currently stood within the markings.
A large humanoid basked in the light of the runed designs, and yet was cloaked in shadows. Its arms were crossed in front of its chest, and its head hung low as if in some form of stasis. The human and Pureblood halted their progress, gazing upon the figure from afar.
“Jresh…” Lorrik barely managed to utter, his voice overflowing with hesitance. As soon as the word echoed throughout the chamber, it was followed by a resounding crash. The red lights beneath the mysterious figure began to fade, and its shadowed form began to be revealed. As the darkness faded, so did its stillness. It uncrossed its arms and raised its head, arching and stretching itself in the process.
The figure was like nothing the pair had laid eyes on before, and yet Lorrik knew he had seen it. A monstrous figure, standing tall yet hunched, a mix of man and beast. Its form was jagged, spurred, and crimson. The bulky figure stood taller than either of the intruders, yet bore an uncanny resemblance to one of them, albeit in some debased form. The crimson humanoid was lightly garbed, only tattered cloths concealing its lower body. From its unconcealed flesh sprouted boney spurs and spikes upon its arms and back. Its eyes glowed with a golden ferocity as they settled upon the two intruders.
“That’s the thing… from my dream,” Lorrik revealed. “The thing that killed me…”