Chapter Three: Monsters
Lorrik’s eyes widened as his entire body began to shiver. Jresh meanwhile looked upon the awakening foe with his usual stoicism.
“Massassi…” Jresh muttered.
“Huh?” Lorrik replied, momentarily snapping out of his worried trance.
“An old sub-species of Sith. Warrior caste.”
“You mean you and this thing have the same blood?” Lorrik asked in a hushed tone, trying to convince himself he could delay attracting any more attention. The Pureblood remained silent as he continued to eye the creature.
It was ancient, of a breed lost to time. The spikes and fins that sprouted from its joints and back were exaggerated and deformed compared to any found on present day Sith. It’s hands had only four digits, in the form of elongated, sharpened claws. More disturbing was their condition. Deviating from the crimson of the rest of its crimson hide, its hands were pitch black, as if they were dipped to their forearms in ink.
“The Massassi were warriors. Stalwart. Strong. But nothing like this,” Jresh declared. “Sith Alchemy was responsible for our ability to breed with the Dark Jedi. I’d say it’s also responsible for the corrupted being that stands before us.”
“Why is it just standing there? If it’s the tomb’s defender, shouldn’t it be attacking us?” Lorrik asked. The glowing eyes of the awakened creature had connected with the Pureblood’s, and there they continued to fall.
“It’s likely as intrigued by me as we are of it,” Jresh stated. “Lorrik, there’s an opening at the opposite end of the chamber. You go ahead, I’ll handle this.”
“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute,” Lorrik replied. “I’m not leaving you alone with this thing. I know how dangerous it can be.”
“As do I, which is why I’m asking you to let me handle this,” Jresh stated. “You sense we’re at the end of the tomb, correct? That this is our only obstacle? Find whatever this thing is guarding. Get us something to bring back to Syrosk.”
“And let you fight this thing alone? No way. You remember what Syrosk said. This trial is supposed to be about cooperation. Working together.”
“This is cooperating. I handle the beast, you secure our item for Syrosk,” Jresh explained.
“You don’t understand! You don’t know what it’s like to see your own death!”
“Lorrik, it’s okay. You once told we that we are not defined by our pasts. I would say that we are not defined by our futures either. Whatever dream, whatever vision you may have had, it cannot be allowed to define us. Control us. This trial isn’t just about working together. It’s about believing in one another. Fear is what kept these tombs closed. Fear is what holds us back. It okay to be afraid, so long as it does not control you. I believe in you. Do you believe in me?”
“Then I am more than capable of handling this,” Jresh declared as he took a step toward the waiting creature.
“This thing is the tomb’s defense system, you really think it’ll just let me walk away?”
“I don’t plan on giving it a choice,” Jresh bluntly said as he readied his saber, the glow of the crimson blade lighting up his determined visage.
The inquisitor fell silent, steeling himself as he powered down his own weapon. Within the half-darkness, Lorrik offered one final nod to his companion before stepping away, carefully maneuvering around the chamber’s outer limits. The creature’s neck began to swivel as it followed the Human’s path. Just as it thought to intercept, the guardian was interrupted by a sharp whistle emanating from the other intruder. Jresh remained adamant in his stance, eyes burning a hole through the Massassi.
“This is between you and me.”
The Pureblood couldn’t tell if the beast could comprehend his language, but as its glowing eyes began to sharpen, he believed there to be a firm understanding. Two warriors. Two Sith. Two impurities.
Beyond the monstrous defender, Jresh could see the outline of his companion on the far side of the chamber as he ventured deeper into the tomb. With a twirl of his wrist, the Pureblood reaffirmed his grip on his weapon, the black hilt resting firmly within the palm of his gauntleted hand. As the warrior readied himself, he was surprised to see the guardian continuing to stand in the center of the chamber, no apparent change in thought or demeanor. Only the enduring burden of his glowing gaze.
But still it did not act. Standing taller than even the mighty Pureblood whilst still in its hunched stance. Jresh knew that every second he bought his partner was worth it, but was hesitant to simply stand there staring down his opponent. For all its abnormalities, Jresh knew not what went through the head of his opponent. It could have been nothing. It could have been everything he hoped to prevent. Though he awaited the defender to make the first strike, the Pureblood was forced to act as the monstrosity began to turn away and lumber toward his departing companion.
“No you don’t,” Jresh muttered as he charged toward his opponent.
Raising his weapon high, the Pureblood sought to bring the saber down upon the abomination with a powerful overhead slash. But the monster moved with a ferocious speed unbefitting its large form. The Massassi spun upon its sharpened heel to face the crimson intruder just before his attack could land. Rather than dodge, the guardian used its immense speed instead to raise a single blackened hand.
Jresh’s eyes widened with alarm as he found his saber’s path inhibited. In the midst of its downward swing, it had been halted by the monster’s corrupted paw. As it clenched its grip, its sharpened talons encircled the crimson beam, seemingly ignoring the immense heat of the blade’s plasma. As it held the ignited blade within its black claws, the beast’s eyes met with the Pureblood’s once more. Their orange glow had intensified, any aspect of fear utterly absent from the guardian’s visage. Face to face, the Massassi stood a full head taller than the armored Pureblood. The monster’s countenance began to contort into a billowing snarl, baring the sharpened teeth that rest within its maw.
The beast’s grip began to tighten around the blade, until its claws managed to pierce the beam’s containment field. The loop of energy broke, and the crimson blade rescinded into its hilt. Jresh took an immediate leap back, putting some distance between himself and the abomination. As he held the hilt within his hand, he struggled to reactivate it, some portion of its inner workings disrupted. The Pureblood looked up to see his foe patiently staring at him. Waiting. Seeped in arrogance, yet totally stoic.
“If that’s how you want it,” Jresh calmly stated as he returned the hilt to his belt. With a deep breath, the Pureblood steadied himself and raised his fists. Finally did the Massassi begin to unfurl. Cracking its neck, beast widened its stance and placed its arms as its sides, hands spread open and bearing their clawed digits.
Further into the tomb, Lorrik carefully crept forward through the singular hall that led him away from the previous chamber. Looking back, only the faintest hint of a glow emanated from the room in which his companion faced off against the lone guardian of the tomb. He had yet to pick up any sounds of battle or commotion, but that did little to put his mind at ease. The inquisitor knew he had to continue, find something to make the entire ordeal worth the effort.
Eyes returning to the path ahead, the troubling thoughts swirling through the Human’s head suddenly settled as he noticed a new light source in the distance. Faint, but pulsing, drawing the inquisitor closer with an alluring warmth. His eyes widened as the concern slowly drained from his mind. With each step, his feet felt lighter, as if he were floating toward the next chamber. Any sense of trepidation or hesitance was gone from the inquisitor’s mind. And it infuriated him.
Lorrik knew when someone, something, was playing with his mind. Jresh was correct in suggesting the Massassi was the only defender of the tomb, but that didn’t mean it was its sole inhabitant. The inquisitor pressed forward, complying with the call yet retaining control of his own direction. At least, that’s what he told himself.
The Massassi lunged toward the Pureblood, lashing out with the long, broad swipes of its claws. Jresh began on the defensive, ducking and weaving as he stepped back from the advancing beast. Continuing his retreat, the warrior found his path obstructed as his back struck into one of the sizable pillars that graced the chamber. His eyes widened as he watched the abomination thrust its right claws toward his face. Jresh lowered himself just in time to miss the creature’s sharpened digits digging themselves into his skull, as they instead bore themselves into the stone pillar. Seeing the Massassi’s hand stuck inches into the column, the Pureblood went on the offensive.
Jresh delivered several quick jabs to the creature’s abdomen, before being swatted away by the monster. The Pureblood recoiled from the back of the Massassi’s free hand striking his face, spinning and recovering a few steps away. As the guardian struggled to remove his imbedded claw, Jresh brandished his saber and attempted to ignite it. The red plasma briefly flashed before promptly shutting off, refusing to properly activate. The warrior let out a disgruntled growl as he saw his opponent free itself from the stone column.
The Massassi closed fast, raising its right hand before hammering it down upon the Pureblood. Jresh intercepted the strike, halting the beast’s attack as he clutched its forearm with his gauntlets. The towering guardian continued to press down upon the intruder, his arms growing tired, his stance weakening. As the Pureblood focused his attention on the arm within his grasp, he couldn’t defend against the other being driven into his side. The blackened fist crashed into his ribs, the force of the blow passing through the armorweave covering. The warrior’s knees buckled and he slumped to the ground, his lightsaber slipping from his grasp and clattering as it skidded across the cold floor.
Lorrik was at the threshold of the next chamber. The image before him became clearer and clearer. In the next room, there rest a single stone pedestal , upon which sat a single glowing artifact. A Sith holocron. The small pyramid pulsed with a glowing red light, enticing the inquisitor to investigate. Stepping into the compact chamber, Lorrik saw no further passages. He had reached the furthest depths of the tomb. Slowly, he approached the artifact, keeping his wits about him as he shuffled through the dimly lit chamber.
With a few steps, the Human now stood in front of the item, studying it. The artifact’s glow seemed to intensify in his presence. The holocron was ornately designed, smooth black material decorated with red flourishes, with an intricate latticework of interior workings. All of which small enough to comfortable hold within his hand. Lorrik reached out, licking his lips as his fingers hovered just in front of the artifact. With a deep breath, he made contact. Before he could even exhale he found himself being tossed backward as an invisible force radiated from the holocron. The inquisitor landed hard on his back at the threshold of the chamber.
Letting out a soft groan, Lorrik raised himself, only to find something new between himself and the holocron. Something of humanoid size and form, ethereal, through which he could still see the hazy image of the glowing artifact. As he studied the figure, he realized it was the opposite of what he had encountered in the room before. Thin. Regal. No sign of Sith heredity. A Human, clad in black robes, staring at the downed inquisitor.
“I am the gatekeeper for this holocron,” the image stated with a dull, monotonous tone. “What is it that you seek?”
Lorrik kept his eyes on the ethereal figure as he raised himself from the ground. Standing, dusting himself off, he eyed the image up and down with a perturbed look in his eyes.
“You’re no construct…” Lorrik muttered. “You think I wouldn’t recognize a Force ghost?”
The spirit’s stoicism washed away, his mouth curling into a sinister smile. “It would seem I have misjudged you. I felt you and your other’s presence the moment you breached my tomb. You didn’t make a great first impression. I simply assumed your knowledge to be comparable to your strength.”
“Like I haven’t been talked down to by older Sith,” Lorrik admitted. “You just happen to have a few hundred years on the usual ones.”
The spirit balked. “A few hundred years? Boy, you have no comprehension of who you stand before, do you?”
“No. So why don’t you tell me?”
The Massassi hadn’t ceased its pursuit of the Pureblood. It was the first time in his life that he was so physically outmatched by a single opponent. He stayed on the defensive, trying his hardest to avoid the unrelenting swipes of the beast. Every so often, the blackened claws would rake across the warrior’s armor, leaving scratches even on the most reinforced plating. The pair darted back and forth across the room, the guardian lashing out and the Pureblood defending, trying to get in a strike of his own every now and again. But the monster just seemed to shrug each blow off. Even as Jresh drove his gauntleted hands into the flesh of the beast, the Force compounding each strike, his opponent showed no signs of fatigue or damage.
For all his strength, it proved useless against the abomination. The idea was infuriating to the warrior. All his time training turned into nothing against a single foe. In the brief glimpsing into the creature’s eyes, he saw only the intent to kill. Something he had not seen since his childhood. And like then, he was afraid. But it wasn’t the fear of losing his own life. He knew that if he died, Lorrik would be next. And so long as he possessed some semblance of power, he would use it to protect that which he cared about.
Jresh halted his retreat, spinning on his heels to let out a powerful Force push, releasing a primal roar as he did so. The shockwave surged toward the creature, halting its advance and pushing it back. It managed to remain upright, digging its feet into the stone as its slid backward. As the Massassi steadied itself, it looked up to see its opponent standing still, staring it directly in the eyes.
The warrior was done retreating. As he stared down his opponent, he could hear his mother’s words within his head.
“Strength is not raw power. It is control. Fueled by passions but never defined by them. You must control yourself. Then you might control your surroundings. Be at peace with your emotions, and you can draw from them at your own accord. Then you can find your strength.”
With a deep breath, Jresh readied himself. “Round two.”