The Twi’lek couldn’t decide if stepping slowly through the madness, or making a run for it was the best course of action. Choosing a delicate balance, she quickened her pace with her Lightsaber’s blade humming beside her at all times. Most of the twisted, contorted figures ignored her – content in their mindless digging and aimless wandering on either side of the path. There were Sith Apprentices, Imperial Soldiers and what looked like some researchers, all with a strange glow in their eyes and an insidious red aura surrounding them. Talitha shuddered, the sense of floating through a never-ending nightmare seeking to invade her very soul.
As she turned right off the path to begin the ascent towards the looming, angular Dark Temple, the Twi’lek drew more attention. It was as though the closer she approached the Temple, the less the possessed wanted her to be there – as if a gauntlet had been laid before her. Blaster bolts were loosed at her from time-to-time, but through luck or instinct, Talitha had been able to avoid or deflect them. The more she climbed the more her legs began to ache and the heavier her heart felt.
“Was it really necessary to send me here alone?”, she wondered out loud.
Where in the past, her Master had been present in spirit to answer, this time her plea seemed to bounce back to the ground, struck back as the lightening of Dromund Kaas often did.
After what seemed an eternity of climbing, she finally saw the gaping maw of the archway into the Dark Temple itself. Her breathing was shallow and the oppressive, dank heat of the planet clung to her like a Mynock on a starship. She lent back against a stone wall and with her spare hand she rubbed her itching eyes. She felt once more the atmospheric pressure threatening to resurface the head pain she had experienced on her first arrival.
It was then out the corner of her eye she saw what appeared to be a young Sith Apprentice running at her, a red-bladed Lightsaber held out in front of him. With a hideous scream he leapt at Talitha, who had just enough time to spin away and return to parry his attack with her left hand. Turquoise light met red with a hiss, and the Twi’lek felt her lack of physical strength almost give way. The Apprentice pushed her hard as though to force her to the floor, but she just kept her balance and jumped back a few paces, her own saber now pointing towards her opponent.
“Fresh blood….” the Apprentice growled, “more fuel for the Masters. You will join us, little one.”
Talitha frowned as they circled one another. What species was he? Mirialan, human? Whatever he was there were dark, deep wrinkles etched into his face and his eyes seemed almost vacant, as though the real him were lying dormant.
“What’s… what’s your name, Sith?”, Talitha stammered
“My name doesn’t matter. And neither does yours, fresh blood. Hmm…blood”, he drawled then leapt at her again with a howl.
Again Talitha was able to move around him and caught a glancing blow to the back of his leg. But it seemed he pushed through the pain with unnatural ease and jumped back around aiming towards her head. Ducking just in time, the Apprentice’s saber caught her right shoulder as she tried to roll out of the way.
Crying out, she felt her eyes water, but thanked the Force her left Saber arm was fine.
What power is this? she pleaded.
The Twi’lek went down on one knee and used the Force to create a barrier between her and the crazed Sith before her. His lip curled into a snarl and he ran at speed towards her. Talitha looked up with as much mental energy as she could muster and used the Force to push the Sith away as hard as possible.
She heard a crunch as his back and head smashed against a nearby wall and he did not get up.
“I need to move. I can’t risk checking if he’s dead or just unconscious.”, she mumbled.
Turning to face the entrance of the Temple, she threw all caution to the wind and forced her legs to run until the cool air of the Temple surrounded her.
One Disturbed Droid
Once the Twi’lek was sure none of the possessed denizens outside had followed her in, she sat down next to a medical droid and allowed her heartbeat to slow. The droid itself quietly scanned her and administered some tincture or other onto her shoulder wound. It stung, but meant she did not have to drain her Force reserves any more than necessary.
“Thank you,” she said looking up at the droid, “though you are less… talkative than most protocol droids.”
“Yes, when I was stationed here I preferred to chat. Until the horrifying stories that Sith, archivists and Hunters passing through became too much for my circuits.”
“I guess you’re glad to be a machine around here?”, Talitha ventured.
“I would prefer not to be here at all. Not that my opinion matters. I have a job to do.”
Whatever this droid had experienced had clearly affected its future iterations.
“You have done it well. And you’re not the only one here not by their own choice.”
“I hope I see you on your exit then, mistress. Though the odds of that…” the droid’s voice trailed off, then returned to sorting out its various medical supplies.
Talitha nodded and stood, her right shoulder feeling less sore now. Looking down to her left hand, her knuckles were white, standing out even against her pale yellow skin. The turquoise light still shining and humming. But her saber hand hurt from the tight grip she had held.
I need to learn to switch hands in combat. If I get out of here alive. Today has been too much, the Twi’lek thought, wearily.
The Assassin’s Trail
With a glance back to the droid, who did not want to return the gaze, Talitha’koum started up the spiral stairs. Taking a wide berth around assembled groups of the possessed, she found herself in an enormous hall of stone. Pillar-after-pillar lay before her, with passageways off here and there. Everywhere she looked there was grey stone. Nothing that would give away where Darth Zash’s Apprentice had gone.
“I need to think,” she murmured and looked for somewhere ‘safe’ to sit, “well, less instant-death-like, anyway”.
Normally she avoided corners. It was Talitha’s first rule of Lightsaber combat – no corners and no contained spaces. But in this case a corner meant protection. She deactivated her Lightsaber and sat on the floor, placing her hilt by her left hand. Reaching into her satchel she pulled out her datapad and bread, half refreshing her memory, and half looking for imminent danger.
As she ate, she felt some of her strength return and her mind began to work more clearly.
Kallig, huge Torch, Zash’s Apprentice, right.
She closed her eyes and drew on the Force to protect her, hoping for dear life that her light didn’t shine out as it had back on Ilum. Her powers in self-healing was growing, though she couldn’t always push pain away. She felt an inner warmth build within her, contrasting to the cool atmosphere of the Dark Temple. And in her brief moment of serenity, she thought she identified a corner of the Temple to investigate.
The start of the trail had been found.