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Ep. 5 | "Exploration"


An even longer time ago, in a galaxy just as far away...

 

Outside the shuttle's window, a dark structure towered above the jungles of Dxun. It was pyramid-shaped, though not quite a pyramid- its elongated form did not close to a point as would be expected, but ended abruptly with a flat top, making it a tall trapezoid. The sides of the structure were not straight but slightly curved in, nothing more than an artistic statement at first glance. Upon closer inspection, however, it looked rather unnatural, as if the trapezoid was so oddly shaped because it had been slowly pushed inwards over the years by an unseen force that surrounded the clearing around the structure.


Videte felt the dark presence emanating from the structure as soon as it had come into view, and could not help but wonder if it was what triggered her cryptic dream. She had woken just as the shuttle was making its final approach to Dxun, and not long afterwards, the pyramid had come into view, first as a dark speck in the landscape beneath, growing bolder and bolder as Videte realized that this was where her coordinates led. As the shuttle neared the surface it warned her that the autopilot's landing option could not be executed here, and she took over the controls.


Though she was not a particularly skilled pilot, Videte knew more than enough to operate a vessel for travelling across the galaxy. She landed the shuttle manually, touching down on the cliff face beside the ominous structure. After turning off the engines and ensuring that the locking mechanisms were functional, Videte stood from her seat in the cockpit, moving towards the back of the shuttle where one of her carbonite blocks still stood. She did not make for the frozen Mandalorian this time, taking only a coil of synthrope and her shadowsilk robe, which she threw over her body. Videte checked her toolbelt before removing it and fastening it around her waist on the outside of the robes, securing her clothes. She raised her hood to shield from the rains of the jungle moon, but her mask was left behind; hiding her identity from her contact was neither necessary nor likely to succeed.


Exiting the shuttle, Videte tied the synthrope around one of the landing gears, carrying the rest of the coil to the edge of the cliff and tossing it down. Gripping the rope with both hands, she slowly lowered herself down towards the clearing below. As she climbed, she took a glance at her surroundings, spotting a figure standing amidst the four large statues in front of the structure. The individual moved towards what was presumably the entrance, but did not step inside, instead waiting on the platform at its base. It was too far for Videte to see who the person was, but she did not need her eyes to sense the familiar presence of the one she was looking for.


Leaping the last three metres, Videte broke her fall with a quiet roll through the underbrush. The presence of the dark side was especially strong in this part of the jungle, and as she moved past the few trees bordering the structure, she could notice strange, tumour-like growths along the trunks and the branches that were closest to the clearing were either bare or had only dead leaves hanging from them. The platform itself was eerily empty save for the humanoid figure standing in its centre. The fierce creatures that stalked Dxun were nowhere to be found here; in fact, not a single patch of moss or algae touched the stone, and the soil directly around it was devoid of any grasses or plant life.


The figure was dressed in baggy brown robes similar to those preferred by members of the Jedi Order. These ones were faintly decorated by dark red trimmings, which was not particularly unusual for a Jedi- though they were expected to appear humble, there was no strict uniform for the order, and members were allowed to wear what they wished. Everything about this figure indicated that it was Jedi, complete with a lightsaber hooked onto a belt, but Videte knew she was no Jedi.


"Thena," she addressed the figure as she approached.


The other woman lowered her hood as she turned to face Videte. She appeared to be approaching forty years of age, though it was likely that she was older, and the powers of the Force had either revitalized her or hidden away her true age with illusion, both of which were known to occur among Jedi and Sith respectively. Her short hair, however, was pale white like that of a much more elderly person, whether this was simply her natural hair colour or a hint at her true age was unknown to Videte. The hair was not even the most distinguishing aspect of her visage, but the brown band that wrapped around where one would expect her eyes to be. Most Imperials would have assumed her to be a blind human, but in fact, she was of a near-human species called the Miraluka, a naturally blind race who perceived the galaxy through the Force.


"Videte," the woman already had a warm smile on her face, clearly having sensed Videte long before her name was called.


The Sith dropped her hood as well, revealing her medium-length brown hair and her golden eyes which she normally hid from others, either with her mask or with use of the Force. She couldn't help but return the expression as she took edged closer before the two met in a brief embrace.


"It's good to see you again, Thena. I should've contacted you sooner, just that the past year, it's been very hectic. Lord Mulciber, he's-"


"Gone," the Miraluka finished for her. "I know. My...bond with him allowed me to feel his passing. I'm sorry."


"No need to be. Like you say, death is just another part of life."


"It is," Thena nodded. "As natural as eating, but we don't have to like the food we eat. I don't believe fearing death is productive. That doesn't mean we can't miss the presence of those we've lost. I understand he's the closest thing you ever had to a father."


"It's hard to miss him," Videte responded. "You know what he was like. Not to mention I'm not even sure how much of the Mulciber I knew was him, and how much was the role he played. But I certainly miss his guidance. And I can use some of that right now."


"And so you've come to me, like he had many times in the past."


"Like he had, as a Sith Lord, the Eye of Jadus."


"It matters not what title your Sith masters have bestowed upon you. There is still much for both of us to learn," the white-haired woman set a hand gently on Videte's shoulder. "My wisdom is still yours. Not the Empire's, not the Sith's. Yours."


"Thank you," she cupped her hand over Thena's with a grateful smile before remembering where she was and glancing around. "Why are we here?"


"Because I must admit that my wisdom has limits," explained the Miraluka. "I am not as well-versed with the art of alchemy as I would like to be. The only experts of it are Sith, Sith that cannot be trusted, which is no doubt the conclusion you have set upon. That is why we must consult a Sith whose ambitions can no longer threaten the galaxy. A dead Sith. Welcome to the Tomb of Freedon Nadd."


With that, Thena led the way into the structure. For such a tall exterior, the ceiling was surprisingly low, and the first room they came upon was a rather small antechamber. Videte activated her lightsaber as she stepped in, using the light red glow of the blade for illumination, but the Miraluka did not touch her weapon, instead retrieving a glow rod from her robe. Three entrances led into three different passageways, and after pausing for brief consideration, Thena chose the path on the left. As they began to explore, it was clear that others had been here before them, and many areas of the tomb were empty, stripped of valuables by those seeking the secrets of the former Dark Lord.


"What's that?" Videte inquired as she spotted a pair of bodies out of the corner of her eye. "They don't look like tomb robbers."


The remains were rotted to nothing more than bones now, but the distinct armour and helmets that clung to their bodies were still distinguishable. Both corpses were equipped exactly the same, with old and battered metal suits that covered their head and torso as well as gauntlets and armoured boots. One of the bodies had a hole burnt through the helmet's visor, likely by a blaster rifle, and beside the other lay a vibrosword, either his weapon or one used to end his life.


"Soldiers of the Sith Triumvirate," Thena answered, "one of the other Sith factions that roamed the galaxy before the Empire's return. They were led by three powerful Darths- Traya, Nihilus and Sion. The Triumvirate almost obliterated the Jedi Order. Most of the Jedi from that age perished in their massacre."


"They sound...effective," the Sith knelt down and reached for the ancient blade, inspecting it casually. "Not effective enough, though. They look very dead, and the Jedi are still here."


"One of the last remaining Jedi, or rather, ex-Jedi, drove them out of this tomb," the white-haired woman continued. "She was also responsible for dismantling the rest of their power base and defeating their leaders."


Videte nodded and stood, dropping the blade back down near the corpses. The pair continued through the structure for some time, following Thena's lead, whom Videte assumed knew what they was searching for. Both of them kept an eye out for traps, which Sith tombs were notorious for, but it seemed that the way had long since been cleared by the Triumvirate, the Jedi who defeated them and whoever else that may have wandered inside in the past. There was nothing except empty corridors and rooms, with the occasional relic or body here and there.


"This mission of yours, you mentioned something about altering Force-sensitivity?" it was the Miraluka's turn to ask questions now as they wandered through the tomb.


"It's...almost like a dark side plague," Videte replied. "It seems to spread through blood, carries midi-chlorians over to the person it infects."


"Midi-chlorian infused blood doesn't make someone Force-sensitive," Thena pointed out. "There has to be something more."


"There is. I consulted our biology specialist, he thinks the midi-chlorians of these affected individuals don't function like normal ones. They're not symbiotic, they're parasitic. He said something about the Force using them, and not the other way around."


"The will of the Force influences everything around us, but it's usually very subtle. Occasionally, you get more direct manifestations, things like-"


"Visions," Videte cut in with her own example.


"Exactly," Thena smiled proudly. "The Force taking complete control of a life-form, though...I've never heard of anything like that."


"Which is why I suspected alchemy. Maybe someone else is controlling them, and the midi-chlorians are simply a vector for that power."


"You think someone has learned to manipulate midi-chlorians?"


Videte shrugged, "At this point, anything's possible."


The two women stopped as they reached a doorway in the centre of the tomb. It was extremely short, no more than a metre in height, and was sealed not by a door, but a slab of stone jammed into it. Sith assassin and ex-Jedi exchanged glances at one another, both sensing the power in the room beyond. Stretching out their arms, they summoned the Force to pull the block out of the doorway, but it barely shifted at all. There was something else aside from the weight of the rock that was preventing them from moving it. Momentarily exhausted, they paused for a moment, and in the brief respite Videte caught quiet slurping sounds coming from beyond. Something was alive inside the sealed chamber, perhaps a tomb guardian; the undisturbed state of this area meant it was very possible for there to still be untouched traps.


Thena raised both arms to try again, but Videte reached over and gripped her wrist, pushing one of the Miraluka's arms down. Thena lowered her other arm complicity as she too suddenly became aware of what the Sith had felt. There was another dark presence aside from the remnants of Freedon Nadd's tomb, and it was approaching fast.


"Someone else is here," Videte whispered.


They spun around to be met with a bolts of lightning that raced at them from the way they came. Videte raised her blade to absorb the shock of the unexpected attack while Thena threw up a shield with the Force. Neither defense was strong enough to hold back the storm entirely and both of them were knocked to the ground, though otherwise unharmed. As the lightning dispersed the assailant stepped into view, a feminine figure in a black cloak, the red of her skin accentuated by the glow from Videte's active lightsaber.


"Lord Æmeria," the assassin recognized the other Sith. "You followed me here."


A wry smirk crossed the face of the pureblood, "A tracking beacon equipped with a stealth field generator. I thought you were up to something, but conspiring with Jedi? That's low, even for you."


"She's as much a Jedi as she is a Sith," Videte countered. "And she has more knowledge than us combined."


Æmeria shook her head, "Knowledge without the power to wield it means nothing."


"Knowledge is power," Thena climbed to her feet and Videte began to do the same beside her.


"Watch," the red-skinned Sith simply said as she threw her hands forward. The entire room began to shake as the slab vibrated violently. With a yell, Æmeria yanked her hands back and the rock fell back with it, a cloud of dust rising from it as it slammed onto the floor. Shifting her hand to her side, she telekinetically grabbed the glow rod Thena had dropped in her fall, tossing it through the now open doorway. The chamber within was a small, circular one, containing a single pedestal in the middle upon which a pyramid-shaped holocron sat.


"The lost knowledge of Freedon Nadd," Æmeria smiled. "I must thank you for leading me here, though of course, that does not pardon your heresy against our ways."


"Sith ways," Thena looked at her disapprovingly. "Having the strength to open that door doesn't make you worthy of the secrets within."


Videte peered into the room, curious of the source of the slurping noises she had heard earlier. The dim lighting provided by the glow rod was enough to tell her that nothing else aside from the pedestal stood in the room, but being familiar with how to evade traps, Videte turned her gaze up. There it was, on the ceiling of the chamber, a congregation of creatures that crawled upside down, leaving behind a trail of slime where they went. She was not able to observe for long before Æmeria pulled her back.


"That is the holocron of a Dark Lord of the Sith," the pureblood stated. "You think either of you pathetic weaklings can access it?"


"You're right," Videte agreed unexpectedly. "I'm not strong enough to use a Sith holocron, and a Jedi certainly isn't."


"So you finally see the error of your ways," Æmeria gloated.


"We're all weak," responded the assassin. "We're nothing compared to the power of Freedon Nadd, and I need you to open his holocron. I will call you master, do whatever you desire of me. And together we shall learn the teachings of this ancient Dark Lord. Together we will grow more powerful than anyone on the Dark Council."


"And why should I trust you?" asked the red-skinned Sith.


"Because as strong as you might be, you know you might not win against us both," Videte answered immediately. "That's why you haven't killed us yet, isn't it? You're not sure you can. I can deal with the Jedi as you retrieve the holocron, and when I have proven my worth, you will share what you learn with me. I'll betray you someday, that is the way of the Sith. But until then...you'll need me."


"Don't do this, Videte," Thena pleaded.


All three of them remained in silence as the seconds ticked by until Æmeria finally made her decision, "If you try to stab me in the back, I assure you, I will kill you both. Painfully."


As the pureblood turned away, Videte swung her lightsaber at her former companion. Thena activated her own, the green blade springing to life and knocking away the red in a brilliant flash of light. They exchanged blows, the Sith clearly at an advantage with her blade work as she forced the Miraluka out into the corridor. A few seconds later and Thena was backed into a corner, blade locked with the assassin in what appeared to be a desperate and final bid for survival. At that moment, the first of the screams echoed through the tomb.


Videte backed away, shutting down her blade, with Thena following suit quickly behind her. With the blades extinguished, they were now in near-total darkness. Knowing that this was not enough, Videte mustered all her willpower to mask them, both in the Force and visually as she formed the illusion of a wall in front of the actual wall. This made them appear as if they were inside the false wall and thus invisible to the eyes.


The screams drew closer and closer and soon, the glow of Æmeria's lightsaber came into view. Its wielder followed, hunched over in pain as she stumbled through the halls. Her cape was shredded away, and her back was now covered by two oval lumps. It was difficult to tell through the dim light, but Videte was fairly certain that the outline matched that of the creatures on the roof of the holocron chamber. The Sith pureblood collapsed to the ground, moaning in agony as she attempted to claw her way out of the tomb. With a burst of power and another cry, this one more of hatred than pain, Æmeria rose to her feet and darted forwards, turning a corner and out of view as she presumably retreated to whatever craft she had arrived in.


"I wasn't going to kill you, you know," Videte lowered her mask when she was sure that Æmeria's presence was gone.


"I know," Thena affirmed. "But leaving her to the mercy of Freedon Nadd's traps was-"


"Was the most effective way to deal with the situation on hand."


"You certainly are your master's apprentice," the white-haired woman smiled with a slight shake of her head.


Videte smiled back, "You taught me a fair share, too, Thena."


"And we have more to learn. What is done is done. Come now, the secrets of the Force await."

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