An even longer time ago, in a galaxy just as far away...
Forging ahead; the group moved back up the staircase to the central chamber and around that on the opposite side, climbing up to the balcony which overlooked it high above. From here they could see an exit out to the rear of the temple; seemingly leading towards the large bridge they observed from below.
The structure was flanked by more ancient stone statues that had long faded to the elements; possibly even due to the proximity of the waterfall which ran down the cliff tight to the inside of the bridge. They could all sense the tension in the air as they slowly moved across the bridge, watching cautiously ahead as the smaller structures on the other side came into clearer view.
Their trek was interrupted without warning by the sound of laughter. This was not the deranged and maniacal sound they had heard earlier from the strange artifact in the first chamber, this was different... almost playful sounding. The sound seemed to come from everywhere yet nowhere at the same time; this was not simple acoustics, this was a Force projection, "Aah, dear sister... I'm /so/ pleased it is you who dared to trespass on my hallowed ground..." the voice reverberated all around them. "Lizbeth..." Laesa mused out loud, and the voice giggled more, "You're a sharp one aren't you, dear sister! And you have even brought me a gift in my former master..." she continues laughing, "...But I see your thoughts dear sister; honestly, surrounding yourself with such weakness! And yet... you come here to hurt me!" The faux and exaggerated hurtfulness in the disembodied voice was almost sickening before it took on an altogether more venomous tone, "So be it! And I was /so/ looking forward to sharing my knowledge with you..." As Lizbeth's voice trailed off, the structure began to quake, "I do not like the sounds of that..." Mischa commented.
Laesa could feel the shift in the Force however and knew it was not a simply quake, she slowly looked up as two of the large statues ahead of them creaked and rumbled as they lurched into life, stepping forward onto the centre of the bridge and turning to face the group with giant stone spears drawn. Looking back, the group would see that at least two more of the statues behind them had also been enthused with life and now had them pinned.
"Okay...that's new..." Kelly slowly stepped back upon seeing the statues, stopping as she realized two more were behind them. Setting the barrel of her rifle on the ground she reached for her belt. "HK, let's see how these things fare against grenades. Focus on a single target, one concussion for each leg. I'll take left." The assassin droid nodded in response, and with a grenade each, Kelly and HK launched their attacks at the statue in front of them that was on the right side of the bridge. They rolled their concussion grenades towards its legs and counted on the size and weight of the statue that it would not be able to move away in time. Meanwhile, the Knight had launched an attack of his own, activating his weapon which to the surprise of those present was not a lightsaber, but a long and flexible lasso of blue plasma. The lightwhip wrapped around the ankle of the statue to the left of the one Kelly and her droid attacked, hoping to sever its foot. He sent a powerful wave of force energy cascading towards the statue's head to topple it; with the whip in place it would be much more difficult to resist the attack regardless or not of whether the foot is destroyed or merely being pulled towards the Knight.
As the concussion grenades exploded they staggered the living statue though it did not topple. While the combined attack of the Knight served to tear his target statue from it's foot; slicing it clean off with his whip cutting through the stone like cheese wire. As his wave of Force energy struck the statue in conjunction with severing it's foot; the statue toppled sideways and crashed into the one Kelly and HK had already staggered - sending them both plummeting over the side of the bridge. Meanwhile the two statues in front of Laesa and Keelah were instantly within range for an attack of their own, the leftmost one slamming a fist down on top of Laesa. She threw up her arms and a bubble of Force energy rippled into view around her form just as the stone fist closed. Her knees buckled under the strain and she winced under the duress, though her barrier held - crackling as it weakened. Acting instinctively as the second statue swung an open palmed swipe across where she stood; Keelah leaped into the air, drawing her indigo-coloured lightsaber as she left the ground and carving straight through the arm which pushed down on Laesa - freeing her from it's crushing power. She landed poised against the upper edge of a high plinth to the side of the bridge where she clung to the top with her free hand while jamming her feet against the near vertical surface. As the now one-armed statue recoiled from her blow, the one who first swung at her straightened up and launched it's giant stone spear at her. Keelah pushed off the plinth and appeared to fade into nothingness amidst a purple mist - appearing moments later at the foot of the statue and swinging her lightsaber across it's leg while the spear smashed through the plinth with an almighty crash; sending dust and rock debris flying in all directions. Much as with the one that the Knight de-footed, this one was staggered backwards to be met by a powerful shockwave from Laesa which combined with it's backwards momentum to send it tumbling over the side like the others. In the fleeting moments in which all of this happened, Mischa had instinctively activated her stealth field generator and moved around behind the one-armed statue; climbing the steps beyond and drawing her rifle. Knowing her ballistic ammunition would have little to no effect against the stone giants, she turned instead and took careful aim at the brazier standing tall over the near side of the bridge. As the statue recoiled from losing it's stone fist, Mischa fired a precision shot at the nearest of the three metal feet supporting the brazier. The red hot fire which had burned for a relative eternity crashed down onto the head of the statue - showering it in embers which burned through it's stony skin like lava. The Force-imbued giant roared with pain, or rage, or both... and swung it's remaining arm around violently, smashing the stone wall away from beneath Mischa's feet - sending her tumbling back to the ground. As Mischa rolled to a halt, she looked up to see the statue looming over her - still dripping with red hot embers as they melted away chunks of it's body. Seeing the giant statue raise it's fist ready to slam down on top of her, she instinctively brought her arms up over her face to brace for the impact - though knowing it would have no effect. However as she did so, the statue froze - engulfed in purple lightning which danced violently across the surface of it's body - before exploding with a thunderous clash. Mischa tentatively lowered her arms and looked back to the others, seeing the remnants of the lightning fade from Keelah's palms, while Laesa's outstretched hands and panting for breath indicated her as the source of the blast which disintegrated the final foe. Dusting herself off as she got back to her feet, Mischa approached the two girls - placing a thankful hand on each of their shoulders as she stood between them, she looked back to see that the rest of their party was ok.
Kelly nodded to Mischa to signify that everything was fine on their end of the bridge, then glanced to the armoured Knight beside her, "Interesting weapon you got there." "It's less predictable than a lightsaber, and much less well-known," he replied as he holstered the weapon, beginning to make his way off the bridge. "That makes a deadly combination." "Well, you've lost the element of surprise on us now," she smirked and followed behind him. "And on Beta too." The Knight shook his head, "Surprise isn't going to give us too much of an advantage over her if she's strong enough to control things like...whatever these were. I've never seen anything like it before- it must be very advanced alchemy. I always knew she was powerful, but I didn't know she could..." "She had help, remember?" Kelly cut in as he trailed off, then turned back to Keelah. "Do you sense a second presence here, something that can correspond to this 'he' we read about in her logs?"
Keelah shook her head, whether she sensed a definitive single presence in Lizbeth, or if she simply could not tell was anyone's guess. "I suggest we keep moving; get clear of this bridge at least" Mischa chimed in, waving the rest of the group to catch up with her at the base of the stairs. Looking ahead as the others drew up alongside her, Mischa noticed a central path leading away from the bridge that was flanked by a structure either side. Whilst clearly of the same style as the main temple, they were much smaller - possible only single rooms even. She looked to Kelly as she came alongside, "Think they're worth checking out, or would you rather forge ahead?"
"Beta knows we're here already. If she wanted to run, she would've long been gone, and if she wanted to kill us, she could've ambushed us personally when we were pinned down, or just collapsed the bridge," Kelly analyzed the situation. "I think Laesa's right- she's decided where and how she wants to face us and she's waiting for us, which means there's no point in rushing to find her. Might as well search for as many clues as we can about what's going on here and see if we can get a clear enough picture to put together a means to defeat her."
The first of the two buildings proved to be devoid of activity; nothing but dust and cobwebs adorning it's aged stone features. Feeling a little despondent at the lack of progress there, Laesa led the group across to the outer building - which was clearly in some form of use. Entering the single room, they were greeted by the sight of what - at first glance - might be considered a collection of archaeological finds and trinkets. Keelah for one knew better and upon setting sights on the veritable treasure trove, she began pouring over the various ancient tablets and carving that were scattered sparsely around the room. There were not many artifacts here, but nearly all were salvaged stone tablets of one form or another; it appeared that Lizbeth had gathering these from the temple - possibly others too - as part of her efforts to unlock the secrets she sought here. Keelah however did not pour over the finer details of each artifact, but rather skimmed over the surface of each almost as though she was searching for something specific, "Keelah, do you understand these?" Laesa interrupted her, causing Keelah to pause and turn back to face her, "Ere' ai" (Only bits) she replied, somewhat disappointed either at the fact she stated, or the content of what she could interpret not being what she wanted; it was anybody's guess. Meanwhile, Mischa attempted to make sense of the scrawled parchment notes Lizbeth had scattered across a workbench in the corner. Whilst she could read the language thanks o Lizbeth favouring Basic, it made no more sense than the stone tablets; seemingly the ramblings of a crazy person, "I do not believe there is anything to aid in our cause..." she eyed Keelah still eagerly scanning the ancient texts, "...perhaps when this is all over you can return to study at your own leisure". Keelah looked back again, appearing somewhat sheepish as she nodded her agreement. Mischa turned to Kelly, "We should continue up to the next area. We must be closing on Lizbeth now"
"Good call," Kelly agreed. "Let's keep moving, same formation. We know we're in the middle of dangerous territory, so keep an eye out for more surprises like those statues, and if you see something moving, shoot or slice first and figure out what it is later." Allowing Keelah and Laesa to proceed forward like before, they moved onward with their now much larger group. The Knight stayed just behind the front, his lightwhip allowing him slightly longer range than a lightsaber or vibroblade. ADIN followed after him; now in a largely unmodified astromech form it was more vulnerable in combat and thus stayed in the middle of the group, acting as a mobile sensor platform that worked diligently to locate any potential threats near them. Behind ADIN were Mischa and Kelly, with HK further back, keeping the rearguard as usual. "So this Knight, he's an ex-Jedi with stealth training who also has some sort of history with Beta. As a Jedi he would've known her as Laesa since that's the name she took upon escaping, a name she kept on Tython it seems from his slip earlier," Kelly spoke to Mischa as they walked. "He didn't rescue you, did he? He's the one who initially took you."
Mischa looked sideways to Kelly with a smile, "Very astute. Yes, you are quite correct. His search inadvertently led him to me after Nar Shaddaa; he believed I was her. But we cleared that up and worked together after confirming the situation with Loracre, since I have just as much as reason as he does to stop this Beta... Lizbeth, from causing any more harm" As the two walked and talked, the group found their way into a large open courtyard that was dominated by ancient ruins and obelisks. Looking beyond the one corner they could see that it was overlooking the edge of the cliff on two sides, the third side being the way they came from, and the fourth being the inner cliff face rising up further with another waterfall feeding into a small lake. "Spread out and search the area" Mischa instructed, "There has to be something more than we're seeing here"
"ADIN, run an extensive search. Use everything this model has- light, infrared, sonar; let me know if you find anything," ordered Kelly. "HK, you're going with too." While the two droids headed off, the assassin muttering away about the enemy not revealing themselves, the Knight had started to employ a different tactic. Raising his left arm towards the cliff edge, a fibercord grapple fired from his wrist and shot upwards, wrapping itself several times around a thick root that extended from one of the trees above before digging into the wood. He tugged briefly to test durability before retracting the cord and simultaneously leaping to pull himself up. The root bent under the weight of his armour but held together long enough for him to near the top and find a foothold on one of the rocks. The Knight made the rest of the climb manually, moving with surprising agility from rock to rock. "Mind giving me a lift?" Kelly shouted from below as he reached the top, having watched the entire process. "I forgot to bring my climbing gear today!" The man stretched out both arms this time and Kelly was yanked off the ground and sent hurling up towards him, landing hard on her knees beside him. The flight was nowhere near graceful, and it seemed the Knight had intended it so, as it was a visible contrast to the more refined movements he had used to mount the cliff. "Wow, you sure start off rough," Kelly chuckled as she dusted herself off; not seeming to mind at all she gave him a playful smirk. "I think I'm starting to like you." The Knight remained silent as he surveyed his surroundings, and Kelly began to do the same, drawing the rifle from her back. Using its scope to both magnify the landscape around her and examine it in a thermal image, she searched for any lifeforms, heat readings indicative of technological constructs or signs of hidden entrances. She also kept her earpiece open to communications should anyone else come upon something.
While Laesa and Keelah searched around the ruins; Keelah continuing her fascinated study of the ancient remnants with Laesa equally fascinated by Keelah's interest, Mischa roamed further afield, exploring along the small brook which ran out towards the cliff edge from the base of the higher waterfall. Her survey was only interrupted by the occassional small creature darting the reeds at the shoreline. Mischa watched idly as a small lizard - about the size of a womp rat - scurried across the brook and seemed to disappear behind the worn remnants of a giant statues head; much larger than those they encountered on the bridge before. Seeing the creature did not return and had nowhere else to go, she followed curiously. "I think I have something back here" she called out via the comms to the rest of the group. Congregating at Misch's position; the group would a barely visible cave entrance partially concealed by the statue head, it looked to wind down deep into the mountain.
Upon receiving the comm, the Knight leaped down from the cliff with the Force to slow his descent, though he still relied on a roll to break the fall when he reached the ground. Standing back up, the cloaked man turned around and fired his grapple again, the fibercord wrapping onto the same root it had hung on to before. Kelly returned her rifle to her back and dropped onto a protruding rock on the cliff face, climbing a small distance before grabbing the cord and using it to slide the rest of the way. Despite the much smoother way down this time, she intentionally bumped into the Knight, holding on to his shoulder pads to stabilize herself.
"Sorry!" she exclaimed before flashing a smile. "Thanks for the ride."
The two of them walked over to the cave where the rest of the group was already gathered. Mischa's suspicions were confirmed by ADIN's affirmative chirps as his scans reported that the tunnel did indeed extend for some distance. With no one else having found anything of significance, it was clear that this cave was the way to proceed.
As everyone entered, Kelly stayed back again to address HK, who had also not begun to move yet, "You brought mines, right?"
"Confirmation: My supplies include two fragmentation mines and two plasma mines," responded the droid.
"Good. We don't want to accidentally collapse our exit, so just put the two frags down by the cave mouth. They should inform us if anything is following behind us, at the very least."
"Excellent idea, master," HK said as he began to set the mines, "It will not be as pleasing to have our enemies explode out of our sight, but it is preferable to being shot in the back."
Kelly hurried forward to catch up to Mischa and the others, leaving HK slightly behind to watch their flank as he had been doing so far.
As the more seasoned explorer, Keelah led the way with her lightsaber drawn to illuminate their path; it's indigo blade shining brightly in the darkened cave. They seemed to descend a short way whilst winding their way deeper inside the mountain; the path through the cavern was well worn and relatively easy to tread, not like the more treacherous cave that Mischa and the Knight had climbed through on Tython. It was not long before the cave opened out into a large room, possibly a natural occurring one by origin; though with the interior construction showing similarly styles to the temple it had clearly been adapted for use at some stage in it's history.Whilst the room was largely in ruins - much like the rest of the temple and it's surroundings - a narrow shaft of sunlight could be seen breaking through the high ceiling of the room which cast a hazy mist through the musty air.
Tentatively moving forward, the group were allowed to reach the centre of the room - a large open floor area that looked as though it was once perhaps an ornate centrepiece to a grand reception hall, though now it's staggered surface created the illusion of a water pool with a smaller raised island in the middle. As they moved across the open floor, they were suddenly blinded by a bright white flash of light. Before any could react, they each found themselves ensnared by a a powerful energy field. The field seemed to be as much a technology as it did a thing of the Force; it's restrictive polarization left each member of the group suspended in a pale yellow coloured envelope which constricted tight around their limbs to prevent movement. The Force sensitives would also note that it had a similar effect on their abilities as an Ysalamir lizard; rendering them all but mute.
Despite their best efforts, none could find any means to break the energy's hold on them. They did not have to wait more than a few moments however before the sound of a slow clapping noise came from the far end of the room. Looking in that direction, they would see Lizbeth walking out triumphantly onto the balcony at the opposite end of the room from which they entered, "Oh bravo, sister, bravo!" her voice echoed around the stone walls with a chilling undertone as she walked up to the railings.
She vaulted over the railings and dropped gracefully onto the stone floor with a Force-cushioned landing, walking purposefully towards the group, "I am glad you did not fall to my pets; it would have been so very disappointing to see you succumb so easily but you understand; I had to prepare to welcome you... after all, you were rather rude in not informing me of your visit!" Her cheery tone was unsettling to say the least. Laesa simply stared back through the gently flickering barrier which encompassed her body, "What do you mean?"
"Oh! Where are my manners!" Lizbeth proclaimed, casually waving her right hand to release the barrier from around Laesa - which led her to drop less gracefully to the floor as she was not prepared for the sudden release - and in waving her arm in this manner, the group would each be able to see something on Lizbeth's arm which looked distinctly out of place; a series of deep black spines protruding from the flesh which was darkened and encrusted all around the spines. The strain on that area of her body was apparent by the veiny appearance of her flesh well beyond the last of the protrusions. Whatever they were - they were clearly not a natural part of her being and yet they seemed to be very much incorporated into it now.
Were closer inspection possible from their restricted vantage points, they might even had noticed the handwrap matching that on Lizbeth's left hand still seemed present; which could suggest that the wristwrap seen on her left hand was mirrored here, and whatever had grown onto, or out of her right arm had done so through the garment.
Laesa pushed herself back to her feet, glancing back briefly at the others who all remained entrapped before turning to Lizbeth, "What about them?"
Lizbeth paused mid stride and looked across the group with a quirked expression and a disturbingly satisfied smile, "Yes! You did so well bringing all these gifts to me! In fact is that... why I do believe it is; you even brought my former 'Master'..." she chuckles, clearly entertained by the thought of DK, or perhaps any one being her Master, "And mother too! Oh you are considerate my dear sister!" Mischa grumbled under her breath about once again being referred to as their mother. Laesa looked patiently to Lizbeth who was yet to address her query, something with Lizbeth quickly picked up on them; turning sharply back to Laesa, "You are stronger than I thought if you were able to sense my need for more advanced subjects. But..." she shakes her head before speaking in altogether more venomous tone, "...I only need their essences, not their bodies." She smiled at Laesa with a wicked grin, "Dispose of them; then you can take your place at my side." Laesa slowly turned around and looked across the faces of those still entrapped by the barriers, her hand still hovering over the hilt of her primary blade as it had been ever since she got to her feet...
"Don't do it, Laesa," the Knight tried to convince her. "This will determine the path of your life. We've done you no wrong, if you help her kill us you'll have to live with-" "If your Jedi philosophy worked, half the Sith of legend would've stayed Jedi," Kelly cut him off. "This isn't about guilt or trust, Laesa. She promises you power and a place in whatever she's planning, but you've seen what I can offer. I've shown you the secrets I can give you and a taste of what it's like to be a part of something greater than yourself. I have friends in the corporate sector, the criminal underworld, the Imperial military and Intelligence system, even among the Sith. I can get you whatever you want- money, fame, power or knowledge. Look at your sister. She stands alone, save for this mysterious benefactor that won't reveal himself, if he's even real. Yes, she's strong in the Force, but you're made from the same template as her and you're just as good. Stand with the Empire, and you'll be better."
The discomfort at suddenly being such a focal point for everyone read clearly on Laesa's face as she looked to Mischa, "Laesa we do not know each other. But I do know that if you truly have anything of myself in your genes then you know what is right and what is not... judt as your sister does from the look on her face". Laesa looked over her shoulder to see the same grin still on Lizbeth's face before looking to Keelah. Keelah did not need to say anything; the look in her eyes saying it all for her. Laesa nodded to the Selphi and turned back to face Lizbeth, "I will not be manipulated by the same corruption that has warped you". Lizbeth's face turned to a snarl as she powered a deep purple lightsaber, "Then you will die with them!" She spat, swinging the lightsaber and unleashing a powerful charge of dark energy from it's crackling blade.
Being already prepared to draw her weapon, Laesa was quick to react and as she pulled the blade over her shoulder she held it out in front of herself to intercept Lizbeth's atack. The energy struck her blade and sparked fiercely; Laesa's own Force energy channeling through the blades crystal to imbue it with the strength of the Force. It absorbed the energy and with a rapid flourish; she swung the blade back in a mirror of Lizbeth's attack and sent the attack back at her.
Lizbeth threw up a barrier with a snarl but was still staggered by the unexpected counter, "You will regret this!" She hissed before leaping back to the balcony and disappearing from sight. Laesa turns to the others and after a moments concentration she felt the barriers holding them through the Force and deactivated them, looking to her friends as they dropped free.
Kelly landed with one knee to the ground, immediately drawing her rifle and checking around for Lizbeth. Behind her, HK had reacted similarly, but the Knight simply dropped to his feet, taking a brief, uninterested glance across the room as if he already knew that they would not be finding what they were searching for here. "Can anyone sense where she is now?" asked Kelly. The Knight shook his head, "She's gone, she must have something else prepared for us elsewhere. This was just another one of her attempts at manipulation." Kelly nodded, then trailed her gaze from the armoured man to Mischa, "Agent, about that suggestion you made earlier for stealth...having you and the Jedi remain unseen and apart from the group could prevent us from all getting trapped again. And if we get lucky, we might be able to find a way to attack her from two fronts- ambush her from behind or pin her down so she can't get away the next time we run into her."
"I'll go with that" she smiled back, "We can follow close behind... you..." she slowly trailed off as she looked past Kelly to see Keelah - now also back on her feet - walk over to Laesa. Stepping up to the taller girl, Keelah reached out with both arms and wrapped them around Laesa's shoulders, standing on tip toes to reward her with an affectionate hug for her decision. Mischa smiled quietly at the sight, sharing a cursory glance with Kelly as they enjoyed the moment of elation. Stepping back after a moment and allowing her draped arms to remain around Laesa's shoulders - drawing back so her hands were rested on them - Keelah smiled up at Laesa, "Than Kyu". By the look on her face, Laesa was clearly touched not just by the hug, but more so by Keelah's effort to thank her in basic.She placed her hands on Keelah's and drew them down from her shoulders - giving them an appreciative squeeze before she looked to the others, "She has not gone far... and I get the feeling that she is on the back foot now; her over confidence in her belief that I would willingly walk the same path may have proven to be an unforeseen weakness." Mischa looked from Laesa to glance around the room, "There must be a way for us to reach her... think you can find it?" "Kela ta a' amin!" (Leave it to me!) Keelah chirped happily before quickly bounding away and leaping up the balcony after Lizbeth before anyone could think to object. Mischa simply blinked and looked back to Laesa again, "Or... perhaps she can go..." she chuckled.
"You're pretty good at making friends," Kelly smiled at Laesa as she watched Keelah spring away. "Thanks for not joining her. I'll make sure it turns out to be the better choice." She turned her attention back to Mischa, "See, she's different from Beta. I know this can't be easy for you, suddenly having two powerful people based on you running around, but at least Laesa won't be giving you a bad name. She's certainly been an asset so far."
"That she has" Mischa said, turning to Laesa with a smile. Laesa opened her mouth to reply but before she could get a word out, their attention was drawn by a rumbling sound coming from the long wall down one side of the room. As they all turned to face the source of the sound, the wall suddenly erupted; exploding towards them with a cloud of dust and debris. While it was a large blast, it was not so much as to come close to the group and as the dust settled Keelah could be seen on the opposite side having blased a hole through from the corridor behind with her bowcaster. Wearing a satisfied smile, she waved for them to follow and disappeared into the tunnel once more.
Kelly jumped back at the explosion, but relaxed as she saw that it was Keelah who had caused it, lowering her rifle before returning it to her back. Waving as well, she instructed the group to move into the newly revealed tunnel. She gave a nod to Mischa and the Knight, a wordless affirmation of the decision for them to to remain behind and proceed out of view (and out of Force detection) from this point on. When everyone else except the stealth team and HK were in, Kelly went through the entrance, drawing her pistol and activating the light on it to illuminate their surroundings.
She shone the light around the tunnel as they walked, not looking for traps as she trusted Keelah to have done that already, though she still kept an eye out for any that may still be present. Instead, she focused her search on something that may shed more light into the nature of this place: ancient carvings, inscriptions, artifacts or clues left behind by Lizbeth.