A strange thing happened in the past few days, and I’m not entirely sure I can describe it properly. I currently sit in a deep place on Taris, well beneath their undercity, a fabled place shrouded in myth and legend, guarded by monsters from the legends of Sith thousands of years gone. And yet the thing which has me most captivated, most puzzled and confused, is a simple act of manual labor.
I dug a hole today. It was a simple thing, though I can’t point to the last time in which I actually did a task such as that without the assistance of the Force. Who’d have thought a few months ago that I’d be here? It has been a very long time since I’ve felt like I was doing anything other than surviving for a chance at something bigger tomorrow. And yet I willingly, of my own free will, spent several hours doing something that had nothing at all to do with survival, and might have even had something to do with compassion.
It isn’t just that I dug the hole. It’s also how I dug the hole. I don’t fully understand what happened to Q’ayla and Q’aleane, but something happened which caused them some sort of massive headache. I think there must be much more to their bond than simply sisterly love. Whatever it is Q’ayla was uncomfortable about it before, I’d seen signs that there was something tense between them, but whatever caused this…reaction, Q’ayla seems to blame her sister for it. Beneath the agony that it obviously is causing her was a very real anger, only controlled because she could not properly express it.
To explain that I need to first explain how we came to be where we are – the fabled “Promised Land” which exists in Taris history going back before the bombardment which made the planet all but uninhabited during the Jedi Civil War when Malak sought to crush Revan before he could escape the planet. We found the truth behind the legend when we embarked on a mission into the depths of the Taris Undercity. A mission I was almost unable to even be part of thanks to that bastard Korvus Doone.
Coming back to Taris from Nar Shadaa, I discovered yet another failsafe that paranoid Beldon left behind to keep things “interesting”. It turns out that he set it up so that without a specific signal from him, through a biometrically encoded portable terminal, to a biometrically encoded receiving terminal, layered into hard-coded program lines built into the firmware of the very ship itself, the entire vessel would shut down and drift in space. Thankfully I was able to bypass the shutdown and get the vessel moving again, but even without the biometric receiver built into the ship, the firmware code couldn’t be avoided, and without the signal the code ran without fail on a set time schedule. After only 2 such incidents of waking up in a completely silent ship with no life support, I managed to arrive in Taris safely. However without rewriting the firmware for the ship directly or managing to crack the biometrically encoded personal terminal I don’t think we should take that ship anywhere in the near future. I hope to crack the terminal eventually, but it will take some significant time, something which I don’t have much of these days.
Eventually I did safely arrive, and after making contact with the Ren sisters, it became clear that we had located the first of the grey holocrons right there on Taris. Coincidentally it was located in the same location as a padawan that Q’ayla had planned to meet for lightsaber lessons whom never showed up. It turned out she had rented a speeder and was nowhere to be found, but the speeder’s location was right nearby where we would start our search. We met up and rented a speeder, after Q’ayla contacted me and suggested I create another alternate identity who was a Taris law enforcement official. On such short notice it was hardly my best set of papers, but it would pass a cursory inspection, and I hoped that would be all that was needed. I brought my blaster pistol and grenades, and secreted my lightsabers on my person in the event of an emergency and we left to hunt for the lost padawan and the holocron both.
We had scarcely arrived when a gang of locals gathered around us. I had seen their type plenty of times. Rough types who thought a great deal of themselves. I would have simply let them go along their way after making it clear how unwise such an action would play out for them, but in the conversation on the way over Q’ayla had made it clear time was of the essence – who knew what had happened to that padawan? I doubted a gang like this could be responsible for any mischief that a force sensitive, even a Jedi apprentice couldn’t handle, but one look at Q’ayla’s face and something in me just decided to expedite the process. Without waiting for further preamble after they “introduced” themselves, I simple leveled my hand at the obvious leader and let loose a bolt of Force Lightning. It was unlikely to kill the poor excuse for bantha fodder, but I find the flashier talents tended to make an impression on the weak of heart…
It was scarcely a handful of seconds later and the stunned and smoking leader laying on the ground was the only one left in sight. I turned to nod with satisfaction at the Jedi and found them staring at me wide eyed. I was confused at first…I thought I’d been helping. What could they possibly care for these dregs? It was clear I’d overstepped somehow though, and they cautioned me to keep a lower profile. I just snorted “Like anyone would believe that lot…” and we continued on, if somewhat more stiff legged than before.
We found signs of the Padawan, and another person who was larger, probably male. Using both conventional tracking and the combination of unique force sight the sisters possessed, we were able to follow the trail discovering more clues as to what brought the young Padawan this far from the Academy. It appeared as thought the Padawan was engaging in a dalliance with a non-Force Sensitive from the city. It was not entirely sure if the sisters approved of such actions on their own merits (my own information about what was acceptable among the Jedi was somewhat murky), but Q’ayla seemed at least somewhat distraught by the secretive nature of the relationship. Q’aleane said something at one point “People do crazy things for love.”
I couldn’t help it, a flash of pain crossed my memory. I thought of Morn’Arnil, for the first time in many years. I thought I had put that memory to bed a long time ago, but I was unable to keep a glimmer of it from my face. I turned and saw that Q’ayla took notice, but whether of fear or simply my historic lack of forthrightness she didn’t bother to ask me about it thankfully.
Q’aleane communed with the Force and was able to sense a very strong Dark Side presence deeper into the tunnels. She got a flash of something when she was trying to identify the presence, but she seemed to be unsure what it was at first. Eventually we tracked them to a small cliff where we observed evidence of a struggle, and a collection of humanoid creatures who appeared like monsters from a nightmare, some fighting over the remains of things that had once been alive, others simply wandering about. 2 of them appeared to be trying to poke at a console near a far door. After a moment of study and Q’aleane’s sensitivity leveraged, she was able to deduce them to be some variant of creature called Rakghouls. As she explained them they lined up with an ancient legend I had heard at the Sith temple which until now I had believed to be only myth. Creatures which were self-replicating, who turned into mindless monsters after just a few short hours…
Long ago there was a Sith Master who created an artifact which was used to create creatures just like this. Those he turned became utterly loyal to him, though they lost most of their higher functions. They were a formidable force, even to Force Users if only because of the disease. Once the infection was seeded with the artifact, the affliction spread like a true disease, a single cut or bite was sufficient, and once large numbers were reached anyone could be overwhelmed. Between what I remembered and Q’aleane’s information we determined that these were some variant of those last seen during the Jedi Civil War in Revan and Malak’s day. They maintained gender differences, and they appeared to be somewhat more intelligent, as seen by their attempts to work the console at the far end of the room.
There weren’t really enough there to threaten 3 of us, but without a desire to take needless chances we decided to discuss our options for getting to the far door where the trail apparently led. After some hasty discussion and general deliberation we decided to attack them from a distance. A combination of blaster fire and plasma grenades was good for about half of them, before they began taking cover. Ultimately we descended and engaged. Between Q’aleane’s force powers and Q’ayla’s lightsaber forms, there was little left for me to help with, but needless to say we made short work of those that remained. It was satisfying in its own way, helping to lay waste to these creatures, though a part of me couldn’t help but wonder how they came to be there and whether there might be some evidence of the ancient artifact that create them originally.
After that we found that the console seemed to have some kind of sentience test on it. The Ren sisters began speaking about something called The Promised Land. It was supposedly a place where those who feared for their lives could retreat and never again be bothered by those who would do them harm. It seemed like this doorway and the console it protected might be tied in with making that old legend a reality. Everywhere we turned myths were being made real. Their suspicions appeared to have been confirmed when the console gave a message, “Those who pass within, will never leave.” One of the details of the place was those who entered were never allowed to escape, though the assumption was clearly that you would never willingly enter such a place if you sought freedom in the wider world.
After Q’aleane passed the simple puzzle, we entered the great door. A squad of droids scanned us for infections before allowing us to pass, and though Q’ayla hesitated when we realized that the quarantine room next door held Q’ayla’s lost Padawan, we ultimately decided to proceed and find out what lay beyond.
On the other side of the door was an entire small civilization. It was amazing to consider an environment like this could exist totally unnoticed by the world above for so long. How many people had died on the planet above while this tiny civilization existed unmolested?
Something of a caricature of and old man approached us as soon as we entered. It was almost ridiculous how polite he was, but I restrained myself for the sake of my companions from mocking the poor man. If he only knew how terrible the world truly was outside of this little hidey hole his people had fashioned.
Eventually we were shown to the Padawan. It turned out she had been infected by the Rakghouls whilst trying to rescue her lover after he’d fallen into the cavern below. They had sought refuge behind the door, and now the disease was taking its toll on her. It could take as long as a day or two, but no more and she’d have to be put down. Q’aleane began to examine her, and Q’ayla spoke with her comfortingly. I stood awkwardly in the corner for a time and then went to wait outside. Q’ayla came out a short time later looking disturbed and greatly troubled, I could literally feel her anxiety and fear coming off her in waves even without reaching out with the Force.
She began to talk at me, though whether she was really intending to share these details with me because she thought I’d actually want to know or because she simply couldn’t sit with the thoughts inside her own head anymore I’m not sure. It’s possible she shared them with me because of the dark direction she had gone with them, she thought maybe I wouldn’t judge her because of how much worse I am. Whatever the reason she began babbling about how badly she felt for the Padawan, Alema she said her name was, and how she feared what she might have to do if the disease fully took hold of the girl and…
Abruptly I realized she wasn’t simply spouting nonsense at me. She was confiding in me. She was sharing her darkest feelings because she thought that maybe I might understand, that taking someone’s life out of mercy though it might be distasteful was something perhaps I had insight on…she was right of course. I was sure despite Q’ayla’s intense spirit and Q’aleane’s analytical approach that I was very likely to have killed more people than both of them combined, and surely some of those must have been for mercy…surely…..
A part of me suddenly ached for the pain Q’ayla was experiencing. The fear of not wanting to hurt someone who didn’t deserve it. Of not wishing to take a life you cherished and yet knew you had to let go, that yours an many innocent people’s survival depended on their deaths. It was a circular sort of logic. A dangerous sort of logic. Once you became able to rationalize taking another person’s life, it sometimes became hard to remember why you started killing in the first place. In that moment, I wanted nothing more than to spare Q’ayla the pain of that cycle. I wanted to protect that almost child-like innocence she had when she looked at the world. She still believed there was a right side and a wrong side in every conflict. That the world wasn’t just a mish-mash of individuals choosing their own side over the other person’s with temporary alliances formed out of convenience.
A part of me still wanted to believe the world wasn’t like that, but I’d learned too much. I knew better.
But she didn’t have to. I decided in that moment that if it came down to it, I’d end the life of the young woman, to spare Q’ayla having to do it. She might hate me for it, but at least if she hated me for it she’d still be able to look at me as the villain, and never be forced to hate herself instead.
I reached out almost unconsciously with the Force, somewhat clumsily at first as if remembering how to drive a speeder, and did for her in her fear and anxiety as she had done for my rage on Nar Shadaa. I took it and smoothed it away, and left calm and contentment in its place. I tried to be gentle, I was more used to controlling peoples emotions rather than subtly easing them. But it worked. She stopped almost dead in mid-sentence and stared at me for a moment before smiling at me, the cut on her cheek twisting as…
With an almost visible start I snapped back to reality, where I was just a Sith, trying to survive, and she was a Jedi who had decided to work with me out of convenience. A Sith who had hurt her in my own insanity. All the barriers between us which had been momentarily lowered materialized in an instant. And yet even as I turned away, the memory of the smile stuck with me.
With nothing for me to do to help aid the young padawan, I ended up starting my search for the holocron and possibly how we might leave this place. I had little fear that we could get out when the time came, but I doubted the Jedi would appreciate us carving a hole in the door after these fools had existed in isolation for so many generations. They’d face almost as much risk from the diseases on the outside after so long as they would from the people who would take them for all they were worth.
Asking around yielded little in the way of useful information, though i heard plenty about the crops and people’s lineage, and what little industry they had down here. Nothing specifically that was old enough to house our holocron however and no specific leads on ways to escape. Everyone just said “Don’t know how you’d get out, and besides, why would you want to?”.
As I was beginning to lose patience with the insufferable affability of the people here, Q’aleane contacted me to ask for my help in restoring and recalibrating the electron microscope they had here. It seemed she needed the equipment up to snuff in order to facilitate her efforts to create an anti-virus. It took only a couple of hours to bring the equipment back up to working order, but Q’aleane hardly noticed amidst her deliberations and work. She left at some point before I completed my work, and I left to go find her or Q’ayla and see if they’d made any progress themselves. At the quarantine room there was no sign of either of them, and I asked the droid there where the sisters had gone. It told me that Q’ayla had left with the old man to go look at some kind of genealogy records, though why it was unable to say. I hesitated before heading off to find her, worried that there might be some lingering awkwardness from our earlier conversation, but decided that I couldn’t just sit here wasting time all day.
I went looking for Q’ayla at the old man’s residence, and bumped into him leaving his house with a shovel. He seemed a bit distraught, and when I asked him he said something was wrong with Q’ayla. She’d asked for a shovel to dig up something at someone’s grave, and then all but fell over in pain a moment later. She had seemed extremely sensitive to sound when he’d left.
He seemed completely overwhelmed by the experience, and the prospect of returning to her in such a state clearly had his sense of propriety and politeness stretched to their limits. I was almost curious enough about whether he’d keel over from being unable to soothe a guest in his home to bring him along, but decided that it was probably best if we left with at little a ruckus as was possible at this point. We probably were already going to be talked about for generations as the most exciting thing they’d seen since somebody first thought to put hover-pads on a vehicle. To that end I offered to take the shovel and deliver it to her, which seemed to cause him to deflate before my eyes with relief. He handed me the shovel and shuffled away hurriedly.
I arrived at the grave which the old man had told me belonged to Bastilla Shan, the lover and companion of the legendary Revan from the old Jedi Civil War thousands of years ago. Q’ayla clearly believed she had buried near her grave one of the grey holocrons Vergere bade us seek out. Q’ayla was sitting on the ground near an enormous tree that must have once been set well back from the grave site itself. The tree, which must have now been thousands of years old, had begun to encroach upon the grave, leaving the headstone nearly amidst the roots of the behemoth. She had her eyes closed and seemed to hear my approach long before she normally would have even noticed me coming on the soft earth. She held up a hand to halt me and then in barely a whisper said “shhhhh….” holding a finger on the opposite hand to her lips.
I asked her what was wrong and she winced at the loudness of my voice, so I softly approached and whispered the question again. She told me that Q’aleane had done something, she couldn’t seem to articulate what exactly, but she pointed at a spot in the ground down and at an angle behind the headstone, just in front of the tree, indicating that was where we should look for the holocron. I looked at her, and then the shovel dubiously, trying to think of how in the world I was going to be able to dig when I could hardly speak around her without causing her to double over in agony.
An idea struck me then and I decided to experiment with a modulation of a stealth bubble I had been working on back at the Academy. Wrapping myself in a bubble of the force, I caught the sound waves emanating from within the bubble and reflected them back into the bubble, while allowing any passing from the outside to proceed unimpeded. The effect was that any sound heard beyond the bubble was greatly muffled, without impairing my ability to hear what was going on around me. Using this technique I was able to dig up the old almost rotted away box which held the holocron. It took a couple of hours, and it felt good to work up a sweat doing something that was so simple. At one point when Q’ayla realized what I was doing she commented on how much she liked my digging…I didn’t entirely know how to react to such a comment, though it seemed like she was most likely mocking me. Still, I was glad I’d found a way to spare her pain while we did something useful.
The box itself was extremely fragile, but with great care I was able to open the box and reveal the holocron inside, shimmering in the artificial light of the cavern. Q’ayla managed to drag herself to her feet when I opened the box and came over to look inside. When she saw the holocron inside she clutched at my arm and smiled at me again. This time I couldn’t help but smile back, it was contagious. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt like I had done something good, that I could be proud of, which didn’t involve someone getting hurt.
Q’aleane’s voice over our comms a moment later broke the spell of the moment, and Q’ayla went back to help her sister with the work of fashioning the anti-virus. I mostly stayed off to one side, trying not to get in the way. Eventually I rustled up some alcohol at a local distillery and took some part of that. By the end of the next few days Q’aleane had cured the girl and fashioned an anti-virus that could be distributed in case of any more attacks.
Now we just had to figure out a way to get out of here.