Throughout the galaxy greed has stripped and ripped apart countless systems, stars, and planets in the name of power. Ifrane was once a beautiful planet, so full of life, laughter, peace and serenity. Yet, with the ancient Jedi long gone, the planet had fallen into corruption, greed, and infighting. Stripped and destroyed of its natural resources, nature lashed out, destroying all of civilization and cultures that had existed on the planet. Millions had perished in the cataclysm and with it came a cry that rippled through the force, leaving the planet barren and filled with a dark pain that any force user could feel when approaching the planet.
Yet, even in darkness light was still present. Whether it was the will of the force a simple coincidence, the ancient Jedi Praxeum still managed to stand among the fire and ruin--the key to understanding the light had been hidden away on a planet that could very well tempt the strongest of Jedi to the dark side. One could suppose that the force had willed it to be the true test of one's commitment to the light.
Jedi Instructor Oren Zapan was not aware of the grave danger he had imposed upon his students and fellow instructor. They could all feel it, the danger the fear, the death, but under it all they could feel the possibility of life and light. Landing on the planet had been no easy task, they had managed to find an old Imperial Landing platform, which they used to touch down, but they would have to make the journey across the toxic and lifeless planet, through the forest of Irontrees and to the entrance of the ancient ruins--the instructors had planned on detailing what they had known about the old Jedi of the past, the origins of their order and the fluidity of the force, yet it seemed things weren't going to be so simple.
As they embarked a sudden ash storm would fall upon the group, splitting them apart. The instructors would have tried to reach out through the force to find each other, but the ash was too thick and too heavy to see one and another and so they were separated. Jedi Knight Oren (@TWD26 ) would find himself with students Izel Thral (@Reyn) and Xander (@Ulysses) being drawn towards the base of a mountain, whispers and chills through the force could be felt by all of them. Something felt strange about the entrance, its blackened shadows seemed to swallow them as they entered. Here the echoes of those who died in the destruction of the planet could be felt, manifesting itself in negative energy, energy that fed on the emotions and passions of the Jedi, tempting them to give in to embrace the things they desired.
Remember...Passion, yet Serenity a voice would echo softly in the back of their minds.
Master...what I have done, I wasn't ready, I should have never brought them here...this planet I can feel the darkness, I can feel the pain..I can't, I can't fail them. The Jedi instructor's teeth clenched as he peered out towards the ashen storm. Only two of his students were with him at this moment, and he couldn't feel or call out to Maxims or the others. Lingering self doubt began to fill his mind and his spirit, he didn't want to lose any of these students. How could he explain it to the Council, to their masters, to himself?
Emotion, yet peace. He thought to himself as he placed his hands on both the students, forcing a smile, though the markings that adorned the near human had beamed bright red, betraying that the Knight was indeed very much afraid of the situation. "It's going to be alright," he'd yell over the gusts and swells. "Stay with me, we will find the others and we will find our way."
He'd take both of them by their hands as he'd lead them inch by inch through the swirling void that consumed everything around them. He'd take a deep breath, pushing away the thoughts of his master, his padawan, Lilly, even the other students. Center yourself, reach out...the force will guide me, the Jedi would repeat to himself as slowly everything around him began to morph and echoes of the force could be felt.
The nexus here was nearly suffocating, the pains and darkness made it hard to concentrate, but the knight would focus in on hushed sounds and whispers. Distant calling that would guide him through the forest, unknowing of the destination that they slowly approached. "Do you feel it...it's calling to us?" He'd ask his students in a firm voice in an attempt to make it appear as if he had foreseen this whole fiasco playing out before hand.
The Ifrane Izel had read about in her history books had been one of rugged endurance and untainted beauty. Though beset by no small number of terrible events her people had survived and bounced back, time and again. It had even served as a pivotal location in the history of the Jedi. The landscape she witnessed now inspired no such wonder as she had experienced in her research, but the Force remained. Even as she struggled to endure the relentless ash storm Izel could feel the living energy of the universe around them, as if all those who had died in the cataclysm centuries ago still walked beside her. It was both a terrifying and fascinating sensation for the curious young Padawan.
The touch of Master Zapan's hand on her shoulder shocked the young Vratix, the large insectoid alien looking down at the Jedi Knight with surprise. In the thickness of the storm she had not seen his approach at all. Even her senses were nearly useless to her in the gale of ash and undead emotion. His words calmed her though, and she nodded to him with confidence. As he led her and Xander through the storm she thought back to Ajan Kloss, a far more hospitable world, one she had taken great joy in making her home in the past months. Master Reev had been everything she wanted in a teacher, and had far more patience for her insatiable hunger for knowledge than most. But even he became exhausted of her from time to time, and thus had sent her here of all places, to better understand those parts of the Jedi Code in which she seemed to be lacking. She wasn't quite sure what that meant, but this was certainly an intriguing planet.
As the outlying trees of a growing forest began to pass by them Izel could hear the voices through the Force growing stronger, bidding them come closer. Their energy was so peculiar to her, like nothing she had experienced before. She immediately felt the urge to investigate. "Do you feel it...it's calling to us?" Master Zapan's words reached her over the wind, only further encouraging the inquisitive Padawan.
"Yes! Yes!" She replied ecstatically, almost bursting with excitement. "Come let's see what they have to say! Oh I wish this storm would let up so I could start writing!" Still holding tightly to the elder Knight's hand she skittered forward, trying to pull her companions along with her into the forest.
As the ash whipped past, Xander pulled his hood tighter round his face and tried to cover his nose and mouth with his robes.
The formlessness of the grey swirl was disorienting. He couldn't tell what was hill and what was ash-strewn sky. He was therefore beholden upon following others.
This feeling of helplessness was growing upon him when the voice of authority reached him and put a hand on his shoulder. He had been steeling himself to take control of the situation as the Padawan more senior by experience. The comfort of not having to take the lead, however, rushed over him like a warm bath. He did not register any of the doubt the instructor was hiding in his confident voice.
Immediately as he registered consciously his own relief at not being responsible, he felt ashamed: he had thought himself ready to take the tests to become a full Jedi and this shook his self image. He resolved to do better next time.
Into this whirlwind of emotions a voice came into his mind, as if to rebuke him: remember... passion, yet serenity.
At that very moment, the voice wasn't helping. However, the call of their guide, proving it wasn't specially aimed at him somewhat soothed Xander's burning conscience.
He would present to the others, if they happened to be looking at him at that moment in time, as head-down, somewhat sullen and silent.
He was too caught up in his momentary self absorption to notice the other Padawan's waxing excitement. Of course, he didn't know it at the time but even this self absorption was a side effect of the corrupting influence that was selling through the air.
OOC: We're going to do one more post on the outside before we head into the Cave. Once you guys post, I'll post with the DM.
Something isn't right about this..It feels off, I feel a pain the force, but I feel the light as well. Master what should I do...should I turn back and take the students with me? The air he could feel it even through the thick bursts of ash, it was cold and insidious and sent a shiver down his spine as they stepped into the forest. Yet, it felt strangely intoxicating, each whisper filling inside of their head as he walked along the barren forest.
He could feel padawan Izen snapping down on his hand with excitement, clearly feeling the energy and desired to chase after it. This isn't a good sign."Patience!" He'd yell out towards the student had begun to lead the way towards their destination, but the lashing of the wind made it obvious that she wouldn't hear him.
He'd turn towards his left, catching the glimpse of a somber Xander, his normal cheery self seemed off and misplaced. "Are you alright," he'd call out through the force to the boy, "Is something troubling you?"
The group would make their way through the patches of the trees, which seemed to lead to the base of a black obsidian like fortress--the base of the mountain. Though the strangest part was that the ash storm that had separated the group to begin with had slowly begun to fade away and slowly the three of them would regain their vision.
He could see it clearly now, the mouth of darkness had seemed to been ripped open, calling out to them. He could feel a cold frigid breeze swish through the group as faint whispers and hushes filled his ears. Something wasn't right about this place, yet the force seemed to have lead them to this place. I've got a bad feeling about this one. His hand would hang against the hilt of his ligthsaber, "We should turn back, I don't think we should go in..."
Yet, the urge and sensation was there, they could all feel it calling to them with its sweet words...Join us.....
If Izel heard Oren's call for patience she didn't respond. She was far too enraptured by the ever growing call of the Force to pay attention to her companions now. She hurried forward at first, still clinging to Master Zapan's hand like a dog straining against it's leash. But as her excitement grew she let go and moved forward at a faster pace, leaving the others a little ways behind her.
She halted upon reaching the base of the mountain though, gazing up at the towering black monolith with great interest. "Fascinating..." She murmured, her voice likely inaudible over the storm. A wave of new feelings washed over her, the echoes of all those who had come before, now one with the Force. It struck her to her very core, sending a shiver through the whole of the young Vratix's body. As the others gained on her and Oren expressed his doubts Izel had to admit, there was something deeply unsettling about the energy of this place. But the overbearing presence of power radiating from inside was too much for the overly-curious Padawan to ignore. It was as though a million eyes looked upon her now, beckoning her to join them in the dark. With such an incredible discovery before them she could not bare the thought of turning away, even if some part of her knew it was probably better to do so.
She looked back between the Knight and Padawan before her, her large all-black eyes displaying an obsessive determination that was almost palpable by mere gaze. "The others will have looked for shelter," She insisted, looking for any excuse to enter. "Even if they are not already inside I'm sure they will be drawn here as well..." Without waiting for a response she turned and approached the mountain, unwilling to be swayed by or even entertain any opposing arguments. Though she respected the words of Master Zapan, her desire to understand the secrets of this place far outstripped any urge to obey her superiors.
"No nothing, master," he lied. He might later let the Knight in on his inner turmoil later but now wasn't the time. For now there was too much going on to worry about; or at least that was the justification he made to himself. Perhaps in reality it was the fear of losing face that kept him stoic at least in appearance.
The keen other Padawan bemused him. Caution came as second nature to Xander and so the reckless abandon was worthy of scorn.
In fact, the sight of his colleague making a seemingly obvious mistake perversely emboldened him in his reticence. This was only encouraged by first the natural voice and then the unnatural.
OOC: We will all be detached from each other from this point. You will not be able to hear the other players that call out to you. Think of a passion, something your character extremely loves as well as something that haunts you. Each player will have three posts, where your haunting will present you with a vision or something along those lines, and that the only way to stop this from happening is to give in and pour everything into that passion. I will leave it up to you the player if you would like to fall into the temptation or to successfully fight it off.
The darkside was strong and radiated from the obsidian mountains. It would seem that the three Jedi would find themselves isolated and drawn to it. In particular, the young Vatrix had not resisted the urge and made her way in first, leaving their suspicious master and somber student behind. She could feel its praise, it's calling as she entered the depths. Unknown to her she would slowly be lead down a portion of the cavern, deeper inside the mountain, with each step the whispers would become louder.
Izel could no longer hear both Oren and Xander who came rushing into the cavern to save her. There she would be alone, surrounded by her temptations and the things she craved the most. While the other two entered together, the caves darkness quickly swallowed them and they both would be separated. The other two may have not felt the urge to give into the darkness, possibly they even understood what was happening, but that wouldn't stop the manifestations from becoming realer and realer with each step. They were all alone now, lost in the darkness. Would they fall or would they remember the tenant of their code?
Izel left him with little time to react. He'd peer towards Xander, noting that something wasn't quite right with the man. I'll need to ask him about this when we get out of this. He'd clench his teeth shaking his head as Izel was nearly within the cave. "Come on," he'd yell towards Xander as he began to run up the slope of loose black rock. "I need your back in there, I know I can rely on you," he'd turn back with a soft smile on his face, "Just remember, I'll never leave a comrade behind."
I can feel the darkside, it's so cold..but why? Why this planet, I thought this was supposed to be a place of peace. I could really use your help right now, what would you do in this scene? Should I have even brought them here, force be damned I don't see what you saw in me, I just..I miss you and I need you now more than ever. He'd push the thoughts of his late master aside, his focus on getting Izel back into his care.
"Izel!" He'd call out as he entered the darkness, pulling his blade and igniting the cavern into a purple haze. He was unsure of where she went or if Xander was still behind him. "Izel, wait for us! Wait for me!" His voice would echo out through the cavern as he stepped further and further into the depths.
He could hear the whispers and the chill that ran through his bones. The Darkside of the Force was radiating from this place, he knew it and he could attempt to resist the urges of its call, but could his students. I shouldn't have brought them here, not like this. They weren't ready, I'm not ready. The thought of self doubt began to seep through his mind as he felt his body slightly descending further down in the darkness. His mind was in flux and he could barely concentrate as his breathing began to heavy, this lack of concentration caused him to trip on his feet, which sent him tumbling down the decline and into what appeared to be an opening. His lightsaber would roll, casting the room to reveal a small robed figure sitting in the center, its back turned to Oren.
"So you finally arrived," the old crackling voice rung through the air, the words hung in the air, each syllable hauntingly familiar. He knew those words, the slowness that came between each syllable, they had been said to him once before, back in the mines that had been liberated.
His brown eyes would shift, noticing the mining lamps strung about the room as well as clumps of spice ore clinging about the cave walls. "This isn't real," his voice would crack as he shook his head, "I know it's not...you're dead." He'd pull himself up onto his knees, his mouth falling slightly open as his heart pounded. The small figure would slowly turn to reveal a deathly sick Chadra Fan, who had tumors protruding from half of his face, his eyes sagging and nearly hollow.
"Oren," he'd smile, revealing that most of his teeth had nearly fallen out. "Was this why you never came to see me?" The creature would give out a soft growling laugh, his skin bloating slightly as a bit of vile escaped his mouth. "This is why you never visited me..never came to see me? Now I know...your face says it all." Oren tried to turn his face away, yet he couldn't. The truth was in his master's words and they struck him through the heart--all he could feel was immense shame.
Izel walked slowly along the pitch black passage of the cave, running her fingertips curiously along the obsidian-like material of the wall. Entering the cave had rewarded her with an immediate sensation of relief and triumph, and her previous reservations quickly melted away. It was clear the echoes in the Force were proud of her actions and admired her dedication to the pursuit of knowledge. That was the path of the Jedi after all... right? She couldn't quite remember. It probably didn't matter.
She paused and turned her head as she thought she heard Master Zapan calling to her, but quickly shook these thoughts away. He was not here. She alone had the bravery to enter this place, and she alone would be rewarded with it's secrets. That's what the voices told her anyway.
Continuing forwards the cold stone of the cave slowly peeled away, replaced by the warmth of the dense Thyferran jungle. The calls of the wildlife, the pleasant heat, the feel of the jungle flora brought a sigh of relief from the young Vratix. Finally she felt at home again. But there was something out of place. She could see it faintly through the shadows. Eyes, hundreds of eyes watching her. The chittering, clicking language of her family bombarded her with accusations.
"Why did you leave us sister?" "Where are you Izel?" "We miss you..." "Why did you abandon us?" "Please come back to us!"
Izel's antennae twitched, the insectoid turning this way and that as she was overwhelmed with the scorn of her family. "No I--" She started, surprised at their dissaproval. "I didn't abandon you... I only want to learn..."
"The Force is evil." She heard her father. "It will destroy you! You must turn away!"
"No..." Izel quickly denied him.
"Let go of the Force," Her family called. "Return to us." "Return to us!" "RETURN TO US!" Izel shook her head, forging onward in spite of her family's pleas.
"I must learn the ways of the Force." She insisted. "I must understand... I must... I must know all... All of it..." The voices returned from before, grateful, congratulatory. They urged her to continue onward, to forget her family and all her bonds. They told her to give herself fully to the Force and she would be granted infinite knowledge of the universe. The Padawan twitched obsessively, and kept going. She had to know...
Xander followed his master closely up the hill. For a moment the adrenaline overrode his emotional introspection.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Was that his footsteps? His racing heartbeat? He wasn't sure. Meanwhile Xander's eyes took in little more than the heels higher up the slope until they were in a cave anti-chamber.
Air rushed into his lungs at the same time as two lightsabers ignited in the dark.
Perhaps taking the instruction a little too literally, he turned his back to watch the rear approaches from the outside world. As they descended deeper into the cave, Xander did not notice himself becoming separated from Oren.
The reason for this was an apparition of another lost Padawan passing from right to left from one side tunnel down another.
"Master this way"
Xander never knew the reason for his words not reaching their goal. He never stopped to check. Filled with renewed vigour, he was exhilarated to be putting his new resolution into action so soon. He was taking initiative, taking responsibility.
Little did he know the cave was in fact taking him, deeper into its depths and deeper into his own desire for glory and self-affirmation.
Oren's voice cracked as he peered towards the Chadra-Fan, his brown eyes heavy and sagging with shame. "I..." his voice would crack, "I always meant to come, to see you." His words came out clumsy and heavy, not even he could believe the words. Only a small smile would form on the disfigured Jedi's face, as if he had desired such words, such a subtle lie. It was one, and his heart knew it.
"Is...that...so?" His words gasped from his shadowy figure, his chaffed lips twisting and contorting into an insidious smile, "come walk with me." The little hermit would begin to hobble farther into the cave. Oren hesitated for a moment, before standing up and taking off down the spice mine cavern.
Each step his body slowly morphed into smaller and smaller strides, his brown eyes shifting down to see his legs and feet had taken on a child like appearance. He would quickly pull his hands up to his face, finding them to be tiny and puny. His breathing was heavy as he called out, his voice squeaking like a young child, "Master...wait for me, please!"
Slowly the caves would transform into the halls on Ajan Kloss, his master taking the appearance of a younger more vigorous man. His pace seemed to be faster and faster and Oren could never catch up no matter how hard his little legs would work. Was this a dream or was it reality? The Jedi knight had slowly begun to lose focus of himself, letting his demons slowly engulf him as he descended down the weird shifting halls of the Temple. He would come to a dead end, with only the doors to the library hanging to his left.
The young Oren would step through the doors, finding the halls lined with books as they ever were. Though the blue flickers of the holobooks were tinted red and black shadows crept through the room. "You always kept me waiting," his masters words would hang through the air. "You kept your fellow students waiting, your teachers, your life..." His masters words would fill the room with a growl.
"All you've ever done was waste your time, waste it away reading, studying, but never listening...never living up to the potential of what it meant to be a Jedi. You are a failure!" The words would echo through the halls and would cling to his skin and the fabric of his soul.
His voice would waiver slightly, "I didn't fail you! I've lived up to your code, your teachings!" The boy's words would waiver and nearly crack into a full blown cry. But, it seemed the cave and his darkness was not finished with him. Slowly the library would begin to spin, and a haze of fog and snow would slowly drift into the horizon.
"Not a failure," his master's words would whisper through the thick fog. "Hmmmm...."
The flash of a child like Byron (@Turtleneck ) would come into scene, a young twenties Oren quickly behind him. "This is kriffing nonsense!" The boy would yell towards his master, "You don't think I'm ready for my saber training? All you ever do is question me and judge my skills...I know I could beat you in a fight, easily."
The words clung to Oren as he watched the scene, he knew the moment, what came next--it played in his mind almost daily. His hands would shake as he watched his younger self loom over the boy with a sneer, his face markings glowing red with extreme anger and hatred. "Do you want to know what I really think?" The words would echo through the fog, "I think you're a punk, one who will quickly fall to the darkside, one that will cut down everyone I've ever known and loved." The words were enough to cut through the fog and through his heart.
How could he be a teacher, when he failed his first student? He wasn't fit to be a Jedi, to be a man that lead a group of children. His lip quivered as he tried to push away the words, disown them and disavow them, but they had already been said and for once he was able to recognize the pain in the young boy's face, Byron never hated him, he was looking towards him to be his father figure and he failed.
"Your failure is what will lead your fall," his master's words would mutate as he found himself with the burning ruins of the Temple. Lily, Brienna, his younglings all laid dead and strung throughout the chaos. He watched as two lightsabers danced and crashed within the center of the burning commons. Byron's saber was bled red and hatred burned in his eyes, as a young Nara (@Charndley ) attempted to hold him back in bay.
But his skills were too strong, he would quickly over power her, cutting her down and into two. Causing Oren's knees to buckle as he felt a burning sense of anger as he watched his worst fear--one of his students falling to the darkside. This wasn't supposed to be real, yet he felt it more than ever. Forgoing all sense in him he'd quickly ignite his saber as he yelled out, "No!" He'd jump forward his blade meeting with the corrupted version of his first apprentice.
"I can sense your hatred, give in and strike me down in the name of these pathetic worms you call friends."
Oren's teeth would clench as the two of them began a dance of blades through the ruins.
Izel continued to follow the echoing voices deeper and deeper into the darkness of the jungle. At first she had thought she was on her homeworld Thyferra, but now the landscape was looking more and more like Ajan Kloss. She could see the stones of the Jedi Temple through the trees, calling to her. That is where she had to go, she knew she would find what she wanted there.
The Padawan quickened her pace, only to be molested by more familiar faces getting in her way. They were not Vratix this time but humans, and all other manner of aliens as well. They were Jedi. Padawans, Knights, Masters, even the high council themselves were present, watching her. Master Reev stood amongst them, disappointment on his face.
"You are too eager Padawan," Her teacher told her. "Your lack of control will be your undoing." Izel tightened her fists. She was becoming frustrated now, something very unlike her. Why was everyone getting in her way?
"Ignorance yet Knowledge Master," She spat back at him. "I am trying to become a better Jedi, the greatest Jedi, wiser than all before me. Why are you trying to stop me?"
"We are not trying to stop you Izel," Master Zapan said softly as he stepped forward smiling. "We are trying to help you."
"Don't let your desire for greater knowledge consume you," Grandmaster Boan warned her. "You must temper these ambitions, lest your pride lead you to the dark side."
"No!" Izel shouted, shaking with anger. "You're afraid!" She spun around, shouting at all of the Jedi surrounding her. "You're all just afraid! You say you want us to learn but only what you have approved of! You're so terrified of the dark side you'll gladly remain ignorant to everything!" She looked back at the masters before her, seething. "I won't limit myself for your sakes. I will find what I seek, with or without you." She moved forward, pushing through them. The Jedi did not try to stop her. But the disdain in their eyes bore into her as she continued onwards. She didn't need them though. The voices were all she needed, and they were praising her, telling her she was almost there. Without a word and without looking back she entered the temple, disappearing in the dark.
Red and Purple hummed and danced, sparks flying with each clash, block and parry. All around Oren was darkness, except for the yellow haze of the temple in flames. Jedi were strewn about everywhere, everything he had known had come to meet its end this day because he had failed Byron, Nara, and his friends. He wasn't strong enough, he hadn't studied enough, he could have found a way to prevent this from happening, he just needed more time, more books, more lessons, more artifacts, he needed them all.
"You can prevent this," the spirit of Byron growled as he twirled his crimson blade towards Oren, striking down towards him with quick strikes, that pushed the Jedi further and further back.
"How," Oren stammered as his saber locked up against Byron's, his brown eyes focusing on the decay of his former student. "How do I stop this, stop you from taking it all?"
"Strike me down and seek out the truth," the former Jedi would pull back, his eyes glaring with hatred towards his former master. Oren could feel the anxiety building up in his stomach as he watched Byron pace left and right, "The Jedi try to hide you from your passions, from accepting that we are truly emotional creatures and that we act out of emotion! There so much of the force you desire, yet you squabble away toying with the light, when you know you're filled with so much more."
Oren's eyes shifted towards the ground as he charged forward out of anger, "I don't!" He'd swing his blade down, feeling the anger building up inside of him, "I live by the code, I don't let my emotions control me," the words escaped from his lips, but he knew that it wasn't true.
Byron would sneer as he reached out with the force, grabbing hold of the Jedi and pulling him into the air, "Liar!" He could feel his tendons around his neck begin to tighten as Byron crushed down with the full weight of the force, "You're filled of hatred, the same hatred that you spilled onto me, put onto me because you hated yourself!"
Oren shook his head towards the young man as he felt the force slowly draining from his body. Everything was getting so light, was this how it felt to die? In that moment, through all the hatred of Byron he could see his young apprentice, the apprentice he had failed with his words and with it came a rush of sadness. This was his fault, and he knew it now, he had to make a change, make things right.
He could feel the grip loosen, dropping him to the ground and causing his saber to clash and roll off into the darkness. Byron approached him slowly, blade drawn. "So weak, even with your friends dead, you don't kill me."
Oren would get onto his knees looking up to the man, shaking his head, "This isn't real," he'd huff as his head dropped for a moment, "But, it's real what I said...the things I did to you," he could feel the tears rolling up into his eyes and down his cheeks. "I failed you Byron, I failed you...and I'm sorry."Byron would plunge the blade through his chest, causing Oren to gasp as he felt the life escaping all around him, his eyes growing wide as he reached out towards the man, his breathing growing heavy as he gasped for air. He'd fall back, his eyes fading black.
Oren's eyes shot open as he gasped for air. His hair was soaked with sweat, and he found himself laying on the cold stone in the center of a cave. His body aching and his head pulsing. The cold air that filled the cave seemed to be gone, the demons inside of him had come out on full display. He knew what had to be done, the people he needed to see. I'm sorry Byron, I'll make it up to you, I promise..
He'd pull himself up onto his feet, his legs wobbling as he took a deep breath. Are you guys okay? Whatever this place was, it seemed to be a test...I don't know if I passed or if I failed, but I know I've been running from my problems. He'd slowly walk towards the light that lead towards the end of the cave, finding himself waiting for the others.
The Temple was dark and vacant, as though it had been untouched for years. Dust and lichen filled the halls, and the sounds of distant skittering animals echoed around her. Izel didn't even bother to wonder what had become of her comrades. She was too focused on the task at hand. Where was it?
Deeper and deeper into the temple she moved, beginning to hear sounds. Blaster fire, buzzing lightsabers, screams... She could see the black scoring from the weapons on the old stone, overturned chairs and tables and busted crates. There had been a fight here. Paying no mind the Padawan moved ever deeper, eventually coming to a sheer wall, seemingly a dead end. She lifted her hand and reached out with the Force, and the wall opened up, revealing a secret passageway.
She followed a steep incline to the bottom, moving forward into an especially dark chamber. So dark in fact she could not make out the corners of the room at all, and it was as though she was walking on a pure black surface. There was a single ray of moonlight coming down from a crack in the ceiling, revealing a podium in the room's center. On the podium sat a pyramid shaped holocron, tinted red and beckoning to her.
"I knew it..." Izel said aloud as she walked forward. "I knew they were hiding something from me..." Figures emerged from the darkness, clad in black robes and faces obscured, forming a circle around the Padawan and the podium. They spoke to her, the voices that had led her here, beckoned her to the cave, encouraged her curiosity, praised her for leaving her friends and family behind. They called to her now in unison, telling her to take the holocron and be granted everything she could dream of. The Vratix walked forward. Her clothes had changed as well. She was draped all in black just as the figures were, her eyes glowing with a reddish tint to them. "Finally..." She whispered, reaching out to grasp the artifact, the voices egging her on. Then she stepped on something. It was not the same cold stone of the temple. It was soft and clammy, making the young Vratix shiver with disgust. She looked down, and saw him.
Master Reev, his rotting corpse laying beneath the podium. "What!?" Izel exclaimed, and staggered backwards, only to step on more bodies. Master Zapan, Master Bilcus, looking around the darkness shrank away and she found herself surrounded by the corpses of all the Jedi and all of her family. "What is this?" She uttered in a shaky voice, completely terrified.
"This is your future," The voices answered her. "This is the price of knowledge. Let go of your worldly connections. Give into your true desires. Let nothing stand in your path!"
"No!" Izel shouted, shaking her head. "I didn't want this! I can't--" A cloaked figure appeared on either side of her, seizing the Padawan in their arms and pushing her towards the holocron.
"Take it!" They demanded. "You're so close! Take it and you will have everything you want!"
"No! This isn't right!" Izel cried, panicking. "This isn't... I can't..." She struggled against her captors, but they dragged her closer and closer, one taking her arm and forcing her to reach out, trying to make her touch the holocron.
"Listen to us," They said. "We know your true nature. We are here to give you the strength you need to seize your destiny!" Her fingertip inched closer and closer to the holocron. Izel strained against them.
"No! I won't do it!" She shouted defiantly. Still they pulled her closer. "I won't!" Closer... "I WON'T!" She released a wave of Force energy, pushing the two holding her away and knocking down all of the other figures as well, causing them to dissipate into the shadows. Suddenly the millions of voices were in her head again, screaming with rage. Master Reev's decomposing corpse contorted unnaturally and stood, turning to face Izel with hateful dead eyes. His jaw twisted and a thousand voices poured from it.
"You are a coward Izel Thral!" They shouted cruelly. "And you will never have what you desire until you find the strength to take it!" He ignited a yellow lightsaber, stalking towards her with a horrid limping gait.
"No..." Izel said, shaking her head and backing away, on the verge of tears.
"Here," Master Reev said with an insidious smile. "Let me show you..." He lifted his saber and brought it down towards her.
"No!" Izel screamed, raising her arms defensively and cringing away. The lightsaber cut through her arm with ease, and she felt the excruciating pain of the blade bearing down into her face, ripping her apart. She screamed.
Izel screamed as she collapsed on the floor of the cave, immediately raising her left arm, only to see that it was still there. Her hands went next to touch and examine her own face, though that too was unharmed. She sat there on the cold stone for a few moments, shivering in terror as she wrapped her arms around herself. Looking around slowly she came to the realization it was all an illusion. A terribly real illusion. In the distance she could see light, and prayed that was not a sadistic trick of her mind as well.
"H-Hello?" She asked weakly as she began to move slowly towards it and the end of the cave. "Hello?" She called a bit louder.
Now why would you jump to that conclusion? Who mentioned them?
The voice cackled again. This time more deeply.
No you are right you are not them. You had every advantage their blood money could buy and you have not achieved half of what they did. They ruled a galaxy. You can barely control yourself.
That last sentence was not so much spoken as spat.
After a pause which Xander could only measure in the number of times formless thoughts circled through his head, spiralling down into rage and self loathing, an eerie glow appeared in the cave roof, revealing a subterranean pool. In its glassy surface, Xander saw his own reflection leering back at him.
Look at us!
See! You know it to be true. You can't even look yourself in the eye.
How old are we? And how long have we been a Padawan?
There are many Padawans older than me. We are all still learning and progressing. There's no shame in that.
Found our voice have we?
Pathetic. How many of them will ever make master? Let alone the council?
They have all fought real adversity. Overcome oppression and disadvantage. What have you ever had to deal with? Those school accolades are trinkets. Boys playing at being men in a cushioned non-reality.
You had everything handed to you and here you are lost in a cave, just as you are lost in your calling.
Xander fell to the ground and wept. What was the point? The voice was right. Whether in the eyes of his family or the eyes of the Jedi, he had achieved nothing. He was not special and never would be.
And now, his only hope was that one of the others heard him before they left the cave.
The heat radiating from the rocky ledge was immense. Oren would peer down, watching the black depths pulse and bubble with orange and red lava. The darkness lingered still, but it wasn't as strong as before, but now he knew the truth. The world was dying, and the generations of exploitation had left the world scarred and sick, this was the aftermath of the cancer, the detoxification of everything and everyone that had ever existed on the planet--all of it was gone, destroyed and only a lingering feeling could remain.
Is this a wound in the force? He thought to himself as he walked along the black obsidian rocks, a darkness and an echo so strong that it nearly blinds you of your senses, if this was the case, he very much wondered if their goal, the temple, still stood or if it had been swept away in fire and wrath. The force has willed this, that I know to be true, it was guiding me the whole time, showing me what I needed to see, the problems and emotions I had buried deep inside.
As he walked he heard the echoes coming from along the ridge, "Hello?" The words called out for someone. Oren's eyes widened as he caught wind of the voice, and with each step he hurried towards the young student's calls.
"Izel!" He'd call out with a cough, as the smoke began to fill around the area. As he moved he'd slowly tear and tie a piece of his robe, covering his mouth as he approached, a smile hidden under the makeshift bandanna. He'd quickly hug the young student before pulling away.
"Have you seen Xander?" The words were muffled, and before she could even respond, he heard the pain and the crying from another tunnel, he would place his hand on Izel, motioning for her to wait as he jumped into the hole, filled with conviction and the light within himself. He would never leave a comrade behind,.
He would find the student laying on the ground crying, with little thought he'd place a gentle hand on the boy's shoulder, pulling him up with an empathetic look. "It's okay son," he'd say with a soft tone, his rough hands running against the man's scalp, "You made it and you'll be alright...I'm sorry I should have stayed with you." He'd wrap his hand around the boy's shoulder, leading him back out towards Izel.
His eyes shifting towards the flames, "We all faced something in there, but you made it...whatever the darkness was, it tested you and you survived." He'd smile as he pointed towards the hell like river, "I can sense it, the light..we need to follow this path, it'll lead us to the temple."
Izel moved towards the light very slowly and cautiously, the heat bringing some degree of strength back to her. The scene outside the cave wasn't exactly pleasant though, nor were the echoes through the Force. The darkness here was so strong she could feel it all around her, closing in on her. She had lost any fascination with this place, and only wanted to leave this cursed world. But she couldn't go back into the cave, not after all that she had endured. She doubted she would survive it all again. So she had no choice but to go forward.
She practically wept as she was finally reunited with Master Zapan, rushing into the Knight's embrace and shivering with emotion. She touched his arms, shoulders and face, needing to be sure that he was real and not another terrible illusion. She could sense the friendly warmth emanating from him though, and sighed with relief as she was finally able to let her guard down, if only a little. When he asked if she had seen Xander the young Vratix shook her head, glancing back towards the cave with fear before answering.
"No I--" She looked back at Oren. "Master I can't... I can't go back there please..." As her fellow Padawan's cries reached them she looked back again, her mind swimming with miserable thoughts. Thankfully Oren went to rescue him, and left Izel to stay behind. She didn't protest for even a moment, happy to stay as far from the cave as possible. When he returned with the other human and spoke reassuringly of their trial there wasn't much Izel could say. She didn't feel like she had accomplished much. As a matter of fact she felt that she had clearly failed whatever test she was supposedly being given. She had given into temptation at every turn and only turned away at the last second, more from fear than anything else. Was she really that weak? She had never thought about it before. Only now she was beginning to realize just how much she had freely given up to come to the Jedi. Her family, her entire life back home. She had not even been conflicted when she first made the decision to go with Master Reev. How could she have been so selfish? What else would she give up to get what she wanted?
She shook these thoughts from her head and tried to focus on the task at hand. For the moment survival was all that mattered. She could think on Ifrane's lessons once they had escaped this awful place. To that end she nodded along with Master Zapan, and was compliant in following his lead. She wouldn't be running off on her own again any time soon.