Almas, Approaching the Ancient Temple 1517 local time
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
More and more frequently, Soleil had been coming to Almas to research the native life and collect samples. He even had Aadya's backing for the expedition, which meant he had a degree of Imperial funding. Well, technically it was actually an array of borrowed equipment, but still. The Kaluthin grass that covered much of the planet and gave it its golden, glowing hue from orbit was a major point of it. But there was still yet more.
This planet, forgotten in some bit of the galaxy in the same system as Dorumaa, had an esoteric history that most writing only hinted at. Other expeditions found other little secrets, but there was one especially strange feature that stood out among the rest. It was neither subtle nor secret- any native in town knew about it, really- but no one wanted to go anywhere near it. A great, black shape jutting out of the earth, around which no grass would grow. Locals knew of it but refused to speak in any detail.
Naturally, that meant Soleil had to go himself. And this time he had a Champion who'd volunteered for the journey to go along with him. His freighter had a little research camp built up around it near the edge of where the Kaluthin grass stopped growing, overlooking the dead area around the temple itself. Several droids milling about moving things here and there. The Champion, Amira Din, should arrive in her own ship pretty soon. Sol wanted to make sure everything was in order.
Also, she shared a surname with Altair, which was interesting. Did he have a bunch of family in the Sith or something? Whatever it was, she'd signed on to help an Acolyte with his expedition, so he was optimistic. Something told him this temple wasn't going to be a simple thing to figure out.
According to her research, Almas was an anomaly in and of itself. The planet's unusual orbit, its rumored history with the Dark Side— just small pieces in a bigger picture. If the Tiefling indulged in deep reminiscence, she could recollect lazy afternoons spent with her master, listening to him drone on about the long and complicated history of the Sith. She was sure that he had mentioned Almas at least once or twice, but what he had said regarding the planet and its history was not clear in her mind. A typical, mindless teenager, Amira had not understood the significance of his teachings, of his wisdom, and had not always properly devoted herself at the feet of her master. A mistake she deeply regretted now.
Too little, too late.
Amira descended the boarding ramp that extended from the light freighter that had shuttled her to this desolate planet. Yellow eyes surveyed the horizon, lingering on the temple the longest. Eventually, her gaze drifted to the encampment that bordered the temple and its surrounding fields, barren and devoid of any sign of life. No vegetation. No wildlife. It was crude, but it would do. The Tiefling had endured much worse conditions— occasionally from her own well-intentioned father, on that yearly camping trip he insisted the whole family take on Bandomeer.
Fog had begun to roll in, a thick haze settling over the grasslands. As she walked, the Tiefling's fingers brushed against long blades of kaluthin grass. The stalks of each blade glowed white with deposits of prosperous, the surface of the planet emitting its own otherworldly glow. Almas was beautiful, in a grim and melancholy sort of way.
"Come here often?" she asked Soleil as she approached, the corners up her lips tugging upwards into a playful smile. @Mr. Teatime
Soleil looked up from the bit of data he'd been pouring over as Amira's ship descended nearby, craning his neck to get a look at the exit ramp. It didn't immediately dump someone out so he got right back to his reading-up on the data he'd gathered up until that point. The native grass was a strange anomoly with nothing else like it in any Sith database- or public domain- and that was part of his pitch to the Empire about studying Almas.
Interesting enough to get some backing in the middle of a war, even. Might've had something to do with how he'd phrased things, but still. Even stranger was how it suddenly stopped growing at a certain distance from the temple, another piece of the research expedition. Anything odd was worth looking into so far as Sol was concerned.
The Wrean acolyte looked up again as Amira came down her ship's ramp and walked over. Sol blinked at her greeting, followed by a playful grin that slowly formed on his face. 'Yes' he projected telepathically in her direction, adding further commentary through Clover-translated sign language."Lots to find on Almas, if little of great beauty around the temple." He paused.
"Well, until now." No shame at all, this one. Sol offered her a datapad that covered some of the team's- which here meant Sol and a handful of droids- observations about the area. Most importantly was that the temple had no obvious entrance they could find so far with basic means. "Oh, also, there's a giant pile of possibly-crazy cultists gathered around it. Keep screaming something about the end of days."
One well-groomed eyebrow shot up at that little remark, the smile she wore still in place but growing. The pair of Sith had only met one another once, briefly— at a Sith gala, but she had not taken Soleil for the type to speak his mind so freely. Particularly when it came to women. "To think I mistook you for the bashful, timorous type." The Champion chuckled, making it apparent that she did not mind his remark concerning her appearance. Amira had always enjoyed any compliment directed toward her, and she made no secret of the fact that she loved being the center of attention. Ever since the Tiefling was a child, she had thrived on it. "Tell me that again in two or three years, and maybe I'll return the compliment."
Her gaze swept past Soleil to the temple in the distance, the individuals— or "cultists"— that gathered around it seemingly nothing more than dark figures from this distance. Cultists and a dark, mysterious temple. What fun. The Tiefling stepped over blades of kaluthin grass and into the clearing to join Soleil. "The end of days, huh? You never mentioned anything about this being a suicide mission." She smiled, accepting the datapad he offered.
"These cultists— have you had much contact with them?"@Mr. Teatime
Soleil's shoulders shook with silent laughter, little more than a brilliant smile and a hand waved back and forth. He managed to communicate "Common mistake" for Clover to translate in the midst of it. The young man was mute, maybe uncomfortable in a suit or nervous walking up to a man who could kill him with a stray thought, but bashful? Sol couldn't imagine himself as shy.
'Course he would've stopped if Amira was uncomfortable with his obvious compliments, but she didn't seem to mind at all. "I'll remember that," Clover said on his behalf before rolling their eyes. Sol turned his attention to the temple as Amira spoke in its direction. He huffed with amusement at the idea of a suicide mission.
As a matter of fact, the cultists were outside the purview of his expeditionary charter. Then again it was a Sith charter, which usually implied getting shit done regardless of what half-mad morons stood in the way. Soleil's eyebrows tensed slightly as he projected 'Little' at Amira, shrugging a little and signing for the rest.
"Mostly indirect. They say their mysterious messiah will lead them to paradise after devouring the universe. They're-" The robocat gave Sol a dirty look that he sharply returned. Clover sighed. "They're so batshit they could fertilize every farm in the galaxy." Sol looked pleased.
Then irritated. "No one's allowed inside." Soleil had no idea when the cult originated, as noted in the datapad he'd handed over. But he *did* know they were relatively modern. Especially compared to the temple itself, which was older than the Drast Empire. 'Sneak?' he projected.
A common mistake, perhaps, but not a mistake Amira would make again. The Tiefling, better than most, should have realized that first impressions were no fast rule. Particularly in regards to a Sith. Even an Acolyte could be deceptively simple and yet endlessly complicated. The old adage 'don't just a book by its cover' was timeworn, but old adages were clichés for a reason. Today it was a harmless mistake, tomorrow it might cost her her life. A similar mistake almost had, once.
"I'm not always the best judge of character," she admitted in a casual tone. According to the Acolyte's observations, detailed on the datapad, there was no perceptible entrance to the temple. Not promising, considering they would need to get inside if they wanted this investigation to amount to anything. The Tiefling couldn't help but smile. Even if Soleil's robocat was not entertained by the Acolyte's remark regarding fertilizer, Amira was. "Too bad we didn't have a few of 'em back on Bandomeer then. They might have been real handy come springtime." Instead, she and her siblings had been roped into applying top dressing by hand on more than one occasion by Pa. Messy work. Not to mention putrid. Soleil suggested sneaking past the cultists, but Amira had something else in mind. "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, right?" Another old adage, and not always accurate. She tossed the datapad onto a mesh backpack lying near the Acolyte, grinning as she faced ahead. "Let's go talk to 'em."@Mr. Teatime
Sol gave Amira a playfully exaggerated shrug regarding her character judgment. If the mute Wrean had a credit for every time someone assumed something about him he wouldn't have been dirt poor for so long. 'Course that also reflected how he'd tended to default to certain mannerisms, but hey, work in progress. Lorrd was a hell of a place.
When it came to farming Sol's knowledge was purely academic, but he could relate to the gross steps people had to get done in his own way. Fishing involved a lot more blood and guts than the shiny filets in shops tended to portray. He smiled back at her with amusement in his eyes. Sadly they couldn't stick to a nice, calming back and forth for too long. They did have actual work to get to.
Warily he looked toward the cultists, then back to Amira. With a big shrug and a typical 'fuck it' expression he agreed to the basic plan solely because it seemed like it could be interesting. Soleil stood up, brushed off his pants, and hefted his bag of gear. He took a step toward Amira and held his hand to shake her hand along with a projected 'Soleil'. The acolyte often skipped right past basic niceties, but with the recent ability to say his own name courtesy of Raze, it was another detail he was working on.
'Thanks' he added with a head nod toward the temple; not many Champions volunteered for more research-oriented expeditions, and he appreciated her taking the time and effort. And with that, they could approach the temple and its swarming mass of-
'Fuckwits' Soleil projected to Amira in his approximation of a conspiratorial whisper once they were close to witness what madness the cultists were up to. Today it looked like they were eating handfuls of ash from burning the local grass and then falling down in fervent prayer to their mysterious void entity. For fuck's sake.
For some reason, the cultists didn't seem overly pleased by Soleil's arrival. Probably all the distant observation and poking around, though the vaguely weirded out look on his face likely wasn't helping. "WHY DO YOU RETURN, CHILD FROM THE STARS!?" screeched an old lady in torn-up robes, her face covered in the ashes she'd been huffing. She was wildly shaking a stick covered in rattling old tin cans painted with symbols that might be the Sith lexicon if seen through a kaleidoscope. Sol deferred to the Champion here since he was trying really hard to keep a straight face.
"Amira," the Tiefling grinned, shaking the hand Soleil extended her way. It occurred to her that their conversation must have sounded odd, her talking to a mute that only projected his thoughts and never said a word. Not that there was anyone around to eavesdrop on their conversation other than the cultists, and Amira had the feeling they didn't give two bantha ticks so long as their rituals—or whatever it was they were doing went uninterrupted. The Tiefling waited for Soleil to collect his things before abandoning the safety of the clearing. She followed the narrow and winding dirt path that cut through the fields of kaluthin grass and led to the temple. Maybe walking right up to a group of crazy spiritualists who regarded the ground they walked on as holy wasn't the best idea, but it wasn't as if the Sith had a lot of options. Regarding a entrance, Soleil's research had yielded no results. These cultists lived and breathed this temple, so they would know more about it than anyone else. Anyone else living anyway. Soleil had relayed little other than a shrug, but it was obvious that he was game. So what was the harm in just trying to talk to them? Surely two Sith could handle a small group of cultists. Right?
"Child from the stars?" Amira muttered to Soleil as they drew closer. "What is that? The new 'did it hurt when you fell from heaven' pickup line?" The Tiefling came to a stop several feet away from the old woman that called out to them. Going off the old woman's remark and the group of mumblers behind her, they were not fond of Soleil. Unsurprising, considering he had been here the longest, but perhaps, having just arrived, Amira could still win them over. Or at the very least not get a handful of ash thrown in her face. "We mean you no harm," she addressed the woman, her posture open and relaxed. "We just want to talk to you. Would.... would that be alright?"@Mr. Teatime