Ruuria was an oft-forgotten place, at least to humanoids. Though its beauty through nature and running rivers of cotton-candy were undeniable, it seemed that seldom few civilized people would want to wind up anywhere outside of its settlements. Miya Af Ath was unlike them, however. Rotations had come and gone for what seemed like weeks on end before her sights had fallen to Ruuria, and with her mind ever-forward, she had wound up under canopy and between rivers with her sights set, as always, ahead.
The air was thick and sticky on Miya's skin. The bugs were swarming now, like thick clouds of swarming color all around her as she cursed her way through the southern undergrowth. It was miserable, and she did not hide that fact as she grimaced and whined to herself all the way through it. But the time was right, she told herself, that her misery would pay off.
In time she came to the face of a great set of cliffs, where many sheer rocks jutted from the ground and into the sky above. The jungle went with them too. The canopies broke for barely a moment, roots uninterrupted all the while as they stretched up the faces of these massive heights. Here she finally ventured a smile—her first on this particular journey—and began to search along the length of the shelf with keen eyes.
Soon she found the object of her desire. The cliffs became smooth at a point, almost as if they had been hewn by some force or other, and upon their faces were large carvings of simple shapes. It was not difficult to tell that they had been made by some sentient thing, but Mi was the one to smile at them, and what she knew of their meaning. Deftly her eyes scanned across the surfaces around her, and nearly like a wolf with a scent she became affixed on this cliffside.
Now there was a spring in her step, and she followed the carvings to the center of the cliffs. Here amongst the sound of rushing that drowned out the buzzing of bugs and critters around her, Mi saw the fast-flowing of a waterfall. The pink river was beautiful enough on its own, but the sight of its spraying fountain was something else entirely. For several minutes she remained seated in the thick bracken and mossy ground, and observed the flowing of the river with great awe. When she rose, it was with great purpose.
Mi hesitated little, and with a huff of her breath she broke into a sprint. The water was a wall of its own, and the cliffs were behind it, but with her lungs full she dove into the fall and became doused in pink. The sound of rushing river became the feeling of water in her ears, but in no more than a moment it had gone, and the vagabond fell upon a flat stone.
She rose here, and began to look at the ruined place around her. There were things far older than she, and far older than her master, or even her master's master in this place. With a breath she shook the wet from her hair, stepping forth into the great expanse of the forgotten temple. She was the first to find this place in many years, but perhaps she would not be the last.
She'd never been to this temple before. Travelling the galaxy in between lessons was something of a past time for Natalie. While she wasn't the most powerful Jedi, she was all but complete in her training as a padawan, and she would go and seek out small evils here and there. Sometimes it was a grove, sometimes a small gang of particularly bad neer-do-wells. The datacrons in the libraries of Starlight Beacon told of a feared group of Jedi called sentinels, and she had since tried her very best to carry their legacy.
That legacy brought Natalie to these old ruins. As she sauntered through them, her hazel eyes wandered the peaks and valleys of the ruins. The once white stones now grey and beige with vines covering everything, stood tall and short. It was majestic in its own way, but Natalie wasn't too impressed with them. All these stones did was hide darkness. She knew that.
There was another here. Dark? Light? It didn't matter, not right now. If they were dark, she would deal with it. If they were light, she would deal with it. Natalie made it to where she could see this other presence. She was ready to grab and ignite her lightsaber at her belt. "Hey," she said. Her voice echoed through what had once been a hallway.
The stones were vast and ill-explored, in the present. So long had it been since any living thing had touched upon the faces of the walls here, and so long then had it been since any had truly pondered their origin and deeper meaning. The history of it all fascinated Mi. She begged, almost, to know more. Stepped forth along the old stones with great caution, sure of herself not to disturb any particular thing that had yet to be examined. There would be time for it all.
Or would there? There was something else here, she felt—or someone—enough that she felt a pitch in her chest and a presence in the Force. In a breath she was turned on a heel, facing the entrance where the pinkish light glimmered through and illuminated the stones below. She stood to the side, the saber hilt on her belt facing away from the other woman. In the half-light she glared, but did not draw her weapon. Despite it, her robes betrayed her secrecy; though yet concealed her true alignment.
"You should not be here. What are you?" she asked broadly, and continued to peer hawkishly upon the Sentinel.
Seems she surprised the woman. She'd have been surprised too if she thought she was alone in these ruins, only to have a black robed woman show up with a lightsaber at his hip. Natalie didn't move, or even flinch. There was no need to start a conflict with sudden jerks and twitches. She was calm, collected, her expression a deadpan of observation.
"Well, most people would say I'm human," Natalie quipped. She didn't elaborate any further. The woman down the path didn't get to make demands of her. A part of Natalie thought to say she was a Jedi, as her sarcasm had gotten her in trouble in the temples many a time; No, she'd leave her answer with the quip, curious to see how the woman handled frustration, or a sense of humor.
"Dolt," she replied flatly, either not understanding the sarcasm or not caring for it. Mi's brows became knit together, and for a moment she focused on the other woman. There was something on her countenance that was akin to frustration or perhaps impatience, but it was likely the former, given just how long she was willing to stare at her.
"Fine, then," she said at last to break the silence. "Surely you are not hostile, or I suppose you would have drawn your weapon by now." She was direct in her speech, inquisitive in nature and with a clear forkedness to her tone. "Tell me why you are here." It was not a question, but a demand: one Miya knew that this woman did not have to heed, but one that she made all the same.
Tough break. The woman didn't seem to enjoy Natalie's sarcasm, which would make it all the more fun for the Ord Mantellian native to use it on her. Some used to say she was sadistic in the way she thrived at others' discomfort; Natalie would just say she was bored of everything being so serious all the time. If you couldn't humor your way through the darkness, what chance did you have combating it outright?
"Sound logic," Natalie said, beginning to take slow, careful steps toward the woman. She only stopped when the woman demanded to know why she was there. Natalie looked upward, tapping a finger to her chin to feign thought. "I like to explore. Never know when you'll get to cleanse a grove, or battle an evil hermit." Her eyes fell back to the woman as she flashed an amused grin. "Could ask the same of you. You don't look like a grove, and you don't smell like an evil hermit. Why are you here?"
Miya did not groan, but perhaps the act was implied by the dead gaze with which she replied. The woman stepped forward, and with her movement Mi stepped back. A hand came, now resting on the still-obscured hilt that she carried at her side. Her thumb ran it's length, feeling the grooves of worn, near-splintering wood against her fingertip. She kept herself at bay though, as much as she wished to ignite her weapon. She was oddly well behaved, for a Darksider.
"This is neither a grove, nor the home of hermits," Mi said, still maintaining a defensive distance. There was apprehension in the air, thick like the humid jungle air. "Why else would someone seek a forgotten temple—if not to learn from it? To study the history here. Your questions make me think that you have no business here." The woman's smile was not returned, met instead by a stony glare that seemed to breed animosity.
Natalie chuckled. The woman was defensive, looking for any reason at all for Natalie to be an enemy. She'd met some weird people in her life, some even weirder Jedi, but this woman seemed to fit neither bill. Her robes hid a lot from sight, but the stance, the favoring of one side, told a story as old as time. If Natalie cared to search the Force beyond sensing the woman's presence, she was sure to find something ugly lurking beneath the surface.
"Why else would someone seek a forgotten temple? To plant a grove and build a home for a hermit, of course," Natalie quipped. Though, it was odd that the woman mentioned learning from the temple. What was there to learn here? A datacron perhaps? A holocron? She was unfamiliar with who or what had previously resided in the temple, but now she was curious. "There's no signs out front that say only people with business can enter."
Her glare would be met with a deadpan of apathy. The woman postured to fight at a moment's notice, despite no signs of aggression shown by Natalie. Natalie of was sure of it; this woman had enough darkness for the two of them inside her. Her robes said Jedi, but the animosity that Natalie kept slicing through with sarcasm said Dark Jedi. Maybe Natalie should just attack, get her to draw her saber; get to the bottom of the matter. "What made you fall?"
Mi huffed, audibly now. She felt as if she was a shepherd being ran around by a dozen sheep, and those dozen sheep were this woman. Exhausted by her japing, she shook her head. "Only the memories of the dead are planted here now. Begone if you have no purpose in this place." She wanted to fold her arms; to be cross with this woman and to scold her, but she kept her wits for a time, and her hand on her saber.
The question stabbed her, like a knife in the gut. She was not expecting it, but then, she should have known better than to stare down a Jedi and expect anything less. Perhaps she was keen, or perhaps Mi had become readable. Whatever the reason, her response was much the same. "Not fallen," she began, "but enlightened. Free of dogma. Whole of mind and soul, as it once was. Before the boundary of Jedi and Sith, or light and dark."
She spoke adamantly, but the darkness that surrounded her was full of betrayal. It became obvious, now: Darkness was upon this girl. Whether troubled or truly evil in nature, it was hard to tell. But the labels meant little in the face of the feeling of contempt and of pride that hung heavy around them. "But it is hardly your place to ask," she said at last.
"And here you are answering anyway," Natalie said. There was no mistaking it now. She didn't need to see the color of the woman's saber. Contempt and pride filled the air around her, far too much for any "enlightened" person. Her curiosity was piqued before, but not this darksider had her complete attention. She'd have to play this carefully though, or as carefully as her stubborn Ord Mantellian brain could be.
"Seems like you just switched dogmas to me," she said. Diplomacy first, of course. "Enlightened literally has the word light in it, and unless you're the master of hide-and-seek, I can't sense any in you. Maybe endarkened would be a better word for you. Oh! Or maybe benighted." Natalie pondered out loud, once again showing the sarcasm through a feigned thinking face. "Yeah, benighted would be a good one."
She folded her arms over her chest. Her stance was still ready to rock the moment the darksider tried anything. "So, what exactly does being benighted give you over us lowly peons of the light?" If the woman was looking for fear, or even a hint of being intimidated from Natalie, she'd be disappointed. The same apathetic stare returned, meeting the darksider's glare.
"I needn't justify myself to you," Mi replied dryly. "None of us can see the grand illusion that has been made, but we are only ever shown pieces. It is up to us to see more than what we know." There was truth behind her words. There was more to know. Whether these ideals were earnest, or merely the lies of a Sith, was difficult to tell. Still, she spoke with conviction, and at the least believed herself to be true. "I do not give myself to the Dark. I hold it, as if a bird in the hand, and allow it to balance with the Light in the other. Both have their place. Both have their purpose."
After a moment, Miya shook her head. "But I speak enough of my belief. I doubt you should be swayed either way—and in truth I care little for your alignment." Her hands stayed at the ready, draped with cream and brown and swaddled as much as they were concealed. It was difficult to discern her intent. "Begone, if you have no good business with this place."
Natalie stayed quiet for a moment, listening to the woman. Reminded her a lot of the old guy back on Ord Mantell that would fill the corner of Madsen and Vrilloth with conspiracies. The ramblings of someone who was off their rocker, but didn't quite know it yet. It would be a shame if this woman ended up like that old guy. Natalie was pretty sure a local crime lord had him forcibly removed from life.
"Well, those were certainly words," Natalie said, finally. "If good business and intentions is what you're after, then you won't mind if I tag along. Unless you don't have good intentions for the temple, of course." Natalie began to approach again, but not directly at the woman. She had offset her trajectory so that if the woman didn't move Natalie would saunter by her left side, albeit always keeping an eye on the woman. "It'd be a shame if I were the one with the good intentions and you weren't."
"Dolt," came the venom from her mouth once again. In this moment she was not a darksider filled with rage, but merely a girl who had been upset that her words were lost on some simpler woman. "Truly, I would not. So long as you keep from disturbing this sacred place—and the things within—then you and will I have no issue." She watched with glaring eyes as the Jedi began her approach, but eventually Mi had decided that to attack one from behind was not an act that even the cruelest of her kind would take. So her hand left her weapon, and settled back into her cloak idly. Still, it could be felt that she was rather on edge.
"Such shame is what has driven the Galaxy to ruin, of late," Mi said idly as she began to venture deeper into the temple. There was little light outside of the shimmer of pink from where they had entered, but still she pressed on as if the sun was above them. "Bad intentions are just good intentions that you don't have," she suggested, but figured that, too, would be lost on her. "For a Jedi to wander so far out on their own ... you must either be lost, or looking for something. Which is it?" she inquired, looking back upon the Sentinel with hard eyes.
"Good, then we definitely won't have any issues," Natalie said. She walked with the woman, matching her pace whatever it was. What a curious individual. The woman was certainly off her rocker. Unlike Natalie's original thoughts, the girl didn't seem to be full darkside. She was reserved, if not a little crazy.
"Bad intentions are just good intentions that you don't have," Natalie repeated. "And yet you assumed I had bad intentions, which means they were good intentions; you just didn't have them." She gave the woman what could only be described as a shit-eating grin. The grin faded as she turned her gaze forward. "I look for darkness, where ever it is."
"They were your good intentions," Mi replied. "I do not care for your intentions either way—good or bad—so long as this temple is left be." She walked, her pace quick but careful as she took in the long hallway which they had come to. Ahead of them were unlit torches, left barren and decayed by time long forgotten. The stones beneath them were cracked, and at times heaved and displaced, but the temple had been largely untouched by any major force, since its abandonment those long years prior. Open archways were on either side of them, splitting in their own directions and and branching there into a network of halls and chambers. As much of a maze as it was, Miya halted for a moment to find her way, her eyes shut all the while.
"You've found it," she answered the other woman's final statement, her lips straight and her expression now calmer than before. "Is it everything you had hoped it would be? Great evil, reaving and ravaging all within its path?" she asked this question somewhat curiously, her glaring eyes deadly upon the Sentinel. "Not even a name have I been given." Mi watched the woman now, expectantly.
Natalie left the intentions talk alone, for now anyway. She admired the architecture, picturing how the temple would have looked in its prime. The torches lit in the long dark halls, robed and armored figures standing by at doors. How long ago was it? What did they do here? It was intriguing, that was for sure, but Natalie soon lost interest in the history of the place. Let the Consulars and other book keepers worry about the history of such places.
She looked to the woman, her expression revealing nothing of how fun she found the cooky-bird to be. "Well it'd be more fun if you were a grove or a hermit, but you do just fine," she said. "I'm not convinced you're evil, even if you are dark." They walked in silence for a moment, Natalie weighing if she should reveal her name to the woman. What hard would it do? Anyone passing by would just read her the same as Natalie, a woman off her rocker with a whole lot of baggage attached.
Mi spoke no more, for a time. In her silence she became deeply enthralled by the archtiecture of this ancient temple, and found her mind drawn to what this place could have been, so many years ago. For a colony, or even a lone Force wielder, to establish a temple on so remote a place as Ruuria, surely they had intended or at least wished to remain a secret? It was all deeply fascinating to her, but looking aside she found the thought that perhaps it was only interesting to her.
"Dark does not mean evil," said Miya as she looked over. Her eyes were a light blue, milky almost, and they danced across Natalie for some time. "And then, what is light without dark? Blinding," she explained. "I suppose I do not expect you to understand." She shook her head now and became silent for a time. Together they walked, through unending corridors lit only by the far-off glimmer of cotton-candy.
"I prefer it to be a bit overcast, if we're honest," Natalie said, likening the darkside to night and the lightside to the sun. "You're crytpic speaking would have landed you the title of Jedi Master if you hadn't fallen." The continued down into the temple further, eventually coming to a large dome like structure, overgrown with vegetation. In the center was an almost altar like pedestal. Natalie wondered what the ancient people the lived her used this room for. She couldn't really sense any lingering Force, one way or another. Probably wasn't ritual sacrifices or cleansing then.
"So, Master of the Ruins, what do you think they used this room for?" Natalie asked, hazel eyes wandering the room but her senses trained on Miya. She moved out to the center where the altar stood. It looked like a bird bath, with a stone stem that came from the pedestal and a bowl filled with green, algae filled water on top. Natalie wanted to dip her finger in and swirl it, but thought better of it. No telling what Miya might think is desecrating this museum piece of a temple.
Miya scrunched her nose and ignored Natalie's sarcasm. "What an honor I befell," she answered dryly; sarcasm of her own making, though clearly in less of a playful manner to the other woman's. Quietly then she marched on, eyes upon everything that was not the Jedi now. The overgrowth, and the structure that lay behind it, was fascinating to her. To a knee she came swiftly, closing her eyes as her hand was placed against some stone or other. She reached out, not with her self, but with the Force that surrounded her, and felt what little she could of the lingering memories that were here.
"I don't know," she answered. "Perhaps it was reserved for meditation. Perhaps that obelisk you keep staring at was used for some important purpose. Or maybe it was just where they kept their drinking water." Her humor was painfully dry, but present all the same. "What can you feel?" she asked then. "What has remained, after so many generations have passed in this place?"
She half expected Miya to try to cut her down by this point. Natalie could sense the frustration her insufferable sarcasm was having on the darksider. It was amusing, if not a little mean. Was probably why Natalie could never keep one master for too long before they just passed her off to the next. A hot potato of mind numbing, Ord Mantellian stubbornness and sarcasm. The only master to ever stick with her through it all was her lightsaber instructor; Natalie knew for sure it was because he could take his frustration out on her in spars.
"If this was their drinking water, it's no wonder they're not here any more," Natalie said, staring once again at the small pool of water in the bird bath-like bowl. She would humor Miya though, if only this once. Natalie closed her eyes, reaching out with the Force and her senses. There was no darkness or light in the place, just a sense of fear, and desperation. She opened her eyes, looking around the large room again.
"Fear, desperation. They were running from something. Hiding from a galactic war, maybe," she said, pondering out loud.