Junction. Located within the Thesme Sector, it was a planet that few could describe as anything but unassuming on the surface. It was not as historically significant as Korriban, nor as administratively important as Dromund Kaas, but it was nevertheless a world seated firmly within Sith territory, and it was Jaikus’ current destination.
For days now, whispers had dominated the ranks of the Sith Order. Almost all knew that the Eternal had left its stronghold and arrived on Dathomir, but few could say for certain what had occurred beyond that. Some speculated that their illustrious leader had arrived on the planet and there had been a confrontation – with many claiming that it was the Eternal that had emerged victorious, while just as many claimed the opposite. All the while, others whispered that there had been no confrontation at all. Any such speculation died with the visage of Darth Andruil which had so recently graced the HoloNet. In that single broadcast, all rumor and gossip died, and a new reality was etched into the Axxilan's mind - and it wasn't the multi-front war that was soon to erupt across the galaxy.
The Eternal had died, and Darth Andruil had risen to take its place.
Truthfully, while it was a matter in which Jaikus had little stake at all, he could not help but feel some sense of relief upon hearing that it was the Queen of Dathomir that now had risen to lead their order. Not because he has any particular loyalty to her, but there was business that Jaikus had with the woman and her untimely demise would’ve complicated things significantly. Business that had brought him now to Junction in the first place.
After punching out of hyperspace and cutting down through atmosphere of the planet, Jaikus’ ship – or rather, the ship he had unceremoniously borrowed - eventually touched down within the landing bay of the Sith stronghold. The Marauder quickly exited down the ramp as it extended to meet the ground below, making his way towards the stronghold where he was set to meant to meet with the woman.
The Marauder had no need for armor for today’s business, and recent events meant he was also conveniently lacking in a lightsaber. Instead, Jaikus arrived donning an ensemble of sophistication and refinement, dressing more akin to a practiced diplomat than a fully devoted Sith. He wore a well-tailored black and red suit, floral design delicately stitched across the jacket. While finely dressed, perhaps the most curious thing about his entire ensemble was the plain leather satchel which had been slung over his shoulder.
A few minutes of walking would pass before Jaikus arrived within the anteroom just before the Council chambers. Rather than taking a seat, the Marauder folded his hands neatly against the small of his back, leaning his weight against a nearby pillar as he awaited the woman of the hour to arrive.
Renfry had thought she was busy when she was Queen, but it was nothing compared to what she'd been inudated with now that she was in the Eternal's seat. War had been declared and the Sith were only partially prepared.
She wasn't sure she should be taking this meeting. Typically a single Marauder asking for a meeting with her wouldn't have really been something she had time for. Except, in this case, there were two things going for the man. The first was that she recalled him from the party on Serenno. She recalled the way he had gathered the attention of the other Sith Lords, which put him on her radara as well. the second reason was that something just told her she should take the meeting. The Shadow told her there was something more to it than what was on the surface.
She left the room she used as her office and emerged into the anteroom. She was dressed in a mix of red and black robes that were quite in contrast to her pale skin. The lightsaber of the Eternal still hung from her belt and she had begun to spend more and more time meditating over the crystal, slowly acclimating it to herself.
Other Sith and even a pair of her personal Nightsister guards mulled about the outer area as Renfry arrived.
Ah, yes, there was Mr. Well Dressed. In fact, the pair of Sith almost matched one another.
Jaikus, correct? What can I do for you? she asked, approaching directly. She'd never been one for huge ceremony and pleasantries, but these days there were even fewer minutes for her to work with.
Minutes passed and Jaikus waited patiently. When Darth Andruil finally entered into the anteroom, the Marauder shifted his weight off of the pillar and straightened, his posture straight and refined by years of upper-class discipline. The man briefly noted the other Sith and Nightsister's who lingered about the area before well-and-truly settling upon the woman before him, citrine eyes locking with her own goldens.
“Your Majesty,” The style he’d used the last time they met would have to do for the time being, the Marauder yet unsure about the nomenclature that came with her change in position. He doubted it would be a point of contention, but it was still a topic he had briefly considered in his mind. As he spoke, Jaikus bent at the waist, his right arm sweeping out in front of him. It was the same formal gesture he had introduced himself with on Serenno, only perhaps this time he bowed a tad bit lower.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.” Beyond the simple formalities and politeness, there was a genuine tone to his words. Confident and outwardly bold as he might’ve been on Serenno, Jaikus harbored no illusions about the power dynamic that existed – especially now. The fact that she had taken the time to meet with him was something Jaikus was legitimately grateful for. “A queen is always busy,” He clicked his tongue. “I expect that is only more true now.”
With that in mind, Jaikus did not loiter about on the pleasantries a moment longer, instead immediately moving right along to the business at hand. “I was hoping I might have an opportunity to speak with you about a discovery of some significance. Something in which your expertise would be particularly valuable, I believe.” Of course, that wasn’t a very informative answer, was it? Though his eyes never broke contact with her own, Andruil would undoubtedly notice the subtle way he adjusted the satchel slung across his shoulder, a dark brow arching ever-so-slightly. It was clear by now that whatever he brought with him would play a role in the business of the day, business which he was attempting to make clear wasn’t meant for public eyes or ears.
Renfry may have moved up in the world again, but there were many of her quirks that remained. Chief among them was the way her eyebrow rose slightly at his comment. He was insightful and charming more so than most. Fine, so perhaps the statement he said was rather obvious, but she'd met some she was fairly sure wouldn't have been smart enough to make it. That didn't speak well of others, did it?
Quite correct, she said with a nod of agreement. Not only that, he was quick moving to business. Oh, she liked that. She was beginning to understand why he had caught everyone's attention. He was sharp.
He spoke very vaguely and her eyes snapped for the briefest moment to the satchel he was handling as if it were a much-loved child. After the briefest fraction of a second, her eyes snapped once again to his.
This way, she said, motioning with her head for him to follow her down to her office.
She passed the threshold, waited for him, and closed the door behind them. All these years Renfry had ruled from Dathomir and the throne she sat on (rarely sat on, mind you) was made of stone. It was not comfortable. That was why she rarely sat in it.
So, when she'd settled this office she'd invested in very comfortable chairs for herself and her guests at the desk, and off to the side of the room was a couch and two more even more cushy chairs. She moved over to take a seat on the couch, motioning for him to take a chair and making herself quite at home as she sat back into the corner of the seat back and armrest. Because let's be real, comfort was important whether you were a galactic ruler or not.
Something arcane then? she asked. It was the primary skill she had brought her name up through the ranks of the Sith on. She knew things that no one else did. She would have been lying if she'd said she wasn't interested just after what he'd said, but that wasn't really what caught her attention. What caught her attention was something far more vague. That same sense in the Shadow that simply nagged at her mind. Whatever he'd found would absolutely interest her. She simply knew it without a shred of real evidence. She found herself perking up slightly more for that nagging alone.
Citrine eyes cautiously – and subtly – observed the fellow Sith and Nightsisters who cloistered into the waiting room. The Axxilan was an expert of masking how he was truly feeling beneath layers of debonair charms and the practiced mask of a politician, but he’d tried to make it as obvious to Andruil as he could without speaking. Luckily she picked up on his gesture without missing a beat, and he was grateful for it.
Passing through the threshold after Renfry, Jaikus entered the office and quietly took in the sight of his surroundings. Given that the man had grown up surrounded by extensive wealth and luxury on Axxila, the plush and comfortable seating was a detail not only noticed, but appreciated by Jaikus. Given her elevated position in the Galaxy, it seemed only appropriate that Andruil had opted for furniture of higher quality.
“Thank you.” Only when motioned to take a seat did Jaikus turn and sink himself into one of the plush chairs. Only then did he turn his attention to what he had brought with him.The satchel itself was an exceptionally plain thing, stitched black leather that hung from a strap on his shoulder. The contents within, however? That was significantly more interesting.
“Correct.” He nodded in response to her question about the nature of his inquiry. The flap of the satchel unlatched and opened, and Jaikus shortly thereafter provided a small buddle of scrolls. Three of them there were, each bound with twine. The material itself was exceptionally plain and had been tattered with age, but otherwise was in relatively good condition. Whatever Renfry had sensed in the Shadow would immediately point towards the bundle of scrolls, that distinct nagging becoming exceptionally clear by this point.
“These,” He began, sliding the scrolls towards Renfry. “Were found on at a ruined location on Telos, alongside other relics.” He didn’t actually describe what else he found within that temple. That was an item he would mention only when he had a better understanding of the woman in front of him. “The inscriptions are vague, difficult to understand, but I have spent the past few weeks attempting to translate the contents. Dozens of different rituals are detailed – or perhaps, different components of the same ritual – and all of them speak of a figure.. A saviour, or goddess, of some kind.”
He drummed his fingers against the armrest of the chair. “I believe it speaks to a ritual of communing with the dead. Or some kind of unknown entity. Such arcane rituals are far beyond me, and so, I naturally come to you.”
Renfry watched him pull the scrolls from the satchel and set them on the small caf table, pushing them across and toward her. There was no doubt this was what she was sensing, but what she didn't know was what they were.
A dark goddess? That sounded dangerous to say the least, and she had yet to even open the scrolls. She reached out and took them, delicately and incredibly gently beginning to unroll them on the table. The moment she touched them, a cold chill ran across her skin, but she didn't stop. Her curiosity had now entirely consumed her, and she realized that alone may well be the danger of these pieces of parchment.
Do you read ur-Kittat? she asked, not looking up at him. It was quite clear that what he had brought was beyond interesting to her.
Her eyes began to scan over the writing. She had learned the language during her studies of Sith magic and alchemy, but she was not as fluent in it as her own native tongue.
What do you hope to find when you have them translated? she asked.
Have you learned anything about their history? Consulted the Korriban library? she asked. Surely someone else would have heard of or written about them before, right?
She continued skimming over them, noting all the different rituals. Some she could guess would be quite dangerous and a few even caused her to frown. She was beginning to wonder if the great danger to these rituals was knowing which ones you needed to do in order to summon this dark entity.
Jaikus reclined back into his seat when Andruil took the scrolls and began carefully rolling them out across the caf table. He kept his hands knitted together neatly in front of him, citrine eyes observing the Dathomirian Sith Lord as she poured over the ancient parchment. Perhaps there was some detail he had missed that she would be able to locate, and he gave her the space to do so without hovering over her shoulder.
In truth, the texts themselves were nothing special on the surface. They appeared much like every other ancient piece of Sith literature, the runic script of Ur-kittat scrolled across the parchment in vermillion ink, accompanied by pictograms of runic circles of unknown origin and purpose. Dozens of different rituals and strings of complex incantations were recorded within, each more complex and bizarre than the last.
While they were exceptional plain upon first glance, one could never quite escape the feeling that there was something off about that which Jaikus had brought with him. The longer Andruil studied the tattered parchment, she could feel as if the air in the room had grown stall and cold. For all the ways the Shadow had pointed her to the scrolls, promising that they would be of interest to her, extended exposure to the parchment left a distinct feeling of despair and unease brushing against her psyche.
“Not fluently, but I understand some.” He responded to her first question; his words laced with the slightest irritation. Jaikus was a student of Sith history and had learned much of the language over the course of his life. Still, he did not speak it fluently and almost certainly didn’t speak it as well as Andruil. Translation wouldn’t have been nearly as tedious if he did.
When Andruil questioned what he hoped to gain from the scrolls, there was a distinct pause from Jaikus. He did not yet fully understand what he had found, but the bits and pieces of information were nothing short of unsettling as they were uncovered. The mention of a dark goddess was equal parts terrifying and intriguing, promising power and untold danger in the same breath.
“Whatever there is to find.” Jaikus finally replied. For better or worse, the scrolls were his now and the Axxilan was committed to pursuing their contents wherever they led him. Whether Andruil would be a part of that journey was entirely up to her.
“I have.” He nodded in affirmative to her question about the Korriban library. The truth was, Jaikus had spent the past several weeks scouring libraries and archives across Sith space for information on the Telos Relics. These scrolls - as well as a rather significantly piece of headwear - had been the source of many sleepless nights and afternoons spent in deep study. The latter artifact had been quickly identified, but the same could not be said about these scrolls. Still, he had learned some things.
“Their history is admittedly vague, but they do appear through the millennia. From what I understand, they date back are far as the First Sith, and frequently vanish and reappear throughout the ages – constantly changing hands from owner to owner, until they simply vanish from mention.” While the details were obscure, Jaikus He pointed an index finger towards the parchment. “The ‘Black and White’ scrolls is a name that occurs with most frequency.”
He drummed his fingers against the caf table. “There is not much known about their contents, but there is a commonality between all of the stories - and that is the multiple locations that appear. Lothal, Devaron, Dagobah, Mustafar..” He leaned forward a bit. “While they have no apparent connection, they are all planets that contain vergences - deep connections to the Force. Perhaps these rituals need to be conducted in such a place?”
She wondered if the annoyance in his tone was the result of her question or something else. She didn't linger on it long with the power that lay in front of her. The air in the room seemed to respond to the presence of the scrolls much like the power contained in the words of power she constructed for special projects.
She sat back and looked at him as he began to talk about what he had uncovered of them thus far. Her fingers drummed absently against her thigh as she listened and thought.
Lothal, Devaron, Dagobah, and Mustafar, she repeated thoughtfully. The scrolls predated Vader's presence on Mustafar or the Emperor's rumored interest in Lothal. Lord Malon had been involved on Mustafar and Andraste and Evandrus were rumored to have connection to Lothal. The early Sith had lain waste to a Jedi temple on Devaron, but Dagobah? She knew of no Sith connected to that world.
She pulled out her datapad and quickly scrolled through it before standing. Nothing on her schedule couldn't be cancelled or rescheduled.
Which world shall we start with? she asked. Lothal is probably closest, she said before pausing.
How far are you willing to go for this? she asked. It was not something that would be able to be done halfway. They were both putting themselves in considerable danger with this, and she couldn't be taking along someone who wasn't willing to see it through.
Whatever the reason for his annoyance, it quickly dissipated, and Jaikus’ face returned to its polite passive. He finished relaying what he knew about the artifact and leaned back a bit into his seat, slender frame sinking into the plush cushions. He allowed Andruil to study the scrolls for a bit longer, listening attentively as she spoke.
She repeated the planets he had mentioned, though his thoughts were immediately drawn to one that wasn't. "There is, also, Telos itself to consider." Like the others, Telos was the location of a Force Nexus - one which he had been oh-so-recently driven to the dark side. "It isn't mentioned anywhere else in the histories, but it too is the location of a vergence. And was the location where the scrolls were found."
There was, for a brief moment, an exceptionally displeased expression plastered across his face. The thought of returning to Telos was not something he liked at all, but the significance of the location was not something he could ignore.
Jaikus rose to his feet when Andruil did, his hands once more folding against the small of his back – slender fingers clasping together. Like Andruil, the Axxilan had nothing on his schedule that could not be reorganized or canceled. This was a matter he gave priority to over all others.
He was pleased that the Empress seemed to be on board with the expedition, pausing for a moment to consider her question about their destination. After a few moments, Jaikus nodded towards Andruil, seemingly agreeing with the suggestion. Lothal was the closet planet to Junction and thus was a natural first choice. “Lothal it is, then.” The Axxilan smiled politely. His eyes momentarily flicked back towards the scrolls on the table, taking in the sight of them before settling back on Renfry. Her next question caused him to pause for a moment.
“I have no desire to do anything half-way.” He stated, a clear sense of determination lacing his every word. Jaikus knew the dangers that he would be exposing himself to, but none of that seemed to deter him from this specific course. The Axxilan had brushed with death on multiple occasions on Telos, and a great deal unsaid had occurred during that particular expedition. He had been through too much not to see this matter through.
“I will go as far as this path leads. Wherever it takes me.” He blinked a few times. "Us, rather.”
She watched the displeasure cross his face, though she wasn't entirely sure what its source was. He seemed... a bit grumpy. Over the course of their conversation he had repeatedly seemed to experience such episodes. Either he was deeply unsettled, didn't care for her, or was battling with indigestion. It was really a toss-up. Nevertheless, he claimed to be committed and that was enough for now.
You're welcome to come in the other room aboard my ship or you can take your own, she said. A recent acquisition, The Ascension was a particularly comfortable ship with a room for herself and a spare for guests to travel in something close to luxury. It was quickly becoming one of her favorite means of transport and unquestionably an upgrade from The Destiny.
She gathered up the scrolls and a few things of her own before making her way to the ship.
Renfry set foot once again onto Lothal several hours later. It had been several years since she had last been here, and she knew enough about the world from her prior trip to know that where she had guided them down was quite close to the old Jedi temple that had once been upon this ground.
It's long gone now, but there used to be a Jedi temple here. If there's something to be done here, I'd wager that's a good place to start, she said.
She brought a small hovertable out from the ship and let it sit between the pair as she spoke. She had spent most of the trip thinking on the rituals and the various worlds, trying to mull them over in her mind from various angles.
You see these two rituals, she said, pointing to a pair from among the many, many listed rituals. I think they go together with Lothal, she said. As he looked at them, he would see that one was a bloodletting ritual different from but entirely unlike those she had heard performed by Sith Battlelords in years past. The other was a more subtle ritual. One of chanting "quia ecce tenebræ" or "behold the darkness" while focusing one's energies into the Shadow.
Jaikus noted the way that Andruil did not press him on Telos, and a part of the Axxilan was grateful for that fact. While the temple was far too significant not to mention, he wasn’t going to protest when she did not seem particularly interested in the frigid planet. Jaikus had quite literally zero desire to return to that temple unless absolutely necessary.
Which, knowing his luck, it would be. But it wasn’t a problem for now.
He listened when she spoke, pausing for a moment to consider the option. After a quick pause, he shrugged. “Your ship, then.” He offered her a polite smile, nodding towards her. “After all, I’m sure it is quite a bit more comfortable than my own.” It was another example of the Axxilan being polite for the sake of being polite, but there was also some truth to that statement. Jaikus’ personal ship had been destroyed on Keldooine, and since then he had been forced to operate out of a cheaply-acquired freighter, thoroughly lacking in the amenities.
Without another word, Jaikus made his way out the door alongside Renfry, making his way towards her ship and the journey ahead of them.
The journey to Lothal was, largely, uneventful. Jaikus had taken Andruil up on the offer of a room, spending much of his time within the guest compartment. There had been a few items transferred over from from the cargo compartment of his own ship before departing, and chief among was the armor that the Axxilan typically wore. Somehow, the tailored suit he wore didn’t seem to be the most appropriate attire for the tasks ahead, and so he changed into his armor just before they arrived on the planet.
He stepped down onto the planet alongside Andruil, his boots vanishing into the tall, golden grasses of the planet. Despite being an FWA world home to a particularly vocal Senator, Jaikus felt no need to go about their business is more discreet clothing. This little corner of the planet was devoid of civilization, the sea of golden grass stretching across the horizon in all directions.
Jaikus glanced down to the hovertable that Andruil brought with them, once more glancing to the scrolls that were unfurled. Citrine eyes fixated upon the pair of rituals that were pointed out. He drummed his fingers against the table, a dark brow arching.
“What makes you think Lothal?” He asked, genuine curiosity lacing his words. Despite the man having spent hours upon hours staring at the texts, there was a great deal about them he didn’t understand. He was genuinely curious to know how the rituals connected to Lothal.
While he awaited her answer, Jaikus began to study the two rituals in question a bit more. He first considered the most subtle ritual, the one that involved some foreign incantation he didn’t quite understand. For all of Jaikus’ abilities, Sith Alchemy wasn’t one he was particularly versed in. It was the reason he sought out Andruil in the first place, and quickly decided that ritual was best left to her. Instead, his attention focused upon the other ritual in question.
He briefly glanced down to the simple knife he had brought with him, squinting a bit at the crude weapon. He understood the second ritual as one that required bloodletting, though the specifics of anything Arcane were largely lost on him. He stared at that knife for a moment more, then flicked his gaze to Renfry.
And proceeded to ask a question that was likely obvious to her.
Renfry looked up at him as he asked how she knew that these were the proper rituals for this world. She considered just stating "I have my reasons" and leaving it at that, but decided a proper answer was probably better.
These three words are all related, she said, pointing to words written in ur-Kittat. She wasn't truly "fluent" in the language, but she was quite familiar with it particularly in written form and from an academic standpoint. It's... she tried to to think of the right term.
It's almost a play on words like their, there, and they're in common, she said. It was too coincidental for her particularly in the placement of the words in the same points in the instructions and how rare the third of the words in particular was.
Plus a small amount of intuition, she admitted. It felt like they went together.
As he asked how, she looked over at him and paused for the briefest moment, wondering if he would survive what they were about to do. She was far more powerful in the Shadow, and even she had her concerns about what they had to do.
It's pretty straightforward. Set your body in a form of stasis. Sustaining yourself with the Force is the only way you'll survive, she said. And then you bleed. She knew the power inherent to blood, and she also knew that they would have to split their focus onto the other chant as well. This was the real danger as she saw it.
She also knew that there was no point in letting nerves settle in further. She waved her hand and tugged at the Force and the grasses around them tore free to create a clearing. She knelt, pulled free her hunting knife, and slit her wrists with a wince. And the blood began to flow.
There had been a genuine curiosity behind Jaikus’ word, and the Axxilan couldn’t deny that he was satisfied to receive a legitimate answer. She could have just as easily disregarded him, and he likely wouldn’t have probed any further.
He kept his hands folded in front of him as she spoke, pointing out the relation between three words written on the scrolls. A single brow arched in response, his head tilting to the side ever-so-slightly. His own understanding of the language was far less advanced, meaning that most of the small details were lost on him. The minute pattern she spoke of was completely overlook until this moment, only now becoming something he noticed. He nodded at the explanation, a small hum of approval rolling up from his throat.
The Axxilan couldn’t help but smirk when she admitted there was a bit of intuition that went into all. Jaikus silently wondered how much guessing went into the conclusion, but that didn’t seem like a question he would get much of an answer to.
Instead, he focused his attention upon the explanation of the ritual ahead of them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, unlike most, Jaikus wasn’t ashamed to admit what he didn’t know. This was no situation to be stubborn, and Andruil’s expertise in matters of the Arcane was the reason he had sought her out – over any other Sith - to begin with.
He nodded once more at her straightforward explanation, his brows knitting together slightly when the risks were mentioned. Jaikus did not ask any additional questions for the time being, instead choosing to wordlessly observe what she did next. He watched as the grass around them was torn away with the Force, forming a circle that was stripped down to the dirt below. Citrine eyes widened slightly as the Empress knelt down, using the hunting knife to slit her own wrists. He watched as the blood beginning to pour from her slender arms, and for a moment, there was a bit of hesitation from the Axxilan. There was a clear danger in what they were about to do, and Jaikus legitimately considered allowing Renfry to do the heavy lifting in this aspect.
She was, after all, far more likely to survive the process than he was.
He considered abstaining from the ritual for a few seconds, but that hesitation passed as suddenly as it surfaced – citrine eyes narrowing with firm resolve. Whatever the dangers, Jaikus was determined to see this through to the end. After everything that had brought him to this moment, it was simply not was something he could walk away from, nor would be be reduced to a bystander.
Without another word, Jaikus pulled the slender knife from his belt loop and dropped down to his knees alongside Andruil. Taking in a breath, Jaikus quickly ran the razor-sharp edge of the blade across his wrists, wincing as he did so. Wide gashes opened where the blade had passed, a fountain of crimson spilling from the wounds and running down his arms – pouring onto the loose dirt below. As the blood began to flow and empty from his body, Jaikus began to reach out with the Force, drawing upon the energies all around him and coiling it around his body in a vaguely meditative state. He could feel as his heart began to slow in his chest, instead relying upon the Force to sustain his body.
It was a process that required a great deal of his concentration to maintain, knowing full well that any break in the ritual could spell dire consequences for them both. Despite the risks, Jaikus knew that this was only half of what was required. He thought to the other ritual, recalling the precise words on the scroll that Andruil had referenced.
She considered very seriously whether she should stop him from cutting himself. Even as his blood began to flow out, she considered telling him to stem the bleeding and save his strength for the next ritual, but there was a part of her that was still concerned that something down the line would require them both to have undergone the entire process. So she held her tongue.
For several minutes, she simply sat there like that. The blood ran slowly and pooled around her, staining the ground a deep crimson as she felt herself beginning to grow ever so faint. It was then that she breathed in deeply, closing her eyes and reaching out to the Shadow.
She let it swallow her mind, knowing the incredible risk she put herself in here and now. Sith Battlelords of old were said to often die during the ritual, and only the strongest of wills could walk the path and survive.
She let her mind fold back into the Shadow, pursuing its safety as she began to chant the words. Each of the words was shaped with power, its sound echoing off the distant hills and carried by the Shadow in a way that was entirely beyond what a normal human could summon. It thundered and cracked in the distance, likely able to be heard for miles around.
She was only distantly aware of this world any longer, her mind sinking ever deeper into the darkness within herself for sustenance. Each time one gave of themselves to alchemical processes such as these, less of you remained. This process required the giving of much, and there was a real likelihood that neither of them would be the same afterwords.
She could feel her mind begin carried by a current deeper into the planet, and Jaikus would feel the same before he arrived at its core. She stood next to him on a bridge over the empty void of space. She knew she wasn't here, but it didn't matter. She felt as if she were, and a nagging feeling told her that to slip off into the void now would be no less dangerous than slipping off into the void in body.
At the far end of the bridge was a singular door. It was made of heavy stone and around its edges a dark, black mist seemed to creep before evaporating into wisps. It was what awaited them. The answers they sought were beyond the door, and likely far more. A creeping evil that would soak into their minds in the worst way.
Whatever protest Andruil might’ve considered did not come, and Jaikus subjected himself to the ritual without any further hesitation. Even if she had said something, it was unlikely that the Axxilan would have been dissuaded from this particular course of action – determined to aid her in this ritual in whatever way he could. Jaikus had been completely candid with her when he stated he would see follow this path, no matter where it took them. No matter the risks they both now faced.
Minutes passed, and Jaikus remained in the same position – his eyes closed tightly as the blood poured from his arms – drenching the ground around him with the warm flow of crimson. His bronze-tinted skin began to pale significantly from bloodloss, and he could feel his body growing slightly colder. Jaikus brought the darkness further into himself in response, relying upon it to sustain him as his physical body began to falter. It was a delicate balance, one where even the slightest mistake could mean disaster. It was one that was even more difficult to maintain, as a fraction of his focus was occupied by repeating the words of the incantation he’d memorized.
Dark energies laced into each and every phrase that was uttered, carrying with them a weight far beyond mere words. Jaikus heard as the sounds of their incantation thundered and cracked across the grassy hills in response, though it was a sound that he only registered distantly.
With every word that passed his lips, Jaikus could feel himself slipping deeper and deeper into the ritual, his consciousness drawn away from his physical body – pulled along by an invisible current that carried him to his destination. When the Axxilan opened his eyes once more, the grassy hills of Lothal were no longer sprawling out before him. Instead, Jaikus found himself on the same bridge as Andruil.
The stone pathway was perilously narrow, just barely wide enough for the both of them to cross at once. The bridge itself was suspended thousands of feet in the air, existing amongst the endless void of the planet’s core, and quick glance behind them would reveal that the bridge abruptly only a half-step back. The slightest misstep would result in them plummeting into the shadowy abyss, and both would be able to feel that such a fall would manifest in the physical as well. The only possible path was the one that carried them forward, towards the door, and even that one felt impossibly difficult.
The void consumed all around the bridge, and it was not silent. From its shadowy depths, Jaikus and Andruil would be able to feel as the whispers gnawed at their minds – digging hooks into their minds that pulled at every desire and fear. Voices of those they loved and cherished beckoned them down, all the warmth and comfort of their embrace only a mere step away. Voice of the things that they feared most howled against them with every step towards door, a dread that sunk into their core and spoke to an evil that threatened to consume them, lingering just beyond the doors threshold. Above them all, whispers of power and knowledge – of every wish and superficial desire tugged them towards the edge of oblivion with invisible chains that tugged at their limbs. How easy it would be, to allow their bodies to slip over the edge and to fall.
It would take a great deal of their strength to resist the siren’s call, the chorus of voices seeming to grow louder – more demanding the longer they remained stationary – and something more to carry them towards the door.
What felt like an eternity would pass before Jaikus finally reacted, turning to look upon Andruil. His astral figure was a perfect reflection of his physical form, his dark skin having grown significantly paler. The strain of resistance was clear on the Axxilan’s expression, and was no doubt reflected – albeit perhaps less so – on her own. A few moments of silence would pass before he finally gave her a wordless nod, citrine eyes shifting to fixated back on the door ahead. And he began to take a the first step forward.
This place was not of the world they typically inhabited. The where, when, and why were not clear, but she let her eyes sweep around the area. The void of nothingness seemed to almost physically grab at her, hoping to drag her down. Words spoken by her Clan Mother and Arla, Carnitine, and others who had died either by her hand or defending her. She heard the promise of safety for her people. She heard the promise of Emryc's love for her. She heard the giggles of a small child running to greet her. It all threatened to pull her into the nothingness beyond.
And then there was another feeling that began to loom over everything else. The promise of power. An indomitable, iron fist that forced the rest of the galaxy to kneel before her. She saw everything and everyone bend the knee and for the briefest of moments, she it wasn't herself standing there being knelt before. It was another woman who she couldn't really make out and her vague, shadowy shape vanished in an instant.
She looked back, eyes wide as she looked to Jaikus wondering what he had seen. She didn't know, but he seemed as ready as her to move forward. She knew that to stay here would be to die.
She pressed on toward the door, each step feeling like lifting her feet out of concrete until she could finally reach the door. She reached out to it, taking hold and when they both began to pull it would open with great effort.
The door swung open and inside there was a shadowy figure. Others bowed before this person, but it was a singular being. Perhaps the woman the scrolls had spoken of and her presence was powerful and chilling. There was a galaxy's weight behind her, but still her identity was obscured.
Who are you!? she shouted over the rush of wind that she couldn't account for. But the being gave no response. She wasn't even sure if it was actually a Spirit or just a vision. A memory.
She pressed on as she began to feel dark tendrils burrow into her mind, continuing to promise everything she wanted if she would simply give in. Allow the darkness to take over. Become its avatar.