The journey to the ancient temple had been long and arduous. Truth be told, the Sith Lord had only fragmented information from different sources that he pieced together before beginning the hike. Though he was historically not a fan of the outdoors, his time while blind and at an impoverished village had greatly changed his perspective.
He had half expected to reach the summit and find absolutely nothing. To his surprise, he sensed a pulse of the Force that was teeming with tangible energy. He could feel it the more he ascended the mountain trail. Due to his larger size, he had to take a significantly longer route to scale the mountain - most of the grooves and edges wouldn’t support his frame.
After over a day of climbing and camping, he finally made it to the site of the temple. The tall half Sephi had brought various books, supplies and artifacts with him to help find a way in. To his great disappointment, none of it worked at the entrance. He pushed, he pulled, he used the Force and tried everything short of blasting his way in.
For all the times he had used brute force, Emryc was not a man that would ever spoil historical sites that once held importance to the Sith.
After hours of attempts, he walked over and sat down across the entrance. His rage was getting the best of him and he needed to find serenity again. The Sith Lord poised himself in meditation, closing his eyes right there outside and atop the mountain summit. The air was frigid and cold, snow and ice blanketing the terrain all around him.
The Sith Lord was adorned in his regular armor, but he wore no full face mask. Instead he had a hood with the top hemisphere of his face revealed, a cloth bound around the bottom to cover his nose and mouth. His purpose of meditation was to find patience and clarity, hopefully at the end of which he would have new answers on how to enter the temple.
If there was ever a planet in the galaxy that had left a horrible taste in Jaikus’ mouth, Telos IV was most certainly it. By nature, the Marauder usually made a concerted effort to avoid returning the places during his travels that had ended in nothing but frustrating dead ends. They were almost never worth the effort and always culminated in an abundance of wasted time. In most cases, Jaikus simply had more productive things to do with his time than pounding his head against doors that would not budge for him.
This place was different though, its particular allure drawing him back like a moth to the flame. The force energy that coalesced around the frigid mountains of Telos IV's northern continent were palpable from the moment he had returned, pulsating like a heartbeat that Jaikus could feel as naturally and strongly as the one in his own chest.
As he crossed the temple grounds, Jaikus couldn’t help but allow his mind to wander to his previous experience on the planet, the thought of the Dathomirian Jedi who had caused him so much heartache sending a jolt of rage through his body. Begrudgingly, the Axxilan pushed the memory from his mind, focusing on the more important matter at hand.
I’m not the only one here.
Jaikus had been able to detect it almost immediately, the aura of another Dark-sider - one he had recently felt before - drawing him to the frigid summit beyond the temple. As he grew closer, Raze would've been able to sense the approaching Marauder long before he could physically see him. After all, Jaikus had made no attempt to mask his presence within the Force from the Sith Lord. Quite frankly, he did not actually believe he had the capacity to do so even if he wanted to.
When the Marauder finally rounded the corner into view, he approached the Half-Sephi at a deliberately measured gait with hands folded against the small of his back, boots sinking deep and crunching in the snow with each step until he stood a few feet behind Raze. A far-cry from what he’d been wearing when they last encountered each other on Serenno, Jaikus had traded his expensive clothes for armor befitting a member of the Sith order. The darkly-dyed armorweave and flowing crimson cloak were fitted snug to the lean muscle underneath, clearly designed for speed and ease of movement rather than durability. While Raze had shed his mask, Jaikus had adorned one of his own, leaving only the Marauder’s citrine eyes visible, should the Sith Lord actually turn to face him.
The Marauder regarded the Sith Lord in silence as if he was taking his time, carefully considering his words before eventually addressing Raze.
It wasn’t that Emryc couldn’t sense the man, but it was the obnoxiously loud crunching along the snow that gave him away first. There was something vaguely familiar about the presence but the half Sephi was already irritated from the crunch crunch crunch squelch squelch as the man announced himself with great fanfare and the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Sensitive Sephi ears had their drawbacks.
Externally, the Sith Lord remained where he was, seated in his meditation pose and attempting to find peace. In the end, he exhaled softly as the man behind him spoke. His eyes slowly opened but no other muscle moved. For a few seconds it appeared as if Emryc hadn’t heard the other man.
Without warning, the Force would then coil around the man behind him. Emryc never budged from where he was sitting, the man being forced to skate along a half moon pattern to suddenly end up standing before the half Sephi. The Sith Lord couldn't be bothered to turn around, after all.
When the man looked, he would be gazing at dark, pronounced brows above frigid and icy silver eyes. The eyes burned with frost that cut deeper than the gelid air around them, biting daggers that pierced through anything they gazed upon. The skin around the eyes was a warm tan, making the silvers that much more vivid and pronounced. Out of all his features, the half Sephi’s eyes were perhaps the most striking and unforgettable.
Emryc stared into the man’s yellows thoughtfully for a moment, making silent calculations and drawing internal conclusions.
The Force hold was released from the man and he closed his eyes again, pretending the other man wasn’t there. With luck, he would simply get bored and leave. If Emryc couldn’t get into that temple, no one could. Despite all that, Emryc was more than a little irked that someone else managed to put the puzzle pieces together to find themselves here at all.
When Raze reached out with the Force to pull Jaikus across the frosted ground, he found the Marauder unflinching in his grasp. It wasn’t the first time the Axxilan had been telekinetically manipulated by the Half-Sephi, and this was quite frankly among the less aggressive ways in which he had done so. And thankfully, the cliffs edge was still several meters back.
Finally making eye-contact with those piercing silvers though, now that was intriguing. Jaikus said nothing, tilting his head to the side for a moment while regarding what features were visible to him. After a while, a low hum finally escaped from his throat, the sound coming out static-like and robotic as it passed through the filter of his mask.
So that is what was staring back at me. Not bad.
Reaching up beneath the crimson hood, Jaikus released the mechanism that kept his smoke-grey mask in place and let it fall away, quickly tucked away beneath his cloak. Unlike Raze, the Marauder had no reason to keep his identity hidden behind voice modulations and metallic visors. All those who knew his face recognized it as that of a dedicated Sith, even among the people of his homeworld. And combat advantages aside, Jaikus despised wearing the damned thing.
When the Sith Lord simply closed his eyes once more, Jaikus regarded him with subtle amusement. The Axxilan took to leaning his weight against the steadiest thing near to him – a natural pillar of jagged stone. Silently, Jaikus stared out into the horizon, citrine eyes staring off at nothing at all.
Raze asked no questions, but Jaikus assumed they were there all the same. When the Marauder had arrived on the planet, for starters. It was unlikely he had deliberately followed Raze, given the fact the Sith Lord would have been able to detect the Axxilan if he had. Whether Jaikus arrived on Telos much earlier than Raze or only very recently remained a mystery, one the Marauder felt no need to divulge unless elicited to do so.
“I assume that since you are here, and not down there, you weren’t able to get in.” His sultry voice cut through the silence finally. Jaikus believed that he knew the answer to the question and yet he asked it all the same. “Just like me and everyone else who has tried, I'm afraid.”
Emryc withdrew back into his mind as the man began to undo his mask. The Sith Lord sat in quiet meditation as seconds passed. The chilly breeze blew through the air, biting against the exposed skin on his face and rifling through jet black strands of hair. His mind ventured back through all his teachings and even his religion. He called upon his disciplines and principles, reaching out wherever he could for some guidance.
He was almost entirely removed from the physical realm when the man spoke again. Emryc’s eyes opened once more, flicking over to regard the man. It was then that he recognized the face and the eyes. Flashes of memories abruptly spiraled through his mind, coming as a tumultuous tidal wave abruptly in an otherwise placid lake.
For a brief moment, there was a streak of golden across the silver eyes. It was almost too subtle to notice, but it was the only hint that Raze was present. Emryc closed and reopened his eyes, settling back into the icy silvers.
The Sith Lord finally rose to stand, dusting the snow off his body. He stepped towards the man, though his gaze was trained ahead at the entrance.
“Then perhaps you ought to give up and leave,” Emryc said dryly as he walked past the man and towards the entrance. There were various small pillars and divots along an otherwise paved surface. The half Sephi crouched down to inspect everything all over again, prepared to devote another full day in the attempt to figure this out.
Jaikus eyed the half-Sephi for a moment, silently observing the man in front of him as he rose to his feet. Whether Emryc realized it or not, it was the first time he’d heard the man speak without his voice being mechanized and distorted by that signature mask. It was a fact that didn’t escape the Axxilan’s notice, nor was it something he would forget. A smirk tugged at the edges of his mouth.
“I think we both know I like a challenge more than that, My Lord. I am just as interested in this place as you are.”
The initial comment made by the Marauder was laced with that characteristic mischievous humor and innuendo, a stark contrast to the half-Sephi’s horrifically dry demeanor. To be frank, if the Sith Lord had intended to drive Jaikus off by giving him the cold shoulder, he was failing miserably on that score.
As Raze walked past him and made a beeline for the entrance once again, Jaikus spun on a heel – his gloved hands still folded against the small of his back as he began to walk a few paces behind the Sith Lord. He took in the sights of the temple as they descended deeper and deeper, that pulsating heartbeat in the Force becoming more prevalent the farther they went. “Why else would I come to this frigid hellscape twice now?” It was a subtle, perhaps unintentional tidbit of new information, though whether the Sith Lord would even pay it any mind remained to be seen.
Jaikus let out a small sigh, figuring that Emryc wasn’t likely to be good conversation at the moment. Instead, the man began to rattle off what facts about the location he knew. “The runes,” He spoke, running a hand across the surface of one of the walls. Every so often his talons of his glove would catch against the edge of where the runes had been chiseled into stone, his arm dragging behind his torso slightly. “..are ur-Kittât, that much I am certain of. But the dialect is archaic and beyond my own knowledge of the language. Translators have been equally worthless in that regard – most don’t even recognize the standard vernacular, let alone whatever this is.”
The Marauder paused for a moment as he made his way around the room, carefully inspecting what had already been inspected more than once. “The door,” he gestured with a hand. “Doesn’t budge. If brute force is the answer, then I lack the strength to move it myself.” He stopped short of telling him to give it a go himself, figuring that the Sith Lord had tried every trick in the book already. He wouldn’t have been sulking about outside if he hadn’t. “A hidden mechanism is possible, but so far I’ve been unable to find one.”
As the man likely expected, Emryc said nothing to the suggestive commentary. In truth, the half Sephi was secretly thankful the man wore less distracting attire here. Corset laces and slim waists invaded his thoughts for a fleeting moment before he brushed them aside. He also seriously doubted Jaikus was remotely as interested in this place as he was. However, there was something to be said for piecing together the puzzle and making it out here at all.
As Jaikus spoke of the Ancient Sith writing, Emryc couldn’t help but let his mind wander. He thought about how he had helped Malicia conquer Korriban. He thought of the battle he had led against a warring pureblood clan. He thought about how he had defeated the Sith King as Malicia’s champion, placing the crown atop her head. And all for what? For her to fall apart at a party she hosted, effectively snatching away his claim to Korriban.
The half Sephi’s jaw tightened for a moment beneath the wrappings before the smooth baritone cut in, “The Sith writings are irrelevant,” He declared, the history buff in him meaning that he knew fully well how to read it. He had to converse in it briefly during his time on Korriban.
“Because the Jedi occupied this site,” Emryc stepped back, taking in sight of it all. He thought back to what he had read in the tomes and books, “There were scripts around how the path in called for...unity or an ancient Basic dialect term for ‘collaboration’. That’s the missing piece.”
Emryc kept wandering to one side till he found what appeared to be a protruding switch. He pressed it in, which made another switch jut out clear on the other side, “This is the only thing I’ve managed to find,” As soon as he took his hand off the pressed in switch, the protrusion on the other side receded as well.
The half Sephi paused and then suddenly looked at Jaikus, the other pillar, and then back at Jaikus. Jaikus was the only variable that hadn't been there before. Without a word, Emryc stepped up to press the switch on his side. As soon as the other switch poked out on the other pillar, he jutted his chin, “Press that while I hold this down.”
If Jaikus did so, another switch would pop out on Emryc’s side but only as long as Jaikus kept his hand on his switch. The two men would have to time and coordinate to make their way down the entire length of each pillar in sync.
While Jaikus was partially hoping his comment would elicit some lascivious response from Emryc, he was not shocked by the silence he received. Had he donned that same vest and thigh-hugging trousers as he had on Serenno, perhaps things would’ve been different, but alas – business came first.
The pair of Sith moved down twisting corridors and dark hallways before finally arriving at a flight of stairs. The stone-carved steps were dimly-lit and sloped down gradually, every inch of the walls of that narrow passage etched with hieroglyphics of ancient origin. They both would have recognized it as the last remaining channel before reaching the sealed door. After all, they had both been there before, having reached the destination on their own prior to this moment.
Jaikus’ process for piecing together the location of the temple had been a painfully slow, meticulous affair. After all, the Marauder lacked access to any of the vast records and knowledge that his superiors within the Order possessed. Instead, information for the Axxilan had came in bits and pieces from various different sources across the Outer Rim – fragments of a tablet here, a dilapidated tome there.. Some of it had been bought through personal wealth, some of it had been stolen, while other bits had to be ‘extracted’ from reluctant individuals.
Once in his possession though, Jaikus had spent hours upon hours tediously piecing it all together beneath the glow of his office light – solving a puzzle that eventually lead him to the same place as Emryc. It was an environment where the Axxilan truly thrived - in his element studying the minute details of some ancient relics far more than he ever was on the battlefield. He had admitted as much to Deva back on Serenno in a rare moment of candor, describing an insatiable appetite for whatever knowledge he could sink his teeth into.
Despite coming to the same results in the end, Jaikus’ admittedly crude methodology left him lacking in some of the finer details. The revelation about the necessity for ‘unity’ had been of particular interest to the him, the man perking up a bit to listen intently as the Sith Lord spoke. The Marauder tilted his head to the side, watching with attentively as Emryc applied pressure to the hidden switch in the wall at the top of the stairs, causing one on the Marauder's side of the wall to begin to protrude. In that moment, Emryc could practically see the cogs in the Axxilan’s brain turning, the expression currently painted across Jaikus' face almost comical to behold. When he finally did as instructed by the Sith Lord and pressed the switch to reveal another a few steps down, the path forward for them became abundantly clear.
What came next took an incredible amount coordination on the part of the two Sith, the pair gradually moving in sync with each other to make it down the steps. Each push of a switch by one of them caused the next to appear for the other, starting a cycle which continued at a steady pace until they reached the bottom of the stairs. When the last set of switches were inserted, however, a new one did not appear immediately to continue the chain. Instead, Emryc and Jaikus were greeted by a low grinding sound that reverberated through the walls of the chamber, followed shortly by a barely audible click, as if some mechanism had locked into place. At that moment, two pillars of stone rose up vertically from the ground on opposite sides of the sealed door, each crowned with a semi-circular indention where a hand could theoretically be placed.
The Sith Lord was pleased to see Jaikus catch on quickly and prove to be remotely useful without him needing to bark instructions. The two men worked in concert as they made their way down the steps towards the main entrance. Unlocking the switches caused rumbles within the chambers as a wall descended to reveal that the stairs led even lower than previously believed. The men continued with the switches to continue the descent, another wall lower to take them even lower.
As they went further in, they would feel a great weakness in them. By the time the pillars with the hand engravings came up, Emryc realized he felt more or less blind in the Force. The feeling made him sick and he stumbled a few steps, catching his hand against a wall to stabilize himself. The Force nexus – originally dark – had been greatly tampered with by Jedi. Through that and the origin of its dark nature, the area sapped and clawed away at any dark side energy it sensed.
This meant that the temple began to leech away from two Force users that were versed in nothing but the dark side. As a Sith Lord of councilor strength, Emryc was impacted even more severely, feeling the agonizing impacts of what it may have felt like to have the Force stripped from him.
Emryc, of course, was too stubborn to admit he was very much alarmed. He fixed up his stance and looked down at the pillar, placing his palm on it the same time Jaikus did. Instead of opening the door, it caused two flaps to part in the side wall above them to reveal a lever. The half Sephi attempted to use the Force to pull it, but nothing happened.
“Fuck,” He grumbled to himself. If he couldn’t use the Force, there was no way the Marauder would do any better. Emryc couldn’t help but be impressed with the Jedi – they had effectively made it so no dark sider no matter how powerful could make it in, or if they did they would need to cooperate with another. Which usually meant getting greedy, killing one another, and still failing to get to the end.
“Come here,” He commanded the Marauder, pointing towards the wall, “You’ll have to reach the lever.”
If Jaikus did as asked, Emryc would step up behind him to place his hands on his hips. Without a word, the half Sephi easily lifted the man up towards the lever, going purely by his own strength at this point.
The irony of having Jaikus against a wall yet again was not lost on him. However, to his credit, the half Sephi kept his gaze strictly towards the lever instead of focusing on the very lithe waist he grasped. He even avoided glancing down towards the man’s exceedingly distracting rear that was mercifully layered under a cloak.
If Jaikus succeeded with the lever, the half Sephi casually released him while he was suspended up to land from height before he was already turning towards the door.
Deep rumbles and grinding of ancient stone resounded as the doors finally began to open. The half Sephi felt his heartbeats begin to quicken as he watched the two slabs of stone part, revealing a very dark room he couldn’t see within just yet. The room expelled a burst of ancient and foul air that had been trapped for centuries.
The Sith Lord stared in awe for a moment before he waved his hand breezily, “You may leave now,” He stated flatly to Jaikus as he walked past the marauder and stepped into the room.
At first, Jaikus had tried to ignore the growing sensation of weakness, attempting to keep his focus upon moving in sync with the switches. As they approached the bottom of the stairs, that soon became a feat he was no longer capable of, the temple itself seeming to greedily siphon away his strength. Where Emyrc stumbled unceremoniously, Jaikus had admittedly done no better. The Marauder looked for a moment as if he was going to retch the contents of his stomach across the steps, hunching over as the world spun all around him. A hand brought to tightly grip onto the wall was the only thing that saved him, keeping the Marauder from doubling over and tumbling down the rest of the way down.
What the fuck.
It was sickening. Jaikus had spent the better portion of his life diligently training in the Sith Arts, the teachings and power of the Dark Side proving to be one of the few constants in his life. While the Marauder could not so much as hope to match the raw power that the Sith Lord possessed, it was still just as much a natural part of him as it was for Emryc - and to be cut off from it, blind to it? Jaikus couldn’t help but muse that gouging out his own eyes would have been preferable.
…Of course, it was probably a good thing Jaikus did not share that remark with Emyrc – blissfully unaware of the Sith Lord’s own experience in that particular department.
To his credit though, Jaikus did well to regain his composure only moments later. He collected himself once the wave of nausea had begun to pass, straightening his posture as he pushed the alarm down in his mind. Citrine eyes stared forward blankly, forcing himself to move deeper into the passageway despite every fiber of his being screaming to do otherwise.
It only seemed to don on him that Emryc was experiencing the same sensation – that terrible emptiness in the Force – when the Sith Lord beckoning him forward, snapping the Marauder from his stupor when he was commanded to 'come here'. The irony of it all was delicious, of course. Despite how much Emryc had been annoyed by Jaikus’ presence this entire time, the Marauder was now an essential component to continue into the temple. Still, the thought that they were both more or less defenseless to whatever awaited the next was admittedly a concern that clawed at the back of his psyche.
Smirking at the Half-Sephi, Jaikus did as he was asked and saunter over to be lifted up into the man’s arms. “I thought you’d never ask.” There it was. If Emryc had thought having the very Force clawed away from him would put a damper on Jaikus’ cheeky demeanor, he was sorely mistaken. Thankfully, the Marauder wasn’t particularly difficult to hoist into the air. While years of training had left his body toned to perfection, it was a far cry from the solid muscle and brawn of the Sith Lord. As soon as the lever was pulled Jaikus landed gracefully back on his feet, dusting off his cloak with a brief sweep of his hands.
The prospect of teasingly commenting on the Sith Lord’s precise hand placement briefly crossed his mind, but he soon found his attention drawn towards the door as it began to grind open, a gust of foul air exhaling to blow across his face. The archaeologist inside of him was practically squealing with delight, the prospect that they had managed to breach the ancient site where others had failed filling him with delight. Indeed, the only thing that interrupted his glee had been the dismissive comment by the Sith Lord.
Perhaps it wasn’t what Emryc was expecting when he attempted to wave Jaikus off dismissively, but his comment only resulting in the Marauder snorting out a laugh. It was a sound the Sith Lord wasn’t entirely used to from Jaikus – behaving as if the Axxilan had just been told the best joke this side of the galaxy. He shook his head. “Oh no, I’m far too invested now. Besides, I would be remiss to think that if a ‘unity’ was necessary to just to open the door, it won’t be needed further into this place. The fact is,” He clicked his tongue, an wicked grin plastered across his face. “We need each other.” The Sith did well to keep pace alongside Emryc as the passed the threshold of the inner shrine, citrine eyes squinting into the darkness.
What awaited them inside remained to be seen, but it was clear that they would face it together whether they liked it or not.
Emryc remained decidedly silent as Jaikus threw out his little quips. Without the Force to find mental tranquility, it took extra effort for the Sith Lord to temper himself. Not having the Force felt akin to losing several of his senses at once, and left him clumsier than usual. There was no prickling in the back of his neck as a warning when he was walking into danger or obstacles.
As a result, shortly after his dismissive comment to Jaikus, the tall man promptly collided his head against the entryway. Scowling at nothing, he ducked and stepped in without a word. This was entirely exacerbated by Jaikus already laughing from being brushed off and his subsequent speech about the temple.
The half Sephi didn’t have the best vision for distance, but close up it was as sharp as any Sephi. As a result, a glance to the side showed that stepping through the doorway triggered a massive, razor sharp ax that released and swung towards them in a vicious arc. Being constructed in ancient times meant the temple had rather medieval contraptions. While Emryc stepped forth out of reflex, Jaikus had been in the middle of his quip, leaving him distracted.
The half Sephi reached back to grasp the man’s bicep, yanking him forward as the blade passed behind them. While both remained physically unharmed, it remained to be seen whether Jaikus’ cloak survived. Emryc released the man and muttered very dryly, “So it would appear.”
He was largely unconcerned about almost being bisected, inspecting the sides of the room to find a candelabra with half burned candles. Without the ability to use inferno, Emryc had to fish around for a good old lighter in his pocket that he carried as a smoker. He lit the candles and took the candelabra off the wall to hand to Jaikus for lighting, “Carry that.”
Without the Force and no way to sense, they needed to rely on whatever tools were available. Emryc walked with Jaikus, eyes scanning the room and keeping himself hunched to avoid other collisions. He wasn’t entirely sure what to look for, but he glanced around for any switches or items of note.
Jaikus had admittedly been off in a bit of a world of his own when the axe was released from its hidden sheathe in the wall. He allowed his lewd humor to get the best of him for a few precious moments, mind wandering off on its own and not bothering to take note of death swinging towards him. While the efforts of the half-Sephi kept the the Marauder alive, his cloak and hood were not so lucky. The flowing fabric caught against the age-worn blade of the axe, tearing it clean off Jaikus’ shoulder with freighting ease as the weapon swung like a pendulum, vanishing into another narrow sheathe in the wall and out of sight. The man’s ensamble had been reduced to the only the armorweave padding and duraplast plates on his torso and forearms.
He stood in silence for a few seconds, watching the Sith Lord with a look of momentary panic flashing in his eyes. Finally, he exhaled sharply through his nostrils and averted his gaze, indication of the frustration with himself that boiled just below the surface. The near-death experience served as something of a wakeup call for the Marauder, the Axxilan only now truly beginning to understand how blind and slow to react he had become without his connection to the Force. How weak he was without it.
It was rare occurrence to ever see Jaikus visibly angry, but Emryc would have caught a brief glimpse of it painted across the Marauder’s face in that moment, soon melting away to be replaced with his typical composure. The Marauder dusted himself off, checking that his lightsaber was still safely on his hip before for bringing his citrine eyes up to meet silvers. Tilting his head to the side a bit, Jaikus gave Emryc a firm nod of his head – a gesture of thanks for preventing his untimely demise.
With candelabra in hand, the pair of Sith delved deeper into the Shrine proper. Unlike the passageways above, the chamber they now traversed was open and spacious – great pillars rising up to hold the ceiling above, looking as if they had been chiseled out of natural rock. The walls themselves were lined marked with ancient pictograms, not entirely unlike what one might find among the archeological goldmines of Korriban or Ziost. To the untrained eye, they were simply carvings on the wall, but Emryc and Jaikus both would have recognized them as clear indicators of the age of the place they were exploring.
While thrilling, the new chamber came with its own set of challenges. Compared to the one above them, trying to find a hidden mechanism in here was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It brought the pair to search every square inch of the chamber – literally leaving no stone unturned in a desperate effort to find another hidden mechanism to continue deeper into the shrine.
The pair had been walking close to one of the walls when Emryc would suddenly feel his right boot stink a little lower than the left – the tile he stepped on pressing a few inches into the ground. What followed were a short repetition of clicks in the ground, each growing in pitch as the sound approached its apex.
The Marauder had admittedly learned his lesson from the first time, patiently waiting for something else to try to kill him. Immediately picking up on the subtle sound, Jaikus immediately tensed – his citrine eyes frantically scouring the room in a search for answers.
It was unknown whether Emryc needed Jaikus’ warning to have the sense to get out of the way, but the Marauder vocalized it all the same as he took two steps backwards. A split second later, three crescent-shaped blades were launched from a spring-loaded compartment in the wall, slicing through the air where the pair of Sith had just been standing with only a few precious inches of clearance – still close enough for the candlelight to glint terrifyingly across their metallic surface as they passed at lightning speed.
Jaikus blinked thrice, the Marauder slowly reaching forward to rub his finger against the serrated edge of one of the blades which had embedded itself into the wall. “Say what you will about our predecessors.. They were nothing short of creative, when it comes to trying to kill you.”
The Axxilan was less-than-pleased by the second brush with danger in such a short amount of time, but it had given him an idea. Crouching down, he brought a finger to hover above the sunken tile where Emryc had stepped. Under his breath, he began to count to the right how many tiles it took him to reach the wall. Six. Once there, he began to count the equal number of tiles going up the wall, his hand hovering above the sixth tile before cautiously pressing it.
To his own surprise, his guess had worked – the tile sliding into the wall with ease. Once more the chamber was filled with the sound of stone grinding together, this time coming from several feet ahead of them. Two doors spitting in opposite directions slid open, emerging from a place which had appeared as solid slab only moments prior. Each was identical in shape, and with no connection to the Force, the pair of Sith were unable to discern anything that might set them apart from each other.
Emryc certainly noticed the anger flash across the normally flippant marauder. It was probably more from the loss of his precious attire than a near death experience.
The Sith Lord’s mood began to sour as they kept wandering aimlessly within the chambers. They searched every little nook and cranny and it yielded nothing. Patience was always a very strong suit for Emryc, but without the Force to calm his mind, he felt more and more on edge. Raze was more difficult to chain back, the beast circling just beneath the surface.
He felt his boot sink into the ground, sharp ears picking up a series of clicks. He was already cursing inwardly before Jaikus gave his warning, both men stepping back at once as the blades cut through the air. There were no fashion casualties this time, though it did remind Emryc that their journey in would require a lot of patience.
The Sith Lord eyed the blade as Jaikus made his remark. Neither men would notice a dark residue that clung to the marauder’s finger as he pulled it away. Faint, black veins began to form from where he touched the blade. They disappeared again before either would notice but would stay with the marauder.
The taller man remained silent as Jaikus inspected the switch on the floor and counted up the wall. The discovery of the second switch visibly surprised both, silver gaze flicking over to the introduction of two new doorways. Emryc called upon everything he knew about the temple based on scriptures or tomes and nothing mentioned this passage.
Deciding that it was nothing more than a guess, Emryc stepped forth through the passage on the right, not hearing anything beyond either path with his keen ears. The path led down an empty corridor for a while before the two came upon a large wall with overgrown vines and roots on it. There was a soft trickle of water from somewhere, the plants still alive. There were little rays of light from the outside that negated the need for the candles.
Emryc grasped a hold of some of the vines, tugging and yanking to test the strength. He looked up and grasped some with his other hand, hoisting himself up. The half Sephi moved slow, but his powerful arms and body worked in concert to allow him to scale the wall using the plants. He didn’t look to see how the other man fared.
Once on top of the wall, he pulled himself up with a grunt, every act far more strenuous than he was used to. Sweat lined his skin as he rose to stand, dusting himself off. A glance across revealed that there were several platforms erected across the chamber with a door at the end. Unfortunately, these platforms had large gaps between them. What appeared to be old rope bridges had all collapsed or withered away.
The half Sephi took a few steps back, got a running start and leapt over the first gap. His hands hooked against the edge of the platform and he hoisted himself up with difficulty, but he made it. Emryc said nothing, turning to look back towards Jaikus to see if the man would be able to make the leap or plunge to his death. In either case, the half Sephi decided he would watch.
As the pair of Sith entered the door to the right, the stone immediately slide back down to seal behind them. Whether they had made the right choice or not remained to be seen, but there was clearly no changing their minds at this point. Walking in almost complete darkness, the pair continued for what felt an eternity before practically walking into the wall and finding...
Now that was strange. Up until that point, the temple had been a place of complete desolation, its dusty and barren halls devoid of any signs of other sentients life for millennia. At first, Jaikus thought it might be a trick of the mind, but closer inspection would prove that they were real. Putting the oddity of it all out of his mind for the time being, his focus shifting to ascending this latest obstacle
To his credit, Jaikus was able to keep up well enough with Emryc as they climbed – albeit not without a great deal of difficulty. Without the Force to enhance his every movement, the typically acrobatic and elegant movements the Axxilan utilized were completely useless, feeling as if he was now hauling a hundred pounds of extra weight on his back. Instead, it proved to be an incredibly tedious climb up the wall, his feet pushing up against any outcropping in the stone while his arms reached for each successive vine, slowly pulling himself up. Sweat glistened across his tan complexion, usually well-kept hair now matted against his forehead from the strenuous activity.
Once they reached the top of the wall, the pair of Sith were greeted to an entirely new sight.
If the vines snaking down the wall were strange, what they would see filling the space between the platforms was properly bizarre. Colossal mushrooms – not unlike what one might encounter on Felucia – rose up from cracks in the stone floor to create an umbrella-shaped canopy. Between the fungal trees were thick brush, vining ivies and stalagmite-like spires. Almost all of that which grew along the floor gave off a distinct bioluminescent glow, filling the chamber with a sinister red hue. Jaikus crouched down along the edge, citrine eyes traveling to carefully study the plant-life below.
His knowledge of the temple was limited, but ancient tablets and tomes had spoken of the Sith of old using the temple to engage in complex rituals of Sith alchemy – drawing the power of the Force Nexus to twist lifeforms into sickening aberrations, pushing the limits of what was possible. Was it possible that the newfound flora was a product of the previous dark-side tenets? Perhaps, but from the expression painted across his face, it was clear that this was not a puzzle the Marauder had any intention of trying to piece together.
Instead of inspecting it further, Jaikus watched with arms folded across his chest as the Sith Lord made the leap across the open space, just managing to catch the edge of the platform and hoist himself up. Now it was his turn. Like Emryc, the Marauder backed himself up as far as he could, allowing himself a running start before making the leap towards the platform. His lighter weight compared to the half-Sephi when jumping proved to be one of the few advantages he had, managing to land past the ledge with a skid. Sighing under his breath, Jaikus jutted his head towards the remaining platforms that led to the door, the exhaustion clear on his face.
Emryc didn't invest too much energy studying the gaps, his focus solely on making it across. He looked at Jaikus as the man made the jump, skidding slightly past him. It was then that he noticed the man’s eyes flicker slightly, dulling from the yellow hues closer to the eyes he had been born with. With the constant sapping of the Dark Side energy, the absence of it was manifesting in curious ways. Meanwhile, the opposite held true for Emryc who always worked actively to keep corruption at bay. Tints of gold began to very lightly appear in the piercing silvers. Raze, the monster inside him, could not be held back as easily. For all the ways the Sith Lord was vile and a beast, it was all roaming just beneath the surface.
He glanced away towards the other platforms, his face and body lined with sweat. Strands of black hair were matted against his forehead. The taller man jumped across once more, once again covering the distance but just barely. And again the Marauder would have an easier time. The second to last platform was slightly further out and Emryc paused, watching Jaikus go first so he would now be one step closer to that door.
Emryc backed up and rushed forward again, springing into the air and reaching out as he had done before. However, this time he failed to grasp the edge and scratched it on his way down. He tumbled right down, his bigger and heavier frame not conducive to making the wider jump.
The Sith Lord landed with a heavy thud atop a mushroom far down below, immediately coughing as spores kicked up from it. Though he wasn’t hurt, a glance up told him that he was in a lot of trouble. There was no clear way up. Emryc stared up towards the Marauder for a few seconds before he reached down and pulled out a cigarra.
“You win. Keep going,” He called out calmly, fully accepting that he was potentially never getting out of here. The half Sephi lit the cigarra and pulled down his face covering, tilting his head down to quietly smoke from his lower perch. He sat with one of his knees folded up, elbow resting on it as if he were having a casual picnic.
Jaikus hadn’t even looked to see if Emryc had managed to clear the distance behind him, the Marauder sliding across the stone platform and immediately focusing upon the one ahead of him. His attention was only drawn back by the sound of the Half-Sephi making hard impact with the mushroom tree below, echoing through the room as if someone had dropped a bull rancor from low orbit. The Axxilan leaned over the edge with hands folded behind his back, silently watching the Half-Sephi light his cigarra and settle down with callous insouciance.
You win. Keep going.
That certainly was the most logical course of action. Had it been Jaikus that fell, the Marauder had no doubt in his mind Emryc would have left him and continued deeper into the temple, greedily pursuing whatever spoils where hidden within its depths and leaving the Axxilan to die a slow and lonely death. A quick glance around the area would reveal no clear way back to the top for the half-Sephi, with his only option to continue into the overgrowth.
What a shame,Jaikus thought silently to himself, looking down at Emryc with the briefest expression of pity. Slowly but surely the Marauder turned away from the ledge, walking to other side of the platform in order to study the path ahead. From a distance he could see the door, resembling all those that had come before - a solid stone slab scrolled with Sith runes, immovable by convention means. Jaikus was sure there was a hidden mechanism somewhere nearby to open the way, but he hadn’t the slightest clue where it was or what it might be. The platform itself was roughly the same distance as the last one had been – harrowing perhaps, but he knew he would be able to cross if he tried. He took a few steps back, giving himself a running start.
And then he hesitated.
The Marauder stood at the very edge of the platform, his toes and the balls of his feet dangling off into the abyss while his weight pressed firmly into his heels. While his eyes stared off blankly into space, a thousand thoughts raced through his mind all at once. After an agonizingly long pause, Jaikus took two steps back from the precipice. Then three, then four, until he was once more hovering with his back towards the edge that Raze had failed to seize. A low, barely audible groan escaped from his lips, as if a visceral reaction to what he was about to do.
You are going to regret this.
Spinning on his heels, Jaikus jumped off the platform, making impact not far from where Emryc had. The Marauder landed onto the umbrella-shaped canopy with a bit more of a crash than usual without the Force to lessen his weight, his impact kicking up a cloud of spores which inadvertently filled his lunges when he inhaled. Potentially evil, glowing mushroom spores? It couldn't possibly be healthy, but then again, was anything about this place particularly good for ones health?
While Emryc smoked, the Marauder regarded him in silence for a long while. When Jaikus finally spoke, his tone was dry and serious – a far cry from his usually flippant and chirpy demeanor. “It is almost impossible either of us will be able to make it very far in this place on our own. As it stands, our fates remain tied.” Should the Sith Lord look up from his cigarra to Jaikus, he would see an entirely different set of eyes gazing down at him. In the absence of the Dark Side’s taint, polished citrines melted away to reveal the emeralds that lie naturally underneath, serving to provide the faintest glimpse of a time before the Axxilan was a devoted Sith. A lifetime ago.
Jaikus jutted his chin out towards the distance. The soft trickle of water from before had grown louder now, indicating it was not far. “There is bound to be another way through – some opening or passage, otherwise the water would have begun to pool in the chamber over the years. Our only option now is try to find it.” With that, Jaikus began to make his way down towards the surface, jumping from one mushroom tree to another as they gradually decreased in height. As he did so, Emryc's sharply-trained ears would pick up on.. Something, scuttling across the floor. His own poor vision would not enable him to get a good look at whatever it was, but the sound was unmistakable - there was something moving between the overgrowth, undisturbed for centuries without end.