Torthal extends his vision beyond the floor, hoping to see from that perspective what this collector is doing. She has made a hole in the floor and through that of the maintenance area immediately below. Some sort of gel is dripping from the edges of the hole and continuing to burn whatever it falls on. It is a long drop to solid ground, but the human has equipment to slow her fall. Torthal reaches out through the Force, Binding the Devaronian again and yanking her towards himself. She can act as a cushion. Unable to resist, she slides toward the hole. Based on the sounds, she collides with the nearby Nautolan along the way, and he loses his balance at the edge of the unseen hole after she plummets through. Torthal then descends. Once below the level of the mirror room, he is again able to see his surroundings, though there is not much light. He grabs whatever he can along the way down to ease his climb. Struts, pipes, and conduits have been partially melted through, and they bend with his weight, helping him down but also blocking the way back up as more pieces of infrastructure collapse from the spreading chemicals.
Renci lands in a dim room, with a high, vaulted ceiling, and indeed, vault seems to be the right word for the place. The walls are lined with shelves, the only source of light some of the artifacts themselves. Creepy, she thinks, and then she jets out of the way as a Devaronian crashes to the floor, followed by the Nautolan who was posturing up above. Only the latter survives the fall. Renci looks up and sees the Twi’lek descending in a more controlled fashion. Torthal drops the final distance, landing on the still Devaronian as the Nautolan stumbles to his feet. The hole in the ceiling is reachable only by jumpboots, but it looks obstructed now. She will locate another way out once she finds what she needs. One wall has a large cabinet with windowed doors. On the shelf inside, among other mounted items, is a book made of actual bound parchment. The scripts on the bases vary, indicating that these items are from diverse cultures. The armoire gives the impression of a display of trophies. “That’s fascinating,” Renci murmurs, stepping closer. “That might be even better….”
“What do you find so fascinating?” the level voice sounds just behind her, and she turns to see Torthal standing a bit too close.
“I got you into the temple, as agreed. Did you want another bargain?” Renci asks. She does not owe him anything.
“Is this as far as you got last time?”
“This is farther than I got. Is this not what you were looking for?” She twirls around, arms flung out, gesturing at all the strange items on the shelves.
“Uh… we’ve got to get back to the professor, I think,” the Nautolan suggests, but he finds himself completely ignored by the human and the Twi’lek.
Torthal tilts his head and looks unblinkingly at Renci. “What if we are both looking for the same thing?”
“That’s going to make things a little more interesting. I don’t know how long I will need my thing for. Tell me what you’re looking for, and I’ll tell you if I’m looking for the same thing,” she offers. Torthal holds her with a steady gaze. There is something off-putting about his mannerisms, and Renci decides not to waste more time in verbal sparring. “Fine. I’ll go first. My girlfriend is under the influence of some sort of Dathomir Dark Force magic. I need to find some kind of Dark Force artifact or knowledge—” she gestures at the book in the display case, “—to help her get well.”
“Ah,” Torthal says, “so you are not looking for a specific item. I am here for the Pendant of Ka’thazar.”
“Right, yeah,” the Nautolan agrees from across the room where he is testing the shelves, “the professor is always talking about that thing.”
“What does it look like?” Renci asks.
“I will know it when I find it,” Torthal replies unhelpfully. “Open the cabinet.”
Renci balks at the order. “Why don’t we check it first?”
Torthal takes a step back and turns to the Nautolan. “Make yourself useful.”
“Uh… we should find a staircase or something…”
Torthal stares down the hired help. “She will want items for her museum.”
“Oh, good point.” The Nautolan ambles over and helps Renci examine the armoire for traps.
They find no switches or triggers or wires, and Renci wonders if she is finally catching a break. She pulls back one door while the thug opens the other. Her relief is short-lived, though, as she realizes she can still see the book through the windowed door, which is now perpendicular to where the interior should be. What had seemed to be simple glass is yet another trick. She is about to look around the door, to see what was actually behind it, when something flickers at the edge of her vision, and the Nautolan falls back away from his door to the ground, screaming. The dim lighting of the room seems even darker around him as his cries turn to gurgles. Blood spreads from his torn throat, and Renci hears chittering.
Torthal stands farther back, looking calmly down at his former co-worker. He turns to Renci. “The maalraas are still at their meal. You may fire.” He gestures at the dead Nautolan.
Renci narrows her eyes at Torthal but draws her blaster and shoots into the shadows in the indicated direction. She hears a squeal and sees a splash of bluish blood. Then she glares at Torthal. “Are you going to do anything useful here?”
“It only makes sense for you to shoot first,” he replies, “but if you are not going to finish them….” He reaches inside his jacket and draws forth a metal cylinder. As he steps forward, he flicks a switch and a shaft of red light emerges. With his lightsaber, he slashes through the shadows and the Nautolan.
Renci cannot see what he is hitting, but she hears the creatures’ cries of pain and sees Torthal stagger back with a grunt, putting most of his weight on his right leg as stains spread across his left. It is so shadowy that Renci cannot make out where the animals are, and she wonders whether they are even real, or if this is the sparring room all over again. She draws her sword and starts to close the distance, but she does not want to strike Torthal instead of the creatures. He seems to see them just fine, and clearly he is some sort of Force user. “Can you do anything to make them more visible?” she asks him.
“No, but I can get out of your way.” Torthal disengages from the maalraas and steps behind the human, cloaking himself in the protective shadow of the Force to Misdirect his opponents’ senses, just like the creatures are doing. But so attuned are the maalraas that they still see him, and they snap in his direction. It is a good thing for him that the human is so assertive.
Renci wades into the shadows around the Nautolan corpse, swinging her sword and feeling things colliding with her legs. Even knowing where they are and feeling their scratches tear at her shins, she still cannot focus her eyes on the creatures. Frustrated, she reaches into one of the pouches of her backpack for a grenade she saw in there earlier. She drops it at her feet and jetboots away. There is a flash and a hiss of gas. As Renci hovers near the ceiling, an intense smell fills the room. She finds herself thinking of her favorite childhood food, a cherry pie called Blood of our Enemies.
“Ah, you used the grandma grenade! I’ve detected its signature. Glad I was able to get through that jamming. Tricky stuff, that. Wouldn’t’ve wanted to miss this.”
“B—” Renci stops herself before speaking the Rebel technician’s codename in front of Torthal… although, looking around, she does not see him. Probably slunk off somewhere to hide. “What kind of grenade was that? Did it even do anything?”
“It calms targets down by a certain wavelength of energy that triggers a neurochemical response. The gas is a catalyst.”
“But why as a grenade?”
“So you can calm down the other side and stay hyped up yourself. What do you think? How did it do?”
Below her, Renci sees two wounded creatures bearing cuts and burns. The shadows around them have melted away, and she is finally able to focus on them. They are about knee height with long, concave necks, and their mouths seem to simultaneously have both underbites and overbites. Their four feet sport long claws, which she felt earlier against her legs. Right now, though, the pair are nuzzling each other, licking paws and cuddling. She cannot bring herself to finish them in this state. Letting them be, she jets back over to the cabinet to check inside, hoping that the book she saw is real.
“You should dispatch them.”
That damnably steady voice again. “They’re as children now. It would be dishonorable.” Behind her, she hears the ignition of a lightsaber and the death cries of the creatures. She glares past the open doors at the dark tunnel the maalraas emerged from. There are no artifacts, just a hallway. She sets herself down on the floor and turns around to find the creatures dead and Torthal over near one of the shelves. “You seem very familiar with these kinds of temples,” she says to him. “Do they tend to have libraries? Would you know how to find one?”
“Oppressed people are not known for retaining their records in print. They are known for their songs instead. We may be able to locate their instrument room.” He pulls a few items from the shelves, looking closely at them, and then placing them in his satchel. He continues, “So you are only interested in knowledge, not artifacts.” He pockets another object. “That is good.”
Renci wonders under what conditions he will reevaluate her usefulness to him. Whatever, she thinks, I can handle him if I have to. He is just a companion of convenience. She looks around the room, but there are no other books, nor artifacts that suggest Dathomir to her. And the chamber also lacks anything that looks like a door. Maybe this tunnel is the only way to go.
Tothal steps up next to her. “It is interesting how soft-hearted you turned on those creatures, given the speed with which you abandoned your companion upstairs.”
Renci turns to the Twi’lek. “My companion upstairs is a very capable man, capable of taking care of himself in dangerous circumstances. I was hoping to just quickly come down here and then go back up. He can take care of himself,” she reiterates. She did not abandon Renn, just parted ways from him for a little while, and she will rejoin him later. “He’ll be fine. The difference is, when you work with your friends… no, your comrades—” Basic is just so inadequate, she reflects. “—you know they have your back. When you work with mercenaries,” she nods down at the Nautolan, “you know you’re going to be abandoned.” I will be watching you, she thinks at Torthal.
“We need to get back to a hallway, and then I can discern where next to go. There are no more creatures that way,” Torthal states, pointing down the tunnel where the cabinet contents should have been.
They step inside the armoire.