The exit from the conservatory leads to another hallway. As Renn moves into the dimmer space, away from the cloying incense, the intensity of his migraine subsides to a dull pain, not pleasant, but far more tolerable. He begins examining the walls, periodically pressing them, trying to find an access panel to the maintenance space that he knows must run alongside it. If he can get back into that area, he should be able to find a ladder to return to the main floor. Dr. Pramine tuts at him. “The most efficient way to explore a temple is to check all the standard rooms first before looking for secret doors.” She breezes past him with Gomarr, continuing into the next room. Renn’s search has been fruitless so far, and he worries about what they might trigger behind his back, so he joins them there.
The new room has two doors on each wall other than the one they entered from. Alongside each door is a switch and a wall hanging. These are more tapestry-like than the gauzy silks of the conservatory. Five of them are embroidered with fierce-looking animals and one with a bipedal skeleton. Dr. Pramine brightly exclaims, “Ah, this skeleton is Devaronian, just like Ka’thazar. Gomarr, would you—”
“No!” Renn interjects, cutting off her order. “Don’ flip any switches yet. We don’ know what we’re lookin’ at.”
Dr. Pramine glares at the upstart inferior academic. “We are not being haphazard here. We have a system. Always start on the right and work your way around.”
“That sounds rather arbitrary,” Renn observes.
“Well, I suppose one could start on the left, but the point is, we proceed methodically.” Ugh, C of C! Their program will never amount to anything.
“We could handle one of these creatures, but I’m no’ so sure we could take on five if all the doors open at once,” he points out.
Gomarr starts looking behind the wall hangings, assessing how much cover they can provide as hiding places.
“Ah. More than one door might open. An interesting hypothesis,” Dr. Pramine allows.
“There must be clues in here, though. What can ya tell us about these curtains? Surely they must grant ya insight inta this room? Is the skeleton from the same, ach, school? Of art?” Renn asks, giving Dr. Pramine something to analyze to hopefully keep her occupied while he can figure out what to do. As she starts lecturing again, Renn pulls out the datapad from his vet kit and flips through it, identifying the creatures on the wall hangings or else finding close relatives. The krykna he could recognize himself from his recent encounter with them, but there are also a venom hawk, a maalraa, a gigagila, and something that looks like Maroe, the tusk cat that has been following around Kash’s brother Vrake ever since the incident at the zoo in Lessu.
“… And indeed we can see the same style, same material, same coloration schemes in each of these works. They are from the same artist or at least the same collective. Ka’thazar, a musician himself, did attract many other creative types into his circle. A lot of these old mystics were really just artists of one form or another. Why, there are absurd rumors that the eccentric painter Val Issa was actually a sorceress!”
“Val Issa?” That doesna bode well… Val Issa was really a Jedi, after all, and Renn strongly doubts that if Ka’thazar was just a musician, he would have been buried in a place drenched in the Dark Side. Maybe he was a Jedi, too, an enemy of these people. Or maybe he was something worse. Keep her talkin’ and not touchin’. “I’ve seen some paintings inspired by her works.”
“Val Issa was a second-rate artist at best, never really focused on her work. Ka’thazar was an excellent musician. Some of his songs have made it down to us today. He was almost a god to the primitive people of this world, which is why they made him the pendant and buried him with such honors. One of these doors must lead to his tomb.”
Renn places his ear against each door, listening intently to what might be on the other side. He thinks he can hear muffled growling and scratching, but it is hard to say from where, and the sounds are certainly not clear enough to identify the specific location of each creature. He turns back to the wall hangings again, trying to figure out if they have any messages encoded on them. Pramine’s impatience finally gets the better of her, and she orders Gomarr to open a door. Renn has just enough time to bring up his air rifle and step into position near the Gamorrean to cover him before the first door on the right wall opens. The wall hanging alongside it shows a venom hawk.
Beyond the door is a dark, low-ceilinged corridor. Renn hears a hiss and sees a large amber-colored lizard charging forward on four strong legs, sharp teeth visible along its wide jaw. This is the gigagila, and from what he read, the real danger is the spiked tail because that is where the venom is stored. As the creature comes rushing up, Renn squeezes off a shot, planting a dart solidly in its chest. It collapses in a heap as the tranquilizer takes hold, but its forward momentum carries it across the threshold of the doorway, and Gomarr stumbles back in alarm.
Renn cautiously steps up to the still form, and Gomarr retreats farther, snorting in disbelief. Renn shakes his head at the Gamorrean. “It’s fine. It should be out fer an hour or so.” He examines the animal. While it does not look starved, its muscles are slacker than he would expect. It definitely has not been getting enough nourishment. Looking beyond it, he sees that the passageway slopes downward. A dark, confined tunnel headed further below does not seem like a promising way to find Renci. He feels conflicted, but probably the safest thing to do is to close the creature back inside. He turns to Gomarr. “It’s asleep. Can ya give me a hand pushin’ it?”
“Um… I’ll keep you covered,” Gomarr offers, hefting his vibroaxe a bit and stepping just one pace closer.
Renn tries to shove the gigagila back into its tunnel, but he cannot get the weighty body to move. He decides to just leave the creature where it is, a decision that sits better with him anyway. We’ll be far away from here by the time it wakes up, and then it can try its luck elsewhere. He stands and looks around the room, then proceeds to the door opposite the open one, where the tapestry of the skeleton is. Dr. Pramine mutters about the chaotic way he is choosing the next door. Renn ignores her and listens at it carefully, but he cannot hear anything beyond it. It could be the thickness of the door, or it could be that this is the right one. He looks to Gomarr.
The Gamorrean reluctantly joins him. “I’ll, uh, flip the switch from the side here, so you have a clear shot.”
Renn nods. That is likely the most help he will get here. He brings his tranq gun up to his left shoulder and sights along the barrel. Gomarr hits the switch and quickly jerks his hand back, resuming a tight double-grip on his vibroaxe. The door opens to silence and darkness. Renn steps closer and peers down the dim tunnel. This one has a higher ceiling than the other, and he can see a still form lying partway down it. He shrugs out of his backpack and places it in the doorway to serve as an obstruction in case the door decides to close, and then he enters to examine the body.
The krykna corpse looks well preserved, but he can tell it has been dead for a very long time and that it died of starvation. This really bothers Renn, these creatures trapped in here. He does not have very clear memories of the time he spent with Zikka in that temple on Gesaril, but he has had nightmares for years about looking out through the barred cell-door window, feeling terrified and trapped. These creatures do not deserve this kind of treatment. It is one thing to give animals jobs, but they need to be properly cared for.
With a new sense of urgency, Renn emerges from the passage and steps right up to the door next to it, placing his hands on it and leaning his forehead against it, eyes closed. He has grown used to listening to Mira with his mind and to extending his senses to hers. In the beginning, he could convince himself that this was all her doing, but there is no point lying to himself about that any longer. He accepts that it is through the Force that he can do those things and admits to himself that he has, in a similar way, felt the presence of other creatures around him, like the azurdactyl and the mynocks on the previous job. He stills himself, thinking back to what it is like in the jungle, and for the first time, he consciously extends his awareness outward, actively drawing upon the Force to seek a connection with any life on the other side of this door. He can Sense a creature just beyond it. It is hungry and feels confined, closed in. It misses the sky, and so does he. “Hang in there just a little longer,” he whispers. Pulling his knife, he returns to the corpse of the krykna and dresses it to offer as food to whatever its neighbor is.
In the center of the room, Dr. Pramine taps her foot impatiently. “You are wasting time with that dead thing. A paleontologist can come back later to examine the remains of these.”
Renn snaps at her, “These livin’ creatures are more important than yer rusty old necklace.”
“That creature isn’t living,” Dr. Pramine rebuts. “Cultures are living, in the artifacts they leave behind and in their legacies. That beast’s bones won’t add anything to our collection!”
“This creature might not be alive,” Renn says, as he places the krykna remains at the foot of the next door, “but this one is,” and he flips the switch. With a growl, a large cat lunges forward at Renn, but he catches it by the scruff of the neck as if it were Natasha and redirects it down to the meal. With the offer of food and his knowledgeable handling of the creature, he sufficiently calms it so that it does not attack anyone in the room. He opens the other doors, releasing the maalraa and the venom hawk, providing some food to each and keeping them relatively calm. Only then does he open the door that leads to the tomb. He herds the creatures ahead of them through the exit, while Gomarr and Dr. Pramine stay well back behind him. They pass an opening in the high ceiling beyond the reach of any of the people. The cat jumps up, and the bird flies through after. Renn silently wishes them well, hoping they manage to find their way outside. The maalraa stays at his side, in shadows that seem to cling to the creature, content to follow him for now.