Gomarr walks down the hallway, vibroaxe clutched tightly in both hands, constantly looking left and right, forward and back. Even up and down, ever since they passed that hole in the ceiling. In front of him, Dr. Pramine strides purposely forward, confident that the tomb is just ahead. I just need to finish my dissertation, he thinks. I just have to survive. He turns to the human walking next to him. The guy is in rough shape, and that fanged creature at his heels is just as creepy as the rest of this place, but Gomarr is open to options. “So, uh, College of Corellia,” he asks, voice low so that the professor will not hear him, “do they take transfers? What’s the life expectancy of grad students there? Any spots for new assistant professors?” The human stares at him, intense blue eyes wide with surprise at the question. “I thought Eriadu was prestigious because they have a low graduation rate. I didn’t realize when I applied that that was because they had a high mortality rate.”
“D’ya really want ta be like her?” Renn asks.
“No one else around her seems ta stay that way fer long, though. Yu’ve probably lost most of yer party upstairs.”
“That’s not her problem, though,” Gomarr points out.
“It might be her fault, given how brazen she’s bein’.”
“Look, man,” Gomarr whispers, “you know how long you live working for a Hutt? Not very long.”
Renn has been there himself. “This is how ya decided ta get outta that life? I canna say as I blame ya’.”
“Ah! Here we are!” Dr. Pramine announces, paused on the threshold of an enormous chamber suffused with a red glow. She turns back to Gomarr and their strange companion. She no longer has the full contingent she brought with her, but she will make do in these toughened circumstances. “Now, Ka’thazar would have been one of the most important individuals to this organization. That is why they made the pendant for him. His tomb will probably be centrally located, having one of the higher peaks. What we should do is climb up somewhere high, so we can get a good vantage point, I think.” She spins around and strides into the dim, cavernous space. She locates a group of statues each about four meters high, marches up to it, and begins evaluating the depicted species for the quality of handholds they can provide. Then she starts climbing.
Renn, envisioning her knocking the statue over, hurries along and stands at its base, hands against the stone on one side to brace it, just in case. The Gamorrean takes up the opposite position. The maalraa slinks away into the shadows of a nearby column. Above them, Dr. Praline points, “Ah, yes, I think I see a larger structure over there. Probably Devaronian. That’s what we’re looking for.” Then her hand grabs a piece of statue that rotates under it. “Oh, watch out for traps, by the way!” she calls, as she springs off the statue, landing safely on the ground.
Gomarr immediately drops down, cowering against the base, back pressed right against it, seeking cover from whatever the professor has seen. His back gets stabbed by tiny spikes emerging from the statue base. He jerks away from it with a cry and spins around, vibroaxe at the ready, trying to decide if the statue is still a threat.
Renn, meanwhile, feels sharp needles pierce his already-burned palms and quickly pulls his hands away from the statue, staring at the bloody pin-pricks in surprise. “This kriffin’ place!” he mutters, pulling out the stim applicator and self-administering a shot of painkiller. Then he shrugs off his backpack and starts going through it for synthskin. He has left enough blood behind in this temple already; he does not need to mark everything he touches from this point on with bloody handprints.
Gomarr sees the human pulling out a medkit and tentatively offers, “Did you… did you want me to do that?”
“Uh, if’n ya can—”
“Trust me, you gotta know how to bandage yourself. I’ve been there, man.” He treats the human’s hands, and then the guy does him a solid by checking over his back.
Dr. Pramine taps her foot again. “There is a large Devaronian statue in repose farther ahead, with much bigger, more impressive lights mounted above it. That will be what we are looking for. Chop, chop. Let’s go. Oh, and there were some moving red lights further on.”
That makes Renn hastily stuff away the medical supplies. “So we’ve already triggered what’s goin’ ta happen here, then, and it’s worse than this?” he asks, nodding toward the statue. He takes his air rifle in hand, though he wonders if it will be of any use against the threats down here.
“Now, don’t be so down!” Dr. Pramine encourages. “You’ve got to do some digging if you want to find some artifacts.”
“I’d like to find the door.”
“The door to the…? But we’re already in the tomb. The door out will become apparent after we find what we’re here for.”
Renn sighs. “Are ya goin’ ta go look at yer big object, or did ya want ta check out the lights? I feel like the lights are the bigger threat,” he insists.
“Yes,” Dr. Pramine concedes, “but the object is what we’re here for. ‘Dancing lights’ is not so nearly a prestigious journal article as the Pendant of Ka’thazar.” She confidently struts further into the chamber, waving a hand at an area up ahead to the left. “Gomarr, keep an eye out for those!” she orders.
Renn cringes as the clomping of her bootheels echos through the large open space. He chit-chits at the maalraa to let him know they are heading onwards and then moves swiftly to keep pace with the archaeologist.
“Once we find that pendant,” Dr. Pramine continues, “we can get out of here. I didn’t see your ship, but we can certainly give you a lift to it.”
“That’s actually quite generous,” Renn says. “My companion would appreciate that.”
“She’s not much of a hiker? You really should hire better bodyguards or grad students or whatever she is.”
Renn lets that go unaddressed, but he finds himself wondering, What is she? Friend-in-law? JT is definitely a friend, just like Chando and Cal and Z’voak. Is Renci? He is not here for the money, after all. He came to keep her safe. Was that just for JT?
As they move forward, Renn focuses his attention in the direction that Dr. Pramine pointed out to Gomarr. He sees red flashes in the distance, but they are more coherent than the archaeologist described. He recognizes the glow of a lightsaber, and he has seen what those can do. This is nothing to fool around about. Renci was hit with one earlier today, and he has no interest in joining that club. He brings his air rifle up and watches intently, carefully tracking the movement of the swathes of red as the saber waves back and forth, and extrapolating from that the location of his quarry. He squeezes the trigger, releasing a tranquilizer dart with a mere whisper of air, and the light goes out.
Dr. Pramine does not even notice the human raise his gun, but Gomarr goes on full alert, coming right up to him. “What? What is it? What did you see?”
“I saw a lightsaber.”
“That’s bad news,” Gomarr mutters under his breath. “Real bad news.”
“Have ya’ ever encountered one before?”
“Thankfully, no,” Gomarr whispers, even quieter.
“But ya know about them?” Renn presses. He needs to know what kind of backup he can expect here.
“I’ve… heard of them.”
“They’re pretty dangerous. And if someone is wieldin’ one down here, we’ve already triggered whatever it is.”
“So we should just go?” the Gamorrean asks, sounding hopeful.
So much for support there, Renn thinks. “Doctor!” he hails Pramine.
“Oh, just a little further now!”
“There are enemy combatants down here already,” Renn asserts. As much as he does not want to be a soldier, there are times when he finds himself slipping back into it.
“Are they going to be trouble?” Dr. Pramine asks.
What is it going to take for this woman to see the seriousness of the situation? “They have lightsabers.”
The way the archaeologist draws out the word, Renn worries for a moment that she is concerned about precision of language. “Well, at least one. I definitely saw one.”
“Oh, fanciful notions of ancient religions?”
“No!” Renn insists. “Beams of coherent light that can cut and burn!”
“A fusion cutter, you say? Look, I’m sure you can deal with it, whatever it is,” she says, dismissing his concerns. “It is just around this next bend. I can see—”
“I’m tellin’ ya ta be careful,” Renn clarifies. “I’m not askin’ ya’ ta fight them.” He can handle them himself—at least, as long as he keeps them at a distance—but he cannot afford her drawing extra attention or placing them at additional risk. They are not friends, but he does not want her cut down by a lightsaber. He does not want that for anyone.
“Look, you seem pretty well-equipped,” Dr. Pramine allows. “At least College of Corellia properly outfits their field students. We’ll be cautious. We’ll be methodical about this. There is no reason to be so agitated.”
“We need ta move quietly,” he insists.
She nods, waving her datapad. “I’ll just be taking notes.” She rounds the bend, stepping more lightly, and begins recording a description of the oversized bier before her. Ka’thazar’s prone statue is several times the height of the average Devaronian.
Renn turns back to the Gamorrean, who is hugging a vibroaxe to his chest, as always, and asks, “D’ya have a ranged weapon of any kind?”
Gomarr nods and reaches one hand down to the holster beneath his long jacket, then starts patting himself down frantically. “It must’ve fallen out in the trash room!”
“All right… just… stay close ta her,” Renn orders, as they also turn the corner to see Ka’thazar’s final resting place. Renn points where he last saw the lightsaber, over to the southeast, beyond the giant stone structure that Dr. Pramine is scribbling about on her datapad. “I don’ really want ta get much closer, but I’m goin’ ta move inta position near that light fixture over on the left ta keep an eye on that area.”
Gomarr nods. He likes the farther back position. As the human slips off quietly, Gomarr hears the faint chit-chitting of the fanged monstrosity that has been following him but does not see it. Creepy, he thinks again.
Renn hides behind a support column just beyond the ring of enormous ornate sconces illuminating Ka’thazar’s tomb. There are no branches or leaves in this bloody place; he makes do with just cobwebs to provide him a little more cover as he peers around the side. He needs to be able to see what is coming, after all, not just conceal himself. The maalraa crouches at his feet, sniffing the air. Renn smiles down at him, amused for a moment at the thought of what Mira would be doing to get his attention away from the other creature if she were here now. He is glad she is not, but he sort of wishes Renci were. He could use some competent backup right now.
Approaching the giant bier, Gomarr encourages Dr. Pramine to move as quietly as possible, but nervous about what he has learned, he cannot keep silent himself. “That human was saying that there are lightsabers, and they’re quite dangerous. It sounds like he has come across them before… Have you, Dr. Pramine? Have you ever seen a lightsaber? I mean, you talked about them in class, but…”
“Yes. They look like fancy hydrospanners,” she says dismissively. “They’re some sort of totem or talisman of these various ancient religions. Look, we need to be quiet, remember?” She steps up to the bier, which is as tall as she is, and studies the engravings on the side. She nods to herself and then puts her hands on the stone, intending to climb up.