Renci hovers. Oh my… Renn is screaming at Torthal, clubbing away at him. Yeah, he probably deserves it, Renci thinks, but that’s not the person who shot you. She loops around, jetting toward Renn. She has seen him distraught before, has seen him frustrated and overwhelmed and in pain. But this… this seems uncharacteristic of him, to lose his cool this way. He has been telling her the whole time how uncomfortable this dark place has been making him. She has been so focused on everything with JT that it did not occur to her something similar could happen here, right in front of her.
“Ya tormented these creatures and ya locked them up and now yu’ve just killed him, like he didna have some right ta take back a little from ya fer all yu’ve taken from him! Yer just as bad as m’ sister!”
Renci lands next to Renn. The hair on the side of his head is indeed matted with blood, and whatever happened to him after they got separated appears to have even cost him the shirt off his back. Torthal is a bloody mess on the ground at his feet. Renn lifts the gun up over his shoulder to slam down again, but Renci grabs it. He turns to look at her, and for a moment, she is taken aback by his eyes. The usual intense blue of his irises is barely visible beneath a haze of red. “Renn! Cool it!” she starts. “Listen to me for just one second, okay?” He struggles to pull the gun out of her grip. “This isn’t you. This isn’t revenge, and revenge isn’t worth it anyway. This guy is a bit of a creep, I agree. He murdered some of those cats. But it’s not worth it. This isn’t you; this is this place. Remember, you kept saying it was creepy? It’s doing the same thing to you that that other place did to JT. You said these places make you do things—it’s just making you do a thing. This isn’t you. Don’t do this. This goes down to a dark place where you don’t want to be. I don’t want you to go down this path. Dammit, Renn, if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for me, do it for your friends. C’mon, we don’t want to see you like this.”
Her words finally seem to reach him. Renn lets go of the rifle and staggers back away from Renci, blinking rapidly, as if waking up from something. His eyes are bloodshot, but the irises are vibrant blue again. “Just take a deep breath,” she advises him, worn out herself. Standing there, still holding Renn’s gun, she searches for something to say. “You know who would be interested in this guy? Quep.”
Renn looks down at Torthal and then back up at Renci. “Are we takin’ prisoners now?” His voice is quiet, shaky.
“I don’t know,” Renci replies. “I don’t know if it’s safe to take him prisoner, even. We could drag him out of the temple and leave him outside. If he wants that pendant bad enough, he can come back in.”
“There are things in these halls that will eat him.” The way Renn says that, it sounds like he is suggesting an alternative.
“Uh, yeah, so dragging him outside is a little safer,” Renci counters, unsure if Renn is totally back with her.
“Wild creatures out there would get him, too.”
“That’s the law of the jungle right there. Leaving him in the hall is like feeding him to the zoo,” she replies, trying to show the distinction.
“The creatures I released have just as much right ta eat as anybody else!” Renn says sharply.
Clearly, they had quite divergent experiences once they got separated. Oh, boy, Renci thinks, wondering what is coming next. But Renn leaves it at that, turning away to go collect his knife from the base of one of the candelabras. That reminds Renci that Torthal had a lightsaber. She looks around, finds it under a piece of rubble, and picks it up. Maybe I can find some way to smash it... “Look, why don’t we get out of here?” she offers Renn. “We’re done with this place. We’ll see if we can get him out of here, and if we can’t, then problem solved, there’s nothing we can do about it. Okay?” Renn nods wordlessly, and she jumpboots up to the ceiling to undo the rope. They will need it to get the men out through the hole in the ceiling she noticed earlier. She sees the golem stomping blindly about farther south in the room. “You’re not my responsibility,” she says in that direction. “Keep smashing, Ka’thazar, you have a good day. Sorry for ruining your arms. You make great music.” As she lands, she sees Renn head back over near Torthal. She considers stunning him with her boots in shock mode if he attacks the Twi’lek again. But Renn ignores the downed man and proceeds to the dead creature on the floor. She watches him scoop it up, cradling it against his chest with no regard for the protruding fangs and lengthy claws.
Renci starts to speak, but Renn cuts her off. “Ta return him ta nature,” he growls. There is an edge to his voice, yes, but his tone is almost defensive, as if he expects her to challenge his action.
She nods in understanding but comments matter-of-factly, “Those things are vicious. One of them got me good, but one grandma grenade took them out.”
Renn looks down at the animal in his arms, and his voice softens. “They don’ deserve ta be here any more than we do.”
“I hear you there,” Renci agrees. “They’re kind of cute when they’re sleeping, though….” Renn closes his eyes, brow furrowed. She is probably not making him feel any better. Ugh, these interpersonal relations things are so exhausting. She tries switching to a task-focused discussion. “I found a panel in a ceiling. I’m pretty sure it’s a maintenance access. I can jump up there and bring the rope, but I’m not sure we can get him up there.”
Renn thinks for a moment and then sighs. “I suppose we could haul him up, but then what? I don’ really… It doesna… Ya don’ have a clearly thought-out plan.”
“If I leave him in the jungle, maybe his associates will pick him up.” Then Renci realizes there was something else she wanted to address with Renn. “She was shooting at you.”
“I think… she thought we were… rival artifact collectors—”
“I mean, strictly speaking, she is wrong,” Renci interjects.
“We were getting along fine until, I guess, maybe, she thought…” Renn seems to be struggling to pull his thoughts together through the air of bewilderment and hopelessness he now has about him.
“Maybe the place got to her, too, okay?” Renci suggests. “This is a bad, bad place.” She lets out a breath. “But it’s okay, we’re done. We don’t need to spend any more time here. I don’t need any artifacts.”
Renn looks up at Renci at that. She seems to have caught his attention, but all he says is, “Good.”
“So, let’s get up that hole and get out of here.”
Renn reminds Renci that the medical backpack he is carrying has a repulsor stretcher, but other than that, he leaves her to take care of Torthal herself. He is subdued as they head through the corridors, and Renci thinks he is more afraid of this place now than he was upstairs, which is fair. When they get to the maintenance hatch, she rigs a harness and hauls Torthal up. Renn insists on bringing the cat-like creature, and Renci does not argue with him. It is not worth it at this point. The maalraa, as he and Torthal both called this type of animal, seems very important to Renn in some way. She knows he has a thing about animals… Maybe he talked with it? Maybe they developed some sort of relationship, like he did with that bearsloth. It seems part of what the Force is to Renn, and she is done investigating those things for now.
* * *
When they do reach the ground floor, they find a long corridor similar to the one by which they entered but with fading daylight at the end. Renci gives the repulsor stretcher a kick forward with her boot, propelling it outside. “You ready to get out of here, Renn?” she asks wearily.
Then a voice from Renci’s backpack announces, “Oh, hey, I’m getting some really interesting readings, by the way. It seems there’s a lot of—oh, this is fascinating—kinetic energy coming your way!”
“Kinetic energy?” Renci mutters to herself. “Kriff! Boulder!” she shouts and picks up her pace. “An archaeologist should know better!” she complains to Renn.
“Does it matter if’n it was an accident, or if it was a trap that got set off?” Renn observes, breaking into a run.
They exit the temple to the sound of crashing stone behind them as some wall is destroyed. Renci curses at the BoulderBot one last time before shutting it down again. Mira flies down to Renn, circling him and singing happily. “We’re on the opposite side of the temple than we entered,” Renn informs Renci, “but I can find our way from here.”
Renci removes Torthal from the stretcher and binds him with some cord. She considers leaving a note that he is a Dark Force user but figures that might lead the Empire to do some pretty horrible things. He did some bad stuff, but it is not like he was a murderous maniac. She regards the lightsaber she took from him earlier, and then slips it into a pouch on her utility belt. She looks up and finds that Renn is watching her closely.
“D’ya intend ta use that?”
“No. If I could find a way to destroy it, that would be best. Maybe give it to Quep, but… I don’t know what use they would actually have for a creepy lightsaber. I’m pretty sure they know how they work.” She fires the flare gun from the survival kit to attract the attention of the other group’s ship so that they can deal with the Twi’lek however they deem appropriate. “We should get out of here before they come looking.”
When they are a little way inside the treeline, Renn respectfully lays the maalraa that Torthal killed on the ground. Feeling a bit like she is at a funeral, Renci tries to think of something consoling to say. “It is better to die where you can see the sky than be stuck inside.”
Renn nods and just says, “Aye.” He sighs, and Mira settles on his shoulder, tail wrapping possessively around him. He leads the way through the thickening jungle. After a bit, he says to her, “M’understandin’ from those I’ve talked ta, is that the crystal inside what yu’ve got is unhealthy, so ya definitely shouldna keep it in the form it’s in now.”
Renci cannot help but note that Renn is speaking around a source. If it was Cal, he would have just said so. But that is fair; she does not expect him to out other Force users that he knows. “Yeah, that tracks with what I’ve talked to Quep about, that they’re dangerous things. Maybe we can get in here and get it out.” She pulls the device back out and looks it over, but she does not see any seams or welds. “You got a fusion cutter?” she asks. Maybe JT could open it… but this is probably not the best thing to give her right now. “Or maybe it could just get lost in the jungle somewhere, like a big bog pit. Or released into the vacuum of space.”
“Well, we certainly passed through a number of swamps on the way in.”
“One crystal in a swamp isn’t that bad, right?”
“Ya should just get rid of it,” Renn says quietly.
“That sounds good.” Renci jets up and drops the lightsaber into the middle of one of the wider swamps where no one can just casually come across it.