The corridor leads to a room with simple duracrete walls. As Renci and Renn enter, they feel a slight give to the floor, a springiness. There are some weapons on wall racks, but other mounts are empty. “A sparring room!” Renci exclaims. In the far corner, a humanoid-shaped dummy stands affixed to a pole. It does not look damaged, but there are lines drawn where many species have important organs and blood vessels.
“This is a weird thing ta find in a temple,” Renn comments.
“Depends on your belief system. On Mandalore, this wouldn’t be that weird actually. Most large houses have them.”
“I can understand a house havin’ them. All the DRS ships do.”
“You should consider adding one to yours. Do you and Kash ever spar?”
“No. Not that way.” Kash would probably enjoy it, and he knows she is much stronger and more skilled than he is, so he is unlikely to hurt her. But hitting someone he loves? The thought makes him very uncomfortable. Someday, perhaps, he can move beyond that issue, just not yet. That is not about trusting Kash; that is about trusting himself to not become like his father.
Renn steps up to the first weapon rack by the entrance, examining it carefully in case something is trapped to spring out at them. His mind continues to wander. Maybe he should start with the knife-fighting class at the New Meen Community Center, which his mother keeps talking up. Not really his first choice for a mother-son bonding experience, but it is a start. Provided he never has her as an opponent…. Hopefully the New Meen dojo is better equipped than this one. “These weapons are actually quite poorly made. They’d break apart on a solid hit, they would,” he tells Renci. Renn glances around the room and sees piles of what looks like sawdust on the floor below the empty racks. “Would ya’ look at that! Some of them have disintegrated with time, I suppose.”
Renci crouches down and sifts through some dust, pulling out a spearhead. “Well, this part survived,” she says, holding it up to examine, then pocketing the object.
“It’s like none of these were meant ta be used.”
“But… they’re not ornamental,” Renci points out. “They just fall apart when you go to grab them.”
“But what would ya even be grabbin’ a weapon fer in a temple?”
“This is a sparring room,” Renci reiterates. She steps toward the center of the room, looking at the open floor, and revises her statement. “Maybe that’s too polite a term. This is a fighting room. Yeah, there was some Force-related martial tradition… the Seth? Sith!”
“And the Jedi.”
“You think the Jedi were martial?”
“They had swords, and they fought in a war. That fits m’ definition.”
“Okay, I grant you that. But the Sith…” Renci thinks back on what Quep told her. “Sith adepts were forced to fight each other to the death in many instances. Move up the chain by killing your master. Tough to maintain a clan tradition that way.” She bends down to examine the stains. Some are reddish-brown, some dark green, some black. “There’s blood from various species here.”
Renn looks over at the dummy in the far corner, with its lines providing guidance on where to cut or jab or slam for the most effect. This is not getting them anywhere. Who cares who fought here however long ago? They just need to get out. “There’s no point lingerin’ here,” he urges Renci. “Those people comin’, Mira saw rappellin’ gear. They are no’ goin’ ta have ta find a place ta land and hike in like we did.”
She nods. “Just one more line in the report.” She straightens up, and they start to cross the room to the opposite doorway, the BoulderBot clunkily rolling along behind them. But when Renci passes the exact center, they find they are not alone. Two flickering robed beings shimmer into existence in front of them. On the left, a Trandoshan holds a flaming spear. On the right, a Zabrak ignites a red lightsaber. They speak in a language neither Renci nor Renn understand and take guard postures, barring the way to the door.
“To battle, then,” Renci says, drawing her vibrosword and immediately stepping up to the Zabrak with the lightsaber. Is this what JT faced? she wonders. Renci lands a blow that her opponent recoils from in pain, but she feels like her sword went right through and she left no mark on the target. The strange lack of resistance from the Zabrak’s flesh causes her to overextend on the follow-through, creating an opening to catch her across the leg with the lightsaber. It hurts, certainly, but the wound is not nearly as bad as she would have expected from a gussied-up fusion cutter. Is that a practice blade of some kind? The stains on the floor suggest not.
These apparitions remind Renn of the figures that moved through the wreck’s corridors on Dathomir. Those ghostly creatures were eerie and unsettling, but they were not fully present physically. “Renci, don’ stay and fight them, they are no’ even real.” His voice wavers, sounds too panicky to his own ears. “Let’s just get outta here.” He dodges around to the left, trying to maintain distance from the Trandoshan, and almost makes it to the open doorway. The spectral form tracks his movement, jabbing at him with the flaming spear. Its tip scores across his midriff, catching under his open vest, and he can feel the very real heat of it. Then the Trandoshan spins around, forcing Renn to backpedal or risk being disemboweled. After a few such hurried steps, he trips, sprawling across the floor but also disentangling himself from the spear.
“I’m measuring a fluctuation in the energy readings in this room,” Boulder calmly observes. “Whatever that is, it reacts to physical contact. Can you run another experiment to field test this theory for me, Baker?”
Renci engages the Zabrak, but she still has not adjusted to the insubstantiality. She lands another strike and overbalances when her opponent flickers out of existence. She hits the floor hard with her shoulder but converts the momentum into a roll back to her feet and bounds across the room towards Renn.
“Oh, yeah!” Boulder cheers. “That is exactly how I thought it worked.”
“Can you tell me something I don’t know? Do some analysis or something!” Renci orders.
“Science takes time.”
“We don’t have any time. We’re fighting a war right now, a war for this room. And guess what, Boulder, you’re on the front line.” The Trandoshan figure growls, and Renci sees that its weapon seems to have changed. The spearhead has split into three parts, creating a trident, and there are guards where its hands grasp the shaft. It starts to stab down at Renn, and she lunges forward to knock the weapon aside, moving into a protective stance over her companion.
The tines hit the ground right next to Renn. He grabs the shaft and wrenches it, twisting it out of the Trandoshan’s hands. However ghostly his attacker might be, the flaming weapon is real enough, and it burns his palms and fingers. He reflexively lets go, and the trident clatters to the floor next to him.
“Vode An!” Renci cheers. She slashes at the distracted Trandoshan. The strike goes right through the manifestation, but it roars in pain. She tries to stop her swing, but she is still not used to ephemeral opponents.
“Kriff! Keep yer guard up!” Renn shouts, redirecting the downswing of her sword away from him with his right arm, taking a gash along it in the process. The Trandoshan slashes at him with one clawed hand while snatching the trident back up with the other. Despite their ghostly nature, the claws do real damage, too, scoring across Renn’s other arm when he throws it up to block the blow.
“Yeah! Even that is causing the spikes in energy. If you can just take the knocks for a while, you’ll wear him down. Humans have thick skin, right?”
With the Trandoshan and Renci both maneuvering right above him, Renn cannot help but be stepped on, too. He is not even sure who kicked him, just that the wind has been knocked out of him. He really needs to get out from under this scuffle. He draws his knife and slashes at the Trandoshan, hoping to win some space, if nothing else.
Renci swings in at it, too, challenging it to face her. It growls at her and intercepts with the trident. She concentrates on positioning, rather than landing blows, trying to move them away from Renn. “Get clear,” she orders him. “See if there’s another switch. I’ll keep it busy, just like the sentry.”
“Which way is north on this planet?” Boulder asks. “Go that way.”
Renn looks around, and with the incessant rambling about sensor readings coming from the BoulderBot, he homes in on the anatomy dummy. Now at floor level and half a room closer to it, he can see that the pole upon which it is mounted is not plain metal. Something is flashing there; it houses some sort of device. He rolls away from Renci and the Trandoshan, getting kicked again in the process, and reaches the mannequin. Renn tries to pry open the panel in the pole, but his fingers are slick with blood and tender from burns. He cannot gain any purchase on it.
“Mir osik!” Renci shouts at the manifestation in Mandalorian, slashing her sword through it. The ghost flickers for a moment but swings right back, catching her blade in the tines and sending it flying. She kicks the creature, shocking both her target and herself. The power overload switches the boots into jump mode, surprising her with a small rocket burst that knocks her off balance. The Trandoshan takes advantage of her distraction and impales her shoulder, ramming her against the wall and knocking her breathless. She clicks her heels as she hits, switching the boots back to shock mode. “How’s it coming over there?” she grinds out through clenched teeth.
Delicate work is out of the question, but Renn has noticed that the device’s setting in the floor appears weak. He launches himself up from the ground, throwing his shoulder into the dummy and snapping its pole at the base. What is left behind crackles and sparks, while the rest is cut off from its power source. Both he and the mannequin crash into the wall behind, and broken pieces of weapon fall around him as he slides down it to land on hands and knees. The creature pinning Renci to the wall vanishes, and she sags.
“Well, the energy signature seems to have completely dissipated. Good job!” Boulder crows.
Renci’s knees buckle, and she finds herself sitting opposite Renn. “We should get out of here,” she announces.
“This room or this place?” Renn asks wearily, holding himself up with one arm and applying pressure to the gash across his stomach with the other. Blood drips to the floor below.
“I don’ think we should leave this room until we’re patched up. Who knows what’s in the next room.” He sighs. “So… were they projections or were they ghosts?”
Renci shrugs. “We’d have to look at that,” she points at the anatomy lesson, “to figure it out… but do we have time?”
Renn sits back and grabs the dummy, then skids it across the floor toward where the BoulderBot has wobbled up to Renci. “Feel free ta have a look while I get out the medical supplies. The time… we’ll have ta risk it.”
Renci stands up and recovers her sword, bringing it down on the mannequin with a satisfying thwack. She then scoops up the object, spins, and smashes it into one of the walls. Renn gapes at her. That was not the kind of analysis he was expecting. She says something in Mandalorian and then translates it. “It’s a good day for someone else to die…. Not you!” she clarifies to Renn. “Some of these sayings just don’t work well in Basic,” she mutters.
The BoulderBot wobbles over towards Renn. “Oh wow, that’s a lot of blood. Can you keep a sample of that for me? You don’t need it anymore; it’s on the ground. I guess you humans aren’t as thick skinned as I thought.”
Renn ignores the commentary as he gives himself a stim shot and pulls out bandages and salves. Renci drops the shattered pieces of mannequin and steps over. “What’s that, Boulder? I can’t hear you anymore. The reception’s getting real bad,” she says, reaching a hand down to the device.
“Wait a minute, I’m getting some different—”
“That’s great, Boulder.” Renci yanks out a sprocket, and the BB unit powers down. It is not as satisfying as smashing the thing, but she will be able to turn it back on later if she needs to.