“Haar’chak!” Renci swears in Mandalorian, seeing the Twi’lek turn in their direction. “Can you just close the door?” she hisses at Renn. He still has a hand on each half, but when he pushes at them, they do not move. He gives a quick shake of his head.
Any hopes they had of simply retreating are dashed when the Twi’lek—Torthal—replies to the archaeologist’s question, “No. We have visitors.”
Renci sighs, and Renn matter-of-factly asks, “D’ya want ta take the lead on this, or shall I?”
Renci briefly considers pushing past him to take control of this situation, but she is so tired already, and she has discovered in the past few weeks that this sort of verbal sparring really wears her down. I’m no JT, she thinks. Quietly, she gives him the go-ahead. “You. You’re good at this stuff. Just… remember the kryknas.”
The Bothan steps into their line of sight, and just as Renn described from Mira’s recon, she has a hat on a string around her neck and a satchel. But she is also holding a blaster pistol, gesturing distractedly around the room with it as she demands, “What are you doing traipsing around in my temple? Do you know how many things you might have ruined? Do you know how long I have spent studying this place?”
Renn emerges from the maintenance access on the west wall. He holds his hands out placatingly, motioning for the woman at the center of the room to lower her gun. She needs ta calm down or the kryknas will come attack. Her assistants were in the process of spreading out in all directions to follow her instructions, and they continue their movements with new purpose.
Renn knows he and Renci look a mess. His vest is undone, revealing a shirt with a singed slash across it, the bottom half of the garment drenched with blood. Renci’s vest has rents in the shoulder, each tear a similar mix of blood and burnt cloth. Her short sleeve on that side is a lost cause. Both Renn’s arms are marred with gashes. Renci treated them with wound sealant, but the angry lines stand out against his tan skin. Renci has butterfly stitches across her forehead, slanting to the left and disappearing under her kerchief, but nothing can conceal the enormous black and blue mark spreading out around them from her collision with the ceiling. There is no point in denying any of this. “We were travelin’ through the jungle, studyin’ the wildlife, and we got lost. We found this place by accident and wandered inside ta seek some shelter. As ya can see, we’re a bit beat up. We’re just tryin’ to get back out. We have no’ touched anything, and we are no’ takin’ anything with us. No need ta get worked up. Yer welcome ta the place.”
Renci steps out with him and is irritated to hear the mirrored doors swing shut behind her. The door to the lightning corridor on the south wall is still open, and she sizes up the distance, considering if she could make it there fast enough with her jumpboots, but there is no way she could do that dragging Renn. She redirects her attention to the archaeology team, which he had described as possibly being more hired guns than researchers. She sees now for herself why. They are heavily armed, and not just with blaster pistols like the archaeologist has. There are blaster rifles and far too many targets for her and Renn to take on, not in their current condition and without a terrain advantage. These people came here expecting trouble, though maybe not of the kind that she and Renn actually found. Some of them look itching for a fight, anything to liven up what so far seems a boring job. That is not good, not with kryknas on the loose.
One of them, a Nautolan, ambles closer to the archaeologist near the middle of the room and offers, “Dr. Pramine, we can take care of this problem for you.” He hefts his blaster rifle and glowers at the newcomers.
Before the expedition leader can accept that suggestion, Torthal gives a sharp shake of his head. “We must question them. Clearly they know something about the interior of this place.”
Dr. Pramine holsters her pistol and motions for the humans to approach her in the middle. Maybe they have not touched anything, but clearly, something has touched them. “Look, you’re obviously very hurt, and you saw something. Why don’t you come a bit closer, and we can help you. And you can tell us everything you saw.”
Some of the expedition staff continue slowly spreading around the edges of the room. Renn and Renci allow themselves to be herded toward its middle in the interest of not upsetting anyone as Renn tries again. “Maybe we could move this conversation outside? We could answer yer questions, just not here. Who knows how long that door will stay open?”
Intriguing, Dr. Pramine thinks, that doorway closes sometimes, and this fellow knows that.
Renn takes a half-step in the direction of the archway with the lightning sentry above it, and then he cringes when, with a loud shunk, a heavy stone door slides into place, sealing it.
A Gran behind Renci snorts. “Guess that’s not going to work!”
The Nautolan snickers. “Seems right here is nice.”
Over by the north wall, a Gamorrean looks around nervously, clutching a vibroaxe.
Near the center of the room now, Renci shifts her position behind Renn, rotating a bit to assess the diverse collection of sentients before her. Which of these species can function in total darkness? she considers, resigned to the inevitability of the room’s trap springing again soon and planning for how to take advantage of that. Her UV goggles were burnt out by the lights all coming on full-power before, so they will be of no help this time. Some of crew glare at her as she looks around, sizing her up in return. The Twi’lek takes more notice of her leg than her gun, though.
“You have a lightsaber wound,” Torthal flatly states, pointing at the cauterized line across the smaller human’s thigh, just below the hem of her shorts. Surely neither of these two blunderers has such a weapon, he thinks. Certainly, they are not wearing one visibly, but then, he keeps his own hidden. This temple must have Force-related challenges, perhaps even living guardians. The lightning trap in the entry hall could have been circumvented with the technique the Jedi once called Protect, which Torthal has since seen referred to in other sources as Unleash. He looks around the room at the mirrored doorways, wondering what skill this chamber might be designed to test. Possibly he could use Farsight to find something of value behind certain doors…. But it is hard to think with that damn archaeologist prattling on.
“Very fascinating! Ah, yes, we should look at your wounds more closely! Both of you. Just lie down, and we’ll get an idea of what we’re facing in there. We have supplies; always be prepared. Were you in this room before? Were you the one who sabotaged the lightning sentry?”
This woman is trying really hard to seem helpful, but it is clear to Renn from her barrage of questions where her main interests lie: their knowledge of the temple. He does not doubt that this Dr. Pramine is as prepared as she claims, but they are so close to getting out! “That’s really generous of ya, but we’ve patched ourselves up already,” he assures her. “We really don’ want ta stay in here. We’ll answer questions, we will; just help us get that door open so we can leave. Ya can just blow the stone, and we’ll tell ya anything ya want ta know.” Renn sees the Gamorrean turn to Dr. Pramine with a questioning look, tapping the flat of his axe blade over his shoulder against his own backpack.
Renci glances around while Renn negotiates with Dr. Pramine. Thugs are completely encircling them now, and although some of the team is still closer to the walls, that ring is getting tighter. Time to trigger this thing and be done with it. She moves her hand to her blaster, intending to just shoot one of the doors, but the Rodian watching her on the left is faster.
“Eh, eh, eh, not so fast,” she says, covering Renci with her blaster rifle.
Renci eases her hand away from her holster. “No trouble here,” she says.
Behind the human woman, to the south, Torthal sees a bulky Devaronian with a heavy blaster rifle tapping her finger on the trigger, lips curled up into a sneer. Earlier, he Sensed other life in the temple beyond just the two humans. Those creatures, whatever they are, have been getting closer, and their movements seem related to the tension in the chamber. He will do something about that. Torthal turns to the looming thug and clenches his fist. “Calm down,” he orders. His target gasps a little and lowers her weapon, bringing a hand up to loosen her collar.
As Renn and Dr. Pramine continue their conversation, Renci decides to take another approach to triggering the trap. She steps closer to the Rybet standing to her right. He has a weapon, but it is not drawn, and his pack has a shovel and various other tools latched to it. The way he has been gazing at the archaeologist… “Hey,” Renci whispers to him, “you want to impress Dr. Pramine? That’s the door with the switch to flick.” She points at some random door on the east wall. “We weren’t tough enough for what was back there, but if you want to keep going in this temple, take that door.”
He nods back at her. “All right, sure,” he says and begins making his way over in that direction.
With the door to the outside closed, Renn figures it is only a matter of time before they lose the lights, too. He orients his body toward the correct door on the north wall and scans the floor in front of it, looking for anything that will help him recognize it by feel. While he talks with Dr. Pramine, he shifts in that direction. He really does not want to go back into the rooms they already passed through, but if that is the only way out of here…
“Dr. Pramine, this is the right one!”
The archaeologist looks away from the jittery temple explorer in front of her over to see what Gruth is up to. An admonishment dies on her lips, as she sees she is too late. Her grad student has a hand up at a lintel on the east wall. The mirrored doors spring open, and a giant contraption launches out, wrapping around the poor Rybet and dragging him through the opening. He screams, and that is the last thing she sees as all the lights go out. Then there is clicking and clattering, panicked cries, and the sounds of blasters without any of the light that they produce. This sort of thing was to be expected, but the reality of it is still unnerving.
* * *
A hand grabs Renci’s arm. Renn was no longer next to her; he was farther north, closer to the archaeologist. This cannot be him.
“You know more about this place than your friend lets on,” an even voice says. “You’ve been through this room before. How do we get out?”
Renci slides her own hand down her arm, easing the hand off. “Look, cool it, and we can all get out of here.” They just need to remain calm, and the kryknas—she recognizes the sounds of their steps—will not target them. “I’m going to burn through the entrance way. We can get out the way we got in.”
“That is the wrong direction,” he states plainly.
Who was standing close enough to her? The Twi’lek… Renn warned her that he seemed a lot more at ease in this place than the others, based on what Mira observed. Well, too bad for you, Torthal. “It’s the only direction; that’s the direction I’m going.” There are screams as kryknas find an appealing meal. Renci takes a sip of water, lets out a calming breath. “Look, I’m headed out of this temple. You seem like you know what you’re doing. As my companion was saying, I’d be happy to tell you more about this, but this is not the place. I’m going to break that door down.”
The level voice counters, “You’ve been inside, and clearly there is nothing in there that you fear. There is so much more that could be learned here. Would it help you to have along a practitioner of these ancient arts? You cannot be here randomly. You must have come here for a reason. Have you fulfilled it?”
“I got what I came here for,” Renci replies. Then she feels reassuringly for the ring she placed on her finger earlier and discovers it is gone. “What, where is it?” No! I need that to help JT! I need to find it. Renci throws out her arm, grabbing this Torthal character by the collar, almost frantic. “Are you some kind of Sith?” She pauses, but he does not have an answer ready, so she presses on. “Look, you want to go deeper in the temple? Fine. You help me find what I’m looking for, and I’ll take you as far in as I went.”
She lets go of him with a rough shove. “Stand back.”
“It’s completely pitch dark. What am I standing back from?” he asks.
“Just watch out, unless you want to lose an arm,” Renci warns. She rips open pouch 8 and pulls the trigger on the applicator unit, initiating the combination of chemicals that Boulder has claimed will burn through anything. She drops to her knees, sweeping the floor with her left hand to make sure the immediate area is clear, and then with the applicator in her right, she attempts to blindly draw a large enough circle for a person to fit through. The ring must have fallen off her hand either in the utility area or in the sparring room. There is probably a maintenance crawl space beneath the floor here, and that could help her link back up to where she was before. She hears a thump and a crash right in front of her, so her exit strategy has likely worked. “Try to keep up,” she tells her unseen companion. Then, with a click of her boots, she steps into the hole, trusting their jets to slow her descent.
* * *
A hand grabs Renn’s arm. Renci was no longer next to him; she was farther south, still in the center of the room. This cannot be her.
“You must’ve gotten through this before. How do we get out of here?”
It is the archaeologist, and she sounds as though she has lost some of her composure. He needs to reassure her; he hears the clacking steps of the kryknas entering the room. “Aye, I know how ta do it, and the lights’ll come back on when I do. But I need ya ta remain calm. Those sounds ya hear, they’re attracted ta fear. The creatures are nice enough when yer calm, though. So just stay close, and I’ll get the lights back on.”
Screaming starts and blaster fire. Renn hopes Renci stays low (or high) enough to avoid being struck by random shots. He trusts she is self-possessed enough to keep the kryknas disinterested in her. If he can just get the right door open, that should solve all their problems. The lights will come back on, and the archaeological team will be free to continue onwards, hopefully grateful enough that they will let Renci and him go. It is the archaeologist’s own business if she wants to march further into this place of fear and death. He just needs to get Renci out of here and back to Ryloth and JT.
Dr. Pramine keeps a tight grip on Renn’s right arm, her natural claws pricking his skin. He edges forward slowly, calmly, trying to head toward the door that was right in front of him. His foot thumps against something, and he smells the acrid odor of plasma and the tang of blood. There is a krykna over to the left, he is certain. He guides Dr. Pramine to the right, around her former employee, and then resumes his planned path to the best of his ability. He considers trying to tap into Mira, to get her to look beyond again, but it was so confusing last time that he decides to just focus on his own senses. Nearby, he hears a nervous snort and then Dr. Pramine whispering to someone she addresses as Gomarr. But she does not let go of Renn.
He thinks the correct door should have a groove of some kind in front of it. When Renci slammed her sword into the mirrored surface, it rebounded with a lot of force, and the blade hit the ground. He is pretty sure it chipped the floor. When his extended left hand brushes a wall, he slides it down to the ground, crouching to feel around. His fingers find a crack, and he stands up, confident that this is the right door. “There’s likely ta be an awful stench when this opens, so hold yer breath,” he warns, remembering the disgusting membrane Renci cut through last time. He feels along the frame up to the lintel and throws the switch. There is indeed a horrible smell, which he has just a moment to process. Then he is tumbling down a chute, Dr. Pramine sliding down right behind him.