Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

The Depths of Ibea
Part 1

The Twi'lek Cheiaya Sraam leaned back in the pilots' seat of the Twilight Seeker. “I still can't believe they let us land so close to the palace itself,” she observed, “Or that they bought the 'grandson of the founder of Rakbari' story.” She watched the small delegation of Ibean nobles approach the ship; each wrapped in a wind-teased cloak with a shining circlet on his head, marks of rank.

“Very few dignitaries are aware of any of the lesser colonies,” Egren Thoiem pointed out as he ran his stubby fingers through his fur, “And even fewer would think to check for the existence of our fictitious planet.”

“At least Androl has played this part before,” Cheiaya said with a shrug, “He's pretty good at it.”

“His stupidly unbalanced trade offer and should be enough to entice these gentlemen to take him into their confidence,” Egren added, “Or at least close enough to investigate the node of dark power we sense.”

Androl strolled out from underneath the ship to greet the delegation. His tall posture and regal clothing made him look everything he claimed to be. Adding to it, a thin gold circlet rested on his mess of not-quite-blond hair.

“Where'd he get that crown?” Cheiaya leaned forward, eyes narrowing. “Wait, Force! That's—”

“The Circlet of Amberesh Ketao,” Egren finished. His ears twitched irritably.

“He can't go out there with that!” Cheiaya exclaimed and bolted to her feet. “That's an artifact of the Sith Empire!” That very moment, Androl reached the Ibean leaders and began exchanging greetings.

“We can't go after him now,” Egren shook his head, “Androl is no fool.”

“Fool or no, the Dark Side is manipulative,” Cheiaya said darkly.

“I know,” Egren said, “But we must continue to trust him to resist its lure as he always has.”


Under the guise of Endrel Gurris, Androl Gunner greeted the quartet of Ibean nobles. The three men, First Adviser Lord Oktanian, Second Adviser Lord Quessel, and Minister of Finance Karl Sillt, all welcomed him with warmth, while the Mistress of Palace Affairs, Lady Fesett, held herself aloof. After a brief exchange of handshakes and introductions, they led him on a tour of the vast sea-side palace. They strolled through countless halls, galleries, gardens, and balconies that overlooked the ocean from dizzying heights atop the cliff. All the while, he carefully maintained a mental shield to protect him from the detection of Dark Side users while keeping a sharp eye out for their presence. Finally, as dusk began to gather, it was time for dinner.

The royal banquet hall was vast; much larger than it needed to be for the single long table. The the walls were of dazzling silver-gray stone and the ceiling was painted with heroic frescoes of Ibea. The king and queen sat at the head of the table, flanked by their first and second advisers. Androl found himself sitting between the wiry second adviser and the financial minister. All along the table were members of the royal council and other important figures. It seemed that Androl's preposition was to be the focus of the evening.

“To our Rakbarian guest,” Lord Oktanian stood suddenly and toasted. Everyone in attendance clinked their small cups together then downed the entire fiery contents.

Androl tried not to cough as the servants hurried around the table to refill everyone's cups. He hadn't had anything this strong in a long time. He hadn't drank in a long time, for that matter. I hope there aren't many more toasts. I don't know how much more I can handle.

“Your Majesty,” Karl Sillt began, “Shall we review the trade proposition.”

“Yes, please proceed,” the king nodded graciously.

“Mr. Gurris tells us of rich silver deposits on his planet,” Sillt explained. Both the king and queen straightened up.

“As I'm sure you know, Rakbari is an arid planet,” Androl began pompously. Of course, they knew nothing about his pretend planet. “We heard of Ibea's famous spices and would like to engage in a trade.”

“Spices for silver,” the king nodded, “That seems reasonable.” The king went on to quiz Androl on the silver's quality, mining, and other minute details. Seeming satisfied, he announced, “I will leave the rest of the details to Minister Sillt. I heartily welcome this trade. Cheers! To our new partnership!”

“Thank you, my lord,” Androl said and gulped down more of the alcohol. Almost instantly, his cup was refilled again. His head began to swim.

Lord Quessel turned to him and started, “You know, until your correspondence, I had never heard of Rakbari before.”

“Really?” Androl feigned shock.

“Would you satisfy my curiosity and tell me about it?” Quessel asked, “Is it an old colony?”

“Well, it was founded by my grandfather,” Androl began his long, practiced narrative. Those seated around him listened attentively. As he spoke, he examined his audience, searching for feelings and clues that might lead him to the source of dark power.

Someone at the other end of the table suddenly bellowed, “To the upcoming wedding of your daughter!” Those sitting around the man cheered, and everyone, whether they had been part of the conversation or not, downed another shot.

Androl began to feel a headache come on.

“Here here,” the king chortled.

“I was wondering...” Androl slurred.

'He doesn't hold his alcohol well,' he heard a courtier observe.

“Excuse me?” Androl turned his attention on the woman.

“I didn't say anything,” she said indignantly.

“Your question?” Sillt reminded him.

“Ah, right. This whole palace is made of very nice stone. Where is it from?” Androl asked, trying to get his bearings.

“An ancient burrowing creature left piles of the stone on this plain,” Lord Quessel explained, “There are remnants of its tunnels beneath this very palace.”

“Fascinating,” Androl replied blearily.


Cheiaya sat bolt upright in her chair, eyes wide. “Egren,” she called urgently down the ship's corridor.

The Drall scurried in on all four paws. “I felt it too,” he said darkly.

“But what is it?” Cheiaya wondered out loud as she tentatively probed through the Force. Almost immediately, she felt a wall of darkness.

“Some sort of immense dark power has manifested itself just now,” Egren concluded, “Whether it is a person, an object, or an event remains to be seen.”

“Whatever it is, it's not going to like finding a Jedi in that palace,” Cheiaya observed, “I know Androl can take care of himself, but sometimes he's a little too bold.”

“If he is smart, he will get himself out of there as soon as he can,” Egren replied.

Cheiaya hoped Egren was right.


Six more unrelated toasts later, Androl had managed to satisfy his hosts' curiosity about the false colony. Through swimming vision and a pounding headache, he surveyed the long table. A dull uneasiness nagged at him.

'What a wonderful idiot,' the financial minister observed, 'we shall set up a most advantageous trade through him. Just give him a little wine first.'

Androl couldn't believe his ears. Gaping at the man next to him, it seemed as if no one else had heard. When will this dinner be over? He wondered with growing irritation.

'This roast duck really is first class,' Lord Oktanian said crisply, though his mouth was full of food.

I'm hearing thoughts now? Androl slumped over and held his head between his hands, fingers running gently over the circlet he wore. It's probably the fault of this thing.

Just then a messenger in royal livery skidded up to the table and said to the king, “Your honored guest has arrived.”

Lady Fesett rose almost immediately, “I will see to my lord.” The king nodded approvingly and she sped across the banquet hall towards the door. As she passed behind Androl, he heard her say, 'The king would do well to keep this visitor as a darker secret. I'm sure half of the servants know of it by now...'

That was the tip-off Androl needed. The mistress of palace affairs must know something about the dark presence in the palace. This accidental power isn't so bad.

“Are you alright Endrel?” Quessel asked.

“I think I drank a little too much,” Androl admitted, “Not used to that.”

“Here, I will have a servant take you to your quarters to rest,” the adviser suggested.

“Thanks,” Androl slurred.


Androl lay flat on his back on a hard mattress, hand on his forehead. The headache had gotten worse and not better since laying down.

“I will never get drunk again,” he moaned.

He found himself losing control of all but his most basic mental defenses. Worse yet, he was hearing even more thoughts now, as the effects of the alcohol set in.

'That slut thinks that dressing like that will win her a promotion!'

'Almost 9:00. I can't wait to get home...”

'That silly off-worlder is going to have a nasty headache in the morning...'

Androl absently ran his fingers across the circlet that still rested firmly on his head. All of his weak efforts to block out the voices and sleep had failed. “Why can't they just be quiet?” he fumed.

'The special visitor is here again. I wonder why they keep letting him come.'

'I never want to be sent down into the catacombs. Down there... it's just not natural.'

'Take the towels to the bath...'

'Almost 9:00. I can't wait...'

'Where is Lady Fesett?'

'…another mess in the kitchen...'

“Would you just shut up!” Androl half-yelled half-moaned, and suddenly, there was silence.

No voices. No footsteps. Nothing.


“Oh, Force!” Cheiaya cursed, and dashed down the corridor again.

Egren met her half way, “That felt like the Circlet of Amberesh Ketao.”

“Then Androl is...” Cheiaya straightened up, “We have to get in there.”

Egren nodded wordlessly.


It only took Androl a few moments to recognize the feeling of death all around him. In his drunkenness, he was afraid, but that fear sharpened him. Shaken out of his stupor, the Force flowed through him, sobering him. He rose out of bed and tore the circlet from his head. “What have a done?” he moaned. He wanted to vomit or scream or just collapse and weep, but he couldn't.

If there were Dark Jedi in the area, they would know what he had just done. Egren and Cheiaya probably already knew.

Androl quickly checked his lightsaber, fastened the circlet to his belt, and burst out of the guest room at a run. He skirted around lifeless bodies that lay strewn all throughout the halls. The entire guest wing of the palace lay dead, servants and all. The horror of it was too much. How could this be his doing? He tried not to be afraid of the circlet that bounced at his hip.

“Stupid, Androl, stupid!” he reprimanded himself, “You didn't know what that thing did before you put it on. Now they've paid for your stupidity.”

As he rounded onto an ocean overlook, darkness struck his core like a proton cannon. He skidded to a halt and took in the black robed figure before him.

Now you've done it, Androl.


Shadow-like, Egren and Cheiaya crossed the landing yard. The gated archway to the palace complex loomed up above them in the moonlight. It wouldn't be a problem for Egren to unlock.

Just as the Drall set to work, two more figures lumbered out of the shadows: a pair of heavily armed Ithorians.

“Funny seeing you here,” one said, leveling his blaster rifle at Egren.

“I don't believe we've met,” Egren replied calmly, still working at the lock, “Who are you supposed to be.”

“Dob and Del Moomo,” Cheiaya answered, “Bounty hunters.”

“Ha! You've heard of us,” the second Ithorian said.

“I've heard nothing good,” Cheiaya replied coolly.

“Hey!” he exclaimed.

“We're here to get that circle thing back for Lord Edem,” his brother announced, “Hand it over.”

“Circlet,” the other corrected.

“At the moment, our friend has it, and he's inside the palace,” Cheiaya negotiated, “If you'll just let us go and...”

“No chance!” one Ithorian exclaimed, “You'll be our prisoners. He'll have to trade it for you.”

“And we've got to get it before that Raven does,” the other said urgently.

“Revan!” his brother corrected.

“Revan,” Cheiaya's jaw dropped.

“This has just gotten more complicated,” Egren slowly turned to the bounty hunters, “If Darth Revan is in there with our friend, he will almost certainly be overtaken and lose the circlet.”

“Let us go and get it back for you,” Cheiaya proposed.

“And you'll come right back here? No tricks?” one asked, squinting thoughtfully.

“Of course we will,” Cheiaya promised him.

“Fine, but hurry,” he agreed.

With that, Egren pushed the gate open and the two raced off into the darkness.


Androl hardly had time to recognize Darth Revan before a squad of guards caught up with him. Instantly, his lightsaber was in his hands.

“You! You killed all those people!” one guard accused. Moments later, a dozen guns were blazing. Androl reacted through the Force, deflecting bolts will sloppy reflexes.

Suddenly, white lightning coursed through the air, and all of the guards fell limply to the ground. Androl slowly turned back towards Darth Revan. She was walking slowly towards him.

“Impressive talent you have there,” a raspy voice echoed from behind her mask. Her attention shifted, “Or perhaps it is an impressive trinket.”

Androl stood frozen with shock. He was standing before the Dark Lord and wasn't dying, or even fighting.

Yet.

“I could use someone with your skills,” Revan said invitingly.

Androl warily kept his hands firmly clasped around his lightsaber hilt.

“I sense your fear, your apprehension. I know what you have done,” Revan observed, “I am the ally you want in these uncertain times.”

Conflict raged inside of him. If Egren and Cheiaya knew...

As Revan spoke, Cheiaya and Egren skidded into the courtyard from the opposite entrance.

“Give me the circlet,” Revan urged.

Androl knew he couldn't resist Darth Revan. He unhooked the circlet from his belt and held it out.

“Androl, no!” Cheiaya yelled.

But there was one thing Androl knew he could do well, better than most, even. He tossed the circlet into the air and pushed at it with all the Force he could muster. It rocketed over the edge of the balcony and into the sea below.

Although Androl couldn't see Revan's face behind her mask, he could sense her rage.

- Next Part -

 
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