Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Under the Shadow of the Builders
Part 26- The Builders

“You call that a landing, Carth?” Mission demanded as she staggered into the cockpit.

Carth was about to retort angrily until he turned and saw the mischievous look in her eyes.

Kionee didn't. Still pouring over the data readings, she replied defensively, “He did pretty good considering what he was given to work with. I think we lost more than our stabilizers.

“Just joshing with you Kionee,” Mission reassured her with a wink. “I'm glad we're still in one piece, don't get me wrong.”

“Even if our ship isn't quite,” Ev added lowly. “How's the damage Kionee?”

“The stabilizer is gone, that much was abundantly clear pretty much immediately,” Kionee reported, staring over the dials, “But what we didn't notice right away is that it did something funny to our shields and engines, including the hyperdrive. The shock on the ship was worse than we thought. Plus, that awkward atmospheric entry actually managed to do a bit of damage to the eternal part of the ship. Not much, but I wouldn't chance an atmospheric exit in this condition.”

“Can it fly?” Jolee asked pointedly, slipping up behind Mission.

“You want a repeat of that 'landing'?” Kionee asked with eyebrows raised.

“That's a no,” Carth confirmed, looking over her shoulder. “Sure, we could get this thing into the air, but I'm not sure I could keep it up there. We'll need to make repairs.”

“We don't have those kind of parts in excess,” Ev said dryly, “Maybe we have some pieces to repair the hull, but certainly not the stabilizer or the hyperdrive.”

“We're stuck here then,” Mission observed, her usual optimism waning.

“I don't know if any of you got a good look at those wrecks we passed over on our way down?” Canderous said as he strode down the corridor towards them. “We're not the first ship to crash here. In fact, we're not even remotely the only one. We just seemed to have had the luckiest landing of all of them.”

Juhani nodded from the doorway to the communications deck, “Canderous is right. And there are enough downed ships that we just might be able to find the parts we need to repair the Ebon Hawk.”

“I hope you're right,” Carth replied. He could here T3-M4's enthusiastic beeping distantly.

“Hey, what's up?” Mission asked the droid as she scurried back down the hall to the center portion of the ship. “Woh! Look at this guys!,” Mission exclaimed once she reached him, “T3 found a big stone structure to the east with a huge energy output reading.”

“Do you suppose that could be the source of the disruptor field?” Juhani asked. She and the rest of the crew filtered out of the cockpit and into the center of the Ebon Hawk.

“Maybe,” Mission shrugged.

“With power readings like that, probably,” Jolee said, looking over her shoulder.

“Well wouldn't that be lucky, crash landing on the one little island on a vast planet that has the source of our disruptor field,” there was a bit of sarcasm in Canderous' voice.

“That would be the will of the Force for you,” Jolee replied dryly.

“That the Force continues to will us to succeed, it is encouraging in the midst of this,” Juhani said with a sigh.

“Well, here we are,” Ev said, straightening up, “Let's make the best of it.”

Zaalbar rumbled something a Mission, who nodded. “You're right,” she agreed, “The real question is: where is here?”

Amid their crash landing, Carth had seen little beyond vast expanses of open ocean, dotted by clusters and chains of islands. Far to the East he had glimpsed two larger islands—continents perhaps, but in this hemisphere, islands and water was all there was to see. They had landed on the beach of one of the larger islands in a rather densely packed part cluster of small islands. Where were they exactly? He could have the Ebon Hawk give them planetary coordinates, but that was rather pointless.

“As I said before, we are in the Builders' system,” Ev answered confidently, “This was the only life-supporting planet we detected in the system, so I suspect that this is the home world of the Builders themselves. We're on that world.”

Ev didn't have any more answers than any of the others did. That much was clear.

“Well, I say we get out there and start looking for parts and checking out that stone structure,” Carth suggested, “Not only will that disruptor field make it impossible for us to take off safely again, it will completely gut the Republic fleet that's due to arrive in about 34 hours. We don't have much time.”

Ev nodded, “Let's get moving.” She led the way to the garage of the ship and lowered the loading ramp. Cautiously, with an unlit lightsaber in one hand, she descended. With equal care, the rest of the crew followed after.

They stood in the shadow of the Ebon Hawk on a beach of soft white sand. Palm trees and low bushes grew around the edges of the sand, swaying gently in the breeze. Huge boulders lay strewn all about, and there was a small, rocky cliff at the back of the shallow alcove they had landed in. Not far down the shore appeared to be the remains of a Republic hammer-head ship. Carth wondered if it was from a recent scouting mission or if it was much older—one of Revan's original fleet.

“Look! Gizka!” Mission exclaimed, pointing to a patch of grasses near the edge of the surf.

“Shh!” Carth hushed her tensely. Sure, enough, however, a pair of gizka hopped carefree across the sand.

“I wonder if this is their home world,” Mission speculated more quietly.

“Maybe,” Ev replied distractedly. She was staring at some boulders at the base of the cliff warily.

Carth didn't have a chance to ask her what was the matter. She stepped out and ignited her lightsaber just as a small pack of humanoid aliens poured out from behind the boulders.

The aliens had tall, bald foreheads and eyes that stuck out on stubby stocks from either side of their heads. They looked just like the statues and projections that Carth had seen in their travels, only flesh and blood with grayish-black skin. Each carried metal vibrosword-like weapons and yelled between themselves in voices almost as low as the Ithorians.

“We do not come to bring war,” Ev called to them, holding her ground. The six aliens, Builders, yelled something back and continued in their charge. “They're not going to play nice,” Ev yelled back to the rest of the crew only moments before she engaged the aliens, “Let's do this!” She ignited her second, red, lightsaber.

Juhani and Jolee were the first to react, leaping into the fight next to Ev.

The aliens didn't have any ranged weapons among them. Carth, Canderous, Mission, Zaalbar, and Kionee were safe in the background as they fired into the fray. It didn't take long for them to take down all six of the aliens who bore only very primitive weapons.

Ev stepped back, hardly breathing hard at all. “Builders,” she murmured. “We seem to have found the right place.”

“Quite a welcoming party there,” Jolee commented sarcastically.

Ev shook her head distractedly. “I understood them,” she admitted quietly, “That is not a Republic language, but I understood them all the same. I must have taken the language from them last time I was here. More than that, some of them seemed to understand my Basic. Someone has taught them that too.”

“Probably you, Revan,” Canderous supplied.

“Please call me Ev, Canderous,” Ev said quickly. “Well, anyway, the language is in my head, which means I can share it.”

“We don't have time for a crash course in Builder-ese, just in case you didn't notice,” Mission pointed out.

“No, I think she means that she can,” Carth searched for the right word, “Insert it into your head. She put Selkath into my head when we were heading for Manaan.”

“You can do that?” Juhani marveled, “That's the work of masters.”

“I did used to be Revan,” Ev shrugged, “It looks like I could do it then too.”

“Any ill side-effects?” Jolee asked warily.

“Only a splitting headache for a few hours,” Carth admitted.

“How are you at cleaning up headaches, Jolee?” Ev asked pointedly.

“Oh, I get it,”Jolee said, “You give everyone a headache and I follow in your wake healing their noggins.”

“Only for those who want the language,” Ev replied evenly. “Who's up for it?”

“I am,” Carth volunteered immediately.

“I will try to receive the language from you,” Juhani said cautiously.

One by one, the entire crew agreed to take the language from Ev.

“Query: Why must you waste your energy on such things, Master?” HK-47 started in, “When I am perfectly capable of functioning as a protocol droid in these circumstances. This language is fluently imbedded in my memory core.”

“Because we need you to guard the ship,” Ev replied quickly.

“Complaint: my exquisite programming and protocols again waste away as a simple guard dog,” HK-47 bemoaned.

Ev ignored him. Instead, she approached Carth and placed both hands on his head as she had before.

Just then, there was the scuffling of feet across the sand to their left. Ev whirled around, hands immediately going back to her lightsaber hilts.

Two ragged looking Duros stumbled across the sand towards them. They appeared unarmed. Ev relaxed only a little.

“Duros? Here?” Juhani murmured.

“Thank you for saving us from those murderous animals,” one said in Huttese as they approached, “We are in your debt.” His green skin was slightly grayer than his companion.

“They attacked us first and we were better armed than they,” Ev replied neutrally.

“Still, we owe you our thanks,” the second Duros persisted. They came to a stop a few meters from Ev, eying her lightsabers warily. “If not for your good timing, they would have found us, and we would be dead by now.”

“Well, I'm glad we could help you,” Ev replied, “I take it you are not colonists of this world then?”

“Kriff no!” the greener Duros exclaimed, “We were part of a crew for a mining survey ship, but we struck some kind of disruptor field and crashed.”

“Where's your ship?” Canderous asked, looking around. He glanced at the Republic ship but immediately discounted that, craning his neck in other directions.

“It sunk out to see,” the grayer one explained, “Only a few of us managed to get away to land, but then, of the ten of us that beached here, only the two of us remain.”

“The others?” Juhani asked, but the look on her face suggested that she already knew the answer.

“We were attacked by the locals,” the same Duros explained, “Some tried to swim for another island close by, but we haven't heard from them since. The rest were slaughtered by those creatures.”

“I don't even know how we got away,” the greener Duros shrugged dramatically.

Carth caught them both eying the Ebon Hawk. “We may have made it safely to land,” he said gruffly, “But our ship isn't flight worthy. It's not going anywhere at least until we can salvage the parts we need from another ship and make repairs.”

“I see,” the grayish one nodded curtly.

“I would like to offer you continued protection, but I cannot guarantee that,” Ev addressed them diplomatically, “We have much to do as far as scavenging for repairs and cannot spare anyone to give you an armed escort. I'm sorry.”

“Don't be,” the grayer Duros waved her apology off.

“Well, I guess we could try to swim for that other island too,” the greener Duros suggested, “It's better than waiting here for another party of those murders.”

The other Duros nodded in agreement. As a parting request, he said, “Well, if you do manage to get off this planet again, please tell the Republic authorities that we're stranded here.”

“Will do,” Ev replied with a nod, then closed the distance between herself and the two miners. She extended a hand to the grayer of the two and shook his hand firmly, saying, “Good luck, and may the Force be with you.”

As she shook the second one's hand, he said, “You too. Thanks again.”

With that, the two Duros headed straight towards the lapping surf and waded in. Soon, they would be swimming, but that wasn't their concern any more. Ev immediately resumed her efforts to transfer the alien language to Carth, then to Canderous. Jolee followed closely behind, easing Carth's headache that followed. The rest of the group only spoke in low mutters and whispers, not wanting to disturb Ev as she worked. Ev moved on to Mission, Zaalbar, then Juhani and Kionee. Kionee almost backed out, after seeing the excruciating look on Mission's face, but Ev managed to reassure her. Finally it was Jolee's turn himself. He cursed sourly in a language Carth didn't recognize as soon as Ev finished with him, then fell into a healing trance to block his own headache.

Ev dropped down onto the sand and sat herself cross-legged there, looking up at the rest of the crew. “How's everyone feeling?” she asked. She looked tired.

“Weird,” Mission admitted.

“Fine,” Juhani assured her. “And you? You look drained.”

“I am,” Ev admitted openly, “Let me meditate for a few minutes, then I'll be ready to go. For now, Canderous, Zaalbar, Mission, and Juhani, check out that downed Republic ship over there. See if you can find anything. The rest of us will catch up to you once Jolee and I are recovered.”

The small team immediately fell into order and headed off across the beach then around the bend towards the wrecked ship.

Carth was left to stand guard with Kionee and their assassin droid while the two Jedi recovered their strength. Although Ev hadn't given a reason for keeping them around, that much was clear. Standing alertly, Carth tried to familiarize himself with their surroundings as best as he could; the sights, the sounds, and the smells. Above the gentle rumble of the waves against the shore, he could hear bird calls and small cries of local wildlife. A distant roar or grunt of some larger creature came now and again on the wind. As for smells, he could smell little else on the breeze beyond the salty spray off the ocean.

As he looked around, he saw the two Duros still determinedly swimming across the bay. They had crossed less than half of the distance so far. For the first time he noticed up in the sky the rocky shape of the cratered moon they had tried to hide around not long ago. It hung so low in orbit that even in the middle of the day it took up a large chunk of the sky. Other than a few white wisps in the distance, the blue sky was clear. Although the sun beat brightly down on them, it was no more than pleasantly warm.

Jolee rose and started stretching long before Ev did, but even she stood up soon enough.

“You ready?” Ev asked of those around her.

“Looks like we won't need to go join the salvage crew,” Jolee said, shrugging in the direction of the wrecked ship. Canderous, followed by Juhani, Mission, and Zaalbar were already coming back around the boulders at the edge of their cove. Canderous waved to them, so they walked casually over to meet them.

“Any luck?” Carth asked.

Canderous shook his head, “We're not going to get anything out of that ship. Most of it us rusted away, under or above water. There are pretty big holes in the side.”

“I saw some birds nesting in the command deck,” Mission added, “At least, I think those were birds.”

Ev sighed, “Nothing's ever easy. We'll let's hope that someone else crashed on land, saving themselves from the salt water. Let's go.”

Leaving HK-47 and the other droids in charge of the Ebon Hawk, the followed the path between boulders at the back of the cove that the aliens had used to approach them. The entire landscape of the island was covered with scattered boulders, creating channel-like paths where there was no choice other than to go ahead or back. Between that and all of the sharp, winding corners, it made Carth nervous. The rocks that hemmed them in were all worn smooth from the elements. He doubted that anyone besides Zaalbar could climb them, in the event of an ambush.

They had been walking along the winding path for only about five minutes when Ev stopped and held up a hand for a silent halt. She seemed to be listening and reaching out with the Force. Although Carth didn't have the Force to rely on, he too strained his ears. Although he couldn't make out the words, he heard low, rumbling voices not far off.

“There are four of them just around this bend,” Ev said, barely above a whisper, “We will try to talk to them first. If they attack, we fight.”

The crew of eight, with Ev in the lead, crept across the sandy ground and around the corner. Sure enough, four of the aliens picked over a piece of a downed ship that must have fallen from its whole during a crash. As they grumbled among themselves, it took a few moments to realize the presence of outsiders.

All at once, they saw Ev and her crew. They roared and unsheathed their weapons. “Get the off-worlders!” one of them yelled.

“We're not here to fight you,” Ev yelled back urgently, but they ignored her.

“For The One!” another joined the rally cry and led the charge.

The four aliens didn't stand a chance. Ev cut down two before they even reached the rest of her group. The other two fell to Juhani and a barrage of laser fire.

“It seems like such a waste of life,” Ev said, stepping over the bodies of the fallen aliens. “Why attack us on site like that?”

“Maybe they are the protectors of this island? Maybe they have seen outsiders in the past that have tried to destroy them,” Juhani suggested, “Perhaps the others they have encountered were like those Duros, unable to fight back.”

Jolee nodded, “They looked like they expected to win, even with two-against-one odds. Overconfidence, if you ask me.”

“Maybe they're a race that loves the thrill of fighting and killing,” Canderous added darkly.

“This is not the time for speculation, unfortunately,” Ev reminded them. She stood over by the wreckage. “This looks to be at least a part of an engine. Let's see if we can find some of the parts we need. They even did some of the work for us.” She pointed to a haphazard pile of components next to the wreck.

The crew immediately set to work, crawling over the ripped hull and sorting through the pile of debris. Sure enough, they found what they needed to repair their own engines and thrusters, but that still left trouble with the stabilizer and hyperdrive. There was no taking off without either of those.

Ev surveyed her companions and the pile of parts they had just salvaged. “We still need to keep looking. Maybe more of this ship made it onto this island,” she said, “At the same time, this is too much for us to lug around with us. Zaalbar, can you carry all this if we bundle it up for you?”

The Wookiee replied with gruff affirmation.

“Okay then,” Ev said nodding, “Same teams as before. With the aggressive natives, we stay in groups of four, at minimum. Canderous, Mission, and Juhani will go back with him to the Ebon Hawk to unload those parts, then meet us again to continue our search.”

“And you'll be waiting here?” Canderous asked skeptically.

“See that structure there?” Ev pointed over the boulders ahead of them. Carth couldn't believe he hadn't seen it before. A tall, pyramidal stone spire reached up to the sky. “I think that's the stone structure with the high energy reading that T3 discovered. We will investigate what we can and wait for you there. If our plans are force to change, we have comlinks, and if that fails, Juhani can find us through the Force.”

“Fair enough,” Canderous replied gruffly.

Even as the other team of four was helping Zaalbar lash all of the parts together, Ev led her quartet forward along the winding path. With every twist and turn of the path, the stone spire grew larger and larger ahead of them.

When Carth guessed that they were practically at the structure's front steps, except for the tall rocks that still rose up on either side of their path, Ev said in a low voice, “There's something up ahead. Be ready.” She didn't even break stride, though she took her lightsaber hilts in both hands. Carth noticed Juhani do the same with her single hilt.

As they passed between two decorative stone pillars and onto an open plain, Carth expected to find more of the hostile aliens. He wasn't prepared for the trained pets they had with them.

“Rancors?” Carth choked in surprise while two the lumbering beasts and their four keepers charged at them.

“Shoot for the necks!” Ev advised and leaped into the battle.

Carth and Kionee tried desperately to assist Juhani and Ev without drawing the attention of the rancors. Meanwhile, the two Jedi displayed some of the most impressive acrobatics that Carth had seen yet. Dodging claws, jaws, and swords gave them a limbering exercise.

The attention of the four black-skinned aliens was, however, split between controlling their beasts through shouts and prods and defending themselves against Ev and Juhani. Their primitive metal blades didn't even vibrate. Lightsabers easily sliced them in two. But, even when defenseless, the aliens continued to kick and flail, goading their rancors all the more. That was too reckless. Two of them fell to Juhani. Meanwhile, Ev swung out of the way to give Carth a clear shot at the other two. She took that brief moment to slide under one rancor's belly and slice upward. It roared, screamed, and clawed at its own underside. Ev barely made it out from underneath before it collapsed with a grunt.

She and Juhani bore down on the second. Ev swiped at its hands, distracting and infuriating it further while Juhani vaulted up onto its back. With one deft stab, she ran her blue blade through its skull. It uttered a small moan before falling face-first into the dirt. With a look of distaste, Juhani slid down from its neck and stepped away from the huge corpse.

“Wow,” was all Kionee could utter. Though she held a blaster in her left hand, she had hardly fired ten shots during the entire skirmish.

Ev clipped the silver hilts back to her belt and dusted herself off. “It never would have occurred to me that rancors would make nice pets,” she said.

“Or weapons,” Juhani corrected, not letting Ev's sarcasm stand, “They are certainly more effective than simple sword blades.”

“There don't seem to be any more in the area, in any case,” Ev reported. She was staring up at the huge structure just across the grassy field from them.

The peak of stone that had loomed up above them had a small rounded building at its base, cut of the same stone. Stretching out from behind that was a long enclosed hallway, raised bridge-like over a narrow straight of water between the land they stood on and another smaller island. The smaller island was almost entirely covered by a massive stone building, several stories tall with a narrowing plateau-like summit. All around the field they stood were more of the decorative pillars, or the fallen and crumbled stones that were left of them.

“It looks like a castle,” Kionee observed quietly.

“More likely, it's a temple of some kind,” Ev said, “There are hardly any windows to enjoy the view, but more importantly, I don't see any kind of structural aspects that would accommodate an armed force for defense. We've already seen that these aren't the sort of peaceful people that would trust in their neighbors' good will for the safety of their ruler.”

Carth had to agree with her assessment. The building looked harmless enough, and yet he felt somehow uneasy about it. It filled him with a sense of foreboding.

“Well, let's go get a closer look,” Ev urged, and began striding across the dry grass, “If this is where the disruptor field is coming from, the sooner we get it down, the better.”

There was only one way in: a great doorway with a long stone ramp leading up to it. It had some kind of shimmery curtain over it, rippling in the breeze. Carth couldn't quite get a good look at it, but it struck him as odd.

They climbed up the shallow ramp, and the closer they came to the entrance, the more the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. It was definitely not a curtain masking the doorway.

Ev stopped a few meters in front of it and rocked back on her heels. “Huh,” she uttered dumbly.

“It's a force field of some kind,” Juhani observed, “But I don't see any mechanics that would be supporting it. It is not sustained by the Force itself, so it must be mechanical, somehow.”

“Is there any way to break through it?” Kionee asked.

In a flash, Ev's violet lightsaber was in her hand and she lunged at the wavering field that stood in their way. Both she and her lightsaber bounced harmlessly off of it. With a half-amused chuckle, she stepped back and re-stowed her weapon, “It looks like that's not going to work. And unless we can destroy or trigger the electronics that are sustaining it, there isn't a way past it.”

“There is nothing but stone in sight,” Juhani pointed out, obviously more frustrated with the situation than Ev. “Not even inside.”

“Could you climb up and over it, then try to get in somewhere on that other island?” Carth suggested.

Ev took a deep breath and hesitated before answering, “Normally I would say, 'go for it,' but I don't think that's a good idea. First, we may get to the other side and find there is still no way in—”

“But we need to hurry and get this disruptor field down or the Republic fleet is doomed,” Juhani cut in, “Right now, that looks like our best chance at it. It's a risk we need to take. The worst that could happen is that we have to climb all the way back here and think of another way.”

Ev continued calmly, “Second, Juhani, I'm sure you also feel the strong presence of the Force in this place. It feels as if we are being watched. It is almost as if this building—this temple has a will of its own.” The look of fierce frustration in Juhani's yellow eyes faded as she refocused herself on the Force. Ev went on, “It gives me the feeling that if we want to get in at all, it has to be through this gateway.”

“I'm sorry,” Juhani apologized with shoulders slumped, “I spoke out. I believe you are right about this place.”

Ev turned and put a reassuring hand on Juhani's shoulder. “Don't be, Juhani,” she said, then something behind them caught her attention.

“Pee-yew!” Jolee's voice rang out loud and clear across the lawn, “You got yourselves a mess here.”

Carth and other others turned to look back at the field. Jolee, along with Canderous, Zaalbar, and Mission picked their way through and around the bodies of the rancors and their keepers.

“Rancors,” Canderous observed wryly, “Looks like you had a bit of fun on your way.”

“You call rancors fun?” Mission demanded, “I heard there was one in the Taris sewers that would—”

Canderous snorted a short laugh.

“You didn't run into any trouble yourselves?” Ev asked, trotting back down the ramp. Carth and her three other companions followed after her.

It was Jolee's turn to snort, “Other than an underused assassin droid whining our ears off?”

“Good,” Ev nodded, meeting them in the middle of the green. She quickly caught them up on her assessments of the temple. No one was happy about the set-back, but no one argued with her decision. “For now, let's concentrate on finding the parts we need to repair our ship.”

“I think the only other easy way out of here, other than where we came from, is over there,” Kionee pointed towards a cluster of bushes off towards their left.

“Good eyes,” Carth commended.

“Well, let's keep moving then,” Ev urged.

All eight started out again with Ev in the lead. Carth and Juhani hung close to Ev once again while Kionee and Canderous took up the rear. The others situated themselves somewhere in between. The path that Kionee had spotted was much narrower than the last with higher cliff walls looming above them. It was not long, however. They soon came out onto another small, sheltered beach, much like the one they had landed on. Nestled in with the cliff walls along the back of the cove was a low metal-sided structure with draped cloth roofing. That in itself was not remarkable. The visible electricity that jumped and crackled in white lightning bolts between the pillars that encircled the structure was plenty enough to draw their attention. There was only a small gap in the lightning fence in front of the doorway.

“I have a better feeling about this,” Ev murmured. Without waiting for any of the others, she strode confidently towards that gap.

“Ev! Wait!” Carth exclaimed, grasping for her sleeve and missing.

As soon as she was within range of the leaping tendrils of electricity, a small holoprojection flickered to life in between her and the door. It resembled the aliens they had met earlier in form only. Its mannerisms were much calmer and its voice much less brash. It's skin was even a distinctly different shade of adobe brown.

“What is your purpose here, off-worlder?” it asked.

“We seek the Star Forge,” Ev responded without a moment's hesitation.

“So you return, Revan, after three long years, with the same request,” the voice of the holoprojection said, “The council would like to speak with you. Come.”


“Three years past, we helped you, and in turn, you betrayed us,” one of three of the aliens in front of them said sternly. Like the two others that flanked him, his skin was a rich brown color and he wore little more than a simple shirt, a skirt-like loincloth, and spats around his legs. It was all the cream color of undyed, natural cloth. While Ev's seven companions stood around her, the attention of all of the aliens were exclusively on her. The center alien continued, “And yet, we welcome you back. Perhaps that is our failing.”

“I apologize, council, but I don't remember our last meeting at all,” Ev admitted, “My mind was destroyed and rebuilt. Thus my memories stretch back less than a year.”

“Perhaps it is so,” the alien on the left said nodding, “There is something very different about you now, and you do not come with your assistant Malak this time.” Carth noticed that the alcove behind them was framed between two cloth banners that bore geometric representations of the Star Forge.

“But forgetting does not change the past—what you have done,” the third alien added.

“I know,” Ev bowed her head, “And I'm sorry. Although it may seem strange, could you tell me of who you are, of our last meeting, and of my crime.”

“We are the Elder Rakata, decedents of the priest caste from the time of the Infinite Empire,” the center councilman explained.

“You're the Builders then!” Mission exclaimed.

The Elder gave Mission a passing glance. “Yes, we were, but no more,” he continued, “Three years ago, you and your assistant Malak crashed onto this island, victims of the disruptor field. You came to us and asked us for help, as you have again now, and we offered it. We let you into the Temple of the Ancients to shut down the disruptor field so that you could again leave Lehon. In return, you promised to destroy the Star Forge, the symbol of our past deeds that hangs as a shadow over us even still. Instead, you took it for yourself and let loose that slumbering evil on the galaxy once more.

“You see, only those who control the power which you call the Force can enter the Temple of the Ancients. It has been countless generations since one with such a power was born among us. Without the knowledge kept in that temple, we can do nothing about the Star Forge. You came to us like a savior, giving us a chance to rid our system of that abomination, but you betrayed us,” he explained bitterly.

“I won't deny that Revan was a betrayer,” Ev replied submissively, “I am sorry for what these two hands have done. But I am a new person that remembers none of that: Ev Pell. And it's true that we need your help again.”

“Only to betray us again,” the Rakata on the right snapped.

“She's not Revan any more,” Mission argued quickly, “She wouldn't do something like that.”

Zaalbar grumbled his agreement.

“Your companions seem to trust you,” the councilman on the left said, “But do we dare to?”

“We have spent the last several months tracking Revan's travels of three years ago, collecting damaged data from your star maps, hoping to find this system,” Ev explained for them, “We are determined to stop Malak's war on the galaxy and we think the only way to do that is to destroy his greatest weapon: the Star Forge. We came to this system to right my wrongs of the past and destroy that space station once and for all. Again our ship has crashed. We cannot take off and fight Malak until we find the repair parts we need and we disable the disruptor field.”

“So it comes to this again,” the Rakata on the right said, “I believe that you could be just as easily deceiving us again. I will not have you use that weapon to cause any more strife.”

“Please reconsider Elder Council,” Ev begged.

“Perhaps we shall,” the middle councilor said, “We will discuss this matter in private. For now, please wait here.”

“Please make your decision quickly,” Ev urged, “The fleet of the Republic—an alliance of planets that stand up against Malak—will be arriving in this system soon to destroy the Star Forge. With the disruptor field still up, there is no way they can succeed.”

The three Rakata to whom they had been speaking didn't respond. They loped around the bend in the hallway that encircled the compound and out of site. Other Rakata, dressed similarly and of the same skin color rushed in with cushions to sit on and a few bowls of what appeared to be fruit. While several others dug in to the unfamiliar foods, Carth couldn't eat.

“This isn't going well, is it,” he whispered to Ev.

She sighed, “I'm sorry. I didn't know that my presence would make trouble here.”

“Without you, they might not have let us in at all,” Carth argued.

“We have to convince them to trust us, somehow,” Ev said quietly.

“Hey, you convinced,” Carth tried to give her an encouraging smile.

It wasn't long before the council of the Elder Rakata returned. They resumed their places standing in the alcove before the entrance way. Ev quickly stood, and the others shuffled respectfully to their feet around her.

“We dare not let you into the Temple of the Ancients as we did before,” the Elder in the center announced, “We cannot have a repeat of the treachery of three years ago.”

“Please, Elders,” Ev begged, “It could not be a repeat. Malak is already up there, churning out ships and sewing strife across the galaxy. I could never take back the Star Forge and command it myself. Malak himself already tried to kill me himself once on our journey, and he sent plenty of his Dark Jedi to do the job for him too.”

“If I recall, he was the one calling you 'master' when we last met,” the Rakata on the left said, “You are more powerful than he.”

“Besides, even if you did not take the Star Forge for your own, the Temple of the Ancients holds all of the dangerous secrets of our past; terrible technologies and even more terrible weapons,” the right Rakata went on, “We of the priest caste chose to lock those secrets away so that they could never be used for destruction, war, or terror again. Only we know the ancient ritual to lower the force field which guards the entrance. Now those who you call Dark Jedi enter, exit, and dwell freely within its walls. Defiling its sacred history and learning its dangerous secrets.”

“Don't you see?” Juhani demanded, stepping up next to Ev, “This truly is your chance to destroy it once and for all. That is what we came for. That is what the largest fleet the Republic can muster is coming for. They are already traveling through hyperspace now. Perhaps you cannot see exactly what Malak is doing up there, but the Star Forge is not only a symbol of whatever past sins of your race. It is a symbol of destruction, of thousands of planets that will fall to Malak's evil Sith empire if we do not strike and destroy it now. The free planets are losing this war. Trillions have died already.”

“And soon you would have another Infinite Empire with the Star Forge at its center,” the Rakata on the right said quietly, “Build on conquest and slaughter.”

“As far as I can see, this kid has a powerful destiny about her,” Jolee added, “It's up to her to finish what she started with this Star Forge of yours.”

“And she's just the person to do it,” Canderous put in confidently, “If anyone can get up there and defeat Malak, it's her. She's got the smarts, the instincts, the skills, and the power. Keep her grounded here, and the Republic will lose. No question. There is no one else in the galaxy would could win this battle. She's the only one worthy of it.”

“And someone has to do something to stop the Sith,” Kionee piped up nervously, “Or this war won't ever end.”

“Ev won't let you down again,” Mission said boldly, “She's good now, I promise. If you let her go there, I'll stay here as, as a hostage.”

“Mission, what are you—?” Ev started, shocked.

Zaalbar quickly interrupted and roared something at Mission.

“Both Big Z and I will be your prisoners until she does what she say's she'll do,” Mission continued, “We know she'll come back for us. It's like a guarantee. Just like you did, Ev, at the Sand People camp.”

That seemed to appease Ev, if only a little.

The three members of the council continued to stare silently over Ev and her crew.

“I'm not one to trust either,” Carth admitted openly to them. He stepped in front of Ev, blocking her from their view. He wanted to be their focus. “But, in the months I've been with her, she has proved to be the most competent person I have ever met. Not only has she surmounted all of these challenges in finding this system, but every step of the way, she's been fighting for freedom and for life. She helped save Zaalbar's people from slavers. She rescued Kionee from the prisons of one of Malak's ships. She recovered scientists and miners from an underwater mining facility. She freed the captives of the Sand People without even bringing it to a fight. She even convinced a few kids training to be Sith themselves that power and domination through fighting and killing isn't the right path. She's done favor after favor time and time again to get where we are, even though it took longer than going in with guns blazing and forcefully taking what we want.

“They say that the Jedi—people with the Force walk a difficult path, one that's easy to stray from. I've seen her walk it, with Revan hanging over her all the while, and she's done a pretty good job of it,” Carth said, “I know I couldn't have done as well. To propose that she would turn on us now, after all this, it's ridiculous.”

Zaalbar added wuff in agreement.

Except for the shuffling and mumbling elsewhere in the compound, the air fell silent.

“I see that your companions trust you,” the middle Rakata said at last, “And love you.”

“And I love them,” Ev replied more confidently, stepping up beside Carth again, “None of them had to come with me on this crazy mission. It really only had to be me and Bastila, but Malak already got her. It should really only be on my shoulders, not all of theirs. But they came along anyway. Over half of them lived on planets that have now been all-but-destroyed by Malak's forces. While I don't carry that kind of pain on my own, I carry it with them. I can't ask you to open the temple for my sake. Whether I remember it or not, I started this war myself.” She took a deep breath and continued, “But I will ask you to allow us into the temple for the sake of those who have loved and lost their friends, their families, and their homes.”

The center Rakata didn't even stop to consult the other two. He said, “For your friends and those they have lost, we will allow you to enter the temple.” Raising a hand in caution he went on, “But you will abide by the traditions handed down by thousands of generations of priests. The temple is a sacred place and entering it is a sacred process. Though it has been defiled, we must remember that even now. We shall not make the same mistake we did last time by allowing Malak to go with you. You will enter it alone, Revan.”

“Ev, that's a bad idea!” Jolee hissed at Ev urgently.

“Thank you, council of Elders,” she said respectfully, “I respect your traditions and I will go alone.” She turned her attention to the others, “Please, don't argue. They are being plenty generous enough in letting me in at all. We can't ask them for anything more.”

“I don't like it,” Carth muttered.

“Come on Carth, you said yourself that she's capable,” Canderous chided, “Have some confidence in the woman.”

Carth sighed.

Ev addressed the Elders again, “And please, call me Ev. Revan is gone.”

“As you wish, Ev,” the center Rakata nodded, “We accept the offers of your friends; the small blue one and the tall hairy one. However, they will not be treated like prisoners. They will be treated respectfully and be made comfortable as we wait for you to hold up your end of the bargain.”

The Rakata on the right added, “As to parts for your ship. Only last week, another ship crashed not far away, along the beaches to the South. I do not believe that the warrior tribe has scavenged it yet. You may be able to find what you are looking for there.”

“Thank you,” Ev made a small bow.

“I understand that more ships are on their way to assist in the destruction of the Star Forge. In that case,” the center Elder began, “We must send for Keeper Osraa and begin preparations for the ritual at the Temple immediately. The ritual will take some time from start to completion. The mean time, prepare yourself Ev-who-was-Revan.”

- Next Part -

 

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