Tower of Time: Long Ago and Far Away
   

Under the Shadow of the Builders
Part 6- The Builders' Ruins

Carth was still blearily sipping his morning cup of caf when Ev strode briskly into the communications deck and smiled slyly at him. “Morning, Onasi,” she said brightly, “Still up for a trip into the outback today?”

“Mind if I finish my caf?” he asked. The idea of parading out into the grasslands at the crack of dawn without the extra energy punch was unappealing to him.

“It doesn't look like I can stop you,” Ev observed, and sank down in a chair across the room from him.

“Hm?” he hummed through his drink.

“You know how Corellian mushrooms look when they're latched onto a dead log?” Ev asked, staring at him thoughtfully, “Like they're not going anywhere at all unless you pry them up.”

“So you're calling me a fungus, then?” Carth asked and raised and eyebrow. The cup was warm in his hands and he drank from it sip by drawn-out sip.

“No,” she replied thoughtfully, “Not exactly. Metaphorically maybe.” She broke her scholarly face and snickered.

Ev was clever and maybe even funny, but Carth was too dreary to give any more reaction than take another drink of caf.

Ev shifted and fidgeted in her chair. She stood up and paced two laps of the room, then sat down again. “You really are taking your sluggish time with that,” she commented, but there was hardly a hint of impatience in her voice. She sounded more amused than anything.

“You're comparing me to a slug now?” Cart asked over his caf.

“Nice catch, Onasi,” Ev chuckled, “You're more awake than you look. I would have thought someone who has lived the military life as long as you have would be used to rising early and brightly.”

“Maybe I was,” Carth replied, “But living here has made a slug of an officer out of me.” He watched her reaction when he threw her metaphor back at her.

“And nice volley,” Ev grinned. “Well, with any luck, that lifestyle is about to change.”

This made Carth straighten up. He drained the last of his caf and set the dirty mug onto the edge of control panel behind him. “What do you mean by that?” he asked, watching her carefully.

Kicking back in her seat, she looked at the ceiling and replied, “Like I said the other day, Master Zhar said he only has one more test for me.”

Carth sighed frustratedly. Damn Ev and her enigmatic answers.

“But I see you're finished with your caf,” Ev observed brightly and stood up. “If there's nothing else you need slothily put yourself to, shall we go?”

Carth chuckled. “Fine, just let me get my blasters,” he replied.

Together, Ev and Carth headed out across the plains. The sun barely hung over the horizon to the east and hints of pink still colored the wispy clouds in the distance. It was so early that even the cath hounds seemed to be still asleep.

As Ev confidently led the way through the tall grasses, Carth shadowed her, always alert and ready to pull his blasters on a cath hound that might appear. Not far out of sight of the Jedi Enclave, they did encounter a small pack of cath hounds, but the creatures were fast asleep. He and Ev cautiously backtracked and tip-toed around them.

It didn't take long for them to pass beyond where Carth was familiar with from his daily walks. Ev pushed them deeper and deeper into the outback.

As the walked, Ev murmured, “I hope this place doesn't have ticks, or we'll be crawling with them by the time we get back.”

“Ticks?” Carth asked.

Ev seemed surprised that she had been speaking out loud. “Nasty little blood-sucking bugs we had back on Deralia when I was a kid,” she replied. “They hang out in the woods and tall grasses waiting for you to brush by so the can latch onto you and get their fill.”

“Deralia? You said you were from Coruscant,” Carth pointed out.

“I did,” Ev nodded, “And in a sense I am. I got out of Deralia as soon as I could. Nice little backwater planet, but it was still backwater. Deralia may have birthed me, but Coruscant made me.”

By the time the sun had risen high enough to be seen above the plateaus that dotted the plain around them, Carth and Ev happened upon a small settlement. It appeared to be farming community of some sort. There couldn't have been more than a few handfuls of families living in the vicinity. All of the houses bore a similar style of architecture to the enclave; low and rounded with tan-colored walls that curved up seamlessly into the somewhat domed roofs. All of the buildings had a distinct sun-baked look about them. Only the largest of the houses, a mansion by comparison to the others, had a small star ship parked on its roof.

“Nice little community they have here,” Ev observed as she continued through it.

“In a place like this, you can almost pretend that the war doesn't exist and go on living like you used to,” Carth said darkly.

“It's always the war with you, isn't it?” Ev commented.

“I'm a soldier, Evrue Pell,” he retorted shortly, “It's my job to think about the war. Did you think all this time on Dantooine has made me forget it and want to start up a farming homestead of my own?”

“No sir,” Ev chucked, “But I had hoped it had gotten you to relax a little bit.” After a moment, she added more seriously, “And it's Ev.”

Grumbling, Carth resisted responding. I don't need to start and argument this early in the day. Who knows how long we'll be out here. Just then, he spotted a lone droid skittering through one of the fields. It looked to be a protocol droid, only its casing was bronze and a blackish-silver color, unlike the standard issue Czerka models. A thought struck him. “Just a second, Ev,” he said and started jogging off towards the field that the droid wandered in.

“Sure thing, Onasi,” she replied as he left, following after him.

“Hey you, droid,” Carth called, stopping at the edge of the crops.

The droid pivoted its head around to see him and asked, “Yes? May I help you sir?”

“You aren't Elise's personal assistance droid, are you? She's looking for you,” he asked.

“Pardon me,” the droid sounded somewhat offended, “But I am MT-412, an employee of Rinnh Imports.”

“An employee?” Carth asked incredulously, “But what are you doing out here alone so early in the morning?”

“That is my own business,” the droid retorted irritably, “But if you must know, I am surveying the crops so as to better negotiate a deal with Mr. Matale for the season's yield.”

Carth sighed and shrugged, “Well, I'm sorry to bother you then.”

“Well, if I see a rogue personal assistance droid, I will tell it that Ms. Elise's is looking for it,” the droid, MT-412 replied, “Good day.” It continued it's calculated path through the field.

“What was that all about?” Ev asked.

Shrugging again, Carth answered, “Some woman around the Enclave asked me to keep an eye out for her droid when I went out a while back.”

“You're just Mr. Helpful, aren't you?” Ev teased, punching him lightly on the shoulder. “Come on, let's get moving.” Without giving him a chance to respond, Ev took off at a brisk pace through the settlement again. Carth had to hustle to keep up, despite her smaller stature. They passed through the cluster of homesteads and only saw a few of the farmers themselves beginning to work in their fields.

After they crossed a stream and came out of the small canyon that sheltered the settlement they found themselves on a broad plain. On the far edge, it dropped off in a long cliff, giving a spectacular view of the hazy rolling hills and plateaus below. Not far off, Carth could hear the howling and barking of a pack of cath hounds.

Ev kept them close to the edge of the plateau rather than crossing towards the cliff. She moved on with purpose and surety at her destination.

“Where are we going anyway?” Carth asked finally. The question had been itching at him all morning. At least, since he was awake enough to care about their goal. “This is a bit much for just a morning stroll.”

To his surprise, Ev gave him a straight answer. “There's a grove, I don't think it's far from here, that the Master Zhar wanted me to check out,” Ev explained.

“And by 'check out' you mean?” Carth asked.

“There's some sort of dark side hub in the grove that they want me to get rid of,” Ev replied, “I guess it's making the cath hounds near by a little crazy.”

“Why would they send an apprentice who just got her lightsaber to do that?” Carth asked suspiciously. “I mean, there are plenty of Jedi Knights and even padawans floating around that place that could be out here doing this instead.”

Ev shot him an offended look, but only answered, “I think this is my final test.”

“Your Jedi test?” Carth exclaimed, “And you brought me along?”

“It's not cheating,” Ev shot back, “If that's what you're suggesting. I could still use someone at my back to watch for cath hounds. Besides, when it comes to cleansing this place of the Dark Side, that's something that I'll have to do.” She paused, “Unless you're also secretly a Jedi.”

Carth snorted. “No,” he responded, “What you see is what you get. I'm just a soldier.”

Ev took them around a bend in the plateau, revealing a narrow passage between it and the next, what Carth had first thought to be all one seamless wall. Beyond the break, a few cath hounds paced irritably through the waving grasses.

“Well, here's your chance to tangle with some angry hounds,” Ev said, cracking a smile. Her lightsaber hilt was already in her hands.

Taking her lead, Carth drew both of his blasters from their holsters at his hips.

Ev put a finger to her lips and hugged close to the earthen wall. Single file, they crept along as quietly as they could until they could no longer stay out of sight of the cath hounds. They reached the edge of the passageway between the two plateaus. Ev suddenly halted and held up a warning hand to Carth. As she peered around the corner, she rhythmically dropped one finger after another, counting down from five. The moment she curled her thumb in, she leaped out with a yell. The nearest cath hound, a horned bull, roared, but was quickly silenced as Ev's lightsaber severed its head from its shoulders.

Carth leaped out and began firing at the smaller cath hound that stood by. Two quick shots to the forehead shot it down with a grunt. Carth hurried up to Ev's side. She still held her lightsaber out in a ready stance.

“Well, that was—” Carth started, but didn't finish his sentence. A small pack of snarling cath hounds sprung out of the grass at their right while another trio appeared from the left. Without even thinking, he began firing. Even when he missed their heads and caught them in the flank or the side, the hounds continued to swarm around them.

Ev leaped about. Agilely avoiding the cath hounds' attacks, she sliced down dog after dog in one swift movement. As the cath hounds drew closer to him, Carth found himself being forced back down the channel between the plateaus. “I've never seen cath hounds this fierce!” he yelled to Ev.

“That's the power of the Dark Side for you,” she half laughed, half yelled.

Carth wasn't sure how it happened, but suddenly he was trapped between the plateau wall and two angry cath hounds. He fired at one, dissuading it for a moment by a gash in it's side, but the other leaped towards him.

Before he could react, a flash of violet cut down both of the hounds. Ev stood before him, both feet firmly planted on the ground. She smirked at him.

“Thanks Ev,” Carth breathed a sigh of relief, “I owe you one.”

“More than one, I think,” Ev replied calculatingly and retracted her lightsaber, “But we'll worry about settling accounts later. Come on,” she urged and trotted off through the grass again.

Carth couldn't help the smile that crossed his lips as he shook his head in amazement at her. He followed after her up a small hill and through a cluster of trees. She stopped suddenly when they reached the edge of the trees.

“There,” she said, staring at some small stone ruins tucked away in a niche in the plateau, “That's where the Dark Side energy is coming from. I can feel it.”

“So this is as far as I go?” Carth assumed.

“Nah,” Ev shook her head, “There may yet be some cath hounds lurking in the grass between here and there. Just keep your eyes open, though.”

Ev brushed back into the tall grasses ahead of them at a much slower pace than before. She seemed to be weighing every step for some sign of what lay ahead. Taking this careful pace, they finally stood in front of the ruins. All that was left of whatever that had stood there once was a cracked floor of stone slabs and crumbling pillars around the perimeter. Pieces of carved stone littered the area, which couldn't have been any bigger than small house. Carth didn't have time to wonder at the structure's original purpose.

A shadowy figure leaped out the shadows, red lightsaber blazing and shrieking, “I will be your doom!” In the blink of an eye, Ev's own purple lightsaber was out and clashing against the red blade. Carth raised his blasters to defend her, but Ev's attacker thrust an open palmed hand in his direction.

Carth froze, but not of his own volition. Every nerve in his body tingled and yet not a muscle would move. Wide eyed, he watched the confrontation.

Ev's adversary, an alien woman, was noticeably taller than Ev and swung her lightsaber with considerably more ferocity. Ev evenly countered every stroke, leaping to meet the woman's dynamic fighting style. It was like watching Ev face off against Zhar in the practice rings all over again, only far more dangerous and passionate.

The woman hissed and roared as they fought, but Ev's face remained stonily determined. This must be her first duel with a live lightsaber, Carth thought.

Ev's attacker was tall and slender, wearing a soft teal bodysuit with a brown leather vest, tall leather boots, and matching leather wrist guards. Her head was shaved, mostly. Except for a ponytail of dark hair on top of her head and soft tabby stripes that crisscrossed her scalp and cheeks, the woman was bald. At Carth's best guess, the woman was a Cathar, but she had to be the most hairless Cathar he had ever encountered.

The Cathar woman screamed in a rage and took a reckless sweep at Ev. She raised the lightsaber, held tightly in both hands, high above her head and prepared to strike. Instead of cutting the woman straight through her exposed middle, Ev waited the fraction of a second it took for the Cathar to bring the saber down. Ev back-handed upwards to meet the woman's downward arch and sliced neatly through the lightsaber's hilt.

In shock, the woman let the pieces of the saber fall from her hands and into the grass at her feet. She looked up at Ev, whose lightsaber remained poised not far from her neck, yellow eyes wide. Suddenly, Carth was released from the Force bond that held him frozen. He shook himself off, watching the two women closely.

Slouching and slumping back, the loser begged quietly, “I am defeated. Kill me quickly.”

Ev stared measuring at her for a long while. “No,” she said at last, and extinguished her lightsaber.

“But why?” the Cathar demanded both angrily and helplessly, “Who are you and why do you disturb me in my sanctuary of Dark Power?”

“The Council sent me to cleanse this grove of a dark taint,” Ev replied, “And now I see what they meant.”

“So they sent you to kill me, and yet you do not,” the Cathar observed, her eyes narrowing. Her Galactic Basic was heavily accented with trilled r's and rounded vowels.

“Why would you merit killing?” Ev asked patiently.

“Because, in my anger, I slew my master Quatra. It was then that I embraced the power of the Dark Side. There is no going back after what I have done,” she lamented angrily, seemingly lost in her own rant, “I sought solace here in this grove, and here I have grown more powerful in the Force than ever before, finally surrendering to the power of my own emotions, my anger!” Her chest rose and fell quickly as anger flashed in her eyes. Ev watched her warily. Finally, she calmed and said miserably, “But even having embraced the Dark Side, you bested me so easily, Master Jedi. Perhaps I am still weak.”

“I am no master,” Ev corrected evenly, “I am still an apprentice.”

“To be beaten by a mere apprentice,” the woman marveled quietly, “That is all the more reason...”

“And I wish you no harm, only peace,” Ev said gently. “I came here to chase away the Dark Side, not to kill anyone.”

“And yet with such naive attitudes, an apprentice such as yourself has won against me,” she lamented, “If only there was a way... No, I cannot go back after what I have done.”

“You can forsake the Dark Side,” Ev urged, “The way of the Jedi is one of forgiveness.”

“But there is so much to forgive,” the Cathar murmured.

“I'm sure if you showed them your sincerity and that you were free of passions they would welcome you back,” Ev suggested, “Even if you did kill your master. Everyone knows that even Jedi are vulnerable to little fits of passion now and then.”

“I used to think that the other Jedi were jealous of my power and were holding me back, but now I realize it was I that was not ready. I only wish my master did not have to suffer so much from my mistake,” the Cathar sighed, “It is something that cannot be undone.”

“Your master knew the risks she was taking in your training, I'm sure,” Ev reassured her, “And besides, even though she died, she will live on in the Force.”

“I...” the Cathar started, “Thank you, Jedi.”

“It's Ev Pell,” Ev supplied for her with a smile.

“Thank you, Ev Pell,” the Cathar repeated. “I must go meditate and beg the forgiveness of the Jedi Council. I only wish there was some way to repay you for your kindness.” Not waiting for Ev to reply, she darted out across the grassy clearing and away.

Ev let out a long sigh and finally relaxed. She clipped her lightsaber back onto her belt.

“So that's what cleansing meant,” Carth observed, walking over to her.

“I guess so,” she replied, sounding a little amazed herself.

“I didn't know you had it in you,” Carth added, “And I don't mean the dueling.”

“Heh,” Ev chuckled, “After the last, what, month of Jedi indoctrination, you thought I wouldn't have come up with some pretty words to say about the Force?”

“Well, you certainly have picked it up quickly,” Carth said.

“That's what everyone keeps saying,” Ev replied, “And I, for one, am glad. I don't know about you, but I'm starting to get a little stir crazy on this backwater planet. Peace, quiet, and meditation are nice and all, but there's a war out there.”

“Me?” Carth scoffed jokingly, “Go stir-crazy while the rest of the army is out on the front losing battles without me. Never.”

“Well, it's good to hear that you have more patience than I do, Onasi,” Ev teased, grinning.

They took a more leisure time crossing back over the plains on their return trip. Chatting about nothing in particular as they went, they only had to tangle with one small pack of cath hounds. It was well past the lunch hour when they finally got back to the Enclave. Neither of them had had anything to eat since their predawn breakfasts.

As they strolled back into the quiet corridors, Ev suggested, “How about we check out the mess to see if there's still anything left to eat?”

“I can't argue with that,” Carth replied. His own stomach grumbled loudly in agreement.

When the crossed into the central courtyard, however, a mousy haired woman stopped them. “Thank you so much for what you have done for Juhani,” she professed enthusiastically.

“Belaya?” Ev said, blinking in surprise.

“She has returned to the enclave a changed Jedi, owing it all to you,” the woman, Belaya continued. “You really must see the Council right away, given what has just happened. They are waiting for you.”

Looking from Belaya to Carth, Ev shrugged, “I'll see about getting fed later. Go on without me and maybe I'll catch up with you after I'm done.”

“Fair enough,” Carth nodded, and they went their separate ways; Ev to the Jedi Council and Carth to the mess hall.

***

“Good news,” Ev said proudly, as she strode up the ramp to the Ebon Hawk the next morning. The crew, startled by her sudden appearance, peered out of whatever room they were previously lazing in. “My training is finished,” Ev announced, “They have made me a Padawan.”

“It isn't finished, Evrue Pell,” Bastila reminded her sharply as she followed her onto the ship, “A Jedi's training is never finished, even as a Master. You have only been deemed well trained enough to be free to leave the Jedi Enclave. Your training will continue.”

“That means we're leaving then?” Mission asked eagerly.

“Where to, Princess?” Canderous asked of Bastila.

Bastila made a sour face. “Don't call me that,” she snapped. “Anyway, what is more important is that we have been assigned a mission here on Dantooine.”

“We're not going anywhere then?” Mission asked, sounding disappointed.

“Not until this is completed, anyway,” Bastila continued, “Ev and I shared a vision shortly after our arrival on this planet of Revan and Malak breaking into some ruins not far from here. We believe that it may have been the past we saw; the beginning of their fall to the Dark Side.”

“So basically, the Jedi Council wants us to check it out and see if we can figure out what the Dark Lords in the making found there,” Ev finished for her, “We don't really know what we'll find, so if you folks want to come along, an extra blaster or four might come in handy.”

“Count me in,” Mission said eagerly and Zaalbar rumbled his agreement.

“I'm always up for a fight,” Canderous added.

“You've got me,” Carth offered. This could mean doing something really useful to the war, finally.

Less than an hour later, the party was heading off across the Dantooine plain together, in search of the ancient ruins and whatever answers they might hold. Bastila confidently led the way, Ev trailing just after her. The ruins appeared on the horizon after only a short journey. Pillars of dark stone, much like those they had seen the day before in the grove, rose up out of the grass surrounding an ancient looking building. Carth marveled that the ruins had always been so close to the Jedi Enclave and that no one had ever investigated them before.

As they approached the entrance, Carth felt a cold feeling creep over him. They descended a ramp down into the building towards a massive stone door. The others gathered behind Bastila, who gingerly placed her hand on a square stone inlayed in the center of the door.

“I can already feel the dark power in this place,” Ev murmured, “I wonder if that was Revan and Malak's doing.”

Bastila didn't respond. She firmly pushed on the stone beneath her hand. Suddenly, there was a loud grating sound and the stones that made up the door began to move. Some slid up into the doorway overhead and some down into the ground at the threshold. Carth marveled at the mechanics it would take to make a door of thick stone to move so smoothly and quickly. The two Jedi in the lead didn't seem to be bothered by it at all. They proceeded inside.

Inside the ruins, the building appeared almost completely intact, as if it was not ruins at all. A think veil of dust covered the stone floor and several sets of footsteps crossed over it. Two older sets going in and two leaving, while one newer set led straight into another chamber ahead of them.

To their right and left, the building stretched out farther than the light from the doorway cast. Mushrooming, intricately carved stone pillars lined the low ceiling. Following those footsteps, they silently crossed to the opposite side of the vast chamber. On the other side was another door much like the first. Again, Bastila pressed the square stone in the middle, and the pieces of the door shrank into the ceiling and the floor. In a much smaller, but taller chamber, there stood a spindly looking droid.

It had a somewhat conical body, truncated at the top, with a flat spinning head piece. It stood on four insect-like legs and undulated gently up and down as it greeted them in a low, rumbling language that Carth had never heart before.

“I'm sorry,” Bastila said, approaching it, “We can't understand you.”

The droid switched to a language that sounded more like primal yells and screams.

“Still no good,” Ev shook her head.

“I think it's cycling through languages to find something we understand,” Bastila speculated, “I bet it can understand us but has not been programmed with the phenomes of Galactic Basic.”

The droid tried another language, one that sounded something like slurping and sloshing.

Bastila still stared frustratedly at it but Ev exclaimed suddenly, “Wait, wait, say that again.”

The droid repeated itself.

A smile of realization crossed Ev's face. “It's speaking Selkath, or at least some dialect of it,” she explained, “I bet it's some ancient variant. It welcomes us to the Temple of the Builders.”

“The Builders?” Bastila echoed thoughtfully. She then turned her attention back to the droid, “Who are the Builders? What is this place? What is your purpose?”

The droid gargled out a short response and Bastila looked expectantly at Ev.

“Give me a minute,” Ev muttered, her brow furrowed in concentration, “I'm not as fluent in ancient Selkath as I am in the modern dialect.”

Canderous chuckled dryly.

After a few moments of thinking, she translated, “This is the Temple of the Builders and this droid is the overseer.”

“The overseer?” Bastila asked, “Of what?”

The droid replied, more lengthy this time. Listening carefully, Ev translated soon after, “It oversaw the slaves who built this temple and now it remains here to give information to any Builders that might return about the Star Forge.” Ev then added, “Revan and Malak mentioned the Star Forge in our vision. What is it?”

The droid replied quickly.

“It is the apex of the Infinite Empire, a machine of invincible might, a weapon of unstoppable conquest,” Ev echoed.

“But what is it?” Bastila persisted.

The droid answered just as quickly as before.

Ev shook her head frustratedly. “It's just repeating the same thing again,” she said.

“Maybe it's not programmed with any more than that,” Carth suggested.

“You may be right,” Bastila nodded, then asked, “But what of the Builders? Who are they?”

The droid replied and Ev translated, “They are the conquerors of all worlds, constructors of the Star Forge, and the rulers of the Galaxy. Their empire is infinite and everlasting.”

“An empire?” Bastila marveled, “I have never heard of such an empire. Perhaps these Builders were some extinct species that ruled before the formation of the Galactic Republic. The Hutts were a formidable presence then, but I don't ever recall hearing about a Hutt empire.”

“If that droid speaks ancient Selkath,” Mission suggested hopefully, “maybe the Selkath were the builders.”

The droid interrupted.

“The Selkath were nothing but slaves that bowed down to the undeniable might of the Builders,” Ev translated with a chuckle, “It was rather forceful on that point.”

“Well then,” Bastila said thoughtfully, “Then who could they have been?”

“Say, when is the last time you saw a Builder?” Ev asked the droid. With its response, Ev's eyes grew wide.

“What is it?” Bastila demanded.

“It says that it has been about ten revolutions of the outermost planet of this system since the temple was built and none have returned since,” Ev reported.

“Ten revolutions!” Bastila exclaimed. “That's over 20,000 years ago!”

“Five thousand years older than the Republic itself,” Carth calculated, dumbstruck. “And the droid they left is still functioning.”

“If a droid is, perhaps their fabled Star Forge is as well,” Bastila observed, “Malak and Revan must have found that ancient weapon.”

“Maybe it's some sort of factory or something,” Ev suggested, “That could explain their sudden fleet.”

Looking squarely at the droid, Bastila said, “We would like to find this Star Forge. Can you tell us its location?”

The droid's response was brief.

“If we prove ourselves worthy,” Ev translated.

“And how do we prove ourselves worthy?” Bastila asked it.

The droid quickly replied and Ev translated, “We must go to the proving grounds in the chambers to the east and west of this room. If we succeed in both, the secrets of the Builders will be unlocked in the room straight ahead. For now, it's sealed.”

“Proving grounds?” Canderous commented, “Sounds like a fight to me.”

Ev nodded in agreement.

Bastila strode over to the door at the right side of the chamber and placed her left hand on the square stone in the middle. Her lightsaber was alright held in her right. “Everyone, prepare yourselves,” she advised, “Who knows what is beyond this door.” Carth pulled his blasters out of their holsters. Meanwhile, Zaalbar readied his bowcaster, Mission prepped her blaster, and Canderous unslung his massive blaster rifle from his back.

Seeing that everyone was ready, Bastila pressed the door and it slid away. Another droid much like the overseer waited inside a ruined looking room. Instantly a shield flickered up around it and it began firing. Ev and Bastila dove into the fray, deflecting blaster bolts as they went. They soon discovered, however, that not only did the battle droid have archaic yet formidable blaster and shield technology, it was also equipped with a flamethrower.

While those on blaster support could stay well out of the fire's range, Bastila and Ev danced frighteningly close to the flames. Until the two Jedi could pierce through and take down the droid's shields, all of the blaster bolts deflected helplessly off. Though it was six against one droid, the battle raged on longer than any of them would have expected.

Finally, Ev swept off its flamethrower extension and the Jedi were able to focus their efforts more on attacking and less on preservation. Soon, someone's lucky shot caught the droid in a vital area and it immediately shut down, crashing to the cold stone ground.

The two Jedi stepped gingerly around it. Carth and Canderous followed at a distance, blasters still ready, while Zaalbar and Mission remained by the door. An old whirring computer terminal, made of metal and larger than any Carth had ever seen, sat in the corner of the chamber. Ev and Bastila strode over to it and fiddled with it for several minutes. Finally the came away satisfied.

Striding back towards them, Bastila said, “We've done it. Now let's try the next Proving Ground.” With no other explanation, she led them back out into the central chamber and across to the other side door. It slid open, revealing another battle droid. This fight proceeded much like the last had, only this droid fired ice instead of fire. Mission, who ventured too close, spent several minutes as a Twi'lek-sickle before she was able to thaw out. The Jedi, thankfully, were too quick to get frozen by it's beam.

Once they destroyed this droid as well Ev and Bastila found another terminal in the back of the chamber. This time, knowing how to operate it, they finished with it much more quickly.

“The seal should be broken now,” Bastila said proudly, “Good work, everyone.”

As the left the room, Bastila suddenly stopped at gasped. Not far from the door, the body of an old Jedi lay, not long dead. “Nemo!” she exclaimed, “The Jedi Council mentioned that they sent him to investigate, but he never returned.”

“I guess the droids didn't think he was worthy,” Canderous commented wryly.

“You, Wookiee,” Bastila ordered and pointed at Zaalbar, “Carry his body. We should take it back to the Enclave with us.”

“His name is Zaalbar,” Ev grumbled a reminder.

As they exited the second proving ground and passed by the overseer droid, it said nothing. Bastila went straight for the only unopened door left in the room and laid her hand on the central square.

“What were those old computers about?” Mission asked Ev as they caught up with Bastila, “More tests?”

“The first wanted a list of life-giving landscapes, and the second wanted death-giving ones,” Ev explained, “Not too hard.”

“Interesting,” Carth commented, “These Builders were interested in landscapes, not just building weapons, droids, and temples.”

Bastila drew in a deep breath, “The Dark Side is particularly potent in the chamber beyond this door. You four should stay here. Only Ev and I will go in.”

“That's all the more reason for us to go with you,” Carth pointed out.

“I sensed the Dark Side, not more danger,” Bastila replied coldly. “We two will go alone.” She pressed the door's trigger stone and it slid away. Ev and Bastila strode in while their four companions strained to see what was inside.

Carth strode as far as the threshold and stared inside. The chamber beyond was small and empty except for a claw like contraption in the back made of black metal. As Bastila and Ev approached it, the three claw-like prongs, that were as long as Ev was tall, unfolded and rested on the ground. A metal sphere rose into the air above them and projected an expanse of stars that looked like their own galaxy.

“Some kind of star map, I'd say,” Canderous guessed from beside him. Carth hadn't even realized he was there until he spoke.

“Maybe it has the location of the Star Forge for us,” Carth found himself agreeing with the Mandalorian's speculation.

The two Jedi studied the ancient machine and its projection, speaking in hushed tones. Finally, they reached some kind of conclusion and headed out of the room. As if it sensed their departure, the projection ceased and the claws closed back up.

“Well, we have much to discuss with the Jedi Council,” Bastila said, returning to them, “Let's hurry back to the Enclave.”

“We're going after the Star Forge then?” Mission asked.

“That is up to the Council to decide,” Bastila replied enigmatically.

The six returned to the Jedi Enclave as fast as the could, at Bastila's urging. As they traveled, Ev proved to be just as tight lipped as Bastila was. When the arrived, the Jedi were shocked to see the old Jedi Knight Nemo dead in Zaalbar's arms. It seemed that none of them had even know he had gone. Bastila shooed off Carth, Canderous, Zaalbar, and Mission to the Ebon Hawk while she took Ev to speak with the Jedi Council again.


An hour or two later, Carth had lost track of time, when he was sitting out in the courtyard around the Ebon Hawk Bastila and Ev reappeared at last. They didn't notice him as they strode purposefully towards the ship.

“Ev, Bastila,” he called to them, “No one is aboard.”

Finally, they saw him. “Then where are they?” Bastila asked and started to walk over in his direction.

“Canderous, Mission, and Zaalbar already went to the mess for dinner,” Carth explained.

“Isn't it a little early for supper?” Ev observed.

“That's what I thought, but those three are always hungry,” Carth answered shrugging. “So what now? What did the Jedi Council spend so long talking to you about.”

“We are leaving tomorrow morning for Kashyyyk,” Bastila said simply.

“So the Builders hid their Star Forge on the Wookiee home planet?” Carth baffled.

“No,” Bastila said shortly, “But that is where our mission leads us next.”

“And what's that supposed to mean then?” Carth demanded.

Bastila ignored him. “Ev, stay with the ship and inform the other three of our departure when they return,” Bastila instructed, “Tell them to wrap up any unfinished business they have, if any. In the mean while, I will see about getting us some supplies for our journey.”

Without a word to Carth, the two Jedi went their separate ways.

So they're dragging us along on some crazy Jedi mission without even telling us what it's about. How are we supposed to help? Carth thought bitterly. Do they expect me to fly their ship from planet to planet without knowing the purpose or what we're up against. He sighed angrily. I can't stand Jedi sometimes.


Canderous and Mission took to the news that they were leaving with enthusiasm while Zaalbar seemed hesitant at the mention of his home. Carth avoided the others that night, fiddling with the Ebon Hawk and making sure it was in prime condition for flying.

The next morning as the crew was returning from a hearty breakfast, they found the four members of the Jedi Council on Dantooine waiting for them at the Ebon Hawk. Standing with them was the Cathar Jedi that Ev had faced in the grove, now dressed in copper colored robes in the style of a Jedi Knight.

The six crew members stopped respectfully before them.

“All of our hope goes with you,” Master Vandar said solemnly, “Bastila and Ev, with your bond and the visions you have shared, you may provide the keys to stopping this war.”

“Padawan Pell,” Master Vrook began, “And even you, Padawan Shawn, your training is far from complete. You are both young and headstrong, but you must continue to be wary of the lure of the Dark Side.”

“In these dark times, it reaches out to tempt us all,” Vandar added warningly.

“Juhani has asked to be allowed to join you on your mission,” Master Vrook continued, gesturing to the female Cathar that stood hesitantly behind him, “After much careful deliberation, we have agreed to grant her request. May her presence be a continuing reminder of the seductive powers of the Dark Side.”

“In your journey, our Enclave here will always welcome you, should you need friendly advice or supplies,” Master Dorak added, “Or should you wish to browse the archives. Although, I have not had any success finding any mention of your Builders or their Infinite Empire.”

“Thank you, Master Dorak,” Bastila said respectfully.

“Evrue Pell,” Master Vrook said darkly, “You must always be on your guard, seeking the way of the Light. The risk for one such as you, who has hardly begun your training, is much higher. I fear, as you journey, you may find yourself traveling down a familiar path.”

“Through your bond, Bastila can continue to support you and teach you,” Master Zhar continued. He glanced between the other masters. When none added anything more in warning, the tiny Jedi measured up the entire crew and said solemnly, “May the Force be with you.”

Only then did Carth notice the crowd of Jedi that had gathered around the Ebon Hawk to join in their send-off. As the Jedi Masters returned to their duties, the other Jedi slowly dispersed. A few remained to say farewell to the Jedi, and an even larger group hung back to give Mission a hug and wish her well. Canderous returned to the ship without another word and Zaalbar lumbered after him, carrying their last crate of supplies.

Carth started to head towards the ship himself when a yellow skinned Twi'lek woman slipped up beside him. She was clearly not a Jedi by her tell-tale dancer garb.

“Hey spacer,” she said in greeting, “You aren't the pilot of this ship, by any chance.”

“Yeah,” Carth replied warily, “What of it?”

“I'm just passing through and looking to get off this rock,” the Twi'lek replied, “I was wondering if you had the room to take on another passenger, at least until your next stop.”

“Hey, I recognize that voice,” Mission called and broke out of the crowd of Jedi. When she saw who Carth was standing with, she stopped short and scowled, “Lena! What is a slut like you doing here on Dantooine?”

“Oh, Mission!” Lena laughed in surprise, “I didn't see you there.”

“Where's Griff?” Mission demanded.

“Probably back on Tatooine where he dumped me, still working the Czerka mines,” Lena said sharply, “As far as I'm concerned, he's out of my life. I've had enough of his clinging and get rich quick schemes.”

“Good for him,” Mission snapped, “He's better without you, you cantina trash.”

“Mission,” she seemed surprised, “Why so angry?”

“Because you're the reason Griff abandoned me on Taris,” Mission yelled angrily.

Carth, finding himself caught in the middle of a fight between two angry women backed up and watched warily. He prepared to intervene if needed. Mission was a good kid, but she was mad and had blasters while Lena did not.

“Woh, woh,” Lena said quickly, “Back up Mission. I wanted you to come with. I even offered to pay for your ticket off of Taris. I was paying for everything else for that free-loader. But Griff said you didn't want to leave Taris.”

“No! Lair!” Mission screamed. She seemed to be close to tears. “Griff told me that you didn't want me, his little sister, getting in the way.”

“You've got it all wrong, Mission,” Lena urged, “I don't know why you idolize your brother so much. Griff is a no good free-loader who is always blaming other people for his problems.”

“Take that back you table-dancing, brother-stealing, home-wrecker!” Mission yelled.

“You know what,” Lena snapped, her temper exhausted as well, “Griff was always blaming you for his problems too. He told me that you were holding him back. When my money started running out and his plans failed, he started blaming me. I've had enough of him, and you'd be smart to forget about him too.”

“He's my brother, I can't!” Mission argued, “It's all lies, all bantha poodoo. Get out of here, Lena. Find yourself another ship off of Dantooine.”

“Well, sorry to make you so upset Mission,” Lena apologized, only halfheartedly and walked away.

Fuming, Mission stalked towards the Ebon Hawk, “I can't believe that slut.”

Meanwhile, most of the Jedi surrounding the ship had dispersed. Both Juhani and Bastila had also boarded the ship. Patiently staring at Carth, Ev waved to him and called, “Come on Lieutenant. Let's get this show on the road.”

Taking one last look at the peaceful Enclave, Carth jogged after Ev up the loading ramp and retracted it behind him. At last, it was time to take action again.

- Next Part -

 

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