Book 2 Chapter 26

How did you warn someone of danger, when not only could they not see it, but you weren't supposed to be able to either?

Definitely not doing this spy stuff again, Jorel told himself, slowly moving forward, Hisku by his side, as the rest of Team Three followed behind. Their leader, Ayla Syko, had as much Force Sensitivity as your average rock, so was unable to feel the cloying Darkness that pulled at them all, reaching from somewhere before them, and a little below, with long, foul tendrils, invisible to those without eyes to see. However, of the rest of their group, the Duros, and an older man were both looking uneasy.

Not as uneasy as they should be, but those two obviously sensed something was wrong, though the last two members of their squadron, a boy their age and a woman in her thirties, were as oblivious as their leader.

Then again, this place didn't look evil, on the surface. If anything, it seemed a bit like a medical center, or a laboratory, neither of which should be found under a prison. White walls and floor looked slightly yellow with age, but it was clean, the smell of disinfectant lingering in the air, harsh on the nose, the lighting panels casting no shadows other than those made by the Resistance fighters. That those shadows seemed to move just a little too much may very well have been Jorel's own paranoia, looking for outward manifestations of the Dark that he felt before them.

Turning one corner, then another, Jorel froze when he was confronted with the guns of the guards down here, not having felt their Presences in the Force at all, and thus completely blindsided by them.

Because they were droids.

Even then, he should've felt something as the two humanoid machines yelled, "Halt!" at the same time, then, before the Jedi could respond, opened fire. However, while he just stood there, Hisku grabbed him by the arm and yanked him back, around the corner, the red bolts of plasma passing right through where he'd been a moment ago, but without so much as a whisper of warning in the Force.

The others fell back too, guns coming up, as the Chiss looked over her charge, confusion in her eyes. "What happened?" she whispered, the droids still firing, the sound covering her words so the others didn't hear her.

"I, I don't know," he responded numbly, trying to figure out why the Force had betrayed him, why it hadn't protected him.

However, something his master told him came to Jorel's mind, about how the Will of the Force did not account for the Dark Side, though he had said that in regards to Jorel using that perversion of the energy that ran through all things. Jorel had read histories, trying to find some way to be a better Jedi, to be taken as a Padawan, and he'd read ancient accounts of Jedi dealing with the Dark Side. There hadn't been any Sith for almost a millennia, but the archives went back much further than that, though what an Initiate was allowed access to could be considered. . . limited.

No, the histories had talked about how, when exposed to the Dark Side, it. . . clouded a Jedi's ability to hear the Force, which is why the Sith were such a deadly foe. But the Dark Side was present in any place where death and suffering was dominant, and thus a Jedi might come across it even with the Sith gone, though records where such things could be found were. . . lacking in respect to what he'd been able to get his hands on when he was younger.

What if it wasn't being metaphorical? the Jedi considered. He'd raised his mental shields, but, had he also, in so doing, cut himself off not only from the assault of the Dark Side, but the Force itself?

Taking a bracing breath, he lowered his defenses a little, no longer pushing it all out, but only most. It felt like walking atop mostly-dried sewage, the fluid not coming up over the tops his mental boots, but the stink was still offensive, and the muck seemed to try and grab onto him, but he kept it there. Okay, let's see if this works, he thought, the fire from the guard-droids having stopped, and readied himself to walk around the corner again.

This time, there was something, so faint he could barely sense it, a familiar whisper beneath the slavering growl of the hungry Dark. He had to concentrate on it, feeling almost like he was back in the Temple again, hearing the subtle currents of the Force for the first time, though this time he was doing so in the face of a feral beast that would rip out his throat if he let it. It was a beast behind bars made of his own will, held at bay, but that did not make it any less distracting.

He wanted to grasp his saber, having found it easier to meditate when doing so, but he could not, and still keep his cover, but why should he? These people were beneat-

And there's the other part of this, he thought, easily spotting the foreign thought and removing it, tossing it into the cesspit from which it came, concentrating on the faint, familiar whisper. It was harder to pay attention to, but he had it, and so opened his eyes, only to find the others looking at him.

"I, uh, what?" he asked.

"I said are you gonna go, or not?" Syko asked, looking to him and Hisku with anger, tinged with a touch of fear.

She's supposedly in charge, let her go first, the Dark pointed out, which was the danger of that twisted version of the Force, as it wasn't always wrong, but that didn't mean he should listen to it either.

"Yeah, sorry, just. . . don't have the best history with battle-droids," he lied easily. "Hisku, lets go," the Padawan said, nodding to his attaché. "We just need to be careful. Something about this place is throwing me off." And, even if you don't realize you're doing it, the Force won't be able to warn you of danger either.

"Understood," she nodded, and he wondered if the red-eyed woman did, but he couldn't speak plainly. She readied her weapon, as did he, and Jorel looked at his destination, proposing firing just around the corner, trying to concentrate on listening without trying too hard, the Dark Side ready to subvert active effort, but unable to find a hold on passive reception.

The whisper, so hard to hear, warned against it, pushing for him to move further out, and he nodded, understanding.

"I'll draw fire," he said, moving before Hisku could respond, leaping out from around the corner, the droids shooting the second they saw him, but not tracking his form. Instead, the plasma packets passed harmlessly by the Padawan, as he landed, lining up his shot. Trying to aim the way Hisku did was like swimming through sludge, but he'd started out his training with blasters not using them that way, and toggled the weapon from single shots to burst, letting his own red bolts fly right back. One droid went down, the other turning and recentering, the Padawan hearing the vague warning, but with no direction on how to dodge.

Hoping it would work, he watched the droid's weapon, and side-stepped, the blaster bolts missing him by several inches, even as Hisku turned the corner, took a knee, aimed, and fired.

And missed.

He could feel her surprise in her Presence through the Force, and brought his own weapon to bear, firing off three bursts in quick succession, the second striking true and taking the droid down, the third in the air before the second hit.

As it fell, sparking, he tried to listen to the Force, looking for danger, but found nothing, though he could no longer trust that the lack of a detectable warning meant a lack of threat. Looking to Hisku, he stepped over as she stared at her weapon, confused, and he quietly reminded her "Like I said, this place throws us off. We need to be careful."

She slowly nodded, and haltingly lowered her gun, as Syko, her weapon up, came around the corner, looking at the dead guards.

"Just two droids?" their leader asked, incredulous. "That's what gave you two trouble?"

"Then you do it!" Hisku snapped, still kneeling, an ugly look crossing her features, her head turning towards him as Jorel put a hand on the girl's shoulder.

"Just another bad feeling," the Jedi said, "Maybe have someone check the door? She almost got hit, and she's a little on edge."

It was odd, how easily it was to lie to these people.

"I, uh, yeah, sure," Syko responded, clearly unsure, giving the antagonistc Chiss a wary look. "Loran, Lantha, go check the door?"

The Duros and the older woman moved up, giving the three of them odd looks. Trying the metal handle, they found it locked, but checking the droids, Lantha found the key and unlocked it. Loran then shot the droids again, just to make sure.

Leaning close to his attaché, kneeling himself, the Jedi whispered, "You want to cover the back?"

The blue-skinned woman took a centering breath, then asked him "Will you?"

"I can still manage, just not as well," he informed her, starting to get used to the metaphysical stink, hoping that was him learning to deal with it, and not just him slowly being corrupted by it.

The look she gave him was a little less exasperated and a little more annoyed than her usual, but, given where they were, that made sense. Her head shake no was all he needed, taking a centering breath himself, standing straight, looking through the door the others had already opened without so much as a warning.

At least it's empty, he thought, remembering how what little training he'd done with The Flock's people, and how they gone out of their way to make sure he knew that you never opened a door, wall, etc. without warning the others of a new possible angle of attack.

But what did I expect, for Force Blind doing something they have no hope of accomplishing, compared to what I could do?

. . . Point to you, Jorel gave the Dark Side, though it's accompanying suggestion to kill them all, before they do something that puts Hisku or I in danger, was something he was going to take a rain-check on. That said, The Flock weren't Jedi either, so it was less of a 'Force' thing and more of a 'competent leadership' thing, which, glancing at Syko, they were. . . lacking in.

Then I should-

Yeah, I've got stuff to do, so kindly put a sock in it, he told the intrusive thoughts, having remembered their, for lack of a better term, taste, from Dell, and from before, and filtering them out. The fact that he could, in many ways, told him he hadn't been tainted, like he had before, at which point he wouldn't be rejecting them, but it was just the nature of this place. The obvious solution would be to leave, but, barring that, they needed to poke around as quickly and safely as possible, and then leave.

Keeping his senses in the Force open, he stepped forward, through the locked door, and almost stopped right there, as the air in here carried not just the scent of cleaner, but of blood, rot, and more. "Anyone else smell that?"

Loran, the Duros, nodded, looking uneasy, but there was nothing to do for it, so the Jedi hefted his rifle and stepped forward, listening carefully for the warning in the Force, smothered as it was in the Dark. He was halfway down the featureless hall when he felt it stir, the faintest whisper of Danger that gave the impression of attacks from two sides. Given that they were walking down a long, doorless hallway that terminated in a T intersection, that meant either hidden turrets, which was a possibility, or-

"Right corner, droids," he snapped out, aiming for the left corner and firing before his prey even emerged, Hisku doing the same, the battle droids taken out even as they stepped into sight, before they could get off a single shot down the cover-less corridor. "Heard them moving," he offered as an explanation, not breaking stride, trying to reach out in the Force for more, but having to pull back as it felt like reaching into a mud-pit full of centipedes, which he'd never done, but he was pretty sure that was what it'd be like.

There was no whisper of danger though, so he turned the corner, clearing it, as Hisku did the same in the other direction. Both hallways held smaller doors, and the occasional reddish-brown drops stood out starkly against the aging white material of the walls and floor.

He couldn't reach out and ask which way he should go, and if the Force was offering him a suggestion, he was unable to hear it. "Which way?" he asked, looking back to Syko, who came up behind him, now that it was clear, the coward.

The woman looked indecisive. "I, maybe we should split-"

"No," Hisku stated, with zero give in her tone.

"Maybe we should move together," the last member of their team suggested, the boy. "So we can watch each other's backs?"

"Good plan, Felan," Syko nodded, looking to Hisku, who remained silent, not objecting. "Let's do that. Uh, this way?" she more asked than said, pointing towards Jorel, the Chiss woman moving up to next to him without a word.

Moving forward as a group, the first few rooms seemed to be mostly empty storage, holding only standard supplies, but after that things started to get. . . unpleasant.

Opening one door, the smell of literal sewage joined the taint of the Dark Side, showing holding cells, some of which had been scrubbed, while others were dirtied with feces, urine, blood, and possibly more, a single droid at work cleaning the area.

"Who are-" was as far as it got before a burst from Hisku's weapon took it out.

"Not an armory," she stated, looking to their 'leader'. "We should leave."

The woman, holding a hand over her mouth and nose, looked around, aghast. "I, no, this is horrible!" she said, stating the obvious, struggling with her belt as she pulled out a holorecorder, panning it across the room. "We need to keep going. This is big. Really big!"

Jorel's attaché didn't bother to hide her silent snarl, and the Jedi realized that, while he was able to block out the Dark without issue, Hisku could not. "Then let's be quick about it," he offered, already heading for the door.

They made their way down the hall, dealing with a wandering patrol in an instant, whoever ran things down here not paying attention to the fact that they were even present, as they passed through rooms with more empty cages, storerooms, and power generation that had nothing to do with the prison above them, which had its own generator.

. . . this, came the whisper of the Force, so faint he wasn't sure if it was just his imagination, but even if it was, he'd go with it. Motioning to Hisku, she nodded, attaching an explosive charge to it when the others weren't looking, keyed to the detonator she carried, just in case.

Then they started to find what could only be described as laboratories, the Dark Side ever so thicker in them, enough to put his already on edge nerves straining, his ability to sense the Force directing him to one side-cabinet, and, opening it, he found empty vials on racks, save one.

It was stoppered, holding a subtly glowing green fluid, seeming to twist and flow with a current of its own, darker bits of green, practically black, winding through it like thick strands. In the Force, however, it practically howled with the Dark, offering him life, power, and healing in a way that he did not trust in the slightest.

Without really meaning to, he threw up a Veil, distracting the others as he took it, and slipped it into a secure compartment in his armor. Whatever it was, the others couldn't have it, wouldn't be able to use it like he could.

Not that he was going to use it, but it was dangerous, whatever it was, and was not the kind of thing that should be in the hands of a non-Jedi.

"Got a terminal!" Lantha called, looking back around. "Where's the new guy?"

Dropping the Veil, which had been far too easy to make, now that he thought about it, Jorel pretended to have ducked under a table. "Still here." Hisku's head snapped over to him, a tension in her gaze slightly lessening, and he realized that she'd been looking for him as well. "Anyone here a slicer?"

"I'm okay," Felan offered, walking up to it, and taking a seat. "So, wow, no password? Knew the Congs were dumb. Uh. . ."

The boy started to scroll through files as the others gathered around him, Jorel himself only able to catch the occasional glimpse of text, about experimentation, and prisoners, and 'new fields of research'.

"Uh. . ." the boy repeated, sounding more nervous. "This, this can't be right."

"What is it?" Syko questioned, leaning forward, and the rapid-fire of opening of text files stopped, showing a repeating image of a person, strapped down, cut open, and a familiar looking green fluid being dripped into the wound, which closed up in seconds, leaving a twisted, jagged looking scar.

"Is, is that some kind of super bacta?" Syko whispered, looking around, trying to find another sample of the fluid. "And they were testing it out on prisoners?"

It looked a little like that, Jorel had to admit, except for the fact that, other than technically being alive, bacta didn't have any kind of special Force presence to it, and, whatever this was, absolutely did. He could feel it at his side, pulsing like a second heartbeat, and, from the way that Hisku's eyes drifted to its compartment, she could feel it too, even if she didn't know what it was.

"Maybe?" Jorel offered, distracting them from the truth. "Is there anything on how it's made? Or if they have any?"

Felan looked to Syko, who nodded, and Jorel pushed away the annoyance at the fact that the slicer had felt like he needed confirmation before he'd follow the Jedi's order, the information they needed too important for personal pride to let him snap at the boy. Over a minute of clicking and rapidly opening, then closing, menus later the slicer pushed his chair back slightly and shook his head. "They had some, but it got shipped out yesterday."

"And how it's made?" the Jedi pressed.

Again, that stupid head shake. "Not from here. Whoever did it is keeping it on a local terminal, not the local net. If I had my rig, I might be able to make it work, but I didn't think I needed it."

You thought wrong, Jorel thought, taking a moment to realize that wasn't him, but, again, still agreeing, blunting his rebuke to, "Next time, then. Do you know where the terminal we need is?"

"Yeah," the boy quickly replied under the Jedi's stare. "Found a map. Here!" an image was brought up, showing the complex they were in. "We're right here." A blue dot was added in a small room near the entrance. "And it's here, off the, uh, 'production area'." Another dot, this one red, was added at the far end of the complex. "With that, I should be able to get everything we need."

"Great job, Felan!" Syka congratulated. "If we can get this, not only will it help us win, but it'll make us all rich! Bacta's worth a ton of creds, but this stuff looks like it's almost magic!"

The others perked up at that, greed overriding their previous apprehension, while Hisku and Jorel both took a step back. The Chiss motioned with her rifle, and, for a moment, Jorel was tempted to agree and open fire right here and now. They were here to scout out the Resistance, and the Padawan thought they'd done a pretty good job, but this? This took priority, and furthermore could not be allowed to spread.

At least, not outside of the Order.

This kind of healing could help Jedi survive where they might otherwise fail, and only they would be able to handle the Dark Side energies within. Er'izma had already shown it was possible to purge the 'taint', though Jorel thought maybe that was the wrong term. Was a little so bad, if it let them survive? His Master was already pushing the limits on what a Jedi was supposed to do, with his small army, the Knight would understand the need.

But Jorel was getting ahead of himself. They needed to find the method first, extract the data on how it was made, and only then would they act.

And then, he and Hisku would Kill Them All.