Arc 2 Chapter 28

Moving through the corridors was not a very pleasant experience, the Force like an open sewer as he trudged through it, thick with the Dark from the torturous experiments that'd been carried out here, to find the extent of the vial's ability to heal. Jorel and Hisku were at the front, though both of them were. . . on edge, to say the least.

With the Dark Side so thick, the normal helpful whispers of the Force, warning them of incoming dangers, were muted, and, while his Chiss attaché would never admit it, she did benefit from them as much as he did, though likely not consciously. However, it was that lack of conscious manipulation that meant she was completely shut off now, while he could still make out vague whispers, at the edge of his perception.

It also didn't escape his notice that there were shifts and currents in the oily metaphysical sludge of the Dark around him, and part of him wondered what they meant, but he didn't have time to watch them. He did wish he'd spent longer working on his capabilities with the Force instead of studying idiotic things like logistics, when, as a Jedi, he should be above such things, able to take whatever he want-

And that was the other thing, the press of the Dark on his thoughts. He'd removed them whenever they cropped up, but they were still annoying. And the rank incompetence of his so-called squad didn't help.

Hisku and he at least were trained, her as a soldier, and him as a Jedi, but the others. . . not so much. Felan, the kid who was even younger than Jorel was, looked like he might piss himself, but his skills as a slicer had helped them find where they needed to go. Loran, the green-skinned Duros, seemed mildly competent, while the two older humans, Lantha and Gareth, hadn't done a single thing of note. They were still better than Syko, though, their 'leader' who put herself in the middle of their group, to keep herself safe, not taking a single risk, and ordering around her betters.

It was a pity that Felan would have to die, but ,for the others, nothing of value would be lost, and he'd honestly be doing the Resistance a favor by ridding them of Syko's idiocy.

A shift caught his attention, a swirl of Dark, and a half-second later it was accompanied by the whisper of the Force, and Jorel strained, only getting an impression, but that was enough. "Hisku, forward, you lot, behind!" he commanded.

Taking a step to the side, Jorel put Loran between himself and the rear of the hallway, lifting his blaster as Hisku did the same, taking cover behind Syko, so that even if the others couldn't do their job, their bodies would at least block the shots until the competent fighters could turn their attention to the rear.

From doorways in front of them, half a dozen more battle droids emerged, tinny voices declaring, "Halt!", as he heard more from behind, but he was already firing, as was Hisku, and they mowed down their opponents.

A few bolts went flying by from behind, one coming dangerously close, and Jorel spun about, adding his own fire to the others', Felan and Syko having frozen, but the other three at least listening, and their massed fire took out the other six droids behind them, the deaths of the machines not creating so much as a ripple in the Force.

There was a long moment, but Jorel didn't feel anything else coming for them, and stood back up straight, unable to stop himself from sending a look of disgust towards Syko, though she was looking in the other direction. Reigning himself back in, he turned to the front once more, catching Hisku's eye, who subtly gestured with her gun towards their so-called leader, but he shook his head, and the focused back forwards, pressing onwards, though it felt somehow like they were going deeper.

There was no easy way from the entrance to the production area, and with the droids' lack of any Force Presence, Jorel couldn't 'happen' to take them on a route that avoided them, so they ran into three more patrols, and two more ambushes. Thankfully, the metal guards were worse shots then even Felan was, the slicer only hitting one droid by accident, admitting after an impressive headshot that he'd been aiming for the next one over, so while there were a few close calls, Lantha getting a sleeve singed, neither he nor Hisku were hurt, and that was what mattered.

"What's this?" Felan asked, as he stopped, only a few more turns away from their destination.

"What's what?" Syko questioned in turn, stopping as well, which meant the others all had to wait now, despite them being so close to their target.

The boy pointed towards one of the many, many blank doors they'd passed, this one without even a handle. It took a moment for Jorel to realize that the slicer was instead pointing not to the door, but to the space right in front of it, the floor the door opened onto, which, like the others, was slightly recessed into the hallway wall.

The others gathered, abandoning all pretense of professionalism, and the Jedi had to admit, he was curious as well. Glancing to Hisku, who was openly glaring at the others, he caught her eye and motioned for her to keep a look out, motioning towards himself, then in their direction to indicate he'd find out what the fuss was about. She looked cross, but nodded, stepping to the side with her blaster up.

Coming behind the others, he heard Lantha swear quietly, "E chu ta, what do you think made that?"

Creeping up, the attention of his 'squad' diverted, Jorel deftly used a twist of the Force to steal the datastick containing everything they'd found on the healing substance from the Slicer's back pocket. "Think of what?" the Padawan then questioned, annoyance creeping into his tone, completely unfaked. He was more than happy to take advantage of the opportunity, but it shouldn't've existed in the first place. They were here to get what they wanted, and leave. They were not here to play tourist in a place that made his stomach turn, even if he was getting better at ignoring it.

Dutifully, the others parted, letting him get a look at what they were gawking at.

It was a paw print.

Half of one, give or take, as a portion of it had been cleaned off, as if the mark had been sheared away by a blade, the same droids that handled defense likely taking care of sanitation, and, as droids, doing things too literally, and thus badly. The Temple's cleaning droids were well programmed, but had a tendency to linger around areas where the Masters were meeting, clearly waiting to go in and clean when they were done, leaving other areas un-attended, or, like here, cleaning a room right up to a doorway, and then stopping there to go somewhere else, a harsh dividing line of dust evidence of the limit of their internal designation of what the 'room' was and was not.

The better question was, of course, what had left the print.

It was something sizeable, something with a claw on the back of its feet, and something that, from how clean the print was, had to have been covered in something gel-like enough to leave the distinct image Jorel was looking at. Squatting down, he reached out to touch the dark-red substance, only for a distant stirring in the Force to tell him not to. Instead, he reached over and plucked a knife off the Duros' belt, to the man's complaint, but the alien wasn't going to do anything about it, so Jorel paid it no mind as he used the durasteel to scrape up a bit, bringing it closer to himself and. . .

There.

It was faint, very faint, but there was the tiniest amount of Dark in the substance, an indistinct whiff of. . . anger?

"Hisku, sample case!" the Jedi ordered, catching it easily as she tossed it at his head, wanting to move on as much as he did, but Er'izma would want to take a look at this, after the two of them had found how to make the healing fluid, killed these fools, and escaped the prison.

"W-what are you doing?" Syko asked, and Jorel couldn't help but sigh.

"You mean with the case meant to hold samples?" he questioned, depositing the goo, along with a bit more, inside the small metal square and sealing it. "Why don't you guess?"

For a moment, their 'leader' shot him an angry look, but unfortunately didn't follow it up with anything. The coward. Tossing the case back to his servant, Hisku stored it and they both fell back into formation, leaving the others to follow, or be left behind, as they kept going deeper, and deeper, down to one last door.

Jorel found himself hesitating, something about the door was. . . wrong. But everything about this place was wrong. Besides, whatever was on the other side didn't matter. He was a Jedi, and his strength would be enough to slay whatever dared to threaten him and his.

"Let's go," he ordered, approaching the metal doors, which opened into. . . another hallway. Pausing, he looked back at their slicer. "This wasn't the map."

The boy shrugged, "Maybe they did some construction?"

"Maybe," Gareth said haltingly behind them, "Maybe we shouldn't go in."

Oh, NOW you can sense the Dark Side, Jorel thought scathingly, the sensation of it so thick in the air it seemed to catch in his lungs. If only the REST of you had bothered to listen to the LITERAL JEDI in your midst. But now they were here, now that Jorel had seen what they were going to find, part of himself wondered why he'd ever been worried in the first place. He was handling it fine, after all. The Padawan turned, ready to shoot the coward, but Syko chided the older man by saying, "This could make us rich! Come on!"

"But-" he started to argue.

"I'm the leader, and I say we go!" she cut him off, striding past Jorel and Hisku, but only a few steps, before waving for the rest to follow, unable to actually lead.

Sharing a contemptuous glance with Hisku, the Jedi strode forward, the others following, even as the Dark seemed to press in on them.

And then the containment field went up.

From around them, a deflector shield sprung into being, trapping them, even as the walls and ceiling were lifted up into the air, the sound of cables spinning audible over the hum of the bubble of energy they found themselves in.

Revealing hell.

The room they were in was large, carved from the dark rock of the island itself, barely illuminated by a handful of flickering lights that cast the room in dark shadows, but did nothing to hide the bodies, strapped to racks, each pierced with a dozen spikes, from which extended thin tubes, each carrying a familiar green liquid.

The faces of the prisoners, many still in uniform, though they were spoiled with blood, sweat, bile, and more, were constantly shifting rictuses of pain, each expression telling a story of torturous agony. A handful of droids attended them, injecting their victims with a number of substances, while a single man in a black robe stood high over it all, watching them with a smile that promised pain.

More than that, though, was the Dark Side.

Because it was no longer a sewer, vile yet a chaotic, meaningless, mess, it now made a horrible kind of sense. It was as if a veil had been lifted from his sight, and through the viscous, wretched flow he could read the patterns in the Force, the multitudinous agony these people were experiencing, a flow that turned into a flood and threatened to drown him now that he saw it for what it was, but he would not give in, not again.

Slamming his mental barriers down, he found it didn't help, as it was on him, in him, but how? He'd been keeping it out! Looking to Hisku, she was as bad as he was, and, unthinking, he reached out to her in the Force, as he felt her rising panic, the Chiss almost certainly feeling that same invasive wrongness within herself that he was, if not as keenly.

It was like picking a lock he couldn't feel, or painting a picture he couldn't see. He knew the motions, the process, how he'd pulled himself out of the Dark, though not how Er'izma had, but maybe he didn't need t-

NO! He thought, seizing on that feeling and ripping it out of himself, but it was like a worm made of hooks, that tore him up as it was forced to leave, but the alternate, what would happen if it stayed?

Worth it.

Reaching out to Hisku he could practically See the corruption wriggling under her skin, no shields to hold it off, the oily blackness looking for weaknesses in her Presence to pretend to fill, and, though he knew not how, he extended himself to her, ridding her of the Dark Side taint just as he had for himself. Not all of it, he didn't know how his Master had done it, but this would be good enough for now, and much better than nothing.

Both of them were driven to their knees, and he was distantly aware of Felan vomiting, and screaming. Was it his own? It was, but it was lost in a cacophony of the others, whatever had rendered the prisoners silent no longer in place.

Struggling against that Dark tide, he wanted to give up, to let it take him, but it wasn't just him that was in danger, but Hisku as well, and he Would. Not. Fail. Her.

She hadn't even wanted to be here, only was because Er'izma had offered his Padawan a spy mission, and he'd convinced her to keep going with it. Reaching out to her, it felt as if she was reaching out to him as well, and they both leaned against the other, yet, somehow, did not fall, both standing as the sounds of pain beyond imagining were cut off as cleanly as a saber strike, leaving their ears aching, along with their souls.

"Ah, the sounds of true art," the dark-robed man smiled, his voice tainted with the Dark. "Sadly, it makes it quite hard to converse. And I so rarely have guests." He paused, looking to those strapped to what Jorel now realized were medical tables, though they were covered with jagged carved runes that hurt a little to stare at directly. "Willing ones, at least."

"W-Who are you!?" Syko demanded, at the center of their group. "What's going on here? This was supposed to be the production area!"

"Oh but it is," the man announced, clapping his hands together. "Welcome to the ground floor, where I recycle the useless, for the wealthy, and the powerful."

"You're torturing them!" Felan shouted.

"Of course," the madman replied, blasé. "I need them to be willing to do anything to give up their life force. Pain is the best way, and these fools have only brought this down on themselves. I'm merely meting out justice to the guilty, the weak, and creating something that could help those that truly matter." He looked directly at Jorel, no, at the vial hidden in his armor. "You've already seen what it can do, tell me, what do you think of my work?"

Unbidden, the word came to his lips, one of hatred, and disgust, one which he should never have had to give to a living soul. "Sith!" the Jedi spat.

Instead of being shamed, the man, his Presence a festering wound in the Force, laughed. "Oh, I am no master of pain! Merely a dabbler in the arts! One of minor ability, but great ingenuity!" The Dark Adept reached inside his robe, no, it was a lab coat, only stained red with so much blood it appeared black in the dim lighting of the room, and pulled out a scroll.

The tube reeked of the Dark, and was the final clue, the center of the tide of foulness that even then pushed against Jorel's mental shields, which threatened to crack and splinter apart if he did not hold them up. It was the core of this foulness, flowing outwards into the now-silent tortured, the vial at his hip, the lingering taint in both him and his partner, everything.

"This, this is the work of one the Jedi called Sith," the other man informed them. "A new field of science, denied to us by idiots who hoard power for themselves. Jedi only take the young to better fool them. And what do the rest of us, the ones with the power, but not the 'grace' to be stumbled across by fools in brown robes get? We get scraps!"

The Dark Adept was ranting, but, even as Jorel's head pounded, and his limbs felt weak from ripping out the vileness that had been creeping in, the Padawan was fine with it. This gave him time to recover, time to plan, and if the man was this deep in the throws of the Dark, he wouldn't be able to handle surprises very well.

After all, Jorel hadn't.

"What do you mean, power?" Jorel asked, feeding into the man's megalomania. The Dark made someone feel important, feel powerful, feel unstoppable. But it was baseless, and, high on it, you still knew it was baseless, deep down. So he got the man talking. "Do you mean you could've been a Jedi?"

"The Jedi are fools!" the not-a-Sith shouted, sounding just like the Sith from the Temple archives. "Their 'Midichlorians' are nothing but lies! I was too weak, they said, but strength is not in the blood, but the mind!"

Translating, that meant whoever this was, Jorel could've overpowered him if they were both Jedi, but the Dark meant that wasn't necessarily true. Jorel had been stronger, far stronger, hopped up on that corrosive power, than he was normally, but he didn't know enough about the Dark to make any kind of assessment. The droids here didn't have blasters, but he had no idea if the guard droids were waiting just outside. Or if this man had other traps.

But standing here, listening to the madman rant, wasn't going to end with anything good.

Looking to Hisku, who was clearly shaken, but trying to hold herself together, he gestured behind his back, out of sight of the Dark Adept, miming hitting a button, then an explosion, then her, and the others, and a sharp gesture back the way they came. It took her a moment, but she understood, nodding. However, she turned a concerned look his way.

Miming the same explosion, he gestured to himself, then towards the Dark Adept. From what little he'd read about the Sith, they had a practice, Alchemy, that would let them create concoctions that could warp flesh, corrupt others, and perform all manner of unnatural acts. Seeing the vial, and the video, it should've been obvious, but he hadn't made the connection, likely because the Dark had already been working on him, trying to twist him into using it more and more, until it consumed him.

But Alchemy required a Sith, or at least an Adept able to wield the Dark, to function, and without him, none of this would work.

So Jorel would have to kill him.

"And you, I can sense it!" the Adept crowed, the Padawan wincing, hearing the decisive moment coming in the man's tone, though the Force remained silent. "You and the girl! You both could become my disciples! Kill the others, kill your friends, prove to me your commitment, and take your place under me!"

The fact that Jorel had been considering that very thing earlier made the words sting, but he was himself, at least for now.

Reaching for the Force here, it didn't work, so Jorel didn't, just letting whatever came to him be enough. A trickle of strength fed back into himself, and, as much as he wanted more, needed more, he knew he couldn't have any more, so this would have to be enough.

Because if he reached for the Dark again. . . he might end up joining this madman.

By the Force, some part of him was still trying to consider how to kill the rebels, then kill this madman, usurp his operation, and use it to help the Jedi, and force the High Council to knight him on the spot. Which was just. . . not how that worked!To become a Knight without going through the trials? It just wasn't done. The records had been clear about that, just as much as it wasn't possible to become a Padawan without a Master.

But he could still feel the bit of himself, still tainted, ask, 'Why not? Aren't you special?'

No, he needed to get out of here, and he needed to get out now.

And to start with, that meant getting out of this force field.

"Well?" the Adept demanded.

"D-don't do it!" Syko demanded, and pointed her rifle right at Jorel's back, even as the tainted portion of him urged him to kill her before she killed him, likely by accident, given the woman's aim.

Turning his attention back to the man, Jorel called out, voice cold and clear. For this to work, he'd need the Dark Adept's attention on him, which meant calling upon his most practiced talent, at least according to the Temple Masters.

Being an aggravating druk-head, who didn't know when to shut up.

"How 'bout no?" the Padawan sneered. "You can scrabble around in a cave, like kriffing mynock, having to suck power out of people that can't fight back, like the parasite you are. Me? I'm the type of guy that likes a fair fight, when it comes down to it." Jorel could feel the rage simmering off the other man, and the Padawan knew he was doing exactly what he wanted, and just needed that little bit more. Laughing scornfully, he added, "Besides, the ones who say power doesn't matter, are the ones who don't have any."

At that he made a gesture, and Hisku set off the explosives, destroying the generator, cutting power to the complex and plunging the room into darkness.

And chaos.