Altered Legacies

2 years prior to The Force Awakens...
A persistent and interactive galaxy set shortly before the events of Episode VII

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Pryde
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Re: Altered Legacies

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Isis was too distracted by thoughts of Hirai as the party made their way through the sewers. She knew the others had trusted Qan but there was just something about him that rubbed her the wrong way and now he had her friend. Her last known position was miles off shore and while Isis still remembered their trajectory it wouldn't help them track her if at some point they changed course after the tracker went dead. At best all she could get from that information was a guess and while Isis had a tendency to act on most guesses she didn't much like the idea of placing her friend's fate in the hands of a guess.

"You alright," Tav asked after noticing how quiet she was being.

"I'm worried about Hirai," she told him. "What if Qan... What if he hurt her," she finished instead, unable to even suggest the other thing.

"I don't think he would," Tav assured her, "They went through a lot of trouble to get her here. If they wanted her dead they could have done it back on Corellia."

That made her feel slightly better but the thought of her best friend in the clutches of the enemy was still unsettling. As the seven companions made their way through the sewer Isis' mind was occupied with all manner of imagined tortures that Hirai most certainly must be enduring right now and that made her increasingly angry. Silently she vowed that if she ever got her hands on Qan Kisa she would rip him in two...

**********

Hirai stared out the window of her single bedroom suite that she'd been assigned to. The storm surrounding the island continued to pound heavy sheets of rain against the glass as lightning bolts raced across the sky, some even striking the ground. The hellscape of Pek Kular looked almost as though it came straight out of a holo flick. How could a place like this even exist in the real world and how did it become like this in the first place?

There was a light tone at the door just before a droid entered. He had some fresh sheets in his arms as he walked to the center of the room. "Forgive my intrusion, Ma'am, but I am to prepare your bed chambers for the evening."

Hirai simply nodded in response and the droid walked past her into the bedroom. After a few moments had passed he came back out into the living room and bowed awkwardly at the hip. "If that will be all, Ma'am," he said and then he started to head for the door.

Hirai turned around then and stopped him with a word. "Wait," she said, "I have questions."

The droid stopped in his tracks and turned back to her. "Of course, Ma'am, I will answer what I may."

Hirai glanced over her should back out the window. "I know Ruk and Qan said there were Sith ruins on this island and that they were researching them, but... What kind of research are they doing, exactly? They never did say."

"Hmm," the droid said and Hirai got the feeling that If he could frown he would be doing just that right now. Instead he simply made gesture that could be considered an approximation of human uncertainty. "I'm afraid I can't answer that," he said.

"Because it's classified," Hirai asked pointedly. Not satisfied with his answer through in truth she had expected it.

The droid shrugged, or at least he attempted to. "I can't answer because I simply don't know. Ruk keeps much of his research compartmentalized. I am merely one of the maintenance bots here. I clean the labs from time to time but the particulars of Ruk's research are beyond my clearance."

Hirai sighed then turned her back on him. "Alright, you can go," she told him and the droid bowed again before leaving the room. Meanwhile Hirai's eyes were transfixed on the storm torn landscape surrounding the facility, a sinking feeling in the pit of her gut.

What is this power I'm feeling, she asked herself quietly. Since landing at this facility she'd had this uneasy feeling like someone or some thing was watching her. Qan had told her that Ruk was the only other person here but Hirai couldn't help but feel like they weren't alone. I hope Isis is okay, she thought. She hadn't seen her friend for a couple of days now and she was really starting to miss her. Especially now, she could really use some of Isis' brash confidence. The other girl always had a way of making Hirai feel better even in the most tense of situations. Something like that could really ease her nerves right now.

**********

It was some time after their escape from the prison. Soon after they had gotten out the JSI had moved in and secured the place. There were patrols in the streets now looking for escaped convicts or crazed guards and dodging them hadn't been very easy. Fortunately, Korzen had an ear on the pulse of the JSI and his info helped them immensely to avoid any unnecessary entanglements. It took several hours but eventually they made it to one of Sysen's safehouses. Obviously they couldn't stay for very long but at the very least it gave them a chance to rest and recuperate and to get some much needed answers.

At the moment, though, the group was in a heated conversation. Isis had just about worked herself into a frenzy with worry and the second they got to the safehouse she just about exploded. "How could you let her go with Qan," she said, turning on Clara, "I told you to watch her! That means keep her close not 'let the slimy son of a hutt who lured her here take her away!'"

"You never said that," Clara shot back, "As I recall you put a tracker on me and left."

"I gave you the look. Did you not pay attention to the look," she asked, then she turned to Tav, "You saw the look, right?"

"I would rather stay out of this," he said, holding up his hands.

Clara just ignored him. "I still don't see why you're so upset, kid," she answered back, "Hirai has your tracker on her and now that we have my Uncle we can follow that right to her."

Isis' hands balled into fists and she ground her teeth in frustration. "That would be easier if I hadn't lost her, damn it," she snapped.

Clara's expression hardened and a sudden feeling of fear for the well being of her cousin began rising from the pit of her stomach. "What do you mean, 'lost her'?"

"I mean her signal blinked out in the middle of the ocean," Isis explained, "All I've got is her last heading, but if the bastard changed course at all then who the hell knows where she is!"

After hearing that Clara swore and turned her back on the girl and Isis continued to press her. "Did he at least say where he was taking her," she asked and Clara looked at her then shook her head.

"Great," Isis answered, "real smart move letting that bastard take her without asking where he was going."

"Relax," Tulsar told her, raising his voice a few volumes above hers, "Qan said he was taking her somewhere safe and I trust him to keep his word."

Isis turned her gaze onto him. "No offense, Old Man, but I don't buy that 'Jaska's the one behind it' story one bit. Him showing up at the farm like that with insider information and offering to take Hirai somewhere safe just seems way too convenient for me. I get that he's your friend but Hirai is my sister and I don't trust him."

Then she pointed an accusatory finger at Habas. "You! This is all your fault, you know! Hirai wouldn't even be in this mess if it weren't for you," she told him, "You're supposed to be some great assassin, right? So why'd you let yourself get caught?"

Habas was caught off guard by the accusation. "Kid, I haven't the faintest idea who you're talking about."

"I'm talking about your daughter," she snapped at him and those words hit Habas like a sack of bricks.

"Daughter?" He repeated, his mind racing to process this information. So dumbstruck was he that he just stood there in disbelief. A daughter? How could he have one? When? And with who?

All he could do was just stare at her in shock. "Who," he asked, unable to finish a complete thought.

"Kana McKay, you remember her, right," Isis asked him, "She had a kid after you rescued her eighteen years ago. Hirai is eighteen, do the math."

Clara crossed her arms over her chest and leveled her with a glare. "Weren't you the one who said Hirai should tell him herself?"

Isis half turned to her with a look. "That was before you geniuses let her leave with that slamo Qan," she shot back, "If we have to go rescue her now then I'm going to make damn sure your Uncle is properly motivated."

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Re: Altered Legacies

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“Listen here, you-” Clara started to object angrily as Isis dared to imply her uncle would abandon anyone in need, but she was stopped by Habas himself with a hand on her shoulder.

“Kana McKay is a name I've not heard in a long time,” Habas said to Isis a little distantly. “A long time...” He sighed as he brought himself back to the present. “My time with her is not something I talk about often - and that was for her sake.” He glanced over at Clara to include her in conversation. “She and I were in a relationship for the better part of a galactic standard year and very much in love, but it couldn't last. I have too many enemies to ever stay in one place for long.”

Even though Clara had come to accept that Hirai was more than likely her cousin, she was still a bit shocked by her uncle's revelation. “I never knew. I had no idea you were ever with anyone like that.”

“No one did,” Habas confirmed. “She was already being hunted when we met. The last thing she needed was to be targeted by my enemies too.” He looked back at Isis. “I loved her with all my heart, and leaving her was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but at no point did we ever agree to have a child. No child would be safe with me as a father.” He frowned. “Assuming everything you say is true, it seems she felt differently.”

“She's your daughter!” Isis insisted. “Accept it.”

“That remains to be seen,” Habas replied, with an eerie detached calm that was frightening with how inhuman it was. His tone made it clear he wasn't interested in arguing about it.

Something about his demeanor even seemed to unsettle Isis, if only briefly. As if she was able to glimpse for the first time behind his unassuming exterior and see one of the galaxy's most deadly assassins standing before her. She was briefly speechless, which turned out to be fortuitous as Sysen called them over to the holoviewer.

“We're in trouble,” the younger Leidias said to them grimly as he turned up the volume on a news broadcast.

“Our top story tonight,” the news announcer said in grim tone. “Betrayal by one of Juoi's most esteemed families: the Leidias family. Shocking new evidence obtained from security footage of the prison riot has revealed the presence of Tulsar and Sysen Leidias. Sysen Leidias, of course, was arrested and convicted for conspiracy against Director Jaska. At the time, it appeared that Sysen's actions were isolated, but now it seems clear that he was not acting alone.”

As the announcer spoke, footage of Tulsar and Sysen fighting the inmates of the prison was displayed.

“JSI's experts have concluded that no physical external forces were used to induce the prison riot and believe that the deranged behavior was caused by the Force itself. The footage recovered from the prison has confirmed their assessment.” The footage then changed to show images of Clara, Isis, Tav, and Habas. “The Leidiases appear to have also freed known galactic assassin Habas Molariou along with his niece, NRI operative Clara Molariou, and finally Isis Sinclair, daughter of New Republic senator Isaac Sinclair. Experts are still unsure if Clara Molariou and Isis Sinclair's presence constitutes an intergalactic conspiracy against the Sovereignty of Juoi by the New Republic.”

The camera cut back to the news announcer as the faces of everyone appeared behind him, including Tav's face, although he wasn't mentioned by the news announcer. “Although Korzen Leidias and Falanis Leidias have been taken into custody, the instigators behind the prison riot are still at large. The government is currently offering a one million credit reward for information as to their whereabouts of these extremely dangerous individuals.”

Sysen muted the holoviewer and looked to the group. “You were set up. I don't know how he managed it yet, but Jaska has been playing all of you from the beginning. He wanted this to happen. This is his end game.”

***

Strangely enough, despite the chaos happening outside of the building, Hirai's nightly rests were undisturbed and each morning she woke up feeling refreshed, driven, and focused. Little by little Ruk was allowing her to explore the facility, although she was still restricted to staying inside while he left to conduct his research in the temple.

However, one morning she caught him practicing with a sword against a droid specfically meant fur dueling. Although Qan had told Hirai before that Ruk was supposed to be well-versed with swords, she hadn't expected him to actually practice with them. To Hirai's eye, his form could give Tulsar a run for his credits, although his movements were much slower due to them being unassisted by the Force. Without his labcoat, Ruk's body was revealed to be actually very toned and muscled, but far more taught and wiry than the elder Leidias. If Tulsar's body was a durasteel plate, Ruk's would have been a durasteel cable.

It didn't take Ruk long to notice her astonishment and he ceased his workout. “Not what you expected?” he asked rhetorically.

Hirai shook her head. “You didn't seem the type.”

“There's a lot you don't know about me,” Ruk said to her calmly. “I would chastise you for judging me by looks alone, but I was guilty of the same thing when we first met. Swordplay has always been a passion of mine. It's what got me interested in studying ancient weaponry in the first place.”

“Have you ever faced off against Tulsar?” Hirai asked him, genuinely curious.

He shook his head. “Qan has talked about it many times, but it just never seems to happen.” He gave her a toothy smile. “That would be the ultimate challenge though, wouldn't it? Maybe one day I can see how I measure up.”

Hirai nodded, not quite sure what to say, so she blurted out the question that she had been wanting an answer to since she arrived. “Um, so what exactly is the focus of your research here? The ancient weapons?”

Ruk eyed her for a moment before seeming to come to a decision. “Actually, no. That's not what we've found to be the main focus inside the temple. Do you believe in ghosts, Hirai?”

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Pryde
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Re: Altered Legacies

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"Up until a few days ago I didn't even believe in the Force," Hirai told Ruk, surprised that he would ask her about something so outrageous. Was he trying to imply that there were ghosts on this continent? "Is that what you're researching here," she asked, "Ghosts?"

**********

Isis sat in stunned silence after Sysen had switched off the news report. This was the second time she'd been framed for a crime she didn't commit. The first time had nearly destroyed her family, she dread to think what this accusation would do. "How far does this go," she asked, her voice trembling ever so slightly.

"So far it's only local," Sysen told her, "Juoi still hasn't officially announced that they were holding Habas Molariou in prison."

Tav seemed to catch on to what her concern was and stepped closer to her. "Are you worried about your father," he asked.

Isis shook her head. "No, if it's just local he'd have to have someone on Juoi to be able to--," as she spoke her comm link started chiming at her. She pulled it out of her pocket and glanced up at Tav.

"Guess that means he does have someone on Juoi," he said sardonically.

Isis sighed heavily and answered her father's call. "Dad," she said, feigning excitement, "I was just about to call you! What? ... Juoi? Dad, I have no idea what you're talking about... Yes, yes, we're on our way home right now... News report? Don't be silly, I haven't talked to any reporters. Anyway, Dad, gotta go. Talk to ya later!"

Then she quickly hung up before he could get another word in and looked back at the others. "If they have Falanis and Korzen in custody then we need to bust them out," she told them.

"What happened to saving Hirai," Tav asked her, "You seemed pretty gung ho about it a second ago."

She turned her back on him and looked away, hiding her frustration. "We don't know where she is, Ace, and even if we did if we went after her now...," she left the rest hanging in the air but the implication was pretty clear. If Jaska and company really wanted to keep them away from Hirai they could leverage the lives of Tulsar's family against them. Hirai might be safe from harm as their enemies had wanted her alive but neither Falanis nor Korzen share that same invulnerability...

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Re: Altered Legacies

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“I'll get them back,” Tulsar said, his tone leaving no room for argument to the contrary. It was a simple fact that it was going to happen.

“Alone?” Clara asked him anyway, picking up on the implication inherent in his words. “That's exactly what Jaska wants. I have no reason to doubt that he'll have all kinds of things set up to either take you prisoner or take you down. At the very least take me with you. You wouldn't be in this situation if it weren't for me.”

“She's right,” Sysen spoke up. “I want to rescue Mom and my son too, but that's exactly what they want us to do. You'll be walking right into the mouth of the beast to get them back.”

Tulsar shook his head. “No one knows Jaska and the JSI as well as I do. I appreciate the offer, Clara, but I knew what I was getting into by helping you – and it seems something like this was bound to happen anyway. Besides, you'll only slow me down by coming with me. Any of you. Even you, Sysen.”

Sysen sighed as he shook his head. “You're a damn stubborn man, but you're probably right.”

Tulsar placed a hand on Sysen's shoulder. “You have a more important job. It's not going to be long before the JSI finds this place too. You need to get everyone to your real safehouse that you told me about. We need to gather the evidence you have stored there that proves Jaska is not who he claims. The people need to see what's going on. That's going to be the only way we'll be able to clear our names.”

Sysen nodded reluctantly. “Good luck, and may the Force be with you.”

Tulsar nodded back, giving his son's shoulder a reassuring squeeze, before glancing around the room to everyone else. “And to all of you as well.” He then departed from the room before anyone else could try and stop him.

Sysen looked back at the assembled group. “He's right. We'll need to leave from here soon. I have a stealth airspeeder stored in the hangar below this place. It's configured to obfuscate the JSI search algorithms. It'll be a tight squeeze, but we should all be able to fit into it.”

“Where are we going then?” Tav asked.

Sysen eyed him for a moment, as if still trying to decide if any of them could be trusted, before he made a decision. “We're changing continents to Stoni. It's Juoi's largest and mostly occupied by mining corporations. Otherwise it's very sparsely occupied. It'll be easier to hide from the JSI there.”

***

“I know how it sounds,” Ruk said to Hirai. “However, there have been many accounts about individuals who were strong in the Force somehow managing to retain their form and consciousness after death. Colloquially, people tend to refer to them as 'Force ghosts'.”

Hirai made a disbelieving expression. “That sounds a bit too farfetched to be true.”

Ruk chuckled, which was perhaps the first time Hirai could recall sounds of genuine mirth coming from the Shistavanen. “So quick to judge, young Hirai. Did you know that swords like yours are fabled to be able to cut through, among other things, the essences of Force ghosts and destroy them? There aren't many weapons that can do that, not even the modern lightsaber is capable of that feat. I'm surprised that whoever taught you to make those swords never told you about everything they're supposed to be capable of.”

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Re: Altered Legacies

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"I'm really not liking the way they name things around here. Joy? Stoney? Mercy? Really?" Isis grumbled to everyone. Truthfully she was irritated at Tulsar for assuming she'd only be in the way, but she decided to keep those thoughts to herself. She much rather preferred to focus on finding Hirai, anyway, and this gave her the chance to do that. "How long is this little side trip going to take, anyway?"

"Not long, if we leave now," Sysen told her.

"Then let's get going," she said and she kicked off from the table she was leaning against and followed Sysen out of the room...

**********

Hirai's cheeks flushed slightly and she turned away. "My mother tried to teach me something like that but I refused to listen," she said. "I didn't believe in any of this Force stuff and I was angry at her for keeping me isolated and stuck inside all the time. So I tended to rebel--a lot. Especially during training."

"You're mother kept you isolated," Ruk asked, seeming genuinely interested. "Was she hiding from something?"

"Or someone," Hirai answered, "I don't know, maybe. We lived in a small house in the middle of nowhere. There wasn't another person around for miles and I wasn't permitted to travel very far from home. I never even met another person until I attended Beruss. Isis was my first real friend."

"Did she ever tell you who she was hiding from?"

Hirai shook her head. "She, um... She died before she could tell me." She stopped then and reflected for a moment. "It's funny," she continued, "I barely know you yet I've already told you so much about myself. I just... I feel like I can trust you. You've taken such good care of me since I arrived here."

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Re: Altered Legacies

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Ruk simply nodded at the compliment. One thing Hirai had learned was that he didn't smile often, though she was getting over how offputting that could be at times – both when he didn't smile and the rare times when he did. Ruk wasn't interested in comforting her, instead choosing to trust Hirai to take care of herself as long as she heeded his words. It was refreshing in a way.

“Your mother sounds like she was strong in the Force,” Ruk said to her. “She would have to be in order to make swords like that. I wonder if...”

Hirai waited for him to verbally finish his thought, but when the silence started to get awkward, Hirai couldn't help but prompt him. “What? What are you thinking?”

Ruk seemed to come back from a distant thought. “Nothing. I don't want to give you false hope. I was merely speculating to myself that if my research here pans out, then perhaps your mother could be a viable option.”

Hirai froze as he said those words. Until her time with Ruk, she had never even considered that her mother could be anything more than the woman who had raised her. The more she learned here though, the more she was starting to see her mother in a new light. She was beginning to realize that there was a lot she didn't know about her. Now Ruk was implying that she could see her mother again?! She had never even imagined the possibility.

Ruk scratched his chin thoughtfully as he noticed her reaction. “And this is why I didn't want to say anything. Until practical trials are conducted and I can examine the place where your mother died, it's impossible to tell how successful it would be. Put it out of your mind for now.”

Hirai nodded, although his suggestion to just forget about it wasn't going to happen.

Ruk nodded back, apparently satisfied, and was starting to make his way out of the room, before Hirai stopped him by speaking up.

“When are you returning to the temple?”

He paused mid-stride, his back already to her, as he cocked his head to the side. “I plan to resume my research there tomorrow. Why?”

Hirai had to struggle to overcome the apprehension she felt before she asked her next question. “Can I come with you? As your assistant?”

Ruk turned around to fully face her. He made no secret of studying her before he made a thoughtful grunt. “Perhaps. You do take instruction well...” He scratched his chin again. “This is the opposite of what Qan wanted though. The temple is the most dangerous place on Juoi.”

“I'll heed your every word,” she promised. “I want to do more than just wait around here. I want to earn my keep.”

“There are many ways to do that without putting you in danger,” Ruk said to her. “I could have you work on cataloging the items I've recovered, for example. Besides, your ulterior motive is not hard to figure out.”

Hirai started to object, but decided to just nod instead. “There is that too,” she admitted. “I'll go along with whatever you decide.”

Ruk surprised her by smiling again. “Your response is promising. A good assistant is one who has a passion for the work. I may consider it on one condition.”

“Name it.”

Ruk walked back into the center of the room and brandished his sword. “Show me how skilled you truly are in a fight. I've heard many things about how capable of an instructor Tulsar is. I'd like to see it for myself. Don't hold back.”

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Re: Altered Legacies

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Hirai hesitated a moment before drawing her sword. Ruk had told her not to hold back and she had seen just how good he was with a blade but still part of her was nervous about hurting him. She took a deep breath and tried to push those thoughts aside. After all this was all towards the possibility of seeing her mother again. With a new determination she slowly drew her blade from its sheath, the steel sounding a soft metallic ring that seemed to echo off the walls as it was drawn. Finally she slipped the scabbard and her other sword into the belt at her waist and took up a fighting stance. The two combatants circled each other for a moment as Hirai carefully scanned him for an opening.

A week ago I would have just rushed in, she thought to herself. Her fighting style had been heavily influenced by her friendship with Isis who rarely took the time to think before rushing into things. Granted Isis was pretty sharp witted and great at improvising at a moment's notice but Hirai didn't quite boast those qualities. Isis usually beat her whenever the two of them sparred. Now she wondered just which one of them would win after her training with Tulsar. Hirai had a feeling it would still be Isis regardless. She just didn't have the same kind of creativity Isis has when it comes to cheating to win.

Hirai stopped circling then and charged straight in at Ruk. The Shistaven, sensing an opportunity to finish the bout fairly quickly braced himself for her attack but it never came. Instead she drew up short just as Ruk was raising his blade to block her strike. Then she spun around him to the side and redirected her blow at his midsection from a different angle. Ruk had to admit she was fast, faster than he was expecting. He had to hold his blade at a strange angle which weakened his guard somewhat but he managed to turn her strike into a glancing blow before launching a strike of his own at her unprotected back. Much to his surprise though Hirai continued the momentum of her blade and lifted it up over her head and then behind her back just in time to block his attack without even looking at where it came from. Then she twisted her body around, pulling his blade along with her until they were facing each other.

Just watching the battle one might have thought she was fighting like a Jedi but an experienced combatant would be able to tell that she had managed that without the use of the Force. Rather she was fighting on pure instinct. She knew just where Ruk's first strike would come from because she had deliberately presented her back to him and forced him to turn and swing at her in such a way that she could easily defend from his attack. She was good, surprisingly good but still inexperienced. She would find that she would not be able to control the rest of their bout quite so easily...

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Re: Altered Legacies

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“Not bad,” Ruk admitted. “You had me at a disadvantage, so why did you stop your attack?”

Hirai looked at him in surprise. “We're only sparring to show you what I can do. I don't want to hurt you.”

Ruk circled around her, looking very much like the kind of predator his people evolved from. “I expressly told you not to hold back. I guarantee that the things you'll come across out there won't hold back. If the wildlife out there hasn't been directly affected by ancient Sith engineering, the influence of the Dark Side has certainly perverted their evolutionary path to become savage and ruthless just to survive. If you show mercy to anything out there, a quick death will be the best thing you can hope for.”

“I'm... sorry,” Hirai stuttered, realizing as soon as she apologized that she had said the wrong thing to Ruk.

“Perhaps you're not ready,” Ruk ruminated out loud with clear disappointment. “It's just as well. Explaining your corpse to Qan when he returns is not something I would look forward to.”

Hirai could feel desperation starting to claw at her from deep within. She had only just learned that seeing her mother again was a possibility and now she was losing that chance all in the same day. She couldn't let it end like this. She had to do something!

She had to... She had to...

Making a snap decision, Hirai abruptly sprung forward to attack Ruk without any warning whatsoever except for a yell. The Shistavanen was forced to quickly block her attack or risk having her swords cut into him. Once again she was fighting on pure instinct as she darted around Ruk in an attempt to exploit any opening to strike. Ruk, however, was up for the challenge and consistently held his own against her.

As their duel continued, Hirai began to gradually see just what Ruk had been wanting from her. Fighting without self-imposed restrictions was freeing in a way. It allowed her to explore avenues of attack she had never considered before because she had always been afraid of the harm she could do. Even when pushed to her limits by Tulsar, she had always known that the eldest Leidias was never going to seriously harm her and likewise that she could never expect to hurt him. There had always been a safety net there, hampering her abilities in ways she had never realized.

Ruk was different. There was no safety net. The Shistavanen was not quite the consummate swordmaster that Tulsar had been. His duel style was much more raw and unrefined and it felt like she could beat him. There were even instances in which she was able to knick Ruk's skin and draw blood. The first time it happened had almost been the last time as Hirai was so surprised by it that she momentarily dropped her defenses in shock. It nearly cost her as she was forced to dodge a return strike that would have run her through the stomach. As it was, she still took a gash to her arm from the late dodge.

Hirai fought through the pain, and the pain from the other minor injuries Ruk managed to inflict on her throughout their bout. Finally, in a move that took Hirai completely by surprise, Ruk's presence seemed to abruptly grow especially dark and savage as he used his sword to knock her swords out of her hands with one extremely fierce blow. He followed through by spinning completely around and landing the edge of his sword at the back of her neck. It was close enough to be felt, but was just shy of drawing more blood.

“Enough,” Ruk decreed. “The duel is over. You've convinced me that you're capable enough of coming with me.”

Even as Hirai was trying to sort out just what had happened in the last few moments of the duel, she felt a wellspring of elation surging through her. It was enough to make her forget all about the numerous cuts over her body. As soon as Ruk took his sword away, she turned and hugged him happily. “Thank you! You won't regret this!”

Ruk was visibly surprised by her show of emotion before he cleared his throat to snap Hirai back to the right frame of mind.

Hirai immediately let go of him and bowed sheepishly. “Sorry. I just felt so... so....” she struggled as she tried to find the right words to describe the roiling emotions inside of her.

“Alive?” Ruk suggested.

She nodded as the word just seemed to fit. “Yes. It was amazing.”

“There is much you could learn,” Ruk said to her. “However, I'm pleased with what I've seen so far. Now go see to your injuries in the med lab. We'll be departing for the temple first thing in the morning. You'll want to be well rested before we make that journey.”

Hirai nodded again as she went to retrieve her swords. As she did so, she was reminded again of Ruk's odd change right before the end of the duel. “Um, Ruk, do you mind if I ask you something about our duel?”

“You noticed then?” Ruk asked rhetorically. “Good.”

She nodded as she put her swords away. “What happened to you? For a moment you - I don't know - you felt like a different person.”

“I told you not to hold back,” Ruk answered her. “I never said that I would do the same. What you glimpsed was a brief look into what I'm like when I get serious.”

“But I thought...” Hirai started to say. “I mean, I thought I was fighting you at your best.”

“That was my intention,” he informed her. “If you felt safe, then I wouldn't see you at your best, because there would be no stakes. Likewise, if you thought I was unbeatable, I wouldn't see you give it your all – because why bother, right? However, if you thought you were just at the cusp of being able to overcome me, then I could see you truly give it your all in an attempt to overcome that milestone.”

Hirai looked at Ruk and at the cuts all over his body. She was trying to fathom this new way of thinking. He had intentionally held back, allowed himself to get injured repeatedly by her swords, just to try and draw out her talents to the fullest. That was a sacrifice she had never seen anyone do for her, not even Tulsar had gone to those kinds of extremes.

“I think I see what you mean,” Hirai said to him. “It's a lot to process though.”

Ruk nodded as she gestured out the door. “Don't worry about that right now. Just get yourself fixed up and ready for the real challenges you'll face tomorrow.”

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Re: Altered Legacies

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Hirai nodded then turned to leave the room. Out in the hallway she drew up short when she felt her hand trembling. She stared down at her palm then finally grasped her wrist with her other hand to quell her shaking. Was that really her in there? She had been in desperate situations before where it was fight or flight but she'd never enjoyed it. As the adrenaline gradually receded from her body and her senses came back to her she began to feel a cold, icy lump in the pit of her stomach. Maybe it was the thought of seeing her mother again that distracted her, but now that she had time to think about it she had to admit this place was changing her. Though, whether it was for the better or worse she honestly couldn't say...

**********

Isis awoke with a start when she heard something slam down onto the table next to her. Groggily she hefted herself up on her elbows and looked up at Clara who had just dropped a bag onto the only table in the room. The other woman said nothing before turning to walk away. Some of the things Isis had said to her before about her Uncle apparently hit her pretty hard. Granted, Isis doesn't actually know who Habas is but the way he so casually dismissed Hirai as his child left a cold shiver running down her spine.

With a sigh she leaned back in her chair and wiped the sleep from her eyes. Tav was seated nearby watching her. "You've been staring at that thing for hours," he said gesturing to the datapad sitting on the table in front of her. "Are you hoping Hirai's tracker will just suddenly blink back on again?"

"No, I--," she started then she shook her head. "Forget it," she finished, reaching down to power the datapad off then her hand stopped when something caught her eye.

"What," Tav asked, "Did it actually come back on?"

"No, it's something else. Look at this," she told him and Tav stood from his chair and walked over to her. He stared at the datapad for a moment then blinked in confusion.

"What? I don't see anything."

"Here and here," she said, gesturing to certain parts of the map near where Hirai disappeared, "Look at the currents."

Tav stared at the map for a moment longer then he finally noticed. She was right, in the places she had indicated the ocean currents split for no discernable reason. As if the water were being displaced by land.

"Show me that map of the planet I asked Quex to retrieve," Isis said and Tav reached into his jacket pocket for a small holoprojector. He pressed a switch and the holographic image of Juoi appeared above his hand.

Isis reached up to manipulate the hologram, turning it this way before turning back to the datapad. "Longitude, latitude," she was mumbling to herself, barely audible enough to be heard by anyone else. Finally she turned to the globe and pointed. "There," she said, pointing with her finger, "that's why Hirai's tracker stopped transmitting."

Tav looked at where she was pointing and noted the huge, swirling cloud of a gigantic storm. "I remember seeing that on the way down," he said, "I thought it was just a tropical storm."

"There's something there and someone doesn't want it found. That's why these charts were altered," Isis replied, gesturing towards the datapad on the table, "That's where Qan took Hirai, I'm sure of it."

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Re: Altered Legacies

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Hirai nodded then turned to leave the room. Out in the hallway she drew up short when she felt her hand trembling. She stared down at her palm then finally grasped her wrist with her other hand to quell her shaking. Was that really her in there? She had been in desperate situations before where it was fight or flight but she'd never enjoyed it. As the adrenaline gradually receded from her body and her senses came back to her she began to feel a cold, icy lump in the pit of her stomach. Maybe it was the thought of seeing her mother again that distracted her, but now that she had time to think about it she had to admit this place was changing her. Though, whether it was for the better or worse she honestly couldn't say...

**********

Isis awoke with a start when she heard something slam down onto the table next to her. Groggily she hefted herself up on her elbows and looked up at Clara who had just dropped a bag onto the only table in the room. The other woman said nothing before turning to walk away. Some of the things Isis had said to her before about her Uncle apparently hit her pretty hard. Granted, Isis doesn't actually know who Habas is but the way he so casually dismissed Hirai as his child left a cold shiver running down her spine. Even after arriving at Sysen's safe house on Stoni things between them still felt--unsettled.

With a sigh she leaned back in her chair and wiped the sleep from her eyes. Tav was seated nearby watching her. "You've been staring at that thing for hours," he said gesturing to the datapad sitting on the table in front of her. "Are you hoping Hirai's tracker will just suddenly blink back on again?"

"No, I--," she started then she shook her head. "Forget it," she finished, reaching down to power the datapad off then her hand stopped when something caught her eye.

"What," Tav asked, "Did it actually come back on?"

"No, it's something else. Look at this," she told him and Tav stood from his chair and walked over to her. He stared at the datapad for a moment then blinked in confusion.

"What? I don't see anything."

"Here and here," she said, gesturing to certain parts of the map near where Hirai disappeared, "Look at the currents."

Tav stared at the map for a moment longer then he finally noticed. She was right, in the places she had indicated the ocean currents split for no discernable reason. As if the water were being displaced by land.

"Show me that map of the planet I asked Quex to retrieve," Isis said and Tav reached into his jacket pocket for a small holoprojector. He pressed a switch and the holographic image of Juoi appeared above his hand.

Isis reached up to manipulate the hologram, turning it this way before turning back to the datapad. "Longitude, latitude," she was mumbling to herself, barely audible enough to be heard by anyone else. Finally she turned to the globe and pointed. "There," she said, pointing with her finger, "that's why Hirai's tracker stopped transmitting."

Tav looked at where she was pointing and noted the huge, swirling cloud of a gigantic storm. "I remember seeing that on the way down," he said, "I thought it was just a tropical storm."

"There's something there and someone doesn't want it found. That's why these charts were altered," Isis continued, gesturing towards the datapad sitting on the table, "That's where Qan took Hirai, I'm sure of it."

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Re: Altered Legacies

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“If that's where your friend is, then things are worse than we think,” Sysen said to them as he walked up behind the pair. “That storm has remained in place ever since Juoi's founding back before the Clone Wars. There's evidence that it has been there for thousands of years before that too.”

Tav scratched his chin, intrigued. “I've seen long-lasting storm centers like that on gas giants, but never on a terrestrial planet, let alone one so receptive to humanoid life. I assume you've at least sent a recon droid or two to observe it.”

“More than that,” Sysen confirmed with a grim set to his jaw. “The government has sent several manned expeditions to the land mass which that storm covers up. Of all the teams sent, there's only been one man to survive long enough to study what's down there. Because of how dangerous the continent is, everything about it has been highly classified by the JSI.”

Realization flared for Isis as something clicked. “Pek Kular? Is that it? I saw mentions of it while I was doing some digging around.”

If Sysen was surprised that she knew the name, he didn't show it. Instead he looked even more grim. “That's the place. That continent is overflowing with the Dark Side of the Force. There are ruins of an ancient Sith temple which is likely the source. There were rumblings about sending in my family to purify the area, but nothing ever came of it, and talk about it just stopped once my sister left. Out of all of us, Kalja would have had the best chance of accomplishing the task. Dad, Korzen, and I are more combat-oriented. My mother has some skills in other areas, but trying to clean up something as large as Pek Kular would really tax her abilities.”

“And Hirai is all alone there!?” Isis exclaimed in a near-panic. “We need to get her away from there now!”

Sysen barred her way. “I agree we shouldn't leave your friend in such a place, but Pek Kular is not somewhere you can just go to on a whim. The storm shorts out all electronics. If you go there in a normal ship, you'll just crash and kill yourself.”

Isis paced back and forth like a caged animal. “Ace can handle it. Right, Ace? If you're really as good as you say, then you could handle a little storm.”

Tav held up his hands. “A normal storm, yes. I'm not about to knowingly fly through a storm that'll kill all my controls though. There's only so much you can do when piloting a rock. Plus there's no telling what kind of terrain will be there to greet us, but if what Sysen says is true, then crash landing there is the last thing we want to do.”

Seeing that Isis was still antsy, Sysen came up with a suggestion. “I can modify the shuttle we used to get here undetected by the JSI. The same tech that shielded us from sensors can protect us from the storm with a little reworking. Besides, we should wait until my father gets back before even attempting to venture onto Pek Kular.”

“We don't know how long that's going to take!” Isis objected, trying to find some perch to argue on. “The JSI has your mother under heavy guard. It would take an army to break her out.”

“Maybe not!” Clara shouted at them from a couch where she was busy cleaning her blaster while listening to something with an earbud. “Check the latest news broadcast.”

Sysen made a gesture with his hand and the main holoviewer turned on by itself. A moment later it was switched to the local government-run news. What looked like a scene out of the Galactic Civil War played across the viewer. Armored vehicles were overturned or cut to pieces and smoke was trailing out from behind what looked to be high security JSI bunker. JSI soldiers were on the ground or being attended to by medics. It was an impressive scene of carnage, made only more so by how little actual carnage there was...

“-remarkably there appear to be no casualties after this unprovoked attack by the Jedi criminal, Tulsar Leidias on a JSI facility. Director Jaska was quick to remind everyone of his frequent warnings about how dangerous Force-users can be and this seems to-”

Sysen shut off the news with a mixture of disgusted amusement. “That's certainly not going to help us prove our innocence, or Jaska's guilt, but I admit to a certain satisfaction in seeing my old man's handiwork again.” He looked over to Isis and Tav. “He rescued mother, just like he said he would. When it comes to protecting the family, I pity anyone who chooses to stand between my father and those he loves. They'll both be here, you can be sure of that.”

***

When it was time to leave for the temple, Ruk led Hirai to the facility's hangar and to an old A6 Juggernaut. The model dated back to the Clone Wars. It was full of dents, and perhaps more disturbingly – scratches and gashes in the armor. Droids were milling around it performing basic maintenance, but the facility didn't seem outfitted to handle replacing the heavy armor of such a large vehicle of war.

Ruk didn't seem concerned with the exterior damage. “Repulsorlifts are unreliable outside of the facility,” he informed Hirai as he made a gesture to open the hatch for them to enter the cockpit. “The second expedition discovered that after seeing the fate that had befallen the first expedition. Walkers, likewise, aren't very reliable with the harsh terrain - and the few that are built to handle such terrain are too easily tripped by some of the larger creatures. The third expedition learned that after seeing the fate of the second expedition. This Juggernaut came with the fourth expedition and it has proven to be the most reliable mode of transportation we can use on Pek Kular.”

“You were with the fourth expedition then?” Hirai guessed as she ascended the ladder behind Ruk into the Juggernaut's cockpit.

The Shistavanen shook his head. “Of course not. I was with the first expedition. Those other expeditions wouldn't have lasted nearly as long as they did were it not for me clearing the way for them and setting up the facility. At some point, however, they all grew complacent and assumed that just because I had survived here for so long that they could lower their guard. They're dead because of it.”

Ruk sat down at the command console and began inputting commands. “We are not all created equal, Hirai. On Pek Kular, only the strong survive. If you're unworthy, you will be chewed up – sometimes quite literally. There is no better proving ground than this hellish landscape to test yourself. I'm as strong as I am because I put myself to that test every time I leave for the temple.”

Alarms began blaring inside the hangar as the doors opened. The droids vacated the area as a harsh wind began blowing into the hangar. Without hesitation Ruk drove the massive vehicle into the hostile rocky landscape and the doors closed behind them.

“We'll be leaving the safety of the shield shortly,” Ruk informed her. “That's when the attacks will really begin. That's when you'll face Pek Kular's test for yourself. I think you can pass it, but it will be up to you to prove it.”

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Re: Altered Legacies

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Isis stared at the blank holoviewer a moment or two longer. It was sobering to see the kind of carnage a Jedi could cause and really put into perspective her irritation at being accused of getting in his way. As good as she was she could never hope to accomplish the same feat as he just did. A direct assault on a fortified position would have been suicide for anyone else.

Briefly she glanced over her shoulder at where Habas was sitting wondering if maybe there wasn't a way to handle this more quietly. As Sysen said this assault would do little to mend their broken relationship with the people of Juoi, but if it could have been done any other way then Tulsar would have considered it, wouldn't he? He didn't strike her as the type of person to act rashly.

She shook her head. Without knowing the specifics she couldn't say for sure. Maybe given enough time she and the others could have cracked whatever facility they were holding Falanis in and got out quietly but time was not on their side. Things were moving faster now and it still felt like they were just one step behind. If Jaska really was after Hirai then why? It was the one question Isis just couldn't answer.

Another thing she couldn't prove was Qan's involvement. She felt so certain he was behind it all but she had no proof, just a gut feeling that he couldn't be trusted and that wasn't going to be enough to sway the others. More than this, though, she couldn't figure out what the end game was. Why capture Habas and use him as bait? Why take Hirai? Why kill so many just to discredit the Leidiases? Just what are their enemies trying to accomplish?

She groaned in frustration and leaned her forehead against her hand. "Really wishing we hadn't come here, Ace," she muttered to Tav. "This whole time it's like we've been trying to solve a puzzle without all the pieces and now this," she said, gesturing to the holoviewer, "If one man can do all of that...," she left the rest hanging in the air.

"I would think that'd be reassuring," he said, "That man's on our side."

"Yeah, but who's picking a fight with him," she asked, finally turning to look at him and Tav could see the desperation in her eyes, "Everyone here knows what he's capable of yet the person who's behind this is not afraid to cross him. That should tell you something. I told you and Hirai we were out of our depth. I should have never let her come here...," her words trailed off as she walked away, wandering to the other side of the room to find somewhere to be alone.

**********

Hirai gripped her swords a little tighter as the Juggernaut made it's way out of the hangar. A part of her wondered what type of creature had claws sharp enough to cut gashes into the side of an armored transport but she tried to push those thoughts away. Whatever the danger she would face it. For the chance to see her mother again she would not let anything stand in her way.

"Just get us to the temple and I'll show you what I can do," she said, her voice brimming with determination. She wasn't about to let this continent get the best of her. Not if she had anything to say about it...

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Re: Altered Legacies

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The A6 Juggernaut was designed for many things, but comfort was not one of them. Even up in the cockpit, every bump in the road was keenly felt – and there were a lot of them. It was charitable to even call it a road and Hirai would have sworn Ruk was simply going offroad if not for the occasional glimpses of prior tire tracks along the wind-blasted terrain. The vehicle was frequently pelted with large gusts of wind and sand, which would have necessitated keeping on the Juggernaut's lights on even if the light outside wasn't so dim.

The further out they went, the more Hirai could spot scraggly and gnarled vegetation tenaciously clinging to life in the hostile environment. They drove for about five minutes at speeds that would have been considered dangerously fast in such extremes, but Ruk seemed perfectly at ease as he drove the enormous transport towards their destination.

Hirai was not fooled, however. She had learned that with Ruk, appearances could be deceiving and she was sure that the Shistavanen was perhaps even more aware and alert than she was. It was a hypothesis he seemed to confirm moments later as he spoke to her without taking his eyes away from the road.

“There's a flock of spitters inbound. They might have been mynocks once, but over time the power coming from the temple has warped them into creatures that will eat anything, including metal. They spit acid that can dissolve the armor to help them digest it.”

He pressed a few buttons on the console in front of him to bring up the weapon controls. “I'll fire at the swarm to try and deter it, but the guns can't really target creatures so small and nimble. You'll need to go up through the top hatch and clean them off manually if they persist in attacking us – which they most likely will.”

Hirai nodded and was halfway out of her seat before she noticed that Ruk hadn't budged. “We're not slowing down to handle them?”

He shook his head. “We slow down and something far more dangerous might attack us instead. I've done this countless times alone with the autopilot. Keep your footing, stay aware of your surroundings, and they should present no problems. Just make sure you get all of them. Understood?”

***

Tav walked over to Isis. He wasn't sure how much she wanted to be comforted and how much she just wanted to be alone, so he tried to split the difference. “Confidentially,” he said to her in low tones, “I'm not exactly 100% trustful of anybody who has the kind of power Tulsar and his kin have either, but right now are chances are better with them than without them. Besides, from everything you've told me about Hirai, I doubt even a whole fleet of Death Stars could have kept her from coming here.”

He placed a reassuring hand on Isis's shoulder. “I'm going to give Sysen a hand with the shuttle modifications, but just know that I'm with you in this until the end. Juoi's internal problems can go space themselves for all I care, but I will help you get Hirai back. That's a promise.”

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Re: Altered Legacies

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Isis nodded silently but said nothing. Tav watched her for a moment or two longer before heading out to help Sysen with the modifications. Isis didn't even turn to watch him leave. Instead she stood there, arms crossed, eyes at her feet. She didn't like feeling helpless like this, not one bit. Nor was she the type of person to ever give in to despair. Even when the odds were stacked against her she exuded confidence. She always had a plan or the adaptability to come up with one but here... Here she didn't know what to do.

The people they were up against were powerful, of that she had no doubt. Not the kind of power that Senator Aarik had wielded but a mystic, more mysterious kind of power. One she had spent most of her life believing had never existed and now here she was right in the middle of a confrontation between two titans. Maybe more, none of them had any idea how many of their enemies were arrayed against them. Everyone seemed to accept it was Jaska behind this whole charade but Isis knew that was wrong. She didn't know how she knew she could just feel it in her gut. Jaska wouldn't be foolish enough to pick a fight with someone like Tulsar Leidias. There had to be someone else, someone on the same level as Tulsar. Someone that was leagues beyond anything she could ever bring to bear. Someone that could probably kill her with a thought.

How exactly does one fight something like that? She had no answers. She had never in her life been in a situation where she couldn't find the answer and all of this circular thinking was not helping her one bit. While the others were distracted she slipped out the back. Not to run off on her own to try and accomplish something but rather to relieve some stress. While Sysen and Tav worked on the shuttle Isis had set up a makeshift targeting range with various cans, bottles and debris at different ranges. She'd been there for awhile having already spent one power pack when someone finally found her.

Isis didn't even turn to see who it was instead focusing all of her attention on a piece of debris some fifteen meters away. One shot from her blaster had knocked it up into the air. The second shot bounced it higher as did the third. She was about to hit it a forth time when a blaster bolt she didn't even fire rang out of nowhere and blasted what was left of the debris to cinders. Finally Isis turned to look at the person behind her...

**********

Hirai quickly found that her training with Tulsar, however short it was, had actually paid off. Sure these creatures were basically mynocks and probably the least dangerous thing on this island but she could already tell her combat focus and reflexes were much improved. Cutting down the vast majority of the creatures felt almost effortless and maintaining her footing while traveling along this rocky and most certainly not level terrain didn't even feel that difficult. For a moment she allowed herself to think that maybe Ruk had over sold the danger of this place, but that thought was quickly dashed as the last mynock-like creature fell.

A sudden shockwave shook the ground, causing Ruk to inadvertently veer the craft unexpectedly. Hirai lost her balance and fell, scrambling for purchase and managing to find a grip before she fell off the side of the vehicle and was left behind. Some distance away from them a hole opened up in the ground and a large creature she'd never seen before emerged. Hirai stared up and up at it, the color visibly draining from her face at the mere sight of it.

Somehow, I think I'm going to need more than a sword to kill that, she thought to herself, scrambling back to the hatchway into the vehicle. "Ruk! What is that thing," she hollered down to him.

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Re: Altered Legacies

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“It doesn't matter what it is,” Ruk shouted back at her. “Take care of it!”

Hirai looked back at the giant creature, some sort of armored worm that looked like it could chew up the Juggernaut with just a few bites. Ruk was currently driving away from it, but the worm was pursuing on the surface. It was hard to tell from the low light, but it appeared as though the worm had pairs of insectile legs running along its length, making it more of a centipede if not for the giant gaping maw it had for a face.

“It's too big!” Hirai objected. “My swords will barely scratch that thing!”

“Size isn't important,” Ruk countered with an irritated tone in his voice. “Your swords are more powerful than you realize. If you can't even deal with this, then it truly was a mistake to bring you out here. Remember, if that thing catches up to us, you'll never see your mother again. Focus on that and the path to defeating it will become clear.”

***

Habas walked out of the dusk with his blaster still smoking. He smiled at Isis before blowing on the barrel to cool it off and returned it to his holster. “Sorry, I couldn't resist,” he said to her. “I used to do trick shooting before I became an assassin. You're a pretty good shot, I'm impressed.”

“Thanks,” Isis replied grudgingly. “If you don't mind, I want to alone right now.”

“I don't think that's true at all,” Habas replied as he stubbornly walked closer to her. “Being alone isn't going to help you not think about your friend, Hirai. If anything, it's only going to make it worse.”

“Your daughter, you mean,” Isis said to him with a scowl. “Why can't you accept it? Even your niece has come around to it.”

“Clara is a sweet kid,” Habas said with a bit of a chuckle. “Don't let her fool you. She has one of the biggest hearts I've ever seen once you get past that rough and tumble attitude of hers. Me? I'm not as willing as her to extend that kind of trust. I can't. I won't.”

“Why not?!” Isis demanded. “Hirai adores you! The thought of finding you one day was one of the few things that kept her going. How could you be so cold-hearted to her?”

“All I know about Hirai is what little I've been told,” Habas reminded Isis. “That's hardly enough to blindly accept her claims. I've never wanted a daughter, or a son, or any kind of family. In my line of work, it's too dangerous to have those kinds of connections. That's why I've tried to put as much distance between myself and my brother and his family as I can. Not that Clara will let me do that, but I've made my peace with her stubbornness-”

“Shut up!” Isis cut him off angrily. “Just go. Leave the planet and never come near us again. Hirai is better off not knowing a father like you. Maybe it was for the best that you abandoned her. All you'd do is hurt her again.”

“Now wait a minute!” Habas demanded. “Just because I don't believe she's my daughter doesn't mean I want any harm to come to her. I'm going to help you rescue her and get to bottom of whatever is going on here on Juoi.” He pointed an angry finger at Isis. “And for the record, I never abandoned anyone! You can't abandon a child you never had!”

It took a few seconds for Habas' words to register with Isis. “What? What are you talking about?!”

“The reason I don't think she's mine is because I've never had any kids. I've been very careful about that,” Habas explained. “No woman I've been with has ever been under the idea that I wanted a family and certainly none of them have ever been pregnant. If I ever did have a child, then I'd never willingly leave them. I'd do all I could to protect them.”

“Then why would...” Isis started to ask before trailing off. Something wasn't adding up.

Habas softened his features as he let his anger ebb away. “Look, since she's on your mind anyway, why don't you tell me more about what Hirai told you about her childhood? Maybe we can figure out what's actually going on before we start making more angry accusations.”

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Re: Altered Legacies

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Hirai stared at the creature, her hands tightening around the hilt of her swords. It was still some distance off but heading right towards them and the closer it got the bigger it seemed. Could she really fight something like that? Something so massive? She glanced down at the katana in her right hand, somehow seeming so small by comparison. How could a weapon like this be as powerful as Ruk claimed? She wanted to see her mother yes, but dying was not going to help. Surely there were other ways of fighting.

The armored vehicle shook violently as it barreled through some loose dirt, jarring her and nearly sending her sprawling overboard. When she righted herself she caught sight of a series of intricate canyons and cliffs just large enough to permit them passage. She glanced back over her shoulder at the creature, it was still getting closer and this was their only chance. She headed back to the hatch and jumped back down inside. Ruk heard her and glanced over his shoulder.

"What are you doing," he demanded, "Get back out there and kill that thing!"

"No, I can't," she told him.

"Then you'll never see your mother again!"

"Shut up for a second," she shouted at him, "Do you see that?"

She pointed off towards the canyons and Ruk's eyes followed. "We can lose it in there," she continued, "That's got to be better than throwing my life away!"

**********

Isis sighed heavily and turned away. Really it should be her telling him this but then she wasn't here, was she? Still, if anything she might say would convince Habas that Hirai was his then it was worth it. "Fine," she said, "it's not like we have anything better to do, anyway."

Then she turned back to him, a stern look in her eyes. "But you have to promise me you won't tell her I told you. If she found out she'd kill me."

Habas held up a hand. "Scout's honor," he told her.

"Alright," she said, "Hirai didn't really talk much about her mother and I never met her, either. She died before Hirai started attending Beruss..."

Isis' story went on perhaps longer than she had intended. She began with their first meeting and went over in detail everything Hirai told her about her father. From the way she spoke it sounded like Hirai idolized the man and to some degree maybe even Isis as well. Meeting him had certainly disenfranchised her. It came as a shock how casually Habas had brushed off Hirai as his daughter, but there was no denying the man's legacy held a certain appeal to both girls. Even if Isis wouldn't ever admit it. Near the end of her tale she began to talk about Hirai's mother, or what little Hirai had divulged.

"I must have asked about her mother a thousand times," Isis was saying, "Hirai would usually try to dodge the question and change the subject but there was one thing she said that stuck with me. I had asked her to at least tell me what she looked like and she finally agreed. She turned to me and she had a sad look in her eyes and she said, 'Like me. She looked like me, beautiful but sad.' I never could figure out why. She had an amazing daughter and lived a peaceful life so why...," her words trailed off as a thought occurred to her and she turned to look back at Habas.

"She left you, didn't she," she asked, "She was the one who left you."

Habas looked back at her but said nothing. If her realization had any effect on him he did his best not to show it. "Did you love her," she continued and again he said nothing, "Tell me!"

He opened his mouth to speak then but before he could answer they were interrupted. Tav gently cleared his throat to draw their attention and they both turned to look at him. "Tulsar's back," he told them, "and the shuttle's almost ready..."

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Re: Altered Legacies

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“You... failure!” Ruk snarled as he made his way back inside. “The worm is nothing compared to what waits for us inside the temple. It's just a dumb animal, it's mind barely operates above pure instinct. Killing it would have been an easy task.”

Hirai held her head low in shame. It was tough to tell what stung worse: Ruk berating her or the fact that it echoed what she was saying to herself internally. She had panicked. She knew it. On the face of things, attacking a monster like that with just a sword would have been suicide, but she had seen so many amazing feats performed by Tulsar and Ruk in her short time on Juoi...

Both of them had insisted she could do these things too – and sometimes it felt like she was reaching beyond what she thought she was capable of – but she always drew back right when she was on the edge of success. Why? WHY?!

“You're filled with fear and self-doubt, Hirai,” Ruk suddenly said in a calmer tone, seeming to answer her unspoken question.

She looked at her erstwhile mentor. It was clear he was still angry, but the flames of his anger had died down to simmering coals. Somehow it was far more frightening than the worm that was chasing them.

“I knew this, but I allowed you to persuade me to take you along anyway,” Ruk continued. “Fear can be a useful emotion. It can open reservoirs of untapped power in times of desperation, but not if you're forever doubting your ability to wield such power.”

“I... I can turn us around and head back,” Hirai offered in a tone barely above a whisper. The readouts inside the cockpit were showing that the worm was running out of steam and turning away from its intended meal.

Ruk was silent for a moment before he shook his head. “Turning back now would accomplish nothing. We will continue to the temple in spite of your doubts and mine. Perhaps inside you will finally see what you're trying so hard to deny yourself.”

***

The flight towards Pek Kular was somber and quiet aside from the normal sounds of the ship flying. Inside was everyone who had been hiding out, including Falanis – who looked a little worse for wear after her captivity, but refused to stay behind. Tulsar made a half-hearted attempt to try and talk her out of it, but it was clear that no one was going to stop her.

The stealth modifications seemed to be doing their job as there was no sign of the JSI as they approached the gigantic mess of storm clouds shrouding the small continent. Tav was at the controls, although it was clear he didn't like the thought of diving into the storm.

“Is it just me, or do those clouds seem really angry?” he asked no one in particular.

Isis placed a hand on his shoulder. “Come on, Ace. Now's the time to really show us what you've got.”

Sysen pulled up a holographic topographical map of the continent with representations of the ship, the temple, and the research facility highlighted on it. Their shuttle was dishearteningly far away from either location. “Our best bet would be to try for the research facility.”

“No,” Falanis spoke up in a distant voice. “We need to head to the temple. That is where we'll find Hirai.”

Tav glanced back at the group as if to ask if that was right.

Tulsar nodded back at the unasked question. He had faith that his wife wouldn't steer them wrong.

Tav turned back with a sigh. “This would be so much easier if I was coming down from space,” he grumbled as he stretched his arms and cracked his knuckles in preparation of what was coming next. “I hope everybody is strapped in because we're about to do everything my flight instructors warned me against.”

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Re: Altered Legacies

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Hirai only silently nodded after Ruk had spoke. His words still rung in her ears. He had called her a failure, something she'd been calling herself for years. She failed to protect her mother, failed to find her father, failed to protect her friend and herself in their most dire of situations. If it wasn't for Isis' ingenuity... She shook her head, she didn't want to think about that right now. No, all she could think about was how she had failed with the worm. Could she have really destroyed such a creature? How would she even do it? The thing was massive and her weapons so small by comparison. Deep down she knew that Ruk would chide her for her lack of imagination. There had to have been a way to do it and if she had only believed in herself then maybe she would have found out how. Instead she was left feeling every bit the failure Ruk claimed her to be and in complete silence she simply guided their vehicle towards their objective. A part of her dreading all the possible ways she might fail upon their arrival. Would she ever actually see her mother again? She was feeling less sure of herself now than she had before this adventure began...

**********

Isis said nothing as Tav steered their craft into the storm. The ship shook violently almost the second the winds struck it yet somehow Tav managed to retain control and level it out. As he focused on flying Isis' attention was focused on the console next to her. Sysen had pulled up a topographical map of the island but it showed little in the way of detail. Isis was using the ship's external cameras to view the ground beneath them and as she clicked between different cameras and different angles she drew in a sharp breath. The place was a barren wasteland almost. Any vegetation that existed down there was sparse and the landscape was dotted with jagged rocks whose edges were sharp as knives. Hirai's down there, the thought stuck in her head. She wouldn't wish anyone to be stuck in this place let alone her best friend.

The ship shook again, nearly forcing her out of her chair if she hadn't been strapped in. She quickly righted herself and went back to staring at the screen. She didn't see any signs of life down there but despite that she couldn't shake this feeling of dread. She clicked through a few more images then focused in on the temple still some distance away. As she stared at the ruins she felt a cold shiver run down her spine and unconsciously shook her body to dispel it.

"This place is freezing," she said, more to herself than to the others but loud enough for everyone to hear. She was consciously aware that the temperature in the shuttle was still fairly warm but yet she still felt cold. She turned to Tulsar then and asked, "What happened here?"

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Re: Altered Legacies

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“Not a whole lot is known about Pek Kular,” Tulsar answered Isis. “Just about everything we know has been gleaned through the research of Ruk Voger. He's the only scientist who has managed to stick around on this cursed continent long enough to find out anything worthwhile.”

“Someone lives on this hellhole?!” Tav blurted out in surprise. “On purpose?!”

Tulsar nodded. “He's dedicated, to say the least. I've only met him a few times, but his interest in the ancient Jedi and other Force-using organizations is insatiable. Quite the peculiar man, honestly...”

“So what has he uncovered?” Isis asked, a little irritated to have to repeat her question and get things back on track.

“Not a lot, unfortunately. Many thousands of years before Juoi was ever colonized, it was apparently the stronghold for a Sith Lord by the name of Sorij Xor. The remains of his grand temple are where we're flying to right now,” Tulsar said to her. “We're still not sure what happened to turn the continent into what it is today, but some of the artifacts uncovered seem to indicate Xor performed some kind of ritual to make himself immortal and it devastated and warped the land in the process.”

“Did it work?” Clara asked. By now everyone on the ship was listening to the backstory of Pek Kular.

Tulsar shrugged. “If it did, there's been no evidence of it. Anything the history books have about Sorij Xor ends after he flees the Sith Empire. We've been able to determine that he came to Juoi after that, but there's been no mention of Xor anywhere after he landed here aside from what we've uncovered.”

“So then why didn't you Jedi go and clean this place out?” Clara asked. “There were at least four of you before your daughter left, right? There's gotta be some kind of ritual or something to banish Dark Side essence.”

“There is,” Sysen spoke up. “Unfortunately my father and I lack the kind of skill to use it. Mom can do it, but cleansing an entire continent is no easy task. If Kalja were still here, then maybe... I always advocated that we should clean Pek Kular up, but after Kalja left, the argument kind of became moot.”

Tulsar shook his head. “The simplest solution is not always the correct one, Sysen. It's because of Pek Kular that our family was able to remain hidden for so long. As long as it never presented a danger to the rest of the planet, there was no need to deal with it. It was far more beneficial to have it mask our presence from those who would seek to destroy the Jedi.”

“I get it!” Clara said as she pounded her fist into an open palm. “Like matter and anti-matter. The two cancel each other out.”

Tulsar nodded. “That's as good an analogy as any. This was especially true after Kalja was born. Her presence in the Force was so large that we needed another large power to mask it.” He shifted his attention back to Isis. “It's interesting that you said you felt cold here. That's a sign that-”

The ship's proximity alarms suddenly interrupted Tulsar, which was followed by a cry of surprise from Tav as a giant worm of some kind suddenly burst out of the ground. Tav attempted to evade the monster, but wasn't entirely successful as the worm's mandibles sheared off one of the wings of the small craft.

“Brace for impact!” Tav yelled as he tried to stabilize the now spinning ship. “We're going down!”

***

“...and that is the tale of Sorij Xor as the galaxy knows it,” Ruk said to Hirai. They were deep in the temple now. Hirai was careful to follow Ruk's footsteps so as not to accidentally trigger a trap. The temple seemed even more sinister with their glowrods the only thing around to illuminate the architecture around them. She had also seen the remnants of past expeditions into the temple and could only imagine in some cases what kind of horrible fate must have befallen them.

“I believe Xor is still around, existing as a spirit deep within one of the antechambers that I have, as of yet, been unable to to access,” Ruk added. “And within that antechamber will be all of Xor's most closely guarded secrets, including the knowledge of how to bring spirits back to life.”

“If you haven't been able to make it inside, what will I be able to do?” Hirai asked him. “Your power is so much greater than mine.”

Ruk stopped to look at her. “Power, or the lack thereof, means very little on its own. Intellect will triumph over power every time. I was once defeated by a man who should never have been my equal in combat, let alone my better, but he was far more clever than I. He knew what I was going to do before I did and countered me at every turn until I was at his mercy. It was a humiliating defeat, but I never forgot the lesson he taught me that day. You would do well to learn it too.”

Hirai was tempted to ask who Ruk was talking about, but her erstwhile mentor didn't seem like he was in the mood to speak about it further. “I will remember your words,” she said with a nod.

“Good,” Ruk nodded back. “Because you'll need that knowledge in the immediate future. I believe I know which antechamber we need to access, but it's guarded by two Sith creations that use the Force itself to sustain their bodies. Simply cutting them apart does little to stop them since they will just reform. However, I believe your swords are the key to to their defeat. Any sword that can cut through a spirit should be able to cut off the ability of a Force-imbued creation to regenerate itself.”

He gave her a long measuring look. “Your swords make you the most dangerous thing in this temple, but you have to believe in their power and yours. This will not be like the worm. If you fail me here, then that's it. It's over. Do you understand?”

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Re: Altered Legacies

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She almost wanted to turn around and go back right then. Of course she understood what he meant. This was no time for her to hold back or choke up. Letting her doubts get the best of her now meant the difference between life and death. If she failed to believe in her own power now then there was no coming back. She'd never see Isis again, she'd never see her father. For a moment she desperately wanted to leave, but something held her there. A deep, dark determination she never felt before. This was her chance to see her mother again and there was a part of her that wasn't about to waste it. With a sigh and a nod she looked at Ruk with renewed confidence.

"Lead the way," she said.

**********

Isis groaned as she gradually stirred back into consciousness. Her eyes fluttered opened and she tried to stretch her arms out to sit up only to wince in reflex as a sharp pain ran throughout her entire body. Over the sound of the ringing in her ears she gradually became aware of a crackling fire nearby. She turned her head to look, expecting to see the others sitting around a fire only to find the burning pieces of the craft the once inhabited. Where were the others? Why weren't they here? She didn't have long to think about it, though, before a low growl caught her attention. She looked up and saw a short distance away some kind of beast. It had no fur, it's skin looked rotted and decayed and it's sharp fangs were dripping with some kind of green goo. It stalked towards her and Isis desperately tried to scramble to her feet only to wince again when she felt the pain in her leg. A piece of the craft had fallen over her, pinning her leg to the ground. As the beast charged towards her she tried to move the debris to little avail. The creature was no almost on top of her and in one last act of desperation she reached for her blaster to shoot it. She barely got the weapon free when a glowing blade of light pierced through the beast ending its life. She looked up past the creature's mouth and saw Sysen.

"Sysen," she cried, glad to see someone she recognized. "Where are the others?"

"I'm not sure," he answered, using the Force to lift the debris off of Isis' legs. "The ship broke apart just before impact. We were separated from the others."

Isis painfully scrambled to her feet, ignoring the throbbing in her leg. Fortunately it didn't feel like her leg was broken so she could still walk and of course she could still shoot, that was all she needed for now. "So what do we do now?"

Sysen was about to answer when the stirring of debris interrupted them both. They turned to look behind them as a figure pushed its way free from a pile of dirt and debris. It was Habas and despite being buried he seemed to have fared even better than Isis. "First we make sure there's no one else here," Sysen replied, "Then we make our way to the temple."

"The temple," Isis asked.

Sysen nodded, "The others are most likely making their way there as we speak."

Isis turned to look. It was the only visible landmark to be sure and of course it was where they wanted to go in the first place, but if the land between here and there was dotted with more of those creatures... She felt a shudder run through her entire body. No, it couldn't be just that simple. There was more here, monsters she couldn't even begin to imagine and something far worse waited for them in the depths of the temple and her friend was walking right into it. Hirai... she thought to herself, her mind focused only on one thing. Saving her friend...

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Re: Altered Legacies

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With Ruk in the lead, the pair ventured deep into the temple. Ruk held a glowrod to light their way as they walked through empty hallways and massive empty rooms of unknown purpose. The light that spilled forth created odd shadows everywhere they went – some that didn't quite seem to match up with the object creating them, but Hirai couldn't tell if that was just a trick of the light or if there was something more sinister at work. In any case, she suspected that Ruk using any light at all was more for her benefit than his.

Despite the odd shadow patterns, their journey was relatively uneventful. So much so that Hirai was starting to wonder if perhaps her erstwhile mentor had been overplaying the danger of the temple. However, a closer look at Ruk's face put that doubt to rest. Ruk was casting his eyes everywhere, moving with deliberate purpose to avoid stepping in certain places. Hirai had been subconsciously mimicking his path despite not being told to do so. It was, perhaps, another test of Ruk's to determine her worthiness. As a teacher, he seemed much more content to let her fail or succeed on her own merits. It was much harsher than any training method she'd been through before. Even the drill instructors at the academy, belligerent as they could be, had taken great pains to tell her what and how to do things.

It was taking her awhile to get used to Ruk's way of teaching, but she liked the amount of trust he was willing to place in her so soon.

Finally, Ruk stopped in front of a massive stone mural that showed the figure of a man standing atop the temple and bathed in a massive aura as what appeared to be his followers were clustered at the bottom. On either side of the mural were giant statues carved to look like a human male wearing some kind of ancient armor. Hirai estimated them to be roughly eight feet tall. Each of them was grasping a staff-like device.

“The Sith Lord Sorij Xor,” Ruk said as he pointed to the mural and identified the man standing atop the temple. He then turned to look at her. “This will be your final test, Hirai. Once I initiate the ritual, it will literally be do or die. Your mother's resurrection will be on the other side should you succeed. Your spirit will be trapped here forever should you fail. Do you understand?”

Hirai could feel fear well up inside of her from her past failures – her own weakness - but along with it was an unexpected strength of purpose. Her goal was now so close. One trial stood between her and seeing her mother again. She would not fail again.

She looked at Ruk and nodded. “I'm ready.”

He nodded back before facing the mural again. “Sorij Xor, we seek your knowledge and power. I have brought a champion to challenge you and be judged worthy of your divine providence or to fall and feed your otherwordly hunger.”

The chamber was silent for a moment before an ethereal glow appeared in front of the mural. It quickly coalesced into the figure of a man. He was about average height for a human, but his skin was a shade of red not seen in normal humans and the pupils of his eyes were a reptilian yellow. He was outfitted in what looked like golden armor. It didn't take long for Hirai to see that the man resembled the figure atop the temple and the two statues on either side. This was the spirit of Sorij Xor.

The spirit looked them over before his eyes focused on Hirai. “Send her forth and we shall see if it is worth my time to consider her.”

Ruk nodded at her and Hirai approached slowly, not quite sure what to expect. Her mind ran through dozens of possibilities, but none of them involved the statues. She almost didn't see the attack in time to dodge it as one of the statues suddenly swung at her with its staff. Hirai barely had time to realize what was going on before the second statue attacked. She backpedaled to get some space, but both statues left their perches and advanced towards her.

Ruk had moved out of the way and showed no inclination to help her. “This is what I told you about Hirai,” he said to her. “Trust in your own power and the swords you wield. If you do, these guardians will be nothing to you.”

***

Tav found himself being woken up by a slap in the face. “Wha...”

Before he could say anything else, he felt another slap, which helped to drag him back to consciousness even faster. His eyes snapped open to see that Clara was holding him up from a prone position by the front of his shirt and was ready to give him another slap. He held up his hands quickly to forestall another slap. “I'm awake! I'm awake! Stop it!”

Clara let him go and stood up. “About time,” she said with satisfaction. “I wasn't looking forward to dragging you along.”

Tav got to his feet and rubbed his face sorely. “How many times did you slap me anyway? Pretty sure that's not standard medical procedure.”

Clara smiled. “Hey, I checked to make sure nothing was broken first. You're the one who decided to take a nap after the crash.”

“The crash!” Tav repeated in alarm as the past events suddenly came flooding back to him. He started to look around worriedly before spotting wreckage from the ship and the corpse of the giant worm thing that had suddenly attacked them. Tulsar was standing next to it, his lightsaber activated. It didn't take a genius to figure out the rest.

Except for one thing...

“Where are the others!?”

“We got separated when the ship got sheared apart. I'm not sure we would have survived if we didn't have Jedi as passengers,” Clara said to him. “According to Tulsar, Uncle Habas and the rest are ahead of us.”

“And knowing Isis, she's not waiting on us before going into the temple,” Tav figured.

“Sysen is with them,” Tulsar informed Tav. “They should be able to handle most of dangers inside the temple, but there is something much darker in there that might be beyond them. Now that you're awake, we should hurry.”

Tav took a quick moment to check his blaster. Thankfully, it looked to have weathered the crash just fine. “Then let's go. I don't want to spend a moment longer here than I have to.”

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Re: Altered Legacies

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"Aahh!" Hirai cried as a particularly fearsome blow drove her backwards. Each one of these statues was a formidable opponent alone but together they were nigh unstoppable. Hirai's tutelage under her mother, her time at Beruss and even Tulsar's brief but effective training had done much to prepare her for this moment. She had the skill to defeat them, but Ruk was rather astute in pointing out that it was her own mind that she needed to defeat and not the enemy in front of her. One of the statues moved in for the attack again while the other tried to flank her. Hirai did her best to parry the first's assault while trying to re position herself to avoid being beheaded by the second. Fortunately, she managed to avoid a swing that would have taken her head off and slip around the opponent in front of her placing him between her and the second statue. She needed to put some distance between them to collect herself, but these--things moved with such speed that doing so was incredibly difficult. The best she could do was take advantage of her smaller, lighter frame to out maneuver them and eventually that wouldn't be enough...

**********

As grueling as the trek to the temple was the burnt out landscape and hellacious creatures that populated it seemed almost preferable to the dark, twisting corridors of the temple. Even though the place seemed largely empty Isis couldn't shake the feeling that they were being watched. As they entered a large chamber the light from Isis' glowrod did little to fight back the darkness. The shadow was so thick that it was difficult to see even in the light. Isis hated being in here, but her friend was here so she needed to push forward.

"How far ahead are the others," Habas asked, breaking up the silence.

Sysen closed his eyes for a moment, his face visibly straining. "They're behind us," he said finally, "Some distance away."

Isis shook her head. "That's not very reassuring," she said, "I was kind of hoping this place was empty because Tulsar had already cleared it out."

"The creatures outside don't seem to come near here," Habas pointed out. He was right, of course, the closer they got to the temple the fewer creatures they had to deal with until eventually there were none. "There must be something keeping them away."

"Or someone," Isis corrected him and when Habas gave her a curious look she shrugged. "Don't get me wrong, I don't believe in ghost stories but then I didn't believe in the Force either before I came here. Let's just say I'm feeling a bit more open minded now."

The conversation died down after that, the three of them walking in silence for a time. They entered a couple more chambers, passing hallways branching out to either the left or the right before Isis spoke up again. "Do you even know where you're going," she asked Sysen who had been leading from the front with his lightsaber held aloft like a torch.

"I can feel your friend," he said simply, "Her aura is rather strong, even here and there's someone with her."

"Someone with...," Isis started then she remembered something he said earlier, "What was that you said back at Stoni? Of all the expeditions you sent here only one man survived? Who was he?"

"Ruk Voger, a Shistavanen researcher," Sysen replied, "Until now I didn't think he was a major player, but he brought Hirai here for something."

"And Qan helped him do it," Isis confirmed. This was clearly a plot by the two of them, one Jaska knew nothing about. But why Hirai? Was it her Force sensitivity? If that were the case they had a whole family of Force users living here that they could choose from why go through so much trouble to lure Hirai? No, it had to be something else... Her swords, maybe? Hirai had told her they were special, though Isis hardly believed her.

"What do you know about Force-imbued swords," she asked.

"Only that they are extremely powerful," Sysen told her, "They can cut through most materials like a lightsaber and some stories even suggest they have the ability to banish dark side spirits."

"Could Ruk be using Hirai and her swords to cleanse this place," Habas asked him and Isis shook her head.

"If that was true then why all the deception? Why leak information about your capture to my father instead of just asking her? There must be something here he wants, something he can't get to without Hirai."

The three of them walked past some ancient sarcophagi along one wall and a giant mural carved directly into the stone. As soon as Isis saw it she cried for the others to stop. "Wait," she said, stopping the others in their tracks. She held her light up to the mural to examine it more closely.

"We hardly have time to admire the artwork," Habas told her and Isis shushed him.

Sysen watched her curiously. "Can you read it," he asked.

Isis shook her head. "Bits and pieces maybe, but it's not in any language I recognize. Whatever it is it's old, several millennia at least, but they used this temple for something. Some kind of ritual, look," she pointed to an image of several figures kneeling before what appeared to be a shrine. "Something they did here blacked out the sky, creating the storm," her finger followed the mural moving across several other images including pictures of the temple and lightning bolts raining from the sky. "This last image I can't figure out."

She pointed to a picture of an imposing figure, arms out to his sides, feet together in an almost heavenly pose depicted above a throng of worshipers all prostrating themselves before him. Above him appeared to be the figure of a man with no face mirroring the same pose. The stone had long been worn throughout the centuries so some of the finer details had been lost but something about the way the figure was carved seemed to give it an almost ethereal look. "I can't tell if he's ascending or descending. Might be some kind of funeral rite, maybe? Or an arrival."

"Arrival?"

"Like a resurrection," she explained. "The cultists prepare a host body for the spirit of a deceased being. History is full of stories of different cultures who believed in the power of resurrection. With something like the Force maybe it's possible."

Habas stood nearby seeming completely indifferent to her story. "As fascinating as this is how exactly does it help us rescue your friend," he interrupted her.

Isis' face darkened a little. Even after telling him the truth he still stubbornly refused to refer to her as his daughter. "Information is ammunition," she muttered aloud, loud enough for them to hear.

"What?"

"It's something my father would always say," she explained, "These carvings tell the history of this temple and may hold some clue as to what Ruk and Qan are searching for here. If we know what it is then maybe we can stop them."

Sysen rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "You think Qan is involved in this as well," he asked and Isis nodded.

"I do, don't you," she asked pointedly, hands on her hips, "Look, Ruk needed Hirai to be here and Qan delivered her. It's obvious he's implicit in this somehow, I just can't figure out why. They went through an awful lot of trouble just to go spelunking in some ancient temple."

**********

This was hopeless. This enemy was too powerful. Maybe if there had been one Hirai could take it but two? She was going to die here and no one was coming to help her, not even Ruk. He stood idly by watching as she struggled for her life, doing nothing to help her. The statues moved in to attack her again and she did everything she could to hold them off, staggering backwards with each blow she parried. It was all so infuriating. Why did Ruk bring her here if all he was planning to do was watch her die? Why did Isis storm off in a huff instead of supporting her? Why would the JSI not let her see her father? It all made her so angry, she screamed at the top of her lungs, driving back one of the statues through sheer force of will alone. She could feel an immense power welling up inside of her and suddenly for the first time since the duel started it felt like she could win. Finally, she was on the offensive. She moved forward to press her advantage when something strange happened. The glow from her swords dimmed and faded and almost as soon as she had noticed one of the statues swatted her aside with a massive blow.

Hirai hit the ground hard, her blades clattering to the floor beside her. She struggled to pull herself up and managed to get a hand on the hilt of one of her swords. As she pulled it to her she stared at it. The lightning bolts that had once streaked from the crossguard to the tip were gone now, the blade felt so lifeless. Just what exactly was going on? She didn't have much time to think about it, though before a stone foot caught her in the ribs, rolling her completely over. She cried out in pain but somehow still managed to get her sword up in time to block the next blow. As soon as her blade crossed with that of the statues the force of the blow knocked a chip loose from her sword. That had never happened before, for as long as she'd had them she never needed to sharpen them. She used all of her might to push the blow aside then quickly rolled to her feet, moving several feet away. Somehow she managed to retrieve her other sword as she retreated but neither of the statues were letting up. She held up her blades in a defensive stance to ward them off but it was clear now that she was going to lose. As the first statue had closed within striking distance and raised its sword to strike she quickly closed her eyes.

"Giving up already," a woman's voice suddenly spoke to her.

Hirai opened her eyes in alarm. She was no longer in the temple but instead stood in a field just outside of her home. The light of Corellia's midday sun gently wafting over her, filling her with warmth.

"I thought I taught you better than that," the voice continued and Hirai turned at the sound of it to see a woman standing before her, one she recognized as her mother.

"Mother," she asked in a shaky voice, her eyes not believing what they were seeing. "I can't do it, Mom, I can't keep going. They're too strong."

"You're stronger," she said, "I know you are. You can beat them back, you have the power inside of you. You only have to believe in yourself."

"But my swords lost their power, Mother! Look," she said, holding up her blade to show where it had chipped, "How can I fight them now?"

Kana smiled and stepped closer, placing a hand on her daughter's cheek. "Your swords haven't lost their power, your spirit merely chased it away temporarily. For a moment you allowed yourself to give into your anger, robbing you of your greatest strength," she said, removing her hand from Hirai's cheek before placing it on the back of her sword hand.

"Your swords have the power to chase away the darkness," she continued, cupping Hirai's hand in both of hers, "but not if their user is consumed by it. You must calm yourself, allow the light to guide you and no enemy can stand in your way."

Hirai could barely hear her as she spoke. All she could think about now was the feeling of her mother's hands clasped around her own. It felt good to feel the gentle caress of her mother's touch again, something she had long since forgotten and the more she was lost in the moment the more her fears seemed to wash away. The glow from her blades gradually returned, burning brighter with each passing moment until the light from her swords shone with more brilliance than they ever had before. Hirai stared at them with wonder, her mother smiling in response.

"Now give 'em hell, honey," she said and Hirai opened her eyes, the rolling fields of Corellia fading from existence.

That first statue was directly in front of her now, it's sword swinging downwards to cleave her in two. Hirai moved without even thinking, first raising her sword to parry the statue's attack. As the two blades connected she was surprised to feel that there was no resistance. Her sword cut completely through the other's blade and using that momentum she spun around and used her other sword to cut the statue completely in half. For a moment there was the sound of stone sliding against stone as the top half the statue fell to the floor with a loud thud while the legs remained standing. The statue no longer moved to threaten her but there was still the other to contend with.

It was already moving to attack her but Hirai didn't give it any time. She charged at the statue at a full sprint and as it swung its sword at her she ducked underneath it, leaning backwards on her knees as the sword split the air just above her nose. The momentum from her charge carried her forward between the statue's legs and as she slid past she held her swords out to her sides cutting the statue's legs off just below the knees. The statue fell forward towards the ground but somehow managed to get a hand under itself to stop it's fall. It was still intent on attacking Hirai but the girl was already back on her feet. Somehow the statue managed to twist it's body around to swipe at her once more. Hirai leapt over the attack, somersaulting over the statue's head and as her body twisted around she cut once with her sword before landing on her feet. Behind her the statue crumpled into a heap, it's body going one way and it's head another.

As the last statue fell Hirai slowly stood, her eyes surveying the battlefield. The light from her swords which had been so bright only a moment before had dimmed somewhat to little more than a dull glow. All that filled her now was the sense of accomplishment at having achieved something she thought was impossible. She held up one of her swords and looked at it, a smile gently turning up the corners of her lips. Thanks, Mom, she thought quietly to herself...

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Re: Altered Legacies

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The significance of what Hirai had done was not lost to either of the two who had observed her battle with the statues. Or rather it was not what she had done, but how she had done it. While Hirai was admiring her blades and her victory, Sorij Xor looked anything but pleased at her accomplishment. Thousands of thoughts flooded through Ruk's mind in the scant few seconds before what he knew was going to happen would transpire, but if there was anything his former master had taught him, it was that all plans needed to be flexible or they would ultimately be doomed to failure.

This could all still work, but it wasn't going to be pleasant... especially the immediate future.

Sorij's voice started low, but seemed to increase in volume and anger with each word spoken. “What is this BLASPHEMY?!”

The entire chamber seemed to shake at Sorij's last word as the room became even darker and the aura around his spirit grew somehow more malevolent. Almost imperceptibly, a steady background thrum started to become audible as Sorij drew upon the power flowing from the continent that he had corrupted for thousands of years.

“She passed your test!” Ruk shouted to the enraged spirit. “She is worthy!”

“She is a Jedi!” Sorij countered with a snarl. “And she will be destroyed!”

What came next happened without any kind of warning or preamble, but it was also exactly what Ruk had been keeping his senses attuned for. As powerful as he was, Sorij Xor has not a man of subtlety, which made his actions much easier to predict and prepare for.

In a flash of movement, Ruk darted to Hirai's side and pushed her out of the way a mere moment before lances of dark energy perforated his body from multiple angles. He let out a roar of pain as flecks of blood flew from his mouth and he dropped to his hands and knees.

“Ruk!” Hirai called out in alarm and surprise at the uncharacteristic display of selflessness from her erstwhile mentor.

“Madness!” Sorij exclaimed. “Why sacrifice yourself for her!?”

Ruk laughed at the question and at the situation he found himself in. It was a rough and coarse sound, but there was genuine amusement behind it. “I was prepared for many things today, but this was not one of them.” He looked over at a concerned Hirai who was by his side. “You needn't worry about me, this isn't as bad as it seems.”

Slowly Ruk stood back up and the lances of dark energy that he had been stuck with dissipated as he did so. He grinned at the spirit of Sorij Xor. “You'll have to do better than that, Sith Lord! Those kinds of attacks will not work on me. While I may lack the ability to destroy your spirit, my apprentice has no such handicap. We will gain access to your antechamber today, with or without your cooperation.”

“None of you will leave this temple alive!” Sorij roared before his spirit flew into the ceiling of the chamber and out of reach.

“I don't understand,” Hirai said to Ruk. “Every lesson you ever taught me was how I needed to stand on my own. You were nearly ready to abandon me not too long ago because I couldn't meet your expectations, but you just took an attack meant for me. You've been harsh, strict, and uncompromising in your convictions until now, so why did you do it?”

Ruk shook his head. “Everything I've done up to this point was to help you realize your potential. Now that you have, I wasn't about to stand around and watch Sorij obliterate you with such a cowardly attack in an unguarded moment.”

Hirai looked like she was about to thank him, but perhaps remembering Ruk's distaste for those words, simply nodded an acknowledgment instead.

Ruk nodded back before moving to the stone mural. “Now, we don't have much time. Sorij is enraged, but he's also terrified of what you could do to him with those swords of yours. He's going to awaken every nasty thing that has otherwise been dormant in this temple in an attempt to destroy us. We need to grab what we came for from the antechamber and leave before we are overwhelmed.”

The Shistavanen then placed his hands at different points of the stone mural and pressed down on the hidden locks cleverly disguised as part of the mural. The giant stone art split into two pieces and retracted into the walls on either side, revealing another hallway behind it.

“Come,” Ruk beckoned. “We're almost there.”

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Re: Altered Legacies

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"Now what the hell are these things," Isis exclaimed as she leveled her blaster and fired into the shambling corpse lumbering towards her. Her shots seem to do little to slow its progress and as it raised one hand to swipe at her with its desiccated claws Habas reached out and pulled her back. The creature's attack met with air but that didn't deter it from pursuing her. More creatures appeared from the sarcophagi in the room. Shambling up and out of their stone coffins to attack the three companions.

Habas and Isis did their best to fend them off but their weapons seemed to have little effect. With his lightsaber Sysen had better luck, cleaving the creatures into pieces and leaving them squirming on the ground. The enemy's number kept increasing and Habas and Isis found themselves being quickly overwhelmed.

"Isis! In here," Habas called out as he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into a narrow passageway. He moved her behind him then stood in front of her firing out of the narrow opening. The corpses began to stack up and pile into the crack in the wall threatening to trap them.

"What about Sysen," Isis asked.

"He'll be fine," he assured her, "It's us you need to worry about!"

Isis ground her teeth together in worry and frustration and looked around. "This room is a dead end, there's no way out!"

Habas said nothing as he dropped the power pack from his blaster and replaced it with another. Isis continued to run her hands along the walls searching for something, anything but finding no way to escape. The situation seemed bleak until a tremor suddenly shook the temple. The violent shockwave threatened to knock them off their feet, shaking loose rocks and debris from the ceiling. After it passed Isis could feel a rumbling below her feet right before the floor caved in. Both Isis and Habas let out cries of alarm as they fell into the darkness below. The two warriors landed hard on a stone slab right next to a rotting corpse. The wind had been knocked out of them but they were alive.

"Where are we," Habas asked, he was the first to regain his footing.

Isis climbed off the stone slab and reached into her jacket for another glow rod. She cracked the rod, snapping the thin layer holding the two chemicals inside it apart. Then she shook it, mixing them together and brightening the room. Nearby there appeared to be a workstation with various tools and chemicals upon it and something she had only seen once in Tulsar's home. Sleeves of paper bound in leather. The book was perfectly preserved though its pages did crackle a bit when she opened it.

Habas glanced between the various tools and the body left lying on the stone slab that had broken their fall. "What is this place? Some kind of torture room? Why isn't that corpse moving like all the others?"

"This is where they prepared the bodies for burial," Isis answered as she flipped through the pages of the book. "It looks like they were in the middle of some kind of ritual."

Habas stared at her in wonderment. First the mosaic and now this. "I'm surprised you can even read that."

Isis shrugged, "Every language may have its own alphabet but most if not all share similar rules and structures. Between that and the images on these pages I can make an educated guess."

"Will wonders never cease," he muttered under his breath. "You know, you and your father are a lot alike."

Isis turned to him, eyes wide open. "You knew my father?!"

"I've heard stories," he said with a shrug, "Your father has a brilliant intellect. Much like you."

Isis' cheeks burned bright red at the compliment. She had not expected that from him, not after the way she had treated him. "We need to get out of here and find a way back to Sysen. That passage over there looks like it goes deeper into the complex," she said pointing, "but we want to go up not down."

"Well, we're not getting back up there," Habas pointed out, nodding towards the hole in the ceiling. "We've got no choice but to go deeper. Maybe we'll run into him along the way?"

"I hope we do. Before we run into more of those--things."

Habas said nothing but silently agreed with her. The two of them, it seemed, were ill-equipped for dealing with the undead...

**********

Hirai's thoughts were scattered and disorganized. She had at once both passed the test and failed it at the same time. Her mind was still racing to try to make sense of it all, but one thing that had stuck with her was what the ghost had said. Was she truly a Jedi? No, she couldn't have been.The Jedi were an ancient religion that died out many years ago, though she doubted the ghost would accept this explanation. Was it her use of the light that angered him, then?

"Stop," Ruk said suddenly, drawing her up short. "Pay attention," he told her, pointing to a pressure plate on the floor that she had nearly stepped on. "These ancient halls are riddled with traps."

"Sorry," Hirai apologized sheepishly. She stepped around the plate and continued to follow Ruk.

Just then the two of them heard something that sounded like a cave-in followed by a scream. Hirai stopped dead in her tracks. "Did you hear that," she asked. That sounded like Isis!

"It was nothing," he assured her, "Just the temple playing tricks on you. Now come, we must hurry."

Hirai glanced over her shoulder back where the sound had come from but said nothing. Ruk was right, the temple could be playing tricks on her. There was no way Isis could be here. No one knew where she was going except for Qan. She tried her best to push her thoughts aside and quickly hurried to catch up with Ruk...

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Re: Altered Legacies

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“Have I mentioned how much I hate this kind of stuff?” Tav yelled to his companions as he blasted some winged nightmare that looked to be all fangs and claws. The thing crashed to the ground, but to Tav's horror it started to get back up again. He put two more shots into the beast before it finally stopped moving.

Tulsar didn't reply to him. The old Jedi was somewhere else mentally. Oh, he was aware of the battle around them certainly, but it was as if he was on some higher plane. There wasn't a single wasted movement in his attacks. Every strike against the monstrosities that seemed to be pouring out of the cracks and crevasses in the temple was a killing blow, delivered cleanly and efficiently so as to eliminate the current target and preserve the maximum amount of energy for the battle still to come.

If Tav wasn't so busy fighting for his life, he probably would have been stunned and slackjawed at the sheer skill on display.

Clara was another story. Whereas Tulsar was dispassionate in his attacks, a clear example of what the Jedi must have been like at their prime, Clara wasn't shy about her delight to be in the thick of combat. In her own way, she was just as frightening as Tulsar, perhaps even more so. She had a certain wild energy to her that seemed to feed on the chaos of the battle. Between the two two of them, the Sith monsters were no match. Tav was relegated to picking off the odd creature that managed to avoid their immediate attention.

Also unlike Tulsar, Clara took a moment to respond to his offhand comment. “Lighten up, Ace!” she said with a grin. She was practically glowing despite being stained in a rainbow of blood and ichor from the things in the temple that had made the mistake of getting too close to her. Abruptly she grabbed a vibroblade from her belt that almost seemed too large to still be considered a knife and threw it at him with a quick flick of her wrist.

It was a blur of movement and Tav started to dodge on reflex even though it was clear that he would never stand a chance of avoiding it. Fortunately it wasn't aimed at him precisely and flew over his shoulder to embed itself into the skull of some pale humanoid aberration that had been behind him. With a death gurgle, it fell to the ground with a thud.

Clara walked over to it and pulled the knife out before wiping the blade against her pants to clean it. “Despite all your complaining, you're not half bad at this, you know?” she said, finishing her thought as she spun the knife on her fingers before resheathing it. “You're probably a better shot than I am, you just lack a certain killer instinct.”

She placed a hand on his shoulder. “I'm impressed though. Work on being more aware of your surroundings and you'll be truly formidable. Maybe Uncle Habas can give you a few pointers once this is all over.”

By now the room they were in appeared to be clear of enemies. Tulsar seemed as calm and collected as ever, like this all was the equivalent of going for an afternoon stroll. Clara was breathing heavily, but didn't look tired at all as she did a quick inspection of her weapons.

“I don't sense any more enemies close to us,” Tulsar said to them as he inspected the doors that would lead elsewhere into the temple. Finally he stopped in front of one of them and made some quick surgical slashes that caused it to fall to the ground in pieces. “This way. We're getting close to Sysen and the others.”

Tav followed the two, taking up the rearguard as he had ever since they had entered the temple. To say he had grave misgivings about venturing even deeper into a Sith temple would have been an understatement, but he was also determined to make sure his friends were safe. He could certainly do worse than being in the company of a Jedi Master and a professional soldier...

***

After a tense walk down one last hallway, Ruk opened a door that led into a large room that was dominated by a throne raised up in the center. Hundreds of bones littered the floor around the throne and encircled it. They were mostly humanoid, but had bony spurs over parts of their skeleton that clearly marked them as being different than a normal human. The bones seemed strangely unaffected by the passage of time. There was no sign of rot on them. They glistened white, like an anatomical model found in a medical office.

“The bones of Sorij Xor's followers,” Ruk said, identifying them. “They were known as the Massassi people, an extinct race that served the ancient Sith. The ones here sacrificed their lives to give Sorij the power to cheat death and remain as a spirit.”

“How horrible,” Hirai murmured as she looked around cautiously, wary for more traps.

“Indeed,” Ruk agreed, even if his tone didn't have any sympathy in it. He then changed subjects. “If my research is correct, Sorij hid what we need inside his throne. He is bound to reappear once I retrieve it, so we'll need to move fast once that happens. I can hold him with the Force for a brief time, but you'll need to to strike with your swords to finish him off.”

Ruk leveled his gaze at Hirai. “There can be no hesitation. Do you understand? Sorij is too powerful for me to hold for more than a few seconds. He has been dormant on this continent all this time to protect his treasure, but once we take it, there is no telling what kind of havoc he might unleash on this planet to get it back.”

Hirai nodded with determination. “I won't fail you.”

Ruk nodded back. “Then stay close, be ready, and trust in your blades.”

The two made their way carefully towards the throne. Ruk would stop every so often to avoid or disarm a trap, but they managed to make their way to the top of the stairs and their goal. The back of the throne was massive, far larger than it needed to be, with spiky protrusions and wicked looking runes decorating it. Hirai didn't know how much of it was function and how much of it was meant to be for sheer intimidation, but she could feel power emanating from it regardless.

She looked down at all of the skeletons on the floor and felt a brief flash of what it must have been like when Sorij was still alive. It was tough to tell, but it didn't look like Sorij's servants had been forced to give up their lives. None of the skeletons seemed like they had been restrained, so they had probably done all of this willingly. She shivered at the idea of that level of power and control over someone, but in the back of her mind was also a nagging thought...

If she had had this power before, her mother would never have died in the first place.

Ruk sat in the throne and fiddled with the ancient controls inlaid into the chair arms. There seemed to be no pattern to it, but he clearly knew what he was doing and before long a panel in one of the arms opened up and vomited forth a sinister red light. With more delight than Hirai could ever remember seeing on Ruk's face before now, the Shistavanen reached into the panel and withdrew a small pyramidal object.

“At last...” he all but whispered before giving Hirai a closer look at it. “Behold! This is the repository for all of Sorij Xor's knowledge. Contained inside is the key to resurrecting your mother.”

Before Hirai could say anything, an unearthly wail echoed throughout the chamber as Sorij Xor descended from the ceiling. “Traitors!” he screamed. “You will die here! Your bones will join the others! Your meager powers will be consumed by me!”

Sorij then raised his hands and the skeletons started to assemble themselves upright, manipulated by the ancient Sith spirit like a master puppeteer. The skeletons then started to swarm towards the throne with a very clear intent.

Ruk reached out his free hand and closed it like a vise. Sorij howled and struggled in response, obviously affected by whatever Ruk was doing. The skeletons, however, continued their march towards the throne.

“Now, Hirai!” Ruk roared. “Destroy him and end this!”

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Re: Altered Legacies

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Isis grimaced as the tunnel they followed led them down and deeper into the temple's core. She had hoped at some point that a branching path might lead back up to where they were separated from Sysen but unfortunately there was no such luck. She casually glanced to her side at the man walking beside her. At the thought of his compliment earlier her cheeks started to turn red again and she quickly averted her eyes. She was still conflicted over how she should feel about him. On the one hand, this was a man Hirai had looked up to her entire life. On the other, Habas' casual dismissal of the possibility that Hirai could even be his daughter seriously pissed her off.

"We can talk about it later," Habas told her quietly. His keen eyes sensing the conflict that was clearly visible on her face.

Damn right we will, she thought. For the moment keeping her internal thoughts to herself. The two walked in silence for a while after. Wherever they were they were clearly beneath the burial chambers. So far they had yet to encounter any more of those creatures from before. Isis counted herself lucky in that regard at least. She wasn't looking forward to tangling with those monsters again after their first encounter. The two companions rounded a corner and some distance ahead they could just make out a whisper of light faintly shining into the hallway from a side passage. Thinking that could be the sign of a way out the pair cautiously made their way towards it. They made it about halfway there before a sudden wail filled the tunnel, exploding into their ears.

The force of the wail threatened to knock them back as they scrambled to maintain their balance. They glanced at each other momentarily, both of them thinking the same thing. Hirai! Without a second's hesitation, they sprinted down the hallway towards the light, bursting out of the tunnel into a large, central room dominated by a raised dais atop which sat a gigantic throne. A throng of skeletal warriors stood between them and the raised platform, atop which were Hirai and a humanoid alien Isis could only assume was Ruk. The latter appeared to be struggling with something, his attention focused entirely on the ethereal form of an ancient Sith. Meanwhile, Hirai had her katana raised and poised to strike.

"Hirai," Isis called out to her, "Stop!"

The other girl froze in place, her gaze shifting wide-eyed towards her friend. Isis? What's she doing here?

"Do it now, Hirai," Ruk called out to her, "Destroy him before it's too late!"

Isis tried to force her way towards the throne, this drew the attention of the skeletal warriors closest to the door and both she and Habas found themselves quickly outnumbered and overwhelmed. Their weapons proving ineffective from stopping the undead creatures from overrunning them.

"Isis," Hirai cried out, lowering her sword ever so slightly. Torn between her devotion to her friend and her desire to see her mother again.

"If you want to save your friends then kill Sorij Xor now," Ruk shouted. "I can't hold him anymore!"

With a last ditch effort Sorij Xor threw everything he had into one final push, blasting both Hirai and Ruk away with a massive telekinetic blast. The two were thrown to opposite ends of the room as Sorij triumphantly turned his attention to Ruk. The Shistavenen held his greatest treasure and the spirit of Sorij Xor would see him dead before he has a chance to remove it from this temple.

"Now your doom is sealed," he said, raising his hand to blast Ruk one last time.

Hirai meanwhile was just getting back to her feet when she looked up and saw that Ruk was in danger. Fearful of losing her chance to see her mother again she pushed herself to even greater heights, leaping forward with tremendous strength. Before Sorij could finish summoning the power to destroy Ruk Hirai's blade cut through his ghostly form, banishing his spirit back to the nether. With one final cry the spirit of Sorij Xor faded into nothing, causing the corpses of his followers to collapse onto the ground.

"Well done, child," Ruk said as he clawed his way back to his feet. "Now we must hurry, we haven't a moment to lose."

"Like hell you don't," Isis shouted at him. She was back on her feet again with her blaster pointed squarely at Ruk. "Come on, Hirai, we're getting the hell out of here."

"Isis, wait," Hirai told her, "It's not what you think! Ruk is helping me. He's going to use the knowledge of this temple to resurrect my mother. I'll be able to see her again!"

Isis just stared at her wide-eyed in disbelief. Had this been the day prior to their arrival at the temple she would have said such a thing was impossible, but now? After everything they've seen? "Hirai, he's been working with Qan to manipulate you. Everything that's happened till now was to lure you here."

"I don't care," Hirai told her, "I have to do this."

"Well, I'm going to put an end to it," Isis said and her finger tightened on the trigger.

"No," Hirai cried, tossing her sword at Isis and knocking the girl's blaster from her grip. The blaster bolt she fired went wide and burned its way into the wall beside Ruk's head.

Determined not to give up Isis drew a vibroknife from her boot and rushed towards the Shistavenen. Hirai was there to intercept her, however, and the two girls stumbled and fell over each other as they scrambled back to their feet. "Go," Hirai shouted before squaring off in front of Isis, "I'll hold them off!"

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Re: Altered Legacies

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Habas had found himself speechless ever since entering the throne room of the temple. Instinct had taken over when the skeletons had swarmed towards them, but now that the spirit that had been controlling them was apparently gone, all Habas could do was watch wordlessly as Isis fought with the girl she had identified as Hirai.

The girl who Isis had claimed was his daughter.

The girl who was his daughter.

Until now he hadn't seen Hirai in person. All he had seen were holos and other still images of the girl. There was a marked difference between that and seeing her in action with his own eyes. Recordings of any kind could lie, but this was no lie. Upon watching her, all doubt was erased from his mind. It wasn't just her appearance, it was the way she moved, the grace, the power... It was identical to her mother.

Habas didn't understand how it was possible, but he could no longer deny the evidence in front of him. Oh, Kana.... Habas thought to himself with a growing mixture of disbelief and sorrow. What did you do?

For the first time he could ever recall, Habas felt his hands shaking as he tried to lift his blaster rifle. Instead he felt his legs give out on him and he slumped to the floor back into the curve of the hallway that had led to the chamber, the weapon falling out of his grasp to clatter on the floor. He tried to say something, but his mouth felt dry and no sound came out as everything he had been denying came rushing at him and the weight of lost years hit him full force.

All he could see was the mental image of Kana in front of him. I trusted you. I loved you. Why didn't you ever tell me!?

***

There had been no explosion of power when Hirai had slain Sorij Xor because of the nature of her swords. The slash had disrupted the essence of the spirit, acting like a regular knife to flesh. Sorij Xor was truly dead and he wouldn't be coming back this time. Unless one knew what to look for it would have been easy to miss under all of the other Dark Side corruption on Pek Kular, but there was no dark spot in the Force to indicate the passing of a Darksider.

The spirit of Sorij Xor was simply gone.

The problem was that, much like the skeletons, the temple had been tied to the power of the ancient Sith Lord. Everything Ruk had read about Sorij Xor indicated that he was a petty, vengeful man, so there was a very high possibility that this temple was not long for this world now that its master was no more. A sudden rumbling from deeper withing the temple that caused Ruk's teeth to vibrate confirmed his suspicion for him.

With a growl of annoyance, Ruk moved to a section of the wall near to him and released some hidden switches, causing a section to pull back and reveal a secret escape path out of the temple. No self-respecting Sith Lord would be caught without one in case of a sudden revolt. Ruk's years of studying the temple and others like it meant he knew what to look for and how to activate it. As powerful as Sorij had been, the Sith had also been very predictable. In a different timeline, the fool probably wouldn't have stood a chance against Ruk's old master either.

Ruk briefly considered leaving Hirai behind now that he finally had the knowledge he had been seeking for years, but he disregarded that line of thinking. She was still useful and her untapped potential was enormous. It would take some work, but if he kept applying the proper leverage, he was confident that he could truly turn Hirai into a powerful extension of his will.

After so long spent laying low, Ruk felt the stirrings of true ambition welling from deep within him again. It was something he hadn't felt in decades. With Hirai at his side, he could enact schemes he had only idly considered before. He could remove the shadow that hung over him for good.

He sent out a telepathic communication to Qan: “Meet us at the exit for the secret tunnel. The raid was ideal. I have what we came here for and the means to erase him for good. After today, Juoi will be a burning cinder that we can finally put behind us.”

Qan was an excellent subordinate, competent without being overly ambitious, but his apprehension at what Ruk was planning was felt through his response. “Perhaps we should leave it alone and enact our exit plan without disturbing him.”

“Even in his current state, I won't leave him as a loose end. This must be done,” Ruk snapped back. “Besides, the technique has to be verified. Don't worry, the swords are even more effective than I thought. It will be brief.”

“Very well,” Qan answered back. “I will meet you outside.”

By now the rumbling had become much more pervasive. “Hirai!” Ruk yelled aloud. “The temple is collapsing! Finish her now or I will!”

A large stone block suddenly came crashing down from the high ceiling, impacting the throne and crushing it. As if that wasn't enough, Ruk placed his hand on the handle of his sword and narrowed his eyes. If Hirai was still too weak to kill her former friend, he would do it for her. He wasn't about to be slowed down now, not when he was so close to achieving everything he had worked so long and so hard for. Hirai would be upset and angry if he killed Isis, but Ruk was confident he could spin her death as a positive and necessary step. After all, would a real friend stand in the way of reuniting with family?

Isis Sinclair had been an irritant ever since she arrived on the planet and Ruk wasn't going to suffer her interference any longer. Today was going to be a day for cleansing of all kinds of problems and the sooner the ties to Hirai's past were eliminated, the sooner she could grasp her true destiny...

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Re: Altered Legacies

Post by Pryde »

In their years at the academy, Hirai had always been the better fighter. She was faster, stronger and more agile than Isis but she lacked the same drive. For starters, Hirai opted to never fight dirty, unlike Isis. The will to win no matter the cost was a trait the two girls did not share. Fortunately, for Hirai she knew her friend well. She'd seen the way Isis fought so many times before and had learned to anticipate her whenever she felt the need to cheat. A handful of dirt to the eyes or an unsportsmanlike head butt or even biting were all part of Isis' arsenal and Hirai had learned to anticipate them all. Naturally, in every fight between them Hirai had always come out on top and today was no different. Isis lunged forward with a feint before trying to plant a fist into Hirai's temple. The other girl saw through the deception, caught Isis by the arm, and threw her head over heels onto the ground.

"You can't win, Isis," she told her as she stopped to catch her breath, "Just back down!"

Isis rolled over onto her stomach and clawed her way back to her feet. She was panting heavily, clearly tired from all the exertion. "Why? What's the matter? Can't keep up," she said lifting her hands up into a fighting stance.

Hirai resisted the urge to roll her eyes. That was so typical of her to have such confidence even in a losing situation. "You can't force me to come back, Sis," Hirai said, "Ruk promised me that I would see my mother again!"

"Your mother's dead, Hirai," Isis nearly screamed at her. Surprised at both the harshness of her words and the desperation that colored her tone. "You saw those things that attacked us! If she did come back, do you really think she'd still be human?!"

"You don't know that."

"Do you," Isis asked her pointedly, "Look where we are! Deep underground surrounded by evil! I know you feel it too! What good do you think could possibly come from here?!"

Hirai opened her mouth to say something then closed it again. Isis was right, she couldn't deny it. That feeling of unease, the chill that ran down her spine. There was darkness everywhere around them threatening to close in on them. What if Isis was right? What if there was no good to be found here?

“Hirai!” Ruk shouted suddenly, snapping her back to the present, “The temple is collapsing! Finish her now or I will!”

Almost as if to punctuate his words a large stone slab fell from the ceiling to crush the throne beneath it. After the rumbling had settled slightly Isis turned back to look at Hirai. "Do you hear that, Hirai? If you don't stop me now he'll finish me. Does that sound at all heroic to you?"

Hirai struggled with that for a moment then shook her head. As much as she hated to turn her back on a friend her desire to see her mother was much stronger. "I'm going with him, Isis. You can't stop me."

"Like hell," Isis said and she sprinted forward, pushing her way past Hirai while simultaneously scooping up her discarded knife. She reached her hand back ready to throw it at Ruk when Hirai caught her from behind. The other girl twisted Isis about, wrenching the knife from her grasp before planting a knee into her gut. Isis doubled over gasping for air but didn't have much time to recover before Hirai landed a solid punch to the side of her jaw, laying her flat. Then she turned, retrieved her swords and ran after Ruk.

Ruk appeared angry as he watched Isis desperately trying to crawl after her and stop her. "I said finish her," he growled as Hirai passed him.

"It's fine, just leave it," Hirai said, not stopping to even look at him.

Ruk, however, had made up his mind and within a second his blade was free of its sheath. He stalked towards Isis with a purpose but made it only a few feet before another large chunk of debris crashed to the ground between them, separating him from the girl. As much as he hated to leave her alive he had no choice but to trust that the collapsing temple would finish the job for him. With a grunt he rehomed his blade back into its sheath and hurried after Hirai.

Meanwhile, Isis had finally managed to pull herself back up to her feet and hurried after them. She scrambled over the fallen debris and ran towards the tunnel just as a cave in from the ceiling collapsed in front of it, sealing it completely. "Frak," she shouted then she turned back to look at Habas. The man was still kneeling on the floor, a myriad of emotions crowding his face. With a sigh and a roll of her eyes she quickly retrieved her weapons, pausing momentarily to grimace when she noticed the giant gash in her blaster's casing left behind by Hirai's sword, rendering the weapon completely inoperable. She tucked it into her holster anyway and ran over to Habas.

"Fat lot of help you were," she grumbled mostly to herself as she knelt down and tried to lift him up onto his feet. "Come on, it's time to go."

Almost as soon as she had said that another section of wall collapsed in front of the only other exit out of this room. Isis stopped what she was doing and groaned. "Great, just great..."

She pulled her blaster out of its holster and popped the power pack out of it before returning the weapon back to its home. Then she fished out the spare she had in her pocket. Only two, she thought to herself, knowing that it wouldn't be enough. "How many power packs do you have," she asked Habas.

"What," the man asked, turning to look at her. It was clear he was still out of it, his face so pale it was almost as if he'd seen a ghost... That is metaphorically, rather. Because technically a ghost is exactly what he had seen.

"How many power packs do you have," she repeated, this time with a little less patience.

"Three," he told her.

"Give them to me," she told him and Habas obediently did as she asked. First handing her the two packs tucked away in the pouch at his hip then lastly the final pack he pulled out of the blaster rifle itself.

Isis grabbed up everything then headed over to the collapsed wall by the exit. Using her knife she punctured each pack in turn then tucked them into the cracks between the fallen rocks blocking the door. Once she was done she quickly darted to the side and hid behind some cover. Shortly after a large explosion erupted from the fallen debris, incinerating some rocks while sending others flying through the air. The force of the blast wasn't enough to clear the door completely, but it did make a hole big enough for both of them to slip through.

"Let's go," Isis told him as she clambered up the debris and began squeezing herself through the hole...

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