Faith VI - Taris
“Huh. So this is Taris,” Faith said. “Why are we here again? Why would anybody want to be here?”
Looking out at the landscape from the safety of a Republic encampment by a surprisingly well-built spaceport, Faith surveyed the damage from what she’d been told was a Sith act of slaughter three hundred years ago. Taris seemed to be made up of two things: swampland and metallic ruins.
“This used to be a big city world, kinda like Coruscant,” Major Cortland explained. “Darth Malak reduced it to this when he couldn’t find one Jedi down on the surface. I guess he thought that it’d just be easier to kill the whole planet rather than risk one person escaping.”
“Damn. The Sith don’t mess around,” Faith said quietly. She was unable to picture this muggy ruin of a world looking anything like the grand cityscape of the Republic’s capital world. “I wonder why they didn’t do the same thing to Corsica ten years ago.”
“Please, Jedi girl,” Vira Septus said, not quite over Faith calling her ‘eyepatch girl’ a few days ago. “You have gotta stop mangling Coruscant’s name. As for why the Imps didn’t finish off the capital when they had the chance, I couldn’t tell you.”
“Perhaps Coruscant figures into the Empire’s future plans,” Ralto reasoned. “If true, it would be most disconcerting.”
“That’s an understatement, Master Jedi,” Cortland said. “Before we head out there, we’re going to the closest med-center. They’ve got an inoculation against the Rakghoul plague, and even if it is out of date, I don’t want to take any risks we can avoid.”
“No arguments here,” Faith said. “Lead the way.”
Tal followed a holographic map and led them towards a series of buildings on the left side of the base.
Faith didn’t need to read aurek-besh to tell that the line stretching back several meters out the door was probably full of people all looking for the same injection.
A tired-looking woman in what might have been a medic’s uniform stood at the entrance and waved the four of them over. “You part of the team sent to clean up the Rakghouls?” she asked.
“We’ll kill any of ‘em that get in our way,” Septus said, “but we’re here on official Republic business.”
“Those are my lines, Vira,” Major Cortland said with a touch of impatience. “You should know that the business we’re here for is to prevent an even worse outbreak of the Rakghoul plague that might be immune to your vaccine.”
“Come on, doc!” a man near the front of the line said. He was holding a young child over his shoulder. “Are you telling me that these guys get to go first just because they’re part of the army?”
“We got a couple of Jedi here, too,” Vira said scornfully. “I think we take priority, seeing as we’re trying to keep things from getting any worse.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it!” the man said angrily. “I have a family here, and I already lost one of my kids to those damned things! Don’t you dare expect me to take a back seat to you when your precious Republic army couldn’t protect us in the first place.”
“Hey!” Faith said loudly. “That’s enough! We’ll wait in line, okay?”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Jedi girl?” Vira spat.
“We can protect ourselves,” Faith said as calmly as she could, resisting the urge to smack the red-haired, one-eyed soldier. “You have your armor and your guns, and Ralto has the Force. As for me, I dare you to show me another human in this galaxy that can take the punishment I’ve taken and will take. We’re going to the back of the line. Now, soldier.”
Septus looked like she was going to blow a gasket, but Cortland put a hand on her shoulder before she could start a bigger scene. “At ease, Lieutenant. You heard the Jedi. To the back of the line we go.”
“Sir,” Vira protested, “you can’t-“
“I can, and I just did. Now, move it.”
Faith watched Vira shoot her a death glare before stalking to the back of the line, followed by Major Cortland. Behind her, Faith felt Ralto’s approval, and she turned to see him smile silently before trailing after the two soldiers.
Before she could fall in behind Master Ralto, Faith felt a small tide of people approach her from the line.
“Thank you, Master Jedi,” the man with the child over his shoulder said. “We’ve been bullied by Republic troops too often while we try to reclaim our homes. It’s bad enough with those beasts out there. We don’t need soldiers getting in the way as well.”
The father’s words were echoed by sounds of approval and even some scattered applause from the surrounding civilians. Faith looked at them all and saw some of them carrying bags stuffed to capacity on their backs, or else small carts filled with foodstuffs and a few pictures. These people literally had their entire lives on their persons.
“Hey,” Faith said in a pathetic effort to shrug things off. “It wasn’t anything special. You guys need the help more than we do. Common sense, y’know?”
“We do know, Master Jedi,” a woman said, her arms full of a pair of overstuffed bags. “And we can’t thank you enough.”
Faith felt a strange heat come to her face, and she realized that she was blushing! Faith Lehane did not blush, and the thought caused her face to flush even more. “Well,” she said, “get the shot and then stay safe. We’ll try to make sure these things get put down and then stay down.”
“What’s your name, Master Jedi?” a young man asked. He couldn’t have been much older than twenty, but he was standing protectively in front of an old woman and two little boys.
“I’m no Master,” Faith said. “I’m just a screw-up who was in the right place at the right time. You can call me Faith. Not a Master, barely a Jedi. I’m just Faith, okay? Just… Just stay safe, okay?”
“Yes, Master Jedi! Er, that is, Faith,” the young man said awkwardly. “And thank you for everything!”
Faith decided that protesting her role would be useless, and so she just nodded her head and moved to the back of the line where Master Ralto waited with Major Cortland and Lieutenant Septus.
As she moved on back, Faith saw curious glances from those in line who hadn’t been close enough to the confrontation. She tried to simply stride confidently, but she was still feeling awkward from the hero-worship she’d just received.
Faith knew that she was no hero, and she never would be. She’d come to terms with her not being Buffy a while back. It had stung at first, more than she’d ever admit, but it was the truth. Buffy was the hero, and Faith was just a screw-up who had good people looking out for her. Better people than she ever deserved or ever would deserve.
At the back of the line, Faith saw Master Ralto smiling with silent approval, Vira Septus scowling and trying not to look at Faith, and Major Cortland giving her a quiet nod of acceptance.
They might not be the most cohesive group of warriors ever assembled, but Faith hoped they’d manage to get things done.
“Faith, I must insist that you reconsider.”
“Ralto,” Faith countered, “I must insist that you stop insisting. You’ve been saying the same thing for hours now, and seeing as we’re nowhere near an armorer, it’s sounding increasingly pointless.”
The Nautolan Master had been insisting since before they left the Republic base that Faith trade in her garments for more solid armor plating to protect against the Rakghouls. The cortosis woven into her clothes might absorb some of a blaster bolt, but it wouldn’t stop the claws or teeth of a Rakghoul.
“I gotta say, you should’ve listened to him,” Tal Cortland said from the driver’s seat of their speeder. “Whatever you think you’ve seen, I can guarantee that you haven’t fought anything like this before.”
Faith decided that laughing out loud would only make relations tenser than they needed to be. Vira Septus had calmed down since they’d gotten their vaccinations, but Faith could still feel some residual resentment in the other woman.
“Take a right at this junction, Major,” Vira said. “The scouts’ reports say that the Imperial research facility is just in that ruined hulk over there.”
“My stars,” Ralto said with horror in his voice. “That’s what’s left of the Endar Spire
! Haven’t the Sith done enough to that ship already?”
“Apparently not, Master Jedi,” Tal said humorlessly.
“What’s so special about the… What did you call it? That’s a ship?” Faith asked. All she could see was a giant hulk of scrap metal embedded in the side of a small cliff.
“The Endar Spire
,” Vira explained darkly, “was the last Republic ship to stand against the Empire before they demolished Taris. The Jedi that the Sith were looking for was on that ship before escaping to the surface. When Darth Malak found that the Jedi survived, he looked for her on the surface. I guess he got bored of the hunt and decided that it’d be simpler just to kill everything down here, including his own men.”
“Damn, that’s cold,” Faith said. “What made this one Jedi such a big deal?”
“That one Jedi,” Ralto explained, “was Bastila Shan herself. She had the rare gift of Jedi Battle Meditation. By her will alone, an allied fleet could gain insights and courage through the Force, and the enemy would become distracted and lose their confidence. It was a talent that could turn the tide of a war, and did in fact lead to Darth Malak’s defeat at the Battle of the Star Forge.”
“Whew. I’d read about Taris’s history,” Major Cortland said, “but I didn’t realize it was that important a part of the Jedi Civil War.”
“Well, now you do, sir,” Lieutenant Septus said. “Stop the speeder. We’re here.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Cortland said with a chuckle as he pulled over next to what looked like an open airlock.
Faith hopped out and closed her eyes, reaching out with the Force. There were other people somewhere nearby, but she couldn’t tell how many there were, nor how far away.
“Major Cortland,” Ralto said, “since you are the senior military officer here, I believe it would be best to accede to your command for the time being.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Master Jedi. Faith, take point. Master Ralto, watch our backs. Vira, you and I’ll round out the diamond and protect the flanks. Everyone got that?”
“Right back at ya, boss man,” Faith said with a disarming smirk.
“Down, Jedi girl,” Vira said, but her voice held no bite. “I’m with you, sir.”
“As am I, Major,” Ralto said.
“All right, then,” Faith said. “I’m on point, right? Follow me, lady and gents.”
Faith kept her lightsaber stowed on her belt for the time being, settling for a wrist-mounted flashlight for illumination as she entered the husk of the Endar Spire.
She quickly discovered that the flashlight was superfluous, given that the corridors were already well-lit. “This ship still running after three hundred years?” she wondered aloud.
“The Imps are probably powering it themselves,” Cortland said. “And they’re being careless about it. Anyone comes here and sees this, they know something’s up.”
“Could be a trap,” Vira put in.
“Indeed,” Ralto agreed. “We should be on our guard.”
Faith nodded her silent agreement before turning off her flashlight and heading further into the ship.
They came to a few forks in the main corridor, but neither Faith nor Ralto could sense anyone or anything down those other paths.
They came to a bulkhead that was mostly closed, with a bit of awkwardly-placed debris keeping it from closing entirely.
“There’s something past there,” Ralto said.
“You sure?” Cortland asked.
“Positive,” the Nautolan Master said. “Faith, help me cut a hole in the doors. This might take some time.”
Faith smirked and let her brown cloak slip off her shoulders. “No need, Ralto. I got this one.”
“Faith,” Ralto said patiently. “That is a military-grade bulkhead. Even if it is three centuries old, you can’t just-“
Faith put one hand on the inside of both doors, dug her feet in, and pushed them apart, calling on the Force to keep her stance steady while her Slayer strength handled the task at hand.
“-pull them apart,” Ralto finished quietly.
“Damn, Jedi girl,” Vira said. “I gotta say, I am impressed, and I don’t impress easily.”
“What can I say?” Faith said with a confident smirk. “I’m one of a kind.”
“That you are,” Cortland said appreciatively. “You able to keep on point after that?”
“No sweat,” Faith said, replacing her Jedi robe over her darker, tighter garments. “This way.”
The four of them made their way onto the bridge. The consoles were dark, but the wall and floor lights were still on.
“There,” Ralto said. “Do you sense it, Faith?”
“Yeah, I think so. Right… Here!”
Faith knelt next to a control panel and pulled it open, revealing a chute of some sort that clearly led beneath the surface of Taris. “Can I get a hand with this, Ralto?”
Master Ralto didn’t reply verbally, but closed his eyes and steadied his breathing.
The consoles at the front end of the bridge detached into their component pieces and floated off to the side to reveal a step-ladder leading down an unnatural tunnel into the ground.
“Damn! How far down do you think that goes?” Faith asked.
“Sensors say about fifty meters or so,” Vira said neutrally. “How do we take this, Major?”
“Not sure just yet,” Cortland said. “Master Ralto, Jedi Faith, can you sense anything or anyone down there?”
“Somewhere down there, yeah,” Faith said. “If you mean straight down from here, I can’t… Wait a sec.”
“What is it?” Tal asked.
“I can feel something, but it’s strange. Not natural. But I can hear whatever it is. Sounds like a monster. Maybe more than one.”
“Damn! Rakghouls,” Vira spat. “Probably the next generation, too.”
“Do either of you have any grenades?” Ralto asked the two soldiers.
“We have a few,” Cortland said, “but that would definitely give away our position to the Imps, and maybe cause a cave-in.”
“And then the surviving Rakghouls just dig their way to the surface another way,” Vira concluded.
“Well, can’t have that,” Faith said, unhooking her lightsaber from her belt. “Ralto, you got my back, right?”
“Yes, of course, Faith. But I don’t think-“
“No time to think. Monsters to slay. See y’all at the bottom.”
“Faith!” all three of her comrades called as one.
She didn’t hear them as she turned on both her wrist-flashlight and her lightsaber and jumped down the hole, using the Force to slow her descent so that she landed in a crouch at the bottom.
Faith was in a vast cave, and she was surrounded by pale, man-sized creatures that were vaguely ape-shaped with a sickly greenish tint.
Faith launched herself at the nearest of the Rakghouls, swinging her saber in one direction as she twisted her body in the air to avoid the claws and teeth of the unnatural beasts.
Rakghouls fell to her blue blade and didn’t get up. Another wave came to meet her. Faith jumped over them and pushed out with the Force, sending them into the walls of the cave and breaking their skulls.
More came crawling along the walls towards her, and Faith sensed that she was no longer alone. Ralto stood with his back to hers, lightsaber ablaze. With a nod of understanding, Faith launched into battle with Ralto at her side.
She could sense him in the Force, and they grew stronger together, fending off the incoming waves of monstrous creatures, not letting a single claw or tooth make a scratch in their robes.
A moment later, Faith sensed Tal Cortland and Vira Septus rappel down a rope and land behind them. Tal had out his monstrous assault cannon and Vira took aim with a blaster rifle that Faith knew somehow had seen her through many battles.
Alone, any one of them was a formidable warrior. Working together, the Rakghouls didn’t stand a chance.
When the last howling hiss of the monstrous Rakghouls fell silent, Faith turned off her lightsaber and took a breath.
“Faith,” Ralto said sternly as he disengaged his own weapon. “That was perhaps the most foolish, reckless, insane act of stupidity I could have ever imagined you’d ever attempt.”
“You’re welcome,” Faith said with a smirk. “We got the job done, didn’t we? Don’t worry so much, Ralto. I know my limits.”
“No kidding?” Tal Cortland said with awe in his voice. “How close to your limit was that?”
“Just like old times back in the ‘dale,” Faith said confidently. “Beginner’s stuff. Nothing I couldn’t handle. Still, always good to have backup. Thanks, guys.”
“Sure thing,” Vira said softly, clearly impressed. Faith sensed that the one-eyed redhead had thought that she was all talk and no game before now. Faith was happy to prove her wrong.
“Let’s go. There’s people up ahead. No more Rakghouls, I don’t think,” Faith said. “You still want me on point?”
“Yeah,” Cortland said. “Same formation. Let’s move out.”
Faith led the way through the cave, which was far larger than she’d thought it would be. She could sense the Endar Spire
above them, but the cavern system led further away from the ruined ship and towards something else entirely. Faith wasn’t sure what it was, but there was something out there in the Force.
As they rounded a corner, the cave began to narrow, and Faith saw a haphazard metal wall filling in the edges of the cave. An open door with a force field inside stood between them and whatever lay beyond.
Faith saw a pair of Imperial soldiers guarding the entrance, and then she felt Ralto’s hand on her shoulder.
“I’ll handle this,” he said confidently.
Faith trusted the Nautolan, and she let him go forward with whatever it was he had planned. Curious, Faith followed from a distance and looked on.
Ralto held his hand up in front of him as he approached the force field. “We are no threat to you,” he said as he waved his hand.
“You’re no threat to us,” the guards repeated.
“You want to let us through, and then you’ll want to take a long nap.”
“We want to let you through,” the guards said, and they did indeed turn off the force field and allow Ralto to pass. “We’ll take a long nap.”
Faith watched in amazement as the two Imperial soldiers laid down on the ground and fell asleep.
“How did… What was that?” Faith asked with awe.
“The Force,” Ralto explained, “can have a strong influence on the weak-minded. We must still be on our guard, however.”
“Remind me never to mess with him, sir,” Vira said to Tal.
“Duly noted,” Cortland said back to the Lieutenant.
The four of them moved forward into what looked like a makeshift laboratory. There were tanks that looked like stasis units, each one containing a single individual. Men in lab coats were running tests on the subjects.
“I’ll handle this,” Faith said, slipping off her Jedi robe. “Make yourselves scarce.”
The others looked concerned, but after a nod from Ralto, the two soldiers followed him behind a small rock outcropping and hid from view.
Calling upon her memories of the Jedi Temple, Faith put herself back into ‘Sith mode’ and strode forward confidently, her boots making her footfalls echo in the cavern.
The scientists turned to face her, and a small group of soldiers moved forward to meet her. Their armor was slightly different from standard Imperial military garb, and Faith guessed they were an elite unit.
“Who’s in charge here?” Faith demanded imperiously.
“I suppose I would be,” an elderly man in a lab coat said. “Set Dorn, Imperial Reclamation Service. Forgive me, my Lord. We were not aware that a Sith Lord would be visiting for another month, at least.”
“Things change,” Faith said dismissively. “I want a complete update on your work here. Assume I know nothing; I don’t want any details to be missed because you made an incorrect assumption. And you, soldiers! Don’t you have something else to look after?”
“We had a pack of Rakghouls guarding this facility,” they said. “They were supposed to repel any intruder.
“Have you ever faced a Sith Lord in combat, soldier?” Faith said menacingly.
She felt the trooper’s fear, and she smiled at the feeling. “No, my Lord. It’s just…”
“Just what? You thought some mindless beasts would prove a match for a Master of the Force?”
“No, no of course not, my Lord,” the soldier quickly stammered. “Men, back to your posts. Now!”
“Very good,” Faith said. “Now, Mr. Dorn, you were going to update me on your progress?”
“Yes, my Lord,” the man said. “The test subjects so far are holding in stasis quite well. We believe that we can suppress the Rakghoul virus from manifesting itself fully for up to three days, but we’re working on extending that timeframe.”
“For what purpose?” Faith asked darkly. “Remember, assume I know nothing.”
“Y-yes! Sorry, my Lord! The plan was to infect individuals with a newly-updated strain of the virus, then release them into the general population without any memory of the infection.”
“And then they would act as time-bombs,” Faith realized, “mutating and infecting others without even knowing that they’re carrying the virus.”
“Precisely, my Lord!” Set Dorn said proudly.
“I assume you have a vaccine ready in the unfortunate event that Imperial lives are affected by your project?”
“W-well, yes, my Lord. In a sense.”
“What sense would that be, Mr. Dorn?” Faith snarled.
“W-well, the vaccine is still in the experimental stages. And, well, quite frankly it isn’t a very high priority. The Rakghoul project itself is secondary to our main purpose here.”
“I was sent by the Dark Council to obtain an update on the situation,” Faith said. “They gave me no details, as is their right. Tell me, what is your number one priority?”
“Over there, can you see it?” Set Dorn said, gesturing to the far end of the cave.
Faith looked over to the wall and saw that it wasn’t entirely a rocky cavern wall, but one end of an excavated ruin. A pair of stone doors remained sealed, and there was a vaguely cross-shaped emblem on either of them that Faith couldn’t see in detail from a distance.
“Tell me all you’ve learned so far about it,” Faith said to Dorn, but she kept her eyes on the ruin. These people were tiny gnats in the Force. Tal and Vira were a bit brighter, and Ralto was a nice lantern in the dark. The ruin was like a simmering volcano waiting to burst. It was bright in the Force, but with an undercurrent of cold that felt disturbingly like Anev Xydes had.
“Well, my Lord,” Dorn began, “the stone is not native to Taris, we’re certain of that. Residual minerals we scraped off the stone’s surface put the age of the ruin at over twenty-five thousand years old!”
“Older than the Republic,” Faith said under her breath. “Older than the Jedi and the Sith.” Faith didn’t know how things worked in this universe, but back home, anything this old was generally powerful and typically evil.
“Aside from that, we haven’t been able to make a dent in it. We’ve tried many things, but to no avail. Our tools don’t even leave any residue on the stone,” Dorn was saying.
“I see,” Faith said. The ruin was now a greater concern, and the Imperials were just in the way. Part of her hated what she was about to do, but a little voice told her that it had to be done.
Another, louder voice told her to look at the people in the tanks, victims of the Empire’s sadistic experiments, and her dirty task became that much easier.
“Thanks for all your help.”
Faith’s lightsaber came out and Set Dorn was cut in half before he had time to notice he was in any danger. Before the head scientist’s body had hit the ground, Faith threw her lightsaber and guided it with the Force in an arc that cut down all of the remaining scientists.
The soldiers that Faith had sent away came running back, but Vira and Tal had their weapons ready and promptly gunned down the Imperials before they could get too many shots off. A few blaster bolts made their way towards Faith, but she deflected them with her lightsaber back towards their owners with ease.
“Faith!” Ralto said harshly. “Was that necessary? We could have taken them captive! You didn’t need to kill them!”
“They would’ve been in the way,” Faith said coldly, wanting desperately to believe her own words. “And we have bigger fish to fry.”
“What does cooking have to do with anything?” Vira asked hotly.
“We have bigger problems,” Faith clarified, and she meant it. “Over there, can’t you feel it? Come on, follow me!”
“Faith! Wait up!” Ralto said to no avail. Sighing to himself, he set off after Faith.
Cortland and Septus were already behind her, and Faith brought them to the giant stone doors of the ruin.
Up close, the cross-like symbol was actually a segmented diamond formed around an ovoid shape in the center.
“What is it?” Major Cortland asked.
“It’s the real reason the Imps were here,” Faith answered. “They couldn’t open it, but we will.”
“Don’t overestimate yourself,” Ralto warned.
“I’m not,” Faith shot back. “It just has to be done. I can feel it.”
“You have been acting increasingly reckless since we landed on Taris,” Ralto chided her. Back at the clinic was one thing, but jumping down alone into a horde of Rakghouls, impersonating a Sith Lord again, and then killing an entire base of people… I wonder, Jedi Lehane, if you-“
Ralto didn’t finish his sentence as the doors to the ruin moved open just a bit.
The group of Jedi and soldiers regarded the ancient ruin with puzzlement and awe.
“It’s a start,” Faith said. “Settle in for the long haul, kiddies. This thing is going to open for us soon, I know it.”
“And what do you think is inside?” Cortland asked carefully.
“Dunno,” Faith said honestly. “But we’re about to find out.”
I own nothing. Specifically...
Taris: not mine
Rakghouls - not mine
Darth Malak - not mine
Bastila Shan - not mine
Endar Spire - not mine
Battle Meditation - not mine
Tal Cortland - original
Vira Septus - original
Ralto - original
Set Dorn - original
Special Thanks to Sithspit for beta-reading this chapter.
I will likely not be able to post any new chapters for some time given that a monstrous storm is about to hit where I live and probably cut the power for a good while. I'll try to post Buffy VII as soon as I get power back, but I can't promise anything.
Thanks to you all for reading and contributing your feedback. I hope you all enjoy this chapter.