Faith X - Descent
Collecting a payment of Cartel Coins proved to be a more time-consuming endeavor than Faith had anticipated. Before she could redeem her payment from Kalubo the Hutt, she had to register with a licensed Hutt Cartel official to set up an account. Apparently, when you called something a ‘coin’ in Hutt space, it was merely a formality meant to indicate a digital form of currency.
Then, in order to get the process to move along at a pace that was more in line with Faith’s needs – as opposed to the six month waiting period that was supposedly the default – the wheels of commerce had to be greased. Thankfully, none of Faith’s companions held her responsible for this twist of fate; Ralto, Vira, and Tal all contributed to the 1030 credit fee to get the account activated today, thank you very much.
After that, Faith had to go back to Kalubo the Hutt’s palace to claim her reward. Unfortunately, Kalubo seemed to have forgotten her performance and was insisting that if she wanted to be paid, she’d have to dance for him again. The rancor pit was left unmentioned.
Thankfully, Tal had insisted that Faith keep written copies of all of her official transactions on Nar Shaddaa in both Basic and Huttese in both flimsiplast and datapad formats. Faith shoved the documents in his face and threatened to tell all of Hutt Space that Kalubo had no compunctions about breaching a contract, which got him to tell his clerk to pay Faith what she was owed.
Before she collected her payment, however, Faith reminded Kalubo that being dumped into a rancor pit had not been part of her contract, and as such, she was owed at least a little bit extra. The Hutt was reluctant, but after Faith reminded him of her control of his pet rancor, and how she might suggest to it that Kalubo might make a snack tasty enough worth breaking out of its cage for, the final deal was settled at 1550 Cartel Coins.
Faith still preferred to call it ‘fake money.’
Now the Slayer stood with her companions on the roof of one of the taller towers in a relatively upscale part of Nar Shaddaa. Before her, the Chronicle was waiting.
“I don’t want to mess this up, and I’m betting that the Hutts have all sorts of fees and tithes for any little screw-ups. You mind taking point on this, Tal?” Faith asked.
The Major nodded and stepped forward. “All right. I’ll give it a try.”
Faith winced. “Don’t try
, Tal. Do it or don’t do it. ‘Try’ gets you screwed.”
“All right, all right! No trying, just doing. Doing it now.”
Ralto handed Major Cortland a datapad that Faith guessed had the information about the ruin they had found on Taris. Hopefully, this would be quick and painless.
“Okay. Uh, it says we need to choose an input method. Do we want audio, visual, electronic input, olfactory, tactile, or miscellaneous?”
“Oh, brother,” Vira groaned. “I’d choose electronic input. We can make up the question exactly how we want it on the pad and then transfer it directly.”
“Sounds good,” Tal said. He input the command, only to be met with a harsh beeping sound.
“What is it?” Faith said resignedly.
Tal cleared his throat. “Electronic input has a fee of 50 Cartel Coins.”
Faith crossed her arms and arched a silent, challenging eyebrow.
The Major sighed. “It costs 50 fake credits. Happy now?”
“Not really. Do we have the question ready?”
“Yeah, you wanna take a look at it?”
Faith took the pad from Tal and looked over the contents of the question. It read, “What is the geographic location of a structure predating the Republic, predating the Empire, and predating the Hutt annexation of Nar Shaddaa that is emblemized in some way with the following symbol?” The segmented diamond shape followed the question.
“Looks like you covered everything, Tal,” Faith said, handing the pad back to him.
Tal smiled. “Thank your Master, Faith. He’s the one who wrote this up.”
“Oh.” Faith looked at the blue-skinned Nautolan, who was wearing a patient smile and a knowing look. “Thanks, Ralto. And, uh, no disrespect meant, okay?”
“None was taken, Faith,” Ralto said calmly. “Nevertheless, the sentiment is appreciated.”
“Well, okay then,” Faith said, feeling rather awkward. “Let’s get this over with.”
“All right, then,” Tal said. “Inputting the question.”
The Chronicle hub beeped and whistled with the sounds of computation for almost three full minutes before it beeped with the same harsh sound as when it had requested an input method.
“Damn! It says the question is incomplete,” Tal said, his voice full of disbelief. “It says we’ll need to pay the full price to ask again.”
“What the fuck?! Let me see that!” Faith yelled, pushing the giant of a man that was Tal aside and moving to look at the console. “This is fucked up. Is there some way we can find out exactly how the question wasn’t finished?”
The console whirred and then spoke in a booming Huttese voice. “You have switched to audio input. You have been debited 50 Cartel Coins for the transfer to audio input and 330 Cartel Coins for your question. The answer is ‘yes.’”
“Ah, shit!” Faith was really starting to get angry. “All right, let’s keep calm and not ask questions. We’ve asked two questions, apparently. That’s 660 fake credits, plus another 100 for choosing a method of asking twice. That’s 770 total. So, we have…”
“We have 780 Cartel Coins left, Faith. And no, I am not going to call it what it is not for your peace of mind,” the Nautolan Jedi said.
Faith chuckled. “So much for ‘there is no emotion, there is peace.’”
“Faith,” Ralto chided.
“Kidding, Ralto! Lighten up.” Faith declined to add that she had to keep her mood light to avoid doing anything that would end up causing herself to be charged another unnecessary fee.
“Let me handle this,” Ralto said calmly. He stepped forward to the console and asked aloud, “How was the first question tied to this account incomplete?”
The computer beeped for a few seconds before answering, “No planetary mass was identified to provide a geographic location. You have been feed 330 Cartel Coins for your question.”
“All right, then. Major Cortland, please hand me your pad.”
Tal quickly complied and gave the datapad to Master Ralto, who promptly edited the question to include the phrase ‘on Nar Shaddaa.’ Faith didn’t see or hear anything, but she guessed that Ralto switched back to data transfer, because the computer didn’t say anything as it whirred and beeped again, finally chiming a happier note.
“Excellent!” Ralto said in a rare burst of emotion. “We have the coordinates.”
“Well, what are we waiting around here for?” Vira asked. She looked a bit twitchy. “Let’s get going already!”
“I thought you were anxious about what we will find on the surface, Lieutenant Septus,” Ralto said.
Vira just shrugged. “Anything’s better than sitting up here and just waiting around.”
“Ditto that,” Faith said. “C’mon, let’s get this done already.”
The narrow areas between skyscrapers were generally too small for a starship to navigate, but Tal had found a generally reputable speeder dealer on the Promenade. At Vira’s suggestion, they had opted for a four-seat vehicle built for speed with a spherical aft compartment that rotated 360 degrees on every axis. The aft compartment was armed with a repeating blaster cannon that would not be out of place on a lean fighter. What would have cost a small fortune in credits was happily turned over to them for a hundred Cartel Coins.
Faith had opted to take the aft compartment, and was finding herself sorely tested by the various hazards that only grew more numerous the further down they ventured. She also had to avoid shooting the main cabin of the speeder.
“What the hell are those things?!” Vira shouted over the intercom as the two swoop bikes pursuing the speeder were joined by a small flock of snake-like beasts with bat-like wings.
“How the hell should I know?!” Faith yelled back as she pivoted the laser cannon to deal with each threat in turn.
The swoop bikes had blasters installed, and the creatures were projectile spitting something that might have been acid. Ralto was at the helm, and Faith thanked whatever gods were listening that he had the Force to guide them through all of the obstacles they faced.
“Remain calm,” Ralto said. “Let the Force guide your aim.”
“Easy for you to say,” Faith said. “You’re not facing towards
the incoming hail of death.”
“If you could deal with the aforementioned hail of death,” Tal half-shouted, “I would greatly appreciate it.”
Faith smirked. “Since you asked so nicely, let’s see what we can do.”
It was hard to surrender control on any level, but Faith knew that if she didn’t relax and let the Force in, she would just be shooting blind. There was barely any light down this far. The speeder and the swoop bikes let out just enough light to see tiny bits of targets, but not enough for a precise shot.
Against her better judgment, Faith closed her eyes and began to breathe as she did when she meditated.
The rejuvenating feel of the Force flowed through Faith’s body, and it felt like time slowed down and the darkness was suddenly full of colorful lights that each told a story all their own.
Two of those colors gave off a distinctive ‘swoop bike’ vibe, while a cluster of others felt a lot like something that Xander might have called ‘deadly beasts of death.’
The meditation techniques that Faith had learned while in prison back on Earth had been immensely helpful for Faith as she tried to master a number of Jedi exercises. One such result was that even these threats to her safety, and that of her friends, had an inner beauty that was worth seeing.
Despite what the Force was showing her, the beauty of the Force would be of little benefit to them if they all died. Faith let the Force guide her hands as she pivoted in her sphere to face one of the swoop bikes.
Faith nudged the driver with a subtle push of the Force. He moved a bit off to the side towards a cluster of the winged creatures.
The slightest touch of a finger on a trigger made an explosion of blue fire that took the biker and a number of creatures with it.
Another pivot, another shot, another enemy down. It was a routine experience in one sense, and yet each sensation in the Force was unique in another.
“Nice shooting!” Tal whooped over the com.
Faith relaxed and opened her eyes, letting out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. “No problem, guys. So, Ralto…”
“And now, it starts,” the Nautolan groaned.
“What starts?” Vira asked.
“What starts now is what Faith assures me is an ancient tradition on her homeworld,” Ralto said with a resigned sigh.
“You know it,” Faith said. “So… Are we there yet?”
“No, Faith. We are not there yet,” Ralto said patiently.
Faith swore she could feel the Jedi Master struggling to steady his breathing. “What about now? Are we there yet?”
“Faith,” Vira said strangely. “We’re no closer than we were a second ago. Why are you asking again?”
“Ancient tradition,” Tal said with mischief in his voice. “And as your commanding officer, I’m ordering you to suck it up and deal with it, Lieutenant.”
“Deal with what, sir?
“Are we there yet?”
“How long does this go on?” Vira said in a tone that was just short of raging.
“It goes on until we get there,” Ralto said. “If you think you can get her to stop, by all means, do try. Force knows I’ve tried everything I could think of when we were on the shuttle from Tython.”
“So much for ‘do or do not,’” Tal said teasingly.
“You guys are all the best,” Faith said sweetly. “So, are we there yet?”
Vira started to swear up a storm while Tal just chuckled and tolerated the lieutenant’s technically-insubordinate behavior.
When Ralto finally announced that yes, they had arrived, Faith had a sudden strong urge to turn around and run the hell away. Anywhere but here seemed like a good idea.
‘Here’ was the base of an ancient-looking tower that wouldn’t have been out of place in Los Angeles, assuming the City of Angels had undergone the erosion and rust and decay that occurred over thousands of years. The materials for this building must have been stronger than Earth buildings, since it was still standing.
The tower was not the source of the cold darkness that was trying to ooze into each of Faith’s pores. The tower itself jutted upward out of a stone ziggurat that strongly resembled a Mayan pyramid. Faith had never been inside of any Mayan ruins before, but she guessed that she would have preferred the Earth-based pyramids to this temple that was almost tangibly dark.
“Is it just me,” Tal asked, “or is it a lot colder than our instruments say it is?”
“It’s the Dark Side of the Force,” Faith said idly as she looked without her eyes for an entrance. “No light, no warmth, just dark and cold. It’s scary as shit, but it can only hurt you if you let it.”
“Faith speaks true,” Ralto said sagely. “There may be strange things we must face inside this… temple? Whatever they are, the darkness this place exudes is not a threat on its own. It will try to play on your fears and doubts, but it will only be as strong as you allow it to be.”
“Funny,” Vira said with heavy sarcasm, “how that isn’t much of a comfort.”
“Don’t worry, Vira,” Faith said. “Just stick close to us. Sabers out, Ralto?”
“Yes, I think so, Faith.”
Blades of blue and gold ignited as the two soldiers drew their guns and turned on their flashlights. The segmented diamond from the previous ruin was prominent on the face of the temple.
“All right, campers! Let’s get in there,” Faith said with as much warmth as she could muster.
The four of them trekked silently along the outer edge of the ziggurat until they found a ramp that led upward towards the center.
They followed the ramp and saw that it led inside the structure. Faith looked to each of her companions in the light of her blue blade and caught acknowledging looks from each of them.
They pressed forward. The narrow passage led deep into the stone until it finally let out into a wide, open area.
The first thing that Faith noticed were the twin statues flanking either side of the stone portal they had just passed through. They were identical aliens that were each kneeling and holding an upright spear in both hands. The aliens’ heads were very strange to look at. Their heads were tall and thin, and their eyes jutted out near the bottom of their heads on twin stalks.
“Is it just me,” Faith asked, “or do these things look like their heads are dicks and their eyes are balls?”
Tal shivered audibly. “You’re seriously making jokes right now, Faith?”
“No, I see what she means,” Vira said seriously. “They do look rather phallic.”
“Fascinating,” Ralto said in a hushed voice. “Not the resemblance to human genitalia, but these aliens in general. I’ve spent many years with my head buried in the Jedi Archives. I was hoping to be a great diplomat some day after the war. I wanted to help the galaxy rebuild and come together. I spent a great deal of time learning as much about the various races of the galaxy as I could. This species is entirely new to me.”
“Why didn’t you?” Faith asked.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Why didn’t you become a diplomat or a peacekeeper? You’ve got the patience for it. You’d be a killer diplomat,” Faith said. “I mean, you’d be really good at it, Ralto.”
“That’s very kind of you to say, Faith,” Ralto said warmly. “Alas, hostilities were clearly only delayed, not terminated. It would have been lax of me not to train new Knights to protect the Republic. I will not pretend, however, that this chance to learn of a new species is not fascinating.”
“It may be that,” Tal conceded, “but this place is giving me the creeps. You sure you want to meet whoever built this place?”
“There is much to be learned wherever one looks,” Ralto answered, his blue face glowing strangely in the light of his golden blade. “Even in the deepest reaches of the darkness, one can always find a bit of light. Come. Let us press forward.”
Vira turned her wrist-mounted flashlight to face each side of the room. Passages led away off to the left, to the right, and forward. “Which way do you think?”
“Forward,” Faith answered. She didn’t know how she knew, but she knew with certainty that this was the right way to go. “Follow me.”
They walked forward down another narrow, dark corridor. Faith led the way with Ralto right behind her, followed by Vira with Tal bringing up the rear.
Faith stalked forward carefully, reaching out with the Force to sense any incoming danger before it struck.
A cold breeze tickled Faith’s face, but it wasn’t soothing in the slightest. The light from her blue saber seemed to grow dimmer, and the presence of her companions began to fade.
“No, no! Stay with me, people!”
Faith marched forward despite the difficulty, though her steps grew more arduous.
Another step forward…
She was in a park full of trees and bushes and flowers, surrounded on all sides by enormous factories and centers of industry. She saw a boy with dark skin running around with his friends.
The sirens began blazing. The grown-ups came to usher their children out of the open and back into the safety of their homes. A woman grabbed the boy, and the boy grabbed a little girl who shared his eyes. They ran to the nearby shelter.
The girl dropped a stuffed animal and let go of her brother. She went back to get it.
The boy called for his sister, but his mother held him tight and kept running.
The bomb fell, and Tal Cortland’s sister was no more.
The light from the explosion blinded and deafened Faith for the briefest of moments.
She was in a small town in a canyon of rust-red rocks and boulders. She saw a little girl with red hair standing in a line-up with all the others who lived there in the town.
Men in black armor stood at attention, their blaster rifles armed and ready.
A sickly and pale man in black and purple robes pointed to twenty people, and the men in black armor grabbed each one of them and pushed them down onto their knees.
The armored men shot one, and then another, and then another.
A teenager with bright red hair grabbed his mother and ran as fast as he could get her to run.
The robed man laughed and let loose a torrent of violet lightning from his fingertips, and Vira Septus’s brother and mother died in agony.
The lightning was so bright that Faith had to look away.
She was in an enormous library full of datapads and flimsiplast tomes and holocrons dating back millennia. A blue-skinned Nautolan man pondered the teachings of a long-dead Jedi Master, the holocron projecting a virtual teacher to guide the young man towards his own destiny.
The walls began exploding, and debris was raining down from above. It was chaos everywhere.
Like fire, the red lightsabers of the Sith Lords scurried through the Jedi Temple along with their masters, laying waste to everything they met.
The young Nautolan fought as valiantly as he could, but inwardly he was terrified. He knew academically of the brutality of the Sith, but feeling his friends die all around him as he fended for his own survival was almost enough to break him.
One of the Masters told the survivors to flee, to evacuate the Temple.
The Nautolan escaped through a tunnel into the upper levels of the Works just in time to feel a tremor in the ground, followed by a wave of death in the Force.
The Sacking of Coruscant had begun, and the Jedi Temple was destroyed.
As the stones fell and plunged her into utter darkness, Faith knew that the worst was yet to come.
Her hand was warm with blood. She held a stake that was now dripping with the blood of Allan Finch.
She turned around and was in an apartment, and she stabbed a demon in the gut to acquire the Books of Ascension.
She felt her hands let the arrow fly and shoot the man who had brought the Box of Gavrok.
Her hand cradled the knife up against Professor Worth’s throat just before she killed him.
She invaded Buffy’s home and knocked Joyce out cold.
She watched her body with Buffy inside be carried away by the cops. Five by five.
She danced the night away without a care in the world. She saw Willow’s new girl and made it her duty to make the shy blonde miserable.
She dusted a vamp and saw the admiration and thanks for Buffy’s help.
She took Buffy’s boyfriend and screwed him, and he told Buffy that he loved her.
She looked into her soul and found an abyss that hungered for the sweet release of death.
She tortured Wesley Wyndham-Pryce with all manner of instruments blunt and sharp, with just a taste of excessive heat as well.
She tried to get Angel to kill her, but he didn’t.
She faced Buffy on the rooftop. The blonde slayer stared her down, relentless. Faith was judged, and she was found wanting.
“I gave you every chance!” Buffy shouted, and Faith felt the sting of the truth that she could never make up for. “I tried so hard to help you, and you spat on me!”
Faith tried to find the words to apologize, to try and make things right. She just needed to say something, anything to make this go away, but her voice would not cooperate.
“I’ve lost battles before,” Buffy went on. “But nobody has ever
made me a victim.”
It hurt more than she could put into words to hear Buffy’s hate like this again. It was so fresh and raw that Faith had to remind herself that this was in the past. This had come and gone. This was just some sort of torture that the alien temple was…
The temple! This was all its doing! There was some intangible malevolence at work. That had to be it!
Faith remembered what she had said about the darkness. “You only have as much power as I give you. Well, no more!”
The illusion shattered, and Faith fell to her knees, her chest heaving for air.
Around her, she felt her three companions likewise regaining their composure.
And directly in front of her was a pale white Hutt with blood red eyes that just felt wrong on every level. It was completely unlike an albino human. Faith had seen pictures of albinos before, and they didn’t have the wrinkles and mottled skin and creeping veins popping out in strange places. This Hutt was like Anev Xydes had been back in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, only the corruption in this thing was a thousand times darker and more powerful.
The Hutt laughed, and its voice was not the booming sound of other Hutts, but a higher-pitched sound that had a distorted quality to it.
“Most impressive!” the pale Hutt said, and Faith knew it was speaking in an alien language that was neither Basic nor Huttese, and yet she understood it. “Such strength, such power. You will make excellent servants. Far better than the other weaklings that came before.”
Faith got to her feet, not caring to listen to the villain go on a monologue rant, and then she saw it. Behind the pale Hutt was a map of the galaxy that clearly extended the path that they had been following.
The pale Hutt noticed her attentions. “You find something about this map appealing, human girl?”
“We have seen another like it,” Ralto said as he got to his feet. “Do you know what it leads to?”
The Hutt laughed again. “Of course, I do! This map leads to the revenge of my people against the betrayers. It leads to the Purge Engine.”
“Is that a weapon of some kind?” Tal asked as he fumbled his assault cannon.
The pale Hutt scrutinized the four of them, and Faith realized that this thing was no Hutt. There was something else inside the massive body, she could feel it. Whatever it was, it was far more evil than the other Hutts she had met so far. Hutts were creatures of greed and corpulence. This thing was a being of pure malevolence.
“It is the ultimate revenge of the Rakata!” the not-Hutt cried. “For countless ages, I have sat in this pathetic being’s ancestors, each of which gave birth to a tiny offspring which I then possessed. I have waited so long to see the work of the Purge Engine completed. This body, however, is not suited to travel beyond this room.
“But you have brought me four new bodies! Finally, we will have our long overdue revenge!”
The not-Hutt gathered the Force about itself, and Faith knew that despite the massive being’s likely inability to move, it was a dire threat.
“Faith!” Ralto shouted. “Download the map and get out of here! Get back to the Jedi and warn them about this! I’ll distract it!”
Faith fell in line without question. “Tal, Vira, cover me! Keep that thing off of us!”
Summoning a datapad from Tal’s belt with the Force, Faith sprinted towards the galaxy map at the back of the room.
Bursts of bright lightning began to fill the room, and Faith felt the blasts growing closer to her even as she ran.
With a jump powered by the Force, Faith leaped over the massive pale Hutt’s body and behind the galaxy map. The download initiated in a spiral of bright light as it had before.
Vira and Tal were running back and forth while keeping up steady blaster fire on the not-Hutt, dodging blasts of lightning that the creature sent their way. Ralto had both of his hands raised and seemed to be waging a battle of invisible Force energies against the creature. Whatever he was doing, it was obviously taxing him greatly.
Faith watched the data spiral into the pad. In and in and in it went until…
“Done!” Faith grabbed the pad. “Let’s get out of here!”
“Suppressing fire!” Tal shouted, and Vira followed his lead. “Faith, get out of here! We’re right behind you!”
“The hell you are!” Faith shouted. “We all go now! Come on, Ralto, we gotta split.”
The Nautolan Master’s words cut Faith like a hot knife through butter, and she sensed his determination in the Force.
The pale not-Hutt roared in anger. “You will not escape! You will not stop the Purge Engine!” it cried.
Ralto looked at Faith as he seemed to hold the creature’s onslaught of lightning at bay with his bare hands. “My time has come, Faith. This mission is more important than any one of us. Word has to make it to the Jedi and the Republic. Now, go!”
Faith shook her head. “Not without you! We stick together, you hear me! I am not leaving you to die, Ralto!”
The sharp, high-pitched hiss of the lightning grew greater as the not-Hutt howled with fury.
The blue-skinned Nautolan smiled a wide white smile. “You will always be stubborn, Faith, but your compassion is unmatched. Spread that love that you have in abundance and make the galaxy a better place.”
Faith was not hearing this. She wouldn’t. “You don’t have to do this!”
“We all have our choices to make and our destinies to face. This is mine. Major, Lieutenant, get Faith out of here while you still can!”
Faith felt the sadness and the resignation in the two bodies that came up and grabbed her from behind.
“No! Dammit, we can’t just leave him! Let me go!” Faith screamed as she was dragged helplessly away from the maelstrom. Faith might have been a Force-powered Slayer, but the two soldiers were themselves quite strong, and they weren’t letting Faith get any leverage to pry herself free from their grasp.
Even as the light and heat of the battle grew distant, Faith swore she could still hear Ralto’s voice. “You’ve made me so proud, Faith. You will do many more great things in your life. Do not grieve, Faith. There is no death. There is only the Force.”
Faith’s cry was met with an explosion of energy that tossed her, Tal, and Vira all the way past the twin statues and out of the temple proper to land on the ramp outside on the surface of Nar Shaddaa.
She felt Tal and Vira try to get her to move, to get back to the speeder and to get out of there before anything else showed up to try and kill them, but Faith had no room in her heart for anything but sadness and tears. The Force told her the horrible truth, so what else could she feel?
Master Ralto Nalarn of the Jedi Order was dead.
As usual, I don't own anything from Star Wars or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Specifically...
Nar Shaddaa: not mine
Hutts: not mine
Cartel Coins: not my money-making scheme
Swoop Bikes: not mine
Rakata: not mine
Purge Engine: original
Tal Cortland: original
Vira Septus: original
Ralto Nalarn: proudly original
Special Thanks to Sithspit for beta-reading this chapter. You are the best, my friend.
Every time you don't leave a review, someone kicks a puppy.
Thank you all for reading, and I hope you enjoy the story!