Slayers of the Old Republic
Book III: Dantooine
By Michael Weyer
Zhar smiled as Buffy and Vance entered the Council chambers. Bastila was already there, a look of pride on her face. “Welcome,” Zhar stated. “You have done well, my pupil. The ancient grove has been purified, and Juhani's journey down the dark path has been halted. Because of you, she walks once more in the light."
"Perhaps all she needed was someone to tell her that she needn't destroy herself." Despite Vance’s cool tone, Buffy could detect a layer of accusation in his tone.
Zhar smiled. "Perhaps that was the case." His face darkened. "But though she was saved, do not take lightly what happened to her. Juhani is dedicated and true to the ideals of the Order, yet she was still vulnerable - as are we all."
“But she has been accepted back, even after what she did?”
"She struck her master in anger during training, and inflicted great injuries, but yes.” Zhar explained. “It was Quatra's choice to test Juhani this way, and it seems to have made its point. In redeeming her, you have passed your final test. Congratulations, Padawan Jarcen. Let me be the first to welcome you as a full-fledged member of the Jedi Order."
Vance seemed thrown but then bowed. “Um…thank you.”
"Your training is complete for now, young Padawan. As you seemed to realize when you came to me, now is it time to address the vision that you and Bastila shared. We had sent a Jedi to investigate the ruins to the east, but he has not returned - we fear the worst."
“Can’t you tell if he’s okay though the Force?” Buffy asked.
Vrook shook his head. “That area is heavy in the Dark Side and clouds our vision. We need someone to go into this temple and find the answers within.”
“You want me to go alone?”
Zhar shook his head. “No, that would not be wise. Because of the bond you seem to share, we believe it will be better if Bastila and Somers accompany you.”
“We shall leave at once, Masters,” Bastila said, the trio bowing before leaving.
The temple wasn’t far from the Enclave so the trio of Jedi didn’t have too far to walk. It was about two stories high and circular, a squat stone standing by itself. The three all shivered as they felt a chill come over the usually warm sky. “This place has the taint of the Dark Side,” Bastila announced.
“Never would have guessed,” Buffy muttered as they headed toward the large stone entrance. It only required a mild Force tug to open it, the halves splitting into the ceiling and floor. With a look at each other, the Jedi entered.
They found themselves in a large and almost pitch dark hallway. This was only the opening room of a larger complex. The ruins in this valley could have been all one building at one point, but cave-ins blocked most of the tunnels. Vance sniffed and frowned. “The air is so dry in here…but not as bad as you’d expect.”
“Indeed,” Bastila noted. “Almost as if someone or something, needs some sort of atmosphere.”
They came to what could have been the central chamber of the structure. A spidery droid that resembled a metal kinrath stood guard in the room. This chamber appeared to be lit from the ceiling and the walls by a phoserporous-like light. It wasn’t bright but was better than the hallway. In the light, they saw the faint outline of a crumpled human body against the far wall. They had barely stepped forward when a loud voice boomed from the droid, saying what sounded like a series of grinding and whistles.
Vance walked closer. “Hello?”
Another burst of gibberish from the machines, this one sounding like hisses and coughs.
"What language is that?" asked Buffy.
Vance shook his head and looked back at the droid. "I don't understand you."
The droid responded in another unfamiliar language.
"The phonemes are unfamiliar,” Bastila said. “Maybe they're dead languages…"
"Perhaps not," Buffy suggested. "I think it may understand us well enough."
“I can reproduce any of the languages spoken by the slaves of the Builders.”
Vance gasped. "Selkath! I understood that. It's…it's an ancient dialect of it, but it's definitely Selkath."
"Okay, so here’s the question and no using a lifeline. Why would a droid on Dantooine be programmed to speak ancient Selakth?" Buffy asked.
“Communication was vital to ensure that the slaves constructed this temple according to the wishes of the Builders,” the droid replied. “But you are not of the slave species. You are like the ones who came before…neither Builders or Slaves.”
"It must be referring to Revan and Malak,” Bastila said. “It’s possible they encountered this droid while exploring the ruins."
"Are you some kind of Guardian?" Vance asked.
“I am the Overseer. The Builders programmed me to enforce discipline among the slaves while this monument to the power of the Star Forge was constructed. At project completion, the slaves were executed and I was programmed to serve should a Builder return in search of knowledge of the Star Forge.”
"What is this Star Forge?" Bastila asked.
“The Star Forge is the glory of the Builders, the apex of the Infinite Empire. It is a machine of invincible might, a tool of unstoppable conquest.”
“What kind of tool?” Vance asked. “Can you tell us?”
“The Star Forge is the glory of the Builders, the apex of the Infinite Empire. It is a machine of invincible might, a tool of unstoppable conquest.”
“Great, record’s stuck,” Buffy muttered.
"The droid is obviously not programmed with the knowledge we seek,” Bastila deduced. “The Star Forge sounds like some kind of weapon, though it could be anything…" Bastila paced around the droid, examining it.
"Revan and Malak certainly wanted to find it,” Vance said. “Perhaps it’s a factory or weapons plant?"
"Maybe. It would certainly explain how the Sith were able to amass a fleet so quickly, but I suspect that this Star Forge is more than a mere factory. Maybe this droid has more information. It seems to respond to you, though."
"How long have you been here?" Vance asked.
“I have been here ever since the completion of this monument. In all this time, no Builder has returned to seek information about the Star Forge. My chronological circuits have marked over ten revolutions of this system's outermost planet since the Builders left.”
Buffy let out a long whistle. "Ten revolutions?” Bastila was stunned. “That's more than 20,000 years! If this is true, then this empire and this droid are over 5000 years older then the Republic itself! There has to be a mistake in the calculations."
“There is no mistake. The Builders constructed my circuitry using the technology of the Star Forge itself. My calculations are infallible."
"Tell me about the Builders," Vance asked. “What were they like?”
"The Builders are the great masters of the galaxy, the conquerors of all worlds, the rulers of the Infinite Empire and the creators of the Star Forge."
Buffy frowned at Bastila. “Okay, I’m still catching up on a lot of the history of this galaxy but I don’t recall hearing about any ‘Builders.’”
Bastila’s frown deepened as she tapped a finger on her chin. "In the years before the Republic, the Hutts were a dominant force in the galaxy, but they did not build an empire. In fact, I know of no species that would fit with this information. These Builders must be an extinct people, though it's strange that there's no record of existence. Even the Jedi archives make no mention of them or this Star Forge."
“Maybe they were wiped out by a plague or a supernova,” Vance suggested.
“Now that the slaves are gone, my purpose is to aid those who seek knowledge of the Star Forge if they are worthy The ones who came before you, the ones like you - not Builders, not slaves - sought knowledge of the Star Forge. They proved themselves worthy. They discovered the secrets of the Star Forge locked beyond the door behind me.” The droid's spindly legs seemed to gesture to a dark corner, and the form crumpled in the shadows. “Others came three solar days ago. They failed to unlock the secrets and paid the ultimate price.”
The trio walked to the corner and rolled over the body. He had been killed by a blow to the face that shattered many facial bones but Bastila recognized him. "The droid must be talking about poor Nemo,” Bastila said. “The Council sent him to investigate and it cost him his life."
Buffy whirled on the droid with anger on her face "Did you kill that man?"
“I am not programmed for combat. I did not harm the one who failed. The temple's own protections will destroy the unworthy if they fail in their quest for knowledge. Now it is your time. Enter the doors to your right. Within them, those who understand the will of the Builders can unlock their secrets and open the doors. Those who fail will be destroyed by the power of the temple itself.”
"Revan and Malak unlocked the sealed door and uncovered the secrets of the Star Forge,” Bastila deduced. “Now, Malak must be using this device to fuel his conquest of the Republic. We must find out what they uncovered - unseal those doors and learn more. The Republic is depending on us."
Buffy looked around. “So…left or right?”
Vance stroked his chin as he looked from one to the other. “Left.”
The three headed to the large door and Vance put his hand on the spot in the center. It slid open and the three of them went through. The room was decorated with frescoes of plants and animals, undisturbed for so many centuries. Nearby was a computer panel that seemed surprisingly dust-free. Vance frowned as he wandered to it. He touched it and it lit up.
“Now that is well-built,” Buffy said as she came up behind him. “Eat your heart out, Bill Gates.”
Vance gazed at the readout as a question came up. Identify the three death-giving seed world types. A set of choices were underneath. Nodding, Vance quickly typed in.
Barren. Volcanic. Desert.
There was a rumble as the group looked about. “Sounds like we got one seal done,” Buffy stated.
“Let’s hit the other one,” Vance said, leading them out and across the main chamber to the other room. That door was soon opened and the three entered…
And barely ducked the wide sheet of flame that erupted in their faces. They saw a droid, a smaller version of the one outside, standing in the middle of the chamber and firing a flamethrower at them. Bastila opened her mouth to give commands but Vance and Buffy were already moving. The male held up his hand to send another blast of flame off-course and away. At the same moment, Buffy ignited her lightsaber and swung it up, the silver blade cutting through the droid. It shook before falling in two halves on the floor.
Bastila nodded as she stood up. “Very good. You…” She paused as she took in the color of Buffy’s lightsaber. “Padawan…what have you done?”
Buffy looked at the silver blade and blanched. “Oh, right…um…Mission showed me these crystals and I put one in my saber to boost it a little. Guess the new color is a side effect.”
Bastila shook her head. “You simply cannot alter…”
“Oh, come on!” Vance snapped. “I’ve seen all sorts of colors of sabers around here.”
“It is the choice of a Knight to change their color if they wish,” Bastila stated. “Not a Padawan.”
Vance was heading toward a terminal set nearby. “My faith in this whole Jedi thing is going lower by the minute.” He tapped a few keys to bring the screen to life.
Identify the three life-giving seed worlds. Without much of a pause, Vance entered in the answers. Arboric. Grassland. Ocean.
Once more, a rumble filled the temple. With a shared look, the three Jedi quickly headed back to the main chamber. Behind the droid, the doors had opened into another chamber. The three carefully walked toward it, lightsabers out, ready for another ambush.
The object waited for them at the center of the chamber – a tripod on tripod design made of black, evil-looking metal. As they approached, Buffy let a command go through the force to touch the object. One of the curved metal spires of the larger tripod, and it bloomed like a giant metal flower - like it had for Malak and Revan. It truly was breathtaking - a sphere of gold, blue, and black. It seemed to hang slowly before them, like a painting of the universe.
"This…this must be what Revan and Malak found when they entered this temple," Bastila said, amazed. "This must be where their journey down the Dark Side began."
“What is it?” Vance asked in wonder, taking in the sight. He could tell it resembled a map, but unlike any he’d seen before.
“It…appears to be some sort of interstellar navigational chart,” Bastila said, although she still seemed unsure. “Revan and Malak must have used this to find the Star Forge. We can follow in their tracks using this map and find the Star Forge ourselves. But we must be wary - they may have laid traps or concealed what they found."
"So, what is this Star Forge, Bastila?" Buffy asked. "Your theory?"
"I…I don't know, but Revan and Malak were very interested in finding it. Perhaps the Council can tell us more. But I think this map is key to finding it, whatever it is."
Vance frowned as he studied the map, using his past skills as a pilot and smuggler. "I recognize a bit of this. Most of it's…it's planets I've never seen before. There are missing pieces to the puzzle: incomplete hyperspace coordinates, corrupted data, Not to mention that there's nothing here on where this so-called ‘Star Forge’ might be."
Bastila was pointing out planets on the chart that were lit up in blue. "See this world here? That looks to be Korriban, the Sith world. If that's Korriban, then here's Kashyyyk…”
“I know that one,” Buffy said, pointing to one world. “That's Tattooine.”
“And here's Mannan…" Vance put in.
"Maybe the worlds marked on the map have more clues," Buffy suggested.
"I was thinking that, too,” Bastila said. “This map might not be able to take us to the Star Forge, but I know Revan and Malak visited Korriban at least once. Perhaps they discovered something more there. In fact, they may have found a part of the puzzle on each of these worlds." Bastila looked away from the map to her students. "We find all the pieces, and they might lead us to the Star Forge…and some way to destroy it."
"What if you're wrong?" Vance asked.
"And what if I'm right?” Bastila snapped. “ We can't ignore this. Finding the Star Forge may very well be the key to stopping Malak and the Sith! We'll inform the Council at once of what we've uncovered. They can decide our next course of action, though I suspect our task has only begun."
Buffy rolled her eyes as she followed her Master. “Oy with the poodles, here we go…”
As expected, the Council were quite interested in hearing the report of the three Jedi.
“Hmmm….” Vandar stated. “Perhaps this Star Forge is the reason the Sith fleet has such an unusual design.”
Dorak nodded in agreement. “Yes. I have spent much time among the archives, attempting to see any sign of past Sith in these ship designs but I have found nothing.”
“What about these Builders?” Buffy asked.
Dorak shook his head. “No. It is possible of course that they were a known race and ‘Builders’ was the only term the droid knew them by. But that is speculation for another time.”
“Still, we are in agreement," Vrook announced. "The Star Forge must be found. Revan and Malak sought it out when they began their tragic fall. It is surely a powerful tool of the Dark Side."
"The Star Map in the ruins showed you four planets, but it was incomplete in that it did not show you the location of the Star Forge itself,” Zhar added. “We believe that there are Star Maps like it on other planets, pieces of the larger puzzle. Find the Star Maps on Kashyyyk, Manaan, Tattooine, and Korriban and we believe they will lead you to the Star Forge."
“Um…you mean me?” Vance asked, a bit thrown.
"The Jedi numbers have been ravaged by Sith assassins and defections to Malak's cause, but we recognize the importance of this mission. If we sent a company of Jedi Knights to aid you, it would surely draw the attentions of Malak, and doom your efforts to failure."
"I'm to undertake this task alone, then?" Vance asked.
"Secrecy is our best defense against the Sith, but we would not be so foolish as to send you alone,” Vandar gently stated. “Bastila and Padawan Somers will accompany you, for the bond you share may be the key to unraveling the mysteries uncovered by Revan. Juhani has asked to accompany you as well. After long consideration, we have decided to grant her request."
"Juhani nearly fell to the Dark Side," Vrook said stern as always. "Perhaps her presence will serve as reminder to you of the dangers present in that path."
“There are others who may wish to join us,” Vance stated. “The Wookie, Zaalbar, swore a lifedebt to myself and Buffy. He’ll want to accompany us.”
“And where he goes, Mission will too,” Buffy stated. “Also, I think Faith will be a major help as well.”
"Yes," Vandar said. "They are welcome to accompany you and your other crewmembers. Their skills and talents will be useful, I am certain. Remember that secrecy and discretion, however, are key to this task. The true nature of this assignment must not reach Malak's ears."
"We’ll do our best not to fail you," Bastila said.
"Leave when you wish," Vrook said. "The longer you wait, the stronger Malak becomes. But first a warning: the Dark Side's lure is strong and difficult to resist. It fear this mission to find these Star Maps may lead you down an all-too-familiar path."
"The fate of the galaxy may be in your hands, Padawans. We pray you are up to the challenge. Go now, and may the Force be with you.”
“We shall need to gather supplies and arms,” Bastila announced as the trio walked away from the Council Chambers.
Buffy was half-listening as she saw a woman sitting by the fountain, talking to a young man. She paused before realizing it was the woman she’d seen go by her earlier, sobbing. Frowning, she headed over. “Excuse me. Are you Elise?”
The woman started. “Ah…yes…yes, I am.”
Buffy nodded. “I’m a friend of Mission’s.”
“Oh, the Twi’lek!” the woman smiled. “Oh, I was hoping I’d be able to see her and thank her.”
Buffy raised an eyebrow. “Thank her?”
The woman nodded. “Yes…I had become so wrapped up in my grief for my husband. I was living a fantasy through my droid and that wasn’t right for him or me. I was…at first, I was devastated when it was destroyed but when I came to the Enclave, I met Samnt here.” She nodded to the man beside her. “A most fascinating man. We’ve been talking and…well, I guess I see now that there is something to live for. My husband would not want me to waste my time in mourning. So if you see Mission, thank her for me.”
“I’ll be happy to give her the message,” Buffy smiled back before leaving Elsie and Samnt to their conversation. She saw Vance smirking a bit as she came over. “What?”
“It seems you’re making a few romances happen,” he noted.
Buffy snorted. “Yeah but I can do crap for my own love life. It’s just like being back in high school.”
The crew of the Ebon Hawk gathered at the center of the Enclave to listen to the three Jedi outline things. Mission and Zaalbar seemed surprised at this. Canderous appeared eager for any excitement. Faith lounged on a chair as she took it in. Carth seemed tense and even a bit suspicious of all this. T3 simply sat and observed these odd humans.
“So, that’s the deal,” Buffy stated. “We have to find these maps and then this Star Forge.”
“Why you?” Carth stated. “I’m not a Jedi expert but I know they don’t just go around handing major assignments to any old Padawans. Why would the Council choose you for this?”
“We…seem to have some sort of bond,” Vance said. “We don’t know how it happened or what it exactly entails but they think it could be a clue to finding this Star Forge.”
“Finding the Forge is a key to defeating the Sith,” Bastila said. “I believe your superiors will want you to go with us for this, Carth.”
The man frowned, obviously not happy about this.
“This will be a very dangerous mission,” Bastila made it clear. “We will be outnumbered, going to planets with mercenaries, soldiers and other sorts of dangers and quite frankly, we have no idea what we may face. We must also take into account the fact that the Sith will do anything to stop us.” She gazed about, her face set. “There is a good chance that we may not survive this. If anyone wishes to stay behind, I will not judge them for that.”
There was a long silence that was finally broken by a sardonic voice. “So,” Faith asked. “When do we leave already?”
Well, the end of another book. As KOTOR fans know, it’s what comes next that things kick into high gear with a few new crewmembers and a few surprises. So keep all comments coming as I prep the next part.
To be continued in Book IV: Kashyyk