Title: The Torment of Tantalus
Summary: The Rebels are mysteriously summoned to a Sith Temple where strange forces are at work. Will they get out alive? Read and find out! A SW Halloween fic. Obviously this is AU.
Disclaimer: The characters are not mine. They belong to George Lucas, Lucasfilm Ltd and Fox. This is just for fun.
Luke Skywalker wiped the streaming sweat from his brow and paused for a moment, his chest heaving. Swarming insects buzzed around his head, diving at his eyes and ears. Most of them were bloodsuckers and the young Jedi hoped they didn't carry some deadly disease. Annoyed, he swatted at them but it did little good. The flying pests were too fast and they avoided his hand easily. Even the Force was useless at keeping them away. Towering trees wrapped in deep green vines thicker than his thigh were all around him as were a myriad of plant species. Many of the trees had tall roots that stuck out of the ground, some of the roots actually standing high enough above the poor water-drenched soil to form caves. The air was filled with the sweet scent of green growth and the stronger aroma of decayed vegetation. Although located in the planet's tropical belt, the sunlight that reached the rainforest's floor was weak; green shafts of pale light filtered through the extensive canopy above. The constant drip of water was over-powered by the raucous call of tree-living animals and noisy birds. Hundreds of species of insects crawled all around and Luke was glad so far none of his party had gotten bit or stung by a dangerous species. Although small, many insects – especially arachnids – carried a deadly toxin. For the last several hours he had trudged through the middle of a steaming tropical jungle and he didn't even know why! Scratching at an insect bite on his hand, Luke turned to look at the man who had led him here. "Han, tell me again why we're here in the middle of nowhere?"
"Because we received a message, that's why." Han Solo replied as he carefully climbed over an especially large aerial root from a bungago tree. "We're supposed to meet someone in this old temple…"
"And we're just going there?!" Luke rolled his blue eyes, thinking it was all very insane. "But WHO are we supposed to meet there? And why way out here? I'm getting eaten alive by all these bugs! And my clothes are soaking wet."
"We're meeting out here because it's far from the blasted Empire, that's why." Han pulled the electronic map from his belt and paused, checking their current location. "Just be glad we're not lost, Kid. All this moisture isn't good for electronics. That's why we had to leave the droids on the Falcon. Besides, I thought you'd like it out here."
"I do like it." Luke replied as he watched his friend fiddle with the controls on the portable map. He could sense life all around him through the Force and it gave him a warm, contented feeling. He watched a bright orange-and-black spider slowly make its way down a nearby tree trunk, its eight legs working in perfect harmony. The spider's abdomen was bigger than his fist and he could clearly see its fangs with his bare eyes. Princess Leia came from around the tree trunk and was about to place her hand unknowingly on top of the spider and he caught her wrist just in time. "Careful, Leia. You don't want to get bit."
Leia stared at the spider and shivered. "I could do without all the creepy-crawlies. Of course, they're still better than the Empire. It's almost like I can't put my hand down anywhere. There are bugs all over the place."
"Well, this IS their home." Luke turned back to Han. "I'm just worried this mysterious message could be a trap."
"Yeah, like the Empire would come way out here! With all this green growth I had a heck of a time finding a place for the Falcon to land. Trust me, Kid. If the Empire were here they'd burn all of this to the ground. This is unspoiled wilderness. No one's been here for at least a hundred years." Han finished fritting with the map and pointed to his right. "The temple should be just over that rise."
Leia stared in the indicated direction. "What rise? All I see is more of the same!"
"Well, trust me! It's there." Han moved forward and used his arm to shove green growth on the side, making a tiny opening in which he squeezed through. "We'll find out more when we reach the temple. The person we're to meet said he had some important information on the Empire to give us and refused to meet us anywhere else."
"I don't like the sound of that." Luke slapped at a grape-sized iridescent cobalt insect on his arm that was sticking its feeding tube into his skin. A red smear of blood was left behind and he frowned. "How can we trust this person? We could be walking right into a trap!"
"Relax, Kid! Chewie's with us, remember?" Han plunged forward, ignoring the black cloud of bugs that swarmed around his head.
Luke glanced back and saw the tall Wookie following behind Leia, his wet fur plastered down to his body. Otherwise than being wet, Chewie looked right at home in the rainforest and hadn't really complained all that much. For a few short moments the Jedi envied the Wookie's thick coat and how it protected him from the biting insects. Then he remembered the tropical heat and quickly changed his mind. The heat and humidity must be as hard on Chewbacca as it was on the humans he was with. Worse, his body didn't sweat like a human's so he panted loudly to cool himself. "You OK, Chewie? This heat isn't getting to you is it?"
Chewie growled his reply and said he was fine.
The trail Han hacked through the jungle became more steep and Luke could feel the muscles in his calves pulling as he climbed upward. The wet ground beneath his boots was slick and footing was precarious. Several times he almost slipped but managed to hang onto the vegetation that surrounded him, the green fronds stopping him from crashing into Leia. After what seemed like forever, he finally reached the top of the hill and he drew in a lungful of breath. The surrounding view was spectacular!
The vast jungle was spread out below them in more shades of green than he could ever name and smack dab between all the treetops was a vast ruin. The crumbling gray structure stretched towards the azure sky. It was a step pyramid partly wrapped in green jungle vines, most of its steps still intact. Overcome by the incredible sight, Luke forgot to breath. An indescribable sensation of awe filled him and he felt that all the misery of the rainforest and the pesky biting insects was worth it for this one moment, this one view. Excitement of the unknown filled his heart and he forgot his worries about an Imperial trap. This was the sort of thing he had dreamed about as a child. It was like discovering a lost city that time had forgotten. Then Leia spoke and the magic of the moment evaporated into the constant steam and mist of the rainforest.
"Well, at least we found the place." Leia stated dryly as she started down the hill towards the ruin that waited just below. "Now let's hope our contact is there."
Luke followed and the giant bungago trees once again blocked his view of the step pyramid. Water dripped from the leaves above onto Luke's head, the drops cool and refreshing. A short time later he emerged from the jungle and the mass step pyramid was right before him. Even in its current ruined state, Luke was amazed by its sheer size. The structure seemed to reach up and up into the sky, seemingly forever. Although many modern buildings were much taller, the ancient step pyramid was more astonishing because it had been built by hand using primitive methods. The various layers were built of huge limestone blocks that had been painstakingly moved into position on wooden sledges and ramps of pressed earth. Moving closer to the block closest to him, Luke was amazed that he couldn't even reach the top of it. Each block was impossibly huge, its height and width surpassing four Wookies. He reached out to touch the limestone block before him and was shocked to feel icy cold seeping into his hand. The cold raced up his arm into his chest and he shivered, a dark cloud passing before the tropical sun in a perfectly clear sky. Luke jerked his hand free and backed away from the step pyramid. "I have a bad feeling about this place…"
"Don't be getting jittery, Luke." Han said as he started to move along the side of the massive structure. "Every time we go somewhere you get bad feelings! Now come on and don't dawdle. You want to get lost?"
"But it's icy!" Luke protested as he hurried after the others. "I think we should go back to the Falcon and forget this whole thing. The Rebellion is doing well enough without this information!"
"Don't be ridiculous!" Han snorted as he reached out and placed him palm on the nearest limestone block. Heat from the sun soaked into his skin and the smuggler almost got burned. Yanking his hand away, he swore in Huttese.
"It's cold, isn't it?" Luke asked, sure that Han had felt what he had.
"I almost burned myself!" Han complained as he led the party around piles of crumbled stone that had fallen from above. Here and there vines had turned the gray stones green with vibrant growth, further damaging the huge structure. Moss and rootless plants grew from cracks and along flat ledges. "You lived on Tatooine. You know the sun heats rocks. I shouldn't have to tell you these things."
"It must be the Dark Side then…" Luke whispered to himself, suddenly nervous. The step pyramid no longer seemed awe-inspiring and marvelous to him but a dreadful beast that lurked and waited for the unwary, ready to snap them up in hungry jaws. Even the stone itself seemed darker in hue. He briefly wondered what the place had been used for and why it had been built. Could it be a Sith Temple, one forgotten through the long ages until someone had accidentally stumbled across it and took it for a good secret meeting place?
"Luke, we really need this information. It could be invaluable!" Princess Leia urged as she paused, one hand on Luke's shoulder. "I'm sure the place is just old and worn down. That's probably what you sense."
Luke closed his eyes and stretched out with the Force. A black and rotten hole existed among all the green life surrounding them and he was positive it was the temple. The place was icy and cold, untouched by the hot sun above. A foul wind, like the rank breath from a tomb, seemed to brush across his face and the Jedi almost choked on its darkness. Luke's blue eyes sprung open and he breathed in deeply the clean scent of the nearby jungle. "We should leave this place now. It's a Sith Temple."
Han had kept moving ahead while the Jedi had talked to Leia and now the smuggler called out. "Hey! I found the stairs!"
"Stairs? What stairs?" Luke asked as he leaped over crumbled blocks to reach Han. His friend just pointed and Luke's gaze followed his finger to land on the crumbling staircase that led to the top of the pyramid. Tearing his eyes off the tiny structure that waited at the very top, he moved closer to his friend. "We really should go now. This is a Sith Temple and trust me, you don't want to go in there."
Han smiled his crooked grin, then stepped onto the first crumbling step. "See, Kid? Nothing to worry about! No spooks are going to grab you…"
"It's not spooks I'm worried about!" Luke replied, wishing that Han would listen to him. But his friend didn't really believe in the Force and thought the Jedi was some old hokey religion. How could he make his friends see the very real danger this step pyramid represented? Even when Han witnessed the incredible things he could do, like levitate a rock without actually touching it, he was convinced it was a trick of some kind. Or he just shrugged it off and just didn't think about it. "Don't you understand Han? It's the Sith!"
"So what are these Sith going to do to us?" Han asked as he carefully climbed up a few more steps. The steps were especially narrow and incredibly steep. In order to keep his balance, the smuggler was forced to lean forward and place both hands on the steps directly in front of him, thus going upward in a weird sort of crawl. Stopping on the fifth step up, Han glanced back at Luke, Leia and Chewie. "And I thought you said Vader was a Sith…"
"He is!" Luke replied, wishing Han would come down. "And I don't know what a Sith Temple might do to us. I never was inside one. There was a place strong in the Dark Side on Dagobah, but this is vastly different. Just come down, all right?"
"Well, trust me Kid! Vader isn't going to be hanging around this dump! He's off on that giant monster of a ship." Han laughed, and then turned around on the narrow step to quickly. His boot slid on the mossy step and he waved his arms wildly as he tried to catch his balance. But when he fell it was towards the pyramid and the steps caught him. Han leaned against the limestone, one elbow propped on a crumbling step.
"Han! Are you all right?" Leia called as she started to make her way up to him, Chewie right beside her. The stairs were wide enough to easily fit forty people arm to spreaded arm.
"I'm fine!" Han reassured his friends. "You just have to be careful. There's moss everywhere and its slick. And that has nothing to do with Sith, either!"
Luke stood alone at the bottom of the towering staircase as he watched his friends make the ascent towards the top. When they were a quarter of the way up, Luke sighed loudly and started up after them. He had no idea what might await them inside the Sith Temple, but he couldn't let them face it alone. Was the Dark Side already messing with their minds? Was that why they refused to listen to his warnings of danger or were they so eager for the information that they'd take any risk blindly? And who was the mysterious source of information that had led them here and did that person mean them harm? The steps were slick under his boots and he almost fell once, only his quick Jedi reflexes saving him. Worst, the stone itself was treacherous, once an entire step just crumbling away to powder under his weight. The crazy, impossibly steep angle of the staircase forced him to touch each step with his bare hands, the icy cold seeping into his body. At the same time the sun above baked into his head and back until it was almost unbearable. The weird combination was beginning to give him a headache and a light pounding started just behind his eyes.
Finally he reached the top and Luke joined the others where they waited far away from the edge. A roofed structure held up by round pillars, stood before them. The interior of this structure was inky black and cautiously Luke approached it. Boldly he stepped into the shadows and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. When they did, he could see an even darker doorway that led into the step pyramid itself.
"We're supposed to meet our contact inside." Leia told him from where she stood in the sunlight.
"You can still change your mind." Luke reminded her. He could feel the darkness thrumming around him now like a living thing, like an immense heart beating from within the evil structure. He really didn't want to go in there, but if his friends did he would, too. Besides, Light always won over the Dark, didn't it? But could Light beat the Dark in its own home? Of that, he wasn't too sure and had the uneasy feeling that the Dark would have the advantage. "It's not too late to go back, you know."
Pulling out a glowrod, Leia boldly stepped forward and breezed past her startled brother.
"Leia, wait!" Luke called to her retreating back as she disappeared into the dark throat of the pyramid. "Can't we discuss this?"
"Don't be scared of the dark, Kid." Han advised, patting Luke on his shoulder. Then he shoved him towards the waiting doorway where Leia had vanished. "And you better catch up to the Royal Highness before she gets lost."
Having no choice left, Luke stepped into the darkness and allowed it to swallow him.
To be continued…