A serpent-bird landed on the stone lintel of the entrance to the prophet's tomb. It hissed once before one of the diggers shooed it away. Eiven Task, lay flat on the white sand a kilometer away, watched the scene through his binocs. They had dug an angled trench three meters long with the entrance to the tomb on the north end of it. The entrance formed a trilithon, set at an angle into the white sands. The cover marker had been removed and set aside. He tapped the button on the side, zooming in on the half-eroded Sith runes on the marker.
The information he'd bought on Corellia seemed to have been correct. The ex-Imperial spymaster claimed this was one of hundreds of archaeological sites throughout the galaxy that Emperor Palpatine's private archaeological corps was set to survey and excavate before the Battle of Yavin. The purported tomb of one of the early Prophets of the Dark Side, hundreds of years old, apparently intact and undisturbed. The artifacts within would go a long way to covering his costs for this trip. Someone had beaten him to the punch.
Task shifted the binocs to the camp, located away from the expedition. About twenty, mostly human or near-human, at least three twi'leks and a duro. They looked like students, but a few of them carried themselves like soldiers. One or two held blaster rifles, ex-Stormtrooper gear, nothing special. A trio of heavy-duty landspeeders for transport. No satlinks or antennas visible, which was odd but worked in his favor. Based on the latrine pit they'd dug on the outskirts and the extant of the excavation, Eiven estimated they'd been there at least a week.
There was something else. A nagging sort of itch at the back of his brain that seemed to drag his attention back to the dark tunnel of the tomb. He laid still, chin on the sand, closed his eyes and reached out with his mind, probing. Eiven fell back into his training, knowing that part of his abilities at least had not diminished. Something—or someone—disturbed the flow of the Force in this place. In the tomb. Eiven felt the familiar need stir up in him. Whatever it was, he wanted it.
Task pulled his senses back. If there were any Force-sensitives in the camp, he didn't want them to feel his presence. Opening his eyes, he stared out at the camp again with new eyes, mapping the approaches. He could deal with a guard or two if it came to it, but most of them should be asleep tonight. The tomb was already open, he doubted they'd begin removing the artifacts immediately—they'd want to catalogue everything first, do things properly.
A quick excursion. If the Force was with him, he would be out of the tomb with whatever he could carry long before anyone in the camp knew he was there. Eiven scuttled backwards on his belly, away from the camp.
Nine kilometers later, Task disabled the blaster-trap and stepped onboard his ship, the Memory of Alderaan. The ship was a Lone Scout class that had seen better decades and not a few wars; a civilian variant of the TIE model adapted to commerce. Eiven used it as a residence, the cargo hold converted into living quarters, complete with a meditation chamber.
Task breathed deep the cool recycled air, struggling out of his shirt and boots to feel the mechanical breeze on his parched, pale skin. Of average height for a human, and might have passed for a full human if not for the gold mixed into his short brown hair, and the slight silver sheen to his brown eyes. His body looked thin, emaciated, pale skin stretched over wiry muscles. With a grunt he scratched at the line of rough, red tissue on his left side, where what was left of his flesh met the plastic and metal implants that sustained him. A bit of sand had gotten into the gap, irritating the tissues there.
Ignoring the itch for now, Eiven pressed a hidden button, causing the smuggler's panels to retract from the wall, revealing his small armory and the few treasures he had managed to uncover so far. Fragments of the old Sith empires, long thought lost; forgotten remnants of Imperial projects; the scraps left by the Jedi Order in various incarnations. Near his left hand, the red crystal pyramid of the holocron blinked, then projected the hazy hologram of a Duros in a dark cloak and hood.
"You return empty-handed." The gatekeeper observed. Darth Modas had been a scholar and archaeologist among the Sith over two thousand years ago, an expert on the ancient Jedi, and whose philosophy was to know your enemy was to overcome them. His holocron had been Eiven's greatest asset in the decade he had spent studying the Force after his injury.
"I was only scouting." Eiven said. "Someone else got there first. An archaeological team. They have already breached the tomb. I sensed…something there. Perhaps an artifact. I will return tonight while they are sleeping and take it."
"Bold action must be mediated with caution." recited the gatekeeper. "Your training is incomplete. Do you think yourself ready to face them, should you be discovered?"
Task only grunted in reply, and began taking down his armor, weapons, and other bits of kit as he planned the evening's mission.
"A terrible acolyte," the hologram of Darth Modas scowled. "May the Force be with you on your quest."
From the opposite end of the smuggler's shelf, the rusted head of A1-S1 beeped and burbled in Droidspeak. The droid had been built near the end of the New Sith Wars, a repository for lightsaber designs built as a guide on their construction, modification, and repair. Task's other treasure, dug out of a trash heap at the rear of an old academy—it was amazing what the ancients threw away.
"Yes, I will be taking it out tonight." He answered the droid-head. "With luck, I may even blood it." The droid bleeped its approval, and then closed the covers on its optical sensors as it returned to a rest state.
Eiven finished setting out his gear, and then closed the panels.
The first moon had risen and the second had set by the time Eiven had snuck back to the tomb. He didn't need the moonlight to find his way back—the Force-presence he had felt back in the tomb was stronger now, and drew him on through the night. He boots sank in cold white sands, the heat of the day having bled out, and now he was grateful for the warmth his armor afforded him, even if the mask restricted his vision somewhat. Task paused on the ridge he had used before.
Through the binocs he could see two human guards in front of the open tomb door, with blaster rifles. Light spilled out of the entrance. Eiven had a bad feeling about this, but stamped it down. He had come too far now to go back empty handed. He prepped the Echani stimulant, peeled back the armor on his right side to expose the flesh, felt the sting as it went in. The drug would take a several minutes to kick in.
Carefully he followed the route he had mapped out in his mind, circling around behind the excavation trench. On his belly, the staff crooked in his arms before him, Task crawled up the slope. The presence in the tomb below seemed to draw at him. Eiven stopped at the edge of the trench, with the tomb entrance and the guards immediately below.
He held his breath, willed himself not to make a sound, and carefully removed two of the darts secured on the side of his left leg. A peek over the ledge, he saw them—a man and a woman, no armor or helmets, backs to the tomb-tunnel, staring out into the night. Task didn't hesitate. The first dart hit the guard on Eiven's left, just above her ear. She didn't have time to cry as the Imobilin kicked in. The second dart caught the other guard in the neck, and he too collapsed. Task waited a moment for the crumpled bodies to cease moving, then turned and dropped over the edge, his staff held at the ready.
No-one faced him. The hallway extended at a downward angle into a lit chamber. He could make out the movement of bodies there—and black robes, their backs turned towards him. A cult. He paused, considered retreat, and then opened himself up once more to the Force. Eiven Task could feel something down in the tomb. Something old…though whether it was an artifact or an adept at this point, Eiven could not tell…and something angry. He felt the stimulant kick in. Whatever power was locked in that tomb, he wanted it. One lone Force adept he could probably handle.
Kneeling down at the entrance, he checked the guards. They stared with palpable, impotent rage, paralyzed for at least another hour. Satisfied, Task removed the power packs from their weapons and set up a little surprise for later. He stood and thumbed the activator on his lightsaber-pike.
The tunnel was only a couple meters long, ending in a chamber filled with black robes with their backs to him. Womp rats in a box canyon. No idea on how many, but probably all of the ones he'd seen at camp. Task fetched a flash-bang grenade out of his belt, thumbed the button, counted off three seconds, and then tossed it in into the room as close to the middle of the group as he could manage.
People screamed, fell back, clutching at eyes and ears. Eiven strode to the end of the corridor. The lightsaber-pike was a meter and a half long, phrik alloy; the silvery-white lightsaber blade jutting out of the business end added another half meter. Not the most elegant or traditional weapon; most of the traditional forms of lightsaber combat had to be adapted to use it, but it was unexpected and it had reach, and Task would take whatever advantage he could get.
By the time the crowd in the tomb-chamber could see again, Task had stabbed three of the cultists through the chest and had beheaded a fourth. Those were the ones that had rushed the exit at the first sign of trouble, but when they fell the others pulled away, giving him space. Some froze when they saw him framed in the doorway: a silent figure in the unmistakable ceremonial robe, armor and helmet of the old Imperial Royal Guard—but colored white, instead of crimson. Recognition and confusion bought Task the seconds he needed to cut down two more that had stayed within range, clearing enough space for him to get a look at the chamber.
It was a long, low rectangular chamber, perhaps ten meters by eight. At regular intervals the walls were lined with scones holding small statue-shrines of stone, metal, and crystal. The chamber was illuminated by ancient lamps set into the walls and ceiling, powered by a portable generator that the cultists had installed. In the center of the chamber was a raised dais, on which rested an upright sarcophagus of black stone banded by metal. The lid had been wrenched open, the mummified corpse exposed, still in its starry night-sky robes. A ruddy jewel hung about its shriveled neck which tugged at his senses. A twi'lek woman stood there, holding an ancient, dusty double-edged sword that gleamed like crimson chrome. A lightsaber hung at her belt.
She smiled to see him. "Kill him." her voice seemed to echo in his skull.
The black robes moved forward. Task shifted his stance, moved the lightsaber-pike to his right hand and waved them back as his prosthetic left arm slipped behind his back. The holdout blaster was small, short range, and only held enough charge for six shots, but at close range it was difficult to miss. He squeezed out three shots in rapid succession at the milling throng, and three more black robes went down.
The black robes surged back again, and this time he chased after them.
"Your skills are weak," she said after the slaughter was finished. The twi'lek was colored a vibrant blue, head-tails drawn back with cords. Unlike the cultists, she was dressed in a fighter's outfit: short sleeves and pants, drawn up enough to showcase the blue-black Sith tattoos on her legs and arms. "Not a knight, despite your trappings. A lost little apprentice, playing at being a Sith."
Her words cut, as she knew they would. The twi'lek adept gave an experimental sweep of the blade, then raised the sword above her head in an opening Ataru stance. Eiven automatically moved into a modified Soresu stance, the pike held at chest level, burning blade straight ahead.
She took an experimental swipe; Eiven swiveled the pike, drove it aside. The Sith sword barely glowed where it had touched the lightsaber blade. Task lunged at her chest, and the twi'lek dodged, moved sideways, always facing towards him. Eiven followed, keeping his blade level with her heart.
The adept leaped, launched herself off the wall. Task shifted to parry. The Sith sword hit with all her weight and Force-enhanced strength; only Eiven's prosthetic arm kept his guard up. She recovered, attacked again. After a half dozen passes the Sith blade glowed orange over half its length, and Task had retreated around the dais. He could feel her anger simmer just below the surface, let loose in those explosive bursts of speed and strength. Yet…she was not quite used to the Sith blade. Heavier than a lightsaber, not as quick. She attacked again, and Eiven gave ground, mentally fingered his final dart.
This time when she came at him, he met her head on. Giving up the advantage of reach, Task moved in, the lightsaber-pike held near the burning blade. She brought them into a clinch, the ancient Sith blade biting into the phrik staff centimeters from his face. They remained locked for a moment, each exerting all their strength. The presence of the red jewel at the mummy's throat burned in his mind, it was an effort to focus his thoughts on the dart. He imagined his ghostly lost hand gripped it, tugged at it. Distracted, Task's foot slipped, and he fell hard on his left knee. With a predatory grin, the twi'lek pressed her advantage.
"Your desires betray you. Such need." She gloated. "But you have not yet discovered the power of the Dark Side."
The twi'lek felt the prick of the needle jab as Eiken's week telekinetic thrust jabbed it into her abdomen. Her grin assumed a rictus character, and Task pushed forward with the pike, knocked her over. Eiven grabbed the jewel from the mummy's throat, and his senses seemed to expand. He looked over to see the twi'lek adept was already moving—alien anatomy and Force abilities counteracting the paralytic. He fled up the tunnel, sprinting up the tomb, and caught the catch-wire on the way out. The power-packs he'd primed exploded. The trench walls collapsed; the tomb entrance buried once again.
The Memory of Alderaan was past the orbit of the first moon when Eiven's pulse finally came under control. He lifted himself out of the pilot's cradle, began to remove his armor, revealing dark blue-brown bruises from the Sith cultists against tawny flesh. Eiven winced as he pressed the raw, aching flesh where his metal-and-plastic rib and collar bone implants met his still-human flesh. The twi'lek Dark Side adept had caused him to over-exert his prosthetics, straining the human parts they were still connected to. Eiven stretched, then reached for the tube of nullicane for the worst of his injuries. Shaky and starved, he sat down to a meal of Ghoba rice and Silika water and examined his prize.
It was spherical, somehow both glassy and nacreous, like it had been cut from a crimson cloud and polished to perfection. Ever since he had touched it, Eiven had felt more...attuned. His physical senses sharper, his intangible senses magnified. It had been most intense when he had touched the sphere, but even just staring at it Task felt more aware than he had been in a long time. Since the injury that had stolen so much of his potential.
He fetched the holocron and A1S1, to get their opinion on the sphere. The remains of the meal set aside, Eiven arranged his three treasures in a line on the table, the droid head facing the stone.
"Modas," he said. "What do you know of this?"
The red-tinged hologram of the gatekeeper blinked into existence. "Many objects can be imbued with the Force. They are tools to use as needed, but beware becoming reliant on them. Such weakness has consumed many Sith, who become helpless without their crutch."
Eiven had not expected much better; the Prophets of the Dark Side had formed centuries after Darth Modas was dust and ash. In truth, all he had gleaned from the stolen Imperial records is that they had focused their powers on foresight and clairvoyance…perhaps this stone was one of their oracles, used to strengthen their powers.
Task turned to the droid head.
"Ess-One? Examine this."
The droid's eyes fluttered up, servos whining as the lenses focused and unfocused on the sphere. After a few moments it began to bleep and burble. Eiven translated in his head.
"A krayt dragon pearl? You are sure?"
The droid booped an affirmative.
Such treasures, Eiven knew, were rare and costly. While he had no intention of giving up whatever powers this artifact held, it was probably worth more than his entire vessel. Task picked up the sphere in his artificial hand and stared into its crimson depths.
"What were they used for?" he murmured aloud.
The lightsaber-droid beeped out for a few moments, and a grin slowly grew on Eiven Task's face as it recounted a list of the Sith who had used such gems as focusing crystals in their ligthsabers.
"Ess-One." He said, eyes locked on the red pearl in his mechanical hand. "I have an idea…"