Star Wars: Treasures of the Force – Ch 38

The Goldrunner didn’t crash. Ayli would insist on that repeatedly if asked. Yes, it was true that when it landed none of the engines were working, and, yes, it landed where gravity decided it would land rather than where Ayli would have liked to put it down, but, and this was an important point she felt, it did land.

“Did we survive that or is the afterlife really not living up to its billing?” Zindiana asked.

“You’re in fine shape,” Goldie said. “I, on the other hand, won’t be flying any time soon.”

“Any systems still functional?” Ayli asked, checking the navigational logs to see if she could pinpoint where they’d landed.

“Life support’s fine, and I’ve got one of the aft turbolaser batteries that’s still technically functional but the maneuvering brackets are fused, so it can only fire in one direction until that’s fixed,” Goldie said.

“How bad are the sublight engines?” Ayli asked.

“Checking now, pretty bad though,” Goldie said.

“Can you fix them with the waldos?”

“Maybe. Depends on what blew up,” Goldie said. “Give me about an hour and I’ll either have partial output and control back online or a list of parts we need to replace.”

“I doubt we have an hour,” Zindiana said. “If we could get through the defense grid, the Klex armada up there is definitely going to be able to get through it was well,” Zindiana said.

“The good news, I think we cleared a path for them,” Ayli said. “A lot of shots we dodged as we got deeper in hit other parts of the defense grid.”

“That seems like a terrible setup?” Zindiana said, and grabbed a sack to begin packing with supplies out of the Goldrunner’s emergency stores.

“I was able to throw off their targeting a bit,” Ayli said. “I think the must have programmed the system to err on the side of blowing up intruders rather than letting people have free lanes of access in the places where the defenses might risk shooting each other.”

“So self-destructively hostile then? That sounds in character for the Children of the Storm from what we’ve seen so far,” Zindiana said.

“Oh hey, the waldos are reporting that damage to the comm’s array isn’t too bad. I can probably have that back up in about five minutes,” Goldie said.

“Do it,” Ayli said. “Nix and Sali will be coming in behind us. They’ll need a beacon to follow if nothing else.”

“I’m guessing the Klex will object to that,” Zindiana said.

“I have a feeling the Preservationist League ships will lodge some counter-objections for us,” Ayli said. “I caught a long distance ping while we were cutting through the worst of the defense grid that a new set of ships had arrived in system. And it feels like Nix is here. And like she’d following us.”

“She’s going to wind up in even worse shape that we are though right?” Zindiana asked, which wasn’t an unreasonable thought given how much more fragile the shuttle Nix had was than the Goldrunner.

“I think she’s going to be okay,” Ayli said, growing more certain of that with each word. “We cleared some of the path and the Klex have been busy clearing more of it. I think by the time she and Sali get there, there’ll be a lot less shooting at them than there was at us.”

“That’s good. They can take us to the central command structure and we can see about getting the automated defense systems under our control.”

It was the most likely method they’d been able to think of for securing access to the planet and repelling the Klex fleet. None of their plans had accounted for a crash landing which could have left them anywhere on the planet’s surface though.

Which was fine.

Because Ayli had arrived right where she needed to be.

“How?” she whispered, looking out of the cockpit to see a fire spewing mountain rising above them.

“This wasn’t me,” Ravas said. “This was all you. You chose to be here. Don’t forget that and don’t blame me.”

Ayli turned to question what Ravas meant, but she was gone before Ayli even began to move.

“How what?” Zindiana asked.

“We don’t need a ride from Nix and Sali,” Ayli said. “We’re here. This is the Final Temple.”

Zindiana looked out of the cockpit and followed Ayli’s gaze to the top of the volcano they’d landed beside.

“Wow, nice flying there. How did you see this from space though?”

“I didn’t. I just flew where I thought we needed to go.”

“We should wait for the others then,” Zindiana said. “So far both of the other temples have been dangerous, and it sounds like in both cases you and Nix only made it out because you worked together.”

Ayli had to admit that was true.

The image of Nix speared through by a Smoke Wraith’s talons stabbed sharply through her mind, followed by the image of Nix twisting and helpless in the air under the Ancient Specter’s power.

“I think this last test is one that has to be done alone,” Ayli said.

“You don’t have to do that,” Zindiana said, strapping one of the larger blaster pistols she owned to her hip. “I don’t have Nix’s gifts, but I can come with you.”

“No, you need to stay,” Ayli said, certain that seeing Zindiana die would be terrible too, if less so than seeing Nix be hurt again. “The others need to be brought up to speed on what happened and what’s going on.”

“I can do that,” Goldie said. “It’ll be safer if you go together.”

Which was true, but Ayli hated that too.

“You’re in no shape at all to defend yourself, and the automated systems for takeoff and flight are down, so even if you get the engines repaired you’ll need a pilot to get you in the air again,” Ayli said, citing what felt like rational and valid arguments.

“Then we should all wait here,” Goldie said. “If the Klex do send a landing party, it’ll be a lot to ask Zindiana to hold them off on her own.”

“If I can get the defenses under our control, that’ll deal with Klex,” Ayli said. “Zin doesn’t need to defeat any Klex forces that show up, she just needs to buy enough time for me to get to the central control station.

“And if you encounter more Force monsters in there?” Zindiana asked.

“Then I’ll get to prove I’m worthy to wield one of these,” Ayli said holding up the unlit lightsaber.

“I want to go on record stating that this is a terrible plan,” Zindiana said.

“Agreed,” Ayli said. “It’s terribly, but it’s the best one we’ve got.”

“Take this at least,” Zindiana said and handed Ayli one of the ship’s currently inactive comm cylinders. “Five minutes from now when the comms are back online, we’ll send a ping. Don’t call, just send a ping back if you’re okay, or two pings if you need help. Zero pings means you need help immediately.”

“You concerned the Klex have the scanners to detect secured comm traffic?” Ayli asked.

“I’m concerned there might be more enemies to worry about here than just the Klex,” Zindiana said.

With that cheerful thought in mind, Ayli ventured forth, pausing outside the Goldrunner to make a quick inspection.

The results were not good. Huge slashes had been torn in the hull, exposing machinery which had been melted to slag. Ayli saw that even if the engines could be brought back online, space travel would be perilous at best give the breeches in the ship’s hull which would need some form of repair.

That was a problem for another time though.

In the moment Ayli found herself in, a far greater problem awaited her atop the volcano.

“She was right,” Ravas said, and Ayli didn’t have to ask who. “I can feel something familiar laying in ambush above. It knows you’re here.”

“Let’s not keep her waiting then,” Ayli said, and began hiking up the slope as fast as she could.

“You do not know how powerful she is,” Ravas said. “How powerful I was.”

A variety of answers leapt to Ayli’s lips but the one that came out felt like words gifted to her from Nix.

“I don’t,” Ayli said simply. The fear she’d expected didn’t take root in her heart at that admission. She didn’t need to contradict Ravas, or counter with a grandiose boast. Ravas was right. Ayli didn’t know what she was walking into. But she did know that where she was headed was where she needed to be.

“If…” Ravas paused. “If you falter, if you are not strong enough, let me in. I will not take you over. I will only give you the strength you need.”

“Why?” Ayli asked, meaning both why should she trust Ravas to stand by her word and why would Ravas offer it in the first place.

“If you fall, it will destroy the one you love,” Ravas said. “That is the purpose of power – denying that fate.”

That was a lie.

Ayli could feel it.

But she let it stand. Ravas had saved them once. If she needed to save Ayli again, then the reasoning wouldn’t matter, only the results.

“I may not be the one in danger up there,” Ayli said, glancing up to the top of the volcano and the temple which awaited her there. It was growing closer much faster than a part of her was ready for.

“I assure you, nothing but peril waits for you on that ground,” Ravas said.

“I have stood on perilous ground for so long I don’t think I can recognize anything else,” Ayli said. “I’m guessing it may have been a long time for you though.”

“I am beyond the reach of peril,” Ravas said. “It is the one gift which departing from life always grants.”

“You’re here now though,” Ayli said. “I think that places you in a unique position, and creates unique vulnerabilities.”

“You sounds as though you care?” Ravas said, a note of derision in her voice.

“It’s a surprise to me too,” Ayli said. “I think it’s Nix. She sees something in you. Something more than the face you’ve always shown us.”

“She imagines things, sees things not as they are but in whatever light is easiest and most comfortable,” Ravas said.

“Do you think it’s comfortable for her to believe in you?” Ayli asked. “Because she does. Even with everything we’ve been through, she sees something in you, something that Kelda saw, and it’s hard not to be convinced by that.”

Ravas was silent for the short while it took Ayli to finish the climb.

“She is imagining things,” Ravas said. “What she thinks she sees was never there. Only the illusion of it ever appeared and that was never worth anything.”

“I think if Nix were here she would contest that,” Ayli said. “Of all of us, she has the clearest vision and the widest view. And I am sure she would reject the idea of you being worthless.”

“She’s a fool.”

“She is,” Ayli said. “But she’s also right. You are more than you appear to be. I don’t think I could really see that till now, but that’s only because you’ve taken pains to hide that part of yourself away.”

“You cannot imagine what else lies hidden within me,” Ravas said.

“I can’t. You lived a different life than mine. You hold more power and mastery of the Force than I probably ever will. We will never be the same, but I can still understand you. At least in part.”

“And if none of that can save you?” Ravas asked.

It was a valid question. Ayli had begun her expedition in the hopes of finding the grist to bolster her somewhat shaky career. Somewhere the quest she was on had become about something more though. 

And somewhere in the process, she had become something more too.

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