There had been a reason that Ezekiel had chosen to take this mission, as it had seemed to not interest many others of his peers. Horrible as it was, the Death Star had been an amazing technological and engineering feat, though the Cathar thought that it should never have been made in the first place. Just the threat of striking fear into the hearts wasn't enough to warrant those kinds of resources being put into one facility, though this was a topic he had debated with himself as devil's advocate many a time. Now, with the Jedi, he had the opportunity to interact with the ruins of the ill-fated station. He didn't fully understand what he had to do to 'cleanse' it of the Dark Side, though he was sure that he would figure it out. The whole mystical aspect of the Jedi was still disturbing to his scientific mind, which hopefully this visit to something real and tangible would help ground him again.
The ruins had fallen onto a dense part of the jungle, making the surrounding foliage quite dense as it had grown thick over the century and more it had lay here. The canopy was so thick that it was almost like night even at the height of day, some phosphorescent mushrooms and plant life helping to light their path. He could see some of the wreckage just beyond the next rise, wondering which part of the facility they would find themselves in quite soon. He didn't know much about his partner, and with his shyness he hadn't paid much attention beyond saying hello and answering what questions were asked. He couldn't even meet their eyes, so he didn't even remember what they looked like. He inwardly sighed at his cowardice once again taking hold, pushing him away from his goal. It was something to look into later, for now he had a job to do.
Kraud gazed upon the gigantic metal structure of the first Death star, as he strolled in its direction beside his fellow Jedi. It was a sickening construct, radiating with the nauseating, cold presence of the Dark side. The Jedi Knight could almost feel the cries of despair drumming through the Force, had he not thrown up barriers around his mind. It was his second visit to such a wound in the Force this month, although the former paled in comparison to what remained of the First Death Star.
"How could something of this size ever have been operational?" Kraud mumbled, more to himself than to Ezekiel as they moved deeper into the dense jungle. He didn't know his fellow Jedi well. He had asked for the Cathar's name, and nothing more. Not because he didn't care, but because he noticed his shyness at first glance. The fact that the Cathar preferred not to make eye contact was all he needed to reach that conclusion. Therefore, he had decided not to bother him with any more questions.
What remained of the First Death Star was not the only thing worth looking at. The phosphorescent plant life in this dark part of the forest was beautiful. If they managed to heal this wound in the Force, the Whiphid would definitely return later on to study the plants and mushrooms that illuminated the forest. But not right now. At this very moment, everything that moved, every shadow cast by the light of the mushrooms, could be considered dangerous. With that in mind, Kraud proceeded, wary as ever.
Ezekiel didn't have an answer, or at least couldn't speak it. He cursed himself at length internally for not being able to speak yet again. He knew part of the answer, having studied what he could of the Death Star as a matter of interest. It really HAD been an engineering marvel, even if it hadn't been needed at all. It was the perfect tool for a man like Grand Moff Wilhuf Tarkin, though, the man's biography having been in easy reach of what he had read of the Death Star. Just what had happened on Eriadu to turn him into what he had become? Despite being so famous, so much of his personal life had never been revealed. The man had never even written a memoir. Perhaps he had expected the Death Star to have been so successful that he hadn't considered retiring yet, despite his advancing age.
There was the sound of rushing wind, everything going dark around them as they crested the rise to look upon the ruined command deck of the Death Star. It was surprisingly pristine for the destruction it had been a part of, especially falling from space onto the planet it had tried to destroy. The darkness oozed from the very metal of the ruins, mixing with what had been in the air as an ominous miasma to form ten humanoid bodies of shadow. The one in the center, on his last place seen in life, was the cadaverous visage of Tarkin himself. Dressed in his uniform, eyes imperious and even smouldering with cruelty, he waited for the rest of his less defined peers to gather around him, the shadows wielding blasters and blades found in the hands of hunters of the most dangerous game. "Another set of guests. Good, our little camp here was getting bored with the usual hunt." His voice was just like in the holos, crisp and precise with his Imperial accent, yet there was an unbridled cruelty underlying every word. This wasn't Tarkin, this was the Dark Side's manifestation of the man's cruelty and brutality. Though, he probably didn't even realize it. "Do try to be at least a little sport. You'd best start running, you've already used up most of your head start."
The curl of the apparition's lips into that insidious smile would be something that would haunt Ez's dreams for a long time. Somehow, though, he didn't completely panic and run at being confronted not only with more of the impossible mystic effects off the Force but also one of the most terrifying people that had ever graced the Galaxy. Without a word he turned and ran, gesturing for his companion to do so as well. At the very least, fighting ten people like this would be suicide for just two Jedi. They would need to divide and conquer, basic tactics for a force with less soldiers than the other side. That was when everything stopped going right.
On instinct, Ez slid down the other side of the rise to look for a place to hide and wait for the time to strike, even though he hated fighting. He lost his footing, though, and tumbled down the embankment and into some of the wreckage. He bounced against rocks and metal, losing sight of his companion, until he hit a wall and a searing pain flared through his side. He looked down to see a piece of jagged metal sticking from his side. He wheezed, tears welling in his eyes as he watched his blood start to drip on the ground. It hurt so bad, he couldn't concentrate on anything except trying to get off the metal. He barely moved when it flared in pain again. It was almost too much for him to handle. He needed to take a bit to calm himself down.
While the jungle had been dark and dense when they first entered, Kraud quickly noticed how it changed as they got even closer to the large construct. The ground was littered with metal floor plates, sharp shrapnel and the occasional remains of blast doors, railings and wall panels, each overgrown with numerous plants. At one point, the Whiphid swore he saw the cone-like structure of a turbolift covered underneath layers of vines and roots.
Eventually, the two Jedi arrived at the location where they believed the Dark side to be the most dense. He recognized it as the former command bridge of the First Death Star. Not because he recognized the remains, but because the Force gave him a brief vision. For a second, he saw it through the darkness. The cold surrounded him, as he gazed upon the one man in the middle of the room. It was immediately clear to the Whiphid who this person was, despite not being an expert on the era of the Empire.
Casting a glance at his fellow Jedi, the Whiphid realized that Ezekiel saw this apparition too. That could only mean one thing; the wound in the Force was retaliating, defending itself against the invading Light.
When the room faded away, the shadow that was Tarkin's brutality remained standing. Flanked by nine, twisted shadows that reminded him of death troopers, an elite unit of the Empire. "We won't need a head-start." Kraud countered, his voice calm and uncaring. This was nothing more than an illusion. A desperate measure called upon by the Dark side itself to ward off the Jedi. Nevertheless, this was not an opponent they could afford to underestimate. Even after more than a century, Tarkin's iron will still had some sort of grip on this part of the planet. It was why he understood the response of his ally, and followed him in this tactical retreat.
Kraud glanced over his shoulder as they ran. The shadows did not seem to be following them yet; Tarkin's shadow was serious about that head-start.
When the Whiphid focused on the path ahead of him again, he saw Ezekiel slip. The Knight wanted to shout the Cathar's name, but decided against it. He could not give their location away, no matter what.
The Knight cursed under his breath as he descended the embankment, cautious not to slip like the Cathar. "Stay calm and take a deep breath." Kraud instructed when he finally reached the Padawan. Carefully, the Whiphid assisted Ezekiel in getting off the shrapnel. He couldn't let the Padawan pass out here, but they were in a hurry.
Once he had separated man from metal, Kraud would swiftly study the now open wound. Ezekiel was bleeding quite heavily; this wasn't just some superficial wound. It left him with only one option. "Don't move." he mumbled, placing one of his large hands just above the wound. Here goes nothing... he thought, as he surrendered to the Force.
Rarely did he ever using the healing techniques his master had taught him. The sounds and scent of the dark jungle faded away when the Knight focused on the embrace of the Living Force, directing it in patterns and waves to Ezekiel's body. The technique was complicated, and he hadn't used it in a long while. But through the Force he felt how the bleeding stopped and the wound slowly closed. He just hoped that the Dark side manifestations wouldn't find them before he was done healing the Cathar.
Luckily, it seemed the manifestations were hunting somewhere else, perhaps the two had outpaced them by the accident of falling down to this part of the ruins. As for Ezekiel, he almost passed out from the pain of being taken off the wreckage, though the healing did have a good effect. It was still painful to move fully and he was a bit pale from the blood loss, but as he had fur all over his body it wasn't apparent. He was still in the fight, the one he didn't want to be in but was nonetheless. He didn't even think of his lightsaber, hating the thing thoroughly, and instead started to look around.
That was when he saw a pile of wreckage above them and to the side, part of the metal having collapsed and made the rest of the debris fall into each other to create a precarious hazard. If even one piece of metal moved, all of it would finish falling and crush anyone under the deadly metal canopy. He was still unable to talk to others, even in thanks for being helped, so he pointed at the trap and hoped that the other man would pick up on what he was thinking. Use something as bait to lure as many of the hunters under the trap then use the Force to pull the metal down on top of them. Simple, but simple could be the most effective.
Still proud of his healing feat, Kraud followed the direction Ezekiel pointed in. It took him a full minute before he realized what the Cathar was pointing at. The unstable construction would serve as a perfect trap; if they could actually position the shadows underneath it. It would require some baiting, but luckily the Whiphid had a plan. The wound in the Force seemed to be shaped mostly by what remained of Tarkin's brutality, cruelty and iron will. The best way to attract the attention of the wound, would be to directly taunt Tarkin.
Cautiously, Kraud climbed back up the embankment again. He knew little about the Grand Moff, but what he knew would hopefully suffice. Once the Whiphid reached the top of the embankment, he scanned his surroundings for the apparitions. At first glance, they didn't seem to be present. Yeah, that was going to change soon.
"This battlestation was a failure." Kraud remarked, his voice booming through the jungle. "Something as large as this is a waste of time and resources. Only a fool would place his faith in such a construct." with every word that escaped his mouth, the Jedi felt the nature of the wound change. His assumption proved to be correct; Tarkin's will did shape the wound. Instead of pain and fear, rage started to fuel the Dark side. Just shortly after his exclamation, he saw nine apparitions appear. Dashing in his direction, weapons drawn. Just like he wanted.
With a hiss, Kraud's lightsaber ignited. The bright, lime colored blade moved in an wide arc, intercepting the first few bolts of shadow fired by the apparitions. At this range, there was little the death trooper shadows could do to harm him. His emphasis had always been on form 3; batting aside bolts like these was no issue. They had to close in if they wanted to do actual harm, which led them straight into the trap.
The second one of the troopers set foot underneath the wreckage, Kraud summoned the energy of the Living Force. With a swift gesture, the Knight pulled at the metal in the wreckage, causing the metal structure to collapse. It was both a blessing and a curse, for the apparitions made use of his divided focus to launch another volley of dark energy at the Whiphid. Their sole focus on him proved to be their undoing, as the structure crushed all eight of the shadow-like monsters. Now, only one was left. For a fact he knew that the beings would regenerate, but they would need time to recover. Enough time for them to perform the ritual and heal this wound in the Force. That was, if they could beat the last apparition. The monstrous Tarkin himself.
As the debris came down to destroy the shadow hunters, the miasma suddenly rushed through the trees and wreckage above the two Jedi. Suddenly the canopy collapsed, metal and wood raining down to block the two from each other in a thunderous cacophony. Ezekiel was thrown to the side, hitting where his wound had just healed and sending more shocks of pain through him. He felt weak, the pain almost making him ill, and before he could get up a hand grabbed him around his throat. Through tear-filled eyes he looked up into the stern, skull-like visage of the Dark Tarkin, eyes smoldering with that cruelty that had suffused the man's life. In his hands was a knife, not even a vibro-dagger but one used for skinning.
"They made poor hounds, yet revealed the prey nonetheless. Your pelt will make a fine trophy." And he stabbed the dagger deep into the Cathar's side, not trying to kill him yet but instead cause pain and fear. He jerked it up jaggedly, making Ez cry out in the first sounds he'd managed to give to anyone else in weeks. It hurt so bad, it was like his side was on fire and it spread everywhere quickly. In the depths of the pain and fear, though, a thought occurred to him. Some lessons he'd learned about the Dark Side, not complete for the situation but enough for him to make some leaps of logic. If it worked, it might help. If not, well, he wouldn't be any worse off.
"You...You like this, right...? Making people afraid...it's why you loved the Death Star so much, isn't it...?" He spoke so softly, though his mouth turned to a small smile as he saw Tarkin's lips curl down just a bit. Apparently he hadn't expected anything besides screams or begging for mercy. "I'm scared...but I know I'm not scared enough for you...I'm not broken...A shivering pile of shattered mind and heart...I'm so close to the bottom, you need more to break me...Despair even your Death Star couldn't muster...Is that all you have...? The Dark Side poured into the apparition as he pulled the knife back to stab again, over and over to pour pain and everything else the Dark Side wanted to into the boy's body. The only upside of all this was that the corruption seemed to be gathering into one point, even if that one point was ravaging his body. He was more a crimson-furred Cathar than a silver furred one. He hoped Kraud could end the apparition while it contained all of the Dark Side in the area and purify it in as much of one go as he could. At least now Ez thought he was worth something, a sacrifice for a greater good.
Kraud barely evaded the debris that separated him from the Padawan. That wasn't good; he could still stand his ground against the remaining apparition, but he doubted Ezekiel could. The Cathar was still recovering from his injuries, after all.
From experience, the Knight knew that a predator always chose the weakest as its prey. And while he didn't like to phrase it that way, Ezekiel was the weakest of them right now. It meant that the apparition of Tarkin would most likely target is fellow Jedi. Forcing himself to get up, he scanned his surroundings. Tarkin had indeed chosen to take Ezekiel down instead. Kraud cursed under his breath again, as he took a few steps back, readying himself for a run-up.
Summoning the Force to aid him, Kraud used his run-up to jump over the debris that separated him from the Padawan. He made little sound as he landed, immediately assessing the situation. The fur of the Cathar had been painted red with his blood, as the apparition of Tarkin had him completely at his mercy.
Quickly, Kraud crossed the distance between him and the shadow with the skinning knife. At the last second, Tarkin noticed the hulking figure of the Whiphid, just as he went on the offensive. The apparition of Tarkin dropped Ezekiel and turned, but there was little he could do to stop the Knight. With all his strength, Kraud tore straight through the monster its gut. With the shadow now impaled on his arm, Kraud released the energy of the Living Force, channeling it into Force light. His arm was deep inside the shadow, burning his very flesh with the power of the Dark side.
"Happy thoughts.." Kraud uttered, as the apparition of Tarkin stabbed his hunting knife in the Whiphid's upper arm. Gritting his teeth, he intensified the strength of his Force Light. "Ezekiel!" he roared, visibly in pain. "Help me destroy him!"
Suddenly, Ez was on the ground, the knife clattering as his companion impaled the apparition on his arm. He could see the Whiphid channeling...something, into the man, was this a physical manifestation of the Force? It was bright...Something he hadn't been able to manage yet. Perhaps it was because he just couldn't put his faith into the power, it just didn't make sense. Still, he was asked to help, and help he would. He managed to avoid the powerful flails of the apparition's limbs, the form becoming less defined and more vicious from the fallen Grand Moff, perhaps revealing its true form. He reached out an arm, trying to follow suit with Kraud to banish the evil.
Instead, in an unholy rage it grabbed his arm, pulling him closer as its other limb grew, having too many joints and covered with dark fangs and spikes. It whipped this horrific limb around, slashing across Ezekiel's chest and face, gouging deep red lines and throwing him back even from his own grasp. The boy was still alive but very hurt, these slashes not meant to be superficial but done out of pure hatred and rage. The Cathar gave ragged breaths before coughing, some lines of blood coming from the sides of his mouth. His throat had been hit, but thankfully not blood flow nor opened his windpipe. Small blessings.
His attempt to purge the Dark side its avatar proved to be futile. The Light he channeled harmed it, but its power was just too much. He felt how his arm grew cold and numb, while the wound in the Force lost its shape.
Kraud kept his focus tightly on the abomination made of shadows in front of him. With his lightsaber in his free hand, Kraud severed the fanged limbs that came his way. But slowly, the monster started to gain the upper hand. He sensed how the wound started to channel its darkness, unleashing it in a massive burst of telekinetic energy. With unstable footing and no opportunity to brace himself, the Knight was thrown back.
Landing on his back a couple of meters away from Ezekiel and what remained of Tarkin, the Whiphid could do nothing but watch as the being slashed at his fellow Jedi. Preparing to rejoin the fight as quick as he could, Kraud rolled over and tried to get up. However, the Whiphid immediately noticed something frightening; his left arm was unresponsive. His arm was charred and burnt. His hand had shriveled up, feeling cold and drenched with the Dark side, even through the Force. Releasing a frustrated growl, the Whiphid rose to his feet, summoning his lightsaber to his dominant right hand. He had greatly underestimated the strength of the wound, and now lives were on the line. He just hoped that Ezekiel could hold out long enough.
Despite the pain, despite the terror, somewhere deep inside Ez felt something that he hadn't felt before: a sense of purpose. He was comfortable with what he saw was a sacrifice, of himself for the betterment of this place, to help Kraud fight this apparition. This serenity let him draw on what strength he had left, giving a burst of light that managed to sear and weaken the apparition. After all, this was a Padawan that had been incredibly wounded, should have been out for the count. Which he was, as darkness took the Cathar to send him to the temporary bliss of unconsciousness. The apparition was still there, but in its hubris it had left itself open. If Kraud could take it down, this would be the time.
With his lightsaber in hand, Kraud witnessed how the young Padawan gave it his all, his presence in the Force weakening as he finally passed out. The Whiphid glared at the apparition. It no longer had a clearly defined body; instead having transformed in an amalgamation of darkness and shadows. Kraud felt the mass of pain and fear through the Force, the beckoning whispers of the Dark side that pulled at his arm specifically. His arm was useless now. It was unresponsive and felt like a clump of ice. His actions had been reckless; attacking such a powerful wound in the Force with his arm directly. But Ezekiel's and his own attempt had shown that the light did affect the apparition of Tarkin. He just had to find a different way to take it down..
His glare turned into a calm, analyzing gaze. He focused on his breathing, centering his mind and body again. "Enough." he stated, as he began to draw upon the Living Force once more. He was tired and worn, but the Whiphid had dealt with worse. Kraud channeled the energy he had summoned, the energy of life, through his Kyber crystal. The crystal was warm, approving of his conscious as he reached out. Carefully, he guided the energy through the blade, shaping it to become light. The light emitted by his lightsaber grew brighter, until it burned bright enough to have the wound in the Force think twice about attacking him.
But then, it slowly crept forward. The shadows leaving a path of death and destruction, leaving brown patches of grass where it used to stand. The tendrils launched at the Knight, ready to tear him apart. The tendrils were quickly severed from the main mass of shadow by Kraud's lightsaber, leaving large arcs of afterglow as it moved. The Whiphid advanced, cutting through the mass of shadows that desperately tried to stop him. The closer he got to the wound, the more desperately it lashed out, slowly working its way through Kraud's defense. But the Whiphid endured, until it reached the dark core of the wound. With a roar, the Whiphid plunged his saber into the core of shadows, which released a high-pitched scream. The mass of shadow grew darker, colder and larger in a final attempt to repel the Jedi; but it wasn't enough to stop the now flinching Whiphid. After a short struggle, the tendrils faded away, retracted back into the main body. Kraud almost recognized the shape of Tarkin again, before it exploded in a massive burst of Dark side energy.
Unlike last time, Kraud remained standing. With the explosion, the shadows faded away and the presence of the Light side slowly took its place. As soon as he made sure that the darkness was well and fully gone, he extinguished the green fiery blade of his lightsaber. While the Jedi was beyond tired and ready to collapse, he had to take care of his ally first. They had succeeded in their initial task, and he was not about to let the Cathar bleed to death.