The ruins of eight rectangular buildings surrounded the tower like ragged teeth. The grounds between them and the main building used to be gardens, but were littered with ferrocrete hunks of blasted wall and the remains of the military ship that crashed into the north side of the tower.
Jak enjoyed the relative silence as the Jedi passed the outer buildings and grounds that surrounded the academy proper. The remains of the circular structure were immediately identifiable as Coruscani in design. The majestic white marble tower lay toppled on the ground.
Once they passed the yawning entrance, where the 5-meter-high double doors were ripped from their hinges by someone who valued only their material worth, the Jedi entered the main hall. Even with all the surrounding devastation, they looked around in wonder.
The few interior walls still standing were also made of white Selonian marble, lined with thick veins of silver that form into knots where wall and floor met. Inlaid cases carved into the entry hall walls were set at about a meter off the floor. Dust-free spots inside them showed that their contents were stolen rather recently.
Only some sections of the ground floor remained accessible. Most of the corridors were blocked when the upper floors caved in during the bombardment. The Jedi made their way over a row of once-dazzling columns at the hall center, now shattered into pathetic fragments. At the other end, past the cracked bust of a venerable Twi’lek Jedi, the only unobstructed path led to a fountain chamber.
The chamber was a large, circular room, half of which was completely caved in. There were five marble benches lined up along the curving wall on the left and an exit at the other end, which led to another dark corridor. While the farthest half was filled with debris, in the middle of the room sat a magnificent fountain. From its center extended an impressive sculpture of a large humanoid hand, palm out in a welcoming gesture. The work of art was cracked from the impacts it suffered during the attack. The fountain waters stopped bubbling a long time ago, and at the bottom of the dried-up pool was a dark, viscous substance.
The liquid seemed to slightly alter its shape. "Huh," said Jak, peering into the pool. "Must be a trick of the light--"
He was cut off by a tendril of black ooze that lashed out faster than the eye could follow. A profound cold engulfed Jak for a split second before the ooze disappeared down the fountain water shaft.
Jak composed himself. "Let that be a lesson to all of us," he said. "I wasn't able to sense that thing; there is much darkness here, so be careful."
Still, he was happy to see Hassha return, even if it did mean SevenAy came with her.
"Was Moro able to make the repairs?" asked Jak.
"It is difficult to confirm," said SevenAy, who answered even though the question wasn't addressed to him. "Captain Moro indicated that there may be good news and bad news, but he did not relay which as Miss Hassha did not respond to his question. She merely hissed at him and he shrugged his shoulders and went back to work."
Jak could visualize the entire exchange and had no doubt SevenAy's description was exactly how the dialogue happened.
"Fortunately, we've arrived just in time. I have a holomap of this area. The inaccessible rooms on the ground floor used to be offices and classrooms, the lightsaber training room, and the grand lecture hall. The only way downstairs is via an empty turbolift shaft located past the fountain chamber and to the left."
The Jedi followed SevenAy's instructions, climbing down the non-functioning turbolift by synthrope. Hassha went first, anchoring the rope 15 meters down for the rest...when the ceiling collapsed.
Jak, last to go climb down, cursed himself as he felt the shaft shudder. With no time to waste, he let go of the rope, relying on the Force to cushion his fall. He used his momentum to turn into a tumble, rolling out of the way just as massive piles of ferrocrete smashed into the bottom of the shaft.
"Only way is forward," said Jak.
While the ruined ground floor above had at least some reflected light streaming in, the underground level is pitch black. Jak lit his lightsaber and the other Jedi did the same. Hassha snapped one of the glowrods on and attached it to SevenAy's head over the droid's protests.
The rubble pile blocked the path north to the vehicle hangar, but the south exit was clear. Once outside the lift shaft, the intersection of two corridors formed an “L” shape. A thin coat of dust covers the floor, disturbed in places where several beings recently traveled. The walls were constructed of reinforced white duraplast.
"The corridor east leads to several small study chambers and the remains of a control room," said SevenAy. "Unfortunately, there is no power to this level so the blast door must be opened manual--"
Hassha ripped open the doors with her bare claws.
Beyond the doors was a dark, dank room about 4 meters by 12 meters. On the opposite wall was a large, cracked transparisteel window with a view blocked by enormous boulders and slag. The far side of the room was also filled from floor to ceiling with rubble where the wall and window were not strong enough to hold back the collapsing academy structure. Below the window was a bank of consoles and computers; some were damaged, with broken screens and severed wires hanging from underneath. But one console was intact. It had a standard input for datapads and astromech droids.
"If you plug me in to that port," said SevenAy, "I believe I can help."
Hassha dutifully plugged SevenAy in. The droid's eyes flickered. "Oh dear."
"What?" asked Jak.
"It appears the main generator has been damaged beyond repair. However, there is also a backup generator. I believe I can turn it on..."
There was a distant hum.
"The backup generator has only enough power to turn on one level of the academy at a time, and since the top floors no longer exist, I can power one of the two sublevels. Now that the power is on, my access includes a map of sublevel 1, descriptions of functions for each room (the most important of which is the library), and a dated log showing what vehicles were borrowed from the hangar and by whom."
"We're looking for a Jedi holocron," said Aeryn.
"Ah yes. Access to the map shows a stairway leading down at the end of the corridor outside the control room, but this route is blocked. You must circle the perimeter of the meditation rooms and arrive at the other side of the blocked passageway to access these stairs. The last log entry, dated around the same time as the attack on the Almas Academy, shows that all vehicles were evacuated from the hangar due to an emergency."
"That's...not really very helpful," muttered Jak.
* * *
The long southern corridor parallel opened to a stairwell to sublevel 1, which flickered thanks the meager power provided by the backup generator. Hassha forced the door open to the library.
Jak, who had half-hoped the holocron was just laying around somewhere in the library, let out a sigh as he took in the surroundings.
"Well, that's not good."
Half the library was blown away by blaster fire, while the rest fell victim to looters. This library wasn't as large as its austere counterpart on Coruscant, but the ruination that greeted them was no less dismaying. Even in dim light, Jak could make out a room that once was filled from floor to ceiling with shelves that housed hundreds of holobooks overflowing with Jedi wisdom. Now, the repository has been pulverized into dust by blaster fire, and the shelves were toppled at precarious angles throughout the chamber, shattered against research stations and the marble floor. The shelves were kept company by overturned chairs and damaged computers spitting sparks.
Above them was an open second floor, where even more despoiled shelves, holobooks, and datacards lay. More bloodscrawled graffiti attested to cultist desecration. The second floor had a catwalk that could not be reached without a hoversled. Beneath the walkway ledge, at the eastern wall, a wooden door was splintered open. Framing it were two bronzium busts, presumably of noble Jedi, one of them decapitated.
Aeryn tilted his head to read the plaque. "This is Jedi Master Qornah." He pointed at the bronzium head on the floor, severed in half. "At least, that's his head I guess." Aeryn picked it up to show it to Jak. The inside of the sculpture was hollow.
Jak inspected the bust. Sure enough, there was a hidden compartiment 9 centimeters square -- just the right size for a Jedi holocron.
"Master," said Talath. "I think there's a secret door here. The map SevenAy shared doesn't match up with this room." After focusing on the Force for a moment, Talath tapped the bookshelf and a hidden door swung open. It revealed a grisly scene.
As the blast door whooshed open, an unmistakable odor hit them like a punch from a Barabel shockboxer: decaying flesh. Corpses of different species, all in various states of decomposition, lay scattered about the room. Strewn around the room were twenty cadavers representing the gamut of alien anatomy and osteology, from Besalisk to Dug to Pinurquian.
Justyn inspected the bodies. "Judging from the death grip on their weapons, I'd say these two groups turned on each other."
Talath picked up a scrap of durasheet, glowing eerily in the dim light of their lightsabers. "I can't read it," said Talath, "but there are letters laser-penned into it: DA...TH...R...V...N."
"Darth Revan," said Jak grimly. "A Sith Lord.
SevenAy chimed in. "I am able to translate if you'll bring the scrap closer to my photoreceptors."
Hassha grunted and trudged over.
"This appears to be a dead language. Yes, definitely—the Sith tongue is such a peculiar one. The passage appears to...oh my. Quite a bleak extract. It reads: ‘There is no passion . . . there is solely obsession. There is no knowledge. There is solely conviction. There is no purpose. There is solely will. There is nothing...Only me."
A deafening rumble, like that of a giant waking from its slumber, thundered through the surviving academy structure before a violent quake threw everything into chaos. In the library outside, shelves that were still standing shattered as they crashed to the floor. The archive room's door slid open after the trembling stopped, revealing a staircase on the opposite side.