The Jedi all felt it when they reached the next sublevel -- a deep sense of dread. Even Hassha seemed unnerved, her tongue flicking the air occasionally. The darkness was all-consuming, held at bay only by the Jedi's lightsabers.
They walked into an impressive chamber, crossing a bridge than ran over a clear and soothing stream. To the left was a large pond, beyond which was an artistic elevation made of simple mud and rock. Disharmoniously, dead vegetation and dead bodies surrounded it all.
As Jak took in his surroundings, the other Jedi suddenly disappeared from view. He was alone. Solid walls materialized out of nowhere and separated them, at the same time blocking the entrance from which they came. A red lightsaber hissed to life in the darkness, illuminating the features of Valin Draco.
This is an illusion, Jak thought to himself, like on Ilum. It can't be real.
He began whispering to himself: I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.
His meditation was interrupted by the sound of heavy blaster fire. An inhuman squeal rang out, shattering the illusion. Jak could see the blaster fire through his eyelids -- when he opened them, he caught a glimpse of the same black, tar-like creature perforated by Hassha's repeating blaster. It snapped backward, wounded, and retreated into the depths of the fountain.
"Thanks," he said to Hassha. Jak found himself saying that a lot lately. Hassha's relative insensitivity to the Force was an asset in this place.
She nodded back at Jak. "Master!" shouted Titus. He pointed excitedly in the direction of a light dimly outlining a door in the distance. "There!"
Jak started to move toward the light but Hassha put one claw out, sniffing the air.
"What is it?" asked Jak.
There was a burnt-red blur, like the flash of a lightsaber, and Zane spun with a howl, clutching his arm. Crouching at the edges of their lightsabers' glow was 2 hulking meters of quadrupedal, ravenous instinct.
"Nighthunter!" shouted Jak. "Keep your eyes on it!"
The crimson predator was a nighthunter, believed to be as extinct as the Jedi. The creature’s hide looked blaster resistant. Its huge anterior claws raked at the floor in tandem with those of its hind paws, grinding out a symphony of promised pain. Five immense fangs jutted out and over both of its lips, almost concealing its face, except for its two tiny, hungry eyes. Its whip-like tail danced like a vine snake about to strike.
It disappeared into the darkness, and Jak lost track of it. He put one hand out, searching for it with the Force...
It was right behind him. He spun, barely warding off being disemboweled but not fast enough to block the slap of the nighthunter's tail, which cracked like a whip into his torso. He smashed bounced off a nearby wall. When he recovered his footing, it was gone again.
Another yelp, this time Aeryn was struck. The nighthunter retreated into the darkness.
Jak realize that in the relative darkness, the beast had a good chance of ripping them into bite-sized chunks. "Run for the door!"
They ran just as the nighthunter launched into a loping gallop, easily closing the distance between them. Jak spun to try to ward it off, but the thing was resistant to Force powers and kept coming...
Talath leaped out of the darkness and landed his lightsaber on the beast's hide, spearing it through the head. The nighthunter made an anguished squeal and with a shuddering breath, slid to a halt at Jak's feet.
Jak noticed something dangling from its collar. It was a tag that read: CRANT.
He yanked it off the nighthunter's throat and approached the doorway.
The door was completely open. In fact, burn damage all along the 4-meter-wide entrance appeared to have enlarged it. A pulsating glow within lit up the darkened room. Inside, was a spherical energy cage floating on repulsorlifts. The glow came from a force field that surrounded the portable prison, and behind the bars lay a crumpled humanoid form. The room also contained a thick plasteel table, with traces of a black substance on it and a Jedi robe sprawled across it.
The man, a Twi’lek, looked up with a gaze of utter despair. Instead of exhibiting hope at the sight of potential rescuers, he quickly looked away, as if to say, “Leave me alone.”
"Who are you?" asked Jak.
The twi'lek didn't even look up. "I'm Master Thorla. Or was, anyway."
Thorla was in very bad shape. His body was emaciated, and he sported several burns and cuts.
Justyn stepped forward. "This is an easy fix." He swung his lightsaber before Jak could stop him.
When Justyn's lightsaber connected with the reinforced durasteel bars, it sent a jolt caused Thorla to yelp in pain. Justyn prepared another swing...
"Stop!" shouted Jak. "You're killing him!"
Talath peered at Thorla between the bars. "What happened?"
"Death. Failure. Disappointment." Thorla looked up, seeming to take in the Jedi for the first time. "So many of you...wait, where did you get that lightsaber?"
Talath looked down at the broken lightsaber dangling from his belt. "We obtained it from Squib scavengers."
"That was my padawan's lightsaber," said Thorla. "I trust you will take care of it."
"Of course," said Jak. "We're looking for a Jedi holocron. Can you tell us about what happened here?"
Thorla wouldn't make eye contact with Jak. "There are Sith inquisitors here, Valin Draco and Raik Munn. I suspect they are inside the archives room in the southwest corner of this sublevel. Draco has a holocron in his possession."
"We can get you out--" began Talath.
Thorla cut him off. "No. All the Jedi are dead. There is no reason to go on -- if you are smart, you will flee this place befoe a sadistic torturer like Draco gets his hands on you."
"Leave him," said Jak.
"But master..." pleaded Talath, looking at Jak in disbelief. "Surely there must be a way to release him?"
"Yes, but not now. If the inquisitors are here we need to move fast. Let's go."
Hassha led the way, followed by the other Jedi. Talath looked behind him one last time to see the twi'lek's head bowed, chin on chest, framed by the dim glow of the doorway before he too left the room.