In which a test of character goes a bit awry
"This was frightening at first, I'll grant, but every subsequent iteration becomes progressively more tedious," Evren says loudly, his voice echoing up and down the carved stone corridor. There's no answer from the temple itself, or the delightful hallucinations it's been throwing at him for the past hour.
He contemplates the dead end before him, mouth twisting in irritation. Servant One looms over a pair of mangled corpses. Vette's and Jaesa's. Charming. An aura of dread shrouds the entire scene—turn back, flee, don't look and perhaps it won't be true—
Oh, that's just cheap, trying to influence his emotional state with amateurish projection. This temple may be ancient, but it's hardly sophisticated once the initial shock passes.
Looking past the gruesome illusion, Evren eyes the wall behind Servant One. It might be possible to break through to the other side, but he has no idea what lies beyond. Could be the way out, could be a very long and very fatal drop into the depths of . . . wherever this is. But the faint Force signatures he's been following are in this direction, and it's not as though he has a great many other options.
He really hates this temple.
That, in the end, is the deciding factor. It's rather satisfying to break through the wall with a Force blast. It's somewhat less satisfying to watch the resultant rubble crush his screaming, pleading mother and father, but he suspects the temple is just peeved at the damage he's caused.
"Find some new material, you wretched little rock pile," Evren mutters, picking his way through the debris and ignoring the blank, accusatory eyes of his parents' bodies.
For a moment, he thinks his efforts might have been for nothing—the glow of his off-hand saber reveals a small ledge overlooking what appears to be an empty chasm, rather than a convenient path out. But as his eyes adjust, he makes out the faint outlines of tall pillars, supporting an unseen ceiling, their sides carved with more of the geometric patterns that cover the walls and floor of this place. And—there. A dim patch of illumination below and a ways off to the right. There's someone moving in the gloom. Running. The light follows them as if it can't be bothered to exist where it remains unobserved. Their Force signature is muffled and muted, a pale spark choked by thick clinging fog.
Fog that slowly burns away the longer Evren looks. Just as the illusions have become less horrifyingly real, so does the figure down below become clearer. Blue-back hair, orange jumpsuit. Evren senses fear, and grief, and—and light—
That's a Jedi padawan. A very young, very terrified Jedi padawan.
There's a familiar snap-hiss-hum, and from the passageway from which the Jedi came, there emerges a pallid, black-clad figure with some kind of red-bladed saberstaff. Another Sith. Wonderful. But Evren can't feel anything from the newcomer beyond the tangled panic emanating from the boy—who stumbles and falls, now cornered. Quite possibly about to be sliced to ribbons.
Another vision, then, but not his own.
Time to see if this temple can juggle two people's worst fears at once.
He sends his off-hand blade scything towards the Sith, who bats the saber aside with ease and swings round to face him, eyes gleaming yellow, as Evren calls it back to hand. He drops from the ledge overlooking the chamber, landing at a crouch. He ignites his other blade and flourishes them both idly as he rises to an aggressive opening stance, the points scoring the carved stones at his feet in showers of sparks.
"Tormenting half-trained padawans? Really?" he sneers, stalking forward. "That's just low."
The illusory Sith—a Pau'an—bares his sharp, sharp teeth. "You should not be here."
"And I might actually give a damn if I had the faintest idea where here was, but alas." He advances another step. Behind the Sith, the padawan has scrabbled into the relative shelter of a fallen pillar, breathing hard. He's unarmed, without even a training blade to defend himself—
"You should not be here," the Pau'an Sith repeats, voice oddly heavy and layered. At which point the saberstaff starts spinning.
Evren's jaw drops. "Oh, you have got to be joking . . ."
Ezra hunkers down behind the pillar, still shaking. He's alive. He's alive and this is—has to be—some kind of joke. Why would anyone help him? Everything else in this temple seems to want him dead or worse, so . . . Is this another part of the test? More visions? Where's the catch?
He peers over the top of the pillar. He can barely see what's going on past the red arcs of their blades but the new guy seems to be holding his own okay. Not much Ezra can do in any case. So he hides, tries to ignore the part of him that's screaming why aren't you even trying, you're useless, some Jedi—
"What, no personal demons this time?" New Guy calls out, doing some kind of feint that forces the Inquisitor to retreat or get sliced in half. "Running out of ideas, are we?"
The Inquisitor recovers, surges in to counterattack. New Guy stands his ground and sweeps his lightsabers out to the sides, then forward—the Force seems to rip open, then come crashing back together with the motion, and the Inquisitor goes flying before he can land a hit. His blades hiss down to nothing. And then he's just . . . gone. Vanished into the darkness of the chamber.
New Guy cocks his head to the side for a second or two, then relaxes. He deactivates his sabers and turns to Ezra's hiding place. "We should have at least a few minutes' reprieve," he says. "You're safe for now." His accent is clipped, kind of sharp-sounding, but Ezra can't place it.
Slowly, Ezra stands up. His knees don't give out, so that's . . . something, but he can still feel the shaking in his chest, in his hands. "Hey, uh, thanks for the save," he says, trying not to sound like he's this close to losing it. He crosses his arms to hide the trembling. "You're not a vision, right?"
The guy's smile flashes bright in the gloom. "Last I checked, no."
"Oh. Good. Um, I'm Ezra."
"Evren—a pleasure to meet you, though the circumstances could be much less, ah, harrowing." Evren pauses, then says, "Not to be rude, but how does a Jedi apprentice end up alone and unarmed in a place like this?"
Ezra twitches a little. "Who said I was a Jedi?" he says cautiously.
"If you are not, the question still stands—a temple or tomb this saturated in the Force is hardly something you stumble into by accident."
"Well, how'd you get in here, then?" Ezra retorts.
"I don't know." Evren presses his lips together. They're tattooed, reddish fanglike markings that extend over his chin, down his throat. Could be a personal thing, could be a cultural thing. "I'm inclined to blame an acquaintance of mine with a tendency to poke at things she really shouldn't, but for the time being . . . We should probably try to find a way out of here."
Ezra would love to get out of here. Who is he kidding—he's scared, he's beyond scared, and he could've died down here and then even if Kanan's still alive he'd die too, it takes a Master and Padawan to open the door and if he fails this Kanan will die.
He can't fail. He can't let himself fail. He couldn't stop the Inquisitor vision-thing from killing Kanan but if that was just another hallucination then there's still a chance, and he has to do this.
"I'm . . . okay, yeah, I'm a padawan. And I'm supposed to be looking for something in here," Ezra says haltingly.
Evren raises his eyebrows. "Looking for what?"
"I don't know, just—something!"
"How can you possibly look for something if you don't know what it is?"
"I don't know!" Ezra nearly shouts, and no, his voice does not crack. "Look, I want to get outta here, I do, but I can't go back without figuring this out—"
"I've been in places like this before. It will kill you," Evren says, expression unreadable. "Or bend you until you break. Whatever lesson you're meant to learn in here, whatever you're supposed to do, is not worth it. You don't need to play its game."
"It's not a game," Ezra says miserably. "It's a test. And I can't fail it. I can't."
"Your life is more important than proving anything to a sadistic embarrassment to architecture."
Ezra almost laughs. Almost. "It's not just my life."
". . . Yeah."
Evren nods, eyes going a little unfocused for a second, then snapping back to Ezra. "I sense a Jedi somewhere nearby. He's alive. Whatever horrors this temple cares to throw at us, I swear that you and he will be reunited."
They've been walking for what feels like forever when the illusions start up again. Nothing Ezra recognizes, though. An old man in ornate armor with a hole burned through his chest, laughing hoarsely as he whispers about betrayal. A golden-eyed being with skin covered in swirling blue and white patterns, smiling, silent.
Then a woman in dark robes. Her eyes glow red, and her face is marked with more of those tattoos, down her cheeks and across her forehead. Her neck is bent at an unnatural angle. She's smiling, too. "I'm so proud of you," she says.
Ezra's skin crawls, and he finds himself drifting closer to Evren, who says, "Ignore her. She can't hurt you."
Ezra skitters sideways anyway to avoid the apparition-phantom-thing. "Who is she?"
"Don't be. I'm the one who killed her," Evren says cheerfully.
Ezra blinks a couple of times, then coughs. Okay then. He'll just . . . not touch that. "So, uh, you have any idea where we're actually going? This place is a maze even when it's not changing on us."
They've reached an intersection of corridors, three paths in front of them. "Your master is close," Evren says. "I'm following his Force signature."
"You can do that?" It's not—surprising, exactly; Ezra sometimes gets a vague sense of where Kanan is when they're on the Ghost together. But it's not something he'd be able to just follow.
. . . Also he really does not want to think about that last vision or Evren's reaction to it so yeah, better to focus on literally anything else.
Evren's nodding. "Bit like listening for a specific voice in a crowded room. It takes practice, and your target can often be drowned out by surrounding noise, but—actually, this is an ideal place for it. You already have a bond as Master and Padwan, or the beginnings of it, and as far as I can tell I am the only other person in the temple aside from the two of you. Care to try?"
"I guess." So . . . listening. Except with the Force. Which he can barely use. This is gonna be awesome.
He closes his eyes, scowling in concentration. There's listening, and then there's listening, he knows that, but he can't just switch between the two whenever he wants, otherwise Kanan'd be a lot less frustrated and disappointed with him.
Yeah, not thinking about that, either. Ezra breathes, and tries to keep his mind clear, and—this is like the thing with the lothcat, or the fyrnocks, isn't it? Or it could be. Maybe. Except not, because Kanan's not right in front of him and Ezra's on his own for this one—
"You know how your master feels, in the Force. You know what to look for," Evren's saying. "Take your time. And if you catch something familiar, focus on that feeling, and follow where it leads."
Kanan. Balancing above a precipice, stumbling along, sense of falling and then being caught, lifted to safety. Flashes of warmth that Ezra clings to with everything he's got.
It's quiet in the temple, dead silent, it feels dead, but there's—something. Two somethings. One right next to him but . . . locked down, somehow, muffled to the point where he can barely tell it's there—that's Evren, apparently. And the other . . . Faint, and far away, but it's—Ezra reaches out for it and then—
"Got him!" he says.
"Well done," says Evren. Ezra can hear the smile in his voice. And he can feel another one of those sense-flashes, this one weirdly off, like it's out of tune or something, but still proud—proud of Ezra, of what he can do.
It—okay, so he just met the guy, but it means a lot.
"He's your master," Evren says. "Lead on."
Ezra opens his eyes again. "Okay. This way," he says, angling towards the leftmost passage, something in his head clicking into place.