Tarrsk’s heart was beating rapidly in his chest, but outwardly he showed no sign of fear or anxiety. To all present he was a pillar of strength. Even Geldar, with his Jedi calming practices, was having difficulty keeping down his fear. The place was filled with shadows, and there was always a sense that something was lurking around the next corner. Little sounds often pricked their ears causing them to jump with weapons at the ready in the direction of the sound.

Still, nothing came. The corridor they had started in wound down into the underground deeper shooting off in several directions here and there. Each time they veered off the main path, which was sometimes hard to determine, they found that the path led to a dead end. At last, however, after about thirty minutes or so of travelling they came to a large room filled with signs of battle. Security droids and skeletal remains littered the floor; their parts scattered everywhere. Blaster burns scoured the walls, floor, and ceiling. Computer terminals that had once been operational were now dark and blasted.

“I don’t like the looks of this,” Lialla remarked softly. “What caused this battle?”

Tarrsk’s foot stepped upon something that crunched under his feet. Moving the lamp down to the floor to get a closer look he saw that the object he’d stepped on was a skeletal arm clutching an old blaster.

“I’m not sure,” said Geldar as he moved about to examine one of the terminals. “One thing is for sure there is a heavy silence on this place, and I feel a sense of dread here. Something evil lurked here.”

“I feel it too,” remarked Brin’tac. “From the moment we came into this room.”

“This armor is old,” Tarrsk put in. “Do you recognize this symbol, Brin’tac?” he asked as he held up the armor plating that had once been the shoulder guard that the arm he’d stepped on had been protected by.

Brin’tac moved over to examine the armor and the symbol painted on it. Brin’tac’s brow furrowed as he held it up to the glow rod. “I think it’s Sith armor, dating back to about 3,000 to 4,000 years ago.” He then stooped down to examine the rest of the outdated armor. “Silver and black. I don’t recognize the era.”

“There’s nothing of value here,” said Lialla as she walked across the room. “This room looks like a security station. Without power to the terminals we won’t get any information from…”

But Geldar cut her off with the flick of a power switch. The terminal powered up and information began to scroll across the screen. The symbol of the Sith appeared on the screen as the machine booted up. “Why would this terminal be active after three or four thousand years?”

“And why did the door open automatically for us?” Brin’tac pointed out as he came over to see what Geldar could find.

“Someone’s still here, that’s why,” Tarrsk answered, and he continued to eye the other three doors to the room.

“The terminal’s up,” said Geldar. “Let’s find out what’s in this place.”

“It requires a security password,” Brin’tac replied. “If only Nyarchagga was here.”

Geldar nodded. “Well, let’s see what we can do.”

“There’s no need,” came a voice from the shadows. Instantly they all whirled around to see what it was, but though Tarrsk had been staring at the entrances the whole time he could see no sign of anyone. “I can tell you all you need to know.” The voice was female in origin, but still no one could see who was speaking.

“Who are you and where are you?” asked Geldar with his lightsaber at the ready. He was ready at any second for some dark creature to come lashing out at them.

“I am Ivanna,” the voice replied. “Why have you come here?”

“We were stranded here,” Brin’tac replied. “We have come here hopefully to find parts and equipment we could use to repair our ship and give it enough power to get off planet.”

“Then you have no hope. There is nothing here that can help you,” she replied. “Everything here is falling apart.”

“Where are you?” asked Tarrsk, a little edgy. He was constantly shifting his attention from one entrance to the other.

“I am here,” she replied, and instantly a dark hooded figure appeared from the shadows of the entrance along the left wall. The door had been blasted or sliced open, and the figure simply stepped lightly through it. “I sense that you are not hostile towards me.”

Geldar stepped forward, still holding his lightsaber defensively in front of him. “This place holds evil. You say you are a Jedi Knight, but why do you dwell in such a place?”

“I have had little choice,” replied Ivanna. Still they could not see what she looked like in the dim light that cast shadows on her face. She looked human enough in form, and finely shaped. Her dark cloak covered everything but her black boots so none of them could see what she was really equipped with. “There is little life on this planet, and here is the safest place to be. One could live here for some time without either starving or freezing to death, and so I have for almost ten years now.”

“Ten years!” Geldar said, a bit more disarmed. “What has happened here?”

“The story is long, and there is no point in you aiming your blasters at me,” she replied coolly. “Please lower your weapons and follow me to a more…pleasant and less odiferous place.”

“Forgive me if I don’t lower my blaster just yet,” Tarrsk replied heatedly. “I don’t exactly trust strange Jedi in dark places especially since a Dark Jedi is the cause for our being stranded on this planet in the first place.”

“Suit yourself,” said Ivanna. “Just don’t get too trigger happy.” Then she turned and strode out the way she’d come in.

Lialla exchanged looks with the others, and slowly they followed. Ivanna led them into the darkened hallway, and it was obvious from the stench and numerous bodies that this had been a last stand for those who had fled from the security chamber. More of the armored soldiers were everywhere along with other soldiers with the Republic symbol on their helmets or shoulder-plates. Also among the bodies they spotted a few robed figures whose bodies have long ago decayed. Clutched in many of their hands were lightsabers. Some were smashed or destroyed, but some looked to be still functional. Geldar stooped to touch one, but Ivanna suddenly stopped and spun around with a warning look in her eye. “Touch nothing!” she snapped, and Geldar withdrew his hand quickly.

“Why?” he asked, a bit shaken.

“Darkness has imbued itself in everything in this place, especially the dead of former Dark Jedi,” she replied.

Geldar glanced back down at the body, and for a moment he saw – or perhaps it was a figment of his imagination – a smile flit across the face of the skeletal figure. Geldar winced and withdrew further towards Ivanna and Tarrsk, who were leading them, and they continued once more down the passage.

Several doors opened off the main corridor they were travelling down, but they continued on without investigation. The passage wasn’t very long, and at the end she stopped before a door that appeared to still be functional. Opening the door she led them into a large supply room. There several chairs, a table, a bunk, and storage crates were set all about the room in an orderly fashion. The room was of a moderate temperate and the atmosphere seemed lighter here. A bright light shone brightly from the ceiling lights making the room a comfortable place and even pleasant; the first real pleasant place they’d encountered since coming to Hoth.

“This is where I live,” replied Ivanna throwing back her hood to reveal a red-haired young woman who was the vision of beauty. Her face looked to be sculpted by a master artist with dark green eyes and perfect proportions. Her hair fell in wisps across her face but was pulled back in a low ponytail that cascaded down in a wavy river to just between her shoulder blades. “I seldom travel from this place except to gather some food or to cultivate its growth.”

“Must have been rather lonely and dismal,” remarked Brin’tac with sympathy. “And you say you’ve been here for ten years?”

“Please,” said Ivanna, gesturing to the chairs. They looked hard and uncomfortable, but they were all they had to work with.

“What do you need with all these chairs?” asked Tarrsk, skeptically. “Are you expecting company?”

Ivanna sat in a chair near the bunk and a small table with some books on it as she looked up at him. Crossing her legs and placing her hands on the arms of the chair she appeared to relax. “I was expecting you,” she answered.

“Expecting us?” said Tarrsk. “It didn’t feel like you were warmly welcoming us. We nearly got fried by the lava flow.”

“Relax,” Ivanna replied, and it seemed that a calming wave passed over them from the mere mention of the word. Tarrsk even lowered his blaster a bit. “I didn’t know you were here until you set off the trap.”

“Yeah,” said Geldar, now that she’d mentioned the trap. “What’s with the trap?” “I don’t know how to disable it. The trap was set up by others, not me,” she answered.

“This seems too much like another trap from that Dark Jedi who stranded here.”

“Wraith,” muttered Brin’tac as the word stirred dark emotions within him.

“How did you know we were coming?” asked Tarrsk, a bit less hostile.

“I saw it in a vision,” said Ivanna. “I saw a ship crashing to the snows. A dark shadow passed over them and a mountain crashed down on them. Then rising from the darkness they ascended to the heights of the mountain only to be buried in a storm. But one light ventured forth and found its way here where I would meet it. This light and I have some common bond, though I know not what that might be. The light was surrounded by several others. I have seen all of your faces in my vision…only…where are the others? We are to escape this dark place only to face a darker future. I knew not when this vision would come to pass.”

“First let me thank you, then,” said Geldar, “for saving us. We are in your debt. The other you speak of must be Satchal, our other companion who ventured forth with us. We were separated.” He shot Brin’tac a glance, but the Bothan did not return it.

“So what exactly happened here?” asked Brin’tac. “What is this place, and why is there evil here?”

Ivanna drew in a deep breath and sighed. “Sit, please,” she said again gesturing to the chairs. At this point all but Tarrsk took a seat. The Trandoshan took a stance near Geldar, who sat closest to Ivanna near the bunk.

“About thirty-five hundred years ago, an exploration team came to this planet to learn more about it,” Ivanna began, her voice calming and as beautiful as she was. “They uncovered a metal deep in this excavation sight that could actually withstand the heat of lava. However, before they could do much with it a Dark Jedi named Morkali, Sith apprentice to Darth Rivan, arrived here with a large force of Sith soldiers who took control of the sight. They had learned of the site’s existence because the scientists here got their supplies from a nearby system that Rivan controlled. With the metal Morkali created a massive machine that could pressurize the lava flow through a large cannon and send it bursting out in a huge lava blast that would incinerate anything it fired at. I believe, according to the logs here, that it was built more for defensive purposes than anything. Darth Morkali fortified this location with several Sith assault droids and creatures of many horrors besides his Sith troops.”

“But the weapon’s potential never reached Rivan or left Hoth,” continued Ivanna. “As soon as it was completed and Morkali was about to test it out word came from several escaped soldiers of Rivan’s army that the Republic had located his fortress, and he was defeated. Morkali was the new Dark Lord of the Sith. Morkali fortified his position and prepared for the Republic attack that he knew would come.”

“It didn’t take long,” Ivanna said, her voice growing more somber. “The Republic had learned of Morkali’s location from several Sith officials they had captured, and they came with a small fleet to destroy him. Morkali was strong against the Republic force that came to stop him, and there were many battles fought on Hoth. For six months the Republic managed to quarantine the entire planet keeping Morkali locked in a siege. Then, at last, the Republic brought more troops and made a final assault on Morkali. The Dark Jedi was saving his final attack for last. Unleashing the power of the volcanic eruption he decimated the Republic troops leaving only a third of the army that had dropped to infiltrate the headquarters.”

“It was a slaughter,” said Ivanna, a look of sadness in her eyes. “The Republic was unable to defeat Morkali, and as a last ditch effort to keep him from ever spreading his evil to the universe Commander Ivric Kdar ordered his troops to blast any interstellar vessels so he could never leave the planet. The troops succeeded but died before they could escape. The Republic set up a ship to patrol the system for a hundred years until they were certain Morkali and his followers were dead. No one had ever come to Hoth while Morkali lived or for the next six hundred years. Most considered Hoth a ghost planet, and a terrible place.”

“I can understand why,” remarked Tarrsk under his breath.

“But the Dark Lord’s reign on Hoth was terrible,” said Ivanna. “He created many terrible monstrosities with his alchemical formulas, and he even tortured his own troops beyond your wildest nightmares. He turned many into twisted mutations as well, and the poor scientist that had first discovered this facility, who was still alive and held captive by Morkali, suffered the greatest. This terrible time lasted for many years, even past the hundred years that the Republic kept patrol ships around the planet, for Morkali was of a long-lived race. At last, at the end of nearly three hundred years, Morkali’s followers died off, and Morkali also died as well leaving only the droids to run the place.”

“However,” Ivanna went on, “Morkali’s spirit would not rest. It haunted the facility even until ten years ago when the Sprillious Corporation came to Hoth to investigate the planet to see if it held any potential for its business. They were an independent organization that dealt in metals and alloys from the Outer Rim, and they did not search any old Republic records for information on the planet. The explorers found this facility and searched it to find out what the machine did and why it was here. They got the facility up and running to the capacity that it is now with only a few terminals, the lights and life support, and several other functions available.”

“But Morkali’s spirit found them swiftly and tormented them,” she went on, and her voice became darker and more ominous. “Morkali turned them against one another and gave them terrible illusions and nightmares. Soon they were slaughtering one another and seeking to use the machine for their own purposes. Only one of the members of the group kept his sanity, and he sent out a distress signal in hopes that someone would save them. Shortly after he was killed.”

“A passing freighter picked up on the signal and delivered the message to the Jedi. My former master and I were in the area and responded in hopes of investigating the matter; for the Jedi feared that something evil from Morkali might still remain. Since I had just become a Jedi Knight the council felt that I needed my master to join me on this mission.”

“They were right,” and at this point she paused for a long while as if too pained to continue. Then, all at once and without warning, she said, “Master Trias was a great warrior and friend. I loved him dearly. We came to this place and sought to find the answers to what had happened here. We found no survivors, but the place was crawling with the security droids that had once been operating the defenses. The droids were strong, and we fought them off to the very last. They were, however, only the diversion and the tools for the weakening of our strength.” And as she continued to tell her tale her words conjured up images so vivid it was as if each person sitting there were reliving the moment with her. “When the last droid fell the spirit of Morkali appeared and taunted us...”

The End

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