The (JAWA) Post, Issue 107

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No. 10731 October 2021
 Staff

EDITOR
Helena Revan

ASSOCIATE EDITOR
Wolfy

WRITERS
Wolfy
Helena Revan
Niko

STAFF ARTIST
Rose Tyler

PotM
Helena Revan

 Promotions

Council
IronSkull86
Jazzy

Master
Sherwood

Lord
Arceus
Cronus
Fente
Niko

Elite
Fransuave
Starty

Guardian
Cassidy
Darman
Dragon
Fransuave
Ganjo
The Koo
Protégé

Knight
Cassidy
Darman
Darth Lekku
Dodo
Fransuave
Graboids
High Ground Kenobi
Jack
Kangy
M3m0
Sami
Skeetshooter
Zeus121

Jedi
Acés
Aya Solari
Chiggly
M3m0
Menace
Salvation
Stumpy

Padawan
Aya Solari
Elfenlied
Fabi
M3m0
Nooby

Admins
Cale
Cassidy
Darman
DeadRat
Dragon
IronSkull86
Sami
Sgt. Pepper

Event Planners
Helena Revan (Manager)
Cassidy
Niko
Redshadow
RoseTyler
Stumpy

The (JAWA) Knights
Fransuave (Captain)
Helena Revan (Captain)
Arceus
Cassidy
Dace
DeadRat
Salvation
Sami
Skeetshooter
Spookt

Retirements
Anoek
Arlu3n
Cronus
KingKazma
KoffeeKing
Shinigami

Departures
Ansatsu
Good Burger
Lory
Marduk
Nirrith
Outlander
Samretro
Sgt. Pepper
Simba

 (JAWA) Classified

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 Editor's Note
   It's that most wonderful time of the year again—Halloween! The days are growing short (and chilly), the trees are dressed in all their finery, dry leaves crunch underfoot, and at long last the (JAWA) Post is back on the shelves! It's been far too long, and by way of apologies, we're proud to present some of our clan's finest work. In this extra special edition, we feature some of Niko's best reporting, a brand-new interview in "Wolfy's Forest" featuring one of our most active members, the continuing saga of "JAWARS", a new puzzle to test your anagramming skills, loads of first-rate entries from the last several months of "Signature of the Week", and in a special surprise, a chilling original tale of terror in the dark! We hope you enjoy these features and more, as you peruse the latest issue of the (JAWA) Post!

   –Helena

 The (JAWA) News
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(JAWA) TURNS 17!
By Helena Revan

   This October marks the seventeenth anniversary of the (JAWA) Clan's founding by Matt and Iniowe. When they first started (JAWA) in October of 2004, our founders had no particular plan or idea except to build their own clan and name it something unique and memorable. They established our clan's famous red and green tags, and some of our rules and ranks. Perhaps their most important contribution was when Iniowe inducted a new member named Link, just before disappearing into the unknown regions, never to be heard from again. Under Matt's tutelage, Link developed the skills and knowledge necessary to carry on when Matt too was called away by real life, and he was left to rebuild from the ground up. Rebuild he did—and within a year (JAWA) soared to over a hundred members!

   Then as now, (JAWA) was a work in progress. With little experience to guide him, Link found the clan ungovernable, and although important traditions, such as the council, the elite trials, and some of the events that would go on to form the (JAWA) League were developed, and many memorable and indelible friendships were forged, this second incarnation of (JAWA) also fell apart. But the core of the clan, and the idea of a friendly organization of like-minded Jedi Academy players endured, until in January of 2006 the clan was refounded for a second time—and in this form it endures to this day! Over the years we've had over seven hundred members (Rose counted!), more than ninety of whom have served on the council, and had the opportunity to help guide the clan alongside Link, Nightwing, and others who've shouldered the immense responsibilities of leadership.

   But a successful clan isn't about its founders or its leaders, for while a clan that endures is an incredible legacy, it's the members themselves who have made (JAWA) a family over the years. It would be impossible for an article such as this to catalogue all those who have contributed to our clan through participation in our many clubs, organizations, contests, events, or simply by being friendly competitors on the server—for the simple reason that each and every member who has spent joyful hours with his or her fellows on the server, forums, or Discord, creating art or playing games or simply discussing common interests—has contributed to the family that was, is, and will continue to be the (JAWA) Clan. Whether the future of (JAWA) is long or short, surely the many lessons that we have learned and the experience we have gained as part of this family will be with us forever. Thank you one and all for a truly unforgettable journey!


SKINPACK VERSION 49 RELEASED
By Niko
   The (JAWA) skinpack has been a mainstay of the clan for years, offering an opportunity for our members to contribute their skins to timeless history. In addition to the main file, there is an update pack for those who previously downloaded version 48, and a bonus pack stuffed with general-use and role-playing skins for your gaming pleasure. Notable additions to the most recent version include a variant of the "Darth Revan" skin, a personal favorite of mine, entered by Ansatsu, and "Athena", a customizable female warrior with several colors to choose from, entered by Lory. If you'd like to see your skin in the next skinpack, keep an eye out for new submission deadlines on the (JAWA) forums. There are some rules: submissions must be under 20 MB, and formatted as a single .pk3 file. Invisible and nude skins are not allowed, and all entries are tested for conflicts. Besides that, pretty much anything goes!


TWO NEW ALLIANCES
By Niko
   At the end of 2020, (JAWA) formed an alliance with the Guardians of the Dark Side. Over the last several months, members of the two clans have formed friendships, and participated together in tournaments and clan matches. GoDs is an engaging collective of skilled players, who help maintain community engagement by hosting open tournaments.    A second alliance was announced with the Random clan on July 15, 2021. (JAWA) and Random have always had a positive relationship, but the creation of UJK in response to DDoS threats also had a part in building that relationship. (JAWA) and Random are yet to hold a match, but hopefully this will be remedied in the near future! The Post looks forward to fostering a competitive and positive community together.


IronSkull86
TWO NEW COUNCIL MEMBERS
By Niko
   On May 9, 2021, two former council members were welcomed back onto the team, IronSkull86 and Jazzy. On top of managing the website and hosting our (JAWA) servers, council members also engage in projects that enrich our experience as a community, like supervising the various clubs, the (JAWA) Knights and the (JAWA) Store. These responsibilities can be overwhelming at times, especially with how hectic 2021 turned out to be.    In light of these challenges, the council saw fit to expand their membership, opening applications to any interested clan members. This is Jazzy’s fourth term and IronSkull86’s third, bringing stability and experience to their roles as Knights Manager and Arts Manager, respectively. The Post congratulates our new council members, and wishes them luck in all of their endeavors!

   Correction: an earlier edition stated that this was Jazzy's third term on the council, and IronSkull's fourth. These numbers were reversed. –Editor


RETURN OF THE ELITE TRIALS
By Niko
   Starty, one of our most experienced members, earned the rank of Elite on February 17, 2021. The next day, February 18, the Elite Trials were formally reintroduced for any clan member to attempt. Starty became the first to receive this rank in six years, followed by Fransuave on June 28. This is an impressive achievement for any Jedi Academy player, so if either of them is on server, watch out!


THE (JAWA) KNIGHTLY NEWS
By Niko
   On top of earning the Elite rank, Fransuave was also promoted to Knights Captain alongside Helena Revan on June 24, 2021. The Post wishes them luck in guiding our Knights into the future! Several other members recently joined the club, including Sami, Skeetshooter, Dace, and Salvation. Their latest match was against Academia Jedi Chile on September 28, 2021. Also known as AJC, this clan was created back in 1998, during the heyday of Dark Forces 2. Today, they have become the preëminent Jedi Academy clan in Chile, while also branching out into other games and online roleplaying.
   The two clans met for a four-round match. The first two were fought using base damages on the Sword Art Online server, while the final two were held on the (JAWA) Event Server with JA+ SP damages. Each round was played either to a fraglimit of 31 or a time limit of 10 minutes. The first two rounds reached the time limit, while rounds three and four were decided by the fraglimit. Round 1 ended in favor of AJC with a score totaling 26 against (JAWA)'s 21, SephFF scoring most of his team’s points. The second round wasn’t much better, AJC taking 25 to 11, though Fransuave proved himself to be a capable warrior, accounting for half of his team’s points. Round 3 brought a tonal shift, as (JAWA) gained its first victory with 31 points against AJC's 25. Once again Fransuave stood out, carrying his team with 18 points. Darman, Helena, and Fransuave all performed at roughly the same level in Round 4, winning the round with a total of 31 points against AJC's 20. After adding up all the points from each round, it was determined that AJC had earned victory by a hair, with a score of 96 to 94!
   The Post recently had the chance to interview AJC's training instructor, Aguh, who together with Fransuave arranged the match. Aguh only started playing in 2020, joining AJC shortly thereafter. At the time, the clan only had three active members, but today that number has more than tripled due to a wave of entirely new players. Judging his students were ready, Aguh approached Fransuave to set up a match, having looked forward to fighting (JAWA) for some time. Aguh stated that he felt very excited about the match, not just because it was a competition, but because it served as an opportunity for his clanmates to experience different players and fighting styles. He also mentioned that his pre-existing friendship with Fransuave made proposing this match very easy, illustrating just how important networking can be in any community, gaming or otherwise. The Post congratulates AJC on their victory, and thanks them for joining us in fair competition! We hope to see another matchup soon.


AWARDS
By Niko and Helena Revan
Sgt. Pepper
   The (JAWA) clan not only recognizes the achievements of its members with promotions and titles, but also by issuing awards. One of the most important awards has been "Member of the Month", given for a number of reasons, but often simply for being a positive influence on the clan and the greater Jedi Academy community. For the month of February, Xel earned this award for being a friendly presence on server, and as participating on a consistent basis. Niko was named Member of the Month for March for his work as an admin, enforcing the rules while contributing to a positive environment on server.

Two of the best ways to support (JAWA) are by helping to maintain server activity, and participating in one of our clubs. Graboids earned Member of the Month honours for July by improving his play style every week with the Knights, thereby making clear his commitment to the clan. Sgt. Pepper earned this award in August for his efforts as a server admin, and through his generally positive attitude.

Other awards issued this year include the Participation Award, given to Nooby on March 28 for his friendly disposition and willingness to represent (JAWA) responsibly on other servers. Also, in July Jazzy was recognized as one of just fourteen Grand Slam Champions at the (JAWA) League, when the Doctor decided to award him the win from the November, 2016 competition. Jazzy had initially been disqualified through no fault of his own, when another member intentionally lost the event in order to give him the win. Jazzy joins some truly elite company, becoming one of just a handful of members who've won every event at the League!


RETIREMENTS AND DEPARTURES
By Helena Revan
   As always, we pause to recognize several long-time members of the clan who have entered retirement this year, along with those who have departed the clan altogether.


Anoek

   Anoek first joined the clan early in 2011, and retired late last winter, shortly after her tenth clanniversary. Few of our members can have failed to notice our favourite guinea pig afficianado, who twice worked her way up from the bottom of the clan hierarchy to the rank of Lady. Even before she was recognized as "Most Improved Clan Member" at the 2011 (JAWA) Honours, Anoek had proved herself as a server administrator, a role that served her well over many years in her capacity as one of the Event Planners. It's unlikely that any member of the clan has hosted more Game Night events than Anoek over the years, and few can match her seven years' participation in the (JAWA) Ladder. When she was able, Anoek donated to the costs of running the server, and during her career she earned two Participation Awards, and notched eighteen (JAWA) League victories! We hope that Anoek can return to activity one day, but we'll never forget the lessons that she's taught us about kindness and compassion!

   Arlu3n has enjoyed four stints on our active roster since 2014, finally escaping the blue ranks during the 2019 promotion lottery, when he became a Lord! Over his years in the clan, Arlu3n tried a little bit of everything, becoming an admin, and serving as an Ambassador, Event Planner, Streamer, a member of (JAWA) Arts, the (JAWA) Knights, and the Post staff, where he helped to proofread articles before publication over the last couple of years. Arlu3n submitted six winning entries to Signature of the Week, competed in the (JAWA) Ladder four separate times, claimed four League wins, and received the Participation Award in 2018! There's no reason to doubt that his activities in retirement will be just as varied, and we wish him all success in his endeavours!

Arlu3n

   Cronus, whose illustrious career in the (JAWA) Clan was profiled in Issue #106, came out of retirement this spring, but owing to personal issues returned to retired status over the summer. Cronus continues to drop by from time to time, popping up on the server or on Discord, and is a regular participant at the (JAWA) League. I'm sure we speak for everyone when we wish him the best, and hope that he'll find the strength and determination to overcome all of the obstacles in his life, and return to full activity in the near future.

   Our very own fuzzy bunny, KingKazma, alias BunnyGeneral, has been a member of our family since the end of 2016. Though often sidetracked by real life activities, Kazma found time to participate in (JAWA) Arts and the 2019 (JAWA) Ladder, win two Signature of the Week competitions, and a tag-team title at the League! This March brought Kazma's second time in retirement, but he regularly checks in with us over Discord, and it's always a cheerful day when we hear from him!

   Few members have shown such prowess at both combat and artistry as Shinigami, who entered retirement for the second time at the end of March. Shinigami first came to attention as a regular participant in the Sith Game, beginning long before he became a member of our clan. After joining, his first activity came as a member of (JAWA) Arts, where he honed his skills, ultimately submitting seven winning entries to Signature of the Week. But he soon distinguished himself in combat, joining the (JAWA) Knights, of which he eventually served as captain, winning the "Great Skill in a Clan Match" medal in 2018, and being named "Club Member of the Year" at that autumn's (JAWA) Honours. The same year, he participated in the (JAWA) Ladder, and won the second of his two Participation Awards! Shinigami helped to maintain peace and order as a Server Admin, but he never let his powers go to his head; he's always been a friend to anyone who sought him out. We certainly could use more members like him!

KingKazma

   Only days ago we learned of the retirement of KoffeeKing, one of our most creative personalities. Koffee joined our clan over the summer of 2017, and worked his way up to the Guardian rank by 2019. Although he's been less active since then, he's been a regular submitter to Signature of the Week, earning three wins, as well as contributing to the on-again, off-again forum game, "Say What You See"! At the (JAWA) League, Koffee twice bested the field at "Watch Out for that Sniper!", one of the most challenging events. We wish our caffeinated friend the best of luck as he pours his energies into other areas, and hope he'll stay in touch, as he always has bean!

   Among those who've recently left the clan, we would be remiss if we didn't pay tribute to Sgt. Pepper, who joined our clan in the summer of 2020, and soon became one of our most active members. Always enthusiastic, Pepper soon joined the (JAWA) Knights, where he distinguished himself through hard work and practice. He received a Participation Award last December for his activities, and earlier this year, he earned his stripes as a server administrator. For a time, Pepper's activity was circumscribed by real life demands, but this summer he returned to full activity and was named "Member of the Month". Unfortunately, life once again intervened, and Pepper decided to leave our family earlier this month. We hope we haven't seen the last, or the best, of our spicy friend!

KoffeeKing

   Simba first joined the (JAWA) Clan in 2016 after the Exiled Knights disbanded, and was frequently among the friendliest and most active members. When his interest in Jedi Academy waned, he took his leave, but he came back to us in 2020, and once again graced our server with his friendly presence. Regretfully, he couldn't find the time to stay active on a regular basis, and so he took his leave at the end of summer.

   We also say goodbye to Marduk, who joined our clan for the second time early in 2020. A quiet but friendly member, he served with the (JAWA) Knights, and claimed one League win in "Watch Out for that Sniper!" Outlander, who first became part of our clan in 2017, was briefly an Event Planner, but as so many others have done before and since, fell into extended periods of inactivity. This spring, he moved on to a new clan, where we wish him luck. Nirrith, who became part of our family at the beginning of 2020, was briefly among our most active members. It's been a while since we've seen him, but we wish him well wherever he's got to! Samretro and Lory joined the clan together in May of 2020. Though they were never terribly active, both of them made our server a happier place when they came around. Good Burger joined the clan in May of 2020, and for a time was a fixture on the server. He'll be remembered as a fun and friendly member. In his brief career Ansatsu, who joined us in the fall of 2020, was creative and enthusiastic. He served as one half of the winning tag-team at the November 2020 (JAWA) League. To all of these friends, we wish success and happiness in life.
 Wolfy's Forest
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Wolfy: Hi everyone, and welcome back to my forest! Our guest for this interview today is Cassidy. Hello Cassidy, how are you doing today?

Cassidy: Hello Wolfy, tired but fine, thank you!

Wolfy: Well, I hope you'll get some rest soon! Would you please introduce yourself briefly to our readers?

Cassidy: Oh no, I should've been researching how others have done this! My name is András, I'm Hungarian, living in Budapest, and soon to be 27.

Wolfy: So, you've joined us in late August 2020, and have been a member ever since. How would you describe your experience in the clan?

Cassidy: Without doubt It's been the best clan-related experience I've had in JKA, and I've been around for a while. After my last clan disbanded, I took a break from the game, but I think I couldn't return on a better server if I tried.

Wolfy: And what attracted you to (JAWA) after that break?

Cassidy: Arceus! ;) We were clan mates in EFF, and always saw him playing here. Once I wanted to play again of course I had to join the JAWA server, even if my ping gets miserable sometimes.

Wolfy: That’s awesome! During your tenure, you’ve become a (JAWA) Knight, a Server Admin, and earned an impressive sixteen victories at League. What are your next objectives within the clan?

Cassidy: To become a supreme leader of course. Okay, joking aside, I don't think I have any goal other than to have fun. That is the reason why I joined clubs, and the admin team as well. Knights is the perfect place for skill and competing (and boy, I like to get competitive, maybe too much sometimes), and Event Planners is where I can, or at least I try to bring some fun to the others. Joining the admin team was mostly to ensure the latter to go without any obstacles.

Wolfy: I see! Halloween is right around the corner! Do you have any plans to celebrate?

Cassidy: Well to be official, we don't celebrate it over here, we have whats called Saint's Day, or Soul's Day, not sure how it is translated. But unofficially some people still dress up to follow the trend, so who knows? I did dress up once or twice: I was an undead lumberjack at a friend's party. No pictures, though.

Wolfy: No problem! Other than Jedi Academy, do you play other games? Do you have any other hobbies you want to share?

Cassidy: I play tons of games; this interview could be pages long, hah. I think I have the most time in League of Legends, but that game is on-and-off for me. Other than games, I usually meet up with friends for whatever. Music is also a big passion, before COVID I went to concerts all the time, and I hope to go next year again, fingers crossed.

Wolfy: Do you have a favourite genre or artist in particular you like to follow?

Cassidy: I just checked—I have 5660 songs saved on Spotify... according to it, I am into alternative/indie rock mostly, but honestly I could pick a song from every genre. Currently I am hyped for Foals—bought the ticket for their 2022 show this week!

Wolfy: Alright, it is now time for the (JAWA) Quiz! Everyone please give a round of applause for our amazing quizmaster, Helena!

Helena: *waits for applause to die down* Hi there, Cassidy! Are you ready to play the (JAWA) Quiz?

Cassidy: *wipes off sweat* Hello! Sure, yeah!

Helena: Alright! You probably know how this works already. We're going to ask you a series of five questions, and if you answer three of them right, you win our prize: the Golden Acorn of Knowledge and Wisdom!

Cassidy: There's a saying in Hungarian, "hungry hog dreams about acorns", seems fitting!

Helena: Our readers have already gotten to know you a bit through the interview, and now they're going to find out just how wise you are! As everybody knows, you're usually found on the server wearing the Poe Dameron skin. So today's Quiz is all about Poe—Edgar Allan Poe, that is!

Cassidy: *sweats more*

Helena: Suitable for the October Quiz, today's questions will be all about one of history's most famous writers of suspenseful stories and poems. Ready to start?

Cassidy: As ready as I can be!

Helena: Alright, here's your first question! As a young man, Poe took a colourful pseudonym in order to publish anonymously. What did he call himself?

   A. Don Diego de la Vega
   B. Frutiger des Jardins
   C. Henri Le Rennet
   D. Victor von Bildungsroman

Cassidy: I couldn't be more in the dark with this, so I'll just have guess... there's a 'D' in Edgar, but also an 'A'. Hmm… let's go with 'D'.

Helena: You're thinking that there's a secret hint hidden in the letters of the answers themselves?

Cassidy: I can't find a better tactic, to be honest.

Helena: Fair enough! But unfortunately, the correct answer was 'C', Henri Le Rennet! Make what you will of that... possibly cheese? But that's okay, you've still got four chances left, Cassidy! Here's your second question: Which humorous Poe story features a man who escapes punishment in the afterlife by cheating the Devil at a game of cards?

   A. "The Duc de L'Omelette"
   B. "The Gold-Bug"
   C. "The Pit and the Pendulum"
   D. "The Tell-Tale Heart"

Cassidy: An omelette would be great right now...

Helena: And 'A' is correct! Nicely done... I guess that was what we call "listening to a gut feeling"!

Cassidy: Oh, okay! Trying to be funny pays off sometimes...

Helena: Here's number three: a popular theme during Poe’s lifetime was the fear of being buried alive. Poe exploited this motif in multiple works, including all but which of the following:

   A. "The Cask of Amontillado"
   B. "The Fall of the House of Usher"
   C. "The Premature Burial"
   D. "William Wilson"

Cassidy: Well, I really hope it's not the one with 'burial' in it...

Helena: That would be extremely ironic, wouldn't it?

Cassidy: But it is YOU asking the question—hm... lets go with 'D' again. But if it is the burial one, I'm gonna have trust issues!

Helena: And you're right once again! Well done! In "William Wilson", the title character spends his life tormented by a doppelgänger—but there's no premature burial involved! That's two out of three, and you still have two chances to get one more right answer!

Cassidy: Thank God! We stay alive!

Helena: Question four: C. Auguste Dupin, the protagonist of "The Purloined Letter" and two other Poe stories, is the literary prototype of which famous character?

   A. The Lone Ranger
   B. Sherlock Holmes
   C. The Scarlet Pimpernel
   D. Tarzan of the Apes

Cassidy: Poe and Tarzan just don't click with me. I loved Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger—although I am not sure of that either.

Helena: You'd be one of the few. Although I also enjoyed it, to be honest.

Cassidy: And unfortunately I don't know contestant 'C', it very well may be that. But I'm gonna go with Robert Downey, Jr.—ermm—Sherlock Holmes.

Helena: They seek him here, they seek him there, those Frenchies Magyars seek him everywhere! But your reasoning pays off—it's not the Scarlet Pimpernel, it's Sherlock Holmes! Dupin is the prototype of the literary detective!

Cassidy: Any questions about Poe in the audience? Just come to me—I know everything!

Helena: You've correctly answered three of the questions, and you win our prize, the Golden Acorn of Knowledge and Wisdom! Congratulations!
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Helena: Here’s your last question: Which National Football League franchise pays homage to Poe's adopted home town, and one of his most famous creations?

   A. The Atlanta Falcons
   B. The Baltimore Ravens
   C. The Cleveland Browns
   D. The Seattle Seahawks

Cassidy: Reading the question, I thought this might be the only one I actually know... Boston! He's from Boston!

Helena: Sadly, the Boston (now New England) Patriots aren't one of the answers!

Cassidy: But no, its adopted home town... which I surprisingly don't know.

Helena: *gasp*

Cassidy: Lets go with... Atlanta? Is that close to Boston?

Helena: About a thousand miles away, actually.

Cassidy: Still closer than Budapest!

Helena: Is there any particular reason you're thinking of Atlanta, Cassidy?

Cassidy: I made my calculation—well a map wouldve helped—that's my final choice... oh no! There are animal names too!

Helena: Think carefully, because after today, you'll be forced to answer trivia questions about Edgar Allan Poe... nevermore!

Cassidy: Yes—it has to be the Ravens!

Helena: And you are correct! Nicely reasoned! The Baltimore Ravens are named in honour of one of Poe's most famous poems... "The Raven"!

Cassidy: This ought to be a good lesson to pay more attention to the answers, too...

Helena: Four out of five, you sly devil! And you thought you didn't know anything about Poe! Thanks again for playing the Quiz, Cassidy! Do you have anything else you'd like to say to our readers before we finish?

Wolfy: Hey! That’s my question!

Cassidy: Thank you for this opportunity—it was fun! Advice to the readers: read books! And be smarter than me—or just guess very good!

Wolfy: Thank again for coming, Cass! We’ll wrap it up here. Thank you again for coming, and thank you, readers! I hope to see you again next time!
 JAWARS

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   The story so far: Dak ven Tinker, a young Jawa, and his companion, the Rodian smuggler Danoweevak Odresi, hope to establish a legitimate shipping concern with their antiquated but spaceworthy Corellian YT-1300 freighter. Summoning them to his office, the New Republic's Consul General on Tatooine offers them a mysterious cargo pickup. Setting their course for Coruscant, the metropolitan capital of the Galactic Republic, our heroes are accompanied by Dak's fiancée, Ivet Hosmik, who wants to travel amongst the stars for the first time, and Mandalorian bounty hunter Delta Caftan, seeking an easy mission after a deadly confrontation with her former partner.


EPISODE XLII: SHADOWS IN THE SUNLIGHT

   As the freighter Jezreel approached the Coruscant system, Dak found Ivet gazing out of a viewport, rapt in thought as she gazed at the endless field of stars. "Zylltop for your thoughts?" he asked.

   "It's so beautiful," replied Ivet. "All those nights on Tatooine, looking up at infinity—and I never imagined so many stars!"

   Dak understood just how Ivet felt. A few months earlier he'd never set foot off his homeworld—nor had any Jawa he'd ever met. Now he'd traveled through space like the Overlords—actually with one of them, he recalled with astonishment—and seen half a dozen planets, all strange and exotic compared with the endless sands and rock of Tatooine. But the sheer wonder of the stars never seemed to grow old.

   A slightly buzzy voice came over the ship's intercom. "We're getting close," said Danoweevak, at the freighter's controls.

   "That's my cue," Dak told Ivet. While it was technically possible for the pilot to negotiate spaceport entry alone, with the level of traffic around Coruscant it would be helpful for someone to occupy the navigator's position in the cockpit, and Dak had proven adept at reading the ship's systems. And of course, never having been to Coruscant, Dak was eager to see what the fabled capital of the Republic looked like—but he was certain it would be well-worth the view. "Come on," he said to Ivet, "you've got to see this!"

   The Jezreel approached from the planet's night side. Dak clambered into the navigator's seat, to the right of the Rodian pilot, while just behind him, Ivet stood transfixed by the view out of the world growing ever larger in the cockpit's radial window. They were joined by Delta Caftan, coming from a different part of the ship.

   "Have you ever been to Coruscant before?" asked Dak, wondering if everyone was seeing what he was for the first time.

   "Twice," said "Spiny Dan", although he still seemed impressed. "Once when I was just a youngling, and once with one of Bopeepa's spice crews, about ten years ago."

   Dak turned to Delta, who shook her head. Just then, the navigation computer alerted them to the arrival of landing instructions. Dak switched on the radio speaker.

   "Freighter Jezreel, please approach on vector 27-D to Venifrome Center," came the businesslike voice of ground control, as a diagram appeared on the console. "Docking berth 1138 is standing by."

   As Dak locked in the ship's course, it was hard to look away from the view in front of him. Coruscant hung in the sky like a glittering orb, the shining lights of vast cities covering the dark surface in rings and spokes of golden light. The freighter swung over the day-night terminator and swooped gracefully toward the gates of morning.


*     *     *


   "I just need your thumbprint right there," said Harbourmaster Movel, holding his datapad out for Danoweevak to sign. For a fleeting moment, Dak resented how humans seemed to assume that the taller members of the party were in charge, ignoring the diminutive Jawas as if they were no more than common labourers. But he didn't actually resent the attention that Danoweevak received—it made him seem almost respectable—and in any case as the pilot he would have been the one responsible for taking delivery.

   The harbourmaster glanced at the datapad once more, and cleared his throat. "Harrrumph!" Glancing over the four travelers, he admitted, "well, you made good time, I'll say that for you. I wouldn't have expected that from an antiquated freighter like that."

   Danoweevak looked positively abashed. The Jezreel was the achievement of his lifetime so far—and hard-won. The harbourmaster's off-hand remark reinforced just how far down the socio-economic ladder he was. But the Rodian seemed somewhat mollified as Movel added, in a voice as grey and wrinkled as his worksuit, "you put my men to shame. They won't have the cargo ready for hours."

   Now it was Dak's turn to be dismayed. "Why, what's the problem with it? We were told it wasn't hazardous!"

   The harbourmaster glanced at Dak as if taking note of the Jawa for the first time, but said in a not-unfriendly tone that Dak found slightly patronizing, "it's not—but it does need special handling, and we've been keeping it in a secure storage facility that takes a while to access. It's quite..." he paused, as if thinking of the right word, "...valuable, and it's important that it arrives at its destination intact. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that your discretion is of paramount importance."

   Danoweevak nodded, swiveling his antennae for added emphasis.

   "In the meantime," said Movel, "feel free to avail yourself of our lounge facilities... or perhaps take a guided tour. There are interesting sights all over Coruscant. We'll let you know when the cargo's aboard your ship."

   That sounded like an excellent idea to Dak, and from the expressions on his friends' faces, they seemed to agree. After a quick breakfast at the spaceport, they browsed a selection of available tours on Dak's datapad.

   "This looks interesting," said Delta, "'Museum of Small Arms: Weapons from every corner of the galaxy!'" Danoweevak showed slight interest, but the subject didn't appeal much to either of the Jawas.

   "Here's an exhibit on Expressionist Art," suggested "Spiny Dan". Rodian artists were famous for their creative sense of aesthetics. "'Accompanied by the music of Ravada Nyloren'!" Ivet liked that idea, but Delta was unimpressed by acoustic music or abstract art, while Dak found the preponderance of aquatic greens and blues a bit disconcerting.

   "How about this one?" Dak countered. "'Secrets of the Jedi Temple!' Dan and I met a Jedi Knight a few months ago." His voice dropped to a whisper as he faced Ivet. "He was one of the Overlords!

   Now it was Ivet's turn to be impressed, and she had all kinds of questions for Dak and his Rodian partner. Even Delta looked intrigued. "I've never met a Jedi, but I grew up hearing stories about them. Let's go!"

   Just like that, the entire party was agreed. "The Jedi Temple it is!" announced Dak, purchasing four tickets. "Looks like we have some time to spare before the tour begins. What say we have a little walk around town before that?" The others concurred, and the four of them headed in the direction of the public tramway.


*     *     *


   Ivet couldn't stop looking up at the buildings stretching up to the sky. "Overlords!" she exclaimed in a low voice, as though worried that the semi-divine figures from Jawa mythology might hear her. "How can they make anything so tall?"

   Dak was just as impressed. At home on the desert world of Tatooine, few structures rose more than ten or fifteen meters above the ground, and even the tallest towers couldn't be more than a hundred. Dak had seen tall buildings on Taanab, which had been dizzying at first—but nothing to compare with these vast structures, rising thousands of meters into the air. They didn't look anything like the buildings on Tatooine either, built from stone and brick and mud—these buildings were gleaming glass and metal, and their rounded contours and geometric decoration further distinguished them from the sharp angles and plain surfaces of the Jawas' homeworld.

   Danoweevak and Delta Caftan had seen big cities before, but the structures around them put all but the richest worlds in the galaxy to shame. High above them, faintly silhouetted against the wispy clouds, streams of traffic moved in a complex web. "Can you imagine trying to drive in that?" asked "Spiny Dan".

   Delta shook her head, then as if noticing the edge of the elevated walkway for the first time, peered down over the railing. She quickly pulled her head back, looking unusually ill-at-ease for an experienced bounty hunter. What's wrong with me? she thought, reminding herself that only a short time past, she'd peered into—and entered—the Great Pit of Carkoon, without feeling the dizzying fear that had just washed over her. But then, that had been a yawning blackness with only the faint hint of a flat bottom. Here, the buildings pouring down into the abyss like vast steel waterfalls until her vision failed—seemed altogether different.

   Delta flushed as if the others were watching her, instead of staring at the wonders of this impossibly huge metropolis, then recovered herself as she saw that the others were preoccupied and apparently hadn't noticed. But as they continued to walk toward the tour kiosk, now visible ahead, the crowd that had been light and diffuse a minute earlier began to swell. The Mandalorian warrior hurried to keep up with her friends.

   "First time in the city?" asked a youngish man following a similar path. Delta thought he had a pleasant face and manner. She wasn't sure whether to answer, because it wasn't clear whether he was addressing her in particular, or the party as a whole. Did their gawking make them stand out that much? Surely lots of people must have been overawed by the sights. Delta nodded anyway.

   Now it was Ivet's turn to peer over the edge of the walkway. Perhaps because the Jawa woman was lower to the ground, and less likely to topple over the railing, she looked braver about it than Delta had been. "I wonder how far down it goes," she said. "What's it like on the ground?"

   Another man who overheard Ivet's question couldn't resist answering. "The ground? Why would anybody want to go there?" From his expression, Delta gathered that it wasn't a very nice place. "There's nothing down there but poverty, refuse, and crime," the man continued, although that didn't particularly concern Delta, who was well used to navigating through squalid underworld environs.

   The first man glanced ahead toward the group's destination. "Taking a tour? You'll love 'Secrets of the Jedi Temple'. It's very popular!"

   "You've been?" asked Danoweevak, curiously.

   "Three times," replied the young man. "I took my little sister last year. It might have been a little scary for her—but you know, sometimes kids like to be scared!"

   "Spiny Dan" nodded, pretending to know what children did and didn't like. He couldn't remember any particular desire to be scared from his childhood, but he assumed the man knew what he was talking about.

   Delta was more interested in the man's cheerful face. His short, black hair and sparkling green eyes made her imagine that he was some sort of businessman, although his casual attire made her doubt that assessment. But as she became lost in her thoughts, she lost sight of the young man in the crowd.

   The four travelers reached the tour kiosk, in the middle of a broad plaza surrounded on three sides by tall buildings. A friendly-looking woman gathered those registered for the tour, and within a few minutes the tour group had boarded an air tram and was on its way.


*     *     *


   "It may not look like it now," the tour guide said, her voice echoing through the vast hall, "but before the Empire this space would have bustled with activity. This was the headquarters for thousands of Jedi spread throughout the galaxy. But of all those trained warriors, diplomats, and peacekeepers, only a handful survived the end of the Clone Wars."

   The size of the hall lent some credence to the guide's assertion: there was space for hundreds of people to assemble and still leave plenty of room. But at the moment, the cavernous atrium was devoid of all signs of life, except for the three dozen or so making up the tour group, and a small maintenance crew that seemed to be repairing some sort of lighting system. Chunks of debris still littered the edges of the floor, and there were scorch marks on some of the walls, although it was impossible to tell just how old they were.

   "Do the Jedi use it now?" asked another member of the group, curiously.

   "That's a good question," said the guide, encouragingly. "Jedi Master Luke Skywalker visited here after the Battle of Endor, but for the time being this facility is too large, and too damaged, for the restored Jedi Order. Perhaps one day, when there are more Jedi."

   Dak expected the man to ask, "how many Jedi are there now?" although it seemed unlikely that the tour guide would know the answer to that. But the tourist seemed satisfied, and the guide moved on.

   "After the Great Jedi Purge, the Emperor took control of this entire complex, and used it for the highest levels of the Imperial bureaucracy, and kept apartments for key dignitaries. Of course, only a small portion of the temple was ever in use during that period—Palpatine's circle of trusted advisors was relatively small. You probably know that the Emperor's principal throne room was here. We'll see that in a little while. But what you may not know..." here she paused for dramatic effect, "is that the Emperor had a second throne room deep in the lowest levels of the temple, which had been abandoned by the Jedi for generations!"

   The guide paused again, as murmurs passed through the tour group. She's very good at this, thought Dak. Of course she is, she's probably rehearsed this speech hundreds of times...

   She then continued. "It's too dangerous to take a large group down into the recesses of the lower temple, although there is a holovid available for viewing at the visitor center." As she said this, the guide gestured toward a well-lit, but clearly improvised area to one side of the main entrance. "According to legend, the Jedi Temple was built on the site of an ancient Sith shrine... and some people say that that is the reason why the Jedi Order was doomed to fall!"

   Dak heard a collective gasp from the entire tour group, and became even more impressed by the sense of drama. Of course, in a space as grand and desolate as this, it was hard not to feel the overwhelming presence of the historic events that the hall had witnessed. The wreckage of various unidentifiable machines and architectural details scattered about the lobby only added to the sense of mystery.

   The group toured a number of areas, each with its own story, related artfully by the guide. Sightseeing had been a good idea—Dak couldn't remember ever being more entertained. But as the tourists stood in the Emperor's throne room, still decorated with the regalia of his cruel reign, Dak had an uneasy feeling—one evidently shared by more than one other member of the tour group. He saw Ivet shiver as though a chill ran through her very essence, and he placed a reassuring arm around her shoulders. Even all these years later, the room exuded an awful majesty.

   "That feeling," said the tour guide, noticing how many of the group seemed disturbed, "is a remnant of the Dark Side of the Force. Some people are more affected by it than others." Somehow, Dak got the impression that the guide didn't quite believe what she was saying, although the words clearly had the desired effect on the rest of the group. The power of suggestion was enough to explain the sense of uneasiness at being in that joyless room, and although he didn't regret seeing it that once, he was quite relieved when the group moved on.

   As the tour neared its conclusion, they came to a beautiful covered terrace with an inlaid floor. Sunlight streamed through the high windows. To Dak, it was the most beautiful room in the temple. But Ivet seemed to have a different impression. She glanced about the room, as if looking for something invisible, and her expression became grim.

   "Terrible things happened here," she said, in a quivering voice, as she gestured to one side of the room, toward some unseen phantom. Dak took her hand—it was cold as ice! He tried to steer her toward the atrium, but for some reason Ivet seemed determined to linger in that quiet space for a long minute, before rejoining the others in the great hall. When the tour ended, "Spiny Dan" and the Mandalorian woman headed for the visitor center, while Dak shepherded Ivet outside.

   On the outer steps of the temple, the bright sunlight of midday was warm and full of life. Dak held Ivet close. "It was as if I could see what happened there in the past," she explained, sounding perplexed and more than a little worried.

   "We shouldn't have come," said Dak, remembering what the friendly man had said about his little sister liking to be scared. "I didn't mean to frighten you."

   "You didn't," said Ivet, reassuringly. "And I enjoyed the tour. It was really interesting... just that last part was scary." What made that all the more confusing to Dak was that there was nothing he could see or feel that ought to have affected someone that way. Still, Ivet seemed to be recovering herself. The two sat together on the steps until their companions exited the temple, and the tour group boarded the air tram once more.

   An hour later, the four travelers returned to the spaceport. The Jezreel was refueled and some routine maintenance checks were done. Harbourmaster Movel came over to inform them that their unknown cargo was secured on board, and to wish them a safe journey. They boarded the ship, and a few minutes later, ground control guided them safely back into space. Dak set the freighter's course from the instructions on his datapad, and Danoweevak engaged the autopilot.

   "Now," said the tall Rodian, exiting the cockpit, "let's see what this secret cargo we're carrying really is!" Dak and the others followed, equally intrigued. But nothing could have prepared them for what they found in the cargo bay.

   "It's a man!" exclaimed Ivet, "frozen in carbonite!"


TO BE CONTINUED
 The Post Puzzler
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   Welcome to the "Post Puzzler"! Here's a brand-new puzzle to tease your brain! May the Force be with you!


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 (JAWA) Tales of Terror
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THE TOMB OF GROR
Original Fiction by Helena Revan


   Celdren Untrelle surveyed the landmarks beneath him, as his tiny shuttle flew slowly and silently over the dense jungle that carpeted the equatorial continent of Termolaan Prime. He was pleasantly surprised to discover just how well they aligned with the map left by the Republic survey team more than a century earlier. He'd already spotted some promising ruins in a clearing a few kilometers to the west of a line of low but rocky hills. Now he scanned the landscape ahead, seeking any sign of the navigational beacon that the survey team had left in a rock shelter—and there it was! Still operating on standby mode, left to assist an archaeological mission that had never followed up on the original survey, the beacon provided an absolute point of reference. He locked the coördinates into his navcomputer.

   Celdren had never considered himself particularly lucky. In fact, the years had convinced him that the Force had singled him out for a particularly cruel series of disappointments, which he could only imagine was the result of some truly heinous offense committed by one of his ancestors on the distaff side. He hadn't always felt this way; as a child he had been unusually precocious, and his mother had been convinced that he was destined to become a Jedi, like some great-uncle or other whose reputation had loomed over Selden like some inexorable shadow until the day that an emissary from the order on Coruscant had fulfilled his mother's wishes by taking him away to be trained in the ways of the Jedi.

   Among other youths who were gifted with a strong connection to the Force, some younger than himself, Celdren had struggled to keep up, but what he lacked in natural ability he was able to make up in effort. His master had encouraged him despite every setback, in the full expectation that Celdren would join the ranks of the Jedi one day. But long before that future could be realized, Celdren's dream was cut short by the Purge—that black day when the Republic's clone armies had turned their fury on the very Jedi Knights who had led them to victory upon victory, at great personal cost. Celdren's master had been among those slain by those whom he had least suspected, and his padawan learner counted himself fortunate to have escaped the same fate.

   Too young and inexperienced to accompany his master at the end of the Clone Wars, too old and advanced in his studies to be left behind with the younglings at the Jedi Temple, Celdren had protested vocally at being left out of the action—and with well-accustomed patience his master had borne the brunt of the youth's anger, the last words ever shared between the two. Stranded on a rural world far from the front lines, Celdren had survived the Purge unnoticed and unmissed. There was no chance to complete his training, and even wearing the robes of a Jedi and carrying the well-worn lightsaber that his master had entrusted to him would place him at risk of life and limb. So Celdren had hidden the artifacts, and used what knowledge he'd gained by traveling with his master to find passage offworld.

   Over the years, Celdren had kept his head down and done his best to earn a living at whatever work he could find. The Empire was no place for a Jedi padawan. But eventually his fear of discovery had eased as he realized that nobody was looking for him—he simply didn't matter anymore. And Celdren had always been curious. That was what had led him to Termolaan Prime. He wished he could say that his interest in the obscure planet was purely scientific, born from a desire to add to the Galaxy's store of knowledge. But there was no place in the Empire for cultural research, and Celdren knew that he wasn't qualified for such endeavours. He had a much more practical motive: money. It wasn't noble, it wasn't altruistic. But if he could find some artifacts to sell on the black market, it might keep him alive, and perhaps in comfort.

   As Celdren piloted the shuttle back toward the ruins he'd seen earlier, he reviewed what was known from the survey team's report. The equatorial continent had once been home to a substantial civilization that had collapsed into a primitive state some twelve hundred years earlier, perhaps having exhausted their resources, fallen victim to hostile changes in their environment, or been ravaged by plague—the survey team had been unable to agree on the cause. But hidden somewhere in the jungle below was the cult center of "Gror the Devourer", a mysterious chthonic deity worshipped on half a dozen other worlds in the same sector. That hinted at some sort of long-ago contact by a spacefaring civilization, the memory of which had devolved into superstitious dread. But where there was cult worship, there was usually wealth, and the survey team hadn't brought any artifacts of value back with them—so whatever was there a century earlier might still be there for the finding!

   From the survey team's report, the surviving natives were few and vanishing. Peering down at the largely-unbroken canopy below, Celdren saw no sign of habitation. At last he reached a broad clearing, where the standing and fallen stones of a vanished city stuck out from a sea of tall grass. Celdren set down the shuttle on the flattest ground he could find, and gathered his tools. Leaving the shuttle behind, he oriented himself along the major axis of the streets mapped out on his datapad, and began looking for the remains of the structures most likely to contain artifacts. While gems and precious metals might be what most people associated with treasure, Celdren knew that any sort of distinctive carving would fetch a substantial price on the antiquities market, no matter the materials. He was carefully examining a deeply-worn but still detailed wall ornament when the first sign of trouble came.

   A shout came from a stand of trees where the rainforest encroached on the ruined city from the northwest. Natives! realized Celdren, glancing back toward his landing site. The shuttle sat about seventy-five meters to the north, but although he had a direct line of sight to safety, there was no chance of running across the half-concealed rubble at top speed—and whoever was in the trees would have no trouble intercepting him if he tried. Celdren hurried to the southeast, along the line of the widest street. With luck, the natives wouldn't follow before he had the chance to circle around to the shuttle from the east. But he'd only gone a short distance before he heard shouting coming from in front of him. Turning down an alley to the northeast, he tried to stay out of sight and buy himself some time. He emerged from the ruins and made for the tall grass just ahead, but before he reached it, natives appeared from all directions. He started back toward the alley, but it was too late—he was surrounded!


*     *     *


   He was under no illusion about the intentions of the aboriginals, but Celdren still found himself curious about them—their dress, their beliefs. Perhaps his long-forgotten Jedi training had left him with the ability to see his situation objectively, or perhaps he was just too accustomed to misfortune to be afraid. Is that stupid of me? he wondered. I probably should be afraid. Still, Celdren had always managed to find a way out of danger before. He resolved to stay calm and try to reason with them. Surely there was something they wanted; something that he could provide, given the opportunity. And he could be very persuasive—he just had to avoid panicking.

   But as the day wore on, the seriousness of Celdren's position became more and more apparent. The natives bound his wrists and marched him at spearpoint to their village. The collection of huts was sizeable, and the structures were well-built; for that matter their spears were metallic and seemed to have a technological origin. They might be living in primitive conditions, but these people were no primitives, Celdren realized. A few of them could speak Basic, after a fashion, and what he heard was worrying. One of the village elders explained that he had violated the sanctity of the ancient city simply by being there as an outsider. It didn't matter that Celdren didn't know of their traditions—the law made no exceptions where the sacred city was concerned. The village council was debating his punishment.

   Celdren tried to negotiate. He honestly meant no harm, he explained, and would make it right by supplying whatever the villagers wanted or needed. Some of them looked insulted, although the elder who had spoken to him before seemed less bothered. In other circumstances there might be some room for negotiation, but not in this case. The council rendered its decision, and now for the first time Celdren felt a wave of fear, hitherto suppressed, sweep over him like a cold wind. There could be only one punishment for his sacrilege: his life was forfeit, and he was to be given to Gror—his soul would feed and sustain the god.

   He had no chance of fighting his way to freedom; if Celdren tried, he'd be cut down in a storm of razor-tipped spears. But if there were no hope of escape, then he was determined to meet his fate with dignity. The aboriginals led him through the jungle to a long, low stone building that appeared to be almost entirely intact, although so much of it was concealed by vegetation that it was hard for Celdren to be sure. A man whom he took to be a priest or shaman made an invocation to Gror in a language that Celdren didn't understand, though the purpose was unmistakeable. Then, to his surprise, the ropes binding his wrists were cut off, and he was forced into the entryway of the structure.

   A man pressed a torch into Celdren's hand, before setting it alight, and presented him with a sack of some coarsely-woven cloth containing some object he couldn't immediately identify. The warriors gestured down the dark corridor with their spears, and it was clear that Celdren was meant to go in. Whatever lay in store for him must not have been instant death, at least. But his relief was short-lived—before he'd gone forty paces, he heard the sound of large stones descending from the ceiling, blocking the exit. Making sure he was far enough inside not to be crushed by the heavy gates, Celdren counted at least five slabs sliding into place, and sealing him inside. Well, he thought, I came here to rob tombs, and here I am, in the biggest tomb of all. There seemed to be a sort of poetic justice in his fate.

   Looking at the contents of the sack, Celdren found what he took to be a loaf of some kind of bread, and a skin that proved to be full of water. That was interesting—evidently the villagers didn't intend for him to starve to death. But if not that, why was it necessary to seal him in the tomb? Celdren reviewed what he had read about the cult of Gror, and the answer came to him. It wasn't the place of the villagers to shed the blood of Gror's victims—the god would kill them himself. It was a frightening thought, but surely no more than superstition. Even if Celdren ate all of the bread at once, he might live for a week if he rationed his water. Maybe he could find a weak point in the structure, or even some portion that had collapsed, and escape. He began to explore the tomb.

   Side passages lined the main corridor, and Celdren took them one by one. Some led only to small rooms right off the passageway, while others wound confusingly through the interior, only to return to the point of beginning. Celdren couldn't fathom the purpose of most of them, although a few rooms looked like their original use was for the storage of some long-vanished materials. Splintered wood and shards of pottery provided only the vaguest hints as to their former contents. There was fallen stone in many places, but nowhere the tell-tale signs of a ceiling so weak or unsound as to admit even a tiny ray of light from the outside, much less a means of escape from the grim temple. Celdren's spirits fell even more as he realized how difficult it would be to make any headway even if he could find a weak point; the ceilings were well over his head, and even the smallest slabs of stone would probably crush him if he could somehow loosen them.

   An unease settled on Celdren as he continued deeper into the tomb, and chilled him to the bone. Just how big was this structure, anyway? As he approached the largest doorway he'd seen so far, he felt the eerie sensation of someone—or something—watching him. But there was no sign of technology amongst the ancient stones, and nowhere for anyone to hide, except in the chambers that Celdren had already explored. He tried to remember what his master had taught him all those years before, and it dawned on him that he was sensing a place strong in the Dark Side of the Force. What he wouldn't have given to be a Jedi now, fearless in the face of the unknown! Entering the blackness, he found himself on the threshold of another chamber—but this one was different from all of the others. The doorway was carved into the likeness of a great, gaping maw, surrounded by knife-like teeth as big as a man's hand. This, Celdren realized, was the heart of the temple; he was about to enter the tomb of Gror. Despite his misgivings, there seemed no point in going back. Ducking his head well below the stone teeth, he stepped into a large chamber, and slowly took in his surroundings.

   The room was broader than it was long, and its high ceiling receded out of range of the torchlight. In the very center of the floor was a large altar topped by a wide, flat slab of stone. On the long wall that Celdren guessed to be the eastern side was a shallow alcove, directly opposite the narrow end of the altar. Low along the shorter, northern wall were a series of strangely-shaped objects. Celdren went for a closer look, and discovered them to be some sort of manacles, long neglected and covered in rust. Unlike in holovids, there were no skeletal remains attached to the empty cuffs, no bones littering the floor beneath them. Yet as Celdren looked more deeply, he could feel the suffering that had once been attached to this place—and for a moment he saw the faces of the condemned.

   An old man, his hair and beard grey, his eyes fearful; a younger man with a shaved head and long, bony arms, staring blankly into the darkness; a man with dark, dirty hair and ragged clothes, his head bowed toward the floor; a child, all skin and bones, silent as the grave; a woman who looked nearly as ancient as the bearded man, her long hair streaked grey and white, a dress shaped like a sack, and bare, calloused feet; a man just past the prime of life, once proud and muscular, but scarred and missing half a leg and two fingers on his left hand. Except for the bald man, who moaned softly, they made no noise save the occasional rattling of their chains against the stone floor. All were fearful, yet all seemed to be resigned to their fate. They had lost all hope, and awaited nothing but the coming of Gror. The pain and despair in their eyes made Celdren turn away, and when he looked back, all he saw were the empty manacles.

   Now Celdren looked more closely at the altar. There was some sort of relief carved around the middle of the pedestal; a sort of writhing, sinuous shape, perhaps representing some kind of vines or other plants, but its significance eluded him. There was an object atop the wide slab. Celdren reached for it, and found it was a knife. But not any ordinary knife; this was made from some sort of stone—the blade surprisingly keen, like obsidian. Celdren thought of, then rejected using it as a digging or prying tool—its edge might be incredibly sharp, but the material was brittle and would clearly break if lateral force were applied to it. Still, the handle fit his hand as if it had been chosen specifically for him.

   There was something strange about the rectangular slab upon which the knife had been placed. It was some kind of porous rock, perhaps volcanic in origin, and from one edge to the other it was a deep, dark red. Celdren had seen red stone before, but this was different—and then he realized why. The stone itself wasn't red—it had been stained red by the blood of countless sacrifices. Age, apparently, had done nothing to lessen the intensity of the colour. An otherworldly phrase from the mythology he'd read suddenly came to him: before him lay the fabled "Stone that Drinks", the sacred conduit through which Gror received the vital essence of the souls devoted to him.

   Celdren shuddered as he realized that this was where he was meant to end his days. He had come to the final chamber in the tomb, and could go no further; he had reached the final hours of his life, and there was no hope of escape. The purpose of the knife came to him: it was there for him to use on himself when he was tired of waiting for death to claim him—and then the great god Gror would devour his soul. For a long time, Celdren stood before the altar, thinking of the long, strange road that had led him to this end. His despair only abated briefly, when he contemplated what his master would have said: that so long as he was at peace, he would become one with the Force. But Celdren was no Jedi. He had left that path far behind him. At last, seeing no alternative, he placed his torch, still illuminating the innermost tomb, in a bracket hanging from the back wall, near the alcove that he supposed represented the power of the god. He ate his bread and drank the water, and then resigning himself to the inevitable, Celdren lay down upon the Stone that Drinks, holding the stone knife in his hands, and stared up into the blackness, waiting patiently for Gror to claim his soul.


*     *     *


   How long he lay upon the slab, Celdren wasn't sure. There was still light in the chamber, so his torch hadn't gone out. Whatever the fuel was, it had certainly served him faithfully for many hours, for which he was profoundly grateful. Celdren was just brave enough to face his death, but he had no desire to meet it in the dark. His muscles ached, and he was reasonably certain that he must have slept for some time. The god certainly didn't seem to be in a hurry to claim his soul, and Celdren wasn't quite ready to hasten his ending with the stone knife. Perhaps he would reach that point in a day or two, when hunger, thirst, and darkness had taken their toll. He tried not to think about the least painful way of using the knife, and distracted himself by trying to recall what he had read about the ancient cult. One illustration from the stories came to him. An inhuman figure completing the sacrifice in the name of the god: the Servant of Gror. Celdren imagined that it would be less terrifying to meet his fate at the hands of a visible and corporeal being than by the hunger of a dark and unseen entity.

   The torch began to flicker. At last, Celdren thought, ruefully, it's reached the end of its fuel. The light in the tomb began to wane. Was that a breeze? Celdren wondered. Perhaps the guttering torch was creating an air flow in place of the oppressive, stagnant atmosphere that he'd grown used to. Then he heard a faint scratching sound coming from the alcove behind him, as if stone were slowly grating against stone. Although he had long since accepted his approaching death, there was still something cold and terrifying about the sound, which grew and intensified in his head, and as he stretched out with his feelings he knew he was in imminent danger. It's the Servant of Gror! Celdren thought, hastily changing his mind about waiting passively atop the altar, and ducking behind it instead.

   The wall in the back of the alcove was moving, sliding to the left—north, Celdren guessed—and a further corridor began to appear beyond, lit red by torchlight. A figure stood in the doorway as it opened at full width, and it took all of Celdren's resolve not to cry out in fear. The being was about three meters in height—a giant by any standard—and his only clothing was a shent about his waist and upper legs. His dark, muscular skin glistened as if freshly oiled. But the most striking feature was his mask: black and shaped like the head of a hound, but with cruel-looking crescent-shaped horns on either side, one curved up toward the ceiling, the other pointing down at the floor. The cruel, trapezoidal eyes glowed a fiery red, as he glanced around the chamber. He's even more terrifying than in the pictures! thought Celdren, who until that moment hadn't realized how truly desperate he was to cling to life.

   Celdren felt the handle of the stone knife, still clutched in his hand, but looking at his foe, he realized the hopelessness of his situation. Perhaps a Jedi Knight would have stood a chance—and even if he lost, at least he would meet his end with dignity. But Celdren had scarcely been more than a youngling when his apprenticeship was cut short, and the Force was barely a whisper to him now—a whisper he hadn't listened to for years. If I'd only finished my training— he thought, anguished, if I could just reach out with the Force, what I'd do is... in his mind's eye, he could see his master stretching out his hand, and gesturing with the Force—perhaps he would pick up and throw a pebble to make a loud noise, or rattle the decrepit manacles—or simply plant the idea of a noise in the mind of an opponent. Celdren had never excelled at those skills, and even if he had, he doubted he'd remember how to use them now. The glowing embers of the Servant's gaze swept across the chamber, seeking the victim that he must know to be nearby. Then he fixed his eyes upon the altar, and Celdren was certain that his hiding place had been discovered.

   Celdren's vision darted from the face of his executioner to the rusty chains, willing them to move although he had no power to move them, praying silently for his enemy to hear the noise and look away. As Celdren trembled in in the darkness of that terrible chamber, waiting for the Servant of Gror to come rushing toward him like the jaws of death, he was astonished when instead to see the giant abruptly turn toward something along the north wall of the room, staring with a smoldering intensity, as though seeing something invisibly attached to the empty shackles that had hung there rusting away for centuries. In that instant, Celdren saw a the feeble flicker of a chance, and he burst from behind the altar with all the speed he possessed. He collided with the giant as he made for the open doorway, and the Servant of Gror toppled awkwardly to the stone floor, as the erstwhile padawan rushed into the corridor beyond.

   Celdren pelted along as fast as he could. From behind him, he heard a tremendous bellowing roar, telling him that the Servant of Gror was following close behind. The narrow corridor twisted and turned, with chambers branching off to either side. At least this much was lit, and Celdren could see where he was going. He considered hiding in one of the side rooms, but knew that there would be no escape if the giant trapped him in any of them. His best chance for survival lay in the hope that some exit from the tomb lay at the end of the corridor. Surely the Servant of Gror had some other way in or out. He had to find it! Peering over his shoulder, Celdren couldn't see the Servant; but his bellowing echoed down the passageway, and told Celdren that he wasn't far behind.

   All at once, Celdren hurtled through a large doorway, and into a strange room, like a kitchen, or perhaps a charnel house. In a wide recess on the far wall blazed a fire, beneath which lay scattered bones in various stages of destruction—some of them perhaps animal, but some undoubtedly human. Celdren's blood turned to ice, as he realized that this is where his bodily remains would have ended had he died upon the Stone that Drinks, and where he would meet his end if the Servant of Gror caught him. There was no door save the one by which he'd entered, and from the sounds emanating from that direction, the giant was headed for this very room.

   In a flash of intuition, Celdren ducked into the fireplace, edging along the wall just beyond the flames. The heat was almost unbearable, but his guess was good—there was a wide chimney through which the smoke passed, and Celdren could see the blue of sky at its top. The stone was rough-hewn, and abounded with handholds. Celdren began to climb, hoping beyond hope that he could escape the grasp of the Servant of Gror. He heard the raging giant coming near, but the Servant didn't appear beneath him until Celdren was at the very top, climbing out of the chimney to safety. As he hurried away from the temple, Celdren heard the bellowing growing fainter, and realized with a deep sense of relief that the giant couldn't fit up the chimney. Celdren wiped the cold sweat from his brow, and plunged into the forest, heading eastward, and putting as much distance as possible between himself, the temple, and the village.

   An hour later, Celdren reached a dry rock shelter near the top of a hill rising above the forest canopy. There it was! The navigational beacon! Examining the antiquated control panel, he soon worked out how to send a distress signal. Now he just had to hope that it wasn't picked up by an Imperial patrol... after another nervous hour, a light appeared in the western sky. A Corellian passenger shuttle appeared, and maneuvered close enough to the hillside for Celdren to clamber aboard. He dared not return for his own ship, and he might have trouble paying for his passage—but Corellians liked a good story, and Celdren could certainly provide that. And, as if realizing it for the first time, he still possessed the stone knife from the Tomb of Gror! The right collector would pay a fortune for an artifact such as that—although having lived through the experience, Celdren wasn't entirely sure he could part with it for any price. As for what he'd do next, Celdren would think of something. He always did.

 Event Calendar
Event Calendar
1. TFFA Nights are hosted each Thursday at 7:00 PM JAWA time, 2:00 PM Eastern time.

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 Bulletin Board
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 Puzzle Answers
Puzzle December 2020-1.png
Answers:
  • WRITE
  • STRONG
  • BLAST
  • AERIAL
  • GRINS


  • IT'S RAISIN BRAN.


Puzzle December 2020-2.png


Answer:

HOW DID HAN SOLO REACH THE IMPERIAL BASE ON ENDOR AFTER HIS SPEEDER BIKE BROKE DOWN? EWOKED!

 SotW Gallery

   Presenting the latest entries from Signature of the Week!

(hover your cursor over the signatures to view them at full size)

SotW #531
Favourite Star Wars Character

Correction: an earlier edition of the Post incorrectly identified Helena Revan as the winner of SotW #531. IronSkull86 was the winner. –Editor

SotW #532
Christmas

SotW #533
Music

SotW #534
Video Games

SotW #535
Disney

SotW #536
MS Paint

SotW #537
Use This Render

SotW #538
Animals

SotW #539
The Bad Batch

SotW #540
Profile Pictures

SotW #541
Your Favourite Movie Character

SotW #542
Summer

SotW #543
The Olympics

SotW #544
Pokémon

SotW #545
Your Favourite Gaming Console

SotW #546
Lightsabers

 Pictures of the Month

   Send Niko a PM if you have funny, weird, or amazing screenshots to share!

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   This issue's PotM's by Helena Revan.