Saturday, December 30, 2006

<---- Update ---->

Be sure to read the two posts below this one. I updated twice in one day, so it might not be obvious that you need to read "Beneath the Surface" before you look at "One in the Same."

And for those who are curious, I'll be posting Darrus' updated character sheet after the first of the new year. He's been through a LOT of changes, so it's an auspicious and appropriate time for me to do so, I think.

Best of wishes to all of you in 2007.


One in the Same

"You are One."

His voice was a quiet echo, almost two sounds at once, as if two people were talking past the same lips. Darrus was sitting in a small round room, shelves filled with boxes all around him. Under him, a circular mat of woven metal and silk covered most of the floor. Its surface was embroidered in an old, unrecognizable symbol.

The only light in the room came from Darrus himself. His body was glowing a faint white-blue. As he moved, a slight trail of radiance hung in the air behind him. Something luminous was over him, a second body that acting in harmony with his own. Was he being moved by the body of light? Or was the body of light being moved through his actions? It was impossible to tell. They were synchronous, a perfect reflection of each other.

Jeht's hand passed over several small objects arranged on the mat in front of him. One was the crystal he'd been carrying around his neck. Its cord was gone; it rested unadorned next to other jewels and pieces of odd metal. There were tools as well, but these were already used and sitting out of reach. Their work was done; the result of their labor was cradled in Darrus' lap.

He picked it up - a cylinder of carefully machined steel. Part of it was dark, a plating of ionized darkness from the desert nearby. He had been collecting these parts for days during his long walks in the sand.

From the Duskan Crater, he'd found the obsidian shards for the black electroplating. Gathering them had been a dangerous climb over razor sharp volcanic glass. One slip and he'd have been cut to ribbons before he ever reached the bottom. Somehow, he'd known he'd be safe. There had been no doubt.

In the heart of the Jungan Wastes, he'd bartered for steel and other materials from the Jawas and their strange, monolithic vehicles. Though he'd come to them openly and with little to trade, they had given him all he needed and more. There had been no greed.

In the badlands close to Mos Eisley, he'd tracked a gargantuan Krayt Dragon back to its lair. The massive beast had been driven into populated areas by hunger and disease; the creature was sick and enraged, a threat to both itself and the people of the spaceport city. The dragon had been past medical aid. In single combat, he'd given it the mercy of a clean, quick death after an epic battle. There had been no fear.

At the outskirts of Anchorhead, he'd retrieved a broken Jedi weapon from the retired bounty hunter living there. A remorseless killer, the man slept while Darrus quietly entered his home, taken the item and the Padawan braid tied to it, and left without disturbing him. The braid was buried; the weapon returned with him. There had been no vengeance.

All these things were with him now as he meditated. The Force flowed through him, at once like a raging storm and also like the still eye at its heart. All his life, Darrus had been lashed by his powers; now he could see clearly from within them as they twisted and howled. To him, the force was a tempest. But rather than be subjected to its destructive gale, he could guide it and channel it. he could direct the maelstrom without having to let it tear through him as well.

There was peace. At long last, he could feel peace.

And in that peace, he was prepared to take his place once more among the Jedi, even if he was the last of them alive. The old Order might be gone, but there would always be a need for the Jedi as long as one still breathed. He would not let the light of the Jedi go quietly into any good night. He had been spared oblivion in the Lenerian Rift.

Perhaps this was why.

But to be a Jedi, he still needed something. Something he was finally ready to create once more. With the guidance of the spirit within these hallowed walls, he was ready to craft again. In a soft, gentle tone, he began to chant.

"The crystal is the heart of the blade."

He placed a flawless black pearl, the heart of the krayt dragon he'd laid to rest, in its cradle within the hilt.

"The heart is the crystal of the Jedi."

He set a new housing above the pearl and inserted the silver-gleaming crystal from his long-dead friend Qui's lightsaber into it. The gemstone gleamed, pulsing with new life.

"The Jedi is the crystal of the Force."

The last crystal, the one from his first weapon, took its place above the others, nearly rising past the edge of the hilt. There was just enough room for the last component - a perfect fit. He had never worked so precisely. Each piece was flawless.

"The Force is the blade of the heart."

Two clicks locked down the emitter and its cowl, permanently fusing the metal sections of the weapon together. A moment's flare of heat from the sealing compound marked the eternal bond between crystals, obsidian, pearl, and steel.

"All are intertwined:
The crystal, The blade, The Jedi."

Darrus heeded the voice in his head, the one growing fainter as its work was nearing its end. He let his emotions open completely, taking down all the barriers that a Jedi builds to keep their powers in check. The Force flowed through him now, the gale of his energies flooding in through his back and down his arms to embrace the new creation. He felt an instant connection as the weapon began to pulse.

The bands of songsteel along its length, shavings from his sword nearby, started to hum. It was a hypnotic melody, an aria of life as the cylinder in Darrus' hands came to life. Without him even touching its activation switch, the lightsaber ignited!

Basking in its radiant violet light, Jeht bowed his head in memory and reverence. The last few words of the meditation resounded through the chamber, joined by the symphony of the wondrous weapon in his hands. As he spoke, he felt the ghost of this place finally slip away. In a way, though, he knew it would never be far from him again.

"You are one."

Beneath the Surface

Maya woke up, the bed cold and empty beside her. She'd taken to sleeping next to the troubled Jedi since he'd lapsed into a coma and now that he was better, she'd not really wanted to break the habit. There was something soothing about Darrus, which was ironic given how tumultuous he seemed to be himself.

In truth, that wasn't really accurate any longer. After awakening from his twenty three day dream, Darrus wasn't as pained as he used to be. His voice was a quiet whisper but there was no ragged edge to it any longer. His eyes, as dark as ever, seemed softer. Calmer.

He had taken to going on long walks, however, like now. It wasn't even sun rise yet and the Jedi was out of the house again. Last time, she'd found him almost a kilometer away, looking out over the dunes with an almost haunted expression. He hadn't been troubled, but it was clear he'd not been seeing here. She was only empathic; she couldn't read minds. Maya would have given a lot to know what Darrus had been thinking but he wouldn't say.

"This place has seen a lot of sorrow," was all he'd tell her. He cried occasionally, both from his own sadness and from the feelings this place seemed to bring up in him. There were moments when she wasn't honestly sure she was talking to the same man she'd found in the sands more than two months ago.

He was better now, healthier and more collected, but he was also different somehow. There were times when he would talk in strange ways, as if repeating something he'd heard moments before in a voice no one else perceived.

His body movements were off as well, though that was getting better with his constant exercises. Watching him go through his martial drills with his singing blade was one of Maya's secret pleasures. It was a thrill to see him move so fluidly. For the first few days after waking up from his coma, Darrus had been very awkward, but now he was even more graceful than he'd been before. It was amazing... and a little eerie.

What had this place done to him?

Maya got up and found her robe. A present from an amorous patron at the bar, she'd kept it even after trying to politely explain her lack of interest in the regular. It wasn't that she disliked men. She just disliked ruffians with no concern for others and a body odor that would make dewbacks cross the street.

Ten minutes later, she was outside and unable to find Darrus. Unlike the other times he'd gone wandering, there were no tracks in the sand. She tightened her grip on Vaaro's rifle and scanned the horizon with its macro-sight. Nothing. The speeder and the fighter were still here, so he had to be on foot. If he was out here, he'd walked a lot father than normal.

Assuming he was out here. Feeling foolish for not checking inside first, she packed away the heavy weapon and ducked back into the house. Maya wasn't even sure why she'd bothered to take the gun outside. No one came here. This hut was supposed to be haunted. The Tuskens avoided the entire area like a sand-borne plague. There was literally no safer place on all of Tatooine, assuming there wasn't actually a ghost.

Once inside, Maya found where Jeht was hiding pretty quickly. Where an old metal chest had been, there was a pressure switch on the floor. Pressing it with her foot, she opened a sliding panel in the wall. The doorway led to a short flight of steps going down. At the bottom of the stairs, a faint, flickering light could be seen.

Walking softly, she padded down to see what was going on. She started to call out for Darrus but her better judgment kept her quiet. Besides, too much noise would wake Vaaro upstairs and she didn't want him tromping down here and mucking about with things before she saw them for herself.

Vaaro had a way of breaking stuff. It was just his nature.

Feet still on the last step, Maya froze. What she saw was both too frightening to believe at first and too amazing to look away....

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Dreaming Dark and Light

Vaaro was certain the Tusken would not come to this place, tucked away as it was in an area considered haunted by the raiders. Even so, Jeht had insisted they make their beds in the basement, a much more defensible position with a single hidden exit to the surface and a narrow entry door from the upstairs.

So here he was, sleeping while Vaaro and Maya took turns keeping watch and preparing dinner. Not that he was resting well. Ever since he'd been here, now four nights in a row, there had been nightmares whenever he closed his eyes.

Sometimes, the images were of his own life, such as fighting that Sith assassin woman and being stabbed on her twin blades. Or pulling his saber from the cleaved face of his best friend, fury at the man's blithe admission of murder surging through his soul. In every dark dream, pain and hatred, anger and violence their only common links.

Sometimes however, like in this tumultuous moment, the dreams were not from his memories. Where these came from, he had no idea, nor could he recall them clearly upon awakening. This one he would remember though, since it involved someone he knew. A good friend, a sparring partner, and a fellow ally in the company of a man who had apparently betrayed them both. Remembering this man would have been a fond happenstance...

...had Anakin not been trying to kill him.

The fellow Jedi looked so different, face twisted in rage, one side lined in a deep scar. His saber was merciless, only held away from his flesh by Jeht's desperate own. Only it wasn't Jeht's. The lightsaber he wielded in this nightmare was blue-white, not violet. He was also fighting in a style completely opposite of his own. There was so much motion, so much running and so many acrobatic moves. It was a beautiful style, not that he had any time to appreciate it.

Who was he supposed to be? Who's life was he living?

The battle raged on amid a backdrop of steel and fire. The setting, wherever they were, was volcanic, the heat oppressive. As deadly a combatant as Anakin had apparently become, the blistering air was itself an enemy. His robes, light in color, were a blessing in this place. Jeht's black ones would have been another strike against him. With his old friend moving so quickly and filled with such a murderous fury, the odds did not need to be stacked any higher.

He was moving now, taking the fight outside. He was evenly matched against Anakin, his moves mirroring the others more often than not. They were almost identical in form and power. Even the Force did not deem to favor one over the other. Each time he would push, Anakin would as well and the energies between them dissipated or throw them both backwards equally.

Not that he was helpless by any means. The Force was with him so strongly! His speed was phenomenal, even greater than his own waking abilities. He could jump so much farther, run so much faster, and his skill with a saber was peerless.

In that instant, Darrus stopped letting the fear and panic of the dream overwhelm him. This terrible vision, fighting a friend, was also an opportunity. Perhaps all of his dreams these long nights were something other than self-inflicted torture. But what then? And why here? Why now?

The moment he started watching the battle with a critical eye, like a student rather than as a terrified participant, things changed. He calmed his mind and the combat began once more. He say the first clash of sabers, the accusations, the words that made little since. Who was Anakin talking to? Who was he in this dream? Anakin's master had been Obi-Wan Kenobi, one of the greatest of the Jedi Knights, but Kenobi was lost at the Battle of Jabiim.

Had his friend taken a new master? One he now fought with so hatefully? In any case, it was obvious the Dark Side had Anakin firmly in its grasp. So much to clear to him as the dream played out, it was almost as if he was being shown these things. He watched as the battle passed from courtyard to inner halls to control rooms filled with corpses. Each one struck down by a light saber, probably Anakin's own.

But they were all Separatists, so perhaps this was a CIS stronghold and Anakin had cleared it out? That would have made him a hero, but the mood of the battle was nothing like that. This all felt like a murder scene and a brutal one at that. Whatever happened here, it was far more complicated than Jeht first suspected.

Over and over, the moves of the battle played out in his mind. He watched, felt, as each stroke resolved, each blow was parried, and each dodge executed with perfect timing. Such skill, such consummate grace. It was a wonder to behold now that he was learning instead of trembling and cowering in fear.

"Fear leads to the Dark Side." Yoda's voice was clear in his thoughts, the aged Master's advice as timeless now as it had been when he was a youngling on Coruscant. Darrus had been so focused on not feeling hate lately that he'd completely forgotten that rage wasn't the only dangerous emotion. Anything that takes a Jedi from his inner control had to be kept in check or each the Dark Side could take over.

Just as it apparently had in Anakin. No wonder this Sith Lord Darth Vader he'd read about had been able to kill his old friend. This out of balance, Anakin would have been no match for the Jedi slayer. Jeht felt a touch of sorrow at the thought, something that echoed strongly in whoever he was watching this battle through. This dream was filled with regret; whoever he was now was both deeply fond of Anakin and heartbroken at this turn of events.

Again and again, the cycle of events reeled through his mind's eye. He saw the woman, the golden droid, and the rivers of lava. He heard the fury in his old friend's voice, relived the words until each one felt like it was truly being directed at him. In a way, he became the figure in the dream. It took a hundred turns of the wheel but the moves became second nature. The combat began to flow instead of jar. He anticipated each swing, a dance of death that could only end in one inevitable outcome. His death or that of his brother, Anakin.

At the end of this pass through the nightmare, the scenes did not return to the beginning. Instead of restarting when he leaped onto the blackened shore and turning to face Anakin, the battle finally continued. He felt himself warn his former padawan. A position of higher ground was a great advantage for a Jedi if an opponent had to jump to attack. During a leap, even a Master was exposed and vulnerable because of the limited ability to maneuver. He knew this. Anakin knew this.

And yet still he jumped. With dire regret, Darrus made his strike. His lightsaber cleaved the air between them, then passed through both of Anakin's legs and his lead arm. Flesh gave way to pure energy, severing effortlessly. The battle was ended; Anakin was finished.

Darrus looked down at his friend, his former student. No... that wasn't right. They had trained together, but the fallen Jedi had never been his padawan. Those emotions, that connection, belonged to the true source of the dream. His bond with the person's life he was sharing began to slip. The dream was ending.

Lessons learned.

"May the force be with you. Always."


Darrus shifted in his sleep, eyes slowly opening. Who had just said that? Where had that voice come from? And why was it so utterly familiar? It was like he'd just said it to himself.


That wasn't his voice or the other one from his dreams. This one was feminine and familiar for as understandable reason. Looking up, he saw Maya's concerned face above him. "You're awake!"

She ran a cool washcloth over his brow once more, smiling though worry creased her face. "Are you all right? How do you feel?"

Darrus leaned up, trying to sit. His body was as weak as a baby womprat, but in every other way he felt fine. Better than fine, actually. He felt alive both inside and out. His mind was awake and aware in so many wondrous ways. The Force was flowing through him stronger than before. He was exhausted past the the point of collapse, yet he was being sustained by an energy greater than any he'd experienced.

"Of course, Maya. I am fine." He wasn't lying. Drained yet filled to overflowing, he felt as if he could fly. Then it hit him. His voice...

"Darrus! Your voice!"

He was no longer rasping; it didn't hurt to speak. He was still quiet, almost whispering, but the sound was smooth and untroubled. For the first time since Geonosis, there was no pain in his words. He reached up and touched his throat. The scar was still there, but only on the outside. Beneath it, his neck was almost completely healed.

And then he had no freedom of movement. Maya's arms were a warm straight jacket, pinning him entire as she hugged him enthusiastically. "By the Maker, Darrus, I thought you were lost! You've been asleep for so long!"

He struggled to get his face free of a very soft, indelicate place, almost blushing as he realized what was nearly smothering him. "How... mmmph.... how long?"

Maya pulled back, also embarrassed. She reached for a bowl of broth and a spoon as she answered. "Almost three weeks now. You were comatose, twitching, burning up with fever. I did everything I could."

His mind reeled. Three weeks? Why would he sleep for tha...?

Then he could not question things further; the taste of warm soup, the frantic ministrations of a worried woman, and a spoon shoved almost down his throat became his entire world.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Exodus Redux

Vaaro grumbled again, hefting another box into the back of the battered speeder. Darrus heard it, sighed, and knew exactly what it meant.

Heading back into the hut, the weary Rodian stopped and stared at him. "Will it move?"

Darrus was under the vehicle, working with its motive-shaft and mending the thing as best he could. This speeder hadn't been used in at least a decade and what the sand hadn't pitted, the Tuskens had scavenged. If the ARC-170 hadn't been carrying a load of spare parts and Maya not thought to leave them behind before taking the fighter back to Mos Espa, there'd be no chance of getting it functional again.

As it was, things would be chancy. "I believe so. I just need a little longer to rig up the power converter."

Vaaro huffed. "Let's hope the Tusken give us your 'little longer'."

There it was, the reason the Rodian was so upset. Darrus would have been indignant if Vaaro wasn't also right. "I know. I know we have to leave as soon as possible."

Vaaro wasn't willing to let it go at that. "And why is that? Why is it that now, the only safe place for us is going to be the one spot out here even the raiders won't go? Why is it we have to go to the luurshan?"

Under the speeder, Darrus winced. Again, he couldn't really argue. It was his fault they had to run. He let the Tusken go before and now, less than a day later, there was an entire tribe moving across the dunes towards them. Within a few hours, they'd hit the valley and then not even his powers and Vaaro's grenades would stop them. It was his fault they had to run to the...

"Wait. What?"

The Rodian rolled his eyes, an odd looking expression for one of his species. "Luurshan. It does not translate well in your language. It means basically 'dark place of evil, haunted by the past'."

"Oh. Lovely."

Vaaro nodded, ducking back into the hut for the last of their supplies, what little they had. "Exactly. The Tusken won't go there. Even the sand dragons avoid that part of the desert. And if those huge things feel fear, we should not go there."

Darrus doubled his efforts, working with a speed only the Force allowed. His hands started falling sure and steady over the broken parts, replacing and repairing with practiced ease. There's been a time, long ago, on Cularin when he hadn't known a hydrospanner from a butter knife. Then he'd received a starship in hundreds of mysterious, anonymous crates. Putting the Legacy together had taught him a lot.

"If the choice is between ghosts and a Tusken horde, I suppose the ghosts win."

Vaaro nodded and handed him down another servo. "Just barely."

"Have you commed Maya and let her know not to come back here?"

The Rodian took a long drink from their last canteen. "I have, hooman. You don't need to worry about her."

Darrus tightened a connecting ring and tested the power output. Things were looking good under here. Another few minutes and the speeder might be done. "I worry about everyone, Vaaro."

Another snort. "I know. That's what's wrong with you."

The rest of the repairs were done in total silence.

And Not to Yield

Darrus clutched the hilt of his sword tightly, his gaze focused on a pair of glassine goggles peering out of a sand-gray linen mask. Several days had passed and the warning he'd given the Tusken kept them safe throughout that time. The desert riders had been seen at the outskirts of the mountain valley where the hut rested, but they'd never ventured close enough for Vaaro to get a clean shot. Whether it was from respect of Darrus' word or fear of his powers, the Tusken had kept their bargain.

Until now. Or at least, it seemed to Vaaro like the sand dwellers were breaking the bargain. Jeht was not so sure. These Tusken were dressed differently, with symbols on their wrappings that did not match the ones before. This was another tribe, a more aggressive one from the way they'd stormed through the Rodian's well-crafted barricade.

Maya was back in Tatooine, maintaining her bar and picking up supplies. Vaaro was asleep, still resting off the near heat stroke he'd given himself building what these raiders had so violently wrecked. That just left him.

And ten Tusken warriors.

They gripped their gaffi, howling in their odd language and pointing at him. He couldn't understand their words but he knew that they wanted. This might be a different tribe but the other Tusken had obviously talked about the abandoned hut's new tenants. These raiders didn't want a battle if they could avoid it.

Unfortunately, they weren't listening to reason and even the Force wasn't dissuading them. Darrus didn't wan to fight either. He didn't fear these men but he had too much blood on his hands already. The screams of the dying stormtroopers were fresh in his ears, his blade still singing its dirge for their passing. If he could keep from slaying these Tusken, he would. No one needed to die today.

Of course, that was easier said than done. If they wouldn't leave in peace, eventually this standoff would end in someone doing something foolish. And then there would be blood.

As he feared, someone did something stupid. One of the raiders, a younger one judging by his size, hurled his gaffi with a roar of defiance. Darrus easily parried the thrown pole and stepped back into a defensive stance to keep from aggravating the others. Unfortunately, the die had literally been tossed.

The attack set the Tusken off and they came at him in a rush. Blade met steel staff in a shower of angry sparks as he blocked the first strike and evaded the next. They weren't very skilled but they heavily outnumbered him. Even if he took them apart, sheer fatigue would eventually knock him down. Somehow, he doubted they would be very merciful.

Time to even the odds. The first thing in his mind was to spray arcs of hateful lightning into their midst. He recoiled from the thought, wondering why such a terrible thing would feel like second nature. Still, the Force was roiling within him, obviously wishing to be set free.

He saw no reason to deny it and unleashed a whirlwind among his enemies. The wind immediately darted in and spiraled violently. The Tusken shouted in fear and surprise as several were caught in its buffeting embrace and lifted into the air. Of them all, only four managed to keep their footing.

The odds were now a bit more to Darrus' liking. He stole a quick breath, knowing the remaining raiders were not likely to let him rest long. He was right.

They pressed in, running out of the zepherous reach of the whirlwind as they charged. Three had gaffi sticks while the fourth wielded a huge Gamorrean axe. A vibro-axe to be specific, if the high-pitched whine its blade was emitting was any indication. It wasn't in good repair but that wouldn't matter to Jeht's torso if it connected. For a Tusken to retain possession of such a powerful weapon, he had to be both highly placed in the tribe and a potent warrior.

The latter was instantly evident as the Tusken in question laid into Darrus with a set of axe sweeps also too quick to see. This raider was both strong and quick, far better than the other three around him. They were pulling back, letting him have the honor of the kill.

Somehow, Darrus felt compelled to deny the Tusken his prize. Still determined not to kill these men, he had to focus on other tactics. Namely, disarmament. He parried the next blow of the axe and angled his swing so the weapon would slam into the sand at his feet. Unfortunately, the raider was too savvy a warrior to fall for the move. Instead of following through with his stroke, the Tusken back up one step, held back his axe, and reversed the handle into a crushing pommel jab.

It caught Jeht in the chin, sending him back in a painful reel. He tasted blood for the first time since Maya's slap. Not considering her deserved strike, Darrus could count the number times an enemy had ever touched him on one hand. Now he had to use a sixth finger.

Licking his lip, tasting his blood, Darrus stared at the Tusken. His songsteel sword, which had been turned flat side to the foe, shifted as he felt the cold grip of anger slide into his heart. "I'm only asking you one more time." He narrowly avoided a second slash of the axe's handle and blunted the force of an overhead chop.

"Do not make me do this."

He tried three more times to disarm or sunder, shattering the axe or getting it out of the Tusken's grasp. When one of the spectators wandered close enough to take a swipe of his own, Darrus met him with a push of the Force that sent him over a dune more than fifty yards away. From the sound of the indignant howling in the distance, the Tusken was hurt but alive. And really, really upset.

The other two onlookers moved back, one so startled that he wandered blindly into the tsunami. Instantly the Force pulled him into the spiral and bashed him painfully against the rest. It wasn't lethal but unconsciousness was a given. The seven Tuskens would all be waking up, perhaps tomorrow, with bad headaches and a few broken bones...

...but they would be waking up.

Jeht spared a moment to make sure they were all alive and nearly paid for it with his head. A narrow slash on the side of his neck was the "gift" he took back from the Tusken's humming axe for his compassion. The raider didn't seem to care about the others; he was putting everything, every breath, into this battle.

It was time for Darrus to do the same. No more distractions. No more mercy.

The Tusken sensed the change in Jeht and took a step to the side, his hands grasping his axe with a more powerful hold. Roaring in bloodlust, he pulled back the weapon and charged.

It was over in moments. Darrus went low, struck ten times, and was a dozen paces past the Tusken before the first piece hit the sand. He slowly stood up out of his battle crouch, the Force still guiding every move, every breath, as the Tusken raider fell to his knees.

Then to his face. The goggles shattered, cut in twain, the wrappings behind it exploding in a thin spray of red and a flutter of cleaved cloth. Wounds appeared all over the man's body, garments and partial armor sliced to ribbons. The gaffi stick, its head the part that struck the ground first, was in six fragments by the time it stopped raining down.

Darrus turned around, wiping his blade on the edge of his tan robe. He looked at the fallen Tusken, raising a salute before sheathing the songsteel. He turned, reigning in the Force and letting the vortex nearby finally calm. Tangled, aching bodies plummeted to the sand. They, plus the fallen warrior, made nine.

That left one. Darrus reached down to his belt under the bantha-weave poncho, hand moving to the blaster resting there. The Tusken was running towards the far side of the valley. It was a fairly long shot, a difficult one to make in the best of circumstances.

He glanced sideways, sighing as he saw the fallen warrior struggle to breathe. He might have given leave to his violent side, but he still didn't want to kill. The Tusken would bleed and he would likely never be the fighter he once was, but he'd live. Unfortunately, the running raider was far out of stun range and at this distance, he just wasn't a good enough shot to guarantee a limb hit. To stop him, Darrus would have to kill him.

Slowly, regretfully, he pulled his pistol and aimed. The slow hiss of tibanna gas filling the gun's energy coil followed the touch of his finger on its trigger. He heard the power cell crackle softly, a charge joining the gas and flashing into a bolt of coherent light. Then, closing his eyes to what he was doing, Jeht fired.

From the nearby hut, a low Rodian voice called out. "You missed."

Darrus turned around, holstering the blaster. He didn't answer Vaaro, not until he was finished stripping down the Tuskens and carrying them all to the side of the Valley where they could wake up and go their way. Even the badly wounded one received a moment's healing from the Force before being hauled away.

In fact, Darrus only stopped tending to the raiders when Vaaro's cool, green hand settled on his shoulder. "Why did you miss?"

Darrus looked up, black eyes meeting black eyes, neither one with pupils. "I had to."

Vaaro shook his head, a gesture that reminded Darrus of Marr-ek, the friend he killed on the Maelstrom before all this began. So too did Vaaro's quiet words. "I do not understand."

The failed Jedi hung his head, looking down at the battered, but breathing, Tuskens.

"Neither do I."

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Moment of Madness

It was a quiet trip to the safe house. Between Maya feeling mortified, Darrus staring mutely at her, and Vaaro trying very hard to become the first invisible Rodian in galactic history, there was no conversation. No motion. Hardly any breathing.

The ARC-170 tore past the Wastes in less than an hour, getting them to where Vaaro had been setting up for nearly a week. The place wasn't truly ready but as Maya had pointed out, that didn't matter any more. Stormtroopers were dead. The Empire might officially be over now but on worlds like Tattooine, white armor was still something to be feared.

And something that would be avenged.

There were a few factors in the lady's favor. The repair bay hadn't been specifically licenced to her or to Vaaro; it was an abandoned bay with no clear owner that lots of people in Mos Espa used as they needed. As such, there was no data trail linking the site to Maya. That helped.

In addition, no one here had any knowledge of her affiliation or service to the Rebellion. She'd come to Tattooine following the Battle of Hoth, so she was considered a local. The Imperials wouldn't be able to single her out for the incident. There would be questions and an investigation, surely, but with attacks on stormtroopers and anyone in grey uniforms on the rise since Endor, four dead Palpatine-lovers might have to wait in line for their revenge.

Not that this cleared either her or Vaaro; the Rodian knew that quite well. If they didn't go back soon, their absence would look suspicious. They would need to be able to look the Intel agents in the eyes and lie about their activities or their involvement might come out anyway.

Well, he would have to lie. Knowing Maya like he did, she would try to find some way to throw off suspicion without actually saying something that wasn't true. She was odd that way. He didn't understand her, but they'd been through too much over the past few years for him not to know how she did things. In truth, he appreciated her oddities. Life was never boring around the Transverse Tavern.

So did this change things? He hoped not. Personally, he wasn't all that fond of the dark-eyed human they were leading into the weather-worn house so deep in the trackless deserts of Tattooine. Vaaro didn't much like anything that disrupted his life and this "Jedi" was most certainly a disruption of the highest order.

Of course, Jedi might not be the right word for this man. Humans across the galaxy might have short memories but Rodians did not. Their people remembered things long after the pink-skins forgot them. The Jedi weren't the only wielders of the Force, nor were they necessarily the most powerful. Vaaro's race might have many famous mystics to their credit, but there were stories of beings in the distant past with powers and abilities like this quiet, shadowy human.

Those entities were not called Jedi.

They were called the Sith.

Vaaro didn't know what to make of this newcomer but he knew what kind of power he had over Maya. The human woman was always taking in strays, but this was the first time she'd ever killed for one. This was the first person she'd ever left her bar to protect. There was something going on here and while Vaaro didn't understand it all, he was sure of one thing.

He was sure he didn't like it. Not at all.

So now here they all were, sitting in a rundown hut on the edge of the Dune Sea with a day's worth of water and a small amount of food. There was supposed to have been more but the nearby shed where Vaaro had stored it all was sitting open and empty. Only what he'd left in the house was undisturbed. The rest of the area had bantha tracks and footprints everywhere.

Damn Tusken. They hadn't come into the hut but they'd run roughshod over everything else. Even the vaporator Vaaro'd set up behind the house was gone, literally ripped from its stone base and hauled away. Bandits and thieves, all of them.

Vaaro looked at his two companions, making a silent wager with himself as to which one might talk first. Right now, his credits were on Maya and he was willing to go triple or nothing the words, "I'm sorry" would be what broke the heavy silence in the sunlit room. The female was always apologising for something; it was a pretty safe bet.

"I'm sorry, Darrus. I..."

Vaaro leaned back, head frills swaying smugly.

The human male, if in fact he even was human, shook his head, dark hair flwoing in the hot breeze of the clay hut's main room. "Don't be. I deserved it."

"No you didn't!" Maya looked up, pleading eyes searching him for any emotional reaction at all. it was a futile hunt; the man's half-shaded face betrayed nothing beyond a strange, impermeable calm. "I told you I could sense emotions! I was just out of control. There was so much going on!"

Darrus nodded, ebon eyes looking into a void only he seemed to see. "I know. I don't blame you."

Vaaro's distraught partner balled up her fist and slammed in into the cushion beneath her. "I blame me! I had no right to hit you. I just... Damn it all. I killed him, Darrus!"

The "Jedi" nodded again, this time with even less response. "And I killed the other three. Don't be upset if you can't keep up."

There was a stunned silence in the room. Vaaro turned his head and stared at the man while Maya gaped. Then, as both of them looked at him, her with widening eyes, Darrus did something neither of them had ever seen.

He smiled. Slightly. And then laughed. Quietly.

"It was a joke."

Vaaro snorted, then chuckled, then howled in amusement. On his homeworld, dark humor was the height of comedy. To him, the man's joking about being a better killer than Maya was the height of comedy. "Good one!" Vaaro chortled.

"You..." Maya looked aghast at both of them. "You are both quite mad!" Still, the ridiculousness of the situation ate at her indignance and as both men in the room kept laughing, she couldn't help but eventually join them. Stress and manic pressure came flooding out of all three, ending up with each one sitting on the floor, gasping for breath between now nearly-silent snickers.

"Yes," Jeht rasped, light-headed, "I do believe we have all gone insane."

Vaaro pointed one suckered fingertip at him. "Speak for yourself, hooman. I never..." He wheezed for air. "I never claimed to be rational in the first place!"

Maya leaned back against the wall, holding her sides and shaking her head. It was all too surreal, but at least she wasn't crying any more. Any more laughter and she would be, though. After the last week, all the emotions pent up and all the pain of loneliness and worry eating away at her, it was such a relief to just let it all go. "You two! I swear..."


The front door of the hut burst inward and two men in dust-coloured robes and wrapped faces shrouded in breathing masks rushed inward. Howling as they raised their bladed staves, the figures ran towards them shouting at the top of their lungs.

Maya didn't understand what they were saying, but she knew what they were. "Damn it, Vaaro! You said this place was clear of Tuskens!" She desperately tried to breathe as she reached for her pistols, praying she could get them out before the raiders reached her.

"No!" The Rodian protested, his own weapon clearing its back holster as he scrambled for what little cover the room offered. "I said I could make sure it was clear! That was before you brought us here four days early!"

Darrus did not speak at all, the mirth draining from his face as he stood to face the Tuskens. "I don't want to harm you. Leave this place and keep your lives." His voice was preternaturally calm and stronger than it had been before. The rasping whisper was still there but there was a presence to it now that made his words carry through the whole room.

Vaaro swung his big rifle around, taking aim at the lead Tusken's chest even as a third and fourth one ran into the hut. Maya had her pistols ready as well, both weapons pointed and ready to spit fire at the touch of their triggers.

"Don't. No hurting. No fighting." Darrus' voice was now ethereal and ever-present. Vaaro and Maya were not so much hearing it as feeling it in their minds. In their souls. From the way the Tuskens were stepping back, they were caught by it as well.

"Weapons down. There is no need for violence here."

Everyone dropped what they were holding. Gaffi sticks and blasters hit the ground, clattering as disarmament happened on both sides. Vaaro was staring at his hands, shocked as his body was acting completely against his will.

"This place is ours for now. Please leave us in peace. When we have gone, you are welcome to it. Now go."

The Tuskens did not even hesitate. The word to leave was given and they acted instantly. Perhaps they moved because they had been told to do so or perhaps utter terror guided their feet. In either case, they fled as quickly as they could run, pouring out of the small hovel and leaping onto their banthas without delay. Within moments, they were gone. They took nothing, leaving their weapons behind and the ARC-170 untouched.

Only the dust of their riding beasts' mammoth strides, settling in the desert wind, remained.

Back in the hut, Vaaro could move again. The first thing he did was get his rifle back. The second thing he did was point it at Jeht.

"Vaaro!" Maya looked horrified. "What are you doing?!?"

Darrus slowly raised one hand and sat down tiredly. "It's all right. I do not blame him." He turned his gaze to the Rodian and gestured for him to lower his blaster. There was no power behind the motion and Varro consequently ignored it completely.

Still taking aim at the center of Darrus' body, Vaaro spit vehemently, "You were in my mind, hooman! You controlled me! You are no Jedi!"

Jeht looked down, lowering his hand and nodding as black hair fell across his face. "You are probably right, Vaaro. But I'm sorry. To keep the Tusken from attacking, I didn't have a choice. I had to use the same power on everyone."

Then, looking up again, midnight eyes sparkling in the half-light of the hut, "Please forgive me. I had no right to do that to you. I am just so tired of killing."

The next person to talk was, surprisingly, Maya again. Nearly frantic, her voice was one step off shrieking now. "Vaaro, so help me, if you don't put that gun down, you are going to get your new A-Wing as Tatooine's biggest suppository!"

There was silence again. All eyes turned to Maya, who immediately began to blush.

And the manic laughter started all over again...

Friday, December 15, 2006

<--- New Rules - Jeht's Songsteel Sword --->

Darrus Jeht's Songsteel Sword

Appearance: A slightly curved single-edged sword with a circular hilt and a pair of short crossguards, the blade has the look of metallic black pearl and bears odd, alien symbols along its back edge. The hilt disc is a minor work of art - a stained glass rendition of a blazing comet moving in a spiral against a field of black and starlight.

Crafted, if one can call it that, from a curved piece of alien metal found in the asteroid belt of the Cularin system, this weapon generates a low, constant, musical hum when unsheathed. This property gives the metal its name (songsteel) and creates a micro-vibrational effect that grants the sword amazing cutting ability. This makes the weapon a vibro class sword but it requires no power to maintain.

Darrus has spent a great deal of time and effort perfecting his fighting style with this weapon and has learned how to focus the Force through this weapon nearly as well as he does through a lightsaber. As a result, his particular songsteel sword (there are others in and around Cularin) "sings" with greater intensity and serves as a particularly devastating extension of his combat skills.

While Master Jeht is wielding this blade, it retains its full hardness against lightsaber blows and has the same bonuses to sundering objects as a lightsaber enjoys.

Cost: priceless Availability: Unique Damage: 3d6 Critical: 19-20 Range Increment: - Weight: 1 kg Stun Damage/Fort DC: - Type: Slashing/Piercing Size: Medium Group: Vibro

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Mourning's Bitter End

It was nightfall on Gilliath, one of the Separatist stronghold worlds. Two important positions had to be taken before the fleet arrived in ten hours or the planet's defenses would slice the Republic ships to pieces. Darrus had already heard from the first wave. It was mixed news, which meant that for him and his men, it was bad news.

Master Tinn and his team had taken the northern gun but their casualties were high. Saesee Tinn wasn't badly hurt but his force was down to less than a fourth its starting strength and most of the survivors were sporting severe wounds. Still, their objective was in ruins, so the Army would call that a victory. Jeht was sure the dead troopers, if they could, would feel the same way. Try as he might, Darrus just couldn't understand how these clones could be so selfless, so utterly devoted to a singular cause. It was heartening and terrifying at the same time.

Unfortunately, loyalty and determination weren't always enough. The southern team had not fared as well as Tinn and his soldiers. Master Lutthuk was dead along with his padawan Allarah and their entire platoon. So many dead and only a half-breached perimeter and hundreds of guards on alert to show for it.

Even more unfortunate was what this meant for him; his force would have to somehow accomplish what the primary team could not. And on top of that, he had sixteen soldiers, less than half what Lutthuk went into the zone with and failed. He didn't blame the Bothan Master; he'd seen the orbital reports. Two hundred droids, a squad of Utupau snipers, and a mined grid surrounding the gun tower? Not good odds.

Not good at all, but there wasn't any choice. Already he was about the lead gunship, two others prepping for insertion. The window of the drop was small; they'd be coming in just outside the eastern edge of the mine field. Him and sixteen soldiers against that kind of enemy force. Assuming he could clear the mines, and that was a big assumption, how was he supposed to even get to the tower, much less take it out?

Even as heavily armed and armored as these gunships were, they didn't stand a chance of making it to the tower. They'd barely last long enough to get his troops on the ground as it was. The pilot's weren't afraid to die, but there was no use sending one across the mined perimeter just to see them go up in flames on the other side.

He started to send the GO signal and froze. Wait. Maybe there was a use. He hated to ask a man to basically commit suicide but in this instance, better one than a dozen. He jumped from his perch at the gunship's loading door and raced over to discuss his sudden new plan. He needed things and he needed them now.

Things from the armory... and the munitions deck.

Twenty minutes later, the three gunships were tearing over the planet's battered landscape at full combat speed. The ship in the lead was blazing its cannons at the ground, obviously taking up minesweeping duties as it tore trench after steaming trench in Gillath's tortured earth. If Jeht was right, the main tower and all its defenders would be focusing their fire on it right about...

NOW~! He saw the first glimmers of light from the enemy gun emplacements and shouted his preset command to the back two ships, one of which he was personally on. It was standard practice for the Jedi to lead from the front of any spearhead; he was counting on the Separatists making that assumption now.

Just as he'd hoped, when his two gunships turned at hard angles away from the lead craft, none of the enemy's weapons tracked them. They concentrated all of their lethal firepower on the front gunship and what appeared to be a full squad of clones standing at its open loading doors. Lash after scathing lash of energy tore into the gunship, ablating it within moments. Only sheer momentum got it halfway across the minefield before it crashed.

Jeht took a moment to remember the brave clone pilot whose life had just ended. Then he glanced away. This was going to be bright.

Master Lutthuk had been trying to clear the field with timed detonations but the snipers on the other side took down his men before they could do more than half the field. However, snipers were less than effective against vehicles and explosives always worked better in multiples. Such as, for example, clone armor stuffed with blastique, flare rockets, and impact sensors.

BOOM! The sound was carried on a shock wave that made both gunships tremble violently. Jeht, purposefully blinding himself to the flash of the massive explosion, was grateful for the turbulence because it was also the signal both surviving pilots needed to start Phase Two of the plan.

The other way to neutralize snipers was to get in close range with them. Without cover and distance, a sharpshooter was less than effective, especially if they were currently blind from the mistake of looking through focusing lenses at a explosion with a lumen rating in the high millions. Darrus understood light-blindness all too well; it was time to make that weakness work for him for a change.

The droids would be unable to target for six seconds before their optics came back on line. The snipers, if he was fortunate, would be blind for more than a minute. Knowing his passing relationship with Lady Luck, he chose to assume the enemy sharpshooters would be out approximately six seconds as well.

More than enough time. Both his gunships flew straight through the glowing shroud of phosphor and debris, slowing the distance to the guntower in less than three seconds. Darrus's craft carried only him; the other one held his troopers. That one landed a hundred yards before the edge of the newly formed crater and dropped its passengers. Blaster fire rang out immediately from his white-armored strike force.

Instant beachhead, instant demolished droid army.

Now for his part. His vessel had three seconds to get him to the roof of the guntower and drop him off. Ramming the tower wouldn't work; too much of the planetary defense weapon was internal and would survive an impact. It would have to be sliced apart from the inside...

...and that was his cue. Thumbing the black button on his lightsaber, Darrus was limned in violet as he leaped from the still moving transport. Fifty feet straight down, he landed on a blinking sniper to break his fall.


Maya watched in horror at the doorway to the landing bay as three troopers in white stared down at her sleeping stranger. "Damn you, Vaaro," she hissed under her breath. "The stormtroopers have found him already!"

The soldiers seemed unsure about what they'd found, which confused her. Visually, Darrus looked like any other sand bum trying to catch a nap in an unsecured hanger. Though there were vagrancy laws, it shouldn't take three Imperial troops to deal with one homeless human down on his luck. Why were they here? What did they think they were staring at?

And what was she going to do if they tried to arrest him?


In his dream, Darrus had just dispatched the last of the snipers. A single nick across his armored shoulder was his only souvenir from the slaughter. Six men down and one terribly large meson array to go. For that, he'd have to go internal. A swath of purple light and one glowing hole in the bunker later, he did just that.

And found himself in utter hell. This wasn't just a guntower, as evidenced by the command and control equipment everywhere, the squad of Utupau troopers scrambling for weapons, and the three Banking Clan officials standing in mute surprise over a holographic planning table.

For two months, the Army of the Republic had been searching in vain for the coreward military headquarters of the CIS in this quadrant and here Jeht was, standing alone in the middle of it. With absolutely nothing else to do or say, Darrus raised his lightsaber in a stoic salute and offered as politely as he could to accept their immediate surrender.

Every blaster in the room started firing....


Suddenly, Maya saw what they'd seen. One of Darrus' hands was visible past the edge of his concealing poncho. The bantha-hair woven parka was not large enough to cover him completely, especially with him sprawled against the wall unconscious. To her chagrin, the Jedi's fingers were crackling. Small bolts of lightning were passing along them, arcing like the points of a stun baton.

"*You see, sir?*" The stormtrooper closest to Darrus turned to his commander and spoke through his helmet's speaker. "*It could be the Jedi we were warned about. The file said he was a resident of this world at one time.*"

The commander, obviously of higher rank because of the insignias on his shoulder drape, tilted his head and waved his hand towards Jeht. "*Pull back the hood. I've got Skywalker's file. We'll do a visual comparison.*" Then, with annoying efficiency, he added, "*Cover him. Even if he's not the Emperor's killer, he's obviously dangerous.*"

Maya pulled her long sporting blaster from its leg sheath. She didn't want to do this, but if she had to choose between killing Imperial troops or letting them hurt Darrus, she'd fire this gun until its power cells went dry.

As she watched, nerves on raw edge, the stormtrooper reached for Darrus' hidden face.


Darrus was chasing the last of the Bankers into the guntower's basement. His armor was considerably more damaged now, as was the flesh beneath it. He'd already wrecked the weapon's firing controls; the fleet was safe. But if he could stop this official from escaping, the Republic would win a far more significant victory than just taking out another Confederacy of Independent Systems stronghold.

The Muun fleeing him was a survivor of the clone attack on Moneylend, one of the few leaders of the Muunilist to make it off that world before it fell to the Jedi and Republic forces. He couldn't let this man get away, not with the atrocities the Banking Clan had financed against the galaxy. Too many of Darrus' friends had died in the sands of Geonosis and since then on countless other worlds at the hands of droids paid for by the Muun.

Darrus reached out with his feelings and grasped a support girder from the corridor ahead of the running alien leader. Tearing it free was nearly effortless but guiding it was a little harder. As it was, his mind was so clouded with thoughts of revenge, he lacked the precision to use the heavy steel bar effectively. The Muun dashed around it and kept going.

He was tempted to get angry at the failure but Darrus knew the fault for it laid solely with him. Pushing back his anger, he turned the beam sideways and sent it hurtling down the hallway. His deadly two-ton javelin slammed into the Muun's back and left a fine gray and red streak all the way to the escape shuttle bay.

"No escape for you," Darrus whispered.

Then an electric pulse slammed into his back and he fell to the ground as his body convulsed. Desperately looking around for his unseen attacker, Darrus caught a glimpse of three cowled men shimmering into view. Stygian cloaking belts and force pikes, which could only mean one thing - Dooku's Hounds.

"None for you either, Jedi. Our master wants a word with you." And with that, the Hound who'd shocked him reached down to place him in manacles.


With a steady hand that belied her thundering pulse, Maya took aim from her hiding place by the bay's side door. At the first sign that the troopers meant to hut Darrus, she was prepared to kill the commander and prayed she could bring down the other two before they could comm for reinforcements. She'd have to be quick. She could not afford to miss.

The stormtrooper's white-backed black hand closed on the edge of Darrus' cowl...

...and the world became pain. Darrus was up, wide black eyes unseeing as his hidden left hand emerged from his cloak bearing his strange, curved blade. It sang as it cut upwards through the soldier's elbow and emerged from his bicep. The severed limb became a fountain of scarlet.

The second stroke was an arching extension of the first; Darrus never even slowed down as he moved from an upper slice to a cross body stroke. The stormtrooper fell in two halves, joining his arm on the ground as his pain ended instantly. The dark sword in Jeht's hand shifted to a two handed grip halfway through the cut, ending in a sundering parry of the commander's long blaster rifle. Sparks flew from the shorn, now-useless gun.

The second trooper shouted in surprise and stepped back out of reach, raising his carbine to blast the blood-soaked madman. He never got the chance to fire, as his back erupted in flames and he went down. Maya was quick; she didn't miss.

The commander saw his men both drop and did the only thing he could do. He lashed out with the ruined long rifle, catching Darrus' sword and forcing it out of his hand. Bringing the butt of the gun into the air, he stepped forward to deliver a knockout blow. The crazed Jedi didn't even seem to be reacting to things in this world. While his target was so obviously out of touch, the commander had the chance he needed and not a moment to waste exploiting it.

Then he stopped short, a crushing pressure all around him and the Jedi's hand on his chest. He couldn't move. He couldn't breathe! Darrus, his eyes still disfocused and wandering, leaned close and growled to the panicking Imperial, "I'll have to refuse Dooku's kind offer."

Then a bolt of lightning flashed between Jeht's eyes and the fury of an ion storm ripped through the commander's body, searing him instantly inside his melting armor. There was a single, choked scream that bubbled out from under the wilted mask, then nothing. Just the sizzle of boiling flesh.

Then Darrus staggered backwards...


The last of the Hounds was dead. The Muun was dead. The tower was destroyed. When he got back to the Dominant, Darrus knew the Council would be pleased. This place had been an important part of the war effort for the CIS. Without it, their ability to terrorize the systems in this part of space would be severely crippled.

He'd be praised. He'd be rewarded. He might even get his own command for this and the rank to go with it.

Darrus looked around at the carnage, looked down at the wet, warm floor and the evidence of his terrible powers.

This was a good thing... wasn't it? The pain and death was all necessary...



Maya was at his side before he fell, Jeht's vision clearing even as she took him into her arms. He was light enough for her to support, though he felt heavy and burdened in ways that went far beyond the physical. Her empathic senses were reeling just from touching him.

"Where... where am I?" Darrus looked up at her, finally awakening. The dream, being back on Gillath - it had all been a memory. Just a painful memory. He reached up to touch her face, grateful that Maya was there even if he didn't know why, and stopped short. If it had all been a dream, why were his hands covered in blood?!?

Before he could react, before she could try to calm what felt like a painfully intense wave of raw guilt and horror building in him, the roar of sub-light engines above them drowned out everything else. In the center of the bay, a slightly battered and worse-for-wear ARC-170 came in for a rough but passable landing.

"Woohoo!" shouted its Rodian pilot as he threw open the canopy. "That was an amazing ride!!!"

Vaaro then saw three dead stormtroopers and the bay's walls painted red. "Wow. I was only gone two hours."

Maya snarled at him and lifted Darrus to his feet. "You!" she roared at Vaaro. "You I'll beat later for taking this man out in broad suns' light. Right now, we have to go!" She pulled the nearly insensate Jedi into the middle cockpit with her. "Fly, V!"

"Ummm, where?" Vaaro was strapping in, though. he knew better than to argue with Maya when she was in this mood.

"The safehouse out past the wastes. Now!"

Vaaro shook his head. "Boss, I haven't secured that place yet. There might be Tuski...."

Maya slammed her fist into the canopy glass between them. "Do I look like I give a frang?!? Fly!" Then, turning to Darrus, she reached back and smacked him as hard as she could.

"And you! Get over it! They were bad. Now they're dead. Quit feeling guilty and get on with your damn life!" She was so furious, mostly with herself for letting the man get in this situation to start with. But damn it! He had to help her help him!

For his part, Darrus just blinked and tasted the corner of his now-torn lip.

Vaaro cringed and turned around, engaging the fighter's VTOL and getting out of Mos Espa as fast as he could. He'd never seen Maya so mad before...

...and he sure as blazes never wanted to see it again!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Rude Awakening

They moved around her, cleaning tables and setting up for the dinner rush coming in an hour. Maya just looked so tired, neither girl wanted to rouse her. Besides, the holo-pictures of her with such a serious case of drool-ornamented counter-face were just too good to ruin now.

Naali was the quiet one of the pair; she'd been a market place ghost for years before Maya took her in and gave her a chance at an honest living. Truth be told, she still occasionally "borrowed" things from the vendors of Mos Espa, but compared to before she was downright saintly there days. She mostly lifted to keep her skills sharp any more. Well, that and when she saw something really shiny.

Tahnya was everything her compatriot wasn't. Physically larger, much stronger, and as subtle as a speeder's front grill to the face, the Zabrak girl was pretty in a solid, muscular, intimidating way. Not as graceful or slender as Naali, she made up for it in raw attitude. Before Vaaro ever had to break out heavy weapons to stop trouble in the Transverse, a threatening growl from Tahnya usually did the trick.

Right now, they were both being as stealthy as they could, getting the cantina ready for the twenty or so that would be showing up soon. Hungry and thirsty from their long day out in the sand, the bar's patrons would not have the same concern for Maya's obvious fatigue. Both girls wanted their poor, overworked boss to get all the rest she could.

So, of course, Tahnya managed to drop a mug less than a meter from where Maya was snoring.


In a flash, the ex-Rebel was up and looking around, wide eyed and breathing hard. "Whaa--!"

Tahnya winced, avoiding her friend's accusing stare, and help up the broken cup's handle. "Just me droppin' a mug, miss. Nothin' ta be worried none." She cussed herself out inwardly; so much for being careful!

Maya nodded numbly, obviously not really "home" in her head yet. She was still breathing heavily, but it seemed to be more from whatever dream she'd been forced out of by the shattering pottery. "It's... it's all right. Just clean up the mess, please." Maya took a few shaky steps, slipping off her bar stool and leaning against the counter as she adjusted her clothes.

"O'course, miss." Tahnya was already tidying up, but she figured the admonishment was a kind of involuntary reflex on Maya's part. The poor dear really wasn't awake yet. Wherever she'd been in dreamland, she looked to be mostly there still.

"I'll go check on our guest," Maya muttered as she moved away from the bar to slip into the back halls. As she did, Naali shot Tahnya a knowing look. Suddenly, the clumsy barmaid knew where her boss' mind was.

"Oh my," she mouthed to Naali.

For the smaller girl's part, she just nodded and grinned wickedly. "Check on him, my hind end," Naali whispered. "That stranger's about to get seriously jumped."

Tahnya tried not to snort with laughter, covering her mouth with one gloved hand. Then something she'd seen earlier made her wince again. "Errr... that might be more difficult than you'd think, Naal."

Almost exactly one minute later, a furious, denied-looking Maya came running back into the cantina's common room. "WHERE is he?!?" She had her blaster belt in her left hand and one of them drawn in her right. The normally demure barkeep looked almost murderous, something the two girls had never seen before.

Tahnya held up both hands. "Now don't be panickin', miss. Misser Vaaro's got him out at the flight deck."

That at least made Maya stop hissing in rage, though she didn't really lower her pistol so much as look like she wasn't about to start firing it randomly. "Flight deck?" The blaster-packing bar owner's voice was nowhere near calm. "Why the frang is he there?!"

With a shrug and a shake of her head, Tahnya communicated quite eloquently how little she knew. Then, "I saw Misser Vaaro walkin' out o' here with yer man under a tan sand-robe. He was good 'n bundled, honest."

Maya slowly thumbed the active-bolt forward on her pistol, dissipating its deadly charge without having to fire the weapon. "And... and they were both safe?"

Tahnya looked at her friend for support but Naali backed up into the kitchen, abandoning her poor companion to her fate. Tahnya made a note to "thank" the scrawny wench for that later, preferably with a chunk of methane ice down the back of her dress. "Umm, I believe so. Honest, I 'spect 'em back anytime now, miss."

With a dejected groan, Maya dropped her gun belt and slumped back down on the bar stool. "Damn it."

The serving girl sighed and stood back up, crossing the room to her boss. Maya's been good to her for a long time; this looked like a chance to do something in return for once. "Miss?"

Maya blinked and looked up at her. "Yes, Tahn? And please, for the thousandth time, please call me Maya. Miss makes me sound either 7 or 70; I'm neither."

Tahnya nodded softly. "Of course, miss. Sorry."

Maya rolled her eyes. That argument was a lost cause and had been since the day she's caught this little scamp lifting her credit chips. "What was it you wanted, Tahnya?"

"Oh, just that you know, there's still more than thirty minutes before the rush hits and it tends to stagger a while before it gets rough. Remember the time you got Jawa Sniffles from that old droid and we had to watch the bar for almost a week."

Maya nodded slowly. "I remember having to scrub stew out of the air filters, pay off a dozen injured farmers, and replace half the bar's breakables."

Tahnya cringed, reddening a bit. "Well, ummm... we've grown a lot since then. I think Naali and I could handle the place long enough fer you ta go look fer the stranger and Misser Vaaro."

Maya looked at her, blinked, and stared a little longer. A few seconds before the younger woman was about to flinch away, the bar owner threw her arms around her in a tight, grateful hug. "Thank you! I won't be long!"

The stunned serving girl was still staring out the swinging front door long after Maya ran through it like a rampaging Bantha...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Up and About

"So," the Rodian said in his broken but surprisingly clear Basic, "What do you think, hooman?"

This was Darrus' first time venturing outside the Transverse and while he'd expected many things from a walk through Mos Espa, looking at a restored and heavily modified ARC-170 was certainly not among them.

His ship had never looked better... or more kit-bashed. The entire back end was new; there were curves of blast plating that were likely salvage from some other starfighter. The ports and venting suggested the craft still had a hyperdrive but certainly not the one she'd come here with. The came could be said for her sublight engines. He remembered them being thinner and shorter; the ones the fighter had now were still cylindrical but all similarities stopped there.

"Well, I can't... really say." His statement was true on two levels. Visually, his ship looked to be in great shape but Darrus knew quite well a vessel's proof was in the flying. His words also meant that talking was difficult. Since Geonosis he'd only had a partial voice. Now, after nearly baking under Tatooine's twin suns, rasping was sometimes a step up.

Vaaro looked annoyed and pointed to the fighter with one long, sucker-tipped finger. "You can't say? Do you know how many credits and hours go in to make this thing able to fly?!"

Darrus shook his head. He really didn't. Still, that statement prompted a question of its own.

"Can she fly?"

The Rodian cocked his frilled head as if insulted. "Can she fly? Be you serious? Do you think I would bring you all this way, weak as saber-cub, if she no fly?"

Darrus sensed something, a wave of emotion from the Rodian that didn't fit with his indignation. Not sure of its source or its meaning, he went with his instincts. He really just wanted to find a corner and fall down in it, but Vaaro had worked so hard on his fighter, it seemed rude to pass out on him now. "Well, can she?"

There was another pang through the Force, this time strong enough for Darrus to identify it. Embarrassment. "I am not knowing." Vaaro looked down at the floor of the refit bay. "I can not crack security code for starting engines."

Darrus suppressed a chuckle. All Clone fighters, from the Torrent and ARC-170s to the cutting edge V-Wings, had a lock-out code to prevent theft. It had been a necessary precaution because of all the Separatist espionage during the war. Now, long after those pointless battles, that system was keeping his craft grounded just as misguidedly. The irony did not escape him.

"I understand. Here, let me give you the start-up code."

Vaaro seemed relieved that Jeht wasn't going to mock him for bringing him all this way without first testing the craft. He entered the code key into his machanic's datapad and climbed quickly up into the cockpit. Eagerly loading the pad into the security system, he made a ready sign to the tired-looking Jedi. "Is almost go time. Step back!"

Darrus did not need to be told twice, especially since he had a feeling the cobbled-together ship was as likely to explode as she was to take off. He certainly hoped for the latter, but he prepared for the former by seeking cover past the doorway to the repair bunker.

The exhaust cowls of the fighter's twin ion engines glowed softly, revealing that there were actually a trio of much smaller thrusters inside each one. Each one fired in unison, perfectly synchronized. Darrus had to admit, he was impressed so far. Tandem jets could be difficult to line up properly; getting six to burst-start simultaneously was a real feat.

A low hum came from the underside of the ARC-170, a sound akin to the motive drive of a landspeeder. Darrus watched as the craft slowly lifted into the air, a set of ground-effect maneuvering pads lifting it into a vertical take-off. Those were new too.

"All right now!" The Rodian called down to Darrus so excitedly, he forgot to use Basic. Fortunately, the intrigued Jedi knew rodese well enough to understand what the wide-eyed mechanic was saying. "I am going to go for a short circle around the city and come back. I need to test the drives, all right?"

Darrus nodded slowly. "Be careful!" is what he meant to say but it was his turn to have a fractional ability to communicate. What Darrus really croaked at Vaaro, fortunately downed out by the ARC's thrusters, was something rather rude and totally inappropriate for the situation given their similar genders.

Vaaro pushed the throttle forward, aiming the starfighter up at a slight angle. He'd studied the flight manuals for this type of vessel while repairing it. How hard could actually piloting the thing be, anyway?

A deafening roar erupted from the fighter as the engines went into full burn. A streak was all Darrus saw after that, followed by the systematic destruction of several innocent rooftops in a straight line leading away from the hanger. No one seemed to be hurt, but the path of devastated masonry disappeared into the distance. Only a cloud of clay dust marked where the fighter had gone.

Jeht laughed softly to himself and sat down in that dreamed-about corner. The Rodian was clever. Somewhere out there, assuming he hadn't panicked and slammed into a moon or something, he was probably figuring out the controls. It wouldn't be a pretty homecoming, but he'd be back.

He slipped into a light, much-needed sleep. He wasn't worried about the Rodian's safety.

After all, the universe protected fools. Darrus' continued survival was proof of that...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

*** Site Update ***

Just to let you know, a picture of Jeht's saber has been added to its stat writeup.


Painful Moments

Maya hummed happily as she washed the night's dishes. The bar was closed and this job usually belonged to one of the girls but with them doing her work lately, it only seemed fair to do theirs for once.

She was rapidly developing a better appreciation for just how much her staff did for her each day. There were a lot of dishes here. Between glasses and meal plates, she'd been at this for more than an hour already and, judging by the massive stacks still to come, she had at least another hour to go.

Sweat was beading along her brow, a sign of effort she'd not felt since her days on the Viscount. Owning a bar had made her a little soft, something she found herself regretting now. She was slower than she used to be, slow enough to let a Trandoshan get the drop on her. There'd been a time when she wouldn't have needed rescuing from the likes of that thug.

That was then. The reality now was that she'd been too out of practice with her blasters to defend herself properly. She'd just been lucky they were still charged. Maya blushed at the thought of how long it had been since she'd last checked them. It would have served her right for them to have been as dead as the Death Star. Of course, if they had been, she probably would be too.

No, she corrected herself as she scrubbed mushroom paste off the recesses of an aluminum bowl. She'd still be alive, but only because of Darrus. With the way he'd handled that Trando, he could have easily dealt with the other two. There probably wasn't anything in the Outer Rim he couldn't take out...

Now she was blushing again. When had the hero worship started? She was acting like an Academy first-year again, all giggling and bashful. She groans, world-wary enough for that thought to make her roll her eyes. Adolescent crushes were for adolescents, not women with laser scars and a Rebel service record. She'd been through too much to act this childish.

Still, she'd never seen anything like what happened that day, now nearly a full week ago. The way that violent merc was just hanging in the air, eyes wide and throat constricting, rasping in shock as the air around him crackled and whirled. He'd been so terrifying until that moment, but in a heartbeat he'd become something to be almost pitied.


She had to remember that the Trando'd ordered one of his comrades to murder a patron of hers. Even if the human was a member of a hate group like the Scarlet Wake, murder was still murder and a slashed throat was still the act of a villain. The Trandoshans deserved no pity; she hardened herself to that fact.

Still, there'd been a pang of sorrow when she and Vaaro pulled the lizardman out of the wall and felt how liquid his body had become. The impact had been so severe that every major bone was practically powdered. The only thing that had kept the body upright in the standing crater he'd left was the gore of his...

Maya shook herself to banish the memory. That wasn't something she needed to recall. Ever. She'd seen her share of death on the Viscount. She'd come to Tatooine to escape such things.

Yeah, that had been a brilliant move. Coming to a planet held by a consortium of ill-tempered crime lords-in-conflict squabbling over the fallen kingdom of a dead Hutt. What a stroke of genius on her part. "Tatooine's independent," her friends in the Rebellion had said. "Neither side rules there. A person copuld go there and forget all about this conflict."

If Vader and his snowtroopers hadn't killed all her friends on Hoth, she'd be beating them with a skillet right now. Her friends...

Maya sank her hands into the scalding water, letting a little pain drive those memories out of her mind as well. As her skin began to redden, she felt a single tear roll down her cheek. Damn the Empire. Damn the Rebellion too.

"Why... are you... hurting yourself?"

Maya's whipped her hands out of the basin so fast, water splashed everywhere. "I!" It wasn't an answer; it was more a cry of surprise. She turned to face the rasping voice, surprised to see her guest up and out of bed again. He'd been walking and talking a little in these last few days but he'd not left her room since the Trando incident.

"Were your hands bad?" The black-eyed stranger took a deep breath, words still obviously painful to push past his tortured throat. "Did they need to be punished?"

It took Maya a moment to realize he was joking with her. Of all the moods she'd expected from him, this was unexpected. Did Jedi have a sense of humor? Were they allowed to be funny?

Darrus leaned heavily against the door frame. "Allowed to? Yes. Have the ability to be? Well... that's debatable." He chuckled, an oddly hollow sound considering his limited capacity for speech. "Millinae used to say... I was funny like a..." His voice rasped painfully. "Bantha with a head wound."

Maya laughed, helping him back to bed with wet, throbbing hands. "What in the Core does that mean?"

Jeht chuckled again. "I have no idea."

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Rose by Any Other

She sat by his bedside, holding his hand, slipping sips of broth between his cracked lips.

How many nights had she done this? How many days had she been working herself to the bone in the Cantina, then coming back here to care for her ersatz patient? Had she been getting any sleep?

The better question was, did she care? The answer, no. Not even a little.

This stranger had become the focus of Maya's world. She didn't know why, but he'd managed to slip into her waking thoughts and make himself too important to leave behind, even for a few hours. She kept coming back to this room, holding him and soothing him, washing and feeding, caring for him like a mother with a sick child.

Of course, her thoughts were not always so matronly. Part of her hadn't been able to ignore the man for his masculinity. He wasn't muscular in the sense of a "big" man nor was he particularly imposing physically, yet he was so much more a man than anyone she'd ever seen in her life. The two times he'd been awake, this stranger had been more imposing than anyone else she'd seen.

She'd been on Hoth when the Imperials attacked. She'd been ten feet from the dark strides of the Lord of the Sith. Her escape from that place had come only at the sacrifice of a Rebel squad and their fruitless assault. Maya had run that day, leaving them to die at Vader's merciless, black gloved hands. It was a memory she wasn't proud of, but it came to her now nonetheless.

Why did she always think about troubling things when she was around this man? She lifted his hand to her lips and kissed it again, wishing something she did could rouse him from his endless slumber. He wasn't in a coma; she'd already checked his vitals for the hundredth time. So why wouldn't he awaken?

Had saving her from the Trandoshan really cost him so much? She'd only ever seem power like his once and that had been on Hoth. Looking back as she'd fled, she had seen the Dark Lord crush a man's throat at a distance of ten feet. The black armored man had been so casually cruel, so lethal in his murderous strides. She couldn't believe this man in her bed was the same as Darth Vader. She just couldn't.

A scourge like that didn't deserve such careful attention, so many hours of her life. She refused to think of him and that fiend in the same moment. No, he might be as powerful but this Jedi was nothing like the man, if Vader deserved the term, that had killed so many of her friends on that icy world.

For this man, she'd turned her life upside down. For this stranger, she'd agreed to give up all her quarter's profits buying her partner a ship he didn't even know how to use. She'd already sacrificed a lot of this unconscious Jedi and she didn't even know his name.

Not that it mattered. She already knew she'd do anything to protect this man. She'd even sent Yaaro out into the Wastes to find a hidden place for use as a bolthole if they all had to run.

And running might yet be necessary. She trusted her patrons but there were still risks. Only one of the Trandoshans was dead; they others could still talk. She thought they were all unconscious but what if one had woken up? They could be spilling their guts to the Imperial occupying troops right now.

The Imperials... That was her biggest dread. The Empire might be officially over with the death of the Emperor but that didn't mean much on a backwater world like Tattooine. The Imperial governor was still in charge of most of the planet, including Mos Espa, now that the Hutts no longer ruled. A quartet of crime lords were vying for the scraps of this desert kingdom but until one arose from Jabba's ashes or the New Republic made it this far into space, white armor was still the symbol of authority.

Bah. To the Sarlacc with them all.

She'd feel a lot better with Vaaro back and a place to run guaranteed. There were lots of abandoned homes out past the Dune Sea that would be perfect for holing up if they had to do so. She'd already packed up essentials. At a moment's notice, once her Rodian partner returned, they could flee to the spaceport, pile into the stranger's rebuilt ship, and disappear.

Was she really ready to leave all this? To bid goodbye to the Transverse and years of work over some vagrant with black hair and eyes to match? Someone who's name she didn't even know? She knew she was being stupid. "Hope is for fools." That had been her mantra for months now, more so than ever after the hard Tattooine existence she'd grown used to living.

And now, was she so damned willing to throw it away for some nameless Jedi? That was wamprat talk! If she had half a brain, she'd be cashing in the rewar...


She blinked. The hand in her grasp twitched and closed around her fingers.

The harsh, dry voice spoke again as the stranger's eyes flickered open. "Darrus Jeht."

Then, before the stunned woman could speak, he passed back out. His grip didn't loosen, however. In fact, his only movement other than to close his eyes was to pull her hand to his chest and sigh.

All thoughts of betrayal or common sense vanished. He had a name.

He had a name!