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."