Gherru Rhak'an peered at the sensor readout, and broke into a fierce, rumbling roar of delight. "A Republic diplomatic cruiser!" he announced to the gathered boarding party. "The gods are with us!"
"The Republics don't carry treasure on such ships," Tolth'ar, his second in command, grumbled, his lips drawing back over uneven teeth. "And they are well-guarded. The red ensign is a mark of honor – their arista travel in such vessels. They may have elite warriors with them….or the wizard monks."
"Jedi," Rhak'an affirmed, running his tongue over his own teeth. His fur rippled and he flexed his muscles beneath the plated armor. "If we are fortunate, Tolth'ar."
He swept an arm upward in the traditional salute. "We will puncture their hull. Prepare the boarding prongs." His selected company of veteran pillagers crammed into the low-roofed space of the attack pod, a mere bubble of durasteel surmounted by a five-fold appendage, a huge spear designed to rip through energy shields and durasteel alike, tearing a pressurized point of entry into an enemy vessel. They crouched down in the close space, the scent of battle rising off their skin and fur together. It tickled Rhak'an's wide flared nostrils, slid rasping over the back of his throat. He ran one clawed finger down the edge of his vibro-axe, drawing blood, and then squeezed a few droplets onto the weapon's handle and thin blade, whetting its appetite. The others followed suit.
At his command, the attack pod was hurled out of its nacelle, spinning across the short distance between his warship and the crippled Republic cruiser. The sharp forward prongs ripped through the enemy's hull with an ear-splitting crunch of metal and circuitry. Rhak'ans warriors clashed their weapons against their breastplates and howled out the urk'an yazza, the curse upon one's foes, and pressed forward, gathering behind the hatch as the prongs slowly widened, tearing the hole wide enough to admit them into the new ship's interior.
The captain was shouting orders, and most the bridge crew were on their feet, vainly trying to reestablish the hyperdrive.
"Togorian warship at point nine," one of the officers barked out, his voice edged with panic. "It's a trap."
Anakin skidded to halt at Obi Wan's heels as they entered the chaotic upper deck. The ship lurched again, as though under the force of a second impact.
"Boarding pod just breached the salon pod," the officer announced, his tension twisting the Force into a taut thread. The salon pod was situated directly below the bridge.
"Where are the delegates?" Obi Wan demanded, one hand reaching for Anakin's shoulder to steady him as the cruiser slid precariously to the side, its stabilizers laboring under the gravity mine's insidious pull.
"In their staterooms, " the captain replied. "Emergency procedure. We have weapons, Master Jedi. We can resist a boarding party."
Anakin looked up eagerly at his teacher's face. A stand-off against bloodthirsty space pirates! It was a boy's dream come true, the very essence of heroic action. And it was about to happen right here!
But Obi Wan didn't look so enthusiastic. "No," he decided. "Listen to me. Anakin, you must stay here. Locate the gravity mine- use the external sensors. Blast it with the turbo lasers, and then fly out of here on sublights."
"The Togorians will blow us to smithereens!" the captain objected.
"Not with their own still on board," the Jedi knight corrected him. "Togorians always send their Captain at the head of a raid. They won't risk destroying him to catch us."
"But the tractor!" Anakin piped up. "Won't the attack pod be tethered to the main ship? If we pull away, it'll rip loose and we'll have a massive hull breach."
"And what about the pirates?" the first mate protested.
"I'll deal with them," Obi Wan said, his face drawn into tight lines. "Anakin." He looked down at the small boy beside him. "Do you understand? Do exactly as I say, and do not hesitate, no matter what happens. The lives of everyone on this ship depend on you."
Find the gravity mine. Blast it. Fly away. "Got it!" He nodded his head fiercely, sending his very short learner's braid bobbing to one side. "I can do it, master. I won't let you down."
"I know." A brief pressure on his shoulder, and Obi Wan was gone, dashing out the bridge doors again, on his way to the salon pod.
Anakin's heart skipped a beat. Could his master really hold off an entire Togorian boarding party single handedly?
Of course he could. "Let me see the scanners," he ordered the captain. The man looked slightly taken aback at being issued commands by a child, but he wisely held his tongue and gestured to the consoles.
Anakin gathered the Force around him. He would do what his master said- everyone was counting on him.
The prongs opened to their full width with a last rending screech of metal, and Rhak'an's elite raiding squad poured through the gap one after another, their heavily booted feet thumping on the hard deck. They were in some kind of meeting room, or perhaps dining hall. A massive table occupied the center of the cabin, which was dimly lit. Various control panels and other mysterious appointments covered the bulkheads. There was only one hatchway exiting this chamber, and that was directly ahead. They had aimed for the bridge, assuming it would be this bulbous forward capsule, but Rhak'an quickly divined that they had missed their mark and that the ship's crew and control center must be directly overhead.
No matter. They would storm through the ship and make short work of any occupants. Then they would strip it of valuables and leave its corpse to rot in space, a grisly testament to Togorian power and supremacy. "Forward!" he commanded, pointing his axe at the thin sheet of durasteel sealing them off from the rest of their prize.
But they had not taken more than two steps toward the door when it opened of its own accord, sliding into a recessed pocket with a gentle hiss of pressure pistons. Some of his warriors howled in rage and delight.
There, outlined in the narrow frame, was a single Republic foe. They had sent only one to protect themselves against the raid….but in Rhak'an's mind, fate could not have blessed them more highly. For this one small figure was unmistakably Jedi. It was a young pup, he decided – the thin scruff of red-gold along its jaw and on it chin gave it the appearance of a wild kubruc in its first year, with the antlers still growing in- but he could feel prama rolling off this one like the waves of heat off sun-beaten sand. It stood blocking their exit, feet spread in a casual stance, brown cloak draping to the floor. Something gleamed in its right hand.
"Jedi!" he greeted this new apparition. "Stand aside!"
True to form, the sorcerer-whelp did not budge. Instead, the silver weapon hilt in its hand came up into a guard position, and a line of spitting blue lightning shot out of one end. The blade hummed menacingly in the cold air, much like the battle growls sounding deep in Rhak'an's warriors throats.
The human's strange blue-white eyes narrowed, and Rhak'an felt the sudden electrical fire spreading, invisibly, in the prama all around them. His very bones ached with it, and saliva washed through his mouth in a bitter flood. His hair stood on end. Oh, this was a powerful one. He was fortunate indeed.
"Nega rushi," he barked out at his companions. They would take this one alive, as a captive, if possible. He raised a fist, and his warriors charged.
There was a flash of fire in the prama, a wind like the gale off a seacliff, and the leading three were hurled backward, two crashing heavily into the walls behind, one sliding across the polished table and thudding to the decks on the opposite side. The blue blade flashed, screaming a war cry in discordant tones as it swept around and down, and Thor'ka's arm stump skittered across the deck, red-hot smoldering edges not even bleeding. Thor'ka howled in rage and leapt for the Jedi's throat- but he was not fast enough. The door slammed shut as the Jedi stepped into the small chamber, ducking beneath the assault and whirling to face the concerted attack of Rhak'an and his best raiders.
The warlord laughed in delight and swung his axe, giddy with the wild crackling energy of the prama, drunk on adrenaline and battle lust. The young Jedi swerved away from the blow, grinned as the vibroblade smashed the polished table in half, and then brought its saber down to sever the weapon's deadly curving blade from the haft. Rhak'an roared and unsheathed his ceremonial knives, while two others rushed the Jedi from behind.
Singed armor, burned flesh, hideous snarls of pain: the prama churned like a sky heavy with thunder. The blue blade spun and flashed, moaning with delight at the carnage. Rhak'an's blood thrilled with it. Rhak'an signalled to Hu'Mass and Ruggha, and the brothers leapt forward in a conjoined attack upon the deadly human warrior. Ruggha fell beneath the blue blade, his lips frozen in a snarl of agony as his armor was pierced through. Hu'Mass did not hesitate; while the glowing saber blade was still impaled in his brother's chest, he struck the Jedi across the face with the butt end of his stave. The Jedi fell backward, rolling over one shoulder, dodging a second blow. Hu'Mass leapt in, closing with his foe hand to hand. Tolth'ar joined the fight, and soon enough they had the Jedi pinned beneath them, the hilt of the energy blade still clutched dangerously in the Jedi's hand. Hu'Mass sank a gauntleted fist into the Jedi's ribs, while Tolth'ar wrenched an arm out of its socket. The Jedi let loose a savage cry, perhaps a human noise of pain.
Rhak'an saw his opening, and threw his ceremonial shiv with great care.
It sank into the Jedi's left side, gorgeous red blossoming on the white tunics, but not before the saber blade spat into life again, sweeping with ferocious precision through both Togorians. Tolth'ar' collapsed in a roar of agony, his legs sheared off at the knees, while Hu'Mass' head rolled over the shattered tabletop and landed at Rhak'an's feet.
The Jedi staggered onto one knee, rolled away from the stinking corpses, and retreated under the table.
Rhak'an kicked aside the slain body of Hu'Mass and gripped the massive edge, lifted it. The table tipped, broke, and was flung aside. But the Jedi was not there. It was, impossibly, against the far wall, hand slamming against some controls set into a recessed nook.
Rhak'an threw another knife, but this one missed as the Jedi slewed to one side. The entire chamber shuddered, and the deck tilted. There was a hissing of pressure relases, and then the lurching sensation of a pod drifting in space.
The remaining Togorians cursed and looked to Rhak'an for guidance. He scowled, realizing that they had been tricked. This chamber was separate from the main body of the ship; and the Jedi had just launched it, breaking them clean away from the cruiser above. He shouted out his rage at the subterfuge, the prama rippling red-hot with his anger.
The Jedi seemed to feel it. The blue blade swept up again, even though the young warrior was panting and gripping the ledge behind it for support. The handle of Rhak'an's shiv still protruded from its flank, damp crimson seeping over its belly and down its leg. The human had very white, small teeth and its pale skin was coated in water droplets rather than the white foam of perspiration.
There was a roar of engines as the Republic cruiser sped away, escaping the gravity mine and leaving Rhak'an and his raiding party stranded here with no plunder except the desperate Jedi sorcerer. The Togorians paused, gnashing their teeth and hissing wrathful breaths through slatted nostrils. Severed limbs and bodies covered the decks.
The Jedi flourished its blade, smiling at Rhak'an with strange blue-white eyes glittering. It was an expression meaningless to Rhak'an's followers, but the warlord felt its import in the prama: mocking satisfaction. The Jedi had triumphed and humiliated him.
He held his last warriors off with an upraised hand. The Jedi's breath began to rasp, and then the young buck crumpled forward, knees hitting the deck and weapon clattering from limp fingers. Even so, the proud Jedi managed to look up at Rhak'an one more time, with that same victorious light in its strange human face, before completely collapsing.
Rhak'an growled with pleasure. The raid had not been completely in vain.
He now had what he was looking for.