Thanks to blaze1992 for some quest concepts and spit-balling ideas.
To the backroom group for their help with SW related issues, arc ideas and betaing the chapter
To WarriorsCre3d for creating a custom image for the story.
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Current date: 4 years until the Invasion of Naboo
Adiik – Child
Akaan'lor – Fighting Champion
Beskar – Mandalorian Iron
Cin Vhetin – White Fields (Duke Adonai's personal cruiser)
Dar'manda – A state of not being Mandalorian, one who has lost his heritage, and so his identity and his soul. Regarded with absolute dread by most traditionally minded Mando'ade.
Di'kute – Idiots
Ijaat'ikaanir – Honour-Duel
Jetii – Jedi
Hut'uunla – Thieves/Criminals/Scum
Naast be Me'suum – Destroyer of Worlds (aka Revan)
Mirshepar'la – Boring
Osik – Shit
Shab – Fuck
Shaburie – Motherfuckers
Ver'alor – Lieutenant
Verd'goten – The traditional rite of passage of Mandalorian culture.
(Mandalorian Lieutenant's POV, several minutes before the the previous chapter ends)
As she sat in the command chair on the Cin Vhetin's bridge, shift-leader and Ver'alor Thaas Krass sighed. The familiar, repetitive noises of the bridge cascaded around her as the crew that worked with her on this shift went about their business with their usual efficiency. But Thaas herself was bored.
For six long, dull, boring days they'd been orbiting the dustbowl of the word below in this Republic-forsaken, Hutt-controlled area of the Outer Rim while the second of the two Jetii attempted their verd'goten, which was still something she found surprising.
When the pair of Jetii adiiks had arrived on Mandalore around a year ago she had been… less than impressed with Duke Adonai when he'd not only allowed them to stay, but to attend the training centre for Protectors in Keldabe.
Yet, just as with many of her crewmates, friends, and family, the young Jetii pair had impressed her. From what she'd discovered, the pair had stepped into the centre without their signature weapons and willingly allowed themselves to be cut off from the source of their power to prove themselves against Mando'ade their own age. The actions of the shabuire, and their attempt to rape the female Jetii… Thaas was ashamed that such an incident had been allowed to occur on Mandalore and cursed the weak-willed fools in Sundari for not executing or exiling those dar'manda.
That the Jetii hadn't turned tail and ran back to the Republic – as Thaas would've expected a Jetii to do – and instead chosen to fight for their honour in an ijaat'ikaanir, respecting the old ways, and it had shocked Thaas; and everyone she knew. A part of her had cheered when she'd learnt the pair had defeated the shabuire and proved that the heart of a warrior could still be found in the Mando'ade's ancient enemy, though another part was concerned at just how dangerous the boy would be if he received the correct training. His takedown of a group of older, stronger and more experienced fighters had been an eye-opening experience for Thaas and many others.
That the boy would then be declared Akaan'lor – the youngest in recorded history – by defeating the new head of Clan Saxon in single combat hadn't surprised her, but his willingness to again respect the old ways of the Mando'ade had. While the fight between the two had been limited – a necessary evil due to their young age and inexperience for real combat – as well there being rumours of Tiber pressuring Gar to initiate a blood feud between the Jetii and Clan Saxon, it had been a good fight. The Jetii had held back even further than the agreed-upon terms to ensure the fight was fair, yet once he knew victory was assured, he did not hesitate to take what he had earned. A mark of a true warrior.
Not long after, the girl had proved herself worthy of being Mando'ade by completing her verd'goten; though Thaas knew there were a few – those unwilling to accept a Jetii had joined the ranks of the Mando'ade – who considered her kill tainted as she had not engaged her kill in single combat, instead she'd taken advantage of a fight between it and another predator. Thaas however, considered those complaints of negligible importance, as the girl had been faced with two kills worthy of a verd'goten and chosen to attack the stronger of the two. Besides which, an argument could be made that she displayed tactical awareness and cunning by allowing prey to weaken itself before striking, characteristics of any true hunter.
Thaas also remembered vividly the behaviour of the boy when he'd sensed that the girl was in danger. The realisation that the Jetii could sense each other with their almost mythical power was unnerving, however what stuck out in Thaas' mind had been her surprise at the boy's reaction. Until that moment, she had always believed – as did many in the galaxy – that the Republic's most famous warriors were nothing but emotionless servants of the Force and the attack dogs of the corrupt Senate. The boy had shown genuine concern and fear for his friend and was willing to fight her and the rest of the crew to help. A noble, if misplaced ideal.
Thaas didn't deny that a small part of her had still wanted the girl to fail and die that day. The girl hadn't, and Clan Keto had joined the ranks of the Mando'ade. While the young newcomer to their creed had left the sector, returning to the Jetii Temple of Coruscant, Thaas suspected that one day she would fight beside Clan Keto on the field of battle. The call of the warrior beat within the young Mando'ade and would one day summon her to a higher, nobler purpose.
Now, half a year later, with the boy having retained his title as Akaan'lor after a second session – something Thaas hadn't doubted would be the case – she found herself bored out of her mind as she served as watch commander while the boy, the claimed heir of Naast be Me'suum, wander the Hutt-infested cesspit below in an attempt to join his friend among the ranks of the Mando'ade.
"Tracking another freighter heading down." Came a report from Azwan Tafoss from his station.
Thaas' attention turned to the Togruta, glad for the break from the boring monotony of staring and the sand-covered planet below through the viewport. As normal, her view was momentarily distracted by his montrals as they reached upwards from his head.
"Around a hundred and fifty metres long and looks beat to osik." Tafoss continued. "Flightpath has it headed towards Bestine."
"Run the standard checks." Thaas ordered. The duke had ordered the crew to log every ship that entered of left orbit within range. Thaas was loathe to admit it, but it had taken her a short while to realise why the duke had suggested it.
Firstly, it allowed them to check if any of the ships head to and from the planet to see if their identification logs matched ships wanted for questioning within Mandalorian space. Secondly, it would allow them to create a log of ships that frequented a known Hutt-controlled world so that if any ship matching the name and markings of such a vessel entered the Mandalorian sector it could be carefully monitored by Protector units.
With the order given, and the likely smuggler's vessel now descending within sight of the viewport, Thass quickly lost interest and returned to staring at the tedious backwater of a world.
"This is so mirshepar'la." The helm operator, Bodi Cad, muttered. "Why can't we go down there and knock a few heads."
Thaas smirked at the comment from the younger woman. "While the idea is certainly tempting, we are here to monitor an adiik on his verd'goten, not to take out some di'kute for fun."
Thaas was still a little surprised at how comfortable she was with a second Jetii in over a millennium becoming Mando'ade. Sure, Serra Keto was the first to bridge that gap since Tarre Vizsla, but it was clear to Thaas and others that the heir of Naast be Me'suum was the one to watch.
"However, once the hunt is concluded, I'll ask the duke if we can head planet-side to… relax."
Cad turned around and smiled as a few others of the bridge crew chuckled.
"Hmm." Azawn mumbled quietly, ending the moment of levity for Thaas and she turned again to see the Togrutan leaning over his console.
"Problem, Tafoss?" She asked, half-hoping for anything to break the boredom of the last week and orbiting this dull, sand-covered, Hutt-infested backwater.
Apart from seeing the boy spend time with the wanderer three days prior – that person had been tracked heading into the dunes to the southwest of the boy's current location two days prior – nothing of note had happened. Though it was hard to be entirely sure as the sandstorms that kicked up suddenly on the planet often left their visual sight of the boy's location obscured.
"Possibly. That freighter is coming in low. They'll fly over the canyons south of Bestine before landing." The Togrutan replied. Thaas frowned as she listened to Tafoss's report, and feeling that something was off with this new vessel, she stood and walked the short distance to his station.
While Tatooine had little in the way of flight regulation, from what Thass had seen and read in the bridge logs, the majority of ships that came and went from the planet followed similar paths down to one of the three main settlements of Bestine, Mos Espa and Mos Eisley. The ones that didn't generally had approached low and slow from further afield, indicating they were trying to land or leave without being spotted; likely by people working for one of the two main Hutt families that controlled the world. No ship in the previous six days had come in low and fast from the south of Bestine.
Her frown deepened and that feeling that something was off grew as she examined the projected flight path of the freighter. The path would take the ship directly over where their tracker placed the boy, though not low enough that it should draw his attention.
"Keep an eye on them. If they change their flight plan towards the adiik inform me immediately."
"Yes, Ver'alor." Azwan replied, his lekku shifting around as he nodded.
Thaas turned and headed back to the command chair. "Helm, plot an intercept just in case. Tactical, alert the gunners to track the ship until it clears the canyons." She ordered as she slid back into the chair.
Perhaps she was being paranoid – this was a hut'uunla chakaare-infested Outer Rim colony after all – but years of fighting had moulded her understanding that being paranoid often was the difference between life and death. Plus, it would give the crew something to do to break the dullness of their shift and hopefully alleviate the boredom.
However, it would do nothing to remove her own boredom, nor settle the feeling that something was off about the freighter. The sooner the Jetii completed his hunt, the sooner they could leave this planet and, the manda-willing, never have to return.
As the dull yellow-brown tinge of the planet continued to fill the viewport, Thaas sighed and glanced at the chronometer above it. It had only been about eight minutes since Azwan had reported the odd flight pattern, but to Thaas it felt like eight hours.
"They're slowing." Azwan called out, making Thaas jump a bit in the chair to straighten her posture. "And now circling. I suspect they're going to land in the canyons south of Bestine."
"How close to Shan?" Thaas asked as she stood. That feeling that something was off now felt like a battle klaxon blaring in her mind and it was combined with the slight rush of blood she always got right before a battle. One hand drifted to her favourite pistol – a Westar-24 that had been given to her by her mother after the completion of her verd'goten – that was always strapped to her hip. Even as she took a step towards Azwan's station, a small part of her hoped she'd get the chance to use it against the scum on the planet below.
"They'll land about ten kil… What the shab is that?" Azwan muttered, cutting himself off from reporting. That had Thaas covering the distance between the command chair and his station in record time.
"Report." She ordered as she reached his shoulder.
"There's something in the dunes." Azwan replied cryptically before he punched a few buttons at his console and the holo-display between the command chair and the helm came to life.
Thaas turned to see what was displayed and felt her frown return at what she saw.
"The shab?" a crewmember to Thaas' left muttered and Thaas was forced to agree with the sentiment.
Well, more what she didn't see as beyond a fast-moving ripple indicating something seemed to be swimming through the dunes like a fish through water, there was nothing to see. Though what she could tell was that whatever was in the sand was big, going by the small scale at the side of the holo-image, she'd put its size at around a hundred metres, if not longer. And it was moving fast, so fast that she wasn't sure if she could've kept up for it with her jetpack.
"Whatever that is, it's heading for the Jetii." Azwan commented and Thaas felt her frown drop into her eyebrows.
She spun and her hair, tied back in a simple tail, whipped around as she moved, and growled. "You're certain?"
Azwan nodded, his lekku bouncing against his armour as he did so. "Yes. The tracking algorithm has it at ninety-six per cent that… whatever that is, will converge on the adiik's location in less than ten minutes."
"Osik!" Thaas cursed under her breath, though she suspected that Azwan at least heard her.
She leaned down and pressed a button on the arm of the command chair. "Combat stations." She ordered into the ship-wide intercom. A few seconds later, a dull, low whine of an alarm sounded on the bridge, and throughout the vessel, and she felt the gentle hum of the power core increase as more power was drawn from it.
While signalling Combat Stations might turn out to be an overreaction, Thaas trusted her instincts. And right now, they were screaming about the danger the adiik was about to be placed in. The obvious threat was whatever was closing on him through the dunes to the southwest, however Thaas also felt the freighter that was landing nearby might also a problem.
Whatever was coming towards the boy from the dunes was far beyond what any adiik should have to face on a verd'goten. If they didn't render aid in time, not only would the boy die, but there would likely be a lot of scrutiny about this from both those fools in Sundari and the Jedi and Senate on Coruscant. Scrutiny that the enemies of Duke Adonai would likely use to try to force him from power and plunge the sector back into another civil war.
Plus, since the boy had done so much over the last year to prove that he respected the old ways and wished to join their creed, she felt he didn't deserve to die simply because it appeared the universe had it out from him.
Within seconds of the combat alarm sounding, the doors to the bridge opened and Thaas turned to see Jedi Master Fay, the boy's trainer and surrogate parent, enter.
"There is a situation?" She asked in that calm, almost tranquil, voice of hers and if not for the worrying feeling building inside her, Thaas would've wondered aloud how the Jedi always was able to keep such a calm tone regardless of the situation.
"We are tracking something heading towards your ad… Padawan." Thaas replied, correcting herself about how to refer to the boy when speaking to a Jedi. She lifted an arm and pointed at the holo-display. "Whatever that is, it's..."
"It's a krayt dragon." The Jedi master said, cutting Thaas off. "And from the way to appears to be all but swimming underneath the sand, I suspect it's one of the larger varieties."
Thaas blinked. "Ah… right."
She turned her attention back to the holo-display and swore. "Osik." When it was decided to head to Tatooine for the boy's verd'goten, she, like most of the crew, had read up on the planet's fauna and discussed just what it would take for even a fully armoured and outfitted Mando'ade to take out one of the planet's apex predators.
Every conversation that had discussed what exactly a Jetii could kill had ended up on the idea of taking out a sarlacc or krayt dragon, but that had been harmless banter. To find that the boy was about to face off with the latter, and not even the more common canyon variant but the greater variety…
She swore again, this time harder and louder. "Osik."
"Helm, combat descent." She called out. "Tactical, shift main batteries to targeting the dragon, though keep secondaries targeted on the freighter." She added as she did her best to think about how unexpected it was to order the targeting of a kriffing dragon.
"There is no need for concern." The Jedi commented. "While the dragon is a threat to many, I sense it is not aiming for my Padawan."
As the Jetii spoke, Thaas' head snapped around so fast she swore she heard something break. "Master Jedi, with due respect, the beast that is heading towards the adiik at speed is something that even a fully-armed Mandalorian warrior, or a Jedi, would have difficulty taking down." Thaas found herself wondering how Master Fay could be so unconcerned with her apprentice being charged at by one of the galaxy's apex predators. "And even if it isn't directly targeting Shan, it will intercept him in mere minutes."
Master Fay smiled, seemingly happy with that news and Thaas wondered if all Jetii were insane, or just this one. "The Force has a plan for young Cameron, one I seriously doubt involves him facing off against…" She paused and blinked and Thaas watched as her smile fell. "Perhaps I spoke in haste."
Now it was Thaas' turn to blink as she processed the sudden change that had come over the Jetii. One second, the woman had been relaxed about a beast such as a krayt dragon bearing down her apprentice. The next, the smile had fallen, and while Master Fay's overall expression was still calm, Thaas could see the subtle signs of worry on the Jetii's face. The faintest of creases appeared on her forehead while her eyebrows twitched.
"In haste about what?" Came the voice of Duke Adonai and Thaas snapped to attention, clasping a fist to her heart, as the Cin Vhetin's commander – and the leader her clan had pledged itself to – marched onto the bridge. "And why have you sounded combat stations?"
"My Duke, something that Master Fay has suggested is a greater krayt dragon is closing on the adiik's location." Thaas reported even as her shoulders straightened. While this was nothing more than a standard report to the duke when Combat Stations were called, the exact details were… outlandish. "Operator Tafoss reports it will reach his location in… just over five minutes." She added after taking the briefest of pauses to glance at the chronometer above the entrance.
Adonai stopped his approach short of Thass and Master Fay. He blinked a few times and his mouth hung open for a moment before he spoke. "Ah."
Thaas suspected her reaction to learning what was heading towards the adiik had looked the same. Honestly, who expected to ever have to deal with such a situation.
"My Duke, there may be another issue." Azwan reported, breaking Adonai from his shock and drawing the attention of him, Thaas and Master Fay. "A freighter landed approximately twelve kilometres north of the adiik. Three speeders left it, all heading in his general direction."
"Perhaps they're moving to hunt the dragon?" Thaas offered, even if she didn't fully believe it. The chances of such a random occurrence of events centring on one boy, even one who could use the Force, seemed… unlikely.
"The Force does not work on coincidence, Ver'alor." The Jedi offered with a smile that looked forced to Thaas. The Jedi's hands had tightened, turning the edges of her knuckles white, and while her attention appeared to be on Thaas and Duke Adonai, Master Fay's eyes kept darting to the holo-display.
The Jedi was worried, and as Thaas realised that a cold shiver went down her spine. That one of these legendary warriors – and one so powerful that she felt safe enough to forgo using one of their signature weapons – was something that increased Thass' concern about the adiik's situation.
"Nor do I Master Fay." Adonai added as he moved around Thaas to take command of the bridge. "Ver'alor, prepare a strike team for aerial deployment."
"Yes, my Duke." Thaas replied as she clasped her fist to her chest once more. Before she left the bridge, she took one final glance at the holo-display. Both the sand ripple of the dragon and the speeders were closing on the canyon where the Cin Vhetin's sensors placed the boy.
She hoped that, even with the Force-suppression bracers active, the boy was strong enough to sense something was amiss and ready himself. If he was caught unaware… well, if that was the case, she would make sure she and her strike team arrived as soon as they could.
As the doors to the bridge closed behind her, Thaas wondered just which of the ancient gods the boy had angered to draw such attention. Her mind drifted back to the jokes she'd shared with her friends in their younger days about taking down a mythosaur, but that had been the wild imagination of a youngster. Yet now, the boy was about to face off against a monster that was every bit as feared and respected as the beast that became the symbol of the Mando'ade.
A stray thought entered her mind as she contemplated the idea that maybe, just maybe, the boy could do something no one had ever done and take down a greater krayt dragon with nothing but a knife. The legend that would surround him…
She shook her head, dismissing that idea. While legends existed of individual hunters taking down krayt dragons existed, none dealt with a child, or someone armed with only a blade. Her pace quickened as she brought her attention back to the mission at hand and considered the loadout for her strike team.
(Duke Adonai's POV)
"How long until we launch the strike team?" Adonai asked as he gripped the command chair tightly with one hand as he stood next to it.
In the minute or so since Ver'alor Krass had left the bridge, the Cin Vhetin had entered the atmosphere and begun to be buffeted by the strong winds that swirled around high above the surface. While the view here wasn't obscured like it had been when they'd descended over Kiffu, and he knew it was better to have the tactical overview, being able to watch a monster like a greater krayt dragon bear down on an unsuspecting adiik – even one as skilled as Shan – was not something Adonai was enjoying.
It had been different over Kiffu, as back then he'd had to rely on the word of Fay and Shan about Keto's condition. Here, Adonai could see the dragon and the group of mercenaries (or hunters as they hadn't confirmed who this new group was yet) as they closed in on Shan as he wandered obliviously through a decent-sized canyon.
"Three minutes." Came the reply from pilot Cad as she guided the ship down. If not for the descent over Kiffu, Adonai would be concerned that Cad was unprepared for this as before then it had been over half a decade since he and his cruiser had needed to carry out such a manoeuvre. However, that landing had been at normal speed – mainly due to the storm they'd had to fly into – whereas this was being done at combat speeds.
"Gunners have a target lock on both the dragon and the ship nearby." Added the tactical officer, Ver'alor Rhor Tritt. "Awaiting your order to open fire."
"The dragon will reach adiik Shan in one minute." Tafoss supplied, unintentionally ratcheting up Adonai's concern a notch. "One speeder has stopped around two klicks from him while the other two have slowed their approach. Likely they have detected the dragon."
Adonai considered that, though if those in the speeders were there for Shan, then they'd likely spilt up to attack a Jedi from two sides while the group that had stopped would assume overwatch. Without the bracers, Adonai suspected it wouldn't be enough to take out the young Jedi, but since he had them active – and if not preventing him calling on the Jedi's mythical energy source, then at least limiting his access to it – Adonai doubted Shan would be able to take them out without taking serious injury. To say nothing of the dragon that continued to bear down on him.
"Ready two additional strike teams. I want one to secure the speeder that stopped while the other will secure the freighter." Adonai ordered as he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
Something about the timing of the arrival of that ship set him on edge. Apart from those on board, and his ministers and family back in Sundari, no one knew they were on Tatooine for Shan's verd'goten. Yet somehow this group of newcomers had arrived and, from their movement pattern, were intent on taking out Shan.
Now, there was an outside chance that this group were merely here to hunt the krayt dragon or they were taking advantage of detecting the movement in the dunes to try to hunt it. Yet, if that was the case, their vessel should've returned to the air to provide fire support. Additionally, their approach angle was aimed more at Shan's location than tracking the dragon to lay a trap for the beast.
That had Adonai leaning heavily towards them being here for Shan, meaning he had a leak somewhere in either his crew or staff back home.
"I want prisoners." He added. Hopefully, one of the crew or the vessel's computers would provide him with a hint as to who had betrayed him.
"Two minutes to drop."
"All teams are ready to deploy."
Adonai listened to his bridge crew as the seconds ticked by. A small smile crept onto his face at how easily the crew remembered their training. It had been several years – not since before the death of Sellena and Urin, his wife and youngest child – since the ship had participated in a combat mission, so to see the crew return to those patterns at the drop of a credit chip was reassuring. As was the familiar, but almost forgotten, feeling of his blood pumping faster as a battle approached.
If asked about this later, he would never admit it to anyone, but he found himself missing the excitement that came just before a battle.
"Launch the teams as soon as we can. Shan first, then their vessel." Adonai supplied, setting up the order the strike teams would deploy in.
While the group of mercenaries that stopped were likely snipers, and thus were possibly more of a threat to Shan, they could easily be taken out by the Cin Vhetin's cannons if they tried to run before the strike team reached them. The priority was Shan and securing the vessel.
"The dragon is there." Tafoss stated and Adonai's stomach tried to leap out of his mouth. They were still a minute from deploying the strike team to help Shan, and then they'd need at least another minute to reach him.
"Vitals?" He asked as he spared a glance at Master Fay.
The deceptively young-looking, yet actually ancient Jedi seemed calm, almost entirely unconcerned with what was going on with her Padawan down below, yet Adonai saw the signs of concern in her posture and gestures. The whitening of her knuckles, the tensing of her cheeks and the way her shoulders were tensed spoke of a woman on edge. Yet, she was nowhere as concerned as Adonai would be if the child down below had been one of his children.
Haran, when Dorgo and Bo-Katan had gone on their hunts, he'd spent days pacing around the Cin Vhetin, unable to sleep because of his worry. Satine… well, she had sadly chosen to not attempt the verd'goten, becoming a member of Adonai's allies in the New Mandalorians, which still hurt him deeply.
Though at least Satine was being slightly more patient and open since the Jedi, and in particular Master Fay, had first arrived on Mandalore. While the Jedi Master hadn't dissuaded his eldest daughter from her path, Fay had at least tempered Satine's stubbornness and inability to see opposing points of view.
"Elevated heart rate and spiking adrenaline. Nothing too bad." Tafoss replied, sounding a touch impressed and Adonai had to agree. Even now, with all the combat he'd seen, coming face to snout with something of the size and power of a krayt dragon would be worrying. Particularly if armed with nothing but a knife. Either Shan had a good lock on his emotions – which seemed unlikely as Adonai vividly remembered the way the boy had behaved when Keto had been in danger on her hunt - or he was underestimating the danger.
"We've got a signal coming in." Adonai spun at the comment from the communication station. "It's weak, but it's on the adiik's assigned frequency."
"And?" Adonai asked as the crewmember there stopped and leaned closer to their console. Hopefully, it was Shan calling for help – which was already on the way – as no one Adonai knew was brave, or crazy, enough to try to take on a krayt dragon by themselves.
"Nothing, my Duke. The signal is open, but there's no incoming message and the signal is distorted. Almost as if the communicator has been damaged."
"Open the channel." Fay said politely though the beskar in her voice made it clear to Adonai it was an order, and the crewmember obeyed.
"Channel open." The operator replied and Adonai heard the click that indicated that an external signal was being routed through the bridge speakers.
"Cameron, we are coming to help." Fay said loud enough that the microphones on the bridge would pick up her words and transmit them.
As Adonai waited with her, no reply came, not even static. That made Adonai frown as the channel was open on both ends so they should at least be able to pick up the background sounds from where Shan was; and likely the dragon if it made a move.
"Cameron?" Fay asked again as Adonai saw her brow knit.
"Vitals are increasing." Tafoss called out, making Adonai turn to the officer. "Nothing critical, but his heart rate is over ninety and climbing."
Adonai realised that meant Shan was aware of the dragon, as the mercenaries were not yet close enough to be a concern.
"We have visual." Tafoss added and Adonai turned his attention back to the holo-display as it shifted from an overview to show the surface around Shan.
The boy was in the trench of a canyon, though it was hard to be sure as something else dominated the display, while above him but with its massive head leaning downwards was the largest beast Adonai had ever seen.
Ten huge legs, the smallest of which was thicker than Adonai was tall, supported the main body of the dragon and a tail that looked to account for about a third of the overall length swished around menacingly behind the beast.
The dragon's head leaned further forward.
As the dragon's roar reverberated around the bridge of his ship, Adonai felt an urge to step back, but thanks to his training he resisted. While the signal wasn't clear, the sheer power in the creature's call was unmistakable.
"Kriff!" He heard someone mutter and while it was a breach of regulations to speak out like that, Adonai found himself in agreement. The dragon was a monster from drunken tales around a campfire, something that rivalled even the largest of mythosaur skeletons, and it was focused on Shan.
Adonai managed to tear his attention away from the holo-display long enough to glance at Fay and saw she'd brought a hand to her mouth while she stared wide-eyed at the image in front of them.
While the roar on the bridge had dullened almost instantly by the computer's safety features, Shan had no such protection and as Adonai returned his full attention to the display, he saw that the boy had slid back about a metre by the roar.
Adonai could only imagine how painful the roar would've been so close to the source, though as he watched, he saw Shan turn to his right and run, only to stumble after a few steps.
Adonai suspected the stumble was due to Shan's emotions overriding his control at facing such a beast and as such, was understandable, though Adonai gulped as he saw the dragon's head shift with Shan's movement, meaning the beast was locked onto him.
"S-strike teams away." Tritt stated after a stutter and Adonai couldn't blame him as seeing something so large attack a child was unnerving, even if a small, almost forgotten part of Adonai wondered what it would be like to face such a beast in single combat.
He gulped again as, along with everyone else who could, he watched as the dragon dove down into the canyon; its massive maw opening enough that even at their current height, Adonai could make out the beast's teeth.
The jaw clashed shut a moment later, only just missing a momentarily frozen Shan and beside Adonai Fay gasped. "Force be with him." She muttered as Shan began to move.
The boy ran faster than most would be able to, which meant he likely had found a way to circumvent the bracers or adrenaline was pushing him beyond what he'd normally be capable of. Adonai wasn't concerned if it was the former though, a good warrior would find a way around any limitation and while the boy was moving faster than most could, he wasn't moving close to as quickly as he had at the end of his fight with Gar Saxon. Either Shan was concerned about losing his footing again – a reasonable concern when fear gripped one's heart – or he was aware that being too open in using the Force would nullify the hunt.
Though the latter idea would suggest Shan planned to kill the dragon, which seemed unlikely as while Shan had enjoyed his fights to become Akaan'lor, he had never shown any hint of the insanity it would take to think about taking on such a beast.
Another possibility was that Shan was able to use the Force enough to know that the mercenaries were inbound and either wanted to use them as a distraction or thought they were Adonai and his crew coming to help.
While Adonai was considering this, he saw Fay turn and begin to walk towards the exit from the bridge. That drew Adonai out of his thoughts about what Shan's plan was and he turned to face the leaving Jedi.
Fay paused at the doors and turned back to face him. "I am of no use to my Padawan here." She replied before the doors opened and she left the bridge.
"Hmm, true." Adonai muttered as the doors closed. He turned back, intending to return command to Ver'alor Krass only to remember that he'd ordered her to assemble and lead the first strike team. "Ver'alor Tritt, you have the conn. Secure the airspace above the adiik and coordinate with the strike teams as they launch their assaults."
"Y-yes, sir." Tritt replied as Adonai turned to follow Fay. While Adonai knew that Tritt was new to her rank – he'd only signed off on the promotion about a week before – he had faith in her ability and this operation should be nothing more than support, though there was the chance the Cin Vhetin would need to shoot down the freighter if it tried to run. Overall, giving her this moment in the big chair would set her up well for a command of her own in the future.
Adonai excited the bridge quickly, wanting to catch up with Master Fay, though he didn't move too quickly as being seen to run after a Jedi on his cruiser would be unbecoming of someone of his stature. Not when he'd discovered there were rumours about his interest in the Jedi.
Though for once, the rumours were true. It had been nearly five years since his beloved Sellena had died, and he had thrown himself into his work stabilizing Mandalore and the surrounding sector as a distraction, yet the moment the elegant Jedi had walked into his throne room he'd been interested in her, and what man wouldn't.
While many believed the Jedi were celibate, he knew this wasn't true – both from his research and a few subtle questions he'd asked Fay in the time they'd spent together – and while he doubted anything they might share would lead to a long-term relationship, he wasn't against the idea of simply enjoying the Jedi's company more intimately.
Still, as he rounded a corner and saw the woman in question sauntering briskly down the corridor in the general direction of the landing ramp, he knew his chances at succeeding in his pursuit were slim. Beyond some gentle returned flirting, she'd given no indication she wanted to take things further, and with Shan attempting his verd'goten – provided he didn't die because of the dragon – Fay would likely soon be leaving the planet and sector with her Padawan.
"Master Fay!" He called out, making her stop and turn to face him just as she was about to disappear around the corner that led to the landing ramp area. "This way." He continued as he pointed towards a small side-passage that led down to the level below this one. "Strike teams deploy from launch chutes or the assault shuttle in the bowels of the ship, not the landing ramp."
"Very well." Fay stated before quickly moving towards him.
As she reached him, he moved down the side-passage that led to the lower levels. Down there, underneath the armoury and security centre, was where launch tubes for the rapid deployment of jetpacked assault teams were situated. While the tubes could launch a warrior, they would not allow one to return through them; a security procedure due to their location next to the two aforementioned rooms.
As they walked down the passage, Adonai's mind drifted back to Shan. While the boy was a powerful warrior, Adonai was concerned the boy wouldn't be able to escape the dragon long enough for help to arrive, what with his access to the Force limited and the strike teams still minutes away. If, by some small miracle he did, then the issue was going to be how the strike team would take down the dragon while simultaneously dealing with the mercenaries that were approaching for still unknown reasons.
And all that was contingent on Shan and the dragon not moving too far away from their starting location. Otherwise, there was a fair chance the mercenaries with unknown motives would reach the boy and beast before Ver'alor Krass and her strike team. If that happened… well Adonai had never seen Master Fay angry, but he felt comfortable in saying those di'kute who attacked her Padawan would experience the full range of her abilities with the Force.
Provided, of course, that the boy and beast didn't somehow take them out first.
Fuck the Force!
Fuck The Powers That Be!
Fuck everyone who thought me coming to Tatooine for my verd'goten was a good idea!
Those thoughts shot through my mind in the milliseconds that took place between the dragon roaring in my face and me taking off running. However, those thoughts were soon replaced by two new concerns.
Firstly, was the fact that I'd stumbled and almost tripped a few steps after activating Force Speed to escape the beast behind and above me. That had been because the ground around me was now littered with pebbles, rocks and boulders; many having fallen when the dragon's front claws had gripped the upper edge of the canyon's walls. That raised the issue of whether or not to use Bullet-Time. Doing so would give me around ten minutes to either escape the dragon or survive long enough for help to arrive from Fay and Adonai. The other option was to limit my speed enough that I could avoid tripping over because the moment I did so again, I suspected I'd end up as dragon chow, which was not in any way appealing.
Now, if I was in a flat, open space without these accursed bracers, using both Force Powers together would've likely been fine, but in the twisting, narrow canyons where I was, it was more problematic since I had to be more frugal with my FP. Thus, going with a moderated usage of Force Speed seemed the better idea.
That thought process was soon overridden by a jolt of nearly fatal, paralyzing fear that I overcame just in time to roll out of the way as the monster, having seen my aborted escape attempt, had leapt down into the canyon behind me, snapping at the spot where I'd been seconds before. That resulted in me coming face-to-snout with a monster so massive that its tail ran up the canyon wall and over the edge.
The moment when the behemoth's teeth had smashed shut less than a metre from me – and I recoiled at the foul, rotten smell that came from its mouth – had seen my entire extended life flashed before my eyes, and I had a flash of insight. That flash of realization and clarity allowed me to get over the stunning shock of how close those fucking teeth were, propelling me to move my feet and off down the passage. I was still going quicker than just about anyone else would be able to, but it was slower than I could potentially go. With luck, it would be enough to help me create some distance between me and the dragon.
As I ran, a part of my eidetic mind still had time to endlessly re-examine and emphasize the hammer blow of panic that the insight had given me. The Force seemed to be taking a perverse pleasure in my new perspective, as either it, or The Powers That Be, chose to continually bring my other previous memories to light; all focused on illuminating a single fact.
This was not, nor had it ever been, a game.
Yes, I had abilities that mimicked a game interface, but the world around me was very real. The people around me were not NPC's who were limited in their dialogue choices. My success or failure was not dependent on a bunch of skill-check dice rolls.
I wasn't in a game. The world around me wasn't any different. The only thing that set me apart from others was how I perceived the galaxy around me. If I died here, ripped apart by a mouth that could use my legs like toothpicks, then that was it. No game over, no restart. I'd be dead and, in the end, I'd have changed nothing. All the effort that was undoubtedly made to get me here would be for nothing because I was careless, casual, and overall disrespectful of their gifts and second chance I'd been given, to say nothing of the second chance this gave the galaxy at large.
Another roar from behind me had me stumbling again, and I felt my heart leap into my mouth at how freaking close it was.
"Fuck!" I cursed loudly as I managed to keep my balance without stopping and, after ensuring the next few metres were clear of any major debris, risked a glance back over my shoulder.
In hindsight, that was a really fucking stupid idea.
Even though it had only been a few seconds since I'd started to run again, the gap between me and the monster was nowhere as large as I'd expected. Now, either the dragon had launched its head forward when it roared – a possibility – or its reaction time and movement speed were far, far better than I'd expected.
My heart felt like it was going to explode with how fast it was beating as the dragon's eyes narrowed as our gazes met. I gulped hard and turned back to my path, trying to not think about the apex predator that had, for some unknown and frankly insane reason – there was a wounded sarlacc in that cave behind it that it could've finished off instead – had decided I was its next meal. Well, snack since I wasn't even an adult yet. Hell, compared to a sarlacc, I might as well be a fucking potato crisp!
As the ground shook from what I thought for a second was an earthquake only to realise it was the dragon bringing down its tail into the canyon, one simple phrase flashed through my mind.
I continued running, trying my best to ignore the constant, rapid pounding of the beast's feet smashing into the ground as it pursued me. Rocks and pebbles up to the size of my hand began to bounce around from the constant shockwaves of the dragon's strides and I had to shift my path as a boulder about two-thirds my size rolled into my route. Another boulder came towards me, this time having broken away from the canyon wall, and I weaved to my left to avoid it, then ducked as more rocks broke off from the other wall. All the while, the booming thuds of the dragon echoed around me like a symphony of impending doom.
"Shit!" I cursed out loud as one boulder, larger than I was, began to drop into my path. I couldn't move to either side as one was blocked by smaller boulders while the other had debris raining down so heavily that I'd never make it through without being hit.
With no choice but to go over the boulder, I activated Bullet-Time and used that to time a leap – helped by a boost from Force Jump to clear it and avoid it smashing down on top of me.
However, my leap seemed to anger the dragon as, just as I was clearing the falling boulder, it roared again, and with me airborne and having no way to steady myself from the shockwave of the roar, I end up tumbling forward. My leg clipped the top of the falling, spinning boulder and I lost control of my jump. As I tumbled helplessly for a moment through the air, I caught sight of the dragon and was able to take it in its full size.
Ten massive, powerful legs were propelling the giant forward at a rate that shouldn't have been possible while its eyes narrowed in animalistic delight as it watched my jump turn into a tumble from its destabilizing roar.
I hit the ground on my side, tumbling and rolling forward, bringing up another notification of injury to join the two that had previously appeared, one after each roar.
Thanks to years of combat training, and boosted by my access – however limited – to the Force, I was able to time my tumble so that as it ended, I was back on my feet and able to begin running again with only a fractional loss of momentum.
About a minute later, after dodging more falling boulders and bouncing rocks – and doing my best to ignore the constant, rapid rumble of the dragon's massive feet as they smashed into the ground in a macabre rhythm of destruction, I spotted a side canyon. This one was far smaller than the one I was currently running in and had an arch over the top. And critically, the opening appeared far too small for the dragon to follow me through.
As I moved towards the side-canyon, the thunderous rhythm of the dragon's footfalls increased, meaning it had likely worked out what I was doing and was hoping to reach me before I passed through the narrow canyon entrance. That had me accelerating a bit, though I was forced to also activate Bullet-Time now to help me time my movements around the bouncing and falling rocks, boulders and sand.
As I slipped through the narrower entrance of this second canyon, I slowed, thinking I was safe, only to bounce and stumble as the ground vibrated from a massive shockwave. I lost my footing and fell to the ground. I hissed in pain as I bashed my left hip off the canyon wall.
I ignored my HP bar – which had fallen a little more from the collision with the canyon wall – and glanced backwards. I'd thought that the shockwave had come from the dragon trying to smash its way through the narrow canyon entrance, but my eyes threatened to explode out of my skull as I saw the truth.
Even though the canyon walls were about thirty metres high, the dragon had somehow managed to leap the entire way up so that its front three sets of claws could grip the arch and its head was angled down towards me.
I could've sworn the monster seemed to smirk as I gazed at it, wondering how it had made that leap so easily, only for it to then roar. I covered my ears as all around me pebbles, rocks and the smaller debris that had fallen from the canyon walls was driven back past me by the shockwave of the dragon's thunderous growl.
I barely had any time to process just how damaging that roar was – far less determine what percentage of my HP I'd lost to it – before the massive, menacing maw of the monster surged forward.
I scampered back on my butt, desperate to get away from the incoming maw that brought with it death, only to watch as the dragon's head crashed against the upper edges of the canyon. I sighed in relief at realising the leviathan couldn't get its head into the canyon, though that moment of relief was ended as the dragon opened its mouth and snarled.
I had to bite my tongue to not start retching at the vile, putrid smell that assaulted my nostrils. The maw snapped shut angrily, with the sound of its teeth scraping against each other like swords clashing, and I instinctively scampered back another metre or so.
The dragon's eyes narrowed as our gazes met and I gulped hard. I knew that if I stayed here any longer, I was dead. It was only a matter of time before it used its head and claws to damage the canyon walls enough that it could get to me. Thus, I did the only thing I could.
Breaking eye contact and doing my best to ignore the snort of warm, pungent air that it had blown at me as a reminder that it wanted to kill me, I turned.
I started in a scramble, scurrying along on my hands and knees, wanting to get moving even before I'd regained my balance, then once I was standing, and I felt the humid, acrid breath recede, I ran.
A loud, ominous bang of a rumble erupted from behind me to the right, forcing parts of the canyon walls to break away and the rocks on the ground to bounce around, but I kept my attention on where I was going and not on the demonic death-trap that was stalking me.
As I wondered just how I would get away from the dragon and glanced at my minimap to try and plot an escape – cursing that I hadn't come this way so the map was next to useless – a second boom echoed in the canyon. This one had come from behind me to my left.
As I began to realise what the dragon was doing, I felt a powerful gust of wind rush over my head – followed by a shadow that for an instant blocked out the light from the twin suns of the planet, before a third ominous blast rattled the canyon and more debris rained down on and around me.
The dragon was leaping from one side of the canyon to the other, soaring over me as it did. Likely this was both a tracking technique and an intimidation trick – and it was working as my heart-rate felt as though it was going a mile-a-minute – but it could also just be a way for the dragon to damage the canyon enough that it could get it maw or a claw down low enough to attack me.
Another rush of wind and menacing shadow resulted in debris, sand and dust getting kicked up into the air and I was forced to wipe frantically at my face. In my chaotic haste to escape the dragon and sarlacc, my robes had loosened and the cloth that I'd been using to cover my face had been blown free.
As the dragon took its fifth leap, I noticed there was a pattern to them. Each was taking around ten seconds, and I confirmed this with the sixth and seventh pounces.
As it began to take its eighth jump, I pushed harder, increasing my speed. I hoped that by timing the burst I could open up some distance on the monstrosity that was stalking me; hopefully doing so enough for it to give up on the hunt.
That hope evaporated as Precognition flared and something massive and powerful smashed into my back. While my rucksack took the majority of the strike, I went airborne – and the straps holding the rucksack to my back were severed – and as I flew, I tumbled through the air.
Only years of training for how to handle such an event and having Bullet-Time active allowed me to alter my unintended flight so that I landed in a way that I could control my momentum and roll; dissipating the energy that had launched me and recovering my balance in a single manoeuvre.
As the roll ended, I launched myself back to my feet and started running once more – knowing I had no time to stop and collect the remains of my rucksack and supplied within – I noted that my HP bar had dropped further, and another flashing yellow notice had appeared in the Interface.
It looked as though my HP had dropped another fifteen per cent or so, but with the thunderous booms of the leaping dragon still ongoing, and the notice only being yellow – and thus non-life-threatening – I pushed any concern out of my mind. However, the pain from the strike to my back, likely caused by the dragon catching me with one of its tail spikes, was harder to ignore and every movement I made sent shivers of anguish up my spine. Likely, that meant my back had been cut either by the claw or my landing, but there was nothing I could do about it beyond doing my best to ignore the pain and keep running.
That proved more difficult than I'd have liked as within a few steps it felt as though something was rubbing against raw flesh and I knew that the claw had sliced clean through my rucksack and robes into my skin.
My concerns about the growing pain were tempered as I saw the canyon narrow further and bend to the left. A small amount of growing hope increased as the dragon seemed to realise this and the gaps between its leaps suddenly increased.
However, my budding hope was crushed as I rounded the narrow bend and saw what lay beyond. The canyon was about to end, leading me into the dune seas of the planet; the natural environment of the krayt dragon.
I had seconds to consider my choices. If I pushed forward, I'd have to risk trying to escape the dragon in its natural habitat; something made very difficult by the fact running on sand was far from easy to do. If I stopped and tried to go back, hoping to use the canyon to delay the dragon long enough that Fay and Adonai could arrive to help, I risked placing myself in closer proximity to the massive death trap that was the greater krayt dragon.
However, before I could decide on which of those options was less likely to get me killed, the dragon jumped three times in quick succession behind me, followed by the sound of several large objects falling and I felt fear shoot up my spine as I realised that the dragon had likely blocked the canyon, thus forcing me to enter the dunes.
This was all but confirmed as the dragon roared out from behind me. This was not a roar of challenge or annoyance like the others but one that sounded, at least to my ears, like one of triumph.
The roar was far enough away that I didn't have to cover my ears, nor did I stumble, but it was timed almost perfectly because as it ended, my foot came down on the sand, signalling that I'd crossed the threshold and entered the dune sea.
"Fuck!" I called out in anger, and I swore I heard the dragon chuckle.
With my only likely path to escape now gone, and taking a moment to curse the Force, The Powers That Be and every other fucker in the galaxy, I pulled my beskar knife from my belt and turned. If I was going to die, then I was going to try and make this motherfucker hurt.
Though my bravado faded as I turned and once more locked eyes with the massive, demonic alpha predator that was a greater krayt dragon, and the massive, spiked tail was whipping towards me far faster than I expected.
I started to move, hoping to avoid the mammoth trunk that was swinging towards me, only to cry out in pain as I failed. A spike caught my shoulder and, just as I was sent careening away, I wildly slashed out with my knife.
As I tumbled through the air, I caught sight of the dragon reeling back its tail and allowed a faint smirk to creep onto my face. Even if the cut had been superficial, the fact it had forced a reaction from the dragon was encouraging as its skin was meant to be resistant to blasters and lightsabers. Though that was like saying seeing a shark while trapped on a raft was encouraging as there was something to fish.
"Ugh!" I called out as I landed shoulder-first against a dune, then bounced up and over the crest and cascaded down the other side.
I groaned and blinked once my fall had ended and tried to get my bearings. However, that was hard to do as my attention was drawn to my Interface. The yellow warning that linked to my back was gone, replaced by two orange ones. Given that my back felt as though I was taking a glass bath on Mustafar, and my right arm was unresponsive and hanging limply across my chest, it wasn't too hard to work out what the notices said.
Slowly, and doing my absolute best to ignore the fact that every slight movement sent pain coursing through my body, I pulled myself first to a seated position then stood.
As I stood, I checked my minimap. Judging by the now filled-in details, the dragon's swipe had sent me flying a good twenty or so metres from it; ironically creating the gap I'd been seeking ever since I'd started to run. It had also made me lose my grip on my knife, but it had thankfully landed less than a metre from me.
Any hope I'd had about the dragon now giving up were extinguished by it roaring out. This one sounded very much like a challenge, though working out the exact location as the roar echoed around me, hinting that there were more canyons and cliffs nearby.
I activated Detection – ignoring the drain it would place on my FP as I needed to know where the dragon was – and watched as the massive frame of the dragon filled the minimap. I gulped at how much of the map was taken up by the dragon; it was easily a hundred metres long and around twenty wide.
A cold shiver shot up my pain-filled spine as the beast began to move far, far faster than anything that size had any right to move. Though I did notice that it didn't come straight at me, choosing instead to head out into the dunes to my right, which, if my minimap was accurate – it had filled details as I flew through the air – was away from the canyon and cliffs in front and to the left of me.
I glanced to both sides, to see what I had available to me, but the only thing around me was sand. In the canyons, I'd had a chance, however small, of escaping the dragon or keeping it occupied long enough that help would arrive. Out here the sands, it was unlikely I'd be able to do that. Any advantage I'd have from Force Speed was countered by the fact I was moving in sand while, trusting that my luck today was all but non-existent, the dragon would likely move quicker than it had in the canyons.
I walked slowly to where my knife lay, and ignoring the pain, picked it up only to see on the minimap that the dragon had shifted its direction. It was no longer heading away from me but was instead moving as if it planned to circle behind me. That was logical and likely would've been a kill move if not for the face I had the Force and additional powers at my disposal.
I took a few experimental steps with Force Speed to confirm my suspicion and was proved right as it was hard to gain any traction. Heck, it was even harder than I'd expected, likely because I was coming down on the sand faster with my steps than normal. With it being less useful now, and wanting to keep Detection active, I turned Force Speed off.
I then began to move, planning to reach the canyons and cliffs in a hope that having them at my back would make it easier to counter the dragon's movement in the sand.
Strangely, the moment I began to move the dragon turned and began an attack run. I'd barely reached the crest of the first dune that I'd smashed into – the dent my body had made as I'd tumbled over the crest was clear to see – when, rising from the sand like a demon rising from the depths of hell, the massive, open maw of the dragon emerged, its teeth shining in the sunlight as they bore down upon me.
Relying on instinct borne out of years of training, and assisted by the Force increasing my reaction time and movement speed, I dove over the crest.
I felt a vortex of air and sand swoosh behind me as I tumbled in a barely controlled roll down the other side of the dune while doing my best to ignore the pain that threatened to overload my senses as my arm and back crashed, slid and scraped against the sand.
With a groan of pain, I managed to drag myself to a kneeling position and looked at my minimap. The Dragon had pulled away, in all likelihood to prepare for another attack run, which gave me a small window to get closer to the canyon and cliffs from which I'd emerged into the dune sea.
I scrambled up the next dune, and as I reached the crest, and seeing the cliffs that marked the beginning of the canyons of the Jundland Wastes less than ten metres away, I glanced behind me.
There was no outward sign of the dragon, not until I caught sight of the sand rippling as something monstrous swam through it and my stomach clenched at seeing how fast it was moving. I knew I'd never make it over the next dune in time, so turned and readied myself for the dragon's next attack.
In the seconds that passed as I waited, I offered a silent thanks to The Powers That Be and the Force as without their gifts I'd likely have died long, long before ever coming face-to-snout with the krayt dragon; never mind managing to reach the dunes while trying to escape the monster that was bearing down on me.
Still, I knew if by some miracle I survived this fight and got off this mother-fucking planet I was going to be cursing them for days, if not weeks.
As the distance between myself and the dragon decreased, I braced and, once the beast was no more than ten metres away and the sand began to break as the monstrous maw emerged, I dove to my left.
I felt something warm and damp drip onto my leg as I barely avoided its teeth, and as I turned to control my fall, time seemed to slow as I shared another gaze with the beast. There was an intelligence there that, unless I missed my guess, was both impressed and annoyed at my continual survival. Yet, as the moment passed, and I hit the sand on the side of another dune, I wondered if perhaps that had all been in my head.
As I began to roll, something whistled overhead and, moving on instinct and boosted by the Force, I drove my knife towards the whistle.
The blade was almost ripped from my hands as it struck something tough that was moving at blinding speed, and as the feeling passed, I swore I felt the sand vibrate as the dragon submerged once more into its depths.
Whatever part of the dragon my blade had connected with had done enough to disrupt my dive and instead of landing on my left shoulder and rolling, I came down back first. I grimaced as my already fucked back slammed into the sand, fire seeming to sweep through it, which knocked my knife from my hand. I bit down on my tongue to keep from screaming out in pain, and I bounced down the dune to its base.
I grunted as I rolled over, freeing my right shoulder from the sand where I'd stopped and, blinking slowly to try and clear my pain-addled mind, I groped in the sand until my good hand found the blade of my knife.
I took it into my grip again and, moving slowly, painfully brought myself to my knees before checking my minimap. The dragon was pulling back again, though the rumble from within the sand continued which had me wondering if it was able to roar while submerged or if it was just royally pissed that I'd now managed to hurt it twice. However, I suspected that while the first had only annoyed it, the second had likely enraged it, though more because I was still alive than my strike doing any real damage.
Taking advantage of the dragon once more pulling back for an attack, I scrambled up and over the first dune between me and the cliffs of the Jundland Wastes just as the dragon began to turn. This time it was a little further away than the previous attacks, which had me suspecting it was going to build up even more speed for this attack.
I managed to scramble over a second dune and reached the crest of the third, and last, dune before the cliffs before the distance between myself and the dragon, or lack thereof, became a problem.
In desperation, I dove over the crest of the final dune, and as I bounced down the other side and winced in pain, I felt another massive blast of air and sand fly over where I'd just been.
"Argh!" I called out in pain as my right shoulder crashed against a large rock and stopped my tumble on the hard ground under the cliffs of the Jundland Wastes.
I turned and faced the sand, expecting another attack, but the dragon had pulled back, and there was now a good twenty or so metres between us.
Slowly, carefully, I stood with my knife facing the dunes. As I did, I noticed that the pain from my right arm had lessened and one of the orange notices had turned to yellow. As I very cautiously rotated the shoulder, checking what kind of motion I had in it, I allowed a small smile to touch my face. It still hurt like a motherfucker, but at least now I could use it.
Though that smile fell as the dragon turned and came at me again, this time from a much closer starting position. Bracing myself, I waited for the beast's massive mouth to emerge from the dune to attack.
Yet, the dragon clearly had learnt that such an attack pattern wasn't working – or it was just royally pissed that I was still alive – as, just as it began to emerge from the dune, it reared back and instead of surging towards me, it began to stand on its rear legs.
As it continued to rise, moving as though it planned to swallow the twin suns above us, I instinctively took a step back. The instinct to run or find a way to disap…
"Son of a bitch!" I cursed as I realised just how fucking stupid I'd been. In my terror at seeing first a sarlacc then this behemoth, I'd forgotten that I had the perfect way to escape them, Force Teleport. Now, it would've been expensive, but at the start of this chaos, I'd have had more than enough FP to pull it off. I could also have used other powers to help my escape, but in my desire to get away, I'd fallen back on the basic instinct to run and the powers I used more naturally in combat of Force Speed and Bullet-Time. Stupid, but understandable. Still, I'd have to start using Teleport more in combat situations so that it became almost like second nature to use it when in a bind.
I kept my eyes fixed on the still rising dragon – even as I had to plant my feet to resist the returning urge to run – and reached out with the Force for a boulder about the size of my upper body that was resting half in the sand to my right.
Yes, throwing the boulder wouldn't do any real damage to the dragon, but it should, hopefully, give me a chance to distract it long enough to use Force Jump to leap to the top of the cliff and then run away before it realised what I was doing.
I watched as the dragon stopped its vertical ascent, with it not towering over me and the cliff behind me, with nothing but its rearmost – and thickest – legs supporting its bulk. As it lowered its head to glare at me, I lifted the boulder from the sand, floating it above the ground and begun to spin it.
Though before I could launch it, the dragon opened its mouth and seemed to chuckle. I was almost frozen in fear as I saw deep into its mouth, seeing chucks of the sarlacc still trapped between teeth at the back of its mouth.
As it began to move forward, planning to devour me in a single bite, I reactively jumped away to safety – thank you Bullet-Time for allowing me to think so fast that the world seemed to slow down around me – though I lost concentration and dropped the boulder I'd been planning to hurl at the dragon.
Any thought of re-lifting it ended as the dragon dove forward, its maw still wide and terrifying.
With nowhere to go – and no time to escape to the side, a wild, insane plan quickly formed in my head and, just as the snout of the dragon was close enough for me to touch, I leapt; using Force Jump to boost my rise.
I didn't want to jump too high, as that would place me in the air far too long, but a boost was needed to ensure I cleared the dragon's head and could then jump from its back to a new location.
However, with an almost Jedi-like reaction, the dragon lifted its head just enough that I realised I wouldn't clear the beast, or at least not the entirety of its head.
For the first time in my life, I pushed Bullet-Time and Force Speed to the max and watched as the world slowed so much that I was able to see individual grains of sand flutter in the breeze. With my reaction times now as fast as they could ever be right now, I began to shift my legs to ensure that they wouldn't end up clipping the dragon's colossal fangs. Though even with both powers active to help me think and move faster than any normal being could, I was only able to lift my legs so far and they collided with the beast's nostrils.
The beast snorted in anger and pulled its head back, which, since clipping its nostrils had altered my flightpath, resulted in me smacking my face off the dragon's forehead.
My momentum kept me going and I ended up going feet-first over the crest of its skull. In desperation at not wanting to fall down its back in a tumble, I reached out and grabbed the left most of the five large bone protrusions that formed a crest at the back of the dragon's head.
The dragon reared back, and I held on tight, barely managing to keep my grip on the dragon's head crest and my knife as its head whipped back.
The behemoth roared, and I closed my eyes as my ears felt as though they were burning even as I kept a death grip on the bone protrusion that was preventing me from falling down the dragon's back even as my ears felt as though they were on fire while my brain was turning to mush.
As the roar ended, the dragon fell forward, which when combined with the remaining momentum I had from my leap, resulted in my spinning around the outside of the dragon's bone crest.
Rapidly, the swing had me flailing around until I ended up face to eye with the dragon, and as a wild, insane, downright stupid idea came into my mind, I pushed off from the protrusion, pushing myself closer to the giant eye.
With my good arm, I stabbed my knife forward, activating Enhance Stat for a strength boost as I did so, and drove the knife towards the dragon's eye.
Its pupil enlarged so far that I felt I could fit my head inside the eye with ease and it tried to tilt its head to avoid my crazy attack, but I was too close and my blade sliced through the outer eye covering the dragon had – likely to keep the sand out of its eye while it swam – and sunk into the flesh of its eye, with my hand and arm following up to my elbow, even as I swore I saw something spark as my wrist made contact with the eye.
The beast roared in pain, and my embedded arm felt as though it was going to rattle apart as my eardrums felt ready to burst, but I pushed through the pain and, using my damaged but working right arm, grabbed onto the dragon's skin around its eye.
Knowing I only had milliseconds before the beast tossed me loose, I pulled my left arm back and drove it forward into the enlarged pupil of the dragon.
My arm flew deeply, smashing through the beast's outer eye and then into the space of the inner eye before, with my entire arm inside the eye – and my head now touching the outer eye covering – I felt the knife embed.
As the blood and fluids of the eye poured out onto my face – and I clamped my mouth shut to avoid swallowing that mixture – I tried to concentrate and push the knife further into the dragon's brain with the Force. Though I had no idea if I'd succeeded as just as I felt the Force grip the knife, the dragon whipped its head to towards then away from me and I lost my grip on the dragon's skin and was sent flying.
While I had lost my grip on both the knife and the dragon, the knife had stayed buried deep in the head of the dragon, and as I flew backwards with all the grace of a flying brick and tumbled and rolled chaotically, I caught brief glimpses of the dragon rearing back. One of its massive front paws came up to the wounded eye even as it stumbled away from me.
I watched in split-second glimpses as the alpha predator threw its head back and roared to the heavens. This roar was different from any I'd heard before, and as my legs crashed into the crest of another fucking dune, I swore that the whole planet reacted by vibrating in response to the dragon's roar.
I bounced a few dozen times, smashing over and through a handful of dunes, wincing every time I did, until I finally stopped, finding myself face-down in the sand.
Every inch of my body, inside and out, felt as though it was on fire, and I strained to pull my head back far enough that I wasn't drinking sand.
"Owww." I managed to groan out before spitting out some sand.
Excruciatingly slowly and painfully, I managed to roll over onto my back, though that set off another round of pain as my back, which felt as though it had been skinned to the bone, slapped down on the hot, burning sand.
"Aggghhh." I moaned as I stared up at the sky.
I lifted my good arm, only to almost retch as some of the dragon's eye fluids dripped down onto my face, and I slapped it back down into the sand. The pain from doing so was bad, but it beat having to see, smell and taste what was covering the arm.
"Well. That. Was. fun." I managed to mumble out to the sky only to dry heave as the smell of those fluids overwhelmed my senses.
I rolled onto my good side – keeping my left arm buried in the sand – and continued to dry retch for what felt like an hour but was probably no more than a minute before I finally thought to check the minimap.
The dragon was still shown, though it was sprawled out on what looked like its side and the colour was slowly leaving the image. Even with Eidetic Memory, it took me a few seconds to realise that this meant the beast was dying as my mind was being continually assaulted with pain from all corners of my body.
Though as I did finally realise this, the image of the dragon went dark red, and a quest completion notice appeared – joining the half-dozen or so injury notices that ranged in colour from light yellow to dark orange.
Hunt of Adulthood  [ƍ]
Defeat and kill a beast that could conceivably kill you using only a knife. [Close Enough]
A massive increase in Reputation with any Mandalorian who follow the old ways.
A variable decrease in Reputation with members of the Death Watch faction.
A large decrease in Reputation with members of the New Mandalorian faction.
Decreased Reputation with elements of the Jedi Order and the Galactic Republic.
I chuckled at the completion saying close enough for completing the quest as I had used the Force a fair bit, but it seemed they were fine with how, when and why I'd used it. For one brief moment, I wondered just how much XP I'd have gotten if I'd have not used the Force at all. Though that thought was quickly dismissed as if I hadn't used the Force as I had, I'd likely be stuck inside the beast, slowly being digested at the moment.
Slowly, as the pain from my body lessened and became more manageable, I moved to first kneel then stand. Taking one sluggish, ache-filled step after another, I began to climb the dune blocking the dragon from my sight.
When I eventually reached the crest of the dune, and after realising that the bracer on my left wrist had been damaged enough that its effectiveness was somewhat compromised – and the FP penalty had fallen to 400% above normal – I came into sight of the downed leviathan that I'd somehow slain.
As I took in the sight of its corpse, half-embedded in the sand, a fire built inside me as I saw that I'd done something that no sane person would ever attempt.
In a moment of what I'd always claim was pure adrenaline, I threw my head back and roared in delight at the galaxy.
If someone had told me I'd end up taking down that thing, I'd have either laughed in their face, had them committed to a mental institute or shot them for the benefit of all sentient life. Possibly all three in that order.
Yet, that was exactly what I'd managed to do and, it felt GLORIOUS!
Though as the adrenaline wore off, the pain returned, I slumped to my knees and finally glanced at my health and Force bars. Both were low, dangerously so, but with the left bracer now useless, I was beginning to regenerate my FP and none of the injuries I'd picked up were life-threatening; at least for now.
Tenderly I reached for the bracer on my once more useless right arm and begun to insert the code to disable it, only for Precognition to flare.
My body reacted on instinct to the sense of danger, and I began to roll to my left.
Something hit my right shoulder hard, sending pain flaring through me once more as I was sent tumbling back down the dune, away from the dead dragon and as my face smashed into the sand once more, everything went dark.
A/N: So, hopefully that went by without anyone feeling like there was too much plot armour applied.
Alternate chapter title: How to Kill your DragonAlso, I have started a secondary story with what will be a very light-gamer interface for ASOIAF. The link is in my profile, and it's cross-posted on AO3.
May the Force be with you. Always.