An odd feeling, he couldn't describe it any closer. Just that something was off. It radiated from the way the tall Zabrak behaved in the morning. It spread during the last meeting with the council of Kalish.
It was not only the surprise at being addressed in Mando'a by the oldest council member. It was the way the old woman's sharp dark eyes never seemed to waver from either of the black armours. First her gaze was on Dargak, then it switched to his daughter.
She was odd. Her motions abrupt and jerky, all fluency was gone. She could hide a lot under that cloak of hers, but not everything was lost on him and he worried. He needed to make sure that she was okay. The intensity she radiated reminded him of the temple in Ossus, he didn't want her to slip away from him like she had back then.
Finding her hand was only a physical means to keep her with him, to keep close to her. The way her grip tightened on his hand made him believe that she needed it the same way as he did. But he felt her slip into the oddness again, stiffen as the old woman dared to approach her.
He felt the quiver as he made clear to the old woman that he would stand with and beside Vayra Kryban. The dark eyes had only spared a single glance at him and it felt piercing deep into his inner core. She was odd and made everyone feel odd.
All the air he needed seemed to be punched out of his lungs. He wanted to speak up, but not even a growl escaped his throat. His fingers gripped her shoulder harder. All he wanted was to be away from this woman, to put as much distance between her and himself and the Krybans.
He had to pull her back and into the shuttle. But once he had set her into motion she moved of her own accord. Mechanically, but she moved herself the shuttle and then the ship. But even with the distance put between her and the small town she was still odd and distancing herself. It was neither to her father's nor his liking. He had to do something.
He had to be there for her, he felt he needed to be close to her. It was the only thing he knew he could do for her, unable to understand what was really causing the odd feeling. He wished that his presence would be enough, that she wouldn't reject it.
There was an uncertainty to her unlike anything he had felt from her. Not even in the temple she had given him the feeling of being that insecure. He used simple handgrips to assist her stripping down to her flight suit, to guide her to the bed and make her lie down
He couldn't swallow down the tight feeling when she declined to reveal her face. He had seen her tears before. He would not think lesser of her if he saw them this time too, but he respected her wish and didn't press her. The only thing he could do was provide the environment to help her to find back to herself.
It eased his worries and it let him hope that she wanted him to stay, to be close to her. He felt her soft against him and wrapped his arms around her. The muscles in her back were relaxing under his soft massage.
Then she reacted and he stilled. This wasn't how he had expected it. This was not what it was supposed to be like. This urgency wasn't right, it wasn't her. He had to keep her from doing something that would distance her from him again. He just knew it wasn't her and she would regret it if he didn't stop her. He would regret it.
He trapped her leg and her hand and tugged her close to the furnace of his body, stilling her frantic movements. When her breathing and her pulse calmed, he was certain that he would have her back. With a smile he relaxed and succumbed to slumber.
A soft knock woke him to complete darkness. Soft warmth was nestled against his chest. With tender fingers he brushed the hair from her neck and placed a kiss on the warm skin.
"Ner meshurok." Her hair tingled on his lips as he whispered into her ear. "We have arrived. We need to get ready."
He felt her stretch along his body before he heard her sleep-filled voice: "Tern?"
"Hmmmm Kryban?" He twitched and growled to the playful slap she gave his hip. But he was silenced when her hand slipped up his side and softly massaged his flank.
"Thank you. … for …" He purred at the softness of her whisper.
"… taking advantage? … Never … draar." Once again, he tightened his embrace.
"Want your helmet before I switch on the light?" He was already reaching back and down, fishing for his, feeling for the straighter vertical line of the visor to be sure to put on the right one.
"No, it is okay … I think."
He couldn't help himself, he just had to before he enclosed himself behind the Beskar barrier. He was careful, listening to her voice and breathing as he inched closer.
"May I …" He moved close enough to feel her breath fan his chin.
He was off a few inches and used it to his advantage. Nipping soft kisses along her cheek, down along her jaw, to her chin and up until his lips found hers.
When he broke their kiss, he grinned: "And just so that you know, humming is my thing."
He switched on the light with his helmet secure on his head and opened the door. Dargak was waiting, leaning against the opposite wall with his arms crossed and legs folded at the ankles.
"We will get ready." With a nod he confirmed the Zabrak's inquisitive nod towards the room he had just left that everything was as fine as it could be.
"I've landed us in the port of Hyllyard City and had the tanks filled. Used the time to contact the client."
He was surprised, the Zabrak had been busy some time doing all these things while they still had been sleeping. He seemed rested enough, but he still succeeded to air a sense of restlessness.
"We will need to relocate for the meeting and the job. I'll get it done while you are getting ready."
He knew when he was dismissed. Dargak simply left for the cockpit. So, all he was left with was returning to the room to put on his armour. He shortly knocked before he let himself in. Vayra was already gearing up. And as she was done faster than him, she helped him with the rest of his armour.
Just to emphasize his point from before he started humming in comfort, but she kept so quiet that he finally asked: "Will you tell me what happened back on Jormark?"
He knew she would not when she pulled his helmet down to her forehead. Still, he wanted and even needed to know, for both their sake: "Later?"
"Yes, maybe later."
Dargak let them get the rest that they needed, especially his daughter. The effect the strange woman had also on her was not lost on him. He had had ideas and fears ever since her very first confrontation with the temple on Ossus, they had been intensified with her second experience. And the way the old woman treated her and with all she had said to him his suspicion had peaked.
He was not at all surprised when he watched Tharam go after her, neither that he also came from her room answering his knock. It comforted him to know that he could rely on the Nevarro warrior. It made it easier for him to prepare their job and approach to the meeting point.
He had found a place on a plain area which gave them a wider look at their surroundings. The high trees and dense forested areas along with forceful gusts of the wind had made him swerve several times and verge from his meeting point several times. It had taken him a while and all his piloting skills as the sensors and displays had gone completely crazy and he had to rely on visual flight only.
When he sat the ship down and opened the door cool fresh air swept in with a strong gush of wind. The squalls bent the trees, even the tallest bowed their respect to this force of nature. Great ripples ran over the lake over which the sun just rose. The only one unaffected area by the brewing storm was the ridge of the high snow-covered peaks in the distance.
He went to the open hatch and let his eyes roam. Somewhere here his contact had said he would meet them. His eyes swerved several times around the most logical and likely direction where he would come from. Then he saw the swoop bike, its camouflage colour had blended perfectly with the background. Lazily on top reclined the man he was to meet.
He watched the unique form of the ship land, it reminded him of a VCX-100 light freighter, but it was hard to say, somehow sleeker and yet higher in its built. It looked as if the original mould had been put through a hammer mill.
When the ramp opened, he watched the three figures appear. The initial call hadn't let anything on about how many hunters he could expect, but a team of three was not as many as he had hoped for.
They were completely geared up. Anyone seeing the three armoured figures in the city would have stopped in their tracks and given them a wide berth. The cloaks and the cape flapped in the wind, partly hiding their rifles slung over their shoulders, partly revealing their guns, secured in their holsters, their blades, hidden in their sheaths.
He unfolded from the swoop bike and studied the approaching figures. The closer they got the more he could make out. One was easily identified with his green-blue Duraplast and Beskar armour and his helmet, a Mandalorian. There were so few that each single one drew eyes immediately, no matter how eye-catching a figure they cut out, and this one was a striking specimen. Tall, at least six feet, wide-shouldered and lean-hipped, a ground-covering walk, determined, yet easy in its flowing motion. Without the bulky armour it might even be called elegant.
The other male was also a head-turning sight, an even taller Zabrak in a black armour. Bulkier than the Mandalorian, but with the same easiness of someone who knows his body well and controlled it effortlessly. He looked twice, he could not only make out the horns but also the red skin and the black tattoos. He wore a black armour, but no helmet. He dismissed his notion, he only knew them to hide their faces behind the infamous T-visored helmets.
The third person captured his light blue eyes. Tall, not yet as tall as the men. Dark cloak, but he saw a glimpse of the dark dull armour. Narrower shoulders, wider hips which gave her walk an alluring fluent roundness, yet the same swagger in their stance, self-confident.
Dark copper hair burnt in the orange rays of the sun. He guessed that it must be long, a strand had escaped the braid, he imagined she must have fixed her hair in. It waved across half of her face, making him concentrate on what he could take in as they stopped before him.
Dark green eyes mustered him firmly in an unreadable, blank expression. Dark as the fir trees surrounding the place, they stood in. Dark as a mountain lake in winter. She was gazing at him without blinking and soon he felt hypnotized as he tried to search her pupils for any other colour but that dark green.
Only with her standing that close he could see the scar over her left brow. Then he noticed the white streaks at her temples. He smiled softly, just as him, that was where the grey hit first. He guessed her age to be not older than thirty-five but definitely not younger than twenty-eight. But times were hard, and he could be wrong.
He took in more of her face and thought it beautiful and graceful, not in a soft way, but it made him stand taller, straighter. He was captivated by her gaze, her expression – her beauty – he was enraptured. He placed her as an enigma, one he wanted to decipher. But would she be interested in someone who had the thirties behind him? He would leave no stone unturned, he was too enticed by her.
He put on his most dashing smile and stretched out his hand: "Talon Karrde."
She simple stared him down, ignoring his outstretched hand, her eyes roaming over his figure, taking him in. He was glad he had taken his time grooming himself. He only wished he had not just put on the brown jacket, but his more official garment.
His smile slightly faltered at her failure of reaction. Just then a corner of her mouth tugged up: "Echoy."
He saw how both men's heads turned towards her, they were astonished he realized. Had she never given them her name? Were they not a team? They had looked like a team when they had come striding towards him, their guise, their strides and coming to a stop in synch.
It was a strange name. He tried to roll it on his tongue: "Eeh-T-Choy." He saw how shortly her eyes narrowed and her upper lip twitched in disgust: "I'm butchering it, I'm sorry."
"Indeed. Butchered beyond recognition." Her voice was low, a husky rasp, not because she wanted to sound deeper, it came naturally to her. She had an accent, a lilt, he hadn't heard before, but he wanted to hear more of it.
"I will do my best to make up for it and I promise to learn to say it properly."
When she didn't answer he tore his gaze from her and let his eyes wander between the stern look of the Zabrak and the Mandalorian warrior. He had orbited closer to the woman and himself. Both men seemed to exert a protective function, so they were a team. He wondered what their relationship was.
He widened the spreading smile due to his observation and addressed the helmeted man: "And who would you be?"
"A Mandalorian, obviously." Short, curt and slightly belligerent. He took a mental note that the man might be quite short-tempered.
"Obviously. I take it isn't you who I spoke to initially?"
He turned to the only man left, the Zabrak who nodded in return and spoke up without any further delay: "Zab. We spoke. Our quarry?"
Very punctuated and down to the business, he mused and found that he could come to like the imposing Zabrak: "Your qua … oh yes, why I called you. Pest-control. A pack of Vornskrs which makes certain things here impossible."
"Vornskrs are native to Myrkr. You should be used to dealing with them. What is the problem?" The Zabrak tilted his head questioningly at him. He was well informed and not to be fooled, but he was careful to let on why he had called for his help.
"These seem to … Well, they are a problem for our hunters. They refuse to go after them after some errmm … incidents. "
"Incidents?" Her voice made his head towards her again. Her voice was still low, still husky, but a certain hardness had sneaked into it, yet he wanted to hear more of the melody it held.
"Many didn't come back and those who did … some of them … cracked up."
The Zabrak was murmuring something he didn't catch and the Mandalorian's visor first stared at him and then jerked towards the woman, his distorted voice an urgent mumble. Again, in a language he couldn't understand. It had the sound of what the Zabrak had muttered. He wondered at the implication, were they all using the Mandalorian language, would that actually mean that he was facing not only one but three Mandalorians, but then what about the helmets?
The woman's eyes had widened for the fracture of a moment and her mouth twitched into a hard line and she looked towards the Zabrak. A wordless conversation passing between them, one he could follow neither.
"We will have a look, but we won't promise anything. You can stall the payment, until we are successful." He noted how tense the Zabrak sounded.
"Your expanses so far …" He tentatively inserted. He was ready to pay some advance money.
The Zabrak waved off: "We talk about that … after …" Somehow, he got the idea that something distracted the tattooed man, maybe the prospect of some luxury afterwards would persuade them.
"I'd like to welcome you to my home in Hyllyard City, after the job or maybe after you had a first look round. I won't make you miss anything." His eyes had returned to the woman, making sure that she heard that his invitation was especially for her. He implored quietly with his eyes, not the least fazed by the three inches she had to him. It was her aura that held him captive, the aloofness she radiated appealed to him. His smile widened as he imagined her losing this indifference.
But she did not even react to this promise of an evening spent in luxury and pleasure. Her mouth hadn't returned to its fullness, her lips were still taut. Those beautiful lips spread into a smile was something he wanted to see. He racked his brain for an appropriate approach but fell short. And then the moment was gone.
Just before the three hunters took their leave, he remembered something: "Uh, there's and old temple out there, I'd leave it better alone if I were you." The remark gave him doubting looks and a tilted Mandalorian helmet, he had to do something to reinforce his remark: "It's derelict and about to come down any day. Wouldn't want to be near it myself when that happens."
When they turned back to their ship his gaze lingered on the woman until the tall frame of the Mandalorian shielded her from his sight. But the ship captured his eyes again. It looked familiar, but he couldn't place it. He would have remembered if he had seen it before.
She looked to her left. A fond sigh left her. Long had she missed the feeling of working in a team, with a clan. This was as close as she could get to the past. And yet it was so different. It was her buir and … and. She searched for a word, anything but lover, as this seemed not to cover what was between them. They had shared beds, yes. They had shared kisses and touches, yes. She had wanted and helped him to find release, yes. That would something lovers did, yet … Harmony.
The layers of protective gear were in place. She had had her hands on each and every plate, reasserting herself that they were fixed properly. It had made her father grin and she had deliberately tickled him, yes she still remembered where he was ticklish.
When she had ran her hands over the plates covering Tern he had become still like a statue. His chest had barely moved, only his head, he had been constantly watching her. Their weapons had been checked and she had done a re-check on them. When she stepped onto the ramp the strong wind almost took her breath away.
Her father was obviously looking for something or someone as he kept standing on the ramp and simply gazed around. She tugged her cloak tighter, the wind had a certain chill to it. Then she saw what her father had looked out for. A fair skinned man in a brown jacket lined with fur came to a stand next to a swoop bike. His long black hair was straight, and his temples were streaked with silver. The closer she got the more piercing the light blue eyes became. They were fixated on her.
He was shorter than her, five foot six, she guessed from her own height. His lively eyes had skimmed over all three of them, but they lingered on her. She felt more than just observed, but she could stare down a Loth-cat if she had to. He radiated confidence, even arrogance. She realized that he tried to flirt as the smile he flashed at her was supposed to make her favourably disposed towards him.
She swallowed the huff that wanted to be let out and felt irritation wash through her at the outstretched hand. He was ignoring Dargak and Tern completely. At the corner of her eye she saw the almost unnoticeable tensing of muscles that happened underneath the green-blue armour. She allowed a wry grin at Tern's self-control and she gave Karrde a name. The name she had used with all her clients, with those who had dared to ask for one.
Yet, there was a difference. Sleuth was the Basic codename she had always used. Now, deliberately referring to Mando'a she gave in to the feeling that had conquered her ever since landing on Myrkr. She was fully aware of the double meaning. And her father's and Tern's reaction was minuscule, but immediate and made her ponder which meaning they would read out of it.
It was fortunate that their reaction happened deadbeat with the butchering this Karrde did with their language. She was sure this was not the only reason why Tern emitted one wave of irritation after the other. And really. she had to control herself to not let any emotions surface. None of the mirth, irritation or adoration she felt at the moment.
"… Pest-control. A pack of Vornskrs which makes certain things here impossible." His voice was pleasurable enough, but it had an edge to it when he came to the certain things. She picked up on it and studied the man closer. There were not many things that drew people Myrkr. For a hunter he was too little guarded, for a downright criminal there was too little menace in him, she was left with the last option: smuggler.
Vornskrs – her father had informed himself as well as she had. Why Denx had thought it a place to settle on was suddenly beyond her understanding. Maybe it was the prospect of a continuous hunt. Had he known that they were about to extend their clan-to-be, he might have reconsidered.
Vornskrs were a species not to be underestimated. But the incidents Karrde was referring to … she had a notion to turn on her heels and leave Myrkr right away. The smuggler's voice had slightly changed its tone, he was rather economical with the truth.
When she inquired the man immediately concentrated on her again. His eyes lit up and she got the impression that they got even lighter in colour, of course it was only due to the sun gaining more strength in its rise.
"Va jate par mhi, Vay."
"Meg garay ibac tid'ica?"
Her mask fell for a second and all she could do, was to reset it, to not let the inner storm out which her father had manage to conjure. She had a vague image of what it could mean for her to confront these animals, or better to be confronted by them. But he had said spoken of them, he had used the plural, yet he had excluded Tern. She wanted to look longer at him, read him, ask him, but that was not possible in front of the man she knew nothing about.
But the smuggler had seen it, her grimace and her quick look towards Dargak. He might not know what was going on, but he was clever enough to understand that something was in the wind. She had never heard of Dargak or any other hunter to take this half-step back from a job. So far only she had allowed herself the quirk to refuse a job at the last minute, to demand further insight. Yet, her father was just doing that. Keeping a way open, admitting, without wording it, that the job might not find a successful end.
Dargak was afraid – no, not afraid – not her buir – he was wary of something. He was reluctant in the acceptance of the job and how to approach it. She felt a sigh burning in her throat which she couldn't let go. Not in front of the smuggler. She knew Dargak was doing the right thing, being cautious. Her guts told her that he was right.
"Uh, there's and old temple out there, I'd …" A temple, her innards churned and wanted to spiral down into the abyss that had opened within her. Not again a temple! She started to hate these things, no matter which planet she was on. Already thinking about the old building made her mind go blank and reel at the same time. – Focus.
She was staring past the smuggler into the forest, mentally going through all the gathered information. They needed a plan, good offences and defences and a quick way out should it come to the worst. She heard the smuggler's invitation float past her ears, but her mind was too preoccupied. All she wanted was to go back to the ship, start with the job, be done with it and get off this damned planet again.
When they were back on the ship, they gathered round the map spread on the table of the lounge area. The outlines of the city were marked with a large blue circle to the far-right bottom corner, in the opposite corner a smaller red, crossed out circle was marked with the word temple. The natural landmarks like the high peaks of the mountains and the lake were also included on the map. Several small red crosses marked where the other hunters had come across the animals they were to hunt too.
Dargak pointed at a cluster of red crosses which were close to the top left corner, not far away from the temple. The farther away it was from the temple the less crosses were indicated on the map.
"Something draws them there." He pointed at the cluster. "We should start right there and get it over with."
His eyes roamed over the map, his fingers traced the different marks: "Doesn't look like we can get the ship anywhere close. Forested area all over there. Maybe there, seems to be on a higher level."
Her father looked up from the map and fixated her with his eyes: "Where's …"
She didn't need him to continue to know what he wanted know: "Not on the map. Beyond there." She pointed off to the far right on the table. She was glad that the little valley with the mountain range was not on the map.
She sighed warily. She had hoped that he might have forgotten, but of course he hadn't. With some luck the hunt might divert his attention enough to let the topic of the armours slip past her.
They tried their luck with the slope. It was a tight fit and required all her skills with the wind coming in from the side. Once landed he immediately engaged the ground security and the cloaking system. Never would she have left her ship at the meeting place and neither did she want to have it out in the open here.
She left the men to the task of moving the rest of their equipment and arsenal, which they wanted to bring along, to the shuttle. It was much smaller, and they wanted to try to bring it closer to the spot on the map where the red crosses clustered.
Again, and again she tried the sensors, somehow it was fun to watch the ever-changing results, the colourful flickering of the different symbols. At least it kept her mind from overthinking while she was waiting. The noises the men made in the compartment behind her stopped, but the hand on her shoulder startled her, nevertheless. Her father gave her a reassuring squeeze.
"We are ready. Let's find a place somewhere here."
He sat down in the co-pilot's seat and navigated her. No matter how tall and dense the trees grew, she could make out the flattened stone top of the building in a distance. She pressed her lips together as she looked at her father. He inhaled deeply and nodded seriously.
"I know. Feels strange. We will manage."
With just these few words he had managed to settle the coil in her stomach somewhat. It was not gone completely, but it felt easier to breathe, easier to form thoughts.
"Well, then let's get over with it." She had to will her out of the seat and open the hatch.
He heard them talking quietly. Though he didn't hear the words, the tone was enough. Both were wary and the feeling they spread started to settle in his stomach. Even before a difficult hunt he had not been that nervous. Bounty hunting was never easy, people no matter their species or their crime, could be unpredictable. But there was always a range of possibilities which he could work with, plan ahead and get prepared for.
With hunting the Vornskrs he had nothing. He knew how nocturnal pack hunters worked, but something of the information Karrde had let drop made him think, that there was more to them. And he didn't like the options he went through, too much was left to the unknown.
He had prepared the three large rucksacks with the provisions, ammunition and the gear to camp out in the wilderness. He had made sure that one of the packs was lighter, he didn't mind the few extra pounds on his shoulders.
He was waiting for the Krybans to make their appearance from the cockpit. He held their helmets out to them when they joined him. He glanced at her face before her tight-set lips vanished behind the helmet and followed them out of the shuttle.
They set out with an easy pace, studying the map and comparing it with their position. Slowly they were reaching their first destination, the first mark on the map. After so many weeks there were no tracks left, it was almost a place like any other. Just bushes, trees, if it hadn't been for a patch of brown earth were a flat pit had been dug, some torn grass and trampled mud. All this spoke of an old camp.
After a short break they went on, heading towards the next cluster of red crosses on the map. Unfortunately, none of the crosses told how much time had passed between the marking and their arrival there. It was game of pure luck. And luck wasn't on their side.
At the third and fourth old camp he searched the perimeters to no avail. Not even the slightest hint could be made out. Then at the fifth abandoned camp he found tracks, imprints of large paws with three enormous claws. He followed them as they circled farther and farther away from the camp.
When he came back to the camp Dargak had already marked their next destination. A look at the map told him that they were working along the inner circle of the clustered crosses leading around the crossed-out area of the temple.
Then the sixth site was a hit. There were not only all the indications of an abandoned camp, which they had found all the times before, and tracks, loads of them, but also a more gruesome finding. There had been six of them. Two torn remains of the hunters were close to the place where they had had their fire. Four mangled forms lay more to the side, their sleeping place had become their grave.
He started his circling search, just as he had done at the other camps. Farther and farther the tracks led him, then he stumbled across body number seven, marred beyond recognition. He was not squeamish, but this made him rise his eyebrows and look away as soon as he had gathered the information he needed.
The tracks were the freshest they had come across so far. He switched his HUD settings to infrared and the reading made him look around. He did a full circle to make sure he hadn't missed any heat signature before he returned to the other track which led into the undergrowth.
He continued and followed the broad trail of something heavy having been dragged into the scrub. The sentry had not been alone, and he was looking for the eighth member of the hunting party. Soon the grinding marks were dotted with a small trickle of dark dried mud, soon it turned into one with a broad smear, a bloody trail leading up to the rests of strewn about gnawed on bones. He swallowed hard and looked around for more evidence.
Then a loud crack invaded the audio systems of his helmet. Before he could turn around fully a heavy weight knocked into him. His blaster dropped from his numbed arm and he was borne down with a massive maw filled with razor sharp fangs snapping at his head. The metal of his helmet rang as the teeth connected with it.
He punched at the menacing eye and activated his flamethrower as soon as he gained a few inches, singing the raging animal's belly and chest. Screeching it backed off, but its tail swished round and slapped at his pauldron.
He threw his torso back and his hip forward as he put all the strength he had into the kick. It sent the beast flying and it tumbled into another one, another fast approaching one. The started fighting one another, snarling and snapping, blood-freezing howls and flesh-tearing teeth.
He quickly reset his attention, his hand flew to his helmet: "Vornskrs incoming from one hundred." He went for his dropped gun and backed away from the fighting creatures towards the next tree and reached for one of the low-hanging big branches.
The Zabrak was quick to answer, his voice strained: "Copy, got visitors already."
The two canine beasts were still at each other's throats. Froth-coated plump maws tore at the flesh of its pack member, whip-like tails lashed at its opponent. The newcomer was getting the upper hand and he heard the sickening sound as its fangs closed and tore at the throat of the singed, inferior beast.
The winner swung its massive head towards him, eyes bloodshot, maw dripping with froth and the blood of its own kind, ears flattened against its head, tail whipping from side to side, gaining in momentum. He levelled his gun, he had only one shot, most likely, he had to make it count.
He didn't know anything about how thick their skulls were, the slug might not make it past the bone, the eyes were small and the beast too animated for a clean shot. Chest was his only option, but not an instant kill.
He had made his decision, not a second too late. The creature leaped, he shot and swung himself upwards. The fangs clicked close on thin air, just where he had been, if he hadn't saved himself into the tree. He shot again, this time aiming for the oh so close head. The beast fell and he shot again, it was dead. Not even a ripple moved through the prominent muscles.
He swung down and sprinted off, back to where he had left the Krybans: "Done. Incoming now."
He didn't get an answer, only sounds of heavy breathing, dull sounds of shots and again short commands. It was enough to make him dig out his reserves of strength and race faster. He started to realize how far he had ventured in his pursuit of the two sentries and swore.
He sprinted even faster, jumping over or breaking through the low bushes, when he heard their curses and short commands. Then he heard the yell of Dargak. And when he broke through the undergrowth, he targeted the first snarling beast.
They had cornered Vayra and her father. The Zabrak's left arm hung limply, but in his right, he had the glinting Beskar axe. His arm swung down and split the skull of the creature, which hung on his thigh, in half. Even in death the beast clung to his leg and a last whip of its tail landed on the Zabrak's right shoulder.
In horror he watched as the axe slipped from the man's stunned arm. He started shooting and ran over to him and positioned himself between the advancing two Vornskrs and the Zabrak. The tall warrior was weakened and slid down the tree he was leaning against.
Showering the area where the two beasts where approaching from with slugs kept them at bay. A quick bend and he grabbed the axe, shoved it towards the sitting Zabrak. A quick look to make sure how Vayra was holding herself up. She was confronting another pair of Vornskrs, but her shots kept them on the defence so far.
For him plenty of time. He swiped his rifle forward, feeding it the large cartridges. Now he knew, their skulls were not resistant, aimed, shot – one, two – he swerved and aimed for the two on Vayra's side. One was already down, he went for the last Vornskr, aimed, shot.
They kept their defence against the trees. Not another attack yet. He tried to slow his breathing. He could already feel the adrenaline wearing off and it made him feel giddy. He sucked it up and concentrated first on the surroundings, his visor only showed dark blacks and no red heat signatures. Next, he turned his attention to Vayra. The only thing he heard was her fast breathing, but it was slowing down with no immediate danger.
They had made it and come out of it unscathed, then a groan of pain made him remember they hadn't. Both their heads swirled back and down to look at her father. He was still slouched against the tree, clutching his leg just under his cuisse.
"I stand watch, you treat him." He checked on his gun and readied hers, placing it next to him. His eyes trained on his surroundings, he only spared a look now and then. His quick glances told him that she had started to treat the wound.
"Make a soap solution and then disinfectant. If it is what I fear, then we need to get the virus out before it spreads."
Her mouth was set tight, she nodded and went to work. He unclasped his water canteen and held it out to her.
"The more soap solution the better, irrigate it, use all the water."
She had removed the Zabrak's cuisse and poleyn. Abrasions of the paint showed where the long fangs had dug in. She used the vibroknife to slice open the fabric of his suit exposing the wound.
"How deep is it?"
"The Beskar helped. Not too deep."
He blew out the breath which he hadn't realized he had held: "Good. Still, rinse well. Then disinfect."
When she used the soap solution the harsh breathing turned into suppressed groans of pain. They rasped through the vocoder and made it crackle. Without leaving his eyes from their environment he dug into her backpack and handed her the medkit.
She stared up to him then ripped it open agitatedly, mumbling to herself and prepared a syringe.
His head turned sharply when he heard a rustling. Three red signatures were creeping closer: "Incoming three."
"I'm working as fast as I can." Her voice came pressed as a hiss through the modulator of her helmet.
He didn't wait for the signatures to come closer and lifted his gun. Adjusting the scope, he prepared his shot. When his finger curled around the trigger a yelp and snarling answered the sound of the shot. The two remaining were turning on their pack member. He didn't care if he had killed or wounded it. Even if only wounded the other two would make sure it would be dead in the end.
He waited and kept his firing position. He would be ready when they were done with the carcass, then he would pick the next one. It would give them more time. Meanwhile the process of treating the Zabrak had reached the next stage. Vayra was disinfecting the punctures. Then she took out an ampoule from her medkit.
He didn't ask what it was she filled the syringe with it, he only hoped it helped her father. His worry for him was diverted by the two red signatures prowling closer again. His trigger finger curled, and he watched the result through the scope. Then he saw them. More heat signatures.
"Haar'chak! Val osik'la! Shab! Shab! Mi shabla! Di'kutla chaklaar'e! Bic ni skana'din! More of this Hutt-spawn is coming."
"What?" She didn't look at him, fully concentrated on treating her father, when she heard his colourful curse.
"Tok'kad! Jii! There are more. We have to get moving and you won't like my plan."
"Which is?" He heard her suspicion, but it was the only reasonable and reachable destination, given their situation. It was closer than the shuttle.
"We have to retreat to the temple. Find an entrance or a place accessible only from one side. Only way we can keep them back."
"We are not going there!" He heard the panic in her voice, but their time was running short.
"GEV! WE. ARE."
Now she did look at him and he was glad that he couldn't see her expression. It was the first time that he had raised his voice against her, the first time he had shouted at her. He felt his neck heat up as the shame crept into his heart. But now was no time for shame or a discussion.
"Ke serim! Keep them in line and I take your father! Get. Moving! NOW!"
She must have heard the urgency, even panic, in his voice because she rose and took his place. When she inhaled sharply, he knew that she understood his decision.
"Hukaat'kama! Shoot one, the rest will pounce on it."
He handed her his gun and crouched down, slung Dargak arm over his shoulder and helped the Zabrak to a stand. He supported him as the wincing man hobbled in the direction he led.
It was slow progress, a quick look back told him that much. Vayra took one Vornskr after the other down. They had stopped devouring their fallen mates and made do with just killing them off completely if they were only wounded.
He bent low along the taller man's side, wrapped his arm round his unwounded leg and pulled at the same time on his arm, using the momentum he holstered him up onto his shoulders. He started to jog as soon as he had the heavier man securely slung around his neck. He had to rely on his memory, they had no time to check if they were on the right way.
Soon the weight of the Zabrak had an impact on him. His jog slowed to a fast-paced walk and he was panting with each step. At least the slower speed was easier on the hurt man. Getting jostled with each step had audibly sent jolts of pain through him.
He could see the stones of a high wall, his instinct had led him correctly. Vayra overtook him with a sprint and positioned herself next to the wall, shooting past him as he stumbled more than walked up to her.
He staggered along the wall. There had to be a gate, a door, any kind of entrance. He felt desperation find its way into his heart. They had to find something, they would be lost without a place retreat. When he came to the end of the wall, he still couldn't see anything that would gain them access. And they had run out of time, his heart sunk in realisation. They had come to the end of their hunt.
He heard the growls, even the snapping of their huge fangs. He crouched and quickly but carefully set Dargak to the ground and propped him up against the wall. Drawing his blaster, he aided Vayra in shooting the constantly closer coming beasts. More and more he could see stalking towards them.
He shot Vayra a look and wished he could see her face, wished that she had seen his face.
They shared a nod. It was their last hunt, their last stand.
"Ni kar'tayl gar darasuum." She should hear it, at least once. She should hear his heart and voice speak these words, at least once. Forever would be short for him, for them. But his last words had to be the words of the love he felt for her, something he would take him into the Manda.
No more words were needed. He let the rucksack glide to the ground and rose to a stand unholstering the second blaster. With a deep inhale he filled his lungs and let the anger and adrenaline flood him.
"Oya!" His challenging call was even deafening in his ears.
He started shooting with both blasters.
Shoot – step forward – shoot.
He was taking as many with him as possible. If it were enough, they could make it.
Shoot – step forward – shoot.
"NO! Tern, no!"
He picked up pace.
Shoot – step forward – shoot.
If he was far enough away from them, the beasts might concentrate on him enough so that she could kill off the rest while they were hopefully busy with … his body.
Shoot – step forward – shoot.
He heard her astonished scream.
"Dargak!? Buir?! Where? … Who are you?"
Shoot – step forward – shoot.
He lost the ground under his feet.
He was flung backwards, all air left him when he hit the wall.
His head was slammed into the wall.
He grunted with a sickening feeling rising from his guts.
It must be the effect of hitting the wall, the beginning of a concussion. It was the only reasonable explanation for what he dimly saw as he slid down the wall. The Vornskrs were flaying in the air, pawing at nothing but thin air and then, pulled just like him, away from them, away from the temple, flung back into the forest where they had come from.
He staggered to a stand, but there was blackness, unevenness, all around him.
He fell, visor-first, down into the blackness.
Feeling a certain tension before a hunt was good, it kept one's senses alert, but what she felt was more than any tension she had felt on her hunts before. The initial hours had been absolutely uneventful. A normal hiking trip would have been more interesting, but the tension never left her.
The finding of the first camp told them nothing, just that it was an old abandoned camp, neither did the next three sites. She felt her patience getting short, this was all a load of Bantha-shit and a waste of time.
But then, at the fifth abandoned camp, Tern called them to something he had found, and she felt everything in her go still. The camp had been newer, about a week old, as old as the imprints of large paws that covered the whole area.
While the Tern took up tracking them, she and her father tried to find out with how many individual beats they could be dealing with. It was a hopeless task. Too many were overlaying, they had come and gone the same way, and most had been made unreadable by something dragged over them.
She looked down to where her father was crouching with the laid-out map. The camps they had already searched had been crossed out by him and she could see how much closer they already had got to the ring marking the temple area.
"Can we please not go any closer to that temple?"
He sighed defeatedly: "I do not like it either. There is something and it makes the hair on my neck stand. One last camp. If I'm right, we only need one more."
"What makes you so sure?" He didn't want to look at her, not even with his helmet hiding his face and all of a sudden if felt like she didn't know her father at all.
"Since Jormark, you have been different since Jormark. What has happened there?" She ended in a whisper as if it were a secret no one else should hear.
"Yes, Jormark … We have to talk about it. But not here or now. We need a safe place … more time. It has to do with what happened to you in the temple on Ossus and my past."
It was like a hit to the guts when she realized that he had never talked about his past, that she actually didn't know anything about it. She had always presumed that he had never been anything else than a Mandalorian and he had never said otherwise.
They both went quiet when the Nevarro brave came back and briefed them. She mulled over what her father had indicated and said, tried to find explanations, hints, anything that would brighten his innuendo, she even went so far as to make up scenarios in her mind about what he might possibly have meant.
She was so deep into unwinding one fantastic explanation after the other that she only woke up daydreaming when she heard the men curse. The sixth camp was gruesome and reeked with death. Only a few days old she guessed when she looked at the stadium of the rests of the bodies.
Again, Tern went on his scouting and she watched her father's calculations.
"I know. One more." She sighed heavily. Continuing was only logical, they had come closer and closer to the kills and therefore to the Vornskrs, but also closer to the temple.
"We should bury them."
Dargak turned to her and tilted his helmet: "And who is going to dig a hole big enough for six?"
She briefly thought: "We are in a forest and we've got flamethrowers, could make a pyre. It doesn't sit well with me that they should lie around and rot like this."
Again, she felt his eyes studying her: "Maybe you are right. I'll bring the two, get ready with the four."
She was glad that she had gloves on and made sure that she covered the parts of the bodies she touched with the dry ends of the blankets they still lay on. Not much was required to have them moved and Dargak, being as carefully as she, already dragged the remains of the first body over. Having it placed close enough he made off for the second body.
She simply draped dry wood over the bodies, anything dry enough she piled up to a heap. It was not stylish, but it would be effective.
"Vornskrs incoming from one hundred." Tern's voice came clear through her audio systems and she whipped around, facing the direction he had given. Nothing was to be seen there. Then hell broke loose.
Her father let go of the body he was pulling by its boot and whipped out his blaster: "Copy, got visitors already."
"First mine." She started shooting at the closest of the four snarling creatures, downing it.
"Second mine." She saw her father change is aim as he announced his target.
"Got two coming." Two more came at her, she had to change her range to get them into her reticle. She aimed for the faster one. Its tongue lolling out to one side of the frothed fang as it raced towards her.
One down, the other readied itself to leap at her. Adrenaline pumped through her veins and she had to steady her aim for the second beast. They looked unearthly in their bloodlust.
"Two down, three more coming." She heard him curse as he was pressed hard.
She missed, had to pull the trigger a second time. The muzzle of her gun followed the leaping beast, she saw the slug's impact in a spray of red and grey matter. It fell, midleap, as if it had hit an invisible wall, to her feet, its tail swished past her side.
"Done. Incoming now." Tern announced his arrival and assistance. She welcomed it.
She swivelled back to where her father was fighting. He had downed two and was shooting at the other three. The distance where the animals fell got shorter and shorter.
"Take the right one." She levelled her gun and shot. She didn't question her father's decision to pick the one furthest away for her as a target. She already aimed for the next, working her way from right to left.
"Haar'chak! Another four!"
Her heart leapt. Where was Tern, he had said he would come.
The predators were close, they had used their diverted attention to creep closer on the far-left side. She had to change her position quickly to get a clear range. She couldn't shoot past her father, the danger to hit him was too great.
Two were getting too close, desperately she aimed for the one she could reach from her position. She had no time to wonder why she only heard her blaster fire, she only saw the tail of the other one lash at her father, she heard his grunt. He staggered back to get more distance between him and the approaching beasts.
She squeezed the trigger, but the beast followed her father, she only hit its flank as she saw the glint of the battle axe in her father's hand, then he screamed in pain. The fang had closed round his lower thigh. The dull sound of the axe connecting with the beast's head sounded loud in her ear, louder sounded his moan of agony as the animal twitched and lashed its tail around as a last act of life.
Her inhale turned into a high-pitched whine as she saw her father losing the grip on his axe. Her legs didn't want to carry her as she wobbled forward, towards him. But then Tern broke through the undergrowth and guarded Dargak.
Only a dark growl of rage warned her of the next volley. She tore her eyes from her father to confront the oncoming Vornskrs. Shoot – kill them – only then you can assist your father. Shooting had become mechanical task.
Knowing that Tern had positioned himself in front of her hurt father helped her to find the strength to keep going. She didn't see that Dargak had slid down the tree, she only heard the continuing blaster fire behind her, and it was comforting for her.
It was a haze, the air before her eyes was whirring and then there was silence. No growls, no barks no snapping sounds, no gunfire. She heard herself breath raggedly. It was over.
Her father was hurt, and she heard his modulator rattle with the sounds of agony. Blood was seeping and staining his torn leg, oozing between his fingers where he clutched it. She stumbled towards him. Tern would keep his post as sentry.
He guided her through the treatment, gave her his water canteen, and with his quiet voice he was her bastion of calm. He had a notion – a virus – and it made her brain work high-speed as she treated her father and went through all known viruses and diseases, old and new.
First, she was relieved to see that both cuisse and poleyn had kept the long fangs at bay, but the incisors had found their way into his flesh. Her fingers were shaking as she cut the suit open. Her vision got blurry as she prepared the soap solution, but she kept working.
Cleaning and washing out the wound until the solution did no longer turn pink. Applying the disinfectant. She had to ignore the sounds that came from beneath the glossy black helmet, or her hands would fail her.
Then something waved and she saw it only in the corner of her eye. Tern was waving her medkit at her. You will know its usefulness when the time is right. The elder on Jormark, she had insisted that she took the ampoule and she turned it in her fingers so she could read the tiny red label – RabImGL – and readied the syringe.
As if the pressure of treating her father hadn't been enough, Tern had to announce that even more of those rabid creatures were trying to reach them. Only knowing his true aim made her calm enough to inject the content of the ampoule into and around the seeping wounds.
The snarls her audio system picked up came from afar, the Vornskrs, and they came from next to her, her father and Tern who coloured it with a range of curses. It dawned on her that as long as they stayed here, they would be prone to more and more attacks.
But where to go? They would be too slow. It would take for her father's condition to improve, even with the help of the Bacta and Kolto which she had applied before she wrapped the bandage round his leg.
His plane was outright crazy – retreat to the temple – what did he think … he had been with her on Ossus. She couldn't help the rising panic that seeped into her voice.
And then he shouted at her in a raging voice. Loud, commanding, leaving no space for argument, menacing, dominating. It blinded and stunned her. She was barely able to breathe through her open mouth as she stared up at him and he continued to boss her around. Numbed she rose and not only looked up at him and then past him.
More were coming. He was right. More were coming and after that again more and more. Here they had no chance to survive.
And when he shoved both rifles into her hands to have his hands free to hoist her father, she knew her task. It gave her something to divert the numb feeling both men had created in her, to concentrate on something else than the pain her father emanated, and the domination Tern exuded.
Her father limped along Tern's side, so slow, so painstakingly slow. Most of the time she could walk backwards, pick the next animal and shoot it. As told, she didn't care whether she actually killed or only wounded it. When the beasts didn't stop to tear at their dead anymore, she only went for injuring shots, aiming for shoulders and flanks. That way they at least slowed to kill their own off.
Stomping feet made her look back, turn and run after Tern. Again and again, she stopped to squeeze of shots, never letting Tern gain too much distance, but keeping as much distance as she dared between her and him, and her groaning father. His noises made clear that it was a rough ride for him.
She looked back at the sigh of relief that Tern let go and her stomach sunk. But it couldn't be helped, she had to cover the last distance running. The wall would cover their backs at least. But he didn't stop, he followed the long side of the wall and around the corner along the short side.
She realized he had been looking for a way in. But there were only hewn large stones forming the impregnable wall. When she heard his blaster, she knew that he had sat her father down on the ground. They had to decimate the oncoming flood of raging beasts. They had come from everywhere, there seemed to be no end to their numbers.
She looked over to him and saw him nod – our last stand – then she heard his voice clearly via the helmet's system.
It sounded hoarse and intense: "Ni kar'tayl gar darasuum." She froze. He had never said these words. Never confessed his love with words. Why now, she didn't want to think about what had made him say the words finally. She fought against the storm that rose in her guts.
She swallowed and when he focused to the front, she concentrated on her targets again. Then she heard his roar.
She had to look twice, to blink to understand the incredible that was taking place. Tern was using both his blasters. His aim steady and deadly and he was advancing. Each shot took out a Vornskr, each step took him farther away from her, each shot reduced their attackers, each step brought him closer to the creatures, closer to the bloody frothing fangs.
He was leaving her to make his last stand. He had proclaimed his love and now he was leaving her.
"NO! Tern, no!"
Love – Loss – Panic – Pain
The realisation ripped her apart, tore into her core and threatened to strangulate her.
He was leaving her out of love, to give her more time, to sacrifice himself.
She wanted to go after him, but what about her father? Her father?! Tern had sat him down, propped up against the wall. But where he had been there was only emptiness. Her father was gone.
Desperation – Panic – Loss
"Dargak!? Buir?! Where? …"
No Vornskr had come near them, he couldn't have been dragged off. She felt even more torn, Dargak gone all of a sudden, Tern making his way towards the prowling predators. She wanted to breathe, to inhale but she pulled on nothingness.
Stillness – Motionlessness – Calmness
No shots, no movements, no panic.
Just this slim blonde, slightly younger man dressed in a simple black shirt, black trousers and black boots who studied her with serious blue eyes.
"… Who are you?"
Where he had come from? When had he arrived? Why hadn't she seen him coming?
He didn't say anything, but his eyes bore into her and she felt as if every single feeling she had ever felt was pulled upwards and examined. It climaxed into two prominent emotions.
Love – for Dargak – the man who had raised her as her father. Love – for Tharam Tern – the man who had quietly made his way behind her walls.
Pain – for Denx Duanuawr – the man whose love she had lost. Pain – for Jurann and Mayh – the people she had loved like a family. Pain – for Dargak – who had got injured and who she had just lost.
The man's eyes scrutinized her, widened, narrowed. With a barely discernible nod his gaze slowly moved from her to the man who was approaching the Vornskrs behind her back, the man she hadn't answered in his confession of love, the man she would never be able to tell that she did love him.
She tore her eyes from the stranger and turned to find Tern – pain – love – loss – chaos. It tore her into a whirlwind, everything turned around her in an ever faster getting spiral.
She felt sick. She got sick. Ripping off the helmet she sank to her knees. Heaving was laborious, cost all what was left of her energy. It left her groaning as she fell over on her side and into darkness.
He was reading in the old book he had found in the unground hall of the large temple on Ossus. To decipher the old script was tedious work and had already kept him busy for weeks, but the Force helped him. His hide-out in the temple would have been boring, but while reading the old lore he had almost forgot about time.
He was again using the Force. He had to concentrate on the words, and it didn't take him long to find out that he was reading a poem. It made it even harder for him to understand the meaning, but the topic seemed interesting enough. Reading about the gods of old was a less dry topic than then contradicting story of the origin of the cosmos.
He hadn't known that a poem could be so descriptive when it came to gods slaying each other – Pain.
But not all the gods were at each other's throat and his cheeks heated up – Love.
His head perked up – panic – pain – love – loss – chaos. Momentarily he got dizzy with the swirl and strength of emotions that flooded freely and invaded him. It was not in the book, it was at his threshold. Something, no someone was throwing out a tornado of emotions and he had to see who it was.
He had thought himself alone, thought that everyone had been slain. But there was someone who literally pushed into the Force with all their strong feelings, raw and untamed and on the verge of … he shuddered.
He tapped the hidden mechanism and the solid walls of the temple silently reclined. He had learnt to shield himself after he had found out that the planet's predator had a preference for Force-users. But this being was a bonfire at night. He halted and watchfully reached out, not one two. The second just dim beneath the raging fire of feelings.
The prone Zabrak was barely conscious, but heavy as he dragged him back behind the walls into safety. What he felt from him was not dark, but definitely not light either. It was an unfathomable wavering in between. If he had to give it a colour, he would have chosen a pale or off colour, or just grey.
But it was not for him to decide that and he went out again just to be confronted with a glinting red visor – panic. He had heard her call for Dargak Buir and he assumed that that must have been the name of the Zabrak.
He reached out to the Force and to her - chaos. Installing quietness and peace - harmony.
"… Who are you?"
He was overwhelmed with the onslaught she sent out, it was too much and he singled out to of the motions which seemed to rage the greatest war within her – love and pain – and he could see them, those she linked with these feelings.
He quickly let go of the menacing emotion, the dangers lurking beneath it too threatening. The more comfortable emotion had the Zabrak also appear and he recognized him immediately. But there was someone else and he linked the emotion the figure shooting his was towards the Vornskrs.
Then he understood the feeling of panic and loss completely and he acted. He could use her tampering with the Force to his advantage, to support him was he willed the beasts and the man to a stop.
It was raw and unpredictable what he tapped at and pulled along with his threads of the Force.
It was too much. Animals and man alike hovered and flayed at the empty air.
It was too much as he pulled at the field around the armoured man and he crushed against the walls of the temple. He steeled himself against the sound of the impact and hoped that the armour had protected the man.
For the Vornskrs it couldn't be too much, and he used what she offered to fling them back into the forest. Not all would survive and if none he wouldn't shed a tear.
He could draw back from her and the Force and concentrate on who he had just saved. The armoured man was coming up again. He was relieved until he staggered forward, fell like a stone and lay still.
He could hear her heave even beneath the helmet, he didn't want to imagine anyone getting sick under such a helmet. But she tore it off, her face partly hidden behind a dishevelled braid. He could feel her retreat from the Force, and it took him a moment to realise that she also had slipped into unconsciousness.
He sighed, another two dead-weights to drag behind the safety of the temple's wall.
Ner meshurok: my precious (one) lit. my gemstone
echoy: searcher, search; also mourn
Va jate par mhi, Vay: Not good for us, Vay.
Meg garay ibac tid'ica?: What does that mean?
buir: parent, father, mother
Haar'chak! Val osik'la! Shab! Shab! Mi shabla! Di'kutla chaklaar'e! Bic ni skana'din!: Damn it! They are messed up! Fuck! Fuck! We are fucked up! Stupid bitches! That really ticks me off!
Tok'kad! Jii!: Retreat! Now!
Gev: Stop it! Pack it in!
Hukaat'kama!: Watch my six!
K'oyacyi!: Hang in there! Lit. Stay alive ! (command)
Ke serim!: Take aim!
Mar'e! Finally! At last! (expression of relief)
Vaii yarsa? Where is the entrance?
Oya: Many meanings: lit. "Let's hunt!" and also "Stay alive!"
Ni kar'tayl gar darasuum: I love you eternally/forever
buir: parent; father, mother
Sorry for the very belated update, but RL had and has me in its claws. Besides the every day affairs I also had to deal with the loss of a parent