Slayers of the Old Republic
Book IV: Kashyyk
By Michael Weyer
Buffy the Vampire Slayer owned by Ten Thirteen Productions.
Star Wars owned by Lucasfilm
Knights of the Old Republic created by Bioware Entertainment
The Ebon Hawk flew through hyperspace at its best speed. The mechanics on Dantooine had done their work well, repairing and even enhancing some of the ship’s abilities. The team had settled into their duties well as the mission began.
As usual, Faith was restless and pacing around the ship’s hold. Clad in black leather pants and a red tunic with light red jacket, she was aware of the glares from Bastila but paid them no mind. Like the Jedi knew anything about a dress sense.
She paused by the small room next to the main hold and peeked inside. She saw Juhani kneeling on the ground, her head bowed, her face trying to be serene. The Cathar opened one yellow eye to look at Faith. “Oh, sorry,” the human said. “Didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“You were not.” With a smooth motion, the Jedi rose to her feet. “I was attempting meditation but…it is difficult to maintain my peace.”
“I heard what happened,” Faith said as she leaned on the doorway. “Is that master of yours okay?”
Juhani nodded. “Yes. It was foolish of me to think my clumsy efforts could do any real harm. She saw it as a way to test me, though. There is a saying among the Jedi: ‘Only when one is brought low, can they see true wisdom.’”
Faith snorted. “They can flash all the fancy sayings they want. That doesn’t excuse nearly pushing you to the deep end as a test.”
Juhani shrugged. “Perhaps. I am grateful for this chance to take part in this quest. Working with fellow Jedi in the field…it is a good way for me to test my abilities and my faith in the Light Side.” She paused and shook her head. “I only hope I do not fall back…”
Faith brushed back her hair. “We’ll keep an eye on you and make sure you don’t. We’re a team here…” She paused and shrugged. “Well, kinda. We’re going to have to stick together to get through this thing okay.”
Juhani smiled. “Thank you. I…must admit to being surprised you are so open to me. We Cathar are not renowned for our friendliness.”
A sad smile came to Faith’s mouth. “Let’s just say…you don’t have to be a Jedi to fall to the Dark Side.” She seemed ready to say more but then shook her head and walked away, leaving behind a mildly baffled Cathar.
In a large room of the ship, Bastila had converted its hold into a training area. She watched as Vance and Buffy dueled with their blades, nodding. “Good, good. Vance, keep your guard up more. And Buffy, always keep an eye out for a break in his defenses.”
“I knew how to fight a long time before I met you,” Buffy reminded her teacher as she dodged a thrust by Vance and lashed out with a kick. The young man dodged it quickly as he swung at her shoulder. Buffy dodged it and brought her blade to his neck.
“And I would remind you to keep any talk to a minimum,” Bastila coolly added. “Be focused on an opponent, not any conversation.”
“Actually, some of my best conversations have come up in fights,” Buffy said as she backed up. “Which says something, I suppose.”
Vance turned his saber off as he looked to Bastila. “You expect us to run into any Dark Jedi?”
Bastila nodded. “It is a distinct possibility, especially when we reach Korriban. The Dark Jedi may not be the equal of Revan or Malak but they are still quite dangerous.”
Vance shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, Revan went down easy.”
Buffy snorted. “Yeah, after Malak blew up the ship around him!”
Bastila grimly nodded. “Yes. I am sorry for that.”
Both Vance and Buffy seemed surprised. “You are?” Vance asked. “I thought the whole point of the attack was to kill him.”
Bastila shook her head. “No, our key objective was to capture him alive. The Jedi do not believe in killing our prisoners, no matter their crimes.”
“So…what?” Vance asked. “You were going to catch him, try to interrogate him? Maybe even bring him back?”
Bastila nodded. “What better way to deal with an enemy that to turn him to your side? To use his knowledge against his former allies?”
“But Malak ruined all that,” Buffy noted. “Hell, probably for the best.”
Bastila fixed her with a cool look. “Do not speak of such matters you know little of, Padawan.”
“I’m just saying that it sounds like wasting Revan was pretty much the one good thing Malak’s done.”
Vance shook his head. “I don’t know about that. Revan had…well, I wouldn’t call it honor but I don’t think he would have ordered Taris wiped out like that. He may have been evil but he had some good military skills. Malak is just using brute force, no subtlety and not caring who gets killed in the process.”
Buffy shook her head. “Yeah but Revan’s the one who started all this. He shares more blame for what’s going on.”
“I do not believe------“
The rest of Bastila’s remark was lost as the three Jedi suddenly found their minds assailed by a strange image…
The tripod device, a match for the one in the temple on Dantooine, opening up and the Star Map flashing on, the light illuminating the shadows of the threes that surrounded it completely…
As soon as it had come, the vision ended and the trio blinked as they absorbed it.
“Whoa,” Buffy whispered. “That was…intense.”
Vance shook his head. “I guess we know what to look for.”
Bastila rubbed her temples. “Yes…this bond we share must allow us to see visions of the Star Maps. In this case, it does appear to be on the ground of the forests of Kashyyk.”
Vance raised an eyebrow. “Not exactly narrowing it down. The planet is filled with forests.”
“Could the Wookies know something?” Buffy asked.
Bastila frowned. “I doubt it. While they are technology-minded, they prefer the more natural setting of the forest. I suppose we shall have to wait until we get there.”
At that moment, the speakers over the ship crackled and Faith’s voice filled the ship. “Attention, this is the flight deck. We are currently entering the orbit of lovely Kashyyk. The temperature is a nice 65 degrees and while sunny, you won’t be able to tell due to the thick carpet of trees. We’ll be landing shortly, please put away all tray tables and return your seats to their full upright positions. Thank you.”
As Bastila and Vance exchanged baffled glances, Buffy just closed her eyes. “She’s been dying to do that, I can tell.”
It was a bit tricky to navigate the huge trees of Kashyyk. The thick trees stretched up hundreds of feet and seemed to bathe the majority of the planet in green and brown. Carth managed to find the homing signal to the small outpost which had cleared off a wide space for its landing pad. Soon, the Ebon Hawk was settled on the dock and the crew were ready to get going.
“Here are our assignments,” Bastila announced. “Vance, Buffy, Carth and I will talk to the local offices. Carth, you and Canderous can try to talk to some of the locals here, they may know something more. Zaalbar,” she addressed the Wookie. “Do you know anything about this Star Map on the forest floor?”
The Wookie shook his furry head. “My people make their homes in the upper branches. Only our bravest warriors venture to the far depths of the forest on their sacred hunts. If they have encountered such a thing, then they would not share the story readily with outsiders like yourselves."
"I see," Bastila said. "Then we are to look for it unaided, then?"
Zaalbar shook his head, running his fingers through his fur nervously. "The Shadowlands are a sacred place. Much of it is uncharted and unexplored. It is a place of great danger as well. Kinrath spiders and katarn beasts rove in packs and carnivorous blossoms can devour one of even my species!" Zaalbar let out a sigh that echoed off the metal bulkheads. "But there is beauty in the danger, harmony in the unknown...Ah, the words of your kind cannot explain it. I am sorry."
“Hey, why so gloomy, Big Z?” Mission said, elbowing him. “You’re home, buddy!”
The Wookie did not seem at all happy. “I…fear this homecoming may not be a joyous one, Mission.”
Canderous leaned in to Carth and whispered. “I can already tell we’re getting into a situation here. Best to keep all guns ready.”
“I’ve already got mine,” Carth whispered back, patting his twin holsters.
Canderous raised an eyebrow. “Is that all?”
“Why?” Carth sounded insulted as he looked over Canderous’ armored clothing. “How many do you have?”
Carth seemed unsure if he was joking and then decided he didn’t really want to know the truth.
The group exited the ship and felt the chill in the air. There was a haze around the trees, making it hard to see the ground far below. The dock was mostly deserted except for a couple of mechanics. What got the group’s attention was that several of the men were clad in orange and black uniforms.
“Oh, great,” Carth muttered. “Czerka.”
In their brief time in this galaxy, Faith and Buffy had come to discover that the Czerka Corporation was pretty much third after the Sith and the Exchange when it came to evil organizations. And from some stories they’d heard, it sounded like Czerka might even outdo the Exchange. The Corporation promoted themselves as trying to help out customers and bring less developed worlds into a new future.
However, Czerka’s methods left much to be desired. Rumors had spread of them hiring mercenaries to wipe out natives on worlds so they could move in. That they were quite active in the slave trade. That they cared nothing for the lives of thousands if it meant an increase to their profits. Most damning was that they were officially affiliated with the Sith, aiding them in trade, selling weapons and developing planets. If Czerka was here, the group realized, things on Kashyyk were far from ideal.
Out of the gloom walked an Ithorian, flanked by two armed guards. The Ithorian nodded his flat, slug-like head and welcomed them. “Domjabgee…I am Janos Wertka. Welcome to Edean, Czerka Corp invites you to our lush and fertile planet. For the minimal fee of one hundred credits, you may dock here and partake in the pleasantries that our company has to offer.”
“Edean? I thought this planet was called Kashyyyk?” asked Carth.
“Kashyyyk is the name used by the indigenous inhabitants. Edean is the proper name for this world, voted on by the corporate stockholders,” advised Janos. “Please, follow me to the Czerka Corporate Office to take care of your fee so you can begin your Edean adventure.”
The group exchanged looks as they followed him on. He led them down a series of raised walkways where other Czerka officers walked around. Zaalbar looked about, his nose moving as he sniffed the air. “I...I know this place, the sounds, the smells. The walkway and the dock are recent. We have no need for these things when traveling the branches, but this place is close to Rwookrrorro - my home village!"
"That's good news, right?" Mission looked around cautiously.
"I had thought I would never return. Perhaps, I never should have..."
The group came over to the small building that housed the Czerka offices. Janos moved behind a desk and nodded to them. He looked over Zaalbar and seemed to smile. “I can see you are a collector of rare species. I am surprised you do not have your pet on a restraining collar. He must be well trained.”
“Oh, shit,” Faith muttered as Zaalbar instantly straightened in anger. Vance put up a hand to stop him as he gazed at the Ithorian. “He is not a slave. He follows me because of a life-debt.”
Janos nodded. “A life-debt? That is something hard to arrange.”
Do not mock the life-debt!” Zaalbar roared. “I should tear you and all your slaving kind apart where you stand!"
“Hey, take it easy, Big Z!” Mission cautioned him. “We’re on hostile turf here.”
Bastila was still trying to deal with Janos. "So, the slaving operations are the reason Czerka set up shop here?"
The alien spread his arms. “Look around. This planet has many resources, but they are underdeveloped. We are currently testing indigenous plant life for medicinal purposes, but research takes time and money. The bio-harvesting of the Wookiees provides an economic base for later diversification."
"And just how do you do that?” Buffy asked, her voice riding a knife's edge. "The Wookiees aren’t exactly a passive folk. Surely, you have resistance."
"Arrangements have been made with the local leadership. Harvesting is handled quite delicately," Janos said impatiently. "As I'm certain you must know, a compliant local government was important to establish even before we built the spaceport and started operations."
"Interesting." Buffy’s tone had a chill Bastila had to appreciate.
"If it will satisfy you, I will give you the details. We supply arms and technology in exchange for a supply of healthy Wookiees. Both sides profit. I'm glad I don't deal directly with the local Chieftain, thank goodness. Far too brutish."
"Is there any way I may meet this Chieftain?" Bastila asked. "I'm looking for something he may know about."
"If Chuundar knew anything, he would be happy to report it."
Zaalbar's face blackened with rage. "Chuundar...Foul traitor! I was hoping never to hear his name again."
"Whoa! Whoa!" Mission said. "Who is this guy?"
"Zaalbar, what is it?" Vance asked.
"I will have to explain later - away from Czerka ears."
"Very well, Zaalbar," Bastila said plainly. "Thank you."
They exited the offices, Faith steaming. “I can’t believe you didn’t let me punch him at least once!”
“Low profile, Faith,” Buffy stated.
Faith gave her an amused look. “Sorry, you’re talking to me about taking things quietly, B?”
“Settle down,” Vance said. He turned to the Wookie. “Okay, Zaalbar. I’ve been trying to give you space and privacy but I think there’s something you need to tell us.”
“I...I am sorry. I should have prepared you, but I don't know if I've prepared myself."
"Prepared yourself?" Vance asked. "What do you mean, Zaalbar?"
"Buddy, you told me - you were fleeing from slavers," Mission said. "Did...did you..."
A heavy huffing sound - the Wookiee equivalent to a sigh. "Czerka slavers found me, and I broke free of them before they could sell me to a Tarisian noble. I ran and lived deep in the sewers. That was true...but not the whole story."
"You are among friends, Zaalbar," Juhani reminded him. "Friends who will do our best to aid you."
"I...I am an exile among my people. I will not be welcomed back, and my presence can only hinder you."
“What do you mean?” Buffy asked.
“Chuundar…is my brother. Our father is…was…Chieftan of our tribe,” Zaalbar explained. "I discovered Chuundar's deal with Czerka, the plans to enslave our people. We...we fought. I became enraged...I still do not remember our battle, but when my father confronted us both, Chuundar told him that I attacked with my claws."
Juhani looked up at him, a furry brow raised. "I would have done worse than claws," she admitted.
"No, you do not understand! It is different for Wookiees than Cathar. Our claws are tools, not weapons. To attack with them makes one a mad-claw, a beast. Because I could not remember the fight, I could not defend myself. I was exiled, and Chuundar sent the slavers after me, knowing none in my village would come to my aid."
"How awful!" Mission said. "Buddy, you gotta realize that none of us would find fault in what you did. You were defending your life!" She walked right up to him. "Even if you went a little nuts, it's ancient history. Surely, they can forgive and forget, right?"
"You have always been better to me than I deserve, Mission, but Wookiees have long lives - and longer memories. I haven't much hope..."
Bastila pursed her lips. “This may make things more complicated.”
“Well, golly gee whiz,” Buffy sarcastically said. “I have no idea how to handle that.”
Bastila threw her a glance as they continued down the walkway, seeing a small merchandising stand. The man behind it smiled but it was without charm, as was his slick clothing, dark hair and goatee. “So, new spacers have come to wild Kashyyyk? Please, look well upon the wares of Eli Gand. I live to serve your needs."
Sitting beside him, working on a small device, was a young black man in the clothes of a freight worker. He snorted while he kept working. “Just be sure to pay cash." he suddenly warned, "The interest on Eli’s loans will drain you like a Deluvian fatworm on a Hutt's backside."
The owner looked at the mechanic, arching an eyebrow. "First off, Hutts are ALL backside," he said smarmily, "Secondly, I don't much like the comparison. No need to get personal. It's just business." Shaking his head, he turned back to his customers. The dishonesty was so clear in his voice, the JEdi didn’t even have to sense it out through the Force, "Poor fellow, he's been waiting for his friends to return with my money for a standard month now. Ah, but you don't need to hear of this. What can I get you?"
"Do you always enslave your debtors?" Buffy asked.
“It’s not slavery,” Eli said in a poor attempt to sound hurt. “I just consider it sound business. I gave you engine parts, I wish for payment in return. Having you stay and work the debt sounds fair to me, Matton.”
“Just don’t get used to it,” the man replied. “My crew will be back with the money soon and then I’m off this planet.”
“Of course they will,” Eli said in a condescending tone while giving the others a dubious look. “In the meantime, you can work off the debt. But for now…anything I can get you?”
They picked up a few medpaks and other supplies before walking off. Juhani’s yellow eyes were narrowed as she gazed back at the man. “I sense something wrong about that.”
“Me too,” Buffy admitted. “But we’ve got bigger concerns at the moment.”
The Jedi, Faith, Zaalbar and Mission made their way down the wooden walkways, past some of the huge trees of the amazing forest. “I may be a city gal,” Faith remarked. “But I gotta admit, this is one cool place.”
“It would be better if not for these slavers,” Juhani spat.
“I know it’s bad here but…”
“You know nothing,” the Cathar hissed. "You have no idea of what others must endure. To walk down the streets, to have people look at you in disgust; like an animal. Most did not know anything about me, but it was there all the same. Because I was 'alien' - different from them, frightening. I doubt any of them had seen my people before, so they persecuted me. They looked down upon me and my family, charged us more for food, spat on us, would not let us walk down 'their' streets..."
“Juhani!” Bastila snapped. “Control yourself!”
The Cathar closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I…apologize. It is…difficult.”
Vance was about to give her some words of encouragement when they came to a break in the path before them. A Wookie guard stood there, a large blade in his hand. He fixed his eyes on Zaalbar and his face contorted in anger. “You enter the domain of Chuundar, Chieftain and leader! Mad-Claw, you should never have returned! What brings you back to plague our village?"
"Plague?" Zaalbar argued. "Why do you allow Czerka to plague us?"
"You bring outsiders, too. More taint!"
"Stand aside!" Zaalbar shouted at them. "They are with me, and I want access to the home of my people!"
"You've no rights here, mad-claw. This human should not have brought this taint upon our land! You will answer to Chuundar!"
"Taint?" Buffy asked. "What does he mean?"
"He means me. I am the taint that you have brought back," Zaalbar admitted shamefully.
"Shut up! You are nameless with dishonor, mad-claw. Yours is a foulness that disgusts me."
"And you trust that slime-bag Chuundar?" Mission fired back at them. "Czerka admitted he's on their payroll."
"You slander our chief, outsider! Chuundar rose as leader despite the tragedies of his clan. He teaches us to resist the invaders! He is a great chief, full of guile and skilled in the hunt."
Buffy snorted. “Oh, I can already tell this guy’s full of it.”
The guard glared at them all before motioning with his sword. “The Great Chuundar has been expecting you. He demands you to be brought to him at once.”
Faith licked her lips and leaned in toward Buffy. “So, um…how many Wookies you think you can take out?”
The Jedi made a show of thinking about it. “Um…maybe fix…seven if I’m lucky.”
“Oh, ok,” Faith said as the group started to follow the dark-furred Wookie. “Just making sure you won’t make it too easy for the rest of us.”