Slayers of the Old Republic
Book V: Tatooine
By Michael Weyer
The path toward the kryat dragon cave was a circular route from the Sand People’s village. Buffy, Vance, Bastila and HK were walking over as Mission had headed back to Anchorhead. The group saw the large cave sticking out of the sand as well as the green-skinned Twi’lek studying it. Hearing their approach, the man turned, his eyes beaming suddenly as he saw them. “Ah, hello there!”
“Who are you?” Bastila asked.
“Komad Fortuna,” he said, bowing his head. “I am a hunter. "There is day, there is night. I am not confined by time anymore. I have been hunting here perhaps a decade or two." He examined Bastila’s face for a moment before saying more. "I recognize your features. Your father's line throws true. Shan was a fine hunter, lost to the krayt not far from here. He died as a hunter and returns to the land. Do not mourn him much."
"Must be important things in the desert to Jedi for them to send you. Don't tell me what it is because I won't care.”
“Well,” Bastila answered. “The Sand People told us that what we seek is in the cave.”
“You spoke to them but did not kill them?” Komad was impressed. “You understand the natural ways of things. I like this."
"We're looking for an artifact in the krayt dragon cave,” Vance explained. “I take it you are looking for the krayt dragon itself?"
"The krayt feeds on bantha and foolish hunters. It is coming out of hibernation, and it is hungry. I have a plan to destroy it, but cannot act alone." He sighed, "It is a shame to kill such a magnificent beast, but it is too large, and it is wiping out the herds of bantha, which will hurt the Sand People, which will cause more hurt to the dragon as it will starve."
“So taking it out will help the whole environment,” Bastila noted. “Interesting how it works.”
“That is the way this planet is,” Fortuna stated as he checked the equipment. "I have tried other hunters, but they lacked skill and patience. We must use unorthodox methods to kill him, for it is the biggest krayt I have seen in my time, bigger than the one my father hunted.”
“How are you going to do it?” Buffy asked. “If it’s so big, I don’t know if even our lightsabers can handle it.”
“Suggestion: I can procure more weapons, Master. I am multi-talented in all matters of destruction and can easily flay the skin from this creature’s bones.”
“There is no need for that,” Fortuna said.
“Objection: There is always a need for violence to solve a problem!” the droid retorted
Fortuna frowned, unsure whether or not it was joking. Shaking his head, he went on. “I will place mines around the cave entrance, but I will need you three to provide the bait. It will require much to rouse the beast from its slumber."
"We're the bait?" Buffy asked.
"No, human!" Fortuna laughed. "The prey of a beast like this would be bantha. Take my sack of bantha fodder and lure the bantha here." He pointed to a herd standing a fair distance away. "To lure him out, we must lure his food to tempt him. Bait the bantha here, and the mines will take care of the rest. Not exactly a glorious hunt, but it will bring balance to this region."
Fortuna set to the cave entrance, and the group headed toward the herd. The shaggy beasts perked up at the smell of food and started to fall in step. Buffy wrinkled her nose. “Yuck. Reminds me of a very nasty sewer system I ran through one time.”
They coaxed the bantha within a few meters of the cave entrance. The ground began to shake and Fortuna's eyes lit up. "Oh, boy! VERY big!"
The dragon was a creature the size of a small battleship, thick leathery hide and teeth a meter long. It crossed one set of mines. The explosions rattled the ground and deafened the party, the dragon howled in pain and stepped forward to attack, stepping on the second set of mines. With a howl of pain and the deafening roar of the plasma escaping from their containers, the dragon fell, and was no more.
Fortuna looked sad as he ran his hand over the beast's head. "It is done. The great beast is dead. To my shame, I denied him a good fight, but I will honor his memory to make amends." He looked up. "I thank you, humans. Perhaps one day, you will view the hunt with the reverence that I do. Wealth fades, the sands remain."
With a large vibroblade, and a muttered prayer, Fortuna slit open the dragon's throat, fishing out four pearls. “Ah, a fine prize from a great beast! I shall keep one as a memento and sell the rest.” He paused and then extended one pearl to Buffy. “Here. You deserve this for your aid.”
“Thank you,” Buffy said as she accepted the pearl. “You helped us out too.”
"I thank you for your help today. I will see you again, I am sure." With those words, he walked off into the desert, fading into the dunes as though he were a part of them.
Buffy let out a long sigh as she walked around the dragon’s body. “I’m really looking forward to meeting something big that doesn’t take a mini-cannon to take down.”
“Statement: Master, I will be happy to design a much bigger cannon for you, if you request it?”
“Yeah, I’ll keep that in mind,” Buffy dryly said as they entered the cave.
The former lair was impressive indeed. Toppled columns and wind-worn statues with no features, only a vague humanoid shape with an oval head. The three Jedi instantly recognized it as the place they had seen in their shared vision. Like on Dantooine, there was a Star Map, the tripod on tripod design. Buffy walked forward and touched it, watching it flower into a similar pattern as before.
"Okay," Vance said, downloading the information into his datapad. "Two down. Same planets are lit. Guess they've got more pieces." He shook his head as he programmed his datapad. "Anyone else think finding this star map in the back of a krayt dragon cave wasn't a coincidence?"
Bastila started searching the rest of the cave. "The Star Map is a powerful artifact of the Dark Side. The krayt dragon may have been drawn here by its power, only to be enslaved by…" Her voice cut off. She knelt by a tattered equipment pack, pulling out an object the size of a handball. She hung her head.
"What is it?" Buffy asked even though she suspected the truth.
She turned and showed them. The object was a holocron, a dodecahedron object of crystal. Inside, was a picture of a middle-aged man. His recorded voice played the final entry. ""As for news…The Jedi may forbid it, but I've heard news of Bastila. One of the guys with me on this run is a Republic soldier, just left the fleet. He's heard of her, and tells me she is a powerful Jedi now…looks a lot like her mother, too, if I heard him right. She's given them a lot of hope…Maybe…maybe we'll all be together someday…"
Bastila slumped over. Buffy’s own body felt the blow of grief. She tried to go Bastila's side, offer something in the way of comfort, but Bastila knocked her hand away. She was whispering the Code to herself as she stood up rigidly and put the holocron in her pocket.
"Come," she said, her voice on the finest edge before cracking. "There's work to be done."
She began to march away, her Padawans following and exchanging concerned looks.
Helena was still at the same spot at the cantina when the trio entered. Helena was still there, sipping her drink in the corner as Bastila nervously approached her, "Hello, again, mother." she said warily.
"Back already? Have you even looked for the holocron, yet?" Helena asked snappishly.
"I have the holocron, Mother. I'm just not sure I want to give it to you," Bastila said coldly.
"And why not? Would you deny me even that?" Helena asked.
"I've never denied you anything, Mother." Bastila sniped, "You may think I don't remember what it was like before I left for the Order, but I do. You were the one who pushed Father to go on one treasure hunt after the other. You loved living in wealth. You think I don't remember the fights? You were eager to send me to the Jedi, even though I didn't want to go. You took Father away from me, and now this holocron is all I have of him."
"Fool girl!" Helena snapped, "You have a strange way of remembering things. That wasn't -"
"No." Bastila interrupted, "I don't wish to argue with you any more, Mother. It's time we parted ways, now, for both our benefit. Why should you get the holocron?" she demanded.
"Is it too difficult to believe that I am a dying woman who simply wishes to see her husband one last time?" Helena asked, almost pleadingly.
"I find it difficult to believe anything you say, Mother." Bastila replied acidly.
“Bastila,” Buffy cut in, her face pleading. “Come on…give her a break. Isn’t it time one of you did that for the other?”
Bastila glanced at her before slowly nodding. “I…suppose you are correct. I haven’t learned anything. It shames me, but I just... I find it difficult to... let go of the past.” She turned to Helena and let out a deep breath. “I'm... sorry, Mother."
"I was hard on you, dear," Helena conceded, "I wasn't a very good mother to you, I know that. Your father loved you so. He wanted you to be just like him... he wanted to take you on his hunts, but I said they were too dangerous. I always tried to keep him from the dangerous ones, but he would have none of it. It was a reckless life we led, always moving... I didn't want that for you."
"So that's why you gave me to the Order?" Bastila asked, surprised.
"What do your father and I have to show for all those years of hunting? Nothing," Helena said, "That was no life for anyone, especially not someone as gifted as you. Your father... he spent all his last years trying to pay for my treatments. That's why he went for the pearls. I begged him not to, but..."
"Your treatments?" Bastila asked.
"I'm dying, Bastila," Helena said bluntly, "I did not lie about that. It's been a long time in the coming, and there's really nothing that can be done anymore. I told your father to let me go, but you know how he was. Stubborn. Like you."
"I'm so sorry, Mother." Bastila said quietly, "I don't know what to say..."
"Keep the holocron, Bastila." Helena said, "It would do me good to know you have it. This... talking to you... this is what I really needed before I..."
"I know, Mother. Thank you." Bastila said, blinking back tears, "I'm glad we talked, too."
Helena sighed, trying to compose herself. "Well, now. You said you had important business, and you were never one to mince words."
"Where are you going to go?" Bastila asked.
"It doesn't matter, dear. Don't you worry about me," Helena said dismissively.
As if a light bulb had just appeared over her head, Bastila searched her pocket and took out several credit chips. "Here. Take these five hundred credits. It's all I have. Go to Coruscant and find a doctor. I'll meet you there after... after what I have to do."
"But I already told you there's nothing that can -" Helena began.
Bastila thrust the chips into her hand. "Please, take it. I... want to see you again. When we can talk," she pleaded.
Helena sighed. "Alright, I will. Now you do what you have to, Bastila. You go make your father and I proud." she said - it was an order.
Bastila smiled. "I'll try. Farewell, Mother." She paused, and then leaned forward to embrace Helena. The elder woman was surprised but returned it. They kept themselves that way for a long moment before breaking apart. Without another word, Bastila turned and walked away, fighting back tears.
“Bastila…” Vance began as they entered the streets. She held up a hand to cut him off as they headed back toward the ship. Buffy put a hand on Vance’s shoulder. “Hey…she’ll be okay. Just give her time. It’s hard, believe me.”
Vance frowned. “Are you sure?”
Buffy smiled but there was a touch of melancholy there. “Vance, you didn’t know your parents. Trust me…it’s hard to realize you may never see your mother again.” She fought back the light sheen of tears in her eyes. “At least…she got to say goodbye in person.” She bowed her head as they headed away.
“Introduction: Greetings, new crewmembers! I am HK-47,” the droid stated as the group came up to where the Ebon Hawk was parked. “I shall be happy to accompany you on this mission, especially if it involves random violence!”
Carth and Faith were by the landing ramp, each not especially thrilled by that statement. “I want this thing kept in the cargo hold and under lock,” Carth intoned. “I’m not having some psycho, trigger-happy, rustbucket droid running around the ship!”
“Objection: How dare you, meatbag! I am not rusty!”
Vance shook his head. “How about we keep him in the mechanical bay? T3 can keep an eye on him.”
Carth frowned. “Fine. But I’ll be keeping an eye on this thing.”
Faith smirked. “An eye on him, an eye on the Jedi. Come on, Carth, I’m used to guys keeping an eye on me!”
Bastila marched up the ramp and sighed at the cool air of the ship. Her relief was broken by a squeaking sound and she looked down to see a small creature running around her boots. It was the size of a small cat but looked more like a monkey, squeaking and leaping up. Bastila looked around to see even more of the creatures running around the ship. “What in…”
Juhani was marching along, carrying a handful of the creatures. “Gizka,” she stated. “Apparently, there as some sort of shipping mistake and they dropped them with us.”
“What are we supposed to do with them?” Bastila demanded as she brushed one creature aside.
“Open a petting zoo?”
“That is not funny, Buffy.”
“Sorry, the heat’s killed my A material.”
Jolee came to the main room as the rest entered and nodded. “Did you find the Map?”
“We did,” Vance confirmed. “It looks like the next piece is at Manaan.”
Jolee rubbed his goatee. “Hmm….interesting. That’s mostly aquatic. The first piece was on a forest world, the second on a desert and you mentioned Korriban, which is mostly volcanic.”
“Yes, I have considered that already,” Bastila said. “It is as if whoever created the Star Maps deliberately placed them on worlds that highlighted a certain type of climate.”
“Which just adds to the mystery of what this Star Forge is,” Buffy said. “I really don’t like mysteries.”
“I’ll set off for Manaan,” Carth said as he headed to the cockpit. “Anything else that needs to be done here?”
“Doesn’t look like it,” Faith said. “Mission’s back playing pazaak with Zaalbar. She’s still a little ticked about what went down with Griff.”
Buffy glanced around. “Where’s Canderous?”
“In his quarters,” Faith answered with a somber look. “He, ah…had a tough time. I’ll tell you about it on the flight.”
Jolee moved close to Bastila. “Are you all right? I’m feeling your emotions more off than usual.”
Bastila nodded. “I just…had a difficult meeting with my mother.”
Jolee couldn’t resist a small smile. “Finding out that holding back emotions isn’t that easy, eh?”
Bastila rubbed her face. “I always thought it was right for the Order to keep us away from family. It limited our connection to strong emotions, to the Dark Side. But…”
“But it also limits the strength and warmth family can bring,” Jolee told her. “I know how that is. I felt the same with my wife.”
“Your wife?” Buffy exclaimed nearby. “You were married?”
Jolee smirked. “I wasn’t always the old wrinkled coot you see before you, girl. Remind me to tell you about her sometime.” He began to head toward his quarters, almost stepping on a gizka. “Dammit, can’t anyone do anything about these things?!”
“Statement: Your order shall be followed, bald meatbag! Warming up flamethrower…”
“HK!” several voices yelled out as the engines began to warm up.
Saul Karath had known Darth Malak long enough to know that those who reported failure could expect funerals within an hour. Even if they had nothing to do with the actual mission or circumstances, they would be cut down. Malak took the mantra “kill the messenger” to be part of his own personal mantra. As he knelt on the deck of the bridge of the Leviathan, Karath prepared what he believed would be his final words.
“The…reports from Kashyyk are limited due to the sudden violence, my Lord….However, the reports of Bastila and the others on Tattooine confirm that Calo Nord has failed. I…I can only offer my apologies, Lord Malak. I am…prepared to be punished for that.”
He closed his eyes and prepared himself. He didn’t know if would be a decapitating lightsaber stroke, a blast of lightning or simply choked by an invisible grip. After a few moments, he opened one eye and looked up to see Malak gazing down. “Rise, Admiral,” the Dark Lord said. “The failure was Calo Nord’s, not yours and he has already paid for his life. You shall live…for now.” His eyes glowered. “But fail again and my mercy shall be extinguished.”
“Thank…thank you, My Lord,” Karath stammered as he got to his feet. He swallowed and tried to clear his dry throat. “Shall…shall I hire more bounty hunters, my Lord?”
Malak shook his head as he looked away. “No. Mere bounty hunters cannot handle these Jedi. No, I shall give the task to one I know can do the job.”
Karath followed his gaze as the doors slid open to reveal a figure in black. He was young and bald, dressed in elaborate armor with a large lightsaber at his hip. Had Buffy or Vance been there, they would have recognized him as the Sith who killed Trask back on the Endar Spire. He strode onto the bridge with arrogance, his aura bristling with Dark Side power. He held out a hand and a soldier was suddenly sent flying through the air and into a console. The console erupted in sparks, killing the solider and the technician unfortunate enough to be working there. Everyone started but upon seeing who was responsible, quickly went back to what they were doing.
Karath swallowed at the wanton display of power and how neither this Sith nor Malak even seemed to care at the random execution. “Darth Bandon,” Malak said with pleasure. “Your training is now complete. I have a task that is suited to one of your abilities.”
“I will do as you command, Lord Malak,” Bandon coolly said as he bowed his head.
“Find Bastila and her companions,” Malak stated. “Bring her to me and kill the rest.”
Bandon made an evil smile. “It will be a pleasure, Master. I will not fail you.”
“See you do not.”
Karath felt a slow chill up his spine as the eagerness Bandon showed and almost…almost…felt a twinge of pity for the Jedi.
Next: A trip to a watery world, a trial, dangerous missions and some dramatic romantic developments in Book VI: Manaan.