Saga Dagobah Hunt (clone wars shortish story, complete)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Aiyan Swan, Dec 5, 2012.

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  1. Aiyan Swan Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2012
    Hi. This is my first post here! A shortish story (just over 10k words) set in the Clone Wars era...


    DAGOBAH HUNT



    Only months after the battle of Geonosis, the Clone Wars engulf the galaxy. Across hundreds of systems the forces of the Republic battle the Separatist Droid Armies, and the Jedi Order finds its numbers spread thin.



    Rumor has come to the Jedi Council of a dark witch hiding in a remote system called Dagobah. Master Yoda is concerned to discover that no such world is recorded in the Jedi Archives, and once again suspects sinister forces at work within the Republic.


    Determined to follow any lead to the dreaded return of the Dark Lords of the Sith, a Jedi team is dispatched to investigate…


    Last edited by Aiyan Swan, Dec 5, 2012
  2. Aiyan Swan Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2012
    ONE



    “BREAK LEFT, NOW!” Jedi Knight Bultar Swan called from her rear-facing cockpit in the starfighter. She braced against her harness as the two vulture-droid fighters screamed towards them through space, spitting lances of laser.



    “What the…?”



    Instead of diving to port, the ARC-170 starship’s rear-thrust engines fired, forcing an abrupt deceleration and throwing Swan back into her seat. At the same time, directional jets ignited. The heavy, three-seater fighter was overcome by its own inertia, skidding in space perpendicular to its forward motion.



    “Kolar!” Swan yelled, her neck ripped by the unexpected maneuver, “I said break left!”



    Jedi Master Agen Kolar, sitting behind Swan in the central pilot’s seat, made his distinctive Zabrak growl-hiss through the intercom. Swan regained her composure and was surprised to find one of the droid fighters zooming away from her, its tail-jets offering an inviting target. The unconventional shunt of the ARC-170 had forced the vulture to overrun them and present a rear aspect.



    Barely hesitating, Swan trained the rear-facing blaster cannon and thumbed the firing controls. Ruby spears launched from the thick barrel and the vulture-droid erupted in a starburst explosion.



    At the same time Marc, situated in in the forward-gunner’s cockpit, clicked on the intercom.



    “Missiles away,” he said in that same gruff voice all the clone troopers shared.



    Another explosion blossomed in space. Though Swan could not see the hit from her position, she spotted debris spinning away at the periphery of her field of view. The trooper had destroyed another of the droid fighters. Kolar had fooled two of them with the unceremonious spin.



    “There’s still two more out there,” Swan reported, too annoyed to acknowledge the Zabrak Jedi’s clever stunt.



    “Closing now,” Kolar said.



    “In range for lasers,” reported the clone trooper. “Hold this course, Master Jedi.”



    Swan craned her neck around, trying to see what was going on ahead of them. She slumped back into her seat with a huff, and instead scanned the quadrant of space behind them for the other vulture. Either side of her position, the heavy blaster cannons mounted on the ARC-170’s wingtips belched fat harpoons of crimson light.



    “Good shot, Marc,” Kolar said, as spinning debris swirled past the ship. Swan watched the energized particles and droid parts glittering in their wake as they passed through the blast cloud.



    “The last one is pulling out,” said Marc.



    “Comms are jammed. Do not let it get away,” said Kolar. Swan gripped the controls of her cannon, feeling useless.



    “In NEZ range of missiles,” reported Marc.



    “That’s our last pair, don’t waste them,” said Kolar.



    “Missiles away.”



    Another growl-hiss from Kolar informed Swan that the target had been destroyed. She was getting to know the difference between his sounds of grim satisfaction and those of suppressed anger. And he’s not exactly subtle, she thought.



    Kolar slowed the starfighter to cruising speed.



    “Everyone alright?”



    Swan shifted in her seat. The crick in her neck was exacerbated by aching muscles after a long hyperspace jump stuck in the confined cockpit. In the heat of the sudden and unexpected dogfight with the vulture-droids, adrenalin had suppressed the discomfort. Not anymore. She realised she had not properly induced her Jedi trance prior to jumping and decided to keep quiet about her complaints. Old Plo would not have approved, and she didn’t want to give Kolar any more reasons to doubt her, either.



    “No injuries here,” said Marc.



    “Arten; damage report?” said Kolar.



    An electronic voice trilled over the intercom.



    “All systems appear intact, Master Jedi,” vocalised R10-D0, the starfighter’s astromech droid, plugged into the port directly between Kolar and Swan’s cockpits. “But there are some anomalous readings from the S-foils. I think we sustained some damage on the underside. Of course, one cannot speculate, and further inspection would…”



    “Alright, understood,” Kolar growled. “We are intact.”



    “And there’s our missing planet, right where it’s supposed to be,” said Swan.



    She could now see the muddy orb revolving below their starboard flank. Fascinated by the planet-that-did-not-officially-exist, Swan forgot her earlier anger at Kolar. If you put me in the rear-facing cockpit, you had damn well better listen to my signals, she had wanted to say. Even if he was superior to her, she did not like being ignored.



    Kolar initiated an orbit, sensors focusing on the mysterious world. Swan, at last, could share the interest as data was transmitted to all three cockpits at once.



    “No signs of any cities or technology,” she commented.



    “Those fighters must have come from somewhere,” said Kolar.



    “Look at these life-sign readings,” said Swan. She peered at the planet, its surface shrouded by a planet-wide blanket of fog.



    “Yes,” said Kolar. “Something is alive down there. There could be a huge variety of wildlife, too. See these humidity and temperature readings? It won’t be pleasant.”



    “So, we proceed?” said Swan. There were a hundred battles being fought at that moment across the galaxy, and she was acutely aware that Jedi knights were in short supply. She hoped they were not engaged on a wild bantha chase for nothing, and was sure Kolar would feel the same, given his reputation. When first briefed for this mission, Swan was intrigued, but when it turned out she would be paired with the tall Zabrak, she worried the investigation might descend into a conflict of wanton violence.



    “The vulture-droid patrol confirms something is going on here. We proceed,” he said. He didn’t waste words, but she thought she sensed frustration in them.



    “Marc, where do we set down?” said Kolar. “The whole planet looks like a mono-climate.”



    Swan bit her lip. Why don’t you ask me first?



    “The fighters would need solid ground to launch and land. I’d suggest somewhere near those hill ranges in the northern hemisphere,” said the clone trooper.



    Swan pouted, arms crossed. I would have suggested the same.

  3. Aiyan Swan Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2012
    TWO





    “SCOPES ARE DOWN! What’s happening?” Kolar hissed through the intercom. Swan braced against her seat harness as she was thrown around by the plummeting starship.



    “I can’t see a thing!” she said, peering into the silver fog that blanketed her canopy.



    The ship’s engines coughed as Kolar wrestled with their violent descent. Out of the haze, gnarly tree branches and looping vines flashed by.



    “Pull up!” she said. “We’re going to crash.”



    “Controls… not… responding…” hissed the Zabrak.



    The ship skimmed ground and bounced, once, twice, throwing up plumes of dark mud and geysers of swamp water. Swan was again slammed back into her seat as the ARC-170 finally jarred to a halt. Kolar’s hiss-growl of aggravation came over the intercom.



    Swan unbuckled and activated her cockpit release. As the transparisteel canopy lifted she was assailed by the rotten stench of the swamp and a wave of humidity. She clambered out of her cockpit and stood upon the chassis of the downed fighter. Looking around, she saw the ‘hard ground’ of this area was as damp and soft as the sensors had promised the rest of the planet to be. Toads croaked and serpents hissed in the tangled undergrowth that surrounded them. Gnarltrees as thick as tanks frowned through the fog at the new arrivals. A silvery twilight draped the scene, the system’s star a distant memory beneath the blanketing mists.



    A thump caused her to glance back and she saw Kolar having trouble opening his canopy. He punched it again with an open palm and this time the release mechanism sprang loose. He struggled to his full considerable height, wrenching the intercom headset from his mane of black dreadlocks, catching it on his rows of vestigial horns. Taking in the state of the downed ARC-170, Kolar allowed yet another hiss-growl to escape and bared yellow fangs at Swan.



    Despite the flowing beige robes that marked him as a Jedi, his leathery skin the color of scorched earth and ferocious horns presented a feral aspect that the Zabrak species were famed for. Swan fully believed the herculean warrior could cow an enraged wookiee with that grimace.



    “What happened?” Swan breathed.



    “As soon as we entered the atmosphere everything went blank, then the engines died.” He glared at the murky swamp surrounding them. “Maybe the moisture got into them.”



    Swan huffed and sprang down from the chassis, and her booted feet sank into foul mud. Worms as big as snakes slithered away from her.



    “What an eerie place this is,” she said, scanning the impenetrable gnarlwoods.



    She heard the motors of Arten’s port whirring behind her and surmised the droid was also disembarking. Then Kolar was beside her, hand resting habitually upon the lightsaber at his belt.



    “This place is shrouded in the Force,” he said.



    Swan nodded, shivering despite the heat.



    “I sense the dark side,” added Kolar.



    “But there is also light,” Swan cautioned. “You are focusing on your own feelings.”



    He squinted at her. “Perhaps we both are, young Swan.”



    She bristled at the form of address.



    “It seems this place shrouds all our senses, not just starship devices and our eyes,” he mused, staring away into the gloom. “A perfect place to come if you do not want to be found.”



    The clone scout, Marc, appeared. He had changed to his camouflage-pattern plastoid light armour, DC-15A blaster rifle slung over a shoulder. He carried his wide-visor helmet under one arm, revealing the same surly face and cropped dark hair they all shared. His expression neutral, he said, “R10-D0 confirms there is blast damage to the S-foils. He’s checking the engines now, but it looks like the atmosphere clogged them up, and then there’s the damage from the landing.”



    Kolar bared his fangs at the reminder of this. “Can he repair it?”



    “He’s assessing it now. He… takes a long time to explain things, but it seems that he can make it flightworthy within seventy two hours.”



    Kolar nodded. “Then let’s get on and find these damned Sith, and exterminate them.”



    “Yessir,” said Marc. “I suggest we use speeder bikes: We have the compact FC-20s in the hold. We can cover more ground more quickly in this terrain.”



    “Good thinking,” said Kolar. Marc turned and trudged to the ship’s underbelly.



    “Wait,” said Swan, rounding to face Kolar. She tried, and failed, to match his presence, her own physique waifish next to his columnar torso. “We don’t know what is out there, and we do not automatically need to exterminate it.”



    Kolar stepped towards Swan. She refused to retreat before the physical imposition, and her anger flared until she realised he was bending to whisper close to her ear.



    “Is there a problem, young pada…” Kolar checked himself before he could make the mistake. She was a full knight now. Since before Geonosis. “Is there something wrong, Swan?”



    Swan had to gather her breath for a moment before replying. She jabbed a finger at the ARC-170.



    “Why did you put me in the rear facing seat?”



    Because I wanted you out of the way, she expected him to reply. He paused, heavy eyebrows raised.



    “As good as Marc is, I wanted Jedi eyes and Jedi reflexes watching my back.”



    Swan was caught off-guard by that statement. But only for a moment.



    “Then you should listen to my signals! I said break left, and you ignored me…”



    She hesitated. The Zabrak’s stunt had thrown two of the more maneuverable vulture droids. It had been a clever move, and she wondered briefly if she would have been able to take out four of the droid ships in the bulky ARC-170. Probably not. But she still resented the implication of her incompetence.



    “Well, anyway, why didn’t you warn me about that stunt?”



    Again she imagined his response. Because I am the more experienced warrior, I fight in my own way, and I don’t have time to explain myself to juniors who are getting in the way!



    “We were in combat and I had to make a split-second decision. I tried to mind-touch with you, but you were too angry to focus on my message.”



    That shut her up. Marc appeared to sense their exchange had ended and re-emerged.



    “There are only two bikes.” He looked from one Jedi to the other, then his gaze rested on Kolar, awaiting orders. Swan bristled again.



    What’s wrong with me? she thought. Everything here makes me angry.



    “Alright,” said Kolar. “Power them up.”



    Marc saluted, turned stiffly and marched off to comply. Kolar sighed and faced Swan again. “I will go with the clone scout and execute the search. You will stay here.”



    Swan gaped. “Why can’t I go?”



    “There are only two bikes, and someone needs to watch over the ship. This is our only ticket out of here.”



    “But he can…”



    “Swan. I want you to stay here. Marc is trained in tracking and survival, and our Force senses are blunted here. If anyone can find this supposed witch, he can.”



    “But there’s nothing for me to do here.”



    “I suggest you relearn your lessons on patience, then. Perhaps you need to practice your meditation trance?”



    Swan gaped again. How did he know about that? She took a breath and reached for inner calm, focusing on the Force running through her beating heart. He’s right, she had to admit to herself. She nodded submission, looking away.



    Marc returned with a datapad and huddled with Kolar.



    “Here, Master Jedi. I have plotted a standard search pattern; we can use the FC-20s to systematically circle kilometer-square zones like this, and this.”



    Kolar nodded understanding. “We should stagger the pattern in tandem. I’m not sure what range the comlinks will cover in this place.”



    “Yessir.”



    Swan regarded the two males, hands on hips. Marc noticed her attention and straightened.



    “Marc?” she said. “What is that, anyway? Short for Mark-one-two-three?”



    “No, Ma’am,” Marc snapped a salute. “My formal designation is CS-2271, 41st Elite Corps. I adopted the name Marc informally, as encouraged by Master Windu. I just… Well, I just like it, Ma’am.”



    “Oh. I didn’t mean to…”



    He turned stiffly and stomped away. Swan bit her lip.



    “There is no need to insult him,” said Kolar.



    “I didn’t mean to…” started Swan, reddening.



    “The clone troopers are great warriors.”



    Swan scowled at the muscular Jedi. Meaning, and I am not.



    “Master Yoda says war does not make one great.”



    Kolar sighed again. “Swan, you do not need to keep twisting everything I say for the sake of contradiction. You know what I mean. They are excellent soldiers; fearless and unswervingly loyal.”



    “Yes. I’m sorry. I’m glad they’re on our side,” Swan finally said, staring after the soldier as he loaded power packs onto the snub bikes with quiet efficiency. She shook her head. I still do not know how to treat them properly, and I am supposed to be trained in empathy.



    “Listen,” Kolar’s tone softened, such that it was possible for a Zabrak to speak softly. “I know of your record, and I respect it.”



    Ah. The record. Again.



    “It’s just a statistic. It will end soon enough,” Swan shrugged back.



    Kolar gave her a strange look then.



    “It is a fine thing to have never taken a life – not even on Geonosis. But, yes, you are correct; this war will undoubtedly end this situation sooner rather than later.”



    “I know…” Swan studied the Zabrak’s face, unsure of his point. He shrugged and hiss-growled noncommittally. Then he and Marc zoomed off together on the repulsorlift scooters, leaving Swan alone with her thoughts.

  4. Aiyan Swan Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2012
    THREE





    MARC SNAPPED THE blaster rifle up to his shoulder, sighting the cause of the noise, one hundred metres to his right. He paused and breathed. Just another of the swamp beasts surfacing: A big one by the look of its hump. The monster sinking back below the murky waters, Marc toggled the controls on his helmet, trying to filter for maximum range through the hanging mists. He checked his chrono again and searched the glade around his parked bike. The Jedi was fifty-two minutes overdue. He did not expect Master Kolar to run into any trouble that the big Zabrak could not handle, but decided to execute a search pattern once the hour mark passed.



    A whine whispered through the humidity and finally Kolar swept into view upon his FC-20. The Jedi parked next to Marc’s speeder and dismounted with a swirl of his beige robes.



    “Sorry. Have you been waiting long?”



    “Exactly fifty-three minutes, Sir.”



    “Oh. I… Sorry.”



    There was an uncomfortable silence then, while Kolar checked his bike and provision packs, and Marc wondered if he had made a mistake. He thought about it, deciding that he had answered the question exactly as put.



    “I deviated from the pattern to check out several areas – caves, thicker copses of these gnarltrees,” said Kolar.



    “Did you find anything, Sir?”



    “Just places where the dark side seems to pool,” muttered the Zabrak, scanning their surroundings. “Something is here. I can sense it.”



    He straightened and turned to Marc. “How about you?”



    “All zones checked. Nothing to report, Sir.”



    “This could take forever in these conditions,” hissed Kolar.



    “Yessir.”



    “I mean, by the time we’ve searched half the planet, there’s no telling if a Sith cell came and set up behind us while we checked the other half!”



    “Yessir.”



    “But there’s nothing else for it, I suppose. We should continue following the pattern.”



    “Yessir.”



    Kolar focused his fierce eyes on Marc.



    “You don’t have to agree with everything I say, you know?”



    “I know, Sir.”



    “You can tell me your feelings; you can have an opinion.”



    “I agree, Sir. I can have an opinion, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”



    Kolar frowned for a moment but then realised Marc was, in fact, joking. He grinned, baring yellow fangs. Marc removed his helmet, knowing the Jedi liked to see the faces of the clones, even if they were all identical.



    “We can set up camp here for the night,” said Marc. “It’s as solid as anywhere else in this bog.”



    “Wonderful.” Kolar nodded agreement, grinning again. Marc regarded the tall Jedi and his impressive physique. Kolar’s ok, the other clones said. He gets it. Swan is nice and everything, and he knew she could fight well. He had been there on Geonosis. But she had not yet taken a life, with all the trauma that involves. One needs to steel themselves against that, if they are to continue to function on a battlefield. Marc had seen hesitation at critical moments cost too many lives. He turned and began constructing the temporary shelter.



    “Swan, come in,” Kolar said into his comlink. “Swan, can you hear me?”



    He sighed. “Even the comlinks don’t have full range here.”



    “No, Sir.”



    “We’ll give it two more days, then circle back and start searching south.”



    “Yessir.”



    Kolar stared into the mysterious blankets of silver mist.



    “I have a bad feeling about this.”
  5. Aiyan Swan Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2012
    FOUR





    SWAN’S LIGHTSABER SLASHED. Cutting a searing arc through the dank air, the focused laser blade hummed as it twirled. The nimble Jedi pirouetted on one foot, striking the missiles from their path. In a heartbeat it was over, and four mossy rocks dropped to the mud, each neatly bisected.



    Swan sighed. The task of levitating and hurling the rocks at herself had seemed a clever training practice at first, but after two days and nights, it was still not testing enough. Nearby, at the lip of the swamp waters, R10-D0 hooted. Swan peered at the barrel-like astromech droid, his mint-green flashes dulled by the mist. There was a brightly plumed bird perched in a gnarltree directly above, and it hooted back. Swan shook her head. Someone had seen fit to install a vocabulator into the mechanic, and it only followed that the little droid would want to try it out as much as possible.



    A surge in the living Force gave her scant warning. “Arten! Look out!”



    She dashed towards the droid as one of the gigantic lizard-fish surged from the swamp, dragon-like jaws gaping. Arten trilled and almost toppled backwards. Swan skidded to a halt. The beast was not after the droid. It snapped at the bird, almost catching its long tail feathers as it shrieked and leapt into the air. A close escape. Swan had only just sensed the animal instinct of the beast as it tried to catch a meal, but the bird had been just as fast.



    “Keep away from that deep water,” she said. “I don’t think those things will want to eat a droid, but we don’t want to find out.”



    “Yes, Mistress Jedi. It is fascinating to hear the bird cries, is it not? They are within my vocal range, too. Would you like to…”



    “Aren’t you supposed to be fixing the starfighter?”



    “The S-foils and engines are drained, but I need them fully dried out before final touch ups. It is all in hand, Mistress Jedi.”



    Seeing that R10-D0 was no longer in danger, she turned and trudged back to her chosen glade of practice.



    “Mistress Jedi, may I be of help?” said Arten, waddling along to catch up.



    She looked at Arten, eyebrows raised, then saw his twin photoreceptors were focused on the still glowing edges of the rocks she had slashed with her lightsaber. She wondered briefly why an astromech droid would need the enhanced distance perception offered by the two goggling discs, but then considered Arten’s question.



    “Oh, don’t worry. I am not in trouble here.”



    “That I understand, Mistress Jedi. Though it does not compute fully, I realize you are using the entity referred to as the Force to throw these stones at yourself, as a form of practice, yes?”



    Swan squinted at the droid. “Yes, that’s right, but…”



    “But it is not really testing yourself, is it? I imagine it is rather like setting oneself logic problems to which one already has computed the answers. Most unsatisfying.”



    Swan cocked her head to one side and studied this talkative droid. As well as the vocabulator and the additional – and unnecessary – visual sensor, this particular unit had arms attached to the side of its cylindrical body. The legs were set further down than on the older R2 models to accommodate the extra limbs, which locked together for smooth installation into the starfighter port. It seemed to her a lot of expensive and superfluous additional gadgets.



    An old memory from the viewscreens on Coruscant played across her mind’s eye. The Industrial Automaton corporation, wishing to build on the market-dominating popularity of its R2 and R4 models, had released a number of more advanced droids – the R5s, R6s, and so on. The R10 had deliberately been made to appear more “friendly” – hence the two “eyes”, arms and cute voice: An astromech droid that could also perform protocol duties. She remembered the sales pitch for the brand new R10s: It can fix your airspeeder and entertain your kids.



    One memory triggered another, this time of a follow-up economics report on IA. The sales for the R10 had never materialized, and production had swiftly halted. The analysts were suggesting that grizzly old spacers had no need for expensive talking mechanics, and those families that could afford protocol droids were instead opting for the proper humanoid forms such as the 3POs or LOMs. By trying to make a splash in two markets at once, IA had missed the pond completely.



    So what is he doing here?



    A suspicion surfaced in Swan’s mind: The Republic were keen to keep close relations with IA in times of war, seriously worrying about the corporation’s extensive production facilities being turned over to the assembling of battle droids. She knew, then, that the Republic had bought up all remaining supplies of the R10s as a loss-adjusting favor to the company.



    He’s a rare and endangered species, and he doesn’t even know it.



    She glanced at the sliced rocks. “How, exactly, are you proposing to help?”



    Arten extended a wicked looking electronic probe from one of his flaps.



    “This is for testing industrial circuits, Mistress Jedi, but I can tone it to a less lethal voltage.”



    “There is no way you can move quickly enough to surprise me.”



    “Ah. That, also, I understand Mistress Jedi.”



    “Just Swan is fine.”



    “Err, yes, Mistress Swan.”



    Swan grinned as the droid continued.



    “However, if you were to continue throwing those stones at yourself and turn away from me, I can provide – oh, how can one put this? – the unknown variable in an otherwise balanced equation.”



    Swan considered it for a few moments, then shrugged.



    “Alright. But be careful, I don’t want to slice anything off.”



    “Oh I, too, wish to avoid such a fate!”



    Swan grinned again. She selected four more stones, each no larger than her head, roughly equidistant from her position. She lifted them each, reaching out with the Force, slowing her breathing. Then she ignited her lightsaber with the distinctive snap-hiss, and adjusted her stance.



    Arten said, “Ready, Mistress Swan?”



    “Ready,” she said. She closed her eyes and considered the weight of each rock carefully, examining the slight differences in distance, deciding just how much power to put into each push towards herself.



    A burning pain shot through in her right thigh and crumpled her knee, forcing her to slip into the mud.



    “Ouch! I wasn’t ready!”



    “But you said, ‘Ready,’ Mistress Swan.”



    She rose, massaging her knee, and rounded on the droid.



    “Yes, but I didn’t expect…” she trailed off and realised she was the one at fault.



    “Aha! I shocked a Jedi!”



    Arten’s domed head revolved and he raised his arms in a victory dance. Amusement battled with irritation in Swan’s emotions, and won out. She turned away and brandished her lightsaber.



    “Again!”
    Last edited by Aiyan Swan, Dec 5, 2012
  6. Aiyan Swan Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2012
    FIVE





    “I DON’T SEE it,” said Kolar, squinting through the mists.



    “Here, Master Jedi, try my helmet. It is equipped with an enhanced filter.”



    “Oh, that won’t fit over my horns,” the Zabrak hissed. “Just tell me.”



    “They look like beacons, Sir. Equidistant and placed on hilltops. The frequency is too low for organic eyes, but it pierces the fog.”



    Kolar rubbed his chin. “Hmmm. Could be guides for the droid fighters. If they suffer the same short-out upon entering the atmosphere, they at least can glide and follow the beams.”



    “Just what I was thinking, Sir.”



    “But which way? North or south?”



    “And how far along the trajectory, Sir? We can’t know for sure.”



    “Yes. But at last we have a lead. They could be closer than we think. It’s time to return to basecamp anyway. I expect Swan is getting bored out of her mind. We can try south thereafter.”



    “Yessir!”



    * * *



    “AGAIN!” SAID SWAN. Stripped to her training vest, a film of sweat glistening on her shoulders and arms, she re-ignited her lightsaber and turned away from Arten.



    “Mistress Swan, I have not shocked you in the last seventeen attempts.”



    “Yes. I think I’m getting the hang of this.”



    She could not sense the droid’s motive, not like a living being, but by attuning her hearing to his little whirring motors, focusing for slight movements in the dank air, she was able to move quickly enough to block the shock probe as well as striking the rocks from the air. She didn’t know if Arten was employing some kind of random generator to plan his attacks, or following some set pattern, but she could not predict the movements. It was a worthy exercise to practice fighting battle droids, she realised. Though not quite the peaceful meditation Kolar had suggested, she felt energized by the workout.



    Arten warbled an alarm squeak. She turned back to him. “What is it?”



    “Mistress Swan, several energy signals are converging on our position! They just came within my sensor range, reduced though it is.”



    Swan scanned her surroundings. Kolar and Marc finally returned?



    “How many?”



    “Eight. No, ten, Mistress Swan. Closing fast!”



    “Blast it! Get back to the ship, take cover.”



    Arten waddled away, and now Swan could sense the instinctive panic of small lizards and birds, scattering before tramping colossi. The cracks of breaking branches and heavy feet marching in mud reached her now attuned ears. Cursing her lack of attentiveness to her surroundings, she checked her footing, belatedly preparing for combat, slowing her breathing, lightsaber raised.



    The first one came from her left. The heavy-shouldered automaton stomped from the concealing mists, its dull chrome carapace acting almost as a camouflage. A single oval orb glowed ruby red in its wide chest, like some ancient cyclopean hunter. A super battle droid. It thrust out its left arm as if in an Imperial salute and the twin-barreled heavy blaster mounted on its limb vomited crimson laser beams.



    Swan twirled clockwise, spinning her lightsaber in a web and flick-catching it as it tumbled around her wrist. Two of the laser blasts screamed away, impacting harmlessly against gnarltree trunks. The third slammed back into the warrior robot, smashing the glowing eye. Swan grimaced with satisfaction as it crumpled. Though it had occupied her attention, the session with Arten had at least loosened up her muscles.



    Two more emerged from behind Swan, then two from the right. The air sizzled with crisscrossing scarlet arrows, and the confrontation swiftly increased to a frenetic pace. Focusing on the Force, Swan leapt high when she could not deflect several shots aimed at her simultaneously. She tumbled through the mists, landing lightly as a cat beside one of the chrome killers. Falling into a crouch, she slashed horizontally and bisected the construct’s legs, sending it clattering into the mud. Then she cartwheeled away as the droids adjusted their aiming patterns, outstretched metal fists tracking her acrobatic dance.



    An electric cry from the direction of the ARC-170 caused her to pause. Arten is in trouble. She remembered the comlink clipped to her belt.



    “This is Swan to Kolar. Do you read me? Come in Kolar. We are under attack!”



    Another flurry of laser beams slashed the air around her. The metal killers had plotted new firing arcs, and Swan was forced to move again. She somersaulted behind two of the droids lumbering towards her, then thrust her lightsaber point-first into the back of one. The other turned clumsily. She rapidly withdrew the saber then span again, drawing strength into her arms from the momentum of the motion, before slashing diagonally and managing to drive her blade through the thick chest armour of the behemoth. The two edges of the wound glowed molten hot as the second slumped with an electronic hiss.



    She paused then, remembering her training, focusing her senses, listening for the movements around her, prioritizing the threats. Her Force sense abruptly dulled, as if a wet blanket had fallen across her shoulders. She gagged. Then her eyes widened as a shadow leapt between two gnarltrees towards her.



    Cowled in black, the shadow used the gnarltrees as brace points, gliding through the mist like a specter, then kicking away from each thick trunk with booted feet. As he swept towards Swan, Force-levitating, twin lightsaber blades the colour of blood ignited with an ominous snap-hiss from each end of a single long handle clutched in gloved hands. Then she glimpsed the face beneath the hood.



    It can’t be! He’s dead!



    She had seen the holovid from Naboo, recorded ten years earlier. He moved the same way, had that same hideous face. Yet… Yet the very same recording had shown him cut in half by Obiwan Kenobi.



    Hesitating with shock and confusion, Swan caught her breath as the specter fell upon her. He landed with a splash of mud, and instantly the double-ended lightsaber erupted into a lethal cyclone. Instinct and relentless training took over, and Swan parried and ducked. Sparks flashed where the blades clashed, and Swan was forced onto the back foot, retreating before the furious advance of… No. It can’t be him!



    The whirling blades separated for a moment, and the tattooed red and black face snarled at her. Swan was too stunned to realise why her adversary had paused, and was defenseless when he thrust out a palm and battered her with a Force strike of frightening power.



    Hurled from her feet, Swan flew backwards, ripping past several branches before the back of her head smashed into something solid and hard. Then Swan’s world went dark.
    Last edited by Aiyan Swan, Dec 5, 2012
  7. Aiyan Swan Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2012

    SIX





    SWAN REGAINED CONSCIOUSNESS, and groaned. A splitting pain throbbed at the base of her skull, and she felt as if a lump as big as a shuura fruit had grown there. She made to reach round to touch it, and then realised something was wrong.



    She couldn’t move. Awareness of her situation belatedly followed on from consciousness. She was standing, forced to stand, her arms and legs spread eagle. With a wince she glanced up at her left wrist. It was encased in a steel manacle which was haloed by a blue aura. Energy-field locked, she realised. She could not spring it open using the Force. She swiftly determined her other wrist and both her ankles were similarly restrained, and against her back she felt the hard chill of solid rock.



    She peered into the gloom surrounding her. Some kind of cave? The walls were too regular, too square. A dungeon cell? Here? The only light was thrown by the energy fields of her bonds. Muscles groaned in pain. The bonds were bitingly taut, and her shoulders and hips complained bitterly. Her wrists ached with the stress of suspending her weight. Finally, she reached for the Force, and gasped. Her senses were dulled by something. It was like trying to open her eyes against a blindfold, and a chill of blind panic gripped her. Then she noticed someone else was there in the chamber with her.



    It was him. Cowled, standing in a corner of the dungeon, yellow eyes glaring at her.



    “Who… Who are you?” she whispered, unsure if she wanted to hear the answer.



    He kept his counsel and watched. Swan shifted, uncomfortably helpless before his scrutiny. Then a door in the far wall that she had not noticed hissed open, and another strode into the room.



    “Yes? What is it?”



    The voice was harsh and impatient, and female. Negligible light crept in with the opened portal, but Swan viewed a tall woman clad in a tight corselet and flared skirts of heavy black material. Eyes like chips of ice glowered at Swan from an angular, hairless head. The witch!



    “Look what I found in the swamp, Master,” said the male, his voice a chilling whisper. “This explains the missing vulture patrol.”



    “A Jedi?” The witch’s eyes narrowed, a cruel smile spreading across her hawkish face. Swan thought she spotted striped tattoos also cut into the wan flesh of the hag.



    “How did a Jedi come to be here?” said the witch.



    “Those smugglers hiding in orbit?” offered the male. “The ones we boarded and slaughtered last cycle?”



    The grey-faced woman paced before Swan, her severe chin cupped.



    “I told you one got away in an escape pod,” she hissed. “He must have been lucky enough to be picked up. We were too careless.”



    She rounded on the red-and-black faced one.



    “Just this one?”



    “Just her, and an astromech droid. He chatters like a Sullustan, but it seems he has some programming to lock out mission parameters upon capture. Magwan is trying to…”



    He was silenced as the witch whirled and slapped him hard across the face, the crack of impact echoing off the stone walls. Swan watched this exchange silently, noticing the male flinch before the witch, a hand instinctively reaching up to massage his cheek where her palm had struck.



    “No names, my apprentice. Not yet.”



    They both peered at Swan.



    “Who’s she going to tell?” complained the male.



    “We need to know exactly what she is doing here… and if there are any others.”



    The apprentice nodded mute understanding. The witch folded her arms, and her eyes smoldered with cold fire as she glared with unveiled hatred at Swan.



    “Consider this a test. I want to know everything she knows. Do not come to me until you have broken her.”



    Yellow eyes flashed and the apprentice grinned. He stalked towards her, one hand bunched into a fist. Swan braced before the menacing approach, but then the witch caught his shoulder and spun him to face her, still four paces from Swan.



    She slapped him again.



    “Not like that,” she snapped. Then reaching out an empty hand towards Swan, fingers splayed, “Like this!”



    The yellow eyes of the male widened just a fraction.



    “But, I’m not sure…”



    She struck him a third time. Swan dared for a moment to feel sympathy for this apprentice and the brutal teaching methods of his tutor, temporarily forgetting he was a dreaded Sith Lord. What does that make her? she wondered. Would he really put up with this treatment? None of this makes sense.



    “With the dark side there is no doubt!” the witch hissed at him. “The only constraints are those you place upon yourself, your own imagination limits your power.”



    He nodded again, then copied her stance. Swan narrowed her eyes, unsure what was going to happen.



    “Reach for your hatred, your pain, yes, even your lust. Crush it into a ball, then unleash it!” the witch cajoled him.



    Swan’s eyes widened with realization.



    Forks of electric blue lightning cascaded from the apprentice’s outstretched fingers, ripping into Swan. She threw her head backwards, screwing her eyes shut. Every nerve and muscle in her body shrieked with white-hot agony. Her limbs involuntarily attempted to struggle, to writhe in the intolerable assault, but the bonds held her fast. Despite all her training, all the meditation trances and mind-control techniques she had learned to handle pain, Swan screamed.



    After what must have been only moments, but seemed a tortured eternity to Swan, the searing pain abated.



    “Yes. Like that,” grinned the witch. “You have to want to hurt her.”


    She whirled and left, the door hissing closed behind her. The apprentice grinned and raised his hand again.
    Last edited by Aiyan Swan, Dec 6, 2012
  8. Aiyan Swan Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2012
    SEVEN





    “BLAST IT, SWAN. You would have to go and do this to me,” Kolar muttered. He winced, guilt overcoming his irritation, and then frowned at the scorch marks in the armor of the starfighter.



    “There are two more destroyed battle droids over there, Sir,” Marc jogged over to the Zabrak. “She must have put up quite a fight.”



    “Any sign of Arten?”



    “No, Sir. No bodies, either. Human bodies, I mean.”



    “No, she’s not dead. I would have sensed it. At least, I hope I would have sensed it.”



    Kolar sighed. “This is my fault.”



    “You couldn’t have known this would happen, Sir.”



    They surveyed the area around the ARC-170 one more time.



    “She must have been overwhelmed by numbers, Sir.”



    Kolar shook his head, glaring at the mists. “I doubt that, somehow. Surprised, maybe, and perhaps not just by battle droids.”



    “This witch, Sir?”



    “Possibly. I sense the dark side more strongly than ever.” He straightened and turned to Marc. “Can you track the attackers?”



    Marc exhaled. “It won’t be easy, Sir. The footprints disappear in wetter areas, but perhaps where they broke past the tree branches…”



    “We have the vector provided by the beacons, at least. Can you get a general direction?”



    Marc pivoted and pointed.



    “I think they went south, Sir.”



    “Then let’s get moving. Do your best, Marc. She needs us now.”



    * * *



    “A NAME. JUST give me a name,” the apprentice hissed at Swan as he ceased yet another assault of Force lightning. Swan whimpered, sweat dripping from her brows, her muscles released from their agonized clenching. Her entire body ached, and a terrible fear slouched in her guts. She felt as if scorch marks had been permanently gauged across her internal organs.



    “You’re… You’re going to kill me if you keep doing that…”



    He stepped closer and grabbed her chin in a black-gloved hand.



    “A name!”



    Swan shuddered. The pain was too much, to invasive to resist.



    “Give me a name!”



    “Maul…” she gasped. “Darth Maul.”



    He took a step back then, releasing her chin. “What?”



    “It’s your name, isn’t it?”



    “Is it?” he snorted. “Is that what you think?”



    Swan’s head lolled on her burning neck, but she forced herself to look up at him, through tear-blurred eyes. He’s not Maul, then, she decided. Somehow she had known it had to be impossible, anyway. But he knows the name. He wants to emulate him.



    In the respite between the debilitating attacks, she finally had a chance to study this man more carefully. She now noticed he was not quite the same as the one in the holovid; the shoulders were narrower, and he was not as tall. And he was an apprentice. He’s younger than the Sith on Naboo ten years ago. What does that mean? Her empathic senses still blinded, his mind remained a closed book.



    But an idea came to her.



    “You’re a clone?” she whispered, watching his hands. The threat of the lightning made her shy. “She cloned you?”



    “Ha! Wrong again, Jedi. You cannot clone the kind of power I have! Now you’re out of guesses.”



    “No,” Swan whimpered, as he raised his hand again. The crackle echoed from the stone walls and blue light erupted in the darkness of the cave. Swan screamed.



    * * *



    “PLEASE… PLEASE STOP…” she gasped.



    He lowered his hand and a sneer twisted his features. Swan coughed for some moments, her body wracked with shivers.



    “My name is Swan.”



    He peered at her, hissing with triumph. “Go on. And do not lie or I will know it.”



    “She… that… that woman is right. A man in a life-pod was picked up by passing freight-runners in the sector. He was raving about a witch. The rumor got as far as Coruscant, and I was sent to check it out.”



    She moaned as he paced up and down before her, scrutinising her face.



    “You and who else?”



    “Just… Just me… No, please!”



    He blasted her again, for several long moments. Swan could not draw on her powers, could not close her mind to the pain. Could not breathe. And with each passing moment she felt herself closer to death. He ceased abruptly.



    “Don’t lie to me!” he snarled. “I cannot stop until you tell me everything.”



    And for that fraction of a moment, she thought she heard a waver in his voice. She fought for several heartbeats to control her breathing, to get her brain to think again. He waited.



    “You’re… You’re Force sensitive, but she got to you before… before the Jedi could find you. You’re just a human, like me.”



    “Stop this!” he shouted. “I will hurt you again.”



    She peered at his face, distorted through her tears, and saw the distinctive red and black tattoos as blurred streaks.



    “Did it hurt you?” she blurted.



    “What?” the sparks died at his fingertips.



    “She did that to you, didn’t she? Made you a copy of Maul. Did it hurt; the tattoos and implanted horns?”



    He snarled and thrust out his hand with a fresh viciousness.



    “Wait!” Swan cried. “I know about Magwan. I came here for that, too.”



    “You know of the Magna Guard program?” his voice wavered again.



    Swan’s mind worked feverishly through the haze of agony. Magna Guards. A program. Guards. Droids? A new kind of super battle droid, being developed in this secret place? Jigsaw pieces slotted into place in her mind. Magwan. Mag-1. Magna Guard-1. It’s a prototype.



    He must have read the realisation dawning on her face, and then understood his own error. The snarl twisted his lips once more.



    “Please. You don’t have to do this. I can see it in your eyes. You don’t want to be this way.”



    “Tell me who is with you. Where are they?”



    “No… no-one… please…”



    “Not good enough!”


    Swan screamed.
    Last edited by Aiyan Swan, Dec 6, 2012
  9. Aiyan Swan Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2012
    EIGHT





    “UP THERE, SIR,” Marc gestured at the mountainside. “Their route seems to intersect with the vector of the beacons here.”



    Kolar peered at the slippery cliffs and hiss-growled. Moss, vines, creepers and who knew what else infested the rising crags. Marc had trained frequently in traversing hostile terrain, but the difficulty of this climb made even him baulk.



    “There; looks like a cave on the side. I’ll bet there’s a hollow on the top for the fighters to set down,” said Kolar. He turned to Marc. “Good work, soldier. You may have just saved her life.”



    “If we are in time, Sir,” said Marc. He said it without emotion. It was a simple statement of fact.



    “We’re in time,” growled Kolar. “We have to be in time. Now climb!”



    * * *



    “I DON’T KNOW where they are!” Swan screamed as the electric currents sizzled through her body. The lightning abruptly stopped. Between desperate gasps of breath, she heard him laughing.



    “I knew it,” he snarled. “Who?”



    Swan whimpered. She had been unable to resist the pain, had just blurted it out under the assault. She felt ashamed and violated. He had forced the information from her.



    “I can’t… Don’t… You will kill me…”



    He took a step closer then. She was too exhausted even to flinch as he reached out, but he did not touch her. Instead he began turning cranks on the wall behind her. She frowned as she felt her bonds loosening slightly. The grips of the manacles were still as unbreakable, but the stretching of her limbs was lessening.



    “What… doing?” was all she could manage.



    “I’ve been watching you,” he whispered. “You arch your back when the pain hits. You can’t stop it. So far, the bonds have held you firm. But…” he loosened the tightness another fraction, “if I give you just enough slack, I think you’ll break something the next time. At least you’ll rip something vital back there. Permanent damage.”



    She recoiled at the quiet venom in his voice.



    “I don’t know where they are!” she repeated, her voice rising.



    “Who?”



    He stepped away and raised his hand. She shook her head, but he blasted her again. The pain seemed to last for hours, and indeed with the increased slack in her chains, she thrashed around uncontrollably. When he finally relented, she sensed new and frightening agonies in her back. He’s right, she shuddered. Anymore and I’ll tear my own spine apart.



    “Two,” she gasped. “Two of them.”



    He waited while she stifled a sob.



    “Clone scouts, on bikes. They will be searching for me now.”



    He folded his arms while her head dropped. She stared at the hard stone ground and wept.



    “Thank you, Jedi,” he said. “Swan, isn’t it? Pretty. Well, Swan, consider your wings clipped. Death will follow soon. Master Ventress will be pleased.”



    He swept from the chamber with a swirl of black cloaks and left her to cry over her weakness and defeat. After several moments, Swan raised her head again and studied her bonds once more. She was still helpless, but he hadn’t entirely defeated her.



    I gave him enough truth to cover the one lie. She did not know how powerful he was in reading her mind, but it seemed she had successfully hidden the existence of Kolar from the apprentice. She prayed it would be enough to help the Jedi Master. Her last remnants of strength fleeing her body, Swan slipped into blessed unconsciousness. One final thought sparked and died as oblivion embraced her. The witch is called Ventress.



    * * *



    “HELLO, MISTRESS SWAN!”



    Swan groaned. Consciousness, and with it unwelcome pains and memories, flooded back into her mind. She tried and failed to raise her head, wondering what had woken her. A familiar electronic voice trilled once more.



    “Are you awake, Mistress Swan?”



    “Ar… Arten?” her eyes rose enough to see the barrel body with the green flashes standing before her.



    “Affirmative. It is I, Mistress Swan. Wait a moment, if you please. I think I have located the control panel for the energy-fields on your bonds.”



    He wheeled away to a corner of the cave she could not see and she dimly heard his arms punching computer keys. Abruptly the energy fields upon her manacles died, and then the bonds themselves sprang open. Swan toppled onto the stone ground.



    “Ouch.”



    “Oh, my! Mistress Swan, I apologize. You are injured and in pain. I’m afraid my tools are more proficient in starship repairs, but if there is anything I can…”



    “Just be quiet a moment.”



    “Yes, Mistress Swan! I… oh… I’ll be quiet now.”



    Swan struggled to a sitting position, massaging her wrists. The energy-fields deactivated and the apprentice gone, she felt her Force senses trickling back to her bruised mind. Every muscle still ached in her body, but she tried to stand. Though she staggered a step or two before leaning against a wall, she was successful. She tried to think.



    “Arten, how in the blazes did you get here?”



    “Well, you see, Mistress Swan. That rather large brute, Magwan, finally gave up trying to crack my logic coding and left me alone in another cell. But, upon close inspection, I found one of the flagstones to be loose. And, would you believe it? After lifting it I found several cables running in a cavity beneath the floor. Thereupon, I carefully tested each line, until I could detect a communication node to a computer controlled security mechanism attached to the cell doors, and most obligingly…”



    Swan raised a hand.



    “You broke out and found me. Well done.”



    She shook her head at the little droid.



    “Do you know how to get out of here?”



    “Err, I have full plans downloaded, but, hmmm. Several moments please, Mistress Swan.”



    Swan waited while Arten paused, apparently locked in calculations. She noticed the desk where the computer controls for her chains were mounted, recessed into the wall behind her. A familiar metal cylinder remained haloed in a security field beneath the desk. She crossed to the corner of the cell and deactivated the field.



    Somehow, gripping the hilt of her lightsaber triggered a new strength of purpose to come flowing back to her burning limbs.



    “Don’t worry about it, Arten,” she said, pacing to the open door of the cell. She peered left then right down a claustrophobic corridor outside. There was no sign of her tormentors.


    “Come on, we go left.”
    Last edited by Aiyan Swan, Dec 11, 2012
  10. Aiyan Swan Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2012
    NINE





    “THIS WAY, QUIETLY,” Swan said. They had taken several turns down what seemed to be an extensive network of passages constructed through the rock. We must be inside a mountain, she thought. So far, she had been moving simply by instinct. There was little light, thrown by flickering lume globes mounted at irregular intervals, and the dank air was stagnant.



    “But, but, Mistress Swan! My sensors are picking up more energy signals that way!”



    Swan bit her lip, not wanting to ignite her lightsaber and give away their position. She did not feel capable of fighting, yet.



    “What’s the quickest way to an exit from here?”



    “There are several, Mistress Swan, and on different levels. Some routes will take us through what appear to be testing labs and assembly lines, which may be best to avoid, and then…”



    “Just the nearest exit! Which way?”



    “That way,” Arten extended a stubby arm. “One hundred metres, but I think we should consider altitude as well as…”



    “Shut up and come on!” Swan said, already stalking down the tunnel.



    The familiar tramping feet gave them away before she saw them.



    “Oh no.”



    Emerging from a corner, the cyclopean eyes of four super battle droids appeared.



    “Keep behind me,” Swan said. Her lightsaber sprang to life with a snap-hiss. Deflecting bolts, she backed away from the marching droids while Arten waddled ahead. An electric whistle grabbed her attention and she whirled to see what had caused Arten’s alarm.



    It was another of the chrome battle droids, only taller and more slender. Twin ruby photoreceptor lenses glared at her. A grey poncho swirled its broad shoulders and covered its head, almost like a sentient’s cowl. Swan did not have time to consider this peculiarity as a staff span in its claws, buzzing magenta energy fields wreathing each end with a deadly corona.



    “It’s Magwan!” warbled Arten.



    The killer stalked towards Swan and she noted the deft sweeps and flicks of the hissing staff, indicating an advanced martial arts programming. It was almost as if…



    This thing is designed to fight Jedi, she realized.



    She adjusted her stance, lightsaber held before her, dimly aware that the super battle droids behind her had halted and ceased firing. Aches and pains complained throughout her body. I’m not sure I am up to this fight, she decided.



    A boom thundered through the corridors and the stone beneath her feet trembled. The Magna Guard paused.



    “What was that, Mistress Swan?” said Arten.



    “Sounded like grenades,” she frowned. Another distant boom followed, then a deeper crash, as of equipment detonating. The battle droids remained locked in hesitation, perhaps receiving new instructions. Swan spied a smaller corridor leading from their left.



    “Come on!”



    She yanked Arten and headed down the opening before the chrome killers could resume their attack.



    “They’re coming after us, Mistress Swan!” Arten’s plaintive cry echoed from the harsh stone walls of the narrow corridor, the astromech wheeling after her as fast as he could go, domed head spinning to peer backwards. She turned two corners in quick succession then ran straight into a towering wall of muscle.



    “Swan!” growled a familiar voice.



    “Kolar…” she collapsed into his arms. “You found me.”



    “Marc found you,” said the Zabrak. The clone scout appeared at his side.



    “Main coolant units destroyed, Master Jedi, but I don’t know how long before the generators overheat.”



    “Time to leave,” Kolar hoisted Swan to her feet. “Can you walk?”



    She nodded weakly, a flood of emotions sweeping through her heart. “Thank you. Thank you for coming for me.”



    He paused, perhaps sensing her aches. He placed a rough, leathery palm across her forehead and concentrated for several heartbeats. Swan’s eyes widened as soothing energy returned to her limbs.



    “I didn’t know you were a healer,” she breathed, straightening.



    “I have learned many things which I seldom have chance to practice.” He bared yellow fangs. Abruptly the pursuing super battle droids appeared. The two Jedi separated and two snap-hisses heralded their swords activating. Moving in tandem, they danced amongst the colossi, slashing limbs and heads and scrapping the automatons in short order. They exchanged a look and the Zabrak frowned.



    “I thought I told you to watch over the ship.”



    Swan thought she saw a smile twitching across his solemn face.



    “Oh, well, you were taking too long. So, I decided to get myself captured and lead you here instead.”



    He grinned properly then. “Fair comment. Now let’s get out of here.”



    Marc took point, blaster rifle sweeping ahead, with Arten trundling along behind. The two Jedi stalked several paces further back, watching for enemies emerging from side passages that led into their tunnel. Swan thought she smelt a slight thinning in the damp stench of the warren, giving way to the slightly less powerful odor of outdoors. We must be coming to the exit.



    “I take it you found our witch,” Kolar said.



    She nodded. “She’s called Ventress. I think she is the Sith Lord we have been searching for.”



    Kolar hiss-growled, and Swan detected it to be the agitated kind.



    “I have heard of Asajj Ventress, and she is no Sith.”



    A pair of battle droids entered their tunnel and punched fists out, spitting laser bolts. Their lightsabers whirled, deflecting the blasts.



    “Though she would dearly like to be, Count Dooku has not yet granted that honour,” growled the Zabrak. One of the automatons dropped, a smoking blaster wound carved into its visual orb. The other kept firing while the Jedi backed away.



    “Then, who is she?” said Swan.



    More chrome automatons joined the fight, and the escapers increased their pace, Swan and Kolar pacing backwards as they deflected crimson arrows, keeping the droids back twenty meters from their position. It was frenetic work, the close confines of the tunnel allowing little room for their spinning lightsabers.



    “She is a former Jedi, Dathomirian, fallen to the dark side. They say she is insane, with a vicious hatred for Jedi.”



    Swan swallowed. “They say right.”



    A respite in the battle appeared as their attackers crumpled under the reflected barrage of their own weapons. Swan turned to see Marc had led them to a cave exit, a misty twilight beyond, but realized that they must be at least a hundred meters above ground level. The tunnel opened out directly over a sheer cliff edge. Marc began unreeling liquid-cable from his backpack. Swan touched Kolar’s arm.



    “She has an apprentice,” she said. “A Force sensitive, but she’s altered him, tattooed him, made him into a copy of Darth Maul.”



    Kolar grunted, one of his amused sounds. “She’s trying to impress Dooku. She thinks by producing another Maul, and just as powerful, he’d have to accept her as a Sith.”



    Swan shuddered as she recalled the terrible power of his lightning attacks.



    “She might have a case. Kolar, I think he could be saved. Turned, I mean. We need to get him away from her influence.”



    “Now, now, Swan. Let’s concentrate on staying alive before we go off on some mercy mission. Marc?” Kolar called. Stomps from beyond the darkness down the tunnel betrayed more battle droids heading their way.



    “The line’s secure, Sir,” said the clone scout. “I can cover you while you climb down.”



    “No, we’ll cover you, Marc.”



    “But then who will cover you, Master Jedi?”



    “Let us worry about that.”



    “But Sir, battlefield procedure is that Jedi generals are to be…”



    “That’s an order, trooper!”



    “Well, what about the droid, Sir?”



    “Oh, don’t mind me. I do not wish to be a nuisance, and in matter of fact do happen to be equipped with…”



    “Alright!” shouted Kolar. They could hear the super battle droids almost upon their position. “Get the droid sorted first, then…”



    Swan touched his arm again, peering into the darkness of the tunnel. A huge machine with a radar dish of a barrel was being wheeled forward by a dozen battle droids.



    “I think we’re in trouble.”



    Kolar turned and hissed. “That’s a Geonosian sonic cannon!”



    “We’re in trouble!” said Swan. She turned to Arten and Marc. “Wrap the cable around Arten, then go. That thing is going to collapse the tunnel.”



    “Yes, Ma’am!”



    She turned back and took up position beside Kolar, not listening to Arten’s protests. Their lightsabers hummed before them, and the cannon barrel locked its eyeless gaze on the Jedi.



    “Do we rush them?” breathed Swan.



    “Not enough time.”



    “Then what…?”


    “Jump!” growled Kolar. He grabbed her shoulder and turned, just as a vibrating sphere of sonic energy burst from the cannon. The irresistible shockwave caught them just as they leapt from the precipice, an invisible gigantic hand hurling them further out and away into a wooly blanket of mist.
    Last edited by Aiyan Swan, Dec 11, 2012
  11. Aiyan Swan Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2012
    TEN





    SWAN PLUMMETED, BLIND. Hot mist swallowed her descent, and she splayed arms and legs in a futile effort to glide and slow her fall. All too quickly, the crowns of gnarltrees skimmed by, foretelling her imminent crash landing. At the last moment, she focused her panicked senses and exerted a burst of Force energy, levitating her body. Even so, she landed hard, tumbling to break the momentum and ending up on her back in the noxious bog.



    “Ouch.”



    She massaged bruised limbs, struggling to her feet. At least her lightsaber was still clipped at her belt. Gazing around, she quickly surmised that this part of the swamp looked and stank just like any other. She was lost. A heavy crump signaled the detonation of generators within the mountain complex she had recently evacuated, followed by a sustained rumbling as tunnels and chambers collapsed with rockfalls. The thunder rolled through the shrouded heavens, but from it Swan could discern the general direction of her former prison. What now?



    She opened her mouth to call for Kolar, Marc, or even perhaps Arten, but then closed it again. Controlling her breathing, she instead reached for the Force, tapping into its currents, searching for strands of life in all directions. She sensed the tiny consciousness of wild fauna as flickering sparks in a blanket of darkness, but no bright beacon that would signal the presence of her friends. Then an all too familiar sensation closed about her mind; the chill of her senses dampening. He is coming.



    Prepared this time, Swan pushed back the cold blanket of Force-dulling, keeping her mind sharp. There, that way. She ignited her lightsaber with a snap-hiss, and turned to face the hooded specter emerging from the fog. He grinned as he stalked from the silvery curtains.



    “Flying away so soon, my pretty Swan?”



    Another crump of collapsing tunnels within the distant mountain punctuated the taunt.



    “Your Magna Guard program is at an end,” she said. The apprentice thumbed the switch in the long handle and the twin lightsaber blades blazed into existence. They confronted one another. He hesitated, perhaps realising that she was far more dangerous when not restrained by energy bonds. Still, the sneer plastered across his tattooed face betrayed contempt as well as hatred. They circled each other, pacing carefully in the treacherous mud.



    You are at end, Swan!”



    He flew at her, dark side Force powers throwing up a blanket of cloying damp. But with the energy leant to her by Kolar, and the chance to properly prepare her battlemind, Swan was equal to the shroud. Her own senses focused to a razor, she fought back the dulling, and their blades clashed with sizzling sparks.



    His assault was powered by a frenzy of hatred, but the very same emotions hampered his focus and concentration. Swan parried and ducked. Without the element of surprise that had wrong-footed her before, he could not defeat her defenses. They separated, and he hissed his anger.



    “I am ready for you this time,” she smiled, stirring up that unfocused emotional turmoil.



    He attacked again. He was a whirlwind of movement, black cloak swirling and blood-red blades spinning. Swan maintained her concentration, utilizing her Teräs Käsi martial arts to minimize her movements while taking advantage of her adversary’s uncoordinated assault. An opening presented itself and Swan’s lightsaber slashed a gash across his shoulder.



    He backed off then, clutching his wound. Eyes widened as realisation dawned upon the apprentice. He knows I can match him in combat.



    “Listen to me,” she said, letting her guard fall. “I do not want to hurt you.”



    “Ha!” he snarled, baring teeth. “Master Ventress is right: You Jedi are arrogant!”



    He came at her again and again, recklessly attacking when he should have paid more heed to his defence. She resisted cutting him down on three occasions. His Force-dulling powers began to penetrate her mind, and she understood with a chill that as the fight continued she would soon tire, her earlier ordeal in the cave overcoming the temporary healing that the powerful Zabrak had bestowed upon her.



    “Stop this!” she pleaded after another cyclonic clash abated. “We can help you. I know you don’t want to be like this. Let us take you away from her domination.”



    “You know nothing,” he said. “She does not dominate me. I read the Sith runes better than she does! I have surpassed her already – and I will become a Sith lord when I kill her and take her place!”



    Swan was shocked by the outburst, so that she only just raised her guard in time when he flew at her one more time. His twirling light-staff paused, and knowing the signs this time, Swan was ready when he thrust out a palm and attempted another devastating Force strike.



    She swayed, producing a move from her Verdanaian “Sliding Hands” training, and used the momentum against him.



    This time the apprentice was sent flying as she evaded, enhancing rather than trying to block his Force energy. He slammed against a gnarltree trunk and slithered to the mud. Swan took a breath, then deactivated her lightsaber. She paced towards the groaning apprentice.



    “You are beaten, but it is not the end. Let me help you.”



    “Never!” he leapt to his feet, light-staff re-igniting, and charged at her. The first blow knocked her weapon aside and Swan flipped backwards, somersaulting to avoid more lethal strikes. I don’t believe it, she thought. Even when facing certain defeat his hatred overcomes his reason.



    “No!”



    The gruff voice came from their right. Swan’s head snapped round at the same time as that of the apprentice, pausing in his charge. Marc barged from the fog, blaster rifle at his hip. He fired three quick shots in succession, targeting the apprentice.



    The tattooed Force adept deflected the first two ruby arrows easily. Then, his twin-blades whirling, he directed the third right back at the clone scout. Marc stumbled into the bog with a grunt. The blast had torn open his stomach. Swan opened her mouth to shout, but it all happened so quickly.



    Turning and reaching for the Force, she willed her own lightsaber back into her hand. It slapped into her open palm and she spun while thumbing the switch. The snap-hiss was followed by the distinctive hum as the lethal blade sliced air. Feeling the shock of impact judder right up her aching arms, she bisected the apprentice through his chest.



    For the second time he slithered into the mud, but this time he did not rise. The burning hatred was finally extinguished from his eyes.



    “You made me choose,” she whispered, gazing down at the corpse.



    A groan from Marc seized her attention. Forgetting what had just transpired with the apprentice, Swan dashed to the fallen clone trooper. She skidded to her knees at his side and gently turned him onto his back. Marc coughed blood, clutching his stomach. Black bodily fluids seeped between his fingers.



    “Oh no. Do you have a medikit?”



    “In my backpack, lower right side…”



    Swan tried to turn him onto his side, but the soldier hissed in anguish and fresh floods of blood gushed from his stomach. Swan ceased the maneuver, realising it would do more harm than good. She placed her own hands over his, adding pressure to the wound. She reached for the Force and gasped. I cannot heal him. I am not powerful enough.



    “Will it leave a scar, do you think?” His voice was a rasping whisper. Swan stared into his eyes, not knowing what to say. He’s talking to delay the shock: Standard First Aid guideline.



    “I… yes, a big angry red mark I should think.”



    He coughed again. “Oh, that’s good then.”



    Swan narrowed her eyes at the mortally wounded soldier.



    “It will make me different: Unique amongst the clones – and give new meaning to my name: A big red Marc, eh?”



    She sensed the life pumping from his body with the escaping blood, to mingle with the fetid swamp waters. She repressed helpless tears.



    “Oh, Marc, you are already unique, and your intervention saved my life. How can I ever thank you?”



    “Standard battlefield procedure; Jedi generals must be protected…”



    He groaned again. Swan decided to try for the medikit one more time. Gently rocking his body, she said, “Sorry, do you have pain-suppressants in your pack?”



    “It’s alright. It doesn’t hurt anymore. Just cold.”



    Their eyes met. He said, “That’s not good, is it?”



    “I’m sorry, Marc,” she cradled his head, hugging his broken body as the last wisps of life energy trickled away. Then his consciousness was gone, to be one with the Force once more. She held him in silence for several long moments before rising and peering into the surrounding swamp.



    Swan sensed his presence before he emerged from the fog curtains. His beige robes spattered with mud and the telltale scorch-marks of near misses from a lightsaber blade, Jedi Master Agen Kolar greeted her with raised eyebrows, breathing hard.



    “The witch?” she said.



    He hiss-growled, hand resting on the lightsaber at his belt. “Fled. Escaped on a shuttle. Too many battle droids.”



    He turned his fierce eyes to peer at the foggy sky and sighed.



    “I must be losing my touch.”



    Spotting the fallen clone in the swamp, Kolar crouched beside the trooper.



    “Oh no. Marc…”



    “He… Marc died defending me,” Swan whispered. Kolar rose and faced her again.



    “Do not grieve him. He made his choice and did his duty.” The muscular Zabrak grasped her slender shoulders in powerful hands. “The clones are not bred to be suicidal, I can assure you of that. And so where is the apprentice?”



    Swan glanced to one side then lowered her eyes, mute. Kolar saw the crumpled black cowl and quickly understood.



    “You have made your first kill, then.” Still grasping her shoulders, he said. “Are you alright?”



    Swan sighed but could not reply at first. The emergency with Marc had stalled the flood of emotions, but now she recalled the shock of impact, the sensation as her blade silenced the adept’s beating heart. She raised eyes to look into the Zabrak’s fierce, feral face.



    “Does it get any easier; after the first, I mean?”



    He exhaled before replying, then released her shoulders.



    “No. War inevitably costs lives, and it is worse if we are not decisive in our duty: I, too, have learned that the hard way. But it never gets easier. And neither should it. Do not deny your pain, Swan. It does you credit.”



    She shrugged. “Thank you.”



    They were interrupted by an electronic warbling and then Arten waddled into the glade.



    “Ah, there you are Mistress Swan!”



    “Arten?” gasped Swan. “Are you intact? I thought… I thought the fall… Marc didn’t have time to secure you to the cable…”



    “Aha. As I tried to inform you at the cliff edge, Mistress Swan, I happen to be equipped with emergency repulsor thrusters for just such a situation, though they only burn for approximately twenty seconds it was enough to break my fall. Then that brute came after me…”



    “Magwan? Where is he?”



    “Magwan?” Kolar said, raising confused eyebrows.



    “Magna Guard 1. A prototype battle droid; designed to combat Jedi,” said Swan. She stared at the little astromech droid. “You defeated him?”



    “Well, it was not exactly single-handed, Mistress Swan. He charged at me from around a deeper part of the bog, and I recalled the behavior of the swamp beasts when the birds hooted. So I… Well, forgive me Mistress Swan, but I mimicked the bird and sure enough the hoots brought one of the beasts jumping right up. Swallowed the big brute whole!”



    Arten raised his stubby arms and revolved his head in a victory dance. Swan shook her head and smiled.



    “That vocabulator was useful after all. Brilliant, Arten. Well done.”



    She faced Kolar again.



    “The Magna Guard program was what they were hiding here. We have destroyed their operation.”



    Kolar rubbed his chin. “I see. I expect we will be seeing more of these Magna Guards in the future, then. And I have a bad feeling we have not heard the last of Ventress, either.”



    He viewed the fallen body of Marc again.



    “We should bury him here. He once told me he wanted to spend his final rest on the planet that eventually claimed him.”



    Swan nodded. “Then we have to find our starfighter.”
  12. Aiyan Swan Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2012
    EPILOGUE





    “ASTROGATION DATA COMPUTED, Master Kolar, Mistress Swan,” Arten warbled through the ARC-170’s intercom. Swan nodded, finishing her check of the ship’s systems.



    “All systems clear. You did it, Arten.”



    “Alright, we are ready to go,” said Kolar.



    Now seated in the front-gunner’s cockpit, Swan switched her monitor screen to the vid feed of the rear view. The mist-shrouded orb of Dagobah gradually shrank as the starfighter chugged towards leaping distance. Swan clicked on the intercom.



    “Kolar, I think I owe you an apology.”



    “You do?”



    “Yes,” she sighed. “When Master Yoda paired us for this mission, I was aware of your reputation as a fierce warrior, and perhaps a little worried by it, as well as awed. I thought Master Yoda wanted me to keep an eye on you, prevent you from sliding to the dark side. I realize now my own eagerness to impress you meant I was the one that needed watching.”



    “I think you have been hearing judgmental comments that I have not been making.”



    Swan nodded. “I’m sorry, Agen. Do you mind if I call you that?”



    “Alright, if I can call you Bull.”



    Swan grimaced. “I think I prefer Swan.”



    There was a hiss-growl through the intercom; the amused kind.



    “Do not think too hard on it, Swan. Perhaps I have seen a little too much death recently. I was becoming a little jaded; my faith in what we are fighting to preserve starting to falter. You have… re-energized my belief that we must be strong to ensure the Republic survives. We may have our differences, Swan, but I hope to work with you again.”



    She nodded again, looking around her cockpit. She definitely felt more secure facing forwards. “And this time we will be facing the same direction.”



    There was an amicable silence for several moments.



    “I wonder what this Ventress will do next?” she said.



    “She’ll have to crawl back to Dooku and explain why his Magna Guard program has been stalled. They will take time to get that started again. I expect she’ll keep her little training activities secret for now.”



    “Do you think she’ll ever come back here?”



    “Not likely, now that it has been rediscovered,” said Kolar.



    “But has it? Master Yoda seemed keen to not enter Dagobah into the Jedi Archives.”



    Kolar chuckled. “Did he really? Master Yoda sees further than any of us. I’m sure he has some distant plans for this world.”



    Swan watched the planet shrink to a pinpoint on her monitor. Kolar’s initial comments upon landing returned to her mind.



    A perfect place to come if you do not want to be found.





    THE END

  13. benknobi1 Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Jun 12, 2002
    star 6
    Awesome. Love stories with Zabraks, especially good ones ;)
    Last edited by benknobi1, Dec 13, 2012
  14. Aiyan Swan Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Nov 27, 2012
    Yippee! My first reader. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. (And sorry the Zabrak does not have a more prominent role:))
    benknobi1 likes this.
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