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Saga The Hatchling - Obi-Wan in exile, desert angst

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by ruth baulding, Jan 3, 2013.

  1. ruth baulding

    ruth baulding Jedi Knight star 3

    Sep 3, 2012
    The Hatchling
    by ruth baulding

    It started with a pathetic life-form of native Tatooinian extraction.

    If he had been in his right mind, this fact alone should have been sufficient deterrent to send him hastening in the opposite direction without so much as a backward glance; but he had long since renounced his last feeble claims upon mental balance, admitting to himself that sanity and he, in the truest and fullest sense, had long since parted ways. And recently society at large – or what passed for it here, in this despicable hive of scum and villainy- had come round to his point of view on the matter, habitually appending the title “Crazy” or sometimes “Crazy Old” to his chosen pseudonym. He only hoped that he lived up to the accusation in a manner befitting his high and all but invalidated calling. He had no doubt at all that they were right in their prejudiced and dismissal of his character.

    After all, only a crazy man would attempt to rescue a stranded krayt dragon hatchling.

    “Am I crazy?” he asked the first diurnal wind, the gentle susurration before dawn, that subtle breeze that held only as much heat as a living breath, one carried by some nameless grace over the planet’s fire-rimmed horizon to the equally nameless pilgrim trudging his way homeward with a baby krayt dragon tucked in the wide sleeve of his fraying robe. “…Or have I always been crazy?”

    The wind seemed to chuckle, a hot wafting of mirth that cavorted about the tattered hem of his cloak and tickled the back of his neck, where roughly shorn hair already curled damp with perspiration. “You have always been crazy,” the ever moving currents seemed to tell him. “At least, from a certain point of view. But I think you are beginning, at last, to grow into it.”

    “But…. is it civilized?” he wondered aloud.

    The wind swept his hood back and ruffled his hair. “Here you are dressed in rags and ill-shaven, carrying a half-dead beast back to your primitive hovel, and you can still ask such a question?” Tiny dust devils swirled mischievously in his wake, obliterating what little footprints he left in the shifting sands. “Do not fear – you lend madness a peculiar elegance.”

    He grunted his sardonic amusement and wearily sloughed onward.

    The wind wrung moisture from his eyes and then wiped it from his cheeks. He tightened his protective grip on the beautiful baby lizard and doggedly marched back to the shelter of his lonely abode.

    He really wasn’t of a sentimental temperament.

    Or, if he had been born with such a sweet disposition, it had been rigorously trained out of him before memory had fully dawned over his bright inner horizon. It was not, he assured himself, the irrational ebb and tide of emotion that had called him to the hatchling’s side. It was the mandate of something deeper: compassion, or perhaps even familial connection. A thought worthy of a lunatic, true; but when he had first heard the abandoned infant’s cries, its bone-deep keening, the wavering unearthly ululation of its species, he had recognized at once the familiar refrain that echoed through the plenum with his every breath. He would know anywhere the pure inaudible tones of heartbroken defiance ringing in the anguished Force – here they but took on bodily form.

    The piteous creature and he were surely soul-mates.

    He had changed course, taking a dangerous detour into Tusken territory, to find the source of the wailing. His original intent that morning had been to intercept the Jawa sandcrawler slinking along the far ridge of the Dune Sea. It was prudent to keep abreast of the latest gossip and to monitor the current trading value of tech goods. The diminutive desert scavenger merchants were the best, if not the most reliable, source of both sorts of information. But it would seem that destiny had other plans for him that day. The orphaned hatchling had called to him, and he had responded.

    It had lain amidst the shattered shells and corpses of its broodmates, the mangled body of its mother sprawling lifeless a short distance from the nest, grisly evidence of a rogue male on a killing spree. Such murderous rampages were not unknown among the creatures, but this massacre’s sole survivor called to the pitiless stars with such shocked and disbelieving pain that even his war-hardened rescuer was moved.

    The thing had tried to bite him when he reached for it, but a judicious application of the Force soothed its tempestuous mind into a semblance of calm, allowing him to fold the half-starved body into a corner of his cloak. They had set off for the refuge of home together, two solitary remnants of separate Purges, traipsing across the unforgiving desert.

    It was utter madness, but it felt right.


    He named the creature Oki.

    The name had no significance – it was bereft of mnemonic weight, as light and insubstantial as his own assumed identity, a thing without anchor in the deeps of time, unhaunted by any specter of association or solemn heritage. It was just a tag, a hollowed and weathered syllable like “Ben.” Perhaps this is why he chose it. Those who floated like dead leaves on the dwindling seas of tradition should not be burdened with names that bore meaning.

    They needed to be buoyant lest they drown in despair.

    Oki did not care one way or another about his name. Certainly he never came when he was called, or deign otherwise to acknowledge the existence or importance of his savior as anything more than tolerated companion. He cared only for blue milk and the occasional insect or smaller reptile foolish enough to wander close to his searching tongue and jaws. The former commodity was supplied in abundance by the Tusken spirit-wives, who made a daily sojourn up to the cave to leave peace offerings for the Wizard of the Black Hills. They left the milk skins in certain sacred clefts of rock near the mage’s dwelling. Moving prey, by contrast, was provided in abundance by the planet’s harsh generosity, nature’s perennial hospitable sacrifice of the weak to the strong. Oki was a natural born killer. He often left a stray wing or leg lying about as evidence of his conquest.

    At first, the dragon was confined to his crate, but soon enough the thing had run of the house. The two of them would spend their days cloistered within the cool sanctuary of their exile, while the twin suns rose and patrolled the skies like a pair of baleful eyes, a hellish master and his eternally damned apprentice seeking to burn out the last traces of tenacious rebellion.

    Ben was tolerated, and tolerated. But he drew the line when the beast tried to share his ascetic cot at night. Affection he might feel for his growing serpent…. but he had sworn never again to nurture one in his bosom.

    And so the day passed, while one grew ever larger and the other grew slowly older.

    One night, at the very beginning of winter, there was dew - the faintest suggestion of providential mercy dusted upon the sands, bedecking the wind-worn rocks with ten thousand glittering orbs, one for every system in the fallen Republic. The vaporator hummed away happily in its sheltered nook, proclaiming that its stored moisture levels were only ‘moderate.’ But Ben could not bring himself to sacrifice the heavenly beneficence to such quotidian purposes; the unexpected gift was a portent sent to rekindle the guttering luminance of spirit, not to nourish gross matter.

    Oki suffered from no such metaphysical scrupulosity. He lapped at the swiftly evaporating gems with his forked turquoise tongue, greedily devouring the ephemeral tracery of hope.

    And the twin suns rose, glaring upon the spectacle with lowered brows. Oki allowed his companion to stroke the soft fringe behind his scaled head, flushing a delicate shade of mauve with pleasure. There was a strange comfort in the gesture, one more akin to warm childhood security than the aching promise of distant hope bestowed by the skies.

    The last dwindling remnants of dew seemed to wink at him. “What are you talking about? You never once even tried to smuggle home a pet.”

    It was true; he had been an obedient child, an exemplary student. But he still would have liked a pet, even if he never dared ask for one, even if he accepted without question that such trifling attachments were forbidden.

    The dew melted away beneath the suns’ double vendetta. “You weren’t that exemplary.”

    He snorted, stroking his pathetic life form’s scaled hide. Well. That was nice.

    The last droplets disappeared, but their soundless voice lingered on. “I did not say it was necessarily a bad thing.”

    Oki and he watched the suns rise until the heat grew intolerable and they retreated by mutual agreement into the rough-hewn solace of their shared hermitage.

    He knew that he had truly left the high and narrow road of sanity to meander instead down the broad avenues of madness when he began negotiating with the thing.

    “Very well. You may occupy this entire room so long as you do not touch the contents of this crate.. or that table.”

    Oki agreed to the terms of the treaty.

    “Off my bed, you impertinent usurper… oh, all right, blast it, I’ll give you extra milk.”

    Oki accepted the conditions of parley.

    “Don’t look at me – it’s always been this cold at night. And you are supposed to be genetically adapted to climactic extremes. Ow!.. Yes, well, that’s my half of the mattress, you greedy barve.”

    Oki grudgingly settled for two-thirds of the allotted space.

    But there was no negotiating out of the grim ultimatum posed by the new Imperial bounty postings in Anchorhead. A propaganda holo-cast disseminated by the Imperial Public Security Commission compared the few Jedi traitors suspected to have survived the initial Purge to krayt hatchlings: seemingly innocuous creatures which, if left to grow, would swell again to monstrous proportions. Better to crush the serpent’s head before it reached destructive maturity, the Imperial officer’s clipped nasal voice declared. It was a matter of protecting the newly restored peace.

    “What do you think of that, my friend?”

    Oki chomped a stray drassil-lizard and blinked apathetically. He was nearly too large to lay coiled comfortably in the narrow bounds of the hermit’s living space.

    “I’m going to have to Knight you and cut you loose one of these days. Before you get stuck in here,” he informed the placidly snoozing dragon.

    The nights approaching the annual solstice were bitter. They shared the one insufficient palette, precocious monster and prematurely old man, a metaphor and its meaning lying nestled close together, a quiet insult to the absolute peace of tyranny.

    They delayed the planned Knighting well into the next season. At night, veiled from the malicious suns’ scrutiny, Oki hunted in the wastes outside the hermitage, while Ben meditated, each one prowling deep in the vast and uncharted domains of his special heritage, obedient to the indelible prompting of his nature. By day they kept quiet company, respective majesties furled beneath a humble sandstone roof.

    The occasional itinerant visitor to the cave – the Sand Women who left offerings of milk, an intrepid Jawa peddler, a lost homesteader in need of shelter – saw only the magician and his awful familiar.

    The days grew yet hotter as spring wore on. Soon Ben was forced to make an excursion into town to find a new power cell for his arthritic old vaporator. And in town, gossip buzzed like flies about a pile of eopie droppings. Taxes had again been raised, despite the Empire’s initial promise to levy extra income from only the most affluent systems, the decadent former supporters of Republican opulence. A bar fight in neighboring Mos Ertu had left seven dead and the business for sale at a cheap price. Speculation ran rampant as to the identity of its next purchaser. There had been another thwarted assassination attempt against the local Hutt crimelord, and a resulting spate of executions at the Great Pit or Karkoon. A company of Trandoshanbig game hunters had arrived at the spaceport last week, in search of sport out over the Dune Sea way.

    He didn’t like the sound of that. And so Oki remained a household pet for a little while longer, though his sides would barely fit through the doorframe and his dragon’s heart chafed against the confinement.

    And the weary days dragged on past the equinox and into the next drought season.

    There was a meteor storm at summer’s onset, a cataclysmic rainfall of white flame. Tatooine’s cluster of barren moons looked on in terror as the sky fell about their ears. Some of the shooting stars made landfall, sending up spouts of fire and sand where they ploughed into the virginal desert past the Wastes, the desolate regions where only sarlaac and krayt roamed.

    On that night, he sat and watched the stars fall from their thrones, the unmaking of his cosmos, and shed no tears. It was but a drab mummery, a dull pageant mimed by tired players. This brief apocalypse paled in comparison to its original, and so its awful splendor held no sway over his imagination. When he grew bored of the tawdry spectacle, he went indoors, only to find that Oki had a long last disappeared.

    The krayt youngling had at last run to the wilderness of its origins, lured by the pomp and glory of the storm, driven by some deep collective impulse of his kind. Krays were said to seek out their mates in the chaotic melee of electrical storms, and to make love upon the burning sands. Ben could not say whether this eclectic snippet of natural history was true or even humanly verifiable – but he was certain that his dragon had finally left home.

    Sighing, he made bitter tea from native yerba leaves – a green and biting brew so different from the aromatic silpa and fragrant hatha blossoms – and poured the last of the blue milk into it, sweetening the pang of loss with something good in the present moment.

    Attachment was still forbidden, even if the ageless codices in which this prohibition had been inscribed were now themselves fluttering ash. He drank the tea slowly, savoring its harsh flavor as best he could, and fancied he could hear the faint roaring of his krayt echoing upon the far hills while heaven crumbled to ruin from on high.

    In the end, he set aside the empty bowl and retired to sleep.

    After all, the night’s coolness was of short duration and he was already well acquainted with loss.

    With midsummer came desert fever.

    The soaring temperatures outside his stifling hovel were nothing compared to the fires raging in his veins as he sweated through the worst throes of illness. Half his stored water supply was still insufficient to quench his unending thirst; only when he grew too weak to rise from his cot did he surrender to the consuming heat, soaked in salty moisture he could ill afford to expend, shivering beneath his blankets even as he burned.

    “I’ve never been this ill before,” he complained, his voice nothing but a soft rasping against the stone wall.

    The wavering air, textured into shifting mirage by delirium, smoothed his damp brow. “You were, once or twice. You just don’t remember.”

    There were many things he did not wish to remember. Possibly such a paroxysm of infirmity was among them. Shouldn’t he, at his age, have acquired immunity to such common maladies? Or should not the Force have protected him, as it once had – before the Dark times, before the Empire? He supposed the universal Life itself to be fever-wracked and plague-stricken now, laid low by the ascendancy of the Sith. Perhaps this individual suffering was nothing but a shadow cast on his cave wall by that ethereal bonfire, that funeral pyre of Light set kindling on the molten shores of Mustafar by his own hand.

    He moaned through the short marches of night. Come morning he could barely distinguish waking from sleep, nor dream from vision. Gross matter halfway moulted from struggling spirit, he saw what was not there, felt the intangible, spun dizzily into a place where the dead kept a wry vigil over the half-dead.

    He found dark amusement in discovering Tatooine’s sole attractive quality. “There are no healers here,” he triumphed, in a hoarse whisper.

    “Don’t be so sure,” the aching space between each heartbeat told him. A soft current moved in the baking air, a hand easing the transition from wakefulness to sleep. “The Force has a way of providing unexpected solutions. Especially here.”

    And sure enough, when the Tusken spirit-wives came later that day with their offering of blue milk and dried bantha meat, they also left a dented canister of the local folk remedy, a wretched potion made from the spores of a rare desert fungus.

    “You see? I was right.”

    He had no strength to make reply, so he merely hobbled his way back indoors, the strange gift clutched in one shaking hand.

    The medicine was vile, and induced nightmarish hallucinations – but it was also marvelously efficacious. He slept nearly two whole days after the worst of the fever burned off, and when he again opened he could barely stand upright to use his miniscule fresher, much less totter into the house’s main room to prepare tea.

    He had just collapsed onto a padded stool scavenged by the industrious Jawas from some crashed space-faring vessel, head sunk in his hands as he rallied his scant strength for the next task, when a scratching and grunting at the threshold demanded his attention. He raised a trembling hand and waved the weather-proofed portal open, little caring who might witness this display of occult power.

    The visitor was Oki.

    Scarred from numerous territorial disputes, clearly starving from lack of hunting rights, the poor creature shimmied his way through the front entrance and coiled himself in the living area, knocking aside a few inconveniently placed furnishings.

    “Make yourself comfortable,” Ben told his guest, eyes straying sadly over the dragon’s emaciated body, the badly-healed wounds of numerous fights. Oki did not know how to defend himself, having been raised to peace and content within the cave. A sand storm was stirring outside; the ailing krayt had run to ground in the safety of his nest.

    He had come home.

    “Mind you, I do not make a good nursemaid,” the hovel’s proper occupant warned the malnourished and battle-ravaged lizard.

    The dragon snored, Ben huddled in his old thermal blankets and drank weak broth, and the sand raged and ranted outside their shelter. And they both grew stronger with the passing days, licking their wounds and dreaming of the future while the pitiless desert kept watch over their slow recovery.

    Tatooine’s skies were bottomless wells of blue. One could easily plunge into those empyrean depths and know oblivion’s embrace, while sand and sun scoured flesh from bone and left a bleached architecture as solitary memorial. Beyond the seductive blue, beyond the ever-vigilant suns, the stars wheeled in their hypnotic ordained dance, tranquil, undisturbed, supremely indifferent.

    The wind scurried stray grains of sand into his ears and nose, whipping up tiny flurries of dust off the plinth of rock where he lay teetering on the brink of that inverted abyss.

    “Don’t you dare,” the tickling sand chided him.

    He did dare; the Force beckoned to him, told him that when he so chose, he could fall upwards and inwards without obstacle, his spirit hammered so featherlight by cruel destiny that it would be carried home without the aid of fire, or even slow decay. The ephemeral tether connecting Light to body was strained so taut with longing that the slightest razor’s nick would sever it utterly.

    But he chose duty, as he always had.

    “Get up,” the sands whispered, trickling beneath the hems of his garments, chafing at dry wind-burned skin, insinuating themselves into the corners of his eyes, the back of his throat.

    He sat up coughing and swept a pile of white gold dust aside with a vexed brush of one hand. “For stars’ sake… can I not have one single moment alone?”

    The wind traced delicate ripples in the miniature dunes beneath the jutting slab. “No. You brood too much when left to your own devices.”

    Somewhere in the distant wastes a krayt dragon screamed, its unearthly hunting call resounding across the wastes.

    “And you still have work to do.”

    Prolonged residence on this uncouth world had expanded his hitherto limited grasp on Huttese idiom. He demonstrated his newfound fluency in high invective style, raising a challenging brow at the sanctimonious wind. But only the faintest chuckling murmur answered him, fading to a whistle among the time smoothed stones.

    He rose and shuffled back to his dwelling, the muted calls of the distant hunter still hanging in the chill air.

    Only a true lunatic would take it upon himself to teach a juvenile krayt dragon how to fight. But in this case, his sense of responsibility - his guilt at having neglected to supply this essential training earlier – far outweighed his sense of self preservation. Those who had once known him best would often lament his infamous defect in the latter regard, anyhow. It was ironic that he, who was rumored never to take a second thought to his own safety, and whose legendary protégé was even more reckless and daring than he, should have the dubious distinction of surviving the Purge. He did not believe in luck, or in odds, or in probabilities.

    Oki and Ben hunted at dawn and twilight when Tatooine’s temperatures were at the perigee of their giddy cycle between extremes, when the menacing eyes of the suns were just over the bleak horizon. By moonlight and starlight they prowled, and when another mighty predator came to challenge the krayt’s right to survive, to drive him from the wastes to starve in ignominy, they fought side by side, the human impressing upon the reptile’s mind what basic survival lessons he could, weapons of artifice and birthright raised as one to fend off ravening death, to defy fate. Nature accomplished the rest, and soon enough tooth and claw and prodigious inherited power had outstripped his humble tutelage.

    After that, he let the krayt wander on his own, finally able to fend for himself in the merciless realms of his upbringing, his native haunts. He was glad to let the dragon go, for the carnage in the aftermath of Oki’s hunts was often too hot and gory a sight for his taste. And the nights were again growing colder, the world darkening toward winter. With increased skill, and the power to repel assailants to his sovereignty, Oki’s boldness increased, until he was trekking far over the uncharted sand seas, returning at first seldom and then never., leaving his former mentor to stockpile provisions against perpetual drought and to breathe a sigh of relief that he had at least fulfilled one duty, successfully trained one student to fulfill his appointed role in the great balance of things.

    At the next equinox he made a routine surveillance trip to the Lars moisture farm. Even before he caught a glimpse of the outlying buildings, and the sunken dome of the pit-house at the farm’s center, he could feel the child’s bright presence shining, happy and content, from within the squat fortress of his aunt and uncle’s affection, assuring his unseen and all but unknown guardian that all was well with him. When Ben did finally crest the last hill of sand, leaving his hacked together speeder bike behind the rise – discreetly out of sight – he spotted Beru Lars and one of the neighboring homesteaders deep in conversation outside the house. Owen Lars, and his habitual resentment, was neither to be seen nor to be heard, so the hermit gathered his cloak about his body and approached the two women at a tentative, non-threatening gait. Closer to the house, he could feel their shared worry like a sandworm burrowing beneath the drifting dunes. Some ill tidings he had yet to hear, he guessed.

    Beru was not pleased at his trespass, but she did not shoo him away either. He made her a bow, a lifetime of formal training not yet eroded by the sands of time. The other farmwife – Yorba Mils – regarded the interloper warily, as though he might carry contagion.

    “Your pardon for the intrusion,” he began, mildly, seeking an opening. “I would not presume upon your goodwill, Mrs. Lars, but I wished to be sure you had heard the news.”

    The young woman’s features softened slightly, conveying gratitude for his solicitous gesture. Her liquid eyes turned to her sun beaten companion.

    Ben nodded to the older woman, making the subtle gesture of compulsion with the fingers of his right hand. “You, madam, will do the tale better justice than I would.”

    Yorba Mils snorted in ready agreement. “Sure enough I would, and I already have. Don’t suppose you got any livestock up there in them hills with you, Mr. Kenobi?”

    He shrugged. “I sold my eopie some time ago. To make ends meet.”

    Beru looked relieved.

    “That’s just as well for you,” the neighbor grunted, baring all five teeth in a bitter smile. “All ours is dead or raving mad. Parr had to put the last of em down this morning. But it’s the banthas we worry on the most – wild beasts ain’t immune from the fever, and a rogue herd stampeding is all we need – or gods forbid, something worse than banthas.”

    Beru grasped the other woman’s arm. “Yorba,” she said, “Let’s not make worse trouble than we already have. Nobody knows whether larger animals can be affected or not. Owen and I don’t keep any beasts. And with the fever still running on since summer, I haven’t taken Luke to town in months. It’s best that way. Now, let me loan you some of that –“

    “No,” Mistress Mils interrupted. “We don’t take charity. Just wanted to be sure you had the news.” Harrumphing, she glared pointedly at the intruder, eyes raking contemptuously over his cloaked form.

    “We did.” Beru’s gaze shifted toward her home’s recessed door. “If you’ll excuse me, Owen is due back any moment., and…”

    Both Yorba Mils and Ben took the hint and departed.

    On Boonta eve, the entire population within a two hundred klick radius congregated in Mod Eisley for the traditional festivities. Lights were strung across the packed streets; dancers paraded the skull and ribs of a small krayt in fanciful procession, a death’s head dance bidding farewell to the old year; noisemakers and wind chimes banished ill luck and bad debts. Food and drink flowed freely, the only occasion upon which the sacred and ancient laws of hospitality were observed here on the barren and inhospitable world.

    Even the local Hutt overlords sent emissaries to throw largesse among the crowds, scattering credit chits in the name of the Munificent Gardulla or the Magnanimous Jabba. Of course, since their generosity took the form of doubtlessly stolen Republic credits no longer recognized by the Empire and never much in vogue this far out in the Rims, the gesture was both intended and received in a purely symbolic spirit.

    Beru Lars found him lounging outside the cheap eatery where the farm family had dined. The boy was asleep in her arms, growing limbs and tousled white hair seeming to overflow the small but sturdy arms that encircled him. It was no accident that Ben had stationed himself at just that place for the nighttime parade, but the moisture farmer’s wife either suspected nothing or was grateful for his presence.

    “There has been rumor of a rogue krayt raiding outlying farms,” she whispered in his ear. “Out our way.” Fear edged her voice with urgency. “Owen says we shouldn’t worry, we haven’t any animals, but…” Her arms tightened about her sleeping burden.

    “I’ll keep watch,” he promised, reiterating a vow made a lifetime ago, under other auspices. He exhaled slowly, regret mingling with the cooling night air. “Nothing will cross your borders,” he added.

    She squeezed his arm in mute thanks and hurried back inside, afraid that she would be missed by her husband.

    He watched the skeletal krayt dance its way by again, a sinuous wraith bedecked in ribbons and sulpha-lanterns, an omen staring at him out of blank and empty sockets. Some of the Hutts’ useless money fell at his feet, and he did not stoop to pick it up, poor beggar though he might be.

    He set out for home after the Lars family left town in their rickety landspeeder, but the image of the ghastly krayt still danced before his inner eye, the bones parading through his dreams that night and for many afterward.

    He kept his promise to guard the moisture farm’s perimeter, patrolling by night when the renegade hunter might raom the dunes looking for prey. But no slavering, disease maddened beast crept near in the fastness of night, no escapee from the Corellian hells came prowling about the last tenacious outpost of civilization.

    The nights were merely quiet and cold. Once, he neglected his self-appointed watchman’s post and ventured far into the Jundland, on a night when ice would have lain thick upon the dead sands had there been any ambient moisture to freeze. And in the heart of the wastes he let loose a hunting call, the bloodcurdling screech of the krayt dragon. It was not difficult to imitate. The howl ripped loose from his throat as though too long chained there, clamoring for release all these long months and years, possibly since before his exile, before the wars began, before Naboo ever bereft him of father and guiding light, before hard-got wisdom had robbed him of childhood, before he had even squalled his first infantile pangs of loss to the universe in general, the parting cry of mortal flesh sundered abruptly from the womb of Light. The sound filled the void of the desert and overflowed, setting the stark constellations ablur with weeping.

    But Oki did not heed the summons, if he heard or understood its import. He did not come to testify either to innocence or to guilt. And a sickly moon rose bloated over the farthest ridge and sneered upon his pain. He faced it, shameless, bathed in ghostly silver, until it rose past the artlessly scrawled horizon and rode high overhead, lording it over all the emptiness below.

    And he turned his back, in weary apprehension of a trope too often played within the bleak theater of his memory.

    By the next equinox, talk of the maverick krayt had abated, dwindling to stale news like everything else on this perpetually drought-stricken world. Ben relaxed his constant vigilance, falling almost gladly into the amnesiac routine of survival, of timeless personal meditation. He could pretend that only a moment or else a whole eternity had slipped through the narrow isthmus of time’s hourglass, the winnowing passage in which choice and fate were reduced to indifferent grains of sand among a mountain of history, all of it ground fine, pulverized to dust by the grinding wheels of fate.

    It was an idle fancy. The Force would not forget him so easily.

    It grew hot again, the beginning of sandstorm season, and the vaporator labored hard to produce its miserly daily offering, a pittance of water to keep a single man alive. He sat in the shade of his cave’s opening, watching the tiny lizards shelter themselves beneath the stunted succulents growing in the clefts. Overhead the suns pried and poked around every exposed stone, as though searching for him.

    He chuckled. Even his own mother would never recognize him now. Well, not that there had been much chance of that. even before endless exile had claimed him. But all the same.

    When early summer arrived without the obligatory lightning storm over the Wastes, he almost took it as an auspicious sign… though he did not believe in Fortune, much less fortune-telling. But a storm of another breed descended in its place, one borne thither by a very small, dark-shrouded thunderhead, one with the peculiar rolling gait and jabbering dialect of a highly agitated Jawa.

    The visitor could not hold still, shouting some urgent message at him repeatedly and thrusting one dwarfed hand back in the direction from whence he had come. Ben’s Huttese was hardly up to the challenge, but the Force carried across the language barrier such an agony of terror and need that he let the creature take him back, his knees jammed nearly to his chin in the backseat of its dilapidated miniature speeder.

    An hour later he beheld a scene of devastation: the sandcrawler turned upon its impossibly ponderous side, its thick-walled hull torn asunder, the viscera of the crawling city strewn upon the unforgiving sands. Among the debris were many small bodies. Funeral chanting droned in the still air. The tracks of a massive beast – splayed, triple clawed, the serpentine line of a tail and heavy body carved between the marks – wound away across the dunes.

    He understood enough of the Jawas’ language to know that this had been the work of a maddened krayt, a monster rendered deadlier still by brain-fever, a volcano erupting into untrammeled rage, magma spurting over the edges of instinct, of all natural bounds, until it obliterated whatever lay in its path.

    The Jawas implored the Wizard of the Black Hills to slay the beast.

    Reluctantly, gazing away across the heat-warped plains, he agreed. He would do what he must.

    The hunt led him far into the rolling seas of dead sand, under a triumvirate of mournful moons, solemn escorts along the road.

    At first, there were clear tracks to follow, rents in the dunes’ untouched expanse, a cold trail pointing onward to the utter desolation beyond. He trudged doggedly in the familiar rut, invisible shackles binding him to its course, chaining him to the march of duty.

    “If it is Oki, I will not kill him,” he proclaimed to the still night air, the sweet silvery blue light coiling ghostly in each exhaled cloud.

    “But you must,” the nearest moon sighed, smiling wanly down upon him, a thin crescent of sympathy turned down at the corners.

    The tracks led him to the edge of a shale precipice, and he leapt, sliding and then skidding, straight to the deep-shadowed base. “I cannot do it, “ he reasoned with the swelling yellow orb just visible over the hills. “I saved him. I suckled him, I raised him, I taught him to survive. He was my only companion that awful winter.”

    The moon was heavy with its own thoughts. “If he has gone mad, then he is already dead in all ways that matter.”

    The same old argument. He ploughed his way through the soft drifts of darkness and light, the shifting texture as fickle as a storm tossed sea, an ocean without true landmark or shore. The tracks were lost amid jutting planes of stone, coarser sands. The lifeless tracts beyond lay naked beneath the last moon.

    “There. I don’t know where to find him.” A quavering protest, one delivered without true conviction.

    “Search your feelings. He will come, if you call here. It is yours to do, or not to do.”

    It had always been his to do. It had been from the first day he had taken under his broken wing a pathetic life form of native Tatooinian extraction. It was both his fatal weakness and his just punishment for that same weakness.

    The night mocked him, the desert gaped wide – a shallow grave scraped by pitiless claws, ready to receive the collapsing bones of his morale. Tatooine was the locus, the embodiment of his failures, his purgatory, his final trial.

    Pushing back his cloak’s hood, he looked out upon the drear battleground, the sand like volcanic ash under the appalled moons, the frigid air like fire in his lungs, the swirling dust like sparks and embers of recollection. And he called for the krayt, bellowing his challenge out in the face of immensity, of blanched despair.

    And a shadow answered his call.

    They faced off in an arena without walls, without spectators. No cries of bloodlust rent the air, no roaring volcanic river seethed beneath them, licking at their feet with greedy tongues. There was only the cold and the sand, the ever-moving sand, dead remnants of aeons past, the dust of ages.

    Oki had grown mighty, armored in vast scales, in skill and treachery. He loomed over his solitary adversary, jaws dripping hot rage, dorsal spines rigid with wrath, In his slatted golden eyes, twin mirrors reflected the ‘sabers’ spitting sapphire blade, paired bolts of lightning thrumming their sorrow across the Waste.

    The dragon roared, claws sending up spouts of grit where they landed one to either side, pinning Ben beneath the weight of his shadow. A waterfall of rancid breath tumbled over the ragged falls of teeth, the lolling forked tongue swollen and sticky with foam.


    But the beast had never cared for its given name. It watched the saber’s searing edge with a fey light kindling in its eyes, a maddened hunger that would swallow weapon and wielder together, extinguishing both foes in a single obliterating moment, perhaps stamping out the last such bright flame from the galaxy. The dilated pupils swayed back and forth with the dragon’s head, hot droplets spattering on the sand between its claws.

    “Oki.” He reached deeper, prodding in the Force, seeking the fluttering and diaphanous ribbons of quasi-thought, of semi-sentience, the animal’s share of universal light, its mind like a depthless pool still refracting bottomless heaven.

    But there was only pain and confusion and the endless heat of fever, a void eating itself.

    “I made you ill.”

    He had, that summer they shared the cave’s shelter. He had thought himself the dragon’s savior again, taught it to hunt and fight, tended its wounds, talked to it and fed it and … killed it. Slowly.

    Oki roared, tail lashing, then settled upon the dust in a writhing heap, massive head lowered to the gritty sands before the hermit. The blue blade wavered. One thrust through the cranium, just between the eyes… it would be swift. Perhaps painless.

    “It’s my fault.”

    The krayt said nothing in reply, offered neither forgiveness nor comfort. The saber hummed low, growling its impatience. There was only do or do not, never any try. Never any room for doubt, for regret, for indecision, for feeling.

    “I’m sorry. I tried.”

    The saber’s blade disappeared into its hilt, an expiring angel.

    “I tried!” He screamed it this time, voice breaking. How he had tried. He had tried until it had nearly killed him, until he begged for it to kill him. “I tried!” And though there was only do or do not, his entire life had filled that impossible chasm between them, that non-existent place where a heart might burn steadily amid a hurricane, undaunted, unbroken, undefeated, only to be snuffed into nothingness by another’s act of betrayal.

    He sank to his knees, one hand stroking the dying creature’s scaled skin, the hard armor of its nature. “I tried!” It was all he had ever done, his whole existence a monument to the paradox of brilliant failure.

    He could not kill Oki. Oki would not kill him. They sat beneath the weeping moons for a long time, until the cold melded their breaths into a single ghostly column of incense.

    And then the sands beneath them stirred, the nine hells opening wide to receive them both.

    Wandering over the desert the following day, he could barely remember what had transpired, or tell whether it was a dream, another nightmare sent to torment him.

    There lurked in the desert’s heart a thing more terrible than the krayt, a denizen of some demonic pit sent into exile here long, long before any human had set foot on the Jundland. The natives called it sarlaac.

    He called it fear.

    Lurking beneath the sands, the thing waited. It was said to slowly digest its prey over the course of a thousand years, a biologic impossibility made believable by the obscene fact f the monster’s existence. Tentacles and gaping mouth, it was the desert’s hunger embodied, the incarnation of want, of need, of perpetual starvation and the cruelty it entailed.

    This one had been big enough to swallow the moons whole.

    Ben slid down the avalanching slope, straight into the thing’s gaping jaws, his hands clutching at nothing, his weapon flashing to life too late, too late to ward off the crushing limbs that grasped at his body, constricting and suffocating. He did not dread the death of a thousand years, for he had already endured it. But the grotesque sack opening beneath him, the acid churning in the depths of that pit, the squelching viscera of this nightmare – he cried out, wishing instead for the instant immolation of volcanic fire.

    And the krayt had called out in unison with him, a protective fury in excess of even the sarlaac’s hunger, the desert’s expanse, the moons’ pity. The cry that rent the sky from the stars, the sand from its fathom-deep bedrock, the monster’s gripping arms from its prey. And Oki hurled himself into the pit, frothing jaws closing about the demon in a last frenzied ecstasy, an avenging spirit sent to save the unworthy, to pluck the pathetic orphan from its untimely, overdue grave.

    Ben was thrown out of the storm’s eye, amid a hailstorm of flying sand and stone. He cracked a rib and sprained a wrist. He could see nothing for the dust in his eyes and the thin trickle of blood smearing his vision.

    When he came to his senses, dizzy and exhausted beneath a beating sun, sarlaac and krayt had disappeared beneath the sand, buried together in a common grave, an unmarked pit in the middle of nowhere, in the midst of emptiness.

    The wind pushed him to his feet and propelled him back through the wasteland, catching him when he stumbled. He dimly protested that such was impossible, but the desert did not care for such paltry mortal laws and limits.

    He made the shelter of a stone ridge by nightfall, and kept watch for predators, curled in a ball against the biting cold. There was dew again that night, a soft blanket drawn over shocked limbs. The morning light pried its way beneath his drooping eyelids, urging him onward with soft promises, cajoling words. When he arrived back at the Jawas encampment, they avoided him, whispering and pointing in reverence. The stunted traders gave him food and hustled him on his way, pointing and muttering among themselves as he staggered homeward, back to the raging suns.

    When he reached the familiar cave, he drank more than three days’ worth of water, washed his face and hands, and cast off his filthy garments. And then he wept, and the hard packed earth of his floor, where his forehead rested against the welcome coolness of compacted mineral, seemed to whisper to his over-weary soul.

    “Rest now,” it murmured, and he did, sleeping coiled upon the floor as his beautiful baby krayt had once done. And the suns set that night, none the wiser for all that had transpired beneath their blind scrutiny.

    Sometimes at dawn or twilight he would hear a krayt calling over the Dune Sea, and he would remember.

    There was much he did not wish to remember, and this was perhaps among those things. But he let the ghosts of the past wander freely through his inner temple, through the wastes surrounding it, through the limitless expanse of heaven above it. They mingled with each other, merged and separated as the wind blew.

    “I am crazy,” he confided in the late afternoon heat.

    Today the mirages were worse than ever. It was easier to tell truth from illusion with his eyes closed, where darkness covered the deceptions of the senses, leaving only the Force and this absurd conversation with the omnipresent.

    “You are at the beginning of wisdom.”

    Madness. It had a certain charm to it. “I thought I was a Master?”

    “You have unlearned enough to begin, I think.”

    What would happen, he wondered, if he were to wander into the desert again, to find himself another pathetic creature to succor? Would he unlearn his newly acquired ignorance? Or was there no going back, no remedy for the irony of compassion, for the damning paradox of a heart that would not stop trying, though there was no such thing?

    “There is no try,” the desert reminded him, gently.

    “But I did. And I will. And not even you can stop me.” Defiance tasted sweet, like water, like life itself.

    The afternoon smiled. “I would not wish to stop you.”

    “Well, then.” He folded his arms across his chest, and looked out upon the fullness of the wasteland, the vast sea brimming with invisible light.

    The heat shaped itself into a warm laugh. “They will still call you crazy, of course.”

    He opened his eyes, and the light did not fade into illusion. A krayt called across the fullness of the desert, clarion cry of defiance, of hope, of the impossible. He lingered until the last echoes had carried over the far horizon and then gently retired into the welcome coolness of his cave, accompanied by none but his own memories and a voice that only a crazy man could hear.

  2. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Chosen One star 6

    Aug 21, 2006
    Love how you write Obi-Wan
  3. FuzzyWuzzy

    FuzzyWuzzy Jedi Youngling star 1

    Sep 2, 2012

    I feel like I just single-handedly fought a war. Against an army of minotaurs. Armed only with a toothpick.

    Seriously. That was one of the most emotionally stirring and well written pieces I've ever read. Brilliantly done. I give you an awkward cyber-hug of infinite admiration. [:D]

    That made me smirk a bit.

    The imagery there was splendid, and I definitely read it in Qui-Gon's voice. Not sure if that was what you were going for.

    And during the fight with Oki, I definitely almost lost it. I admit I get attached to characters too easily.

    Anywho, I stop the random gushing from a complete stranger and let you get on with your life. :p
  4. Luna_Nightshade

    Luna_Nightshade Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Jan 25, 2006
    Exquisite. And as an animal lover, the krayt dragon's demise was absolutely awful. It hit all the same notes as Anakin's fall, only it is even worse because it is an animal. Great summary of ROTS in a different tale. I also loved all the conversation with Qui-Gon. (I thought it was Qui-Gon.)

    Beautiful and perfect Obi-Wan as per the usual. Thank you for sharing.
  5. obimom

    obimom Jedi Master star 4

    Oct 31, 2010
    Loved that you posted this here, Ruth. A whole new group of SW /Obi fans will get to enjoy your masterful writing! =D=
  6. Alexis_Wingstar

    Alexis_Wingstar Jedi Master star 4

    Sep 16, 2006
    I haven't read it all yet (just got to the part where he visited the Lars homestead and spoke to Beru after his fever. I just wanted to say your prose is beautiful.