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Old 11-08-2007, 02:43 PM   #1
Uilleand
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[FIN] Lessons in Pazaak

Dust and grit swirled around her; it crunched beneath her boots and between her teeth. She spat and flipped her Bothan visor down, squinting under the glare of the too-close sun. She couldn't remember what planet she was on -- she could barely remember her own name.

She hunched her shoulders under the long coat and decided it didn't matter -- her name, the planet's name -- this was her last attempt.

Swimming in the reflection of the yellow sun's heat, a tiny settlement shivered in her vision. Nestled between sand dunes, only the peaks of strangely slanted roofs could be seen. The exile hooked her lightsabres to her belt, pulled up her hood and set off towards the only signs of habitation she could detect on this sand-pit of a planet.

She lost track of time, each step feeling exactly like the last -- hot, painful, futile. She turned her face down, away from the scouring wind and sand and watched her feet leave prints that blew away before the next step had even begun. She staggered, and thirst tore at her throat, but she left her life-support kit in her pack. Her need would be greater later.

How long had she been trudging through this scalding, clutching sand? Her body was limp with exhaustion when she finally raised her eyes to discover a wall looming before her. No matter how she leaned back, she couldn't seem to see the top of it in the dust clouds that hovered overhead.

Closer inspection revealed a small portal, just above her head. She reached up and rapped sharply on it with dry, cracked knuckles. After a moment, it slid open and, although she could see nothing through the tiny space, a rough voice addressed her from the other side of the wall.

'Wat's yer bizniz?'

'I have an appointment to keep.'

'Wat's d'password?'

Password? There had been no mention of a password. The exile fought to keep her temper in check -- and failed.

'I have no need of a password,' she snapped.

'You have no need of a password,' repeated the voice obediently, and a small door appeared in the wall and opened.

He had said that she would know where to go -- that it would be unavoidable.

The narrow streets of the tiny settlement were completely abandoned, but she could feel eyes on her from every window -- barely more than slits sliced into the permacrete walls. She kept her face lowered, deep inside her hood.

She listened.

Nothing.

She tamped down her rage -- but the pain and futility of her search rose up inside, choking her. Countless worlds, countless seedy space ports, barren seas -- to her amazement, she felt a panicked sob rise up from her chest. She ground her teeth around it and swallowed it.

There is no emotion, there is only peace.

When her hands stopped trembling, she began to walk. A flash, like the sun reflecting from one of the distant rooftops, caught her eye. With nothing left to follow, she turned and started off in the direction of the setting sun.

Time slipped away from her again, leached by exhaustion, thirst and pain. When she slipped out of her haze, she realized with a start that she was no longer alone. Her heart leaped and, turning to the footsteps that shuffled behind her, she kept the eagerness out of her face.

She needn't have bothered.

While she could make out only shadows in the covered doorways that lined the streets, two figures were clear in the twilight. Two young, ragged louts had her neatly penned at the end of a closed alley, their darkened teeth wet in shifty smiles.

' 'Ey, marster Jedi, can ye 'elp out some thirsty laddies?'

She licked her cracked lips as her eyes narrowed and assessed the situation. The young men were definitely in a bad way, their skin blackened and split, their eyes yellow with jaundice. But they, both of them, moved with the cunning purpose of a starving hssiss.

'I can give you water,' she replied, her voice low and harsh.

'Oh, marster Jedi, we thinks ye can give us more'n dat,' the larger of the two leered. 'Th'likes o' ye don't come by dis way very offen. We canna be lettin' ye go away unwelcome-like.'

'My friend here,' he gestured to the smaller of the pair, who tilted his head to the side, his neck cracking and popping with the movement as he grinned, ' 'E don't like Jedi much. 'E'd much rather let ye bleed out onna street, here. Me? Oi'd like ta shows ya some fun, first.'

The young men approached, low to the ground, in slow fighters' crouches. The exile stared at their emaciated forms and was unwilling to heap more suffering on them. She reached for the Force and willed them to be still.

They kept moving.

Aghast, she watched the galaxy's life energy disappear into the two fiends. The smaller one smiled even wider, unnatural lips loose with joy.

'Y'see? Dat wat Oi loves about ye Jedis,' slobbered the larger one. 'Y'feeds us.'

'Now, m'friend, here. 'E's still bitter-like, abouts our families bein' sucked up an' burnt awa' by da Jedis from the skies. But Oi sez we can has our fill before we burns ya.'

The two shuffling forms circled in the growing shadows. Where she should feel rage, hatred and hunger from them, there was only emptiness. The exile stilled her breath and calmed her heartbeat. Her eyes scanned the surrounding area, weighing tactics and calculating advantage. She would lay even odds that her lightsabres would be as useless as Force powers against these two -- and she was spent and weary.

Wisdom had its uses.

The exile dropped a flash grenade and, with a quick twitch of her hand, activated the stealth generator at her waist. As her two opponents clutched their eyes and howled, she folded her body through a tiny gap in the alley and slid down a narrow passageway.

Blind, lost and confused, she moved as silently as she could. She could hear the enraged shrieks of her pursuers echoing from the settlement's high rooftops. She gasped as she heard more voices take up the call, then groaned as she encountered another wall.

Trapped!

Muttering a string of curses that she hadn't used since she was 'General' to a rag-tag group of Republic soldiers, the exile searched the walls for any niche, any crack, that might act as a foothold to climb, but the sandy permacrete was unyielding. Her fingers scrabbled across the wall's surface as her breath came in dry sobs.

There! A miracle! One slab of the wall felt -- different. The dimensions seemed big enough for it to be a door -- an escape. If she could just get back to her ship, she could wash this place from her memory. She pressed on the wall to no effect. She poked and pulled until her fingertips were slick with blood. She felt an indented groove, perhaps a lock of some sort, but couldn't seem to focus on its mechanism.

I was never any good at this stuff. I never had to be. He was always there.

She slammed her palm against the stubborn door.

What have you left me to?

To her dismay, the grunting howls of her pursuers were getting closer. They'd discovered her escape route! She sobbed again, and pounded on the door. 'Open, dammit!!' she whispered. 'Please, open!!'

'Just say the word ...'

The filthy little planet tilted beneath the exile's feet at the sound of that voice, so cocky and sure. She spun. Even in the gloom she knew that lean form, that arrogant pose.

'Atton!'

She wasn't sure if she saw his grin in the darkness, or if she just knew the familiar sight of it so well that it manifested in her mind's eye.

'Let me take care of this,' he said and turned to the tiny door. In less than a heartbeat it was open. He grabbed her hand and pulled her with him. Then he shut the door behind them.


"... I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room." - Ray Bradbury
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