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Ghosts of the Sith by Daniel Jeyn

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First there was fire. Then there was a fall. Then there was the dull, aching thud as the ground slammed up into his body. He continued to fall. Still burning, he turned over, hitting more dirt. Sliding, then falling again, he tumbled, turning too fast to arrest his momentum. The ground once again battered his body. Drrsala hissed, wailed, and screamed despite himself. He finally was sliding just on loose dirt, then grass, still turning faster. In less than a minute of tumbling, he finally was at a stop, sliding on a long scree pile that dug deeply into his skin and shredded his cloth tunic.

He inhaled and growled, swallowing hard. His body was bruised at every angle. His bones were rattled, but nothing was shattered. He gasped a small cry, as much for his frustration as his injury, but only for a few seconds. Discipline and rage then drove him to roll himself over and bring himself back upright.

His chest was radiating pain. The rocket that struck him was little more than a blunt weapon that exploded and deafened his ear slits, biting some shrapnel into his scaly flesh. But the burst of phosphorus from the projectile had been heat like starfire itself.

Luckily for him, he had been close to needing a good molt. The old, dry layer of skin had burned off almost instantly. The fall down the mountain had smothered the burning wounds with dirt, shredding off the clotted, dead skin, and tearing and burning into the top layer of the new skin as well. His cut and lacerated newer flesh was in pain beyond endurance.

It was agonizing and exhilarating. For a Trandoshan, a fight with real meaning was the high mark of life. For a hunter, this pain was as sweet a memento of hunting points as was the drink of fresh blood from elusive prey. But his exhilaration did not last past the first few breaths. He’d lost the fight to the armored man and tumbled down the mountain. He’d fought him hard, and driven his staff through the man, but the man cheated when Drrsala was close to claiming his kill. The man had wrist weapons that hit Drrsala at the last minute.

He was furious. But then his mind cooled and he considered the code. Anything is fair in killing your prey. If he’d had rockets, he’d have used them, too, if he was cornered. He knew in fairness the great scorekeeper of the afterlife would score it the same way: He’d failed to protect his master, and the Goddess would know it was so.

Now his mind burned with strategy. If he had failed in his duty, and the Jedi he’d sworn an oath to protect was harmed, then he was to blame. He would, by tradition, then have to avenge him, or be forever shamed. He knew he must find the armored man and finish the job of harvesting him.

He took stock of his surroundings. He had tumbled to the bottom of the mountain that had taken them nearly an hour to ascend. The Voss village was just beyond the grove of trees in which he’d settled. The troopers would still be down here. He thought perhaps he could find them and bring them back with him.

 He sniffed the air. There was blood and the burning smell of plasma. There was a battle. He snarled to himself. Made sense. The armored man was not alone. He attacked the Jedi while others fought down here. Drrsala’s mind went into predatory mode. He removed his shredded tunic and rubbed it in the loose dirt in the scree. He dragged the poor garment forward, going under the shade of the trees, making sure to get mud and leaves wedged into the folds of the rough cloth. Then he re-wrapped the remains of the shredded tunic over his neck and head. He wore it more as a cape now, loosely over his back as he crouched down low. It would serve him well as camouflage, keeping him as innocuous as a shadow on the ground. He went forward on all fours, stalking like his Trandoshan ancestors would do: naked, relying on his senses and the touch on his scales, smelling the air and trees and the blood on the air.

He moved swiftly between the trees and rocks this way, peering up from cover periodically to view what was happening. The curiously multi-colored Voss people were huddled together or were surrendering to armored troopers who were fitting them with slave collars. There were bodies strewn across the village. The troopers were shouting and laughing. These were not the troopers he knew. Their armor was different — not as clean and uniform. They were colored with green and red decorations. There were two ships in the village that were not there before. There was a large, wedge-shaped cargo vessel that looked heavily worn. And there was a TIE fighter at the other end of the village. It looked to be just like the one he had piloted with the Jedi when his master had traveled through the sacred lands.

He swiftly shuffled in and among the huts. He continued to sniff the air. He tried remaining perfectly still, his muddy cloak serving its purpose to make him utterly indistinguishable in the shadows. The troopers with the strange colors were focusing on the Voss. They were searching them, sometimes beating them, and mostly putting the collars on the necks of the pleading people. Other troopers were waving scanners in different directions. Drrsala was still as a rock as he carefully observed those scanners. The troopers waved them around the air and periodically kept digging through pull carts or garden bins, ducking into Voss huts. Drrsala suspected that they were looking for metals and valuables. They almost certainly wouldn’t be scanning for a life form like his. Good.

He snuck closer. His profile was low; he was squeezing himself to be less than half a meter from the ground. His eyes could move independently of one another, which granted him a fuller range of view without him having to move his neck. He continued to scan visually and take in the smells. He saw some of the cleaner, white uniforms of the troopers he knew. He smelled the air and recognized some of their blood. He continued to crawl swiftly around the perimeter at the treeline. There was an area on the edge of the village, near the common latrines, where dead bodies had been dragged. There were many Voss bodies; too many to count, as many of them were just piled up. He slowly crawled by. There were three of the troopers there in shining white armor who were among the dead.

Drrsala shuffled on. He could not smell any tauntauns. They must have fled. He turned the corner and was closer to the center of the village; he was up adjacent to where the freighter was landed, which itself cast a long shadow in the afternoon.

At a row of huts before getting to the freighter, he saw three bloodied individuals about 20 meters away from his cover. From where he was, he smelled that they were familiar. They must have been troopers he knew. But they were stripped of their armor and overskins. They were bloodied, naked, and tied up to a laundry pole next to a hut.

They looked to be in pain, and otherwise seemed to be in bad shape overall. They sat upright, and their chests rose slightly with their breathing. But they all stared at the ground, covered as they were in blood and bruises like they had been beaten and cut into submission. One of them was instantly noticeable for his blue skin which Drrsala remembered. He was the trooper who had arranged the ring in the barracks in which the troopers cheered while Drrsala had hunted womp rats. Drrsala sniffed with remembrance.

He remembered that mammalians were incomprehensibly skitterish creatures, always making squawking noises at one another they called their emotions. He knew only that the other humanoids had hurt these three, and he made the simple calculation that these were three who were loyal to his master, and they had shown him kindness, too. There was a saying in Trandoshan that those give rats to the hungry inspire loyalty in honorable hunters. He wouldn’t forget it. One of the troopers with the marked-up armor stood next to them, shuffling his feet like he was not paying attention, looking out in the other direction. Clearly a guard.

The muddy cloth barely covering the ground now shuffled on. Drrsala kept his ear slits and nasal glands alert for any of the other troopers who might be happening by. He was searching now to see if there was an angle by which he could possibly find a weapon or a tool he could use. He could help the three troopers, and maybe then they could find his Jedi master. Or avenge him.

In the clearing in the center of the village just in front of the freighter, there was a wide open space. Blood was evident across the dirt, but the bodies had been pulled clear. Except for two. They were dressed in the clean, white stormtrooper armor, but Drrsala could smell no blood from them. One of them was on its side, and pieces of its chest were strewn behind it, which seemed to glitter in the light. A droid? Another trooper was face down on the ground. It was still fully armored. Periodically, it moved a limb, stiffly, as though it could not properly bend its arm or leg properly. It made very little noise, but as Drrsala shuffled closer, he recognized the sounds of the droid’s particular servo mechanics. As he came up to the side, its familiar voice was un-mistakeable.

“Oh! I say! Is someone there? I cannot turn over in this armor prison! Oh, why don’t you have mercy and put me out of my misery? I was not build for this sort of thing. I am familiar with over seven million forms of communication…”

Drrsala hissed a whisper and reached a claw to poke the droid in the stormtrooper armor that enwrapped him.

“Oh, my! Oh, Drrsala! It is you! Thank the maker! You must help me out of this…”

Drrsala now fully slapped the droid’s head, hidden as it was under a stormtrooper helmet, with a heavy reptile fist. “Be quiet!”

C-3PO now adjusted himself. He changed his language to the lowest volume level at which he could still be heard. He spoke in the rapid clicks that made up the basic form of the Trandoshan language.

My apologies, Drrsala! Oh, if you help me upright, I will explain to you exactly what sort of horrible thing has happened to me!”

::: | ::: | ::::

Intan sat down on a plasteel storage crate. This was the first chance he had to sit since early morning. He removed his stormtrooper helmet which was decorated with green and red pinstriping he’d customized to match his Corellian gang tattoos. He pulled out an inhaler stick and took in some vaporized spice oil.

So far, this score looked promising. The Marauders had lost two men, as he was afraid would happen. They were eager, but they were reckless. As soon as the probe located the remainder of the garrison’s patrol, the fools should have known better. Those were trained troopers they cornered who knew how to shoot. Not these sad, primitive toads who could barely put up a fight at all.

It was bound to happen. That didn’t make it any more palatable. They’d all been too long out of a real fight, stuck on the side of an Endor moon for all those years.

Scrogging Endor. The native Ewoks had a habit of stringing rope across trees which injured or killed the biker scouts on patrol. Even now, thinking of these furry savages drove Intan to a rage. The troops had nothing better to do back then but hold contests on who could hunt down the most Ewoks. They were clever primitives, but they built their forts out of wood, and they did burn well. The troops eventually built a ceremonial drinking chair out of Ewok skulls at their base.

But fighting savages was all they had to do during those years. They were a unit recruited late in the war, mostly from exiled criminals and juvenile delinquents. None of the idealistic, patriotic farm boys or runaways looking for adventure like the previous generation. Intan and his group were outlaws by inclination, and killers by trade. They’d been trained as stormtroopers, but they weren’t the ones to get cushy garrison duty like those who were here on Voss. They were put out on the frontier to catch arrows from Ewoks, and keep rancors distracted. And they knew their role well. This was their time for payback and to earn themselves a real payday.

The Empire had left them there as rearguard scouts. They were uninformed, entirely, that there was a full Rebel engagement on the other side of the moon until the moment came when they saw a strange light like an early sunrise when the new Death Star exploded. Now, two of his men were dead because they were too used to fighting nothing that would fight back any more effectively than Ewoks. Their sacrifice would serve as a lesson to the others, and they’d be better prepared to take on better trained opponents. This was the beginning of a possibly very lucrative mercenary career for the Marauders.

The lads had taken it out on those three remaining members of the garrison. Kale had insisted that they be kept alive for torture and interrogation, so who was Intan to say otherwise? Once they were stripped of their armor, they’d stomped the life nearly out them. Intan had to intervene to stop the others to make sure their skulls were still intact enough to get information out of them. He’d ordered Gojae to tie them to a post and stand guard while he insisted that the rest of the Marauders quickly snap to and finish the job. They had to flush out the rest of the hiding Voss and any caches of valuables. They would load up the slaves quickly once they’d had confirmation that Syllba had neutralized his target.

Intan stroked his braided beard as he pondered the next steps. He looked up as a shadow of a tall stormtrooper came over him. Lieutenant Kale stood over him, holding his helmet under his arm as he grinned smugly.

“Loafing around, Sergeant?”

Intan laughed and spit. “Didn’t take long for your promotion to get to your head, eh? Now you’re a regular Moffie seeing fit to dress down your social lessers?”

Kale was still every bit the Imperial. He smirked at the joke, but his body language was replete with the rigid discipline of a trooper of the line.

“Your men are gathering up the Voss. Will you be able to fit all of them in your freighter?”

Intan snorted. “I reckoned we’ll get about a hundred of the best of ‘em to sell to slavers. It’s a lot of trouble hauling that kind of cargo around, anyway. You have to keep them secured, keep ‘em fed. There’s lots of other ways we could make money. I wonder if it’s hardly even worth it with that haul back at the Keep.”

Kale nodded. “Your men have been out of the fight, but they have skills. If you wanted to come back into the fold, I’d be glad to recommend each of them.”

“We’ve been there, Kale. We’ve done our bit. You can go down fighting with the remnant of the Empire. That’s not for us. Now… some of that material back at the garrison… I’d say with the leftover fabricators, the astromech droids, the algal incubators and plasma coils, and the armory? You let us have some of that, and we’ll just turn these Voss into ash. They wouldn’t be worth our trouble to sell compared to that haul.”

Kale shook his head.

“Sorry to hear you’ve turned your back on the Empire, Sergeant. If you wish to go your way, you can take the Jedi artifacts, per our deal. I can’t let you take Imperial property from the garrison.”

Kale had an irritating condescension that threatened to provoke Intan to irrationality. He remembered why he was glad not to deal with officers anymore. Especially those who had been recently commissioned. Still, Kale got under his skin, and the sergeant snapped back.

“Oi, one last thing, there, Lieutenant. I don’t care for saying we’re turning our backs on the Empire. We’ve done our bit! They turned their backs on us, left us to die, and we looked up to watch every chain of command we had raining back down on us as burning meteorites. So don’t lecture me about loyalty, yeah?”

Kale’s joyless expression didn’t change. “Nevertheless, Sergeant, let’s deal with the matter at hand. And I’ll join you in a toast to the Emperor after that. Any of your men able to raise Syllba on the comm-link?”

Intan shook his head. “Negative. Last report from the probe was that he was about to confront Skywalker. The mountains up there severely interfere with comm-links. So as far as we know, one of them has killed the other by now.”

Kale looked up into the hills. “We’ll know soon enough. Maybe I should take the TIE back up and make sure that neither of them come back here. As long as the Jedi’s head is procured, several parties will be happy and pay their promised fees.”

“‘Pretend Jedi,’ my Lieutenant.” Intan corrected him.

“Indeed, Sergeant. But let’s also keep to the matter at hand. For these Voss – I recommend that if you only take a hundred, that you fill the cargo bay with at least a dozen more than that. Once you take off and are beyond the atmosphere, if any have given you any signs of trouble, just open the airlock and space them. Otherwise, just space a random surplus to make the rest of them pay attention. Once they see the hopelessness of their plight, and a few others floating and frozen outside the windows, you can be assured that they’ll be docile.”

Intan had to give it to Kale. He was a cold hearted bastard. He had to respect it. The Lieutenant continued.

“One other thing. You have noticed that almost all the Voss we’ve come across so far have been male? Mostly younger men? It’s seems as if the women and children are hiding somewhere.”

Intan nodded. “Yeah. We reckoned as many fled as they could. Otherwise, somewhere in the village, they must be hiding. My men are scanning around now, as they’re rounding up the last of ‘em into the center.”

As if on cue, Intan’s comm-link lit up.

“Top? It’s Akkthan. I think we’ve got something under one of the huts near the rocky ground. It looks to be a hatch. Probably an entrance to an underground chamber.”

Intan smiled and pulled himself up. He inhaled on his hookah deeply.

“Well, Kale. It looks like we’ve found our lost little nerffs. Let’s go round them up, shall we?”

::: | ::: | :::

Luke Skywalker sat in a meditative position with his eyelids fluttering. He was deep in the Force, and essentially helpless within the physical realm.

Jeet Syllba’s heart was beating with excitement. This was an important and triumphal moment for him as he aimed down the sites of his bullpup rifle at Skywalker. Up until now, he realized, he hadn’t fully anticipated the moment. He assumed he’d likely have to kill this bounty, but the idea of taking him alive had some intrigue as well. His own wounds were forgotten for the moment, and his head was still light with the stims as he paced in front of his quarry. How to best enjoy this moment? He considered he may as well just take the lightsaber from the boys’ belt and cut his head off. It would be the easiest way to get it off the mountain. He had a tank in his ship that would preserve it perfectly well. He was giddy while imagining how the Hutts and the Mandalorians would surely bid against one another to mount this prize.

Through gritted teeth, the Voss witch in the corner, corralled in an electrified net, spoke to him. “Mandalorian! Why? Why do this? Is it for revenge? Are you being paid?”

The pleas of his bounties were usually entertaining at best to Syllba, but this one had piqued his interest. How did this primitive on this irrelevant world even know of Mandalorians? He turned an eye toward her, looking her over, carefully. Clearly there was more to her than it seemed at first glance. Two blasters in her waist betrayed that she was not quite the naif an amateur might assume she was.

“You, Voss toad: Tell me. Since you are my prisoner, tell me what is it that you’re doing here yourself? What makes you think this fool who says he is a Jedi is worth your time? Worth your life?”

He could see she bit her lip and hesitated from speaking right away. Her eyes were still wide with fear. Or was it shock? She cursed in her own language, mumbling under her breath. He decided he’d quickly dispatch the boy and then her.

Syllba lowered his rifle and slung it once more. He pulled out his pistol. He cleared and checked the slide to make sure the plasma rounds were clear to fire. A quick shot to Skywalker’s heart would do it. Then he’d cut off the head and be done with it. He considered leaving the Voss witch alive to just die of thirst in this cave. But he wanted his net back, so scrog it, he’d quickly just put a round in her as well.

He quickly scanned the cave one last time to be sure of his surroundings. It was a natural formation, a crevice only a few meters deep into this mountain. A small fire reflected moving shadows on texture of the walls. The floor was otherwise clear, save for a decorated box that looked highly jeweled with carved bantha-ivory details. There was a softly glowing orb inside of it emanating a calming, soft blue light. He blinked, finding his eyes saw spots and trails for even staring at it for half a second. Perhaps the box itself was some sort of artifact? He may as well take that as well.

Confident that the room was clear, he turned to put the pistol to Skywalker’s heart. But now the boy wasn’t there.

Syllba swirled around instantly, aiming his pistol around the room. The cave was now hundreds of meters wide, leading to multiple caverns with shadows leaning into all distances. The fire was still there. The Voss woman was standing beside it, now upright with her hands at her side. She was dressed in the full white robes of the Voss Mystics with the semi-diagonal patterns across them. She wore a long headwrap over her patterned light-blue and white skin with red highlights. Her waist was cinched with a sash with the two pistols still there.

Syllba instantly fired his blaster, but the bolts didn’t land home, inexplicably missing, as it seemed space itself bent her figure in such a way that each shot was angled away. He lunged at her to take her down by hand. As he moved, however, she was simultaneously just out of reach. The harder he stumbled and ran at her, the more she continually remained the same distance away from him.

“What trickery is this? What have you done, Witch?”

“I really have done nothing, Jeet. Now that you’ve brought yourself into the Force by your own will, I’m afraid I cannot let you leave. You should not have entered this cave to threaten us.”

He snarled. How did she know his name? He pulled the bullpup off the sling and into his arm, bringing it up to aim at her. She lifted a hand and waved slightly. He felt a great pressure crushing his mind and bringing him to his knees.

“You don’t want to do that, Jeet.”

He tore his helmet away from his head, no longer trusting any obstructed vision or the HUD. But it made no difference. Whatever he was seeing was not through the meat of his eyes.

“You are full of wrath, Mandalorian. And anger. I can feel you seething. You have brought this with you into the Force. And I cannot let you leave here.”

Syllba sat, hyperventilating. He continued to scan the cave. At every moment, the size of the room seemed to shift, much as the Voss toad remained always at the same distance no matter where he ran. He stood up again and ran down the cave passageway away from her. He turned corners, aiming his rifle in front of him, searching the hidden spaces. There were passageways within the passageways that led further down into more cave tunnels. Despite the one fire, light was the same dim, even brightness through the cave structure.

“Is this a spell? Am I being drugged?” He shouted.

He turned a corner, darting into another cave. And found himself standing before Tylo once more. In frustration, he fired the bullpup on full automatic, sending plasma shots in a strafe in her direction.

She held her hands up, grimaced, and shimmered, as the bolts once again missed, inexplicably, as if the perspective of where she was relative to his stance was itself warping. But it seemed to cause her some effort to cause this effect.

“Mandalorian, I must warn you. You can attack me, and attempt to injure me, here, but it will only draw you in further. If you focus only on wrath, if you choose vengeance, I cannot save you from the consequences.”

Syllba snarled, standing up and running again. He headed further down the central corridor of the cave, heading in and out of each bend. Each passageway just led to another just like its predecessor. It was a maze, but all corners kept leading him back to the central room with Tylo standing there. He stumbled forward, leaning his hands on the undulating rock walls for support. His legs were aching, and his chest was burning with fatigue. And in all this activity, he began to feel the dull ache in his abdomen. The wound was making itself known. He forced his mind not to panic. The stims were still firing his neurons, still making his body feel close to invincible. But he was also sensing that their effects had crested, and were now diminishing.

He turned a corner and once again found Tylo standing before the small flame. He cursed loud and long, falling to his knees. He put his hands into fists and held them to his head, grimacing and raging.

“In my head! It’s all in my head, somehow! Get out! Get ouuut!”

Tylo exhaled. She closed her eyes and continued to meditate. Her physical body was still snared and motionless. Her children were still in mortal danger. But for now, she could could hold the Mandalorian in place. Skywalker was still on his own in deep in the Dark Side.

::: | ::: | :::

In the darkness, Panna held her brother, Qyr. At first, the anxiety and rushing of the adults around them was exciting. They were too young to worry about the responsibilities of what was happening to the village. They only knew it was something out of the ordinary, and that itself did not frighten them as much as they knew it should. But fear in them had come from seeing their father hurry. And even more so when they felt him in the Force, inexplicably. They now trembled, too full of fear to cry.

They were crushed here in the storehouse, feeling the press of other bodies against them. The children were here, as well as many of the women. They all were quiet, trying to breath as little as possible. The walls were full of clay jars with dried grains in them, as well as the flowery peppers. Many of the containers were recycled items from the garrison, as well as other discarded Imperial technology. The Voss had done their best to re-purpose the detritus of the industrial society that had colonized them.

She busied herself with those thoughts. She saw a case which once held various algal gel solutions from the base. Now it held dried fruits. A container which once held the industrial grease for the mechanics now were sealed with nerff hides in them, preventing the stinking fur from drying out. The various smooth, Imperial plasteel cases with their stenciled Basic scripts on them were contrasted by the hand-formed and carved clay of the village potters. There were small barrels made from reeds which held some of the dried river flowers. These were useful to feed the beetles which were good for roasting. The flowers themselves were sometimes cooked with oils which made for cakes of bathing soaps. They didn’t always keep very well, though, as the beetles were attracted to them, and would sometimes eat them. She thought about how much she liked how those flowers smelled, and how the roasted beetles had a hint of that flavor.

There was a pinhole of light up at the top of the storehouse. This was where the entrance was. The air inside was stagnant, but the hole was slightly ajar to make sure that there could be some air exchange, and so the villagers hiding there would not suffocate. The smell of fear-induced sweat was nearly as strong as scent of spice and flowers.

There was a scraping noise. Then a shaft of light burst into the storeroom. A man’s voice shouted in Basic telling them not to resist.

Panna’s eyes were wide. Her Basic was very good, but few of the others here could speak it at all. One of the women began chattering in Vossik, pleading with the gods to spare them, shouting to the men above they meant no harm. Panna knew the outsiders would have no idea what she was carrying on about, and the rising, shrieking inflections would probably make them more irritated. She held Qyr tightly as she could anticipate what would happen next.

There was another metallic clank as something metal fell down the hole into their midst. Instantly everyone began screaming. Panna and Qyr winced, bracing themselves.

There was a shock like her entire body had been punched. Once, when she was very little, Panna had been picking flowers in the field while a nerff was running wild. She hadn’t heard her father’s panicked voice, but found herself knocked down by the nerff, her whole body aching, seeing stars against a field of blackness. She eventually opened her eyes after a period of not remembering anything for several minutes.

The concussion grenade had a similar effect, but much worse. Everyone’s body was in shock, and their minds were groggy. All senses were overwhelmed, and they were all completely immobilized. Several of the Voss in the bunker voided their bladders involuntarily. They were unconscious for minutes, and semi-conscious for several more. Panna only knew there was a feeling of gloved hands violently pulling on her, dragging her up out of the hole, dragging her through the dirt. She remembered her eyes blinking, staring up at the sky within the fresh air.

Men’s voices were shouting in their faces as their bodies were shoved and pulled and dragged along, finally jerking them painfully to kneel upright on the ground. Each of them complied as though they were shuffling along in a dream. Finally, Panna came to, fully, finding herself covered in ash, kneeling with all the others, all their clothes torn and ripped at the seams as the stormtroopers handled them roughly, searching their bodies. She was then next to her brother, who still looked scared as they exchanged a brief glance.

They were troopers. But they were not like the troopers her father Jafan commanded. They had different colored markings. And they weren’t restrained or disciplined. They were terrifying. They screamed and kept punching the women and children. A woman pleaded, screaming, and a green female with head tentacles in a pilot’s uniform smashed the woman with the butt of a rifle, leaving her curled on the ground, whimpering and holding her broken head. The green pilot woman laughed wickedly after that. She went walking through, randomly kicking more of the Voss women in their chests as they kneeled. Panna knelt, holding tightly onto the bantha-skin holster her father had given her for safekeeping.

The green woman in the pilot’s uniform came up. Panna was breathing hard with the fear rattling in her chest. The woman smiled, touching Panna’s face gently. She reached down for the holster in her hands. Panna held it with the desperation that it was her father’s soul.

The pilot woman didn’t even change her expression. She hit Panna in the face with a balled fist. Hard. Stunned, Panna collapsed to her hands on the ground, feeling a trickle of blood coming from her nose, and a crushing ache in her head. She looked up to see that the woman was holding the holster now, taking out what was inside of it. It was the metal cylinder that the Jedi had given her father. It was a weapon with a finely curved pommel and a crystal inside of it, visible just inside the handle. The pilot woman held it, impressed by the quality, as though not expecting to find something like this among them. She spoke in Basic to her companion, a dark skinned man with shaggy hair that fell in his face. She obviously didn’t expect that Panna understood Basic.

“Look. These toads were scavenging the castle as well. The little one must have been given this for safekeeping.”

The troopers continued stripping the Voss. They took coins, jewelry, and anything valuable that any of them had on their bodies. They tossed them on a heap of purloined valuables.

Panna was too hurt and too frightened to cry. She felt her whole body had been violated and punished for no reason but the cruelty of her captors. Her father’s last gift had been taken away, and she felt an anger that bordered on despair. Her tunic was still hanging on her loosely, and she kept her head down, trying to hide inside the garment.

Another pair of hands violently grabbed her chin and pulled it up to force her to look at its owner. It was a trooper who had now removed his helmet. She recognized the face with its scowling features and furry eyebrows. He was an unsmiling man from the garrison she remembered. Kale.

“Interesting, isn’t it, Intan? These are Jafan’s children. See the freaks they are? Half toad. See how the Voss markings of their skin is slighter than the others? And under this robe, they have light hair on their heads, unlike the others?”

Another helmet-less stormtrooper with a terrifying face and a braided beard looked disinterested at her. Kale was more enthusiastic.

“Oh, how I enjoy seeing this. Jafan’s affection for these toads compromised the garrison, and almost let a Rebel take it over completely. We’ll make sure his legacy gets what they deserve. This boy will serve well, I’ll bet, for the mines of Ilum. He’s just a non-human, mostly, but human enough to be clever, I’m sure. They’ll pay well for him at the mines, and he’ll last ten years or so, I’d wager.

“And her… well, her mother was a kind of beauty for these toads. As an oddity, she’ll sell well. Those Ilum miners take their recreation as well. They’ll pretty her up enough, and they’ll take their money’s worth out of her before they wear her out.”

Panna had been raised with knowing of the way the Mystics would pray. And she had learned from the Jedi how to call to the Force. In her despair and fear, she felt a sob in her throat. She closed her eyes and put her hands together. The soldiers began laughing heartily.

Reaching out, she called to the Force, like reaching blind through empty air. There was more laughter. She felt another violent slap on her face that knocked her to the ground. She left her eyes closed and her head turned, remaining in that position. The soldiers laughed again, and she felt Kale’s giant hands grip her arm like he was going to crush it.

Even still, she reached out into emptiness. Darkness deep from her mind reached into more darkness. There was an otherworldly calm in her mind, now, and the fear that skated across her nerves was muted, and the angry voices seemed muffled. She could feel herself reaching into those depths, falling through fathoms of emptiness. Kale was still holding her arm, violently shaking her body, but to her, it seemed to be in slow motion. Her eyelids were fluttering, and her body had gone limp. She called out into the Force with all the will she could muster.

Finally, very quietly, something answered.

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Ghosts of the Sith by Daniel Jeyn

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